“X-MEN” Movies Ranking

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

“JERICHO” Retrospect: (1.07) “Long Live the Mayor”

 

“JERICHO” RETROSPECT: (1.07) “Long Live the Mayor”

For the past two to three years, I have always believed that the Season One episode, (1.08) “Rogue River” was the one in which “JERICHO” really came into its own. But after watching (1.07) “Long Live the Mayor”, the episode that first aired a week before “Rogue River”, I think I may have made a mistake. .

In this episode, Gray Anderson’s return to Jericho brought about a great deal of emotions from some of the townspeople. Especially from two people in particular. This all started when Gray had volunteered to become one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who had left town in (1.03) “Four Horsemen”. They left to search for outside news following the nuclear attacks. Jake had immediately returned with news of a plane crash that involved Emily Sullivan’s missing fiance, Roger Hammond. Another “Horseman”, Shep, disappeared for good, due to guilt over the death of citizen during the fallout in the second episode. I do not recall who the third Horseman was, but Gray remained missing for three episodes before his return in this one.

Gray’s news turned out to be a mixed blessing. He revealed a disturbing tale of the fatal beating of a FEMA driver by drifters outside of Topeka, Kansas – a fate that he managed to avoid. Gray also revealed that the New York Police Department had found a nuclear bomb in a van minutes before it was set to destroy the metropolis. However, both Lawrence, Kansas and Washington D.C. were destroyed. Gray’s experiences on the road eventually led him to suggest to Eric Green that all of Jericho’s recent newcomers – including the Hawkins family – be interrogated, in case they turned out to be threats to the town. Of course Gray’s interrogation of the Hawkins family took place in “Rogue River”. But as I stated earlier, his news affected certain characters.

The news about New York City being spared from destruction, thanks to the NYPD brought a great deal of relief for the sixteen year-old Skylar Stevens, whose parents had been in the Big Apple when the bombs fell. And since Dale Turner – another one of Jericho’s adolescents without any parents – was the one who delivered the good news, the two became closer friends. However, the destruction of Washington D.C. proved to be another matter. IRS agent Mimi Clark originally came from the nation’s capital. When Stanley Richmond, at whose farm she was staying, gave her the news, she realized that she had lost all of her family and close friends. Both Robert and Darcy Hawkins were present when Gray disclosed Washington’s fate and the two eventually told their oldest – Allison. Naturally, Allison discussed the loss of her friends with Robert. She also revealed that Darcy had a boyfriend who also perished.

“Long Live the Mayor” also featured the second appearance of James Remar as Emily’s estranged criminal father, Jonah Prowse. His appearance provided an opportunity for some excellent performances by Remar and actress Ashley Scott, who portrayed Emily. It also included Jake’s only kiss with local schoolteacher Heather Linsinki. I wish I could say that I found their screen kiss impressive. But I would be lying. It seemed apparent to me why producers Jon Turteltaub, Stephen Chbosky, and Carol Barbee did not bother to develop any further romance between the two. However, I am certain there are Jack/Heather shippers who feel otherwise. Also in this episode, Mayor Johnston Greene’s illness finally sends him into septic shock after two episodes. With no drugs available to cure him, April tells the Greene family in a rather tense scene that he needs the antibiotic Cipro within the next 12 hours or he would die. Jake and Eric decide to head for the town of Rogue River, the location of the nearest major hospital, in order to procure the drug for their father.

A great deal of interesting moments and excellent performances filled this episode. But three scenes, featuring three performances really stood out for me. The first performance came from actor Michael Gaston as the opportunist Gray Anderson. In the scene that featured Gray’s revelations about the news outside of Jericho, Gaston portrayed Gray as a man frightened by the horrors he had witnessed and learned during his journey around Kansas. The second performance came from Alicia Coppola, who portrayed Mimi Clark. She gave a superb performance as a Mimi first pretending that she was not shaken by the bad news regarding Washington D.C. and later, releasing her despair in a marvelous rant that should have earned her some kind of acting nomination. Finally, there was April D. Parker, whose Darcy Hawkins faced the triple task of dealing with the destruction of Washington D.C., the death of Doug, her former lover, and Robert’s discovery of said lover. One would think that Darcy would crumble over a series of crisis. Being a strong willed woman, Darcy holds her own. But in a quiet, yet marvelous performance given by Parker, Darcy finally reveals her true feelings about moving to Jericho, Doug, and how Robert’s profession had endangered their marriage and family life. Her outburst culminated in a phrase that perfectly described the Hawkins marriage before their arrival in Jericho – “House of Secrets”. Parker’s performance was another that should have earned an acting nomination.

The episode ended with Heather admitting to Emily that she might be falling Jake, Dale and Skylar becoming closer than ever after she invites him to stay at her house, Stanley trying to help Mimi deal with her grief, Gray determined to investigate the Hawkins family and other newcomers, Emily managing to procure Jake’s old car from Jonah for the trip to Rogue River, and the Hawkins marriage still in a precarious state. The episode also ended with Jake and Eric on the road to Rogue River to find medication for an ailing Johnston. And their journey to Rogue River would end in consequences that will resonate throughout the rest of the series’ television run.

“INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE” (2016) Review

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“INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE” (2016) Review

Back in the 1990s, Twentieth Century Fox Studios, producer Dean Devlin and producer-director Roland Emmerich delivered a science-fiction epic about an alien invasion during the Fourth of July holiday. Hence, the title – “INDEPENDENCE DAY”.

Years later, the studio and the two producers delivered a sequel to the 1996 blockbuster. This movie, “INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE”, featured some of the same characters and the same aliens. And . . . this movie was set during the twentieth anniversary of humanity’s previous victory against the aliens – on the Fourth of July.

In anticipation of the invading aliens’ return, the United Nations have collaborated to form the Earth Space Defense (ESD), an international military defense and research organization that has developed hybrid technology, reverse-engineered from the invaders’ fallen ships in anticipation that they would return. When the returning aliens again attack Earth with an advanced and unprecedented force, a new generation of defenders from the ESD joins forces with the surviving protagonists from the 1996 film to participate in a battle to save the world from annihilation. Humanity also discovers that their adversary might also have other enemies of their own. Among the survivors from the first film are:

* David Levinson – the MIT-educated computer expert, environmental activist and one of the heroes from the 1996 film, who has become the ESD Director in charge of the civilian sector

*Thomas J. Whitmore – the former U.S. president during the first invasion and former Gulf War pilot, who has been suffering from occasional bouts of PTS from the previous invasion

*Julius Levinson – David’s widowed father, who has written a book about his previous experiences from the previous invasion

* Dr. Brakish Okun – the comatose Area 51 scientist, who has awaken after 20 years

*Jasmine Dubrow-Hiller – widow of the late war hero Steven Hiller and a former exotic dancer, who had returned to school to study nursing and become a hospital administrator

*Dylan Dubrow-Hiller – Jasmine’s son and Steven Hiller’s stepson, who became a pilot and captain in ESD; and a fleet leader of the Legacy Squadron

*Patricia Whitmore – Whitmore’s daughter, who is not only an ESD pilot, but also aide to the current president, Elizabeth Lanford

*William Grey – retired U.S.M.C. general, Whitmore’s former head of the United States Space Command, who had succeeded the latter as U.S. President

The movie also featured new characters, but I will get to them later.

The movie begins with the world preparing to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of its victory over the aliens. David Levinson and ESD colleague Dr. Catherine Marceaux travel to the Republique Nationale d’Umbutu to meet with warlord Dikembe Umbutu, who leads him to an intact alien destroyer. Aboard the ship, they discover that the alien occupants had sent a distress call to their home planet before being defeated. Furthermore, Levinson and Marceaux discover that Umbutu has been telepathically linked with the aliens ever since his personal encounter with one, years ago. They also discover that both former President Whitmore and Dr. Okun, who awakens at Area 51 after a twenty-year coma, are also among those who are telepathically linked with the aliens, due to their previous encounters.

The following day, an unknown alien ship or sphere emerges from a wormhole near Earth. Although Dr. Levinson believes it might belong to a race that might be benevolent, Earth’s Security Council orders it to be shot down. When ESD pilots Jake Morrison (Patricia Whitmore’s fiance) and Charlie Miller take Levinson, Marceaux, Umbutu, and Levinson’s accountant Floyd Rosenberg to the alien wreckage on a space tug; an alien mothership appears and destroys Earth’s planetary defenses before approaching the planet. The mothership then lands over the Atlantic Ocean and begins destroying cities on the Eastern Seaboard. The alien invaders also begin drilling a hole through the bottom of Earth to harvest the heat of the planet’s core for fuel, which will destroy its magnetic field in the process.

I once came across an article in which producer-director Roland Emmerich admitted that he did not like making sequels. While watching “INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE”, I found it easy to believe his words. The movie, pardon for saying this, seemed to lacked heart. It also seemed to lacked the magic of its 1996 predecessor and a handful of other movies directed by Emmerich. I am aware that “INDEPENDENCE DAY” had its problems. But it still had a magic and energy that was particularly lacking in this new sequel. It seemed as if Emmerich was going through the motions, while directing this film. But you know what? He was not solely to blame. I also had a problem with the film’s screenplay, written by Emmerich, Devlin and three other screenwriters.

First of all, this movie seemed to lack any kind of originality whatsoever. It was bad enough that it tried to copy some of the aspects of the 1996 – especially with the movie’s finale set at Area 51. I also noticed that the movie tried to copy the old “refugees caught up in the alien invasion” with a sequence that featured David Levinson’s father, Julius, traveling from Florida to Nevada with a car full of recently orphaned kids. The problem with this particular sequence is that it did not last very long, due to Mr. Levinson and his companions reaching Nevada rather quickly. Too quickly, if I must be honest.“INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE” also utilized the old “drilling to the Earth’s core” spiel from movies like 1976’S “AT EARTH’S CORE” and 2003’s “THE CORE”, a storyline that failed to generate any interest within me.

I certainly had a problem with the movie’s portrayal of the central (and fictional) African nation, the Republique Nationale d’Umbutu. I found it so stupid. According to a Wiki page, the country came into existence by a local warlord in the wake of the invasion from the previous movie. But the warlord wanted nothing to do with the outside world, despite spending several years fighting some alien survivors. This was just ridiculous. One, I cannot see the international community standing by and allowing any of the alien survivors posing as a threat, even in a newly formed and isolationist country. Two, the d’Umbutu must have been some kind of idiot to prevent other countries from helping out the alien threat against his. By the time of the second film, the warlord’s son, Dikembe Umbutu, had become the new head of state. Not long after he met with David Leivnson and Catherine Marceaux, all three left the country and the Republique National d’Umbutu was never heard from again. The whole point of featuring this setting in the first place was to serve as a background for the Dikembe Umbutu character and to indicate that the alien survivors in that country had sent a distress signal before they were killed. What was the point of this distress signal in the first place? Surely, the aliens’ defeat at the hands of the humans was enough to encourage them for a second attempt at planetary invasion? Good grief!

Another major problem I had with “INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE” was the characterizations featured in this film. The latter seemed to be reeking with clichés. One good example was the Jake Morrison character portrayed Liam Hemsworth. After portraying the complex Gale Hawthorne character in “THE HUNGER GAMES” movie franchise, poor Hemsworth found himself saddled with a very unoriginal character that seemed unworthy of his skills as an actor. Jake Morrison fit the typical “hotshot” pilot trope, straight out of movies like “TOP GUN” – a brash and talented pilot, whose aggressive and cocky manner seemed to irritate his commander. Boring. And the Dylan Dubrow-Hiller character portrayed by Jessie T. Usher, who came off as a humorless straight-arrow type who always seemed to reek with disapproval of Hemsworth’s Jake. Usher was Val Kilmer to Hemsworth’s Tom Cruise. I am not that familiar with Angelababy as an actress, but it seemed clear to me that her character, ESD pilot Lieutenant Rain Lao, is a female version of Dylan Dubrow-Hiller, whose uncle is the ESD Moon Base’s commander, portrayed by Emmerich veteran Chin Han (“2012”). And what would a “hotshot” type like Jake Morrison be without his goofy sidekick “aka Anthony Edwards”? Travis Tope filled this spot in his portrayal of Jake’s “devoted” friend, Lieutenant Charlie Miller. And just to make sure that poor Charlie was more than a sidekick, the screenwriters allowed him to become infatuated with Lieutenant Lao, who seemed to have no interest in him, whatsoever . . . until he proved his . . . manliness in the final battle against the aliens and their queen. Maika Monroe as Patricia Whitmore did not really do much in this film other than express concern for her ailing father, Thomas Whitmore and be Hemsworth’s romantic interest. Well . . . at least her character played a minor role

But the younger characters were not the only ones I found troublesome. It was nice to see Jeff Goldblum and Judd Hirsch portray David and Julian Levinson, again. Unfortunately, the writers dumped Hirsch’s character with a bunch of kids led by an adolescent Joey King in some convoluted attempt to involve them in an “epic” journey. As the for the David Levinson character, he seemed to be romancing his ESD colleague, Dr. Catherine Marceaux, portrayed by Charlotte Gainsbourg. Which led me to wonder what happened to Connie Spano, the ex-wife with whom David had reunited at the end of the 1996 film. Did her character die sometime between the two movies? Or did she and David break up again? Worse, I noticed that David did not have a major role in the aliens’ defeat. Neither did Dr. Marceaux for that manner. Why was she in this movie in the first place, other than provide Jeff Goldblum with a romantic lead? That honor seemed to go to the military characters. At least Brent Spinner’s Dr. Brakish Okun had a lot more to do in this film. He was the one who made first contact with the alien sphere. But how in the hell did he survive from being attacked in the last movie? I thought he had been declared dead. Confusing. Bill Pullman, who portrayed former President Thomas Whitmore spent most of the film reacting to the Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) from his past close encounter with an alien, twenty years ago. He did have a part in the final action scene against the aliens. Actor Deobia Oparei’s Dikembe Umbutu struck me as a one-note characterization of masculinity. He could have been more interesting and worthy of Oparei’s talent, but the screenwriters sold him short. His only real purpose, it seemed, was to be around to give final approval of the Floyd Rosenberg character, after the latter managed to “prove his masculinity” by saving Umbutu’s life. Sigh. Robert Loggia made a brief cameo as Whitmore’s former Chief of Staff General Grey some time before his death in December 2015. Thank goodness this movie was not the last one for a first-rate actor like Loggia.

The worst characterizations proved to be those for Vivica A. Fox’s Jasmine Dubrow-Hiller and Sela Ward’s President Elizabeth Lanford. The screenwriters’ handling of their characters struck me as sheer travesty. In a nutshell, the screenwriters killed off both of them. I was so disgusted that I left the theater feeling that Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich had something against middle-aged women. Fox Jasmine barely had five minutes of screen time before the writers bumped her off, while son Dylan raced to the hospital to save her. Apparently, Emmerich and Devlin had decided she was not worth keeping around, due to Will Smith’s refusal to do the movie. Worse, Fox’s character was fridged for the sake of the Dylan Dubrow-Hiller character. The President Elizabeth Lanford character proved to be a major problem as well. When I first saw Sela Ward (who also appeared in Emmerich’s “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW”) on the screen, I was interested to see how the screenwriters would explore how she would handle an alien invasion. Well, audiences did not get to see much, because the writers . . . KILLED HER OFF before the movie had reached the midway point!! Worse, she was replaced by General Joshua T. Adams of the ESD, as portrayed by William Fitchner. Apparently, Devlin and Emmerich do not believe that a woman civilian is capable of leading a nation through an alien invasion.

I will give “INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE” points for its attempts at originality. One, the humans’ defeat of the alien invaders played out differently than it did in the 1996 movie. It involved the invaders’ Queen (or leader) arriving at the Area 51 base (for reasons that had eluded me), David and Julius Levinson on a bus with the latter’s young traveling companions, both Thomas and Patricia Whitmore, and a group of ESD pilots that involved Dylan Dubrow-Hiller and Jake Morrison. I wish I could go into details on what happened, but I do not think I have the energy to do so. But it was original, if not someone cheesy. The introduction of another alien race that might be enemies of the invaders was another interesting attempt at originality. I suspect this new race was introduced to hint at the possibility of a franchise developing from this movie. Hmmmm. We will see. Although I have my doubts.

I will also give points to “INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE” for its special effects. Yes, I admit that there times when I found Markus Förderer’s photography rather unusually dark . . . more than I care to admit. But when the visuals were clear, I must admit that I found Förderer’s photography rather breathtaking. This was especially the case for the movie’s final action sequence at the Area 51 base. More importantly, his photography greatly enhanced Barry Chusid’s production designs, which did a top-notch job in reflecting how the aliens’ technology had enhanced Earth’s 21st century society; along with the work of the visual effects team led by Shaun Friedberg.

After reading this review, one would come away with the belief that I disliked “INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE”. Yes, I am pissed at how Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich handled the two major middle-aged women characters in this film. And I was far from impressed by the movie’s plot and other characterization. The movie also lacked the magic of the 1996 film. But I liked it. I did not love it. I barely tolerated it. But I liked it. Do not ask me why, because I cannot explain my reaction. Enough said.

“JERICHO” RETROSPECT: (1.06) “9:02”

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“JERICHO” RETROSPECT: (1.06) “9:02”

This sixth episode of “JERICHO” picks up at the same moment where the previous episode, (1.05) “Federal Response”left off. In other words, (1.06) “9:02” started with the citizens of Jericho, Kansas witness the presence of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) soaring eastward over the town’s skies, before the time period jumped another two weeks.

Despite this exciting opening, I found myself wondering why the series’ producers and screenwriter Nancy Won used “9:02” as the episode’s title. I realized that it referred to the time in which the ICBMs sent an electromagnetic pulse that disrupted the electronic devices – cellphones, the Internet, television, radios, etc. – throughout the town. But what did it have to do with the episode’s plot overall?

Come to think of it . . . aside from all electronic devices in Jericho not working (save one), what was “9:02” about? There seemed to be at least three subplots at work in this episode. One of them involved the town’s citizens failed attempts to assume some form of normalcy, following the ICBMs’ disruption of Jericho’s electronic devices. Kids have been stealing from Gracie’s Market. And so has a new character named Mitchell Cafferty, who happened to be an old friend from Jake Green’s delinquent past. Cafferty’s thefts have put him in the path of Dale Turner, the young shop assistant who managed to stumble across a supply of food for the store. Cafferty has also been stealing horses from various farms and ranches outside of town. When Jake and his mother Gail visit the Green family ranch to feed their horses, the latter is nearly trampled, when Mitch and a fellow thief are in the middle of a heist. This sends Jake on the warpath to take down his former friend. Robert Hawkins becomes aware of the enmity between Jake and Mitch and decides to investigate the pair’s past relationship.

Meanwhile, Stanley Richmond is approached by I.R.S. auditor Mimi Clark for room and board in exchange for her labor on his ranch. During their conversation, Stanley discovers worms that have infested his corn crop. He tries to acquire pesticide from merchant Gracie Leigh. But she is only willing to give Stanley insecticide in exchange for profit from half of his corn crop. Even worse for Stanley, Mayor Green is willing to help him get the insecticide if he is willing to share his corn with the town’s citizens. In the final subplot, Allison Hawkins discovers that her father Robert possesses the only electronic device that is still working. She also discovers that he has a map of the U.S. locations that were bombed . . . and a gun. When Allison confronts her father, he decides to tell her that he is a government agent who knew about the September attacks. He also decides to teach her how to shoot. Father and daughter eventually begin to grow close.

Many of these subplots proved to be interesting. And all of them proved to have an impact on the characters’ relationships, developments and the series’ main narrative. At first I had a hard time believing that the situation with Stanley Richmond’s corn crop had any future impact. But it did. One, Stanley’s desperation for the insecticide led Mimi to hire a few kids to steal it from Gracie’s Market. This act led to a visit to the Richmond farm by Deputy Bill Koehler, who reveals his aggressive nature for the first time in the series. This storyline also marked the first time both Stanley and Mimi display something other than hostility toward each other. And it exposed Gracie Leigh’s penchant for avarice, which proved to have an impact upon her character’s future development. Gracie and Dale’s encounters with Mitch Cafferty not only played a major role in their characters’ arc, it also revealed Jake’s past with the criminal. And this, in turned revealed how dangerous Jake could be – something that Robert Hawkins found very interesting.

All of these subplots – Jake/Mitch Cafferty conflict, Dale/Mitch Cafferty conflict, Robert and Allison Hawkins’ relationship, and Stanley’s corn crop – end up having some kind of impact upon future story and character developments. The question remains . . . what did the episode’s title, which was an indication of when the ICBMs disrupted the town’s electronic devices, had to do with the plot? The lack of electronic devices seemed to have robbed Jericho’s citizens of a sense of normalcy, leading many of them to behave more irrationally or aggressive. But overall, the impact of no electricity seemed more like a metaphor of the disruption in the lives of the town’s citizens, instead of any real impact on the series’ overall narrative. And this is probably why I found the use of “9:02” as the episode’s title a bit weak.

However, “9:02” did provide some interesting moments in the series. The episode featured two interesting conversations – one between Robert and Allison and another between Stanley and Mimi. Both conversations changed the relationships of all involved. “9:02” also featured an exciting action scene in which Jake and his brother Eric had a violent encounter with Mitch that I found rather suspenseful. Not only did I find myself wondering if Jake and Eric would be able to arrest Mitch. I wondered how Jake would react once they made the arrest. Needless to say, I was not disappointed by how that encounter turned out. But my favorite sequence proved to be the montage in which Jericho’s citizens arrived at the Richmond farm to help Stanley save his corn crop. After Jake greeted Robert in the middle of the cornfield, the following exchange occurred between the Hawkins father/daughter duo:

Allison: [in reference to Jake] Is he a good man or a bad man?

Robert: Baby, there is no such thing.

In that one line, Robert Hawkins said more about humanity’s moral ambiguity than any other person – fictional or real – ever has.

Do not get me wrong. I enjoyed “9:02” a good deal. It was interesting to see how the ICBMs’ impact upon the town’s electronic devices affected the citizens. And the episode featured some very good performances, especially from Skeet Ulrich, Pamela Reed, Lennie James, Erik Knudsen, Jazz Raycole, Brad Beyer and Alicia Coppola. But if I must be honest, I wish that someone on the production staff for “JERICHO” had given this episode a better title. This sounds like a shallow criticism. But if one looked at the episode, the ICBMs’ impact upon the town seemed to have a minor impact upon the episode’s narrative, aside from the Robert and Allison Hawkins’ familial relationship.

“THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART II” (2015) Review

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“THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART II” (2015) Review

Some five or six years ago, Warner Brothers Studios began a new tradition when its executives made a decision to split its adaptation of the last “HARRY POTTER” film into two novels. A year later, Summit Entertainment continued this tradition by splitting its adaptation of the last “TWILIGHT” novel into two films. And now Lionsgate has done the same by adapting Suzanne Collins’ last novel in her “The Hunger Games”trilogy with two movies. The studio ended the movie franchise with the release of “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II”.

This last film, which is based upon the second half of Collins’ 2010 novel, picked up where the 2014 movie left off – with Katniss Everdeen aka “The Girl on Fire” recovering from being attacked by her close friend, Peeta Mallark, after he had been brainwashed by the Capitol into regarding her as an enemy. After being attacked by a supporter of Panem’s President Snow during a propaganda campaign in District 2, Katniss is frustrated by rebel leader Alma Coin’s insistence that she stay away from the battlefields. Fellow tribute from the 75th Quater Quell Games, Johanna Mason, quietly suggests that she sneak aboard a supply ship leaving for the Capitol, where Commander Paylor is planning an invasion, during the wedding of former tributes Finnick Odair and Annie Cresta. Unable to control Katniss, Coin decides to assigned her to the “Star Squad”; along with childhood friend Gale Hawthorne, Finnick, and documentary director Cressida and her team. Led by Katniss’ former bodyguard, Boggs, the squad is order to remain in safety behind the actual invasion of the Capitol and provide video clips of their incursion for propaganda purposes. But Katniss and her fellow combatants encounter a great deal of danger from Capitol soldiers, explosive pods and mutated animals. Coin also assigns Peeta to the squad, despite the fact that he has not completely recovered from his conditioning. What starts out as a propaganda campaign for the squad, eventually becomes a dangerous and bloody mission that ends in tragedy and a great surprise.

This last “HUNGER GAMES” movie received a great deal of praise. But at the same time, these same critics expressed dismay that the last novel in the franchise had been split into two films. Surprisingly, I had no problems with how the adaptation of “Mockingjay” resulted in two films. Unlike the last “HARRY POTTER”and “TWILIGHT” adaptations, the two-part adaptation for this particular movie seemed to break at the right moment – namely the rescued Peeta Mellark’s attack on protagonist Katniss Everdeen. However, I did have a few problems with “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II”. I wish the screenwriters and director Francis Lawrence had featured a few scenes of Panem citizens rebelling against the Capitol . . . just as they had done in “PART I”. In fact, I wish they could have featured a few scenes of the rebels inching towards the Presidential mansion, before Katniss and close friend Gale Hawthorne had reached it. The movie seemed so fixed upon Katniss’ point-of-view (POV) that the entire sequence featuring the massacre of the Capitol citizens, Peacekeepers and rebel medics from bombs seemed slightly disjointed and confusing. I also wish that the screenplay had included a scene from the novel in which Katniss and her mother, Mrs. Everdeen, said good-bye to each other over the telephone. I never understood why they did not include that scene in the film. It would have been a great moment for both Jennifer Lawrence and Paula Malcomson.

Quibbles aside, I must admit that I really enjoyed “MOCKINGJAY, PART II”. I thought director Francis Lawrence and screenwriters Danny Strong and Peter Craig did a very good job of adapting the second half of Collins’ novel. I had worried that Lion’s Gate Studios would insist that the screenwriters and Lawrence drastically change the story by giving it a less bittersweet ending. Lo and behold, no such thing happened.“THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II” – especially its ending – literally wallowed in moral ambiguity. More importantly, story allowed its heroine, in the end, to succumb to her worst instincts in a way that made sense to the saga that began in the first chapter. I believe it took balls for Suzanne Collins to end Katniss Everdeen’s struggles against the Capitol on that note. And I can say the same for Lawrence, Strong, Craig and the film’s producers.

I was also impressed by the movie’s portrayal of Peeta Mallark in this chapter of the saga. As many know, Peeta had spent most of “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART I” as a captive of the Capitol. He had been tortured and brainwashed via a tracker jacker venom into making an attempt on Katniss’ life. The filmmakers could have easily ignored Collins’ story and allowed Peeta’s recovery to be a quick job before he joined Katniss’ squad in the Capitol’s streets. Instead, they decided to follow Collins’ story and allowed Peeta’s recovery to be slow. By doing this, they allowed Peeta’s presence in the squad to not only endanger everyone, but have an impact on Katniss’ relationship with the Rebellion’s leadership.

More importantly, “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II” continued the saga’s theme of the impact war has human beings. After all, this theme has been present since Katniss and Peeta found themselves in 74th Hunger Games arena in the first movie. But in these last two movies, audiences see how war impacts everyone and not just a group of tributes coerced into playing out a lethal war game for the sake of television ratings. The war eventually has an impact upon Katniss’ various relationships – especially with Peeta, her best friend Gale Hawthorne, her family and the Rebellion’s leadership . . . and also upon her psyche. What I found interesting in the combat featured in this film is that Katniss and her fellow combatants not only have to deal with the traditional weapons of war, but also the muttations and other technical wonders usually reserved for the Hunger Games. The most harrowing examples of the Capitol’s use of muttations were the flood of black tar on the Capitol’s streets and the lizard mutts’ attack upon the squad inside the Capitol’s sewer system. I found this sequence rather difficult to watch, due to the scary images, the level of violence and the devastating impact upon the squad. But I must say . . . I thought it was one of the most frightening scenes in the entire saga. And due to Lawrence’ direction, the cast’s performances, the editing team of Alan Edward Bell and Mark Yoshikawa, cinematographer Jo Willems, and the special effects team; I also found it very effective.

Speaking of the performances, there is not enough I can say about them. I could not find a misstep made by any member of the cast. “MOCKINGJAY, PART II” featured some really solid performances from the likes of Elden Henson, Wes Chatham, Evan Ross, Stef Dawson, Sarita Choudhury, and Meta Golding. Natalie Dormer continued her excellent portrayal of television director Cressida. Patina Miller gave a more subtle performance as District 8’s Commander Paylor, who ends up playing a major role at the end of the rebellion. Although her screen time was somewhat limited in the movie, Jena Malone continued to give a colorful performance as former tribute Johanna Mason. Actually, she was not the only one whose screen time was limited. I could also say the same about Woody Harrelson, who portrayed Katniss and Peeta’s mentor Haymitch Abernathy; Jeffrey Wright as former tribute and the Rebellion’s tech man Beetee Latier; Elizabeth Banks as Katniss and Peeta’s escort Effie Trinket; Paula Malcomson as Katniss’ delicate mother Mrs. Everdeen; Willow Shields as Katniss’ quiet and highly determined sister Primrose; and Stanley Tucci as Hunger Games host Caesar Flickerman. Thankfully, they were all top-notch, as usual.

There were cast members who given opportunities to strut their stuff in one or two scenes. There was an excellent moment for Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, who as Rebellion commander Bogg, tries to warn Katniss about President Alma Coin’s true goals in a heartbreaking scene. Sam Claflin continued his excellent performance as former tribute Finnick Odair – especially in two scenes. One of them featured his character’s wedding to another former tribute Annie Cresta. And other featured his attempts to placate the still hijacked Peeta. One scene that featured an intense performance by Michelle Forbes, who portrayed Boggs’ second-in-command, Lieutenant Jackson. However, Donald Sutherland and Julianne Moore received a good number of opportunities to showcase their talent. As President Coriolanus Snow of Panem and President Alma Coin of the Rebellion, the two performers gave interesting, yet contrasting takes on presidential villainy. Sutherland’s performance struck me as verbose, but with a slight edge of desperation, as his character struggle to deal with the possibility of defeat. On the other hand, Moore’s performance seemed a good deal more subtle . . . cool. I got the impression of observing a personality that proved to be a lot more manipulative than Snow’s and just as murderous in the occasional flash in her eyes.

The movie also featured superb performances from the three leads. Liam Hemsworth gave an interesting performance as rebel Gale Hawthorne. Very interesting. Hemsworth skillfully expressed Gale’s fervent aggression against Snow’s administration, but also a disturbing willingness to resort to any means necessary to end the war in the rebels’ favor. But for me, his best scene featured that moment when his character was unable to verify whether one of his weapon designs was used in an attack in front of the Presidential mansion. Hemsworth barely said a word, but his stark emotion is perfectly clear on his face. I think Josh Hutcherson had the most difficult role in this movie. He had to take the Peeta Mellark character on a journey from the murderous and brainwashed young man to someone who managed to find some semblance of peace in the wake of two Hunger Games and a violent war. Thanks to the screenwriters and Hutcherson’s performance, Peeta’s journey was not rushed into some futile effort to resume his old relationship with Katniss as quickly as possible. And this journey resulted in a beautiful scene in which Peeta finally told Katniss how she was needed to end this war against Snow – a scene that Hutcherson not only acted his ass off, but also brought tears to my eyes. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Katniss Everdeen seemed a bit more subtle than usual in this movie. I found this surprising, considering her role as the movie’s lead. I suspect that Katniss’ unusual subtlety came from having the brainwashed Peeta in her midst. I also suspect that Katniss’ unease toward Gale’s “by any means necessary” attitude toward the use of violence may have contributed to that unease. Lawrence really kept her performance under control in this film. But there was one scene in which Lawrence’s performance blew me away, when she openly expressed Katniss’ rage and grief against the tragedies she had experienced during the war.

I understand that “THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART II” made less money than the previous three movies. Personally, I do not see this as a reflection of the movie’s quality. Sure, it had a few bumps in the narrative and the production. But so did the other three films. Frankly, I thought it was an outstanding conclusion to one of the best movie franchises I had the good fortune to see. And one can thank not only Suzanne Collins’ imagination and talent, but also Francis Lawrence’s first-rate direction, a well-written script by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, and a talented cast led by the always superb Jennifer Lawrence that brought Collins’ story to life.

 

“ELYSIUM” (2013) Review

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“ELYSIUM” (2013) Review

Four years ago, writer-director Neil Blomkamp made a name for himself with the release of his science-fiction thriller, “DISTRICT 9”. The movie made a celebrity out of the movie’s leading man, Sharlto Copely, as well. A few years passed before the two men paired up with Matt Damon and Jodie Foster to make a second science-fiction movie called “ELYSIUM”.

Set in the year 2154, “ELYSIUM” told the story of Max Da Costa, a parolee and former car thief who lives in ravaged Los Angeles. In the 22nd century, two classes of Humans exist – the very wealthy, who live on a luxurious space station called Elysium; and the poor, who live on an overpopulated, devastated Earth. Ruthless androids police the impoverished residents on Earth, while the Elysian citizens are serviced by robotic servants in a comfortable and luxurious setting. And while Earth’s citizens receive questionable and ineffective health care from health care workers at rundown hospitals, Elysian citizens regularly use man-sized medical devices called Med-Pods in their homes that keep them free from disease and wounds. Max, who had grown up as an orphan and spent a good deal of his life in prison, now works on an assembly-line at a robotic factory that provides the technology for Elysium called Armadyne Corporation.

An accident at the plant exposes Max to radiation and he discovers that he has five days left to live. Armadyne CEO John Carlyle has Max fired. His friend Julio introduces him to a notorious smuggler and hacker named Spider, who organizes illegal caravans to Elysium. Spider agrees to get Max to Elysium, if Max can help him steal valuable financial information from Carlyle. Spider arranges for Max to receive a fake Elysium ID needed to use the Med-Pods, a primitive powered exoskeleton that increases his strength to rival the android sentinels, and a cerebral data uplink, which will allow Max to transfer information from Carlyle’s mind to his own. With help from a team that includes Julio, Max intercepts Carlyle’s space shuttle and steals the latter’s data (including the program), uploading it to his own brain. The team, however, finds the data scrambled by Carlyle’s security measures and cannot transmit it to Spider. Even worse, Max and the others are forced to deal with a brutal mercenary named Kruger, who works for Elysian Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt. And Delacourt wants the information that Max had downloaded from Carlyle’s mind in the hopes of using it to stage a coup d’etat against Elysium’s President Patel. The information from Carlyle’s mind could also help Max’s childhood friend, Frey, who is not only a nurse, but also the mother of a young girl dying from leukemia.

Although I had been impressed by “DISTRICT 9” four years ago, I have to be honest and say that I found a few aspects of the movie a little off-putting. I cannot say the same about “ELYSIUM”. There is nothing about it that I found off-putting . . . only questionable. However, “ELYSIUM” failed to impressed me. I am sorry, but it simply did not. The movie did benefit from some virtues. I have to give credit to Blomkamp’s screenplay for exploring issues that affect our lives today . . . and may even have a bigger impact upon our future – immigration, transhumanism, class issues and especially health care issues. And I must say that I found Blomkamp’s vision of 22nd century Los Angeles, reinforced by Philip Ivey’s production designs and Trent Opaloch’s photography, to be very interesting and original. And I cannot help but wonder if his vision will prove to be prophetic. The movie’s action sequences struck me as impressive. And I found Blomkamp’s handling of the sequence featuring Max’s theft of Carlyle’s data from the latter’s mind to be first-rate. Personally, I feel that it is the best sequence in the movie.

Too bad “ELYSIUM” featured even more aspects that I found either questionable or simply . . . off-putting. Yes, I know that I had earlier claimed that the movie did not have any off-putting aspects about it. I now realize I had been wrong. My biggest complaint about “ELYSIUM” happens to be its second half. Whatever intelligence Blomkamp injected into the script’s first half, he seemed to have ripped it away in its second. And this happened when Max made a bargain with Kruger for a trip to Elysium in exchange for Carlyle’s program (threatening suicide by a live grenade next to his head). It did not help that Frey and her daughter were along for the ride with Max as hostages of Kruger. So many stupid incidents occurred during the movie’s second half; including the reconstruction of Kruger’s damaged face from an exploded grenade held by Max with the Med-Pods. Kruger should have been dead after what happened to his face. But following his recovery . . . oh God! It was just one big mess! I would tell what happened, but I fear I have given away too much of the plot, already.

There were other aspects of “ELYSIUM” I found disturbing. According to its premise, 22nd century humanity will be divided into two classes – working class and the elite. So, what happened to the middle-class? Did economic upheavals caused its elimination? And if the middle-class had ceased to exist, to which class did Max’s immediate supervisor at the plant belonged? Or the doctor that Frey worked with? And why did Max seemed to be the only white person among the working-class in Los Angeles? Surely, there were other whites among the working-class. And if Blomkamp intended for Los Angeles’ working-class to consist mainly of a large majority of Latinos and less blacks and Asian-Americans, why cast the obviously white Matt Damon as Max Da Costa?

Speaking of Damon, he gave a decent performance as the movie’s protagonist, Max Da Costa. But he did not exactly rock my boat. He tried. But Max never struck me as a particularly interesting character. I would have been more impressed by Jodie Foster’s portrayal of the cold-blooded Jessica Delacourt, if I were not so confused by her accent. If anyone has an idea of what her accent was supposed to be, please let me know. One could always count on Sharlto Copely to give a top-notch performance in any movie. His portrayal of Delacourt’s thug, Kruger, was certainly an all-out effort on his part. Unfortunately, Kruger struck me as one of the most-one-dimensional villains I have ever seen on the movie screen in the past few years. One would think that an old friend like Blomkamp could have written Kruger with a little more dimension for Copely. I have never seen any of Alice Braga’s previous performances. And she struck me as a very competent actress. But like Copely, she was saddled with a one-dimensional character that no skillful acting could overcome. At least for me.

There were some performances that impressed me. William Fitchner gave a first-rate performance as the businesslike and brainy CEO John Carlyle, whose bigotry toward the working-class led to a dislike of being touched. Wagner Moura infused a great deal of energy into his performance of the smuggler and hacker, Spider. And this energy carried into every scene he was in. Diego Luna, whom I last saw in 2012’s “CONTRABAND” gave a very compassionate performance as Max’s loyal and caring friend, Julio. It was nice to see Faran Tahir, who portrayed Elysium’s President Patel, after a few years. And like Moura, he infused a good deal of energy into his performance and the movie, thanks to some skillful acting.

“ELYSIUM” could boast some virtues, including an interesting premise, excellent production designs and photography, and skillful acting from some of the cast. But a few one-dimensional characterizations and a plot that lost a great deal of intelligence in its second half resulted in “ELYSIUM” becoming something of a disappointment for me.

“JERICHO” RETROSPECT: (1.05) “Federal Response”

 

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“JERICHO” RETROSPECT: (1.05) “Federal Response”

After my surprised delight over the narrative for the previous episode, (1.04) “Walls of Jericho”, I wondered if my delight would continued into the next episode. I would not judge (1.05) “Federal Response” to be better than its predecessor. But it proved to be quite surprising . . . from a certain point of view.

I am not stating that I found “Federal Response” disappointing, as I did (1.03) “Four Horsemen”, but I would not view it as one of the better episodes of Season One, let alone its first half. In this episode, the citizens of Jericho deal with mysterious messages from the Department of Homeland Security and several fires caused by a series of power spikes. The episode begins with a handful of Jericho’s citizens playing cards inside Mary Bailey’s Tavern at the break of dawn. The electricity, which had shut down in the previous episode, returns and telephones all over town start ringing. Jericho’s citizens receive a recorded message telling everyone to remain calm and that help is on the way. The Emergency Alert System is put into place as televisions display a message ordering citizens to stand by for further instructions. Also, it seems that someone within the government has ordered the blockage of all computer IP addresses. Even worse, the town becomes plagued by a few power spikes. One of them blows up a transformer on the public library’s roof, setting it ablaze and severing several power lines.

For nearly a decade, I had firmly believed that “Federal Response” was mainly about the series of fires that popped up around Jericho. And for the likes of me, I never understood what the fires had to do with the series’ main narrative. Now, the fires did have something of an impact upon one subplot . . . namely the marriage between Eric and April Green. The series had already established that their marriage was strained and Eric’s affair with tavern owner, Mary Bailey. When Eric and April’s home is destroyed by one of the fires, the former discovers that his wife had filed for divorce before the September bombs in the series’ pilot episode. This discovery led April to reveal that she had changed her mind about a divorce and wanted to give their marriage a second chance. So far, Eric has not made up his mind about that situation.

But what did the fires have to do with the series’ main narrative? Not much. But it did drive forward another subplot that proved to be more important. After the Emergency Alert System has been put in place and the IP addresses are blocked, the mysterious Robert Hawkins uses a portable satellite transceiver in his backyard to access his laptop. While Robert works on the latter to send a message, Jake and best friend Stanley Richmond go to the local pumping station to give access to water for the firemen trying to put out the library fire. Once their mission is a success, Jake goes to the roof with Stanley’s rifle scope to search for any other fires. Not only does he spot the fire that will consume Eric and April’s house, he also spots Robert working on the laptop. More importantly, Robert sees Jake watching him. Later, Robert forces Jake to accept his help in trying to save Eric and April’s house in order to ascertain what the latter knows. Later, Robert checks Jake’s background and discovers that the latter has visited a series of countries and now has a flagged passport. In the end, both the Federal “response” and the fires allowed Jake and Robert to realize that neither is what the other seemed to be. And their realizations will eventually drive the pair to develop a future relationship that will have a major impact upon the series’ main narrative.

Aside from the matter regarding Eric and April’s strained marriage, other personal dramas featured in this episode drove the series forward. For the first time, Jake hinted the trauma of his past five years to his father. And for the first time, Johnston Green seemed more than ready to welcome back his recalcitrant son. Robert’s family life remains strained, as he tries to discipline his older offspring Allison about her use of water. The teenager refuses to listen to her father, still resentful of the past. And Robert refuses to listen to his wife Darcy’s warning about how to treat their children, hinting that he might be forced to leave again. Stranded IRS agent Mimi Clark tries to warn Mary Bailey that Eric might not be serious about her. Dale Turner and Skylar Stevens grow even closer, after one of the fires destroy the trailer where Dale lives. And Jake’s reaction to Emily Sullivan getting injured by a fallen power line hints that he still harbors strong feelings for her. Rather surprisingly, all of these small, personal dramas will eventually have some impact upon the series’ future narrative and subplots.

“Federal Response” also featured the usual first-rate performances. The episode featured solid performances from most of the cast. But the performances that really caught my attention came from eight cast members. The messy love triangle between Eric, April and Mary proved to be realistic and complex, thanks to the first-rate performances by Kenneth Mitchell, Darby Stanchfield and Clare Carey. Alicia Coppola gave an interesting and wry performance as the observant and sardonic IRS agent Mimi Clark, who believes she knows how the Eric/Mary affair will end. Both Gerald McRaney and Pamela Reed were excellent as Jake and Eric’s parents, Johnston and Gail Green, in scenes that featured the pair’s separate reactions to Jake’s current presence in Jericho. But my favorite performances came from leads Skeet Ulrich and Lennie James, who did excellent jobs in conveying their characters’ reactions to the current crisis and personal demons. More importantly, for the first time they truly hinted the strong chemistry that will make them one of the better action teams in science-fiction/fantasy television.

As I had stated earlier, “Federal Response” proved to be an interesting episode that managed to contribute to the series’ narrative . . . by a hair’s length. It also featured some solid performances, along with first-rate ones that include both Skeet Ulrich and Lennie James. But there is one thing I forgot to add . . . the episode also ended on an ominous note. The town’s citizens felt a distinct rumble – as if the ground was shaking . . . before they rushed outside and spotted what appeared to be two ballistic missiles soaring through the night sky above Jericho.