“WUTHERING HEIGHTS” (2009) Review

 

“WUTHERING HEIGHTS” (2009) Review

I have no idea how many times Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Wuthering Heights” was adapted for the movie or television screens. I do know that I have seen at least three versions of the novel. Although the 2009 television adaptation is not the latest to have been made, it is the most recent I have seen.

The beginning of “WUTHERING HEIGHTS” veers away from Brontë’s novel in two ways. One, the television production is set forty years later than the novel. Instead of beginning at the turn of the 19th century, this movie or miniseries begins in the early 1840s before it jumps back thirty years. And two, the character of Mr. Lockwood, who appeared in both Brontë’s novel and William Wyler’s 1939 version, did not make an appearance in this production. The novel and the 1939 film used Earnshaw housekeeper Nelly Dean’s recollections to Lockwood as a flashback device. This production also uses Nelly as a flashback device, only she ends up revealing her memories to Cathy Linton, the daughter of Edgar Linton and Catherine Earnshaw . . . and Heathcliff’s new daughter-in-law.

Do not get me wrong. I personally had no problems with these changes. With or without the Lockwood character, Nelly Dean is used as a flashback. There were other changes from the novel. Heathcliff left Wuthering Heights and Yorkshire and returned three-and-a-half years later, six months after Catherine’s marriage to Edgar. In the 2009 production, Heathcliff returned on the very day of their wedding. Well . . . I could deal with that. What I found interesting is that screenwriter Don Bowker seemed dismissive of the 1939 film adaptation, claiming that the movie’s screenwriter succeeded because “with classic Hollywood ruthlessness they filleted out the Cathy/Heathcliff story and ditched the rest of the plot. It’s a great film but it does the novel a disservice.” I realize that many fans of Brontë’s novel would probably agree with him. I do not. Wyler’s film may not have been as faithful as this production, but I do not accept Bowker’s view that it “filleted out” the Catherine/Heathcliff story or did the novel any disservice. This version included the second generation story arc and to be quite honest, I was not that impressed.

There were some problems I had with this production. I also found myself slightly confused by the passage of time between Heathcliff’s departure and his return. I also felt equally confused by the passage of time between young Cathy’s first meeting with Heathcliff and her marriage to the latter’s son, Linton. The Nelly Dean character barely seemed to age. And once the miniseries or movie refocused upon the second generation, the story seemed to rush toward the end. Both Bowker and director Coky Giedroyc seemed reluctant to fully explore Heathcliff’s relationships with his son Linton, his daughter-in-law Cathy and his ward Hareton. I could probably say the same about the friendship and developing romance between the younger Cathy and Hareton.

“WUTHERING HEIGHTS” is a visually charming production. But I can honestly say that it did not blow my mind. There was nothing particularly eye-catching or memorable about the production staff’s work, whether it was Ulf Brantås’ photography, Grenville Horner’s production designs or Fleur Whitlock’s art direction. If one were to ask my opinion on the miniseries’ score, I could not give an answer, simply because I did not find it memorable. The most noteworthy aspect of“WUTHERING HEIGHTS”, aside from its writing, direction and the cast is Fleur Whitlock’s costume designs. I admire the way she made every effort to adhere to early 19th fashion from the Regency decade to the beginning of the Victorian era.

I had very little problems with the cast. Tom Hardy – more or less- gave a fine performance as the brooding Heathcliff. He certainly did an excellent job of carrying the production. My only complaint is that once his Heathcliff returned to Wuthering Heights as a wealthy man, there were times when he seemed to portray his character as a comic book super villain. His later performance as Heathcliff brought back negative reminders of his performance as Bane in the most recent Batman movie, “THE DARK KNIGHT”. I was also impressed by Charlotte Riley’s portrayal of Catherine Earnshaw, the emotional and vibrant young woman who attracted the love of both Heathcliff and Edgar Linton. Riley gave a very skillful and intelligent performance. I only wish that she had not rushed into exposing Catherine’s jealousy of Heathcliff’s romance with her sister-in-law, Isabella Linton. Another remarkable aspect of Riley’s performance is that she managed to generate chemistry with both Hardy and her other leading man, Andrew Lincoln. Speaking of Lincoln, I felt he gave the best performance in this production. There were no signs of hamminess or badly-timed pacing. More importantly, he did an excellent job of balancing Edgar’s passionate nature and rigid adherence to proper behavior.

I have no complaints regarding the supporting cast. Sarah Lancashire was first-rate as the Earnshaws’ housekeeper, Nelly Dean. I wish she had a stronger presence in the production, but I am more inclined to blame the director and screenwriter. Burn Gorman did an excellent job of balancing Hindley Earnshaw’s jealous behavior and fervent desire for his father’s love and attention. Rosalind Halstead gave a steady performance as Edgar’s sister and Heathcliff’s wife, Isabella Linton. However, I must admit that I was particularly impressed by one scene in which her character discovers the true nature of Heathcliff’s feelings for her. As for the rest of the cast – all gave solid and competent performances, especially Kevin R. McNally as Mr. Earnshaw and Rebecca Night as Cathy Linton.

Overall, I enjoyed “WUTHERING HEIGHTS”. Mind you, I believe it had its flaws. And I could never regard it superior to the 1939 movie, despite being slightly more faithful. But I would certainly have no troubles re-watching for years to come, thanks to director Coky Giedroyc and a cast led by Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley.

“EDGE OF TOMORROW” (2014) Review

 

“EDGE OF TOMORROW” (2014) Review

I have seen my share of alien invasion and/or post-apocalypse movie and television productions. And yet . . . there seemed to be deluge of these productions in the past two years or so. One of these productions happened to be the recent science-fiction movie,“EDGE OF TOMORROW”.

Based upon Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s 2004 novel called “All You Need Is Kill”, “EDGE OF TOMORROW” tells the story of an American-born military officer who finds himself caught in a time loop during a war with invading aliens who have taken over regions of the world, including continental Europe. The movie begins in the near future in which Major William Cage, an American military Public Relations officer is summoned in London to meet General Brigham, commander of the NATO-led United Defense Forces (UDF). Brigham reveals UDF’s intention to launch Operation Downfall against the aliens, who are called the Mimics. When Brigham orders Cage, who lacks combat experience, to cover the UDF’s landing on the beaches of Normandy in France, the latter objects to the dangerous assignment and threatens to portray the General in an unfavorable light. Brigham retaliates by having Cage arrested and knocked out. The latter regains consciousness at a forward operating base at Heathrow Airport for the UDF forces, with a note from Brigham stating that he is actually a private and a deserter falsely claiming to be an officer. Master Sergeant Farell assigns Cage to a squad of rejects known as J Squad. A frightened Cage is forced to land on one of the Normandy beaches with J Squad. Despite being disoriented and frightened, he manages to kill a Mimic – a large “Alpha” Mimic – before being killed.

Much to Cage’s surprise, he awakens at the Heathrow Airport base on the previous morning. Over and over again, he participates in the Normandy landing and is killed. And over again, he finds himself back at the airport base on the previous day. During one loop, Cage saves war heroineaka “Full Metal Bitch” and “Angel of Verdun”. When she realizes that he has been experiencing time loops, she orders him to seek her out. Cage eventually learns from Vrataski that she had also been caught in a time loop after killing an “Alpha” Mimic. She not only points out that he needs to build his fighting skills, go after the Mimics’ leader and finally kill it in order to end the latter’s invasion.

I am usually a major fan of time travel stories in movies and television – including those that deal with time loops. But my last encounter with time travel fiction – “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” – nearly left me feeling slightly leery of the genre. Despite this brief disappointment, I went ahead and watched “EDGE OF TOMORROW”. I cannot say that I felt the same disappointment that I did for the X-MEN film. But I do believe that “EDGE OF TOMORROW” had its shares of flaws. After all, just about every movie I have seen do. In the case of “EDGE OF TOMORROW”, I had . . . perhaps two problems with this film. One, I had a problem with how Cage, a major in the military, ended up being railroaded as a private with an infantry squad. The entire situation smacked of realism that no science-fiction or fantasy genre could explain. The main protagonist in Sakurazaka’s novel was a young recruit. Which meant there was no need for the Keiji Kiriya character to be railroaded into an infantry squad as a private in such an unrealistic manner. My other problem with “EDGE OF TOMORROW” happened to be the movie’s finale. I was not truly disappointed with the finale. But I found it rather confusing. I wish I could spell it out in details, but for me to do so would spoil the story.

Despite these disappointments, I must admit that I enjoyed “EDGE OF TOMORROW” very much. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that it has become not only one of my top favorite movies of the summer, but also of this year. I certainly had no problems with the technical aspects of “EDGE OF TOMORROW”. Doug Liman had worked in the science-fiction genre before and I could easily see that he had no problems with the crew to create a dazzling science-fiction background for the film. But he is not the only one who deserves credit. Oliver Scholl’s production designs did an excellent job in creating the movie’s setting of Western Europe in a half-state of destruction in the wake of an alien invasion. Scholl’s work was ably supported by the art direction team, Elli Griff’s set decorations and Kate Hawley’s costume designs. Speaking of the latter, I noticed that the officer’s uniform that Tom Cruise wore in the movie’s early scenes resembled that worn by those in the U.S. Marine Corps. And yet . . . I saw no signs of any Marine symbols on his jacket. This reminded me of a prediction that my father had once made about how all of the U.S. military branches would eventually morph into one service. Also, looking at the field . . . uh, uniforms that Cruise, Emily Blunt and other cast members wore struck me as very uncomfortable. I found myself wondering if future military units will end up wearing it. But I was really impressed by the special effects team that created the visual style of the Mimics. Although the aliens reminded me octopi, I found them rather scary. Words could not describe how my reaction to Dion Beebe’s cinematography. Perhaps the following images can:

EoT3

mimic2

The use of time loops as a fictional device may not be that original. However, for “EDGE OF TOMORROW”, I have to give credit to Sakurazaka and the movie’s screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth for avoiding the usual literary premise of allowing a protagonist to be caught in a time loop without any real explanation – like 1993’s“GROUNDHOG DAY”. Both Sakurazaka’s novel and the movie’s screenplay made it clear to audiences how the protagonists got caught in a time loop, thank goodness. It is also rare to come across an alien invasion film that begins with the invasion already happening. Not only do I commend Sakurazaka for beginning his story in this fashion, but also the screenwriters and filmmakers for adhering to it and not taking the trouble to patch on a scene depicting the beginning of the Mimics’ invasion.

“EDGE OF TOMORROW” did an excellent job in developing its major characters – especially three of them. The character of William Cage begins as a smarmy public relations man who tries to resort to desperate measures – namely threating to portray the UDF’s commander in an unfavorable light in the press – in order to avoid combat. As circumstances forces Gage to take his combat skills seriously, the screenwriters effectively developed his character into a hardened combat fighter who becomes resigned to his situation. By the end of the movie, his smarminess has disappeared. I was also impressed by the development of the Rita Vrataski character, who begins her story as a combat hardened veteran, who has emotionally distanced herself from her fellow soldiers. As the story progresses and Gage becomes more familiar with her, audiences are allowed more peeks into her real emotions and the reason behind her hard and stoic façade. I was especially surprised by the writers’ handling of the Master Sergeant Farell character. I had expected his character to remain consistent throughout the film – the tough and battle hardened sergeant who maintains a firm grip on his squad. In a way, the Farell character remained in this state throughout the film. But . . . I was pleasantly surprised at how he seemed to react with increasing confusion and surprise in his encounters with the developing Cage.

I certainly had no complaints regarding the performances in “EDGE OF TOMORROW”. I did find the portrayals of the J Squad soldiers somewhat one-dimensional, with the exception of two characters – Ford and Griff. Franz Drameh injected a bit of an edge to Ford’s character in a scene that revealed his financial assistance to the family of a dead colleague. And Kick Gurry, whom I last saw in the 2008 movie “SPEED RACER”, did an excellent job of developing the Griff character from a mindless grunt to a determined defender in the movie’s last action sequence. Although the General Brigham character remained consistent throughout, I have to compliment Brendan Gleeson for giving a masterful and more importantly, subtle portrayal of a rather ruthless and vindictive character. Bill Paxton, who seemed to been very busy these past two years, did an excellent job of conveying the screenplay’s different aspects of the Master Sergeant Farell character. I have now seen Emily Blunt in three science-fiction movies in the past three years. Sooner or later, someone in the media might end up dubbing her “Queen of Sci-Fi”. However, I feel that of the three roles I have seen her portray, my favorite just might be her excellent take on the Rita Vrataski role. Honestly, she was superb. I have to say the same about Tom Cruise, who portrayed the leading character, William Cage. He had the difficult task of developing Cage from a smarmy and somewhat cowardly Public Relations man to an experienced warrior, wearied by the combat violence and constant time loops. And being the exceptional actor that he is, Cruise managed to do his job with flying aces.

Yes, “EDGE OF TOMORROW” has its flaws. As I have stated many times in previous review, I have yet to see a movie that does not have any. But the writing, production values, the excellent performances by a cast led by Tom Cruise and outstanding direction by Doug Liman made “EDGE OF TOMORROW” one of the best movies I have seen this summer. Even if the summer of 2014 had not been so dismal, I still would have viewed this film as one of the best I have seen.