“SUICIDE SQUAD” (2016) Review

 

“SUICIDE SQUAD” (2016) Review

The year 2016 has proven to be a strange one for Warner Brothers Studios and fans of DC Comics. Their creation – the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) franchise had released two films that proved to be box office hits, yet critical flops. One of those movies was the Zack Synder film, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”. And the other was the summer film, “SUICIDE SQUAD”

Three years before the release of these two films, the DCEU franchise witnessed its kickoff with the release of “MAN OF STEEL”, another origin tale of Clark Kent aka Superman. Whereas “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN” seemed to be more of a direct sequel to the 2013 movie, the narrative for “SUICIDE SQUAD” seemed to be something of a reaction to Superman’s death in “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN”.

Written and directed by David Ayer, “SUICIDE SQUAD” began several months after the previous film. Amanda Waller, director of the Federal agency Advanced Research Group Uniting Super-Humans (A.R.G.U.S.), convinces the Defense Department to allow her to assemble “Task Force X”, a team of dangerous criminals imprisoned at Belle Reve Prison in Louisiana, to engage in high risk black ops missions. The criminals that she has selected are:

*Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot – an elite marksman and professional assassin, who has a warm relationship with his only daughter

*Harleen Quinzel aka Harley Quinn – a former psychiatrist and crazed supervillain who is in a relationship with the psychotic gangster “the Joker”

*Chato Santana aka El Diablo – a former Los Angeles based gang member with a powerful pyrokinetic ability, who had turned himself in after accidentally killing his wife and children

*George “Digger” Harkness aka Captain Boomerang – an Australian-born thief with an unpredictable personality and a talent with deadly boomerangs and knives

*Waylon Jones aka Killer Croc – a supervillain who suffers from a skin condition that causes him to develop reptilian features and a powerful strength

*Dr. June Moone aka Enchantress – an archaeologist who is possessed by an ancient evil force that transforms her into a powerful sorceress

*Christopher Weiss aka Slipknot – a mercenary and assassin who specializes in tactical grappling and scaling

Waller assigns an Army Special Forces officer named Colonel Richard “Rick” Flagg to lead the squad into the field. He is assisted by a group of Navy SEALS led by GQ Edwards, and a widowed Japanese vigilante and martial arts expert named Tatsu Yamashiro aka Katana, who also happens to be a friend of Flagg’s. While Waller and Dr. Moore are in Midway City, the latter transforms into the Enchantress and manages to escape from the former’s control. The Enchantress then frees her brother Incubus from a South American artifact, allowing him to take control of a Midway City businessman’s body. While both the Enchantress and Incubus besiege the city, the former transforms many of its citizens into her monstrous minions and decides to build a mystical weapon to eradicate mankind. Meanwhile, Waller finally decides to deploy the squad to extract a high-profile mark from the besieged Midway and from possible capture by the Enchantress.

As I had earlier pointed out, the moment “SUICIDE SQUAD” hit the theaters, most of the critics trashed it. I must admit that I was baffled by their reactions. It is one thing to trash the DCEU’s earlier entry, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”, even though I did not agree with their negative opinions. But “SUICIDE SQUAD” got trashed as well? Two DCEU movies in one year?

“SUICIDE SQUAD” was not perfect. One of the problems I had with the movie’s narrative is that the setting struck me as a bit constricted, considering its 123 minutes running time. At least two-thirds of the film was set during one night in the downtown area of a major city. Also, I never understood why Amanda Waller and Rick Flagg went out of their way to keep the identity of the high-profile mark that the squad had to rescue a secret. Even if they had revealed the truth to Deadshot and the squad’s other members, the latter would have been forced to go ahead with the rescue, due to the nano bombs injected into their necks that coerced the squad to cooperate.

Speaking of the nano bombs, I found myself thinking about the character portrayed by Adam Beach, Christopher Weiss aka Slipknot. I hate to say this, but David Ayer really wasted his role. Unlike the other members of the Suicide Squad, there were no glimpses of his backstory in flashbacks. In fact, his name was not even mentioned in the scene in which Amanda Waller introduced her scheme to create the squad. Nor was he seen in the sequence in which Waller and Flagg “recruited” the other members. Audiences knew nothing about Slipknot’s role in the film, until he made his first appearance at a military base, where the other squad members had gathered. So . . . what was the point of Slipknot’s role in the movie? Utilizing a scene from one of the comic books for “Suicide Squad” in which Captain Boomerang managed to convince Slipknot to join him in an escape attempt from the military, he was merely used as a plot device to show what would happen to the squad’s other members if they try to escape. Death by an explosion from an injected nano bomb. That is all.

Despite the above problems I had with this film, overall, I liked it very much. Okay, who am I kidding? Hell, I loved this movie! It was a hell of a ride and a lot of fun. And it did a great job in expanding the DCEU even more. Just as Zach Synder had connected “MAN OF STEEL” with “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”, David Ayer did the same by connecting the latter with “SUICIDE SQUAD”. More importantly, he also connected this movie with one of the upcoming DCEU films, “JUSTICE LEAGUE” in one scene featuring Captain Boomerang getting arrested by Barry Allen aka the Flash in a flashback and in a post-credit scene featuring Amanda Waller and Bruce Wayne aka Batman. The latter scene proved to be a special connection between Waller’s failed attempt to make the Enchantress a part of the squad, her files on other meta humans like the Flash and Aquaman, and Bruce Wayne’s government contacts that would allow her to avoid any consequences from the whole Enchantress/Midway City debacle.

I also enjoyed how “SUICIDE SQUAD” began with the introduction of the squad’s “recruits”. While Amanda Waller narrated, the movie embarked upon a series of entertaining flashbacks that revealed the squad members’ talents, crimes and how they were captured. Naturally, my two favorite backstories were about Deadshot and Harley Quinn. Both of them revealed how their encounters with Batman led to their incarceration. I was surprised to see another member of the future Justice League of America, namely the Flash, in Captain Boomerang’s flashback.

Another aspect of “SUICIDE SQUAD” that I found interesting was how the squad’s members managed to form a well tight unit on their own, even when their ties to others were either disconnected like Deadshot’s to his daughter Zoe during his time in prison; questionable like Harley Quinn’s disturbed and abusive romance with the Joker; and in the case of three other members, non-existent. El Diablo has spent most of his time in prison mourning over the family he had killed and indulging in self-isolation. Killer Croc’s reptilian appearance has led him to be isolated and reviled by his fellow criminals and society at large. As for Captain Boomerang, he made it quite clear in a flashback when he double-crossed a colleague that he preferred to work alone. Despite these disparate situations, the squad learned to work together. More importantly, they even learned to work with Rick Flagg, Katana and the Navy SEALs, despite the distrust between the squad and their military watchdogs.

There had been a good deal of criticism from critics and some fans about how Ayer dealt with the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker. Many seemed to believe that Ayer had whitewashed the abusive nature of their relationship. That is not the relationship I had seen on screen. It really was not that difficult for me to notice how the Joker seemed to be in control of their relationship. Flashbacks revealed how he had exploited her infatuation for him. I also noticed his disturbing penchant for infantilizing her at times. Even the wardrobe that Harley wore to Midway City seemed to indicate that the Joker regarded her as his possession – namely her “Daddy’s Lil Monster” T-shirt and “Puddin” choker:

And yet, I do not recall the Joker wearing any clothing or accessories hinting that he is Harley’s possession. Curious. In fact, the controlling nature of their relationship seemed indicative in other relationships in the movie. The Enchantress proved to be something of a control freak. Brimming with resentment over humanity for imprisoning her and her brother Incubus, the sorceress decides to mankind. And yet . . . she transformed many of Midway City’s citizens into her minions and seemed to be the dominant half of her relationship with Incubus. On the other hand, Amanda Waller seemed to be the “Queen of Control” in “SUICIDE SQUAD”. She uses her position as Director of A.R.G.U.S. to assume control of the criminals who form the squad. And to insure that they will cooperate, she has small nano bombs implanted in their necks. She also tried to use her possession of the Enchantress’ heart to control the latter. And she encouraged a romance between Rick Flagg and the Enchantress’ human identity, Dr. June Moone, to guarantee Flagg’s undivided cooperation.

What can I say about the cast? Personally, I thought the cast members were the best thing about “SUICIDE SQUAD”. I have not seen Will Smith in a really good movie since 2012’s “MEN IN BLACK III”. And I really enjoyed his entertaining, yet first-rate and ambiguous portrayal of sharpshooter Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot. Margot Robbie gave what has turned out to be a superb performance as the hilarious, yet somewhat insane Dr. Harleen Quinzel aka Harley Quinn. Frankly, I think her performance was one of the best in the movie. Another performance that really impressed me came from Viola Davis, who nearly ruled above the others as the ruthless and diabolical Amanda Waller, Director of A.R.G.U.S. The ironic thing is that Waller’s character was not the movie’s main antagonist, yet Davis’ portrayal of her was so scary that she might as well have been.

Jay Hernandez was marvelous as the emotionally tortured Chato Santana aka El Diablo, whose guilt over his family’s deaths have led him to be reluctant to participate in the fight against the Enchantress. Karen Fukuhara was equally marvelous as Tatsu Yamashiro aka Katana, the expert martial artist/swordswoman, who guarded Rick Flagg and mourned her dead husband with the intensity of El Diablo’s flames. Speaking of Rick Flagg, it is amazing that I have never noticed Joel Kinnaman before this movie. I was surprised to learn that he was not the first choice for the role, for I believe he fitted it like a perfectly well-tailored suit. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s role as Waylon Jones aka Killer Croc was not as big as I would have liked. But the British actor still managed to give a great performance as the isolated supervillain, who managed to maintain a healthy attitude about his own self-esteem . . . despite what others may have thought about him. The biggest surprise proved to be Jai Courtney’s portrayal of Australian criminal George “Digger” Harkness aka Captain Boomerang. I have seen Courtney portray a series of intense characters – both heroes and villains. I never knew that he had a talent for comedy. Because . . . dammit! The man was funny as hell.

I thought Jared Leto gave one of the most interesting and original portrayals of the D.C. Comics supervillain, the Joker, I have ever seen. It was . . . well, very dangerous, but in a very sexy way. A sexy Joker. I never thought I would ever say that about the famous villain. But Leto did give a rather sexy and entertaining performance. “SUICIDE SQUAD” also featured some solid supporting performances from the likes of Cara Delevingne as Dr. June Moone aka the Enchantress, Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne aka Batman, David Harbour as a Federal official named Dexter Tolliver, Shailyn Pierre-Dixon as Zoe Lawton, Corina Calderon as Grace Santana, Scott Eastwood as Navy SEAL GQ Edwards, Common as a Gotham City criminal named Monster T and yes, even Adam Beach as Christopher Weiss aka Slipknot . . . despite his limited appearance.

Although I had a problem with director David Ayer’s use of the Slipknot character and other minor aspects of the narrative for “SUICIDE SQUAD”, I must admit that I enjoyed the movie a lot. Very much. In fact, it has become my favorite movie from the summer of 2016 and one of my favorite movies of the summer. Despite what other critics may have thought about it, I thought it was one hell of a film. I look forward to a sequel.

“TRUMBO” (2015) Review

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“TRUMBO” (2015) Review

I tried to think of a number of movies about the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and the Hollywood Blacklist I have seen. And to be honest, I can only think of two of which I have never finished and two of which I did. One of those movies I did finish was the 2015 biopic about Hollywood screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo.

Based upon Bruce Alexander Cook’s 1977 biography, the movie covered fourteen years of the screenwriter’s life – from being subpoenaed to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947 to 1960, when he was able to openly write movies and receive screen credit after nine to ten years of being blacklisted by the Motion Picture Alliance for the Protection of American Ideals. Due to this time period, it was up to production designer Mark Rickler to visually convey fourteen years in Southern California – from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. I must say that he, along with cinematographer Jim Denault and art directors Lisa Marinaccio and Jesse Rosenthal did an excellent job by taking advantage of the New Orleans locations. That is correct. Certain areas around New Orleans, Louisiana stood for mid-century Los Angeles, California. But the movie also utilized a few locations in Southern California; including a residential house in northeastern Los Angeles, and the famous Roosevelt Hotel in the heart of Hollywood. And thanks to Denault’s cinematography, Rickler’s production designs not only made director Jay Roach’s “Southern California” look colorful, but nearly realistic. But one of my minor joys of “TRUMBO” came from the costume designs. Not only do I admire how designer Daniel Orlandi re-created mid-20th century fashion for the film industry figures in Southern California, as shown in the images below:

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I was especially impressed by Orlandi’s re-creation of . . . you guessed it! Columnist Hedda Hopper‘s famous hats, as shown in the following images:

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I have read two reviews for “TRUMBO”. Both reviewers seemed to like the movie, yet both were not completely impressed by it. I probably liked it a lot more than the two. “TRUMBO” proved to be the second movie I actually paid attention to about the Blacklist. I think it has to do with the movie’s presentation. “TRUMBO” seemed to be divided into three acts. The first act introduced the characters and Trumbo’s problems with the House Committee on Un-American Activities, leading to his being imprisoned for eleven months on charges of contempt of Congress, for his refusal to answer questions from HUAC. The second act focused on those years in which Trumbo struggled to remain employed as a writer for the low-budget King Brothers Productions, despite being blacklisted by the major studios. And the last act focused upon Trumbo’s emergence from the long shadow of the blacklist, thanks to his work on “SPARTACUS” and “EXODUS”.

I have only one real complaint about “TRUMBO”. Someone once complained that the movie came off as uneven. And I must admit that the reviewer might have a point. I noticed that the film’s first act seemed to have a light tone – despite Trumbo’s clashes with Hollywood conservatives and HUAC. Even those eleven months he had spent in prison seemed to have an unusual light tone, despite the situation. But once the movie shifted toward Trumbo’s struggles trying to stay employed, despite the blacklist, the movie’s tone became somewhat bleaker. This was especially apparent in those scenes that featured the screenwriter’s clashes with his family over his self-absorbed and strident behavior towards them and his dealings with fellow (and fictional) screenwriter Arlen Hird. But once actor Kirk Douglas and director Otto Preminger expressed interest in ignoring the Blacklist and hiring Trumbo for their respective movies, the movie shifted toward a lighter, almost sugarcoated tone again. Now, there is nothing wrong with a movie shifting from one tone to another in accordance to the script. My problem with these shifts is that they struck me as rather extreme and jarring. There were moments when I found myself wondering if I was watching a movie directed by two different men.

Another problem I had with “TRUMBO” centered around one particular scene that featured Hedda Hopper and MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer. In this scene, Hopper forces Mayer to fire any of his employees who are suspected Communists, including Trumbo. The columnist did this by bringing up Mayer’s Jewish ancestry and status as an immigrant from Eastern Europe. This scene struck me as a blatant copy of one featured in the 1999 HBO movie, “RKO 281”. In that movie, Hopper’s rival, Louella Parsons (portrayed by Brenda Blethyn) utilized the same method to coerce – you guess it – Mayer (portrayed by David Suchet) to convince other studio bosses to withhold their support of the 1941 movie, “CITIZEN KANE”. Perhaps the filmmakers for “TRUMBO” felt that no one would remember the HBO film. I did. Watching that scene made me wonder if I had just witnessed a case of plagiarism. And I felt rather disappointed.

Despite these jarring shifts in tone, I still ended up enjoying “TRUMBO” very much. Instead of making an attempt to cover Dalton Trumbo’s life from childhood to death, the movie focused upon a very important part in the screenwriter’s life – the period in which his career in Hollywood suffered a major decline, due to his political beliefs. And thanks to Jay Roach’s direction and John McNamara’s screenplay, the movie did so with a straightforward narrative. Some of the film’s critics had complained about its sympathetic portrayal of Trumbo, complaining that the movie had failed to touch upon Trumbo’s admiration of the Soviet Union. Personally, what would be the point of that? A lot of American Communists did the same, rather naively and stupidly in my opinion. But considering that this movie mainly focused upon Trumbo’s experiences as a blacklisted writer, what would have been the point? Trumbo was not professionally and politically condemned for regarding the Soviet Union as the epitome of Communism at work. He was blacklisted for failing to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Also, the movie did not completely whitewash Trumbo. McNamara’s screenplay did not hesitate to condemn how Trumbo’s obsession with continuing his profession as a screenwriter had a negative impact upon his relationship with his family – especially his children. It also had a negative impact with his relationship with fellow screenwriter (the fictional) Arlen Hird, who wanted Trumbo to use his work for the King Brothers to express their liberal politics. Trumbo seemed more interested in staying employed and eventually ending the Blacklist. I came away with the feeling that the movie was criticizing the screenwriter for being more interested in regaining his successful Hollywood career than in maintaining his politics.

“TRUMBO” also scared me. The movie scared me in a way that the 2010 movie, “THE CONSPIRATOR” did. It reminded me that I may disagree with the political or social beliefs of another individual; society’s power over individuals – whether that society came in the form of a government (national, state or local) or any kind of corporation or business industry – can be a frightening thing to behold. It can be not only frightening, but also corruptive. Watching the U.S. government ignore the constitutional rights of this country’s citizens (including Trumbo) via the House Committee on Un-American Activities scared the hell out of me. Watching HUAC coerce and frighten actor Edward G. Robinson into exposing people that he knew as Communists scared me. What frightened me the most is that it can happen again. Especially when I consider how increasingly rigid the world’s political climate has become.

I cannot talk about “TRUMBO” without focusing on the performances. Bryan Cranston earned a slew of acting nominations for his portrayal of Dalton Trumbo. I have heard that the screenwriter was known for being a very colorful personality. What is great about Cranston’s performance is that he captured this trait of Trumbo’s without resorting to hammy acting. Actually, I could say the same about the rest of the cast. Helen Mirren portrayed the movie’s villain, Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper with a charm and charisma that I personally found both subtle and very scary. Diane Lane gave a subtle and very convincing performance as Trumbo’s wife Cleo, who not only stood by her husband throughout his travails, but also proved to be strong-willed when his self-absorption threatened to upset the family dynamics. Louis C.K., the comic actor gave a poignant and emotional performance as the fictional and tragic screenwriter, Arden Hird.

Other memorable performances caught my attention as well. Elle Fanning did an excellent job portraying Trumbo’s politically passionate daughter, who grew to occasionally resent her father’s pre-occupation with maintaining his career. Michael Stuhlbarg did a superb job in conveying the political and emotional trap that legendary actor Edward G. Robinson found himself, thanks to HUAC. Both John Goodman and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje gave colorful and entertaining performances as studio head Frank King and Trumbo’s fellow convict Virgil Brooks, respectively. Stephen Root was equally effective as the cautious and occasionally paranoid studio boss, Hymie King. Roger Bart gave an excellent performance as fictional Hollywood producer Buddy Ross, a venal personality who seemed to lack Robinson’s sense of guilt for turning his back on the blacklisted Trumbo and other writers. David James Elliot gave a very interesting performance as Hollywood icon John Wayne, conveying the actor’s fervent anti-Communist beliefs and willingness to protect Robinson from Hedda Hopper’s continuing hostility toward the latter. And in their different ways, both Dean O’Gorman and Christian Berkel gave very entertaining performances as the two men interested in employing Trumbo by the end of the 1950s – Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger.

I noticed that “TRUMBO” managed to garner only acting nominations for the 2015-2016 award season. Considering that the Academy Award tends to nominate at least 10 movies for Best Picture, I found it odd that the organization was willing to nominate the likes of “THE MARTIAN” (an unoriginal, yet entertaining feel-good movie) and “MAD MAX: FURY ROAD” (for which I honestly do not have a high regard) in that category. “TRUMBO” was not perfect. But I do not see why it was ignored for the Best Picture category, if movies like “THE MARTIAN” can be nominated. I think director Jay Roach, screenwriter John McNamara and a cast led by the always talented Bryan Cranston did an excellent job in conveying a poisonous period in both the histories of Hollywood and this country.

“THE BOURNE IDENTITY” (2002) Review

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“THE BOURNE IDENTITY” (2002) Review

Thirty-six years ago saw the release of “The Bourne Identity”, Robert Ludlum’s first novel about the amnesiac government agent called Jason Bourne. The novel became a best-seller and spawned two sequels written by Ludlum. Then in 1988, ABC aired a two-part miniseries adaptation of Ludlum’s novel, which starred Richard Chamberlain and Jacyln Smith. The miniseries turned out to be a big ratings hit. But it did not stop there. Over fourteen years later, Universal Pictures released its own adaptation of the novel, starring Matt Damon as the amnesiac Jason Bourne.

Directed by Doug Liman, the beginning of “THE BOURNE IDENTITY” more or less followed Ludlum’s novel. Italian fisherman (instead of French) rescue an unconscious man floating adrift with two gunshot wounds in his back. The boat’s medic finds a display of a safe deposit number surgically implanted under the unknown man’s skin. The man wakes up and discovers he is suffering from extreme memory loss. Over the next few days, the man finds he is fluent in several languages and has unusual skills. But he cannot remember anything about himself or why he was in the sea. When the ship docks, the doctor sends him off to Zurich with some money to investigate the mystery of the safe deposit box. In Zurich, the man discovers money, a pistol and passports with his photograph. One of the photographs identify him as an American named Jason Bourne with an address in Paris.

Here, “THE BOURNE IDENTITY” begins to veer from both Ludlum’s novel and the 1988 miniseries. Instead of alerting the forces of terrorist Carlos the Jackal, Bourne’s trip to the bank alerted the CIA black ops program Treadstone to his whereabouts. And instead of coercing French-Canadian Marie St. Jacques to drive him to safety and using her as a hostage, Damon’s Bourne offered money to a German-born Marie Kreutz to drive him to Paris. Before they can part, a Treadstone assassin attack Bourne at his Paris apartment. Due to the attack, Bourne is forced to kill the assassin and keep Marie by his side for her protection. And with her help, he sets out to discover his true identity and the truth that led to his wounded state in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. At the same time, Treadstone – led by the cankerous Alexander Conklin and the anxious Deputy Director Ward Abbott – continues sending assassins to kill Bourne and prevent him from revealing the organization’s desire to kill a volatile exiled African dictator named Nykwana Wombosi.

I might as well put my cards on the table. “THE BOURNE IDENTITY” is a terrific movie. Director Doug Liman, along with screenwriters Tony Gilory and William Blake Herron, did a first-rate job of transferring . . . well, their vision of Ludlum’s novel. Although the movie is not as faithful to the novel as the miniseries, I believe it is just as good. Liman, Gilroy and Herron decided to reject a good deal of Ludlum’s novel in order to reflect the current political climate and to conform to Liman’s opinions regarding American foreign policy. In the movie, Bourne is a CIA assassin who works for a black ops group called Treadstone that carries out unofficial hits on those they consider threats to the American government. He lost his memory after a failed attempt on the exiled Nykwana Wombosi. The movie is more of a criticism or indictment (depending on how one would view it) on U.S. foreign policy than Ludlum’s novel . But the director and the two screenwriters made sure that they retained the novel’s central theme – a CIA agent who loses his memory on the heels of a failed mission. Does this mean I believe Liman, Gilroy and Herron’s changes are superior to Ludlum’s original story? Not really. Ludlum’s tale and the 1988 adaptation were reflections of the times they hit both the bookstores and television screens. By the time “THE BOURNE IDENTITY” was in production, the political scene had change. The real Carlos the Jackal had been in prison for about seven to eight years by the time the movie went into production. And in my opinion, Liman and the two screenwriters wisely reflected this change.

“THE BOURNE IDENTITY” also reflected some first rate action sequences, thanks to Liman’s direction, Oliver Wood’s photography and especially Saar Klein’s editing. My favorite sequences include Bourne’s escape from the U.S. Embassy in Zurich, a car chase sequence through the streets of Paris, Bourne’s final encounter with Conklin and two of the latter’s flunkies inside Treadstone’s Parisian safe house and especially the fight sequence between Bourne and another Treadstone assassin named Castel. I also enjoyed John Powell’s atmospheric score for the film, which I believe more or less served as the basis for his work on the second and third BOURNE movies. And speaking of music, one could hardly discuss any BOURNE film withou mentioning Moby’s 2002 hit song, “Extreme Ways”. The lyrics to Moby’s song, supported by a very entertaining score, literally captured the nuance of the franchise’s main characters . . . especially Bourne. Is it any wonder that it has become the franchise’s theme song? Also, I have to commend Liman’s insistence upon filming“THE BOURNE IDENTITY” in Paris, especially since executives at Universal Studios wanted him to use Montreal or Prague as substitutes for the City of Lights. Mind you, both Montreal and Prague are beautiful cities. But even I would have guessed they were not really Paris in the film.

I read somewhere that Liman had considered a wide range of actors like Russell Crowe and Sylvester Stallone for the role of David Webb aka Jason Bourne. Mind you, I think Crowe could have pulled it off. But I am not so sure about Stallone. Then again, he could have done so a decade earlier. However, Liman eventually settled for Matt Damon and the rest, as they say, is history. Damon not only gave a superb performance as the introverted and haunted Bourne, he also handled some of the action scenes very well, considering this was his first time in such a physically demanding role. He also had superb chemistry with his leading lady, Franka Potente. The latter was excellent as the free-spirited Marie Kreutz, who finds herself drawn to the mysterious Bourne . . . almost against her will. Other first-rate performances include Chris Cooper as the intense and hot-tempered Alexander Conklin; Brian Cox, who performance as the cautious Ward Abbott almost strikes me as insidious; and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, whose performance as the arrogant and verbose Nykwana Wombosi pretty much lit up the screen. The movie also featured first-rate performances from two cast members who said very little. Julia Stiles did an excellent job in conveying both the professionalism and wariness of Treadstone logistics technician Nicky Parsons with very little dialogue. Clive Owen had even less to say as Treadstone assassin “The Professor” and yet, he perfectly projected an intense and intimidating presence as a government killer.

“THE BOURNE IDENTITY” is probably my second favorite movie in the franchise. Yet, it is not perfect. One of the problems I had featured the death of Treadstone assassin Castel, who jumped out of the window and killed himself, following his fight with Bourne inside the latter’s Parisian apartment. Marie asked Bourne why he did it. And honestly, I wondered why he did it myself. But Gilroy and Herron’s screenplay failed to explain Castel’s suicide. And to this day, I am still wondering why the guy jumped. Ward Abbott made the decision to shut down Treadstone, following its failure to kill Bourne. But instead of having everyone connected to Treadstone killed – something that Edward Norton’s character in “THE BOURNE LEGACY” attempted to do – Abbott only had one person bumped off. And I could not help but wondering if his efforts were half-assed. I also had a problem with the CIA’s reaction to Nykwana Wombosi’s death. Following Bourne’s failed attempt to kill him, the CIA Director had a fit over the unauthorized attempted hit on the former dictator. But when “The Professor” finally killed Wombossi, no one made a fuss or worried over the possibility that the dictator’s death might attract more attention from the media. I thought this was rather sloppy on Gilroy and Herron’s part. Finally, the movie’s second half was in danger of losing my attention, due to Liman’s slow pacing. If it were not for the sequence featuring Bourne and Marie’s visit to her friend (or step brother) Eaumon’s French farmhouse, I would have fallen asleep and missed Bourne’s final confrontation with Conklin.

What else is there to say about “THE BOURNE IDENTITY”? Like I said, it is my second favorite of the four movies in theBOURNE franchise. In its own way, it is just as good (but not better) than the 1988 miniseries that starred Richard Chamberlain. Not only did the movie featured a first-rate, if flawed screenplay by Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron; it also featured fine direction by Doug Liman, along with a superb cast led by Matt Damon who proved to be an excellent Jason Bourne.

“LOST”: The Death of Nathan

“LOST”: THE DEATH OF NATHAN

(2.07) ”The Other 48 Hours” is the 31st episode of ”LOST” that aired on November 16, 2005. This episode featured the Tail Section passengers of Oceanic Air Flight 815 and the story of their first forty-eight (48) days on the island. A controversy popped out from nowhere in this episode and it featured a fellow survivor named Nathan, whose death led to a barrage of criticism aimed at another character – Ana-Lucia Cortez, portrayed by Michelle Rodriguez.

The previous episode, (2.06) ”Abandoned” ended with the kidnapping of one of the Tail Section survivors, stewardess Cindy Chandler (Kimberly Joseph) and Ana-Lucia’s accidental shooting of one of the regular Fuselage survivors, Shannon Rutherford (Maggie Grace). ”The Other 48 Days” unfolded the events experienced by the Tailies that led Ana-Lucia to pull the trigger in such haste. And one of those events included the death of a Canadian-born passenger named Nathan (Josh Randall) at the hands of the Others’ spy, Goodwin Stanhope (Brett Cullen), The ironic thing about Nathan’s death is that when this episode had first aired, many of the series’ fans blamed Ana-Lucia for the Canadian’s fate.

When Flight 815 of Oceanic Airlines had first crashed on September 22, 2004, the plane broke into several pieces. One of those pieces included the tail section, which landed in the water, somewhere opposite of the Fuselage passengers’ camp. Not long after the survivors swam ashore, some of them – Ana-Lucia Cortez, Mr. Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Libby (Cynthia Watros) and Others spy Goodwin included – helped the others. But after Tail Sections passengers (aka the Tailies) settled down for the night, the Others snatched three adult males and Eko managed to kill two of them with a rock when they try to take him. It was Nathan who pointed out the disappearance of the three male survivors. Several injured survivors die in the passing days before the Others attacked again on the twelfth night and snatched nine more survivors – including two children named Emma and Zack. Ana-Lucia managed to kill one of the Others. The remaining survivors – Ana-Lucia, Mr. Eko, Libby, Cindy, Nathan and Bernard Nadler (Sam Anderson) – and Goodwin head into the jungle to evade the Others.

During their trek into the jungle, Nathan peevishly insisted that they break for rest and water. Although against the idea, Ana-Lucia obliged due to the arguments from the other survivors. She eventually dug a pit – on her own – and converted it into a cage. For Nathan. Apparently, Ana-Lucia had developed a suspicion toward the Canadian-born survivor since the Others’ second attack. Along with Cindy, he wanted to stay on the beach, following the Others’ first attack on Day One. Nathan also lengthy trips into the jungle, supposedly to take a bathroom break. He also seemed rebellious toward Ana-Lucia. Nathan spent four days in the pit without food, despite protests from Bernard and Goodwin. He also had to endure unrelenting questioning by Ana-Lucia. When she indicated her intention to torture him, Goodwin helped Nathan out of the pit. Then he killed the Canadian by snapping the latter’s neck.

Ever since Nathan’s death, many fans – but not all – have dumped most of the blame on Ana-Lucia’s shoulders. In the Television Without Pity recap for”The Other 48 Days”, someone named Daniel had this to say:

”She kneels by a stream, and starts to break down. Who says Michelle Rodriguez can’t act? She stops herself when she sees Eko standing there watching her. She barks at him, for no one must see her cry. He tells her that everything’s going to be okay, and he crouches beside her. “What, you’re talking now?” he says. “It’s been forty days,” he says simply. “You waited forty days to talk?” she says. “You waited forty days to cry,” he says, and that totally sets her off, and she collapses, sobbing in his arms. I’m going to hope that the tears aren’t strictly of the “even a girlfighter needs to let it out once in a while” variety, and that some of these tears are being shed for Nathan, whose death Ana-Lucia bears some of the responsibility for, whether you like her or not.”

He was right to claim that Ana-Lucia bore some of the responsibility for Nathan’s death. I only wished he had included the others who were also responsible in the above passage. Even one of the series’ screenwriters got into the act. Both Elizabeth Sarnoff and Christina M. Kim, who wrote (2.16) ”The Whole Truth” had Ana-Lucia assume all of the blame for what happened to Nathan:

GALE: I don’t mean to be ungrateful, but why are you going to help me get out of here?
ANA: On the other side of the Island there was this guy with us. I was 100 percent convinced that he wasn’t on the plane. So I dug a whole and I threw him in it.
GALE: And what happened?
ANA: I was wrong. And now he’s dead. But good news for you Henry — I don’t make the same mistake twice. So how about you tell me your story?

Well, it is all peachy keen that Ana-Lucia was able to accept responsibility for Nathan’s death. But it would have been sweeter for me if the other Tailies had accepted responsibility on screen, as well. Yes, I am saying that the other Tailies – along with Goodwin – were responsible. Let us exam how each individual in that group was responsible:

*Nathan – You read it right. I believe that Nathan was partially responsible for his own death. I realize that he had spoken the truth that intestinal problems led him to disappear from the Tailies’ camp every few hours. But Nathan had been the one who first noticed that the Others had kidnapped three survivors on that first night. He should have realized that disappearing into the jungle by himself for several hours – for whatever the reason – was a stupid move. The Others’ attack on the first night would have convinced me to overcome any embarrassment and insist upon company so that I could groan and fart for two hours with some semblance of safety. And there was the problem of Nathan’s personality. Not only did he have an ornery personality that irritated Ana-Lucia and the other Tailies, he also had a secretive nature that aroused many suspicions amongst his companions.

*Ana-Lucia Cortez – As I had stated earlier, Ana-Lucia was partially responsible for Nathan’s death. She was the one who had dug the pit. She was the one who dumped Nathan into the pit, starved him and questioned him constantly. She also threatened to torture him. And although Nathan’s behavior failed to help his cause, I suspect that Ana-Lucia’s own dislike of him allowed her to easily believe that he was a spy for the Others.

*Bernard Nadler – Although Bernard had protested against Nathan being dumped and kept in that pit, he did nothing to help the latter escape. Despite knowing that Ana-Lucia was attempting to starve Nathan into confessing.

*Libby – Like Ana-Lucia, she disliked Nathan’s behavior. And she had expressed her distrust of Nathan before Ana-Lucia had finished digging the pit:

LIBBY [entering]: Hey.
ANA: Hey.
LIBBY: Back at the beach — the night they came back — you said that Nathan was gone for 2 hours? That he was missing? Creeps me out, Ana. Do you really think it’s possible that one of us is one of them?

Later, she responded to Goodwin’s protest:

GOODWIN: You’re not all serious.
LIBBY: He never talks about himself, Nathan. Every time I ask him anything, he just dodges.

You know what really irritated me about Libby in the end? She dumped all of the blame for Nathan’s death on Ana-Lucia in (2.08) ”Collision”:

ANA [to Libby]: What about you?
LIBBY: I just don’t think you’re the best judge of character. I was with you when you put Nathan in the pit.

That is correct. Not only was she there when Ana-Lucia dumped Nathan’s ass into that pit, she was one of those who had supported the act. Her hypocrisy toward Ana-Lucia really annoyed me.

* Cindy Chandler – Like Libby, Cindy expressed distrust of Nathan. She also claimed that she had never seen him on board Flight 815 before the crash – despite her gift for knowing faces:

ANA: We were in the air for 2 hours — I didn’t see him once — not once.
GOODWIN: It’s a big plane, Ana, just because you didn’t…
CINDY: No, I didn’t see him either. I’m pretty good with faces, you know, with the passengers, and I did not see him.

I believe that Cindy may have overestimated her talent for faces. Apparently, she had failed to spot Nathan before spent time in one of the plane’s restrooms, dealing with his “problem”. And she failed to realize that Goodwin had never been a passenger on Flight 815.

*Mr. Eko – He was kind enough to feed a banana to Nathan, while the latter was being deliberately starved by Ana-Lucia. And yet . . . he did not bother to free Nathan from the pit. One could argue that Mr. Eko had feared incurring Ana-Lucia’s wrath. But we all know that he was the last person on that island who could ever be intimidated by her. Like most of his companions, Mr. Eko probably harbored suspicions about Nathan.

*Goodwin Stanhope – Naturally, he is the main person to blame for Nathan’s death. After all, he snapped the other man’s neck. Goodwin had helped Nathan escape from the pit. He realized that if Ana-Lucia had tortured the other man, she would have realized that Nathan had been speaking the truth. As a spy for the Others, he could not afford for her to continue any suspicions. But . . . there had been no need for Goodwin to commit murder. He could have simply allowed Nathan to maintain his distance from the other Tailies. But he chose murder instead.

From the above statements, it is easy to see that I have managed to place the blame for Nathan’s death on just about every member of the group that had left the beach, following the Others’ second attack. Yet, because Ana-Lucia happened to be so unpopular with many fans of “LOST”, she has received most of the blame. I hope this will finally set the record straight.

“LOST” RETROSPECT: (2.04) “Everybody Hates Hugo”

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“LOST” RETROSPECT: (2.94) “Everybody Hates Hugo”

Unless I am mistaken, Season Two of “LOST” is not very popular with the show’s fans. This season expanded on the Hatch (DHARMA Swan Station) subplot that was touched upon in the second half of Season One. This season introduced a tiresome running joke surrounding the Michael Dawson character. And it also featured the introduction of the survivors from Oceanic 815’s Tail Section, which included the unpopular character, Ana-Lucia Cortez. In some way, the fourth episode – (2.04) “Everybody Hates Hugo” – seemed to be some kind of manifestation of Season Two.

Aside from the joke regarding Michael Dawson, “Everybody Hates Hugo” touched upon most of the topics I brought up in the previous paragraph. In the previous episode, (2.03) “Orientation”, the survivors of Michael’s raft (Michael, James “Sawyer” Ford and Jin Kwon) were captured by a mysterious group of people upon their return to the Island. “Everybody Hates Hugo” focused on their incarceration inside a deep pit. Before Sawyer could finish plotting their escape, the mysterious group revealed to be survivors from Oceanic 815’s Tail Section. Despite some hostile conflict between Sawyer and the Tailies’ leader, Ana-Lucia Cortez, all agree it would be best to head for the Fuselage passengers’ beach camp. Claire Littleton stumble across the bottle of messages from Michael’s raft on the beach. She and several survivors worry over the fate of Michael, his son Walt Lloyd, Jin and Sawyer. Following the tiresome three-episode introduction of the Swan Station’s interiors, Jack and Sayid explore the hatch. They also order a very reluctant Hugo “Hurley” Reyes to ration the food found inside the station. The episode’s flashbacks reveal the consequences of Hurley winning the lottery . . . and his reasons for wanting to be in charge of food distribution on the Island.

I have to be frank. The episode’s main subplot involving Hurley’s job in the Hatch and his flashback did nothing for me. I found it boring. Well . . . I almost found it boring. Hurley’s reasons behind his reluctance to win the lottery and be in charge of the Losties’ food distribution clarified an aspect of his personality that I have always suspected. Despite some flashes of wisdom and common sense, Hurley is at heart a man-child who is reluctant to grow up. Unfortunately, this is an aspect of Hurley’s character I have never admired. In fact, I found it tiresome . . . over and over again. And I never could understand why fans have never noticed in past viewings. One could point out that Hurley became more mature as the series progressed. I find that hard to believe, considering the circumstances behind Hurley’s eventual fate. Hurley’s minor quarrel with Charlie over the secrecy of the Swan Station struck me as infantile. It did not help that Charlie’s constant rants about betrayal really irritated me. But I must admit that both Jorge Garcia and Dominic Monaghan gave first-rate performances. The only thing about this subplot that I found entertaining was Hurley’s interaction with Rose Nadler, portrayed by the very talented L. Scott Caldwell.

The second subplot regarding Jack and Sayid’s exploration of the Swan Station only seemed a step above the main subplot. The only reason I found it slightly more interesting was due to the mystery surrounding the Hatch. It seemed like a more mature subplot than one about Hurley’s man-child issues. That even includes Jack’s accidental encounter with a nearly nude Kate Austen, after she had finished taking a shower. What interested me was Sayid’s discovery of an electromagnetic energy within the Hatch’s walls. This discovery will end up being fully revealed by mid-to-late Season Five. The third subplot involved Claire’s discovery of the bottle of messages from the raft. This subplot struck me as irrelevant . . . period. Aside from giving Shannon Rutherford a moment to see a wet manifestation of Walt – an event that will have greater impact in a future episode – this subplot did nothing to drive the series’ main narrative forward. Instead, it involved some of the female survivors speculating on the fates of the raft’s passengers. And nothing more.

It was the final subplot regarding Michael, Jin and Sawyer’s experiences with the Tailies that really injected energy into the episode. It was not so much the mystery surrounding the raft survivors’ captors that made “Everybody Hates Hugo” so interesting to me. The three men discovered they had been captured by survivors from the Tail Section before halfway into the episode. But the psychological conflict between the more familiar characters and the newcomers crackled with a lot of energy that made me take notice. I especially found the conflict between Sawyer and Ana-Lucia, thanks to Josh Holloway and Michelle Rodriguez’s intense performances very entertaining. I realized that a good number of “LOST” fans disliked the Ana-Lucia Cortez character ever since this episode aired during the fall of 2005. I must admit that I had a different reaction. The powerhouse punch that Ana-Lucia delivered to Sawyer in “Orientation” had already thrilled me. Her continuing abuse of the always annoying Sawyer filled me with even more glee. I realize that most fans would probably be put off by my comments. But I do not care. I like Sawyer, but he was a real pain in the ass in this particular episode. At least to me.

“Everybody Hates Hugo” ended both on a mysterious and uplifting note. The Tailies led the raft survivors to another hatch that had been originally constructed by the DHARMA Initiative. Apparently, they had been using it as refuge from the jungle and the Others inside the nearly abandoned Arrow Station. So much for the mystery. What did I find uplifting about the episode? Certainly not the cheesy monologue featuring Hurley’s generous distribution of the food from the Swan Station. It was that moment when one of the Tail Section survivors approached the raft survivors and asked if they knew Rose. Thanks to a poignant performance by Sam Anderson, I nearly cried when he revealed himself to be Rose’s missing husband, Bernard. Great way to end an otherwise mediocre episode, “LOST”.

“THE MUMMY RETURNS” (2001) Review

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“THE MUMMY RETURNS” (2001) Review

“THE MUMMY”, the 1999 remake of the 1932 horror film proved to be a major success for filmmaker Stephen Sommers and Universal Studios. Two years later, both the director and the studio reunited its major stars for a sequel set a decade later. In doing so, Sommers and Universal created a four-movie franchise.

Like the first film, “THE MUMMY RETURNS” began thousands of years ago, in ancient Egypt. However, this flashback focused on an Egyptian mercenary named Mathayus, who makes an unsuccessful attempt to conquer the land. He and his army is exiled to the desert of Ahm Sher, where most of them die from heat exhaustion, except for Mathayus. The latter offers his soul to the god Anubis for the power to defeat his enemies. The latter creates an oasis called Ahm Shere to hide the newly dubbed Scorpion King’s pyramid and gives the latter a legion of humanoid jackal warriors to seek revenge. The Army of Anubis sweeps across Egypt, destroying everything in its path. But once their task is finished, Anubis claims the Scorpion King’s soul and his army.

The movie jumps to the year 1933, which finds the O’Connell family – Rick, Evelyn (“Evie”) and their son Alex – exploring the ruins of Thebes. Evie and Rick discover the bracelet of Anubis, unaware that Alex has stumbled across a trio of mercenaries attempting to take the bracelet for themselves. The family returns home to England, and unbeknownst to his parents, Alex tries on the bracelet and experiences a vision with directions to the Oasis of Ahm Shere. Unfortunately, a group of Egyptian cultists, who had hired the three thugs, invades the O’Connell estate and kidnaps Evie. The O’Connells’ old comrade, the Medjai warrior Ardeth Bay, arrives to help, but is unable to prevent Evie’s kidnapping. The cultists take her to the British Museum, where they resurrect the body of Egyptian high priest and sorcerer Imhotep. They plan to use his power to defeat the Sorcerer King. Rick, his brother-in-law Jonathan Carnahan, Alex and Ardeth arrive at the museum to rescue Evie. After the O’Connells, Jonathan and Ardeth manage to escape the army of mummified soldiers, Alex – who is still wearing the Anubis bracelet – is kidnapped by the cultists. The four adults track him to Egypt, where they recruit the help of Rick’s old World War I friend, Izzy Buttons, to rescue Alex from Imhotep and the cultists and prevent them from reviving the Army of Anubis.

I usually dislike horror films. But I noticed that the 1999 movie, “THE MUMMY” seemed more like an adventure film in the style of the INDIANA JONES movie franchise. I could say the same about ” THE MUMMY RETURNS”. And considering my dislike of horror films, I say “thank God”. However, the movie has enough elements to satisfy those who love this particular genre. This was especially apparent in the scenes that featured Imohtep’s murder of the three mercenaries, the O’Connells’ battle against the high priests mummified soldiers during the bus ride through London and during the finale sequence inside the Scorpion King’s pyramid at Ahm Shere. The sight of the Scorpion King as a transformed centaurid (or scorpion-monster) was enough to give me the heebie-jeebies. But if I had to select the one sequence that truly captured aspects of the horror genre, it was the one that featured the O’Connells’ attack upon the cultists in the Ahm Shere jungle that I found particularly off putting. Not only did the movie’s heroes have to attack the cultists in order to save Alex, both sides of the conflict had to deal the pygmy mummies that attacked and killed anyone or any army that marched through the jungle. What can I say? Those pygmies really freaked me out.

“THE MUMMY RETURNS” did feature a good deal of action sequences that seemed more like an adventure than a horror story – thank goodness. The O’Connells’ escape from the flooding of the Thebes pyramid, their escape from Imohtep’s attempt to drown them with a tsunami wave, their escape from the destruction of the Ahm Shere pyramid and various hand-to-hand fight sequences thankfully reminded me that “THE MUMMY RETURNS” was more of an adventure story. Also, Stephen Sommers provided a great deal of rich characterization and humor in his screenwriter. Like the 1999 film,“THE MUMMY”, “THE MUMMY RETURNS” featured some sophomoric humor. But if I must be honest, a good deal of the humor seemed sharper and wittier this particular film – especially in the hands of one particular character, Izzy Buttons. In fact, my favorite line in the film came him:

“Whatever it is, whatever you need, I don’t care. Forget it, O’Connell. Every time I hook up with you, I get shot. Last time, I got shot in the ass. I’m in mourning for my ass!

I never mentioned this in my review of “THE MUMMY”, but I was also impressed by Sommers’ handling of the sequence featuring Imohtep’s background and introduction at the beginning of the film. The opening sequence featuring the Scorpion King’s introduction struck me as mediocre. But I was very impressed by the flashback sequence about Evelyn’s past life in the form of the Princess Nefertiri and her witness of her father, Pharaoh Seti I. Sommers has a real talent for costumed melodrama and it would be nice to see him exploit it in the fullest in his career. This sequence also featured a first-rate fight scene between Rachel Weisz’s Nefertiri and Patricia Velásquez’s Anck-Su-Namun.

Of course, one cannot talk about “THE MUMMY RETURNS” without bringing up its visual effects. First of all, kudos to cinematographer Adrian Biddle for continuing the beautiful photography for which he was responsible in the first film. I especially enjoyed his work in the sequence that featured the parallel journeys across Egypt by both the O’Connell and Imohtep parties. Allan Cameron and his crew did an excellent job in re-creating not only England and Egypt of the early 1930s, but also ancient Egypt. The team of Ahmed Abounouom, Giles Masters and Tony Reading added a great deal to Cameron’s work with their beautiful and colorful art designs. I have always enjoyed Alan Silvestri’s music in past movies. But I must admit that I really appreciated his use of Middle Eastern or North African-style in the movie’s score. I do admire the special effects created by the movie’s visual effects team. I was especially impressed by their work in the Ahm Shere jungle sequence. However, there were times I found it a bit over-the-top. I noticed that Sommers hired his costume designer from the last film, John Bloomfield, to design the costumes for this film. And I wish to God he had hired someone else. I had no problem with Bloomfield’s costumes for the ancient Egypt sequences. His costume designs for the 1933 scenes – namely the costumes for the female characters – were another matter. Honestly, they sucked. I was far from impressed by Bloomfield’s re-creation of 1920s fashion for Evelyn’s character in the 1999 movie. His re-creation of early 1930s fashions for the female characters were just as bad – as shown in the images below:

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I can only shake my head in disbelief. The above were Bloomfield’s idea of 1932-33 women’s fashion? Really? They looked more like a modern-day take on the fashions of that particular era. The fact that both Weisz and Velásquez are sporting modern hairstyles does not help.

At least I cannot complain about the acting. An episode of “STAR TREK VOYAGER” featured the first project in which Dwayne Johnson portrayed a character other than himself. He had nothing to do but engage in a fight scene. “THE MUMMY RETURNS” featured his second role in which he portrayed another character. Again, he had no lines. At least Sommers managed to effectively direct him into expressing his character via body language. The other cast members, on the other hand, had speaking lines. The movie featured solid performances from the likes of Bruce Byron, Joe Dixon and Tom Fisher as the three thugs hired by the cultists to assist them. Alun Armstrong gave a surprisingly effective performance as Mr. Hafez, the leader of the Egyptian cultists. Unlike most Western actors, Armstrong managed to portray a non-Western villain without resorting to theatrical acting. My favorite performance came from Shaun Parkes, who was both hysterically witty as O’Connell’s old friend, Izzy Buttons. I usually have mixed feelings about child actors. But I must admit that I enjoyed Freddie Boath’s engaging performance as Rick and Evelyn’s boisterous son, Alex. “THE MUMMY RETURNS” was the first movie or television production I had noticed Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. And his performance as Mr. Hafez’s chief enforcer, Lock-Nah, was . . . well, magnificent. In fact, I could say the same about his screen presence.

Patricia Velásquez may not have been the world’s greatest actress. And there were times I found her verbal performance as femme fatale Meela Nais and ancient Egyptian courtesan Anck-Su-Namun a bit limited. She more than made up this flaw with a strong ability for silent acting and a very impressive screen presence. Again, she proved to have a great screen chemistry with Arnold Vasloo, who returned as the Egyptian high priest, Imohtep. What can I say about Vasloo’s performance? The man is Imohtep – both in presence and performance. He did a marvelous job in conveying both the frightening aspects of his character and the latter’s passionate love for Anck-Su-Namun. Happily, Oded Fehr reprised his role as Medjai warrior Ardeth Bey. And not only was he great, as always. For the first time, I became aware of Fehr’s talent for comedic acting. John Hannah was as funny as ever as Evelyn’s ne’er do well older brother, Jonathan Carnahan. I found him especially funny in his scenes with Boath and Parkes.

Rachel Weisz reprised her role as Evelyn “Evie” Carnahan O’Connell and I was surprised by the level of development in her character. Weisz did an excellent job in conveying the mature development of Evie and maintaining the character’s familiar quirks at the same. Weisz was also excellent as the Princess Nefertiri, who was not only fervently protective of her father, but also suspicious of Anck-Su-Namun. The character of Rick O’Connell also struck me as surprisingly different in this movie. Like Evelyn, marriage and parenthood had developed him into a more mature personality. And like Evelyn, he also maintained some of his personality quirks. And Brendan Fraser did an excellent job in conveying both the familiar and different aspects of Rick’s character.

“THE MUMMY RETURNS” effectively continued the exciting adventure and horror of the 1999 film, thanks to Stephen Sommers’ writing and direction. And I enjoyed it very much, along with the entertaining performances of the cast led by Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. But as much as I continue to enjoy it, there is a part of me that wished Sommers had not been so over-the-top with some of his direction and the special effects featured in the movie. It seemed as if he was trying to outdo his work in the first film. And sometimes, that is not a good thing.

“LOST”: Things That Make Me Go . . . Hmmm?

The following is a list of questions I have regarding subplots that have been featured in past episodes of “LOST”. If you have an answer to any of my questions, please feel free to reply:

 

“LOST”: THINGS THAT MAKE ME GO . . . HMMM?

1. Who gave the original order for Walt Lloyd to be kidnapped?

 

2. Why did the Others kidnap some of the surviving Tail Section passengers of Oceanic 815?

 

3. Why did Ben Linus and the Others scheme to keep Jack Shephard, Kate Austen, and James “Sawyer” Ford as prisoners on Hydra Island?

 

4. Why did Michael Dawson confess his murder of Ana-Lucia Cortez and accidental killing of Libby to his ten year-old son, Walt Lloyd, following their departure from the island?

 

5. Why did Tom Friendly claim that no one was able to leave the island, following the explosion of the Swan Station, despite the fact that he, Michael and Walt were able to do so?

 

6. Why did the prosecuting attorney blindly believe Jack’s false testimony that Kate gave birth to Aaron Littleton, during their three-month stay on the island?

 

7. Why did the prosecuting attorney fail to continue her prosecution of Kate for the charges of bank robbery, assaulting a Federal peace officer, after the murder charges were dropped?

 

8. Why were the Losties, the Freighter people and Juliet the only ones who time traveled on the island and not the Others or Danielle Rousseau?

 

9. Why did Ben kill John Locke in “The Death of Jeremy Bentham”?

 

10. What happened to Claire Littleton during her three-year stay on the island, following the departure of the Oceanic Six?

 

11. Who killed some of the surviving Ajira 316 passengers at their beach camp and why?

 

“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” (2013) Review

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“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” (2013) Review

As I had stated in my review of “IRON MAN 3”, I had assumed that the release of the 2012 blockbuster, “THE AVENGERS” would signal the end of Marvel’s multi-film saga about the group of comic book heroes and their government allies, S.H.I.E.L.D. Not only did “IRON MAN 3” prove me wrong, but also the recent television series, “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” and the second movie about the God of Thunder, “THOR: THE DARK WORLD”

Like the 2011 movie, “THOR”, this latest film begins thousands of years ago. Back in day (or year); Bor, the father of Odin, clash with the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim and their leader Malekith, who seeks to destroy the universe using a weapon known as the Aether. After conquering Malekith’s forces, Bor hides the Aether within a stone column. He was also unaware that Malekith, his lieutenant Algrim, and a handful of Dark Elves have managed to escape by going into suspended animation.

Many years later, Thor and his fellow Asgardians (which include his friends Lady Sif, Fandral and Volstagg) help their comrade Hogun repel marauders on the latter’s homeworld, Vanaheim. It proves to be the last battle in a war to pacify the Nine Realms, which had fallen into chaos following the destruction of the Bifröst. And in London, astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster is led by her intern Darcy Lewis and the latter’s intern, Ian, to an abandoned factory where objects have begun to disobey the laws of physics by disappearing into thin air. Jane is teleported to another world, where she is infected by the Aether. Both the Asgardians and Jane’s former mentor, Dr. Erik Selvig learn on separate occasions that the Convergence, a rare alignment of the Nine Realms, is imminent. While the event approaches, portals (one of which Jane had fallen into) linking the worlds appear at random. Heimdall alerts Thor of Jane’s recent disappearance, leading the latter to search for her on Earth. When she inadvertently releases an unearthly force upon a group of London policemen, Thor takes her to Asgard. Unfortunately, the Asgardian healers do not know how to treat her. Odin, recognizing the Aether, warns Jane’s infection will kill her given enough time, and that the Aether’s return heralds a catastrophic prophecy. Unbeknownst to Odin, the re-emergence of the Aether also ends the Dark Elves’ suspended animation and revives their determination to use the substance to darken the universe.

“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” has proven to be a major box office, since its release nearly a month ago. This is not surprising, considering the enormous success of Marvel’s Avenger saga.“IRON MAN 3”, set six months after the events of the 2012 film, also proved to be a big hit. Some people have claimed that the first film about Thor was superior. As much as I had enjoyed“THOR”, I cannot say that I would agree. It reeked just a bit too much of a superhero origin tale. Personally, I found the plot for “THOR: THE DARK WORLD” more satisfying.

Mind you, this second God of Thunder movie did not strike me as perfect. It had a few flaws. Although I applaud director Alan Taylor and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau’s expansion of the Asgard setting beyond the royal palace and the Bifröst, the latter’s photography for that particular setting seemed to lack Haris Zambarloukos’ dazzling and colorful photography from the 2011 film. Instead, there seemed to be a slightly dull cast to Morgenthau’s photography of Asgard. Thor’s friends did not particularly project that same screen chemistry that I found so enjoyable in the first film. Aside from one major scene in which Thor plotted Jane’s escape from Asgard, they rarely had any scenes together. And Tadanobu Asano’s Hogun had even less scenes. I wonder if this was due to the actor’s major role in the upcoming movie, “47 RONIN”.

Aside from these nitpicks, I enjoyed “THOR: THE DARK WORLD” very much. As I had earlier stated, I found it more enjoyable than the first film. Thanks to the screenplay written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the movie provided a stronger narrative, beyond a simple origin tale. The three screenwriters explored the consequences of past events from both “THOR” and “THE AVENGERS” – Loki’s actions in both movies; Thor’s original destruction of the Bifröst, which led to chaos in the Nine Realms and his long separation from Jane Foster, the latter’s inability to move on, and the impact upon Erik Selvig from being possessed by Loki. However, the movie also explored how a past event in the Asgardians’ history – their conflict with the Dark Elves – managed to once again, have a negative impact upon Earth. For a movie that was juggling a good number of subplots, along with a major plot, I thought the writers and director Alan Taylor did a first-rate job in balancing it all in the end.

Taylor has limited experience as a movie director, but he has a long history as a television direction. Despite his longer experience with television, I must admit that I found myself more than pleased with his direction of “THOR: THE DARK WORLD”. And I was also very impressed. I was especially impressed by his handling of certain action scenes, like the Dark Elves’ invasion of Asgard, the fight scene between Queen Frigga and Malekith, the escape from Asgard, and Thor and Loki’s confrontation against Malekith and the Dark Elves. But the one action scene that really impressed me turned out to be Thor and Jane’s attempt to prevent Malekith’s use of the Aether against Earth and the rest of the universe. This scene not only benefited from Taylor’s direction, but also Dan Lebental and Wyatt Smith’s editing. The movie’s action sequences were nicely balanced by some of its dramatic and comedic scenes. I especially enjoyed Thor and Loki’s quarrel over the latter’s past actions, Thor’s reunion with Jane, and Darcy and Ian’s attempt to free Erik from a mental institution. One particular scene featured a quarrel between Thor and Odin over how to deal with the threat of the Dark Elves. It strongly reminded me of the two men’s quarrel over the Frost Giants in the first film . . . but with an ironic twist. Instead of Odin being the mature and reasonable one, this time it is Thor.

My only complaint about the movie’s performances has to do with Tadanobu Asano. Due to his limited appearance in the film, he never really had a chance to give a memorable performance. I hope to see more of him in the next film. Both Jamie Alexander and Ray Stevenson gave competent performances as Thor’s two other friends – Lady Sif and Volstagg. Instead of Josh Dallas, this movie featured Zachary Levi in the role of Thor’s fourth friend, Fandral. Levi had been originally cast in the role for the 2011 film. But due to his commitments to NBC’s “CHUCK”, Dallas got the role. But the latter’s commitment to ABC’s “ONCE UPON A TIME” forced Marvel and Disney to give the role back to Levi. Aside from the initial shock of seeing him in a blond wig, I must admit that Levi made a very dashing Fandral. I was very happy to see Kat Dennings reprise her role of Jane’s intern, Darcy Lewis. She was as funny as ever. She also had an extra straight man in the form of Jonathan Howard, who portrayed “her” intern, Ian Boothby. The movie also featured a very funny cameo by Chris Evans, who portrayed Loki disguised as Steve Rogers/Captain America.

Christopher Eccleston may not have made the most witty villain from the Marvel canon, but I found his portrayal of Malekith very scary . . . in an unrelenting way. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje struck me as equally impressive as Malekith’s lieutenant, Algrim. It was a pity that I could barely make him out in his new appearance as the Kurse. Renee Russo’s role as Queen Frigga was expanded in this second film and I am so thankful that it was. Not only did she have a marvelous dramatic scene with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, but watching her sword fight against Eccleston’s Malekith reminded me of her role in the “LETHAL WEAPON” films. Idris Elba repeated his masterful portrayal of Asgard’s gatekeeper, Heimdall. I especially enjoyed him in two scenes – Heimdall’s efforts to prevent the Dark Elves’ attack and his discussion with Thor about helping Jane leave Asgard against Odin’s will. More importantly, audiences get to see him in even more scenes. Stellan Skarsgård was very hilarious in his portrayal of Dr. Erik Selvig in this film. I realize that one should not laugh at the idea of someone suffering from a mental trauma, but I could not help it. I do not think I have ever seen Skarsgård so entertaining in a Marvel film. Anthony Hopkins did a marvelous job in conveying Odin’s increasing fragile rule over Asgard and control of his emotions. This was especially apparent in the scene featuring Odin and Thor’s disagreement over the Dark Elves.

For the first time in a Marvel film, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is not portrayed as an out-and-out villain, but a more morally complex character, thanks to his relationships with Asgard’s royal family – especially Thor and Frigga. Hiddleston was as playful and witty as ever. And I especially enjoyed his interactions with Chris Hemsworth. In fact, I can say the same about Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Thor’s love, astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster. Personally, I found her funnier and her chemistry with Hemsworth a lot stronger in this second film. And I was especially happy to see her take a more active role in helping Thor defeat the main villain. As for Chris Hemsworth, he continued to roll as the God of Thunder, Thor. He did a marvelous job in developing his character into more complex waters, especially in regard to his relationships with Jane, Loki and Odin. And one of my favorite scenes in the movie featured Thor’s silent reaction to his discovery that Jane had a date with another man. I hope that one day, people will truly appreciate what a first-rate actor he is.

“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” had a few flaws. What movie does not? But thanks to Alan Taylor’s direction, an excellent cast led by a talented Chris Hemsworth and a very complex script written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, it not only turned to be very entertaining, but also better than the previous film. At least for me.

“LOST” (2004-2010): Favorite Character Centric Episodes – Part I

Below is Part I of a list of my favorite episodes featuring “LOST” characters: 

“LOST” (2004-2010): FAVORITE CHARACTER CENTRIC EPISODES – Part I


Kate Austen

1. (2.09) “What Kate Did” – While Kate tends to a wounded Sawyer, flashbacks reveal her original crime, the murder of her father.

2. (1.22) “Born to Run” – Kate seeks a spot on Michael’s raft, threatening to take Sawyer’s place. Meanwhile, flashbacks reveal the circumstances behind the death of her childhood love, Tom.

3. “(5.04) “The Little Prince” – Kate and Jack discovers that Aaron’s grandmother, Carole Littleton is in Los Angeles. A flashback reveals the truth behind Kate’s decision to claim him as her son; while the remaining island survivors jump to the day when Aaron was born.


Juliet Burke

1. (3.16) “One of Us” – Juliet arrives at the castaways’ camp, accompanied by Jack, Kate and Sayid. While the survivors question Jack’s motives, a strange illness strikes down Claire. Flashbacks reveal Juliet’s first three years on the island.

2. (3.07) “Not in Portland” – Flashbacks reveal the events behind the Others’ recruitment of Juliet. Meanwhile, she assists Kate and Sawyer in their escape from one of the Others’ camps.


Ana-Lucia Cortez

1. (2.07) “The Other 48 Days” – The first 48 days following the crash of Oceanic Flight 815 are shown from the Tail Section survivors’ point of view, along with Ana-Lucia’s leadership.

2. (2.08) “Collision” – Shannon’s death causes a clash between Ana-Lucia and Sayid, near the Fuselage survivors’ camp. Flashbacks reveal a tragic shooting in Ana-Lucia’s past and her subsequent desire for revenge.


Michael Dawson

1. (4.08) “Meet Kevin Johnson” – Flashbacks reveal Michael’s experiences in New York and the deal he made with the Others to spy upon the crew and passengers of Widmore’s freighter.

2. (2.22) “Three Minutes” – Michael convinces Jack, Kate, Hurley and Sawyer to help him lead an attempt to rescue Walt, following Ana-Lucia and Libby’s deaths. Flashbacks reveal the time he spent as a captive of the Others.

3. (1.14) “Special” – Michael clashes with Locke over his parenting of Walt. Meanwhile, flashbacks reveal the breakup between Michael and Walt’s mother, Susan.


Mr. Eko

1. (2.10) “The 23rd Psalms” – While Charlie leads Mr. Eko to a drug smuggler’s plane that contains the latter’s brother, flashbacks reveal the path that led to his life as a warlord in Nigeria.

2. (2.21) “?” – While dealing with the deaths of Ana-Lucia and Libby, Mr. Eko accompanies Locke when they find another Dharma station. Flashbacks reveal his experiences in Australia before boarding Oceanic Flight 815.

Part II will feature the next five characters.

“BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” (2011) Review

“BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” (2011) Review

I was surprised to discover that “SKYLINE”, an alien invasion movie that had been released last fall, was not the first movie to be directed by Greg and Colin Strause. Three-and-a-half years ago, they directed a movie called “ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM”, which managed to generate solid box office, if not critical acclaim. “SKYLINE” generated even less box office and critical acclaim than the 2007 movie, but it did earn a profit. But the movie generated even more – a scandal involving cries of plagiarism that involved the latest alien invasion film called “BATTLE: LOS ANGELES”

Before making ”SKYLINE”, the Brothers Strause had been hired by Sony Pictures and the producers of ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” to generate special effects for the latter. But after working on the latter film, they began producing and directing a film with a similar premise – alien invasion in Southern California. Sony Pictures decided to dismiss the arbitration against the brothers, six days after ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES”, claiming that after the discovery phase they were satisfied that none of the ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” visual effects were used in ”SKYLINE”. After seeing both movies, I personally believe that Sony Pictures had nothing to worry about. ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” made ”SKYLINE” look like a drop of dog poop on the side of the road.

Set in Southern California – mainly in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles, ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” is an alien invasion tale about a squad of U.S. Marines, tasked to search for civilians trapped at a local police station, before the U.S. Air Force can commence upon a saturation bombing of Santa Monica. Before they could find the civilians, the Marines are joined by two others and a U.S. Air Force intelligence tech sergeant, who has information regarding an alien command center that allows the invaders control of the air. But before the Marines can make use of tech sergeant’s information, they have to ensure the safety of the civilians they finally come across and survive the best way they can.

Although ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” is obviously better than ”SKYLINE”, it is not without its flaws. To be honest, I have very few problems with the movie. Perhaps two or three problems. One, I think that screenwriter Chris Bertolini may have rushed the movie’s first fifteen to twenty minutes. From the moment when the camera focuses on lead character Staff-Sergeant Michael Nantz engaged in an early morning jog on a beach near Camp Pendleton to when he and his squad discover that they will be facing invading aliens at the Forward Operating Base at the Santa Monica Airport, at least fifteen to seventeen minutes passed. That seemed a bit . . . too fast to me. I would have preferred if Bertolini had been a little more in-depth in his introduction of the major characters. And I would have preferred if they had discovered that they would be facing hostile aliens, after hitting the streets to find the missing civilians. Oh well. We cannot have everything. Two, it almost seemed as if the Marines were using a strange mixture of military and sports jargon. I have heard it before in a miniseries called ”TOM CLANCY’S OP CENTER”. I found it strange then and I still find it strange. I suppose they use this brand of jargon in the military. But quite frankly, it makes me cringe. After a scene in which some of the Marines survived a traumatic attack by aliens near a freeway, director Jonathan Liebesman followed up with a brief scene of them tramping through the streets before seeking refuge at a convenience store. That scene featured a building that is located in downtown Los Angeles. But the Marines had not reached downtown. Because after leaving the convenience store, they returned to the Santa Monica Airport. There is no way they could have traveled from the West Los Angeles area to downtown Los Angeles and back to Santa Monica . . . that fast. Liebesman should have never included that building in a shot.

Now that I got my complaints out of the way, how did I feel about ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES”? As I had earlier stated, I believe it was at least ten times better than ”SKYLINE”. In fact, it has become one of my favorite movies of 2011 . . . so far. I really enjoyed it. Despite Bertolini’s fast introduction, he did a first-rate job of maintaining some of the personal storylines and angst that plagued the main characters. The most important personal story involved Staff-Sergeant Nantz’s last assignment in Afghanistan. He turned out to be his squad’s sole survivor, which led many Marines to believe he had abandoned the squad. Because of his last tour in Afghanistan, Nantz decided to retire from the Marines. One of the Marines in Nantz’s old squad turned out to be the brother of one of the movie’s survivors, Corporal Jason Lockett. Lockett’s resentment toward Nantz more or less remained on the back burner, until after the tragic circumstances of the freeway battle. Another personal story centered on the squad’s commander, the newly commissioned Second Lieutenant William Martinez and his eagerness to prove himself in battle. Yes, this kind of storyline has been seen in many military films. Yet, thanks to the performances actors Aaron Eckhart (Nantz) and Ramón Rodríguez (Martinez), this storyline actually worked. I read somewhere that the character of Air Force Tech Sergeant Elena Santos was added at the last minute. And yet, this addition worked, for her character provided valuable information for the Marines to do something about the aliens’ command center. Nantz’s emotional connection with civilians like the veterinarian named Michele and a Latino father and son pair named Joe and Hector Rincon provided a great deal of angst in the movie’s center. More importantly, both Bertolini and Liebesman milked these minor storylines throughout most of the movie.

And I cannot talk about ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” without bringing up the film’s special effects. As I had earlier pointed out, the Brothers Strause was responsible for the visual effects and I believe they did a first rate job. Between their visual effects, Liebesman’s direction, Lukas Ettlin’s photography and Christian Wagner’s editing, ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” featured some very memorable scenes. Some of the scenes included the squad’s first encounter with the aliens on the fogged-covered streets of Santa Monica; Lockett and Lance Corporal Peter Kerns’ sighting of alien scouts on the roof of the police station and the surviving squad members’ nighttime helicopter ride above battle torn Los Angeles. But the visual centerpieces proved to be – at least for me – the two major battles featured in the movie. And I am referring to the freeway battle that resulted in tragic consequences and the final battle that featured the squad’s attempt to destroy the aliens’ command center. Between the visual effects, the editing and the action, these scenes struck me as mind blowing.

The movie’s producers and Jonathan Liebesman did an excellent job in casting the roles in the films. Aside from a few performances, most of the cast did solid work. I was even impressed by singer Ne-Yo, who portrayed one of the Marines, Corporal Kevin Harris. He and Gino Anthony Pesi (Corporal Nick Stavrou) managed to establish a humorous screen team as two best friends. I am certain that many people are aware that Elena Santos became another one of Michelle Rodriguez’s “tough girls” roles that has become her personal stock over the past decade. Mind you, her Santos came off as mature and did not turn into one of those “in your face” types that many have complained about over the years. And she blended well with the cast. Bridget Moynahan gave a solid performance as one of the civilians trapped at the police station. And she and Eckhart managed to establish a good chemistry without any taint of romance. I was especially impressed by his work in a scene in which his character expressed regret over his failure to leave the police station, when he had the chance. I would like to point out that Adetokumboh M’Cormack (Corpsman Jibril Adukwu), Jim Parrack (Sterns), and Will Rothhaar (Corporal Lee Imlay) did a great job in establishing why Nantz seemed to regard them as three of the sqaud’s most dependable character. And Rothhaar managed to achieve this with a great deal of humor. I just realized that Rodriguez is not the only ”LOST” cast alumni who appeared in this film. M’Cormack did two guest appearances on the show and both acted opposite British actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.

But there were performances that really stood out for me. Michael Peña also gave excellent performance as Joe Rincon, of the other civilians that were trapped at the West L.A. police station. Cory Hardrict gave a first-rate and subtle performance as Jason Lockett, the one Marine who harbored lingering resentment toward Nantz over the death of his brother – especially in one scene in which the two finally faced the matter. The last time I had ever seen Ramón Rodríguez , he portrayed Shia LaBeouf’s frantic roommate in the second ”TRANSFORMERS” movie. Imagine my surprise in seeing him portrayed the squad’s earnest, yet inexperienced leader, Lieutenant Martinez. I am happy to report that his Martinez came off as a lot less frantic(and embarrassing) than his character in ”TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN”. In fact, he did a great job in portraying Martinez’s anxieties and eagerness without even going over the top. And for that I am eternally grateful. However, it was Aaron Eckhart who really carried the movie. And he did a superb job. This is the second time I have seen him in the lead of a movie. And after watching his performance as the competent, yet angst-ridden Michael Nantz, I can only wonder why he has not been cast in the lead in more of the A-studio films. For me, his best scene featured Nantz’s reaction after destroying an alien drone using a walkie-talkie and a grenade. Watching Eckhart’s hand shake, while the other cast members applauded his character’s actions was one of the best examples of silent acting I have seen in quite a while.

I am aware that ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” only managed to garner mixed reviews from the critics. I am also aware that the movie is not perfect. Nor is it the best alien invasion movie I have ever seen. But I still managed to enjoy the movie so much that I have to give kudos to director Jonathan Liebsman for his direction of a first-rate movie and an excellent cast led by the always superb Aaron Eckhart. Not surprisingly, I went to see this movie for a second time before it left my neighborhood’s movie theaters . . . and enjoyed it even more.