“X-MEN” Movies Ranking

franchise

Below is my ranking of the movies I have seen from the “X-MEN” film franchise.  Warning: many may not agree with it:

“X-MEN” MOVIES RANKING

x2 - x-men 2

1. “X2: X-Men United” (2003) – Bryan Singer directed this film about Army colonel William Stryker’s plans to use Professor Charles Xavier to destroy the world’s mutant population once and for all. As you can see, this is my favorite in the franchise.

x-men-first-class

3. “X-Men: First-Class” (2011) – Matthew Vaughn directed this tale set in 1962 about the first meeting between Charles Xavier “Professor X” and Erik Lensherr “Magneto”, their creation of the X-Men and their efforts to prevent mutant villain Sebastian Shaw from using the Cuban Missile Crisis to acquire world domination. Despite the questionable costumes and a few plot holes, this was a big favorite of mine.

x-men 3 the last stand

3. “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006) – Brett Ratner directed this tale about the X-Men overcoming tragedy to deal with the resurrected and more powerful Jean Grey and Magneto’s continuing war on non-mutant humans. Many fans hated this film. I enjoyed it, although I found the pacing a bit too rushed. Enough said.

x-men-origins-wolverine-team

4. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009) – Gavin Hood directed this movie about the origins of James Howlett aka the Wolverine and his relationship with his murderous half-brother Victor Creed aka Sabertooth and his first class with William Stryker in the 1970s. Another movie hated by the fans. And again, I enjoyed it, although I consider it lesser than the 2006 movie.

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past

5. “X-Men: Days of Future Days” (2014) – Directed by Bryan Singer, this movie is a time-travel adventure for Wolverine, who must convince a younger Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr to prevent Mystique from murdering a anti-mutant scientist, whose work will prove deadly for mutants within a half century. Great premise, but shaky execution. Too many plot holes, but still enjoyable.

the wolverine

6. “The Wolverine” (2013) – James Mangold directed this atmospheric tale about Wolverine, still grieving over a recent tragedy, traveling to Japan to meet the Wolverine heading to Japan for a reunion with a soldier named Ichirō Yashida whose life he saved during the Nagasaki bombing at the end of World War II. He ends up defending Yashida’s granddaughter from the Yakuza and her avaricious father. Great Japanese atmosphere and interesting beginning, but it nearly fell to pieces in the last half hour.

x-men

7. “X-Men” (2000) – Bryan Singer directed this first movie in the franchise about Wolverine and a young Marie aka “Rogue”’s introduction to the X-Men and their efforts to defeat Magneto’s plans to transform the entire population into mutants against their will. Enjoyable, but it felt like a B-movie trying to disguise itself as an A-lister. Also, too many plot holes.

c9396318451fbef4ee2c168810c5f4fa

8. “Deadpool” (2016) – Ryan Reynolds starred in this reboot of the Deadpool character about the comic book hero’s origins and his hunt for the man who gave him an accelerated healing factor, but also a scarred physical appearance. Despite the sharp humor and fourth wall cinematic device, the narrative struck me as sloppily written and mediocre.

Advertisements

“X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” (2011) Review

 

“X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” (2011) Review

Recently, I came across a comment that the last “X-MEN” movie, 2009’s “X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE”, had been a failure. I found this opinion surprising, considering that it actually made a profit at the box office. Failure or not, Marvel Studios decided to continue the movie franchise with a fifth entry called “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS”

Directed by Matthew Vaughn, “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” is, like the 2009 movie, another origins tale. Only it traced the beginnings of the two friends-turned-adversaries, Charles “Professor X” Xavier and Erik “Magneto” Lensherr. The movie began in a scene straight out of 2000’s “X-MEN” – at a concentration camp in 1944 Poland. While young Erik Lensherr was being separated from his parents by Nazi guards, he displayed an ability for magnetism manipulation by tearing at one of the camp’s gates. This ability attracted the attention of the camp’s scientist, Dr. Klaus Schmidt, who tried to coerce Erik into using his ability again by threatening his mother with death. Unfortunately, Erik failed and Dr. Schmidt killed Mrs. Lensherr. At an estate in Westchester, New York of the same year, young Charles Xavier awakened from a deep sleep by a noise from the kitchen. He investigated and found his mother searching for something to eat. However, being a telepath, Charles was able to discover that he was facing a stranger. The stranger turned out to be a young, blue-skinned shapeshifter named Raven “Mystique” Darkhölme. Charles invited the young stranger to stay at the Xavier mansion and the two became close friends.

“X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” jumped another eighteen years forward to 1962. Charles Xavier has become an instructor on genetics at Oxford University. Raven has remained his close companion in a sibling-like capacity. Erik Lensherr has spent the last decade or so, hunting down Nazis that escaped prosecution by the Allies – especially those who had served at the concentration camp where he had been imprisoned. He has especially become interested in finding and killing Dr. Schmidt out of revenge for his mother’s death. The story shifted to Las Vegas, Nevada; where one Moira MacTaggart and other CIA agents are investigating the Hellfire Club, a social organization led by Sebastian Shaw (aka Dr. Schmidt). After infiltrating the club as an “escort”, Moira discovered that Shaw and his mutant followers – Emma Frost, Azazel, and Riptide – are intimidating a high ranking Army officer into relocating military missiles to Turkey. Moira sought help from Charles and Raven to provide information to her CIA bosses about mutants. They also met Erik, during a trip to Miami to track down Shaw. After preventing Erik from drowning during an attempt to kill Shaw, Charles became close friends with the Holocaust survivor; as they work with Moira and the CIA to bring down Shaw.

Personally, I do not believe that “X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE” deserved its low reputation. I thought it was a pretty damn good movie – not perfect, but entertaining. However, I do believe I could say the same about “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS”. I would add that it might be better than the 2009 film. Despite its flaws. In fact, “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” turned out to be a cleverly written movie that managed to weave two historical events – the Holocaust and the Cuban Missile Crisis – into its plot. Director Matthew Vaughn did an excellent job in maintaining an even pace for a movie not only filled with exciting and occasionally exaggerated action sequences and dramatic scenes. But aside from the director, the movie’s main virtue proved to be its first-rate cast.

Someone once pointed out that the X-MEN movie franchise did an excellent job of using the topic of “mutation” or psychic abilities to reflect upon the themes of bigotry and tolerance in our society. This theme became even more relevant, considering the movie’s setting of 1962 – a period that reflected the height of the Civil Rights Movement. I can go further and commend screenwriters Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Vaughn for daring to explore all aspects of the bigotry experienced and engaged by the characters.

Some of the movie’s main characters experienced intolerance at the hands of others. Holocaust survivor Erik Lensherr not only suffered under the Nazi regime as a Jew, but also endured the U.S. government’s (in the form of C.I.A. officials) wariness and contempt toward mutants, as did fellow mutants such as Charles Xavier, Raven Darkhölme, Hank McCoy and the group of young mutants they had recruited. C.I.A. officials Director McCone and William Stryker Sr. (father of the villain from the second and fourth movies) were ready to imprison Charles and Raven upon discovering their mutations. Fortunately, one C.I.A. man in particular – the nameless Man in Black – prevented this from happening. The script also focused upon the two mutants regarded as “odd men out” because their mutations were reflected physically. Raven’s natural blue skin led her to maintain a “human” form that allowed her to blend with other humans and mutants. And C.I.A. scientist who constantly wore shoes to hide his mutation – animal-like feet. Their desperation to blend with the others on a regular basis led Hand to create a formula that eventually backfired.

Finally, the movie also focused on those mutants that viewed their mutation as signs of their superiority over non-mutant humans. Characters such as villain Sebastian Shaw and his Hellfire Club followers, and eventually Erik and Raven allowed their dislike toward humans to manifest into a bigotry that encouraged them to engage in plots of genocide that made the Nazis, North Americans of the 18th and 19th centuries and other bigoted societies look like amateurs. One such plot served as the background of “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS”. The movie revolved around Sebastian Shaw’s efforts to use his connections to the U.S. and Soviet military to start a third world war between the superpowers. Such a war would bring humanity to the brink of extinction, allowing mutants (with Shaw as the leader) to dominate the world. This plot eventually resulted in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The producers of “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” chose the right actors to portray the younger versions of Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr. James McAvoy perfectly captured all of Charles’ intelligence, talent for leadership and subtle wit. He also delved deeper into the character’s idealism and occasional naivety. And McAvoy gave audiences an audacious peek into Charles’ penchant for little seduction with pick-up lines that were both charming and wince-inducing. Michael Fassbender portrayed all of the intensity and anger of the vengeance-seeking Erik Lensherr. Every once in a while, an actor comes along with the ability to perfectly walk the fine line between heroism and villainy. Fassbender certainly achieved this in his portrayal of Erik. And looking at the screen chemistry between McAvoy and Fassbender, it seemed a pity that they had never shared a scene when they appeared in the 2001 miniseries, “BAND OF BROTHERS”. Because they were dynamite together.

The supporting cast also proved to be top-notch. The X-MEN movieverse has always provided first-rate villains. Kevin Bacon’s portrayal of the villainous Sebastian Shaw/Dr. Schmidt was no exception. If I must be honest, his Shaw may prove to be my favorite “X-MEN” villain. Aside from intelligence, wit and a taste for grandiose plotting and gadgets that rivaled a Bond villain, Bacon injected a joie de vivre into Shaw’s character that I found very entertaining. Some critics and fans have criticized January Jones’ portrayal of Shaw’s consort, Emma Frost, accusing her of being “wooden”. I am sorry, but I do not agree with this opinion. Yes, Jones portrayed Emma as Miss ‘Cool Hand Luke’. But she also did a first rate job of conveying the character’s strong attraction to Shaw and dislike of his occasional sexist attitudes. And thanks to her subtle comic timing, she provided the movie’s funniest moment in a scene that featured Emma having ‘telepathic’ sex with a Soviet general. Her reaction to being caught had me laughing in the aisle. Instead of Rebecca Romijn, the film’s producers chose Jennifer Lawrence to portray the younger Raven Darkhölme aka Mystique. And I thought she did a pretty damn good job. I have nothing against Romijn’s portrayal of Mystique, but I believe that Lawrence was given a better opportunity for a deeper exploration of the character . . . and she made the best of it. The movie also featured fine support from the likes of Rose Byrne as C.I.A. agent and ally Moira MacTaggart, Nicholas Hoult as the young Hank McCoy, Jason Flemyng as the frightening teleporter Azazel, Oliver Platt as the C.I.A. ‘Man in Black’, and Zoë Kravitz’s subtle and passionate performance as mutant Angel Salvadore.

As I had earlier hinted, “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” is not perfect. I believe it has two major flaws that prevented it from potentially becoming the best film in the franchise. The movie’s biggest flaw proved to be its lack of continuity with the other four films. “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” included the beginning of Charles Xavier’s paralysis and the end of his partnership with Erik Lensherr. Yet, Charles was still walking and working with Erik in a flashback set around the beginning of the 1980s in 2006’s “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND”. I am aware that Raven’s cells allowed her to mature very slowly. But did the same happen to Dr. Hank McCoy? He was in his early-to-mid 20s in “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS”. Yet, he looked somewhere in his 40s in the third “X-MEN”, which was set some 40 years later. And the Emma Frost portrayed by actress Tahyna Tozzi in “X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE” looked at least five to ten years younger than January Jones’ Emma in this latest film. And “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” is supposed to be set 17 years before the 2009 film. Charles began his school for young mutants in this movie. However, he told Wolverine in 2000’s “X-MEN” that Scott “Cyclops” Summers and Jean Grey were his first students. They are no where to be seen and quite frankly, I could have done without this early edition of the Xavier School of Mutants. I found it annoying.

Another major problem proved to be the film’s costumes – especially for women. The movie is set mainly in 1962. Yet, Sammy Sheldon’s costumes reflected the late 1960s, not the early years of that decade. Just to prove my point, look at the following photographs:

1962 Fashions For Women

January Jones in “MAD MEN” Season Two (set in 1962)

January Jones in “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” (set in 1962)

In fact, the costumes and hairstyles for other female characters DO NOT reflect the year 1962, as well:

 

Both actresses Rose Byrne and Zoë Kravitz are wearing knee-high boots, which WERE NOT in fashion in 1962.

Yes, “X-MEN: FIRST-CLASS” had some major flaws. But I cannot deny that I still managed to enjoy the movie very much. Screenwriters Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn wrote a flawed, but very entertaining and epic story. The movie also boasted first-rate performances from a cast led by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. And Vaughn brought all of these factors together with some fine direction. “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” has made me an even bigger fan of the franchise and I would heartily recommend it for anyone’s viewing pleasure.

“CASINO ROYALE” (2006) Review

“CASINO ROYALE” (2006) Review

Before watching my DVD copy of 2006’s ”CASINO ROYALE” for the umpteenth time, I had assumed that my initial enthusiasm toward the 21st James Bond thriller would dim with time. After all, I had been viewing my copies of the previous 20 Bond films over the past five months. I felt certain that I would have enough of the fictional British Secret Service agent. Needless to say, my assumptions proved to be wrong. I managed to enjoy ”CASINO ROYALE” more than ever. It has become firmly entrenched as my second favorite Bond movie of all time, following 1969’s ”ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”

Performances

From the black-and-white opening shot of MI-6 Section Chief Dryden arriving at his office in Prague to a snappily dressed Bond standing menacingly over his wounded prey, ”CASINO ROYALE” rose the Bond franchise to a new level that I hope would remain for years to come. Barbara Broccoli had certainly known what she was doing when she suggested that EON Productions cast British independent actor, Daniel Craig, as the new James Bond. I believe that his gritty performance contributed greatly to the movie’s success and a change in the franchise’s style. From the beginning, Craig proved that he could portray James Bond just as ruthless as any other 00 agent, despite his new promotion. This sixth Bond also seemed to possess a more complex personality than his predecessors – an emotional and angry man who hides his feelings and ego behind a cold façade.

An egotistical James Bond is nothing new to the franchise. Each actor has managed to convey his own take on Bond’s fragile ego. In Craig’s case, his Bond is a man who lost his parents at a young age – eleven to be exact. Because of this tragedy, he was raised by his paternal aunt and became the protégé of a wealthy aristocrat who introduced him to a more exclusive lifestyle. This included four years at Oxford where he had to endure the slight snubs of fellow students from a higher class. Even Vesper Lynd, the Treasury agent with whom he would eventually fall in love, not only managed to guess this aspect of Bond’s background, she also detected that the manner in which he wore his suit hinted that deep down, he harbored contempt . . . and possibly resentment of his aristocratic classmates. This anger and resentment toward the more privileged seemed very apparent in a scene in which a German guest at the Bahamian resort he was staying had mistaken him for a valet. Although Bond took the opportunity to use this case of mistaken identity to create a distraction in order to break into the hotel’s security office, the manner in which he crashed the German’s Land Rover and tossed the keys aside told me that perhaps he felt some kind of resentment toward the man’s arrogant assumption about him. And yet . . . Craig managed to convey this mixture of professional opportunism and resentment in a very subtle manner.

Subtlety seemed to be the hallmark of Craig’s performance. For a man who returned a gritty and emotional element to the James Bond character, he did so in a manner that seemed to hint very little effort. An excellent example would be a scene in Venice in which Bond discovers for the first time that Vesper may have betrayed him. The scene began with Bond looking out at the Venetian scene from his hotel balcony, wearing a rather happy and satisfied expression. Within a space of a minute or two his happy expression transformed into confusion upon receiving a telephone call from M . . . and eventually, anger and a sense of betrayal after M had informed him that Vesper had failed to deposit the Casino Royale winnings into the Treasury’s account. All of this within a space of one minute or less. I felt so impressed by this brief performance that I had to rewind the scene just to watch it again.

Another aspect of Bond’s character that Craig had conveyed so well, was this belief that he could rise above his messy human emotions and any kind of romantic attachments to be the ”blunt instrument” that he believed M required of him. In the end, the enigmatic Vesper Lynd proved him wrong. Being the consummate actor, Craig had no problems capturing the wide range of emotions experienced by Bond during the entire story – whether those emotions dealt with his work, and his relationships and interactions with Vesper, M and other characters. To this day, I am still annoyed that the Academy Awards members were too snobbish to nominate Craig as Best Actor for his performance in this movie. So what if James Bond was nothing more than a pop culture character? If Al Pacino could receive a nomination for portraying a comic book character (Big Boy Caprice) in the 1990 film ”DICK TRACY”, I see no reason why Craig could have received a nomination for what I feel was the best performance by any actor who has ever portrayed James Bond.

From what I have read in old press releases, it took EON Productions quite a while to find the right leading actress to portray Treasury agent, Vesper Lynd. In fact, the French/Swedish actress, Eva Green, did not join the cast until after the film’s production had began. The wait seemed worth the effort. Green seemed to have perfectly embodied the sharp-tongued, reserved, and very enigmatic Vesper Lynd. Thanks to her performance, it was easy to see how someone like Vesper managed to have such an impact upon Bond’s life . . . and his heart. Like many other Bond fans, I had always viewed Diana Rigg of ”OHMSS” as the ultimate Bond leading lady. Not anymore. After viewing Green’s performance in”CASINO ROYALE”, I just might reconsider this opinion. Tracy Di Vicenzo struck me as a woman who had spent a privileged, yet lonely existence, capped by an unhappy marriage that ended in tragedy. Vesper, on the other hand, struck me as slightly more complex. Like Bond, she must have spent many years as an orphan with a chip on her shoulder.

Whereas Bond’s resentment seemed to have originated from his social origins, Vesper’s resentment came from her intelligence being disregarded, due to her gender. Although more reserved than the British agent, Bond may have guessed correctly that she had to struggle to overcome the negative opinions of others, while resenting them at the same time. And like Bond, she took great pains to project a nonchalant façade. When Vesper finally stopped fighting her feelings regarding Bond, Green had the double task of portraying a lovelorn woman harboring a dark secret from the man she loved. Not only did Green managed to achieve this goal, she captured the many nuances of what I believe has turned out to be the most complex Bond female character in the franchise’s history.

Portrayed by Danish actor Mads Mikelsen, the villain Le Chiffre might not be as ”unique” as many Bond fans perceive him to be. Le Chiffre was not the first Bond villain to be portrayed as a subtle individual. He was not the first villain whose objective did not include either world domination or worldwide extortion of the super powers. He was not the first villain to answer to a higher authority. Nor was he the first villain to be killed by someone other than Bond. So what made Le Chiffre unique? The blood that came from his left eye’s tear duct? His penchant for poker and mathematics? Or the fact that he seemed to share Bond’s own ruthlessness, impatience and arrogance? Or was it simply Mikelsen’s superb performance that allowed Le Chiffre to be villainous and yet, very human?

In the end, I realized that what Mikelsen’s Le Chiffre unique to me was his very human persona. The Danish actor had portrayed Le Chiffre with an icy exterior that made him believable as a talented poker player. But he also expressed human traits such as boldness and arrogance – traits that eventually got the best of him. In fact, those very traits had led to a major terrorist scheme funded by his clients’ money. The scheme’s failure – thanks to Bond – eventually landed Le Chiffre in hot with his clients . . . and his employers.

Not only did ”CASINO ROYALE” seemed blessed by its three very talented leads, it had the good fortune to possess a first-class supporting cast. Leading the pack was Academy Award winner, Dame Judi Dench as “M”, Bond’s MI-6 superior. It seemed rather odd for the producers to allow Dame Judi to continue the role of “M”, considering that Craig’s tenure is supposed to be a trip back to Bond’s early years as a “00” agent. The producers felt the same, but they simply did not have the heart to find someone to replace the dynamic dame. Quite frankly, I am glad they kept her. During the Brosnan Era, Dench’s “M” had been the ”Evil Queen of Numbers”, a former government accountant/intelligence analyst bent upon proving to Whitehall and other colleagues that she possessed the “balls” to lead MI-6. In ”CASINO ROYALE”, Dench’s “M” proved to be a different kettle of fish. With Daniel Craig as Bond, Dench became an experienced spymaster forced to guide the newly promoted Bond into becoming the great “00” agent she obviously feel he has the potential to be. Instead of the cool and analytical boss she had been with Brosnan, Dench’s M seemed slightly warmer and more maternal toward the agent. And for the first time, I found myself actually liking Dench as the head of MI-6.

Jeffrey Wright became the seventh actor to portray CIA agent Felix Leiter in the series of Bond movies produced by EON Productions. Like Jack Lord in ”DR. NO” (1962) and David Hedison in ”LIVE AND LET DIE” (1973) and ”LICENSE TO KILL” (1989), Wright’s Leiter is portrayed as a fellow intelligence colleague, instead of a slightly less intelligent lackey providing backup and information for Bond. Actually, Wright seemed just as cool as Lord . . . and as witty as Hedison. In”CASINO ROYALE”, Leiter is another player who takes part in Le Chiffre’s poker tournament in Montenegro. Although not as accomplished as Bond or Le Chiffre at poker, Leiter managed to remain in the tournament until the second night. And he also prevented Bond from committing a major error and provided much needed cash to defeat Le Chiffre. I especially enjoyed his little comment regarding Le Chiffre’s impatience toward those players ordering Bond’s favorite Vodka Martini. It seemed a shame that Wright was only featured in the film’s Montenegro sequences. But when I think about it, I could not see how Leiter’s presence would be needed in the rest of the story.

What can anyone say about Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini? I must be honest. I had not been much of a fan of his before”CASINO ROYALE”. In fact, I had only seen him in three productions – the 1985 miniseries ”SINS” (starring Joan Collins and Bond alumni Timothy Dalton) and the 1995 Keanu Reeves movie, ”A WALK IN THE CLOUDS” and the 2004 Denzel Washington movie, ”MAN ON FIRE”. I found his acting slightly over-the-top in the first two movies and barely noticed him in the third. But in ”CASINO ROYALE”, it was not hard to miss him. Not at all. And I am being very complimentary. Giannini portrayed MI-6 agent, Rene Mathis as a charming, witty, intelligent and very clever man. Most importantly, he seemed to have a sly sense of humor that I found absolutely delicious. I loved the sly way in which he had flirted with Vesper. And I loved his probing of Bond’s feelings for the accountant and the way he seemed to enjoy making trouble for Le Chiffre’s men. I may not have been a fan of Giannini in the past, but I am now.

The more I think about ”CASINO ROYALE”, the more I am amazed over the talented cast that Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson managed to gather. For example, the movie has Simon Abkarian and Caterina Murino portrayed the unhappily married couple – terrorist middleman Alex Dimitrios and his wife Solange. Despite their brief screen time, both Abkarian and Murino managed to convincingly portray a wealthy couple whose marriage had seen better days, long ago. Abkarian portrayed Dimitrios as a slightly charming, yet intelligent man incapable of expressing love for his wife or reigning in his arrogance. The combination of this lack of affection and arrogance seemed prominent during his poker match with Bond at the One & Only Ocean Club gaming room. This arrogance seemed even more prominent in his confrontation with Le Chiffre, in which he refused to take the blame for Mollaka’s death in Madagascar. But it was Caterina Murino’s performance as Dimitrios’ wife, Solange, that really impressed me. Her pained reaction to Dimitrios’ cold indifference made it easy to understand why she had eventually turned to Bond for a little romance. Many critics and fans either tend to dismiss Solange as another Bond sexpot or ignore her altogether. I, on the other hand, found Murino’s performance to be earthy, intelligent and yet poignant. And although Solange had turned to Bond for a little solace, she is intelligent to realize that her husband is a man who cannot be trusted. Even more interesting, she quickly pinpointed Bond as a man who becomes involved in married women in order to avoid emotional entanglements.

Despite being a minor villain that only appeared near the movie’s beginning and halfway into the film, the Ugandan warlord and high-ranking member of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Steven Obanno, ended up providing a major impact upon Bond and Vesper’s relationship . . . and Le Chiffre’s desire to win the poker tournament. Ivory Coast actor Isaach De Bankolé portrayed Obanno – as a ruthless and intelligent man whom anyone with good sense would not cross. Something that Le Chiffre managed to do. During his brief screen time, De Bankolé managed to convey an intimidating presence. I also have to give kudos to him, Craig and director Martin Campbell for providing one of the most brutal and memorable fights in the franchise’s history.

Another villainous character appeared in the form of Danish actor Jesper Christensen. He portrayed Mr. White, the mysterious middleman of a terrorist organization that operates as a sort of asset management of terrorism. Like De Bankolé, Christensen only appeared in a few scenes. Yet, he also managed to convey both danger and intelligence. And when he walked away with the money won at Casino Royale, while Bond grieved over Vesper’s dead body in Venice, the audience is left with the sense that for the second time in the franchise’s history (the first time occurred in ”ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE’s final scene), the bad guy had won. Until the final scene.

Last but not least, there was Sebastien Foucan. Co-founder of the a new sport/art form called Parkour, Foucan portrayed a freelance bomb maker named Mollaka who had attracted the attention of MI-6. I will discuss the foot chase that dominated Foucan’s scenes later. But I do want to point out that ”CASINO ROYALE” marked Foucan’s debut as an actor. He barely had much to say. In fact, he did not speak a word. But not only did Foucan display his remarkable skills in Parkour, he also managed to effectively convey his character’s fear, anger and desperation while trying to elude the relentless Bond. It looks as if those brief acting lessons he had acquired from Daniel Craig actually worked.

Plot

There are only two James Bond films within the entire franchise that do not begin in the following manner – gun barrel opening followed by the pre-title sequence. Those two films happen to be 1962’s ”DR. NO” and ”CASINO ROYALE””DR. NO” had began with a gun barrel sequence, followed by the opening titles and the story. Although ”CASINO ROYALE”consisted of both the gun barrel and the pre-title sequences, the movie began with the pre-title sequence, shot in bleak black-and-white. In the pre-title sequence, reminiscent of a film noir movie, the audience learn how James Bond earned his ”Double-0” license. Even more unusual, Bond’s killing of his first target (shown in flashback) segued into the very unusual gun barrel segment in which the agent picked up a fallen gun, whirled around and fired a shot. Already, the filmmakers have informed the audience that ”CASINO ROYALE” will prove to be a unique experience.

The real story began during a rainy sequence in Uganda, where the main villain and the two supporting villains are introduced – the banker Le Chiffre, the mysterious Mr. White and the warlord Steven Obanno. The meeting between Le Chiffre and Obanno had been arranged by Mr. White for the warlord needs a banker to launder his money. As much as I had liked ”LICENSE TO KILL”, one of my complaints was that the main villain had too many henchmen. Although”CASINO ROYALE” possessed one main villain, it also consisted of numerous supporting ones. But unlike the 1989 film, not all of ”CASINO ROYALE”’s villains were henchmen – which happened to be the case for both Obanno and White. In reality, Mr. White seemed to be at the head of the totem pole for villains opposing Bond in this film. Yet, Le Chiffre’s actions – using the money of clients like Obanno to participate in a stock scheme – turned out to be the story’s driving force. The moment Le Chiffre contacted his broker, he became the story’s main villain.

The movie shifted to another part of Africa – namely Madagascar. There, the newly promoted Bond and another MI-6 operative named Carter are observing a suspected bombmaker named Mollaka. Following Carter’s blundering revelation of their cover, what followed turned out to be one of the most exciting chase sequences in the franchise’s history. I can only think of four other chase scenes that I also hold in high regard – the two ski chases in “ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE” and “FOR YOUR EYES ONLY”(1981) respectively, the boat chase through the Louisiana swamps in “LIVE AND LET DIE”, and the Ho Chi Minh City motocycle/helicopter chase in “TOMORROW NEVER DIES”(1997). Needless to say, the Madgascar foot chase ended with Bond’s invasion of a local embassy and Mollaka’s death. Unfortunately, the following scene turned out to be what I believe to be the movie’s weakest moment. The scene featured Le Chiffre watching a CNN news report about Mollaka’s death that identified the bombmaker’s killer as an “unidentified MI-6 agent”. Now I found this baffling. How on earth did CNN know that Bond was an MI-6 agent? Aside from Carter, he did not speak to a single soul during the entire Madagascar sequence.

The news report ended up getting M (head of MI-6) in trouble with the Ministry of Defense . . . and Bond in trouble with M. I have always found it odd that certain fans considered Bond’s break-in of M’s flat improbable, yet rarely complained about the CNN report. It was the latter that had struck me as improbable. M’s laptop obviously possessed a feature that enabled Bond to track Mollaka’s last cell text message. And considering M’s unwillingness to listen to him, it seemed unsurprising that Bond was willing to break into her flat. Bond and M’s eventual confrontation inside her flat revealed for the first time the dynamic chemistry between Daniel Craig and Dame Judi Dench. Quite frankly, I have not seen such a fascinating Bond-M relationship since the Timothy Dalton-Robert Brown collaboration in the late 1980s . . . or the George Lazenby-Bernard Lee duo.

After Bond ended up being ordered to take a vacation by an angry M to take a vacation, the scene shifted to the Bahamas. Bond’s arrival by seaplane gave the fans a chance to see how charasmatic a screen actor Craig can be. From the moment Bond had disembarked from that seaplane to the moment when he deliberately wrecked that German tourist’s Land Rover, Craig permanently put his own stamp on the Bond character. At least in my eyes. I can only assume that I do not have to mention Craig’s now famous emergence from the sea, wearing only powder-blue swim trunks. Allegedly, this is the scene that allowed Craig to win the hearts of many female. Yes, the man looked good enough to eat. But I had already been won over by him before I saw his “wet look”.

The Bahamas sequence also featured Bond’s interactions with Alex and Solange Dimitrios, and his sexy almost one-night stand with Solange. It also led to the Miami Airport, where the agent managed to foil Le Chiffre’s plot to bomb a new airline in order to boost his profits. As much as I found Bond’s encounter with another bombmaker named Carlos exciting, it is probably my least favorite action sequence in the film. What can I say? The dark setting, combined with screeching cars, incoming planes, gas spills and explosions . . . it all seemed too much. In fact, this scene came dangerously close to resembling one of those famous, over-the-top Michael Bay action sequences. But the sequence did provide one gem of a scene . . . the smug smile on Bond’s face as he watched Carlos explode from a bomb the latter had created.

Bond returned to the Bahamas, where he discovered that Solange Dimitrios had been tortured and killed by Le Chiffre’s people. M also met him there to give him his new assignment – participation in a poker tournament sponsored by Le Chiffre. Thanks to Bond’s actions in Miami, Le Chiffre needed to raise money in order pay back his clients and prevent his bosses from eliminating him – permanently. M ordered Bond to beat Le Chiffre and draw the latter into MI-6’s clutches for information. This minor scene gave moviegoers another opportunity to enjoy the Craig/Dench dynamics.

But the chemistry between Craig and Dench seemed minor in compare to the actor’s chemistry with the young actress who became his leading lady. I see no need to wax lyrical over Daniel Craig and Eva Green’s performances for the second time. However, I do believe that the scene featuring Bond’s first meeting with Vesper Lynd aboard a train bound for Montenegro just might be the best “Bond Meets the Leading Lady” scene in the franchise’s history. From the moment those two met, I sensed the chemistry that sizzled between them. The sparkling dialogue included in the scene certainly solidified their dynamics. The snarky banter that began on the train, continued right up to the moment when Vesper made it clear to Bond that she did not want to share a hotel elevator with him. I must admit that Paul Haggis (let’s be honest – I rather doubt that Purvis and Wade had made any real impact on the dialogue or it would be God awful) really did himself proud with the Bond-Vesper dialogue.

Aside from sharp wit, Bond and Vesper share another personality trait – both seemed to possess this desire to be in control. Bond’s need for control had already been expressed by his actions against Mollaka in Madagascar. I must be honest . . . I found Bond’s killing of the bombmaker to be a bit unecessary. He could have easily waited for the other man to leave the embassy in order to complete Le Chiffre’s assignment. No wonder M had been pissed. But discovering that Vesper may have also been controlling came as quite a surprise. I am, of course, referring to the humorous scene in which Bond and Vesper presented clothes for the other to wear. Bond wanted Vesper to wear an evening gown that would enhance Vesper’s sex appeal and distract his competition. Vesper wanted Bond to wear an evening jacket that she believed would make him look like a man who could afford to lose $15 million. Both attempted to assert their will upon the other. And both succeeded.

The story eventually focused upon the movie’s centerpiece – namely the poker tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. There have been a few dark comments about this particular sequence. Some fans and critics criticized the poker scenes for being boring and too slow. Others have criticized the scenes for its “inaccurate” portrayal of Texas Hold ‘Em Poker. Honestly, I could not care less about the movie’s accurate portrayal of the game, especially since my knowledge of the game barely existed. And some complained that poker seemed pedestrian in compared to the baccarat used in the 1953 novel. Very few Bond fans know this, but Ian Fleming rarely played poker because he found it too intimidating for his taste. Personally, I believe that poker works better on film than baccarat. Thanks to the script and Campbell’s direction, this long sequence managed to flow smoothly. Purvis, Wade and Haggis also punctuated the poker scenes with minor incidents that included Steven Obanno’s appearance in Montenegro, Bond’s early loss of the 10 million given to him by HM Treasury, Felix Leiter’s financial rescue, Valenska’s attempt to poison Bond and the latter’s eventual victory. In fact, the entire Montenegro sequence is my favorite in the entire movie.

Due to Bond’s victory in the poker tournament, Le Chiffre found himself in a pickle. He no longer possessed the money to pay back his clients. Which meant that his life became expendable to his employers. Since Le Chiffre had no intention of running to the British or Americans as an informant, he decided upon the next best course of action. He interrupted Bond and Vesper’s celebration supper and kidnapped the latter. He did this to force Bond to hand over the password to the account holding the tournament’s winnings. Le Chiffe’s actions led to two famous scenes in the movie – Bond’s crash of the company’s Aston-Martin (which set a world’s record for seven turns of the car) and his torture at the hands of Le Chiffre.

One of the famous scenes in the 1953 Fleming novel featured Le Chiffre’s torture of Bond. In the novel, Le Chiffre stripped Bond naked and sat him on a chair with an open seat. Then he proceeded to beat Bond’s testicles with a carpet beater. Many of the novel’s fans had wondered if the film’s producers would do the torture scene justice, let alone include it. Needless to say, it was included in the film. Le Chiffre torture of Bond nearly followed the literary version . . . with one difference. Le Chiffre used a knotted rope, not a carpet beater. I must congratulate Craig and Mikelsen for their excellent performances; and Campbell for his marvelous direction of what turned out to be a taunt, humorous and painful scene of a Bond moment that I believe will be remembered for years to come.

The torture scene ended with on a rare note – not only in the literary version, but in the cinematic, as well. In the movie, the villain was killed at least a half hour before the movie’s end. After Le Chiffre failed to convince Bond to hand over the latter’s code to the account holding the poker winnings, he met his end at the hands of the enigmatic Mr. White. When I first saw “CASINO ROYALE”, I found it odd that the terrorist would allow Bond . . . and Vesper to survive. Before the movie ended, I would soon learn why.

Certain fans and critics have complained that Bond and Vesper’s romance seemed frustratingly short – especially for two characters that were obviously in love. I had countered numerous times that their romance had actually began on the train to Montenegro. The sequence that followed Le Chiffre’s death merely portrayed the culmination of their romance by allowing the couple to finally express their feelings. This sequence also featured two scenes in which Bond declared his love for Vesper. The first scene occured at the nursing home where Bond recuperated from his torture. When Vesper finally expressed how she felt about him, he responded with a joke that fell flat. He then finally expressed his own true feelings with the “I’m yours” speech. In a later scene set on a beach, Bond finally said the words – “I love you” to Vesper.

The movie shifted to Venice, the scene of two previous Bond movies – “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”(1963) and“MOONRAKER”(1979). In “FRWL”, Venice proved to be the climax of the entire film. In “MR”, the mystery surrounding villain Hugo Drax deepened in Venice. But the city proved to be a lot more for Bond in “CASINO ROYALE”. It was here that Bond learned that Vesper had betrayed him by stealing the funds for the organization behind Le Chiffre. This sequence provided great action that included Bond’s shoot-out with Gettler and the rest of Mr. White’s henchman, the sinking of a Venetian palazzo, and Vesper’s tragic yet slightly creepy death by drowning. The latter also emphasized Bond’s tragic relationship with Vesper. It also proved how the city turned out to provide a great emotional impact for the agent. I still cannot stop thinking about the scene that featured Mr. White observing Bond’s grief over Vesper’s dead body. The scene continues to send chills down my sign. It almost seemed like a metaphor of how the terrorist organization overshadowed Bond and Vesper’s relationship.

Looking slightly betrayed, Bond later learned the truth behind Vesper’s betrayal from M. Apparently, Vesper had a French-Algerian boyfriend who was kidnapped and held for ransom by the organization behind Le Chiffre and Mr White. Bond learned that she agreed to deliver the ransom money (his winnings) only if they would consent to leave Bond alive as well as her boyfriend. Vesper also left a message on his cell phone, giving him Mr. White’s name and telephone number. The look on the agent’s face upon learning this information seemed sad . . . and very confused.

But “CASINO ROYALE” had one last scene to unfold. Mr. White, secured in the knowledge that he finally managed to get his hands on the funds won by Bond in Montenegro, arrived at a palatial estate near Lake Como. He received a phone call from a voice asking for a moment to talk. And when Mr. White demanded to know the name of his caller, he received a shot in the leg. The movie finally ended with Mr. White crawling toward the villa and a very iconic-looking British agent, who coolly identified himself with the famous line – “The name’s Bond, James Bond.”

Miscellaneous

There are a lot more reasons why “CASINO ROYALE” immediately became one of my favorite Bond movies of all time. More than what I had already described. One reason happened to be the performances, of course. The movie was not only blessed with a first-rate supporting cast, it had a strong and charasmatic leading man and woman in both Daniel Craig and Eva Green. And although Martin Campbell is not known for being a memorable director, “CASINO ROYALE” joined the ranks of his best directorial efforts. I would go as far to say that the movie might so far, be the pinnacle of his career.

When I first saw the movie, I really did not think much of the movie’s theme song – “You Know My Name”, sung by Chris Cornell. I heard the first notes, judged it overbearing and continued to ignore the rest of the song. Upon my second and third viewings, I realized that “You Know My Name” was a lot better than I had imagined. Yet, it will probably never be considered a classic Bond song.

What made “CASINO ROYALE” such a great movie for me was the complex and emotional story adapted for the screen by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. The trio did a first-rate job of adapting Fleming’s novella. They also managed to effectively fill out the story, making it palatable as a full-length Bond movie – something that could not have been done with the novella alone. But what I had truly loved about “CASINO ROYALE” were the moments . . . the little moments that made it more than just a typical Bond movie with action, girls and gadgets. Those moments – whether they were the different expressions on Bond’s face, minor words and conversations, gestures made by the movie’s many characters – made it magical for me. It made the movie human and far more interesting that any typical Bond action movie.

“THE INFORMANT!” (2009) Review

Below is my review of “THE INFORMANT!”, Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 film: 

 

”THE INFORMANT!” (2009) Review

As a rule, I am not particularly fond of whistleblower films. I find them rather boring and unoriginal. Then I saw Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 movie, ”THE INFORMANT!” and realized there might be one whistleblower film that I do like.

Based on true events and the 2000 non-fiction book, ”The Informant”, by journalist Kurt Eichenwald, the movie is about Mark Whitacre, a rising star at Decatur, Illinois based Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) in the early 1990s who wound up blowing the whistle on the company’s price-fixing tactics, only after his wife forced him to. Soderbergh cast Matt Damon as Whitacre and Scott Bakula as FBI Special Agent Brian Shephard, the man to whom he ratted out ADM.

The movie began in 1992 when the FBI was brought in to investigate a possible case of corporate espionage against ADM. The espionage case later was found to be groundless, but during their investigation, Mark Whitacre, under pressure from his wife, told an FBI agent named Brian Shephard that he and other ADM executives were involved in a multinational conspiracy to control the price of lysine. So far, this plot struck me as no different than any other whistleblower movie. But what made”THE INFORMANT!” unique to me was the character of said whistleblower – Mark Whitacre. The movie’s first half portrayed him as an eccentric man and enthusiastic executive who seemed reluctant to expose his superiors at ADM. But he eventually dedicated himself into assisting the FBI into spending years in gathering evidence by clandestinely taping the company’s activity in business meetings at various locations around the globe such as Tokyo, Paris, Mexico City, and Hong Kong, eventually collecting enough evidence of collaboration and conspiracy to warrant a raid. Following the raid, it all went downhill for Whitacre. The stress of being the FBI’s mole for three years led him to react to the media in a bizarre manner. More importantly, the FBI and the public discovered that Whitacre had embezzled millions of dollars from ADM.

When I first saw the billboards for ”THE INFORMANT!”, I thought it would be some kind of espionage film like the Jack Ryan novels or something like 1974’s ”THE CONVERSATION”. I eventually learn that the movie might have more to do with industrial espionage . . . and the fact that it was another whistleblower film. Why I did not bother to skip this film upon hearing this, I do not know. Perhaps I was willing to give it a chance due to the fact that Soderbergh and Damon (who did the three”OCEAN’S ELEVEN” movies) were working together, again. And you know what? I am so glad that I gave it a chance. What started out as an amusing, yet detailed account of Whitacre’s years as a whistleblower for the FBI, ended in a chaotic character study of a very intelligent man who turned out to be a chronic liar and embezzler. As much as I enjoyed the movie’s first half, I really enjoyed the second half that exposed Whitacre’s crimes. The plot – or should I say Whitacre’s character – began to spiral out of control once the whistleblower tried to deflect himself from fraud charges in hilarious ways. By the time the movie ended, I did not know whether to be astounded or amused by how it all fell apart for Whitacre.

”THE INFORMANT!” featured a pretty good solid cast that included Scott Bakula as the long suffering FBI agent Brian Shephard who had recruited Whitacre to act as an informant for his agency . . . and lived to regret it. Joel McHale portrayed his partner, the more outgoing FBI agent Robert Herndon. It was interesting to see comedians like Thomas F.Wilson, the Smothers Brothers – Tom and Dick, Allan Harvey, Patton Oswalt and Scott Adsit all in serious roles. I enjoyed Tony Hale’s performance as Whitacre’s first attorney, James Epstein. Watching his reaction to the growing chaos that seemed to surround Whitacre was rather funny. And Melanie Lynskey gave a strong performance as Whitacre’s wife, Ginger, who seemed to act as the whistleblower’s conscious and backbone. But who am I kidding? The movie is owned lock, stock and barrel by Matt Damon’s brilliant performance as Mark Whitacre. I cannot even describe how good he was in capturing this complex, deceiving and yet, sympathetic personality. I thought it was criminal that he failed to snag an Academy Award nomination for this film.  Well . . . at least he managed to earn a Golden Globe nomination.  Someone was paying attention.

Do I have any quibbles about ”THE INFORMANT!”? Uh . . . I can only think of one or two complaints right now. I found Soderbergh’s cinematography rather uninspiring. Yep . . . that is what I had said. The film’s director had also acted as the photographer. And I found it dull and slightly metallic at times. If Soderbergh honestly considers himself a genuine cinematographer . . . well, I would suggest that he stick to directing and producing. And I must admit that right before the FBI had decided to arrest some of ADM’s executives, the pacing became so slow that it nearly dragged the film. Aside from those complaints, I really enjoyed this movie. But I must warn you . . . if you are expecting it to be another ”THE INSIDER” or”DEFENSE OF THE REALM”, you are going to be sadly disappointed. ”THE INFORMANT!” struck me as possessing an unusual and highly original story for it to be viewed as another whistleblower film.

”INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS” (2009) Review

 

inglourious-basterds

Below is my review of ”INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS”, the latest movie written and directed by Quentin Tarantion:

 

”INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS” (2009) Review

I have rather mixed feelings about director Quentin Tarantino’s work. I have not seen all of the movies that he has directed. And of the movies that I have seen, I can name only two or three I would consider favorites of mine. One of those favorites happened to be his latest – ”INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS”, a World War II comedy-melodrama (I do not know how else to describe the movie) about two attempts to assassinate Nazi leader Adolph Hitler during a movie premiere in occupied Paris.

Thinking about ”INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS”, it occurred to me that its premise struck a familiar note. It bears a strong resemblance to last year’s ”VALKYRIE”, a thriller about the last attempt to kill Hitler by a group of high-ranking German Army officers. But unlike Bryan Singer’s movie, ”INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS” featured two separate plots to kill Hitler that ended with a particular twist.

In order to present a detailed account of these two accounts, Tarantino divided his story into five chapters. The first chapter introduced Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), a notorious S.S. officer known for hunting and finding refugee Jews in Austria and occupied France. He appears at a French dairy farm in search of a missing Jewish family named Dreyfus. After threatening to punish the dairy farmer (Denis Menochet) hiding the family, Landa manages to have them all killed, except for the 18-19 year-old Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), who escapes due to Landa lacking bullets in his revolver. Chapter Two opens in early 1944 and introduces U.S. Army Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), a Tennessee hillbilly, who has recruited a group of Jewish-American soldiers to kill and mutilate as many Nazi soldiers they can get their hands on behind enemy lines in occupied France. By the time they have recruited Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger), a former German soldier set to be punished for killing 13 S.S. soldiers, the “Basterds” have created a reputation as butchers by the German high command.

Shosanna returns to the story in Chapter Three, as the owner of a Parisian movie theater. Her theater is chosen to host the premiere of ”A Nation’s Pride , one of Joseph Goebbels’ (Sylvester Groth) propaganda films about the exploits of a German war hero named Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) . . . after Zoller meets and becomes attracted to Shosanna. The theater owner realizes that the movie premiere is the perfect place for her to get revenge for the deaths of her family and she plots with her lover and projectionist, Marcel (Jacky Ido) to burn down the theater with the moviegoers locked inside. In Chapter Four, British intelligence learns about the premiere from one of their agents – popular German actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) and her plans to have the German high command assassinated. They send one of their operatives to France – German speaking Lieutenant Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) – to meet up with the Basterds and von Hammersmark and go along with her assassination plans. Unfortunately, the meeting goes awry due to an encounter with some German soldiers and a Gestapo officer named Dieter Hellstrom (August Diehl). Raines and von Hammersmark are forced to make some changes in their assassination plot. Chapter Five featured the movie’s finale as Shosanna’s movie theater, where the two plots to kill Hitler and the Nazi high command weave in a series of revelations, betrayals, death and sacrifice and end with a surprising plot twist.

”INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS”, like some of Tarantino’s films, turned out to be a prime example of how several unconnected subplots merge into one major plot or goal. In the case of this particular movie, the goal to assassinate Hitler and the Nazi high command. I have noticed that in movies like ”PULP FICTION” and ”JACKIE BROWN”, Tarantino likes to use nonlinear storylines. This does not seemed to be the case in ”INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS”. In fact, he carefully introduced the characters and the story in a straight, linear fashion in Chapters One to Four. Once the finale unfolded in Chapter Five, Tarantino pulled the rug from under moviegoers with several surprising plot twists that left me reeling. And by the time the last scene ended, only two major characters and a supporting character were left standing. Another aspect about ”INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS” that I found enjoyable was its mixture of humor, drama, suspense and action. Well, most of the action featured massive shootings, a major fire, stabbings, strangulation and mutilation. And the ironic thing is that the percentage of action featured in the film was minor in compare to the number of scenes dominated by dialogue. This should not be surprising, considering that many of Tarantino’s films seemed to feature more dialogue than action. Aside from one or two scenes, this did not bother me at all. I think it had something to do with the fact that I found many of the characters in ”INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS” fascinating.

If there is one thing you can count on a Quentin Tarantino film, it is bound to feature a cast of some interesting characters and performances. I suspect that Lieutenant Aldo Raine will go down as one of my favorite characters portrayed by Brad Pitt. The movie never explained Raine’s dislike and hostility toward the Nazis. But his recruitment speech to his “Basterds” made it clear that he disliked them . . . intensely. He even makes sure that his men know that he expects each of them to take at least 100 Nazi scalps. And he literally means scalps. Also, Pitt did an excellent job of expressing not only Raine’s dislike of the Nazis, but also his ruthlessness, sadism and ornery streak. And as long as I remember this movie, I will always relish Pitt’s Tennessee accent and the way he says ”Nat-sees”. Another performance I will certainly remember is Christoph Waltz’s superb performance as the soft-spoken, yet sinister Waffen-SS-turned-SD officer Colonel Hans Landa. The Nazi officer, known for successfully hunting down refugee Jews, is clearly the movie’s main antagonist, yet watching Waltz portray this guy is a joy to behold. He does not resort to the usual clichés about Nazi characters. Instead, his Landa is a polite, humorous and yet, sadistic man who enjoys putting his victims through psychological torture. His interrogations of the French dairy farmer Perrier LaPadite, Shosanna and even Raine are prime examples of this. Only with Raine, I think he may have met his match. It is not surprising that Waltz received the Best Actor Award at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, along with a Best Supporting Actor Award for both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards.

However, Pitt and Waltz are not the only ones who provided some memorable performances. I really enjoyed Mélanie Laurent’s performance as the intense and vengeful Shosanna Dreyfus. Not many critics seemed impressed by her performance, but then Shosanna is not exactly what one would call an in-your-face role. I could also say the same about Diane Kruger’s role as the German-born film star, Bridget von Hammersmark. Her role as the anti-Nazi spy for the British is not as colorful as some of the other roles in the film, but it is certainly more complex and interesting than her performances in the ”NATIONAL TREASURE” movies and ”TROY”. I heard a rumor that Kruger had fought for the role of von Hammersmark. Judging from the way she seemed to relish in her role that seem very obvious. Another low key, yet complex performance came from Daniel Brühl as the war hero-turned film actor Fredrick Zoller. He did an excellent job in conveying a genuine attraction to Shosanna, along with his frustration over her cold attitude toward him. He also seemed embarrassed and slightly ashamed of his heroics that led to the deaths of many American soldiers in Italy. Yet, he loves the celebrity that he has managed to acquire as due to his “war heroics”. I was also impressed by Michael Fassbender as the British intelligence officer, Lieutenant Archie Hicox, who was selected to assist von Hammersmark and the Basterds in the plot to kill Hitler. I enjoyed Fassbender’s sharp performance as the British officer as a suave “George Saunders” type, whose command of the German language is perfect, but not his knowledge of German regional accents. And Til Schweiger was perfect as Hugo Stiglitz, the psychotic German soldier whose dislike of the Nazi regime led him to murder 13 Gestapo officers before joining Raine’s group of “Basterds”. He was hilarious, yet frightening in the Chapter Four sequence that featured von Hammersmark’s rendezvous with his fellow Basterd Corporal Wilhelm Wicki (Gedeon Burkhard ) and Hicox. Schweiger’s struggle to keep his temper and murderous impulses in check during their encounter with Major Hellstrom was fascinating to watch. Apparently actor-writer-producer Eli Roth does not have a great reputation as an actor. Even I could see that he was no great shakes as an actor. Yet, the role of the violent and obnoxious Staff Sergeant Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz seemed to fit him like a glove. Roth did a pretty good job in conveying Donowitz’s funny, yet psychotic nature.

Before one would assume that I consider ”INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS” as an example of cinematic perfection, I must admit there were a few aspects of the film that troubled me. There were moments when the pacing seemed a bit too slow for me. I thought that Tarantino had lingered on the conversation between Colonel Landa and Perrier LaPadite longer than necessary. I suspect that this scene was merely a showcase for Landa’s talents as an investigator and his penchant for psychological sadism. Unfortunately, I found myself longing for it to end before it actually did. Another scene that seemed to stretch longer than necessary featured Bridget von Hammersmark’s meeting with Hicox and two of the Basterds inside a tavern in Chapter Four. The scene began with the actress engaged in a guessing game with German soldiers celebrating the birth of one of their colleagues’ son. In fact, the actress is forced to play this same game with Major Hellstrom, Hicox and the Basterds when the Gestapo officer insists upon remaining at their table. Now, I realize that the presence of the German soldiers played a major role in Chapter Four. But honestly . . . I found the game a bore and thought it dragged the scene.

My last quibble centered around Lieutenant Raine’s men – the “Basterds”. Aside from Hugo Stiglitz and Donny Donowitz, we never really got a chance to really know the Basterds. Most of them were given brief spotlights, but not enough to really satisfy me. After all, the movie is named after their group. Of the other “Basterds” – Wilhelm Wicki, Smithson Utivich, Omar Ulmer, Gerold Hirschberg, Andy Kagan, Michael Zimmerman, and Simon Sakowitz – at least three of them were given brief spotlights. And Tarantino never revealed what happened to the rest of them. I also understand that Tarantino had attempted to recruit Oscar-winning composer Ennio Morricone to create the movie’s score. The composer rejected the offer, due to the film’s sped-up production schedule. Instead, Tarantino utilized some of Morricone’s tracks from previous films into the movie’s soundtrack. I only hope that Tarantino did this with the composer’s permission.

As for the technical aspects of ”INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS”, I believe that Tarantino did a solid job in consolidating the cinematography, production designs, costume designs, and special effects to create a first-rate movie. But I must admit that I found myself especially impressed by Tarantino’s own script that featured a straight, linear story that concluded in a very surprising manner. I was also very impressed by the visual effects supervised by Gregory D. Liegey and Viktor Muller . . . especially during the final sequence that featured the movie premiere.

I might as well say it . . . I really enjoyed ”INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. It is one of the very few movies I have really enjoyed in 2009.  It made the list for my ten favorite movies for that year.  It also featured an excellent story with some surprising twists and a superb international cast led by Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz and Mélanie Laurent. And considering my mixed views on Tarantino’s body of work that has to be saying something. Hell, I have already seen it at least five or six times by now.