Favorite Films Set in the 1830s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1830s:

 

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1830s

1. “The Adventures of Huck Finn” (1993) – Elijah Wood and Courtney B. Vance starred in this excellent Disney adaptaion of Mark Twain’s 1885 novel about a young Missouri boy who joines a runaway slave on a journey along the Mississippi River toward the free states in antebellum America. Stephen Sommers directed.

 

1- The Count of Monte Cristo 2002

2. “The Count of Monte Cristo” (2002) – James Caviezel starred as the vengeful Edmond Dantès in Disney’s 2002 adaptation of Alexandre Dumas, père’s 1844 novel. Directed by Kevin Reynolds, the movie co-starred Guy Pearce and Dagmara Dominczyk.

 

2 - Pride and Prejudice 1940

3. “Pride and Prejudice” (1940) – Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier starred in this entertaining adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. Robert Z. Leonard directed.

 

3 - The Count of Monte Cristo 1975

4. “The Count of Monte Cristo” (1975) – Richard Chamberlain gave an intense performance in the 1975 television adaptation of Dumas’ novel. Tony Curtis and Kate Nelligan co-starred.

 

4 - Impromptu

5. “Impromptu” (1991) – Judy Davis and Hugh Grant starred in this comedic tale about author George Sand’s pursuit of composer Frédéric Chopin in 1830s France. James Lapine directed.

 

5 - Amistad

6. “Armistad” (1997) – Steven Spielberg directed this account of the 1839 mutiny aboard the slave ship La Amistad and the trials of the Mendes tribesmen/mutineers, led by Sengbe Pieh. The movie starred Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConnaughey, Morgan Freeman and Anthony Hopkins.

 

6 - Wide Sargasso Sea 2006

7. “Wide Sargasso Sea” (2006) – Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall starred in this 2006 television adaptation of Jean Rhys’s 1966 novel, which is a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”. It focused upon the early marriage of Antoinette Cosway (Bertha Mason) and Edward Rochester.

 

7 - My Cousin Rachel

8. “My Cousin Rachel” (1952) – Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton starred in this adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s 1951 novel about a young Englishman’s obsession with his late cousin’s widow. Henry Koster directed.

 

8 - The Alamo 2004

9. “The Alamo” (2004) – John Lee Hancock directed this account of the Battle of the Alamo, the only production about the Texas Revolution that I actually managed to enjoy. The movie starred Billy Bob Thornton, Patrick Wilson and Jason Patric.

 

9 - The Big Sky

10. “The Big Sky” (1952) – Howard Hawks directed this adaptation of A.B. Guthrie’s 1947 novel about a fur trader’s expedition up the Missouri River. Kirk Douglas and Dewey Martin starred.

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Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1840s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1840s:

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1840s

1 - The Heiress

1. “The Heiress” (1949) – William Wyler directed this superb adaptation of Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s 1947 play, which was an adaptation of Henry James’ 1980 novel, “Washington Square”. The movie starred Oscar winner Olivia De Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson and Miriam Hopkins.

2 - All This and Heaven Too

2. “All This and Heaven Too” (1940) – Anatole Litvak co-produced and directed this excellent adaptation of Rachel Fields’ 1938 novel. The movie starred Bette Davis and Charles Boyer.

3 - Half-Slave Half-Free Solomon Northup Odyssey

3. “Half-Slave, Half-Free: The Solomon Northup Odyssey” (1984) – Avery Brooks starred in this emotional television adaptation of Solomon Northups’ 1853 memoirs, “12 Years a Slave”. Directed by Gordon Parks, the movie co-starred Rhetta Greene, John Saxon, Lee Bryant, Art Evans and Mason Adams.

5 - The Mark of Zorro

4. “The Mark of Zorro” (1940) – Rouben Mamoulian directed this superb adaptation of Johnston McCulley’s 1919 story called “The Curse of Capistrano”. The movie starred Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell and Basil Rathbone.

4 - The Liberators

5. “The Liberators” (1987) – Robert Carradine and Larry B. Scott starred in this Disney adventure film about Underground Railroad conductor John Fairfield and his fugitive slave friend, Bill; who escort Kentucky slaves north of the Mason-Dixon Line to freedom. Kenneth Johnson starred.

6 - The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin

6. “The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin” (1967) – Roddy McDowall and Suzanne Pleshette starred in this Disney adaptation of Sid Fleischman’s 1963 children’s novel called “By the Great Horn Spoon!”. James Neilson directed.

7 - Camille

7. “Camille” (1936) – George Cukor directed this lavish adaptation of Alexandre Dumas fils’ 1848 novel and 1852 play called “La Dame aux Camélias”. The movie starred Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor.

8 - Cousin Bette

8. “Cousin Bette” (1998) – Jessica Lange starred in this loose adaptation of Honoré de Balzac’s 1846 novel. Although unpopular with critics and moviegoers, it is a favorite of mine. Directed by Des McAnuff, the movie co-starred Hugh Laurie, Elisabeth Shue and Kelly MacDonald.

9 - Jane Eyre

9. “Jane Eyre” (2011) – Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender starred in the 2011 movie adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel. The movie was directed by Cary Fukunaga.

10 - 12 Years a Slave

10. “12 Years a Slave” (2013) – British director Steve McQueen helmed this Oscar winning second adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoirs about the latter’s experiences as a slave in the Deep South. The movie starred Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender.

“12 YEARS A SLAVE” (2013) Review

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“12 YEARS A SLAVE” (2013) Review

I first learned about Solomon Northup many years ago, when I came across a television adaptation of his story in my local video story. One glance at the video case for the 1984 movie, “HALF SLAVE, HALF FREE:  SOLOMON NORTHUP’S ODYSSEY”, made me assume that this movie was basically a fictional tale. But when I read the movie’s description on the back of the case, I discovered that I had stumbled across an adaption about a historical figure. 

Intrigued by the idea of a free black man in antebellum America being kidnapped into slavery, I rented “HALF-SLAVE, HALF-FREE: SOLOMON NORTHUP’S ODYSSEY”, which starred Avery Brooks, and enjoyed it very much. In fact, I fell in love with Gordon Park’s adaption so much that I tried to buy a video copy of the movie. But I could not find it. Many years passed before I was able to purchase a DVD copy. And despite the passage of time, I still remained impressed by the movie. However, I had no idea that someone in the film industry would be interested in Northup’s tale again. So, I was very surprised to learn of a new adaptation with Brad Pitt as one of the film’s producer and Briton Steve McQueen as another producer and the film’s director.

Based upon Northup’s 1853 memoirs of the same title, “12 YEARS A SLAVE” told the story of a New York-born African-American named Solomon Northup, who found himself kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. Northup was a 33 year-old carpenter and violinist living in Saratoga Springs, New York with his wife and children. After Mrs. Northup leaves Saratoga Springs with their children for a job that would last for several weeks, Northup is approached by two men, who offered him a brief, high-paying job as a musician with their traveling circus. Without bothering to inform Northup traveled with the strangers as far as south as Washington, D.C. Not long after his arrival in the capital, Northup found himself drugged and later, bound in the cell of a slave pen. When Northup tried to claim he was a free man, he was beaten and warned never again to mention his free status again.

Eventually, Northup and a group of other slaves were conveyed to the slave marts of New Orleans, Louisiana and given the identity of a Georgia-born slave named “Platt”. There, a slave dealer named Theophilus Freeman sells him to a plantation owner/minister named William Ford. The latter’s kindness seemed to be offset by his unwillingness to acknowledge the sorrow another slave named Eliza over her separation from her children. When Northup has a violent clash with one of Ford’s white employees, a carpenter named John Tibeats, the planter is forced to sell the Northerner to another planter named Edwin Epps. Unfortunately for Northup, Epps proves to be a brutal and hard man. Even worse, Epps becomes sexually interested in a female slave named Patsey. She eventually becomes a victim of Epps’ sexual abuse and Mrs. Epps’ jealousy. And Epps becomes aware of Patsey’s friendship with Northup.

“12 YEARS A SLAVE” gained a great deal of critical acclaim since its release. It won three Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture; and two British Academy Awards (BAFTAs).  Many critics and film goers consider it the truest portrait of American slavery ever shown in a Hollywood film. I have to admit that both director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley have created a powerful film. Both did an excellent job of translating the basic gist of Solomon Northup’s experiences to the screen. And both did an excellent job re-creating a major aspect of American slavery. I was especially impressed by certain scenes that featured the emotional and physical trauma that Northup experienced during his twelve years as a Southern slave.

For me, one of the most powerful scenes featured Northup’s initial experiences at the Washington D.C. slave pen, where one of the owners resorted to physical abuse to coerce him into acknowledging his new identity as “Platt”. Other powerful scenes include the slave mart sequence in New Orleans, where fellow slave Eliza had to endure the loss of her children through sale. I found the revelation of Eliza’s mixed blood daughter being sold to a New Orleans bordello rather troubling and heartbreaking. Northup’s encounter with Tibeats struck me fascinating . . . in a dark way. But the film’s most powerful scene – at least for me – proved to be the harsh whipping that Patsey endured for leaving the plantation to borrow soap from a neighboring plantation. Some people complained that particular scene bordered on “torture porn”. I disagree. I found it brutal and frank.

I have to give kudos to the movie’s visual re-creation of the country’s Antebellum Period. As in any well made movie, this was achieved by a group of talented people. Adam Stockhausen’s production designs impressed me a great deal, especially in scenes featuring Saratoga Springs of the 1840s, the Washington D.C. sequences, the New Orleans slave marts and of course, the three plantations where Northup worked during his twelve years in Louisiana. In fact, the entire movie was filmed in Louisiana, including the Saratoga Springs and Washington D.C. sequences. And Sean Bobbitt’s photography perfectly captured the lush beauty and color of the state. Trust the movie’s producers and McQueen to hire long time costume designer, Patricia Norris, to design the film’s costumes. She did an excellent job in re-creating the fashions worn during the period between 1841 and 1852-53.

Most importantly, the movie benefited from a talented cast that included Garrett Dillahunt as a white field hand who betrays Northup’s attempt to contact friends in New York; Paul Giamatti as the New Orleans slave dealer Theophilus Freeman; Michael K. Williams as fellow slave Robert, who tried to protect Eliza from a lustful sailor during the voyage to Louisiana; Alfre Woodward as Mistress Shaw, the black common-law wife of a local planter; and Bryan Batt as Judge Turner, a sugar planter to whom Northup was loaned out. More impressive performances came from Paul Dano as the young carpenter John Tibeats, who resented Northup’s talent as a carpenter; Sarah Poulson, who portrayed Edwin Epp’s cold wife and jealous wife; and Adepero Oduye, who was effectively emotional as the slave mother Eliza, who lost her children at Freeman’s slave mart. Benedict Cumberbatch gave a complex portrayal of Northup’s first owner, the somewhat kindly William Ford. However, I must point out that the written portrayal of the character may have been erroneous, considering Northup’s opinion of the man. Northup never judged Ford as a hypocrite, but only a a good man who was negatively influenced by the slave society. But the two best performances, in my opinion, came from Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and especially Best Actor Oscar nominee and BAFTA winner Chiwetel Ejiofor.  Nyong’o gave a beautiful performance as the abused slave woman Patsey, whose endurance of Epps’ lust and Mrs. Epps’ wrath takes her to a breaking point of suicidal desire.  Chiwetel Ejiofor, whom I have been aware for the past decade, gave the definitive performance of his career – so far – as the New Yorker Solomon Northup, who finds himself trapped in the nightmarish situation of American slavery. Ejiofor did an excellent job of conveying Northup’s emotional roller coaster experiences of disbelief, fear, desperation and gradual despair.

But is “12 YEARS A SLAVE” perfect? No. Trust me, it has its flaws. Many have commented on the film’s historical accuracy in regard to American slavery and Northup’s twelve years in Louisiana. First of all, both McQueen and Ridley took historical liberty with some of Northup’s slavery experience for the sake of drama. If I must be honest, that does not bother me. The 1984 movie with Avery Brooks did the same. I dare anyone to find a historical movie that is completely accurate about its topic. But what did bother me was some of the inaccuracies featured in the movie’s portrayal of antebellum America.

One scene featured Northup eating in a Washington D.C. hotel dining room with his two kidnapper. A black man eating in the dining room of a fashionable Washington D.C. hotel in 1841? Were McQueen and Ridley kidding? The first integrated Washington D.C. hotel opened in 1871, thirty years later. Even more ludicrous was a scene featuring a drugged and ill Northup inside one of the hotel’s room near white patrons. Because he was black, Northup was forced to sleep in a room in the back of the hotel. The death of the slave Robert at the hands of a sailor bent on raping Eliza struck me as ludicrous. One, it never happened. And two, there is no way some mere sailor – regardless of his color – could casually kill a slave owned by another. Especially a slave headed for the slave marts. He would find himself in serious financial trouble. Even Tibeats had been warned by Ford’s overseer about the financial danger he would face upon killing Northup. I can only assume that Epps was a very hands on planter, because I was surprised by the numerous scenes featuring him supervising the field slaves. And I have never heard of this before. And I am still shaking my head at the scene featuring Northup’s visit to the Shaw plantation, where he found a loaned out Patsey having refreshments with the plantation mistress, Harriet Shaw. Black or white, I simply find it difficult to surmise a plantation mistress having refreshments with a slave – owned or loaned out. Speaking of Patsey’s social visit to the Shaw plantation, could someone explain why she and Mistress Shaw are eating a dessert that had been created in France, during the late 19th century? Check out the image below:

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The image features the two women eating macarons. Now I realize that macarons had existed even before the 1840s. But the macarons featured in the image above (with a sweet paste creating a sandwich with two cookies) first made their debut, thanks to a pair of Parisian bakers in the late 19th century, decades after the movie’s setting. This was a very sloppy move either on the part of Stockhausen or the movie’s set decorator, Alice Baker.

And if I must be frank, I had a problem with some of the movie’s dialogue. I realize that McQueen and Ridley were attempting to recapture the dialogue of 19th century America. But there were times I felt they had failed spectacularly. Some of it brought back painful memories of the stilted dialogue from the 2003 Civil War movie, “GODS AND GENERALS”. The words coming out of the actors’ mouths struck me as part dialogue, part speeches. The only thing missing was a speech from a Shakespearean play.

Not only did I have a problem with the dialogue, but also some of the performances. Even those performances I had earlier praised nearly got off tracked by the movie’s more questionable dialogue. But I was not impressed by two particular performances. One came from Brad Pitt, who portrayed a Canadian carpenter hired by Epps to build a gazebo. To be fair, my main problems with Pitt’s performance was the dialogue that sounded like a speech . . . and his accent. Do Canadians actually sound like that? In fact, I find it difficult to pinpoint what kind of accent he actually used. The performance that I really found troubling was Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of the brutal Edwin Epps. Mind you, he had his moments of subtle acting that really impressed me – especially in scenes featuring Epps’ clashes with his wife or the more subtle attempts of intimidation of Northup. Those moments reminded me why I had been a fan of the actor for years.  Perhaps those moments led him to earning an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  But Fassbender’s Epps mainly came off as a one-dimensional villain with very little subtlety or complexity. Consider the image below in which Fassbender is trying to convey Epps’ casual brutality:

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For me, it seemed as if the actor is trying just a little too hard. And I suspect that McQueen’s direction is to blame for this. I blame both McQueen and Ridley for their failure to reveal Epps’ insecurities, which were not only apparent in Northup’s memoirs, but also in the 1984 movie. Speaking of McQueen, there were times when I found his direction heavy-handed. This was especially apparent in most of Fassbender’s scenes and in sequences in which some of the other characters’ dialogue spiraled into speeches. And then there was Hans Zimmer’s score. I have been a fan of Zimmer for nearly two decades. But I have to say that I did not particularly care for his work in “12 YEARS A SLAVE”. His use of horns in the score struck me as somewhat over-the-top.

Do I feel that “12 YEARS A SLAVE” deserves its acclaim? Well . . . yes. Despite its flaws, it is a very good movie that did not whitewash Solomon Northup’s brutal experiences as a slave. And it also featured some exceptional performances, especially from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o. But I also feel that some of the acclaim that the movie has garnered, may have been undeserved, along with its Oscar and BAFTA Best Picture awards.  As good as it was, I found it hard to accept that “12 YEARS A SLAVE” was the best movie about American slavery ever made.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1970s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1920s: 


FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1970s

1 - American Gangster

1. American Gangster (2007) – Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe starred in this biopic about former Harlem drug kingpin, Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts, the Newark police detective who finally caught him. Ridley Scott directed this energetic tale.



2 - Munich

2. Munich (2005) – Steven Spielberg directed this tense drama about Israel’s retaliation against the men who committed the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Eric Bana, Daniel Craig and Ciarán Hinds starred.



3 - Rush

3. Rush (2013) – Ron Howard directed this account of the sports rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 Formula One auto racing season. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl starred.



4 - Casino

4. Casino (1995) – Martin Scorsese directed this crime drama about rise and downfall of a gambler and enforcer sent West to run a Mob-owned Las Vegas casino. Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone starred.



5 - Super 8

5. Super 8 (2011) – J.J. Abrams directed this science-fiction thriller about a group of young teens who stumble across a dangerous presence in their town, after witnessing a train accident, while shooting their own 8mm film. Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Kyle Chandler starred.



6 - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

6. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) – Gary Oldman starred as George Smiley in this recent adaptation of John le Carré’s 1974 novel about the hunt for a Soviet mole in MI-6. Tomas Alfredson directed.



7 - Apollo 13

7. Apollo 13(1995) – Ron Howard directed this dramatic account about the failed Apollo 13 mission in April 1970. Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon starred.



8 - Nixon

8. Nixon (1995) – Oliver Stone directed this biopic about President Richard M. Nixon. The movie starred Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen.



9 - Starsky and Hutch

9. Starsky and Hutch (2004) – Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson starred in this comedic movie adaptation of the 70s television series about two street cops hunting down a drug kingpin. Directed by Todd Phillips, the movie also starred Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman and Snoop Dogg.



10 - Frost-Nixon

10. Frost/Nixon (2008) – Ron Howard directed this adaptation of the stage play about David Frost’s interviews with former President Richard Nixon in 1977. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen starred.

Top Ten (10) Favorite Disaster Films

Recently, director James Cameron re-released his 1997 blockbuster “TITANIC” in remembrance of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of R.M.S. Titanic. Because it is a disaster movie, I decided to post my favorite disaster films in the list below: 

 

TOP TEN (10) FAVORITE DISASTER FILMS

1. “2012” (2009) – After a second viewing of Roland Emmerich’s movie about a possible apocalyptic disaster, which is based loosely on the 2012 phenomenon, I realized that it has become a favorite of mine. John Cusak, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Thomas McCarthy, Danny Glover and Woody Harrelson starred.

 

2. “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004) – Roland Emmerich also directed this film about catastrophic effects of both global warming and global cooling in a series of extreme weather events that usher in a new ice age. Another personal favorite of mine, it starred Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, Sela Ward and Ian Holm.

 

3. “Battle: Los Angeles” (2011) – Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez starred in this exciting movie about the experiences of a U.S. Marine platoon battling invading aliens in Los Angeles. Jonathan Liebsman directed.

4. “A Night to Remember” (1958) – Roy Ward Baker directed this Golden Globe award winning adaptation of Walter Lord’s book of the same name about the sinking of the Titanic. As far as I am concerned, this is probably the best cinematic version of that particular event. Kenneth More, David McCullum, Ronald Allen and Honor Blackman co-starred.

5. “Titanic” (1953) – This is my second favorite movie about the Titanic and it centered around an estranged couple sailing on the ship’s maiden voyage in April 1912. Great drama! Directed by Jean Negulesco, the movie starred Barbara Stanwyck, Clifton Webb, Robert Wagner, Audrey Dalton, Thelma Ritter, Richard Basehart and Brian Aherne.

 

 

6. “Independence Day” (1996) – Produced by Dean Devlin and directed by Roland Emmerich, this movie is about a disaster of a science-fiction nature, as it depicts a hostile alien invasion of Earth, and its effects upon a disparate group of individuals and families. The movie starred Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox, Randy Quaid, Margaret Colin, Judd Hirsch and Robert Loggia.

 

7. “Titanic” (1997) – James Cameron directed this latest version of the Titanic sinking that won eleven (11) AcademyAwards, including Best Picture. Centered around an ill-fated love story, the movie starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Oscar nominee Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Bill Paxton, Kathy Bates and Oscar nominee Gloria Stuart.

 

8. “In Old Chicago” (1937) – Based on the Niven Busch story, “We the O’Learys”, the movie is a fictionalized account about political corruption and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Directed by Henry King, the movie starred Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, Don Ameche and Oscar winner Alice Brady.

 

9. “Outbreak” (1995) – Wolfgang Petersen directed this tale about the outbreak of a fictional Ebola-like virus called Motaba at a town in Northern California, and how far the military and civilian agencies might go to contain the spread. Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr., Kevin Spacey and Donald Sutherland.

 

10. “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972) – Based on a novel by Paul Gallico, the movie centered around the capsizing of a luxurious ocean liner by a tsunami caused by an under sea earthquake; and the desperate struggles of a handful of survivors to journey up to the bottom of the hull of the liner before it sinks. Ronald Neame directed a cast that included Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Oscar nominee Shelley Winters, Carol Lynley and Frank Albertson.

As a treat, here is a video clip featuring scenes from recent, well-known disaster movies.

“SALT” (2010) Review

 

“SALT” (2010) Review

It has been a while since I last saw a movie directed by Philip Noyce. In fact, the last one I can recall was 2002’s ”THE QUIET AMERICAN”. Imagine my surprise when I discovered he had been chosen to direct Angelina Jolie’s new action thriller called”SALT”

The movie told the story of a CIA agent named Evelyn Salt, who is accused of being a KGB sleeper agent. She eventually goes on the run to try to clear her name. At the order of her supervisor, Ted Winters, Salt interrogates a Russian defector named Orlov, who tells her about an operation organized by a powerful Russian since the Cold War; which will lead to the destruction of the United States. Orlov mentions that at the funeral of the late Vice President in New York City, the visiting Russian President will be killed by Russian spy – Evelyn Salt. Shaken at the accusation, Salt attempts to contact her husband Mike, a German arachnologist, fearing for his safety. Meanwhile, Orlov escapes, which prompts Salt to escape. This causes Winters and a counterintelligence agent named Peabody to believe she is a spy. After finding her husband missing at their apartment, Salt grabs a few essentials and continues her flight. After barely escaping a highway pursuit, Salt takes a bus to New York City to deal with the threat of the Russian president being assassinated.

When I first learned about the plot for ”SALT”, the first thing that came to mind was that it was a female variation on the recent BOURNE trilogy, starring Matt Damon. And in a way, it is. After all, Jolie portrays a CIA agent, who finds herself pursued by her former colleagues. And her character performs stunts that would make Damon . . . or his stunt man rather proud. However, after the movie’s setting had switched to New York City, Kurt Wimmer and Oscar winner Brian Hegeland’s script took an unexpected turn that left me a little breathless. And if that was not enough, another plot twist awaited, once the movie shifted back to Washington D.C. and a plot to kill the U.S. president. Another aspect of ”SALT” that surprised me was that the movie was released on the heels of news about a real Russian spy ring that was recently discovered in the U.S.

Angelina Jolie has come a long way since her two LARA CROFT movies. In her portrayal of Jennifer Salt, she is more assured and matured. And thankfully, she has also dropped the poseur attitude that slightly marred her performances as Lara Croft. Not only did Jolie do a first-rate job with her action sequences, she skillfully guided the emotional turmoil that her character endures throughout the movie. Adding solid support is Liev Schreiber, who portrayed her supervisor, Ted Winters. Beneath the charm and intelligence, Schreiber did a great job in conveying Ted’s emotional reaction to the possibility that Salt might be a Russian deep-cover mole. And Chiwetel Ejiofor was effective as the intense and determined counterintelligence agent, Peabody, who genuinely believes that Salt is a mole. He managed to convey this without indulging in any hammy acting.

Daniel Olbrychski gave a fascinating performance as the Russian defector, Orlov, who accused Salt of being a Russian agent. August Diehl portrayed Salt’s husband, the soft-spoken arachnologist, Michael Krause. Although he hardly had any lines in the film, he quietly conveyed his role as Salt’s emotional center. I was surprised to see Hunt Block, who portrayed the U.S. president. I have not seen him since the 1980s nighttime drama, ”KNOT’S LANDING”. I was also surprised to see Andre Braugher in the movie. He portrayed one of the President’s aides, yet he only had one or two lines. At first, I thought his career had really taken a nose dive, until I remembered that he was on the TNT television series called ”MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE”. So, how did he get stuck in a role that called for only two lines?

Noyce worked well with cinematographer Robert Elswit and film editors Stuart Baird and John Gilroy to create some very interesting action scenes . . . especially the fantastic sequence featuring the attempt to assassinate the Russian president in New York. Jolie contributed to these scenes with some of her own stunt work. Yes, I realize that some of the stunts seemed implausible – especially one that featured a jump by Salt from a Washington D.C. expressway to the top of a moving truck. But I have seen stunts in other movies that I found a lot more implausible. It seemed a pity that the movie was set either during the late fall or the winter. Although the cold season did not take any atmosphere away from the Manhattan sequences, I cannot say the same about the Washington D.C. exterior shots. I have always believed that the capital looked a lot better on film during the spring, summer and early fall seasons.

In the end, I enjoyed ”SALT” very much. I believe that it is one of the better summer movies this year. Director Philip Noyce did a first-class job with a solid script written by Kurt Wimmer and Brian Hegeland, and skillful performances from a cast led by Angelina Jolie. I noticed that the movie ended on a vague note that I would usually find annoying. But considering rumors that a sequel might follow, I can give it a pass.

“2012” (2009) Review

“2012” (2009) REVIEW

Last year, I found myself desperate to see any movie during that dismal Fall/Winter movie season. The opportunity to see a possibly entertaining movie finally arose when two of them – ”PIRATE RADIO” and ”2012” – were released in theaters. I had intended to see ”PIRATE RADIO” first. But it was not playing at the theater that we found ourselves attending. And we ended up watching ”2012”

”2012” turned out to be another one of those science-fiction oriented disaster films directed and co-written by Roland Emerich. This is the same man who had directed such films as (1996) “INDEPENDENCE DAY”(1998) “GODZILLA”(1999) “THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR” and (2004) “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW”. Now ”2012” centered around a myth about the Mayan calendar, in which certain Western scholars claimed that the world will face a cataclysmic disaster in the year 2012. Mind you, I suspect that the whole world will end in 2012” scenario may have been misinterpreted. There are other beliefs regarding the Mayan calendar. Some believe that the Mayan calendar is supposed to interpret a positive physical or spiritual transformation for the planet, marking the beginning of a new era. And there are modern Mayan scholars who believe that 2012 is largely irrelevant, claiming that classic Maya sources on the subject are scarce and contradictory, suggesting that there was little if any universal agreement among them about what, if anything, the date might mean. Apparently Emmerich and fellow screenwriter, Harald Klaser, decided to explore the disaster scenario.

The story began in 2009 with a visit to India by American scientist Adrian Hemlsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who learns from his friend and colleague Satnam Tsurutani (Jimi Mistry) that neutrinos from a solar flare were causing the temperature of the Earth’s core to rapidly increase. This discovery set off a chain of events in which the world’s leaders – including U.S. President Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover) – to collaborate upon a secret project that will ensure the continuity of humanity by choosing 400,000 people for admission aboard a series of large ships or hydraulic arks being constructed in the Himalayas. To help fund the venture, additional individuals were allowed to purchase passage aboard these arks for one billion euros apiece.

By the time the secret project near completion in 2012, a Los Angeles writer and part-time driver for a Russian billionaire named Jackson Curtis (John Cusak) learned about the Mayan myth and the possibility of the world’s future, along with the secret project from a hermit and conspiracy theorist named Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), while vacationing with his kids at Yellowstone National Park. After Jackson returned his kids to his ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet) and her live-in boyfriend Gordon Silberman (Thomas McCarthy), Jackson realized that Frost might be right about an upcoming apocalypse when he drove his employer’s twin sons to the airport. Jackson purchased a small plane and convinced Kate and Gordon to get the kids and escape from Los Angeles with him. Fortunately, Gordon turned out to be an amateur pilot and they escaped from a California sliding into the Pacific following a series of devastating earthquakes. The group returned to the Yellowstone Park in order to learn about the location of the secret project from Frost. After learning that particular information, Jackson and the others barely escape the destruction of Yellowstone and made tracks for Las Vegas and later, China and the Himalayans. Meanwhile, Adrian learned that the Earth’s destruction may come a lot sooner than he and Satnam had surmised. The world leaders and certain members of the population also head for China.

What can I say about ”2010”? Come on. It is a Roland Emmerich disaster film. Which meant that it had disasters of epic proportions, slightly cheesy dialogue and science that was probably more fiction than fact. A Roland Emmerich disaster film also insured a cast of . . . well, many roles in various subplots, including one that featured a fractured American family. And considering that I have seen these very same aspects in other Emmerich films, I should have been bored with ”2012”. Hell, I have read some posts and reviews on the Web that the movie lacked originality. And yet . . . I enjoyed ”2012” very much.

Both Emmerich and Klaser had created a solid script that provided detailed accounts of the three-year countdown to 2012, the disasters that unfolded and the major characters’ experiences in dealing with those same disasters. They also did an exceptional job in detailing the journey that took Jackson, his family and Gordon from Los Angeles to the Himalayas. I also enjoyed the clashes between Adrian and President Wilson’s ruthless and self-serving Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt). Their quarrels focused upon one of the movie’s main themes that centered on humanity’s willingness for compassion toward others. One aspect of the movie that I really enjoyed was the scenes that featured intimate moments between some of the characters. These scenes provided some excellent acting from the likes of John Cusak, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Thomas McCarthy, Blu Mankuma, George Segal, Woody Harrelson, Osric Chau, Oliver Platt and especially Chiwetel Ejiofor. They included:

*Ejiofor and Mankuma gave wonderfully poignant performances as Adrian Helmsley and his father Harry, when the pair have their last conversation via telephone.

*Both Cusak and Harrelson were hilarious in a funny scene that featured Jackson’s attempt to acquire the location of the special project from an excited Charlie Frost.

*Another poignant scene featured performances from Osric Chau and Henry O as Tibetan monk Nima and his mentor Lama Rinpoche, as the former failed to convince the latter about the upcoming apocalypse.

*Danny Glover gave an excellent performance as President Wilson giving his last televised speech. Wilson’s last conversation with his daughter Laura provided as scene that allowed not only Glover to shine, but Thandie Newton as well.

*George Segal was solid as Tony Delgatto, Harry Helmsley’s singing partner, agonizing over the fate of his estranged son and family in Japan.

*Amanda Peet shone in an emotional scene in which her character, Kate Curtis, revealed the angst she had to endure during the Curtis’ marriage.

*And once more, Cusak had another wonderful scene . . . this time with Thomas McCarthy, as former rivals Jackson and Gordon finally make their peace with one another.

*And Ejiofor was superb in a scene in which Adrian attempted to convince the other G8 world leaders to allow those people left behind at the Himalayan dock to board the ship.

Emmerich and Klaser’s script also provided plenty of opportunity for cinematographer Dean Semler, production designer Barry Chusid and the special effects team supervised by Mike Vézina to provide some astounding visuals of world locations being destroyed by natural disasters brought about by the apocalypse. I found the scenes that featured the destruction of Rio de Janeiro, Las Vegas, Rome, a cruise ship in the Pacific Ocean and Washington D.C. astounding. But there were two sequences that nearly blew my mind. One featured the Curtis family and Gordon’s spectacular escape from the Yellowstone National Park after Jackson had acquired the information he needed from Frost. The other, which I believe proved to be the piece de resistance, featured Jackson, his family and Gordon’s initial escape from Southern California. Not only did I find it breathtaking, but also a little creepy. I happened to be from that particular area.

Did I have any complaints about ”2012”? Well, I have already mentioned a few. I agree with those critics who had complained about the movie’s lack of originality. There were many traits in the plot that I have seen in other Roland Emmerich films – traits that included cheesy dialogue, the role of the selfish and uncompassionate Presidential aide (this time being portrayed by Oliver Platt), the noble scientist (Ejiofor), a fractured American family pulled together by a natural disaster (the Curtises), the friendly non-American colleague/ally of noble scientist. Yes, I have seen them all in previous Emmerich movies. One day, perhaps the director/writer might be a little more original in any future disaster movie. Who knows? I was also annoyed by the movie’s big finale. It featured the series of incidents (including being struck by a wave from a tsunami) that left the hydraulic ark with the Curtises, Adrian Helmsley and Laura Wilson on board drifting helplessly toward a fatal collision with a half-sunk Mount Everest. Frankly, I found the entire sequence somewhat contrived and annoying. It was just a bit too much.

I suspect that many movie critics will continue to complain that ”2012” lacked originality. And they would be right to do so. And they are also right to complaint about the questionable science featured in the movie. But you know what? I do not care. I thought that despite its flaws, ”2012” was a pretty damn good movie with an entertaining and nail-biting plot. The movie can also boast some solid acting by its cast – especially a first-rate performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor – exciting action sequences and superb visual effects. In other words, I enjoyed ”2012” so much that I hope to see it again. Oh . . . and I do plan to finally see “PIRATE RADIO” as soon as I can.