“PUSH” (2009) Review

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“PUSH” (2009) Review

When I first saw the 2009 science-fiction thriller, “PUSH”, I had assumed that it was based upon some novel, comic book series or graphic novel. Several years passed before I discovered that the movie’s plot was actually the brainchild of the screenwriter, David Bourla. 

Directed by Paul McGuigan, the movie is about a group of people with psychic abilities, who band together to stop a government agency from using a dangerous drug to enhance the abilities of others like them. The story began with a boy named Nick Gant and his father Jonah, two “Movers” (or telekinetics), who are on the run from Division, the government agency established in 1945 to hunt down and experiment on psychics. Before one of the Division’s operatives, Agent Henry Carver, can catch up with them, Jonah tells Nick that he had received a vision from a “Watcher” (seer) about a young girl that Nick must help in the future in order to take down Division. Jonah helps his son finally escape as Carver arrives and kills him.

Ten years later, Nick is hiding in Hong Kong, as an expatriate. A young girl named Cassie Holmes arrives at his apartment, claiming to be a Watcher. She needs his help in finding a mysterious case that she believes will bring down the Division and lead to the release of her mother (another and more powerful Watcher) from prison. The case that Cassie seeks contains a power boosting drug developed by the Division. Agent Carver has used this drug on several test subjects who have ended up dead. The only subject to survive the drug is a Pusher (telepathic manipulator) named Kira, who was an old love of Nick’s. Kira manages to steal a sample of the drug and place in a case that she had hidden upon her arrival in Hong Kong. Not only are Cassie and Nick looking for the case, but so are members of the Pop family, who have formed a psychic Triad and of course . . . the Division.

I could go into more detail about the movie’s plot, but right now, that is all I am willing to disclose. Overall, I liked the plot. It struck me as a very interesting twist on the whole topic of those with psychic abilities at war with each other. And the movie even featured a surprising twist in the end. I also enjoyed how the movie handled the visual effects. Mark Meddings did an excellent job in supervising those effects that featured the characters’ abilities. And these visual effects were enhanced by Peter Sova’s colorful cinematography. Sova’s photography also enchanced the movie’s views of Hong Kong and other parts of China.

But there were moments when I found the plot a bit convoluted and confusing, despite Dakota Fanning’s voice over. Judging from what I had revealed in the previous episode, one would find my comment confusing. But honestly, there were moments when it seemed that the movie was so caught up in revealing new characters and new psychic abilities that I almost lost track of the plot. If I must be brutally honest, Paul McGuigan’s uneven direction did not help. I had no problems with McGuigan’s handling of some of the action sequences – especially the prologue sequence featuring Nick and his father, Kira’s escape from two Division agents, and Nick’s encounters with Carver and the latter’s henchman, Victor Budarin. But his non-action sequences – especially in the movie’s second half – tend to drag. Sometimes, the cast manages to rise above his lethargic direction and sometimes, they cannot.

I had no problems with the cast. Chris Evans made a first-rate leading man. He also did a great job in developing his character from the embittered and self-involved young man hiding from authorities, to a more strong-will character willing to toe the line for others. Evans had two leading ladies – Dakota Fanning and Camilla Belle. I have already expressed my dissatisfaction with Belle. Fanning, on the other hand, gave a very spirited and skillful performance as the strong-willed and sardonic Cassie, who seemed more than determined to bring down the Division and help her mother. More importantly, both she and Evans had a very strong screen presence . . . which did not bode well for Belle. There are times when I find myself wondering if Djimon Hounsou is underrated as an actor. His performance as villain, Agent Henry Carver, is one of the best aspects of this movie. Hounsou can do ambiguity like nobody’s business and more importantly, his Carver is not some mustache twirling villain or one-note block of ice. The movie also featured excellent performances from a supporting cast that featured Joel Gretsch, Ming-Na Wen, Nate Mooney, Corey Stoll, Scott Michael Campbell, Maggie Sif, Kwan Fung Chi and Jacky Heung. I have to give special kudos to Cliff Curtis’ charming and colorful portrayal of a former Division agent named Hook Waters and Xiao Lu Li as the sly and malevolent Pop Girl, a Watcher for the Pop Triad.

Overall, I have mixed feelings for “PUSH”. It featured a pretty interesting premise, thanks to David Bourla’s screenplay. The movie also featured some first-class visual effects supervised by Mark Meddings. Unfortunately, Paul McGuigan’s direction struck me as slightly uneven. If it were not for the screenplay, the visual effects and excellent performances from the likes of Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning and Djimon Hounsou; this movie would have sank to the ground . . . at least for me.

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Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1880s

Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1880s:

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1880s

1. “Stagecoach” (1939) – John Ford directed this superb adaptation of Ernest Haycox’s 1937 short story, “The Stage to Lordsburg”, about a group of strangers traveling by stagecoach through the Arizona territory. Claire Trevor, John Wayne and Oscar winner Thomas Mitchell starred.

2. “The Four Feathers” (2002) – Shekhar Kapur directed this fascinating adaptation of A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 novel about a former British Army officer accused of cowardice. Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Djimon Hounsou and Kate Hudson starred.

3. “Back to the Future Part III” (1990) – Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd starred in this third installment of the “BACK TO THE FUTURE” TRILOGY, in which Marty McFly travels back to the Old West to prevent the death of fellow time traveler, Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown. Written by Bob Gale, the movie was directed by Robert Zemeckis.

4. “Topsy-Turvy” (1999) – Mike Leigh wrote and directed this biopic about W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan and their creation of their most famous operetta, “The Mikado”. Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner.

5. “Tombstone” (1993) – Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer starred in this colorful and my favorite account about Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the famous O.K. Corral gunfight. George P. Cosmatos directed.

6. “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” (1939) – Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce starred in this adaptation of William Gillette’s 1899 stage play, “Sherlock Holmes”. Directed by Alfred L. Werker, the movie co-starred Ida Lupino and George Zucco.

7. “The Cater Street Hangman” (1998) – Eoin McCarthy and Keeley Hawes starred in this television adaptation of Anne Perry’s 1979 novel about a serial killer in late Victorian England. Sarah Hellings directed.

8. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1945) – Hurd Hatfield and George Sanders starred in this adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel about a handsome young Englishman who maintains his youth, while a special portrait reveals his inner ugliness.

9. “High Noon” (1952) – Gary Cooper won his second Oscar as a town marshal forced to face a gang of killers by himself. Directed by Fred Zinnemann, the movie was written by blacklisted screenwriter Carl Foreman and co-starred Grace Kelly and Katy Jurado.

10. “Open Range” (2003) – Kevin Costner directed and co-starred with Robert Duvall in this western about a cattle crew forced to take up arms when they and their herd are threatened by a corrupt rancher.

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.

“FURIOUS 7” (2015) Review

 

“FURIOUS 7” (2015) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

paul-walker-fast

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

“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” (2014) Review

“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” (2014) Review

Most of the films featured in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been set on Earth – mainly in the United States – and featured human characters. There have been exceptions – namely the two “THOR” movies that were partly set in the realm of Asgard and 2012’s “THE AVENGERS”, which featured an alien invasion. For the first time, the MCU released a movie mainly set in worlds other than Earth. And it is called “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”.

Directed by James Gunn, who wrote the film with Nicole Perlman, “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” told the story about an uneasy alliance between a group of extraterrestrial misfits, who find themselves on the run after one of them steals a coveted orb. The movie, ironically, begins on Earth in 1988, when a kid named Peter Quill is abducted by a group of space pirates called the Ravagers led by a mercenary named Yondu Udonta, following his mother’s death. Twenty-six years later, Quill steals a valuable orb from the abandoned planet of Morag. Before he can get away, Quill is intercepted by Korath, a subordinate to the fanatical Kree, Ronan. Although Quill escapes with the orb, Yondu discovers his theft and issues a bounty for his capture. Meanwhile Ronan, who originally agreed to acquire the orb on behalf of the villainous titan Thanos, sends an assassin named Gamora after the orb. In return for getting the orb for Thanos, Ronan wants the latter to destroy the Nova Empire.

Quill attempts to sell the orb on the Nova Empire’s capital world, Xandar, when Gamora ambushes him and steals it. A fight ensues, which attracts a pair of bounty hunters – the genetically engineered raccoon Rocket and his tree-like companion, the humanoid Groot. All four are arrested by the Nova Corps and they are sentenced to a prison called Kyln. The four form an alliance to profit from a sale of the orb to a buyer that Gamora knows on an outpost called Nowhere, once Rocket informs them that he knows how to break out of prison. They acquire a new ally named Drax the Destroyer, who wants revenge against Ronan for killing his family. Drax tried to kill Gamora, due to her past association with the Kree, but Quill talks him out of it after Gamora reveals that she never intended to hand over the orb to Ronan. Gamora is willing to betray Ronan, because she is unwilling to allow him to use the orb’s power to destroy the Nova Empire and other worlds. The five misfits eventually discover from Gamora’s buyer, Taneleer Tivan aka the Collector that the orb contains a powerful stone known as one of the Infinity Stones, a collection of gems of immeasurable power that destroys all but the most powerful beings who wield them. Fearful that Ronan might destroy the Universe if he gains possession of the orb, the five friends become determined to stop him from gaining possession of it.

At first glance, “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” seemed to come out of nowhere and with no connection to the other films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the end, there were quite a few connections to the other films. One, other Infinity Stones – mentioned by Tivan – were featured in other films. “IRON MAN 2”, “THOR”, “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER” and “THE AVENGERS” all featured the Tesseract. And “THOR: THE DARK WORLD” featured the Aether, which found itself in Tivan’s possession by the end of that film. The character Thanos was revealed to be the one behind the Chitauri invasion in “THE AVENGERS” The character Tivan aka the Collector was featured in a mid-credit scene in “THOR: THE DARK WORLD”. Also, the Ronan character is not the only Kree character to appear in a MCU production. The corpse of a dead Kree was featured in an episode of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. So, the connections between “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” and the other MCU films are pretty strong. Many had doubted the success of“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”, due to its unknown factor of the major characters. Although the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” comic book was first published by Marvel in 1969, the following publications of the title have been far and few. In fact, Marvel had to revamp the title in 2008.

Marvel and Disney’s fears proved to be groundless in the end. “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” became a major hit during the late summer of 2014. It even managed to surpass (slightly) the major success of the previous MCU movie,“CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER”. I understand why “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” became such a success. It is a first-rate film that proved to be the gem of the summer. Thanks to Nicole Perlman and James Gunn’s screenplay, the movie expertly set up the movie’s narrative – first with Peter Quill’s kidnapping and later, his theft of the orb. Mind you, there is nothing particularly original about the narrative for “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”. I cannot recall the numerous films or television productions about a group of outsiders who struggle to form an alliance or friendship in order to overcome an enemy or problem. Hell, this even sounds like the narrative backbone for “THE AVENGERS”. But I have never come across a movie or television that allowed this narrative to play out with such caustic wit and humor. Perlman and Gunn also did an excellent job in allowing the five protagonists to form both an alliance and later, a strong friendship, in a timely manner. In fact, friendship seemed to be the main theme of“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”. And the focus of that friendship centered around the Peter Quill character, who abandoned one set of friends – the Ravengers under Yondu Udonta – that proved to be rather questionable, and formed a more solid friendship with his four new companions.

“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” benefited from some very strong characterizations. Peter Quill – at first glance – seemed like some minor variation of the Tony Stark character. Although adept at defending himself in a fight, Quill never struck me as the aggressive type. I enjoyed how actor Chris Pratt portrayed him as someone who would prefer stealth and charm over action. Some of his facial reactions alone were a joy to watch. Gamora, the assassin who had been trained by Thanos . . . after he wiped out her family, proved to be a surprisingly moral character. In fact, I would say that she possessed the strongest moral center out of the five major characters. And that is an ironic thing to say about an assassin. Thankfully, Zoe Saldana did an excellent job of conveying Gamora’s moral center . . . and dangerous nature at the same time. I never thought I would become attached to a CGI animal described as a genetically-altered raccoon. But I must say that the character Rocket provided a great deal of sharp wit and verbosity that infused a lot of energy into the story. And a lot of that energy came from Bradley Cooper’s voice performance. Another dangerous, yet fascinating character proved to be the vengeful Drax the Destroyer. In fact, I can honestly say that Drax was probably the most chaotic character in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. But what else can you say about a character who is not only seeking revenge, but does not understand the meaning of metaphors. And I have to say that professional wrestler-turned-actor Dave Batista did a marvelous job in portraying a ferocious, yet humorless character with such sharp comic timing. And finally we have – “I am Groot.”. Ah yes, the talking and walking tree. Rocket’s companion. What can I say? I adored that warm, compassionate and loyal walking piece of timber. And I have to give kudos to Vin Diesel, who only had one line to speak over again, throughout the movie, do so with different inflections.

But there were other interesting characters featured in “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”. Audiences saw the return of Taneleer Tivan aka The Collector, who was last seen in “THOR: THE DARK WORLD”. And once again, Benicio del Toro gave an eccentric, yet very interesting performance of the interstellar collector. Nebula, who was raised as Gamora’s sibling by Thanos, certainly proved to be a character I will never forget. Although not the main villain, Nebula proved to be a scary and intimidating character in her own right, whose own ambiguity is dictated by feelings of jealousy toward Gamora. And actress Karen Gillian did an excellent job in conveying these aspects of Nebula’s character. Despite the presence of Thanos, the movie’s main villain proved to be a Kree fanatic named Ronan the Accuser. The fanatical Ronan refuses to accept a peace treaty between the Kree and the Nova Empire and seeks Thanos’ help in destroying Xandar. In the end, he proved to be something of a one-dimensional character lacking any eccentricities or ambiguities whatsoever. And honestly, one has to thank Lee Pace’s intense performance that managed to maintain my interest in Ronan. Another character that proved to be a minor disappointment was Korath, one of Ronan’s subordinates. And like Ronan, he also struck me as a bit one-dimensional, yet rather intense. However . . . the character had one scene that proved to be rather funny – his first meeting with Quill on Morag, in which he failed to recognized the latter’s nickname. And one has to thank Djimon Hounsou’s performance for making that scene work. It seemed a pity that Hounsou did not have a larger role in the film.

The characters from Xandar struck me as solid, but not particularly memorable. There were two exceptions – Corpsman Rhomann Dey, a professional member of Xandar’s military/police force and whose dry sense of humor strongly reminded me of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson; and Nova Prime Irani Rael, the slightly intimidating and righteous leader of the Nova Corps. And both John C. Reilly and Glenn Close gave outstanding performances in their roles. The most fascinating supporting character for me proved to be Yondu Udonta, the temperamental, yet occasionally decent leader of the Ravagers, who had served as Quill’s guardian after snatching him. There were times when I could not tell whether he was a bad guy, a good guy or simply another self-absorbed rogue after his own interest. And I must say that Michael Rooker gave a very entertaining and flamboyant portrayal of the character. I look forward to seeing him in future films.

I have to be honest. Most of the visual effects for “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” did not blow my mind. But there were a few scenes that I found noteworthy. I liked the idea of the Nowhere outpost being set inside the floating head of a Celestial corpse. Very original. And the wide exterior shot of the colony upon the protagonists’ arrival is very impressive, as shown the following image:

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The scene was enhanced by Ben Davis’ photography. I also enjoyed his work in the movie’s final action sequence that featured Ronan’s attempt to destroy Xandar. Gunn’s direction, along with the visual effects made the scene breathtaking. To a certain degree. Some of the aerial action involving Rocket and the Nova Corps struck me as somewhat confusing. I also enjoyed Alexandra Byrne’s costumes, but like the visual effects, they did not take my breath away. I was not expecting anything out of the ordinary, but . . . I found them at best, solid.

The summer of 2014 proved to be very dismal for me, aside from a few films. One of those films that provided some realentertainment was “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”. If it were not for the work of director James Gunn, the exciting and witty screenplay he co-wrote with Nicole Perlman and the first-rate performances from a cast led by Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana, the 2014 summer could have ended on a bad note for me.

“THE ISLAND” (2005) Review

“THE ISLAND” (2005) Review

The summer of 2005 saw the release of a science-fiction thriller called “THE ISLAND”. Directed by Michael Bay, the movie proved to be a box office failure in the U.S., but a hit with overseas moviegoers.

Many have described “THE ISLAND” as a a pastiche of “escape-from-dystopia” science fiction films of the 1960s and 1970s like “FAHRENHEIT 451”“THX 1138” and “LOGAN’S RUN”. The movie begins with a young man named Lincoln Echo Six, who lives in an isolated compound which strictly regulates its inhabitants’ lives. The Overseers control every aspect of the lives of Lincoln, his friend Jordan Two Delta and the other residents from diet and free time activities, to social relationships. The inhabitants hope to win a lottery to go to “the Island”, the only place on Earth not contaminated by a deadly pathogen.

Already dissatisfied with his life, Lincoln illicitly visits a power-plant basement where his friend, technician James McCord, works. There, he discovers a live moth in the ventilation shaft, leading him to realize that the outside world might not be contaminated. When Lincoln releases the mother, he follows it to another section, where he witnesses the murders of two lottery winners – one after childbirth, and the other in the process of having his liver harvested. When Jordan becomes the next lottery winner, Lincoln rescues her from a similar fate and the two make their escape from the facility. While the facility’s medical official, Dr. Merrick, hires mercenary Albert Laurent and his men to find Lincoln and Jordan, the pair learns from McCord the truth about their existence – they are clones of wealthy sponsors, who intend to use them for spare parts or surrogate motherhood.

“THE ISLAND” received mixed reviews from critics. Some complained that the movie seemed to be an uneasy mixture of a science-fiction thriller and an action film. Others complain that the movie did not handled the ethical issue of cloning very well. I might as well be honest. I like “THE ISLAND” very much. In fact, it is one of four Michael Bay movies that I consider favorites of mine. And I am not a big Michael Bay fan. Unlike many critics, I thought the movie did an excellent job of mixing science-fiction creepiness and high octane action. Well . . . most of the time. Now, I would not consider“THE ISLAND” to be perfect. But my complaints about the movie are different from those made by other critics. Well . . . not really.

A good number of critics had a problem with the movie’s action sequences. They felt it was too over-the-top. I was fine with most of the action sequences. But there were two that failed to entertain me. Lincoln and Jordan’s arrival in downtown Los Angeles led to a high octane chase that involved the pair, the Los Angeles Police and Laurent and his team. It was too much and too damn confusing. I found some of the stunts – especially those that involved the two clones hanging from high-rise building to improbable to swallow. It was just too over-the-top for my tastes. I also had a problem with Lincoln’s fight with Dr. Merrick in the finale. It involved wires, glass and some rather confusing photography from Mauro Fiore. I have one last complaint. What in the hell happened to the clones at the end of the movie? I realize that they managed to escape the facility. But what happened to them following their escape? Like Lincoln and Jordan, they were adults with the mentality of adolescents or younger. Unlike Lincoln and Jordan, they had no experiences of life outside of the facility. What happened to them?

But for me, the good outweighed the bad in “THE ISLAND”. There were a good number of action sequences that I actually enjoyed. And they include Laurent’s confrontation with Lincoln and his sponsor, the real Tom Lincoln; and Lincoln and Jordan’s encounter with Laurent’s team at the Yucca train station in Arizona. But the best sequence for me proved to be Lincoln and Jordan’s escape from the facility. I found it absolutely thrilling and well shot by Bay and Fiore. The action sequences also benefited from Nigel Phelps’ colorful production designs and especially from the movie’s special effects team.

The above action sequences were not the only aspects of “THE ISLAND” that I enjoyed. The movie also featured some rather interesting scenes that I found either creepy, very dramatic or rather funny. Screenwriters Caspian Tredwell-Owen, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci did an excellent job in setting up what I believe is one of the film’s best moments – namely the two murders that he witnessed and his discovery of the truth behind the facility. And the latter sequence was truly frightening, but in a subtle way. The most jarring moment proved to be Starkweather Two Delta’s attempt to evade the facility’s guards and have his organs harvested. That scene really had me on edge. Another wonderful scene proved to be one between Laurent and Dr. Merrick, in which the former begins to harbor doubt about the activities of his client’s cloning facility. Lead actor was allowed to strut his stuff in a scene that featured Lincoln and Jordan’s meeting with the former’s sponsor, billionaire boat designer Tom Lincoln. I found it creepy, yet rather funny. However, the best scene – at least for me – proved to be James McCord’s revelation that Lincoln and Jordan were clones. This scene was so well acted and so funny that not only is it my favorite one in the film, but . . . it is just a favorite of mine, period. If I had to list my ten favorite movie scenes of all time, it would be on the list.

I thought the cast was impeccable. Instead of using an American accent, Ewan McGregor used a Canadian accent for his role as Lincoln Six Echo. And it worked. If I must be honest, I have never been a fan of his American accents. And for his performance as Tom Lincoln, the actor used his own Scottish accent. Whether he was the clone Lincoln or the billionaire Tom Lincoln, McGregor was brilliant. I believe that his performance in this movie is among his best work ever. “THE ISLAND” turned out to be the first time I ever became aware of Scarlett Johansson. And she not only impressed me with her performance as the surprisingly strong-willed Jordan, but also made me realized what a strong screen presence she possessed. What I liked about her performance is that beneath Jordan’s projected facade of delicacy and charm, laid a tough young woman who also proved to be rather observant of other people. And Johansson did a great job with her role.

The movie’s supporting cast included Sean Bean, who portrayed Dr. Merrick, the cloning facility’s administrator. One of the best things I can say about Bean is that he is an actor who strikes me as being a persistently first-rate chameleon. He can play hero, villain or otherwise at the drop of the hat. And while his Merrick is obviously a bad guy, he is a very subtle and at times, an emotional one. Djimon Hounsou portrayed the Afro-French mercenary, Albert Laurent. And like Bean, he also gave a first-rate and very subtle performance. In fact, Hounsou’s Laurent seemed like an enigma to me. Thanks to his performance, he deliberately made it hard for the audience to surmise whether he was a true villain or someone who might prove to be an ally for the two protagonists.

“THE ISLAND” also provided comic relief from first-rate actors such as Ethan Phillips, Kim Coates, and Brian Stepanek. Michael Clarke Duncan gave a brief, yet very effective performance as Starkweather Two Delta, the doomed clone whose elation at being chosen to live on “the island” became despair over discovering that he was being operated on for his organs. It was a great moment for the Oscar-nominated actor. But my favorite performance came from Steve Buscemi, who portrayed Lincoln’s friend, engineer James McCord. Remember my rhapsody over the scene featuring McCord, Lincoln and Jordan? Well, he was mainly responsible for making it so memorable for me. Mind you, both McGregor and Johansson also contributed to the scene with some excellent acting. But Buscemi made it for me. I believe it was one of his finest moments on screen – big and small.

I will not claim that “THE ISLAND” is a perfect film. It had a few action scenes that seemed over-the-top for me. And I believe it could have been more clearer about the fates of the clones at the end of the movie. But I cannot deny that it was an entertaining film with an intriguing plot. And for me, it worked, due to Michael Bay’s energetic direction and a superb cast led by Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson.

Top Ten Favorite Movies and Television Set During the Victorian Age

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I decided to revise my list of favorite movie and television productions set during the Victorian Age (1837-1901). Below is the list:

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES AND TELEVISION SET DURING THE VICTORIAN AGE

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1. “North and South” (2004) – Sandy Welch adapted this superb version of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel about a woman from Southern England living in the industrial North. Daniela Danby-Ashe and Richard Armitage star.

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2. “The Buccaneers” (1995) – Maggie Wadey adapted and Philip Saville directed this excellent adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novel about American heiresses marrying into the British aristocracy. Carla Gugino, Greg Wise, James Frain and Cheri Lunghi star.

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3. “Without a Clue” (1988) – Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley are Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson in hilarious look into a premise in which Dr. Watson is the investigating genius and Holmes is a fraud. Thom Eberhardt directed.

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4. “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1936) – Errol Flynn, Olivia DeHavilland and Patric Knowles starred in this historically inaccurate, but fascinating look into British India and the Crimean War. Michael Curtiz directed.

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5. “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (2011) – Guy Ritchie returned to direct what I believe is a slightly better sequel to his 2009 hit. In it, Holmes battles James Moriarty. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law star.

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6. “The Four Feathers” (2002) – Although not considered the best adaptation of A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 novel by many, it is certainly my favorite. Directed by Shekhar Kapur, the movie starred Heath Ledger.

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7. “The First Great Train Robbery” (1979) – Michael Crichton wrote and directed this adaptation of his 1975 novel about a group of thieves plotting to steal the Crimean War gold from a moving train. Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley Anne Down starred.

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8. “Sherlock Holmes” (2009) – Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law portrayed Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in this entertaining and exciting take on the famous literary sleuth. Guy Ritchie directed.

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9. “The Way We Live Now” (2001) – Andrew Davies adapted and David Yates directed this biting adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s novel greed in Victorian England. David Suchet, Shirley Henderson and Matthew MacFadyen starred.

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10. “Jane Eyre” (2006) – Sandy Welch adapted this first-rate version of Charlotte Brontë’s novel. Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens starred.

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Honorable Mention – “Wuthering Heights” (1939) – I rarely include an “honorable mention” on my FAVORITE lists. But I love William Wyler’s adaptation of Emily Brontë’s novel so much that I had to find a way to include it. Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon and David Niven starred.