“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” (2015) Review

“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” (2015) Review

When I first learned that a fifth movie for the “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” movie franchise would be shot, I must admit that I was not particularly thrilled. As far as I was concerned, three or four movies were enough. The last film, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL”, struck me as the high note of the franchise. I had doubts that the next film could be an improvement of the last film.

Paramount Pictures and the film’s producers (which included star Tom Cruise and J.J. Abrams) went ahead to produce and release the franchise’s fifth entry, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION”. The movie begins with IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agents Ethan Hunt and Benji Dunn engaged in a mission to intercept nerve gas being sold to terrorists. But when Hunt is captured and escapes from the customer who wanted the nerve gas, he becomes aware of an international criminal consortium called the Syndicate. He also meets a disavowed MI6 agent and Syndicate operative named Ilsa Faust, who helped him escape. But C.I.A. Director Alan Hunley does not believe in the existence of the Syndicate. Hunley also goes before a Senate committee to disband the IMF, despite Agent William Brandt’s efforts to stop him. Declared a rogue agent by the C.I.A., Hunt enlists the aide of Ilsa Faust and his former IMF colleagues – Benji, Luther Stickell and Brandt – to provide evidence on the existence of the Syndicate and bring down the organization’s leader who had earlier captured him.

If anyone had been reading some of my past reviews of the Summer 2015 movies (which I doubt), that person would noticed a good number of complaints on my part regarding the pacing of these movies. I will say this about “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION”, it possesses a strong finish. And screenwriters Christopher MacQuarrie and Drew Pearce also managed to create a very interesting and complex tale that involved deception, double-crosses and misconceptions. And thanks to MacQuarrie, who also served as the movie’s director, “ROGUE NATION” featured both some first-rate dramatic scenes and outstanding action sequences.

My favorite dramatic scenes included Brandt’s clash with Hunley over the future of IMF; Faust’s attempts to convince the Syndicate’s leader, former MI-6 agent Solomon Lane, that she is loyal to him; Faust’s encounter with her MI6 Director Atlee, the quarrel between Hunt and the always skeptical Brandt on how to handle Lane, a USB flash drive that everyone seems to want, and Dunn’s kidnapping; and the confrontation between Hunt, Brandt, Hunley, Atlee and the Britain’s Prime Minister. But my favorite episode proved to be one of the last. It featured Hunt’s efforts to convince Lane to let Dunn go in exchange for the information on the flash drive. Thanks to the performers in that scene, I thought it was a phenomenon scene filled with tension.

But “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” is also an action film. And it featured some very outstanding scenes. Trailers and television spots made a big deal of the movie’s opening action shot featuring Tom Cruise and a cargo plane. I would have been impressed if I had not seen it so many times. But I was impressed by the high tension sequence at an opera performance in Vienna. I thought both MacQuarrie and film editor Eddie Hamilton handled it very well. Another favorite sequence proved to be Hunt, Faust and Dunn’s attempt to steal information about the Syndicate from inside an underwater turbine tank in Morocco. In fact, I think I was even more impressed with MacQuarrie and Hamilton’s work in this sequence than I was with the one in Austria. And I thought the film’s last action sequence in the streets of London was well handled and suspenseful . . . especially the fight scene between Faust and Lane’s right-hand man, Janik Vinter.

There is a good deal to like about “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION”. But I would never regard it as my favorite movie from the franchise. Heck, I would not even rank it as my second favorite. As much as I liked the movie . . . I had some problems. One, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” featured the fourth movie in the franchise in which either Ethan Hunt finds himself on the run as a rogue agent or when the IMF is in danger of being permanently disbanded. In the case of this movie, both happened. A senate committee disbanded IMF and Hunt ended up on the run, hunted by the C.I.A. Four movies out of five . . . this strikes me as a bit too much after five movies. And unoriginal. And why would the C.I.A. director go before a senate committed to disband the IMF? I could have sworn that the latter was a division or section of the C.I.A. It certainly seemed that way in the 1996 movie, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE”. Following the death of Jim Phelps, Ethan’s Hunt immediate supervisor proved to be then Director Eugene Kittridge (portrayed by Henry Czerny). And the IMF was located at the C.I.A. Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Hunt also answered to Director Theodore Brassel (Laurence Fishburne), who also worked out of Langley. See what I am getting here? Why is this movie portraying the C.I.A. and the IMF as two separate agencies? I also could not help but shake my head that Hunley wanted to disband the IMF for what happened in “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL”. I understand that Hunley was upset that Hunt allowed those nuclear weapon codes to get into the hands of the main villain. But that happened four years ago. And why bring down an entire agency or division over the actions of one agent? Hunley should have simply went after Hunt. Speaking of the latter, while he was making goo-goo eyes at Elsa Faust, did he remember his estranged wife, Jules? Are they still legally married? Does he still love her?

What exactly was William Brandt’s current position at IMF? I never heard of a mere agent having enough authority to report before a Senate committee? I read somewhere that in this movie, IMF was currently without a director? Huh? This would never happen in the intelligence community. Even if there was no permanent director on hand, there would be an interim director before a permanent one could be found. Was MacQuarrie and Drew Pearce trying to hint that Brandt had risen up the IMF ladder? Why not Hunt? Why not allow Hunt to become the temporary director and allow Brandt to be the field agent? It would make more sense. What did not make any sense was that opening action sequence involving the retrieval of those nerve gas canisters. It would have been a lot easier for Hunt and Dunn to snatch the nerve gas before it could be loaded on that cargo plane. But the way the whole stunt was planned and carried out, I got the feeling it was nothing more than a glorified stunt planned to show audiences that Cruise still had what it took to be an action star. And it bored me. Also, I found myself slightly confused about the movie’s plot – namely the goals of Elsa Faust and Solomon Lane. At first, I thought Faust wanted the information that would expose the Syndicate. As it turned out, the information that she, Benji and Hunt had stolen was the same information that Syndicate leader wanted . . . MI6 funds that could finance his terrorist organization. So . . . was Faust playing Hunt and MI6 all along? Was Lane playing Hunt? Or did the screenwriters make a rather confusing switch in the plot in order to surprise the audiences? I have no idea.

I certainly had no problems with the movie’s performances. Tom Cruise gave a top-notched performance as Ethan Hunt . . . as always. But I got the feeling that there was nothing particular new or mind blowing about his performance. Many critics seemed to be more than impressed by Rebecca Ferguson’s performance as the allegedly disavowed MI6 agent, Elsa Faust. Yes, she did an excellent job in giving a very complex performance. But the “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” movie franchise has always been blessed with excellent and interesting women characters. She is not the first. Simon Pegg was very funny as IMF tech/agent Benji Dunn. More importantly, he did an excellent job in conveying Dunn’s growing confidence as a field agent. Although he did make a cameo appearance in the fourth “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE”, it was nice to see Ving Rhames appear as a supporting player again, reprising his role as the talented hack/IMF computer technician, Luther Stickell. And it was nice to see Jeremy Renner reprise his role as IMF Agent William Brandt again. He gave first-rate performance, as always. But I was very disappointed that he was not feature in any major action sequences, other than the Morocco car chase.

The role of C.I.A. Director Alan Hunley must be the first bureaucrat I have ever seen Alec Baldwin portray. Being the consummate actor he has always been, Baldwin gave an excellent portrayal of a limited-minded man whose resentment and anger toward another man led him to disband an entire agency (or division). I was very impressed by Simon McBurney’s performance as the MI6 Director, Attlee. He did an excellent in conveying the character’s manipulative and slightly malevolent personality. Sean Williams’s character, Solomon Lane, definitely struck me as malevolent, thanks to the actor’s performance. There were times when his character came off as a one-dimensional James Bond villain. But fortunately, his scenes with Cruise later in the film allowed audiences to fleetingly see the emotional toll that Lane had endured as an MI6 agent. “ROGUE NATION” also featured a very funny cameo appearance by Tom Hollander as the Prime Minister. I find this ironic, considering the tense nature of the scene he had appeared in.

In a nutshell, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” was an entertaining and exciting addition to the movie franchise. I thought Christopher MacQuarrie and Drew Pearce managed to create an interesting tale filled with intrigue, double-cross, first-rate action and excellent acting from a cast led by Tom Cruise. However . . . I thought the movie slightly suffered from some plot holes and a writing formula that is starting to seem a bit tired. I understand that Paramount has already green-lighted a sixth film for the franchise. I hope that it will prove to be a bit more original.

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“JANE EYRE” (2011) Review

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“JANE EYRE” (2011) Review

There seemed to be certain famous British novels that are always adapted for film or television . . . over and over again. One of those novel is Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”. There have been twelve television adaptations and seventeen movie adaptations. That must be a world record for any literary piece. I have seen at least three television adaptations and four movie adaptations. The most recent I have seen is the 2011 motion picture, directed by Cary Fukunaga.

“JANE EYRE” – at least this version – begins with governess Jane Eyre leaving Thornfield Hall in the middle of the night, crying. She finds herself stranded on the Yorkshire moors, until she reaches the home of a clergyman named St. John Rivers and his two sisters. They allow Jane to stay with him. While staying with the Rivers family, Jane flashes back to the events that led to her flight and meeting with her rescuers. Her flashbacks begin with her last days at her childhood home, Gateshead, as a ten year-old girl clashing with her brutish Cousin John Reed and her cold Aunt Reed. The latter sends her to Lowood School for Girls, which is run by a cruel clergyman, Mr. Brocklehurst. Jane endures the brutality of Lowood with the help of a friend named Helen Burns. After Helen dies, Jane remains at Lowood for eight years, until she leaves to become a governess for a French orphan girl named Adele Varens at Thornfield. Jane becomes acquainted with the manor’s inhabitants – including Adele, housekeeper Mrs. Alice Fairfax and the manor’s owner, Mr. Edward Rochester. Jane’s relationship with Mr. Rochester develops from an employee/employer relationship to something more complicated and romantic. But their relationship is threatened by a secret that looms over Thornfield.

This adaptation of Brontë’s novel became the second one of my knowledge that was structured differently. In other words, this production began in the middle of Brontë’s tale, instead of the beginning. Fortunately, Fukunaga and screenwriter Moira Buffini’s changes to the story’s structure did not harm the story one bit. As far as I am concerned. By allowing the movie to begin with Jane Eyre’s flight from Thornfield Hall, Fukunaga and Buffini set up a second mystery within the story for those moviegoers unfamiliar with the story. The 2011 movie is not completely faithful to Brontë’s novel. And this is not a bad thing. Buffini’s screenplay did not focus very long on Jane’s stay at Lowood – for which I am utterly grateful. It also deleted Mr. Rochester’s prank against his female guests, when he disguised himself as a Gypsy fortune teller. This version also featured a bit of sexual tension between Jane and her benefactor, St. John Rivers. It also eliminated any reference to the latter’s romantic feelings toward a local heiress named Rosamond Oliver. Actually, the changes to Brontë’s novel did not really affect my feelings about the movie. Although it garnered a good deal of praise from many critics, “JANE EYRE” drew mix feelings from many moviegoers – especially those who were fans of the novel. This mixed reaction led me to ignore the movie for nearly two years, until my curiosity finally got the best of me and I watched it.

I was relieved to discover that “JANE EYRE” proved to be better than I had originally assumed. First of all, the movie benefited from a solid pacing, thanks to Fukunaga’s direction. Not only did Fukunaga kept the pacing lively enough to maintain my interest, but did not rush it . . . except in one pivotal scene. Despite re-arranging the story’s structure and deleting some scenes, both Fukunaga and Buffini maintained Brontë’s basic narrative. One aspect of the movie that I really enjoyed proved to be Adriano Goldman’s photography. Although the story is set in Yorkshire, Fukunaga shot most of the film in Derbyshire. It did not matter, for I was dazzled by Goldman’s work, especially in the sequence that featured Jane’s flight from Thornfield Hall. I also have to give kudos to Melanie Oliver’s editing for the smooth transitions between the sequences with the Rivers family and the flashbacks to Gatehead, Lowood and Thornfield Hall. But I am also a costume whore. And if there is one aspect of period dramas that really appeal to me, it is the costumes. And I might as well say it – Michael O’Connor’s costumes for the movie blew my mind. I thought he did a superb job in re-creating the fashions of the 1830s and especially the 1840s. O’Connor earned Academy Award and BAFTA Award nominations for his work. Below are examples of O’Connor’s beautiful costumes:

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However, “JANE EYRE” is not perfect. What movie is? And yet . . . I would never consider this movie as the best adaptation of Brontë’s novel. Since “JANE EYRE” is basically a love story about a demure English governess and her moody employer, one would expect the two leads to crackle with chemistry. Unfortunately, I never detected any real chemistry between Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. Lord knows they tried. They really tried. One of the problems is that Wasikowska had better chemistry with Jamie Bell, who portrayed St. John Rivers. I did not find this surprising, considering that the pair had portrayed young lovers in the 2008 World War II drama, “DEFIANCE”. There were a few scenes from the novel that did not appear in this film . . . and I missed them. I do not recall Rochester’s caustic recollections of his affair with young Adele’s mother. And I felt surprised that Rochester’s attempts to keep Jane at Thornfield seemed to be tinged with self-remorse. I do not recall Rochester expressing any remorse for his attempt to draw Jane into an ill-fated marriage and later, an illicit affair in the novel or other adaptations. I also got the feeling that Fukunaga and Buffini were trying to maintain a positive portrayal of him, following the revelation of his secret. And I must admit that I found Jane’s return to Thornfield and her reconciliation with Rochester rather disappointing. Unlike the rest of the film, I believe this final sequence was rushed. In fact, once Jane agrees to marry him, the movie suddenly ends, denying moviegoers Jane’s revelations about her time with St. John Rivers and his sisters and her marriage to Rochester. In other words, Fukunaga removed the story’s epilogue, causing the movie to end in an abrupt manner.

The performances featured in “JANE EYRE” seemed to range from solid to the superb. Most of the solid performances came from cast members that did not have a particularly large role in the film – for example, Freya Parks (as Helen Burns), Sophie Ward (Lady Ingram), Ewart James Walters (John Reed), Holliday Grainger (Diana Rivers) and Tamzin Merchant (Mary Rivers). Harry Lloyd’s performance as Richard Mason nearly made this list, but there were times I found myself wondering if he had been too young for the role. On the other hand, Romy Settbon Moore made a rather charming Adèle Varens. Simon McBurney gave a spot-on performance as the religious and tyranical Mr. Brocklehurst. But if I must be honest, it is a role he could have done in his sleep. I was surprised to see Sally Hawkins in the role of Jane’s Aunt Reed. This is the second role I have seen her in and it is such a complete difference to the Anne Elliot role from “PERSUASION” that I am still trying to comprehend it.

I really enjoyed Judi Dench’s portrayal of Thornfield Hall’s housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. She did an excellent job in conveying all aspects of the charater’s trait – the positive and occasionally, the not-so-positive. And she managed to utilized a soft Yorkshire accent without trying to hard. Jamie Bell’s portrayal of St. John Rivers really took me by surprise – in a positive way. Mind you, St. John has always struck me as an interesting character, but Bell’s strong screen chemistry with leading lady Mia Wasikowska contributed more nuance into the role. It seemed as if his St. John was a passionate man, who barely hid his feelings with a cool and socially correct persona. Michael Fassbender received a good deal of accolades for his portrayal of Edward Rochester. And there were times I believe he truly earned them by conveying the character’s sardonic and brooding manner. However, there were times when I found his performance a little wooden. And as I had stated earlier, his screen chemistry with Wasikowska was not always that strong. But the star of this movie, in my opinion was Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre. I was not that kind about the actress’ performance in the Disney film, “ALICE IN WONDERLAND”. And I thought she did a solid job in “LAWLESS”. But she ruled supreme in this movie’s title role. She did a superb job in projecting Jane’s emotions and passions with great subtlety and at the same time, conveying her character’s deep sense of morality. I must admit that I found her Yorkshire accent a bit of surprise, considering that Jane Eyre came from Britain’s gentry class. Despite this, I felt that Wasikowska made a superb Jane Eyre. And a part of me cannot help but wonder why Fassbender received more accolades than she.

I would not go out of my way and state that “JANE EYRE” was the best adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s novel. It possesses some flaws that prevent me from considering it among the top adaptations. But I do feel that it turned out to be a lot better than I had imagined it would be. In the end, I cannot join those group of “purists” who have condemned the film for failing to be an exact adaptation of the novel.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1840s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1840s:

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1840s

1 - The Heiress

1. “The Heiress” (1949) – William Wyler directed this superb adaptation of Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s 1947 play, which was an adaptation of Henry James’ 1980 novel, “Washington Square”. The movie starred Oscar winner Olivia De Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson and Miriam Hopkins.

2 - All This and Heaven Too

2. “All This and Heaven Too” (1940) – Anatole Litvak co-produced and directed this excellent adaptation of Rachel Fields’ 1938 novel. The movie starred Bette Davis and Charles Boyer.

3 - Half-Slave Half-Free Solomon Northup Odyssey

3. “Half-Slave, Half-Free: The Solomon Northup Odyssey” (1984) – Avery Brooks starred in this emotional television adaptation of Solomon Northups’ 1853 memoirs, “12 Years a Slave”. Directed by Gordon Parks, the movie co-starred Rhetta Greene, John Saxon, Lee Bryant, Art Evans and Mason Adams.

5 - The Mark of Zorro

4. “The Mark of Zorro” (1940) – Rouben Mamoulian directed this superb adaptation of Johnston McCulley’s 1919 story called “The Curse of Capistrano”. The movie starred Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell and Basil Rathbone.

4 - The Liberators

5. “The Liberators” (1987) – Robert Carradine and Larry B. Scott starred in this Disney adventure film about Underground Railroad conductor John Fairfield and his fugitive slave friend, Bill; who escort Kentucky slaves north of the Mason-Dixon Line to freedom. Kenneth Johnson starred.

6 - The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin

6. “The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin” (1967) – Roddy McDowall and Suzanne Pleshette starred in this Disney adaptation of Sid Fleischman’s 1963 children’s novel called “By the Great Horn Spoon!”. James Neilson directed.

7 - Camille

7. “Camille” (1936) – George Cukor directed this lavish adaptation of Alexandre Dumas fils’ 1848 novel and 1852 play called “La Dame aux Camélias”. The movie starred Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor.

8 - Cousin Bette

8. “Cousin Bette” (1998) – Jessica Lange starred in this loose adaptation of Honoré de Balzac’s 1846 novel. Although unpopular with critics and moviegoers, it is a favorite of mine. Directed by Des McAnuff, the movie co-starred Hugh Laurie, Elisabeth Shue and Kelly MacDonald.

9 - Jane Eyre

9. “Jane Eyre” (2011) – Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender starred in the 2011 movie adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel. The movie was directed by Cary Fukunaga.

10 - 12 Years a Slave

10. “12 Years a Slave” (2013) – British director Steve McQueen helmed this Oscar winning second adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoirs about the latter’s experiences as a slave in the Deep South. The movie starred Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender.

“TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” (2011) Review

“TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” (2011) Review

Between the late 1970s and early 1980s, author John le Carré wrote a series of popular novels called The Karla Trilogy that featured MI-6 officer George Smiley as the leading character. At least two versions of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” had been made The most recent is the 2011 movie in which Gary Oldman starred as Smiley. 

Set in 1973, “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” has George Smiley, who was recently forced to retire, recalled to hunt down a Soviet mole named “Gerald” in MI-6 (a.k.a. the “Circus”), the highest echelon of the Secret Intelligence Service. The movie began with “Control” – the head of MI-6 – sending agent Jim Prideaux to Hungary to meet a Hungarian general who wishes to sell information. The operation is blown and the fleeing Prideaux is shot in the back by Hungarian intelligence. After the international incident that followed, Control and his right-hand man, Smiley were forced into retirement. Control, already ill, died soon afterwards. When field agent Rikki Tarr learned through his affair with the wife of a Moscow Centre intelligence officer in Turkey that the Soviets have a mole within the higher echelon of MI-6, Civil Service officer Oliver Lacon recalled Smiley from retirement to find the mole known as “Gerald”. Smiley discovered that Control suspected five senior intelligence officers:

*Smiley
*Percy Alleline (new MI-6 chief)
*Bill Haydon (one of Alleline’s deputies)
*Roy Bland (another Alleline deputy and the only one from a working-class
background)
*Toby Esterhase (Alleline’s Hungarian-born deputy, recruited by Smiley)

I have never seen the 1979 television version of le Carré’s 1974 novel, which starred Alec Guinness. In fact, I have never been inclined to watch it. Until now. My interest in seeing the television adaptation has a lot to do with my appreciation of this new film version. I enjoyed it very much. I did not love it. After all, it did not make my Ten Favorite Movies of 2011 list. It nearly did, but . . . not quite.

Why did “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” fail to make my favorite 2011 movies list? Overall, Tomas Alfredson did an excellentjob in translating le Carré’s story to the screen. However . . . the pacing was slow. In fact, it crawled at the speed of a snail. It was so slow that in the end, I fell asleep some fifteen to twenty minutes before the movie ending, missing the very moment when Smiley exposed “Gerald” at the safe. However, I did wake up in time to learn the identity of “Gerald” and the tragic consequences of that revelation. I have one more problem with the film. Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed Peter Guillam, a former division head recruited to assist Smiley in the latter’s mole hunt. There was a brief scene featuring “DOWNTON ABBEY” regular, Laura Carmichael, in which Guillam revealed his homosexuality. Cumberbatch did an excellent job in conveying this revelation with very little dialogue and a great deal of facial expressions. And yet . . . this revelation seemed to have very little or no bearing, whatsoever, in the movie’s main plot. Even Smiley’s marital problems ended up being relevant to the main narrative. End in the end, I found the revelation of Guillam’s sexuality a wasted opportunity.

But there is a great deal to admire about “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY”. One, it is a fascinating tale about one of the time-honored plot lines used in more espionage – namely the mole hunt. I suppose one could credit le Carré for creating such a first-rate story. But I have seen too many mediocre or bad adaptations of excellent novels to solely credit le Carré for this movie. It would not have worked without great direction from Alfredson; or Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan’s superb script. I found Maria Djurkovic’s production designs for the film rather interesting. She injected an austere and slightly cold aura into her designs for 1973 London that suited the movie perfectly. And she was ably assisted by cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, and art designers Tom Brown and Zsuzsa Kismarty-Lechner.

The heart and soul of “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” was its cast led by Gary Oldman, as George Smiley. The cast almost seemed to be a who’s who of British actors living in the United Kingdom. Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Ciarán Hinds and David Dencik portrayed the four men suspects being investigated by Smiley. All four did an excellent and kept the audience on their toes on who might be “Gerald”. However, I do have one minor complaint. Hinds’ character, Roy Bland, seemed to have received less screen time than the other three. Very little screen time, as a matter of fact. Mark Strong gave one of the movie’s better performances as the MI-6 agent, Jim Prideaux, who was betrayed by “Gerald” and eventually forced to leave “the Circus” following his return to Britain.

Both Simon McBurney and Kathy Burke gave solid performances as Civil Service officer Oliver Lecon and former MI-6 analyst Connie Sachs. However, Roger Lloyd-Pack seemed to be a bit wasted as another of Smiley’s assistants, Mendel. I have already commented on Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Peter Guillam. However, I must admit that I found his 1970s hairstyle to look a bit artificial. I can also say the same about the blond “locks” Tom Hardy used for his role as MI-6 agent Rikki Tarr. Fortunately, there was a good deal to admire about the actor’s emotional, yet controlled performance as Tarr. I really enjoyed John Hurt’s portrayal of Smiley’s former superior, the gregarious Control. I thought it was one of his more colorful roles in recent years.

However, the man of the hour is Gary Oldman and his portrayal of MI-6 officer, George Smiley. Many found the selection of Oldman to portray Smiley a rather curious one. The actor has built a reputation for portraying characters a lot more extroverted than the mild-mannered Smiley. His minimalist performance in “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” took a great deal of people by surprise. So much so that Oldman ended up earning an Academy Award nomination for his performance. And he deserved it, as far as I am concerned. I consider George Smiley to be one of Oldman’s best screen performances during his 30 odd years in movies. In fact, I suspect that the actor has made George Smiley his own, just as much as Alec Guinness did over thirty years ago.

As I had stated earlier, “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” is not perfect. Its pacing is as slow as molasses. I thought actor Ciarán Hinds and the plot revelation regarding Peter Gulliam’s homosexuality was vastly underused. But thanks to Tomas Alfredson’s direction, Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan’s Oscar nominated screenplay, and an excellent cast led by the superb Gary Oldman; the movie turned out to be a surprising treat and has ignited my interst in the world of George Smiley.

“ROBIN HOOD” (2010) Review

”ROBIN HOOD” (2010) Review

When I had first learned that Ridley Scott planned to direct his own version of the Robin Hood legend, I merely responded with a shake of my head. The last thing I wanted to see was another take on the famous English outlaw. But since I was a fan of the director, I decided to give it a chance. 

For years, I had harbored the belief that the 1938 Errol Flynn movie, ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD”, was the true story myth about the famous outlaw. Imagine my shook when I discovered I had been wrong. One of the featurettes from the movie’s DVD release revealed that there had been numerous versions of the Robin Hood folklore. With that in mind, I found it easy to prepare myself for any version that might appear in Scott’s new movie.

”ROBIN HOOD” opened in the year 1199. Robin Longstride is a common archer who had fought alongside King Richard the Lionheart of England during the Third Crusade. Following the death of Richard during a battle in which the English Army attempted to ransack a French castle; Robin and three other common soldiers – Alan A’Dale, Will Scarlett, and Little John – attempt to return to their homeland after ten years of fighting abroad. Along the way, they come across an ambush of the Royal guard by Sir Godfrey, an English knight with French lineage and allegiance. The King of France had ordered Sir Godfrey to assassinate Richard. Having discovered that the King was already dead, Sir Godfrey is chased off by the arrival of Robin and his companions. Aiming to return to England safely and richer in pocket than they left it, Robin and his men steal the armor of the slain Knights and head for the English ships on the coast under the guise of noblemen. Before leaving the scene of slaughter, Robin promises a dying Knight, Sir Robert Loxley, to return a sword to the man’s father in Nottingham.

Upon arriving in England, Robin (disguised as Loxley) informs the Royal family of the King’s death and witnesses the crowning of King John, Richard’s younger brother. Robin and his companions head to Nottingham, where Loxley’s father, Sir Walter, asks him to continue impersonating his son in order to prevent the family lands being taken by the Crown. Loxley’s widow, Lady Marion, is initially distrustful of Robin, but soon warms to him. But before long, Robin and his friends find themselves swept into England’s political intrigue between the English Northern barons and King John; along with a threat of invasion by the King of France.

I will not deny that ”ROBIN HOOD” has a few problems. If I must be honest, there were three aspects of the film that I either disliked or left me feeling puzzled. One, I did not care for the presence of Lady Marion’s presence on the battlefield between the French invaders and the English defenders. If this was an attempt to make Lady Marion’s character more action-oriented and politically correct, it did not work with me. She did not have any experience as a warrior. Nor did the movie ever made it clear that she had been trained to fight battles or handle weapons of war, like the Éowyn character in the ”LORD OF THE RINGS” Trilogy. I had no problems with the scene of Marion killing the French officer who tried to rape her. But her presence on that battlefield beneath the White Cliffs of Dover struck me as utterly ridiculous.

I also found the sequence that led to Sir Walter’s revelation that Robin’s father, Thomas Longstride, had earlier led some civil rights movement against the Crown before his death rather irrelevant. Before this revelation, Sir Walter kept hinting that he knew something about Robin. I had suspected that he would reveal that Robin was his illegitimate son or something like that. Considering that Robin seemed determined to protect the Loxleys and take up their cause against King John, I found this revelation about Robin’s father somewhat tacked on and unnecessary. My last problem with”ROBIN HOOD” centered around the movie’s ending. Following the English army’s successful defense against the French, King John reneged on his promise to the English barons that he would sign the Charter of the Forest – a document for constitutional reforms. I had no problems with this turn of events, considering that John resisted signing the document until he added it as a supplement to the Magna Carta, some sixteen to seventeen years later. Unfortunately, in addition to refusing to sign the document, King John also declared Robin Longstride aka Sir Robert Loxley an outlaw. Why? How did the King know about Robin’s true identity in the first place? Who told him? Certainly not the main villain, Sir Godfrey, who died before he could inform John that the real Sir Robert was killed in France. Neither Sir Walter or Lady Marion would have told him. Who did? And why did the King name Robin as an outlaw? Did he decided to make this declaration upon learning that Robin was NOT Sir Robert Loxley? Even if someone could provide answers to my questions, the entire scenario regarding Robin’s status at the end of the film came off as rushed to me.

But despite these misgivings of ”ROBIN HOOD”, I ended up enjoying it very much. Ridley Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland did a pretty damn good job in portraying the Robin Hood legend from a new and completely fresh point-of-view. Well, perhaps it was not completely fresh. After all, the movie is obviously an origins tale about how one Robin Longstride became “Robin Hood”. I have seen a similar origins tale in the 1991 Kevin Reynolds film, ”ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES”. However, Robin’s origin tale was merely rushed in that film’s first half hour. Scott and Helgeland decided to create a more in-depth story about the outlaw’s origin in this film. In fact, the movie only featured one scene in which Robin and his friends actually participated in an act of theft. It involved the return of grain confiscated by the Crown. I would not be surprised if many had complained about this, considering that it went against the traditional grain of what to expect in a movie about Robin Hood. However, I was too busy enjoying the movie to really care.

Another aspect of ”ROBIN HOOD” that I found very admirable was its complex portrayal of the English Royal Family. Most versions of the Robin Hood tale tend to have conflicting views of the two Royal brothers – Richard and John. John is usually portrayed as a sniveling and greedy prince who resented the reputation of his older brother. And Richard is usually portrayed as the older and noble brother – something of a “straight arrow” type. Scott and Helgeland somewhat skewered these portraits in the movie. Superficially, Richard is portrayed as noble, popular with his men and pure at heart. Yet, a closer look at the monarch revealed him to be avaricious, thin-skinned and somewhat petty. After all, the movie did start with him leading an attack against a French noble’s castle in an attempt to ransack it for riches to add to the Royal coffers. And when Robin Longstride revealed his true feelings about a vicious battle led by Richard in Jeruseleum upon the monarch’s urging, the archer and his friends found themselves locked in a wooden stock during Richard’s last battle. Prince (later King) John is portrayed as an arrogant and selfish young man only concerned with his desires and ego. Yet, the second half of the movie also portrayed him as a man willing to fight alongside his men in the defense of England and willing to occasionally listen to good advice. Neither Richard nor John are portrayed in a one-dimensional manner. Which I found very satisfying.

In fact, I would go as far to say that ”ROBIN HOOD” is a somewhat complex and tale about the effects of the Third Crusade upon the English Royal Family, its adversarial relationship with France, which ended up lasting for centuries, and the clash between the Crown and the country’s Northern citizens. Mind you, some of these plotlines have popped up in other Robin Hood movies. But Scott and Hegeland managed to weave all of these aspects into the movie’s story with surprising skill. Mind you, they did not achieve this with any perfection, but it turned out to be a lot better than most movies are capable of handling. And all of this culminated in a superbly directed sequence in which King John, Robin and many other Englishmen defended the country’s shores against the invading French. The only aspect that slightly spoiled this scene was the presence of Lady Marion in battle. Some critics have compared this movie unfavorable to the 1938, accusing it of being lifeless and grim. Hmm . . . perhaps they were thinking of another Ridley Scott film. Because ”ROBIN HOOD” struck me as the liveliest film that he has ever directed. It did have its dark moments. But I had no problem with that. Liveliness mixed with some darkness has always appealed to me. I have always had a problem with the lack of darkness in ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD”. It prevented that movie from having an edge of darkness that I usually like to see in an adventure film.

The movie’s technical aspects were superb. I especially have to give kudos John Mathieson for his beautiful photography. I had feared that ”ROBIN HOOD” would end up with a slightly dark look, which could be found in the 1991 Robin Hood film and even in part of ”GLADIATOR”. Mind you, the France sequences did come off as slightly dark. But once Robin and his friends reached England . . . oh my God! The photography was just beautiful. I can think of three scenes that literally blew my mind – the journey up the Thames River to London, Lady Marion and the Loxley hands working in the fields with the threat of a thunderstorm brewing in the background, and the English Army’s journey to the South East coast near Dover. I also enjoyed Janty Yates’ costumes, as well. Were her costumes historically accurate? I have not the foggiest idea. That particular period in history has never been familiar to me.

The acting in ”ROBIN HOOD” was superb. I could say ”of course”, but I have come across movies with an exceptional cast that ended up featuring some pretty bad performances. Thankfully, I cannot say the same about this movie. Russell Crowe was superb as Robin Longstride. His performance was not as flashy as the likes of Errol Flynn, Kevin Costner or even Patrick Bergin. But I am thankful that it was not, because such a performance would not suit him. His screen chemistry with Cate Blanchett sizzled. I found this surprising, considering that the two actors from Down Under never worked together. Or have they? Anyway, Blanchett was just as superb as Crowe and gave an interesting take on a Lady Marion who was older and more experienced in life than the previous takes on the character. Mark Strong portrayed the traitorous Sir Godfrey. He gave his usual competent performance, but I have to admit that I found nothing exceptional about his performance. One performance that did caught my attention belonged to Oscar Isaac, who gave a complex and interesting portrayal of the young King John.

I also enjoyed Eileen Atkins’ sardonic portrayal of John and Richard’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. It seemed a pity that her role was not that large. I am glad that Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle and especially Kevin Durand got a chance to strut their stuff. Their performances as Robin’s friends – Will Scarlet, Allan A’Dayle and Little John – really enlivened the film. It helped that Crowe had recruited Doyle for the film, due to the latter’s musical collaboration with the actor. And considering that Crowe, Doyle and Grimes are all musicians as well, I suspect they must have had a merry time with some of the film’s musical interludes. Another performance that enlivened the movie came from Swedish actor Max Von Sydow, who portrayed Lady Marion’s father in-law, Sir Walter Loxley. There seemed to be a constant twinkle in his eyes in most of his scenes that made his presence enjoyable. There was one performance that left me feeling unsatisfied and it belonged to Matthew McFayden’s portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham. I am not saying that McFayden gave a poor performance. I am merely saying that his presence was nothing more than a waste of time. McFayden appeared long enough to sneer and make a pass at Lady Marion, attempt to placate the invading French troops in a cowardly manner and express surprise and fear at the first note received from the new “Robin Hood” near the end of the film. Like I said . . . a waste of time.

Considering that ”ROBIN HOOD” did not utilize the usual myth found in other films about the English outlaw, I am not surprised that many would dismiss it as one of Ridley Scott’s lesser films. Well, they are entitled to their opinion. I had a few problems with the movie. But overall, I was more than pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying it very much . . . considering my initial assumptions about it. Once again, director Ridley Scott and actor Russell Crowe failed to disappoint me and delivered a very entertaining film.

 

“BODY OF LIES” (2008) Review

”BODY OF LIES” (2008) Review

Based upon David Ignatius’ 2007 novel, ”BODY OF LIES” tells the story of a CIA operative assigned to track down a Middle Eastern terrorist responsible for a series of bombings in Europe. Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie stars Leonard DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. When I first saw the trailer for ”BODY OF LIES”, I thought it would be about a CIA operative in the Middle East that ends up clashing with his handler over an assignment. As it turned out, the trailer ended up being misleading. In the end, I had no choice but to sit back and see what the movie’s plot would lead me. Despite Warner Brothers’ very misleading trailer. 

Leonard DiCaprio portrayed a CIA operative named Roger Ferris. He is assigned by his handler, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) to track down a terrorist by the name of Al Salim. Upon following up a lead, Ferris’ asset (who he has become good friends with) is killed in a car blast in a car chase and he is sent to Jordan. There, Ferris makes contact with Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), head of the Jordanian General Intelligence Department, or GID. Salaam tells Ferris to never lie to him. Hoffman finds an Al Salim safe house in Jordan and tells Ferris to conduct a surveillance operation on it. Meanwhile, Hoffman organizes another operative to conduct an operation without Ferris’ consent. The other agent screws the operation up and blows his cover after saying something compromising to a terrorist from the safe house. The terrorist takes off running, intent on relaying information that the safe house is being watched. Ferris chases him down and kills him by stabbing him, getting bitten by dogs in the process. Hani covers up the killing by passing it off as a robbery and Ferris accuses Hoffman of running “side operations”, telling Hoffman to lay off. Meanwhile, Ferris meets a nurse named Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani), who treats his wound. He eventually falls in love with her – an act that proves to have consequences later in the movie.

As I had stated earlier, ”BODY OF LIES” proved not to be about a clash between Ferris and Hoffman over a case. It proved to be about the deceptions perpetrated by those in the intelligence community, dedicated to the ”war on terrorism”. Unfortunately, the deceptions used by Hoffman upon both Ferris and Salaam ended up affecting the careful alliance established between the latter two. Even Ferris got into the game when he failed to inform Salaam about the con job he and Hoffman had created to flush out Al Salim. In the end, both Americans end up getting the surprises of their lives.

Despite my initial misgivings that I had been deceived by the movie’s trailer,”BODY OF LIES” turned out to be an intriguing and entertaining movie. Although the story’s three main characters – Ferris, Hoffman and Salaam – are supposed to be allies in the fight against terrorism and in the hunt for Al Salim, they spend more time in conflict against each other than against the story’s main antagonist. This especially seemed to be the case of Hoffman, who comes across as a manipulative and controlling man who keeps his secrets a little too close to his chest – to the detriment of Ferris. Screenwriters William Monahan (Oscar winner for ”THE DEPARTED”) and Ignatius, who also wrote the novel, created a pretty solid screenplay. However, I would not say there was anything exceptional about it – except for the finale. Perhaps the story’s lack of anything sensational had led to the movie’s failure at the box office. Or perhaps Warner Brothers’ misleading trailer was the real culprit.

Leonardo DiCaprio once again proved why he has become one of the most talented actors of his generation. His Roger Ferris is a fierce, intelligent man with a sardonic streak a mile wide. He also has a talent for diplomacy, which is apparent in his dealings with Salaam and the Jordan Intelligence Department. Like Ferris, Russell Crowe’s Ed Hoffman is a fierce and dedicated opponent of terrorism. Unfortunately, he lacks Ferris’ talent for diplomacy and has a tendency to allow his arrogance to get the best of him. But I must admit that Hoffman is a fascinating character and one can thank Crowe’s superb acting and William Monahan’s writing for this. Crowe manages to hide Hoffman’s aggression, cold-bloodedness and arrogance behind a”good ‘old boy” façade that project a cheerful persona with a penchant for calling Ferris ”buddy”. Some of the movie’s more interesting scenes featured Hoffman giving Ferris cold-blooded instructions or advice on how to deal with the hunt for Al Salim, while interacting lovingly with his family. It was like watching compartimenlization at its most extreme.

The supporting cast included British actor Mark Strong as Hanni Salaam as the head of Jordan Intelligence. First impressed by Strong’s villainous turn in last year’s”STARDUST”, my admiration for Strong increased by his portrayal of the intelligent and strong-willed Salaam, who refuses to be intimidated by Hoffman and the CIA’s firepower in his demand for respect by his Western allies. Iranian-born actress Golshifteh Farahani gave a solid performance as Aisha, the no-nonsense and witty nurse with whom Ferris falls in love.

”BODY OF LIES” is not as exceptional as one might expect it to be, considering the two leads, the director and the screenwriters. It is an entertaining, solid thriller filled with interesting and ambiguous characters. Through characters like Salaam and Aisha, the movie manages to avoid the usual clichés about Middle Eastern characters. The best thing I can say about it – aside from the excellent acting – is the plot twist that surprised me in the end. It may not be Oscar material, but it is certainly not crap.

“HIS DARK MATERIALS: THE GOLDEN COMPASS” (2007) Review

“HIS DARK MATERIALS: THE GOLDEN COMPASS” (2007) Review”

I might as well make one thing clear . . . I have never read Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy, “His Dark Materials”. But this did not deter my interest in seeing the movie based upon the first novel, “THE GOLDEN COMPASS”. And quite frankly, I am glad that I had seen it.

Directed by Chris Weitz, “THE GOLDEN COMPASS” opened with the beginning of the “HIS DARK MATERIALS” saga. In it, a young girl named Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards), lives at Jordan College (of Oxford University) in an alternate dimension of Great Britain. She saves er uncle, world explorer/scholar Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) from being poisoned by the Magisterium (the dimension’s religious ruling body) after he has revealed his discovery of elementary particles called Dust – something that the ruling body consider a threat to their authority. After her uncle departs upon an expedition to the North to find more Dust, Lyra befriends another scholar and explorer named Mrs. Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman) during a dinner held at Jordan College. While visiting Mrs. Coulter in London, Lyra learns that her hostess is a member of the Magisterium and has participated in the kidnapping of young children, including two of her friends – a kitchen servant named Roger, and a Gyptian boy named Billy Costa. She also discovers that Mrs. Coulter wants her hands on the last alethiometer, a device that resembles a golden compass. This device, which was given to Lyra by Jordan College’s Master, is able to reveal the answer to any question asked by the user.

After escaping Mrs. Coulter’s London flat, Lyra is rescued by the Gyptians, who plans to rescue Billy and the other children. They take Lyra to the Norweigian town of Trollsund, where she meets an aeronaut named Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliot). She also meets Serafina Pekkala (Eva Green) who is a queen of the witches, and an armoured bear named Iorek Byrnison (voice of Ian McKellan). With her new friends, Lyra embarks upon an adventure that leads her to a conflict between her friend Iorek and the false king of the amored bears, Ragnar Sturlusson (voice of Ian McShane); and to Bolvangar, an experimental station in the North where the Magisterium are severing the Gyptian children from their daemons. Before the movie ends Lyra learns that Lord Asriel has been captured by Magisterium spies and that Mrs. Coulter plans to assassinate him. She, Roger, Scoresby and Serafina set out to rescue the endangered explorer by the end of the movie.

Like any other movie, good or bad, “THE GOLDEN COMPASS” has its flaws. There were three of them that I found noticeable. One, the movie’s plot seemed rather vague on Lord Asriel’s fate after he was captured by the Magisterium’s spies in the North. Serafina gave a brief explanation to Scoresby near the end, as they set out to find Asriel. But still . . . I found it vague. Two, the editing by Anne V. Coates seemed a bit choppy in a few spots. And most importantly, the movie’s pacing . . . at least in the first third, seemed very rushed. Some people have complained that too many aspects of the story had been stuffed in the script. I personally feel that Weitz had simply rushed the story. By the time Lyra and the Gyptians reached Trollsund, the director seemed to have finally found a natural pace.

However, I must admit that “THE GOLDEN COMPASS” had turned out to be a lot better than I had expected. Honestly, it is quite good. The story was intriguing. Chris Weitz did a decent job in adapting Pullman’s novel for film, even if he did rush the first third of the story. I simply adored Henry Braham’s photography and Ruth Myer’s costume designs – especially Nicole Kidman’s elegant, 1930s style costumes. But I must commend Richard L. Johnson. Chris Lowe and Andy Nicholson for their sumptious art direction – especially their view of London in Pullman’s world. And Dennis Gassner deserves an Oscar nomination for his production design, as far as I am concerned.

The actors were first rate. What does one expect from a cast with the likes of Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Sam Elliot, Jim Carter, Tom Courtenay? I especially have to give kudos to Craig who seemed like the embodiment of the ruthless, yet enthusiastic scholar Lord Asriel. And Nicole Kidman brought great style, charm and ruthlessness to the role of the villainous Mrs. Coulter. But she also gave the character a much needed pathos, when the lady revealed to our young heroine that she was the latter’s mother. It was quite thrilling to see Eva Green as a woman of action in her portrayal of the queen witch, Serafina Pekkala. Ian McKellan and Ian McShane were excellent as the feuding armored bears. And Jim Carter (who is married to HARRY POTTER actress Imelda Staunton) was most intimidating as the Gyptians’ king, John Faa. Seeing Sam Elliot’s portrayal as the charming aeronaut, Lee Scoresby, reminded me why I have remained a fan of his for so long. His scenes with young Dakota Blue Richards really crackled. He seemed like the embodiment of a fine wine that has aged very well.

“THE GOLDEN COMPASS”‘s center . . . the character that held the movie together was none other than first-time British actress, Dakota Blue Richards. This young lady was a find. She was absolutely perfect as the charming, yet bold and cunning Lyra. Some Washington D.C. critic had compared her unfavorably to another actress named Dakota – namely Dakota Fanning. Granted, the latter is an excellent actress, but so is Miss Richards. She managed to convey all of Lyra’s complex traits without turning the character into an adult in a child’s body. She was simply superb.

I am sure there are fans of Pullman’s novels who are disappointed that the movie did not turn out to be an exact adaptation of the literary version. All I can say is I am sorry, but I have never heard of any movie being an exact adaptation of its literary source. And if you are hoping to find one in the future, you will be disappointed. Yes, “THE GOLDEN COMPASS” has its flaws. What movie does not? But it certainly has enough virtues, including a superb leading actress, that made it enjoyable . . . at least for me.