The 19th Century in Television

Recently, I noticed there have been a good number of television productions in both North America and Great Britain, set during the 19th century. Below is a list of those productions I have seen during this past decade in chronological:

THE 19TH CENTURY IN TELEVISION

1. “Copper” (BBC America) – Tom Fontana and Will Rokos created this series about an Irish immigrant policeman who patrols Manhattan’s Five Points neighborhood during the last year of the U.S. Civil War. Tom Weston-Jones, Kyle Schmid and Ato Essandoh starred in this 2012-2013 series.

2. “The Crimson Petal and the White” (BBC) – Romola Garai starred in this 2011 miniseries, which was an adaptation of Michel Faber’s 2002 novel about a Victorian prostitute, who becomes the mistress of a powerful businessman.

3. “Death Comes to Pemberley” (BBC) – Matthew Rhys and Anna Maxwell-Martin starred in this adaptation of P.D. James’ 2011 novel, which is a murder mystery and continuation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel, “Pride and Prejudice”.

4. “Hell on Wheels” (AMC) – This 2012-2016 series is about a former Confederate Army officer who becomes involved with the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad during the years after the Civil War. Anson Mount, Colm Meaney, Common, and Dominique McElligott starred.

5. “Mercy Street” (PBS) – This series follows two volunteer nurses from opposing sides who work at the Mansion House Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia during the Civil War. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Josh Radnor and Hannah James.

6. “The Paradise” (BBC-PBS) – This 2012-2013 series is an adaptation of Émile Zola’s 1883 novel, “Au Bonheur des Dames”, about the innovative creation of the department story – only with the story relocated to North East England. The series starred Joanna Vanderham and Peter Wight.

7. “Penny Dreadful” (Showtime/Sky) – Eva Green, Timothy Dalton and Josh Harnett star in this horror-drama series about a group of people who battle the forces of supernatural evil in Victorian England.

8. “Ripper Street” (BBC) – Matthew Macfadyen stars in this crime drama about a team of police officers that patrol London’s Whitechapel neighborhood in the aftermath of Jack the Ripper’s serial murders.

9. “Underground” (WGN) – Misha Green and Joe Pokaski created this series about runaway slaves who endure a long journey from Georgia to the Northern states in a bid for freedom in the late Antebellum period. Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Aldis Hodge star.

10. “War and Peace” (BBC) – Andrew Davies adapted this six-part miniseries, which is an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1865–1867 novel about the impact of the Napoleonic Era during Tsarist Russia. Paul Dano, Lily James and James Norton starred.

Top Five Favorite “HELL ON WHEELS” Season One (2011-2012) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five favorite Season One episodes from the AMC series about the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, “HELL ON WHEELS”. Created by Joe and Tony Gayton, the series stars Anson Mount, Colm Meany, Common and Dominique McElligott:

TOP FIVE FAVORITE “HELL ON WHEELS” Season One (2011-2012) Episodes

1 - 1.07 Revelations

1. (1.07) “Revelations” – Financier Thomas C. Durant and widower Lily Bell leave the “Hell on Wheels” camp to travel to Chicago for different reasons. Thomas Moore and his Irish gang finds former slave Elam Ferguson in the tent of prostitute Eva.

2 - 1.02 Immoral Mathematics

2. (1.02) “Immoral Mathematics” – Vengeance seeking former Confederate Cullen Bohannon fights for his life, as he tries to evade camp security officer Thor “the Swede” Gundersen after killing one of the Union men who had murdered his wife during the Civil War. Joseph Black Moon track down the Cheyenne braves (including his brother) responsible for the attack on the surveyors’ camp.

3 - 1.10 God of Chaos - a

3. (1.10) “God of Chaos” – In the season finale, Cullen tracks down a former Union soldier named Harper, whom he believes was one of the men who killed his wife. Durant and Lily conspire to gain arriving investors’ interests. And Elam and Eva express different views on what their future should be.

4 - 1.09 Timshel

4. (1.09) “Timshel” – Cullen, Elam, Joseph Black Moon and a squad of soldiers find the Cheyenne responsible for the attack on the surveyor camp that led to the death of Lily’s husband and for the derailment of a train.

5 - 1.04 Jamais Je Ne T"oublierai

5. (1.04) “Jamais Je Ne T’oublierai” – Cullen initiates his search for Harper. Lily finally arrives at the “Hell on Wheels” camp, following the Cheyenne attack on the surveyor’s camp and the death of her husband. Elam becomes involved with a prostitute named Eva.

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season Two – At Mid Point

 
“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” SEASON TWO – AT MID-POINT

Ever since the second season of Marvel’s “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, many television viewers and critics have waxed lyrical over their belief over the series’ improvement from Season One. And yet … the ratings for the show seemed to reflect differently from this view. Regardless of the opinions of others or the ratings, I have my own views about the show’s Season Two.

I am going to be blunt. I do not like Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. In fact, it has turned out to be a major disappointment for me. Last season, many fans and critics complained about the show’s pacing and slow revelation of the season’s main story arc. For them, Mutant Enemy’s handling of Season Two’s story arc has improved a great deal. I disagree. I had no problems with the development of Season One’s story arc. For me, it was no different from the formats for previous Sci-Fi/Fantasy serial television shows like “BABYLON 5”, along with Mutant Enemy’s “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” and “ANGEL”. All three shows began their story arcs for each season slowly and eventually build up the story arc to a mind boggling conclusion.“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” did the same. Many fans, critics and even Marvel claimed that Season One’s slow build up and occasional breaks had more to do with allowing the season’s story arc to build up to the plot for “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER”. I say bullshit to that.

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, like many other television shows with twenty-two (22) episodes per season, usually took occasional breaks in order to stretch out 22 episodes within a time period of seven to eight months. This is nothing new. These breaks have been going on for many television shows for a long time. In their impatience and occasional stupidity, many forgot that. Many also seemed to have forgotten that “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” was a serial drama about government agents that work for an intelligence organization … not about superheroes and superheroines. For some reason, many fans ignored the show’s title and honestly expected the constant appearances of costumed Marvel superheroes and superheroines. Why? I have no idea. But Disney (who owns the ABC Network), Marvel and Mutant Enemy decided to heed the complaints for the sake of ratings and change the series’ style.

What did they do? Well, they introduced new characters – especially new agents – in the wake of the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D. from the spring of 2014. How did Mutant Enemy introduce these new characters? Actually, they did not. Instead, new characters such as Alphonse “Mack” McKenzie, Lance Hunter and Isabelle Hartley had already been recruited as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents when the first episode, (2.01) “Shadows”. The episode also quickly introduced a new villain, a HYDRA official known as Daniel Whitehall, with a flashback to the past. The new characters, along with familiar characters such as Phil Coulson, Melinda May, Skye and Antoine Triplett, were quickly thrust into a new mission, which quickly morphed into part of the season’s new story arc – the recovery of an alien object known as the Obelisk. Everything about this episode seemed to hint “speed”. Missing from “Shadows” was Agent In fact,“speed” seemed to be the essence of the plotting and pacing for the first half of Season Two.

I find it ironic that many fans complained about how certain characters like Akela Amador, Chan Ho Yin and the Asgardian refugee Dr. Elliot Randolph seemed to have come and gone with the wind. Yet, they failed to realize that similar characters in Season Two did the same … or appeared in at least two to three episodes before disappearing. I refer to characters like Isabelle Hartley, Carl Creel, and Senator Christian Ward. But this did not bother me … except for their handling of Agent Amador and Senator Ward. What really bothered me was the handling of certain recurring or main characters.

There have been complaints about Mutant Enemy’s handling of its minority characters … well, its African-American characters. I never understood why it was so important for the Mike Peterson character to disappear after the Season One episode, (1.22) “Beginning of the End”. What the hell happened to him? Ten Season Two episodes have aired since and not once has the series revealed his whereabouts. Come to think of it … what happened to Akela Amador? She was imprisoned by Coulson’s team … even after they had learned that HYDRA had coerced her into pulling off several robberies on their behalf. HYDRA had released prisoners such as Raina and Ian Quinn, after the S.H.I.E.L.D. Civil War. What about Agent Amador? What happened to her? Off all the new S.H.I.E.L.D. agents introduced during Season Two, only two got the shot end of the stick. One of them was Isabelle Hartley, who was killed off in “Shadows”. The other character was Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie, who was more or less used as some kind of therapy tool for the Leo Fitz character, before being transformed into some kind of zombie in the episode, (2.09) “…Ye Who Enter Here”. As of the season’s mid-season finale, (2.10) “What They Become”, Mack is no longer a “zombie”. But no one knows if he has fully recovered. I fear that Mack’s fate will become similar to that of the Elam Ferguson character from AMC’s “HELL ON WHEELS”.

Ruth Negga continued her role as Raina, the mysterious woman who had aligned herself with HYDRA and later, a man named Calvin Zabo who might be an Inhuman. As it turned out, Raina is also an Inhuman … like Skye. However, she underwent a physical transformation:

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And Skye … did not:
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Why? Why Raina and not Skye? Why did a character portrayed by an actress of Irish and African ancestry transformed into a non-Human form?

Finally, I come to Antoine “Trip” Triplett. The show’s “Legacy” agent, who had played a major role in the defeat of John Garrett, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent-turned-HYDRA mole at the end of Season One, seemed to have been shoved to the background by the writers under showrunners Joss and Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen and producer Jeffrey Bell. Why? Mutant Enemy and Marvel claimed that Britt was under contract to the BET series, “BEING MARY JANE”, which meant in their eyes, they could not use him as much as they “wanted”. Hmmm … more bullshit. They were able to use a great deal of Britt in the second half of Season One. And the actor appeared in less than half of the latest season for “BEING MARY JANE”. In fact, the latter has been scheduled by BET to end in 2015. What was the point in sidelining Britt in that manner? And why did they killed off Britt’s character with some of the most contrived writing I have seen on this show in “What They Become”, without allowing him to have a major appearance in said episode? It was just disgusting to watch.Speaking of contrived writing, I encountered a good deal of it in Season Two. The writers for “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” went through of minor story arcs with the speed of a ballistic missile. I realize that Season One had its share of one-shot episodes – especially in its first half. Again, I have no problems with this. One-shot episodes were pretty common in televised serial dramas like“BUFFY” and “BABYLON 5”. But in Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, the writers would set up a story arc with a great deal of build up and end the story arc within two to five episodes. The series ended up wasting potential characters and story arcs like Carl Creel, Jemma Simmons’ role as a S.H.I.E.L.D. mole within HYDRA, the introduction of Senator Christian Ward and the Daniel Whitehall character. Mind you, Whitehall lasted for ten episodes. Only, I had not expected him to be introduced so fast … and killed off so soon. Speaking of speed, I had no idea that the Skye character would be exposed as an Inhuman – part of a race of superhumans who had been engineered by aliens such as the Kree – so soon. Halfway into Season Two? I found this rather quick, considering that Marvel has plans to release a movie about the Inhumans in 2018, four years from now. Do they really expect“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, with its sketchy ratings, to last that long? If so, they could have waited a little longer.One last example of the show’s fast-paced narration was its tendency to shove two or three subplots into one episode. Other television shows have done this as well. But in a serial drama format, most writers would include the main story arc and a minor subplot that had little to do with the former. Mutant Enemy’s writers did not utilize this style. In order to keep the story arc going at neck break speed, they would shove two plotlines that had a great deal to do with the main story arc into one episode. This resulted in several episodes coming off as convoluted and very confusing. Several critics have complained about this, but most viewers and critics are pretending that this is a sign of improved writing from last season. Apparently rushed storytelling is now Mutant Enemy/Marvel’s idea of writing for sci-fi serial drama. Really? Speed writing for viewers or critics with the attention span of lice?Another problem I had with Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” is the character of Grant Ward – former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and HYDRA mole. Why is he still alive? Why? I suppose Marvel and especially Mutant Enemy still want actor Brett Dalton around. Just recently, producer Jeffery Bell said the following about the character and the actor:“What we love is that Brett Dalton is this actor that brings this complexity to this guy, a lot of the way that James Marsters brought it to Spike on Buffy and Angel.”

Okay, it is official. Mutant Enemy has a hard-on for Brett Dalton. But when I read the above quote, I did not know whether to laugh or upchuck. Look … Dalton is a tolerable actor. He is pretty solid. But I CANNOT believe that Bell had the nerve to compare Dalton with the likes of James Marsters. To this day, I consider Marsters to be one of the best actors or actresses I have ever seen in a Mutant Enemy production hands down. One of the best … ever. Dalton is nowhere that good. Now, I will admit that although Spike proved to be one of my favorite television characters, I have no love for Grant Ward. I disliked Ward when he was one of the “good guys” during most of Season One. When he proved to be a HYDRA mole, my feelings for him did not change on whit. I realize that Mutant Enemy was trying to make him complex. But thanks to Dalton’s performance, I simply failed to be impressed. But my dislike of the Ward character has nothing to do with my opinion of Dalton as an actor. I also disliked the vampire character Angel, also featured in“BUFFY” and “ANGEL”. But despite my dislike, I cannot deny that actor David Boreanaz’s portrayal of the character was superb. Another actor that made a name for himself portraying a morally questionable fantasy character was Julian McMahon, who portrayed the human-demon hybrid for three seasons in “CHARMED”. Like Marsters and Boreanaz, McMahon was superb in the role, despite producer Brad Kern’s shabby handling of the character during his last year on the show. Hell, he proved to be the best actor during the show’s eight season run. I noticed something else. Ever since the premiere of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season Two, Brett Dalton seems hellbent upon impersonating McMahon. Why, I do not know. Brett Dalton is no Julian McMahon. He should simply give up the effort.

Also, Mutant Enemy’s efforts to retain the Grant Ward character has resulted in some seriously contrived writing. After Ward’s capture in “Beginning of the End”, new S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Phil Coulson decided to keep the former agent at the new hidden base. Why? So that he can provide the new S.H.I.E.L.D. with information on HYDRA? What could Ward possibly know? He was a low-level HYDRA mole. I doubt that John Garrett knew everything. Hell, I doubt that Garrett, who can be very manipulative, told Ward everything. Anyone with brains or common sense should have realized this. Why keep Ward around? So that Dalton can do his Julian McMahon impersonation every now and then? Then Mutant Enemy decided to hire actor Tim DeKay to portray Ward’s older brother, Senator Christian Ward. DeKay appeared in two episodes – (2.06) “A Fractured House” and (2.08) “The Things We Bury” – before his character was killed off camera by Ward. Aside from giving the writers an opportunity for Ward to escape imprisonment, what was the purpose of DeKay’s presence on the show? I cannot decide what was more wasted – the Jemma Simmons w/HYDRA mini arc, Antoine Triplett’s Season Two presence, or the use of the Senator Christian Ward character. Even when the writers finally had a chance to rid the show of Ward in the mid-season finale, “What They Become”, they kept him alive with some ridiculously contrived writing. I suspect this is Mutant Enemy and Marvel’s way of giving Ward some kind of redemption by the end of the season. If so, this will proved to be the fastest redemption arc in television history. And right now, I found myself feeling disgusted over the whole matter.

I really do not know what else to say about “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. Other than I have washed my hands of this show? I cannot believe this is the same television series that I had fallen in love with, last year. I have to end this article before I find myself in danger of upchucking again. Dear Mutant Enemy. You have become such a disappointment to me.

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.

“DATE NIGHT” (2010) Review

“DATE NIGHT” (2010) Review

After watching the new comedy, ”DATE NIGHT”, I found myself amazed that its two stars – Steve Carell and Tina Fey – had never worked together. At least not before this movie. Both managed to become stars within the last five years. Both possessed a wry, yet off-the-world sense of humor that made their respective television series successful. So, why did it take them so long to work together? 

You know what? Who cares? I should thank my lucky stars that Carell and Fey had finally decided to co-star in this hilarious comedy. Directed by Shawn Levy, ”DATE NIGHT” told the story of a suburban couple named Phil and Claire Foster, suffering from a mid-life crisis in their marriage. They decided to renew their romantic juices by attending a new, upscale restaurant in Manhattan. When they failed to get a table on their own, the Fosters decide to pretend to be another couple named Tripplehorn that failed to appear for their reservation. The two are eventually mistaken as the Tripplehorns by a pair of corrupt police detectives, working for a local mobster. The detectives believed that the Fosters have a small computer flash drive that contains information on a politician with connections to the mobster. Hilarity ensued as the Fosters struggled to stay alive and get their hands on the flash drive in order to clear their names.

The main reason I seemed to be in shock over Steve Carell and Tina Fey is because I believe they had managed to work very well, together. Who am I kidding? While watching ”DATE NIGHT”, I felt as if I had stumbled across a dynamic new screen team. How these two managed not to work together for so many years in the past seemed like a great mystery. The miraculous thing about Carell and Fey’s screen chemistry is not only did their styles merged into comedy magic, both actors-comics did an excellent job in the movie’s one dramatic scene in which their characters – Phil and Claire – expressed pent-up frustrations over the pressures of family life and the diminishing romance in their marriage.

Carell and Fey were ably supported by solid performances from the rest of the cast. Mark Wahlberg was both sexy and humorous as Holbrooke Gran, former intelligence agent-turned-security expert that happened to be a former client of Claire’s. Taraji P. Henson gave a richly sardonic performance as N.Y.P.D. Detective Arroyo, whose help the Fosters tried to recruit. Common and Jimmi Simpson gave subtle, yet sinister performances as Detectives Collins and Armstrong, the corrupt detectives working for a local gangster named Joe Miletto. Ray Liotta gave his usual, hypertensive performance as local mob boss, Miletto. Aside from Carell and Fey, the real laughs also came from a hilarious William Fitchner as the corrupt and perverse District Attorney Frank Crenshaw, whose perversity turned out to be the movie’s catalyst. J.B. Smoove was hysterical as a Manhattan cab driver who inadvertently got drawn into a high speed chase involving the Fosters, the two corrupt detectives and the police. But James Franco and Mila Kunis were just as hilarious as the Tripplehorns, a pair of married low-life criminals whose restaurant reservations had been taken by the Fosters.

Another aspect of ”DATE NIGHT” that I enjoyed so much was the film’s screenplay written by Josh Klausner. Not only did I find it funny, but also well-written with plenty of strong characterizations. Klausner took a common malaise for many married couples and created a hilarious, yet exciting action-adventure. The plot touched upon a good number of topics – crime, sex, police corruption, political corruption, computer technology, love and marriage. And not only did Levy utilized his talented cast and Klausner’s script with great skill, he also provided the movie with sight gags that left me in stitches. One such scene involved the Fosters’ initial escape from the corrupt detectives at a Central Park boathouse. Another featured the Fosters’ attempt to implicate District Attorney Crenshaw at one of Miletto’s local whorehouses.

I am trying to recall a flaw or two that I may have spotted in the movie. If I must be frank, I cannot think of one at the moment. If anyone can recall one, please let me know. Regardless of whether there are any flaws I may have overlooked,”DATE NIGHT” turned out to be one of the funniest movies I have seen in recent years. More importantly, it just might serve as the beginning of a hilarious screen team in the form of Steve Carell and Tina Fey.

“TERMINATOR SALVATION” (2009) Review

Below is my review of the fourth installment of the TERMINATOR franchise – “TERMINATOR SALVATION”:

”TERMINATOR SALVATION”  (2009) Review

For some particular reason, I have never been in the habit of anticipating a movie from the ”TERMINATOR” franchise. I never saw ”THE TERMINATOR” (1984) or ”TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY” (1991) in the theaters. Not that I really cared, since I never did make the effort to go see either movie. I had to be dragged to the theater to see ”TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES” (2003). And as for the latest installment in the franchise, ”TERMINATOR SALVATION” – again, I had to be dragged to the theater. Yet, every time I have seen any of these films, I end up enjoying them. Or being intrigued by them – including this latest film.

Directed by McG, who was responsible for the two ”CHARLIE’S ANGELS” movies and “WE ARE MARSHALL”, ”TERMINATOR SALVATION” told the struggles of Resistance leader John Connor during the war between humanity and Skynet – the artificial intelligence system that became self aware and revolted against its human creators – in the year 2018. For the first time, a movie in the ”TERMINATOR” franchise did not feature the time travel of one or two of its characters. The movie not only revealed how John Connor first met his father – the teenaged and future time traveler, Kyle Reese, it also focused on how a death row inmate named Marcus Wright had signed over his body to Cyberdyne Systems and ended up being used as a model for the T-800 Model 101 Terminator and to lure Connor to Skynet. The movie starred Christian Bale as John Connor; Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright; Moon Bloodgood as Blair Williams, a Resistance pilot who falls for Marcus; Anton Yelchin as the teenaged Kyle Reese; Byrce Howard Dallas as Kate Brewster Connor, John’s wife; Common as Barnes, Connor’s second-in-command; Jadagrace Berry as Star, Kyle’s nine year-old mute companion; Helena Bonham-Carter as Dr. Dr. Serena Kogan, the cancer-ridden Cyberdyne scientist who had convinced Marcus to donate his body before Judgment Day; and Linda Hamilton as the voice of Sarah Connor.

As far as I know, the movie has received mixed reviews from both the critics and moviegoers. How do I feel about ”TERMINATOR SALVATION”? Well . . . it was not perfect. First of all, singer-turned-actor Common seemed incapable of acting worth a damn in this film. Which I found surprising, considering how impressed I had been by his performances in movies like ”SMOKIN ACES” (2007) and ”STREET KINGS” (2008). It could be that McG might be one of those directors incapable of handling actors with little experience. Another problem I had with the movie was Conrad Buff’s editing. In fact, I have been complaining about the editing in a good number of movie during this past year. I am beginning to wonder if the new and cheap editing style created by Christopher Rouse for the last two ”BOURNE” movies seemed to be getting very popular in the movie industry, these day. And, quite frankly, I found Jane Alexander’s presence in the film as another Resistance leader named Virginia to be a complete waste of time. Aside from a few lines in the movie, she barely said a word. Another problem I had centered around John Connor’s inability to remember that two previous T-800 Terminators had saved his life in the past. Instead, the only thing remembered from his first meeting with Marcus Wright was that the latter reminded him of the cyborg who tried to kill his mother, Sarah, in 1984. I had posted this complaint on one of the movie’s blogs and was told that it was possible that fifteen years of fighting machines may have eroded John’s memories. Hmmm . . . perhaps. However, I am still slightly uneasy about it.

One last complaint – namely the ending. Many fans have been complaining that the filmmakers did not stick with the original ending that called for John Connor to die and for his command to have his skin grafted upon Marcus Wright’s body in order to continue the Resistance. But when the ending was leaked on the Internet, the screenwriters created a new ending. First of all, I thank God for the person who had leaked the original ending, because I hate it. If that had been the ending shown in the theaters, I would have been tempted to throw my shoe at the movie screen. Yes, I hate it that much. Now, I like the new ending. I like it a hell of a lot more than the original ending. But . . . I feel that director McG or screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris had rushed it a bit. I feel that it could have been better paced.

Okay. Despite my complaints, I discovered that I liked the movie . . . a lot. Like I did the three previous ”TERMINATOR” movies. Brancato and Ferris’ screenplay for this new installment is quite different from the three previous ones in which no one character had traveled back in time to protect a member of the Connor family. For once, Arnold “the Govenator” Schwarzenegger did not appear in the movie as a major character. And ”TERMINATOR SALVATION” revealed an interesting twist from the last two films in which a cyborg was used to form close ties with John Connor in order to arrange for his death, instead of to protect him. Another interesting thing about the story is that the aim of Skynet was not to kill John Connor before he could become a Resistance leader. Instead, it seemed determine to kill him, while he fought with the Resistance. And it also targeted Kyle Reese in order to lure Connor to Skynet and kill Kyle before his future trip back through time. However, I did notice that Skynet had targeted both son and father, before the son could become ”the top” leader of the Resistance. And when you think about it, with the character of Marcus Wright, Skynet had damn near pulled a con job on both Connor and the Resistance. The reason I found this interesting is that Skynet’s future dealings with John Connor, Sarah Connor and Kate Brewster Connor will never be this subtle again.

Another major virtue of ”TERMINATOR SALVATION” turned out to be its cast – with the exception of one or two. I have already made my complaints about Common and Jane Alexander, so I will sing the praises of the rest of the cast. Helena Bonham-Carter made a brief and memorable appearance as Dr. Serena Kogan, the Cyberdyne scientist who convinced Marcus to donate his body, following his execution in 2003. For the past two to three years, a good number of child actors have caught my attention with some pretty damn good performances – like Dakota Blue Richards in ”THE GOLDEN COMPASS”, Paulie Litt from “SPEED RACER”, Jaden Smith in ”THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL” and Brandon Walters in ”AUSTRALIA”. The fifth child who has managed to recently catch my eye turned out to be Jadagrace Berry, who portrayed the nine year-old mute/Resistance fighter, Star. I found it amazing that a nine year-old girl who had not only made her film debut, but managed to remain silent throughout the film, gave one of the best performances in the movie. And she did it with good old fashioned screen acting . . . by using her eyes, expressions and body language. Anton Yelchin is no longer the child actor he used to be when I first saw him in the 2002 miniseries, ”TAKEN”, but he is still a first-rate performer with a strong screen presence. Actor Michael Biehn had made the role of Kyle Reese memorable in the franchise’s first movie in 1984. And Yelchin proved that he could be just as memorable as Biehn, as the teenaged Kyle. Both Bryce Dallas Howard and Moon Bloodgood portrayed the two female leads in the movie – Kate Brewster Connor (wife of John) and Blair Williams (Resistance pilot who ends up falling in love with Marcus Wright). And both women gave first-rate performances and managed to stand out on their own, despite being surrounded in heavily male-dominated film. Howard – who had taken over the role first created by Claire Danes – had a very memorable moment in the film when her character first realized that Marcus was not as human as he had professed to be.

The director of the first two “TERMINATOR” movies, James Cameron, had recommended Australian actor Sam Worthington to director McG for the pivotal role of Marcus Wright, the death row inmate whose body ended up being used as a prototype by Cyberdyne and later used by Skynet to lure John Connor to his doom. Not only was Worthington was memorable, he almost ended up stealing the picture. He effectively portrayed Marcus as a tough and ruthless who was haunted by his past, fell in love and was determined to maintain his individuality despite what Cyberdyne and Skynet had done to him. The reason I had stated that Worthington had ”almost” stolen the film was due to Christian Bale’s presence in the film as future Resistance leader, John Connor. Like he has been in nearly every film he has appeared in, Bale was an intense performer with a strong screen presence. Hell, he was like this nearly twenty-two years ago in the 1987 film, ”EMPIRE OF THE SUN”. There were scenes in which Bale loudly and clearly expressed Connor’s emotions – whether it was anger, fear or concern. Only a very few actors and actresses can get away with openly expressing their characters’ emotions without being hammy. And consummate actor that he is, Bale happens to be one of them. Frankly, I really do not see the need to compare or choose on whether Bale or Worthington was the better actor. Both gave superb performances and both . . . performed with each other so well that I found myself wishing they had more scenes together.

Despite my dissatisfaction with the editing, there were other areas in the technical department where ”TERMINATION SALVATION” shone. Martin Laing’s production designs and Troy Sizemore’s art direction beautifully created an apocalyptic Southern California set some nine to ten years in the future. And Shane Hurlbut projected their work with some exciting photography. Aside from the franchise’s familiar theme that first appeared at the beginning of the end credits, I did not find Danny Elfman’s score that memorable.

Despite some of the movie’s flaws, I ended up enjoying ”TERMINATION SALVATION” very much – much to my utter surprise, thanks to McG’s direction, Brancato and Ferris’ screenplay, and the excellent cast led memorably by Christian Bale and Sam Worthington.

“WANTED” (2008) Review

 

“WANTED” (2008) Review

Based upon the comic miniseries by Mark Millar, ”WANTED” is the story of Wesley Gibson, a meek Chicago accountant who discovers that the father he had never known was part of a thousand year-old secret society of assassins called The Fraternity. Upon being informed that his father had been murdered, and longing for a different life outside a hated job and unfaithful girlfriend, Gibson joins The Fraternity in order to find his father’s killer.

From what I had learned about the two versions of ”WANTED”, the movie version turned out to be quite different from the comic book version. In the former, The Fraternity consisted of assassins whose victims end up being selected by ”Fate” to be hunted and killed. Due to The Fraternity’s founders being a group of weavers, ”Fate” chose the order’s victims through a series of codes embedded in the material woven by The Fraternity members. This business of The Fraternity’s victims being chosen by ”Fate” never played a part in Millar’s comic story. This is because the assassins turned out to be out-and-out villains. Including Wesley.

There were positive and negative aspects of ”WANTED”. I was impressed by both James McAvoy as Wesley Gibson and Morgan Freeman as Sloan, The Fraternity’s leader. Angelina Jolie, as usual, displayed her strong screen presence as Fox, one of the order’s assassins. Unfortunately for Ms. Jolie, her character seemed to possess little depth, despite the small flashback about her childhood, provided by screenwriters Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan. As for the movie’s action, it strongly reminded me of ”THE MATRIX”, with its outrageous stunts occasionally shown in slow motion. But ”THE MATRIX” is now at least nine years old. And quite frankly, I am beginning to find it outdated.

In the end, ”WANTED” failed to appeal to me. Granted, the screenwriters tried to surprise the audience with plot twists. But I managed to spot these plot twists before they were even revealed. And I ended up spoiled and not taken by surprise. I also found the idea of The Fraternity’s method of choosing potential victims – that turned out to be so-called “bad guys” rather ludicrous. As far as I am concerned, the screenwriters, director Timur Bekmambetov and the producers should stuck to the more dangerous choice of adhering more closely to Millar’s comic book version. I suspect that this would have made a more interesting film.