“THE MUMMY” (1999) Review

“THE MUMMY” (1999) Review

As a rule, I dislike horror movies or thrillers very much. Not only do I dislike today’s slasher films, I am NOT a fan of the old horror classics that feature actors like Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Lon Chaney Jr., and Boris Karloff. In other words, the slasher films disgust me and the old horror classics tend to creep me out. 

One of those old horror classics happened to be the 1932 movie, ”THE MUMMY”, starring Karloff. It told the story of an ancient Egyptian priest named Imhotep that became a mummy and ended up terrorizing Cairo. Seventy-six years later, director Stephen Sommers remade the old classic into a half-horror/half-adventure tale in the style of Indiana Jones about how members of a treasure-seeking expedition in 1920s Egypt, revived Imhotep, who wrecked havoc upon the expedition camp and Cairo. I had been prepared to ignore this remake, until a relative informed me that this version had been filmed in the style of an Indiana Jones movie. Being a fan of the Lucas/Spielberg movies, I lowered my guard and saw the movie.

Looking back at my decision, eleven years later, I am glad that I had seen ”THE MUMMY”. My relative had been right. The movie felt more like an action-adventure film, with a touch of horror. Well, more than a touch. After all, this was a tale about an Egyptian mummy that came back to life. But I loved every minute of the film. Well . . . almost. But I believe that it was a perfect blend of action, the supernatural, adventure, comedy and romance. My two favorite sequences featured the Medjai (descendants of Pharaoh Seti I’s palace guards) attacking the Nile River steamboat conveying the heroes from Cairo to Hamunaptra, site of the treasure they sought and Imohtep’s remains; and Imohtep’s reign of terror in Cairo, as he sought the three Americans and the Egyptologist who possessed the canopic jars that held the mummy’s preserved organs. I especially enjoyed this last sequence, because I feel that it managed to evoke the surreal and mysterious atmosphere of the old 30s horror films more than any other sequence in the movie.

Another one of the movie’s major virtues turned out to be its cast. Brendan Fraser did a great job in portraying the aggressive soldier-of-fortune, Rick O’Connell. He must have been at least 30 years old around the time he shot ”THE MUMMY”. And I must say that he also managed to project a strong and masculine screen presence, with a touch of sly humor. Creating screen chemistry with Fraser was Rachel Weisz, who portrayed the inexperienced yet enthusiastic archeologist, Dr. Evelyn Carnahan. I really enjoyed how she injected a mixture of charm and spirit into the very ladylike Evelyn. And John Hannah rounded out the golden trio as Jonathan Carnahan, Evelyn’s humorous yet slightly decadent older brother. Hannah was very funny as Evelyn’s self-serving brother, who seemed more interested in making a quick buck, instead of doing hard work.

Kevin J. O’Connor, a favorite of Sommers, gave a sly and hilarious performance as the Hungarian born Beni Gabor, Rick’s amoral former Foreign Legion comrade that becomes Imohtep’s willing minion. O’Connor was especially hilarious in a scene that featured Beni’s attempts to save himself from Imohtep’s wrath by invoking God’s help in different languages. Actor Oded Fehr provided a great deal of dash and intensity as Ardeth Bay, the leader of Medjai. Actors Stephen Dunham, Corey Johnson, and Tuc Watkins provided plenty of their own comic relief as the three American adventurers seeking treasure from Hamunaptra. Jonathan Hyde provided a stable contrast to their lunacy as the Egyptian archeologist who serves as their expedition’s Egyptology specialist. Patricia Velásquez gave a brief, but very memorable performance as Anck-Su-Namun, the ancient Egyptian courtesan that happened to be the love of Imohtep’s life. Speaking of Imohtep, Arnold Vosloo literally made a name for himself as the imposing and ruthless high priest and future mummy, who becomes obsessed with reuniting with his love through any means possible.

Despite its vast array of virtues, ”THE MUMMY” had its share of flaws. One, some of the humor and so-called wit struck me as rather silly and sophomoric. I also found it annoying that the Rick O’Connell character seemed inclined to constantly use a gun for every situation – especially when they worked fruitlessly against supernatural beings like mummies. Costume designer John Bloomfield did a piss poor job with Rachel Weisz’s costumes. I realize that Westerners in the far reaches of the British Empire tend to dress more conservatively than their fellow citizens in Great Britain. But that was no excuse for why Evelyn wore an outfit and hairstyle dated a decade older than the movie’s 1920s setting:

However, my biggest problem with the movie happened to be the final showdown between the heroes and Imohtep inside the temple at Hamunaptra. How can I put this? Director Stephen Sommers added new meaning to the phrase ”over-the-top”. Not only did the action and special effects struck me as excessive, but it almost seemed to go on with no end in sight.

Despite my misgivings of ”THE MUMMY”, I still enjoyed the movie very much. It is a fun movie filled with memorable characters, humor, suspense and some genuine fright. For me, it turned out to be one of the better summer blockbusters of the late 1990s.

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“LOST”: A Tale of Two Fathers

“LOST”: A Tale of Two Fathers

Back in Season 2, “LOST” had aired an episode called (2.09) “What Kate Did”. The episode revealed the crime that led castaway Kate Austen (Evangeline Lilly) to being a fugitive for three years – she had murdered her father, Wayne Jensen (James Horan), and used his death to collect insurance for her mother, Diane (Beth Broderick). The episode also revealed Kate’s reason for her act of murder. She had just learned that Wayne – a man she had presumed to be her stepfather – was actually her father. 

Kate had made it perfectly clear that she disliked Wayne Jensen. She held him responsible for her mother’s break-up with Sam Austen, the man she had longed believed was her father. She certainly disliked the fact that he was an alcoholic who physically abused Diane. And she found his habit of occasionally leering at her disgusting and beneath contempt. Many believed that Kate had been a victim of sexual abuse. And that Wayne was the perputrator. But“What Kate Did” hinted that Wayne may not have abused Kate. In this scene, Kate talks to an unconscious fellow castaway, Sawyer (Josh Holloway), whose body she believes has been temporarily possessed by her late father:

“Can you hear me? Sawyer? Wayne? [Sawyer stirs] I’m probably crazy and this doesn’t matter, but maybe you’re in there somehow. But you asked me a question. You asked me why I — why I did it. It wasn’t because you drove my father away, or the way you looked at me, or because you beat her. It’s because I hated that you were a part of me — that I would never be good. That I would never have anything good. And every time that I look at Sawyer — every time I feel something for him — I see you, Wayne. It makes me sick.”.

Judging from her comments, it seems quite apparent that Wayne had never sexually abused her. Kate did accuse him of leering at her, which he proved in a flashback at the beginning of the episode. However, there are fans who still insist that Wayne may have abused her. They are entitled to their opinions. Frankly, I have doubts that Kate had ever been abused. But if she had . . . Wayne Jensen would not be on the top of my list of suspects.

When “What Kate Did” had first aired during the 2005-2006 television season, I also viewed an episode of “HOUSE”called “Skin Deep”. I noticed how Dr. Gregory House (portrayed by Hugh Laurie) had correctly guessed that a 15 year-old female patient, who happened to be a model, had been molested by “her” possessive father. How did House come to this conclusion? He noticed the close relationship between the model and her father. He noticed how the former seemed overtly concerned with pleasing said father.

This scene also brought about memories of the 1995 movie, “DOLORES CLAIRBORNE”. Based on a Stephen King novel, it told the story about a Maine woman (played by Kathy Bates) who murders her husband (David Straitharn) in order to stop him from continuing his sexual abuse of their daughter (Jennifer Jason-Leigh). What I had found interesting was that the daughter over-idealized her abusive father. And he (in flashbacks) over-idealized his mother, who may have sexually abused him.

Both that particular episode of “HOUSE” and “DOLORES CLAIRBORNE” led me to suspect that if Kate had actually been sexually abused, the best candidate as her abuser would have been her step-father, Sgt. Sam Austen (Lindsey Ginter). After all, Kate has expressed nothing but contempt for Wayne. Yet, she had a tendency to idealize her step-father. And in an odd way, she may have extended or projected this same tendency to idealize over to other men who probably reminded her of Sgt. Austen – Tom Brennan (MacKenzie Astin), her husband Kevin Callis (Nathan Fillon) and leader of the island castaways, Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox).

Below is a link to a web page that lists traits of those (especially adult women) who may have suffered sexual abuse as a child – Beyond Victim. Included on the web page is a small list of the following traits of victims of sexual abuse:

*You feel powerless in important relationships and are terrified of honest confrontations. Yet you try to control and manipulate other people.

*If you were sexually abused by your father, you also may have felt unconsciously empowered by him; you are his special girl and you can do and be whatever you choose (as long as you don’t replace daddy with a new man in your life with whom you can be truly intimate). Your troubled relationships with men present a sharp contrast to other areas of your life.

*You over-idealize your father and fail to see his destructive side while seeing the negative side of your mother and ignoring her positive attributes. Consequently, you over-value and misperceive men while devaluing and discounting women. (Or you may over-idealize your mother and see your father as totally bad. this pattern is common with men who were sexually abused by either their mothers or their fathers.)

I am not saying that Kate was definitely a victim of sexual abuse. I honestly do not know. Over five years have passed since “What Kate Did” aired and the producers of “LOST” never followed up on that particular storyline. I do find it interesting that Kate’s feelings toward Sam Austen seemed to follow a pattern similar to that of sexual abuse victims harbor toward their perputrators – as described above. Kate not only tend to over-idealize Jack, a man who not only reminded her of Austen, she ended up becoming a victim of his emotional abuse – both on the island and off.  Look at Kate’s mother, Diane Jensen. She was always making excuses for Wayne’s actions, despite his abuse of her.   And look at James “Sawyer” Ford. Even though he had pointed out some of Kate’s bullshit during the series’ first four seasons, he was always willing to be her boy toy and seemed to have little regard for himself. However, I suspect that if she had remained on the island longer than the Season 4 finale, (4.14) “There’s No Place Like Home, Part III”, he would have eventually reached the end of his rope and end the cycle of emotional and physical abuse from her.

Perhaps Kate had learned of the vicious cycle abuse from her observation of her parents’ marriage .  Then again, she could have learned it from the person who may have abused her.  Personally, I suspect the former.

 

“AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” (1989) Review

Below is my review of the 1989 miniseries, “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS”

“AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” (1989) Review

I have seen at least three full versions of Jules Verne’s 1873 novel, ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS”. And if I must be frank, I have yet to see a version that I would consider to be flawless or near flawless. But if I had to choose which version would rank as my favorite, it would be the three-part miniseries that aired on NBC in 1989.

Directed by the late Buzz Kulik, this version of Jules Verne’s novel starred Pierce Brosnan as the globe-trotting Phineas Fogg. ”MONTY PYTHON” alumni Eric Idle co-starred as Fogg’s French manservant, Passepartout; Julia Nickson portrayed the India-born Princess Aouda; and the late Peter Ustinov was the English detective who was convinced that Fogg had robbed the Bank of England, Detective Fix. The story started with a conversation between Fogg (Brosnan) and three fellow members of the Reform Club (Christopher Lee, Patrick Macnee and Simon Ward) in 19th century London about the technological advances in transportation in the past thirty to forty years. This leads Fogg to make a wager for twenty-thousand pounds (£20,000) that he could travel around the world in eighty (80) days or less. During the same day, a thief robs the Bank of England and all suspicions point to Fogg, who is identified by a bank employee as the robber.

Wentworth (Robert Morely), an official from the Bank of England and his assistant McBaines (Roddy MacDowell) dispatch private detectives to various ports throughout Europe to find Fogg and have him extradicted back to England. One of the detectives include Fix (Ustinov), who is sent to Brindisi, Italy. Unfortunately, Fix spots Fogg and Passepartout boarding a steamer bound for Suez and Bombay a minute too late and is forced to follow them on their trek around the world. Upon Fogg’s arrival in India, one last member joins his traveling party when he and Passepartout (actually, Passepartout) rescue a recently widowed Indian princess from a suttee funeral pyre.

Like its 1956 predecessor, this version of “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” turned out to be longer than necessary. The miniseries could have easily been a two-part miniseries or a 135-minute television movie. Unfortunately, John Gay filled his screenplay with unecessary scenes and dialogue that merely served as fillers to justify a three-part miniseries. In Part I, Fogg and Passepartout’s adventures in France lasted longer than necessary – especially after they met a balloonist named Gravier and his mistress, Lucette. Even worse, viewers have to endure Fogg and Passepartout’s balloon journey from France to Italy – which included a period that the heroes found themselves stranded in the Italian Alps. Part II included scenes that featured Fogg, Passepartout and Aouda’s adventures with a Burmese prince and the bandits that kidnapped all of them; and Fogg, Aouda and Fix’s encounter with the Empress of China and her son, the Emperor. I realize Gay also added these scenes to make Fogg’s journey around the world more interesting. Unfortunately, they failed to interest or impress me.

Another problem I had with Gay’s script turned out to be a major blooper that involved Fogg’s encounters with the famous bandit, Jesse James (Stephen Nicols). Following Fogg’s first encounter with James in San Francisco; he, Aouda, Passepartout and Fix boarded an eastbound train for Omaha. By some miracle, Jesse James and his brother Frank managed to catch up with this train somewhere on the Great Plains (probably in Nebraska), where Jesse boarded said train before the second encounter with Fogg. How was this possible? Fogg’s train should have traveling eastbound for at least a day or two before James boarded it. There is NO WAY that the bandit could have caught up with that train. Gay should have allowed the James brothers or Jesse board the train in Oakland, along with Fogg and his party. Sloppy writing. And some of the dialogue featured in the miniseries seemed ladened with pedantic and half-finished sentences and unecessarily long pauses that seemed to serve no other function than to act as fillers to stretch the story.

One might wonder how I can view this version of “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” as my favorite, considering the above criticism. But despite the flaws, I must admit there were many aspects about the miniseries I found enjoyable. John Gay’s screenplay did not turn out to be a total loss. In fact, the number of gems in the story seemed to outweigh the flaws. I especially enjoyed the following:

*Fogg and Passepartout’s charming encounter with actress Sarah Bernhardt (portrayed by a still sexy 54 year-old Lee Remick) at Dover
*Fogg and Passepartout’s hilarious adventure at a Parisian bar
*The steamship journey from Brindisi to Suez that featured Fogg’s encounter with Egyptian stonecutters and Fix’s hilarious encounter with a Turkish prisoner willing to offer himself to help the detective pass the time
*Princess Aouda’s rescue
*Fogg, Aouda and Fix find themselves shipwrecked on the China coast
*Fogg’s first encounter with Jesse James at a San Francisco ball
*Fogg and James’ duel on the Omaha-bound train

One particular scene I truly found enjoyable was Fogg and Aouda’s hilarious and unsuccessful attempt to stowaway aboard Cornelius Vanderbilt’s (Rick Jason) Europe-bound yacht. It was never featured in the novel or the 1956 movie. Too bad. I thought it was one of the best written scenes in the miniseries.

And it was Pierce Brosnan’s performance as Phileas Fogg that really made that last scene a comic gem for me. Which is not surprising, considering he has turned out to be my favorite Fogg. Sorry Mr. Niven and Mr. Coogan, but I feel that Brosnan’s portrayal has the other two beat. He managed to combined the best of the other two actors’ performances to create the most emotionally rounded Phileas Fogg. He managed to perfectly convey the angst of Fogg’s tendencies to suppress his emotions with some great comic timing.

Speaking of comic timing, Eric Idle’s timing was effectively on display in some of my favorite scenes. Granted, I found his French accent rather questionable. But Idle more than made up for it in some very hilarious scenes. One featured his reaction to being attacked by a French thug at the Parisian bar and another a drunken moment shared with Fix at a Hong Kong tavern. But my favorite Idle moment centered around his reaction to a questionable meat pie purchased by Fogg on the Omaha-bound train in probably the funniest line in the entire miniseries.

Julia Nickson was both charming and amusing as the very brave Princess Aouda. Her Indian princess provided the miniseries with some deliciously angst-filled moments that allowed Aouda to question Fogg about his habit of suppressing his feelings from others. Nickson’s Aouda also provided the miniseries with some political correct moments that were not only amusing, but well handled without being overbearing. And I simply enjoyed Peter Ustinov’s performance as Detective Fix. Like Brosnan’s Fogg, his Fix came off as more rounded and complex as Robert Newton or Ewan Bremmer’s Fix. Without a doubt, Ustinov had some hilarious moments – especially in scenes that featured Fix’s encounter with the Turkish prisoner on the voyage to Suez; and his reaction to another game of whist with Fogg. Not only did Ustinov managed to be funny, but also give Fix’s character with a great deal of depth not found in other versions of the story.

I do have to say something about the supporting characters. One, I really enjoyed Robert Morely and Roddy McDowall as the Bank of England official and his assistant. Morely was a lot more amusing and fun in this miniseries than he was as the more stoic bank official in the 1956 version. And McDowall supported him beautifully. I also enjoyed the performances of Christopher Lee, Patrick Macnee and Simon Ward as the three Reform Club members who made the bet with Fogg. I especially enjoyed Lee’s performance as the one member who especially found Fogg’s precision and rigid habits rather annoying.

This version of “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” lacked Victor Young’s memorable score and Lionel Lindon’s cinematography. But it does possess a pleasant and catchy score written by Billy Goldenberg. And I must admit that I found myself impressed by Emma Porteus’ costume design, which captured the styles of the early 1870s more effectively than the 1956 movie.

In a nutshell, the three-part miniseries is simply too long. It has scenes and some clunky dialogue that could have easily been edited. But screenwriter John Gay also provided some wonderful and effective moments in the script. Frankly, I thought the cast was top-notch – especially the four main characters led by Pierce Brosnan. And although he is not well known, I thought that director Buzz Kulik did a solid job bringing it all together. The 1956 version may have won the awards, but in my book, this 1989 miniseries remains my favorite version of Jules Verne’s novel.

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

 

 

“RETURN WITH A VENGEANCE”

CHAPTER 18

Three people sat in lawn chairs, as they watched the couple engage in a martial arts match on the McNeills’ sprawling back lawn. Harry could not help but admire the couple’s skills, especially those that belonged to one Cole Turner. 

“Not bad,” he murmured. “I had forgotten what a good fighter, Cole was.”

Cecile tore her eyes away from the sparring couple and gazed upon the red-haired witch. “You forgot? You’ve seen him fight before?”

“Yeah. When we had rescued the Halliwells from the Crozats, last month.” Harry saw Cole skillfully deflect a potentially lethal punch from Olivia. “Only, he didn’t look this good.”

Bruce commented, “You have to admit that Olivia seemed to be holding her own, pretty good.”

Both Cole and Olivia continued their sparring session. The trio held their breaths, as Cole sent Olivia off her feet with a low kick. However, the latter quickly recovered with a gymnastic roll and landed back on her feet.

“By the way Harry,” Cecile continued, “how did you managed to send a telepathic message to all of us, when Dako attacked you? I mean I can send one without being in the same room with the other person, but to send a message to more than one person?”

Bruce said, “If you thought that was impressive, you should have been here, last month. Harry had picked up on Phoebe Halliwell’s premonition from across town.”

“Really?” Cecile’s dark eyes gazed curiously at the youngest McNeill. “Now that’s impressive.”

Feeling embarrassed and pleased at the same time, a wave of heat washed over Harry’s face. “It only happened once,” he replied. “I had been meditating at the time.”

Everyone returned his or her attention to Cole and Olivia. “You know, if I didn’t know better,” Cecile continued, “I’d swear that I was watching some kind of sexual foreplay.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Bruce added. “I think Livy is attracted to him.”

Cecile shot back, “I’d say that in Cole’s case, the feeling is mutual. I had sensed something between them when I first met him.”

Harry frowned. “Sensed? What did you feel?”

“Something.” A cryptic smile curved Cecile’s lips.

But Harry refused to let the matter drop. “C’mon Cecile. What did you sense? Did you see their future?”

“Well, let’s just say there is a very good chance they might have a future together.” Cecile paused dramatically. “If they let it happen.”

Their eyes returned to the couple. Both Olivia and Cole were engaged in a series of punches and defensive blocks. Then Olivia grabbed Cole’s wrist and in a sudden move, threw him over her shoulder. The victory only lasted for a second or two. Cole managed to grab her wrist and jerk Olivia downward, forcing her to land right on top of his body. For several seconds, the couple stared into each other’s eyes, breathing heavily. And then they broke into laughter.

“Jesus,” Harry muttered. “Why don’t they just get a room?”

Cecile added, “Tell me about it.”

Bruce responded with a slight cough. Then, “Leo! Ladies! I see you finally made it!”

Harry tore his eyes away from the couple in front of him and saw his whitelighter and the Halliwells standing beside Bruce’s chair. Staring at Olivia and Cole with horror and shock.

Olivia caught sight of the newcomers and quickly rolled off Cole. Who scrambled to his feet and helped Olivia stand up. Both smiled at the new visitors. “Hey Leo!” Olivia greeted happily. “Glad that you could make it.”

* * * *

After a quick shower and a change into fresh clothes, Cole returned outside to the McNeill’s back lawn. There, he found the family’s Sunday brunch in full swing. He saw that Darryl Morris had arrived. Darryl’s wife could not make it, due to family obligations in Oakland. But their two sons could. Cole spotted them playing with Harry McNeill. Everyone else, except for Olivia, were either sampling the food or sitting down in lawn chairs. Cole noticed one empty chair near Jack McNeill and moved toward it.

“Hey,” he greeted. “Mind if I join you?”

Mr. McNeill glanced up and smiled at Cole. “Don’t mind at all.” Cole sat down. The former continued, “But I must warn you, I’m expecting someone . . .”

A figure appeared before the pair. It was Piper Halliwell, holding a plate of food. She rolled her eyes and muttered, “Great. I guess I better see how Leo is doing.” And she walked away.

Cole sighed. And to think he had been enjoying this day.

“Sorry about that,” Jack McNeill said with an apologetic smile. “I should have warned you that I was speaking to Piper.”

Another sigh left Cole’s mouth. “That’s okay. Maybe I’m getting used to being regarded as a pariah or monster by a Halliwell. But I am getting tired of it.”

Gray-blue eyes stared at him shrewdly. “You still want their forgiveness, don’t you? Their acceptance?”

Cole opened his mouth. “I . . . I don’t know. Maybe. It’s not easy trying to get over the fact that one’s ex-wife and her family regard you as evil. Then again, maybe I should have asked Paige to take away my powers, again. After I had killed Barbas.”

Mr. McNeill shook his head. “You weren’t meant to be mortal, Cole. It’s not what you are. And I don’t think being mortal would make you happy.”

“Yeah, but I would still be with Phoebe, if I had remained . . .”

The middle-aged man’s gaze became intense. “Listen to me! The last two times you became mortal, disaster followed. First with the Source, and later with Barbas. I wouldn’t tempt fate for a third time.”

Cole paused and reflected on the other man’s words. “I guess you’re right,” he finally admitted. “Too bad Phoebe doesn’t understand.”

“I don’t think she wants to understand. In fact, I get the feeling that she has never understood you. From what I’ve seen of your memories, she seemed incapable of accepting your true self.” Mr. McNeill paused. “I wonder if she had ever really loved the real you.”

Those last words struck Cole like a thunderbolt. Mr. McNeill had outwardly stated one of his major fears in regard to his relationship with Phoebe. Except for those few months following Prue’s death – when Paige was still a novice witch – Phoebe had always seemed willing to accept him – with conditions. Those conditions – not using his powers, and becoming mortal – had brought out a deep resentment that Cole kept hidden from Phoebe, due to his desperation to maintain her love.

“As for Piper,” Mr. McNeill continued, “I don’t think she has ever liked you. Or ever will. This is something you might have to simply accept. Can you?”

Cole stared at him. “Do you only mean Piper? Or the entire family?”

“All of them.”

A long pause followed, before Cole finally answered, “Ask me again in a few months.” He smiled.

* * * *

“So, it wasn’t the warlocks who had summoned this Dako?” Paige asked Cecile. The Vodoun priestess and Darryl Morris sat in lawn chairs, several feet away from the refreshment table.

Cecile shook her head. “No. I doubt they had the ability to summon him. Olivia, Bruce and I found out that Dako’s spirit had arrived, trapped in an urn. And that urn came from someone named William Dagbani, who might be a bokor. You know, it’s interesting. When did Dako took possession of your body? When you were asleep?”

Darryl nodded. “Yeah. Why?”

“Well, practioners of Vodoun believe that a person’s soul has two parts – the gros bon ange or the big guardian angel and the ti bon ange, the little guardian angel. The ti bon ange usually leaves a person’s body when he or she is asleep, making it easy for a spirit to possess the body,” Cecile continued. “It’s interesting that Crozats knew when to allow Dako to take possession. This Dagbani person must have told them.”

“Did he give them a spell to vanquish that bastard? I thought Bruce found one inside the Crozats’ office.” Darryl added. He forked off a piece of quiche.

“He did, but it probably wouldn’t have worked. They weren’t Vodoun.” Cecile paused. “Unless they have some West African ancestry.”

Paige nodded. “Phoebe told me about that. I wonder if the Crozats knew.”

Cecile shrugged. “Apparently not. It makes me wonder if this Mr. Dagbani knew the Crozats would fail to vanquish Dako. Hell, I wonder what he was really up to. It’s too bad he had left Singapore before the cops could question him.”

This sobering thought left the trio silent for a moment. Then Paige said to Darryl, “Uh, by the way. I’m sorry for giving you the third degree, yesterday. The last time I saw you, I nearly died. I guess I forgot that it wasn’t really you.”

“It’s okay,” Darryl replied with a smile. “I’m just glad that Cecile and Cole finally freed me from that bastard.”

A frown crept into Paige’s countenance, at the mention of her ex brother-in-law’s name. “Piper and Phoebe told me that Cole had hit you pretty hard, when he drove Dako out of your body.”

“He had no choice. Your sisters’ potion didn’t work.”

Cecile added, “And I had forgotten to bring my potion. I have to admit. It was pretty smart of Cole to use Dako’s power against him. He told me that something similar happened to him, when he was possessed by some daemon named Andras.”

Paige shook her head. “Yeah, but . . .”

“Honey, why are you dragging this out? Cole did what he had to do to save us all. Especially Darryl.” Cecile gave Paige a hard stare. “Besides, didn’t you once help him, when the others had refused?”

Memories of the Charmed Ones’ last encounter with Barbas rushed back into Paige’s head and she shuddered. She had seriously believed that Cole needed help. And she had been right. Yet, never did she imagine that his powers would prove to be so . . . powerful. Invincible. Even against the Power of Three. That little discovery had made Paige even more leery of her former brother-in-law. Matters only became confusing, as she began to question what really happened between Cole and the Source.

She sighed. “Okay, so I did. He needed help at the time. Still . . .”

“Still what?” Cecile’s eyes remained fixed on Paige’s face. “Look, whatever problems you have with Cole, you really need to get over them. Seems to me that he’s trying to start a new life. If you don’t want to be a part of it, fine. But there’s no need to make it difficult for him – even behind his back.”

Paige found herself growing uncomfortable . . . and embarrassed under the other woman’s steady gaze. Darryl focused his attention on the food spread out on the table. “I . . .”

“Hey!” Bruce McNeill’s voice carried across the lawn. “Are you three going to just sit there all day?” The three people finished filling their plates and joined the group that had begun to form around Cole and Mr. McNeill.

* * * *

Feeling refreshed in clean clothes, Olivia joined the others on the lawn. She glanced around and noticed that everyone seemed scattered about. Darryl, Cecile and Barbara had gathered in one small group. Harry and Paige, the youngest Halliwell, were preoccupied with Darryl’s two sons. Phoebe sat nearby, observing them with great amusement. The others – her parents, Bruce, Cole, Piper and Leo had formed a large group near the garden. Olivia headed toward them. “Hey guys! What’s the topic for today?”

“That urn I had found inside the VENDRUM office,” Bruce replied. “And the file Cole had sent to Dad.”

Olivia’s father added, “Which I’ve read, by the way. Do you all realize that the Crozats had a detailed file on each of us? It had information on nearly everything we’ve done in our lives, whether normal or supernatural. All of us. Cole included.”

The half-daemon gave Jack McNeill a sharp look. “Even before I had met Phoebe and the others?”

“Well, I can only assume information like that came from the Source’s Realm. However, they certainly had plenty of information on your life, since your return from the Wasteland.”

A frowning Piper asked, “What about my baby? Was there any information on . . .?”

“That your baby is a powerful being?” Dad finished.

Everyone, including Olivia, stared at both Piper and Leo in shock. “Piper’s baby is powerful?” Olivia asked.

Piper remained silent, while the whitelighter looked uneasy. “Well . . . yeah. There’s a chance the baby might be as powerful as Cole.”

A mixture of surprise and disbelief filled Cole’s eyes. “How did that happen?” he asked. “Who else knows about the baby?”

Leo frowned. “What do you mean?”

Looking somewhat earnest, Bruce continued, “Someone knows a hell of a lot about us, Leo. All of us. And he or she was willing to give this information to powerful warlocks, like the Crozats. And since information about your baby was found in those files . . .”

“We know,” Piper interjected sharply. “Phoebe, Paige, Leo and me.”

Leo added, “And the Elders, of course. In fact, a certain number of them had foreseen the baby’s powers before we even knew about it.”

“Anyone else?” Dad asked. “Like a daemon or warlock?”

Piper stared at him. “Why is it so important that we find out? I’m sure there are plenty of demons and warlocks who know about the baby.”

“Like who? I found a spell in the Crozats’ file that enabled a fetus to be transferred from one womb to another,” Dad continued. “Sound familiar?”

“I . . .” Piper glanced uneasily at Cole.

Leo spoke up. “Last spring . . .” He paused, before continuing. “Last spring, Phoebe was pregnant with Cole’s . . . the Source’s baby. The Seer used a similar spell on her.”

Cole’s blue eyes grew wide with shock. “Is that how she lost the baby? I thought you all were forced to vanquish it. Or that Phoebe had a miscarriage.”

Piper’s face turned pink with embarrassment. Olivia noticed that she shot a quick glance at her younger sister. “I guess that you and Phoebe haven’t had a chance to talk since you came back from the Wasteland.”

“And whose fault is that?” Cole muttered angrily.

Outrage replaced the embarrassment on Piper’s face. “Hey! At least Phoebe had never decided to become the Source and turn you into some evil consort!”

“I didn’t exactly volunteer for that particular job title!” Cole’s angry voice attracted the attention of others, Olivia noticed. Including Phoebe’s.

Gweneth McNeill’s voice rang with authority. “Enough! This is not the time to be pointing fingers! Leo, who else knew about your baby?”

The whitelighter hesitated. “Well . . . uh, that warlock . . . Eames . . .”

“An alternate future Eames,” Piper corrected. “And he’s dead. Along with that darklighter who tried to kill Paige’s dad, nearly three weeks ago.”

Dad asked, “What about other whitelighters?” Leo responded with an uneasy nod.

“Wait a minute!” Piper demanded. “Are you trying to say that a whitelighter may have given that file on us to the Crozats? That’s ridiculous!”

All of the McNeills stared at the oldest Halliwell. “Why?” Olivia demanded. “Four whitelighters have turned since you last killed the Source, last spring. And according to Dad’s former whitelighter, the last one became a darklighter just several days ago. I guess Leo didn’t bother to tell you.” She shot a dark look at her former whitelighter.

“Of course I didn’t!” Leo retorted, looking very upset. “And none of you weren’t supposed to even know about that. It’s a whitelighter matter!”

Dad glared at him. “This whitelighter matter may have cost us a lot, Leo! I had warned you about this, last month! About the Source’s Realm being in chaos and how it can upset the balance between good and evil. But apparently, you weren’t listening!”

Piper stared at her husband with shocked eyes. “Leo, is this true? Is this what that last whitelighter meeting was about?”

Olivia saw the dumbfounded look on her whitelighter’s face. She had never felt so sorry for Leo than she did at that moment. Poor bastard. Before anyone could speak, Cecile appeared, holding her cell phone. “Hey Cole!” she cried, unintentionally easing the tension within the group. “Guess who’s calling right now? An old friend of yours! Andre!”

“Huh?” Looking bewildered, he stared at Cecile, as she thrust the phone into his hand. Then he excused himself and walked away.

Olivia’s stomach rumbled, signaling to her that she needed food – right away. And with Cole now speaking to Andre and Piper giving Leo the evil eye, she saw no need to hang around. Olivia stood up and happily made her way to the table.

* * * *

From her spot on the lawn, Paige observed the large group that had gathered near the garden. She noticed the McNeills’ concerned faces, the anger that seemed to crackle between Cole and Piper. And Leo’s bewildered expression. Paige also watched Cole abandon the group, after Cecile Dubois handed him a cell phone. The latter walked away for a private conversation. Olivia McNeill also left the group and headed for the buffet table. And to Paige’s dismay, she saw Phoebe follow the redheaded witch. Instinct told Paige that heads were about to butt between the two women in Cole’s life. She stood up to follow Phoebe.

“Where are you going?” Harry demanded, distracted from his horseplay with Darryl’s sons.

Paige shot him a nervous smile. “Uh, I’m feeling a bit hungry right now. I’ll be back.” She rushed away.

When she came upon the buffet tablet, Paige heard Phoebe’s first words to Darryl’s partner: “. . . if I talk with you for a moment?”

Olivia gave Phoebe a polite smile. “Sure. What is it?”

“Well, first I want to thank you for saving me. From Dako,” Phoebe replied. Paige heaved a silent breath of relief.

Olivia shrugged. “You’re welcome.”

“And I want to repay the favor,” Phoebe continued. “I think you should know something.” Oh no! Dread welled within Paige’s chest. She had a pretty good idea whom Phoebe wanted to discuss.

Sure enough, the first word that came out of Phoebe’s mouth was . . . Cole. “What about him?” Olivia asked warily.

Phoebe took a deep breath. “I realize you believe that Cole is wonderful, or that you have nothing to fear from him. And maybe you don’t, at the moment. But one day . . . Look, what I’m trying to say is that knowing Cole, one day he’ll betray you. Sooner or later. And you’ll regret letting him get close to you.”

A sheen of ice glazed over Olivia’s green eyes. “Really? I guess I now know who sent had Leo to give me that little speech about Cole, last Tuesday. And who had sent Piper and Paige to talk to my dad and grandmother. So, what is this? You’ve finally decided to do the job, yourself?”

“Hey, look! There’s no need to get hostile!” Phoebe retorted. “I’m only trying to warn you for your own good! I’m not the enemy, here!”

Paige closed her eyes. Wrong move, Phoebe.

But the red-haired witch did not regard Phoebe with hostility . . . as Paige had feared. Only pity. And contempt. “You really are a pathetic woman, you know that?” Olivia replied. “Let me do you a favor. Let’s end this conversation right now, before one of us say something that the other will regret.” She returned her attention to the food on the table.

“You’re not doing your family any favors with this friendship with Cole,” Phoebe insisted. “Or Leo. I still feel guilty for letting Cole into our lives. If I had stayed away from him, years ago . . .”

Olivia shot back, “You would have all been dead, years ago. Or Prue would be alive and in prison for a murder she didn’t commit. Or Piper would have remained a Fury. And Paige would have been dead, thanks to Shax. Or a servant of the Source, or a vampire. Or the Source would have killed all of you, over a year ago. Is that what you mean?” She glared at Phoebe.

Even Paige had to admit that Cole had done a lot for them. Then again, he had also put them through a lot of misery. Especially during his two-month stint as the Source. Which Phoebe so adroitly had pointed out.

“And none of you have ever done the same with each other?” Olivia replied. “When you became possessed by some evil? You know, Leo has done a lot of talking over the years and I have a pretty large list of deeds, already forming in my mind.”

Phoebe cried out, “All of that happened against our will! Cole chose to become the Source!”

Now, Olivia’s green eyes regarded Phoebe with sheer disgust. Paige nearly cringed at the other witch’s expression. “Are you in the habit of using your brain? Because I’m beginning to think, otherwise.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Phoebe retorted.

“Only a person with a brain would have bothered to study the true nature of the Hollow. Or bothered to learn how Cole really became the Source. Tell me, did the Source become a Charmed One when he had absorbed Piper and Paige’s powers?”

Phoebe frowned. “What are you getting at?”

Olivia heaved a frustrated sigh. “Do I have to spell it out for you? If the old Source didn’t become a Charmed One after taking your sisters’ powers, what makes you think Cole became the Source, after taking the latter’s powers? Think about that . . . if you’re capable.”

Similar words had been spoken by Elise and Jack McNeill, and it struck Paige with the impact of an energy ball. Phoebe’s own open-mouthed expression told the youngest Halliwell that her sister felt a similar impact.

“I . . .” Phoebe began, choking on that one word.

The contempt on Olivia’s face deepened. “You what? You’ve finally starting to use your brain? It’s a shame neither you or your sisters had considered doing that when you vanquished Cole, last May.”

“We had no choice! He was about to kill us!”

“Really?” Olivia retorted. “Are the words, ‘Don’t make me kill you’ a definite declaration of the intent to kill? Or was it just a warning to back off?”

Confusion whirled in Phoebe’s eyes. “How did you . . .?”

“Didn’t Leo tell you? Gran read Cole’s memories, last month. And projected them to us. It’s a shame you were never given the opportunity.”

Dark brown eyes hardened, as Phoebe’s face became pale. “I don’t have to listen to this!” she hissed.

“Fine! Now please leave me alone, so I can get something to eat!”

Unfortunately, at least in Paige’s opinion, Phoebe decided that she would end the showdown. “You know, whether or not Cole had decided to become the Source, his powers alone make him dangerous. And evil.”

Rolling her eyes, Olivia heaved a sigh. “Oh God! Please spare me the ‘evil powers’ theory! That is such a load of crap! I can’t believe this is coming from a woman whose hide he had saved, last month. Let me enlightened you on a few facts of life, Phoebe. There is no such thing as evil powers or good powers. There are just powers. It all depends upon how you use your powers.” She gave Phoebe a hard look. “You know, sometimes I wonder if you ever really loved Cole.”

“I did loved him!” Phoebe shot back.

Green eyes glimmered dangerously. “Really? First you had insisted upon Cole not using his powers, for fear that he might‘give in to evil’. Then you didn’t even bother to accept his marriage proposal, until after he lost his powers.”

“That wasn’t about Cole being a half-demon!” Phoebe shot back. “It was . . . it was about me.”

Olivia continued, “And your lack of understanding over his loss of powers – was that also about you? And when he finally regained new powers, you pushed him away. You wouldn’t even bother to talk about what the both of you went through, last spring. You know, I’m beginning to think that what you loved was the idea of what you could turn Cole into and not his true self.” A sneer formed on Olivia’s face. “I guess your idea of love is playing it safe.” The sneer disappeared, followed by a contemptuous look. “How sad. Now if you’ll excuse me, I would like to enjoy the rest of this day.” She walked away with her plate of food.

Phoebe stared at the other woman’s retreating back, wearing a devastated expression on her face. Then her eyes focused upon Paige, standing behind. Shame reflected in her dark eyes and she quickly walked away.

Paige wanted to rush after her sister. Reassure Phoebe that Olivia’s words did not mean anything. But she remained frozen in that same spot near the table, as the realization of the redhead’s words overwhelmed her.

THE END

“CASINO ROYALE” (2006) Review

“CASINO ROYALE” (2006) Review

Before watching my DVD copy of 2006’s ”CASINO ROYALE” for the umpteenth time, I had assumed that my initial enthusiasm toward the 21st James Bond thriller would dim with time. After all, I had been viewing my copies of the previous 20 Bond films over the past five months. I felt certain that I would have enough of the fictional British Secret Service agent. Needless to say, my assumptions proved to be wrong. I managed to enjoy ”CASINO ROYALE” more than ever. It has become firmly entrenched as my second favorite Bond movie of all time, following 1969’s ”ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”

Performances

From the black-and-white opening shot of MI-6 Section Chief Dryden arriving at his office in Prague to a snappily dressed Bond standing menacingly over his wounded prey, ”CASINO ROYALE” rose the Bond franchise to a new level that I hope would remain for years to come. Barbara Broccoli had certainly known what she was doing when she suggested that EON Productions cast British independent actor, Daniel Craig, as the new James Bond. I believe that his gritty performance contributed greatly to the movie’s success and a change in the franchise’s style. From the beginning, Craig proved that he could portray James Bond just as ruthless as any other 00 agent, despite his new promotion. This sixth Bond also seemed to possess a more complex personality than his predecessors – an emotional and angry man who hides his feelings and ego behind a cold façade.

An egotistical James Bond is nothing new to the franchise. Each actor has managed to convey his own take on Bond’s fragile ego. In Craig’s case, his Bond is a man who lost his parents at a young age – eleven to be exact. Because of this tragedy, he was raised by his paternal aunt and became the protégé of a wealthy aristocrat who introduced him to a more exclusive lifestyle. This included four years at Oxford where he had to endure the slight snubs of fellow students from a higher class. Even Vesper Lynd, the Treasury agent with whom he would eventually fall in love, not only managed to guess this aspect of Bond’s background, she also detected that the manner in which he wore his suit hinted that deep down, he harbored contempt . . . and possibly resentment of his aristocratic classmates. This anger and resentment toward the more privileged seemed very apparent in a scene in which a German guest at the Bahamian resort he was staying had mistaken him for a valet. Although Bond took the opportunity to use this case of mistaken identity to create a distraction in order to break into the hotel’s security office, the manner in which he crashed the German’s Land Rover and tossed the keys aside told me that perhaps he felt some kind of resentment toward the man’s arrogant assumption about him. And yet . . . Craig managed to convey this mixture of professional opportunism and resentment in a very subtle manner.

Subtlety seemed to be the hallmark of Craig’s performance. For a man who returned a gritty and emotional element to the James Bond character, he did so in a manner that seemed to hint very little effort. An excellent example would be a scene in Venice in which Bond discovers for the first time that Vesper may have betrayed him. The scene began with Bond looking out at the Venetian scene from his hotel balcony, wearing a rather happy and satisfied expression. Within a space of a minute or two his happy expression transformed into confusion upon receiving a telephone call from M . . . and eventually, anger and a sense of betrayal after M had informed him that Vesper had failed to deposit the Casino Royale winnings into the Treasury’s account. All of this within a space of one minute or less. I felt so impressed by this brief performance that I had to rewind the scene just to watch it again.

Another aspect of Bond’s character that Craig had conveyed so well, was this belief that he could rise above his messy human emotions and any kind of romantic attachments to be the ”blunt instrument” that he believed M required of him. In the end, the enigmatic Vesper Lynd proved him wrong. Being the consummate actor, Craig had no problems capturing the wide range of emotions experienced by Bond during the entire story – whether those emotions dealt with his work, and his relationships and interactions with Vesper, M and other characters. To this day, I am still annoyed that the Academy Awards members were too snobbish to nominate Craig as Best Actor for his performance in this movie. So what if James Bond was nothing more than a pop culture character? If Al Pacino could receive a nomination for portraying a comic book character (Big Boy Caprice) in the 1990 film ”DICK TRACY”, I see no reason why Craig could have received a nomination for what I feel was the best performance by any actor who has ever portrayed James Bond.

From what I have read in old press releases, it took EON Productions quite a while to find the right leading actress to portray Treasury agent, Vesper Lynd. In fact, the French/Swedish actress, Eva Green, did not join the cast until after the film’s production had began. The wait seemed worth the effort. Green seemed to have perfectly embodied the sharp-tongued, reserved, and very enigmatic Vesper Lynd. Thanks to her performance, it was easy to see how someone like Vesper managed to have such an impact upon Bond’s life . . . and his heart. Like many other Bond fans, I had always viewed Diana Rigg of ”OHMSS” as the ultimate Bond leading lady. Not anymore. After viewing Green’s performance in”CASINO ROYALE”, I just might reconsider this opinion. Tracy Di Vicenzo struck me as a woman who had spent a privileged, yet lonely existence, capped by an unhappy marriage that ended in tragedy. Vesper, on the other hand, struck me as slightly more complex. Like Bond, she must have spent many years as an orphan with a chip on her shoulder.

Whereas Bond’s resentment seemed to have originated from his social origins, Vesper’s resentment came from her intelligence being disregarded, due to her gender. Although more reserved than the British agent, Bond may have guessed correctly that she had to struggle to overcome the negative opinions of others, while resenting them at the same time. And like Bond, she took great pains to project a nonchalant façade. When Vesper finally stopped fighting her feelings regarding Bond, Green had the double task of portraying a lovelorn woman harboring a dark secret from the man she loved. Not only did Green managed to achieve this goal, she captured the many nuances of what I believe has turned out to be the most complex Bond female character in the franchise’s history.

Portrayed by Danish actor Mads Mikelsen, the villain Le Chiffre might not be as ”unique” as many Bond fans perceive him to be. Le Chiffre was not the first Bond villain to be portrayed as a subtle individual. He was not the first villain whose objective did not include either world domination or worldwide extortion of the super powers. He was not the first villain to answer to a higher authority. Nor was he the first villain to be killed by someone other than Bond. So what made Le Chiffre unique? The blood that came from his left eye’s tear duct? His penchant for poker and mathematics? Or the fact that he seemed to share Bond’s own ruthlessness, impatience and arrogance? Or was it simply Mikelsen’s superb performance that allowed Le Chiffre to be villainous and yet, very human?

In the end, I realized that what Mikelsen’s Le Chiffre unique to me was his very human persona. The Danish actor had portrayed Le Chiffre with an icy exterior that made him believable as a talented poker player. But he also expressed human traits such as boldness and arrogance – traits that eventually got the best of him. In fact, those very traits had led to a major terrorist scheme funded by his clients’ money. The scheme’s failure – thanks to Bond – eventually landed Le Chiffre in hot with his clients . . . and his employers.

Not only did ”CASINO ROYALE” seemed blessed by its three very talented leads, it had the good fortune to possess a first-class supporting cast. Leading the pack was Academy Award winner, Dame Judi Dench as “M”, Bond’s MI-6 superior. It seemed rather odd for the producers to allow Dame Judi to continue the role of “M”, considering that Craig’s tenure is supposed to be a trip back to Bond’s early years as a “00” agent. The producers felt the same, but they simply did not have the heart to find someone to replace the dynamic dame. Quite frankly, I am glad they kept her. During the Brosnan Era, Dench’s “M” had been the ”Evil Queen of Numbers”, a former government accountant/intelligence analyst bent upon proving to Whitehall and other colleagues that she possessed the “balls” to lead MI-6. In ”CASINO ROYALE”, Dench’s “M” proved to be a different kettle of fish. With Daniel Craig as Bond, Dench became an experienced spymaster forced to guide the newly promoted Bond into becoming the great “00” agent she obviously feel he has the potential to be. Instead of the cool and analytical boss she had been with Brosnan, Dench’s M seemed slightly warmer and more maternal toward the agent. And for the first time, I found myself actually liking Dench as the head of MI-6.

Jeffrey Wright became the seventh actor to portray CIA agent Felix Leiter in the series of Bond movies produced by EON Productions. Like Jack Lord in ”DR. NO” (1962) and David Hedison in ”LIVE AND LET DIE” (1973) and ”LICENSE TO KILL” (1989), Wright’s Leiter is portrayed as a fellow intelligence colleague, instead of a slightly less intelligent lackey providing backup and information for Bond. Actually, Wright seemed just as cool as Lord . . . and as witty as Hedison. In”CASINO ROYALE”, Leiter is another player who takes part in Le Chiffre’s poker tournament in Montenegro. Although not as accomplished as Bond or Le Chiffre at poker, Leiter managed to remain in the tournament until the second night. And he also prevented Bond from committing a major error and provided much needed cash to defeat Le Chiffre. I especially enjoyed his little comment regarding Le Chiffre’s impatience toward those players ordering Bond’s favorite Vodka Martini. It seemed a shame that Wright was only featured in the film’s Montenegro sequences. But when I think about it, I could not see how Leiter’s presence would be needed in the rest of the story.

What can anyone say about Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini? I must be honest. I had not been much of a fan of his before”CASINO ROYALE”. In fact, I had only seen him in three productions – the 1985 miniseries ”SINS” (starring Joan Collins and Bond alumni Timothy Dalton) and the 1995 Keanu Reeves movie, ”A WALK IN THE CLOUDS” and the 2004 Denzel Washington movie, ”MAN ON FIRE”. I found his acting slightly over-the-top in the first two movies and barely noticed him in the third. But in ”CASINO ROYALE”, it was not hard to miss him. Not at all. And I am being very complimentary. Giannini portrayed MI-6 agent, Rene Mathis as a charming, witty, intelligent and very clever man. Most importantly, he seemed to have a sly sense of humor that I found absolutely delicious. I loved the sly way in which he had flirted with Vesper. And I loved his probing of Bond’s feelings for the accountant and the way he seemed to enjoy making trouble for Le Chiffre’s men. I may not have been a fan of Giannini in the past, but I am now.

The more I think about ”CASINO ROYALE”, the more I am amazed over the talented cast that Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson managed to gather. For example, the movie has Simon Abkarian and Caterina Murino portrayed the unhappily married couple – terrorist middleman Alex Dimitrios and his wife Solange. Despite their brief screen time, both Abkarian and Murino managed to convincingly portray a wealthy couple whose marriage had seen better days, long ago. Abkarian portrayed Dimitrios as a slightly charming, yet intelligent man incapable of expressing love for his wife or reigning in his arrogance. The combination of this lack of affection and arrogance seemed prominent during his poker match with Bond at the One & Only Ocean Club gaming room. This arrogance seemed even more prominent in his confrontation with Le Chiffre, in which he refused to take the blame for Mollaka’s death in Madagascar. But it was Caterina Murino’s performance as Dimitrios’ wife, Solange, that really impressed me. Her pained reaction to Dimitrios’ cold indifference made it easy to understand why she had eventually turned to Bond for a little romance. Many critics and fans either tend to dismiss Solange as another Bond sexpot or ignore her altogether. I, on the other hand, found Murino’s performance to be earthy, intelligent and yet poignant. And although Solange had turned to Bond for a little solace, she is intelligent to realize that her husband is a man who cannot be trusted. Even more interesting, she quickly pinpointed Bond as a man who becomes involved in married women in order to avoid emotional entanglements.

Despite being a minor villain that only appeared near the movie’s beginning and halfway into the film, the Ugandan warlord and high-ranking member of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Steven Obanno, ended up providing a major impact upon Bond and Vesper’s relationship . . . and Le Chiffre’s desire to win the poker tournament. Ivory Coast actor Isaach De Bankolé portrayed Obanno – as a ruthless and intelligent man whom anyone with good sense would not cross. Something that Le Chiffre managed to do. During his brief screen time, De Bankolé managed to convey an intimidating presence. I also have to give kudos to him, Craig and director Martin Campbell for providing one of the most brutal and memorable fights in the franchise’s history.

Another villainous character appeared in the form of Danish actor Jesper Christensen. He portrayed Mr. White, the mysterious middleman of a terrorist organization that operates as a sort of asset management of terrorism. Like De Bankolé, Christensen only appeared in a few scenes. Yet, he also managed to convey both danger and intelligence. And when he walked away with the money won at Casino Royale, while Bond grieved over Vesper’s dead body in Venice, the audience is left with the sense that for the second time in the franchise’s history (the first time occurred in ”ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE’s final scene), the bad guy had won. Until the final scene.

Last but not least, there was Sebastien Foucan. Co-founder of the a new sport/art form called Parkour, Foucan portrayed a freelance bomb maker named Mollaka who had attracted the attention of MI-6. I will discuss the foot chase that dominated Foucan’s scenes later. But I do want to point out that ”CASINO ROYALE” marked Foucan’s debut as an actor. He barely had much to say. In fact, he did not speak a word. But not only did Foucan display his remarkable skills in Parkour, he also managed to effectively convey his character’s fear, anger and desperation while trying to elude the relentless Bond. It looks as if those brief acting lessons he had acquired from Daniel Craig actually worked.

Plot

There are only two James Bond films within the entire franchise that do not begin in the following manner – gun barrel opening followed by the pre-title sequence. Those two films happen to be 1962’s ”DR. NO” and ”CASINO ROYALE””DR. NO” had began with a gun barrel sequence, followed by the opening titles and the story. Although ”CASINO ROYALE”consisted of both the gun barrel and the pre-title sequences, the movie began with the pre-title sequence, shot in bleak black-and-white. In the pre-title sequence, reminiscent of a film noir movie, the audience learn how James Bond earned his ”Double-0” license. Even more unusual, Bond’s killing of his first target (shown in flashback) segued into the very unusual gun barrel segment in which the agent picked up a fallen gun, whirled around and fired a shot. Already, the filmmakers have informed the audience that ”CASINO ROYALE” will prove to be a unique experience.

The real story began during a rainy sequence in Uganda, where the main villain and the two supporting villains are introduced – the banker Le Chiffre, the mysterious Mr. White and the warlord Steven Obanno. The meeting between Le Chiffre and Obanno had been arranged by Mr. White for the warlord needs a banker to launder his money. As much as I had liked ”LICENSE TO KILL”, one of my complaints was that the main villain had too many henchmen. Although”CASINO ROYALE” possessed one main villain, it also consisted of numerous supporting ones. But unlike the 1989 film, not all of ”CASINO ROYALE”’s villains were henchmen – which happened to be the case for both Obanno and White. In reality, Mr. White seemed to be at the head of the totem pole for villains opposing Bond in this film. Yet, Le Chiffre’s actions – using the money of clients like Obanno to participate in a stock scheme – turned out to be the story’s driving force. The moment Le Chiffre contacted his broker, he became the story’s main villain.

The movie shifted to another part of Africa – namely Madagascar. There, the newly promoted Bond and another MI-6 operative named Carter are observing a suspected bombmaker named Mollaka. Following Carter’s blundering revelation of their cover, what followed turned out to be one of the most exciting chase sequences in the franchise’s history. I can only think of four other chase scenes that I also hold in high regard – the two ski chases in “ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE” and “FOR YOUR EYES ONLY”(1981) respectively, the boat chase through the Louisiana swamps in “LIVE AND LET DIE”, and the Ho Chi Minh City motocycle/helicopter chase in “TOMORROW NEVER DIES”(1997). Needless to say, the Madgascar foot chase ended with Bond’s invasion of a local embassy and Mollaka’s death. Unfortunately, the following scene turned out to be what I believe to be the movie’s weakest moment. The scene featured Le Chiffre watching a CNN news report about Mollaka’s death that identified the bombmaker’s killer as an “unidentified MI-6 agent”. Now I found this baffling. How on earth did CNN know that Bond was an MI-6 agent? Aside from Carter, he did not speak to a single soul during the entire Madagascar sequence.

The news report ended up getting M (head of MI-6) in trouble with the Ministry of Defense . . . and Bond in trouble with M. I have always found it odd that certain fans considered Bond’s break-in of M’s flat improbable, yet rarely complained about the CNN report. It was the latter that had struck me as improbable. M’s laptop obviously possessed a feature that enabled Bond to track Mollaka’s last cell text message. And considering M’s unwillingness to listen to him, it seemed unsurprising that Bond was willing to break into her flat. Bond and M’s eventual confrontation inside her flat revealed for the first time the dynamic chemistry between Daniel Craig and Dame Judi Dench. Quite frankly, I have not seen such a fascinating Bond-M relationship since the Timothy Dalton-Robert Brown collaboration in the late 1980s . . . or the George Lazenby-Bernard Lee duo.

After Bond ended up being ordered to take a vacation by an angry M to take a vacation, the scene shifted to the Bahamas. Bond’s arrival by seaplane gave the fans a chance to see how charasmatic a screen actor Craig can be. From the moment Bond had disembarked from that seaplane to the moment when he deliberately wrecked that German tourist’s Land Rover, Craig permanently put his own stamp on the Bond character. At least in my eyes. I can only assume that I do not have to mention Craig’s now famous emergence from the sea, wearing only powder-blue swim trunks. Allegedly, this is the scene that allowed Craig to win the hearts of many female. Yes, the man looked good enough to eat. But I had already been won over by him before I saw his “wet look”.

The Bahamas sequence also featured Bond’s interactions with Alex and Solange Dimitrios, and his sexy almost one-night stand with Solange. It also led to the Miami Airport, where the agent managed to foil Le Chiffre’s plot to bomb a new airline in order to boost his profits. As much as I found Bond’s encounter with another bombmaker named Carlos exciting, it is probably my least favorite action sequence in the film. What can I say? The dark setting, combined with screeching cars, incoming planes, gas spills and explosions . . . it all seemed too much. In fact, this scene came dangerously close to resembling one of those famous, over-the-top Michael Bay action sequences. But the sequence did provide one gem of a scene . . . the smug smile on Bond’s face as he watched Carlos explode from a bomb the latter had created.

Bond returned to the Bahamas, where he discovered that Solange Dimitrios had been tortured and killed by Le Chiffre’s people. M also met him there to give him his new assignment – participation in a poker tournament sponsored by Le Chiffre. Thanks to Bond’s actions in Miami, Le Chiffre needed to raise money in order pay back his clients and prevent his bosses from eliminating him – permanently. M ordered Bond to beat Le Chiffre and draw the latter into MI-6’s clutches for information. This minor scene gave moviegoers another opportunity to enjoy the Craig/Dench dynamics.

But the chemistry between Craig and Dench seemed minor in compare to the actor’s chemistry with the young actress who became his leading lady. I see no need to wax lyrical over Daniel Craig and Eva Green’s performances for the second time. However, I do believe that the scene featuring Bond’s first meeting with Vesper Lynd aboard a train bound for Montenegro just might be the best “Bond Meets the Leading Lady” scene in the franchise’s history. From the moment those two met, I sensed the chemistry that sizzled between them. The sparkling dialogue included in the scene certainly solidified their dynamics. The snarky banter that began on the train, continued right up to the moment when Vesper made it clear to Bond that she did not want to share a hotel elevator with him. I must admit that Paul Haggis (let’s be honest – I rather doubt that Purvis and Wade had made any real impact on the dialogue or it would be God awful) really did himself proud with the Bond-Vesper dialogue.

Aside from sharp wit, Bond and Vesper share another personality trait – both seemed to possess this desire to be in control. Bond’s need for control had already been expressed by his actions against Mollaka in Madagascar. I must be honest . . . I found Bond’s killing of the bombmaker to be a bit unecessary. He could have easily waited for the other man to leave the embassy in order to complete Le Chiffre’s assignment. No wonder M had been pissed. But discovering that Vesper may have also been controlling came as quite a surprise. I am, of course, referring to the humorous scene in which Bond and Vesper presented clothes for the other to wear. Bond wanted Vesper to wear an evening gown that would enhance Vesper’s sex appeal and distract his competition. Vesper wanted Bond to wear an evening jacket that she believed would make him look like a man who could afford to lose $15 million. Both attempted to assert their will upon the other. And both succeeded.

The story eventually focused upon the movie’s centerpiece – namely the poker tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. There have been a few dark comments about this particular sequence. Some fans and critics criticized the poker scenes for being boring and too slow. Others have criticized the scenes for its “inaccurate” portrayal of Texas Hold ‘Em Poker. Honestly, I could not care less about the movie’s accurate portrayal of the game, especially since my knowledge of the game barely existed. And some complained that poker seemed pedestrian in compared to the baccarat used in the 1953 novel. Very few Bond fans know this, but Ian Fleming rarely played poker because he found it too intimidating for his taste. Personally, I believe that poker works better on film than baccarat. Thanks to the script and Campbell’s direction, this long sequence managed to flow smoothly. Purvis, Wade and Haggis also punctuated the poker scenes with minor incidents that included Steven Obanno’s appearance in Montenegro, Bond’s early loss of the 10 million given to him by HM Treasury, Felix Leiter’s financial rescue, Valenska’s attempt to poison Bond and the latter’s eventual victory. In fact, the entire Montenegro sequence is my favorite in the entire movie.

Due to Bond’s victory in the poker tournament, Le Chiffre found himself in a pickle. He no longer possessed the money to pay back his clients. Which meant that his life became expendable to his employers. Since Le Chiffre had no intention of running to the British or Americans as an informant, he decided upon the next best course of action. He interrupted Bond and Vesper’s celebration supper and kidnapped the latter. He did this to force Bond to hand over the password to the account holding the tournament’s winnings. Le Chiffe’s actions led to two famous scenes in the movie – Bond’s crash of the company’s Aston-Martin (which set a world’s record for seven turns of the car) and his torture at the hands of Le Chiffre.

One of the famous scenes in the 1953 Fleming novel featured Le Chiffre’s torture of Bond. In the novel, Le Chiffre stripped Bond naked and sat him on a chair with an open seat. Then he proceeded to beat Bond’s testicles with a carpet beater. Many of the novel’s fans had wondered if the film’s producers would do the torture scene justice, let alone include it. Needless to say, it was included in the film. Le Chiffre torture of Bond nearly followed the literary version . . . with one difference. Le Chiffre used a knotted rope, not a carpet beater. I must congratulate Craig and Mikelsen for their excellent performances; and Campbell for his marvelous direction of what turned out to be a taunt, humorous and painful scene of a Bond moment that I believe will be remembered for years to come.

The torture scene ended with on a rare note – not only in the literary version, but in the cinematic, as well. In the movie, the villain was killed at least a half hour before the movie’s end. After Le Chiffre failed to convince Bond to hand over the latter’s code to the account holding the poker winnings, he met his end at the hands of the enigmatic Mr. White. When I first saw “CASINO ROYALE”, I found it odd that the terrorist would allow Bond . . . and Vesper to survive. Before the movie ended, I would soon learn why.

Certain fans and critics have complained that Bond and Vesper’s romance seemed frustratingly short – especially for two characters that were obviously in love. I had countered numerous times that their romance had actually began on the train to Montenegro. The sequence that followed Le Chiffre’s death merely portrayed the culmination of their romance by allowing the couple to finally express their feelings. This sequence also featured two scenes in which Bond declared his love for Vesper. The first scene occured at the nursing home where Bond recuperated from his torture. When Vesper finally expressed how she felt about him, he responded with a joke that fell flat. He then finally expressed his own true feelings with the “I’m yours” speech. In a later scene set on a beach, Bond finally said the words – “I love you” to Vesper.

The movie shifted to Venice, the scene of two previous Bond movies – “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”(1963) and“MOONRAKER”(1979). In “FRWL”, Venice proved to be the climax of the entire film. In “MR”, the mystery surrounding villain Hugo Drax deepened in Venice. But the city proved to be a lot more for Bond in “CASINO ROYALE”. It was here that Bond learned that Vesper had betrayed him by stealing the funds for the organization behind Le Chiffre. This sequence provided great action that included Bond’s shoot-out with Gettler and the rest of Mr. White’s henchman, the sinking of a Venetian palazzo, and Vesper’s tragic yet slightly creepy death by drowning. The latter also emphasized Bond’s tragic relationship with Vesper. It also proved how the city turned out to provide a great emotional impact for the agent. I still cannot stop thinking about the scene that featured Mr. White observing Bond’s grief over Vesper’s dead body. The scene continues to send chills down my sign. It almost seemed like a metaphor of how the terrorist organization overshadowed Bond and Vesper’s relationship.

Looking slightly betrayed, Bond later learned the truth behind Vesper’s betrayal from M. Apparently, Vesper had a French-Algerian boyfriend who was kidnapped and held for ransom by the organization behind Le Chiffre and Mr White. Bond learned that she agreed to deliver the ransom money (his winnings) only if they would consent to leave Bond alive as well as her boyfriend. Vesper also left a message on his cell phone, giving him Mr. White’s name and telephone number. The look on the agent’s face upon learning this information seemed sad . . . and very confused.

But “CASINO ROYALE” had one last scene to unfold. Mr. White, secured in the knowledge that he finally managed to get his hands on the funds won by Bond in Montenegro, arrived at a palatial estate near Lake Como. He received a phone call from a voice asking for a moment to talk. And when Mr. White demanded to know the name of his caller, he received a shot in the leg. The movie finally ended with Mr. White crawling toward the villa and a very iconic-looking British agent, who coolly identified himself with the famous line – “The name’s Bond, James Bond.”

Miscellaneous

There are a lot more reasons why “CASINO ROYALE” immediately became one of my favorite Bond movies of all time. More than what I had already described. One reason happened to be the performances, of course. The movie was not only blessed with a first-rate supporting cast, it had a strong and charasmatic leading man and woman in both Daniel Craig and Eva Green. And although Martin Campbell is not known for being a memorable director, “CASINO ROYALE” joined the ranks of his best directorial efforts. I would go as far to say that the movie might so far, be the pinnacle of his career.

When I first saw the movie, I really did not think much of the movie’s theme song – “You Know My Name”, sung by Chris Cornell. I heard the first notes, judged it overbearing and continued to ignore the rest of the song. Upon my second and third viewings, I realized that “You Know My Name” was a lot better than I had imagined. Yet, it will probably never be considered a classic Bond song.

What made “CASINO ROYALE” such a great movie for me was the complex and emotional story adapted for the screen by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. The trio did a first-rate job of adapting Fleming’s novella. They also managed to effectively fill out the story, making it palatable as a full-length Bond movie – something that could not have been done with the novella alone. But what I had truly loved about “CASINO ROYALE” were the moments . . . the little moments that made it more than just a typical Bond movie with action, girls and gadgets. Those moments – whether they were the different expressions on Bond’s face, minor words and conversations, gestures made by the movie’s many characters – made it magical for me. It made the movie human and far more interesting that any typical Bond action movie.

“ROBIN HOOD” (2010) Review

”ROBIN HOOD” (2010) Review

When I had first learned that Ridley Scott planned to direct his own version of the Robin Hood legend, I merely responded with a shake of my head. The last thing I wanted to see was another take on the famous English outlaw. But since I was a fan of the director, I decided to give it a chance. 

For years, I had harbored the belief that the 1938 Errol Flynn movie, ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD”, was the true story myth about the famous outlaw. Imagine my shook when I discovered I had been wrong. One of the featurettes from the movie’s DVD release revealed that there had been numerous versions of the Robin Hood folklore. With that in mind, I found it easy to prepare myself for any version that might appear in Scott’s new movie.

”ROBIN HOOD” opened in the year 1199. Robin Longstride is a common archer who had fought alongside King Richard the Lionheart of England during the Third Crusade. Following the death of Richard during a battle in which the English Army attempted to ransack a French castle; Robin and three other common soldiers – Alan A’Dale, Will Scarlett, and Little John – attempt to return to their homeland after ten years of fighting abroad. Along the way, they come across an ambush of the Royal guard by Sir Godfrey, an English knight with French lineage and allegiance. The King of France had ordered Sir Godfrey to assassinate Richard. Having discovered that the King was already dead, Sir Godfrey is chased off by the arrival of Robin and his companions. Aiming to return to England safely and richer in pocket than they left it, Robin and his men steal the armor of the slain Knights and head for the English ships on the coast under the guise of noblemen. Before leaving the scene of slaughter, Robin promises a dying Knight, Sir Robert Loxley, to return a sword to the man’s father in Nottingham.

Upon arriving in England, Robin (disguised as Loxley) informs the Royal family of the King’s death and witnesses the crowning of King John, Richard’s younger brother. Robin and his companions head to Nottingham, where Loxley’s father, Sir Walter, asks him to continue impersonating his son in order to prevent the family lands being taken by the Crown. Loxley’s widow, Lady Marion, is initially distrustful of Robin, but soon warms to him. But before long, Robin and his friends find themselves swept into England’s political intrigue between the English Northern barons and King John; along with a threat of invasion by the King of France.

I will not deny that ”ROBIN HOOD” has a few problems. If I must be honest, there were three aspects of the film that I either disliked or left me feeling puzzled. One, I did not care for the presence of Lady Marion’s presence on the battlefield between the French invaders and the English defenders. If this was an attempt to make Lady Marion’s character more action-oriented and politically correct, it did not work with me. She did not have any experience as a warrior. Nor did the movie ever made it clear that she had been trained to fight battles or handle weapons of war, like the Éowyn character in the ”LORD OF THE RINGS” Trilogy. I had no problems with the scene of Marion killing the French officer who tried to rape her. But her presence on that battlefield beneath the White Cliffs of Dover struck me as utterly ridiculous.

I also found the sequence that led to Sir Walter’s revelation that Robin’s father, Thomas Longstride, had earlier led some civil rights movement against the Crown before his death rather irrelevant. Before this revelation, Sir Walter kept hinting that he knew something about Robin. I had suspected that he would reveal that Robin was his illegitimate son or something like that. Considering that Robin seemed determined to protect the Loxleys and take up their cause against King John, I found this revelation about Robin’s father somewhat tacked on and unnecessary. My last problem with”ROBIN HOOD” centered around the movie’s ending. Following the English army’s successful defense against the French, King John reneged on his promise to the English barons that he would sign the Charter of the Forest – a document for constitutional reforms. I had no problems with this turn of events, considering that John resisted signing the document until he added it as a supplement to the Magna Carta, some sixteen to seventeen years later. Unfortunately, in addition to refusing to sign the document, King John also declared Robin Longstride aka Sir Robert Loxley an outlaw. Why? How did the King know about Robin’s true identity in the first place? Who told him? Certainly not the main villain, Sir Godfrey, who died before he could inform John that the real Sir Robert was killed in France. Neither Sir Walter or Lady Marion would have told him. Who did? And why did the King name Robin as an outlaw? Did he decided to make this declaration upon learning that Robin was NOT Sir Robert Loxley? Even if someone could provide answers to my questions, the entire scenario regarding Robin’s status at the end of the film came off as rushed to me.

But despite these misgivings of ”ROBIN HOOD”, I ended up enjoying it very much. Ridley Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland did a pretty damn good job in portraying the Robin Hood legend from a new and completely fresh point-of-view. Well, perhaps it was not completely fresh. After all, the movie is obviously an origins tale about how one Robin Longstride became “Robin Hood”. I have seen a similar origins tale in the 1991 Kevin Reynolds film, ”ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES”. However, Robin’s origin tale was merely rushed in that film’s first half hour. Scott and Helgeland decided to create a more in-depth story about the outlaw’s origin in this film. In fact, the movie only featured one scene in which Robin and his friends actually participated in an act of theft. It involved the return of grain confiscated by the Crown. I would not be surprised if many had complained about this, considering that it went against the traditional grain of what to expect in a movie about Robin Hood. However, I was too busy enjoying the movie to really care.

Another aspect of ”ROBIN HOOD” that I found very admirable was its complex portrayal of the English Royal Family. Most versions of the Robin Hood tale tend to have conflicting views of the two Royal brothers – Richard and John. John is usually portrayed as a sniveling and greedy prince who resented the reputation of his older brother. And Richard is usually portrayed as the older and noble brother – something of a “straight arrow” type. Scott and Helgeland somewhat skewered these portraits in the movie. Superficially, Richard is portrayed as noble, popular with his men and pure at heart. Yet, a closer look at the monarch revealed him to be avaricious, thin-skinned and somewhat petty. After all, the movie did start with him leading an attack against a French noble’s castle in an attempt to ransack it for riches to add to the Royal coffers. And when Robin Longstride revealed his true feelings about a vicious battle led by Richard in Jeruseleum upon the monarch’s urging, the archer and his friends found themselves locked in a wooden stock during Richard’s last battle. Prince (later King) John is portrayed as an arrogant and selfish young man only concerned with his desires and ego. Yet, the second half of the movie also portrayed him as a man willing to fight alongside his men in the defense of England and willing to occasionally listen to good advice. Neither Richard nor John are portrayed in a one-dimensional manner. Which I found very satisfying.

In fact, I would go as far to say that ”ROBIN HOOD” is a somewhat complex and tale about the effects of the Third Crusade upon the English Royal Family, its adversarial relationship with France, which ended up lasting for centuries, and the clash between the Crown and the country’s Northern citizens. Mind you, some of these plotlines have popped up in other Robin Hood movies. But Scott and Hegeland managed to weave all of these aspects into the movie’s story with surprising skill. Mind you, they did not achieve this with any perfection, but it turned out to be a lot better than most movies are capable of handling. And all of this culminated in a superbly directed sequence in which King John, Robin and many other Englishmen defended the country’s shores against the invading French. The only aspect that slightly spoiled this scene was the presence of Lady Marion in battle. Some critics have compared this movie unfavorable to the 1938, accusing it of being lifeless and grim. Hmm . . . perhaps they were thinking of another Ridley Scott film. Because ”ROBIN HOOD” struck me as the liveliest film that he has ever directed. It did have its dark moments. But I had no problem with that. Liveliness mixed with some darkness has always appealed to me. I have always had a problem with the lack of darkness in ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD”. It prevented that movie from having an edge of darkness that I usually like to see in an adventure film.

The movie’s technical aspects were superb. I especially have to give kudos John Mathieson for his beautiful photography. I had feared that ”ROBIN HOOD” would end up with a slightly dark look, which could be found in the 1991 Robin Hood film and even in part of ”GLADIATOR”. Mind you, the France sequences did come off as slightly dark. But once Robin and his friends reached England . . . oh my God! The photography was just beautiful. I can think of three scenes that literally blew my mind – the journey up the Thames River to London, Lady Marion and the Loxley hands working in the fields with the threat of a thunderstorm brewing in the background, and the English Army’s journey to the South East coast near Dover. I also enjoyed Janty Yates’ costumes, as well. Were her costumes historically accurate? I have not the foggiest idea. That particular period in history has never been familiar to me.

The acting in ”ROBIN HOOD” was superb. I could say ”of course”, but I have come across movies with an exceptional cast that ended up featuring some pretty bad performances. Thankfully, I cannot say the same about this movie. Russell Crowe was superb as Robin Longstride. His performance was not as flashy as the likes of Errol Flynn, Kevin Costner or even Patrick Bergin. But I am thankful that it was not, because such a performance would not suit him. His screen chemistry with Cate Blanchett sizzled. I found this surprising, considering that the two actors from Down Under never worked together. Or have they? Anyway, Blanchett was just as superb as Crowe and gave an interesting take on a Lady Marion who was older and more experienced in life than the previous takes on the character. Mark Strong portrayed the traitorous Sir Godfrey. He gave his usual competent performance, but I have to admit that I found nothing exceptional about his performance. One performance that did caught my attention belonged to Oscar Isaac, who gave a complex and interesting portrayal of the young King John.

I also enjoyed Eileen Atkins’ sardonic portrayal of John and Richard’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. It seemed a pity that her role was not that large. I am glad that Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle and especially Kevin Durand got a chance to strut their stuff. Their performances as Robin’s friends – Will Scarlet, Allan A’Dayle and Little John – really enlivened the film. It helped that Crowe had recruited Doyle for the film, due to the latter’s musical collaboration with the actor. And considering that Crowe, Doyle and Grimes are all musicians as well, I suspect they must have had a merry time with some of the film’s musical interludes. Another performance that enlivened the movie came from Swedish actor Max Von Sydow, who portrayed Lady Marion’s father in-law, Sir Walter Loxley. There seemed to be a constant twinkle in his eyes in most of his scenes that made his presence enjoyable. There was one performance that left me feeling unsatisfied and it belonged to Matthew McFayden’s portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham. I am not saying that McFayden gave a poor performance. I am merely saying that his presence was nothing more than a waste of time. McFayden appeared long enough to sneer and make a pass at Lady Marion, attempt to placate the invading French troops in a cowardly manner and express surprise and fear at the first note received from the new “Robin Hood” near the end of the film. Like I said . . . a waste of time.

Considering that ”ROBIN HOOD” did not utilize the usual myth found in other films about the English outlaw, I am not surprised that many would dismiss it as one of Ridley Scott’s lesser films. Well, they are entitled to their opinion. I had a few problems with the movie. But overall, I was more than pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying it very much . . . considering my initial assumptions about it. Once again, director Ridley Scott and actor Russell Crowe failed to disappoint me and delivered a very entertaining film.

 

“THE MALTESE FALCON” (1931) Review

The three versions of Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel seemed to have become a legend in Hollywood circles during the past decade. Many filmgoers are familiar with John Huston’s 1941 adaptation that starred Humphrey Bogart. However in recent years, these same movie fans have become familiar with previous adaptations of the novel. In 1936, William Dieterle directed a comic version starring Warren Williams and Bette Davis called ”SATAN MET A LADY”. And Roy Del Ruth directed the original adaptation in 1931, which starred Ricardo Cortez. It is this particular film I will be discussing. 

 

“THE MALTESE FALCON” (1931) Review

I have a confession to make. I have never read the novel, ”The Maltese Falcon”. The only Hammett novel I have ever read was ”The Thin Man”, published in 1934. Because of this, I would not be able to compare the novel to Del Ruth’s film adaptation. But I can discuss the movie. In a nutshell, ”THE MALTESE FALCON” told the story about a San Francisco private detective named Sam Spade, who finds himself drawn into a search for a valuable falcon statuette first created during the Crusades, while investigating three murders.

The story began with a Miss Ruth Wonderly hired Spade and his partner, Miles Archer, to find her missing sister and a man named Floyd Thursby. When Thursby and Archer end up murdered, Spade discovered that Miss Wonderly is one of three people searching for a statuette called the Maltese Falcon. A mortally wounded ship’s captain delivered the statuette to Spade’s office before dropping dead, making him the case’s third murder victim. The entire case spiraled into a game of cat-and-mouse between Spade, Miss Wonderly, a wealthy fat Englishman named Caspar Gutman and an effeminate continental European named Dr. Joel Cairo. Spade also had to deal with the police, who are determined to pin the three deaths on him.

So, what did I think of this version of ”THE MALTESE FALCON”? In the end, it turned out better than I had expected. However, the movie is not without its faults. There were times when I felt I was watching a filmed play (very common with early talking movies). But the film’s main problem seemed to be its pacing. It seemed too slow for what was supposed to be a witty murder mystery. Especially during the film’s first half hour. By the time Joel Cairo was introduced into the story, the pacing finally began to pick up. The dialogue provided by screenwriters Maude Fulton, Brown Holmes and an unaccredited Lucien Hubbard failed to improve over the course of the movie. Not only did the screenplay allow the dialogue to drag throughout the entire film, the latter was not that memorable. I did recognize a few lines from the 1941 film (which probably came from the novel), but nothing more. Also, I found the scene that featured Spade’s visit to an imprisoned Ruth Wonderly rather irrelevant. Spade’s reluctance to turn her over to the police should have conveyed his feelings for her toward the audience. The prison visit featured in the movie’s final scene simply struck me as unnecessary.

But ”THE MALTESE FALCON” still struck me as a pretty damn good film. Considering that it had been released during Hollywood’s Pre-Code Period (1929-34), it is not surprising that this version is considered the sexiest of the three movies. Del Ruth, along with Fulton, Holmes and Hubbard, did an excellent job of conveying the womanizing aspect of Spade’s character by revealing his affairs with Archer’s wife Iva, his casual flirtation with his secretary Effie, and visual hints of his relationship with Ruth Wonderly – like a small indent in the pillow next to the client’s head, which hinted that Spade had spent the night with her. Other signs of Pre-Code sexuality included Spade bidding a female client good-bye at the beginning of the movie, a nude Miss Wonderly in a bathtub, an off-screen striptease eventually revealed with a bare-shouldered Miss Wonderly, and a hint of a homosexual relationship between Caspar Gutman and his young enforcer Wilmer Cook.

Fulton, Holmes and Hubbard did a solid job of adapting Hammett’s novel for the screen by maintaining most of the original story. As I had pointed out earlier, the film’s dialogue did not strike me as memorable. It lacked the sharp wit of the 1941 adaptation. And it included an unnecessary scene from the novel – Spade’s visit to an imprisoned Ruth Wonderly – that could have easily been deleted. But the screenplay managed to hold its own. And considering that I have never read the novel, the screenplay did allow me to completely understand the story in full detail for the first time, without leaving me in a slight haze of fog. I found nothing memorable about William Rees’ photography or Robert M. Haas’ art direction . . . except in one scene. The scene in question featured an exterior setting, namely a street in San Francisco’s Chinatown where Miles Archer’s body was discovered. I suspect that this particular scene gave both Rees and Haas an opportunity to display their artistry beyond the movie’s usual interior settings.

”THE MALTESE FALCON” also featured a surprisingly solid cast. In fact, I would say that it turned out to be better than I had expected. Ricardo Cortez, a New York-born Jewish actor with a Latin name, led the cast as detective Sam Spade. Cortez got his start in silent films and had grown to leading man status by the time he shot this film. By the late 1930s, he ended up in supporting roles as a character actor and later ended his acting career to become a successful stockbroker on Wall Street. I thought that Cortez gave a very sexy interpretation of Spade in his performance. Mind you, his constant smirks and grins in the film’s first ten to fifteen minutes seemed annoying. But in the end, Cortez grew on me. I can honestly say that not only did I find him very effective in portraying a sexy Sam Spade, he also managed to superbly capture the character’s cynical humor, toughness and deep contempt toward the police.

Bebe Daniels, another survivor from the silent era, portrayed the movie’s femme fatale, Ruth Wonderly. She first became a star (following a stint as a child actor before World War I) during the 1920s. Her role in ”THE MALTESE FALCON” has been be considered as one of her best. And it is easy to see why. She managed to give an excellent performance as the ladylike, yet manipulative Ruth Wonderly, who drew Spade into the labyrinth search for the Maltese Falcon. Mind you, she lacked Mary Astor’s throbbing voice and nervous manner. But that is merely a minor hitch. Daniels still managed to portray a very convincing elegant temptress.

Irish-born Dudley Digges portrayed the wealthy and obsessive Caspar Gutman, who is not above murder, bribery and a score of other crimes to acquire the falcon statuette. Although not as rotund as Sydney Greenstreet, Digges seemed plump enough to be regarded as Gutman’s nickname, ’the Fatman”. However, Digges’ Gutman seemed a bit too obsequious in his performance. He lacked the style to believably portray a man wealthy enough to conduct a twenty-year search for a valuable artifact. Instead, Digges reminded me of a corrupt minor official at a British post in the tropics. He seemed to lack talent and subtlety for infusing menace into his character. Whenever he tried to menacing, he only ended up giving a hammy performance. On the other hand, Otto Matieson gave a more believable performance as Dr. Joel Cairo, Gutman’s Continental accomplice. Despite Effie’s description of him as an effeminate, Matieson portrayed Cairo as a no-nonsense and practical man who is careful with his money and with whom to trust. Whatever effeminate qualities his character possessed, Matieson kept it to a minimum.

Una Merkel gave a humorous performance as Spade’s Girl Friday, Effie. Her Effie is not hesitant about expressing her attraction to Spade, yet at the same time, she seemed to find the detective’s other amorous activities rather amusing. Perhaps Merkel was amused at Thelma Todd’s performance as Archer’s widow and Spade’s mistress Ivy Archer. I found the future comedy star’s portrayal as the amorous and spiteful Ivy rather theatrical and false. It could have been her slightly hammy acting . . . or the fake clipped tone she used when pronouncing her words. All I do know that is that Todd seemed to be trying too hard as a scorned lover without any subtlety. At least Dwight Frye fared better as Gutman’s young enforcer, Wilmer Cook. Frye barely had any lines in the film, thank goodness. I have seen him in other films and his performance seemed to come off as hammy. But in ”THE MALTESE FALCON”, I thought he did a solid job in conveying the portrait of a baby-faced killer.

It is a shame that John Huston’s 1941 movie has overshadowed this version of Hammett’s novel. Mind you, Roy Del Ruth’s version is not perfect. The movie’s pacing in the first 15 to 20 minutes struck me as rather slow. But if I must be honest, I can say the same about the 1941 film. I was not impressed by Dudley Digges and Thelma Todd’s performances. And this Pre-Code movie seemed to lack any memorable dialogue or mysterious atmosphere. But it had a sly sexuality that seemed to be missing in both the 1936 and 1941 versions. Also, the rest of the cast gave excellent performances – especially Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels. And ironically, this version of ”THE MALTESE FALCON” made me clearly understand the story’s plot in clear detail for the very first time. I believe that it deserves to be considered more than just a footnote in movie history.