List of Favorite Movie and Television Productions About the HOLOCAUST

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Below is a list of my favorite movie and television productions about the Holocaust released in chronological order:

LIST OF FAVORITE MOVIE AND TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST

1 - The Search

“The Search” (1948) – Fred Zinneman directed this Oscar winning movie about a young Auschwitz survivor and his mother who search for each other across post-World War II Europe. Oscar nominee Montgomery Clift and Oscar winner
Ivan Jandl starred.

2 - The Diary of Anne Frank

“The Diary of Anne Frank” (1959) – George Stevens directed this adaptation of the Broadway play about Holocaust victimAnne Frank, her family and their friends hiding in an attic in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. The movie starred Millie Perkins, Joseph Schildkraut and Oscar winner Shelley Winters.

3 - Judgment at Nuremberg

“Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961) – Stanley Kramer directed this Oscar winner about an American military tribunal in post-war occupied Germany that tries four Nazi judges for war crimes. Oscar nominee Spencer Tracy, Marlene Dietrich and Oscar winner Maximilian Schell starred.

4 - Marathon Man

“Marathon Man” (1976) – Dustin Hoffman, Oscar nominee Laurence Olivier and Roy Schneider starred in this adaptation of William Goldman’s 1974 novel about a history graduate student caught up in a conspiracy regarding stolen diamonds, a Nazi war criminal and a rogue government agent. John Schlesinger directed.

5 - Voyage of the Damned

“Voyage of the Damned” (1976) – Faye Dunaway and Max von Sydow starred in this adaptation of Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts’ 1974 book about the fate of the MS St. Louis ocean liner carrying Jewish refugees from Germany to Cuba in 1939. Stuart Rosenberg directed.

6 - Holocaust

“Holocaust” (1978) – Gerald Green wrote and produced this Emmy winning miniseries about the experiences of a German Jewish family and a rising member of the SS during World War II. Fritz Weaver, Rosemary Harris and Emmy winners Meryl Streep and Michael Moriarty starred.

7 - Sophie Choice

“Sophie’s Choice” (1982) – Oscar winner Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol starred in this adaptation of William Styron’s 1979 novel about an American writer’s acquaintance with a Polish immigrant and Holocaust survivor in post-World War II New York City. The movie was directed by Alan J. Pakula.

8 - Escape From Sobibor

“Escape From Sobibor” (1987) – Alan Arkin, Joanna Paula and Golden Globe winner Rutger Hauer starred in this television movie about the mass escape of Jewish prisoners from the Nazi extermination camp at Sobibor in 1943. Jack Gold directed.

9 - War and Remembrance

“War and Remembrance” (1988) – Dan Curtis produced, directed and co-wrote this Emmy winning television adaptation of Herman Wouk’s 1978 novel about the experiences of a naval family and their in-laws during World War II. Robert Mitchum, Jane Seymour, Hart Bochner and John Gielgud starred.

10 - Schindlers List

“Schindler’s List” (1993) – Steven Spielberg produced and directed this Oscar winning adaptation of Thomas Keneally’s 1982 novel, “Schindler’s Ark” about Nazi party member and businessman, Oscar Schindler, who helped saved many Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories. The movie starred Oscar nominees Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes and Ben Kingsley.

11 - Life Is Beautiful

“Life Is Beautiful” (1997) – Oscar winner Roberto Benigni starred, directed and co-wrote this Academy Award winning film about a Jewish-Italian book shop owner, who uses his imagination to shield his son from the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp. The movie co-starred Nicoletta Braschi and Giorgio Cantarini.

“Conspiracy” (2001) – This highly acclaimed HBO television movie dramatized the 1942 Wannasee Conference, a meeting between high Nazi officials to discuss the implementation of the final solution to the Jewish population under German control. Directed by Frank Pierson, the movie starred Kenneth Branagh and Stanley Tucci.

12 - The Pianist

“The Pianist” (2002) – Roman Polanski directed this Oscar winning adaptation of Polish-Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman‘s World War Ii memoirs. Oscar winner Adrien Brody and Thomas Kretschmann starred.

13 - Black Book

“Black Book” (2006) – Paul Verhoeven directed World War II tale about a Dutch-Jewish woman who becomes a spy for the Resistance after a tragic encounter with the Nazis. Carice van Houten and Sebastian Koch starred.

14 - The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

“The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” (2008) – Asa Butterfield, Jack Scanlon, Vera Fermiga and David Thewlis starred in this adaptation of John Boyne’s 2006 novel about a friendship between two eight year-olds – the son of an extermination camp commandant and a young Jewish inmate. Mark Herman directed.

“Inglourious Basterds” (2009) – Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed this Oscar winning alternate-history tale about two separate plots to assassinate Nazi Germany’s high political leadership at a film premiere in Nazi occupied Paris. The movie starred Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent and Oscar winner Christoph Waltz.

“SHINING THROUGH” (1992) Review

“SHINING THROUGH” (1992) Review

Many years have passed since I saw “SHINING THROUGH”. Many years. But after reading several reviews of the film over the years, I found myself wondering why I had enjoyed it in the first place. Why? Not many people really liked it.

Based upon Susan Isaac’s 1988 novel, “SHINING THROUGH” told the story of a woman of Irish and German-Jewish ancestry named Linda Voss and her experiences during World War II. The story begins when Linda applies for a job as a secretary at at prestigious Manhattan law firm. Linda is initially rejected, due to not being a graduate of a prestigious women’s college. But when she reveals her knowledge of German, she is hired on the spot. Linda serves as a translator to an attorney named Ed Leland, who is revealed to be an O.S.S. officer after the United States enter World War II. They also become lovers. Despite personal conflicts and separations, Linda and Ed resume their working relationship, until she volunteers to replace a murdered agent in Berlin on short notice. Much to Ed’s reluctance, Linda heads to Berlin and eventually becomes the governess to the children of a high-ranking Nazi officer named Franz-Otto Dietrich.

I eventually learned that “SHINING THROUGH” has developed quite a bad reputation over the years. Many consider it inferior to Isaac’s novel. It is even part of the “100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made” list by Golden Raspberry Award founder, John Wilson. This low opinion of “SHINING THROUGH” has led me to avoid it for years after I had first saw it. In fact, I became even more determined to avoid it after reading Isaac’s novel. Then I recently watched the movie again after so many years and wondered what was the big deal. I am not saying that “SHINING THROUGH” was a great movie. It was not. But I found it difficult to accept this prevailing view that it was one of the worst movies ever made. More importantly, my opinion of the novel is not as highly regarded as it is by many others. Basically, I have mixed feelings about the novel and the film.

The technical crew for “SHINING THROUGH” did a first-rate job. Production designer Anthony Pratt did an excellent job in re-creating both the eastern United States and Germany during the early 1940s. He was ably assisted by cinematographer Jan de Bont, whose photography struck me as particularly rich, sharp and colorful. I found Peter Howitt’s set decorations particularly effective in the Berlin sequences. I especially enjoyed the late Marit Allen’s costume designs for the film. I thought she did an excellent job in ensuring that the costumes effectively reflected the characters’ nationalities, gender, class and positions.

Before I discuss the movie’s virtues and flaws, I have to do the same for Isaac’s novel. I was very impressed by how the writer handled Linda Voss’ relationships with attorney John Berringer, his wife Nan Leland and the latter’s father, Ed Leland rather well. I found Isaac’s handling of Linda’s private life very romantic, complex, detailed, rather messy and very realistic. In fact, I remember being so caught up by Linda’s personal life that by the time the story jumped to the Berlin sequences, I realized that this segment had taken up over half of the novel. But once Isaac’s moved to the story to Linda’s wartime experiences as a spy in Berlin, I found myself feeling very disappointment. It seemed so rushed and unfulfilling. I was also surprised by how my feelings for the novel seemed to be the complete opposite of my feelings toward the movie.

Unlike Isaac’s portrayal of Linda’s private life, I was not impressed by how David Seltzer handled the character’s romance in the movie’s first half. I had no problems with Melanie Griffith and Michael Douglas. They had a decent chemistry, if not particularly spectacular. But the Linda/Ed romance lacked the detailed complexity and realism of the literary romance. Instead, I found it turgid, somewhat simple-minded and a bad rehash of clichéd World War II romances found in many past movies. I even had to endure a rendition of the old wartime standby, “I’ll Be Seeing You”, while Linda and Ed hash over his disappearance during the war’s first six months. I also noticed that Seltzer eliminated the John Berringer and Nan Leland characters, which reduced Linda and Ed’s romance into a one-note cliché. All I can is . . . thank God the movie shifted to Linda’s experiences in Berlin. I realize that many fans of Isaac’s novel would disagree with me, but I feel that Seltzer handled the story’s second half – both as the movie’s director and screenwriter – a lot better than Isaac. I realize that this revelation might seem sacrilege to many of the novel’s fans, but I stand by my opinion. Seltzer’s screenplay seemed to go into more detail regarding Linda’s mission in Germany – from the moment when the elderly, German-born Allied spy called “Sunflower” escorts her from Switzerland to Berlin; to Linda’s search for her Jewish relations; and finally to when Linda and Ed’s attempt to cross back into Switzerland. This entire sequence was filled with exciting action, drama, surprising pathos and some first-rate suspense – especially between Linda and two particular characters. My three favorites scenes from this entire sequence were the development of Linda’s friendship with Sunflower’s niece, Margrete von Eberstein; her outing to Berlin’s zoo with the Dietrich children; and her showdown with a Nazi spy after escape from Dietrich’s home. I found Linda’s developing friendship with Margrete fun to watch. The entire sequences regarding both the visit to the zoo and Linda’s showdown with a spy two very suspenseful, yet fascinating sequences.

As I had earlier stated, Melanie Griffith and Michael Douglas did not exactly burn the movie screen as a romantic couple. But I thought they managed to create a solid romance . . . enough to rise above Selzer’s turgid writing that seemed to mar the movie’s first forty minutes or so. Griffith did a first-rate job as Linda Voss by conveying both the character’s passion and clumsy skills as a spy. My only problem with Griffith’s performance is that she did not seem to make an effective narrator. Her voice was too soft and Seltzer’s words struck me as over-the-top. Michael Douglas portrayed Ed Leland – Linda’s boss and eventual lover – and gave a very good performance. I thought he was very effective in conveying Ed’s no-nonsense personality. But in my opinion, the best performance came from Liam Neeson, who portrayed Linda’s second employer – Franz-Otto Dietrich. First of all, I have to give kudos to Neeson for portraying Dietrich without the usual negative overtones usually associated with on-screen Nazi officers. Neeson portrayed Dietrich as a soft-spoken and charming man, who also seemed to be a devoted father and very observant man. At the same time, Neeson took care to convey to audiences that Dietrich could also be very ruthless with great skill and subtlety.

“SHINING THROUGH” was the second time I had become acquainted with Joely Richardson. I was very impressed by her portrayal of Linda’s only Berlin friend, Margrete von Eberstein, who happened to be Sunflower’s niece and also a spy for the Allies. Richardson gave a particularly effervescent performance as the very charming Margrete. She also clicked very well with Griffith on screen. John Gielgud probably gave the most crowd pleasing performance in the film as Sunflower, the German aristocrat-turned-Allied spy. Gielgud provided some memorable zingers, while his character delivered scathing criticism of Linda’s skills as a spy. The movie also featured brief appearances of veteran character actors Wolf Kahler and Thomas Kretschmann, who later became a rather busy character actor in the U.S. It also featured solid performances by Patrick Winczewski, Ronald Nitschke, Sheila Allen, Sylvia Sims, Francis Guinan; along with Anthony Walters and Victoria Shalet as the Dietrich children.

Do I believe that “SHINING THROUGH” deserved the movie critics’ contempt, along with the numerous Razzies awards it acquired? No. Not really. It is not the greatest World War II melodrama I have ever seen. And I certainly would not have placed it on a “best movies” list of any kind. “SHINING THROUGH” is basically a mixed bag, much like the Susan Isaac novel upon which it is based. Like the novel, the movie is a study in contradiction. Writer-director David Seltzer’s handling of the Linda Voss-Ed Leland romance could be called a cinematic embarrassment. It is only a miracle that Melanie Griffith and Michael Douglas’ performances were not marred by such bad writing. On the other hand, Seltzer did an excellent job in writing and directing the sequences featuring Linda’s adventures in Germany. If you are not expecting a cinematic masterpiece, I would suggest watching it . . . even if it means enduring the movie’s first forty minutes or so.

Top Ten Favorite COMIC BOOK HEROES Movies

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Below is a list of my ten favorite movies featuring comic book heroes: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE COMIC BOOK HEROES MOVIES

1-The Avengers

1. “The Avengers” (2012) – Joss Whedon directed this superb movie about a team of Marvel Comics heroes teaming together to battle an alien invasion.

2-The Incredibles

2. “The Incredibles” (2004) – Brad Bird created one of the best Disney animated films about a family of superheroes living a quiet suburban life and forced to hide their powers, who are forced out of retirement to save the world.

3-Spider-Man 2

3. “Spider-Man 2” (2004) – Tobey Maguire made his second appearance as Marvel Comic’s web-slinger, who contemplates retirement while facing a new threat, Doctor Octavius in this first-rate sequel.

4-Captain America - The First Avenger

4. “Captain America: The First Avenger” – Chris Evans made his first appearance as Steve Rogers aka Captain America, Marvel’s first superhero who deals with the threat of a madman during World War II. Joe Johnston directed.

5-Iron Man 2

5. “Iron Man 2” (2010) – Robert Downey Jr. reprised his role as Tony Stark aka Iron Man. In this excellent sequel, Iron Man battles a “ghost” from his family’s past and a professional threat. Jon Farveau directed.

6-The Rocketeer

6. “The Rocketeer” (1991) – Bill Campbell starred in this first-rate Disney adaptation of Dave Stevens’ comic novel about a pilot who discovers a rocket pack and struggles to keep it out of the hands of Nazi pilots in 1938 Los Angeles. Joe Johnston directed.

7-X2

7. “X2: X-Men United” (2003) – Bryan Singer directed this second and best X-MEN film about the X-Men’s reluctant teaming with Erik Lensherr aka Magneto and friends to deal with the threat of a vengeful U.S. Army intelligence officer.

8-Batman Begins

8. “Batman Begins” (2005) – Director Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bale teamed for the first time in my favorite BATMANfilm about the origins of the Caped Crusader and his efforts to save Gotham City from a mysterious threat.

9-Iron Man

9. “Iron Man” (2008) – Robert Downey Jr. exploded on the scene as playboy millionaire in this origin tale about how the latter became costumed hero Iron Man. Jon Farveau directed.

10-The Dark Knight

10. “The Dark Knight” (2008) – Christopher Nolan directed Christian Bale in this well-made BATMAN movie about the Caped Crusader’s conflict with the Joker. Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart co-starred.

“THE DARK KNIGHT RISES” (2012) Review

 

“THE DARK KNIGHT RISES” (2012) Review

After seven years, Christopher Nolan’s three-movie saga about the D.C. Comics character, Batman, finally came to an end. The saga that began with 2005’s “BATMAN BEGINS”, ended with this year’s “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES”.

The new movie, set seven years after 2008’s “THE DARK KNIGHT”, began with the aerial kidnapping of a nuclear scientist by an escaped terrorist named Bane. The scene shifted to Gotham City, where a fund-raiser was being held at Wayne Manor. The only person missing was millionaire Bruce Wayne, who had given up his vigilante activities as Batman after claiming he had murdered former District Attorney Harvey Dent. During the fundraiser, Bruce caught a maid breaking into his private safe. She turned out to be a resourceful cat burglar named Selina Kyle. Aside from a necklace that once belonged to Bruce’s late mother, Selina did not steal any other object from the safe.

Curious over Selina’s actions, Bruce resumed his Batman alter ego and tracked down Selina. He discovered that she had been hired by a rival corporate CEO named John Daggett to lift and steal his fingerprints. Bruce also learned that Daggett had hired the terrorist Bane to attack Gotham’s stock exchange and bankrupt Wayne Enterprises. And along with Police Commissioner James Gordon and Wayne Enterprises executive Lucius Fox, Bruce also discovered that Bane was a former member of the League of Shadows and planned to continue Henri Ducard’s (aka Ra’s al Ghul) goal of Gotham City’s destruction. Bruce asked fellow millionaire Miranda Tate to take control of Wayne Enterprises to ensure that Daggett and Bane will not gain control of their clean energy project, a device designed to harness fusion power.

Re-reading the above made me realize that Christopher and Jonathan Nolan had created a very complicated plot. For me, the plot became even more complicated two-thirds into the movie. “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES” obviously exists under the shadow of its two predecessors – “BATMAN BEGINS” and “THE DARK KNIGHT”. I would say that this especially seemed to be the case for the 2005 movie. Batman and James Gordon’s decision to lie about the circumstances behind Harvey Dent’s death in the second movie had a minor impact upon this third movie. But Bruce’s relationship and later conflict with Ra’s al Ghul seemed to be the driving force behind his conflict with Bane in this third film.

I had heard rumors that Christopher Nolan was initially reluctant to make a third BATMAN movie. Personally, I found that rumor a bit hard to believe, considering how “THE DARK KNIGHT” ended with Batman accepting the blame for Harvey Dent’s crimes and death. But there were certain aspects of the script he wrote with his brother Jonathan that made me wonder if he had truly been reluctant. There were certain aspects of “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES” that I found troubling.

It seemed a pity that the second movie ended with Batman and Jim Gordon’s decision to lie about the circumstances behind Dent’s death. I found their decision unnecessary back in 2008 and I still do. The impact behind their lie proved to be hollow. It merely kept Batman off Gotham City’s streets and led Mayor Anthony Garcia and the city to pass a strong anti-criminal law that proved to be hollow following Bane’s arrival in Gotham City. I also found Bane’s mid-air kidnapping of a nuclear scientist and escape from a U.S. marshal (portrayed by Aidan Gillen) rather somewhat idiotic. I understood that Bane needed that scientist to weaponize the Wayne Enterprise device.  But I never understood why that U.S. marshal failed to take the trouble to identify the hooded prisoner (Bane) before boarding the plane.  In the end, the movie’s opening sequence struck struck me as unnecessarily showy. Was this the Nolan brothers’ way of conveying Bane’s role as a badass to the audience? If so, I was too busy trying to comprehend the villain’s dialogue to care. I understood why Batman had not been seen in Gotham for so long. But what was the reason behind Bruce Wayne’s disappearance from the public eye?  His physical state was not really that severe.  Rachel Dawes’ death? Rachel’s death did not stop him from going after the Joker and Harvey Dent in the last movie’s half hour. Was it an injured leg? How did he injured it? And why did Gotham’s citizens failed to put two-and-two together, when both Bruce and Batman finally appeared in the public eye a day or two apart after many years? The only person who managed to discover Bruce’s alter ego – namely Officer John Blake – did so through a contrived reason.

For me, the movie’s real misstep proved to be Bane’s three-month control over Gotham City. As a former member of Henri Ducard’s League of Shadows, he planned to achieve his former leader’s goal of destroying Gotham City. And he planned to use Wayne Enterprise’s energy device to achieve this. One – why not simply build or snatch his own nuclear device? Why go through so much trouble to get his hands on the energy device? Why did Wayne Enterprises create a device that not only saved energy, but could be used as a bomb, as well? And why did it take three months before the device could become an effective bomb? The Nolans’ script could have frustrated Bane’s attempts to acquire the bomb during that three-month period . . . or anything to spare the audiences of that second-rate version of the French Resistance. The latter scenario seemed so riddled with bad writing that it would take another article to discuss it. And what was the point of the presence of Juno Temple’s character Jen? What was she there for, other than being Selina’s useless and cloying girlfriend? And Wayne Enterprises executive Lucius Fox was last seen declaring his intentions to leave the corporation for good, following Batman’s misuse of cell phones in “THE DARK KNIGHT”. In this movie, he is back, working for Wayne Enterprises. What made him change his mind?

But not all was lost. I found Bruce’s introduction to Selina Kyle very entertaining and sexy. Even better, the incident served as Batman’s re-introduction to Gotham City and allowed him to discover Bane’s plans regarding Wayne Enterprises and the energy device. One of the more interesting consequences of “THE DARK KNIGHT” proved to be Rachel Dawes’ last letter to Bruce. Its revelation by Alfred Pennyworth after seven years led to an emotional quarrel between the millionaire and the manservant and their estrangement. At first, I had balked at the idea of Bane carrying out Ra’s al Ghul’s original goal to destroy Gotham. After all, why would he continue the plans of the very person who had him kicked out of the League of Shadows? But a surprising plot twist made Bane’s plan plausible . . . even when I continue to have problems with his three-month occupation of Gotham.

Many critics had lamented the lack of Heath Ledger’s Joker in the movie. As much as I had appreciated and enjoyed Ledger’s performance in the 2008 movie, I did not need or wanted him in “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES”. Tom Hardy’s performance as the terrorist Bane was good enough for me. Mind you, I found it difficult to understand some of his dialogue. And when I did, he sounded like the now aging Sean Connery. But I cannot deny that Bane made one scary villain, thanks to Hardy’s performance and intimidating presence. Before I saw the movie, I never understood the need for Marion Cotillard’s presence in the film. I thought her character, Miranda Tate, would merely be a bland love interest for Bruce. Not only did Cotillard ended up providing a subtle and intelligent performance, her Miranda Tate proved to be important to the story as the co-investor in the energy device and for the plot twist in the end.

“THE DARK KNIGHT RISES” provided some solid performances from other members of the cast. Matthew Modine shined as the ambitious and arrogant Assistant Police Commissioner Peter Foley, who proved to be capable of character development. Another solid performance came from Brett Cullen, who portrayed a lustful congressman that had the bad luck to cross paths with Selina Kyle. Both Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman continued their excellent performances as Bruce Wayne’s “heart”and “mind”, manservant Alfred Pennyworth and Wayne Enterprises executive Lucius Fox.

In the end, the movie was fortunate to benefit from four outstanding performances. One came from Gary Oldman’s excellent portrayal of the now weary, yet determined police commissioner, James Gordon. His guilt over the Harvey Dent lie and discovery of Batman’s true identity provided Oldman with some of his best moments in the trilogy. Another came from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who was superb as Gotham City beat cop John Blake. The actor did a wonderful job of balancing Officer Blake’s intelligence, passion for justice and disgust toward the bureaucracy.

When I learned that Anne Hathaway would end up being the fifth actress to portray Selina Kyle aka Catwoman, I must admit that I had my doubts. Then I remembered that Hathaway was an Oscar nominee, who has also done action before. Watching her sexy, yet complicated performance as the complex cat burglar removed all of my doubts. She was superb and her sizzling screen chemistry with star Christian Bale made me wish Selina had been Bruce’s love interest throughout the movie. Speaking of Bruce Wayne, Bale returned to portray the Caped Crusader for the third and final time. I must admit that I found his performance more subtle and complex than his performances in the previous two movies. Bale did an excellent job in re-creating a slightly aging Bruce Wayne/Batman, who found himself faced with a more formidable opponent.

I was a little disappointed to see that “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES” lacked the Chicago exteriors of the 2008 movie. In the end, Gotham City resembled a collection of East Coast and British cities. But I cannot deny that I found Wally Pfister’s photography very eye catching. And Hans Zimmer’s entertaining score brought back memories of his earlier work in both the 2005 and 2008 movies.

I have a good deal of complaints about “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES”. It is probably my least favorite entry in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. For me, the movie’s main problem centered around the script written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan. But despite its flaws, the movie still managed to be both entertaining and intriguing. It also has an excellent cast led by the always superb Christian Bale. It was not perfect, but “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES” did entertain me.

“BATTLESHIP” (2012) Review

“BATTLESHIP” (2012) Review

Several years ago, the toy company Hasbro made a deal with Universal Pictures to produce and release a series of movies based upon their games and toys. The first movie to emerge from this deal turned out to be the 2009 movie, “G.I. JOE” THE RISE OF COBRA”. Recently, another movie emerged from this deal, namely an alien invasion tale called“BATTLESHIP”

Named after the popular board game, “BATTLESHIP” told the story of a fleet of U.S. and Japan Navy ships forced to do battle with an advanced group of invading aliens. The story began in 2005, when NASA discovers an extrasolar planet with conditions similar to Earth. The space agency transmits a powerful signal from a communications array in Hawaii. Also, an undisciplined slacker named Alex Hopper tries to impress a woman by getting her a chicken burrito by breaking into a convenience store. The woman in question is Samantha Shane, the daughter of the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Terrance Shane, who is the superior of Commander Stone Hopper, Alex’s older brother. After Alex is arrested, an infuriated Stone forces Alex to join the Navy.

Seven years later, Alex is a lieutenant and the Tactical Action Officer aboard the destroyer, U.S.S. John Paul Jones, while Stone is the commanding officer of U.S.S. Sampson. Alex is still dating Samantha and wants to marry her, but is afraid to ask her father for permission. During the opening ceremony for the RIMPAC naval exercises, Alex clashes with Japanese officer Captain Nagata. This incident proves to be the latest in a string of incidents that could result in the end of his Navy career. Meanwhile, Samantha, who is a physical therapist, accompanies retired Army veteran and amputee Mick Canales on a hike to help him adapt to his prosthetic legs. However, the arrival of five alien ships places Alex and Samantha’s problems on the back burner, when the U.S. Navy and forces from the Pacific Rim nations to deal with the alien invading force, after it places a force field around the Hawaiian Islands.

When I first saw the trailer for “BATTLESHIP”, I found myself wondering if Universal Pictures and Hasbro came up with the idea of a movie about the U.S. Navy battling aliens, from the naval warfare service. And I found myself wondering if the Navy wanted their own alien invasion movie, following the success of last year’s “BATTLE: LOS ANGELES”, which was about U.S. Marines fighting aliens. However, production for “BATTLESHIP” began some two years ago; so I nixed that idea. Whoever came up with the idea for “BATTLESHIP” . . . I wish that he or she never had in the first place.

There were aspects of “BATTLESHIP” that I liked. I thought it had a solid cast. Taylor Kitsch was very effective as Alex Hopper, who developed from an undisciplined slacker to a responsible and resourceful naval officer. He also had good chemistry with singer Rihanna, who portrayed a weapons specialist under Hopper’s command; and Alexander Skarsgård, who portrayed Alex’s uber disciplined older brother, Stone. But I was especially impressed with Kitsch’s chemistry with Tadanobu Asano, who portrayed Japanese naval officer, Captain Nagata. Both Kitsch and Asano did a great job in developing the relationship between the two men. I was also impressed by Tobias A. Schliessler’s breathtaking photography of the Hawaiian Islands and the nearby Pacific Ocean. And I was also impressed by the visual effects team led by Akemi Abe. Although I found the aliens themselves a little too mechanical, I must admit that visually, they were effectively frightening.

But when all has been said and done in the end, I must admit that I did not like “BATTLESHIP”. Not one damn bit. Well . . . at least most of it. I feel that it was one of the most over-the-top action movies I have ever seen. Even worse, I got the feeling that Peter Berg, who has proven to be a solid director in the past, was trying to channel Michael Bay and the latter’s TRANSFORMER movies. And it just did not work. It is bad enough that I am not a fan of the TRANSFORMERfranchise. For me, it is like watching a science-fiction version of the TWILIGHT films. But that a decent director like Berg felt he had to lower himself to that level . . . dear God! Why? What director in his or her right mind want to become a second-rate Michael Bay?

So . . . what was it about “BATTLESHIP” that I disliked? After watching this film, I realized that a movie about an alien invasion set aboard naval ships is not very effective. The aliens in this movie limited themselves to naval ships and a communication array in the hills above Honolulu, Hawaii. Very limiting. And how on earth did a character like Alex Hopper lasted seven years in the U.S. Navy? Apparently, seven years of military service had done nothing to curb his undisciplined personality. It took an alien invasion to get him in line. Really? Give me a break. I bet that a character like Alex would not even last during officer training school, let alone seven years in the Navy. How on earth did a guy who had been arrested for breaking into a convenience store ended up as a naval officer in the first place? Guys like Alex would have ended up as an enlisted man. And yes, I found some of the performances rather mediocre – especially from the inexperienced Gregory Gadson, who was a former U.S. Army Colonel amputee; and actor Jesse Simmons, who came off as a second-rate Matt Damon, “the early years”. And Liam Neeson proved to be wasted in this film, due to his appearances in the movie’s first 30 minutes and last 10 minutes. But what proved to be the last straw for me was the initial encounter between the survivors of the destroyed U.S.S. John Paul Jones and a group of World War II veterans aboard the museum ship U.S.S. Missouri. This scene was so ridiculous that it took me at least five minutes to stop rolling my eyes in disgust.

I wish I could say that I liked “BATTLESHIP”. But I would be lying through my teeth. It had certain aspects that I found . . . admirable and likeable, including a strong screen chemistry between leading man Taylor Kitsch and Tadanobu Asano.  And there were moments in the movie that I found entertaining.  But in the end,“BATTLESHIP” made director Peter Berg seem like a second-rate Michael Bay. And you know what? That is not good for a solid director like Berg.

“STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE” (1999) Review

 

“STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE” (1999) Review

Sixteen years after the 1983 movie, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI” hit the movie screens, producer-director George Lucas returned to the world of STAR WARS for a new trilogy that depicted the years before the 1977-1983 movies, starting with the 1999 film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”.

“THE PHANTOM MENACE” was received very poorly by critics and veteran STAR WARS fans when it was first released in 1999. Many believed that it failed to capture the spirit of Lucas’ saga first established in the first three films. Despite the negative opinions, the movie proved to be a blockbuster champion at the box office. But public opinion of the movie in the following thirteen years remained negative. In fact, public opinion has not been that kind to the two movies that followed. When Lucas announced his intentions to re-release “THE PHANTOM MENACE” in 3D, many either wondered why he would bother or accused the producer of trying to milk the STAR WARS cash cow even further. As for me, I received the news with mixed feelings. When the movie was first released in 1999, I must admit that I enjoyed it very much, even though I would never view it as one of my top favorite STAR WARS movies. On the other hand, I despise the 3D process. I despised the use of it in movies like 2009’s“AVATAR” and my feelings for it had not changed when I last saw it used for “THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER”. But my love for STAR WARS overcame my distaste for 3D and I went to see the movie.

Like other STAR WARS, this one began in a galaxy, far, far away . . . thirty-two years before the events of the 1977 movie. Instead of an empire, this story is set during the Old Republic in which knights and masters of the religious Jedi Order serve as “the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy” on behalf of the Republic Senate. A Jedi Master named Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice (or padawan) have been dispatched by the Senate’s Chancellor Finis Valorum to negotiate a peace between the planet Naboo and the Trade Federation, an organization who has decided to establish a blockade of battleships in response to a taxation on trade routes. The Federation has made this move on the “advice” of their partner, a Sith Lord (and enemy of the Jedi) named Darth Sidious. Unfortunately for Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, the Trade Federation attempt to kill them on the order of Darth Sidious. Both Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan escape from the Trade Federation battleship and make their way to Naboo’s surface, during the former’s invasion of the planet. The pair enlists the help of Jar-Jar Binks and his fellow Gungans (Naboo’s underwater inhabitants) to reach Queen Padme Amidala, the planet’s 14 year-old ruler. They save her and her entourage, before making their escape from Naboo. Due to a failing power converter, the entire party make an emergency landing on the remote Tatooine in order to find the parts to fix the ship. In one of Tatooine’s major cities, Mos Espa; Qui-Gon, Padme (who is disguised as a royal handmaiden), and Jar-Jar meet a young slave boy named Anakin Skywalker. It is not long before Qui-Gon Their meeting will prove to not only have major consequences on the outcome between Naboo and the Trade Federation, but also upon the galaxy.

My recent viewing of “THE PHANTOM MENACE” made me realize that after 13 years, I still love the movie. Nothing has changed my view of the movie, including the addition of the 3D effects. However, I cannot deny that “THE PHANTOM MENACE” is perfect. I have my complaints. My major complaint was Lucas’ addition of the 3D effects. They were not impressive. I had expected them to be, considering the outstanding 3D effects of the updated STAR WARS attractions at the Disney amusement parks. But the movie’s effects proved to be a poor comparison and a not-so-surprising disappointment. My second complaint centered around the use of Tatooine as a setting. In fact, the saga’s use of Tatooine has proven to be a major disappointment since the first movie, 1977’s “A NEW HOPE”. Aside from a few sequences, Tatooine proved to be a major bore. After Qui-Gon and Padme’s first meeting with Anakin, I had to struggle to stay awake before the podrace sequence. Lucas’ slow pacing and John Williams’ less-than-stellar score nearly put me to sleep. The only movie in which Tatooine proved to be interesting from start to finish was 2002’s“ATTACK OF THE CLONES”. I realize that many STAR WARS fans dislike the Gungans and specifically, one Jar-Jar Binks. There are times that I feel I could write a detailed essay on the fans’ dislike of Jar-Jar, but this is not the time or place for such an article. Although I harbor no dislike of Jar-Jar, there were a few times when I had some difficulty understanding his and the other Gungans’ dialogue.

It may not be perfect, but I cannot deny that I found “THE PHANTOM MENACE” enjoyable as ever. George Lucas wrote a complex, yet comprehensive tale that set in motion the downfall of the Galactic Republic, the Jedi Order and most of the major characters.“THE PHANTOM MENACE” offered a great deal for all ages and tastes. It provided a complex political tale that culminated in an exciting military battle that freed Naboo from the clutches of the Trade Federation. It provided an exciting duel between the two Jedi – Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan – and Sith Lord Darth Sidious’ apprentice, Darth Maul. The movie provided characters such as a nine year-old Anakin Skywalker, his Tatooine friends and Jar-Jar Binks for children. But the one thing that really impressed me was the exciting Boonta Eve Podrace that Anakin participated in order to win parts for Qui-Gon, Padme and their ship. In fact, if I had to choose my favorite sequence in the entire STAR WARS movie saga, it had to be the one featuring the podrace. This sequence began with the Skywalkers, Qui-Gon, Padme and Jar-Jar arriving at the Mos Espa arena and ended aboard the Nabooan starship when Qui-Gon introduced Anakin to Obi-Wan, following his brief duel with Darth Maul.

“THE PHANTOM MENACE” provided some solid acting, despite George Lucas’ cheesy dialogue. This is no surprise, considering that a combination of solid acting and cheesy dialogue has been the hallmark of STAR WARS movies since the first one in 1977. Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson, Ahmed Best, Hugh Quarshie, Terence Stamp, Andrew Secombe and Ray Parks all did solid work. It was nice to hear vocals from STAR WARS veterans Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker. The movie also featured brief moments for British stars such as Keira Knightley, Oliver Ford-Davies, Celia Imrie, Brian Blessed, and Richard Armitage. But there were a few performances that stood out. One came from Ian McDiarmid, who returned to portray Senator Palpatine of Naboo aka Darth Sidious for the second time in his career. Unlike his portrayal of Palpatine in 1983’s“RETURN OF THE JEDI”, his performance was a great deal more subtle and layered with much charm. Jake Lloyd may not have been the best child actor in existence, but I cannot deny that his Anakin Skywalker was like a ball of solar energy that charmed the pants off of me. The good-bye scene between Anakin and his mother, Shmi was one of the most poignant in the saga. Both Lloyd and Pernilla August did such a superb job that their performances brought tears to my eyes. And aside from a few wooden moments, I thought he handled the role rather well. But if I had to choose the best performance in the movie, I would select Liam Neeson as Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. First of all, he did a great job in conveying Qui-Gon’s warmth and appeal. He made it easy for many to see why both Anakin and Obi-Wan viewed him as a father figure.

Since this is a STAR WARS movie, one might as well discuss the technical aspects of “THE PHANTOM MENACE”. Without a doubt, it is a beautiful looking movie. It was so beautiful that I did not know who to single out. But I can think of a few. First of all cinematographer David Tattersall did a beautiful job in photographing the movie’s locations of England, Tunisia and especially Italy. Thanks to Ben Burtt and Paul Martin Smith’s editing, the podrace and the Battle of Naboo proved to be two of the best sequences in the movie. And what can I say about Trisha Biggar’s dazzling costume designs? Just how beautiful are they? Take a look:

 

It seems a crime that Biggar’s work was never acknowledged by the Academy Arts of Motion Pictures and Sciences or the Golden Globes. At least she won a Saturn Award for the costumes in this movie.

However, it was George Lucas who put it altogether in the end. Twenty-two years had passed between the time he directed “A NEW HOPE” and “THE PHANTOM MENACE”. Personally, I thought he did a pretty damn good job. The 1999 movie was not perfect. And if I must be perfectly frank, I was not impressed by the movie’s 3D effects. But I am glad that I went to see “THE PHANTOM MENACE” in the movie theaters again. It reminded me that the STAR WARS saga had not lost its magic on the big screen.

“UNKNOWN” (2011) Review

“UNKNOWN” (2011) Review

I have noticed that during the past few years, Hollywood has released a minor political thriller during the first or second month of a new year. And to my surprise, I discovered that I found all of them quite entertaining. The latest political thriller to hit the movie screens during the winter season is film starring Liam Neeson called “UNKNOWN”

Based upon Didier van Cauwelaert’s 2003 French novel published in English as “Out of My Head”“UNKNOWN” is about an American scientist named Dr. Martin Harris, who arrives in Berlin with his wife, Elizabeth, to attend a science conference held at an upscale hotel. Upon their arrival at the hotel, Dr. Harris discovers that one of his suitcases had been left behind at the airport. While Elizabeth checks into the hotel, Martin hires a taxi to take him back to the airport. Unfortunately, the taxi becomes involved in a serious accident en route, and Martin’s life is saved by the driver. Several days later, Martin wakes up from a coma and returns to the hotel. He discovers that his wife has checked into the hotel with another man assuming his identity. Not only is Martin taken aback by this turn of events, he becomes aware of a mysterious stranger that has made one or two attempts upon his life. Martin recruits the help of the taxi driver, an Eastern European immigrant named Gina; and a former Stasi agent named Ernst Jürgen to help him learn the truth behind the deception being perpetrated with his wife and the man assuming his identity.

I really did not know how I would react to ”UNKNOWN”, when I first saw the trailer. It struck me as one of those movies in which the best parts were featured in the previews. I had also suspected it would be another ”TAKEN” or ”FROM PARIS WITH LOVE”, a lightweight thriller with a great deal of action and a simplified plot. As much as I had liked those two movies, I never really found them that impressive. On the other hand, ”UNKNOWN” seemed to possess more substance as a complex political thriller. The movie had mysteries and plot twists that took me by surprise, before its denouement.

Director Jaume Collet-Serr certainly did justice to Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell’s screenplay. Whether they did justice to the novel is another matter, considering that I have never read it. But ”UNKNOWN” featured exciting and well-dramatized scenes that provided both depth and atmosphere to the movie. One of my favorite scenes featured the recently hospitalized Martin’s attempt to connect with one of the conference’s other scientists, a Professor Bressler. Unfortunately for Martin, the man impersonating him happened to be at Professor Bressler’s laboratory. And both Martin Harrises’ attempts to prove themselves as the real McCoy were both strangely humorous and frustrating . . . at least for Martin and the audience. The meeting between Martin’s longtime colleague, Professor Rodney Cole and Ernst Jürgen, the former Stasi agent, proved to be fascinating and tense, thanks to the first-rate performances by Frank Langella and Bruno Ganz. And Martin’s first attempt to reunite with his wife, Liz, came off as rather creepy, due to both January Jones and Aidan Quinn’s skillful acting.

However, I found myself greatly impressed by Collet-Serr’s direction of two major action scenes. One of those scenes featured the finale in which Martin attempts to prevent an assassination attempt that proved to be one of the plot’s surprising twists. I also enjoyed the action sequence at a Berlin hospital that began with the murder of a nurse and the first attempt on Martin’s life. But I must admit that I believe Collet-Serr did justice to what I consider to be the movie’s best sequence – another murder attempt on Martin’s life at Gina’s apartment that segued into an exciting car chase through Berlin’s streets.

”UNKNOWN” provided some first-rate performances by a cast that included Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz and Frank Langella. Diane Kruger proved to be a surprisingly effective action heroine that racked up a higher body count than the rest of the cast. January Jones gave one of the most enigmatic performances I have ever seen in quite a while. She effectively kept me speculating upon the reasons behind her character’s failure to acknowledge Martin as her husband. However, the movie really belonged to Liam Neeson, whose portrayal of the beleaguered scientist proved to be the movie’s backbone. Neeson perfectly captured all the emotions that his character experienced throughout the story, without missing a beat. My only complaint is that I found his American accent a bit stiff and formal.

I really had no idea on how I would accept ”UNKNOWN”, once I saw it. The only reason I went to see it in the first place was because I had nothing else to do. I am glad that I saw the movie. I enjoyed it so much that I went to see it for a second time. And I enjoyed it even more.

“THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER” (2010) Review

 

“THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER” (2010) Review

Since the last cinematic installment of the ”NARNIA” franchise failed to make as much money as the first film, the Walt Disney Studios decided to end its association with C.S. Lewis’s saga and not continue with a third movie. Twentieth Century Fox came to the rescue and agreed to release the third film, ”THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER”

Directed by Michael Apted, ”THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER” centered around the adventures of the two younger Pevensie siblings – Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) – and their return to Narnia some three years after their adventures in ”PRINCE CASPIAN”. During the last year of World War II, Edmund and Lucy are living with relatives in Cambridge. One of those relations is their obnoxious cousin, Eustace Stubbs (Will Poulter), who accompanies them back to Narnia, when they are pulled into a painting inside his bedroom. The painting turns out to be a portrait of the Dawn Treader, a royal vessel belonging to the now King Caspian X (Ben Barnes). Caspian has been on a three-year voyage in search of the seven Lords of Narnia, whom his uncle Miraz (the villain of”PRINCE CASPIAN”) had banished when he usurped the Narnian throne. Along the way they encounter slave traders, dragons, dwarves, merfolk, a band of lost warriors and a mysterious mist that represents the spirit of Evil, before reaching the edge of the world.

”VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER” proved to be something of a departure from the previous two stories. One, the protagonists spend most of their time aboard a ship, traveling from one location to another. Secondly, only two of the Pevensie siblings are major characters in this tale, Edmund and Lucy. Apparently Peter (William Peter Moseley) and Susan (Popplewell) are traveling in the United States with their parents. However, both appear in a spell sequence in which Lucy images herself with Susan’s looks. Most importantly, the story’s main protagonist is not a certain individual. Instead, Edmund, Lucy, Caspian, Eustace and the crew of the Dawn Treader have to face a mysterious mist that acts more or less as a malignant spirit that influences the darker aspects of their personalities, fears and desires.

I might as well be frank. I am not a major fan of C.S. Lewis’ ”THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA” novels. I never have been a major fan and I doubt that I will ever become one. But I must admit that the last two movies made me appreciate them a lot more than if I had never seen them. I must admit that Walden Media had produced some very entertaining movies. As for ”VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER”, screenwriters Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and Michael Petroni found themselves with a dilemma. Lewis’ third NARNIA story turned out to be a bit disjointed and episodic. The BBC solved this problem by combining both ”VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER” and the fourth novel, ”THE SILVER CHAIR”into one production. Director Michael Apted and the three screenwriters were not that drastic. Instead, they assimilated some elements of the fourth novel (like the Narnians being held hostage by the mist and rescued) into the third movie’s script. Did it work? Perhaps it did not work for some, but it certainly worked for me. As I had earlier pointed out, the story’s main antagonist turned out to be a mysterious green mist that served as a euphemism for the characters’ inner fears, desires and darkness. In this regard, the mist reminded me of the First Evil character from Season Seven of”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. Many movie and television fans may not be that enamored of this type of “villain”, but it did not bother me. I have discovered that the older I get, the more I enjoyed such storylines that provide ambiguous catalysts for the characters’ inner conflicts.

I enjoyed ”VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER” very much. More than I had expected to. I had not expected to enjoy it that much, considering this was the first movie not to feature all four of the Pevensie siblings. If I must be honest, I did not miss Peter and Susan Pevensie. Edmund and Lucy managed to create a tight relationship with King Caspian and later, their cousin Eustace. And one has to give thanks to the solid screen chemistry between Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley, Will Poulter and Ben Barnes. Simon Pegg’s vocal performance as the swashbuckling mouse, Reepicheep added nicely to the mix.

One of the best aspects of ”VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER” was that the movie explored a good deal of the main characters’ personalities – especially their insecurities, fears and desires – due to the effect of the green mist. This gave Skandar Keynes a chance to explore another dark aspect of Edmund Pevensie’s personality – namely his resentment over Caspian’s position as Narnia’s most recent king and his own desire for power. And Keynes proved he had the acting chops to convey this aspect of Edmund’s personality and at the same time, maintain the character’s growing maturity. Georgie Henley proved to be something of a revelation in her portrayal of Lucy Pevensie. She had come a long way from the innocent and friendly young girl in 2005’s ”THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE”. Thanks to the green mist story arc, she made great use of her chance to stretch her acting skills by effectively portraying Lucy’s insecurities regarding her looks and living in the shadow of older sister Susan. Ben Barnes’ portrayal of the now King Caspian X struck me as more mature and solid. Yet, Barnes is also talented enough to convey hints of Caspian’s own insecurities of living up to his father’s name . . . and the reputations of the Pevensies in Narnia. Liam Neeson was as impressive and commanding as ever, while providing the voice for Aslan the Lion. And Simon Pegg was charming and effervescent as the heroic mouse, Reepicheep. I especially enjoyed the scene in which Reepicheep tries to give fencing lessons to a very reluctant Eustace. Speaking of Eustace Scrubb, actor Will Coulter literally stole the movie as Edmund and Lucy’s arrogant and obnoxious cousin. In fact, Coulter’s performance was so impressive that at times, he seemed like a pugnacious adult in a child’s body. The speaking voice he utilized for Eustace struck me as very strange, yet comic. I was not surprised to learn that Coulter managed to earn a nomination as Young Performer of the Year for the 2010 London Film Critics Circle Awards.

If there is one thing about ”VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER” that did not appeal to me was that it had been shot in 3D. I have made it clear in my reviews of ”AVATAR” and ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” that I am not a fan of 3D photography – at least for motion pictures. And if I must be frank, I did not find the 3D effects for this movie particularly impressive. Instead of a headache, I ended up suffering from sinus congestion from wearing eyeglasses and 3D glasses. And as much as I had enjoyed ”VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER”, I really saw no need for it to be shot in 3D. But thanks to cinematographer Dante Spinotti and visual effects supervisors, Angus Bickerton and Jim Rygiel; I must admit that I enjoyed the movie’s beautiful photography and visual effects.

In the end, I enjoyed ”THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER” very much. Despite being shot in 3D, I still managed to enjoy the beautiful photography and visual effects. Screenwriters Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and Michael Petroni managed to take a novel with an episodic storyline and transform it into something more solid. The storyline regarding the green mist (a metaphor for the spirit of Evil) allowed the cast to delve into their characters’ darker impules and desires with great skill. And director Michael Apted managed to put it all together in an entertaining film.

“THE A-TEAM” (2010) Review

“THE A-TEAM” (2010) Review

I might as well lay my cards on the table. Ever since I saw my first episode, I have always been a major fan of the 1983-1987 television series, ”THE A-TEAM”. So, when I had seen the trailer for the movie adaptation of the series, I naturally reacted with pure dismay. 

For me, the movie, ”THE A-TEAM”, represented another endless attempt by Hollywood to create box office gold from an old television series. Mind you, not all of Hollywood’s efforts have been in vain. But judging from what I had seen in the movie trailer, I simply could not see myself enjoying the 2010 movie.

Unlike the television series, ”THE A-TEAM” is more or less an origin tale about how four U.S. Army Special Forces combatants became soldiers of fortune after being convicted for a crime they did not commit. The movie’s first twenty minutes revealed how Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith first created his team during an assignment to lure a reengage Mexican Army officer-turned-drug lord onto U.S. soil or airspace for prosecution. Already working with him is Lieutenant Templeton “Faceman” Peck, who is a prisoner at the general’s ranch. Along the way, Hannibal recruits a recently disgraced ex-Ranger named Bosco “B.A.” Baracus and a mentally volatile Army pilot named Captain H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock to assist him in his assignment and thus, a new Army intelligence unit is born.

The story jumped eight years later where the A-Team find themselves looking forward to being deployed out of Iraq with the rest of the American military personnel. However, a C.I.A. agent named Lynch recruits Hannibal and the Team into retrieving U.S. Treasury plates and manufactured currency from Iraqi insurgents. U.S. Army Captain Charissa Sosa, a former lover of Face’s; and Hannibal’s commanding officer, General Morrison, warns the Team to stay away from the plates and Baghdad. But the Team goes ahead with the “Black Ops” mission and successfully retrieves the plates and the money. Upon their return to base, the shipping container carrying the money and General Morrison’s vehicle are destroyed. And the leader of a private security team named Brock Pike steals the plates. With General Morrison dead, there is no one to inform Army authorities that they had been authorized to act. The Team is sentenced to ten years in prison.

Try as I may, I cannot recall one specific episode of the television series. I can remember certain moments and many interactions between the B.A. and Murdock characters; but I cannot recall a specific episode. This should not be that surprising to me. The writing for the television series had never been that impressive. The main characters and the action, after all, drew me to the series; not the writing. I do believe that screenwriters Joe Carnahan (who also directed), Brian Bloom and Skip Woods created a slightly better story than anything the series had ever been able to produce. But I would not exactly call the screenplay unique or mind blowing.

The gist of the story mainly focused upon the Team’s efforts to find Pike and the Treasury plates in order to clear their names. Mind you, I found the circumstances leading up to the Team’s arrest rather confusing. After all, they did return to base after completing their mission, instead of disappearing from Iraq. With Pike gone with the plates, why prosecute the Team for the crime? And what crime was they accused of committing? The theft of the missing plates? Or killing Morrison? Once the movie shifted toward their escape from prison and efforts to find the plates and Pike, it shifted back upon solid ground. The movie also featured some pretty fantastic stunts that would have made the television series proud. But the pièce de résistance centered upon a sequence in which the Team finally get their hands on the plates from a high-rise bank in Germany. The movie also featured a hilarious moment in which Face discovered that he had given both B.A. and Murdock the wrong passports at a German airport. The finale at the Port of Los Angeles strongly reminded me of the finale featured in the recent movie, ”THE LOSERS”. I wonder who came up with the idea first.

As I had earlier stated, there were two aspects of the television series that made it memorable for me – the action sequences and the characters. This new movie certainly DID NOT disappoint that regard. Liam Neeson, last seen in the 2009 action movie, ”TAKEN”, assumed George Peppard’s role of Hannibal Smith. And he did a fine job. Mind you, his Hannibal did not seem to have much of a sense of humor – especially where Face was concerned. But he obviously drew his experience from previous action films to project the aura of a strong and wily leader. I only have two complaints about Neeson’s performance – his American accent seemed shaky and he should stay away from cigars. Bradley Cooper gave a verbose performance as the Team’s smooth-talking ladies’ man, Face. Like Dirk Benedict before him, he was attractive and witty. Yet, the screenwriters took his character one step further by allowing his Face to show his potential as a schemer on the same level as Hannibal.

My dismay at the trailer for ”THE A-TEAM” extended to the idea of Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson portraying the memorable B.A. Baracus. He seemed a far cry from Mr. T’s performance in the television series. Thankfully, my fears came to nothing. Although Jackson’s performance was not an exact replica of Mr. T’s, he made a great B.A. and he put his own twist to the character with the help of director Joe Carnahan and the three screenwriters. Actually, his B.A. seemed to have a little more depth and for some reason, I cannot see Mr. T pulling this off. No none was more surprised than me to discover that the same Sharlto Copely who portrayed “Howling Mad” Murdock is the same actor who portrayed the lead in last year’s ”DISTRICT 9”. I knew the guy was not a Southerner. His accent seemed a bit heavy a times. But I had no idea that “crazy” Murdock was portrayed by the South African actor. But I must admit that he was hilarious in the role. Hell, he was just as funny as Dwight Schultz. His interactions with both Cooper and especially Jackson were spot on.

Fortunately for ”THE A-TEAM”, its supporting cast was just as strong. Jessica Biel gave a strong performance as the righteous and determined Captain Charissa Sosa, who is assigned to hunt down both the Team and the Treasury plates. One particular scene also proved that she had great chemistry with Cooper. Gerald McRaney gave a solid cameo performance as Hannibal’s friend and commanding officer, General Morrison. Brian Bloom (one of the screenwriters) was suitably conniving and intimidating as the Black Forest private mercenary. However, there were moments when his performance came off as a bit over-the-top. But the man who really surprised me was Patrick Wilson. Aside from his performance as the uptight William Travis in 2004’s ”THE ALAMO”, he never struck me as an interesting actor. Until I saw him in ”THE A-TEAM”. He was hilarious and despicable as the smug and self-absorbed C.I.A. agent, Lynch. Not only was his performance a revelation, his Lynch seemed to be the most interesting role he has ever portrayed.

If anyone is expecting ”THE A-TEAM” to be a mind-blowing experience, he or she will be disappointed. Superficially, the movie struck me as a typical action movie. I must admit that it does contain some pretty interesting action sequences. If there is one true virtue that the movie possesses, it is its cast. They were superb – especially the main four actors who portray the soldiers of fortune, the A-Team. Between Carnahan’s direction of the action sequences and the performances of Neeson, Cooper, Jackson and Copley; they made this cinematic version of ”THE A-TEAM” to be one of the most fun movies I have experienced last summer.

“BATMAN BEGINS” (2005) Review

”BATMAN BEGINS” (2005) Review

When Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the BATMAN franchise first made its debut during the summer of 2005, many critics and moviegoers hailed it as the second coming. They also viewed it as a vast improvement over the four films released between 1989 and 1997. Since then, ”BATMAN BEGINS” has been overshadowed by its 2008 sequel, ”THE DARK KNIGHT”. After a recent viewing of the 2005 movie, I must admit that I have a deeper attachment for it. 

”BATMAN BEGINS” was basically an origin tale about the scion of a wealthy Gotham City family, who endured a personal tragedy before become a costumed vigilante. The movie began in a Chinese person where Bruce Wayne was serving time for robbery. A mysterious man named Henri Ducard offered to arrange for Bruce’s freedom if the latter would consider joining his organization called the League of Shadows. Once Bruce began his training under Ducard’s tutelage, flashbacks revealed his childhood; his friendship with Rachel Dawes, the daughter of a family servant; his parents’ tragic deaths; and the murder of their killer. Once Bruce’s training ended, Ducard and the League’s head – Ra’s al Ghul – ordered the Gotham City native to execute a murderer they had captured. They also revealed their intent to destroy Gotham City, due to its growing corruption. Unwilling to become an executioner and appalled by the League’s plans for Gotham, Bruce began a fight that led to the Temple’s destruction. After Bruce saved Ducard’s life, he returned to Gotham City to commence his life as the vigilante, the Batman.

Aside from a few minor problems that I will discuss later, I must admit that after four-and-a-half years, I enjoyed”BATMAN BEGINS” more than ever. One, I thought that Christopher Nolan and fellow screenwriter David S. Goyer did an exceptional job in revealing Bruce Wayne’s childhood and the circumstances that led him to China in flashbacks. Very exceptional. Also, through Bruce Wayne/the Batman, Henri Ducard and other characters, the screenwriters managed to convey the pitfalls of vigilantism. Considering the movie’s title, I thought Nolan and Goyer also did an excellent job in presenting a examination of the main character.

Speaking of the main character, Christian Bale earned a well deserved Saturn Award for his portrayal of Bruce Wayne/the Batman. I only wish that Bale could have received a Golden Globe or Academy Award nomination, as well. He did a superb job of capturing all of the nuances of Bruce’s personality. Even more impressive was the way he developed the character from an immature and vengeful twenty-something young man to the somewhat more wiser thirty-something man who had learned to restrain himself from allowing his penchant for vigilantism to spiral out of control. Unless Nolan used a stunt man for Bruce/Batman’s action scenes, I thought that Bale managed to handle the action – especially the fight scenes – very well. Was this his first time in dealing with heavy action sequences? Someone please let me know.

I must admit that I have been a fan of Liam Neeson for a long time, admiring his array of performances that included a randy Irish ghost, a Jedi Master, the ambiguous Oskar Schindler and a determined ex-CIA agent searching for his kidnapped daughter. I cannot honestly say that his best role was Henri Ducard, Bruce Wayne’s mentor. But I would probably view it as one of his better roles. Most people have compared his Ducard to his performance as Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn in ”STAR WARS: The Phantom Menace”. Perhaps. However, I saw major differences in the two roles. Ducard turned out to be a darker character, who despite his words of wisdom, was unable to let go of his past tragedy. Instead, he used it to inflict his desire to punish the guilty and the corrupt through some of the most Draconian means possible. Neeson did a beautiful job in capturing not only Ducard’s wisdom, but also his subtle, yet psychotic personality. In some ways, his Ducard was a lot scarier than the Joker in”THE DARK KNIGHT”. Only, his villainy was not as colorful. And like Bale, he had earned a Saturn Award nomination. Only he lost to Mickey Rourke (”SIN CITY”). Hmmmm.

On the other hand, Katie Holmes was given a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for Worst Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Bruce’s childhood friend and Gotham’s crusading Assistant District Attorney, Rachel Dawes. And for the likes of me, I do NOT understand why. I found nothing wrong with her performance. I thought she did a splendid job portraying Rachel as Bruce and Gotham City’s moral center. I especially enjoyed her scenes with not only Bale, but also her confrontations with Cillian Murphy’s Dr. Jonathan Crane/the Scarecrow. Many have praised Maggie Gyllanhaal’s portrayal of Rachel in ”THE DARK KNIGHT’. Personally? I think that Holmes was lucky not to appear in the 2008 film. At least her Rachel Dawes had not been written as a mere object of desire and a barely irrelevant character.

Speaking of Cillian Murphy, I truly enjoyed his performance as Dr. Jonathan Crane, the cold-blooded and manipulative city psychiatrist who became arch villain, the Scarecrow. He did an excellent job in conveying the character’s subtle villainy and sardonic wit. Another villain that possessed the same wit turned out to be Gotham City’s crime boss, Carmine Falcone. Although Tom Wilkinson portrayed the character with a good deal of wit and verve, it seemed a pity that his performance was nearly ruined by a questionable American accent seemed like a bad parody of a old Warner Brothers gangster character. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman portrayed mentors and allies for Bruce Wayne/the Batman – faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth, Wayne Enterprises executive Lucius Fox and police sergeant Jim Gordon, respectively. And they all did solid jobs; especially Caine, whose wisdom and concern for his employer’s personal life allowed him to be Bruce’s true mentor.

Linus Roache portrayed Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s doomed father. He gave a solid performance, but I found his American accent rather questionable. And I also had other problems with Bruce’s parents. One, they seemed impossibly good – almost pure. And I found that aspect of their portrayal a bore. Two, Thomas and Martha Wayne must have also been incredibly stupid. The Wayne family went to the opera via public transportation. Okay, perhaps I can excuse that on the grounds that perhaps they could not afford a limousine or wanted to save gas. But when Bruce wanted to leave the opera early, they left the theater through the goddamn back door. No wonder that thug, Joe Chill, was able to accost them so easily.

Speaking of problems, I have a few more regarding ”BATMAN BEGINS”. One, I hate the growl that Bale had used, while portraying the Batman. There were times when I found Bale slightly coherent and I also found it unnecessary and annoying. Two, I have a problem with Ra’s al Ghul, the so-called leader of the League of Shadows whom Bruce had killed in Tibet (or China). Apparently, the Gotham City native had killed a psychic manifestation of Ducard’s mind. How Ducard managed to create this manifestation and how Bruce managed to kill it were plot points that Nolan and Goyer failed to explain.

When all is said and done, I must admit that I really enjoyed ”BATMAN BEGINS”. Personally, I feel that Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer had written a better movie than ”THE DARK KNIGHT”, despite its flaws. The movie not only featured excellent direction from Nolan and an interesting score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, it also had top-notch performances from Christian Bale, Liam Neeson and the rest of the cast . . . even those with questionable American accents. In fact, I would go as far to say that I consider it to be one of my favorite comic book movie ever made.