“THE HATEFUL EIGHT” (2015) Review

 

“THE HATEFUL EIGHT” (2015) Review

Following the success of his 2012 movie, “DJANGO UNCHAINED”, Quentin Tarantino set about creating another movie with a Western theme that also reflected today’s themes and social relationships in the United States. However, due to circumstances beyond his control, Tarantino nearly rejected the project. And if he had, audiences would have never seen what came to be . . . “THE HATEFUL EIGHT”.

The circumstances that nearly led Tarantino to give up the project occurred when someone gained access to his script and published it online in early 2014. The producer-director had considered publishing the story as a novel, until he directed a reading of the story the United Artists Theater in the Ace Hotel Los Angeles. The event was organized by the Film Independent at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of the Live Read series. The success of the event eventually convinced Tarantino to shoot the movie.

“THE HATEFUL EIGHT” is at its heart, a mystery. I would not describe it as a murder-mystery, but more like . . . well, let me begin. The story begins in the post-Civil War Wyoming Territory where a stagecoach rushing to get ahead of an oncoming blizzard, is conveying bounty hunter John Ruth aka “The Hangman” and his handcuffed prisoner, a female outlaw named Daisy Domergue. The stagecoach is bound for the town of Red Rock, where Daisy is scheduled to be hanged. During the journey, an African-American bounty hunter named Major Marquis Warren, who is transporting three dead bounties to the town of Red Rock, hitches a ride on the stagecoach. His horse had died on him. Several hours later, the stagecoach picks up another passenger, a former Confederate militiaman named Chris Mannix, who claims to be traveling to Red Rock in order to become the town’s new sheriff. The stagecoach passengers are forced to seek refuge at a stage station called Minnie’s Haberdashery, when the blizzard finally strikes. The new arrivals are greeted by a Mexican handyman named Bob, who informs them that Minnie is visiting a relative and has left him in charge. The other lodgers are a British-born professional hangman Oswaldo Mobray; a quiet cowboy named Joe Gage, who is traveling to visit his mother; and Sanford Smithers, a former Confederate general. Forever paranoid, Ruth disarms all but Warren, with whom he had bonded during stagecoach journey. When Warren has a violent confrontation with Smithers, Daisy spots someone slip poison into a pot of coffee, brewing on the stove. Someone she recognizes as a fellow outlaw, who is there to spring her free from Ruth’s custody. And there is where the mystery lies – the identity of Daisy’s fellow outlaw.

“THE HATEFUL EIGHT” marks the sixth Quentin Tarantino movie I have ever seen. I also found it the most unusual. But it is not my favorite. In fact, I would not even consider it among my top three favorites. And here is the reason why. “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” struck me as being too damn long with a running time of two hours and forty-seven minutes. I realize that most of Tarantino films usually have a running time that stretches past two hours. But we are talking of a film that is basically a character study/mystery. Even worse, most of the film is set at a stagecoach station – a one-story building with one big room. Not even Tarantino’s attempt to stretch out the stage journey at the beginning of the film could overcome this limited setting. And due to the limited setting and film’s genre, “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” is probably the least epic film in his career, aside from his first one, 1993’s “RESERVOIR DOGS”. At least that film did not stretch into a ridiculously long 167 minute running time.

I also thought Tarantino made too much of a big deal in the confrontation between Major Marquis Warren and General Sanford Smithers. Apparently, Warren had a grudge against Smithers for executing black troops at the Battle of Baton Rouge. I find this improbable, due to the fact that there were no black troops fighting for the Union during that battle, which was a Union victory. There were no black Union or Confederate troops known to have taken part in that particular battle. Tarantino should have taken the time to study his Civil War history. But what really annoyed me about the Warren-Smithers confrontation was that Tarantino thought it was necessary to include a flashback showing Warren’s encounter with Smither’s son, which resulted in the latter’s death. I realize that the Warren-Smithers encounter allowed Daisy’s mysterious colleague to poison the coffee. But a flashback on Warren and Smithers Jr.? Unnecessary. I also found Tarantino’s narration in the film somewhat unnecessary. Frankly, he is not a very good narrator. And I found one particular piece of narration rather unnecessary – namely the scene in which Daisy witnessed the coffee being poisoned. Tarantino could have shown this on screen without any voice overs.

Despite these flaws, I must admit that I still managed to enjoy “THE HATEFUL EIGHT”. It featured some outstanding characterizations and dialogue. And it seemed the cast really took advantage of these well-written aspects of the script. I am not surprised that the film had received numerous nominations for Best Ensemble. Although the running time for “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” might be longer than it should, I have to give Tarantino kudos for his well-structured screenplay. He took his time in setting up the narrative, the mystery and his characters. And although he may have overdone it a bit by taking his time in reaching the film’s denouement, Tarantino delivered quite a payoff that really took me by surprise, once he reached that point. Unlike many movie directors today, Tarantino is a firm believer in taking his time to tell his story. My only regret is that he took too much time for a story that required a shorter running time.

But what I really liked about “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” is that it proved to be a new direction for Tarantino. In this age filled with lack of originality in the arts, it was refreshing to see there are artists out there who are still capable of being original. After viewing the movie at the theater, it occurred to me that is was basically an Agatha Christie tale set in the Old West. Tarantino utilized many aspects from various Christie novels. But the movie resembled one movie in particular. Only I will not say what that novel is, for it would allow anyone to easily guess what happens in the end. Although many of Christie’s novels and Tarantino’s movies feature a good deal of violence, “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” featured very little violence throughout most of its narrative . . . until the last quarter of the film. Once the Major Warren-General Smithers confrontation took place, all bets were off.

I wish I could comment on the movie’s production values. But if I must be honest, I did not find it particularly memorable. Well, there were one or two aspects of the movie’s production that impressed me. I really enjoyed Robert Richardson’s photography of Colorado, which served as Wyoming Territory for this film. I found it sharp and colorful. I also enjoyed Yohei Taneda’s production designs for the movie . . . especially for the Minnie’s Haberdashery setting. I though Taneda, along with art directors Benjamin Edelberg and Richard L. Johnson, did a great job of conveying the Old West in that one setting.

Naturally, I cannot discuss “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” without mentioning the cast. What can I say? They were outstanding. And Tarantino did an outstanding job directing them. As far as I know, “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” marked the first time at least three members of the cast have worked with Tarantino – Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Channing Tatum and Demián Bichir. Otherwise, everyone else seemed to be veterans of a Tarantino production, especially Samuel L. Jackson. “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” marked his sixth collaboration with the director. It is a pity that he was not recognized for his portrayal of bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren. As usual, he did an outstanding job of portraying a very complex character, who not only proved to be a ruthless law enforcer, but also a somewhat cruel man as shown in his confrontation with General Smithers. Actually, most of the other characters proved to be equally ruthless. Kurt Russell’s portrayal of bounty hunter John Ruth struck me as equally impressive. The actor did an excellent job in conveying Ruth’s ruthlessness, his sense of justice and especially his paranoia. Walton Goggin’s portrayal of ex-Confederate-turned-future lawman seemed like a far cry from his laconic villain from “DJANGO UNCHAINED”. Oddly enough, his character did not strike me as ruthless as some of the other characters and probably a little more friendly – except toward Warren. Jennifer Jason-Leigh has been earning acting nominations – including Golden Globe and Academy Award Best Supporting Actress nods – for her portrayal of the captured fugitive Daisy Domergue. Those nominations are well deserved, for Jason-Leigh did an outstanding job of bringing an unusual character to life. Ironically, the character spent most of the movie as a battered prisoner of Russell’s John Ruth. Yet, thanks to Jason-Leigh, she never lets audiences forget how ornery and dangerous she can be.

Tim Roth, who had not been in a Tarantino production since 1995’s “FOUR ROOMS”, gave probably the most jovial performance as the very sociable English-born professional hangman, Oswaldo Mobray. Bruce Dern, who was last seen in “DJANGO UNCHAINED”, had a bigger role in this film as the unsociable ex-Confederate General Sanford Smithers, who seemed determined not to speak to Warren. Despite portraying such an unsympathetic character, Dern did an excellent job in attracting the audience’s sympathy, as his character discovered his son’s grisly fate at Warren’s hands. Michael Masden gave a very quiet and subtle performance as Joe Gage, a rather silent cowboy who claimed to be on his way to visit his mother. And yet . . . he also projected an aura of suppressed danger, which made one suspect if he was Daisy’s collaborator. A rather interesting performance came from Demián Bichir, who portrayed the stage station’s handyman, Bob. Like Madsen’s Gage, Bichir’s Bob struck me as a quiet and easygoing man, who also conveyed an element of danger. I was very surprised to see Channing Tatum in this film, who portrayed Jody Domergue, Daisy’s older brother. Although his role was small, Channing was very effective as the villainous Domergue, who could also be quite the smooth talker. “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” also featured excellent supporting performances from the likes of James Parks, Dana Gourrier, Lee Horsley, Zoë Bell, Keith Jefferson and Gene Jones.

Yes, I found “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” too long. I feel it could have been cut short at least by forty minutes. And I was not that impressed by Quentin Tarantino’s voice over in the film. I could have done without it. But despite its flaws, I cannot deny that I found “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” to be one of the director’s more interesting movies in his career. With a first-rate cast led by Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins and Jennifer Jason-Leigh; and a screenplay that seemed to be an interesting combination of a murder mystery and a Western; Tarantino created one of his most original movies during his career.

Favorite Movie Villains of 2015

Kingsman-the-secret-service-red-band-trailer

The year 2015 was filled with some very memorable screen villains.  I am certain that many have their own opinions of what constituted their favorite villains. Well … I have mine. Below is that list of my favorite movie villains from 2015:



FAVORITE MOVIE VILLAINS OF 2015 

 

 

1. Samuel L. Jackson as Richmond Valentine (“Kingsman: The Secret Service”) – I have to say it. Samuel Jackson has created some very memorable characters throughout his career – both heroic and villainous. But his portrayal of high tech tycoon, Richmond Valentine, has to be very high on the list. Not only was his goal – to decimate the majority of mankind in order to save the Earth – diabolical, but his lisp and aversion to violence made his character extremely memorable. Extremely.

 

 

2. Corey Stoll as Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket (“Ant-Man”) – It is a pity that Marvel Studios seemed incapable of maintaining its gallery of villains. One of the best Marvel villains I have come across in quite a while was Corey Stoll’s interpretation of Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket, scientist and CEO of Hank Pym’s company. Stoll’s Cross projected daddy issues with a style that rivaled Loki from the THOR movies, thanks to the actor’s performance.

 

 

3. Elizabeth Debicki as Victoria Vinciguerra (“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”) – Elizabeth Debicki gave a deliciously entertaining, yet subtle performance as the cool and cruel Victoria Vinciguerra, the leader of a neo-fascist criminal organization and co-owner of a shipping company, who harbored plans to build a nuclear weapon for her own personal use.

 

 

4. Donald Sutherland as President Coriolanus Snow (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part II”) – For the fourth time, Donald Sutherland did an excellent in creeping out movie audiences as the cruel and manipulative leader of Panem, as his character resorts to extraordinary methods to put down a rebellion.

 

 

5. Haley Joel Osment as Travis McCerdle (“Entourage: the Movie”) – I never thought in a million years that I would see Haley Joel Osment portray a truly unpleasant character, let alone make this list. But he proved to be the sole gem in an otherwise entertaining, yet mediocre film as the son of a Texas billionaire, who is given authority to oversee his father’s investment in Ari Gold’s film. Osment’s performance struck me as so spot-on that he almost resembled a living embodiment of excrement. He has come a long way.

 

 

6. James Spader as Ultron (“The Avengers: Age of Ultron”) – Another Marvel villain bit the dust this year. But before he (or it) did, audiences were treated to a superb voice performance by actor James Spader as the self-aware artificial intelligence bent upon decimating humanity. Not only was Spader’s performance a joy to hear, he had one of the best lines in the movie.

 

 

7. Jennifer Jason-Leigh as Daisy Domergue (“The Hateful Eight”)– In a movie filled with villains, the most memorable for me turned out to be Daisy Domergue, an outlaw being escorted to her execution by ruthless bounty hunter John Ruth. What made Jason-Leigh’s Daisy so memorable was her penchant for sadistic humor, vengeful nature and more importantly her patience. Despite being smacked around throughout most of the movie, the actress superbly conveyed just how ruthless Miss Domergue could actually be.

 

 

8. Hugh Laurie as David Nix (“Tomorrowland”) – Hugh Laurie gave a subtle, yet sardonic performance as David Nix, the mayor of Tomorrowland, who valued technological achievement over scientific originality. Laurie did an excellent job in conveying the character’s paranoia and willingness to resort extreme methods – including murder – in order to maintain the status quo – something he strongly supported. His rant against humanity is a must-see for any moviegoer.

 

 

9. Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part II”) – Julianne Moore gave a very subtle performance as the leader of Panem’s District 13 and the rebellion against the Capitol. At first glance, her efforts to free Panem from President Snow’s rule seemed very genuine. But Moore did an excellent job in occasionally conveying Coin’s manipulative and patient personality, along with a penchant for bloodletting that rivaled Snow’s.

 

 

10. Christoph Waltz as Ernst Stavros Blofeld (“SPECTRE”) – Christoph Waltz became the fifth actor to portray British agent James Bond’s biggest nemesis, Ernst Stavros Blofeld, head of criminal/terrorist organization SPECTRE. And he gave a memorable performance, project the character’s ruthlessness, intelligence, sadism and … dare I say it … charm? Waltz’s Blofeld made a very charming sadist, only rivaled by Telly Savalas’ portrayal in the late 1960s.

Favorite Moments in MARVEL Movies and Television

marvel_cinematic_universe_wallpaper__2_by_theincrediblejake-d8vkgrv

Below is a list of my favorite moments featured in Marvel movies and television: 

FAVORITE MOMENTS IN MARVEL MOVIES AND TELEVISION

image

 

1. “Spider-Man 2” (2004) – After a brutal fight with Doc Ock on top of a Manhattan El Train and saving the train’s passengers, an exhausted Spider-Man aka Peter Parker is unmasked by the latter in what I regard as the most poignant moment in any Marvel production.

 

image

 

2. “The Avengers” (2012) – During its fight against invading Chitauri troops, director Joss Whedon gave audiences an iconic shot of the newly formed Avengers, before they continued the battle.

 

image

 

3. “Iron-Man 3” (2013) – Iron Man aka Tony Stark saves the surviving passengers and crew of Air Force One in this breathtaking sequence, using aerodynamics, one of his Iron Man bots and his brains.

 

image

 

4. “The Wolverine” (2013) – In this exciting sequence, the Wolverine aka Logan battles members of the Yakuza on top of a Tokyo bullet train, as he tries to prevent them from kidnapping the granddaughter of a recently deceased businessman that he had briefly met at the end of World War II.

 

 

5. “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” (1.20) “Nothing Personal” – Agent Phil Coulson rescues his kidnapped subordinate Skye aka Daisy Johnson from HYDRA agents, who had hijacked the fallen agency’s C-17 plane, known as “the Bus”, with his sports car called “L.O.L.A.”.

 

image

 

6. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) – While staving off rogue HYDRA agents in Washington D.C., Captain America aka Steve Rogers has a brutal hand-to-hand fight with the assassin known as “the Winter Soldier”. Best fight scene in any Marvel production … at least for me.

 

image

 

7. “Iron Man 3” (2013) – In this hilarious scene, Tony Stark finally comes face-to-face with the “terrorist” known as “the Mandarin”, who proves not to be what many had assumed.

 

image

 

8. “The Hulk” (2003) – The opening credits of the 2003 movie featured the chilling efforts of Dr. David Banner to create super soldiers by introducing modified DNA sequences extracted from various animals to strengthen the human cellular response. This sequence gives me the chills whenever I watch the movie.

 

image

 

9. “X2: X-Men United” (2003) – The second movie in the “X-MEN” franchise featured an exciting attack by a brainwashed Nightcrawler aka Kurt Wagner on the White House, in an attempt to assassinate the U.S. President.

 

image

 

10. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) – S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury is attacked by HYDRA agents and the assassin known as “the Winter Soldier” on the streets of Washington D.C.

 

image

 

11. “Iron Man 2” (2010) – S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow fights off security guards at Justin Hammer’s factory in order to prevent Ivan Venko from using James Rhodes in the War Machine suit from killing Tony Stark aka Iron Man.

 

image

 

12. “Ant-Man” (2015) – Scott Laing aka Ant-Man attempts to infiltrate the new Avengers headquarters for a particular device, and has an unexpected encounter with Avenger Sam Wilson aka the Falcon.

 

image

 

13. “Iron Man 3” (2015) – An Extremis enhanced Pepper Potts saves Tony Stark from villain Aldrich Killian by killing the latter.

 

image

 

14. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) – The recently enhanced Steve Rogers is recruited by a U.S. senator for a war bonds tour in this colorful montage, after the former is rejected by Colonel Chester Phillips when the super soldier formula is lost.

 

image

 

15. “Thor” (2011) – Recently cast out from Asgaard by his father Odin, a now mortal Thor struggles to free himself from a hospital’s personnel before he is eventually drugged in this very funny scene.

 

image

 

16. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) – A group of extraterrestrial misfits uses one of the Infinity stones to defeat Kree supervillain Ronan the Accuser, who is bent upon destroying the Nova Empire’s capital city, Xandar.

 

image

 

17. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) – In this emotionally sad scene, S.S.R. Agent Peggy Carter gives in to tears, when communication with Captain America aka Steve Rogers is cut short, after he forces a HYDRA plane with deadly weapons into the Atlantic Ocean.

 

image

 

18. “Spider-Man 3” (2007) – Another sad scene features Spider-Man aka Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson grieving over the dead body of their friend, Harry Osborn aka New Goblin, after the latter is skewered by villain Venom aka Eddie Brock.

 

image

 

19. “Agent Carter” (1.07) “Snafu” – S.S.R. Chief Roger Dooley jumps to his death in order to save the lives of his subordinates from the bomb device that had been strapped to his body.

 

image

 

20. “The Hulk” (2003) – Ang Lee directed this bizarre scene featuring the death of former military officer Glenn Talbot, after the Hulk aka Bruce Banner escapes from a military base.

 

image

 

Honorable Mention: “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014) – Director Marc Webb directed this heartbreaking sequence in which Gwen Stacy falls to her death, after Spider-Man aka Peter Parker fails to save her from Harry Osborn aka the Green Goblin.

Top Five Favorite Episodes of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season One (2013-2014)

SHIELD_13825387413785

Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One of Marvel’s “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen; the series stars Clark Gregg.:

 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” SEASON ONE (2013-2014)

1 - 1.17 Turn Turn Turn

1. (1.17) “Turn, Turn, Turn” – All hell breaks loose when the events of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” leads to the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the exposure of HYDRA moles within their ranks.

2 - 1.21 Nothing Personal

2. (1.20) “Nothing Personal” – Former S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill helps Coulson and his team track down fellow agent Skye, who has been snatched by HYDRA and former ally, Mike Peterson aka Deathlok.

3 - 1.13 - T.R.A.C.K.S.

3. (1.13) “T.R.A.C.K.S.” – The team’s search for the head of the Centipede organization, the Clairvoyant, takes a troubling turn when they board a train in Italy on which a Cybertek employee is shipping a package to Ian Quinn, a wealthy follower of the Clairvoyant.

4 - 1.10 The Bridge

4. (1.10) “The Bridge” – Coulson recruits Mike, who has become a new S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, to help him and the team track down fugitive Edison Po and the Centipede organization, which is a part of HYDRA. Unfortunately, trouble ensues when Centipede manages to kidnap Mike’s son.

5 - 1.15 Yes Men

5. (1.15) “Yes Men” – The team helps Asgardian Lady Sif hunt down enchantress Lorelei, who has plans to create an army with the help of Human males. Unfortunately, the team and Sif encounter trouble when Agent Grant Ward falls under her spell.

HM - 1.22 Beginning of the End

Honorable Mention: (1.22) “Beginning of the End” – In the first season’s finale, Coulson and his team raid the Cybertek facility controlled by HYDRA agents and receive much needed help from former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury.

“THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” (2015) Review

avengers_age_of_ultron_2015_movie-wide

 

“THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” (2015) Review

The Marvel Cinematic Universe, which first began back in 2008, edged closer to the completion of its second phase with the release of “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”. This second film featured the return of the team of superheroes that saved Earth from an alien invasion in the 2012 film, “THE AVENGERS”.

In reality, the movie began with the “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season Two episode, (2.19) “The Dirty Half Dozen”, in which Phil Coulson and his team managed to infiltrate a HYDRA base led by one Doctor List and discover the location of the secret base of the evil organization in the fictional country of Sokovia. “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”opened with the Avengers in Slovakia, attacking the HYDRA base. Despite Clint Barton aka Hawkeye’s injury and the team’s encounter with HYDRA’s new superhumans, Sokovia natives Pietro and Wanda Maximoff aka Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch; the Avengers prevail by arresting HYDRA leader Baron Wolfgang von Strucker and obtaining the Chitauri Scepter used by Loki in the 2012 movie. However, Tony Stark aka Iron Man has an encounter with the telepathic Wanda Maximoff that leaves him with visions of the entire Avengers team dead (except him).

Upon the team’s return to Tony’s Manhattan penthouse, which is being used as their headquarters; he asks fellow Avenger Thor Odinson if he could examine the scepter before the latter can deliver it to Asgard. Thor acquiesces and both Tony and Bruce Banner aka the Hulk discover one of the Infinity stones (Mind Stone) within the scepter. They also discover that the stone has an artificial intelligence. Tony decides to use the stone complete his idea of an “ULTRON” global defense program – an artificial intelligence that controls robotic armor to protect Earth from future danger. Unfortunately the ULTRON program becomes sentient. He believes that he must eradicate humanity in order to save Earth. So ULTRON eliminates Stark’s A.I., J.A.R.V.I.S., and attacks the Avengers at their headquarters. ULTRON escapes with the scepter and uses the resources at Strucker’s Sokovia base to upgrade his rudimentary body and build an army of robot drones. After killing Strucker, ULTRON recruits the Maximoffs, who hold Stark responsible for their parents’ deaths by his weapons. Once the Avengers learn what Tony and Bruce had created, they set off to track down ULTRON and prevent the latter from carrying out his agenda for the destruction of humanity.

I might as well put my cards on the table. “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” is not as good as its 201 predecessor. I fear that writer-director Joss Whedon may have gotten a little sloppy with the execution of his story. The first problem I had with the movie is its use of the HYDRA organization. Since 2014’s “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER revealed that HYDRA leader Baron von Stucker was in possession of the Chitauri scepter, it is obvious that Whedon used HYDRA for the Avengers – especially Tony Stark – to get their hands on it and the Mind Stone. More importantly, he wanted to use the Mind Stone for the creation of both ULTRON and the newest Avenger team member, Vision. But after the movie’s opening action sequence, Stucker was captured and later killed by ULTRON, making his appearance in the film a complete waste of time. In fact, it seems as if the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been hellbent upon the misuse of HYDRA since Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. Personally, I wish that producer Kevin Fiege had allowed the HYDRA/Chitauri scepter plot line to be used for the third Captain America film and allowed both ULTRON and Vision to be created without the Mind stone. And why on earth did Whedon allowed the Mind stone to contain artificial intelligence? Was this an attempt by him to remove a possible supernatural or spiritual aspect of the Infinity Stones, due to some lack of religious beliefs?

What other problems I had with the movie? Honestly, I found the action sequences in the movie rather over-the-top. I was not that impressed by sequence featuring the Avengers’ attack upon the HYDRA Sokovia base and their final showdown against ULTRON in the same location. And if I must be brutally honest, I was especially put off by the fight between Iron Man and an enraged Hulk (courtesy of Scarlet Witch’s mind games) in the fictional country of Wakanda (home of the Black Panther). Speaking of the movie’s final action sequence, I was not particularly fond it. I hated the methods ULTRON used to finally destroy humanity. What did he do? ULTRON used vibranium from the old HYDRA base to build a machine that would lift a large part of Sokovia’s capital city skyward and crash it into the ground in order to cause global extinction. And I had to sit inside that movie theater and watch the Avengers battle robots and ULTRON in a city that was rising in the air. There was a point in which I found the whole thing simply fucking ridiculous. Speaking of robots . . . the sight of ULTRON’s killer droids brought back memories of the Sentinels from 2014’s “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”, a movie that is not high on my list of favorite Marvel flicks. And there was the vision that Thor had received from the Scarlet Witch. One, how on earth did a human managed to force an image upon an Asgardian? Especially one as powerful as Thor? Two, was this vision supposed to be of Wanda’s creation . . . or a genuine vision of the future? I do not recall the Scarlet Witch possessing the talent of precognition. And why was Thor’s dream or vision edited in such a choppy manner? It is a miracle that I managed to understand it in the end.

The movie also featured the death of a major character in the film. Whedon claimed he wanted to reveal the emotional impact of war. Personally, I think he wanted to rectify his decision to resurrect the Phil Coulson character for “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, who had originally been killed off in “THE AVENGERS”. And frankly, I found it unnecessary. The MCU could have saved a character death for the third “AVENGERS” film. Speaking of characterizations, I was not particularly thrilled by Whedon’s handling of some of the minor characters. As I had earlier pointed out, I thought he had mishandled the HYDRA story line that began in “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. Which meant he also mishandled both the Baron von Stucker and Dr. List characters and wasted the time of actors Thomas Kretschmann and Henry Goodman. I was really looking forward to watching Kretschman’s portrayal of the HYDRA leader. And what the hell did Whedon to do the James Rhodes aka War Machine character? Poor Don Cheadle! Whedon turned his character into a one-note joke, as Rhodey continuously recalled the time he saved the President’s life in “IRON MAN 3”. Even though he helped the Avengers save Sokovia’s citizens in the final battle, Whedon still decided to make Rhodey a “machismo” joke. Only Cheadle’s skillful comic acting skill made Anthony Mackie made two brief appearances as Sam Wilson aka the Falcon – during the victory party at Stark Towers and in the final scene in which he had joined the Avengers at their new headquarters in upstate New York. That is all. Perhaps he was filming another movie at the time. Who knows? But Whedon really wasted his role in this film. Another wasted performance came from Cobie Smulders, whose appearance and relevance as Maria Hill in the Marvel Cinematic Universe seemed to be shrinking with each film. As for Stellan Skarsgård’s performance as Dr. Erik Selvig, it appearance seemed to be a case of “now you see him . . . now you don’t”. At least Idris Elba’s Hemidall managed to have a stronger impact on the story, due to his appearance in Thor’s vision. And Hayley Atwell’s appearance as Peggy Carter in Steve Roger’s vision had a strong impact on his psyche.

It is a good thing that I actually managed to enjoy “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” very much . . . despite its flaws. Fortunately, the movie possessed a lot more flaws than virtues. The ensemble created for the film seemed strong as ever . . . especially in the sequence featuring the Avengers’ victory party at Stark Towers. Although I was not that enamored of the ULTRON storyline idea, I must admit that overall, Joss Whedon managed to make it work. Whedon did an excellent job of connecting the dots between the HYDRA base attack, one of the Infinity stones and the creations of both ULTRON and Vision. And the two characters that served as the connections to these different aspects of the plot were Tony Stark and Thor. I never understood why Nick Fury sent the Avengers after Baron von Strucker and HYDRA. There were plenty of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents still around who could have done the job. But it made sense that Thor would want to retrieve the Chitauri scepter, since it contained one of the Infinity stones. And knowing Tony’s penchant for curiosity, it made sense that he would want to examine the scepter. Whedon even managed to create connections between Tony and the Maximoff twins – Wanda and Pietro. Missiles created by Stark Industries were responsible for their parents’ deaths.

It was a relief to see that Whedon did not shortchange the major characters. Although previous MCU movies have shown some of Tony Stark’s more unpleasant traits, he really came close to being very unlikable in this film. This was especially obvious in the scene in which Tony refused to acknowledge his mistake in creating ULTRON. Robert Downey Jr. did a great job in conveying Tony’s ugly side and at the same time, still maintain the character’s “hero” status. I feel that “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” also conveyed a good deal of Bruce Banner’s ugly nature as well . . . and I am referring to those scenes in which he did not morph into Hulk mode. Mark Ruffalo gave a sweet performance as a Bruce who seemed to be developing feelings for former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow. But there were moments when Bruce did not seem that likable. Some have cited that one moment in which he threatened to harm Wanda Maximoff. I can think of two other moments. He seemed incapable of understanding Natasha’s own personal demons during one conversation between them . . . to the point that he eventually ran off, making their potential romance all about him. “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” finally verified that Natasha had been trained in the Soviets’ Red Room Academy, the same organization that Leviathan agent “Dottie Underwood” had been trained in the ABC series, “AGENT CARTER”. Natasha’s visions, along with her conversation with Bruce, made it clear that her training had left scars on her psyche. Scarlett Johansson performance certainly made this clear . . . especially in the scene in which she revealed Natasha’s demons in a conversation with Bruce. It was a truly superb moment in an otherwise first-rate performance by Johansson.

Jeremy Renner had more ample time to shine as former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and expert marksman, Clint Barton aka Hawkeye. Not only did we see Renner interact with the cast a lot more, but audiences were allowed an in-depth look into his personal life as a happily married man and father. In many ways, Renner’s down-to-earth performance as Barton served as the film’s emotional backbone. One would think that role should have belonged to Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers aka Captain America. However, I got the feeling that Steve was still reeling from the aftermath of the events from “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” and his continuing grief over the loss of Peggy Carter, as shown in Steve’s heartbreaking vision of a possible date with Peggy at a 1940s nightclub. It is amazing how much Evans has made the Captain America role his own after three films. Hell, he made it his own back in the 2011 film. Chris Hemsworth’s role as Thor did not strike me as “major” in compare to the other members of the Avengers team. Without the presence of Thor’s half-brother Loki, I got the feeling that Whedon did not really know what to do with him . . . other than help create Vision. But Hemsworth’s performance was my favorite in the film. That man has such a superb comic timing. And he providing some of the film’s funniest moments, including that hair-raising moment in which Steve nearly lifted his hammer, Mjolnir. Samuel L. Jackson gave a very interesting performance as former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury. He seemed rather introspective . . . almost weary. At first, I wondered if Jackson had become tired of the role. But he had made clear his desire to continue portraying Fury beyond his current contract. I suspect that Jackson was conveying the toll of Fury’s worldwide search for HYDRA bases and agents and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s downfall.

James Spader gave one hell of a performance as the voice for the artificial intelligence being, ULTRON. Spader gave one of those memorable voice performances that I believe I will never forget. Since ULTRON is Tony Stark’s creation, it seemed as if Spader was portraying Stark’s personality . . . but with his own particular twist. It was an interesting and brilliant performance to watch . . . or hear. “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” proved to be the first role in which I have seen actor Aaron Johnson-Taylor portrayed an extroverted character – namely Pietro Maximoff aka Quicksilver. And being the first-rate actor I have always believed he was, Johnson-Taylor did an excellent job in conveying Pietro’s impulsive nature, protectiveness toward his twin sister and cockiness – especially in his interactions with Clint Barton. In fact, his ability as a speedster seemed to correlate well with his personality. And who portrayed his twin sister? None other than Elizabeth Olsen, who portrayed his wife in the 2014 blockbuster, “GODZILLA”. Man, the irony! And she gave an equally superb performance as the more serious, yet emotional Wanda Maximoff, who possessed the talents of telepathy and telekinesis. Paul Bettany, who had served as the voice of Tony Stark’s artificial intelligence program, J.A.R.V.I.S., acquired a new role in the MCU. He is now portraying Vision, an organic-based android who eventually became a member of the Avengers. Bettany gave a very skillful, yet ethereal performance. His Vision struck me as a quiet, naive being, with a surprising penchant for wise and occasionally sardonic barbs. The movie also featured solid supporting performances from Linda Cardellini, Claudia Kim, Idris Elba, Andy Serkis and Julie Delpy.

What else can I say about “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”? Well, nothing really. The movie’s special effects and musical score by Hans Zimmer did not exactly blow my mind. Come to think of it, Ben Davis’ cinematography failed to impress me, as well . . . even if I found his work competent. But I thought it lacked the sharp and colorful beauty of the 2012 movie. In fact, I would go as far to say that “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” is not as good as “THE AVENGERS”. But . . . it did continue the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s main narrative. And this continuation was marked by Josh Brolin’s appearance as Thanos in the movie’s first post-credit scene. “AGE OF ULTRON” may not have been perfect or even near perfect. But I thought it was still a first-rate film.

jyo922hlhqce27y6qyqa

“KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” (2015) Review

kingsman1gal

“KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” (2015) Review

Matthew Vaughn must be a major comic book fan. This is the second . . . no, third time in his career in which he has directed a film adaptation of a comic book series or story. This time, he directed an adaptation of Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar’s 2012 comic book series, “The Secret Service”.

“KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” told the story of a young man named Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, who becomes a recruit for a secret service organization called Kingsman. The story begins in 1997 when a team of Kingsman agents led by Harry Hart lead a raid to interrogate a terrorist in the Middle East. When their prisoner reveals an unpinned grenade, one of the Kingsman agents – who turns out to be Eggsy’s father – sacrifices himself to save the others. Harry leaves a medal with a coded message to young Eggsy, in case the latter needs help. Seventeen years later, Eggsy, now a young unemployed adult living with his mother, an infant half-sister and an abusive stepfather; runs afoul of the police after he and his friends steal a car that belongs to one of his stepfather’s personal thugs. When Eggsy contacts Harry, using the medal, the latter arranges his release and encourages the younger man to apply for a position at the Kingsman agency.

Meanwhile, one Professor James Arnold is kidnapped by henchmen who work for Internet billionaire Richmond Valentine. A Kingsman agent known as “Lancelot”, tries to rescue Professor Arnold, but failes when Richmond’s henchwoman, Gazelle, kills him. Valentine manages to convince Arnold, along with various heads of state and VIPs, to participate in a scheme that he hopes will save the planet Earth from humanity. While Harry keeps an eye on Eggsy’s training, he also investigates Lancelot’s death and its connection to Valentine.

Okay, I might as well say it. I enjoyed “KINGSMAN” THE SECRET SERVICE” very much. Hell, I loved it. Now, I cannot say that it is an original tale, considering that it is based upon a comic novel. But it is one of the most enjoyable comic book adaptations I have seen since . . . well, since last year’s “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” and“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” Okay, it is simply a damn good movie. And I am amazed that 20th Century Fox did not release it for the summer season. It is worthy of a major summer release. But since the summer of 2015 might prove to be very competitive, I can understand why the studio decided to give it an early release.

I would not say that the plot for “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” is not particularly original. Then again, it might be. Yes, Richmond Valentine’s plot to improve Earth for mankind proved to be very similar to plots I have recently encountered in two ABC series – “ONCE UPON A TIME” and “AGENT CARTER”. But it was originally used in Millar and Gibbons’ 2012 comic book series. So, one can accuse the show runners for the two ABC of plagiarism. In some ways, the plot for “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” reminded me of the plot for the 2014 movie, “DIVERGENT”. Both movies started out featuring hardcore training sessions for the protagonists and ended with the characters of Eggsy Unwin and Tris Prior engaged in some serious action sequences. Yet Vaughn and co-screenwriter Jane Goldman did a better job of balancing Eggsy’s training and his participation in the movie’s final action sequence. This is due to the presence of Harry Hart, who served as this movie’s other major protagonist. While audiences were allowed to watch full details of Eggsy’s Kingsman training, they also got to see Harry’s detailed investigation of Richmond Valentine before the former was included. Using both Harry and Eggsy as the protagonists, while they engaged in their own agenda throughout most of the film allowed Vaughn and Goldman to maintain a balance in the story.

Despite “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” being an action comedy scene, it not only featured excellent acting, but also some interesting dramatic and comedic moments. Among my favorites included Eggsy’s introduction to the Kingsman organization, his conflicts with his abusive stepfather, Harry and Kingsman leader Chester King’s conflict over the idea recruiting potential agents from the middle and lower classes, Valentine’s recruitment of the world’s elite into his plan and his first meeting with Harry over a McDonald’s meal.

I talked a good deal about the movie’s plot. But remember . . . “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” is also an action film based upon a comic book series. And this movie featured a good deal of memorable action scenes. My favorites included Lancelot’s attempt to rescue Professor Arnold, two of the Kingsman training sessions featuring a water-filled room and a parachute jump, and Harry’s encounter with thugs working for Eggsy’s stepfather. My favorite sequence – and it is a long one – featured the remaining Kingsman operatives’ attempt to stop Valentine’s plot regarding the world’s human population. Most final sequences in action movies these days tend to be ridiculously long and filled with mindless violence and explosions. Yes, the final action sequence for “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” has its share of violence and explosions. But I thought it was well shot and did not leave me feeling disoriented and slightly deaf. This sequence also featured one of the funniest character death scenes I have seen on film.

Now . . . “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” is not perfect. I believe it has its flaws. First of all, there is one action sequence that I did not find particularly thrilling to watch. I am referring to the massacre at the Kentucky hate group headquarters in which Harry Hart participated against his will. My problem with this scene? It seemed to go on forever . . . as if Vaughn wanted to savor every moment of the violent conflict inside that Kentucky church just struck me as a bit too much. I also had a problem with the movie’s use of the Lancelot character, portrayed by Jack Davenport. I had no problem with the latter’s performance. But . . . I wish he had lasted a bit longer than he did. Davenport’s time span in the movie reminded me of his limited screen appearance in the 2007 movie, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END”. Which left me feeling dissatisfied. I wanted to see more of the actor . . . in this film and in the previous one.

The performances featured in “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” proved to be first-rate. Hell, they were better than first-rate. The supporting cast – including Samantha Womack, Geoff Bell, Corey Johnson and Hanna Alström – provided some real, solid performances. But I was really impressed by Edward Holcroft’s portrayal of Charlie, Eggsy’s aristocratic main rival in the training program; Sophie Cookson as another one of Eggsy’s fellow trainees, the winsome, yet tough-minded Roxy; and Jack Davenport’s portrayal of Agent “Lancelot”, which struck me as a cheeky take on the James Bond character. Mark Hamill also gave a brief, yet entertaining appearance as a British academic named James Arnold, whom Valentine manages to recruit into his scheme. I was surprised by Hamill’s first-rate British accent. Michael Caine added a touch of class as the Kingsman agents’ aristocratic leader, Chester King aka “Arthur”. And Sofia Boutella was very impressive as Valentine’s cool and very deadly henchwoman, Gazelle. I swear . . . Boutella’s Gazelle could put any Bond henchman or woman to shame.

Mark Strong, a veteran of past Vaughn films, did a great job of portraying “Merlin”, a senior Kingsman agent who serves as the agency’s trainer and senior tech expert. I was especially impressed by how Strong managed to project a mixture of authority and cheeky sense of humor in his performance. One of the best things about “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” was Vaughn’s choice to portray the Kingsman trainee, Gary “Eggsy” Unwin. Taron Egerton gave a star making performance as the energetic and intelligent Eggsy, who is hampered by his working-class background and impatience. I never thought a twenty-something actor with very little experience could hold his own with the likes of Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Michael Caine and Samuel L. Jackson. But he did. Perfectly.

Colin Firth proved to be a surprisingly first-rate hero as Harry Hart, the veteran Kingsman agent who not only saw promise in Eggsy, but also the latter’s father some seventeen years earlier. Firth is cool, witty, and authoritative. More importantly, he proved for the first time in his career that he could be a superb action hero . . . even in his early fifties. All the film historians in the world could argue over who might be the best Bond villain. As far as I am concerned, the winner of that little contest could never be as good as Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal of billionaire Richmond Valentine. He trounced them all. Not only was he one of the best (and scariest) on-screen villains I have seen in years, he was also very entertaining. Utilizing a lisp and projecting his character’s aversion to violence and blood, Jackson gave what I believe was the best performance in the movie.

It is rare to find a first-rate action film that was not released during the usual summer season. It is rare, but not unknown. I do not know how “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” would have held up against the movies released for the summer of 2015. But regardless of its release date, it might prove to be one of my favorite movies of the year. Matthew Vaughn did a superb job as director of this adaptation of the 2012 comic series. And he was ably supported by Jane Goldman as co-screenwriter and a superb cast led by Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson and Taron Egerton.

Ranking of Movies Seen During Summer 2015

Usually I would list my ten favorite summer movies of any particular year. However, I only watched ten new releases during the summer of 2015. Due to the limited number, I decided to rank the films that I saw:

 

 

RANKING OF MOVIES SEEN DURING SUMMER 2015

1. “Jurassic World” – In the fourth movie for the JURASSIC PARK franchise, a new dinosaur created for the Jurassic World theme park goes amok and creates havoc. Directed by Colin Trevorrow, the movie starred Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard.

 

 

2. “Ant-Man” – Convicted thief Scott Lang is recruited to become Ant-Man for a heist in this new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Directed by Peyton Reed, Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily and Michael Douglas starred.

 

 

3. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” – Guy Ritchie directed this adaptation of the 1964-1968 television series about agents for the C.I.A. and KGB working together to fight neo-Nazis in the early 1960s. Armie Hammer, Henry Cavill and Alicia Vikander starred.

 

 

4. “Tomorrowland” – Brad Bird directed this imaginative tale about a a former boy-genius inventor and a scientifically inclined adolescent girl’s search for a special realm where ingenuity is encouraged. George Clooney, Britt Robertson and Hugh Laurie starred.

 

 

5. “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are forced to prevent an artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner from destroying mankind. Joss Whedon wrote and directed this second AVENGERS film.

 

 

6. “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” – Tom Cruise starred in this fifth entry in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” film franchise about Ethan Hunt’s efforts to find and destroy a rogue intelligence organization engaged in terrorist activities.

 

 

7. “Mr. Holmes” – Ian McKellen starred in this adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel about the aging Sherlock Holmes’ efforts to recall his last case. Directed by Bill Condon, Laura Linney and Milo Parker co-starred.

 

 

8. “Fantastic Four” – Josh Trank directed this reboot of the Marvel comics series about four young people whose physical form is altered after they teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe. Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell starred.

 

 

9. “Entourage” – Doug Ellin wrote and directed this fluffy continuation of the 2004-2011 HBO series about a movie star and his group of friends dealing with a new project. Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara and Jeremy Piven starred.

 

 

10. “Terminator: Genisys” – Alan Taylor directed this fifth movie in the TERMINATOR franchise, an unexpected turn of events creates a fractured timeline when Resistance fighter Kyle Reese goes back to 1984 in order to prevent the death of leader John Connor’s mother. Arnold Schwartzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney and Jason Clarke starred.