Sunday, June 30, 2013
"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.
Thursday, June 27, 2013
I first wrote this article not long after the end of Season Two of "MAD MEN":
"MAD MEN": Sex and Bobbie Barrett
The fans’ reactions to the character of Bobbie Barrett have always intrigued me. In this day and age – namely the early 21st century – I never understood why they held her in such a low regard. Let me explain.
I have enjoyed Season Two of "MAD MEN" very much. In fact, I would say that I found it even more interesting than Season One. Many fans have commented that the female characters seemed to have developed a lot more in this past season than they did in the first season. And yet . . . when Season Two aired last summer, many fans - both male and female - had expressed a great deal of hostility toward one of the new characters - namely Bobbie Barrett. My first question is . . . why?
Why had there been such a great deal of hostility toward Bobbie? What was it about her that made her hated by many of series' fans? As we all know, Bobbie is the wife and manager of insult comedian, Jimmy Barrett. The Barretts were first introduced in the episode (2.03) "The Benefactor", when a drunken Jimmy, who had been hired as a spokesperson for Utz Potato Chips, insulted the owner's wife. Sterling/Cooper's own Don Draper had to meet with Bobbie to arrange for Jimmy to apologize to the Schillings, the owners of Utz. Don and Bobbie's meeting eventually resulted in both of them having sex inside somebody's car. Later, Bobbie tried to get more money from Don (in a hallway of the restaurant they and Schillings are at for the apology) in exchange for the pay-or-play contract of her husband's. Don manhandled Bobbie and threatened to ruin Jimmy. And Bobbie appeared to enjoy the attention. She later convinced Jimmy to apologize.
Despite this violent encounter, Don and Bobbie's affair continued in the following episode, (2.04) "Three Sundays". After meeting at Sardi's for cocktails in order to celebrate Jimmy's new television series in (2.05) “The New Girl”, the pair encountered Don's former mistress, Rachel Mencken, who got married. They eventually left Sardi's and ended up in a car accident, on their way to the Barretts' beach house in Stony Brook. The affair finally ended in (2.06) “Maidenform” when Don learned from Bobbie that he had developed a reputation for his sexual prowess amongst Manhattan’s career women . . . before leaving her tied up during another sexual encounter. Bobbie was last seen in (2.07) “The Gold Violin”, during a party held at the Stork Club, celebrating Jimmy’s new show.
I have to ask . . . why was Bobbie hated so much by most of the fans? The owner of one blog continued to call her ”the Odious Bobbie” in reviews for nearly episode in which Bobbie appeared. Others have called her sick, twisted, perverse, a skank, a whore, evil and God knows what else. When Bobbie gave Peggy Olson the ”be a woman” advice in how to deal with Don and other professional colleagues, many fans came to the conclusion that she was advising Peggy to use sex to get ahead professionally. In fact, many assumed that Bobbie also used sex to get ahead as a talent agent. And yet, the series has never hinted that Bobbie actually did this. What crime did Bobbie commit to produce such hatred?
One would point out that Bobbie has engaged in extramarital sex. Her affair with Don lasted at least four episodes - from"The Benefactor" to "Maidenform". Yet, Bobbie is not the only female on the show guilty of this:
*Peggy Olson - Sterling-Cooper secretary turned copywriter, who had sex with junior executive Pete Campbell after knowing him for less than 24 hours in Season One's (1.01) "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes". Pete, I might add, had plans to get married the following day and told Peggy before they had sex. Seven episodes later in (1.08) "The Hobo Code", Peggy and a now married Pete had sex again, inside his office. Peggy gave birth to their son, in the Season One finale, (1.13) "The Wheel".
*Midge Daniels - an art illustrator who was engaged in an affair with the very married Don Draper between "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" and "The Hobo Code". In fact, Midge and Don's affair had been going on for five years by Season One. Don finally ended the affair when he realized that Midge was in love with someone else.
*Joan Holloway - Sterling-Cooper's office manager who was engaged with the very married Roger Sterling, one of the firm's owners, during Season One. When the affair began, the series has not yet revealed. Their affair was already on-going when revealed in (1.06) "Babylon".
*Rachel Mencken - the head of a department store, who hired Sterling-Cooper to revamp her store's image. Although both she and Don became attracted to one another in "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", their affair began in (1.10) "Long Weekend" and ended in (1.12) "Nixon vs. Kennedy", when Don suggested they run off together for the West Coast and Rachel realized that he did not want to run away with her, he just wanted to run away . . . from some problem. She called him a coward and ended the affair. Later, she married a man named Tilden Katz.
*Hildy - Pete Campbell's secretary who had a one night stand with married Sterling-Cooper junior executive Harry Crane, during an election night party held at the firm's offices in "Nixon vs. Kennedy".
*Jane Siegel - introduced as Don's new secretary in Season Two's (2.05) "The New Girl". After Joan threatened to fire her in "The Gold Violin" for encouraging some of the junior executives to take a peek at owner Betram Cooper's new painting inside his office, she turned to Roger Sterling to intervene on her behalf. They eventually began an affair and Roger eventually left his wife, Mona, for her.
*Betty Draper - Don Draper's ex-model wife, who eventually learned of his affair with Bobbie. She kicked him out of the house for a while. But after discovering that she was pregnant, she had a one-night stand with a stranger at a bar before reconciling with Don.
Well, apparently Bobbie is not the only female guilty of extramarital sex. Hell, she is not the only character guilty of extramarital sex. So, what was wrong with her? Some have complained about her aggressive nature. Which struck me as irrelevant, considering that she is not the only aggressive character in the series. Bobbie might be the only aggressive female in the series. So is that it? Men are allowed to be aggressive, but not women?
Bobbie is also a sexually aggressive woman who happens to like kinky sex. She made that quite clear in the way she wrestled with Don inside his car, and when she failed to be put off by Don's aggressive manhandling of her in "The Benefactor". She also revealed to Don that when she learned about his sexual prowess, she set out to seduce him in order to have sex with him. Is it possible that Bobbie's sexual aggressiveness is a turn off with most fans? Would they prefer if Bobbie was sexually submissive . . . allowing men to seduce her or make the first move? Would they prefer if Bobbie limited her sexual preferences to the Missionary position or bent over, positions considered submissive for women? Or would they prefer if Bobbie was a man?
Not only have male fans condemned Bobbie's characters, but so have a good number of women. The blogger who had nicked named Mrs. Barrett - "Odious Bobbie" is a woman. Even Matt Weiner had joined the act in his interview with critic Alan Sepinwall about Season Two:
"People were upset about Bobbie Barrett, that she wasn't Rachel Menken, and I'm like, she's not Rachel Menken, and he's not in love with her, and he says no. But he should never have slept with that woman."
I am a little perplexed by Weiner's statement. One, he called Bobbie "that woman" - something I do not recall him naming any of the series' other female characters. And two, he stated that Don should have never slept with her. On one level, I agree with him. After all, both Don and Bobbie were married to other people. But why did he say this about Bobbie? Why not about the other women with whom Don had cuckolded Betty? Why not say the same about Midge Daniels, Rachel Mencken, Joy or any of the other women Don had sex with during his marriage to Betty? Why Bobbie?
Bobbie Barrett's reputation with "MAD MEN" has improved since Season Two ended last fall. Many fans have complimented Melinda McGraw for her superb performance of the memorable Bobbie. There have been fans who have finally understood the meaning behind Bobbie's advice to Peggy in "The New Girl". And there have been fans who view both Bobbie and Jimmy Barrett as metaphors used to reveal more of Don's true nature.
But a good number of Bobbie detractors remain. She is also the only one of Don's known mistresses who has received such a strong level of hostility. And I can only wonder if any of this negativity might be a sign that despite the fact that we are now in the 21st century, society still demands that women adhere to some its ideal view on feminine behavior - in both real life and fiction?
Monday, June 24, 2013
Below are images from the HBO series called "BOARDWALK EMPIRE". Produced by Terence Winter, Mark Wahlberg and Martin Scorcese, the series stars Steve Buscemi:
"BOARDWALK EMPIRE" Season Two (2011) Photo Gallery
Thursday, June 20, 2013
"THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN" (2005) Review
Although considered one of her most famous novels, 1934’s ”Murder on the Orient Express” was not the first of Christie’s novels that featured a famous luxury train as a setting. The year 1928 saw the publication of another novel called ”The Mystery of the Blue Train”, which told the story of a brutal murder aboard the famous Blue Train.
This story had its origins in Christie’s 1922 novella, ”The Plymouth Express”, which told the story of the murder of an Australian heiress. Christie took that story and expanded it into a full-length novel, ”The Mystery of the Blue Train”. The television series, ”Agatha Christie’s POIROT” aired ”THE PLYMOUTH EXPRESS”, an adaptation of the novella, in 1991. And fourteen years later, aired its own version of ”THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE”. Actor David Suchet portrayed Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot in both productions.
The Blue Train referred to in this story was not the luxury train that traveled through Southern Africa. Known as Le Train Bleu or the Calais-Mediterranée Expres, this Blue Train was a luxury French night train that conveyed, ealthy and famous passengers between Calais and the French Riviera from 1922 until 1938, usually during the winter seasons. Unlike Christie’s novella, ”THE PLYMOUTH EXPRESS”, the case featured in ”THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN” centered on the murder of an American heiress named Ruth Van Aldin Kettering, aboard the Calais-to-French Riviera luxury train, the Blue Train – otherwise known as Le Train Bleu. One of Ruth’s possessions ended up missing, namely a famous ruby called the Heart of Fire, recently purchased by her father, American millionaire Rufus Van Aldin. The suspects accused of killing her and stealing the Heart of Fire were:
*Katherine Grey – a young Englishwoman who became wealthy through a recent inheritance; and whose father had been financially ruined by Van Aldin
*Derek Kettering – Ruth’s estranged and financially strapped husband, who came from an aristocratic family
*the Comte de la Roche – Ruth’s lover and a fake aristocrat who happened to be a con man and thief
*Ada Mason – Ruth’s maid, who disappeared during the Blue Train’s stop in Paris
* Mirelle Milesi – an exotic French courtesan, who was seen entering Ruth’s compartment aboard the train
*Major Richard Knighton –Van Aldin’s private secretary, who happens to be in love with Katherine
*Lady Tamplin – a financially strapped aristocrat living on the Riviera with her daughter and young husband; and who is Katherine Grey’s distant cousin
*Lennox Tamplin – Lady Tamplin’s daughter
*’Corky’ Evans – Lady Tamplin’s young husband
*the Maquis – a famous jewel thief
Belgian-born detective, Hercule Poirot found himself aboard the same train heading toward Nice for a winter vacation. The one passenger he managed to befriend was Katherine Grey, who had switched compartments with Ruth Kettering after meeting the latter. Overwrought by his daughter’s death, Van Aldin hired Poirot to find her killer.
I became a major fan of ”The Mystery of the Blue Train” not long after I first read the 1928 novel, years ago. The mystery struck me as slightly intriguing, the characters colorful and the atmosphere reeking with the glamour of the early 20th century rich in Europe. Imagine my delight when I first learned that a television adaptation of the novel had been made, starring David Suchet as Poirot. When I finally saw the movie, I found myself both disappointed . . . satisfied with it.
”THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN” could have truly been a first-class production. But some of the changes in the story stood in the way. One, Guy Andrews’ script got rid of the love triangle between Katherine Grey, Richard Knighton and Derek Kettering. Pity. I rather enjoyed it. Instead, Katherine only enjoyed a romance with Knighton. She barely shared any scenes with Derek, except for one in which she snapped at him for his childish behavior. And speaking of Derek Kettering, he became a petulant and hard drinking man who remained in love with the spoiled and estranged Ruth. He seemed quite a difference from the sardonic man featured in the novel, who had already fallen out of love with his wife long before the story began. Another change that proved to be a major one, involved the character of Mirelle. She remained a Frenchwoman, but one of African descent. And instead of being Derek’s soon-to-be former mistress and a dancer, this cinematic Mirelle turned out to be Rufus Van Aldin’s mistress. As for Lady Tamplin, she and her family also made the journey aboard the Blue Train – which did not happen in the novel. Any other changes? In this version, Katherine Grey revealed to Poirot that Van Aldin had financially ruined her father. Also, someone tried to kill her one hour into the movie.
What did I think of ”THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN”? I did not mind some of the changes from the novel. For example, Lady Tamplin became more likeable and sexy personality, thanks to Lindsay Duncan’s spirited performance. I found her young husband, Corky (Cubby Evans in the novel) less vacuous and self-absorbed. Mirelle’s personality acquired a welcome change from the character in the novel. Actress Josette Simon portrayed her as a world-weary, yet passionate woman with a great deal of complexities, instead of Christie’s one-dimensional portrait of sex and greed, wrapped in a French accent. I also enjoyed Nicholas Farrell’s quiet, yet charming portrayal of Rufus Van Aldin’s private secretary, Richard Knighton. Jaime Murray did a solid job in portraying Ruth Van Aldin Kettering, the murder victim, whose body was discovered aboard the Blue Train. I must admit that she managed to capture her character’s extroverted, ruthless and somewhat self-absorbed personality, even if her American accent seemed a bit questionable. And thank goodness for the presence of Elliot Gould, whose portrayal of Van Aldin transcended the cliché of the American businessman featured in the novel. Finally, David Suchet continued to give another fine performance as Hercule Poirot, everyone’s favorite Belgian detective – subtle, yet intense as always.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie featured the Blue Train’s departure from Calais during a heavy rainfall. Thanks to director Hettie Macdonald, production designers Jeff Tessler and an uncredited Paul Spriggs, along with cinematographer Alan Almond; this particular scene reeked with atmosphere and mystery. They also did an excellent job in capturing the sunny and exotic glamour of the French Riviera – especially in one scene that featured a house party given by Lady Tamplin at her home, Villa Marguerite. I also liked the fact that the story began in London, paused in Calais and France, and ended in Nice. It did not shift to different locations throughout England and France, as in the novel. More importantly, Poirot revealed the murderer’s identity in front of all the suspects and the police; instead of limiting his audience to two characters.
What did I NOT like about ”THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN”? Unfortunately, a good deal. One, I did not care for the change in Katherine Grey’s personality. I have no complaints about Georgina Rylance’s performance. She did a solid job in the role. But screenwriter Guy Andrews transformed the Katherine Grey character from a cool and smart woman that kept her emotions in check to a naïve woman that wore her emotions on her sleeve. It almost seemed to me that Katherine’s character had somewhat been diminished. One change I did not care for was Andrews’ decision to make Mirelle the mistress of Van Aldin, instead of Derek Kettering’s paramour. Nor did I care for his decision to reveal that Van Aldin’s wife was still alive, slightly mad and living in a convent in Nice. I found this plot twist to be very unnecessary. Speaking of Mr. Kettering, his personality went through a major change. In this adaptation, Derek became a drunken, gambling addict with a habit of sniveling over a wife who no longer loved him. Only James D’Arcy’s complex performance made it possible for me to tolerate the character. The movie’s portrayal of Lennox Tamplin seemed like a letdown from Christie’s novel. Instead of the sardonic young woman who had learned to tolerate her mother’s talent for exploitation and exhibition, this version of Lennox became a bubbly and extroverted personality with an atrocious hairstyle for a story set in the 1930s.
The biggest change occurred in the movie’s revelation scene. Although I had expressed approval of Andrews and director Hettie Macdonald’s decision to allow Poirot to reveal the murderer in Nice, I still had some problems with the scene. One, it began with the detective indulging in a ridiculous tirade about how each suspect could have been the murderer. But after Poirot identified the killer, viewers were treated to a ridiculous and theatrical scene in which the latter attempted to use a hostage to evade the police. I did not know whether to laugh or shake my head in disgust. I believe I ended up doing the latter.
”THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN” will never be a favorite Christie adaptation of mine. There were too many changes that I did not care for – especially with some of the characters and the revelation scene. On the other hand, I found other changes – including the revelation scene – to be an improvement from the novel and a welcome relief. I also enjoyed the movie’s atmosphere, setting, photography and David Suchet’s performance as Poirot. It was not the best Christie adaptation, but I found it tolerable.
Monday, June 17, 2013
"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Nine "The Crime" Commentary
The ninth episode of "CENTENNIAL" proved to be an improvement over the last installment. Picking up a few months after"The Storm", "The Crime" proved to be an intriguing episode that featured a blossoming romance, psychological warfare and two shocking events.
"The Crime" begins during the spring of 1888, which finds Oliver Seccombe at the end of his reign as manager of Venneford Ranch. Unable to face a future in disgraced and unemployed, Seccombe commits suicide to end his misery. His widow, Charlotte Seccombe returns to England to grieve. After a conversation with her dying uncle, the Earl of Venneford, she becomes the sole owner of the Colorado ranch. Upon her return to Centennial, Charlotte becomes attracted to ranch hand-turned-foreman, Jim Lloyd, and sets out to woo him in her subtle way.
Hans Brumbaugh's efforts to find permanent farm hands continue to frustrate him. Using John Skimmerhorn as an intermediary, he contacts Ignacio "Nacho" Gomez to recruit future farm hands from Mexico. "Nacho" tries to recruit his nephew,Tranquilino Marquez, into immigrating to the United States and Colorado. But the cynical younger man does not seem interested in leaving Mexico. Brumbaugh, Jim and Amos Calendar are still threatened by gunfighters, hired by the remnants of the Petis gang, who want revenge for the deaths of Frank and Orvid Pettis in Episode Seven. Sheriff Axel Dumire was forced to arrest a hired gun in a tense moment at Centennial's train station.
Speaking of Sheriff Dumire, he continues to harbor suspicions that the Wendell family are more than just actors and entertainers. He believes they are swindlers, who acquired a home by using the Badger Game on the town's local pastor, Reverend Holly. Dumire's suspicions create a surprising consequence - namely a burgeoning friendship with the Wendells' only son, Philip. Although the young boy encourages the friendship to keep an eye on Dumire and vice versa, the two develop a liking for one another. Their friendship is tested when Maude and Mervin Wendell try to use the Badger Game on a Mr. Sorenson, a visiting businessman interested in purchasing land near Centennial. When the scam backfires, Sorenson attacks Mervin and Maude accidentally kills him with a blow to the head. Philip comes to his parents' aid by hiding the man's body in a nearby creek, Mervin discovers a great deal of money inside Sorenson's satchel and Dumire begins to investigate the man's disappearance.
"The Crime" proved to be one of the better episodes from the miniseries' second half, thanks to Charles Larson's screenplay and Virgil Vogel's direction. It proved to be a well-balanced mixture of character study, psychological warfare and romance. The consequences from "The Shepherd" continue to cast a shadow on the lives of Hans Brumbaugh, Jim Lloyd and Amos Calendar. Oliver Seccombe's suicide proved to be a sad and poignant affair, thanks to Timothy Dalton and Lynn Redgrave's performances. The surprising consequence to Seccombe's death proved to be a burgeoning romance between two unlikely people - Charlotte and ranch hand, Jim Lloyd. On paper, the idea of a romance between a British aristocrat and a cowboy from Texas seemed so unlikely . . . and even a little clumsy. Yet, it worked thanks to Larson's writing and subtle performances from Redgrave and William Atherton. Brumbaugh's search for permanent ranch hands served to introduce a new character to the saga, future immigrant from Mexico, Tranquilino Marquez - a story that will continue with more detail in the following episodes.
But the episode's pièce de résistance proved to be the cat-and-mouse game between Sheriff Axel Dumire and the Wendell family. The story line about the two antagonists began in "The Storm", when Dumire tried to run the theatrical family out of Centennial. Their scam on Reverend Holly kept them in town. Two events threatened the Wendells' increasingly popularity with the citizens of Centennial. One, young Philip and Dumire have developed a surprising friendship, despite their wariness of each other. And two, the Wendells' use the Badger Game on the businessman, Mr. Sorenson not only backfired, but led to manslaughter, when Maude bashed him on the head. Eventually, the sheriff became aware of Mr. Sorenson's disappearance and what followed was a delicious game of cat-and-mouse and some tense psychological warfare between Dumire and Philip. I really enjoyed it, thanks to some superb performances by Brian Keith, Doug McKeon, Lois Nettleton and Anthony Zerbe.
Although I had enjoyed "The Crime" in the past, I never really considered it as one of my favorite episodes from the miniseries. I have now changed my mind. Now that I am older, I feel as if I have developed a greater appreciation of the episode. And I also believe that it just might be one of the better ones of the miniseries.
Friday, June 14, 2013
Below is a gallery featuring stills from the 1939 version of A.E.W. Mason's novel, "THE FOUR FEATHERS". This version stars John Clements, Ralph Richardson, June Duprez, and C. Aubrey Smith. It was produced by Alexander Korda and directed by Zoltan Korda:
"THE FOUR FEATHERS" (1939) Photo Gallery
Sunday, June 9, 2013
"CHANGELING" (2008) Review
Set in Los Angeles of the late 1920s, "CHANGELING" is based upon a true story about a single mother who realized that the boy returned to her after a kidnapping is not her son. After confronting the city authorities, they vilified her as delusional and an unfit mother. The movie’s events were related to the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, an infamous kidnapping and murder case that was uncovered in 1928.
J. Michael Straczynski, creator and producer of the Award winning science-fiction television series, "BABYLON 5", had been tipped off by a contact at the Los Angeles City Hall about the case of Christine Collins and the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. He wrote a screenplay based upon the case and submitted it Brian Grazer and Ron Howard of Imagine Entertainment. Howard was slated to direct the film. But due to a scheduling conflict, Howard was unable to accept the assignment and it was offered to Clint Eastwood. Academy Award winning actress Angelina Jolie was cast as the anguished mother, Christine Collins. The cast also included John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Michael Kelly, Amy Ryan, Jason Butler Harner, Colm Feore, and Geoff Pierson.
I might as well say it. I really enjoyed "CHANGELING". I enjoyed it more than I thought possible. When I first learned about the movie, I thought it would end up as some missing child story with a science-fiction twist. After all, the movie had been scripted by Straczynski. I eventually discovered that the movie was simply based upon a true life crime that occurred in Los Angeles in the late 1920s. And since the movie, which happened to be two hours and 41 minutes long, was directed by Clint Eastwood . . . well, I feared that it would turn into another one of his slow-paced films that would leave me struggling to stay conscious. Thankfully, it did not happy. As he had done in "FLAGS OF OUR FATHER", Eastwood managed to forego his usual snail-like pacing and do Straczynski’s superb script justice with what I believe is one of his best works.
"CHANGELING" is a very engrossing story about single mother Christine Collins’ (Jolie) efforts to find her missing son Walter and deal with the antipathy and lack of interest of the Los Angeles Police Department. Collins’ interactions with the LAPD and especially Police Captain J.J. Jones (Donovan) were especially fascinating. The story took an even darker tone when a more competent police officer named Detective Ybarra (Kelly) made a connection to the disappearance of Collins’ son to a possible case involving a serial killer of young boys. Judging from what I have read about Christine Collins and the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, Eastwood and Straczynski did a superb job of recapturing both the era and the actual case. Mind you, the movie is not completely accurate. After all, Jolie must be at least 15 years younger than the real Christine Collins was in 1928. But I am speaking of a Hollywood film, not a documentary.
Judging by the excellent performances in the film, it was easy for me to see that the cast really benefitted from Eastwood’s direction and Straczynski’s script. But to be honest, not even the best director or script could ever guarantee a good performance. Which is why I feel that "CHANGELING" was very lucky in its cast . . . especially with its leading lady. Despite winning two Golden Globe awards, a Screen Actors Guild award and an Oscar, Angelina Jolie has never really developed a reputation as a first-rate actress. Sometimes I wonder if the media and the public are so blinded by her looks and image that they fail to realize how truly talented she is. I would certainly rate Christine Collins as one of Jolie’s best performances. She managed to completely submerge into her role of the ladylike Mrs. Collins who has to overcome her natural reticence to resist the L.A.P.D.’s lie that the boy returned to her some five months after her son’s disappearance is the latter. Although most moviegoers and critics tend to be impressed by emotional and showy performances, I tend to be impressed by more subtle acting. And there are two scenes that featured Jolie at her subtle best – one featured an interview Collins had with an analyst inside a city psychiatric ward and the other centered around Captain Jones’ last efforts to convince her that the boy found in Illinois and delivered to her was her son Walter. Thankfully, Jolie ended up earning a much deserved Academy Award nomination for her performance.
Jolie received strong support from four actors in particular – John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Michael Kelly and Jason Butler Harner. Malkovich gave a solid performance as a Los Angeles evangelist named Reverend Gustav Briegleb who has been outspoken against the Los Angeles Police Department’s incompetence and corruption. His soliloquy about the police department not only gave me chills, it also reminded me that not much in Los Angeles politics have not changed in eighty years. In his chilling performance as Police Captain J.J. Jones, Jeffrey Donovan proved his versatility as an actor in a performance that bordered on subtle intimidation. Michael Kelly portrayed Detective Ybarra, the L.A. cop who discovered the link between Walter Collins and a serial killer . . . and he did so with a solid performance that matched Malkovich’s. The one actor who really impressed me was Jason Butler Harner, who gave a creepy performance as serial killer Gordon Northcott. The filmmakers had hired Harner due to the latter’s physical resemblance to the real Northcott. Physical resemblance aside, the actor’s performance could have easily become over-the-top. But Harner managed to inject a strong creepiness into the role without turning the character into a caricature.
I did have a few quibbles about "CHANGELING". Earlier I had marveled at the movie’s pacing despite Eastwood’s role as director and the 141 minute running time. And I stand by every word. But I must admit there was one point in the film in which it threatened to drag . . . namely the last fifteen or twenty minutes. One could suggest that the movie’s finale could have easily been deleted. But considering what had been revealed in those final moments, I doubt that would have been wise. One last quibble I had was Oscar nominee Amy Ryan’s role as a prostitute and fellow inmate of Collins’ at a city psychiatric ward. The filmmakers might as well have credited her appearance as a cameo. Despite Ryan’s excellent performance, her appearance in the film struck me nothing more than a waste of time.
No movie is perfect and as I had pointed out, "CHANGELING" had a few imperfections. But in the end it turned out to be a fascinating look into a period in the history of Los Angeles. Thanks to Eastwood’s direction, Straczynski's script, Angelina Jolie and a very talented supporting cast; "CHANGELING" turned out to be an engrossing tale of crime and corruption that made my list of favorite movies for 2008.