Thursday, January 9, 2020
Below are images from "IRONCLADS", the 1991 made-for-television movie about the Battle of Hampton Roads during the U.S. Civil War. Directed by Delbert Mann, the movie starred Virginia Masden, Reed Diamond and Alex Hyde-White:
"IRONCLADS" (1991) Photo Gallery
Wednesday, January 1, 2020
“WORLD WAR Z” (2013) Review
I might as well state it outright. I am not a fan of horror movies. Actually, I hate them. I had once considered ignoring “THE MUMMY”, Stephen Sommer’s 1999 remake of an old Boris Karloff film, until my sister convinced me that it was more of an adventure flick than a horror film. But my dislike of horror films remained intact when I first learned of the new Brad Pitt movie, “WORLD WAR Z”.
Barely based upon Max Brooks’ 2006 novel, “WORLD WAR Z” is an apocalyptic tale about a former a former United Nations investigator who must travel the world to find a way to stop a zombie-like pandemic. The movie starts in Philadelphia, where Gerry Lane and his family are stuck in heavy traffic in Philadelphia, while they listen to a radio report of a rabies outbreak that has spread all over the world. Following a series of explosions, the Lanes are attacked by zombies. Those bitten are transformed into zombies after 12 seconds. While the attacks continue, the Lanes narrowly escape to an apartment complex and seek refuge with another family to wait for extraction by a helicopter sent by Gerry’s former UN colleague, the Deputy Secretary-General Thierry Umutoni. After a brief struggle in which Gerry is almost infected, the family reaches the helicopter and is taken to a U.S. Navy vessel off the coast of New York City. There, a team of analysts and military personnel analyze the zombie virus outbreak. A virologist name Dr. Andrew Fassbach suggests that they need to find the origin of the zombie plague in order for a vaccine to be developed. Because of his expertise as a former UN investigator, Gerry is tasked – actually blackmailed by a high-ranking Naval officer – with helping Dr. Fassback to find the source of the zombie virus.
Considering my initial declaration of my dislike toward horror films, one would probably speculate on why I went to see “WORLD WAR Z” in the first place. Like 1999’s “THE MUMMY”, the movie seemed more like an adventure film than a horror flick – especially since the plot required a worldwide apocalypse and a great deal of traveling for the main character. And if I must brutally honest, cast members such as Brad Pitt, James Badge Dale and Matthew Fox were the deciding factor. I could never envision any of them in a typical horror film and assumed there must be more to “WORLD WAR Z”than a bunch of shuffling zombies in a darkened room. To my utter relief, my assumptions proved to be right.
Max Brooks’ novel focused upon a collection of individual accounts about a zombie pandemic and war that had just ended after a decade. The producers; writers J. Michael Straczynski and Michael Carnahan; and screenwriters Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof decided that Brooks’ story structure would not sustain a viable movie. Instead, they changed the story’s structure to make it more action oriented tale that centered around a main character. Aside from a few quibbles about the plot, I had no problems with this decision. “WORLD WAR Z” still proved to be an exciting and rather frightening tale that provided plenty of family drama, action and a great deal of traveling. In one way, “WORLD WAR Z” reminded me of Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film, “CONTAGION” – but with some horror and traveling thrown into it.
There were certain action scenes that I found particularly exciting and are particular favorites of mine. Two of these scenes feature escape – namely the Lanes’ rescue by a team of Navy SEALs from a New Jersey apartment building rooftop and Gerry’s escape from Tel Aviv with an Israeli soldier named Segen. I found two scenes – the Lanes’ search for sanctuary at the New Jersey apartment building; and Lane and Segen’s attempt to get their hands on a pathogen for a cure at a World Heath’s Organization (W.H.O.) in Wales – particularly spine-tingling. Almost nerve wracking. But the movie also featured a few excellent dramatic scenes. Among my favorites include Umutoni and Captain Mullenaro’s successful attempt to convince Lane to search for the zombie virus’ origins; Lane’s good-byes to his wife Karin and their daughter; Lane and Army Captain Speke’s conversation with a former CIA operative, who led the former to Israel; and Lane’s initial meeting with a grieving WHO medical researcher.
Although I enjoyed “WORLD WAR Z”, I must admit that I had a few problems with some of plot. I was annoyed that either the screenwriters or director Marc Forster failed to do a proper setup of the story’s main narrative – namely the zombie virus. The movie featured a montage of news reports during the opening credits and a few television and radio reports before the Lane family found themselves overwhelmed by the zombie outbreak on the streets of Philadelphia – some five to ten minutes after the movie began. I was also disappointed that the movie’s plot dropped Lane’s search for the zombie pandemic’s origins and instead solely focused on finding a cure during the last 30 to 40 minutes. So, although the W.H.O. managed to develop a vaccine to prevent the rest of the world’s population from getting infected, the movie ended with no knowledge of the pandemic’s origins. Just a outbreak of military hostilities against the zombies. I found all of this somewhat unsatisfying.
However, I did not find the performances unsatisfying. Once again, Brad Pitt proved that he could be a satisfying action hero and dramatic actor all rolled into one, thanks to his first-rate performance as former U.N. investigator, Gerry Lane. Mireille Enos’ portrayal of Lane’s wife Karin struck me as perfectly poignant and emotional, as she struggled to keep her family together during Gerry’s absence. I have never heard of Fana Mokoena before this movie. But I must admit that I found his performance as the compassionate, yet professional U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Thierry Umutoni very impressive. I hope that “WORLD WAR Z” will make Daniella Kertesz a star. I was very impressed by her performance as Lane’s Israeli companion, “Segen”.
“WORLD WAR Z” also featured some excellent performances from cast members who made brief appearances. One of them came from David Andrews, who gave an intense portrayal of the U.S. Navy captain that convinced Lane to search for the zombie pandemic’s origins. David Morse was equally intense and rather humorous as a traitorous ex-CIA agent, who provided Lane with information that led the latter to Israel. James Badge Dale, who seemed to be having a banner year in 2013, was even more witty as U.S. Army Ranger Captain Speke, who was in charge of a base in South Korea. Ludi Boeken gave a solid performance as a Mossad official responsible for preparing Israel’s pre-emptive defences. Peter Capaldi’s performance as a W.H.O. researcher also struck me as very solid and at times, rather witty. Matthew Fox reminded me just how very effect he could be in action films in his very brief role as a U.S. Navy SEAL officer who saves the Lanes from a zombie attack on the rooftop of the New Jersey apartment building. But the one cameo appearance that really impressed me came from Pierfrancesco Favino, who gave a poignant and intense performance as a W.H.O. researcher, who reminded Lane that the latter was not the only one who suffered from separation family members.
Yes, I had a few problems with the plot for “WORLD WAR Z”. I wish the screenwriters had put more detail in the zombie pandemic’s setup. And I was disappointed that the search for the pandemic’s origins had been dropped. But overall, I enjoyed “WORLD WAR Z” very much, despite it being a movie about zombies. Overall, Marc Forster did an excellent job as the movie’s director. And he was ably supported by fine performances from a skillful cast led by Brad Pitt. But do not expect me to become a fan of zombie stories in films and television in the future.
Wednesday, December 25, 2019
Below is a list of my top five favorite Season Two episodes from the AMC series "HELL ON WHEELS". Created by Joe and Tony Gayton, the series stars Anson Mount, Colm Meany, Common and Dominique McElligott:
TOP FIVE FAVORITE "HELL ON WHEELS" Season Two (2012) Episodes
1. (2.06) "Purged Away With Blood" - Thor Gundersen (aka "The Swede") and the Reverend Nathaniel Cole aid the Lakota in their war against the railroad with the hijacking of a Chicago-bound train.
2. (2.02) "Durant, Nebraska" - Businessman and investor Thomas "Doc" Durant discover that the Lakota had ransacked a town named after him and declared war on his railroad construction. Meanwhile, Cullen Bohannon is freed from an U.S. Army prison by an unlikely ally, following his brief stint as a robber.
3. (2.09) "Blood Moon" - While being interrogated by an Army officer, Cullen reveals the string of incidents that led to an attack on the Hell on Wheels by the Lakota. Matters come to a head between Elam Ferguson, former prostitute Eva and her new husband, Gregory Toole.
4. "Scabs" (2.04) - Following the torture of a railroad worker by the Lakota, the rail crews go on strike. Meanwhile, Eva announces her pregnancy to both Elam and Toole.
5. "The White Spirit" (2.07) - Gundersen returns to Hell on Wheels to help the widowed Lily Bell with the railroad's accounts - against Cullen's wishes, who wants to arrest him for the attack led by Reverend Cole.
Saturday, December 21, 2019
Below are images from "WHITE HOUSE DOWN", the 2013 action thriller. Directed by Roland Emmerich, the movie starred Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx:
"WHITE HOUSE DOWN" (2013) Photo Gallery
Friday, December 6, 2019
"VANTAGE POINT" (2008) Review
"VANTAGE POINT" is a tightly woven thriller about eight strangers with eight different points of view of an assassination attempt on the President of the United States, during an anti-terrorism summit in Salamanca, Spain. Directed by Pete Travis and written by Barry Levy, the movie starred Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt.
When I had first saw the trailer for "VANTAGE POINT" four years ago, I had assumed it would be one of those remakes of the Japanese film, "RASHOMON" (1950). I figured there would be an assassination attempt on the President and the film would follow with various points of view on the incident. This is what actually happened in "VANTAGE POINT" . . . but not quite. "VANTAGE POINT" did reveal the assassination attempt from various points of view. In "RASHOMON" and other versions of the film, those views are shown as flashbacks. But in "VANTAGE POINT" each point of view is not a flashback. Instead, each POV merely gives a certain view of the story, while the story moves forward. For example, the movie started out with the point of view of a news producer (Sigourney Weaver), before ending at a particular point in the story. The next point of view belongs to Secret Service agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), which ends a little further in the story than the news producer’s POV. And so on. The movie ends with an exciting action sequence told from the various viewpoints of the major characters – heroes and villains.
The more I think about "VANTAGE POINT", the more I realize how much I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the tight setting of Salamanca, Spain (actually the film was shot in Mexico). I must add that one of the things I enjoyed about this movie was that Levy’s script had a way of putting a twist on any assumptions anyone might form about the plot. I loved how Travis handled the film’s action, making it well-paced. I enjoyed the performances of the major cast members. I was especially impressed by the performances of Dennis Quaid as the emotionally uncertain Barnes, who eventually pieced together the real plot. I also enjoyed the performances of Matthew Fox as his fellow Secret Service agent, Forest Whitaker as an American tourist and Edgar Ramirez ("THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM") as a Spanish Special Forces soldier involved in the plot against the President. But more importantly, I loved Barry Levy’s script, which put a twist on any assumptions the moviegoer may have formed about the story’s plotlines and characters. My only quibble with "VANTAGE POINT" was the interaction between Whitaker’s character and a Spanish girl, which I found slightly contrived near the end of the movie.
"VANTAGE POINT" did pretty well at the box office. Unfortunately, most critics compared it unfavorably to "RASHOMON". Personally, I do care about the critics' opinion. "VANTAGE POINT" was the type of movie that forced the audience to think. And I suspect that many moviegoers and critics would have preferred a film that laid everything out in the open. And since I have a history of liking movies that are not popular with the public or film critics, all I can say is that I am personally glad that I had purchased the DVD for this movie. It ended up becoming one of my favorite 2008 movies.
Friday, November 29, 2019
"BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER" RETROSPECT: (4.08) "Pangs"
Tomorrow is the Thanksgiving holiday. And another three to four weeks will pass until Christmas arrives. I originally had no intentions to watch the Season Four episode from "BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER" called (4.08) "Pangs". But I could not stop thinking about it and decided . . . why not?
Season Four has never been that popular with fans of "BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER". It was the first season that did not feature the vampire Angel as a regular character. And it marked the beginning of Buffy Summer's romance with university teaching assistant/Army demon hunter Riley Finn. And many fans were not that thrilled by the Initiative storyline. I have never had a problem with Season Four. Mind you, I would not count it as among my top four out of seven seasons. But it featured at least two of my favorite "BUFFY" episodes of all time. And one of them is the holiday-themed "Pangs".
While preparing a Thanksgiving feast for her close friends in the absence of her mother, University of California Sunnydale student and vampire slayer Buffy Summers encounters the restless and vengeful spirit of a Native American, called Hus, whose people - the Chumash tribe - were wiped out by Spanish and American settlers. Hus's spirit was released during a groundbreaking ceremony for U.C. Sunnydale's new Anthropology building. Hus managed to murder the Curator for the building's museum and a local priest who had attending the ceremony. During her frantic efforts to prepare Thanksgiving and deal with Hus, Buffy is unaware that former boyfriend Angel has returned to Sunnydale to keep an eye on her, after a friend of his (former regular character Cordelia Chase) has received a vision of her being in danger. She is also unaware that soon-to-be boyfriend Riley Finn is part of an U.S. Army program called the Initiative, which hunts down and experiments on demons. One of the Initiative's victims turned out to be Buffy's current nemesis, vampire Spike, who had managed to escape from his Initiative prison in the previous episode, (4.07) "The Initiative". Due to his inability to feed upon or commit violence against humans, Spike is slowly starving. He first seeks help and refuge from fellow vampire Harmony, who refuses to have anything to do with him. Desperate, he turns to Buffy and the other Scoobies for refuge in exchange for information about the Initiative.
"Pangs" did provide a few problems for me. One, the episode's writer, Jane Espenson, erroneously stated that the Chumash had been wiped out. Despite the Spanish, Mexican and American governments; the band still exists. Two, Buffy informed her friends that her mother Joyce left Sunnydale to spend Thanksgiving with an aunt. Why did Buffy, who was eighteen at the time, stay in Sunnydale? Why did she fail to accompany her mother for what was obviously a family gathering? Did Buffy have something against this particular "Aunt Pauline"? Three, during her last fight with Hus and the Chumash spirits he had summoned, Buffy unsuccessfully used her knife on Hus and claimed that he and his fellow spirits do not die. Yet, in a scene later, Angel managed to break the neck of one Chumash spirit and impale another with a knife. Hmmmm . . . I smell inconsistency in the air. And four, Angel's visit to Sunnydale led to the "ANGEL" Season One episode, (1.08) "I Will Remember You", which I loathe with every fiber of my being.
Aside from these narrative hiccups, "Pangs" remains a personal favorite of mine. At first glance, it seemed like a stand-alone episode that had nothing to do with the season and series' plot arc. As it turned out, it did. "Pangs" marked the first time Spike would hang out with the Scoobies. It led to another setback in Buffy and Angel's relationship. It marked the first time that the Scoobies became aware of the Initiative, thanks to Spike. And it provided another chapter in Buffy's growing relationship with Riley Finn. This seems like an awful lot, considering that this episode mainly focused on Buffy dealing with a Thanksgiving feast and a vengeance spirit - two topics that were quickly resolved by the end. But Espenson and director Michael Lange. But the best things I can say about "Pangs" is that it featured superb performances and some incredibly funny dialogue and camera visuals.
I tried to think of some of the best dialogue found in the episode and came across several lines. Among my favorites featured Buffy's ability to remain focused . . . or obssessed with her feast, while discussing their problems with Hus. However, one should not be surprised that Spike was responsible for the funniest moment in the episode in a scene that featured both Buffy and her friend Willow Rosenberg's reluctance to destroy Hus, due to their guilt over the country's past with Native Americans:
BUFFY: Will, you know how bad I feel. This is eating me up -- (to Anya, who holds up the bottle of brandy) -- a quarter cup, and let it simmer -- (to Willow, as Anya goes back) -- but even though it's hard, we
have to end this. Yes, he's been wronged, and I personally would be ready to apologize...
SPIKE: Oh, someone put a stake in me!
XANDER: You got a lot of volunteers in here...
SPIKE: I just can't take this mamby-pamby boo-hooing over the bloody Indians!
WILLOW: The preferred term is --
SPIKE: You won! All right? You came in and you killed them and you took their land. That's what conquering nations do! That's what Caesar did, he's not going around saying "I came, I conquered, I felt really bad about it!" The history of the world is not people making friends. You had better weapons, you massacred them, end of story!
BUFFY: Well, I think the Spaniards actually did a lot of... not that I don't like Spaniards...
SPIKE: Listen to you! How are you gonna fight anybody with that attitude?
WILLOW: We don't want to fight anybody.
BUFFY: I just want to have Thanksgiving.
SPIKE: Yeah, good luck.
WILLOW: If we could talk to him --
SPIKE: You exterminated his race. What could you possibly say that would make him feel better? It's kill
or be killed here. Take your bloody pick.
James Marsters really acted the hell out of that scene. And I am not surprised. To this day, I believe that his portrayal of Spike was one of the best television performances I have ever seen . . . period. And he was really marvelous in this episode. So were Anthony Stewart Head, who did a top-notch job in giving a comic twist to a Rupert Giles who found himself manipulated by Buffy into holding the Scoobies' Thanksgiving feast at his apartment; Alyson Hannigan, who was also superb as best friend/witch Willow Rosenberg, who did not hesitate to express her conflict between dealing with Hus and her guilt over the region's ugly past in dealing with the Chumash people. Nicholas Brandon and Emma Caufield gave fine support as Buffy's two other friends, Xander Harris and former vengeance demon Anya Jenkins. Marc Blucas was charming as Buffy's soon-to-be boyfriend, Riley Finn. And he was ably supported by an exuberant Leonard Roberts. Mercedes McNab displayed excellent comic timing in scenes that featured recently sired vampire Harmony Kendall's encounters with Spike and Xander. David Boreanaz took a break from his new series at the time, "ANGEL" to give an intense, yet at times funny performance as Buffy's ex-vampire squeeze, Angel. But the real star of this episode was Sarah Michelle Gellar. She gave both a hilarious, yet poignant performance, revealing Buffy's somewhat obssessive determination to make her Thanksgiving a success. In fact, I believe I enjoyed her performance even more than Marsters. And that is quite an accomplishment, considering that Marsters is a natural-born scene stealer.
Yes, "Pangs" had a few problems. And its main narrative surrounding the dangers of a Native American vengeance spirit did not exactly strike me as memorable. However, I do believe that the narrative made an interesting comment on how conflicted Americans have become in viewing our county's history. More importantly, Spike's comments on the cirumstances that led to Hus' path of vengeance is a brutal reminder of how monstrous human beings can be - a foreshadow of the Scoobies' future behavior later in the series. Thanks to Jane Espenson's hilarious script, Michael Lange's direction and a superb cast led by Sarah Michelle Geller, "Pangs" remains one of my favorite "BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER" episodes to this day.
Saturday, November 23, 2019
Below is a list of my top five favorite Season Two episodes of AMC's "MAD MEN":
TOP FIVE FAVORITE "MAD MEN" SEASON TWO (2008) Episodes
1. (2.08) "A Night to Remember" - During this game-changing episode, copywriter Peggy Olson agrees to help a friendly priest named Father Gill create a promotion for a Church-sponsored dance. Office manager Joan Holloway helps Television Advertiser Harry Crane read new television scripts and discovers that she likes the job. Still reeling from comedian Jimmy Barrett's revelation of Don Draper's infidelity, Betty Draper helps her husband with an important business dinner, before she later confronts him about his affair with Bobbie Barrett.
2. (2.05) "The New Girl" - Don and Bobbie heads out of the city for a night together, before getting into a traffic accident. Don recruits Peggy to help him cover up the incident. Meanwhile, a new Sterling-Cooper secretary named Jane Siegel begins working for Don.
3. (2.04) "Three Sundays" - Over the Easter holidays, Don and Betty clash over the discipline of their son Bobby. Peggy meets the new family priest, Father Gill. And Head of Advertising Duck Phillips recruits the agency in an effort to win over American Airlines as a new client.
4. (2.07) "The Gold Violin" - Art director Sal Romano develops a case of unrequited attraction for Accounts man Ken Cosgrove. Joan and Jane clash over an incident regarding a new painting in owner Bert Cooper's office. And Betty learns about Don's affair with Bobbie Barrett at a media party, thanks to her husband Jimmy.
5. (2.09) "Six Month Leave" - Owner Roger Sterling leaves his wife for Jane Siegel. Senior copy Freddie Rumsen's alcoholism spirals out of control. And the death of Marilyn Monroe has an impact upon the firm's female employees.