“THE MUMMY” (1999) Review

“THE MUMMY” (1999) Review

As a rule, I dislike horror movies or thrillers very much. Not only do I dislike today’s slasher films, I am NOT a fan of the old horror classics that feature actors like Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Lon Chaney Jr., and Boris Karloff. In other words, the slasher films disgust me and the old horror classics tend to creep me out. 

One of those old horror classics happened to be the 1932 movie, ”THE MUMMY”, starring Karloff. It told the story of an ancient Egyptian priest named Imhotep that became a mummy and ended up terrorizing Cairo. Seventy-six years later, director Stephen Sommers remade the old classic into a half-horror/half-adventure tale in the style of Indiana Jones about how members of a treasure-seeking expedition in 1920s Egypt, revived Imhotep, who wrecked havoc upon the expedition camp and Cairo. I had been prepared to ignore this remake, until a relative informed me that this version had been filmed in the style of an Indiana Jones movie. Being a fan of the Lucas/Spielberg movies, I lowered my guard and saw the movie.

Looking back at my decision, eleven years later, I am glad that I had seen ”THE MUMMY”. My relative had been right. The movie felt more like an action-adventure film, with a touch of horror. Well, more than a touch. After all, this was a tale about an Egyptian mummy that came back to life. But I loved every minute of the film. Well . . . almost. But I believe that it was a perfect blend of action, the supernatural, adventure, comedy and romance. My two favorite sequences featured the Medjai (descendants of Pharaoh Seti I’s palace guards) attacking the Nile River steamboat conveying the heroes from Cairo to Hamunaptra, site of the treasure they sought and Imohtep’s remains; and Imohtep’s reign of terror in Cairo, as he sought the three Americans and the Egyptologist who possessed the canopic jars that held the mummy’s preserved organs. I especially enjoyed this last sequence, because I feel that it managed to evoke the surreal and mysterious atmosphere of the old 30s horror films more than any other sequence in the movie.

Another one of the movie’s major virtues turned out to be its cast. Brendan Fraser did a great job in portraying the aggressive soldier-of-fortune, Rick O’Connell. He must have been at least 30 years old around the time he shot ”THE MUMMY”. And I must say that he also managed to project a strong and masculine screen presence, with a touch of sly humor. Creating screen chemistry with Fraser was Rachel Weisz, who portrayed the inexperienced yet enthusiastic archeologist, Dr. Evelyn Carnahan. I really enjoyed how she injected a mixture of charm and spirit into the very ladylike Evelyn. And John Hannah rounded out the golden trio as Jonathan Carnahan, Evelyn’s humorous yet slightly decadent older brother. Hannah was very funny as Evelyn’s self-serving brother, who seemed more interested in making a quick buck, instead of doing hard work.

Kevin J. O’Connor, a favorite of Sommers, gave a sly and hilarious performance as the Hungarian born Beni Gabor, Rick’s amoral former Foreign Legion comrade that becomes Imohtep’s willing minion. O’Connor was especially hilarious in a scene that featured Beni’s attempts to save himself from Imohtep’s wrath by invoking God’s help in different languages. Actor Oded Fehr provided a great deal of dash and intensity as Ardeth Bay, the leader of Medjai. Actors Stephen Dunham, Corey Johnson, and Tuc Watkins provided plenty of their own comic relief as the three American adventurers seeking treasure from Hamunaptra. Jonathan Hyde provided a stable contrast to their lunacy as the Egyptian archeologist who serves as their expedition’s Egyptology specialist. Patricia Velásquez gave a brief, but very memorable performance as Anck-Su-Namun, the ancient Egyptian courtesan that happened to be the love of Imohtep’s life. Speaking of Imohtep, Arnold Vosloo literally made a name for himself as the imposing and ruthless high priest and future mummy, who becomes obsessed with reuniting with his love through any means possible.

Despite its vast array of virtues, ”THE MUMMY” had its share of flaws. One, some of the humor and so-called wit struck me as rather silly and sophomoric. I also found it annoying that the Rick O’Connell character seemed inclined to constantly use a gun for every situation – especially when they worked fruitlessly against supernatural beings like mummies. Costume designer John Bloomfield did a piss poor job with Rachel Weisz’s costumes. I realize that Westerners in the far reaches of the British Empire tend to dress more conservatively than their fellow citizens in Great Britain. But that was no excuse for why Evelyn wore an outfit and hairstyle dated a decade older than the movie’s 1920s setting:

However, my biggest problem with the movie happened to be the final showdown between the heroes and Imohtep inside the temple at Hamunaptra. How can I put this? Director Stephen Sommers added new meaning to the phrase ”over-the-top”. Not only did the action and special effects struck me as excessive, but it almost seemed to go on with no end in sight.

Despite my misgivings of ”THE MUMMY”, I still enjoyed the movie very much. It is a fun movie filled with memorable characters, humor, suspense and some genuine fright. For me, it turned out to be one of the better summer blockbusters of the late 1990s.

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“THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” (1999) Review

“THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” (1999) Review

I must admit that when I first saw “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” in the theaters a little over seven years ago, I was not impressed. Well, to be honest, I did not like the movie at all. But after my recent viewing, I could not help but wonder if I had allowed my mild dislike of the previous Bond entry, “TOMORROW NEVER DIES” to spill over in my view of the Bond franchise’s 19th entry. 

Although the movie’s title comes from the Bond family’s motto, first revealed in the 1969 movie, “ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”, its story started with the murder of a British oil tycoon and old friend of M’s named Sir Robert King, inside MI-6’s London headquarters. Bond traced the assassination to an anarchist terrorist named Renard, who had once kidnapped Sir Robert’s daughter, Elektra King. Fearing that Renard wants revenge for his failure at profiting from Elektra’s kidnapping, M assigned Bond to act as her new bodyguard in Uzbekistan. To make a long story short, Bond and Elektra formed a romantic relationship . . . before he learned that she had been behind her father’s murder and MI-6’s humiliation. Elektra was also behind Renard’s theft of a quantity of weapons-grade plutonium from a former Russian ICBM base in Kazakhstan. After using some of the plutonium to blow up part of the King pipeline in order to avoid suspicion, Elektra and Renard planned to introduce the remaining plutonium to a stolen Russian submarine’s nuclear reactor in order that it will overload and cause a nuclear meltdown in the Bosporus at Istanbul. Not only will this kill countless thousands of people, but also contaminate the Bosporus for decades. The effect would prevent shipment of Caspian Sea petroleum through any existing route, because all Caspian region pipelines terminate at the Black Sea, requiring that tankers go through the Bosporus; the only alternative would be the King pipeline. Disguising himself as a nuclear physicist, Bond sneaked his way onto the base to stop Renard and ended up escaping from near death, along with an American nuclear physicist named Christmas Jones, played by Denise Richards. Even worse, Elektra lured M to Uzbekistan and kidnapped the latter to be destroyed with the rest of Istanbul’s citizens. With the help of Dr. Jones and former KGB-turned-entrepreneur Valentin Zukovsky, Bond managed to save the Bosporus region and M and kill both Elektra and Renard in the process.

In 1998, Pierce Brosnan won a Saturn Award for his performance as Bond in “TOMORROW NEVER DIES”. But after seeing his performance in “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH”, I have come to the conclusion that he had won his award for the wrong movie. Unlike “TOMORROW NEVER DIES”, in which Brosnan’s performance seemed mixed, “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH”’s script allowed the Irish-born actor to portray a more human Bond, who finds his façade almost stripped away and his emotions exposed by his interactions with the manipulative Elektra King – a process that seemed to have began with the death of Elektra’s father at MI-6 Headquarters. One of Brosnan’s best acting moments occurred during a scene at Zukovsky’s casino, where Elektra “unnecessarily” loses a million dollars to the former KGB operative. Brosnan managed to convey Bond’s concern, confusion and sparking suspicion about the late oil magnate’s daughter, all in one swoop. Great acting on his part.

Fortunately for Brosnan, he was supported by a strong cast – especially by Sophie Marceau, who portrayed the enigmatic Elekra and Robert Caryle as the ruthless yet passionate terrorist, Renard. Marceau was especially impressive as the former kidnap victim-turned-villainess, whose complex and manipulative personality seemed to have kept everyone – Bond included – in a state of flux. Carlyle came off as surprisingly sympathetic as the love-struck Renard. Most Bond fans would flinch at the idea of a Bond villain like Renard, but after the stream of cold-blooded opportunists and megalomaniacs, Renard almost came as a relief. Unfortunately, all not were wine and roses in Marceau and Carlyle’s performances. Carlyle’s repeated line about how Bond or anyone else ”cannot kill him because he was already dead” threatened to turn his role into a cliché. Personally, I never could care less about his injury. If he could still die from a bullet in the heart, he was not impregnable, as far as I was concerned. As for Marceau, it saddened me that her exemplary performance ended on such a bad note for me. If Connery’s Bond in “GOLDFINGER” had struck me as the ”dark side of masculinity”, then Elektra King’s insistence that Bond or no other man can resist her struck me as the ”dark side of femininity”. To be frank, the villainous Elektra in her last moments got . . . on . . . my . . . last . . . nerve. So much so that I found myself sighing with relief when Bond finally killed her.

And then there was Denise Richards as the American nuclear physicist, Dr. Christmas Jones. I realize that I might be castigated for saying this, but I honestly found nothing to criticize about Richards’ performance. I will not insult anyone’s intelligence by stating that she was just as good as Marceau and Caryle. Of course she was not as good. At best, Richards is a competent, though uninspiring actress. But she did portrayed Dr. Jones (no Indy jokes, please) as an intelligent and observant woman. She handled the techno babble quite well. Nor did she seem slightly wooden like Lois Chiles in “MOONRAKER” or Barbara Bach in “THE SPY WHO LOVED ME”. I think that many fans and critics had simply took a look at Richard’s face, age (she was 26 or 27 when she shot the movie) and boobs and decided that she was unfit to portray a young nuclear physicist. It was nice to see Robbie Coltrane as the former KGB agent, Valentin Zukovsky, again. Although he was just as funny as he was in “GOLDENEYE”, I must admit that he seemed a bit more imposing in the 1995 film. In “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH”, there were times he seemed to be in danger of being viewed as a bit of a joke . . . until his final scene.

Judi Dench gave her second best performance as M (her first would be seven years later in “CASINO ROYALE”) in “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH”. In this particular outing, she becomes emotionally handicapped by the death of her friend, Sir Robert. This allows Elektra to take advantage of the MI-6 chief – who had advised Sir Robert not to pay the ransom for Elektra’s kidnapping – and seek revenge. One of the highlights of Dench’s performance was watching her express . . . and suppress M’s guilt, when Bond exposes the debacle over Elektra’s kidnapping. Other cast members such as Michael Kitchen, Colin Salmon and Samantha Bond do their usual routine. “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” marked Desmond Llewellyn’s last appearance as MI-6’s armourer – Q and John Cleese’s first appearance as his future replacement. Although the sight of Llewellyn in the movie tugged the heartstrings a bit (considering his death in a traffic accident about a month following the movie’s original release), I cannot say there was anything memorable about his performance. Cleese, on the other hand, was his usual biting self, although I could have done without his clumsy antics.

“THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” not only boasted pretty good acting by the cast, it also possessed an interesting script that maintained its quality . . . until the finale. The story started out fine with Sir Robert King’s mysterious murder, followed by the increasingly complex triangle established between Bond, Elektra and Renard. But once Renard had sabotaged one of the King pipelines and Elektra kidnapped M, the movie sank into a typical Bond movie that ended with a wet and tiresome showdown between Bond and Renard inside the stolen Russian sub. Aside from its cast, one of “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH”’s strengths were the movie’s dramatic scenes – including Bond’s accusations regarding M’s participation in Elektra’s kidnapping, Elektra’s loss at the gaming table, Christmas’ exposure of Bond at the ICMG base, Bond accusing Elektra of being Renard’s ally and Renard’s jealousy over Elektra’s relationship with Bond. Ironically, I cannot say the same about the movie’s action sequences. One or two were pretty good – the opening sequence (which I admit seemed a bit too long), and Bond and Christmas’ escape from the ICMG base, and their escape from one of the King pipelines. But the ski chase, the confrontation at Zukovsky’s caviar facility and Bond’s showdowns with both Elektra and Renard simply did not move me. And the finale inside the Russian sub simply struck me as tedious.

If there is one major weakness that “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” did suffer, it was the movie’s locations. Quite simply, they were uninspiring. It seemed sad that the movie’s most exotic looking location happened to be London, along the Thames River. It seemed even sadder that this took place in the movie’s pre-title sequence. As for the movie’s theme song by Garbage . . . well, it was not the best Bond song I have ever heard. In fact, I did not even like it when the movie was first released. But for some odd reason, the song has grown on me, and now it is a personal favorite of mine.

But despite uninspiring locations and action sequences, “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” can still boast enough strengths that allowed director Michael Apted to provide a pretty good Bond movie . . . good enough to be considered Brosnan’s second-best. And a recent viewing has allowed me to realize that it was better than I had originally surmised.

Memorable Lines

“One tires of being executed.” – Renard

Zukovsky: I’m looking for a submarine. It’s big and black, and the driver is a very good friend of mine. [sees captain hat] Bring it to me!
Elektra: [takes hat] What a shame, he’s just gone. [Shoots Zukovsky]

Lachaise: So good of you to come see me, Mr Bond, particularly on such short notice.
Bond: If you can’t trust a Swiss banker, then what’s the world come to?

[Bull is shocked to see Zukovsky survived the explosion at the safehouse]
Bull: Boss? You’re alive! I’m so glad to see you!
Zukovsky: Me to! [Shoots Bull]

Christmas: The world’s greatest terrorist running around with six kilos of weapons-grade plutonium can’t be good. I gotta get it back, or someone’s gonna have my ass.
Bond: First things first.

Bond: What’s your business with Elektra King?
Zukovsky: I though you were the one giving her the business.

Elektra: I could have given you the world.
Bond: The world is not enough.
Elektra: Foolish sentiment.
Bond: Family motto.

[after Q introduces Bond to his successor]
Bond: If you’re Q, does that make him R?
R: Ah yes, the legendary 007 wit, or at least half of it.

Christmas: Wait a minute. Are you going to do what I think you’re going to do?
Bond: What do I need to defuse a nuclear bomb?
Christmas: Me.

Bond: Construction isn’t exactly my speciality.
M: Quite the opposite, in fact.

“You wanna put that in English for those of us who don’t speak Spy?” – Christmas Jones

“Oh, look. We have no roof, but at least we have four good walls.”
[the factory falls apart] “The insurance company is NEVER going to believe this.” – Zukovsky

Bond: I’ve always wanted to have Christmas in Turkey.
Christmas: Was that a Christmas joke?
Bond: From me? Never.

“Can’t you just say “hello” like a normal person?” – Zukovsky

Zukovsky: [to Bull] You! Where have you been, you gold encrusted buffoon?
Bull: Sorry, boss, I must have bumped my head.
Zukovsky: Oh, really? Get me out of here. I’ll show you what a bumped head feels like.

Q: I’ve always tried to teach you two things. First, never let them see you bleed.
Bond: And the second?
Q: Always have an escape plan.

“Revenge is not hard to fathom for a man who believes in nothing.” – Bond

Bond: What business do you have with Elektra King?
Zukovsky: I thought it was *you* who was giving her the business.

Moneypenny: James! Have you brought me a souvenir from your trip? Chocolates? An engagement ring?
Bond: I thought you might enjoy one of these. [gives Ms. Moneypenny a cigar tube]
Moneypenny: How romantic. I know exactly where to put that. [throws the cigar tube in the garbage]
Bond: Oh Moneypenny, the story of our relationship: close, but no cigar.

[Zukovsky enters his office, sees Christmas Jones] “How did you get in here? I’m going to call Security… and congratulate them.” – Zukovsky

Bond: …A shadow operation?
M: …Remember 007, shadows always remain in front or behind… never on top.

Bond: Where’s M?
Elektra: Soon she’ll be everywhere.

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: At World’s End” (2007) Review

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: At World’s End” (2007) Review

When I first saw the trailer for the third installment of the ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN”, I thought I was in for an overblown and possibly unentertaining movie. Quite frankly, the trailer did not impress me very much. And then word came out once the movie was released around May 24-25 that the movie was either confusing or not as good as the first two. I had approached ”AT WORLD’S END” with very low expectations. Thankfully, my expectations proved to be wrong. 

Was ”POTC 3” overblown? Yep. In fact, I can say the same about the first two movies. But at least the three movies were overblown in a manner that I found very enjoyable. And this third movie almost seemed to have an operatic quality about it. That operatic quality seemed to be focused around the movie’s two love stories – Will Turner/Elizabeth Swann (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley) and Davy Jones/Tia Dalma aka Calypso (Bill Nighy and Naomie Harris). One would think that the saga’s main character – Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and his main nemesis Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) would be overlooked. But these two characters provided both plenty of humor and surprisingly, angst to the movie.

”AWE” does not really have a complicated plot. Thanks to James Norrington’s (Jack Davenport) treachery in ”DEAD MAN’S CHEST”, the world of piracy finds itself in danger due to Lord Cutler Beckett’s (Tom Hollander) possession of Davy Jones’s heart. With Jones and the Flying Dutchman under his control, Beckett has the power to rid the seas of pirates and ensure that the British Crown, the East India Trading Company and himself will have control of the world’s seas. The recently resurrected Barbossa seemed to feel that the only way to stop Beckett is to summon the nine pirate lords of the Brethren Court. Both he and the recently deceased Jack Sparrow happened to be part of the Brethren Court. Because Jack had failed to name a successor, Barbossa needs Jack alive to take part in the meeting of the pirate lords. Will, who had witnessed a kiss between Elizabeth and Jack in ”DMC”, wants Jack alive for two reasons – he believes that Elizabeth is in love with Jack and he needs the Black Pearl to catch up with the Flying Dutchman. Elizabeth wants to bring Jack back to alleviate her guilt for luring the eccentric pirate to his death in the last film. Tia Dalma, the Vodoun priestess who had resurrected Barbossa needs both the latter and Jack for the “pieces of nine” that represent their positions as pirate lords. Those same pieces of nine could free Dalma from her bodily prison, enabling to become her true identity, the goddess Calypso.

Due to the needs and desires of the main characters, a great deal of double-crossing and back stabbing ensues – especially by Jack, Will and Barbossa. Another pirate lord, Sao Feng (Chow Yun Fat), gets into the act because he wants revenge against Jack for sleeping with his concubines . . . and to ensure his survival against Beckett’s purge.

I thought I would have trouble keeping up with so much treachery being committed. Oddly enough, I never did – aside from a few points. If Barbossa, Will and Elizabeth needed a ship so badly to reach the World’s End (Davy Jones’ Locker), how on earth did they reach Singapore in the first place? At first, I wanted to criticize the writers Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot for their vague explanation of the curse that had bound both Davy Jones and later, Will to command of the Flying Dutchman. Many fans – including myself – were forced to use the Internet to find out the details of the curse. As it turned out, Elliot and Rossio did include a scene in which Tia Dalma/Calypso had explained the curse in detail to Will. But for some reason, the film’s editors decided to cut it decrease the movie’s running time. Idiot editors. All they did was end up confusing a lot of fans, considering Elliot and Rossio confirmed that the Flying Dutchman curse was broken in the post-end credits scene when Will returned to Elizabeth for good. Other than that, I truly enjoy the movie’s story and have to commend the writers for doing a better job than I had anticipated.

The cast was exceptional as always. What can one say about Johnny Depp? His performance in this movie seemed even better than in the second film. I especially enjoyed three moments by Depp – his multifaceted performance of the many aspects of Jack’s personality in the Locker; the serious moment between Jack and Barbossa as the latter pointed out the folly of Jack’s tendency to run from trouble; and his look of horror when Jones managed to fatally stab Will. I had no idea that dear old Jack truly cared about Will.

And Geoffrey Rush came pretty close to stealing the picture from Depp. This time, his Barbossa turned out to be a much more complex and ambiguous than he was in ”CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”. Sure, we saw more of Barbossa’s villainy and double-crossing. But this is the same guy who also had no problems with marrying Will and Elizabeth . . . even in the middle of a sea battle. I swear that was one of the craziest wedding ceremonies I have ever seen on the movie screen. And when he double-crossed Jack for the last time, at least he was kind enough not to put Jack’s life in jeopardy.

Both Naomie Harris (who seemed a bit scary at times) and Bill Nighy provided great pathos as the romantically doomed Tia Dalma (Calypso) and Davy Jones. I especially enjoyed their scene in which each confronted the other with their past betrayals. Tom Hollander seemed to take great pleasure in his portrayal of the villainous Lord Beckett. Quite frankly, I can say the same about Chow Yun Fat, who seemed to enjoy delving into Sao Feng’s villainy. I had feared he would end up chewing the scenery, so to speak. Instead, he managed to come off as intimidating as Rush, Hollander and Nighy (and Harris, I may add). My only real complaint has to be Jack Davenport’s presence in the movie. Davenport has allowed his James Norrington to become a sad figure haunted by his ever-continuing love for Elizabeth and his betrayal in the last film. And I thought that he did a marvelous job in conveying Norrington’s regrets over his DMD actions. Unfortunately, there was not enough of Norrington in the film. Hell, the guy who portrayed Beckett’s right hand man – Mercer – had received more screen time. And there is something wrong with that.

But I feel that the movie truly belonged to Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley as the young lovers – Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. The pair’s characters and performances really struck a chord with me. Instead of the naïve and sweet lovers they had portrayed in the first film, the pair had become more ambiguous and complex. It seemed interesting to watch these two deal with each other’s insecurities, mistaken beliefs and constant sniping. They actually seemed like a real couple, instead of an idealized one. Most of the movie critics have praised Knightley for her performance. Granted, it was a major improvement over her acting in ”DMC” in which she had seemed a bit over-the-top at times, I do believe that Bloom deserved some of that praise, as well. But because he is a major teen idol, the critics have seemed fit to either ignore him or make insulting comments about his acting. I can only assume that their noses were so far up their asses that they failed to notice Bloom’s obvious talent for pathos . . . or the fact that he can be rather funny – especially in a scene in which he had volunteered to take command of the Black Pearl in the middle of one of Jack and Barbossa’s many shipboard quarrels. I hope that one day, Bloom will finally be appreciated as a good and dependable actor.

The movie has its flaws – especially the vague handling of the Flying Dutchman curse and James Norrington’s character – but I must admit that I was surprised that I managed to enjoy it a lot more than I had assumed I would. I have also heard rumors that Bruckheimer and Verbinski plan to make a fourth ”PIRATES” movie. I honestly have no idea on how to react to that. They are lucky in which they have managed to create three exceptional films. I cannot help but wonder if they are in danger of pushing their luck with a fourth one. Oh well. Only time will tell.