Saturday, January 30, 2016
"SPECTRE" (2015) Review
Following the release of the 2012 movie, "SKYFALL", my interest in the James Bond movie franchise had somewhat dropped. This was due to my negative reaction to the movie. In other words, I disliked it. When I learned that Sam Mendes, who had directed"SKYFALL", would return to direct the franchise's 24th movie, I did not receive the news very well and paid as little attention to the production of this new movie as possible. But . . . my family has never been able to resist the release of a new James Bond movie. So, we did not hesitate to rush to the theaters when "SPECTRE" hit the movie screens.
Written by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth; "SPECTRE" involved James Bond's investigation of the global organization that had ties to the financial terrorist group Quantum, which Bond was pitted against in "CASINO ROYALE"and "QUANTUM OF SOLACE". Before the movie began, Bond had received a posthumous message from the previous "M" (Judi Dench) to The movie began with Bond shadowing a mysterious figure in Mexico City, during the city's Day of the Dead celebration. He is there to kill an assassin named Marco Sciarra, who is plotting a terrorist attack with two other men. Although Bond manages to kill Sciarra and his two colleagues, he is suspended by the new "M" (Gareth Mallory) for conducting an unauthorized mission. Bond disobeys the latter's order and continues his mission set by his former boss, by attending Sciarra's funeral in Rome. There, he not only meets Sciarra's widow, but also stumbles across a new organization called Spectre with ties to his former nemesis, Quantum; but also one Ernst Stravo Blofeld. While "M" finds himself engaged in a struggle against "C", the head of the privately financed Joint Intelligence Service, which consists of the recently merged MI5 and MI6, who wants Britain join a global surveillance and intelligence co-operation initiative between nine countries called "Nine Eyes". However, Bond discovers during his unauthorized investigation of Spectre that the latter might be the instigator of the "Nine Eyes" organization.
I read somewhere that "SPECTRE" was not as well received by filmgoers and some critics as "SKYFALL". Especially in the United States. I had a few problems with "SPECTRE". One, director Sam Mendes continued to shoot actor Daniel Craig as if the latter was a male model. I found this annoying in "SKYFALL" and continued to find it annoying in this film. The character Eve Moneypenny was criminally underused in the movie's final action sequence set in London . . . especially since she was a former field agent. I was not that impressed by the Morocco locations chosen by the movie's producers. I have seen desert locations in previous Bond movies that looked more attractive . . . including "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS", which was also filmed in that country. I had earlier pointed out Spectre's ties to Quantum, the organization that Bond had battled against in both "CASINO ROYALE" and"QUANTUM OF SOLACE". However, the movie's plot also suggested that the Raoul Silva character from "SKYFALL" also had connections to Spectre. Frankly, I found this somewhat of a stretch, considering that the 2012 movie never hinted any such connection to either Spectre or Quantum. In my review of "SKYFALL", I had pointed out that I found its theme song unmemorable for me. I have to say the same about "Writing's On the Wall", this movie's theme song, which was written and performed by Sam Smith. I would not be able to remember a tune from either movie . . . even if I tried. I have nothing against Léa Seydoux as an actress. But she and star Daniel Craig had very little screen chemistry. Worse, I found their romance rather contrived. There was no real hint of attraction between the two, until the last third of the film, when the pair arrived in Morocco.
Despite these flaws, I still managed to enjoy "SPECTRE" very much. First of all, this movie had a strong narrative with very little plot holes. I also enjoyed how the screenwriters tied the Quantum organization with Spectre. Quantum always seemed to focus more upon financing for warlords like Steven Obanno or military-political figures like General Medrano who needed cash to regain power in a country like Bolivia. It seemed very probable that it would serve as a branch for a terrorist organization like Spectre. In fact, the theme of this entire movie seemed to be about death and ghosts from the past - especially ghosts from Bond's past interactions with Quantum/Spectre since "CASINO ROYALE" (in other words, Craig's tenure). The movie's pre-credit sequence opened with Bond in Mexico City, during the latter's Day of the Dead celebration. The movie's opening credits featured images from past villains, along with the late Vesper Lynd and former "M". I may not have found it memorable, but I am glad to say that the movie's theme song resonated strongly with the plot. Speaking of which, the screenplay also hinted a past connection between Bond and Spectre's leader, Blofeld; which adheres rather well to Bond's orphan past. But what I really enjoyed about "SPECTRE" was that Bond's search for Marco Sciarra and discovery of the Spectre organization was due to a posthumous message from the former "M". Apparently, the lady had decided to use Bond to finish what they had started back in "CASINO ROYALE". How effective of her.
Another aspect of "SPECTRE" that impressed me was the movie's style . . . especially its cinematography. I may have found the Morocco locations lacking in color, but I must admit that Hoyte Van Hoytema's photography did most of them justice. Well, there were two sequences in which the Morocco locations impressed me. One of them featured the arrival of Bond and leading lady Dr. Madeleine Swann's arrival in the city of Tangier. I was also impressed by Van Hoytema's sleek photography of Rome, which was mainly filmed at night. But the one sequence that truly blew my mind was the pre-titled one in Mexico City. Despite being shot with a slight Sepia, the Mexico City sequence was filled with color and real atmosphere. I must admit that Lee Smith's editing, Thomas Newman's exciting score and the mind-boggling action greatly added to Van Hoytem's work. Frankly, I thought it was one of the best shot sequences in the entire Bond franchise.
"SPECTRE" proved to be Daniel Craig's fourth turn in the role of James Bond. And as usual, he knocked it out of the ballpark. A relative of mine once hinted the suggestion that Craig might be the best actor of all those who have portrayed Bond for EON Productions. I will have to give her comment some thought. But I must admit that he has been consistently spot on in his portrayal of Bond. But in this movie, his penchant (or should I say Craig's penchant) for dark humor seemed particularly sharp. I stand by my opinion that the chemistry between Craig and his leading lady, Léa Seydoux, did not strike me as particularly warm. But Seydoux was not the first actress in the franchise who lacked any real chemistry with the Bond actor in question. Her penchant for sullen expressions and pouting did not mesh well with Craig's screen presence. However, I cannot deny that the actress gave a first-rate performance as the guarded Dr. Swann, who turned out to be the daughter of one of Bond's former enemies - Mr. White from"CASINO ROYALE" and "QUANTUM OF SOLACE". It was nice that the screenwriters explored her character's own personal demons regarding her father - especially in one scene in which she viewed a video clip of his death.
Of the four (or possibly five) actors who have portrayed Ernst Stravos Blofeld, Christoph Waltz's interpretation struck me as the most subtle. He did an excellent job of conveying his character's malice, intelligence and penchant for sadism; while projecting a mask of mild amusement. Ralph Fiennes had a most unusual task as the new "M" and I thought he handled it quite well. His character had already been introduced in "SKYFALL" as Gareth Mallory, head of the Intelligence and Security Committee. But in "SPECTRE", he had to portray "M" as someone who is new at his job, which has become under threat by "C" of the Joint Intelligence Service and Bond's penchant for disobeying orders.
Naomie Harris returned as Eve Moneypenny and I found her performance just as entertaining and first-rate as ever. More importantly, her chemistry with Daniel Craig was as strong as it was in the 2012 movie. Another returnee from "SKYFALL" was Ben Whishaw, who continued his entertaining and sardonic performance as MI-6's Quartermaster, "Q". Whishaw also had a chance to act out a mild adventure in the Austrian Alps in which "Q" is pursued by SPECTRE agents. Jesper Christensen returned for his third appearance in the movie franchise as Quantum agent, Mr. White. As much as I found his appearances in "CASINO ROYALE" and"QUANTUM OF SOLACE" rather interesting, I was very impressed by his more complex portrayal as the dying former operative, who was willing to cooperate with Bond for the safety of his daughter. It was a treat to see Dave Bautista again, who portrayed SPECTRE assassin, Mr. Hinx. I found his performance effectively menacing and really added a great deal to the movie's fight scenes. But a part of me felt slightly disappointed that he had only a few lines in the movie, especially since I found his performance in 2014's"GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY" so impressive. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Rory Kinnear, Monica Bellucci, Alessandro Cremona and Andrew Scott, who struck me as particularly creepy as the head of the Joint Intelligence Service, "C".
What else can I say about "SPECTRE"? The movie restored my faith in the Bond movie franchise. Despite some flaws, I enjoyed it so much that I would probably rank it among my top ten Bond movies, thanks to director Sam Mendes, the movie's screenwriters and a cast led by the always talented Daniel Craig.
Thursday, January 28, 2016
Below are images from "SHINING THROUGH", the 1992 adaptation of Susan Isaacs' 1988 novel. Written and directed by David Seltzer, the movie starred Melanie Griffith and Michael Douglas:
"SHINING THROUGH" (1992) Photo Gallery
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
"LIES AND CONSEQUENCE"
The rain continued to drench San Francisco, as the black Porsche made a left turn on Prescott Street. As Cole continued down the street, Phoebe broke the silence between them and startled him with a question. "Why are you driving?"
"Huh?" The half-daemon shot a quick glance at his ex-wife.
Phoebe repeated, "Why are you driving? Why don't you just shimmer or however you teleport these days?"
Cole cleared his throat in his usual manner. "First of all, I don't need to teleport. I have a car. And I'm not in a hurry. Second, I like driving my car as much as I possibly can."
Another bout of silence followed before Cole added, "Listen Phoebe, why don't you tell me what's really on your mind?"
A sigh left Phoebe's mouth before she continued, "What did you mean by . . . 'If you say so', when I told you that Jason was upset over what happened with Richard's spell?"
"Because I think you're just fooling yourself," Cole answered in a matter-of-fact tone.
"Excuse me?" Phoebe's voice rang with indignation.
Cole repeated, "You're fooling yourself, Phoebe. And you know it."
"What the hell do you . . .?"
Sharply, Cole interrupted. "C'mon Phoebe! You know damn well why Dean had really broken it off between the two of you. You had lied to him about being a witch. Or to put it another way, he's probably pissed that you had kept this a secret from him."
"Since when did you become a telepath?" Phoebe retorted bitterly.
"Actually, one of my powers is telepathic manipulation."
The black Porsche came to a halt in front of a stop sign. Several people crossed the street. Cole realized that he had forgotten about Phoebe's tendency to deliberately blind herself from reality. Which was not surprising, since he had not seen her in nearly two months. "Phoebe, when you had first told me about the whole Mata Hari mess, you made it clear that you and Dean had broken up before Montana had cast his little spell." Once the intersection was cleared, Cole continued driving.
The Charmed One glared at him. "So?"
"You don't get it, do you?" The Halliwell manor loomed into sight. Cole guided the Porsche into an available parking space. "I suspect that Dean would have eventually tolerated you being a witch, if you had told him a lot earlier. After all, he loved you enough to stay with you for nearly a year. But during that same period, you had kept a secret from him. A big secret. What did you expect?"
Phoebe's face trembled with anger. "This is pretty rich coming from a guy who had lied to me during the first two months we were together!"
Cole rolled his eyes. "Yes Phoebe, I had kept my identity a secret from you. As I recall, we were both keeping secrets. I didn't lead on that I was a half-daemon, sent to kill you and your sisters. And you three were determined to keep your identities a secret from me. Come to think of it, the same happened when Piper and Leo first dated." Phoebe glared at him. "Leo told me," Cole continued. "Some time after Prue's death."
"Okay, so we both had lied!" Phoebe retorted. "But still . . ."
Switching off the car's engine, Cole turned to face his ex-wife. "But what? C'mon Phoebe! Paige had been nagging you to tell Dean the truth about yourself for months. In fact, she seemed to be the only member of your family who doesn't keep secrets from guys she is serious about. She had told both her old boyfriend and that guy, Nate that she was a witch. Whereas you, Piper and even Prue . . . well, your histories with the men in your lives in that regard haven't been all that great in the past few years."
Anger glimmered in Phoebe's dark eyes. "I don't think you even have the right to tell me . . ."
"Phoebe, this isn't about my past fuck-ups," Cole retorted. "This is about yours. Why don't you just admit that you had fucked up a pretty good thing with Dean? From what you've told me, it all went to hell even before that idiot Montana had cast his spell. I hate to say this, but maybe you're just paying the consequences for your lies. Hell, I have."
From the corner of his eyes, Cole saw Phoebe's face become a mask. He could almost hear her teeth grinding. Then he glanced ahead and saw his brother-in-law's Mazda parked several yards ahead. "Hmmm, I didn't realize that Harry was here."
"I better get going," Phoebe suddenly announced. She opened the door. "Thanks for the ride."
A sigh left Cole's mouth. He knew that tone from long experience. Phoebe was pissed off. Not because she believed that he had committed some contemptible act. She was pissed because he had exposed a truth about her and her family that embarrassed her. Even worse, an ex-husband, whom she had once viewed as nothing more than an evil bastard, had exposed her. And Phoebe has always been a person who preferred to live with her illusions - if possible.
"Glad to help," Cole murmured. Phoebe climbed out of the car. "And Phoebe?" She paused, as the rain began to soak her hair and face. "I'm truly sorry about you and Dean. I mean it."
Something like a stiff smile barely cracked the Charmed One's lips. "Yeah. Thanks. I'll see you around." She slammed the door shut and marched toward the manor's front stoop.
Cole watched his ex-wife climbed the stoop. For the second time in his life - the first time occurred last summer - he pitied Phoebe. But what could he do? Only she could help herself. One day, she would have to realize that she was her own worst enemy. Hell, he had to learn that hard lesson, himself. In fact, he still might be learning.
The half-daemon heaved one last sigh, switched on the engine and drove away from the Halliwell manor.
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
The year 2015 seemed to be filled with some very memorable screen villains. I am certain that many have their own opinions of what constituted their favorite villains. Well . . . I have mine. Below is that list of my favorite movie villains from 2015:
FAVORITE MOVIE VILLAINS OF 2015
1. Samuel L. Jackson as Richmond Valentine ("Kingsman: The Secret Service") - I have to say it. Samuel Jackson has created some very memorable characters throughout his career - both heroic and villainous. But his portrayal of high tech tycoon, Richmond Valentine, has to be very high on the list. Not only was his goal - to decimate the majority of mankind in order to save the Earth - diabolical, but his lisp and aversion to violence made his character extremely memorable. Extremely.
2. Corey Stoll as Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket ("Ant-Man") - It is a pity that Marvel Studios seemed incapable of maintaining its gallery of villains. One of the best Marvel villains I have come across in quite a while was Corey Stoll's interpretation of Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket, scientist and CEO of Hank Pym's company. Stoll's Cross projected daddy issues with a style that rivaled Loki from the THOR movies, thanks to the actor's performance.
3. Elizabeth Debicki as Victoria Vinciguerra ("The Man From U.N.C.L.E.") - Elizabeth Debicki gave a deliciously entertaining, yet subtle performance as the cool and cruel Victoria Vinciguerra, the leader of a neo-fascist criminal organization and co-owner of a shipping company, who harbored plans to build a nuclear weapon for her own personal use.
4. Donald Sutherland as President Coriolanus Snow ("The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part II") - For the fourth time, Donald Sutherland did an excellent in creeping out movie audiences as the cruel and manipulative leader of Panem, as his character resorts to extraordinary methods to put down a rebellion.
5. Haley Joel Osment as Travis McCerdle ("Entourage: the Movie") - I never thought in a million years that I would see Haley Joel Osment portray a truly unpleasant character, let alone make this list. But he proved to be the sole gem in an otherwise entertaining, yet mediocre film as the son of a Texas billionaire, who is given authority to oversee his father's investment in Ari Gold's film. Osment's performance struck me as so spot-on that he almost resembled a living embodiment of excrement. He has come a long way.
6. James Spader as Ultron ("The Avengers: Age of Ultron") - Another Marvel villain bit the dust this year. But before he (or it) did, audiences were treated to a superb voice performance by actor James Spader as the self-aware artificial intelligence bent upon decimating humanity. Not only was Spader's performance a joy to hear, he had one of the best lines in the movie.
7. Jennifer Jason-Leigh ("The Hateful Eight") - In a movie filled with villains, the most memorable for me turned out to be Daisy Domergue, an outlaw being escorted to her execution by ruthless bounty hunter John Ruth. What made Jason-Leigh's Daisy so memorable was her penchant for sadistic humor, vengeful nature and more importantly her patience. Despite being smacked around throughout most of the movie, the actress superbly conveyed just how ruthless Miss Domergue could actually be.
8. Hugh Laurie as David Nix ("Tomorrowland") - Hugh Laurie gave a subtle, yet sardonic performance as David Nix, the mayor of Tomorrowland, who valued technological achievement over scientific originality. Laurie did an excellent job in conveying the character's paranoia and willingness to resort extreme methods - including murder - in order to maintain the status quo - something he strongly supported. His rant against humanity is a must-see for any moviegoer.
9. Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin ("The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part II") - Julianne Moore gave a very subtle performance as the leader of Panem's District 13 and the rebellion against the Capitol. At first glance, her efforts to free Panem from President Snow's rule seemed very genuine. But Moore did an excellent job in occasionally conveying Coin's manipulative and patient personality, along with a penchant for bloodletting that rivaled Snow's.
10. Christoph Waltz as Ernst Stavros Blofeld ("SPECTRE") - Christoph Waltz became the fifth actor to portray British agent James Bond's biggest nemesis, Ernst Stavros Blofeld, head of criminal/terrorist organization SPECTRE. And he gave a memorable performance, project the character's ruthlessness, intelligence, sadism and . . . dare I say it . . . charm? Waltz's Blofeld made a very charming sadist, only rivaled by Telly Savalas' portrayal in the late 1960s.
Saturday, January 23, 2016
"THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS" (2010) Review
Anyone who has read Agatha Christie's 1925 novel, "The Secret of Chimneys", will be disappointed by the 2010 television adaptation that stars Julia McKenzie as Miss Jane Marple. The television movie bears little resemblance to the novel. But that does not mean one should completely dismiss the movie.
Although a long time fan of Christie's novels, I have never read "The Secret of Chimneys". Familiar with many of the author's novels, I knew that the former was not one that featured Jane Marple. I did not care. I have come across other Miss Marple television movies in which the literary source did not feature her as the main character. However, I was surprised to learn that the 2010 movie bore very little resemblance to the original novel. Then again, I should not have been surprised. The forces behind the adaptations of Christie novels seemed to have a penchant for changing the plots and sometimes, even the murderer's identities, whenever the whim struck them. And this whim certainly went into full gear for "THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS".
Written by Paul Rutman, the plot for "THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS" begins in the 1930s, when an Austrian named Count Ludwig Von Stainach first visited Chimneys, the estate of the 9th Maquis of Caterham to attend a diplomatic ball. During that visit, a famous diamond belonging to Lord Caterham, is stolen; leading to the beginning of the decline of his family's fortunes. Over twenty years later, Jane Marple, who is related to Lord Caterham's family, visits Chimneys for a weekend house party when she learns that it is being considered to become a part of National Trust. Also attending the house party held by Lord Caterham is a local ambitious Member of Parliament (M.P.) named George Lomax, who wants to marry the aristocrat's younger daughter, Lady Virginia Brent; older daughter Lady Eileen "Bundle" Brent, and National Trust advocate Miss Hilda Blenkinsopp. However, the main reason behind the house party proves to be the guest of honor Count Von Stainach, whom Lomax wants Lord Caterham to entertain in order to sign a deal for iron ore that post-World War II England desperately needs. Unbeknownst to everyone else, Lady Virginia has met and fallen in love with a young man named Anthony Cade, who has decided to crash the party in order to prevent her from marrying Lomax. However, the house party takes a dark turn when someone shoots and kills Count Von Stainach in one of the manor's secret passages. And since Anthony was the first to stumble across the count's body, he becomes "Suspect Number One".
Knowing that "THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS" was not an original Jane Marple mystery, I had no idea on what to expect from this television movie. Thankfully, it proved to be a surprisingly entertaining film filled with some humor, strong characterizations, plenty of romance - both charming and poignantly sad, and two very puzzling mysteries. Although one mystery surrounded the disappearance of the Brents' diamond and the other featured the murder of Count Von Stainach, both proved to be connected to one another. I have read the synopsis of Christie's 1925 novel. I must admit that it read more like a political thriller than a murder mystery. And a part of me felt somewhat relieved that screenwriter Rutman did not attempt a faithful adaptation of the novel. Some claimed that Anthony Cade, who was featured as the main investigator in the novel, had been pushed into the background. I cannot agree with this assessment. Instead of serving as the story's main investigator, Cade was utilized as one half of the movie's main love story and the main suspect of Von Stainach's murder. Rutman did a very good job in using the Cade character, while replacing him with Miss Marple as the main investigator.
There were technical aspects of "THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS" that I certainly enjoyed. Chris Seager's photography struck me as beautiful. The movie's photography displayed its filming locations - Hatfield House for the exterior shots and Knebworth House for the interior shots - with beautifully sharp colors. Miranda Cull contributed to Seager's photography with her art designs for the movie's interiors shot inside Knebworth House. And Sheena Napier did an excellent job of designing costumes for the movie's characters - especially for a movie filled with upper-class or aristocratic characters who have seen better times, financially. This means that Napier's costumes had a mid-century elegance that seemed slightly worn, and did not come off as expensively glamorous.
Charlotte Salt, Jonas Armstrong, Ruth Jones and Matthew Horne all gave competent performances. Anthony Higgins, whom I have not laid eyes upon in years, gave a charming performance as the elegant, yet extroverted Count Ludwig Von Stainach. But there were performances that I found really impressive. One of them came from Stephen Dillane, who gave a deliciously twisted performance as the slightly eccentric Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Fitch. Another performance that impressed me came from Adam Godley, whom I last saw on USA Network's "SUITS". I thought he perfectly portrayed the ambitious, yet controlling politician George Lomax. I rather liked Dervla Kirwan's portrayal of Lady Eileen "Bundle" Brent, Lord Caterham's older daughter. I felt Kirwan did an excellent job of portraying a woman who is struggling with the possible erosion of a lifestyle she had known all of her life. Edward Fox is another performer I have not seen in quite a while. But I felt that he, along with Dillane and Julia McKenzie gave the best performances in the movie. Fox's Maquis of Caterham proved to be a skillful portrayal of an elderly, yet sad man whom seemed unable to stop grieving over a long deceased wife.
Julia McKenzie has received some criticism for her portrayal of Jane Marple over the past few years. Apparently, many fans believe she seemed a bit too robust and young to be portraying the elderly sleuth. McKenzie, who is in her early 70s, is old enough. And quite frankly, I have enjoyed her portrayal just as much as I have Joan Hickson and Geraldine McEwan's. McKenzie simply has a different, slightly less incoherent style in approaching the Miss Marple character. And not only did I enjoyed it in "THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS", but also in her other Miss Marple movies.
I would not exactly view "THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS" as one of the best Miss Marple mysteries I have seen on television. But thanks to some solid direction from John Strickland, a surprisingly first-rate script written by Paul Rutman and some superb performances from a cast led by Julia McKenzie, I ended enjoying it very much.
Friday, January 22, 2016
Below are images from "THE HUNGER GAME: MOCKINGJAY - PART II", the 2015 adaptation of the second half of Suzanne Collins' 2010 novel and third sequel to the 2012 movie, "THE HUNGER GAME". Directed by Francis Lawrence, the movie stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth:
"THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART II" (2015) Photo Gallery