“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” (2016) Review

“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” (2016) Review

Two years following the success of 2014’s “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”, Marvel Entertainment released a new “X-MEN” film set ten years after the previous one. The movie proved to be the fourth one directed by Bryan Singer.

“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” began in ancient Egypt, where the world’s first mutant, a powerful individual named En Sabah Nur, ruled by by transferring his mind into new bodies. Unfortunately, a group of former worshipprs betrayed En Sabah Nur aka “Apocalypse” by entombing him alive. They also killed his four lieutenants, the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, who tried to protect him. The movie jumped to 1983 Egypt where C.I.A. Agent Moira MacTaggert (last seen in 2011’s “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS”) has been investigating a cult in Egypt that worships En Sabah Nur. Her accidental exposure his tomb to sunlight awakened the ancient mutant and produced a shock wave around the globe. Following his awakening, En Sabah Nur set out to recruit four mutants as his new “Four Horsemen”:

*Ororo Munroe aka “Storm” – an orphan and pickpocket from the streets of Cairo, who is able to control the weather

*Warren Worthington III aka “Angel” – a mutant with feathered wings on his back, who has resorted to participating in underground fight clubs in Berlin

*Psylocke – an enforcer for the black marketeer mutant Caliban, who is not only telepathic and telekinetic, but can also produce a purple-colored psychic energy

*Erik Lehnsherr aka “Magneto” – a Holocaust survivor and former friend of Charles Xavier, who has the ability to manipulate metal and control magnetic fields, and who is recently grieving over the accidental deaths of his wife and daughter by the Polish police

Apocalypse’s shock wave also caused Jean Grey, an adolescent student and mutant at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters to have a nightmare and momentarily lose control of her powers. When Charles Xavier attempted to investigate the power source he discovered that Moira was involved. Although her previous memories of them together were erased, Xavier meets with her to discuss the legend of En Sabah Nur. But when they become aware of the ancient mutant’s plans to bring about the apocalypse; Xavier and Moira recruit fellow mutants like Raven aka “Mystique”, Hank McCoy aka “Beast”, Alex Summers aka “Havok”, and Peter Maximoff aka “Quicksilver” to stop Apocalypse’s plans. Xavier students like Jean Grey, Scott Summers aka “Cyclops” (Alex’s nephew) and Kurt Wagner aka “Nightcrawler” also join the campaign to stop En Sabah Nur.

Let me be frank. “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” was not well received by the critics and many filmgoers. I am not going to explain why they felt this way about the movie. Needless to say, I do not agree with this pervading view. I am not saying that “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” was a great film. It was not. I believe the movie had some problems.

One of those problems is that some of the cast members were obviously too young for their roles. This certainly seemed to be the case for James McAvoy Michael Fassbender and Rose Byrne, who portrayed Charles Xavier, Magneto and Moira McTaggart. All three are in their mid-to-late 30s and portrayed characters who were in their early 50s (late 40s for Moira, I suspect) . . . with no make-up to convey their characters’ aging. Both Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult portrayed Mystique and Hank McCoy, who were slightly younger than Xavier and Magneto. But “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” gave a good excuse for their slow aging . . . Mystique’s blood. Another cast member who portrayed a character much older than himself (without makeup) is Lucas Till, who is at least 25 or 26 years old, reprising his role as the late 30s to early 40s Alex Summers. And finally, we have Josh Helman, who is barely 30 years old, who reprised his role as William Stryker, who must have been around the same age as Xavier and Magneto. Does Singer have something against aging in his “X-MEN” films? And if he wanted to maintain the same cast, could he have at least consider using aging makeup for at least five members of the cast?

Two, what was the point in including both Stryker and Wolverine in this movie? Why? They were not essential to the plot. Was it really necessary for Singer to convey that Stryker had ended up giving Wolverine adamantium after all? Despite the time change in “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”? What was the point? Could we at least have one “X-MEN” film in which Hugh Jackman does not appear? I also see that Singer, along with screenwriter Simon Kinberg, decided to include Stryker in this tale as a plot device to delay Hank, Raven, Peter, and Moira from reaching Cairo. Pointless. It was the most pointless moment in this movie. Finally, I had a problem with the “Four Horsemen”. Aside from Magneto, the other three were barely used. What was the point in showing how they were recruited by En Sabah Nur, when Oscar Isaac and Michael Fassbender seemed to be the only ones in scenes featuring the ancient mutant and his “Horsemen”, who had the most lines. It is bad enough that once again, Singer indulged in his penchant for ignoring minority characters like Storm and Psylocke. Then he includes Angel into this movie – who was shown to be younger than Storm, Scott and Jean in 2006’s “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND” – and barely give the latter any lines.

And yet . . . I still liked “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE”. In fact, I liked it more than I did “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”. The 2016 movie had its problems, but it never seemed racked with so many plot holes like the 2014 movie did. Without the cloud of time travel hovering over the movie, the writing for “APOCALPYSE” struck me as a little clearer and a lot more straightforward. I can applause Singer for attempting to tackle something complicated as time travel. I simply believe that he, Kinberg and the other screenwriters did not handle it very well. On the other hand, the more straightforward narrative for “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” seemed to suit both Singer and Kinberg.

I did not care for the minor arc regarding William Stryker and Wolverine. And yes, En Sabah Nur’s plot to retake the world seemed a bit unoriginal. But Singer and Kinberg handled this story a lot better than they did the time travel plot for the 2014 movie. And to be honest, I rather liked it. I did not love it, but I liked it. I also liked the fact that En Sabah Nur’s plot had a surprising twist (well, one that I did not see coming) that did not involved his “Four Horsemen”.

I may not have a high opinion of “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”. But the movie did provide some interesting consequences that played out in “APOCALYPSE”. One, both movies allowed Xavier and Mystique to become close again, following their estrangement in “X-MEN: FIRST-CLASS”. In one of the movie’s more interesting scenes, Mystique discovers that she has become something of a legend to some of the younger mutants, including Xavier’s students. The movie also allowed Jean Grey the opportunity to learn to utilize her “Dark Phoenix” powers with more control . . . and without Xavier trying to suppress her. Do not get me wrong. I am one of those fans who actually enjoyed “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND”. But it was nice to see Xavier dealing with Jean’s powers with a healthier attitude. And although I was not impressed by how Singer and Kinberg pushed Storm into the background – especially during the film’s second half, it was nice to get a peek into her life as a young Cairo pickpocket before she ended up as one of Apocalypse’s minions and later, a student at Xavier’s school.

I certainly had no problem with the movie’s productions. I thought Grant Major did an exceptional job in not only re-creating ancient Egypt for the movie’s prologue and for the rest of it, the early 1980s. This is not surprising, considering Major’s work with director Peter Jackson on movies such as “THE LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy. Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography contributed to the movie’s epic and sweeping look. Louise Mingenbach’s costumes, along with Geoffroy Gosselin and Anne Kuljian’s set decorations struck me as a solid reflection of the movie’s early 1980s setting. But the two aspects of the movie’s visual style that really impressed me were Michael Louis Hill and John Ottman’s editing, especially in scenes that involved En Sabah Nur’s entombing in the movie’s beginning and the X-Men’s showdown with the ancient mutant. I was especially impressed with the movie’s special effects, especially in the very two scenes that I had just pointed out.

The acting featured in “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” also struck me as impressive. Well, to be honest, there were only a few performances that really caught my notice. However, I certainly had no problem with the other performances. Of the four actors who portrayed En Sabah Nur’s “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, only one left no impression upon me – namely Ben Hardy, who portrayed Angel. The character barely had any lines and if I am mistaken, I could have sworn that Angel’s character was from a younger generation (that of Rogue and Iceman’s) – at least in the current movie franchise. I can also say the same about actress Lana Candor, who portrayed Jubilee. Not only did the actress barely had any lines, she was also portrayed as an Xavier student from Rogue and Iceman’s generation in a previous movie.

Although Alexandra Shipp, who portrayed Storm, and Olivia Munn, who portrayed Psylocke; were shifted to the background after their characters were introduced; both managed to impress me in the end. Shipp’s portrayal of the adolescent Storm struck me as rather lively and energetic. And Munn was effectively intimidating as the mutant enforcer, who becomes one of En Sabah Nur’s minions. The movie also featured solid performances from Rose Byrne, who returned as C.I.A. Agent Moira McTaggert; Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan as the adolescent Jean Grey and Scott Summers aka “Cyclops”; Kodi Smit-McPhee as the younger Kurt Wagner aka “Nightcrawler”; Lucas Till as Alex Summers aka Havok; Nicholas Hoult as Dr. Hank McCoy aka “Beast”; Josh Helman as William Stryker; and Evan Peters as the always amusing Peter Maximoff aka “Quicksilver”. If you are careful, you might also spot Hugh Jackman, Zeljko Ivanek, Ally Sheedy and of course, Stan Lee.

Only four performances in this movie really impressed me. One of them turned out to be James McAvoy’s portrayal of Charles Xavier aka “Professor X”. At first, McAvoy’s performance seemed solid . . . almost perfunctory. But once it became apparent that Professor Xavier’s fate was connected with with En Sabah Nur’s scheme, McAvoy skillfully portrayed the telepathic mutant with a great deal of emotion and pathos. Michael Fassbender proved to be equally fascinating as the emotionally battered Erik Lensherr. He did a great job in conveying Magneto’s reactions to the deaths of a family and peaceful life, and to being emotionally manipulated by En Sabah Nur. Jennifer Lawrence continued to impress me with her excellent portrayal of the complex Raven aka “Mystique”. I found it fascinating to watch the 20-something actress portray a character who had become battle hardened and mature after spending two decades fighting on behalf of fellow mutants. Many critics have complained about Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of the movie’s main villain, En Sabah Nur aka “Apocalypse”. Apparently, they could not get past the actor’s make-up or mask. Well, I could. And I thought Isaac did a pretty damn good job in portraying a villain who was not only something of an egomaniac, but also a world-class manipulator. And he did so with great skill and subtlety.

I am not saying that “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” was one of the best movies from the summer of 2016. Nor am I saying that it was one of the best in the “X-MEN” movie franchise. But I certainly do not believe that it was one of the worst. As far as I am concerned, the worst in the movie franchise was released four-and-a-half months earlier. But I thought it was something of an improvement over the convoluted plot that seemed to mar “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”, thanks to Bryan Singer’s direction, Simon Kinberg’s screenplay and an excellent cast led by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender.

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“ARGO” (2012) Review

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“ARGO” (2012) Review

Ben Affleck must be at a lucky point in his career. His third directorial effort had recently been released in theaters and became a commercial and critical hit . . . like his two previous films. The movie also won several awards, including the top prize – the Academy Awards Best Picture of 2012.  And Affleck never struck me as the type who would direct and star in a film about the CIA rescuing American diplomats from the Middle East, let alone co-produce it. But he did and the result is the movie, “ARGO”

“ARGO” began in early November 1979, when Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran and took most of the civilian and military staff hostage in retaliation for American offering refuge for the deposed Shah of Iran. At least six staff diplomats managed to get out of the embassy and seek refuge at the home of Canada’s ambassador, Ken Taylor. With the six diplomats’ situation kept secret, the C.I.A. assigns one of their operatives, one Tony Mendez, to find a way to get the diplomats out of Iran before they could be discovered. After dismissing several proposals, Mendez creates a cover story that the escapees are Canadian filmmakers, scouting “exotic” locations in Iran for a science-fiction film.

Mendez and his C.I.A. supervisor Jack O’Donnell, contact John Chambers, a Hollywood make-up artist who has previously crafted disguises for the C.I.A., in addition to his work in the “PLANET OF THE APES” film series. Chambers puts them in touch with a film producer named Lester Siegel. Mendez, Chambers and Siegel set up a fake film studio and successfully establish the pretense of developing Argo, a“science fantasy” in the style of “STAR WARS” in order to lend credibility to the cover story. Meanwhile, the escapees grow frantic inside the ambassador’s residence. Shredded documentation from the American embassy is being reassembled, providing the militants with evidence that there are embassy personnel unaccounted for.

I am going to cut to the chase. I enjoyed “ARGO” very much. What am I saying? I really enjoyed this movie. So far, it is one of the better ones I have seen this year. Once again, Affleck knocked it out of the ballpark with a first-rate thriller that gave audiences a peek into the efforts of the C.I.A. to save those six diplomats who managed to get captured by the militants. Affleck, along with screenwriter Chris Terrio, did an excellent job in setting up the entire story from beginning to end.

One of the movie’s gem scenes featured the actual storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. It is quite obvious that Affleck, along with cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, used a hand-held camera style to film this particular sequence. And although I am not a fan of this particular style, I must say that it suited this particular sequence very well, projecting an effective sense of chaos and panic.“ARGO” featured other memorable scenes, including Mendez’s efforts to recruit both Chambers and Siegel for his mission, a tense encounter between Taylor’s Iranian maid and intelligence officers looking for the diplomats, the humor-filled setup of the Argo Operation in Hollywood, frustrating moments in which Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan came close to shutting down Mendez’s operation, the final escape from Iran by air and a nail-biting sequence in which the same group hit the streets of Tehran for a “location scouting mission” in order to maintain their cover.

There is so much about this movie that I enjoyed that it would take an essay for me to explain in great detail. I do not have the patience for such a project, but I do have to comment on the movie’s technical aspects. Not only did Rodrigo Prieto did an excellent job in re-creating the violence and confusion of the American embassy takeover, he also captured the muted glamour and insanity of Hollywood with vivid color. I could see that a great deal of his work benefited from some outstanding editing from William Goldenberg. In fact, I really have to hand it to Sharon Seymour and her production designing team for their re-creation of the 1979-1980 period in American and Iranian history. Seymour and her team were ably assisted by Peter Borck
and Deniz Göktürk’s art direction, along with Jacqueline West’s realistic looking costume designs.

But “ARGO” would have never worked by Affleck’s outstanding direction and the talented actors and actresses that were part of the cast. Not only was I impressed by Affleck’s direction, but also his subtle performance as C.I.A. operative Tony Mendez, who did not need guns and fighting skills to accomplish his task – merely brains and nerves of steel. John Goodman was marvelous as the witty and slightly cynical make-up artist, John Chambers. He also had great chemistry with both Affleck and Alan Arkin, who portrayed the sardonic and prickly Hollywood producer, Lester Siegel. I was not that kind to Bryan Cranston in my review of “TOTAL RECALL”. But it was great to see his magic again, in his fiery and funny portrayal of Mendez’s C.I.A. supervisor, Jack O’Donnell.

“ARGO” also featured some wonderful supporting performances as well. Kyle Chandler made two brief, but very memorable appearances and President Jimmy Carter’s foul-mouthed Chief of Staff, Hamilton “Ham” Jordan. It is a pity that his role was not longer. I was also impressed by those who portrayed the besieged diplomats – the always entertaining Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Christopher Denham and Kerry Bishé. Scoot McNairy and Rory Cochrane were especially memorable as a paranoid Joe Stafford and the hilariously sarcastic Lee Schatz. Victor Garber gave solid support as Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador who gave the diplomats refuge. And Sheila Vand was marvelous in the tense scenes that featured the Taylors’ Iranian housekeeper, Sahar. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Zeljko Ivanek, Richard Kind, Titus Welliver, Bob Gunton and Philip Baker Hall.

Naturally, “ARGO” is not a perfect movie. Not all of it is historically accurate. This was very obvious in one shot that featured a dilapidated HOLLYWOOD sign that overlooks the Los Angeles Basin. The sign was restored to its former glory in November 1978, 14 to 15 months before Tony Mendez’s arrival in Southern California. And I found Mendez and the diplomats’ encounter with the Iranian airport security guards and escape from the country somewhat contrived and manipulative.

Flawed or not, I cannot deny that I found “ARGO” to be one of the most satisfying movies of the year. I enjoyed it that much, thanks to a first-rate script by Chris Terrio, superb direction by Affleck and an excellent cast that included John Goodman, Bryan Cranston and Alan Arkin. In the end, “ARGO” strikes me as another triumph for Affleck and his two co-producers, George Clooney and Grant Heslov.

“THE BOURNE LEGACY” (2012) Review

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“THE BOURNE LEGACY” (2012) Review

Following the success of the 2007 movie, “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”, Universal Pictures announced its intentions to release a fourth movie featuring the amnesiac CIA assassin, Jason Bourne. However, their plans nearly folded when actor Matt Damon announced that he would not do a fourth movie.

Damon’s announcement failed to put a final kibosh on Universal’s plans. Instead, the studio and writer-director Tony Gilroy went ahead with another movie about the CIA assassination programs in which Jason Bourne had participated. Instead of bringing back director Paul Greengrass, Universal and Gilroy (who had written the first three movies) hired Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner to portray a second CIA assassin – Aaron Cross. With Gilroy in the director’s chair, the results led to the fourth movie called “THE BOURNE LEGACY”.

The movie’s title came from Eric Van Lustbader’s 2004 novel, but its plot is completely different. “THE BOURNE LEGACY” introduced a third black ops program called Operation Outcome. Unlike Operations Treadstone and Blackbriar, Outcome was specifically created by the U.S. Department of Defense and it enhances the physical and mental abilities of field operatives through pills referred to as “chems”. The movie opens with one of its operatives – Aaron Cross – engaged in a training assignment in Alaska. After Cross traverses rugged terrain to a remote cabin, he meets its operator, an exiled Outcome operative, Number Three.

During Cross’ time in Alaska, the Blackbriar and Treadstone programs are publicly being exposed (during the events of the previous film, “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”), leading the FBI and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to investigate CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy, Blackbriar supervisor Noah Vosen, Treadstone clinical researcher Dr. Albert Hirsch and CIA Director Ezra Kramer. Kramer requests help from Eric Byer, a retired Air Force colonel responsible for overseeing the CIA’s clandestine operations. Byer, who had originally recruited Cross, discovers potentially damaging video on the Internet in which the lead researchers for Treadstone and Outcome – especially Hirsch – appear at professional functions in public. To prevent the Treadstone/Blackbriar investigation from finding and revealing Outcome’s top-secret scientific advances, Byer decides to end Outcome and kill its agents and medical personnel. He sees this sacrifice as acceptable because the government has already separately initiated next-generation “beta programs”.

Byer attempts to kill both Cross and Number Three by sending a drone bomb to destroy the cabin. Number Three is killed and Cross manages to survive, due to being outside when the bomb dropped. Byer makes another attempt to kill Cross with a second drone and unbeknownst to him, ends up killing a wolf pack. Cross learns of a massacre at Outcome’s private research lab, conducted by a chemically brainwashed scientist. The sole survivor is geneticist Dr. Marta Shearing, whom Cross later saves from CIA assassins. He hopes that Dr. Shearing can help him wean or “viral” off the chemicals and at the same time, save both of them from being killed by Byer and the Department of Defense.

When Universal first leaked news of a fourth movie with Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, I did not exactly embrace the idea. As far as I was concerned, three was enough. When Damon announced that he would not reprise the Bourne role, I felt a surge of relief. As much as I had enjoyed the third BOURNE movie, I felt it was a bit of a comedown after the first two movies. Then I heard news that Universal and Tony Gilroy was going ahead with a fourth movie . . . without Damon. Again, I dismissed the idea of going to see this new BOURNE movie, until I learned that Jeremy Renner had been cast in the lead. Since I am a fan of Renner’s, I decided to go see this fourth film. However, I did not believe I would enjoy it as much as the first three.

Like the previous three movies, “THE BOURNE LEGACY” is not perfect. One, I never understood the need for Tony Gilroy to create a third black ops program for the franchise. Considering that Treadstone and the current Blackbriar programs were in danger of exposure by the end of “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”, I was surprised that Gilroy did not simply make Cross a Blackbriar operative. In other words, I found the addition of a third black ops program rather irrelevant. Unfortunately, the movie also featured the continuing presence of CIA Director Ezra Kramer. His presence in the third movie struck me as writing blooper on Gilroy’s part. His presence in this fourth movie is a continuation of that blooper. For some reason, Gilroy decided to utilize Paul Greengrass’ shaky cam style of filming . . . much to my annoyance. My biggest problem with “THE BOURNE LEGACY” was the ending. I found it vague, rather sudden and anti-climatic. When the movie ended with Cross and Dr. Shearing somewhere in the South China Seas and Pamela Lundy in trouble with Federal authorities for revealing the details of the Treadstone and Blackbriar programs, the first words that left my mouth were “Is that it?”. As far as I was concerned, the BOURNE franchise required a fifth movie to tie up the loose plots.

Despite the ending, despite the continuing presence of Ezra Kramer and despite the Greengrass filming and editing style; I enjoyed “THE BOURNE LEGACY” very much. Who am I kidding? I enjoyed it a lot. In fact, I would rank it second of the four movies. I feel that Gilroy did a slightly better job of meshing the plot from “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” with this film, than meshing the third film with the second one, “THE BOURNE SUPREMACY”. A throwaway discussion between Kramer and Noah Vosen regarding Pamela Lundy in the third film finally came to fruition by the end of this movie. The movie also explored – during most of its 135 minutes – Cross’ difficulties in dealing with his dependency upon the “chems”. Like the other three movies in the franchise, “THE BOURNE LEGACY” featured some first-rate action sequences. My favorites include Cross’ use of the wolf pack to distract the second drone bomb from himself, the massacre at the Operation Outcome lab that featured a chilling performance by Željko Ivanek, and the long chase sequence in Manila, the Philippines. But my favorite sequence featured Cross’ rescue of Dr. Shearing from the CIA assassins.

The best thing that Tony Gilroy ever did for this movie was to avoid making Aaron Cross into a Jason Bourne 2.0. He did this by creating Cross as a completely personality – verbose, more extroverted and an acute judge of character. But what really made Cross worked as a character was Jeremy Renner’s performance. Some critic once said that what was the point in watching a BOURNE movie without Matt Damon. Well, the first BOURNE production I ever saw was the 1988 miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain. And he was great. I also enjoyed Damon as Bourne, but . . . honestly? I did not really miss him, due to Renner’s performance.

The movie also benefited from Rachel Weisz’s excellent performance as Operation Outcome medical researcher, Dr. Marta Shearing. Weisz’s Shearing was a quiet, intense personality, whose ordered life was thrown upside down by her brainwashed colleague and later, the CIA. Weisz was exceptional in the scene featuring the CIA assassins’ murder attempt on her. More importantly, the actress and Renner proved to have a superb and somewhat humorous screen chemistry. Another excellent performance came from Edward Norton, who portrayed the ex-Air Force colonel Eric Byer. What I liked about Norton’s performance was that he portrayed Byer without the occasional frantic behavior that marked David Strathairn or Chris Cooper’s performances. Stacy Keach, whom I have not seen in several years, portrayed a high ranking Federal official named Mark Turso. I cannot recall ever seeing him in a villainous role (at least not to my knowledge), but I must admit that I found his performance very impressive. Oscar Isaac, whom I last saw in “W.E.” and “ROBIN HOOD”, gave an effective and subtle performance as the other Outcome agent, Number Three. It was nice to see Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn and Albert Finney again. But they were not on the screen long enough for me to judge their performances.

Like I had earlier stated, “THE BOURNE LEGACY” was not perfect. But I did enjoy it very much. And I am happy to announce that Universal has recently decided to green light a fifth film with Jeremy Renner reprising his role as Aaron Cross. His performance, along with Rachel Weisz and the rest of the cast, made this movie very enjoyable for me, along with a script that I believe was slightly better than the first and third movies. I only hope that the fifth movie will prove to be just as entertaining.

“TOWER HEIST” (2011) Review

“TOWER HEIST” (2011) Review

Seven years ago, Eddie Murphy had an idea about him and a group of comedians starring in a movie about a group planning to rob Trump Tower. The script developed and changed into an “OCEAN’S ELEVEN”-style caper, leading Murphy to leave the project. When director Brett Ratner continued to develop the idea into the movie’s present story, Murphy eventually rejoined the production. 

“TOWER HEIST” told the story about three employees of an exclusive apartment building called The Tower, who lose their pensions in the Ponzi scheme of a Wall Street businessman, who also lives in the building. The group enlist the aid of criminal, a bankrupt businessman that also lives in the building, and another building employee to break into the businessman’s apartment and steal back their money, while avoiding the FBI Agent in charge of his case.

One of my favorite types of movies has always been the heist comedy. This is why I am a fan of such movies like“LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS”“A FISH CALLED WANDA” and the “OCEAN’S ELEVEN” series. I do not know if I would place “TOWER HEIST” on the same level as the previously mentioned films. I would not regard it as one of the best heist films I have ever seen, or even one of the best comedies. But I cannot deny that I found it entertaining.

I must admit that I did not believe Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy would ever generate a strong screen chemistry. But in a rather odd way, they seemed to click. I suppose this was due to the fact that Stiller’s more subdued performance perfectly balanced Murphy’s more extroverted one. And they had solid support from the likes of Casey Affleck, Téa Leoni, Alan Alda, Michael Peña, Matthew Broderick and Gabourey Sidibe. I was especially impressed by Alda’s insidious performance as the scheming businessman Arthur Shaw and Sidibe’s portrayal of the sharp-tongued maid Odessa, whose savy proved to be the group’s godsend on at least two occasions.

Another aspect of “TOWER HEIST” that I admired was the movie’s script written by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson. It was not the most spectacular story I have seen on the movie screen. I had a problem with the movie’s last five or ten minutes. I would reveal what I found troubling about the ending. But if I did, I would give away the story. I suspect Griffin and Nathanson ended it this way to put a little bite in the movie’s ending. It just did not work for me.

However, I did enjoy most of the story. I also liked that one of the main aspects that injected a good deal of suspense into the story was the possibility of one or more of the robbers betraying the others – especially in the case of both Murphy and Affleck’s characters. This is something that is usually common in a heist drama. But I have yet to see such a thing in a comedy, until I saw “TOWER HEIST”.

In the end, “TOWER HEIST” proved to be a solid and entertaining comedy with a slightly weak ending. The movie was also blessed with a first-rate cast led by Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy. And director Brett Ratner did a good job in utilizing both the story and the cast to make a pretty solid film.

“JOHN ADAMS” (2008) Review

Nearly four years have passed since HBO aired the last episode of its seven-part miniseries, “JOHN ADAMS” . . . and I have yet to post any comment about it. I realized that I might as well post my views on the series, while my memories of it remains fresh. 

 

“JOHN ADAMS” (2008) Review

In a nutshell . . . “JOHN ADAMS” is an adaption of David McCullough’s bestselling, Pulitzer-Prize winning biography on the country’s second president, John Adams. Instead of beginning the story during Adams’ childhood or early adulthood, the miniseries began in the late winter/early spring of 1770, when he defended seven British soldiers and one officer accused of murder during the ‘Boston Massacre’ crisis. It ended with the episode that covered the last fifteen years of Adams’ life as a former President. And despite some historical discrepancies and a rather bland fourth episode, “JOHN ADAMS” ended as another glorious notch in HBO’s history.

The performances were superb, especially Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney as John and Abigail Adams. On screen, they were as well matched as the second President and First Lady were, over two hundred years ago. If either of them is passed over for either an Emmy or Golden Globe award, a great travesty will end up occurring. Especially Giamatti. He is the first actor I have seen make the role of John Adams his own, since William Daniels in “1776”. Another performance that left me dazzled was British actor Stephen Dillane’s subtle and brilliant performance as one of the most enigmatic Presidents in U.S. history – Thomas Jefferson. I had heard a rumor that he preferred acting on the stage above performing in front of a camera. If it is true, I think it is a damn shame. There is nothing wrong with the theater. But quite frankly, I feel that Dillane’s style of acting is more suited for the movies or television. These three fine actors are backed up with excellent performances from the likes of David Morse as George Washington, a brooding Sam Adams portrayed by Danny Huston and Tom Wilkinson portraying a roguish and very witty Benjamin Franklin.

I found most of the miniseries’ episodes very enjoyable to watch and very informative. Not only did “JOHN ADAMS” gave its viewers a detailed look into the United States and Europe during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, rarely seen on the silver or television screen. One particular scene comes to mind occurred in Part 1 –“Join or Die”, when Adams witnessed the tar-and-feathering of a Boston Tory by members of the Sons of Liberty. The entire incident played out with grusome detail. Another scene that caught my attention occurred in Part 6 –“Unecessary War”, when the Adamses had their first view of the recently built White House, located in the still undeveloped Washington D.C. I am so used to Washington looking somewhat civilized that its early, ramshackle appearance came as quite a surprise. And instead of allowing the actors and scenery resemble something out of a painting or art museum, everything looked real. One might as well be stepping into the late eighteenth century, absorbing the sights, sounds and smells . . . if one could achieve the latter via a television set. Speaking of sounds, I have to comment on the opening scene score written by Rob Lane. It is very rare find a miniseries theme song this catchy and stirring. Especially in recent years.

If I could choose one particular episode that left me wanting, it had to be Part Four – “Reunion”. This episode covered John and Abigail Adams’ years in Paris during the Treaty of Paris negotiations and as the first U.S. Minister to the British Court of St. James in London. It also covered his return to Massachusetts and election as the first Vice President. I enjoyed the development of the Adams’ friendship with Jefferson in this episode. Unfortunately that is all I had enjoyed. I wish that the episode had expanded more on the troubles surrounding the Treaty of Paris and especially the Adams’ stay in London. The most that was shown in the latter situation was Adams’ meeting with King George III (Tom Hollander) and Abigail’s desire to return home. On the whole, I found this episode rushed and slightly wanting.

But there were three others that I found fascinating. One turned out to be Part 3 – “Don’t Tread on Me”. This episode featured his subsequent Embassy duties with Benjamin Franklin to the Court of Louis XVI, and his trip to the Dutch Republic to obtain monetary support for the Revolution. I would not exactly view this episode as one of the miniseries’ best, but it did feature an excellent performance by Paul Giamatti, who expressed Adams’ frustration with the opulent Court of Louis XVI and Benjamin Franklin, rakishly portrayed by Tom Wilkinson. Watching Adams attempt to win the friendship of the French aristocrats and fail was fascinating to watch.

One of the episodes that really stood out for me was Part 6 – “Unnecessary War”. This episode covered Adams’ term as the second President of the United States and the growing development of a two-party system in the form of the Federalists led by Alexander Hamilton (Rufus Sewell) and the Jefferson-led Democratic-Republicans. This episode featured standout performances from not only Giamatti, but from Linney, Dillane and Sewell as a rather manipulative and power hungry Hamilton. The episode also featured a detailed history lessons on the beginning of political partisanship in the U.S. and the country’s (or should I say Adams’) efforts to keep the U.S. neutral from the war between Great Britain and France. It also focused upon a personal matter for both John and Abigail, as they dealt with the decline of their alcoholic second son, Charles. An excellent episode all around.

My favorite episode – and I suspect that it might be the case with many fans – is Part 2 – “Independence”. This episode focused upon the early years of the Revolution in which Adams and his fellow congressmen of the Continental Congress consider the option of independence from Great Britain and the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. It also focused upon Abigail’s struggles with the Adams’ farm and a smallpox outbreak in the Massachusetts colony. Personally, I consider this the best episode of the entire series. I especially enjoyed the verbal conflict between pro-independence Adams and delegate John Dickinson of Pennsylvania (superbly portrayed by actor Željko Ivanek), who favored reconciliation with the Crown. But one scene I found particularly humorous featured Adams and especially Franklin “editing” Jefferson’s final draft of the Declaration of Independence. All three actors – Giamatti, Wilkinson and Dillane were hilarious in a scene filled with subtle humor.

Despite being based upon a historical biography, “JOHN ADAMS” is not historically accurate. Which is not surprising. It is first and foremost a Hollywood production. Some of the best historical dramas ever shown on television or on the movie screen were never historically correct. Whether or not “JOHN ADAMS” is 100% historically correct, it is one of the best dramas I have seen on television in the past three years. Now that it has been released on DVD, I plan to buy and watch it all over again.

“24” and the Breaking Point

 

After watching the April 12, 2010 episode of ”24”, it occurred to me that I had put up a lot with this series during most of its eight seasons run. Perhaps a bit too much – especially since Season Three.  But the above-mentioned episode proved to be the final straw for me. 

 

“24” AND THE BREAKING POINT

It seems a miracle to me that I managed to remain a steady viewer of FOX-TV’s ”24”. Despite being a pretty good series, it has presented its viewers with some mind boggling plotlines. Mind you, some of the series’ plotlines from Seasons One and Two left me scratching my head. Kim Bauer’s (Elisha Cuthbert) Season Two adventures that included encounters with a murderous employer, the law and a slightly demented survivalist portrayed by Kevin Dillon come to mind. And the circumstances that led to Nina Myers’ (Sarah Clarke) revelation as a mole inside CTU left me wondering if she had any senses. The fact that Season One featured two intelligence moles who had no idea that the other was a mole seemed to be skimming on thin ice to me. As did the subplot involving Presidential candidate David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) and his family.

Then came Season Three. Personally, I thought it was a pretty good season. Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) and CTU found themselves battling a former MI6 agent named Stephen Saunders (Paul Blackthorne), who wanted revenge for being abandoned during a disastrous operation against the Season One main villain, Victor Drazen (Dennis Hopper) by unleashing a deadly virus upon Los Angeles. This season also featured a con job perpetrated by Jack, Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) and a CTU employee named Gael Ortega (Jesse Borrego); the return of Nina Myers; the introduction of Chase Edmunds (James Badge Dale) as the first (and my personal favorite) of several younger partners for Jack; a virus outbreak in Los Angeles and an exciting showdown in which Jack and Chase attempt to prevent one of Saunders’ men from carrying out his threat.

Unfortunately, Season Three seemed to have kick started many major mistakes created by the series’ writers over the next six years. I tried to deal with the introduction of the Chloe O’Brian character (Mary Lynn Rajskub). But I failed. After another five seasons, I still dislike her. From Season Three to the present, serious mistakes piled on one after the other – Jack’s murder of Nina Myers; the subplot involving Wayne Palmer’s (D.B. Woodside) involvement with a billionaire’s wife and Sherry Palmer (Penny Johnson); Tony’s arrest for the so-called “treason” charge for exchanging Jack’s kidnapped victim for his kidnapped wife – CTU’s own Michelle Dressler (Reiko Aylesworth); the loss of Chase’s hand and his departure from the series (I rather liked him . . . a lot). In Season Four, I had to deal with Jack’s dull ass romance with the senator’s daughter Audrey Raines (Kim Ravner), that stupid plot to infiltrate the Chinese consulate and extract a terrorist, which ended in the death of the Chinese consul, the return of that traitorous ass, Mike Novik (Jude Ciccolella); and a disjointed and badly written season. Season Five brought about a series of deaths that I still believe was heavy-handed – former President Palmer, Michelle Dressler and the near death of Tony Almeida. Many fans have claimed that Season Five – which centered around President Charles Logan’s attempt to sign some treaty with the Russians – was the best. I would have been more tolerant of it, if it were not for the series of murders that occurred in the season’s first episode, Kim’s reaction to Jack’s fake death, and a major plot that really did not require a 24-hour setting. Season Six – with a badly written storyline about suicide bombers and Jack’s family (James Cromwell and Paul McCrane) – was the worst. Wayne Palmer became the new president, but he ended up in a coma from a bombing before mid-season. Chloe’s husband – the equally annoying Morris O’Brian (Carlos Rota) – played a major role in this season . . . unfortunately. I found Season Seven tolerable, especially since it introduced FBI Agent Renee Walker (Annie Wersching) and brought back Tony Almeida. However, Season Eight proved to be another matter.

Mind you, I did not hate Season Eight, like I did Seasons Four and Six. But . . . its plot about a group of Middle Eastern terrorists trying to prevent the president of their country from signing a peace treaty with the United States proved to be . . . old hat. Many fans could see that this series seemed a little tired and filled with some plot holes. The worst and dumbest subplot in the series’ history centered on CTU Agent Dana Walsh’s (Katee Sackhoff) problems involving her criminal ex-boyfriend and some of the dumbest plot lines in television history. But last week’s episode – (8.17) “Day 8: 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.” – proved to be the last, fucking straw for me. Two things happened. Renee Walker – whom Jack had fallen in love with – ended up murdered by a Russian assassin. And Tim Woods (Frank John Hughes), Director of Homeland Security, fired CTU New York director Brian Hastings (Mykelti Williamson).

It was bad enough that producers Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran, along with screenwriter David Fury had killed off Renee. One, she turned out to be one of my favorite characters from the series. And she also seemed to be the only female capable of dealing with the real Jack Bauer – warts and all. Two, Renee’s murder has jumpstarted an old and tired subplot – namely Jack’s desire to go after the person or persons responsible for the death of a loved one. We saw this in his murder of Nina Myers in Season Three. We also saw this in Season Five, when he murdered the man who had assassinated David Palmer. Some fans see this as a return of the old Jack Bauer. For years, I had disliked Jack for his murderous inclinations, his hypocrisy and the fans’ hypocritical view of his crimes. For the first time in years, I managed to enjoy Jack as a character. With Renee’s murder, it looks as if that enjoyment has come to an end. I do not see any possible hope of an emotional recovery for Jack after this. And honestly . . . if Surnow and Cochran wanted to kill someone off, they could have waited to bump off Jack either in the last episode or in the damn movie. But no . . . they drummed up some contrived plot line to kill off Renee in order to bring back Killer Jack.

But the worst thing I ever saw during Season Eight and during the series’ entire run the demotion of Brian Hastings by Homeland Security Director Tim Woods as director of CTU New York and being replaced by that whining bitch, Chloe O’Brian. I had stated earlier, I do not like Chloe. I never have. I have always found her whining and personality disorders a pain in my ass. But this latest plot development regarding her promotion as CTU New York’s new director was truly the most utterly stupid thing I have ever seen on ”24”. On television period. First of all, Chloe was a computer analyst for CTU. A computer geek. Chloe has had at least one or two hours of experience in the field. And yet, that idiot Woods had decided she would be a better person to run CTU New York than Hastings. Why? Because Hastings had failed to sniff out Dana Walsh as a mole. No intelligence official in his or her right mind who allow a computer analyst to assume command of an intelligence field office. It is an utter act of idiocy. And yet, Surnow and Cochran allowed this to happen. And instead of realizing the stupidity of such a plot twist, many fans have been cheering Chloe’s promotion. Why? Because Hastings had failed to do two things – immediately follow Jack’s lead and sniff out Dana Walsh as a mole. Damn hypocrites!

Why do I call the fans, David Fury and the producers hypocrites over this situation with Chloe, Hastings and Dana? Hastings was not that popular with fans. Chloe is very popular fans. And the fans were impatient with Hastings’ failure to spot Dana as a mole. Well if that is the case, then allow me bring up another name. Nina . . . Myers. Have fans and television critics actually forgotten that for several years, Nina was Jack’s second-in-command at CTU Los Angeles? In fact, they even had an affair. Jack eventually learned that she was a mole out of sheer . . . dumb . . . luck.  Nina was ordered to tell a lie about Kim in order to lure Jack into the clutches of Victor Drazen. No one has ever complained about Jack’s inability to sniff out Nina as a mole, until it was almost too late. Hell, in Season Seven, Jack never knew that a vengeful Tony Almeida was playing a double game against him, the FBI and the Allison Taylor Administration until it was almost too late. Yet, Brian Hastings is criticized for failing to sniff out a mole. This is an example of the fans’ hypocrisy at its worst. And all of this happened six or seven episodes before the end of the series.

I did not bother to watch tonight’s episode of ”24”. After the debacle of last week’s episode, I decided that I finally had enough. In fact, I will NOT be looking forward to any ”24” movie in the future. Thank you, Joel Surnow, Robert Cochran and David Fury for allowing any leftover enjoyment I might have of “24” to hit rock bottom. This is how I will always remember the series – with two of the dumbest plot developments I have ever seen.

Top Ten (10) Favorite Episodes of “HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREETS”

Below are my top ten (10) episodes from NBC’s “HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREETS” (1993-1999):

 

TOP TEN (10) FAVORITE EPISODES OF “HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREETS”

1. (5.19) “Deception” – The murder of a Nigerian drug courier sets the scene for an explosive encounter between gangster Luthor Mahoney and Detectives Mike Kellerman, Meldrick Lewis and Terri Stivers. Kellerman’s action will result in repercussion for the squad in over a year.

2. (1.06) “Three Men and Adena” – Tim Bayliss and Frank Pembleton bring in an arabber named Risley Tucker as the prime suspect in the murder of the 11 year-old girl, Adena Watson. With a 12-hour time limit, the two partners try one last interrogation in a desperate attempt to get a confession. Writer Tom Fontana won an Emmy for writing this episode.

3. (3.04) “Crosetti” – The squad reels with shock over the news of Detective Steve Crosetti’s suicide death – especially former partner Lewis, who has difficulty accepting the detective’s death.

4. (3.10) “Every Mother’s Son” – Pembleton and Bayliss investigate the shooting of a 13-year-old boy, Darryl Nawls. During the course of their investigation, the mother of the shooter unknowingly meets the mother of the victim and finds that they have much in common.

5. (6.22) “Fallen Heroes (Part 1) – Junior Bunk is arrested for the death of a corrupt judge named Gibbons. After stealing a revolver from an officer’s death while no one is looking, Junior engages in a shooting spree, killing and wounding several officers – including Laura Ballard and Stu Gharty.

6. (6.23) “Fallen Heroes (Part 2) – The squad goes after the Mahoney organization, following Junior Bunk’s shooting spree in Part 1. This leads to Bayliss getting seriously wounded. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Al Giardello and Pemberton eventually learn about Kellerman’s killing of Luthor Mahoney.

7. (2.02) “Black and Blue” – The department and community pressure the Homicide Unit to solve a cop-involved killing. With the lives and reputations of fellow officers at stake, Giardello clashes with Pembleton over the investigations. Giardello demands a pursuit of civilian suspects, but Pembleton’s instincts tell him the cops are lying.

8. (5.13) “Betrayal” – Bayliss’s shaky history with child victims leads him to reveal a family secret to Pemberton after the two work the beating death of a young girl found by the interstate. Kellerman rejects the Fifth Amendment before a grand jury, and is let off the hook.

9. (7.10) “Shades of Gray” – Rene Sheppard is assaulted when she and Lewis investigate an incident involving the accidental death of a West Indian immigrant at the hands of a white bus driver.

10. (1.07) “And the Rockets’ Dead Glare” – When a student who was a political refugee is murdered, Lewis and Crosetti take it upon themselves to investigate individuals at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC. Kay Howard and Beau Felton spend the day in court testifying in the ongoing case against “Pony” Johnson. Pembleton weighs the pros and cons of a possible promotion within the department.