Favorite ALIEN INVASION Movies

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Below is a list of my favorite movies about alien invasions: 

FAVORITE ALIEN INVASION MOVIES

1-The Avengers

1. “The Avengers” (2012) – In what probably is one of my favorite movies of all time, various Marvel Comics heroes band together to battle an alien invasion led by Thor’s stepbrother, Loki. The movie featured superb writing and direction by Joss Whedon.

2-Avatar

2. “Avatar” (2009) – In this twist on the alien invasion genre, James Cameron produced, wrote and directed this visually stunning tale about a paraplegic ex-marine who becomes part of a unique science program on the moon of another planet and ends up helping the inhabitants of Pandora protect their world from human invaders. Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana star.

3-Independence Day

3. “Independence Day” (1996) – Dean Devlin produced and Roland Emmerich directed this blockbuster about humanity facing an alien invasion during the Fourth of July weekend. Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman starred.

4-Battle - Los Angeles

4. “Battle: Los Angeles” (2011) – Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez star in this surprisingly satisfying science-fiction thriller about a platoon of U.S. Marines battling invading aliens in Los Angeles.

5-War of the Worlds 2005

5. “War of the Worlds” (2005) – Steven Spielberg directed this excellent adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel about a New Jersey man who tries to keep his family intact during an alien invasion. Tom Cruise starred.

6-Men in Black 3

6. “Men in Black 3” (2012) – Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin starred in this entertaining third entry in the MEN IN BLACK franchise about Agent J’s effort to prevent an alien assassin from killing his partner in the past . . . and act that will allow the assassin’s species to invade Earth. Barry Sonnenfeld directed.

7-Cowboys and Aliens

7. “Cowboys and Aliens” (2011) – Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford starred in this entertaining adaptation of Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s graphic novel about a New Mexico community in the 1870s, staving off an alien invasion. Jon Favreau directed.

8-Star Trek - First Contact

8. “Star Trek: First Contact” (1996) – Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E travel to Earth’s past to prevent the Borg from assimilating Earth. Jonathan Frakes directed.

9-War of the Worlds 1953

9. “The War of the Worlds” (1953) – Gene Barry and Ann Robinson starred in this solid (and first) adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel about Martians invading Earth. Byron Haskin directed.

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“THE DEBT” (2011) Review

“THE DEBT” (2011) Review

Five years ago, Assaf Bernstein directed a movie about three retired Mossad agents confronted by a challenge from their past in a movie called “THE DEBT”. Just recently, John Madden directed a remake of this movie with the same title. Although originally intended for a December 2010 release date, the movie was finally released at the end of August. 

This new version of “THE DEBT” The espionage thriller began in 1997, when two retired Mossad agents, Rachel as shocking news reaches retired Mossad secret agents Rachel Singer and Stefan Gold have received shocking news about their former colleague David Peretz. All three have been celebrated by Israel for thirty-one years for successfully tracking down a Nazi war criminal named Dieter Vogel back in 1965-55 in East Berlin. However, the reactions of both Rachel and Stefan and several flashbacks questioned whether or not if the team’s mission was accomplished.

I have never seen the 2007 version. Which means there is no way I could compare this new version to the older one. But I could say this about “THE DEBT” . . . I thought it was one of the best movies I had seen this past summer. In fact, I thought it was one of the best movies I have seen this year. “THE DEBT” is a superb thriller about a dangerous mission to capture a Nazi war criminal – a mission that led to a labyrinth of lies, guilt, regrets and a desire to correct a mistake. The sequences set in Israel and Russia of the late 1990s and in flashback sequences, 1965-66 East Berlin. The three protagonists in the film proved to be a complicated trio, haunted by not only the Holocaust, but also their personal demons and desires.

The central figure in the story is Rachel Singer, a former Mossad agent who gave up her career when she became pregnant with her only child. Rachel spends the years 1965 to 1997 being caught between two men – the team’s charismatic and womanizing leader, Stefan Gold; and the quiet and intense David Peretz. Both of them became attracted to her. But whereas Stefan viewed Rachel as a brief romance, David began falling in love with her. Rachel felt the same, but turned to Stefan for a one night stand – an act that ended up having major consequences in the relationship between the trio. In a very intense and well directed sequence, the agents finally managed to capture Vogel. But a bad encounter with East German guards at the Wollankstraße Station forced them to take Vogel back to their safe house and guard him, until they can find another way to get him to Israel. What followed was a deliciously acted cat-and-mouse game between manipulative Vogel and his three captors. The shocks and tensions continued, once the story shifted permanently to 1997. In that time frame, Rachel was forced to travel to Russia and clean up a mess caused by the major secret created by the three colleagues back in 1966. I wish I could give away the story, but to do so would give away the plot twists. All I can say is that one of the best aspects of this movie are the plot twists.

The acting was superb. Jesper Christensen, who had impressed me in the last two James Bond movies, was even more fascinating in his subtle performance as the ruthless, yet manipulative Dieter Vogel. Both Tom Wilkinson and Ciarán Hinds gave solid performances as the older Stefan and David. But the real star of the 1997 sequences was Helen Mirren, who was wonderful as an older Rachel, who believed that she had finally put the past behind her. She also proved that one could still be a first-rate female action star at the age of 65/66. If Helen Mirren was the star of the 1997 sequences, the real stars of the entire movie were Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington and Marton Csokas. In my review of 2010’s “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, I had not been kind to Chastain’s performance in that movie. A lot of my criticism had to do with how her character was written. But I must admit that she was superb as the younger Rachel, who found herself caught up not only in a deadly mission with a dangerous adversary; but also in an emotionally confusing situation between two men. Cskokas gave an enlightening performance as the colorful and commanding Stefan, whose extroverted facade hid an ambitious drive that made him willing to do anything to maintain his career. It was good to see Sam Worthington in a first-rate role after nearly two years. His portrayal of David Peretz was probably the most intense in the entire episode. Worthington did a superb job of conveying not only David’s quietly expressed desire for Rachel, but also his reluctance to get emotionally involved with others following the loss of his entire family during the Holocaust.

If “THE DEBT” had one flaw – at least for me, it was the ending. I have to be honest. I usually do not mind if a movie ends on an ambiguous or vague note . . . as long as it works. For me, such an ending worked for the 2010 movie, “INCEPTION”. The vague note on which “THE DEBT” ended, failed to work for me. It simply did not feel right and I had the suspicion that either Madden or screenwriters Matthew Vaughn, Kris Thykier, Eduardo Rossoff were trying to be just a little too artistic. And “THE DEBT” struck me as the type of story that did not need an ambiguous ending of that kind.

Despite the movie’s unnecessarily vague ending, I must admit that I truly enjoyed “THE DEBT”. It had an exciting and fascinating story that was served well by the screenwriters, director John Madden and a superb cast led by Helen Mirren and Sam Worthington. As I had stated earlier, it became one of my favorite movies of both the summer and of 2011 in general.

“TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES” (2003) Review

“TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES” (2003) Review

There are times when it seems to me that the third entry in the “TERMINATOR” franchise is regarded as nothing more than an afterthought with the fans. Whereas the first two movies are regarded as masterpieces and the fourth movie is regarded as a showpiece for actor Sam Worthington and the scene for star Christian Bale’s behind-the-camera rant.

“TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES” is set at least a decade after the events of the 1991 movie. John Connor, now a young man around twenty, has been off the grid for a few years, drifting from one area to another, while taking on the occasional odd job. Because of this, Skynet – the self-aware, artificially intelligent system that became humanity’s enemy – has been unable to locate him during this time period. Instead, Skynet focuses its attention upon John’s future lieutenants, including a young veterinarian assistant named Kate Brewster. Skynet sends a more sophisticated cyborg assassin named T-X back to the early 21st century to kill Kate and John’s other lieutenants. Unbeknownst to Skynet, the Resistance sends back another reprogrammed T-850 Terminator cyborg to the same era to assist John and Katherine . . . and keep them alive.

”TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES” pretty much followed the same formula that dominated the first two films. In all three movies, Skynet sends a cyborg back to the past to prevent John Connor from becoming the Resistance’s future leader. And in the second and third movies, the Resistance sends a reprogrammed cyborg to save John. But there are some minor differences in this third film. One, ”TERMINATOR 3” marked the first time that James Cameron did not participate in the production of one of the franchise’s film. And two, this movie also marked the first time that Sarah Connor was not a major character. Due to Cameron’s lack of participation in the film and because Jonathan Mostow was hired to direct, ”TERMINATOR 3” has not been highly regarded by film critics and moviegoers alike. In fact, this movie did a lot better overseas than it did in the U.S.

I can see how this film had acquired such a lackluster reputation after viewing the movie’s first fifteen to twenty minutes. The movie’s early period seemed filled with scenes that struck me as sophomoric and cheap. John Connor struck me as a melancholic slacker for whom I found difficult to harbor any symphathy, let alone interest. The arrivals of both the T-850 and the T-X came off as rather silly. The T-850 arrived at a stripper bar for women, where he stole some clothes from an effeminate male stripper. And after killing a woman and stealing her clothes and car, the T-X encountered a cop and resorted to inflating her cleavage in order to distract him. Mind you, the scene featuring the T-850 at the stripper bar struck me as mildly amusing. But I was not amused by watching the T-X inflate her bust in order to vamp a cop. It was ridiculous and slightly insulting. After saving Kate from the T-X, the T-850 and John get involved in an over-the-top car chase that featured a loud and aggressive truck driver that struck me as more obnoxious than funny. However, once the car chase ended, Mostow’s direction, along with John Brancato and Michael Ferris’s screenplay, elevated ”TERMINATOR 3” into something truly worthwhile.

The T-850 led both John and Sarah to a cemetery, where they found a cache of weapons that had been stored by Sarah Connor. Audiences also learned that poor Sarah had contracted leukemia before succumbing rather quickly. The T-850 also revealed that Judgment Day – originally thought to commence on August 29, 1997 – was scheduled to begin within a few hours (on July 24, 2004). Apparently, the U.S. Air Force took control of Cyberdyne Systems and the Skynet project, following the events in ”TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY”. And the Skynet project is being headed by Kate’s father, Lieutenant General Robert Brewster. Not only did the cast’s performance improved greatly following the movie’s Act I, the movie’s plot acquired a sense of both urgency and pathos, as John, Kate and T-850 raced to prevent Judgment Day. Their efforts led to an exciting, yet horrifying bloodbath initiated by the T-X at Cyberdyne System’s new location, and a few tragic moments that allowed ”TERMINATOR 3” to have the best – in my opinion – ending in the entire franchise.

Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to portray the new T-850 cyborg sent to protect John Connor and Kate Brewster. I was amazed to see that he managed to create a second new twist on the T-850 character. In ”THE TERMINATOR”, his cyborg was nothing more than a relentless killing machine. In the 1991 movie, his T-850 seemed childishly thrilled by the slang and rituals taught to him by a young John Connor. But his T-850 in ”TERMINATOR 3” is not the same being that John knew as a boy. Schwarzenegger’s T-850 is a no-nonsense mentor who is exasperated by John and Kate’s unwillingness to consider the possibility that there are some events in time that one cannot change. I had feared that this new T-850 would be a rehash of the one featured in”TERMINATOR 2” and was happily surprised that it did not.

As I had stated earlier in this review, I was not impressed by the early portrayal of John Connor in this movie. I could blame actor Nick Stahl, but I now realize that the lackluster quality of the character is not his fault. He was simply doing his job and portraying John as the script demanded. I understand John’s mental ennui, considering his situation. But it bored me. Thankfully, the revelation of a possible new Judgment Day lit a fire under John and Stahl did a superb job in infusing all of the fire and desperation into his character. And by the end of the film, he gave what I believe was possible the finest moment in the entire movie – let alone in the entire franchise – when his character learned a powerful lesson. I am also grateful that Stahl managed to create a strong screen chemistry with Claire Danes. The latter portrayed Kate Brewster, the feisty veterinarian assistant, who finds herself swept up the chaos caused by the two time traveling cyborgs and the threat to humanity’s future. She was very skillful in conveying Kate’s outrage and confusion over the events that threatened to overtake her. At one point in the film, John compared Kate to his late mother. Personally, I never saw the resemblance. Although Kate seemed as strong-willed as Sarah Connor, I got the impression that she was a different character altogether. Although emotional, Danes’ Kate seemed more level-headed . . . and a lot saner.

There were other performances that impressed me. It was nice to see Earl Boen again, who reprised his role as the criminal psychologist, Dr. Peter Silberman, for the second time. He had a rather nice scene in which his Dr. Silberman tried to comfort Kate after she has witnessed the acts of the T-X. And for once, he seemed to consider that what he had witnessed in the past might be real. Dave Andrews gave a solid performance as Lieutenant General Robert Brewster, Kate’s father. Thanks to Andrews’ performance, one could see from whom Kate had inherited her level-headed personality. And he also managed to skillfully convey a sense of horror over the implications of Skynet’s threat to humanity. I have noticed that the more dangerous the cyborg in this franchise, the smaller it seemed to be. The cyborgs have ranged from the tall and hulking body-builder Schwartzenegger, to the slim and athletic looking Robert Patrick in the second film, to the very feminine Kristanna Loken. And thanks to her performance, Loken managed to convey all of the menace and danger of a relentless killer with very few lines, just as effectively as Schwartzenegger and Patrick before her.

I realize that ”TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES” will never overcome its low reputation with many film critics and movie fans. All one has to do is watch the first fifteen to twenty mintues and be tempted to watch another movie . . . or walk out of the movie theater. I know I was tempted to do the latter, when I first saw this film. But once ”TERMINATOR 3” got past that silly nonsense; it turned out to be an exciting movie with an ending filled with a level of pathos that the other three movies never reached. In the end, I believe it was worthwhile.

“MACBETH” (2006) Review

“MACBETH” (2006) Review

Over the years, a good number of filmmakers, novelists and playwrights have taken William Shakespeare’s plays and presented them in a different setting or with a twist. One such movie that comes to mind is the 1957 Broadway musical, ”WEST SIDE STORY”, which became an Oscar winning 1961 movie. The directors of both the play and the movie took Shakespeare’s ”ROMEO AND JULIET”, set it on the mean streets of Lower East Manhattan and gave it a different ending. Kenneth Branaugh’s 1996 version of ”HAMLET” was set in the late 19th century. And there have been two versions of ”THE TAMING OF THE SHREW” in which one movie was set at a Seattle high school and the other within an African-American family of sisters and their spouses. Director Geoffrey Wright did something similar with his 2006 adaptation of ”MACBETH”, which starred Sam Worthington and Victoria Hill.

In other words, what Wright did was retold the story of Macbeth as a crime story set in modern day Melbourne, Australia. Instead of a Scottish lord, Macbeth was an underboss of a powerful Melbourne gangster named Duncan. After leading Duncan’s gang in a drug deal that ended with the violent deaths of his boss’ rival – Macdonwald, Macbeth found a few pills inside of one of Macdonwald’s nightclubs and partook them. During Macbeth’s drug trip, he learned from three witches dressed as schoolgirls that he would one day assume total control of Duncan’s gang. But his wife, Lady Macbeth dismissed the prophecy, claiming that Macbeth lacked the ambition and drive to take control of the gang from Duncan. But when she learned that the gang leader would be staying overnight at their home, following a party, Lady Macbeth convinced her husband to kill Duncan, frame his bodyguards and assume control of the gang. Which is exactly what happened. After the other gang members elected Macbeth as their new leader, the new gang lord struggled with the suspicions of others, Lady Macbeth’s mental decline and his own paranoia and guilt.

”MACBETH” would have slipped my notice if someone had not mentioned it on a LIVE JOURNAL blog for actor Sam Worthington. And I am glad that someone did. ”MACBETH” turned out to be somewhat better than I had expected. It was not the best film adaptation of a Shakespeare play I have ever seen. But I thought that Wright and actress Victoria Hill (who also served as co-writer) did a solid job retelling the play in a more modern setting. Both Wright and Hill managed to achieve this without a long running time for the movie. They also did a solid job in creating a decent crime story about power, greed and betrayal.

I am certain that some of you have noticed that I have used the word ”solid” a lot to describe the movie. But that is how I feel about it. ”MACBETH” was certainly not a terrible film. However, I would never consider it to be a favorite of mine. I had some problems with it. One, Will Gibson’s photography seemed rather dark and a bit on the gloomy side. Aside from Macbeth’s first meeting with the three witches at a cemetery, most of the movie’s scenes seemed to feature interior shots or a night time setting. I really do not know what to say about John Clifford White’s score. That I barely noticed it? There were times I began to wonder if the movie actually had a score – except in two scenes that featured the party Macbeth held for Duncan and the final sequence featuring the gang’s attack upon Macbeth at his home. Earlier, I had congratulated Wright and Hill for writing a screenplay that did not result in a long running time. However, Wright’s direction still managed to drag the film with occasional slow pacing throughout the movie. Between the minimal score, White’s dim lighting and Wright’s pacing, there were moments when I found it damn hard to stay awake.

The cast seemed pretty solid (ah, there is that word again). I was impressed by the three actresses who portrayed the witches – Chloe Armstrong, Kate Bell and Miranda Nation. They harbored a surprising mixture of sexual allure and menace. Their orgy scene with Worthington seemed . . . hell, I do not know how to describe that sequence. All I can say that it seemed odd. Matt Doran gave an intense performance as Malcolm, son of the murdered Duncan, who had suspected Macbeth for killing his father from the beginning. But I might as well be frank. When it comes to”MACBETH”, only the actor in the titled role and the actress portraying Lady Macbeth matter to me.

I would have never considered Sam Worthington to portray a Shakespearian role. Honestly, I never would. Look, I am well aware that he is a talented actor with a strong screen presence. But he simply never struck me as the type to do Shakespeare. Yet, he did an admirable job in his portrayal of the underboss who managed to get over his head following his coup d’etat against his boss, thanks to his wife’s ambitions and his own paranoia. Mind you, there were times I thought Worthington seemed a bit too young for the role. He must have been 28 or 29 years old when he shot this film. I would have preferred for him to tackle the role in another three or four years – like now. And I must admit that I found his portrayal of Macbeth’s descent into madness in his last scenes not very convincing. However, he still did a pretty good job. And he must have been one of the few actors who were not inclined to perform Shakespeare in front of a camera at the top of his lungs – like many other performers seemed inclined to do. For that I am grateful.

And I am also grateful to Victoria Hill for refraining from indulging in any acting histrionics. Like Worthington, she managed to spout her Shakespeare without indulging in any theatrical hamminess. But I would also like to add that I found her performance as Lady Macbeth to be mesmerizing. Honestly. I really enjoyed the subtle manner in which her Lady Macbeth drew the lead character into a murder scheme that would prove to be overwhelming for them both. In fact, one of her best scenes featured Lady Macbeth manipulating Macbeth into committing murder. Another favorite scene focused upon her reaction to Macbeth’s failure to originally kill Duncan’s bodyguards. Again, she managed to convey a great deal of emotion and passion without any histrionics. But my favorite scene featured the one in which her Lady Macbeth not only helped her husband carry out the coup d’etat against Duncan, she seemed to be in control of the entire operation. And Hill performed that entire scene with an interesting, yet complex mixture of cool resourcefulness and wariness. I can honestly say that she probably gave the best performance in the movie. She seemed more suited for her role than Worthington did for his.

I will never consider ”MACBETH” to be a personal favorite of mine. I rather doubt that I would ever have an inclination to watch it again. Will Gibson’s photography struck me as a bit too dark and gloomy – probably unnecessarily so. John Clifford White’s minimal score nearly put me to sleep. And so did Geoffrey Wright’s pacing of the film. And despite Sam Worthington’s solid performance, he did seem a bit too young for the title role of Macbeth.

However, I must admit that Wright managed to do decent job in transforming the story’s setting from medieval Scotland to the ganglands of Melbourne. None of the cast members indulged in histrionic acting as many other actors tend to do, while performing Shakespeare in front of a camera. Worthington still managed to give a good performance. And he was supported by a superb performance by Victoria Hill as Lady Macbeth. In the end, I can honestly say that this version of ”MACBETH” was not a bad movie.

“DIRTY DEEDS” (2002) Review

Below is my review of the 2002 Australian gangster movie set in the late 1960s called “DIRTY DEEDS”

“DIRTY DEEDS” (2002) Review

Written and directed by David Caesar, the 2002 movie ”DIRTY DEEDS” is a gangster comedy about an Australian mobster who finds himself besieged by the American Mafia when his lucrative casino business, buoyed by the influx of U.S. soldiers in town for R&R during their tours in Vietnam in 1969, attracts their attention. The comedy starred Bryan Brown, Toni Collette, John Goodman, Sam Worthington and Sam Neill.

This quirky and slightly black comedy centered on an Australian mobster named Barry Ryan (Bryan Brown), who seemed to have it all in 1969. He has a successful casino business, a feisty wife named Sharon who loves him (Toni Collette); Darcy, his nephew who has just returned from military service in Vietnam (Sam Worthington) and might be a potential enforcer for him; a needy and beautiful young mistress named Margaret (Kestie Morassi); and Ray, a corrupt police officer in his pocket who can keep him out of jail (Sam Neill). However, all good things usually come to an end . . . or is threatened. And in Barry’s case, this happens when the American Mafia decides it wants a piece of Barry’s action with the casino. Even worse, Barry has to deal with a trigger-happy rival who wants to drive him out of business. The two American mobsters named Tony and Sal (John Goodman and Felix Williamson) arrive and both Sharon and Ray advise Barry to show them a good time, until he can find a way to get rid of them without attracting more unwanted attention from the Mafia. However, Darcy has also proved to be a problem. The Vietnam War veteran seemed to have no taste to become a gangster. And he ends up falling in love with Margaret, Barry’s mistress. And Margret has fallen in love with Darcy.

One of the reasons why I liked ”DIRTY DEEDS” so much was that its plot seemed character driven. I am not saying that the movie was all characterization and no plot. Oh contraire. But Caesar’s script allowed each major character’s desires and fears to drive the plot. Which I definitely enjoyed. And each character – aside from the younger American mobster portrayed by Williamson – found either their livelihoods or lives threatened. And even when certain characters end up as opponents – Barry and Tony over the former’s casino business, Barry and Darcy over Margaret, and Sharon and Margaret over Barry – I found myself rooting for them all. Once again, I have to compliment Caesar’s writing for creating a group of interesting and very complex characters. The one character who failed to win anything in the end turned out to be the trigger happy Sal, who seemed so certain of his superiority as an American and a Mafia hit man that he failed to realize that he was out of his depth before it was too late. And while watching ”DIRTY DEEDS”, I was surprised to learn that Australian soldiers had served in Vietnam during the 1960s.

I also have to give kudos to Caesar for collecting a first-rate cast. I was more than surprised to discover that Australian actor Felix Williamson had been cast in the role of Mafia hit man, Sal. Although Sal is not what one would describe as a multi-dimensional character, Williamson managed to shine in one scene that featured Sal’s chilling and arrogant revelation to Darcy about how the Mafia was able to profit from the American presence in Vietnam. Sam Neill gave a deliciously cynical performance as the corrupt and pragmatic police officer Ray, who decided to bide his time and see who would emerge as the winner in the tug-of-war between Barry and the Mafia visitors. Ketsie Morassi earned a Best Supporting Female Actor award from the Film Critics Circle of Australia for her portrayal of Margaret, Barry’s young mistress. Morassi managed to expertly transform Margaret from the desperate young mistress trying to project a sophisticated façade to the relaxed young woman who found herself falling in love with her lover’s nephew.

When I first saw the 2009 summer movie, ”TERMINATOR SALVATION”, it occurred to me that Sam Worthington looked oddly familiar. I finally recalled seeing him in my first viewing of ”DIRTY DEEDS”. In this movie, he gave a relaxed performance as Barry’s charming nephew, the Vietnam War veteran Darcy. Worthington’s Darcy was so charming and forthright that it was easy to see why Margaret fell in love with him. And why Tony started to regard him as a son. But that easy-going nature also contrasted with Darcy’s growing uneasiness that he was not cut out to be a mobster, let alone become his uncle’s new enforcer. And being the talented actor that he is, Worthington managed to convey Darcy’s angst over his relationship with Barry with great ease. John Goodman’s performance as the older Mafioso Tony seemed just as relaxed as Worthington’s performance . . . and nuanced. Unlike the arrogant Sal, his Tony is a weary gangster who has come to regret his decision not to follow in his uncle’s footsteps as a restaurant owner and become a professional criminal, instead. Although he manages to hold his own in his dealings with Barry, Tony senses a kindred spirit in Darcy and tries to prevent the younger man from following into Barry’s footsteps.

Bryan Brown was naturally at the top of his game as the ruthless, yet besieged mobster, Barry Ryan. He is probably one of the few actors I believe is capable of portraying tough and masculine types without overdoing it. And his Barry was tough and very masculine. But Brown also managed to convey Barry’s anxiety that he might not be able to fend off the American takeover of his business . . . or his insecurity over the fact that his mistress prefer a younger man over himself. If I were to choose my favorite character in this film, it would have to be Sharon Ryan, portrayed by the always talented Toni Collette. Hell, the woman almost stole the picture from everyone else as the feisty, yet supportive mobster wife, who turned out to be more ruthless than her husband. She certainly earned a well deserved Best Female Actor nomination from the Film Critics of Australia. If I had my way, I would have handed over the award to her.

By the way, I have to give kudos to production designer Chris Kennedy, art director Chris Batson, and costume designer Tess Schofield for doing an excellent job for saturating the firm in a late 1960s atmosphere. Schofield took it further by conveying the generational differences between the characters in their costumes. Whereas Barry, Tony, Ray and Sharon’s costumes reflected their generation’s more conservative tastes, Margaret and Darcy’s reflected their generation’s participation in the Swinging Sixties. Geoffrey Hall’s cinematography struck me as pretty solid, but I cannot help but wonder how he felt about a certain scene that I found questionable. I am referring to the sequence that jumped back and forth between Tony and Sal’s participation in Barry’s boar hunt in the Outback and Barry’s Michael Corleone’s style murders of the Americans’ allies – his rivals and a traitor in his organization – back in Sydney. Frankly, it did not work for me. I now understand that Tony and Sal’s boar hunting was supposed to serve as a metaphor of Barry’s hunt of his enemies. But the whole sequence struck me as a bit sloppy and confusing . . . and I could have done without it.

Despite my one quibble about the movie, I can honestly say that I really enjoyed ”DIRTY DEEDS”. David Caesar had written and directed quirky and entertaining movie about Australian criminals and the effects of the Vietnam War in 1969. The movie’s cast and the production crew also did an excellent job of projecting the movie’s 1960s setting. I had enjoyed this movie so much that I went out and purchased a DVD copy.  I simply could not wait any longer.

“TERMINATOR SALVATION” (2009) Review

Below is my review of the fourth installment of the TERMINATOR franchise – “TERMINATOR SALVATION”:

”TERMINATOR SALVATION”  (2009) Review

For some particular reason, I have never been in the habit of anticipating a movie from the ”TERMINATOR” franchise. I never saw ”THE TERMINATOR” (1984) or ”TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY” (1991) in the theaters. Not that I really cared, since I never did make the effort to go see either movie. I had to be dragged to the theater to see ”TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES” (2003). And as for the latest installment in the franchise, ”TERMINATOR SALVATION” – again, I had to be dragged to the theater. Yet, every time I have seen any of these films, I end up enjoying them. Or being intrigued by them – including this latest film.

Directed by McG, who was responsible for the two ”CHARLIE’S ANGELS” movies and “WE ARE MARSHALL”, ”TERMINATOR SALVATION” told the struggles of Resistance leader John Connor during the war between humanity and Skynet – the artificial intelligence system that became self aware and revolted against its human creators – in the year 2018. For the first time, a movie in the ”TERMINATOR” franchise did not feature the time travel of one or two of its characters. The movie not only revealed how John Connor first met his father – the teenaged and future time traveler, Kyle Reese, it also focused on how a death row inmate named Marcus Wright had signed over his body to Cyberdyne Systems and ended up being used as a model for the T-800 Model 101 Terminator and to lure Connor to Skynet. The movie starred Christian Bale as John Connor; Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright; Moon Bloodgood as Blair Williams, a Resistance pilot who falls for Marcus; Anton Yelchin as the teenaged Kyle Reese; Byrce Howard Dallas as Kate Brewster Connor, John’s wife; Common as Barnes, Connor’s second-in-command; Jadagrace Berry as Star, Kyle’s nine year-old mute companion; Helena Bonham-Carter as Dr. Dr. Serena Kogan, the cancer-ridden Cyberdyne scientist who had convinced Marcus to donate his body before Judgment Day; and Linda Hamilton as the voice of Sarah Connor.

As far as I know, the movie has received mixed reviews from both the critics and moviegoers. How do I feel about ”TERMINATOR SALVATION”? Well . . . it was not perfect. First of all, singer-turned-actor Common seemed incapable of acting worth a damn in this film. Which I found surprising, considering how impressed I had been by his performances in movies like ”SMOKIN ACES” (2007) and ”STREET KINGS” (2008). It could be that McG might be one of those directors incapable of handling actors with little experience. Another problem I had with the movie was Conrad Buff’s editing. In fact, I have been complaining about the editing in a good number of movie during this past year. I am beginning to wonder if the new and cheap editing style created by Christopher Rouse for the last two ”BOURNE” movies seemed to be getting very popular in the movie industry, these day. And, quite frankly, I found Jane Alexander’s presence in the film as another Resistance leader named Virginia to be a complete waste of time. Aside from a few lines in the movie, she barely said a word. Another problem I had centered around John Connor’s inability to remember that two previous T-800 Terminators had saved his life in the past. Instead, the only thing remembered from his first meeting with Marcus Wright was that the latter reminded him of the cyborg who tried to kill his mother, Sarah, in 1984. I had posted this complaint on one of the movie’s blogs and was told that it was possible that fifteen years of fighting machines may have eroded John’s memories. Hmmm . . . perhaps. However, I am still slightly uneasy about it.

One last complaint – namely the ending. Many fans have been complaining that the filmmakers did not stick with the original ending that called for John Connor to die and for his command to have his skin grafted upon Marcus Wright’s body in order to continue the Resistance. But when the ending was leaked on the Internet, the screenwriters created a new ending. First of all, I thank God for the person who had leaked the original ending, because I hate it. If that had been the ending shown in the theaters, I would have been tempted to throw my shoe at the movie screen. Yes, I hate it that much. Now, I like the new ending. I like it a hell of a lot more than the original ending. But . . . I feel that director McG or screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris had rushed it a bit. I feel that it could have been better paced.

Okay. Despite my complaints, I discovered that I liked the movie . . . a lot. Like I did the three previous ”TERMINATOR” movies. Brancato and Ferris’ screenplay for this new installment is quite different from the three previous ones in which no one character had traveled back in time to protect a member of the Connor family. For once, Arnold “the Govenator” Schwarzenegger did not appear in the movie as a major character. And ”TERMINATOR SALVATION” revealed an interesting twist from the last two films in which a cyborg was used to form close ties with John Connor in order to arrange for his death, instead of to protect him. Another interesting thing about the story is that the aim of Skynet was not to kill John Connor before he could become a Resistance leader. Instead, it seemed determine to kill him, while he fought with the Resistance. And it also targeted Kyle Reese in order to lure Connor to Skynet and kill Kyle before his future trip back through time. However, I did notice that Skynet had targeted both son and father, before the son could become ”the top” leader of the Resistance. And when you think about it, with the character of Marcus Wright, Skynet had damn near pulled a con job on both Connor and the Resistance. The reason I found this interesting is that Skynet’s future dealings with John Connor, Sarah Connor and Kate Brewster Connor will never be this subtle again.

Another major virtue of ”TERMINATOR SALVATION” turned out to be its cast – with the exception of one or two. I have already made my complaints about Common and Jane Alexander, so I will sing the praises of the rest of the cast. Helena Bonham-Carter made a brief and memorable appearance as Dr. Serena Kogan, the Cyberdyne scientist who convinced Marcus to donate his body, following his execution in 2003. For the past two to three years, a good number of child actors have caught my attention with some pretty damn good performances – like Dakota Blue Richards in ”THE GOLDEN COMPASS”, Paulie Litt from “SPEED RACER”, Jaden Smith in ”THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL” and Brandon Walters in ”AUSTRALIA”. The fifth child who has managed to recently catch my eye turned out to be Jadagrace Berry, who portrayed the nine year-old mute/Resistance fighter, Star. I found it amazing that a nine year-old girl who had not only made her film debut, but managed to remain silent throughout the film, gave one of the best performances in the movie. And she did it with good old fashioned screen acting . . . by using her eyes, expressions and body language. Anton Yelchin is no longer the child actor he used to be when I first saw him in the 2002 miniseries, ”TAKEN”, but he is still a first-rate performer with a strong screen presence. Actor Michael Biehn had made the role of Kyle Reese memorable in the franchise’s first movie in 1984. And Yelchin proved that he could be just as memorable as Biehn, as the teenaged Kyle. Both Bryce Dallas Howard and Moon Bloodgood portrayed the two female leads in the movie – Kate Brewster Connor (wife of John) and Blair Williams (Resistance pilot who ends up falling in love with Marcus Wright). And both women gave first-rate performances and managed to stand out on their own, despite being surrounded in heavily male-dominated film. Howard – who had taken over the role first created by Claire Danes – had a very memorable moment in the film when her character first realized that Marcus was not as human as he had professed to be.

The director of the first two “TERMINATOR” movies, James Cameron, had recommended Australian actor Sam Worthington to director McG for the pivotal role of Marcus Wright, the death row inmate whose body ended up being used as a prototype by Cyberdyne and later used by Skynet to lure John Connor to his doom. Not only was Worthington was memorable, he almost ended up stealing the picture. He effectively portrayed Marcus as a tough and ruthless who was haunted by his past, fell in love and was determined to maintain his individuality despite what Cyberdyne and Skynet had done to him. The reason I had stated that Worthington had ”almost” stolen the film was due to Christian Bale’s presence in the film as future Resistance leader, John Connor. Like he has been in nearly every film he has appeared in, Bale was an intense performer with a strong screen presence. Hell, he was like this nearly twenty-two years ago in the 1987 film, ”EMPIRE OF THE SUN”. There were scenes in which Bale loudly and clearly expressed Connor’s emotions – whether it was anger, fear or concern. Only a very few actors and actresses can get away with openly expressing their characters’ emotions without being hammy. And consummate actor that he is, Bale happens to be one of them. Frankly, I really do not see the need to compare or choose on whether Bale or Worthington was the better actor. Both gave superb performances and both . . . performed with each other so well that I found myself wishing they had more scenes together.

Despite my dissatisfaction with the editing, there were other areas in the technical department where ”TERMINATION SALVATION” shone. Martin Laing’s production designs and Troy Sizemore’s art direction beautifully created an apocalyptic Southern California set some nine to ten years in the future. And Shane Hurlbut projected their work with some exciting photography. Aside from the franchise’s familiar theme that first appeared at the beginning of the end credits, I did not find Danny Elfman’s score that memorable.

Despite some of the movie’s flaws, I ended up enjoying ”TERMINATION SALVATION” very much – much to my utter surprise, thanks to McG’s direction, Brancato and Ferris’ screenplay, and the excellent cast led memorably by Christian Bale and Sam Worthington.

A Few Problems Regarding “AVATAR” (2009)

A Few Problems Regarding “AVATAR” (2009)

I am going to put my cards on the table. I have a problem with James Cameron’s new movie, ”AVATAR”. In fact, I have several problems with it. I was willing to remain silent about these problems, but after the movie’s recent big win at the Golden Globe Awards, I realized that I could not keep silent about them.

One would think I was just another fan expressing her dislike of ”AVATAR”. On the contrary, I happened to like ”AVATAR” very much. I saw the movie three times. And it became one of my top ten favorite movies of 2009. So, why post a rant against the movie? Because I fear that the movie has become a front runner for the Best Picture Academy Awards. And as much as I had enjoyed ”AVATAR”, I do not believe that it will not deserve all of its accolades. Even worse, I have a bone to pick about the movie’s distribution.

Award Season

Two nights ago, ”AVATAR” scored big at the Golden Globes Award show. It managed to collect at least two major awards – Best Director for James Cameron and Best Picture. In a documentary about 20th Century Fox called ”20TH CENTURY FOX: THE FIRST FIFTY YEARS” (1997), a former executive had pointed out that legendary producer and studio boss Darryl Zanuck believed that the backbone of any good movie was the story. Not the special effects, the casting or even the score; but the story.

Now, I am not claiming that ”AVATAR” has a weak story. Actually, I believe that it has a solid, good story with a relevant theme. However, many critics and moviegoers – including myself – believe that the story has mediocre dialogue. Even worse, it also seems very unoriginal. In fact, I would go as far to say that it is close to being a blatant rip-off of the 1990 Academy Award winner, ”DANCES WITH WOLVES”. Frankly, I cannot see how a movie that is unoriginal to the point that it seems to blatantly plagiarize another film deserves to win a Golden Globe Best Drama Picture award, let alone the Academy Award for Best Picture. I simply cannot.

3-D Special Effects and Movie Tickets

What has really ticked me off about ”AVATAR” is the fact that director James Cameron had decided to film the damn thing in 3-D. Well, he also provided regular prints of the movie. And the movie theaters have allowed filmgoers the choice to view the 3-D showings or regular showings. Unfortunately, all of the movie theaters that I usually attend, offer more showings of the film in 3-D. Worse, not only are the regular viewings scheduled late at night, filmgoers have to pay higher ticket prices for the 3-D showings. This really pisses me off. I find the 3-D glasses very uncomfortable. And the special effects struck me as being less impressive than those featured in the Terminator 2 3-D: Battle Across Time show at Universal Studios Hollywood. The higher ticket prices for the 3-D effects are simply not worth the effort. At least not to me. And I feel that Cameron, 20th Century Fox and the movie theaters are ripping off moviegoers in the process.

Will ”AVATAR” win the Best Picture Oscar? I suspect that it will. And frankly, I consider this a travesty. I am not saying that the movie is terrible. It is not. But Cameron has already managed to win a slew of Oscars for a movie with impressive visual effects and a mediocre script that turned out to be a blatant rip-off of 1937’s ”MAYTIME”. I am talking about 1997’s ”TITANIC”. And I fear that history will repeat itself when he wins a slew of awards for ”AVATAR” – a movie with the same virtues and flaws.