“GOLDENEYE” (1995) Review

“GOLDENEYE” (1995) Review

What can I say about 1995’s ”GOLDENEYE”? For one, it marked a series of firsts for the Bond franchise. The movie happened to be Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as James Bond. ”GOLDENEYE” turned out to be Dame Judi Dench’s first time portraying Bond’s MI-6 boss, “M”. And the movie also proved to be a first Bond film for director Martin Campbell, who will return eleven years later to direct 2006’s ”CASINO ROYALE”

After 1989’s ”LICENSE TO KILL”, I found myself frustrated by talk that it was time for EON Productions to give up on Timothy Dalton as Bond and find a new actor. To be frank, I did not want them to give up on Dalton. I thought he could have done at least one or two more Bond films in the 1990s. Needless to say, a lengthy lawsuit and Dalton’s reluctance to return to the role had put an end to my hopes. I was quite prepared to dislike ”GOLDENEYE”, until I heard that Pierce Brosnan had took over the Bond role. As much as I had grown to love Dalton’s interpretation of Bond, I had always been a Brosnan fan since his four-year stint as TV detective, ”REMINGTON STEELE”. I felt certain that he would be the right man for the job.

Needless to say, ”GOLDENEYE” proved me right. Brosnan’s introduction as the British agent proved to be a major success. The man had the talent and the presence to pull off the job. I must confess that originally, he did not strike me as possessing his own originally style to portray Bond. Critic Roger Ebert once described Brosnan’s Bond as a combination of both Sean Connery and Roger Moore’s styles. To be honest, Ebert’s comments did not impress me very much. True, Brosnan’s style seemed like a combination of his two predecessors on the surface. But in time, I realized that he had his own style – that of a well-dressed dandy who hid his emotions and insecurities behind a poser façade. And yet, sometimes that façade cracked whenever faced by betrayal . . . as it did when he learned that his late colleague – Alec Trevelyan (Agent 006) – had faked his death in order to create a crime syndicate and eventually wreck havoc upon Britain with the aid of a stolen Russian weapons system. Many claimed that Brosnan did not really come into his own as Bond until his next film, ”TOMORROW NEVER DIES” (1997). Frankly, I disagree. I think that Brosnan did a very good job in establishing himself as the James Bond of 1990s, right off the bat.

Looking back on the Brosnan era, I realize that the Irish-born actor had been very lucky with his leading ladies. And that luck began with Izabella Scorupco, the Polish-Swedish actress who portrayed Natalya Simonova, a Level 2 programmer at Russia’s Severnaya Satellite Control Station. With her exotic looks and no-nonsense attitude, Scorupco seemed to have no trouble at all keeping up with the more experienced Brosnan. Her Natalya is an intelligent and plucky woman who proved to be a very tenacious survivor . . . no matter what came her way. My only problem with the Natalya character was her tendency to use the ”Boys with toys” phrase or comment upon Bond’s destructive uses of vehicles. I found it tiresome after the second or third time.

Brosnan had even better luck with the actor who portrayed 006 Agent-turned Janus crime syndicate leader – Alec Trevelyan. What can one say about Sean Bean? This guy is a true professional and his Alec Trevelyan turned out to be – at least in my opinion – one of the best Bond villains in the franchise. Because he was trained as a MI-6 agent, he proved to be a true match for Bond, as a nemesis. This was never more apparent than in the exciting martial arts fight between the two in the film’s last 30 minutes. Did I have any complaints about Bean’s performance? Nope. Did I have any problems with his character? Unfortunately, yes. Poor Alec Trevelyan seemed to suffer the same malaise as other Bond villains – setting up the agent for an over-the-top death. Shame. He could have been the best amongst the bunch.

As I had stated before, ”GOLDENEYE” marked Dame Judi Dench’s first appearance as the head of the British Secret Service – M. I am a great admirer of Dame Judi, but her debut as M seemed a bit stiff to me. I realize that her character is supposed to be new in the position, but I got the feeling that not only did the character went through great lengths to prove that she could be Bond’s supervisor, the actress also went to great lengths to prove that she could portray a ruthless and no-nonsense head of intelligence. Thankfully, Dame Judi will get better in the role.

Bond is assisted by two characters in ”GOLDENEYE” – CIA agent Jack Wade (portrayed by former Bond villain, Joe Don Baker) and former KGB-turned-entrepreneur Valentin Zukovksy (Robbie Coltrane). Baker was his usual competent self and he had some good moments during Bond’s initial meeting with Wade. But eventually, I found the character a little tiresome, especially with his nicknames for Bond – namely “Jim” and “Jimbo”. Coltrane seemed more effective to me. He was just as funny as he was in 1999’s ”THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH”, but Zukovsky came off as a little more intimidating in this film.

Trevelyan also had his assistants – namely former Soviet pilot Xenia Onatopp (Famke Jenssen) and the computer geek Boris Grishenko, who had betrayed Natalya and other programmers at the Severnaya Satellite Control Station. I had been worried that Jenssen would prove to be as over-the-top (please, no jokes) as Barbara Carrera’s Fatima Blush in ”NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN”. Thankfully, my fears proved groundless. Well . . . somewhat. There were moments when Onatopp’s penchant for rough sex seemed a little tiresome. However, those moments seemed few and far in between. As for Alan Cummings (both he and Jenssen would go on to portray costumed mutants in the comic book franchise, ”X-MEN” with other Bond girl Halle Berry), his Boris Grishenko seemed at times very amusing and at other times, downright annoying. I must admit that he and Scorupco managed to create a nice little screen chemistry.

The plot for ”GOLDENEYE” revolved around former MI-6 agent Alec Trevelyan’s desire to exact revenge upon Great Britain for betraying his family and other Leniz Cossacks (former Nazi collaborators) to the Soviet Union following World War II. Trevelyan’s parents managed to survive the purge, but they eventually committed suicide in the face of survivor’s guilt. After Alec learned of his bloody past, he decided to get his revenge. He defected secretly during a routine mission in Soviet Russia with Bond and immersed himself in the underground world of the Russian Mafia. Nine years later, Trevelyan emerged as the mysterious Janus – leader of the Janus Crime Syndicate. And how does he get his revenge? First, he stole “keys” to the secret Russian EMP weapon, “GoldenEye”, before disappearing into Cuba. With the keys to“GoldenEye”, he planned to electronically rob every bank in the UK setting off the GoldenEye blast – crippling every electronic device in the Great Britain and disguising his theft. Not a bad plot. Of course Bond and Natalya foiled him in the end.

Although the plot seemed to have similar nuances to those “megalomaniacal” plots to destroy the superpowers and rule the world . . . it seems bearable without going over the top. And despite the almost out-of-this-world aura of Trevelyan’s scheme, director Martin Campbell managed to film ”GOLDENEYE” as a tight and suspenseful thriller with good performances and believable action sequences like Trevelyan and Onatopp’s theft of the NATO Tiger fighter helicopter, General Ourumov and Onatopp’s theft of the GoldenEye satellite keys, Natalya’s survival of the massacre and destruction of the Severnaya Satellite Control Station, Bond and Natalya’s escape from both the Russian holding cell (the tank chase aside) and their escape from Trevelyan’s ICBM train. But the piece-de-resistance for me turned out to be the Bond/Trevelyan fight. I have commented upon how much I enjoyed it. But I more than enjoyed it. For me, it was the best hand-to-hand fight scene in the entire franchise. I consider it superior to the Bond/Grant fight in ”FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”. However, I doubt that many would agree with me.

However, there were scenes that defy reality . . . and logic. I never could understand why Trevelyan did not simply have Bond shot dead in that icon graveyard, instead of setting both him and Natalya up to be blown up inside that Tiger helicopter. Bond’s escape from that chemical weapons facility in the pre-title sequence . . . a tad unbelievable. Although the tank chase through St. Petersburg is considered one of the best in the franchise, I hated it. I’m sorry but I do. By including a tank in a chase scene, it simply bogged down the story for me. And I am not particularly fond of the finale at Trevelyan’s Cuban facility. The acting seemed in danger of going over-the-top and the method of how Trevelyan finally met his death (having the entire complex) fall upon him seemed to ridiculous to believe. He should have died after that fall he had suffered.

If there is one thing about ”GOLDENEYE” I truly hated, it was the theme song, performed by diva Tina Turner. Poor Ms. Turner. I think she had the bad luck to perform what I consider to be the absolute worst song in the entire Bond franchise. And the musical score (written by Eric Serra), with its computerized tones combined with music to be . . . I will simply state that I hated it as much as I did the song. End of story.

Despite its flaws, I still enjoy ”GOLDENEYE” very much, after twelve years. It possessed enough good performances and action sequences to be a worthwhile entry for EON Productions. As far as I am concerned, ”GOLDENEYE” is probably Brosnan’s best Bond film and Campbell’s second best film overall. And it is number eight on my list of favorite Bond films.

Memorable Quotes

“If I want sarcasm, I’ll speak to my children.” – M

Onatopp: “You don’t need the gun.”
Bond: “Well, that depends on your definition of safe sex.”

Wade: “His name’s Zukovsky. Tough mother. Big guy with a limp.”
Bond: “Valentin Dmitrovitch Zukovsky?”
Wade: “Yeah, you know him?”
Bond: “I gave him the limp.”

“What, no small talk? No chit-chat? You know, that’s the problem these days. No one bothers to take the time to give a really sinister interrogation.” – Bond

“Unlike the America government, we prefer not to get our bad news from CNN.” – M

“In 16 minutes and 43 sec… no, 42 seconds, the United Kingdom will re-enter the Stone Age.” – Trevelyan

“Oh yeah? And what are you, the weatherman? I mean, for crying out loud… another stiff ass Brit, with your secret codes and your passwords. One of these days you guys are gonna learn to just drop it.” – Wade

“She always did enjoy a good squeeze.” – Bond (on the very dead Onatopp)

Moneypenny: “You know, this kind of behaviour could qualify as sexual harassment.”
Bond: “And what’s the penalty for that?”
Moneypenny: “Some day, you’ll have to make good on your innuendos.”

“What’s true is that in 24 hours you and I will have more money than God. And Bond here will have a small memorial service with only Moneypenny and a few heartbroken restaurateurs in attendance.” – Trevelyan

“Oh, Stop it both of you! Stop it! You’re like boys with toys!” – Natalya

Zukovsky: “He wants to ask ME for a favor! My knee aches every single day! Twice as bad when it is cold. Do you have any idea how long the winter lasts in this country? Tell him, Dmitri.”
Bodyguard: Well, it depends…
Zukovsky: “SILENCE!”

“Okay, April is a spring month, but here in St. Petersburg, we’re freezing our butts off. Isn’t that enough for government work?” – Wade

“I might as well ask if all those vodka martinis silence the screams of all the men you’ve killed… or if you’ve found forgiveness in the arms of all those women, for the ones you failed to protect?” – Trevelyan

“STAGECOACH” (1939) Review

Below is my review of the 1939 classic, “STAGECOACH”, which was directed by John Ford: 

“STAGECOACH” (1939) Review

The year 1939 is regarded by many film critics and moviegoers as the best year for Hollywood films. According to them, Hollywood was at the height of its Golden Age, and this particular year saw the release of an unusually large number of exceptional movies, many of which have been honored as memorable classics when multitudes of other films of the era have been largely forgotten. I do not harbor the same view as these critics and moviegoers. I can only view at least a handful of 1939 movies as truly worthwhile movies. However, one of those movies happened to be John Ford’s 1939 classic, ”STAGECOACH”

Written by Dudley Nichols and Ben Hecht, ”STAGECOACH” was an adaptation of Ernest Haycox’s 1937 short story, ”The Stage to Lordsburg”. It told the story of a group of strangers in 1880, traveling by stagecoach through dangerous Apache territory from Tonto in the Arizona Territory to Lordsburg in New Mexico Territory. Among the group of people traveling together are:

*Dallas (Claire Trevor) – a prostitute who is being driven out of Tonto by the members of the “Law and Order League”

*”Doc” Boone (Thomas Mitchell) – an alcoholic doctor who is also being driven out of Tonto

*Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt) – a pregnant, Virginia-born gentlewoman who is traveling to Dry Fork to reconcile with her Army officer husband

*Samuel Peacock (Donald Meek) – a mild mannered whiskey drummer from Kansas City

*Hatfield (John Carradine) – a former Virginia Confederate-turned-gambler, who joins the stagecoach’s other passengers in order to provide protection for Mrs. Mallory

*Henry Gatewood (Berton Churchill) – a pompous banker who decides to leave Tonto after embezzling some of the bank’s funds

*Marshal Curly Wilcox (George Bancroft) – a lawman who decides to serve as the stagecoach’s shotgun guard after learning the escape of Ringo Kid from the territorial prison.

*Buck (Andy Devine) – the slightly nervous stage driver

As the stagecoach starts to pull out, U.S. cavalry Lieutenant Blanchard (Tim Holt) informs the passengers that Geronimo and his Apaches are on the warpath. His small troop will provide an escort until they get to Dry Fork. Along the way, they come across the Ringo Kid, whose horse had become lame and left him afoot. Ringo had escaped from prison after learning that his family’s killers – Luke Plummer (Tom Tyler) and his brothers – are in Lordsburg. Even though they are friends, Curly has no choice but to take Ringo into custody.

Although ”STAGECOACH” was an adaptation of Haycox’s short story, John Ford had claimed that the inspiration in expanding the movie beyond the barebones plot given in “The Stage to Lordsburg” was his familiarity with Guy de Maupassant’s 1880 short story set during the Franco-Prussian War called “Boule de Suif”. Many film critics never took Ford’s claim seriously. Instead, many of them believed that ”STAGECOACH” bore a stronger resemblance to Bret Harte’s 1892 short story, “The Outcasts of Poker Flat”.

The director had gone through a great deal of trouble to film ”STAGECOACH”. After purchasing the rights to Haycox’s story, Ford tried to shop the project around to several Hollywood studios, but all of them turned him down because Ford insisted on using John Wayne in a key role in the film. Wayne had appeared in only one big-budget western, Raoul Walsh’s 1930 film ”THE BIG TRAIL”, which was a huge box office flop. Wayne had estimated that he appeared in about eighty “Poverty Row” westerns between 1930 and 1939. When Ford approached independent producer Walter Wanger about the project, Wanger had the same reservations about producing an “A” western and even more about one starring John Wayne. Worse, Ford had not directed a western since the silent days, the most notably 1924’s ”THE IRON HORSE”. Wanger said he would not risk his money unless Ford replaced John Wayne with Gary Cooper. Ford refused to budge about replacing Wayne. Eventually, he and Wanger compromised. Wanger put up $250,000, a little more than half of what Ford had been asking for, and Ford would give top billing to Claire Trevor, a far better-known name than John Wayne in 1939. Ford and Wanger’s gamble paid off. ”STAGECOACH” made a healthy return at the box office. Wayne’s star began to rise in Hollywood following the movie’s success. And the movie earned six Academy Award nominations, with Thomas Mitchell winning the Best Supporting Actor award.

”STAGECOACH” is not perfect. The movie has a few problems and most of them centered on the character of Lucy Mallory. One, her character is supposed to be in the last trimester of her pregnancy. Not only did Louise Platt’s Mrs. Mallory did not look pregnant, her character’s introduction featured her jumping out of the stagecoach following its arrival in Tonto. Without any help. Rather odd for a woman who is supposed to be in the late stages of her pregnancy. Both Mrs. Mallory and the whiskey drummer, Samuel Peacock, are the only two passengers who were on route at the beginning of the film. Instead of traveling westward, this particular stagecoach is traveling eastward – from Tonto in Arizona Territory to Lordsburg in the New Mexico Territory. Yet, according to Lucy Mallory, she had traveled from Virginia to meet her Army officer husband:

”I’ve travelled all the way here from Virginia and I’m determined to get to my husband. I won’t be separated any longer.”

How could Lucy Mallory travel all the way from Virginia to the Arizona and New Mexico Territories on an eastbound stagecoach?

The movie has other problems. Some of the movie’s shots featured the stagecoach traveling in the far distance . . . and one can see tracks clearly made from motorized vehicles like cars and trucks, instead of a 19th century vehicle. In the movie’s opening sequence, two scouts alerted the commander of an Army post about Geronimo’s activities in the territory. One of those scouts was a Native American:

”WHITE SCOUT: These hills are full of Apaches! They’ve burned every ranch in sight. (His finger sweeps the map; his head nods to the impassive Indian.) He had a brush with them last night. Says they’re being stirred up by Geronimo.

 

(The word has a striking effect on Sickels and Blanchard. Even the telegraph operator takes a step forward.)

CAPT. SICKELS: Geronimo? (He turns to the Indian, regarding him narrowly.) How do we know… (Cut to medium close-up of the Indian standing still.) …he’s not lying?

WHITE SCOUT: (off) He’s a Cheyenne. They hate Apaches worse than we do.

What we have here is a simple case of historical inaccuracy. The Apache had resided in the Southwest (present day New Mexico and Arizona) the Cheyenne resided in the Great Plains (from present Oklahoma to Montana) by the 19th century. How on earth did the Cheyenne and the Apache ever find the opportunity to develop a dislike toward one another? One last problem I had with the movie turned out to be the Ringo Kid’s showdown with the Plummer brothers in Lordsburg. I realize that it was bound to happen, due to the fact that Ringo’s conflict with the Plummers kept popping up in the movie’s dialogue. But did Ringo and the Plummers’ showdown have to take so damn long? I nearly fell asleep during the buildup leading to the gunfight. In fact, I did fall asleep and had to rewind the movie in order to watch the actual gunfight.

Now that I got my complaints out of the way, I might as well focus upon why I love ”STAGECOACH”. As I have stated in my review of the 1956 version of ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS”, I love travel movies. And ”STAGECOACH” is probably one of the best cinematic road trips I have ever seen on the silver and television screens. The interesting thing about this movie that the distance traveled in this movie is not as extensive as movies like ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” or ”SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT”. But I love it. Ford took his cast and production crew for the first time to Monument Valley, in the American southwest on the Arizona-Utah border, which became the setting for the road between Tonto in Arizona Territory and Lordsburg in the New Mexico Territory. Cinematographer Bert Glennon, who has worked with Ford on several other films, earned an Academy Award nomination for photography. And man did he deserve his nomination. The two following photographs are excellent examples of Glennon’s work:

Many film critics have complimented on the film’s use of integrating traditional 19th music and songs into the score. Yes, I have noticed the numerous old tunes used in the film. But if I must be honest, I was also impressed by Gerard Carbonara’s score. I was especially impressed by Carbonara’s work in the sequence that featured the stagecoach’s encounter with the Apaches not far from Lordsburg. The composer’s use of drums to emphasize the stagecoach’s motion and the hoof beats of the horses conveying the coach and those being ridden by the attacking Apache warriors were truly inspired.

Screenwriters Dudley Nichols and Ben Hecht wrote a near faithful adaptation of Ernest Haycox’s short story. Well . . . almost. They made a few changes. Like the Ringo Kid, the hero in ”Stage to Lordsburg” is involved in a feud with men he eventually dueled against by the end of the story. Unlike the Ringo Kid, the hero in the short story was not a fugitive outlaw who had been framed for murder. Nor did the short story feature a local banker who had embezzled funds from a mining company’s payroll. Personally, I rather like their extension of Haycox’s story. Not only did Nichols and Hecht – along with Ford – include a criminal element to the story, they took clichéd Western characters and gave them depth and complexity. In fact, I could easily surmise that the characters themselves served as the story’s center and driving force.

Speaking of the characters, I have to commend Ford and casting director for gathering a collection of first-rate performers for this film. One, he was wise enough to hold his ground about casting John Wayne as the Ringo Kid. Now, I would not consider Ringo to be Wayne’s best role. His Ringo was a charming and easy-going young man with a streak of naivety, whose only dark side seemed to be a desire to exact vengeance and what he believe was justice for his family’s deaths. However, the role did not exactly allow the actor to display his later talent for ambiguous characters like Thomas Dunson, Tom Doniphon and Ethan Edwards. But one must remember that Ringo was his second important role (his first was in the 1930 box office failure, ”THE BIG TRAIL” and ”STAGECOACH” marked the first time that Ford directed the actor. One could easily say that Wayne finally learned to act in this movie. That was certainly apparent in the scene that featured Dallas’ presentation of Lucy Mallory’s new infant daughter. The silent exchanges between Wayne and actress Claire Trevor spoke volumes of how their two characters loved each other, without being overbearingly obvious about it.

As I had stated earlier, Claire Trevor found herself cast as the good-hearted prostitute Dallas, due to producer Walter Wanger insisting that a name slightly bigger than Wayne’s receive top credit. And I believe she deserve it, for her Dallas turned out to be the heart and soul of that stagecoach making its perilous journey. What I liked about Trevor’s performance is that she took a stock character like ”the whore-with-a-heart of gold” and gave it depth, without any of the character type’s clichés. Instead of portraying Dallas as an easy-going type with a seductive manner, she portrayed the prostitute as a reserved and desperate woman, who is not only resentful of being stuck in her profession, but of society’s unwillingness to view her as the decent human being she truly is. It is a pity that she did not receive an acting nomination for her performance, because I believe that she deserved one. But the one cast member who did receive an Academy Award nomination was Thomas Mitchell, who portrayed the affable, yet sardonic drunken doctor, Doc Boone. His character served as a well of wisdom and support for the resentful Dallas, a reminder to Hatfield of the latter’s disreputable past whenever the gambler became snobbish toward Dallas and the Ringo Kid. And yet, his penchant for alcohol came off as rather sad; considering how supportive he was toward Dallas and Ringo and the fact that when sober, he could be a first-rate doctor. Not only did Mitchell earn his Oscar nomination, he eventually won the statuette for Best Supporting Actor during a night in which ”GONE WITH THE WIND” dominated the awards show.

”STAGECOACH” also included a talented supporting cast. Louise Pratt wonderfully portrayed the haughty, yet very human Lucy Mallory who became increasingly desperate to be reunited with her husband. George Bancroft gave a solid performance as Curly Wilcox, the lawman who was determined to arrest Ringo for more humanitarian reasons – he wanted to save the younger man from being slaughtered by the Plummer brothers. Donald Meek’s portrayal of the mild-mannered Samuel Peacock seemed like one of a numerous mild characters he had portrayed over the years. Yet, thanks to two scenes in the movie, Meek managed to take Peacock’s character beyond his other characterizations. Berton Churchill made a career out of portraying stuffy or bureaucratic characters in Hollywood. His portrayal of the embezzling banker Henry Gatewood was no exception, but Ford gave him the opportunity in a private scene that revealed the banker’s silent reason to take a chance and steal that bankroll. Andy Devine was wonderfully funny as the movie’s comic relief – stage driver Buck. There is a story that Ford tried to bully Devine on the set in the same way he was bullying Wayne. But Devine reminded Ford of the latter’s box office flop ”MARY OF SCOTLAND” . . . and the director left him alone. John Carradine, in my opinion, gave the strangest performance in the film. And I meant that in a good way. He portrayed the ex-Confederate Army officer-turned-gambler, Hatfield. What is interesting about Hatfield that in offering his protection to fellow Virginian LucyMallory, he seemed determined to maintain the social hierarchy inside the stagecoach . . . while completely forgetting the disreputable reputation he had gained as a violent gambler in the West. In fact, he was so determined to protect Mrs. Mallory that he was willing to kill her in order to spare her from ”a fate worse than death” at the hands of the Apaches. But in an ironic twist, the Apaches turned out to be Mrs. Mallory’s saviors when they mortally wounded Hatfield before he could shoot the Army officer’s wife.

Some movie fans have complained that Ford had failed to explore racial bigotry in ”STAGECOACH”, as he had in some of his other films. What they failed to realize that Geronimo and the other Apaches were merely a plot device for the story, like the U.S. Army, the “Law and Order League” in Tonto and the Plummer brothers. The real story took place within the characters that journeyed from Tonto to Lordsburg, via a class struggle in which most of the characters managed to overcome upon their arrival in Lordsburg. If you really look at ”STAGECOACH” from a certain point of view, it is merely a drama or character study with a Western setting and two action sequences near the end of the film. And with Nichols and Hecht’s script, John Ford managed to make it one of his best films ever with some exceptional direction and storytelling.

“Return With a Vengeance” [PG-13] – 8/18

“RETURN WITH A VENGEANCE”

CHAPTER 8

The moment Cole’s guest disappeared, the half-daemon gave Olivia a hard stare. “Okay, Miss McNeill, what in the hell just happened?” 

“What do you mean?” Green eyes grew wide with innocence.

Cole continued, “Suz . . . uh, Mrs. Maxwell. She practically ran out of here, with her tail tucked between her legs. What were you two talking about?”

Olivia coolly replied, “Nothing. I merely asked her a . . . few questions. About what she did for a living. Where she came from.”

“In other words, being a very suspicious cop, you couldn’t help but interrogate her.” Cole waved his hand over the spilled brandy and it disappeared. “What did you learn?”

Taking a deep breath, Olivia answered, “Well, that she’s from Vancouver. Until I reminded her that she spoke with an American accent.”

Cole grunted. “And?”

“Then she claimed that she originally came from Portland, Oregon.” Olivia paused dramatically. “Awfully close to Seattle, isn’t it?”

Shaking his head, Cole gave his neighbor an admiring look. “You know, it’s a good thing that the Triad or the Source had never sent me after you. Hell, going against your parents, twenty-five years ago, was bad enough.”

Olivia plopped down on the sofa. Then she reached inside her jeans pocket and retrieved a folded slip of paper. She handed it to Cole. “Look familiar?”

Cole found himself staring at a drawing of a very familiar face. “Yeah. Isn’t this the warlock I had changed into a pebble outside the Tower Bay warehouse, last month?”

“Oh, that’s him alright. Cecile had a vision of him killing some janitor. Whose body was found, this morning. The janitor used to work at the Hopkins Building on Powell.”

“Why would a Crozat warlock kill this . . . what’s his name?”

Olivia answered, “Pablo Alvarez. Darryl and I checked his background. An immigrant from El Salvador, who came to this country, nearly twenty years ago. I also checked with a few fellow witches. As far as anyone knows, he’s mortal.” She paused. A calculated gleam lit up her eyes. “Take a closer look at the drawing. Does he remind you of anyone?”

Cole sat down on the sofa and stared at the drawing. Dark hair and eyes. High cheekbones. Narrow chin. Then a grim smile appeared on his face, as he stared at Olivia. “Of course! Suzanne. So, she’s a Crozat, after all.”

“I had the same thought when I first saw her,” Olivia added.

“The question is . . . what does want with me?” Cole frowned at Olivia. “I understand she might want revenge for the destruction of her coven. But what makes her think she can harm me?”

Olivia shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe she has some plan to use you to get to us. Or perhaps . . .” A wicked smile stretched her mouth. “Perhaps she had something else in mind. I noticed that Mrs. Maxwell seemed rather . . . frustrated. Did I disturb something?”

“Nothing happened between us . . . at least not yet,” Cole retorted good naturally. “Besides, what’s wrong with a little seduction? I had hoped to find out what she’s up to.”

Olivia’s eyes narrowed playfully. “You know, I have the oddest feeling that I may have interrupted the possibility of some very serious sex. Of course, Mrs. Maxwell, or Ms. Crozat doesn’t exactly strike me as your type.” Olivia stood up and started toward the door.

“I don’t recall ever having a type,” Cole retorted with a smirk. Then his eyes focused on Olivia’s hand and noticed that the bottle of parsley was missing. “Uh, what happened to the parsley I gave you?”

Green eyes blinked. “What?” Olivia glanced at her empty hands and shrugged. “Oh. I guess I forgot about it.”

“Really? I’m beginning to think that you didn’t really need any parsley in the first place.”

Olivia shot Cole a cool stare. “Of course I did. What makes you think otherwise?”

“I don’t know. Maybe you were interested in getting a glimpse of Suzanne Maxwell.”

Disbelief now glimmered in the witch’s green eyes. “Wait a minute! Are you insinuating that I’m jealous?”

Cole responded with a shrug. “Hey, you said it, not me.”

Olivia rolled her eyes. “You know what, Cole? Blow me!” She opened the door and stalked out of the penthouse.

“It would be my pleasure,” Cole murmured under his breath, as his eyes examined the shapely backside of his neighbor.

* * * *

Phoebe, Paige and Leo tramped into the kitchen and found Piper preparing breakfast. “Honey, what are you doing?” Phoebe demanded. “Paige and I can fix breakfast. You shouldn’t be on your feet, now that your pregnancy is advancing.”

“And have all of us suffer from an upset stomach? No thanks,” Piper retorted. “Besides, I don’t mind cooking. Helps me relax.”

Paige asked, “What are we having?”

“Nothing special. Scrambled eggs, toast and bacon.” Piper placed both the toast and the bacon on the kitchen table. “The rest of the breakfast should be ready in a few minutes.” The others sat down in the chairs that surrounded the table.

Phoebe reached for the pitcher of orange juice and poured herself a glass. “God, I’m hungry! Come to think of it, I haven’t felt this hungry in a long time.”

“It’s your week off,” Paige commented. “I know exactly how you feel. Ever since I had quit my job, my appetite has increased.” She paused. “By the way, are you still going to help me find some Mugwort from that shop in Chinatown?”

Aware of the stares from Piper and Leo, Phoebe merely stared back. “What did you mean by ‘still going’? Of course I will. Why wouldn’t I?”

Paige hesitated. “Because you’ve barely spoken to me, since yesterday evening.”

Shame overwhelmed Phoebe. She had never realized, until now, how her anger toward Cole and the McNeills had affected her family. Especially Paige. “Honey, I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I didn’t mean . . .” Phoebe sighed. “You know, it’s amazing how I have allowed Cole to poison everything. Well you know what? I’m tired of it. And I’m tired of him. Unless he deliberately hurts someone, I couldn’t care less what he does. And if the McNeills want to be friends with him, let ’em. It’s their funeral.” From the corner of her eye, she saw Leo stiffened. “I’m sorry, Leo. I realize that if Olivia, Bruce and Harry want to be friends with Cole, it’s their choice. I only hope they don’t pay the price for that friendship.”

“I understand,” Leo murmured.

Phoebe added, “And Paige, I’m sorry for giving you the third degree. You’re entitled to your own feelings.”

“It’s okay.” Paige smiled timidly. “I’m just glad we’re talking. And that we’ll get to spend the day, together.”

“Honey, I’m afraid that it will only be the morning. I have a doctor’s appointment with Ava, this afternoon.”

The telephone inside the kitchen rang. Piper answered. “Hello?”

Phoebe and the others watched as the oldest Halliwell continued the phone conversation. Curiosity became anxiety, as a concerned frown formed on Piper’s face. She added, “Give us a call if you don’t hear from Darryl or Olivia.” Then she hung up.

“What’s wrong?” Leo asked.

Still frowning, Piper replied, “That was Sheila Morris. Apparently, Darryl is missing. She woke up around five this morning and found him gone. I told her to give Olivia a call.”

“Good suggestion. Olivia is probably the best person to find Darryl.”

Phoebe took a sip of her juice. “Are you sure he’s in danger? Maybe Darryl is at the station. This isn’t the first time he has ended up working at odd hours.”

“Unfortunately, Sheila did call the station. He’s not there.”

Paige added, “And what about that premonition that Olivia’s friend received about Darryl?”

Phoebe retorted, “What premonition? A feeling? According to Darryl, she wasn’t even able to receive a vision.”

“She’s right,” Piper said. “And quite frankly, I’d rather rely on Phoebe’s premonitions.” She faced Leo. “Can you sense him?”

The whitelighter shook his head. “Darryl’s not a witch. Or one of my charges. Sorry.”

Piper heaved a large sigh. “Then I guess it’s up to Olivia.” She served the rest of the breakfast to her family.

* * * *

The morning was proving to be very enjoyable for Cecile. She had joined Olivia’s mother, Gweneth McNeill, on a morning shopping spree around the city of San Francisco. Using the latter’s car, they had already visited several out-of-the way shops, including a rare bookstore, a clothing store and a shop in the Castro District that sold a variety of candy – especially chocolate.

After a purchase of chocolate truffles, the two women returned to Mrs. McNeill’s lime-green Nexus. “Our next stop will be a herbal store in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. I need some purple basil and lavender for a recipe I’m experimenting on.”

“Isn’t Wu Choi in Chinatown?” Cecile asked. It was the shop she used whenever she visited San Francisco.

Mrs. McNeill steered the Lexus down Washington. “Didn’t Livy tell you? Barbara has opened a new shop. She sells herbs and other substances for potions from all over the world. It has been opened for the past five months.”

“No, Olivia didn’t say a word. How is it doing?”

The older woman nodded. “Not bad,” she said in a soft Welsh accent. “In fact, quite well.”

The two women finally reached their destination – a shop located on the first floor of a late Victorian manor. After Mrs. McNeill found a parking spot, the duo headed for the shop. “Hey! Cecile! Long time, no see!” a beautiful woman with long blonde hair and a cheerful countenance greeted Cecile with a hug. Barbara Bowen also happened to be engaged to Mrs. McNeill oldest offspring, Bruce. “Wow! I seemed to be getting a lot of surprise visitors, today!”

Mrs. McNeill’s green eyes looked confused. “More visitors?”

Barbara nodded at the shop’s other two occupants, standing near one of the large shelves. “Yeah! Look who’s here.”

Cecile and Mrs. McNeill stared at the visitors. The former did not recognize them, but the older woman did. And it seemed obvious that they recognized her.

“Phoebe!” the middle-aged woman greeted the young woman with shoulder-length dark-brown hair. Then she nodded at the other woman. The latter possessed bright red hair – a dye job, Cecile immediately surmised – and the same dark eyes. “And Paige!” Gweneth McNeill added. “What are you two doing here? I didn’t realize you were among Barbara’s regular customers.”

The woman called Phoebe smiled politely. “Paige is looking for some Mugwort. Since this is my week off, I thought I accompany her. She couldn’t find what she was looking for, in Chinatown.”

“Well, isn’t that’s nice,” Mrs. McNeill said with a nod. She turned to Cecile. “I would like you to meet an old friend of Olivia’s – Cecile Dubois. Cecile is from New Orleans. Cecile, this is Phoebe and Paige Halliwell. They’re the sisters of Olivia’s old classmate.” She smiled.

Cecile greeted the two women. “Nice to meet you.”

“Yeah, same here,” the redhead replied. “And I’m Paige Matthew, by the way. I’m Phoebe and Piper’s half-sister.”

Nodding, Cecile said to other woman, “And you must be Phoebe, Cole’s ex-wife. Right?”

The other sister stiffened. Her smile became less warm. “Leo tell us that you practice Voodoo.”

“Vodoun,” Cecile corrected. “It means ‘spirit’ in the Fon language. Voodoo is some European version of the word.”

Phoebe’s brows shot upward. “I guess that means there’s no such thing as witch doctors and zombies, huh?”

“Just as I’m sure that all witches don’t look like Margaret Hamilton in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Or worship the devil.” Cecile’s smile widened, as Phoebe’s disappeared.

Paige asked, “So you don’t have zombies?”

Cecile’s gaze returned to the redhead. Barbara answered before she could. “Zombies don’t really exist in West African Vodoun. Some bokors use a poison from a blowfish called teterododixin to give their victims the appearance of a zombie.”

Paige’s dark eyes widened. “Bokor?”

“A sorcerer who practices magic for evil purposes,” Cecile explained.

“Oh.”

Silence followed. The Halliwell women regarded the new visitors with discomfort. Finally, Barbara rescued the moment by tapping Paige’s shoulder. “By the way, I found that Mugwort you were looking for. Follow me.” She started toward the back of the shop. To Cecile’s relief, the two sisters followed.

Cecile turned to Gweneth McNeill. “Not a very friendly bunch, are they?”

The older woman sighed. “Actually, I believe they’re quite nice. It’s just that . . . well, they’ve been through a lot during the past few years. Especially with Cole. And they’re not exactly thrilled by our friendship with him.”

“No kidding.”

Mrs. McNeill grabbed Cecile’s arm and led her to one of the shelves. “Listen dearie, could you help me search for that purple basil and lavender? Barbara has an enormous stock of herbs and I’m going to need your help.”

It did not take Mrs. McNeill long to find the purple basil. The lavender proved to be another matter. From the corner of her eye, Cecile spotted Barbara and the Halliwells return to the store’s main room. She ignored them and continued the search for the lavender. Not long after the sisters left the shop, a vision gripped Cecile. She saw a shadowy figure shoot bolts of lightning at Paige Matthew, sending the latter flying across a living room.

The vision ended. Cecile gasped and her eyes flew open. Surprising both Mrs. McNeill and Barbara, she raced outside of the shop, yelling, “Wait! Wait!” But it was too late. Paige and Phoebe had climbed into a car. Just as Cecile began to race after it, the car roared away.

END OF CHAPTER 8

“SHERLOCK HOLMES” (2009) Review

“SHERLOCK HOLMES” (2009) Review

I have never been a major fan of the Sherlock Holmes novels and stories penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and other writers. Once, I tried to get interested in them by reading one or two novels. But they had simply failed to spark my interest. 

I have shown a little more enthusiasm toward the various movies and television adaptations of Doyle’s novels and characters. Mind you, I never became a faithful viewer of the television series that starred Jeremy Brett as Holmes. But I have do have my private list of Sherlock Holmes movies that I consider as personal favorites. Including this latest film directed by Guy Ritchie.

The movie opened with Holmes; his good friend, Dr. John Watson; and Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lestrade rescuing a young woman from becoming the latest victim of an occult worshipper named Lord Henry Blackwood. Actually, Holmes and Watson rescued the young woman. Lestrade and his entourage of uniformed officers arrived in time to arrest the culprit. In the aftermath of the case, Holmes becomes bored and indulges in a series of bizarre experiments and bare knuckle fighting to relive his boredom. He is also upset over Watson’s recent engagement to a young governess named Mary Morstan. Before Lord Blackwood is executed, he informs Holmes that he will rise from the dead more powerful than ever, leaving Holmes and the police unable to stop him.

The story continues when a former ”nemesis” of Holmes named Irene Adler engages the detective to find a missing man named Reardon. Holmes discovers that Irene has been hired by a mysterious man to recruit him, but fails to follow up on his suspicions. When Reardon turns out to be linked to Lord Blackwood, who has ”risen from the grave” as promised, Holmes and Watson find themselves involved in another case.

One can see that ”SHERLOCK HOLMES” is not an adaptation of any of Conan Doyle’s novels or stories; or any other Holmes work of fiction. The movie’s screenplay; written by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg; is an original story. Yet, the three writers managed to incorporate certain small aspects from Conan Doyle’s original works into the script that have rarely been seen in previous Sherlock Holmes adaptations. They include:

*Holmes’ untidy habits

*Holmes’ photograph of Irene Adler

*Watson’s military background

*Lestrade’s comment about Holmes’ potential as a master criminal

*Holmes’ ability to speak French

*Watson’s gambling habit

Before my first viewing of the movie, an acquaintance had warned me that some critics found the plot to be convoluted. After seeing ”SHERLOCK HOLMES” twice, I can honestly say that aside from the opening sequence, I found nothing confusing about the plot. Johnson, Peckham and Kinberg created a complex and clever tale about Holmes’ investigation into the murderous, yet alleged supernatural activities of one Lord Henry Blackwood. The story’s mystery was never a”whodunit”, but a ”how did he do it”. How did Lord Blackwood rise from the grave? How did he kill three men by supernatural means? And what was his goal? In Holmes’ final confrontation with Blackwood, the screenwriters did a first-rate job in allowing the detective to reveal Blackwood’s methods and goals.

”SHERLOCK HOLMES” also captured the feel and nuance of late Victorian London beautifully, thanks to Ritchie and his crew. One can thank the combination work of Philippe Rousselot’s photography, and the visual effects team supervised by Jonathan Fawkner. I also have to commend designer Jenny Beavan for the costumes she had designed for most of the cast, and Jane Law for the colorful costumes she designed for the two leading female roles. They seemed straight out of the late Victorian period. I could not write this review without mentioning Hans Zimmer’s score for the film. Quite frankly, I adored it. I found it to be very original and unique. I also loved how he used the Dubliners’ song, ”The Rocky Road to Dublin” for two scenes and the movie’s final credits.

Ritchie also had the good luck to work with a top notch cast led by Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. As far as I know, Downey Jr. is the fourth American actor to portray Sherlock Holmes. Most of them have been pretty good – with the exception of Matt Frewer – but I must say that Downey Jr.’s performance not only rose above them, but also a good number of British and Commonwealth actors, as well. Aside from two or three moments, the actor’s English accent seemed spot on to me. Even better, Downey Jr. did a brilliant job in capturing the nuances and complexities of Holmes’ character – both virtues and flaws. And he managed to do all of this without turning the character into a cliché or portraying a second-rate version of the performances of other actors who have portrayed Holmes. Most importantly, Downey Jr. managed to create a sizzling chemistry with the man who became his Dr. Watson – namely Jude Law.

It has been a while since I have seen Jude Law on the movie screen. At first glance, one would be hard pressed to imagine him in the role of Dr. John Watson, Holmes’ colleague. Then I saw a drawing and read a description of the literary Watson and realized that his casting in this particular role may not be a complete disaster. When I saw his performance on the screen, I immediately knew that he was the right man for the role. Law perfectly captured Watson’s firm and dependable nature that kept Holmes on solid ground. He also did an excellent job of portraying Watson’s intelligence and bravery as a man of action. I am also thankful that Law did not follow Nigel Bruce’s example of portraying Watson as Holmes’ bumbling, yet well meaning sidekick. Thank goodness for little miracles.

While reading some articles about the movie, I have come across many negative comments about Rachel McAdams’ performance as the mysterious adventuress, Irene Adler. Even worse, many have expressed disbelief that McAdams’ Irene was a woman who had bested Holmes twice, claiming that she had been fooled by her employer. I found this last complaint rather irrelevant, considering that Holmes ended up being fooled, as well. Personally, these are two assessments of McAdams’ performance that I found difficult to believe or accept. In fact, I ended up enjoying her portrayal of Irene very much. I thought she gave an excellent and subtle performance as the intelligent and sly Irene, who enjoyed matching wits with Holmes. Some fans also complained about McAdams’ accent. Why, I do not know. It seemed clear to me via the actress’ accent that she was portraying an intelligent and educated 19th century woman from the American Northeast. Her Canadian accent helped her on that score. When I had first laid eyes upon Mark Strong in 2007’s”STARDUST”, I had no idea that I would become such a major fan of his. Three movies later, I definitely have. Strong was exceptional as always as the mysterious Lord Henry Blackwood, a nefarious aristocrat with a thirst for power who claims to have great supernatural abilities. Although I would not consider Blackwood to be Strong’s most interesting role, I must admit that the actor’s interpretation of the character as one of the better screen villains I have seen in the past five years.

The movie also featured first-rate performances from supporting actors Eddie Marsan and Kelly Reilly. Marsan portrayed the long-suffering Scotland Yard police officer, Inspector Lestrade. I first noticed Marsan in 2006’s ”MIAMI VICE” and genuinely thought he was American born. When I saw him in ”THE ILLUSIONIST” portraying a Central European, I began to wonder about his real nationality. It took me a while to realize that he was English. If Lon Chaney was ”the Man of a Thousand Faces”, then Marsan must be ”the Man of a Thousand Accents”. In ”SHERLOCK HOLMES”, he used his own accent. However, he also gave a first-rate performance as the intelligent, but long-suffering Lestrade, who constantly endures Holmes’ mild ridicule in order to get a case solved. I have to be frank. When I first saw Kelly Reilly in 2005’s”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”, I had not been impressed by her portrayal of Caroline Bingley. I am still not impressed. But after seeing her as Watson’s fiancée, Mary Morstan, my opinion of her as an actress has risen. Either Reilly’s skills as an actress had improved over the past four years, or she simply found herself a better role. I liked that Reilly’s Mary was not some missish Victorian woman prone to hysterics over her fiance’s relationship with Holmes. Instead Reilly portrayed Mary as a woman who understood the two men’s relationship and Holmes’ dependence upon Watson’s presence. Even if she was not that enamored of the detective.

I do have some problems with ”SHERLOCK HOLMES”. One, there were times when I could barely understand some of the dialogue. Especially when it came out of Robert Downey Jr.’s mouth. When it came to using a British accent, he had a tendency to mumble rather heavily. Honestly? I could have used some close captions for some of his scenes. Although I found the movie’s panoramic views of London and visual effects impressive, I was not particularly fond of the gray-blue tint of Rousselot’s photography. According to the movie’s official site, ”SHERLOCK HOLMES” is supposed to be set during 1891. Yet, Jane Law’s costumes for McAdams and Reilly seemed straight out of the late 1880s. Their bustles seemed too big for the early 1890s. My biggest gripe centered around the movie’s opening sequence. The screenplay never really explained why Blackwood had murdered four women and tried to kill a fifth. If it had, would someone please enlighten me?

What can I say about ”SHERLOCK HOLMES”? Sure, I have a few quibbles about the film. But I still love it. Guy Ritchie not only did a superb job of recapturing late Victorian London, but also the spirit of Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary hero, Sherlock Holmes. And he did so with a superb cast led by Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, a first-rate script written by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg; and a group of craftsmen that managed to bring the world of Victorian London and Sherlock Holmes back to life.

“SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” (2008) Review

“SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” (2008) Review

After finally seeing the 2008 Academy Award winning Best Picture,”SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE”, I am beginning to suspect that this film had garnered a great deal of unnecessarily extreme reactions. Moviegoers either loved it with every fiber of their being or considered it as either vastly overrated or insulting to the citizens of India. My reaction to the movie has been neither.

Directed by Danny Boyle, co-directed by Loveleen Tandan and written by Simon Beaufoy, ”SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” is about a young man from the slums of Mumbai who appears on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” (Kaun Banega Crorepati, mentioned in the Hindi version) and exceeds people’s expectations, arousing the suspicions of the game show host and of law enforcement officials. Beaufoy based his script upon the Boeke Prize-winning and Commonwealth Writers’ Prize-nominated novel, ”Q & A” (2005), written by Indian author and diplomat Vikas Swarup.

The question is – do I believe that ”SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” had deserved its Best Picture Oscar? Honestly? No, I do not. In fact, the movie did not even make my list of Top Ten Favorite Movies of 2008. In some ways, I do feel that it is slightly overrated. No movie is perfect, but the flaws in this movie – or aspects of the movie I saw as flaws – made me wonder how it managed to win Oscars in the Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay categories. I realize that this movie is based upon Swarup’s novel, in which the plot is centered around a popular game show. But I really could have done without this particular plot device. I found the scenes that featured Jamal Malik’s moments during the question-and-answer sessions of the game show unnecessarily dramatic. This plot device also provided a ridiculously over-the-top ‘happy ending’ that provided a sharp contrast to most of the story. And the idea that the game show questions provided triggers to Jamal’s reminisces about his childhood and his feelings about Latika, a girl he first fell in love with following the deaths of their parents in a mob attack did not exactly work for me. It seemed . . . off. There were times when director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy made it difficult to keep track on what Jamal was reminiscing in regard to the question he was being asked on the game show. By biggest complaints centered around the movie’s second half, the characterization of Latika and Chris Dickens’ editing.

At least two-thirds of ”SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” are focused around the boyhoods of Jamal’s recollections of his childhood in the slums of Mumbai with his older brother, Salim. In my opinion, this was the movie’s strongest part. It was not perfect, but a hell of a lot better than the second half. There have been complaints that Boyle’s savage look into Mumbai’s slums is not the real India. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is not. I would not know. I have never seen the real India. I must admit that the series of incidents presented in the movie’s first half left me feeling that I was watching an Anglo-Indian version of a Charles Dickens novel. Especially ”Oliver Twist”. And I found it fascinating, despite the squalor presented on the screen. But once the movie’s setting shifted to 2006 Mumbai, I found myself mired in a contrived story in which the rescue of Jamal’s love, Latika, from a wealthy gangster depended upon his success on the ”Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” show. As it turned out, Latika ended up being rescued by Jamal’s gangster brother, Salim.

Speaking of Latika, she proved to be another problem. Quite frankly, I found her character rather one-dimensional and frustrating. She seemed to be the ultimate example of the damsel-in-distress archetype. Jamal saw her as his”destiny”. I saw her as this rather uninteresting character that became nothing more than a trophy for various character – including Jamal. There was one scene in which Salim decided to claim Latika as a sex partner after he had saved her and Jamal by killing some minor gangster whom she worked for. Jamal naturally tried to prevent Salim from claiming Latika. Latika did nothing . . . until she agreed to sleep with Salim to prevent him from hurting Latika. And I . . . was disgusted. She could have easily helped Jamal overcome Salim. Instead, she stood there like an idiot before offering herself to the older brother. The only time Latika ever really did something for herself was when she unsuccessfully tried to flee from the wealthy gangster. She was a very frustrating character and I felt sorry for the actresses – especially Freida Pinto – forced to portray such an uninteresting character. One last problem I had with this movie was Chris Dickens’ editing. It seemed like it was more appropriate for a MTV music video clip, instead of a two hour movie. Worse, it interfered with my enjoyment of Anthony Dod Mantle’s colorful cinematography. What makes this nauseating is that Dickens managed to win an Oscar for his work.

On the whole, ”SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” is pretty good movie that tries to give Westerners a peek into late 20th century and early 21st century India. The movie can boast some first rate performances by the movie’s lead actor, Dev Petel, who portrayed the 18 year-old Jamal, Tanay Chheda as the pre-adolescent Jamal, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail as the young Salim and Tanay Chheda as the early adolescent Salim. I was also impressed by Irrfan Khan’s performance as the police inspector who interrogated Jamal throughout most of the movie. He and Petel created a very interesting screen team. As I had stated earlier, I was also impressed by Mantle’s cinematography in the movie. Despite the squalor that permeated the scenes featuring Jamal and Salim’s childhood, he infused the photography with color, energy and sweep. And what can I say about the exciting music featured in this film? I loved it. A. R. Rahman definitely deserved his Oscar for one of the most exciting and original film scores I have heard in years . . . and that includes ”Jai Ho”, the song he wrote for the film. By the way, he earned a well deserved Oscar for that as well.

Considering the eight (8) Academy Awards that it had earned, I wish I could say that it deserved all of its awards. But I do not think it did. Despite the movie’s first-rate cast, Mantle’s excellent photography and Rahman’s superb score, I cannot say that it was the best movie I had seen in 2008. In fact, it failed to make my list of 10 favorite movies for that year. Frankly, I found Simon Beaufoy’s script rather uneven and his characterization of the Latika character one-dimensional. And Danny Boyle failed to rise above these flaws with his direction. But . . . despite the movie’s flaws, I could honestly say that it would have made my list of the top 20 movies of 2008.

“DIRTY DEEDS” (2002) Review

Below is my review of the 2002 Australian gangster movie set in the late 1960s called “DIRTY DEEDS”

“DIRTY DEEDS” (2002) Review

Written and directed by David Caesar, the 2002 movie ”DIRTY DEEDS” is a gangster comedy about an Australian mobster who finds himself besieged by the American Mafia when his lucrative casino business, buoyed by the influx of U.S. soldiers in town for R&R during their tours in Vietnam in 1969, attracts their attention. The comedy starred Bryan Brown, Toni Collette, John Goodman, Sam Worthington and Sam Neill.

This quirky and slightly black comedy centered on an Australian mobster named Barry Ryan (Bryan Brown), who seemed to have it all in 1969. He has a successful casino business, a feisty wife named Sharon who loves him (Toni Collette); Darcy, his nephew who has just returned from military service in Vietnam (Sam Worthington) and might be a potential enforcer for him; a needy and beautiful young mistress named Margaret (Kestie Morassi); and Ray, a corrupt police officer in his pocket who can keep him out of jail (Sam Neill). However, all good things usually come to an end . . . or is threatened. And in Barry’s case, this happens when the American Mafia decides it wants a piece of Barry’s action with the casino. Even worse, Barry has to deal with a trigger-happy rival who wants to drive him out of business. The two American mobsters named Tony and Sal (John Goodman and Felix Williamson) arrive and both Sharon and Ray advise Barry to show them a good time, until he can find a way to get rid of them without attracting more unwanted attention from the Mafia. However, Darcy has also proved to be a problem. The Vietnam War veteran seemed to have no taste to become a gangster. And he ends up falling in love with Margaret, Barry’s mistress. And Margret has fallen in love with Darcy.

One of the reasons why I liked ”DIRTY DEEDS” so much was that its plot seemed character driven. I am not saying that the movie was all characterization and no plot. Oh contraire. But Caesar’s script allowed each major character’s desires and fears to drive the plot. Which I definitely enjoyed. And each character – aside from the younger American mobster portrayed by Williamson – found either their livelihoods or lives threatened. And even when certain characters end up as opponents – Barry and Tony over the former’s casino business, Barry and Darcy over Margaret, and Sharon and Margaret over Barry – I found myself rooting for them all. Once again, I have to compliment Caesar’s writing for creating a group of interesting and very complex characters. The one character who failed to win anything in the end turned out to be the trigger happy Sal, who seemed so certain of his superiority as an American and a Mafia hit man that he failed to realize that he was out of his depth before it was too late. And while watching ”DIRTY DEEDS”, I was surprised to learn that Australian soldiers had served in Vietnam during the 1960s.

I also have to give kudos to Caesar for collecting a first-rate cast. I was more than surprised to discover that Australian actor Felix Williamson had been cast in the role of Mafia hit man, Sal. Although Sal is not what one would describe as a multi-dimensional character, Williamson managed to shine in one scene that featured Sal’s chilling and arrogant revelation to Darcy about how the Mafia was able to profit from the American presence in Vietnam. Sam Neill gave a deliciously cynical performance as the corrupt and pragmatic police officer Ray, who decided to bide his time and see who would emerge as the winner in the tug-of-war between Barry and the Mafia visitors. Ketsie Morassi earned a Best Supporting Female Actor award from the Film Critics Circle of Australia for her portrayal of Margaret, Barry’s young mistress. Morassi managed to expertly transform Margaret from the desperate young mistress trying to project a sophisticated façade to the relaxed young woman who found herself falling in love with her lover’s nephew.

When I first saw the 2009 summer movie, ”TERMINATOR SALVATION”, it occurred to me that Sam Worthington looked oddly familiar. I finally recalled seeing him in my first viewing of ”DIRTY DEEDS”. In this movie, he gave a relaxed performance as Barry’s charming nephew, the Vietnam War veteran Darcy. Worthington’s Darcy was so charming and forthright that it was easy to see why Margaret fell in love with him. And why Tony started to regard him as a son. But that easy-going nature also contrasted with Darcy’s growing uneasiness that he was not cut out to be a mobster, let alone become his uncle’s new enforcer. And being the talented actor that he is, Worthington managed to convey Darcy’s angst over his relationship with Barry with great ease. John Goodman’s performance as the older Mafioso Tony seemed just as relaxed as Worthington’s performance . . . and nuanced. Unlike the arrogant Sal, his Tony is a weary gangster who has come to regret his decision not to follow in his uncle’s footsteps as a restaurant owner and become a professional criminal, instead. Although he manages to hold his own in his dealings with Barry, Tony senses a kindred spirit in Darcy and tries to prevent the younger man from following into Barry’s footsteps.

Bryan Brown was naturally at the top of his game as the ruthless, yet besieged mobster, Barry Ryan. He is probably one of the few actors I believe is capable of portraying tough and masculine types without overdoing it. And his Barry was tough and very masculine. But Brown also managed to convey Barry’s anxiety that he might not be able to fend off the American takeover of his business . . . or his insecurity over the fact that his mistress prefer a younger man over himself. If I were to choose my favorite character in this film, it would have to be Sharon Ryan, portrayed by the always talented Toni Collette. Hell, the woman almost stole the picture from everyone else as the feisty, yet supportive mobster wife, who turned out to be more ruthless than her husband. She certainly earned a well deserved Best Female Actor nomination from the Film Critics of Australia. If I had my way, I would have handed over the award to her.

By the way, I have to give kudos to production designer Chris Kennedy, art director Chris Batson, and costume designer Tess Schofield for doing an excellent job for saturating the firm in a late 1960s atmosphere. Schofield took it further by conveying the generational differences between the characters in their costumes. Whereas Barry, Tony, Ray and Sharon’s costumes reflected their generation’s more conservative tastes, Margaret and Darcy’s reflected their generation’s participation in the Swinging Sixties. Geoffrey Hall’s cinematography struck me as pretty solid, but I cannot help but wonder how he felt about a certain scene that I found questionable. I am referring to the sequence that jumped back and forth between Tony and Sal’s participation in Barry’s boar hunt in the Outback and Barry’s Michael Corleone’s style murders of the Americans’ allies – his rivals and a traitor in his organization – back in Sydney. Frankly, it did not work for me. I now understand that Tony and Sal’s boar hunting was supposed to serve as a metaphor of Barry’s hunt of his enemies. But the whole sequence struck me as a bit sloppy and confusing . . . and I could have done without it.

Despite my one quibble about the movie, I can honestly say that I really enjoyed ”DIRTY DEEDS”. David Caesar had written and directed quirky and entertaining movie about Australian criminals and the effects of the Vietnam War in 1969. The movie’s cast and the production crew also did an excellent job of projecting the movie’s 1960s setting. I had enjoyed this movie so much that I went out and purchased a DVD copy.  I simply could not wait any longer.

“CAPTAIN BLOOD” (1935) Review

“CAPTAIN BLOOD” (1935) Review

Based upon the 1922 novel of the same name by Rafael Sabatini, the story of ”CAPTAIN BLOOD” centered around an Irish-born physician living in an English town, who finds himself in trouble with the Court of King James II after aiding a wounded friend who had participated in the Mounmouth Rebellion of 1685. The 1935 film, released by Warner Brothers and First National Pictures, featured the first collaboration between stars Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland, and director Michael Curtiz. 

When Jack Warner and studio production chief, first made plans to film Sabatini’s novel, they had planned for British actor, Robert Donat to portray the Irish-born doctor turned slave and pirate. But Donat proved to be unavailable and the then unknown Flynn ended up with the role. As everyone knows, not only did ”CAPTAIN BLOOD” prove to be a hit, the movie made instant stars out of Flynn and De Havilland.

Many years have passed since I last saw ”CAPTAIN BLOOD”. Which would explain why I have never developed any strong feelings for this particular film, in compare to certain other Errol Flynn movies. After watching it recently, my opinion of ”CAPTAIN BLOOD” has improved. Somewhat. Basically, I feel that it is a first-rate story filled with excellent characterizations, a strong narrative and some decent action. But I do not know if I can say that I love ”CAPTAIN BLOOD”. The movie is not exactly Flynn, De Havilland and Curtiz at their best.

Once Peter Blood finds himself a slave in Jamaica, he plots with his fellow prisoners to escape the island via a ship. Before he can make his escape, Blood falls in love with his owner – Arabella Bishop, the niece of the planter he and his fellow slave work on. An attack by a Spanish pirate ship allows Blood and his friends to finally make their escape. They form a crew to become one of the most formidable group of pirates in the Caribbean. Blood eventually befriends a French pirate name Levasseur and the two become partners – an act that the Irishman comes to regret. The two eventually come to blows over Arabella, who has been captured by Levasseur. Accompanying Arabella is a royal courtier name Lord Willoughby with some interesting news for Blood.

One problem I have with the film is the lack of balance between the dramatic scenes and the action. Quite frankly,”CAPTAIN BLOOD” came off as a bit too heavy on conversation for a swashbuckler. I realize that screenwriter Casey Robinson was trying to stay faithful to Sabatini’s novel. But I suspect that this attempt may have slightly reduced the movie’s pacing – to its detriment. And most of the action sequences did not strike me as that impressive. Mind you, the sword duel between Blood and a French pirate named Captain Levasseur (portrayed by the always competent Basil Rathbone) over Arabella Bishop, Blood’s owner, struck me as impressive. Well . . . somewhat. Actually, I have seen better swordfights – especially those featured in 1938’s ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD” and 1940’s ”THE SEA HAWK”. The most impressive action sequence in the movie featured Blood’s sea battle against two French ships attacking Port Royal in the movie’s finale. I have to give kudos to Curtiz for directing an action sequence that struck me as surprisingly realistic.

Another problem I had with “CAPTAIN BLOOD” was its portrayal of slavery in 17th century Jamaica. I found it amazing that most of the slaves in Port Royal were white. I am well aware that white slaves – or indentured servants – existed throughout the British Empire during that period. And I am also aware that those rebels convicted of treason against King James II during the Monmouth Rebellion, ended up as slaves in the Caribbean. But what happened to the black slaves in this movie? Jamaica and other British controlled islands in the Caribbean had received more African slaves than any other part of the Empire during the late 17th and 18th centures. I did managed to spot one or two amongst the slaves on Colonel Bishop’s estate. And he did have house slaves that were black. But at least one of them spoke with an American South dialect, prevalent in the 19th and 20th centuries. I realize that “CAPTAIN BLOOD” is a Hollywood film. But since most of the movie managed to either be historically correct . . . or at least close to being accurate, why did it fall short in its portrayal of Caribbean slavery?

On the other hand, ”CAPTAIN BLOOD” featured some excellent dramatic scenes. And the best of the bunch featured Flynn. I was especially impressed by the scene that featured Blood and his fellow prisoners being sentenced to slavery in Jamaica by a very hostile judge, Blood’s hostile reaction to being purchased by Arabella, his discovery of the body of his friend Jeremy Pitt, the fallout between Blood and Lavasseur, the revelation by a royal courtier that the hated James II had been replaced by his daughter and son-in-law – Mary and William of Orange, and especially the last fight between him and Arabella before she is sent ashore to Port Royal near the end of the film. And Flynn was ably assisted in these scenes by De Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Ross Alexander and Henry Stephenson.

Speaking of the film’s performances, ”CAPTAIN BLOOD” possessed a number of good, solid performances by a supporting cast that included Guy Kibbee, Forrester Harvey, Frank McGlynn Sr. and Robert Barrat, who portrayed members of Blood’s crew. Also portraying a member of Blood’s crew was Ross Alexander. Many critics have claimed that if Alexander had not comitted suicide over a year following the movie’s release, he might have become an acclaimed screen actor. Quite frankly, I do not know. Alexander’s performance in “CAPTAIN BLOOD” seemed personable and competent, but I never really saw the magic. Although the cast members portraying Blood’s crew had their moments of humor, the prize for the funniest performance belonged to – in my opinion – George Steed as Jamaica’s Governor Steed, who suffered from a gouty foot.

Basil Rathbone only appeared in a handful of scenes in “CAPTAIN BLOOD” and was clearly not the main villain. But his performance as the lusty and avaricious Captain Levasseur was extremely memorable. More importantly, his Levasseur struck me as more human than his roles in both “ROBIN HOOD” and “THE MARK OF ZORRO”. I wish I could say the same about Lionel Atwill. Mind you, his performance as the brutal Colonel Bishop was solid, but there were times when it came across as unoriginal.

Olivia DeHavilland was superb in her first leading role as Arabella, the brutal Colonel Bishop’s niece and Peter Blood’s owner. Her character did not have a great impact upon the plot – aside from her capture by Levasseur leading to a duel between him and Blood. But her Arabella was no limpid damsel-in-distress, whose only role was to be the object of Blood’s desire. DeHavilland projected a great deal of energy, fire and wit into her performance. No wonder she and Flynn had such a strong screen chemistry.

But no matter how good the cast was, the real star behind “CAPTAIN BLOOD” was the Tasmanian born Errol Flynn. Jack Warner and Hal Wallis took a great chance in casting him in the lead, considering that he was a virtual unknown. And that gamble paid off tenfold. This is the fifth Flynn movie I have watched in great detail. To this day, I do not understand the old prevailing view that he was not much of an actor. Peter Blood was his first major role as a film actor and if I may be frank, Flynn gave one hell of a performance. Aside from a hammy moment when Blood finally declare his love for Arabella, Flynn’s acting was very natural. And like DeHavilland, he portrayed his character with a great deal of fire, energy and more importantly, anger. Flynn’s portrayal of the hot-headed Peter Blood is probably one of the better debut performances in Hollywood films.

Other reviewers of ”CAPTAIN BLOOD” have commented favorably on Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s score. Honestly? I did not find it that memorable. In fact, I cannot remember anything about it. Just a lot of horns and strings. I am not carelessly putting down Korngold’s talent, because I was very impressed by his “ROBIN HOOD”score of three years later. I simply cannot say the same about his “CAPTAIN BLOOD” score. However, I was very impressed by the movie’s cinematography shot by Warner Brothers’ own Ernest Haller and Hal Mohr. I have mixed feelings about Anton Grot’s art direction. Granted, I was impressed by the sets for the Port Royal sequences. But the art design for the English sequences resembled fake set designs for a play and the sets for Blood’s ship lacked the claustrophobic feel of a real ship.

Granted, “CAPTAIN BLOOD” is not perfect. It has flaws that include an uneven pacing, questionable action sequences and an unmemorable score – at least for me. In fact, I have seen better blockbusters that starred Errol Flynn during that period. But I must admit that it is still a first-rate movie, even after 75 years. And it made for a dazzling debut for the Australian actor.