“DEVIL AND THE DEEP” (1932) Review

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“DEVIL AND THE DEEP” (1932) Review

I am not one of those movie lovers who seemed to limit my selection of films to one particular genre or period in filmaking. Nor do I regard films from one particular era to be superior to another. I either enjoy an individual film or I do not.

Recently, I watched the 1932 melodrama called “DEVIL AND THE DEEP”. The movie featured the screen debut of Charles Laughton as a submarine commander who expresses jealousy toward any man who pays attention to his long suffering wife. It also starred Tallulah Bankhead as the long suffering wife and the commander’s new executive officer, who harbors feelings for the wife.

The movie begins with Commander Charles Sturm harboring jealous suspicions of a romance between his wife Diana and Lieutenant Jaeckel, a young officer aboard his submarine. Sturm’s suspicions are baseless, since Jaeckel’s only interest in Diana is to offer her friendship. But Sturm has him transferred with a mark on his record. After Sturm indulges in a fit of jealous rage, Diana hits the streets of a North African port city during a festival and encounters another officer, who turns out to be Lieutenant Sempter, Jaeckel’s replacement. Without bothering to tell Sempter her true identity, Diana drifts into a one night stand with him. The following day, Sempter pays a call to his new commander and discovers that the latter’s wife is the same woman with whom he had a sexual tryst. Worse, Sturm immediately becomes aware that the pair knows each other . . . and plot revenge against them.

I have only been able to find a mere handful of reviews for the movie, including one written by The New York Times reviewer Mordaunt Hall. I was surprised by the reviews I had written. Or perhaps I should have just tolerated it. After all, everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion about any work of art. The thing is . . . I do not agree with those reviews I have read. Well . . . I did come across one review that came close to how I felt. In my opinion, “DEVIL AND THE DEEP” is a piece of shit. I believe it is truly awful and one of the worst movies I have seen from the Pre-Code era.

Before I dump any further negative adjectives in this review, I will reveal what I liked about “DEVIL AND THE DEEP”. I liked Charles Lang’s cinematography, which contributed a great deal to the movie’s slightly exotic atmosphere. This was especially apparent in the street scene in which Diana and Sempter first met. Bernard Herzbrun’s art direction also added to the film’s look. I also found Travis Benton’s costume designs for Tallulah Bankhead very attractive . . . especially her evening gowns. The movie benefited from one last virtue – namely Cary Grant’s performance. The Bristol-born actor first arrived in Hollywood in 1931. He made his first eight films in the year 1932. “DEVIL AND THE DEEP” proved to be his fifth film. Fortunately, he managed to give a natural, yet subtle performance as the young naval officer determined to befriend Diana Sturm, before his character is permanently shuffled off screen.

But Cary Grant, Travis Benton, Charles Land and Bernard Herzbrun were not able to save this film for me. “DEVIL AND THE DEEP” was based upon Maurice Larrouy’s novel, “Sirenes et Tritons”. In the hands of a first-rate screenwriter and director, it could have been an interesting character drama. Unfortunately, Paramount Studios put this film into the hands of screenwriter Benn Levy and director Marion Gering, the movie proved to be melodramatic drivel.

One of the problems with “DEVIL AND THE DEEP” was the writing. The movie never indicated for which country Commander Sturm and Lieutenants Sempter and Jaeckel served. One could assumed they all served the Royal Navy, but due to the mixture of accents – including a French one belonging to a crewman standing guard on the quay – I am at a loss. And is it really possible for the commanding officer’s wife to board his ship without his knowledge or permission? I find that hard to believe . . . even for 1932. And how on earth did Sturm find out about the Arab street vendor who sold a bottle of perfume to Diana, while she was with Sempter? I am also at a loss as to why Diana had failed to tell anyone – including her husband and the naval review court – that she had conducted her brief affair with Sempter without revealing her identity to him? The worst aspect of this story proved to be the final action sequence in which Commander Sturm finally seeks revenge against Diana and Sempter. It was bad enough that Diana managed to board her husband’s submarine without permission or an invitation. But Sturm’s revenge involved sabotaging the submarine in order to kill Diana, Sempter, the crew and himself. The whole sequence was one of the most idiotic action scenes I have viewed on a movie or television screen. If such a scene had ended in modern-day film, the director would have been laughed out of the movie industry. It was so incredibly stupid.

The other aspect of “DEVIL AND THE DEEP” that I found hard to swallow were the performances of the leading cast members. Cary Grant was lucky. He was able to escape in time to preserve his performance. On the other hand, Tallulah Bankhead, Gary Cooper and Charles Laughton were not so lucky. Cooper’s portrayal of Lieutenant Sempter veered between natural and wooden acting. Bankhead’s performance veered between natural and hammy acting that included excessive mannerisms that would have made Bette Davis embarrassed. And Laughton was simply all over the map. I have never been subjected to such hammy acting in my life. There were moments it seemed as if he had forgotten that he was acting in front of a camera, instead of on the stage. Now, these are three actors who managed to give excellent performances over the years. What happened in this film? I blame director Marion Gering, who seemed incapable of handling his cast or bringing out the best in them. I suspect that Cary Grant was able to make his escape before Gering could ruin his performance.

What else can I say about “DEVIL AND THE DEEP”? Nothing . . . really. What else is there to say? I disliked it. Intensely. It proved to be one of the worst movies from the 1930s I have ever seen. Director Marion Gering and screenwriter Benn W. Levy took a first-rate cast and a potentially good story and generally made a mess from it. Pity.

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“FURIOUS 7” (2015) Review

 

“FURIOUS 7” (2015) Review

Following the success of 2013’s “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”, I felt sure that the FAST AND FURIOUS movie franchise would finally end. After all, Universal Studios and director Justin Lin had proclaimed the fourth, fifth and sixth films as part of a trilogy. But to my utter surprise, the producers announced their intention for a seventh film by ending “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” on a cliffhanger.

Anyone who has seen the sixth film knows that Dominic Toretto, Brian O’Conner and their circle of friends had assisted Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Special Agent Luke Hobbs in taking down mercenary Owen Shaw in exchange for the clearance of their criminal records and finding Dom’s lady love, the amnesiac Letty Ortiz. Their actions had left Shaw in a coma and a return to normal life. However, Dom and his friends learn that Shaw’s older brother, a rogue special forces assassin named Deckard Shaw, is seeking revenge against the team for what happened to the younger brother. The end of “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” revealed that the older Shaw was responsible for Han-Seoul-Oh’s death in Tokyo, which was first seen in the 2006 film, “THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT”. Next, Shaw nearly kills both Agents Hobbs and Elena Neves in an explosion at the DSS Los Angeles Field Office, leaving Hobbs seriously wounded. After Shaw sends a package that destroys the Toretto home in Los Angeles, a C.I.A. covert team leader named Frank Petty recruits the remaining friends to help him prevent a mercenary named Mose Jakande from obtaining a computer program called the God’s Eye that uses digital devices to track specific people, in exchange for allowing them to use the latter to find Shaw first. Unbeknownst to the others, Shaw has allied himself with Jakande to take down Dom, Brian and the others.

I must admit that on paper, “FURIOUS 7” struck me as a first-rate story. Screenwriter Chris Morgan, who has been writing for the franchise since “TOKYO DRIFT”, did an excellent job of continuing the story first set up in “FAST AND FURIOUS 4”. He even managed to skillfully connect some of the story acrs of the franchise’s past films with this latest plot. This was especially the case for Han’s death in “TOKYO DRIFT”, his romance with Gisele Yashar and friendship with Sean Boswell; Letty’s amnesia, which was never resolved in “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”; and, of course, the Shaw brothers. Morgan also did a solid job in utilizing the situation regarding Frank Petty, Mose Jakande and the God’s Eye device for the team’s search for Deckard Shaw. And although I feel that James Wan lacked Justin Lin’s more technical skills as a director, I thought he did a pretty good job in handling a high budget production that was nearly derailed by Paul Walker’s death.

One would have to be blind not to notice how beautiful “FURIOUS 7”. Then again, that has been the case for the entire franchise since the first movie. One has to thank Stephen F. Windon, who has worked on the film franchise since “TOKYO DRIFT”, and Marc Spicer for their colorful and sharp photography. The beauty of their work was especially apparent in the Abu Dhabi sequences. Speaking of Abu Dhabi, it also featured some of the movie’s best action scenes. One of them featured a fight between Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty Ortiz character and martial artist Ronda Rousey, who portrayed the head of security for an Abu Dhabi billionaire. Another featured an attempt by Dom and Brian to steal the billionaire’s car, which contained the God’s Eye device. This scene also led to one of the most spectacular stunts I have ever seen on film. In an attempt to escape the billionaire’s security team, Dom drives the stolen car through a series of hi-rise buildings that . . . hell, I do not know how to describe this stunt. It has to be seen on the movie screen in order to believe it.

The movie also featured another over-the-top stunt, in which the team airdrop their cars over the Caucasus Mountains in Azerbaijan, in order to ambush Jakande’s convoy and rescue Megan Ramsey, the creator of God’s Eye. For some reason, I was not that particularly impressed with this particular stunt. Perhaps it is because I found the sequence a little too frantic and clumsily shot. The best aspect of the Azerbaijan sequence was the fight scene between Brian and one of Jakande’s men, a martial artist named Ket. Not surprisingly, the film’s producers hired martial artist/actor Tony Jaa to portray Ket. They were also lucky in that Paul Walker had been a martial artist for several years, himself. The pair, along with fight choreographer Jeff Imada, created a first-rate fight scene. They also managed to repeat themselves with another excellent fight scene staged inside an empty building in downtown Los Angeles. Imada also served as the choreographer between the Rodriguez/Rousey fight scene in Abu Dhabi and a surprisingly effective fight between Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw near the film’s beginning. The only fight scene that failed to impressed me occurred between Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and Shaw on a downtown L.A. parking structure. If I must be honest, there seemed to be too much testosterone and dialogue, and not enough skillful moves to impress me. It almost seemed as if director James Lin overdid it in his attempt to transform this particular fight into a showstopper. Instead, the fight simply bored me.

However, the Toretto/Shaw fight scene was not the only disappointing aspect of “FURIOUS 7”. I had other problems with the movie. Exactly how many years had passed between “FAST AND FURIOUS 6” and “FURIOUS 7”? After watching the 2013 movie, I had assumed that Deckard Shaw had killed Han Seoul-Oh at least a few months after the events of the movie. But in “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”, Brian O’Conner and Mia Toretto’s son Jack was still an infant. “FURIOUS 7” revealed that young Jack was a toddler between the ages of 2-5 around the time of Han’s death. So . . . I am confused. Another problem I had with the film was the dialogue written by Chris Morgan. I might as well be frank. Dialogue has never been a strong point with the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise. But I was surprised that only three characters were forced to spew some of the worst dialogue I had ever heard in the entire movie franchise. And that bad dialogue came out of the mouths of Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. It seemed as if the three actors were engaged in some kind of verbal testosterone contest to see who is the toughest. No wonder some critics had claimed that the movie’s three worst performances came from them. And if this was not bad enough, I had to endure that uber-macho fight scene between Diesel and Statham that really unimpressed me. Worse, the movie featured a moment in which the convalescing Agent Hobbs becomes aware of a struggle between Dom’s team and the combined Shaw/Jakande alliance inside his hospital room. So, what does he do? Hobbs flexes a muscle, forcing his cast to tear apart. It was one of the most wince-inducing moments I have ever seen on film.

According to the movie’s publicists, Universal Studios and the producers had decided not to kill off the Brian O’Conner character, because of actor Paul Walker’s death. For that I am utterly grateful. Learning about his death had been difficult enough. I certainly did not want to see the same for his character on screen. However, the public was told that instead of being killed off, Brian’s character would retire at the end of the movie. This announcement left me confused. Retire from what? Brian’s law enforcement career ended in “FAST AND FURIOUS 4”, when he helped Dom Toretto escape from a prison bus. His brief career as a criminal ended, following the successful Rio de Janeiro heist in “FAST FIVE”. Brian and the rest of the team’s actions in the sixth movie revolved around their search for an amnesiac Letty Ortiz and efforts to get their criminal records cleaned. As for this seventh movie, they were mainly concerned with finding Deckard Shaw before he can kill them all in retaliation for his brother’s condition. So, from what exactly was Brian retiring? The producers could have simply stated that Brian, Mia and their son had moved to another city . . . and away from Dom and Letty. How did retirement fit into all of this?

I also had one last problem with “FURIOUS 7” – namely the Roman Pearce character, portrayed by Tyrese Gibson. Ever since his first appearance in 2003’s “2 FAST 2 FURIOUS”, I have been a fan of Roman and Gibson’s portrayal of him. But I have become aware of the franchise’s recent portrayal of him as the team’s clown. When this happen? Oddly enough, it began with “FAST FIVE” in which the Tej Parker character made a few snarky comments at his expense. In the 2011 film, it was mildly amusing. In “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”, it got a little worse. But the Azerbaijan sequence pretty much solidified Roman’s role as the team’s clown. This sequence nearly made him a dye-in-the-wool coward, when he originally refused to participate in the car jump. What the hell? Roman has always been a verbose, temperamental and impulsive guy. But he was also a very pragmatic man, who always seemed to have a more realistic view of their situations than any of the other characters. This does not mean he was gutless. Why on earth did the franchise decided to make him this embarrassing clown? And why team him with Tej, who always seemed hell bent upon humiliating him? One of the aspects of “2 FAST 2 FURIOUS” I enjoyed so much was that Roman and childhood friend Brian O’Conner had struck me as a well-balanced screen team. Brian never went out of his way to constantly humiliate Roman . . . like Tej. And Roman never treated Brian like some adopted offspring . . . like Dom. But the producers were determined to exploit the original Dom/Brian relationship in the movies, starting with “FAST AND FURIOUS 4”. And in order not to leave Roman out of the loop, they teamed him with Tej Parker, whom he first met in the 2003 film. Unfortunately, Tej (through screenwriter Chris Morgan), has transformed poor Roman into a clown.

Clown or not, Roman had the good luck to be portrayed by Tyrese Gibson, whom I believe is one of the better actors in the main cast. Mind you, he is no Kurt Russell, Djimon Hounsou or Elsa Pataky, but I still believe he is slightly better than the other actors and actresses in the movie. Speaking of Russell, he gave a dry and witty performance as shadow agent Frank Petty. The actor injected a good deal of sharp wit into a film nearly marred by bad dialogue. As for Hounsou, he made an effective and intelligent villain, capable of thinking on his feet and quickly exploiting a situation or individual. In my review of “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”, I had commented on Paul Walker’s increasing skill as an actor. This improvement of Walker’s acting skills were obvious in scenes that reflected his character Brian O’Conner’s struggle to adapt to a family lifestyle, his conversation with wife Mia two-thirds into the film and his reaction to Dom’s decision to drive a stolen car through the window of an Abu Dhabi skyscraper. Another memorable performance came from Michelle Rodriguez, who continued her portrayal of Letty Ortiz’s struggles to deal with amnesia. This was especially apparent in a scene in which the actress had to convey her character’s frustration in facing fleeting memories of the past and Dom’s attempts to help her regain her memories. The movie also featured solid performances from Jordana Brewster (who was missing throughout most of the film), Chris Bridges aka Ludicrous, Nathalie Emmanuel, Lucas Black (of “THE FAST AND FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT”), Elsa Pataky, Ali Fazal and Tony Jaa. Even Ronda Rousey, despite her lack of acting experience, was appropriately intimidating as the billionaire’s head of security. She is no Gina Carrano, who acting managed to improve by “FAST AND FURIOUS 6”, but she was effective.

I know what you are thinking. What about Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham? Surely they were not that terrible? All three actors are pretty decent performers. But “FURIOUS 7” did not show them at their best. As I had earlier hinted, all three were hampered by Chris Morgan’s machismo dialogue and attempt to raise the testosterone level, via their characters. But each actor had their moments. Diesel’s best moments were featured in his scenes with Rodriguez. Johnson’s best moments occurred in the film’s first half hour, which included his character’s fight against the Deckard Shaw character and his playful interactions with Elsa Pataky’s Elena Neves. And Statham’s best scene in the film, at least for me, was his first. This featured Deckard Shaw’s visit to his comatose brother’s hospital room, in which he expressed tenderness and family concern for the latter (portrayed by Luke Evans in a cameo appearance). Otherwise, Diesel, Johnson and Statham proved to be problematic for me in so many ways.

I am not saying that “FURIOUS 7” is a terrible movie. It would probably be considered terrible by certain fans and moviegoers, whose tastes in films are a lot more elitist or intellectual. But as action films go, it is pretty decent and a lot of fun to watch. Yes, I found it difficult to endure some of the movie’s bad dialogue, the re-imaging of the Roman Pearce’s character into a clown and the over-the-top machismo portrayed by Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. And James Wan does not exactly strike me as skillful a director as Justin Lin. But, I believe “FURIOUS 7” is still a fun-filled action flick and a worthy last film for the late Paul Walker.

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R.I.P. Paul Walker (1973-2013)

“ENTOURAGE” (2015) Review

 

“ENTOURAGE” (2015) Review

When I first learned that a movie continuation of the HBO 2004-2011 series, “ENTOURAGE”, was scheduled to hit the theaters for the summer of 2015, I responded to the news with a shrug. Quite honestly, I was not interested. I would have skipped the movie if my relatives had insisted upon seeing it. So, I was stuck . . . and I saw the movie in the theaters.

Picking up some time after its final season, “ENTOURAGE” focused upon movie star Vincent “Vince” Chase’s attempt to direct his movie career to a new path, following the failure of his nine-day marriage. His former agent-turned-studio chief, Ari Gold, offers Vince the lead in a new movie called “Hyde”. The latter agrees to star in the film, only if he is allowed to direct. Also, Vince ensures that his older brother, actor Johnny “Drama” Chase, is cast in a major supporting role. While “Hyde” is in the middle of post-production, Vince asks for an additional $10 million to finish it, despite being over budget. Ari watches a rough cut of the film and realizes that the studio might have a major hit on its hands. He flies to Texas to meet the movie’s co-financiers; Larsen McCredle and his son Travis; in order to get the additional $10 million. A reluctant Larsen sends son Travis back to Los Angeles with Ari to see a cut of the film at Vince’s private screening. Although Vince never gets around to showing the cut at his screening party, Travis does see the film . . . and declares it a disaster. He believes the only way to save the film is to re-shoot it without Vince as lead actor or director.

Meanwhile, Vince’s personal manager and best friend, Eric “E” Murphy, seemed to be having girl trouble. While helping ex-girlfriend prepare for the birth of their child, his womanizing around the Hollywood/Beverly Hills community is attracting negative attention from current and past girlfriends. Vince’s other best friend, Salvatore “Turtle” Assante, seemed to be in a conundrum over whether or not to seriously date mixed martial artist/actress Ronda Rousey. And while “Drama” is worried over whether or not his part in “Hyde” will make the final cut, he veers into an adulterous affair with a married woman, who has a dangerous and vindictive husband.

“ENTOURAGE” did not fare well at the box office. It garnered negative reviews and was not even able to earn twice its budget. One of the main complaints of the film was those movie audiences who never saw the HBO television series would not be able to understand the plot or its characters. My experience with the television series is very limited. Although I enjoyed them, I only saw a handful of episodes from either Season Seven or Eight. But despite my limited memories of the series, I did not want to see this film. But you know what? I am glad I saw it. Because I rather enjoyed it.

Let me be frank. “ENTOURAGE” proved to be a rather fun little souffle among the major blockbusters, this summer. I have no problems with this. I do not demand that every film be some heavily special-effects driven action/fantasy film or a contender for an Academy Award nomination. And my sister, who had never seen a single episode of the series before she saw the film, actually managed to understand the film . . . and enjoy it as well. This was due to producer-director-writer Doug Ellin’s decision to recap the five major characters’ past in a sequence that featured a news story about Vince and his co-horts on one of those entertainment news shows that I had stopped watching over a decade-and-a-half ago. Equally entertaining was the movie’s physical setting. Southern California never looked as good as it did in this film. Thanks to Steven Fierberg’s sharp and colorful photography, Los Angeles looked more gorgeous than it usually does on a clear and sunny day.

As he had done for the television series, Ellin did a pretty good job of weaving the main story regarding Vince’s film with the movie’s other subplots. Mind you, I enjoyed those subplots involving Eric’s womanizing, Turtle’s budding relationship with Ronda Rousey and Johnny’s disastrous affair. But I really enjoyed the movie’s main narrative regarding Vince’s movie, “HYDE”. First of all, I found the entire plot something of a nail biting affair, as Ari moved heaven and earth to save Vince’s film. And second of all, Ari and Vince’s struggles with the crude and pushy young Travis McCredle reminded me of how time and again, many Hollywood productions have been compromised by their financial backers’ lack of artistry.

The four actors portraying the old friends from Queens – namely Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon and Jerry Ferrara proved that even after four years, their screen chemistry remained strong as ever. I especially enjoyed Dillon’s performance as the insecure Johnny “Drama”. “ENTOURAGE” featured its usual share of celebrity cameos . . . well, perhaps more than I cared. Among my favorite appearances were Jessica Alba, Andrew Dice Clay, David Faustino, Armie Hammer, Chad Lowe, Bob Saget, and Richard Schiff. Ronda Rousey really surprised me by showing she could give a competent performance, even if she was portraying herself. I also enjoyed Emmanuelle Chriqui’s performance as Eric’s warm, yet no-nonsense ex-girlfriend, Sloan McQuewick. But one my two favorite performances came from – not surprisingly – Jeremy Piven, who was sharp and funny as ever as Hollywood slickster Ari Gold. The other performance that really impressed me came from Haley Joel Osment, who was fantastic and spot on as the crude and arrogant young Travis McCredle.

Was there anything about “ENTOURAGE” that I disliked? Honestly? Well . . . yes. I disliked the movie’s mid-end credit scene. It was nice that Ari’s former assistant Lloyd got married. But otherwise, the sequence seemed out of place. I realize that it has become traditional for the Disney Studios to add a mid-credit scene for their big films. But I saw no reason for Doug Ellin to add one for “ENTOURAGE”. It was just . . . meh. And Lloyd’s wedding could have been part of the main narrative. One would think that I regard this film as some kind of comedic masterpiece. Trust me, I do not. I never had any high expectations for“ENTOURAGE” and found myself surprised by how much I found it entertaining. That is all.

It seemed a shame that “ENTOURAGE” laid an egg at the box office. Then again, the early-to-mid summer struck me as the wrong time to release a piece of fluff like this film. I would have released it during August or September. Otherwise, I found the movie colorful and entertaining. And it was nice to see that the five leads still managed to generate a good deal of chemistry.

“Defense of the Realm” [PG-13] – 10/14

“DEFENSE OF THE REALM”

CHAPTER 10

While Darryl and Scott hovered behind her, Olivia typed ‘LIN BRYANT’ in the Google search engine and hit the ‘ENTER’ key. A list of web sites appeared on the screen.

Darryl pointed to the second entry. “Try that one,” he suggested. Olivia used her mouse to click on the suggested site. “Hmmm. The Bryant and Winslow Auction House. Isn’t the name of that guy from the Magan Corporation? Winslow?”

“Arthur Winslow,” Olivia answered.

Then Darryl read the address and paused with a thoughtful expression on his face. “What?” Scott asked.

“That address looks very familiar.”

Olivia heaved an exasperated sigh. “Well, aren’t you going to cough it up, or what?”

Ignoring his partner’s outburst, Darryl added, “That was the same address for Buckland’s Auction House. Where Prue used to work.”

“Who’s Prue?” Scott asked. “And what the hell is the Magan Corporation?”

Olivia explained, “Prue Halliwell used to date Andy Trudeau. I graduated from high school with her, and like me and her sisters, she practiced magic. She also used to work at Buckland’s. And now Lin Bryant owns it. Apparently, along with Arthur Winslow. Interesting.” She paused. “I’ll tell you about the Magan Corporation, later. Even Uncle Wei knows about it.”

A sigh left Darryl’s mouth. “Scott, I need you to check Lin Bryant’s personal bank account and the account for Bryant and Winslow Auction House. See if there has been any withdrawals made around the time of Kostopulos and Liederhoff’s deaths.”

“Right.” Scott immediately left.

Olivia added, “Looks like we were right about supernatural circumstances surrounding this case. Maybe we can check some of the books at my apartment for anything on those medallions. After we visit Ms. Bryant.”

“Supernatural.” Darryl shook his head. “How are we going to explain this to the captain?”

With a shrug, Olivia said, “Well, we’ve got Gallagher behind bars on the two murders. We’ll just do what we’ve done before. Leave out the supernatural stuff for McPherson. Right?” Her green eyes penetrated Darryl’s.

———-

Cole reached for his telephone and dialed the number to Phoebe’s office. The telephone rang several times before he heard the following recording:

“Hi! This is Phoebe Halliwell. I’m either on the phone, away from my desk or Out of the office, right now. Please leave your name, telephone number and a brief message at The sound of the beep. I will get back to you.”

A beep rang in Cole’s ear and he hung up. Then he glanced at the clock on the left wall. Phoebe usually went to lunch around noon. It was now twenty minutes past one. What could have led her to be twenty-one minutes late getting back to work? Had something regarding the debacle in the Whitelighters Realm delayed her return? Recalling the concerns of his houseguest, Cole decided to pay a visit to the Halliwell manor and find out.

———-

The three police officers appeared before the Bryant and Winslow Auction House on Montgomery. “I hope that Carlotta and Marcus won’t get pissed for being cut out of this arrest,” Scott commented.

“Don’t worry,” Darryl replied. “I ordered them to look into the Carlyle case.” He sighed. “Listen, Olivia and I will arrest Ms. Bryant. You stay in the lobby. If she gives us any trouble . . .”

Scott nodded. “I’ll be there.”

The trio entered the building. For a moment, Darryl felt a sense of déjà vu – as if he had stepped back into time. He could almost see Prue and Andy’s ghosts, along with those two warlocks that had taken control of Bucklands, five years ago. Until he spied a pair of eyes belonging to a stone dragon glaring at him. Darryl glanced around and noticed the other Asian artifacts that filled the lobby. Yep. The old Bucklands office had definitely changed.

“May I help you?” a pretty young woman of Asian descent asked the visitors.

Darryl flashed his badge at the receptionist. “Lieutenant Morris, along with Inspectors McNeill and Yi of the San Francisco Police. We would like to see a Ms. Lin Bryant.”

The young woman flashed a brief frown at Scott, before she picked up her telephone. After speaking a few words, she said to Darryl, “You can find Ms. Bryant in Room 16. Down the hall and to your left.” Unease flickered in her dark eyes, as Scott sat down in one of the lobby’s chairs. Darryl and Olivia went in search of the owner.

One look at Lin Bryant and her sleek, modern office almost led Darryl to believe that he had been transported into a James Bond movie. The dealer projected the image of an exotic beauty – delicate Eurasian features that included almond-shaped hazel-green eyes, high cheekbones, full lips and black hair that cascaded around her oval-shaped face. “Miss Bryant?” he greeted. “I’m . . .”

The businesswoman interrupted, “Lieutenant Morris of the police. Yes, my receptionist had informed me.” She spoke in a slight British accent. Then she glanced at Olivia. “And this is?”

“I’m Inspector McNeill,” Olivia crisply replied.

One of Ms. Bryant’s brows formed an arch, as her eyes examined Olivia’s wardrobe. Comparing tastes, perhaps? Despite her simple style, Olivia’s clothes had obviously cost a pretty penny. Darryl eyed Ms. Bryant’s own cream-colored pantsuit and realized that he could say the same about the dealer’s outfit. “So,” Ms. Bryant continued, “How may I help you?”

Darry said, “My partner and I are investigating the murders of two men – Stefan Kostopulos and Gregory Liederhoff. Mr. Kostopulos was the owner of an antiquity shop who was robbed and murdered nearly three weeks ago. Mr. Liederhoff, a dealer from the East Coast, had been murdered a few days ago, inside his hotel room at the Powell House Hotel. He had also been robbed.”

“Wha . . .?” An appalled expression appeared on Ms. Bryant’s face. “My God! Poor Gregory! I wondered what happened to him!”

“So you knew Mr. Liederhoff?”

Ms. Bryant shook her head. “No, I’ve never met him. But we had an appointment to see each other, yesterday. Regarding a certain piece of merchandise.”

“A medallion?” Olivia added. “About 10 centimeters, and with strange markings? A similar item was missing from Mr. Kostopulos’ store.”

Now looking sympathetic, Ms. Bryant said, “Something like that. Is that why you came to see me? Because of Mr. Liederhoff? I had talked with him over the telephone on several occasions, but I’ve never met this Mr. Kosto . . . whatever.”

“Kostopulos,” Darryl corrected. He paused and exchanged a brief glance with Olivia. “By the way, the killer of both men was caught.” Anxiety flickered in the dealer’s dark eyes. “His name is Gerry Gallagher.”

“Oh?”

Olivia asked, “Why were you interested in Mr. Liederhoff’s medallion?”

The Eurasian woman turned her attention to the redhead. “It belonged to a set of medallions that had been forged for a secret society of Russian knights during the Dark Ages. They belonged to the Order of Mintz. The medallions are considered priceless. I was lucky that Mr. Liederhoff was willing to sell me his for a reasonable price.”

Darryl said, “I’m surprised that he was willing to sell it to you in the first place, if it was so valuable.”

“Poor Gregory. He needed the money. His business in New York wasn’t doing so well.”

“And you knew nothing about Kostopulos’ medallion?”

Ms. Bryant frowned. “Of course not. If I had known that a similar item was here in San Francisco, I would have never contacted Gregory.”

“Really?” Olivia’s comment drew a hard stare from the dealer. “Because according to Gerry Gallagher, he had been hired by you to steal both medallions.”

A long, silent pause followed before the other woman angrily protested, “That’s absurd! This Gallagher fellow is lying!”

Darryl leaned back into his seat. “Perhaps. But we had checked a few bank accounts – Mr. Gallagher’s, yours and the one belonging to this auction house. The day before the Kostopulos murder, you had withdrawn five thousand dollars from this business’ bank account. Gallagher deposited twenty-five hundred dollars later that day and twenty-five hundred on the day after the murder.”

“Then three days ago, you withdrew another five thousand dollars from your business account,” Olivia continued. “Gallagher deposited twenty-five hundred before Liederhoff’s murder and twenty-five hundred after. I believe there is a pattern forming here.”

Despite her stoic expression, Ms. Bryant’s chin trembled. She stood up and walked around her desk. “Is that all you have on me? Circumstantial evidence? Am I supposed to be worried?”

“Granted, the evidence may seem circumstantial,” Darryl commented. “But if you add Gallagher’s confession, along with the fact that you were scheduled to meet with Gregory Liederhoff . . . Well, it doesn’t exactly look good for you.” He paused. “Would you like to comment, Ms. Bryant?”

The door burst open, revealing two Asian men bearing guns. A smirk appeared on the dealer’s face. “Yes I do, Lieutenant. How about . . . please hand over your weapons, officers?”

————

The remaining members of the Whitelighter Council – all four of them – gathered inside the Council’s chambers to discuss potential new members. “I cannot believe it,” Gideon Gautier declared. A tall, angular man with intimidating eyes, he was one of the two remaining survivors from the old Elders Council. “Only four of us left. This is certainly a dark day for the Realm.”

Johann rolled his eyes in disgust. Pretentious bastard, the darklighter thought. He found himself regretting that neither he nor Belinda had targeted the headmaster of a magic school, operated by the whitelighters. “Do you have any suggestions on who might fill the Council’s empty seats?”

“I have a suggestion,” Serafina Villabos said. She was the whitelighter who had been initiated as an Elder at the same time as Johann. “How about Emil Lubcheck?”

Gideon frowned. “I’m not certain about him. I fear that he lacks . . . the character to assume responsibility of an Elder.”

“Nonsense!” Serafina protested. “We had a thirteen year-old boy on the Council for nearly a year! And he never had any experience as a whitelighter.”

Gideon stared at Johann and the fourth Elder, a tall, middle-aged man with pale skin named William Prescott. Johann had no idea how William felt, but he felt willing to accept Serafina’s candidate. After all, they would soon all be dead.

“I agree with Serafina,” William said. “The old Council had been considering him as a replacement for Ramius anyway, until the latter gave Kevin his powers. Johann?”

The Austrian shrugged his shoulders. “I have no problem with the choice.” The four Elders then proceeded to choose two other members, before Johann announced his suggestion. “Belinda Benedict,” he said, referring to his fellow darklighter, who had also infiltrated the Realm. He held his breath, while the others discussed his choice.

“What do we know about her?” Gideon asked. Johann revealed details of Belinda’s past four years as a faux whitelighter.

Johann added, “She has a very good record with her charges. Responsible. Strong-willed. Good Elder material.”

Gideon sighed. “I see no reason to reject her. Despite her minimum experience. William? Serafina?” He spoke the last Elder’s name in a chilly manner.

The other two agreed to Johann’s suggestion, much to his relief. Then the Austrian turned to Gideon, aware of the conversation they had before the beginning of this meeting. And right on cue, the magic school headmaster added, “By the way, I have one last suggestion. An . . . old timer.”

“Who is he?” William asked.

Gideon corrected, “She.” He paused dramatically. “Mathilda Everard. I suggest that we reinstate her back on the Council.”

————-

Darryl stared at the antiquity dealer in disbelief. He and Olivia now stood before her. “You don’t really expect to get away with killing two police officers, do you?”

“No. I expect to avoid a lengthy stay in your state prison,” Ms. Bryant shot back. “Your weapons, please.”

Both Darryl and Olivia exchanged a quick glance that expressed hope Scott would intervene. As Darryl reached for his Glock pistol, he saw an object fling from one of the office shelves and strike one of the gunmen in the neck. “Ow!” the man cried, before he dropped his gun.

At that moment, Olivia snatched letter opener and flung it at the same gunman, stabbing him in the hand. Another gunman aimed his weapon at the redhead, but Darryl whipped out his Glock and shot the former in the chest – twice. The second gunman fell to the floor.

Olivia took out her gun, but a well-placed kick from Ms. Bryant knocked it out of her hand. Even worse, the auction dealer swiftly punched Olivia, sending the redhead flying onto the desk. Alarmed, Darryl cried out his partner’s name. Olivia quickly recovered and rolled off the desk. Before he could watch the upcoming showdown between the two women, the third gunman raced out of the office, shouting something in Chinese.

Behind him, Darryl noticed that the two women had finally come to blows. He had heard of Olivia’s martial arts skills from the Halliwells, but had never witnessed it. Until now. Judging from the way she blocked Ms. Bryant’s blows, he realized that Olivia would feel right at home in a kung fu movie. And so would Ms. Bryant.

Loud shots and gunfire from the hallway told Darryl that Scott might be in trouble. He rushed out of the office and found his other partner engaged in a fight with two men. The third gunman from the office aimed his weapon at Scott. Darryl aimed his own Glock and cried out, “Put the gun down! Now!” The gunman whirled around and shot at the police lieutenant. Just as two bullets whizzed past his face, Darryl pumped another two into the perpetrator – who slumped to the floor.

Scott knocked one man out with a swift punch to the jaw. He took out the second man with two roundhouse kicks in the face. Then he turned around and saw Darryl standing over the dead gunman. “What the hell?”

“Ms. Bryant had decided that she was going to avoid a prison sentence, even if it meant killing us. Three guys with guns had appeared in her office.”

“Where’s Olivia?”

Darryl sighed. “She’s . . .” Then he let out a gasp. “Shit! I forgot! She’s still fighting that Bryant woman!” He ran back toward the office, with Scott at his heels. The two men halted in the office doorway and saw the two women still fighting . . . and stared at the amazing display of fighting skill between the two.

Just as the Bryant woman was about to deliver a devastating punch to Olivia’s face, the latter blocked it and immediately threw a punch to Ms. Bryant’s face. Then she whirled around and back kicked the latter’s legs from under, dropping the other woman to the floor. Bleeding at the mouth, Olivia turned to her two colleagues. “What happened to that other gu . . .?”

Darryl gasped at the sight of the bruised Ms. Bryant, levitating to the ceiling. Olivia whirled around and shot out her arm. The dealer flew backward, until her body struck the bookshelf behind the desk with a sickening crash, causing the latter to slump to the floor unconscious.

Olivia wiped the blood from her mouth. “Talk about a difficult fight! What happened to the third guy?”

“I shot him in the hallway,” Darryl replied. “Scott left two other guys outside, as well.”

Scott stared at Olivia. “Where in the hell did you learn to fight like that?” She shot him a sardonic look. “Oh! I forgot. Master Chan, of course.”

Darryl sauntered over to one of the gunmen, who continued to nurse a wounded hand and neck. “Hey! Asshole!” Darryl barked. “You have some questions to answer for us.”

With a sullen expression stamped on his face, the gunman released a spew of vitriolic words in some Chinese language. Scott knelt beside the man and pressed a thumb against the other’s neck wound. The latter screamed in pain. Scott barked a few words in Chinese, until the other man replied. Olivia said to Darryl, “According to our friend, Ms. Bryant had been hired six years ago to find several of these medallions. Nine of them, as a matter of fact.”

“Nine?” Darryl cried out in surprise. He said to Scott, “Ask him who had hired the lady.”

Again, Scott spoke to the gunman, who quickly answered. Although Darryl did not understand Chinese, he quickly caught the words – ‘Magan Corporation’.

Olivia gasped. “Magan Corporation?”

“Who?” Scott asked.

“It’s a long story.” The redhead knelt beside the wounded man and asked him a question in Chinese. Darryl caught the name – Arthur Winslow from her mouth. The gunman shook his head. Then he said, “Johann Bauer.”

“Johann Bauer?” Olivia frowned. “Why does that name sound familiar?”

The wail of police cars drifted into the office from an open window. Scott added, “I had called for backup.”

Darryl asked Olivia if there might be any information on the medallions in the books she owned. “I don’t know,” she answered. “But we can drop by my place and find out.” At that moment, two uniformed cops burst into the office, delaying the topic of the medallions for another time.

END OF CHAPTER 10

The Great “ONCE UPON A TIME” Costume Gallery

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Below is a gallery featuring the costumes designed by Eduardo Castro for the first two seasons of the ABC series, “ONCE UPON A TIME”. Do not expect to find Jennifer Morrison, Jared S. Gilmore, Eion Bailey or others performers not featured in any of the Fairy Tale Land flashback sequences:

 

THE GREAT “ONCE UPON A TIME” COSTUME Gallery

The Ladies

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The Men

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Going Co-ed

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“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” (2015) Review

“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” (2015) Review

When I first learned that a fifth movie for the “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” movie franchise would be shot, I must admit that I was not particularly thrilled. As far as I was concerned, three or four movies were enough. The last film, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL”, struck me as the high note of the franchise. I had doubts that the next film could be an improvement of the last film.

Paramount Pictures and the film’s producers (which included star Tom Cruise and J.J. Abrams) went ahead to produce and release the franchise’s fifth entry, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION”. The movie begins with IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agents Ethan Hunt and Benji Dunn engaged in a mission to intercept nerve gas being sold to terrorists. But when Hunt is captured and escapes from the customer who wanted the nerve gas, he becomes aware of an international criminal consortium called the Syndicate. He also meets a disavowed MI6 agent and Syndicate operative named Ilsa Faust, who helped him escape. But C.I.A. Director Alan Hunley does not believe in the existence of the Syndicate. Hunley also goes before a Senate committee to disband the IMF, despite Agent William Brandt’s efforts to stop him. Declared a rogue agent by the C.I.A., Hunt enlists the aide of Ilsa Faust and his former IMF colleagues – Benji, Luther Stickell and Brandt – to provide evidence on the existence of the Syndicate and bring down the organization’s leader who had earlier captured him.

If anyone had been reading some of my past reviews of the Summer 2015 movies (which I doubt), that person would noticed a good number of complaints on my part regarding the pacing of these movies. I will say this about “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION”, it possesses a strong finish. And screenwriters Christopher MacQuarrie and Drew Pearce also managed to create a very interesting and complex tale that involved deception, double-crosses and misconceptions. And thanks to MacQuarrie, who also served as the movie’s director, “ROGUE NATION” featured both some first-rate dramatic scenes and outstanding action sequences.

My favorite dramatic scenes included Brandt’s clash with Hunley over the future of IMF; Faust’s attempts to convince the Syndicate’s leader, former MI-6 agent Solomon Lane, that she is loyal to him; Faust’s encounter with her MI6 Director Atlee, the quarrel between Hunt and the always skeptical Brandt on how to handle Lane, a USB flash drive that everyone seems to want, and Dunn’s kidnapping; and the confrontation between Hunt, Brandt, Hunley, Atlee and the Britain’s Prime Minister. But my favorite episode proved to be one of the last. It featured Hunt’s efforts to convince Lane to let Dunn go in exchange for the information on the flash drive. Thanks to the performers in that scene, I thought it was a phenomenon scene filled with tension.

But “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” is also an action film. And it featured some very outstanding scenes. Trailers and television spots made a big deal of the movie’s opening action shot featuring Tom Cruise and a cargo plane. I would have been impressed if I had not seen it so many times. But I was impressed by the high tension sequence at an opera performance in Vienna. I thought both MacQuarrie and film editor Eddie Hamilton handled it very well. Another favorite sequence proved to be Hunt, Faust and Dunn’s attempt to steal information about the Syndicate from inside an underwater turbine tank in Morocco. In fact, I think I was even more impressed with MacQuarrie and Hamilton’s work in this sequence than I was with the one in Austria. And I thought the film’s last action sequence in the streets of London was well handled and suspenseful . . . especially the fight scene between Faust and Lane’s right-hand man, Janik Vinter.

There is a good deal to like about “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION”. But I would never regard it as my favorite movie from the franchise. Heck, I would not even rank it as my second favorite. As much as I liked the movie . . . I had some problems. One, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” featured the fourth movie in the franchise in which either Ethan Hunt finds himself on the run as a rogue agent or when the IMF is in danger of being permanently disbanded. In the case of this movie, both happened. A senate committee disbanded IMF and Hunt ended up on the run, hunted by the C.I.A. Four movies out of five . . . this strikes me as a bit too much after five movies. And unoriginal. And why would the C.I.A. director go before a senate committed to disband the IMF? I could have sworn that the latter was a division or section of the C.I.A. It certainly seemed that way in the 1996 movie, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE”. Following the death of Jim Phelps, Ethan’s Hunt immediate supervisor proved to be then Director Eugene Kittridge (portrayed by Henry Czerny). And the IMF was located at the C.I.A. Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Hunt also answered to Director Theodore Brassel (Laurence Fishburne), who also worked out of Langley. See what I am getting here? Why is this movie portraying the C.I.A. and the IMF as two separate agencies? I also could not help but shake my head that Hunley wanted to disband the IMF for what happened in “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL”. I understand that Hunley was upset that Hunt allowed those nuclear weapon codes to get into the hands of the main villain. But that happened four years ago. And why bring down an entire agency or division over the actions of one agent? Hunley should have simply went after Hunt. Speaking of the latter, while he was making goo-goo eyes at Elsa Faust, did he remember his estranged wife, Jules? Are they still legally married? Does he still love her?

What exactly was William Brandt’s current position at IMF? I never heard of a mere agent having enough authority to report before a Senate committee? I read somewhere that in this movie, IMF was currently without a director? Huh? This would never happen in the intelligence community. Even if there was no permanent director on hand, there would be an interim director before a permanent one could be found. Was MacQuarrie and Drew Pearce trying to hint that Brandt had risen up the IMF ladder? Why not Hunt? Why not allow Hunt to become the temporary director and allow Brandt to be the field agent? It would make more sense. What did not make any sense was that opening action sequence involving the retrieval of those nerve gas canisters. It would have been a lot easier for Hunt and Dunn to snatch the nerve gas before it could be loaded on that cargo plane. But the way the whole stunt was planned and carried out, I got the feeling it was nothing more than a glorified stunt planned to show audiences that Cruise still had what it took to be an action star. And it bored me. Also, I found myself slightly confused about the movie’s plot – namely the goals of Elsa Faust and Solomon Lane. At first, I thought Faust wanted the information that would expose the Syndicate. As it turned out, the information that she, Benji and Hunt had stolen was the same information that Syndicate leader wanted . . . MI6 funds that could finance his terrorist organization. So . . . was Faust playing Hunt and MI6 all along? Was Lane playing Hunt? Or did the screenwriters make a rather confusing switch in the plot in order to surprise the audiences? I have no idea.

I certainly had no problems with the movie’s performances. Tom Cruise gave a top-notched performance as Ethan Hunt . . . as always. But I got the feeling that there was nothing particular new or mind blowing about his performance. Many critics seemed to be more than impressed by Rebecca Ferguson’s performance as the allegedly disavowed MI6 agent, Elsa Faust. Yes, she did an excellent job in giving a very complex performance. But the “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” movie franchise has always been blessed with excellent and interesting women characters. She is not the first. Simon Pegg was very funny as IMF tech/agent Benji Dunn. More importantly, he did an excellent job in conveying Dunn’s growing confidence as a field agent. Although he did make a cameo appearance in the fourth “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE”, it was nice to see Ving Rhames appear as a supporting player again, reprising his role as the talented hack/IMF computer technician, Luther Stickell. And it was nice to see Jeremy Renner reprise his role as IMF Agent William Brandt again. He gave first-rate performance, as always. But I was very disappointed that he was not feature in any major action sequences, other than the Morocco car chase.

The role of C.I.A. Director Alan Hunley must be the first bureaucrat I have ever seen Alec Baldwin portray. Being the consummate actor he has always been, Baldwin gave an excellent portrayal of a limited-minded man whose resentment and anger toward another man led him to disband an entire agency (or division). I was very impressed by Simon McBurney’s performance as the MI6 Director, Attlee. He did an excellent in conveying the character’s manipulative and slightly malevolent personality. Sean Williams’s character, Solomon Lane, definitely struck me as malevolent, thanks to the actor’s performance. There were times when his character came off as a one-dimensional James Bond villain. But fortunately, his scenes with Cruise later in the film allowed audiences to fleetingly see the emotional toll that Lane had endured as an MI6 agent. “ROGUE NATION” also featured a very funny cameo appearance by Tom Hollander as the Prime Minister. I find this ironic, considering the tense nature of the scene he had appeared in.

In a nutshell, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” was an entertaining and exciting addition to the movie franchise. I thought Christopher MacQuarrie and Drew Pearce managed to create an interesting tale filled with intrigue, double-cross, first-rate action and excellent acting from a cast led by Tom Cruise. However . . . I thought the movie slightly suffered from some plot holes and a writing formula that is starting to seem a bit tired. I understand that Paramount has already green-lighted a sixth film for the franchise. I hope that it will prove to be a bit more original.

“FANTASTIC FOUR” (2015) Review

 

“FANTASTIC FOUR” (2015) Review

Rebooting a superhero movie franchise is nothing new in Hollywood. Warner Brothers has released two different series featuring the D.C. Comics character, Batman. That particular studio has also released one series of films about Superman, and has made two attempts to reboot a new series – first in 2006 and recently, in 2013. As far as I know, Marvel has only done this twice. Marvel Studios, along with Columbia Pictures, have released two series featuring the Spider-Man character and is the process of releasing a third series. And recently, Twentieth-Century Fox has released its second film series featuring the characters, the Fantastic Four.

This new version of “FANTASTIC FOUR”, which was directed by Josh Trank, began with the first meeting of two friends, Reed Richards and Ben Grimm, as young teenagers. Reed managed to recruit Ben into his new project – the creation of, the director of a government-sponsored research institute for young prodigies called the Baxter Foundation. Reed is recruited to jaid Storm’s children, scientist Sue Storm (who is adopted) and the somewhat reckless engineering prodigy Johnny Storm, into completing a “Quantum Gate”, which was originally designed by Storm’s wayward former protégé, Victor von Doom. Professor Storm managed to lure Victor back to the project, due to the latter’s unrequited feelings for Sue.

The “Quantum Gate” project proves to be a success. But the Storms, Reed and Victor are disappointed to learn that the Foundation’s government supervisor, Dr. Harvey Allen, plans to send a group from NASA to teleport to a parallel dimension known as “Planet Zero”. In a defiant movie, Reed, Johnny and Victor decide to test the “Quantum Gate” first. Reed also invites Ben, whom he had not seen in a while, to join them. The quartet makes it to Planet Zero successfully. But when Victor attempts to touch the planet’s ground, it starts to erupt, causing the four men to return to the teleporting shuttle, just as Sue begins to bring them back to Earth. Unfortunately, Victor is unable to return to the surface. And when the teleporter explodes upon the other three’s return, it alters Reed, Johnny, Ben and Sue on a molecular level, giving them super-human abilities. The new quartet find themselves struggling with their new physical state and at the same time, in conflict with Dr. Allen and the government, who wants to exploit their abilities for military purposes.

I am going to put my cards on the table. “FANTASTIC FOUR” is not a great film. Then again, I have noticed over the years that most movies released in the month of August are usually not that hot . . . with some exceptions. I feel that this new “FANTASTIC FOUR” reboot proved to be no better or worse than the 2005 film . . . but for different reasons. This new film could have better. I cannot deny this. But it was sabotaged by certain factors.

One; the screenplay written by Trank, Jeremy Slater and Simon Kinberg made the mistake of allowing the five major characters to be younger than usual – with the exception of the Johnny Storm character, who was always younger than his colleagues. I could have accepted this change in age. But it had a negative effect on one of the characters – namely Ben Grimes aka the Thing. Due to his lack of scientific skills and the fact that space flight was not involved, Ben was not really needed in this story. Trank and the other screenwriters could have given him scientific skills, as they did with the Johnny Storm aka Human Torch character. But for some reason, he was simply an old school friend of Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic, This made his trip to “Planet Zero” with Reed, Johnny and Victor seem like a flimsy afterthought. Another character that suffered from the screenwriters’ changes was Victor von Doom. Instead of the brilliant inventor/leader from Latveria, Victor is a brilliant anti-social computer programmer from the same country, who has lived in the United States since a young child. I had no problem with these changes, but I did have problems with how the screenwriters handled his character in the movie’s second half. He was missing from “FANTASTIC FOUR” for quite a while, between the incident on “Planet Zero” and his return to Earth. And upon his return, the narrative rushed through Victor’s encounters with the U.S. government and Franklin Storm, before he made his attempt to destroy Earth to keep “Planet Zero” safe from humanity.

The screenwriters’ handling of Victor von Doom in the movie’s last half hour illuminated one last problem with the film. Not only was Victor’s character arc rushed in the end, so was the entire movie. And I found this rather unsatisfying. Despite my hangups over the Ben Grimes character, I had no problems with most of the film’s narrative. But once the NASA men brought Victor back to Earth, it seemed as if Trank and the screenwriters were hellbent upon completing the film as quickly as possible. Or perhaps I should blame the movie’s producers or the 20th Century Fox bigwigs. I learned that right before its release, someone had ordered three action sequences cut from the film. Why they did it . . . I do not have the foggiest idea. Did it improved the film? Again, I do not know. But I cannot help but wonder if those cut scenes would have prevented the film from rushing to its conclusion.

Does this mean I regard “FANTASTIC FOUR” as the worst movie from the summer of 2015? No. No, I do not. The movie possessed virtues that made it more than watchable for me. Unlike the 2005 movie, this latest reboot took its time in setting up both the characters and the circumstances that led to the creation of the Fantastic Four. Unlike today’s film critics and fans, I do not believe in rushing the narrative in order to wallow in the action scenes. Action scenes should not be the backbone of a film. Thankfully, Trank and the other screenwriters seemed to fill the same. They took their time in setting up the characters’ meeting via Reed Richards’ point-of-view. They took their time in portraying the creation of the “Quantum Gate”, allowing the narrative to strengthen the characters’ interactions – especially the relationship between Reed and Sue Storm. The screenwriters also took their time in portraying the characters’ difficulties with adjusting to their powers and their dealings with the U.S. military. Only in the last half hour, did they screw up.

Another improvement over the earlier film proved to be the portrayal of Johnny Storm. The 2005 film more or less used Johnny as comic relief. And while I found his antics amusing, I also found them rather shallow and a little annoying at times. In this new film, Johnny is still a hot-headed action junkie. But thankfully, the screenwriters and actor Michael B. Jordan prevented him from being a shallow source of comedy. And with the addition of the Franklin Storm character, the movie allowed some angst-filled family moments between father, son and adopted daughter Sue. More importantly, the screenplay gave Johnny a plausible reason to be involved in the “Quantum Gate” and journey to “Planet Zero”. In the original comics from the early 1960s, Johnny was a sixteen year-old who had accompanied his sister, Reed Richards and astronaut/pilot Ben Grimes on the space journey that eventually gave them powers. The 2005 movie portrayed Johnny as a pilot and former astronaut, which I found incredibly implausible. No space agency or private corporation would be dumb enough to hire or recruit a young pilot in his early 20s to co-pilot a journey to space. I find it also implausible that Johnny was a former astronaut in this film, in the first place. It seems ironic that a movie torn to pieces by critics and film goers alike, failed to realize that its portrayal of how Johnny had acquired his abilities seemed ten times more plausible than the original comics or the 2005 film.

One last aspect of “FANTASTIC FOUR” that struck me as very plausible proved to be the team’s interactions with the U.S. government. Trank and the other screenwriters allowed the “Quantum Gate” project to be sponsored by the Feds, allowing the relationship between the government and the Fantastic Four, Professor Storm and Victor von Doom fraught with tensions – before and after the initial journey to “Planet Zero”. While watching this film, I found myself wondering why this did not happen to the main characters in the original comics from the 1960s or in the 2005 film. I never understood why this tenuous relationship was never explored before this movie. Even if the “Quantum Gate” project had not been sponsored by the U.S. government, the latter would have eventually learned about it and the team’s new abilities. Trank and the other writers seemed to realize this. No one else did – including Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and the screenwriters for the 2005 film.

If anyone had any complaints about the performances in the movie . . . well, I would be surprised. Personally, I thought“FANTASTIC FOUR” featured some very competent performances. Miles Teller did a stellar job of combining Reed Richards’ nebbish personality, enthusiasm and energy. At the same time, Teller skillfully allowed his character to mature and learn to accept responsibility by the end of the film. Many Marvel fans raised a fuss over the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, due to him being African-American. Considering that Marvel has changed the ethnic background of a few characters in the past, I never understood the fuss. Not only that . . . Jordan gave an intense, yet skillful performance as the volatile Johnny, who learns to overcome his resentment toward his father’s efforts to dictate his future. I have always considered the character of Sue Storm rather difficult for any actress to tackle, considering there is nothing theatrical about her. But Kate Mara did a very solid job of conveying Sue’s quiet, yet no-nonsense persona. Jamie Bell really did not have much to do in the film’s first half, due to his lack of presence. But once his character, Ben Grimes became the Thing, Bell did an excellent job of portraying the character’s intense, yet quiet anger over what happened to him.

The last time I saw Toby Kebbell in a movie, he was chewing the scenery as John Wilkes Booth in the 2010 film, “THE CONSPIRATOR”. Thankfully, he maintained full control of his portrayal of computer geek loner, Victor von Doom and instead, gave a surprisingly intense, yet subtle performance. “FANTASTIC FOUR” proved to be Tim Blake Nelson’s second Marvel film in which he portrayed a scientist. But in this film, Nelson proved to be more interesting and complex as the insidious Dr. Harvey Allen, who used a fake jovial attitude to intimidate the Fantastic Four (or most of them) into cooperating with the government. But my favorite performance came from Reg E. Cathey, who portrayed Professor Franklin Storm. If one looked at Cathey’s warm, emotional and forceful performance, his Professor Storm seemed to be the movie’s heart and soul. More importantly, I walked away feeling that his Storm was the true creator of the Fantastic Four.

I am not going to pretend that “FANTASTIC FOUR” was a great film. Then again, neither was the 2005 movie. I had a few problems with the Ben Grimes and Victor von Doom characters. And I found the ending rushed. But the movie did featured some very skillful performances and a great one by Reg E. Cathey. And despite the flawed ending, I had no problems with most of the film’s narrative and thought it featured some improvements on both the 2005 film and even the original 1961 comics. Because of this, I have great difficulty in accepting the prevailing view of it being the summer’s worst film. In fact, I do not accept this view at all.