“THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” (1993) Review

“THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” (1993) Review

Looking back, I realized that I have seen very few movie and television adaptations of Mark Twain’s novels – especially those that featured his two most famous characters, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I take that back. I have seen a good number of adaptations, but it has been a long time since I have viewed any of them. Realizing this, I decided to review the 1993 Disney adaptation of Twain’s 1885 novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.

According to Wikipedia, “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” mainly focused the first half of Twain’s novel. After watching the film, I realized that Wikipedia had made an error. The movie focused on four-fifths of the narrative. It ignored the novel’s last segment – namely Huck Finn’s reunion with his friend, Tom Sawyer, at the Arkansas plantation owned by the latter’s uncle. Actually, director/screenwriter Stephen Sommers combined the aspects of both this chapter and the previous one in which Huck meets the two con men – “The Duke” and “The King” – along with the Wilkes sisters into one long segment for the movie’s second half. In fact, Sommers named the town in which the Wilkes sisters lived after Tom’s Uncle Phelps. I know what many are thinking . . . “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” is not a completely faithful adaptation of Twain’s novel. Considering that I have yet to come across a movie or television production that is not completely faithful of a source novel or play, I find such complaints unnecessary. At least for me. Especially since I had very little problems with Sommers’ adaptation in the first place.

Anyone familiar with Twain’s novel knows what happened. A Missouri boy named Huckleberry Finn (who first appeared in Twain’s 1876 novel, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”) is living with a pair of widowed sisters – the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson – when his drunken and violent father, “Pap” Finn, reappears in his life, determined to get his hands on the money left to Huck by his late wife. After Huck spends a terrifying night with a drunken Pap, he decides to fake his death and head for Jackson’s Island in the middle of the Mississippi River. There, he discovers Jim, Miss Watson’s slave and one of Huck’s closest friends, hiding out as well. Jim had escaped after learning Miss Watson’s decision to sell him down the river. Huck initially condemns Jim for running away. But due to their friendship, he decides to help Jim escape and join the latter on a trip down the Mississippi to Cairo, Illinois. There, Jim hopes to find river passage up the Ohio River to freedom. Unfortunately, their plans fail fall apart and the two friends end up facing a series of adventures and different characters as they find themselves heading down the Mississippi River.

To be honest, I have never read a review of “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN”. In fact, I have never seen the movie in theaters. Which is a shame. Because this film is damn good. I had seen the version that aired on PBS back in 1985. And I never thought any version could top it. Well, this particular version did not top it . . . so to speak. But, I do not regard it as inferior to the 1985 version. I believe that both movies are truly first-rate. I just happen to prefer this version, which was written and directed by Stephen Sommers. I do recall how many critics had initially dismissed the film, believing it had “Disneyfied” what is regarded by many as Mark Twain’s masterpiece . . . well, at least in the many years following his death.

Sommers’ screenplay had managed to “Disneyfied” Twain’s story in one way. It avoided the use of the word “nigger” to describe Jim Watson and other African-American characters. Instead, some characters called Jim “boy” in a very insulting and derogatory manner. But there were other changes made to Twain story. Huck’s joke to Jim by pretending he was dead was erased. And as I had stated earlier, the last segment that featured Jim being sold to an Arkansas plantation owned by Tom Sawyer’s uncle, along with Huck’s reunion with his best friend, had been removed. Personally, I had no problems with the removal of Tom’s appearance. Like many literary critics – including those who admired the novel – I have never liked that particular subplot. Instead, Sommers had decided to end the story with a major sequence featuring Huck and Jim’s “partnership” with the two con men who posed as the long-lost brothers of a dead rich man named Wilkes. This allowed Sommers to name Wilkes’ town after Tom Sawyer’s uncle Phelps. Sommers also allowed Huck to experience Tom’s fate in the story. By getting rid of Huck and Jim’s reunion with Tom, Sommers managed to end the movie on a more exciting note, instead of the anti-climatic one that seemed to mar Twain’s story.

But there is one thing that Sommers did not do . . . he did not softened the anti-slavery and anti-racism themes from Twain’s novel. Sommers not only retained the strong sense of travel and adventure along the Mississippi River in the story, he did an effective job of maintaining the author’s anti-slavery and anti-racism themes. This was apparent in scenes that featured Huck and Jim’s debate about the presence of non-English speaking people in the world, the two con men’s discovery of Jim’s status as a runaway slave and their blackmail of the two friends and finally, Huck and Jim’s attempt to make their escape from Phelps’ Landing to a northbound steamboat. To reinforce the theme, Sommers even allowed Jim to be caught by the Grangerford family and forced to become one of their field slaves – something that did not happen in Twain’s novel. More importantly, Jim’s decision to run from Miss Watson would have an impact on their friendship, which had already been established before the story began. This was apparent in Huck’s reluctance to help Jim escape and the latter’s knowledge of Pap’s death . . . something he kept from the boy throughout most of the story. Jim’s status as a runaway, along with the two con men’s dealings at Phelps’ Landing culminated in an exciting conclusion that resulted with a rather scary lynch mob after Huck and Jim’s hides.

But it was not just Sommers’ adaptation of Twain’s story that I found satisfying. “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” is a visually beautiful film. And the producers can thank veteran Hollywood filmmaker Janusz Kaminski for his beautiful photography. His rich and sharp colors, which holds up very well after 22 years, really captured the beauties of the film’s Natchez, Mississippi locations. His photography also added to the film’s early 19th century Mississippi Valley setting. However, Kaminski’s photography was not the only aspect that allowed Sommers to beautifully recapture the film’s setting. I was also impressed by Randy Moore’s art direction and Michael Warga’s set decorations – especially at a riverboat landing in which Huck, Jim and the two con men meet a former resident of Phelps’ Landing. I noticed that Betsy Heimann’s career in Hollywood mainly consisted of movie projects set in the present day. As far as I know, “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” was her only movie project set in the past. I find this a pity, because I was very impressed by her costumes for the movie. In fact, I found them quite beautiful, especially her costumes for Anne Heche, Renée O’Connor and Dana Ivey.

However, the costumes also brought up a small issue I had with the movie. Exactly when is this movie set? Was it set during the 1820s or the 1830s? During a scene between Huck and young Susan Wilks, the former (who was impersonating the Duke and the King’s Cockney valet) pointed out that George IV reigned Great Britain. Which meant the movie could be set anywhere between January 1820 and June 1830. But Heimann’s costumes for the women, with its fuller skirts, seemed to indicate that the movie was definitely set in the 1830s. So, I am a little confused. I am also confused as to why Huck had failed to tell Billy Grangerford that the captured Jim was his servant. Why did he pretend that he did not know Jim? The latter could have been spared a brutal beating at the hands of the family’s overseer. I congratulate Sommers for using the Grangerford sequence to reveal more on the brutality of 19th century American slavery. But he could have easily done this by allowing both Huck and Jim to witness the whipping of a Grangerford slave. I also had a problem with Bill Conti’s score. Well . . . at least half of it. On one hand, Conti’s score meshed well with the story and its setting. However . . . I noticed that some parts of his score had not originally been created for this movie. Being a long time fan of John Jakes’ “North and South” Trilogy and the three television adaptations, I had no problem realizing that Conti had lifted parts of the score he had written for the 1985 miniseries, “NORTH AND SOUTH” and used it for this movie.

I might have a few quibbles about “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN”. But I certainly had no complaints about the film’s cast. The movie was filled with first-rate performances from the movie’s supporting cast. Colorful performances included those from Dana Ivey and Mary Louise Wilson as the kind-hearted Widow Douglas and her more acerbic sister Miss Watson; Ron Perlman, who was both scary and funny as Huck’s drunken father Pap Finn; Francis Conroy as the verbose shanty woman from Huck tries to steal food; Garette Ratliff Henson as the friendly Billy Grangerford; Tom Aldredge as the suspicious Dr. Robinson, who rightly perceives that the two con men are not his late friend’s brothers; Curtis Armstrong as the slightly brainless and naïve former resident of Phelps’ Landing, who told the “Duke and King” everything about the Wilks family; and James Gammon as the tough sheriff of Phelps’ Landing, who seemed to have a naïve regard for the two con men. Anne Heche, along with Renée O’Connor (Gabrielle from “XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS”) and Laura Bundy portrayed the three Wilks sisters – Mary Jane, Julia and young Susan. Both Heche and O’Connor gave charming performances. But I found Bundy rather funny as the suspicious Susan, especially in her interactions with Elijah Wood.

Of all the actors I could have imagined portraying the two con men – the King and the Duke – neither Jason Robards or Robbie Coltrane enter my thoughts. In fact, I could never imagine the gruff-voiced, two-time Oscar winner and the Scottish actor known for portraying Rubeus Hagrid in the “HARRY POTTER” movie franchise as a pair of 19th century Mississippi Valley con artists, let alone an effective screen team. Not only did the pair give great performances, but to my surprise, managed to create a very funny comedy pair. Who knew? But the pair that really carried “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” turned out to be Elijah Wood as the titled character, Huckleberry Finn and Courtney B. Vance as Jim Watson. Someone once complained that Wood was too young to portray Huck Finn in this movie. How on earth did he come up with this observation? Wood was at least twelve years old when he portrayed Huck. Not only was he not too old, he gave a superb performance as the intelligent, yet pragmatic Missouri boy. More importantly, Wood did an excellent job serving as the film’s narrator. Equally superb was Courtney B. Vance, who in my opinion, turned out to be the best cinematic Jim Watson I have ever seen. Vance did an excellent job in conveying the many facets of Jim’s nature – his sense of humor, lack of education, pragmatism and intelligence. Vance made sure that audiences knew that Jim was uneducated . . . and at the same time, a very intelligent man. The best aspect of Wood and Vance’s performances is that the pair made a superb screen team. I have no idea how they felt about each other in real life. On screen, they sparkled like fireworks on the Fourth of July.

“THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” may not be a literal adaptation of Mark Twain’s novel. It is clear that writer-director made some changes. And I must admit that the movie possessed a few flaws. But in the end, I felt it was a first-rate adaptation of the novel that bridled with energy, color, pathos, suspense, humor and a sense of adventure. And one can thank Stephen Sommers for his excellent script and energetic direction, along with the superb cast led by Elijah Wood and Courtney B. Vance. It is one Twain adaptation I could never get tired of watching over and over again.

Favorite Films Set in the 1830s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1830s:

 

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1830s

1. “The Adventures of Huck Finn” (1993) – Elijah Wood and Courtney B. Vance starred in this excellent Disney adaptaion of Mark Twain’s 1885 novel about a young Missouri boy who joines a runaway slave on a journey along the Mississippi River toward the free states in antebellum America. Stephen Sommers directed.

 

1- The Count of Monte Cristo 2002

2. “The Count of Monte Cristo” (2002) – James Caviezel starred as the vengeful Edmond Dantès in Disney’s 2002 adaptation of Alexandre Dumas, père’s 1844 novel. Directed by Kevin Reynolds, the movie co-starred Guy Pearce and Dagmara Dominczyk.

 

2 - Pride and Prejudice 1940

3. “Pride and Prejudice” (1940) – Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier starred in this entertaining adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. Robert Z. Leonard directed.

 

3 - The Count of Monte Cristo 1975

4. “The Count of Monte Cristo” (1975) – Richard Chamberlain gave an intense performance in the 1975 television adaptation of Dumas’ novel. Tony Curtis and Kate Nelligan co-starred.

 

4 - Impromptu

5. “Impromptu” (1991) – Judy Davis and Hugh Grant starred in this comedic tale about author George Sand’s pursuit of composer Frédéric Chopin in 1830s France. James Lapine directed.

 

5 - Amistad

6. “Armistad” (1997) – Steven Spielberg directed this account of the 1839 mutiny aboard the slave ship La Amistad and the trials of the Mendes tribesmen/mutineers, led by Sengbe Pieh. The movie starred Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConnaughey, Morgan Freeman and Anthony Hopkins.

 

6 - Wide Sargasso Sea 2006

7. “Wide Sargasso Sea” (2006) – Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall starred in this 2006 television adaptation of Jean Rhys’s 1966 novel, which is a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”. It focused upon the early marriage of Antoinette Cosway (Bertha Mason) and Edward Rochester.

 

7 - My Cousin Rachel

8. “My Cousin Rachel” (1952) – Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton starred in this adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s 1951 novel about a young Englishman’s obsession with his late cousin’s widow. Henry Koster directed.

 

8 - The Alamo 2004

9. “The Alamo” (2004) – John Lee Hancock directed this account of the Battle of the Alamo, the only production about the Texas Revolution that I actually managed to enjoy. The movie starred Billy Bob Thornton, Patrick Wilson and Jason Patric.

 

9 - The Big Sky

10. “The Big Sky” (1952) – Howard Hawks directed this adaptation of A.B. Guthrie’s 1947 novel about a fur trader’s expedition up the Missouri River. Kirk Douglas and Dewey Martin starred.

“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.

“GOLDENEYE” (1995) Review

“GOLDENEYE” (1995) Review

What can I say about 1995’s ”GOLDENEYE”? For one, it marked a series of firsts for the Bond franchise. The movie happened to be Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as James Bond. ”GOLDENEYE” turned out to be Dame Judi Dench’s first time portraying Bond’s MI-6 boss, “M”. And the movie also proved to be a first Bond film for director Martin Campbell, who will return eleven years later to direct 2006’s ”CASINO ROYALE”

After 1989’s ”LICENSE TO KILL”, I found myself frustrated by talk that it was time for EON Productions to give up on Timothy Dalton as Bond and find a new actor. To be frank, I did not want them to give up on Dalton. I thought he could have done at least one or two more Bond films in the 1990s. Needless to say, a lengthy lawsuit and Dalton’s reluctance to return to the role had put an end to my hopes. I was quite prepared to dislike ”GOLDENEYE”, until I heard that Pierce Brosnan had took over the Bond role. As much as I had grown to love Dalton’s interpretation of Bond, I had always been a Brosnan fan since his four-year stint as TV detective, ”REMINGTON STEELE”. I felt certain that he would be the right man for the job.

Needless to say, ”GOLDENEYE” proved me right. Brosnan’s introduction as the British agent proved to be a major success. The man had the talent and the presence to pull off the job. I must confess that originally, he did not strike me as possessing his own originally style to portray Bond. Critic Roger Ebert once described Brosnan’s Bond as a combination of both Sean Connery and Roger Moore’s styles. To be honest, Ebert’s comments did not impress me very much. True, Brosnan’s style seemed like a combination of his two predecessors on the surface. But in time, I realized that he had his own style – that of a well-dressed dandy who hid his emotions and insecurities behind a poser façade. And yet, sometimes that façade cracked whenever faced by betrayal . . . as it did when he learned that his late colleague – Alec Trevelyan (Agent 006) – had faked his death in order to create a crime syndicate and eventually wreck havoc upon Britain with the aid of a stolen Russian weapons system. Many claimed that Brosnan did not really come into his own as Bond until his next film, ”TOMORROW NEVER DIES” (1997). Frankly, I disagree. I think that Brosnan did a very good job in establishing himself as the James Bond of 1990s, right off the bat.

Looking back on the Brosnan era, I realize that the Irish-born actor had been very lucky with his leading ladies. And that luck began with Izabella Scorupco, the Polish-Swedish actress who portrayed Natalya Simonova, a Level 2 programmer at Russia’s Severnaya Satellite Control Station. With her exotic looks and no-nonsense attitude, Scorupco seemed to have no trouble at all keeping up with the more experienced Brosnan. Her Natalya is an intelligent and plucky woman who proved to be a very tenacious survivor . . . no matter what came her way. My only problem with the Natalya character was her tendency to use the ”Boys with toys” phrase or comment upon Bond’s destructive uses of vehicles. I found it tiresome after the second or third time.

Brosnan had even better luck with the actor who portrayed 006 Agent-turned Janus crime syndicate leader – Alec Trevelyan. What can one say about Sean Bean? This guy is a true professional and his Alec Trevelyan turned out to be – at least in my opinion – one of the best Bond villains in the franchise. Because he was trained as a MI-6 agent, he proved to be a true match for Bond, as a nemesis. This was never more apparent than in the exciting martial arts fight between the two in the film’s last 30 minutes. Did I have any complaints about Bean’s performance? Nope. Did I have any problems with his character? Unfortunately, yes. Poor Alec Trevelyan seemed to suffer the same malaise as other Bond villains – setting up the agent for an over-the-top death. Shame. He could have been the best amongst the bunch.

As I had stated before, ”GOLDENEYE” marked Dame Judi Dench’s first appearance as the head of the British Secret Service – M. I am a great admirer of Dame Judi, but her debut as M seemed a bit stiff to me. I realize that her character is supposed to be new in the position, but I got the feeling that not only did the character went through great lengths to prove that she could be Bond’s supervisor, the actress also went to great lengths to prove that she could portray a ruthless and no-nonsense head of intelligence. Thankfully, Dame Judi will get better in the role.

Bond is assisted by two characters in ”GOLDENEYE” – CIA agent Jack Wade (portrayed by former Bond villain, Joe Don Baker) and former KGB-turned-entrepreneur Valentin Zukovksy (Robbie Coltrane). Baker was his usual competent self and he had some good moments during Bond’s initial meeting with Wade. But eventually, I found the character a little tiresome, especially with his nicknames for Bond – namely “Jim” and “Jimbo”. Coltrane seemed more effective to me. He was just as funny as he was in 1999’s ”THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH”, but Zukovsky came off as a little more intimidating in this film.

Trevelyan also had his assistants – namely former Soviet pilot Xenia Onatopp (Famke Jenssen) and the computer geek Boris Grishenko, who had betrayed Natalya and other programmers at the Severnaya Satellite Control Station. I had been worried that Jenssen would prove to be as over-the-top (please, no jokes) as Barbara Carrera’s Fatima Blush in ”NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN”. Thankfully, my fears proved groundless. Well . . . somewhat. There were moments when Onatopp’s penchant for rough sex seemed a little tiresome. However, those moments seemed few and far in between. As for Alan Cummings (both he and Jenssen would go on to portray costumed mutants in the comic book franchise, ”X-MEN” with other Bond girl Halle Berry), his Boris Grishenko seemed at times very amusing and at other times, downright annoying. I must admit that he and Scorupco managed to create a nice little screen chemistry.

The plot for ”GOLDENEYE” revolved around former MI-6 agent Alec Trevelyan’s desire to exact revenge upon Great Britain for betraying his family and other Leniz Cossacks (former Nazi collaborators) to the Soviet Union following World War II. Trevelyan’s parents managed to survive the purge, but they eventually committed suicide in the face of survivor’s guilt. After Alec learned of his bloody past, he decided to get his revenge. He defected secretly during a routine mission in Soviet Russia with Bond and immersed himself in the underground world of the Russian Mafia. Nine years later, Trevelyan emerged as the mysterious Janus – leader of the Janus Crime Syndicate. And how does he get his revenge? First, he stole “keys” to the secret Russian EMP weapon, “GoldenEye”, before disappearing into Cuba. With the keys to“GoldenEye”, he planned to electronically rob every bank in the UK setting off the GoldenEye blast – crippling every electronic device in the Great Britain and disguising his theft. Not a bad plot. Of course Bond and Natalya foiled him in the end.

Although the plot seemed to have similar nuances to those “megalomaniacal” plots to destroy the superpowers and rule the world . . . it seems bearable without going over the top. And despite the almost out-of-this-world aura of Trevelyan’s scheme, director Martin Campbell managed to film ”GOLDENEYE” as a tight and suspenseful thriller with good performances and believable action sequences like Trevelyan and Onatopp’s theft of the NATO Tiger fighter helicopter, General Ourumov and Onatopp’s theft of the GoldenEye satellite keys, Natalya’s survival of the massacre and destruction of the Severnaya Satellite Control Station, Bond and Natalya’s escape from both the Russian holding cell (the tank chase aside) and their escape from Trevelyan’s ICBM train. But the piece-de-resistance for me turned out to be the Bond/Trevelyan fight. I have commented upon how much I enjoyed it. But I more than enjoyed it. For me, it was the best hand-to-hand fight scene in the entire franchise. I consider it superior to the Bond/Grant fight in ”FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”. However, I doubt that many would agree with me.

However, there were scenes that defy reality . . . and logic. I never could understand why Trevelyan did not simply have Bond shot dead in that icon graveyard, instead of setting both him and Natalya up to be blown up inside that Tiger helicopter. Bond’s escape from that chemical weapons facility in the pre-title sequence . . . a tad unbelievable. Although the tank chase through St. Petersburg is considered one of the best in the franchise, I hated it. I’m sorry but I do. By including a tank in a chase scene, it simply bogged down the story for me. And I am not particularly fond of the finale at Trevelyan’s Cuban facility. The acting seemed in danger of going over-the-top and the method of how Trevelyan finally met his death (having the entire complex) fall upon him seemed to ridiculous to believe. He should have died after that fall he had suffered.

If there is one thing about ”GOLDENEYE” I truly hated, it was the theme song, performed by diva Tina Turner. Poor Ms. Turner. I think she had the bad luck to perform what I consider to be the absolute worst song in the entire Bond franchise. And the musical score (written by Eric Serra), with its computerized tones combined with music to be . . . I will simply state that I hated it as much as I did the song. End of story.

Despite its flaws, I still enjoy ”GOLDENEYE” very much, after twelve years. It possessed enough good performances and action sequences to be a worthwhile entry for EON Productions. As far as I am concerned, ”GOLDENEYE” is probably Brosnan’s best Bond film and Campbell’s second best film overall. And it is number eight on my list of favorite Bond films.

Memorable Quotes

“If I want sarcasm, I’ll speak to my children.” – M

Onatopp: “You don’t need the gun.”
Bond: “Well, that depends on your definition of safe sex.”

Wade: “His name’s Zukovsky. Tough mother. Big guy with a limp.”
Bond: “Valentin Dmitrovitch Zukovsky?”
Wade: “Yeah, you know him?”
Bond: “I gave him the limp.”

“What, no small talk? No chit-chat? You know, that’s the problem these days. No one bothers to take the time to give a really sinister interrogation.” – Bond

“Unlike the America government, we prefer not to get our bad news from CNN.” – M

“In 16 minutes and 43 sec… no, 42 seconds, the United Kingdom will re-enter the Stone Age.” – Trevelyan

“Oh yeah? And what are you, the weatherman? I mean, for crying out loud… another stiff ass Brit, with your secret codes and your passwords. One of these days you guys are gonna learn to just drop it.” – Wade

“She always did enjoy a good squeeze.” – Bond (on the very dead Onatopp)

Moneypenny: “You know, this kind of behaviour could qualify as sexual harassment.”
Bond: “And what’s the penalty for that?”
Moneypenny: “Some day, you’ll have to make good on your innuendos.”

“What’s true is that in 24 hours you and I will have more money than God. And Bond here will have a small memorial service with only Moneypenny and a few heartbroken restaurateurs in attendance.” – Trevelyan

“Oh, Stop it both of you! Stop it! You’re like boys with toys!” – Natalya

Zukovsky: “He wants to ask ME for a favor! My knee aches every single day! Twice as bad when it is cold. Do you have any idea how long the winter lasts in this country? Tell him, Dmitri.”
Bodyguard: Well, it depends…
Zukovsky: “SILENCE!”

“Okay, April is a spring month, but here in St. Petersburg, we’re freezing our butts off. Isn’t that enough for government work?” – Wade

“I might as well ask if all those vodka martinis silence the screams of all the men you’ve killed… or if you’ve found forgiveness in the arms of all those women, for the ones you failed to protect?” – Trevelyan

“HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX” (2007) Review

“HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX” (2007) Review

I usually try to avoid reading reviews of movies I am interested in seeing in the near future. Instead of relying on the opinions of others, I prefer to form my own opinions. However, my curiosity got the best of me and I could not help but read several reviews and opinions on the fifth cinematic release from the HARRY POTTER franchise – namely “THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX”. Mind you, the story was never my favorite HARRY POTTER novel, but after the near travesty (okay, perhaps that description is a bit exaggerated) . . . after the slight disappointment of 2005’s “GOBLET OF FIRE”, I could not help but wonder this particular movie would fare. After all, the novel was longer than even the fourth entry. Fortunately, my fears proved groundless and “THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX” has become my second favorite HARRY POTTER movie.

Before I begin to wax lyrical over the movie, I need to point out what I consider to be flaws in the movie. My sister had informed me that the producers of the HARRY POTTER movies had originally intended Mike Newell – director of “GOBLET OF FIRE” – to helm the fifth movie. Somehow those plans fell through (thank the Lord above) and they found themselves scrambling for a new director before production was scheduled to begin. They eventually settled upon UK television director, David Yates. I must say that for his first theatrical production, Yates did an excellent job. But there is one aspect in which his years in television did the movie a disservice was the pacing. Quite frankly, I found the pacing a bit rushed. The movie felt more like it had a running time of at least 100 or 110 minutes, instead of a movie over two hours long.
I also had a few other problems with the movie. One of them happened to be Evanna Lynch, who portrayed the eccentric Hogswart student – Luna Lovegood. Before I receive accusations of sacrilege, please hear me out. Ms. Lynch physically captured the essence of Luna perfectly. And although she managed to convey Luna’s offbeat persona in a competent manner, there seemed to be something missing from her portrayal in the movie. Then it occurred to me that there were times when the movie Luna seemed to be devoid of any emotion. She came off as too serene. And as I recalled, the literary Luna was capable of expressing more emotion – including anger at Hermoine’s dismissive attitude toward her. And Luna was not the only character I had problems with. Characters like Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), Percy Weasley (Chris Rankin in a non-speaking role), Nymphadora Tonks (Natalia Tena) and the Blacks’ house-elf Kreacher, barely seemed to exist. Lupin’s biggest moment came when he tried to prevent Harry from chasing after the murderous Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham-Carter)

One last problem I had with the movie was the lack of closure on a few plot points. We never learned the consequences of Harry’s discovery that Umbridge had used veritaserum on Cho Chang in order to coerce her into exposing “Dumbledore’s Army” and Harry’s lessons. I never understood why Kreacher even made an appearance in the movie, considering he did not seem to have an impact upon the story. The movie failed to bring some closure or allow Harry to discuss with Sirius and Remus about Snape’s memories of the bullying James Potter. And what happened to Lucius Malfoy after Sirus (or Remus – I forgot whom) managed to defeat him? The movie never revealed his fate.

Despite the above flaws, I enjoyed “ORDER OF THE PHOENIX” very much. It still managed to be a more than satisfying summer movie. The original novel happened to be the largest in the entire series. Yet, screenwriter Michael Goldenberg managed to pare it down to the novel’s main narrative. I suspect many HP fans would have preferred an exact adaptation of the novel. Thankfully, Goldenberg spared the movie going audience of what could have been a long and excruciating period in the movie theater. To this day, I still believe that “THE SORCERER’S STONE” and “CHAMBER OF SECRETS” could have faced a little more editing. And some of the changes made to the story – Neville Longbottom’s discovery of the Room of Requirement (instead of Dobby the house elf); no visit to the St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries (along with no repeat appearance of Gilderoy Lockhart and Neville’s parents); Neville’s own revelation of his parents’ fate to Harry (instead of the discovery being made at St. Mungo); and Cho Chang’s exposure of the Dumbledore Army (instead of Marietta Edgecombe committing the deed) – did not hurt the story at all. However, I am certain many fans would disagree. What made “ORDER OF THE PHOENIX” work for me was the combination of a mystery regarding Harry’s connection to Voldemort and the growing fascist state at Hogswarts that also reflected within the wizarding world under Cornelius Fudge (Tom Hardy). I have to commend both Yates and Goldenberg for skillfully weaving these two elements within the movie’s plot.

The movie also benefitted from excellent acting by the cast. In fact, I found this to be a great relief after suffering from the hammy acting found in the previous entry – “GOBLET OF FIRE”. Both Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) were top-notched as usual. And so was Matthew Lewis as the likeable, yet clumsy Neville Longbottom. I especially must commend Radcliffe for conveying Harry’s angst over Cedric Diggory’s death in the last story and frustration at being ignored by Dumbledore. And I want to sink to my knees and give thanks to the spirits above and David Yates for preventing Emma Watson (Hermoine Granger), Michael Gambon (Dumbledore), Ralph Finnes (Voldemort), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy) and also James and Oliver Phelps (Fred and George Weasley) from repeating their over-the-top performances in “GOBLET”. Oh, such a relief! On the other hand, Helena Bonham-Carter’s portrayal of the insane Bellatrix Lastrange did seem over-the-top. But considering that the literary Bellatrix was equally hammy, I had no problems with this. By the way, I must applaud Imelda Staunton for her delicious portrayal of “Miss Hitler in Pink” herself, namely the ladylike, yet poisonous Dolores Umbridge; a Ministry undersecretary who became the new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor. In the novel, she is described as being toadlike, yet Ms. Staunton is obviously a more attractive-looking woman. But despite this, she managed to capture Umbridge’s insidious and bigoted evil beautifully.

However, the movie’s piece-de-resistance – at least for me – happened to be the battle that took place inside the the Ministry of Magic. I must confess that the literary version of the battle usually left me slightly confused. I guess I simply found it difficult to visualize what took place. But Yates’ direction not only clarified the entire battle for me, it left me feeling thrilled beyond measure. In my opinion, the battle has catapulted in what I now feel is probably the best sequence ever shown in any of the films so far. It was simply superb. Yet, there are other little golden moments in the film that I managed to enjoy:

-the Dumbledore Army’s Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons

-Ron stands up to Seamus for Harry

-Filch’s attempts to get inside the Room of Requirement

-Ginny’s jealous glances at Harry and Cho

-Dean Thomas’ (Alfred Enoch, who had more lines in this movie than the last two combined) argument with Umbridge

-Hermoine’s handling of Gwarp (different from the novel)

-the fact that both Ron and Ginny helped Neville and Luna escape from Draco and the Inquisitor’s Squad (I could be wrong that Ginny helped; if so, please inform me)

-Harry and the Order of the Phoenix’s trip to London via broomsticks

And one of my personal favorite moments in the movie turned out to be Fred and George’s torment of Umbridge before making their escape from Hogswarts. Classic moment.

Although “ORDER OF THE PHOENIX” possess have some flaws that prevent it from becoming my favorite HARRY POTTER movie so far (“PRISONER OF AZKABAN” still holds this title in my heart), I must admit that it reassured me that the movie franchise had not declined following the slightly disappointing “GOBLET OF FIRE”. nds.