Monday, January 30, 2017

"SNOWDEN" (2016) Review

"SNOWDEN" (2016) Review

When I heard that director Oliver Stone was about to release a movie about tech whistleblower, Edward Snowden, I did not know what to expect. I still harbored memories of "THE FIFTH ESTATE", the 2013 movie about Julian Assange. Unlike many others, I did not dislike the film. But I did not find it particularly impressive. But curiosity won in regard to this movie about Snowden and I decided to watch it. 

Structured as a flashback, "SNOWDEN" began three years earlier in Hong Kong, where Snowden had agreed to meet with The Guardian and Washington Post journalists and reveal the details leading to his decision to expose the National Security Agency (N.S.A.)'s illegal cyber-snooping on millions of unsuspecting American citizens. The flashbacks began with Snowden's departure from the U.S. Army due to a major injury and covered his years with the C.I.A. and as a contractee for Dell, which manages computer systems for multiple government agencies like the N.S.A. The movie also covered Snowden's profession and growing knowledge of the American government's illegal use of cybertech affected his tumultuous relationship with girlfriend Lindsay Mills and his health for nearly a decade.

Personally, I thought "SNOWDEN" was a pretty damn good movie. It is not the first biopic or movie with a strong historic background that Oliver Stone had directed. And if I must be brutally honest, it is not his best. I cannot put my finger on why "SNOWDEN" failed to rank up there with the likes of "PLATOON""BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY" and especially "JFK". Was it the subject matter? One would think Edward Snowden's actions would generate plenty of controversy. An N.S.A. contractor exposing the U.S. government for illegally spying on the American public would seems controversial. Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald's screenplay even went into details behind Snowden's discoveries - details that left many Americans outraged when news of Snowden's leaks hit the newspapers and the Internet. The screenplay also detailed the emotional consequences that Snowden had suffered from his years with the C.I.A. and his employment as a N.S.A. contractor.

"SNOWDEN" also featured some pretty top notch performances from the cast. Performers like Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo, Nicholas Cage, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Olyphant, Scott Eastwood, Keith Stanfield, Ben Schnetzer, Logan Marshall-Green and Joely Richardson gave solid, yet colorful performances. I was very impressed by Rhys Ifan, who have a subtle, yet slightly sinister performance as Snowden's C.I.A. mentor Corbin O'Brian. Shailene Woodley was excellent as Snowden's girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, who nearly became an emotional victim of his profession. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt gave an outstanding performance as the titled character, Edward Snowden. His performance was subtle, emotional and very skillful . . . worthy of an acting nomination.

So, why did "SNOWDEN" fail to impress me? The performances were top-notch. The topic of illegal government surveillance struck me as not only controversial, but also relevant. Or perhaps the topic had ceased to be relevant with American moviegoers. Society's taste in entertainment has grown disturbingly conservative over the past several years. It is possible that many moviegoers were more outraged over Snowden's actions, than the government's. Or perhaps Stone's timing for the movie's production and release was a year or two late. 

But if I must be honest, "SNOWDEN" seemed to lack something . . . perhaps some touch of magic or energy that made some of his past films memorable to this day. In fact, the movie reminded me of the 2010 Best Picture winner, "THE KING'S SPEECH". Many recall that movie was a box office and garnered a great deal of accolades. True. But aside from Colin Firth's Best Actor win, I never thought it deserved its accolades. Both movies struck me as entertaining, yet unoriginal biopics. I suspect that the 2010 movie benefited from the public's growing conservative taste in entertainment. And it did not help that "SNOWDEN" ended with an appearance from the actual man himself. I dislike it when a filmmaker does this. For me, it is like tacking on a "behind-the-scenes" featurette at the end of a film, giving the latter a weak ending.

Do not get me wrong. I enjoyed "SNOWDEN". I found its topic very interesting and relevant. I was also impressed by the cast, which was led by the very talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role. Oliver Stone did a solid job in covering the years that led to Edward Snowden's whistle blowing. And thanks to him, the movie featured some interesting moments from a cinematic point-of-view. But overall, "SNOWDEN" struck me as a not-so-dazzling effort from Stone. It struck me as a bit too typical for a historical drama and biopic.

Friday, January 27, 2017

"Judging Elizabeth Poldark"

Poldark 1159b8eb3427a5e02cc09ae09b916ef5


To this day, I am amazed at the level of hostility directed at the Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark character in the two BBC series titled, "POLDARK". Quite frankly, I find this hostility to be bordered on the level of a psychotic. 

Then it finally occurred to me.

Perhaps the real reason why so many fans dislike Elizabeth – and I am making a major assumption here - is that they see her as an obstacle in the road to Ross Poldark and Demelza Carne Poldark’s "twu luv" or "perfect" relationship. As far as these fans are concerned, Ross and Demelza should spend their entire marriage, projecting the image of perfect love, with nothing or no one – including themselves - posing a threat to their relationship. But there is a problem. Ross continued to harbor feelings for Elizabeth, his first love, even after his marriage to Demelza, his former kitchen maid. Even Elizabeth continued to have feelings for Ross, despite her marriage to his cousin, Francis Poldark. 

However, Elizabeth has tried her best to keep her feelings toward Ross to herself. She has tried her best to work at making her marriage to Francis work – despite his insecurities and screw ups. Yet, since Francis’ loss of his fortune and mine at a card game, Elizabeth may have reached a breaking point in trying to maintain some semblance of affection toward her husband. Ross, on the other hand, seemed less disciplined in keeping his feelings for Elizabeth in check. He is in love with his wife, Demelza. There is no doubt. Unfortunately, Ross seemed incapable of moving past Elizabeth's rejection of him. There have been moments when he has either expressed his feelings or come dangerously close to openly expressing his feelings for her. The 1975-1977 version of "POLDARK" featured one episode in which Ross managed to convince Elizabeth to leave Francis and run away with him. Even after he had sex with Demelza in the previous episode. One episode in the current adaptation made it clear that Ross was in love with both his wife and Elizabeth, when he had admitted it to his cousin Verity.

Many fans of the current series had reacted with disgust or dismay over the idea that Ross loved both Demelza and Elizabeth. In fact, many fans - either forty years ago or today - seemed incapable of understanding Ross' ability to love two women. It sees as if they wanted Ross to move past his feelings for Elizabeth and focus his love on Demelza. I understand why they would feel this way. With Ross focusing his love solely on Demelza, the viewers would be presented with a simpler and cleaner romance with no pesky little issues to cloud their relationship. But thanks to Winston Graham, Ross refused to do so. And instead of blaming Ross, many want to blame Elizabeth, because it was and still is easier to do. Graham provided his readers with an emotionally complicated relationship between Ross, Demelza, Elizabeth, Francis and even local banker George Warleggan that proved to be emotionally complicated. But these fans do not want complicated relationships or stories. They want their characters and the latter's relationships to be simple - at the level of a "romance novel for 16 year-olds". However, that is NOT what Winston Graham had written in his novels.

I am also beginning to wonder if Graham's portrayal of his protagonist as a man in love with two women had led many fans of the saga to harbor an unnatural and deep-seated hatred of Elizabeth. Not only do they seemed to be upset over Ross' continuing love for her, these fans seem to regard her as unworthy of Ross' affection, due to her rejection of him, following his return from the American Revolutionary War. For some reason, these fans seem incapable or unwilling to view Elizabeth as a complex woman with both virtues and flaws. And due to their excessive worship of Ross and Demelza’s relationship, they seem incapable of viewing those two as complex people with flaws … especially Demelza. 

I never understood why so many have described Elizabeth as some fragile, delicate woman, who was too weak to be her own woman, let alone stand on her own two feet. Yes, Elizabeth could be rather conservative in the manner in which she had chosen to live her life. I believe that this conservative streak had developed from her penchant for practicality. In fact, I believe that at times, she was too practical for her own good. This practical streak led her to desire financial stability just a bit too much - to the point that led her to engage in two questionable marriages. Elizabeth has also been accused of being cold and emotionally closed off from others. Hmmm . . . sounds like the typical complaints many have made about reserved or introverted individuals. As an introverted person myself, I speak from personal experience. I suspect that many would have admired her if she had been more like her cousin-in-law, Demelza Carne. Fans seemed to have gone into a tizzy over the former kitchen maid with a fiery temper, sharp tongue and even sharper wit. Demelza seemed to be the epiphany of the ideal woman - openly emotional, beautiful, earthy, and witty. Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark may not have been some female walking ball of fire, but she was certainly not some refrigerated hothouse flower, frigid bitch or limpid Stepford Wife. She was a living, breathing woman with her own passions, virtues and flaws. The thing with Elizabeth is that she was a reserved and private woman who believed in keeping her emotions to herself, due to 18th century society's demands for women and her own quiet nature.

I realize some might respond that Elizabeth should have been more open with her emotions . . . a trait that many seemed to regard as ideal for a woman. I would disagree. Elizabeth had to be her own woman. And if that meant being a reserved or private one, so be it. Besides, when did it become a crime for a woman - any woman - to be shy or reserved? Why is it so terrible to keep one’s feelings to oneself, especially if one is a woman? Why does a woman, especially a woman character, have to be outgoing, witty, sharp-tongued or "feisty" in order to be considered worthy of society? Am I supposed to regard myself as unworthy, because I am a reserved woman? 

I do get tired of the public either idealizing female characters that they like/love and castigating other female characters who do not live up to their ideal of what a woman should be. Especially a woman character like Elizabeth Poldark who was created by a 20th century writer or early 21st century woman character … even if said character is from a story set in a different time period. Male characters are not subjected to such narrow-minded thinking. They are allowed to be complex. It is amazing that despite the fact that we are now in the second decade of the 21st century, this society is still held back by some rampant patriarchy that refuses to leave - even among many women of all ages. And that is pretty damn sad.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

EL DORADO WEST" [PG] - Chapter Ten

The following is Chapter Ten of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849: 

From the Journal of Alice Fleming

Chapter Ten - Westward Ho!

May 6, 1849
Our wagon train finally left the wretched chaos of Westport and began the real journey west to California. Mr. Wendell (he had insisted that I call him Elias, but since I do not know him that well, I decided not to) suggested that I enjoy and appreciate the woods and greenery, while I can. By the end of the journey, the train will be traveling across flat prairies, deserts, shallow rivers and mountains. Even worse, there will be periods in we might not see a speck of green in sight.

Despite Mr. Wendell’s warnings, I still managed to look forward to seeing the West. Contrary to what my older brother Ben might believe, I had not accompanied him in order to escape our family’s reaction to my rejection of Charles Maxwell’s wedding proposal. I genuinely wanted to see the West. I suppose I can blame Mr. Ephraim Whitman for inflaming this desire within me with his tales of the West. He must have missed being a mountain man very much. Why on earth did he decide to spend his remaining years in a place like Cleveland, Ohio?

I was not the only one in our train, gripped with excitement over the journey’s beginning. Everyone, including the taciturn Mr. Bryant and Mr. Moore. Eyes sparkled, cheeks flushed and laughter trembled on everyone’s lips. Mrs. Robbins, bless her heart, retrieved an accordion from her wagon and began to sing a song that has recently become very popular:

Oh California! That’s the land for me!
I’m off to California with a banjo on my knee!”

What a time we had, leaving Westport!

May 8, 1849
We have finally arrived at Council Grove – "the point of no return". Our train camped near a small body of water called Bull Creek. Surrounded by cottonwoods and elms, it seemed very tranquil. Most of the westbound wagons usually formed into companies, here at Council Grove. Although we had already formed a company back at Westport, Mr. James saw no harm in allowing two more wagons to join us. He added that more than two wagons would be too large.

Two women and a man occupied one of the wagons that joined our company. The women wore the most gaudiest outfits imaginable. One of the woman, who possessed a cluster of pale blond curls hanging down her back wore a dress with three flounces, made of deep blue crepe de Chine. The other woman – who possessed olive skin, dark hair and dark eyes – wore a Fuschia Organdie Muslin dress with more flounces and tight narrow sleeves. Both were unsuitably dressed for the journey across the Plains. I could say the same about their male companion. He was a tall, lanky man who wore a dark, frock coat, striped trousers that were narrowly cut and a heavily-embroidered waist coat. Only his wide hat seemed suitable. Unlike the women, he rode a mount. It was not difficult to surmise what occupation they engaged in.

“May I ask who you are, sir?” Mr. Robbins addressed the flash gentleman. The latter’s name turned out to be Clive Anderson of Memphis and New Orleans. And his companions (more likely his employees) were Mary Lee Watkins and Lisette Guilbert. Apparently, they planned to open an ”establishment” in San Francisco. Mr. Robbins replied, “Well that’s fine sir . . . as long as you and your . . . ah, companions wait until we get to California before you open for business.” Mr. Anderson scowled at Mr. Robbins’ remark, but he remained silent. Both Mrs. Robbins and Mrs. Gibson made it clear that they did not want the trio to join the wagon company, but since they were the only females in the party, they were outvoted. Naturally, my vote did not count.

Two cousins from Delaware became the last travelers to join our company. Their names were Marcus and John Cross. I found nothing remarkable or interesting about them. However, they did not exactly make themselves known. After this last addition to the Robbins Company, our wagon train was ready for the journey to California.

End of Chapter Ten

Monday, January 23, 2017

"THE FAR PAVILIONS" (1983) Screenshots Gallery


Below are images from "THE FAR PAVILIONS", the 1983 television adaptation of M.M. Kaye's 1978 novel. Ben Cross, Amy Irving, Omar Sharif and Christopher Lee starred: 

"THE FAR PAVILIONS" (1983) Screenshots Gallery












Sunday, January 22, 2017

"MOROCCO" (1930) Review

"MOROCCO" (1930) Review

As a long time movie buff, I have read a great deal about Hollywood's Pre-Code Era, a brief period in which the film industry barely made an effort to enforce its Production Code, which forbade any open portrayal of controversial topics like sexual innuendos, prostitution, and excessive violence. Among the movies discussed during this period were the seven films that served as a collaboration between director Josef von Sternberg and actress Marlene Dietrich. 

The second film that the pair made together (and their first in Hollywood) was "MOROCCO", the 1930 adaptation of "Amy Jolly", Benno Vigny's 1927 novel. The movie, which also starred Gary Cooper and Adolphe Menjou is basically a melodramatic love story between Amy Brown, a cabaret singer, and an American-born Legionnaire named Tom Brown, who fall in love during the Rif War (also known as the Second Second Moroccan War), which was fought during the first half of the 1920s. Their potential romance is threatened by his womanizing and a wealthy Frenchman named Kennington La Bessière, who develops an interest in Amy. Also complicating Amy and Tom's potential love life is the latter's past affair with his commanding officer's wife, which has attracted the jealous attention of the officer, one Adjutant Caesar.

"MOROCCO" is not the first Dietrich-von Sternberg collaboration I have seen. And I am not going to pretend that it was their best film together. Because it was not. Once you strip away the iconic Dietrich moments during one of her cabaret act, the steamy chemistry between Dietrich and Cooper, and the exotic Moroccan setting; it is basically a somewhat lurid melodrama. I did not find the dialogue written by screenwriter Jules Furthman particularly 
scintillating. It was a miracle that both Cooper and Menjou were barely able to rise above some of the stiff dialogue. Poor Dietrich did not fare as well, due to "MOROCCO" being her first English-speaking movie. It was easy to see that the actress had to phonetically delivered her dialogue. The songs she had performed in the movie were not only unmemorable, but not very good . . . if I must be frank. And the action surrounding a particular battle scene in which the jealous Adjutant Caesar tries to kill Tom Brown came off as a bit uninspiring. 

But "MOROCCO" had its virtues. One, I was very impressed with Lee Garmes' cinematography for the movie. Between his soft-focus photography, Hans Dreier's art design and Elizabeth McGreary's production work; Yuma, Arizona made an excellent stand-in for Morocco. Two, the movie may have been a borderline turgid melodrama, but I must admit that I found the relationship between Amy Jolly and Tom Brown rather interesting. It seemed pretty obvious that both had been romantically damaged in the past and resorted to different means to deal with their pain. Amy resorted to projecting a cool and disdainful facade to any man who might express interest in her. And Tom resorted to womanizing - an act that nearly got him in trouble with Adjutant Caesar. And yet, no matter how they tried, the pair seemed unable to overcome their deep interest in each other. This was apparent when Cooper uttered what became for me, the movie's best line:

"I've told women about everything a man can say. I'm going to tell you something I've never told a woman before: I wish I'd met you ten years ago."

Dietrich's silent reaction to his words pretty much confirmed that Amy shared Tom's feelings. However, there were other aspects of "MOROCCO" that I found very interesting. Many have commented on that moment in the film in which Dietrich's Amy Jolly kissed a woman during her cabaret act. With the actress in a tuxedo and top hat and a playful expression on her face, I must admit that I found the moment very memorable myself. What I found equally memorable was the moment in which she tossed a flower at Cooper, who immediately tucked it behind his ear before regarding her with deep attraction. Cooper must have been very comfortable with his masculinity in order to shoot that particular scene. Although I was not that impressed by the battle scene featuring the Legionnaires and the Moroccans, I must admit that I found Caesar's final moment on screen hard to forget. But if there is one scene that will always stick with me is that last scene with Amy joining a group of camp followers, marching across the desert in the wake of Tom and the other Legionnaires in his regiment. That scene of a bare-footed Amy with the other camp followers, with the desert sand blowing and the wind emitting from the soundtrack, is something I do not think I will ever forget. I thought it was a very classic ending to a somewhat classic film.

"MOROCCO" featured some solid performances from the supporting cast. I was especially impressed by Ullrich Haupt as Adjutant Caesar, Eve Southern as Madame Caesar, Francis McDonald as Sergeant Tatoche and Juliette Compton as Anna Dolores. As for the leads . . . Adolphe Menjou gave a charming and charismatic performance as the wealthy Kennington La Bessière. However, there were times when I found it hard to believe that his La Bessière was so infatuated with Amy. He simply did not seem that passionate toward her . . . at least to me. I think Gary Cooper fared somewhat better as the womanizing Legionnaire Tom Brown. Despite his portrayal of Tom's attitude toward Amy and other women, I feel that Cooper was a little more successful in conveying his character's true feeling for Amy. As I had stated earlier, I believe that Marlene Dietrich's lack of experience with the English language and phonetically delivery of her dialogue led her to come off as a bit stiff in some of her scenes. I am amazed that she managed to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Although she more than managed to rise to the occasion in scenes that either did not require dialogue from her or when her character performed on the stage.

But you know what? Despite its flaws - and it had plenty, I rather enjoyed "MOROCCO" very much. It never tried to pretend to be more than it was - merely a romantic melodrama in an exotic setting. Despite the movie's turgid nature, I thought Josef von Sternberg did an excellent job in maintaining my interest in the story with a well-balanced pacing. The movie also featured some interesting and complex characters that were performed not only by a solid supporting cast, but also three charismatic leads who would continue to forge successful careers - namely Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich and Adolphe Menjou.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Top Ten Favorite Episodes of "BOARDWALK EMPIRE" (2010-2014)


Below are my top ten favorite episodes from HBO's "BOARDWALK EMPIRE" (2010-2014). Created by Terence Winter, the series starred Steve Buscemi: 



1. (2.11) "Under God's Power She Flourishes" - Following his wife Angela's death, Jimmy Darmody recalls his school days at Princeton and a fateful visit from his mother, Gillian. Atlantic City political boss Enoch "Nucky" Thompson stumbles across a discovery that ends Agent Nelson Van Alden's career as a Federal lawman. And a confrontation between Jimmy and Gillian over Angela ends with the death of Atlantic City's power broker, Commodore Louis Kaestner.

1 - 4.12 Farewell Daddy Blues

2. (4.12) "Farewell Daddy Blues" - In this explosive Season Four finale, Eli Thompson's reluctant attempt to betray Nucky to the FBI conclude unexpectedly; and the final confrontation between Atlantic City's black political boss Albert "Chalky" White and usurper Dr. Valentin Narcisse result in a double tragedy.


3. (3.11) "Two Imposters" - In this nail biting episode, Nucky goes on the run, when nemesis "Gyp" Rossetti and his crew take over the city; forcing Nucky to seek Chalky's help. Following Rossetti's takeover of the city, Gillian Darmody forces henchman Richard Harrow to leave her whorehouse.


4. (2.12) "To the Lost" - In this Season Two finale, the Federal charges against Nucky are dropped after he weds his mistress, Margaret Schroeder. Van Alden flees Atlantic City for Cicero, Illinois. And Jimmy seeks to regain Nucky's forgiveness, after his betrayal against the political boss falls apart.

2 - 4.10 White Horse Pike

5. (4.10) "White Horse Pike" - Nucky's new lady love, Sally Wheat, discovers that heroin id being slipped into their bootleg shipments by future mob bosses Charlie Luciano and Meyer Lansky at Masseria's behest. Chalky fails to kill Narcisse and finds himself on the run with his singer/mistress Daughter Maitland.

6. (1.11) "Paris Green" - This episode featured many shake-ups in the relationships of Nucky and Margaret; Van Alden and his assistant, Agent Sebso; Jimmy and his relationships with his real father, the Commodore, Nucky, and Angela.


7. (2.10) "Georgia Peaches" - While Jimmy deals with the workers' strike and Nucky's new supply of Irish whiskey, Philadelphia mobster Manny Horvitz seeks revenge for Jimmy's failed attempt on his life.


8. (3.12) "Margate Sands" - In this bloody Season Three finale, Richard Harrow takes matters into his own hands, as he attempts to get young Tommy Darmody out of Gillian's whorehouse, now occupied by Rossetti's men. Chalky White, Al Capone help Nucky engage in a bloody battle to regain control of Atlantic City on the latter's behalf.

9. (1.01) "Boardwalk Empire" - The ninety (90) minute series' premiere episode introduced Atlantic City treasurer, Enoch "Nucky" Johnson at the dawn of Prohibition in January 1920; and his plans to make himself and his associates very rich from the bootlegging business.

4 - 4.01 New York Sour

10. (4.01) "New York Sour" - Chalky's lieutenant Durnsley White encounters trouble with a booking-agent and his wife; heroin addict Gillian Darmody tries to regain custody of her grandson Tommy; and Nucky makes peace with Arnold Rothstein and Joe Masseria.
TAGS: 1910s1920sboardwalk empiredabney colem

Saturday, January 14, 2017

"JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK" (2016) Photo Gallery


Below are images from "JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK", the 2016 adaptation of "Never Go Back", Lee Childs' 2013 novel. Directed by Edward Zwick, the movie stars Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher: 

"JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK" (2016) Photo Gallery

Friday, January 13, 2017

"THE ACCOUNTANT" (2016) Review

"THE ACCOUNTANT" (2016) Review

I have seen some unusual crime dramas in my life. Most of these films or television programs usually revolved around odd narrative structures, characters in unusual situations or characters with eccentric ticks. And I have also seen the occasional film about autistic characters. But for the likes of me, I cannot recall seeing a crime drama of any form in which the main character is autistic . . . until I saw the recent film, "THE ACCOUNTANT"

Written by Bill Dubuque and directed by Gavin O'Connor, "THE ACCOUNTANT" told the story of Christian Wolff, a mental calculator who works as a forensic accountant at ZZZ Accounting in Plainfield, Illinois. Christian also tracks insider financial deceptions for numerous criminal enterprises. His services are brokered to him by a "Voice on his phone", from a restricted number. Christian had been diagnosed with a high-functioning form of autism and offered an opportunity to live at Harbor Neuroscience Institute in New Hampshire. However, his Army officer father thought otherwise and decided Christian learn to overcome his autism via extensive training in martial arts and sharpshooting. This decision drove Christian's mother to leave his family, which included a younger brother. 

The story begins with "The Voice" giving Christian a new assignment - auditing state-of-the-art robotics corporation Living Robotics, whose in-house accountant, Dana Cummings, has found suspicious financial discrepancies. The company's CEO and his sister, Lamar Blackburn, and his sister, associate Rita Blackburn, willingly cooperate with Christian's investigation; but CFO Ed Chilton dismisses Dana's findings as a mistake. When Christian - with minor help from Dana - eventually discover the embezzlement of $61 million dollars from the company, a hitman named Braxton forces the diabetic Chilton to self-administer a fatal insulin overdose by threatening to kill both him and his wife brutally in the manner of a home invasion. The Blackburns later surmises that Chilton was the embezzler and close the investigation, leaving Christian distraught as he has not completed his study. However, the embezzler decides that both Christian and Dana still poses a major threat and instructs Braxton and his men to kill the pair. At the same time, Christian's past activities have attracted the attention of Raymond King, the director of FinCEN in the Treasury Department, who recruits a young data analyst named Marybeth Medina into helping him identify and arrest Christian. He does this via blackmail by threatening to expose her undeclared criminal past if she refuses. 

Judging from the above mentioned plot, one would surmise that "THE ACCOUNTANT" has a complicated plot. I would not say that. I would not label Dubuque's screenplay as simplistic or unoriginal. But I must admit that the embezzlement plot was not exactly a brain teaser for me. It did not take me very long to figure out the identity of the embezzler and Braxton's client. More importantly, Christian's final encounter with the embezzler ended on a . . . well, anti-climatic note for me. Let me rephrase this. That final encounter started out rather exciting, due to Christian's fights with Braxton and his men, who found themselves serving as the embezzler's bodyguard. But the manner in which that entire action scene ended struck me as anti-climatic and rather disappointing.

Despite its ending, I must admit that I found most of "THE ACCOUNTANT" rather enjoyable. The creme of the movie proved to be its deep exploration of the Christian Wolff character struck me as very interesting - especially the flashbacks featuring his childhood and the tragic circumstances that led to his father's death. The story delved into his problems with overcoming his autism, his father's refusal to consent professional counseling for his, and his struggles to interact with others. The movie also explored Christian's few successes in forming relationships with a small handful of people that include his younger brother; the mute daughter of the Harbor Neuroscience Institute's director named Justine; an accountant he had met during a brief stint in prison named Francis Silverberg; an Illinois farm couple that allowed him to practice his sharpshooting on his property; and Dana Cummings. I was also taken by surprised by Christian's connection to FinCEN Agent King and the latter's reason for coercing Agent Medina to investigate the case. Perhaps this is why "THE ACCOUNTANT" worked better as a character study/crime drama . . . without the mystery of the embezzler's identity attached to it.

"THE ACCOUNTANT" featured some solid performances from the supporting cast that included John Lithgow, Jean Smart, Jeffrey Tambor, Andy Umberger, Alison Wright, Robert C. Treveiler, Ron Prather and Susan Williams. But I especially enjoyed Jon Bernthal's performance as the ruthless, yet sardonic hit man, Braxton. I also enjoyed Cynthia Addai-Robinson's portrayal as the blackmailed Agent Marybeth Medina, whose fear of being exposed gradually crumbled away due to a desire to pursue justice. J.K. Simmons gave an interesting performance as Agent Ray King, whose ruthless pursuit of Christian proved to be unusually emotional. Anna Kendrick gave a rather charming performance as accountant Dana Cummings, whose original response to Christian seemed to be one of bewilderment. As the two become close, both Kendrick and Ben Affleck developed a charming, sibling-like chemistry on-screen. 

Speaking of Affleck, I thought he gave one of the most interesting performances of his career, so far. I realize that many critics and moviegoers tend to overlook Affleck's acting skills - something that I never understood - but I thought he really knocked it out of the ballpark portraying a character who was not only a highly skilled ex-military type, but also someone who is both a mental calculator and is autistic. Hollywood has featured a lead who is autistic (1988's "RAIN MAN") and even a young autistic boy who had witnessed a murder (1998's "MERCURY RISING"). But a leading man in an action film? The character of Christian Wolff and Ben Affleck's performance was something quite new to me. 

Yes, I will admit that I was a little disappointed by the mystery surrounding the movie's embezzling plot. I was also a bit disappointed by how the movie's final action sequence ended. I found it a bit too anti-climatic. But I really enjoyed the rest of the movie, especially its portrayal of the main character, Christian Wolff. I thought director Gavin O'Connor handled both an interesting story created by screenwriter Bill Dubuque and an excellent cast, led by the talented Ben Affleck, in what I believe might be one of his most interesting roles.

Monday, January 9, 2017

"SCARECROW AND MRS. KING": Top Five Favorite Season One (1983-1984) Episodes


Below is a list of my favorite Season One episodes from the CBS series, "SCARECROW AND MRS. KING". Created by Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming, the series starred Kate Jackson and Bruce Boxleitner: 


1 - 1.03 If Thoughts Could Kill

1. (1.03) "If Thoughts Could Kill" - After checking into a hospital for a routine checkup, government agent Lee Stetson (a.k.a. "Scarecrow") is slowly brainwashed into becoming an assassin by a former Agency physician.

2 - 1.12 Lost and Found

2. (1.12) "Lost and Found" - While protecting a ESP expert who had defected from the Soviet Union, Lee is reunited with his former lover, the ESP expert's current wife.

3 - 1.13 I Am Not Now Nor Have I Ever Been a Spy

3. (1.13) "I Am Not Now Nor Have I Ever Been a Spy" - A case of amnesia causes recently recruited spy and suburban divorcee Amanda King to forget vital information about terrorists.

4 - 1.18 Filming Raul

4. (1.18) "Filming Raul" - Amanda and Lee tries to help a parking lot attendant for the Agency and film director wannabe, who had filmed an attempted kidnapping of an Agency courier. This makes him the target of enemy agents.

5 - 1.01 Pilot

5. (1.01) "The First Time" - The series' pilot episode reveals how Amanda became an agent for the Agency, when she is given a package by Lee - an act that leads to their first adventure together.

HM - 1.10 The Long Christmas Eve

Honorable Mention: (1.10) "The Long Christmas Eve" - Amanda and Lee's violent encounter with two KGB agents lead to a long night on Christmas Eve, inside an isolated cabin.