Monday, November 28, 2011

"THE DEBT" (2011) Review




"THE DEBT" (2011) Review

Four years ago, Assaf Bernstein directed a movie about three retired Mossad agents confronted by a challenge from their past in a movie called "THE DEBT". Just recently, John Madden directed a remake of this movie with the same title. Although originally intended for a December 2010 release date, the movie was finally released at the end of August.

This new version of "THE DEBT" The espionage thriller began in 1997, when two retired Mossad agents, Rachel as shocking news reaches retired Mossad secret agents Rachel Singer and Stefan Gold have received shocking news about their former colleague David Peretz. All three have been celebrated by Israel for thirty-one years for successfully tracking down a Nazi war criminal named Dieter Vogel back in 1965-55 in East Berlin. However, the reactions of both Rachel and Stefan and several flashbacks questioned whether or not if the team's mission was accomplished.

I have never seen the 2007 version. Which means there is no way I could compare this new version to the older one. But I could say this about "THE DEBT" . . . I thought it was one of the best movies I had seen this past summer. In fact, I thought it was one of the best movies I have seen this year. "THE DEBT" is a superb thriller about a dangerous mission to capture a Nazi war criminal - a mission that led to a labyrinth of lies, guilt, regrets and a desire to correct a mistake. The sequences set in Israel and Russia of the late 1990s and in flashback sequences, 1965-66 East Berlin. The three protagonists in the film proved to be a complicated trio, haunted by not only the Holocaust, but also their personal demons and desires.

The central figure in the story is Rachel Singer, a former Mossad agent who gave up her career when she became pregnant with her only child. Rachel spends the years 1965 to 1997 being caught between two men - the team's charismatic and womanizing leader, Stefan Gold; and the quiet and intense David Peretz. Both of them became attracted to her. But whereas Stefan viewed Rachel as a brief romance, David began falling in love with her. Rachel felt the same, but turned to Stefan for a one night stand - an act that ended up having major consequences in the relationship between the trio. In a very intense and well directed sequence, the agents finally managed to capture Vogel. But a bad encounter with East German guards at the Wollankstraße Station forced them to take Vogel back to their safe house and guard him, until they can find another way to get him to Israel. What followed was a deliciously acted cat-and-mouse game between manipulative Vogel and his three captors. The shocks and tensions continued, once the story shifted permanently to 1997. In that time frame, Rachel was forced to travel to Russia and clean up a mess caused by the major secret created by the three colleagues back in 1966. I wish I could give away the story, but to do so would give away the plot twists. All I can say is that one of the best aspects of this movie are the plot twists.

The acting was superb. Jesper Christensen, who had impressed me in the last two James Bond movies, was even more fascinating in his subtle performance as the ruthless, yet manipulative Dieter Vogel. Both Tom Wilkinson and Ciarán Hinds gave solid performances as the older Stefan and David. But the real star of the 1997 sequences was Helen Mirren, who was wonderful as an older Rachel, who believed that she had finally put the past behind her. She also proved that one could still be a first-rate female action star at the age of 65/66. If Helen Mirren was the star of the 1997 sequences, the real stars of the entire movie were Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington and Marton Csokas. In my review of 2010's "MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS", I had not been kind to Chastain's performance in that movie. A lot of my criticism had to do with how her character was written. But I must admit that she was superb as the younger Rachel, who found herself caught up not only in a deadly mission with a dangerous adversary; but also in an emotionally confusing situation between two men. Cskokas gave an enlightening performance as the colorful and commanding Stefan, whose extroverted facade hid an ambitious drive that made him willing to do anything to maintain his career. It was good to see Sam Worthington in a first-rate role after nearly two years. His portrayal of David Peretz was probably the most intense in the entire episode. Worthington did a superb job of conveying not only David's quietly expressed desire for Rachel, but also his reluctance to get emotionally involved with others following the loss of his entire family during the Holocaust.

If "THE DEBT" had one flaw - at least for me, it was the ending. I have to be honest. I usually do not mind if a movie ends on an ambiguous or vague note . . . as long as it works. For me, such an ending worked for the 2010 movie, "INCEPTION". The vague note on which "THE DEBT" ended, failed to work for me. It simply did not feel right and I had the suspicion that either Madden or screenwriters Matthew Vaughn, Kris Thykier, Eduardo Rossoff were trying to be just a little too artistic. And "THE DEBT" struck me as the type of story that did not need an ambiguous ending of that kind.

Despite the movie's unnecessarily vague ending, I must admit that I truly enjoyed "THE DEBT". It had an exciting and fascinating story that was served well by the screenwriters, director John Madden and a superb cast led by Helen Mirren and Sam Worthington. As I had stated earlier, it became one of my favorite movies of both the summer and of this year so far.

Friday, November 25, 2011

"THE IDES OF MARCH" (2011) Photo Gallery



Below are images from George Clooney's new political thriller called "THE IDES OF MARCH". The movie stars Ryan Gosling.


"THE IDES OF MARCH" (2011) Photo Gallery





























Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"CHARMED" RETROSPECT: (1.12) "The Wendigo"




"CHARMED" RETROSPECT: (1.12) "The Wendigo"

I really do not know what to say about the "CHARMED" Season One episode, (1.12) "The Wendigo". You know what? Of course I do. After all, it is one of my favorite episodes from that first season. In fact, it is one of my top twenty (20) "CHARMED" episodes of all time.

”The Wendigo” began with one Piper Halliwell stranded at a local San Francisco park, thanks to a flat tire. The episode immediately kicked into high gear when a supernatural beast attacked her. The beast managed to inflict a deep scratch on her arm before a savior arrived in the form of a young man, who used a flare gun to scare off the beast. While being treated at the hospital for her scratch, Piper and her two sisters – Prue and Phoebe – learned that Prue’s old flame, Inspector Andy Trudeau of the San Francisco Police Department, had been in contact with an FBI agent named Ashley Fallon, due to previous attacks by the beast in the city. The three sisters also discovered that Piper’s savior, Billy Waters, had a previous encounter with the beast that left his fiancée dead, in Chicago. Ever since his fiancée’s death, Billy and FBI Agent Fallon have been tracking the beast. It was Piper who learned from the family’s Book of Shadows that the beast is called a Wendigo, a werewolf/Sasquatch hybrid that hunts victims during the three days of the full moon in order to eat their hearts. Because of her scratch, Piper ended up in danger of also becoming a Wendigo.

Written by Edithe Swensen and directed by James Conway, ”The Wendigo” had its flaws, despite my feelings about it. The majority of those flaws stemmed from moments of bad acting and a problem with the script. The only problem I had with the script centered on FBI Agent Fallon’s failure to work with agents from the local FBI office in San Francisco. I realize that the local law enforcement would have been drawn into the case, once the attacks in San Francisco began. But it never made sense to me that Fallon, an agent from another regional office, would be the only one from her agency working on the case in San Francisco and not an agent from the local FBI office.

"The Wendigo" also featured a subplot in which Phoebe manages to wangle a job at Bucklands as Prue's assistant. While handling a bracelet to be sold at auction, Phoebe has flashes of a car accident. She discovered that the car in her vision had belonged to a private detective who was conveying a five year-old girl that had been kidnapped by her father. The subplot ended with Phoebe and Prue delivering the now eleven or twelve year-old girl to her mother. The subplot struck me as short, emotional and yet somewhat meaningless. Mere fodder to pad the episode.

As for the acting, there are three moments I found . . . questionable. One involved Piper’s gradual transformation into the Wendigo. Perhaps Holly Marie Combs had been instructed by director James Conway to portray this as a comedy scene. Unfortunately, Combs did not come off as funny to me. Her timing seemed off. Nor did she seem ominous. Just awkward. Another moment featured Jocelyn Seagrave’s performance in a scene in which her Special Agent Fallon had described a past heartbreak over being rejected by a former love. No offense to Miss Seagrave, but she did come off as slightly theatrical. The last scene featured Prue and Phoebe confronting the original Wendigo and Piper, who had finally transformed into the beast. After Phoebe fired a flare gun at Wendigo Piper, the latter froze the flare and the original Wendigo. While Prue and Piper debated over who was the real Wendigo, the actor or actress (it could have been Holly Marie Combs) inside the Wendigo Piper suit stood in one spot with hands in attack position, stood in one spot and wore an idiotic expression that seemed to say ”what do I do next?”. It was a rather stupid moment.

But despite these minor quibbles, I genuinely enjoyed ”The Wendigo”. It was an entertaining monster-of-the-week episode that featured a first-rate performance by Holly Marie Combs as the anxiety-ridden Piper who feared she was turning into a monster. Although both Shannen Doherty and Alyssa Milano gave fine support, I was especially impressed by T.W. King, whose Andy Trudeau seemed suitably torn over his broken romance with Prue and his attraction to Special Agent Fallon. Despite my complaint over Jocelyn Seagrave’s reading over one particular scene, I must admit that she did a stand-out job of portraying a credible Federal agent and had a strong screen chemistry with King. I also have to commend actor Billy Jayne for giving a strong and charismatic performance as Piper’s savior, Billy Waters.

Thanks to director James L. Conway, ”The Wendigo” was not only entertaining, but well-paced. And despite the missing presence of local FBI agents in San Francisco and the subplot, I have to admit that Edithe Swensen wrote a lively and solid episode with plenty of horror and suspense. Swensen was also sensible enough not to reveal the human identity of the Wendigo, until two-thirds into the episode.

Watching ”The Wendigo” reminded me of how entertaining ”CHARMED” could be during its early seasons. Before the writing in the series began to decline at a serious rate. Before the dark times. With the entire series now on DVD and airing as reruns on TNT, fans have a constant reminder of its glory days . . . including episodes like ”The Wendigo”.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"TOWARDS ZERO" (2007) Review




"TOWARDS ZERO" (2007) Review

When it comes to the television adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Jane Marple novels, I tend to stick with those that featured the late Joan Hickson as the elderly sleuth. However, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to watch a movie that starred Geraldine McEwan as Miss Jane Marple. And this movie is the 2007 adaptation of Christie’s 1944 novel called "Towards Zero".

The adaptation of Christie’s novel has drawn a good deal of criticism from purists. First of all, the novel is not a Jane Marple mystery. Instead, the main investigator in "Towards Zero" turned out to be Superintendant Battle, who had been featured in a few other Christie novels, including one Hercule Poirot tale - ”Cards on the Table”. However, Battle did not appear in the 2007 adaptation. Jane Marple replaced him as the story’s main detective, with the police represented by Alan Davies as one Superintendant Mallard. Since ”Towards Zero” has always been one of my favorite Christie novels, I decided to give the movie a chance.

In ”TOWARDS ZERO”, Jane Marple is invited to a house party hosted by an old school friend named Lady Camilla Tressilian. Also included in the party are the following:

*Neville Strange – Professional tennis star and Lady Tressilian’s ward

*Kay Strange – Neville’s younger second wife

*Audrey Strange - Neville’s reserved ex-wife

*Thomas Royce – Owner of a Malaysian plantation and Audrey’s distant cousin

*Mary Aldin – Lady Tressilian’s companion

*Ted Latimer – Kay’s childhood friend

*Mr. Treves- Lady Tressilian’s friend and solicitor

The house party turned out to be a tense affair, due to emotions running rampant between the characters. Neville discovered that he was still in love with his first wife, Audrey. She seemed to harbor emotions for him, despite her reserved behavior. Thomas seemed jealous of Neville, due to his love for Audrey. Mary seemed attracted to Thomas and a little envious of Audrey. Kay was obviously jealous of Audrey. And Ted was also jealous of Neville, due to his love for Kay.

During a supper party, Mr. Treves recalled an old murder case in which a child had made deliberate preparations to kill another and make it look like an accident. That child, according to Mr. Treves, had a peculiar physical trait. All of the suspects possessed a peculiar physical trait. And following the supper party, Mr. Treves died from a heart attack after climbing some stairs that lead to his hotel room. Someone had placed a NOT IN SERVICE sign in front of his hotel’s elevator. Another day or two later, this same person brutally murdered old Lady Tressilian with a blow to the head.

As I had earlier stated, the 1944 novel has always been a favorite of mine. Christie had crafted a complex and original mystery filled with characters of great psychological depth. By inserting another Christie creation – Jane Marple – as the story’s main investigator, I feared that this 2007 adaptation would prove to be a bust. Imagine my surprise when my fears proved to be groundless. Thanks to director David Grindley and screenwriter Kevin Elyot, I found myself surprisingly satisfied with this movie. Despite a few changes – namely the post-World War II setting, Jane Marple as the story’s main detective, the deletion of a character named Andrew MacWhirter, the addition of another character named Diana, the new police officer in charge of the case – Superintendant Mallard, and the budding romance in the story’s conclusion that did not happen in the novel. Perhaps that is why I had enjoyed it so much. Both Grindley and Elyot recognized the novel’s first-rate plot and tried to follow it as closely as possible.

The production values for ”TOWARDS ZERO” impressed me as well. Production designer Michael Pickwoad did an excellent job in re-creating Britain of the early-to-mid 1950s. And he was ably supported by Sue Gibson’s beautiful photography, which struck me as rich in color and sharp. Sheena Napier’s costumes not only captured the era perfectly, but also the personality of each character. I do have one quibble – namely Saffron Burrows’ hairstyle. I am aware that some women wore their hair slightly long past the shoulders. But I got the impression that the hairdresser could not decide whether to give Burrows a 1950s hairstyle or a modern one. Her hair struck me as a confusing mixture of the mid 20th century and the early 21st century.

The cast turned out better than I had expected. If I must be honest, I could not spot a bad performance amongst the entire cast . . . even from Julian Sands, whom I have never been that impressed by in the past. But there were a handful that really impressed me. One came from Saffron Burrows, who gave one of the most enigmatic and intense performances I have ever encountered in a Christie film. I could never tell whether her character was guilty of the two murders or not. And Burrows did a superb job in conveying this ambiguity of the Audrey Strange character with very little dialogue. I was also impressed by Zoe Tapper’s portrayal of the more extroverted Kay Strange. Tapper could have easily given an over-the-top performance, considering the type of character she had portrayed. But the actress conveyed Kay’s passionate nature without turning the character into a one-note scream fest. I also enjoyed Alan Davies as Superintendant Mallard, the new police investigator in this mystery. I not only enjoyed his wit, but also his transformation from his contempt toward Jane Marple’s investigative skills to a full partnership with the elderly amateur sleuth. And Eileen Atkins provided a great deal of comic relief as the second victim, Lady Camilla Tressilian. Not only did she provide much of the story’s sharp humor, Atkins also captured the character’s bombastic and arrogant nature. Her Lady Tressilian struck me as a modern day Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but with a stronger moral center.

But I believe the two best performances came from Greg Wise and Geraldine McEwan as Jane Marple. I found myself completely surprised by Wise’s impressive portrayal of the tennis pro with the two wives, Neville Strange. His performance perfectly portrayed Neville as the complex force of nature that had a major impact upon the other characters in ”TOWARDS ZERO”, without indulging in any hammy acting. But I was more than impressed by Geraldine McEwan’s portrayal of Jane Marple. I had seen McEwan’s portrayal of Miss Marple in ”THE SITFORD MYSTERY”, and found her performance ridiculously mannered and annoying. No such exaggerated mannerisms marred McEwan’s performance in ”TOWARDS ZERO”. The actress gave a subtle performance laced with subtle humor and her character’s intelligence. One of McEwan’s best moments featured very little dialogue on her part in a scene between Miss Marple and the verbose Lady Tressilian, inside the latter’s bedroom.

Most Agatha Christie purists might automatically dismiss this adaptation of ”TOWARDS ZERO”. Especially since the script changed the main investigator from the literary Superintendant Battle to a cinematic Jane Marple. But despite this major change, along with another that included a romance that emerged in the film’s final scene; David Grindley’s direction and Kevin Elyot’s script remained surprisingly faithful to Agatha Christie’s novel. Normally, I would care less about changes in an adaptation of a novel. But in the case of ”TOWARDS ZERO”, this close adherence ended up working in the movie’s favor.

Friday, November 18, 2011

"RETURN TO CRANFORD" (2009) Photo Gallery



Below are images from "RETURN TO CRANFORD", the 2009 sequel to the 2007 miniseries, "CRANFORD". Judi Dench starred in this two-part series:


"RETURN TO CRANFORD" (2009) Photo Gallery




















































Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Understanding "BABYLON FIVE" (4.06) "Into the Fire"




UNDERSTANDING "BABYLON FIVE" (4.06) "INTO THE FIRE"

I have seen the Season Four episode, (4.06) "Into the Fire" on numerous occasions, since I first started watching "BABYLON 5" some thirteen years ago.

My opinion of "Into the Fire" had always been somewhat lukewarm in the past. When I first saw it, I assumed it would be another episode that featured a large-scale battle - similar to episodes like (1.13) "Signs and Portents", (3.10) "Severed Dreams" and (4.15) "No Surrender, No Retreat". There were battle sequences featured in "Into the Fire", but to the extent that I would consider it an action-heavy episode.

Sue me. I was young and stupid in those days. I thought a top-notch "BABYLON FIVE" episode should always consist of a large-scale battle. But I finally saw the light. I finally understood what "Into the Fire" was really about. Well, I take that back. I have always understood since I first saw it. But I was so disappointed by the lack of a real battle that I allowed the message to pass over my head.

But not this time. Anticipating to be bored out of my mind, I finally allowed J. Michael Straczynski's message to filter through. I finally understood and accepted the messages about parental or colonial figures letting go and allowing the young - whether they were individuals or nations to grow in their own ways. And in the end, it brought tears to my eyes. Much to my surprise. Thank you Mr. Straczynski for a first-rate television episode. And please accept my apologies for allowing so many years to pass before finally getting the message.

Monday, November 14, 2011

"X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" (2011) Review




"X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" (2011) Review

Recently, I came across a comment that the last "X-MEN" movie, 2009's "X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE", had been a failure. I found this opinion surprising, considering that it actually made a profit at the box office. Failure or not, Marvel Studios decided to continue the movie franchise with a fifth entry called "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS".

Directed by Matthew Vaughn, "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" is, like the 2009 movie, another origins tale. Only it traced the beginnings of the two friends-turned-adversaries, Charles "Professor X" Xavier and Erik "Magneto" Lensherr. The movie began in a scene straight out of 2000's "X-MEN" - at a concentration camp in 1944 Poland. While young Erik Lensherr was being separated from his parents by Nazi guards, he displayed an ability for magnetism manipulation by tearing at one of the camp's gates. This ability attracted the attention of the camp's scientist, Dr. Klaus Schmidt, who tried to coerce Erik into using his ability again by threatening his mother with death. Unfortunately, Erik failed and Dr. Schmidt killed Mrs. Lensherr. At an estate in Westchester, New York of the same year, young Charles Xavier awakened from a deep sleep by a noise from the kitchen. He investigated and found his mother searching for something to eat. However, being a telepath, Charles was able to discover that he was facing a stranger. The stranger turned out to be a young, blue-skinned shapeshifter named Raven "Mystique" Darkhölme. Charles invited the young stranger to stay at the Xavier mansion and the two became close friends.

"X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" jumped another eighteen years forward to 1962. Charles Xavier has become an instructor on genetics at Oxford University. Raven has remained his close companion in a sibling-like capacity. Erik Lensherr has spent the last decade or so, hunting down Nazis that escaped prosecution by the Allies - especially those who had served at the concentration camp where he had been imprisoned. He has especially become interested in finding and killing Dr. Schmidt out of revenge for his mother's death. The story shifted to Las Vegas, Nevada; where one Moira MacTaggart and other CIA agents are investigating the Hellfire Club, a social organization led by Sebastian Shaw (aka Dr. Schmidt). After infiltrating the club as an "escort", Moira discovered that Shaw and his mutant followers - Emma Frost, Azazel, and Riptide - are intimidating a high ranking Army officer into relocating military missiles to Turkey. Moira sought help from Charles and Raven to provide information to her CIA bosses about mutants. They also met Erik, during a trip to Miami to track down Shaw. After preventing Erik from drowning during an attempt to kill Shaw, Charles became close friends with the Holocaust survivor; as they work with Moira and the CIA to bring down Shaw.

Personally, I do not believe that "X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE" deserved its low reputation. I thought it was a pretty damn good movie - not perfect, but entertaining. However, I do believe I could say the same about "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS". I would add that it might be better than the 2009 film. Despite its flaws. In fact, "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" turned out to be a cleverly written movie that managed to weave two historical events - the Holocaust and the Cuban Missile Crisis - into its plot. Director Matthew Vaughn did an excellent job in maintaining an even pace for a movie not only filled with exciting and occasionally exaggerated action sequences and dramatic scenes. But aside from the director, the movie's main virtue proved to be its first-rate cast.

Someone once pointed out that the X-MEN movie franchise did an excellent job of using the topic of "mutation" or psychic abilities to reflect upon the themes of bigotry and tolerance in our society. This theme became even more relevant, considering the movie's setting of 1962 - a period that reflected the height of the Civil Rights Movement. I can go further and commend screenwriters Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Vaughn for daring to explore all aspects of the bigotry experienced and engaged by the characters.

Some of the movie's main characters experienced intolerance at the hands of others. Holocaust survivor Erik Lensherr not only suffered under the Nazi regime as a Jew, but also endured the U.S. government's (in the form of C.I.A. officials) wariness and contempt toward mutants, as did fellow mutants such as Charles Xavier, Raven Darkhölme, Hank McCoy and the group of young mutants they had recruited. C.I.A. officials Director McCone and William Stryker Sr. (father of the villain from the second and fourth movies) were ready to imprison Charles and Raven upon discovering their mutations. Fortunately, one C.I.A. man in particular - the nameless Man in Black - prevented this from happening. The script also focused upon the two mutants regarded as "odd men out" because their mutations were reflected physically. Raven's natural blue skin led her to maintain a "human" form that allowed her to blend with other humans and mutants. And C.I.A. scientist who constantly wore shoes to hide his mutation - animal-like feet. Their desperation to blend with the others on a regular basis led Hand to create a formula that eventually backfired.

Finally, the movie also focused on those mutants that viewed their mutation as signs of their superiority over non-mutant humans. Characters such as villain Sebastian Shaw and his Hellfire Club followers, and eventually Erik and Raven allowed their dislike toward humans to manifest into a bigotry that encouraged them to engage in plots of genocide that made the Nazis, North Americans of the 18th and 19th centuries and other bigoted societies look like amateurs. One such plot served as the background of "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS". The movie revolved around Sebastian Shaw's efforts to use his connections to the U.S. and Soviet military to start a third world war between the superpowers. Such a war would bring humanity to the brink of extinction, allowing mutants (with Shaw as the leader) to dominate the world. This plot eventually resulted in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The producers of "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" chose the right actors to portray the younger versions of Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr. James McAvoy perfectly captured all of Charles' intelligence, talent for leadership and subtle wit. He also delved deeper into the character's idealism and occasional naivety. And McAvoy gave audiences an audacious peek into Charles' penchant for little seduction with pick-up lines that were both charming and wince-inducing. Michael Fassbender portrayed all of the intensity and anger of the vengeance-seeking Erik Lensherr. Every once in a while, an actor comes along with the ability to perfectly walk the fine line between heroism and villainy. Fassbender certainly achieved this in his portrayal of Erik. And looking at the screen chemistry between McAvoy and Fassbender, it seemed a pity that they had never shared a scene when they appeared in the 2001 miniseries, "BAND OF BROTHERS". Because they were dynamite together.

The supporting cast also proved to be top-notch. The X-MEN movieverse has always provided first-rate villains. Kevin Bacon's portrayal of the villainous Sebastian Shaw/Dr. Schmidt was no exception. If I must be honest, his Shaw may prove to be my favorite "X-MEN" villain. Aside from intelligence, wit and a taste for grandiose plotting and gadgets that rivaled a Bond villain, Bacon injected a joie de vivre into Shaw's character that I found very entertaining. Some critics and fans have criticized January Jones' portrayal of Shaw's consort, Emma Frost, accusing her of being "wooden". I am sorry, but I do not agree with this opinion. Yes, Jones portrayed Emma as Miss 'Cool Hand Luke'. But she also did a first rate job of conveying the character's strong attraction to Shaw and dislike of his occasional sexist attitudes. And thanks to her subtle comic timing, she provided the movie's funniest moment in a scene that featured Emma having 'telepathic' sex with a Soviet general. Her reaction to being caught had me laughing in the aisle. Instead of Rebecca Romijn, the film's producers chose Jennifer Lawrence to portray the younger Raven Darkhölme aka Mystique. And I thought she did a pretty damn good job. I have nothing against Romijn's portrayal of Mystique, but I believe that Lawrence was given a better opportunity for a deeper exploration of the character . . . and she made the best of it. The movie also featured fine support from the likes of Rose Byrne as C.I.A. agent and ally Moira MacTaggart, Nicholas Hoult as the young Hank McCoy, Jason Flemyng as the frightening teleporter Azazel, Oliver Platt as the C.I.A. 'Man in Black', and Zoë Kravitz's subtle and passionate performance as mutant Angel Salvadore.

As I had earlier hinted, "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" is not perfect. I believe it has two major flaws that prevented it from potentially becoming the best film in the franchise. The movie's biggest flaw proved to be its lack of continuity with the other four films. "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" included the beginning of Charles Xavier's paralysis and the end of his partnership with Erik Lensherr. Yet, Charles was still walking and working with Erik in a flashback set around the beginning of the 1980s in 2006's "X-MEN: THE LAST STAND". I am aware that Raven's cells allowed her to mature very slowly. But did the same happen to Dr. Hank McCoy? He was in his early-to-mid 20s in "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS". Yet, he looked somewhere in his 40s in the third "X-MEN", which was set some 40 years later. And the Emma Frost portrayed by actress Tahyna Tozzi in "X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE" looked at least five to ten years younger than January Jones' Emma in this latest film. And "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" is supposed to be set 17 years before the 2009 film. Charles began his school for young mutants in this movie. However, he told Wolverine in 2000's "X-MEN" that Scott "Cyclops" Summers and Jean Grey were his first students. They are no where to be seen and quite frankly, I could have done without this early edition of the Xavier School of Mutants. I found it annoying.

Another major problem proved to be the film's costumes - especially for women. The movie is set mainly in 1962. Yet, Sammy Sheldon's costumes reflected the late 1960s, not the early years of that decade. Just to prove my point, look at the following photographs:

1962 Fashions For Women




January Jones in "MAD MEN" Season Two (set in 1962)




January Jones in "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" (set in 1962)



In fact, the costumes and hairstyles for other female characters DO NOT reflect the year 1962, as well:



Both actresses Rose Byrne and Zoë Kravitz are wearing knee-high boots, which WERE NOT in fashion in 1962.

Yes, "X-MEN: FIRST-CLASS" had some major flaws. But I cannot deny that I still managed to enjoy the movie very much. Screenwriters Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn wrote a flawed, but very entertaining and epic story. The movie also boasted first-rate performances from a cast led by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. And Vaughn brought all of these factors together with some fine direction. "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" has made me an even bigger fan of the franchise and I would heartily recommend it for anyone's viewing pleasure.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"Buffy's Relationship With the Scoobies"



I have something of a problem with Buffy Summers' relationship with her close friends, also known as the Scoobies: 


"BUFFY'S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE SCOOBIES"

I just finished watching the "BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER" Season Three episode, (3.07) "Revelations". I find myself recalling the scene in which the Scoobies revealed to Buffy that they knew that Angel, the souled vampire whom she was forced to kill in the Season Two finale, (2.22) "Becoming (Part 2)", was still alive and she had been keeping his presence a secret from them. Apparently, one of the Scoobies, Xander Harris, had decided to spy on Buffy, due to her secretive behavior and found her kissing Angel.

Now, I realize that they had a right to be angry that she failed to tell them about Angel being alive. The latter had spent the second half of Season Two as their main antagonist, due to his losing his soul. Because of this, he had caused a great deal of problems for them. He had also summoned the demon Acathla in order to bring about the end of the world. Buffy was finally able to defeat him in"Becoming (Part Two)" . . . but not before fellow Scooby Willow Rosenberg had restored his cursed soul.

But . . . God, this scene when the Scoobies had confronted Buffy in "Revelations" had pissed me off! If there is one thing about Buffy's relationship with her Watcher Rupert Giles and the Scoobies that has burned me is that she has allowed them to dictate her behavior and moral compass, due to her own fear of losing their friendship. Has Buffy ever put such pressure on Xander, Willow or Giles? I wonder. For years, they put her on this pedestal called "THE SLAYER" and rarely allow Buffy to be herself or have her own life. 

Xander was the worst offender of them all. I do not know how this character came to be so beloved by the series' fans. Granted, Xander could be entertaining. But of all the characters, he was probably the most self-righteous of the bunch. And he has allowed his self-righteousness, along with his jealousy toward Buffy's relationships with both Angel and Spike to compromise his morals without any remorse. Good examples would be his lie to Willow about Buffy's wishes regarding Angel in "Becoming (Part 2)" and his attempt to murder a chipped Spike in (6.18) "Entropy" for having sex with the fiancee he had dumped at the altar. Even in "Revelations", he was behaving in the most self-righteous manner about Buffy's lie regarding Angel . . . yet, at the same time, was kissing Willow behind his girlfriend at the time Cordelia Chase's back. Some would say that at least his infidelity with Willow was not a threat to anyone. But his and Willow's actions ended up hurting Cordelia in more ways than one. 

The Scoobies' attitude toward Buffy reached its pinnacle in Season Six. In (6.01)"Bargaining (Part 1)", Willow, with the assistance of Xander, his second girlfriend Anya Jenkins and her girlfriend Tara Maculay's assistance, brought Buffy back from the dead . . . without her consent or anything. An act that led to a year long depression for for the Slayer. And they did this, because they needed"THE SLAYER". They believed that Sunnydale needed a Slayer. Despite the fact that Sunnydale had managed to exist without a Slayer for nearly a century before Buffy's arrival. 

Is it any wonder why Buffy began to emotionally distance herself from her friends" in Season Seven?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"IRON MAN" (2008) Photo Gallery




"IRON MAN" (2008) Photo Gallery

Here is a gallery of photos from the new movie based upon the Marvel comic hero. "IRON MAN" stars Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwenyth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges. It was directed by Jon Favreau: