Monday, December 29, 2014

"ATONEMENT" (2007) Review

"ATONEMENT" (2007) Review

Based upon Ian McEwan’s 2001 novel, "ATONEMENT" told the story about how the lies and misunderstandings of 13-year-old girl from a nouveau-riche English family affected the romance between her older sister and the son of the family’s housekeeper. The movie starred James McAvoy, Keira Knightely and Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan.

Comprised in four parts (like the novel), "ATONEMENT" began with the 13 year-old Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), an aspiring novelist with a crush on Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the son of the family’s housekeeper. Robbie, along with Briony’s older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) have both returned for the summer in 1935, following their education at Cambridge. Although both Robbie and Cecilia have been aware of each other at Cambridge, neither have not bothered to acknowledged their romantic interest in each other until recently. Also at the Tallis home for the weekend are Briony and Cecilia’s cousins – the 15 year-old Lola Quincey (Juno Temple) and her younger twin brothers – and their older brother Leon’s friend, the owner of a chocolate factory named Paul Marshall (Benedict Cumberbatch).

After Briony had witnessed several disturbing scenes – at least in her eyes – between Robbie and Cecilia, she comes to the conclusion that Robbie might be a sexual threat to Cecilia. Matters worsened when Briony joined the rest of the household in the search for Lola’s twin brothers, who had ran off in protest against their parents’ upcoming divorce. During the search for the twins, Briony witnessed the rape of her cousin Lola on the family estate by a man in a dinner suit. In the end, Briony claimed that the man she saw raping Lola was Robbie. Aside from Cecilia, the rest of the family believed Briony and Robbie ends up being sent to prison. At the outset of World War II, the British government released Robbie from prison on condition that he enlist as a private in the British Expeditionary Force. The rest of the movie, set during the early years of World War II, featured Robbie’s brief reunion with Cecilia – who had become a nurse - before his journey to France and the now 18 year-old Briony’s (Romola Garai) experiences as a wartime nurse.

"ATONEMENT" turned out to be a first-rate film about the destructive consequences of lies and illusions. Both director Joe Wright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton structured the movie in an unusual way in which not only did they allow moviegoers different conflicting perspective on certain incidents in the story – a prime example would be both Briony and Robbie’s different points-of-view on an incident regarding Cecilia’s retrieval of a broken vase from the estate fountain, but also quite cleverly hinted that certain aspects of story – especially the World War II segments – may have been colored by Briony’s own emotions and imagination. Also, Wright, along with art directors Ian Bailie, Nick Gottschalk and Niall Moroney; and production designer Sarah Greenwood did an excellent job in re-creating the rich atmosphere of Britain in the mid-1930s and 1940 and especially the Dunkirk expedition. I also have to commend Paul Tothill for the film’s superb editing. Tothill managed to give"ATONEMENT" a rhythmic style that matched the sound of a typewriter that added an illusionary sense to the unfolding story. In other words, by editing the story in a way that allowed certain scenes to be told from different points of view and added a sense of illusion, Tothill’s work gave the audience a false sense of illusion – at least for those who have never read McEwan’s novel.

I do have one quibble about the movie’s production . . . and I have to place the blame on Wright’s direction. I am referring the sequence that featured Robbie’s arrival at the beach at Dunkirk. At first glance, I was struck by the spectacle of Wright’s direction and Seamus McGarvey’s photography of the entire montage. Like I said . . . at first. Unfortunately, the montage ended up lasting several minutes too long. Not much time had passed when I found myself longing for it to end. I realized that Wright wanted to reveal the horror and chaos of war in all of its glory. But in the end, he simply went too far.

I must admit that I was not as impressed by most of the cast of "ATONEMENT" as most critics and moviegoers. There was nothing earth-shattering about most of the performances . . . just good, solid work. Many moviegoers and critics had been surprised when both James McAvoy and Keira Knightley failed to earn Academy Award nominations. After watching the movie, I am not really surprised. Mind you, both gave very competent performances as the two lovers – Robbie and Cecilia But I had two problems with McAvoy and Knightley. One, their screen chemistry was not that explosive, considering the heated romance of their characters. It took a love scene inside the Tallis library to truly generate any heat between them. And two, I think their performances were hampered by Wright’s decision to allow the characters to speak in a staccato style that was prevalent in the movies of the 1930s and 40s in both Hollywood and Britain. I hate to say this, but McAvoy and Knightley never really managed to utilize this speech pattern with any effectiveness. There were times when their attempts to use it threatened to make their performances seem stiff and rushed. Perhaps they were simply too young and inexperienced.

On the other hand, I was very impressed by the three actresses who portrayed Briony Tallis at different stages in her life. Legendary actress Vanessa Redgrave portrayed a 70-80 year-old Briony, who had not only wrote a novel based upon the events surrounding Robbie’s arrest, but also confessed to the mistake she had committed decades earlier. And Romola Garai portrayed the character as an 18 year-old wartime nurse. Both actresses did an excellent job of portraying these older versions of Briony. But it was the young actress Saoirse Ronan who stole the movie as the 13 year-old Briony, whose naivety, jealousy toward Cecilia and Robbie’s budding romance and penchant for illusions led to devastating consequences for the romantic pair. Unlike McAvoy and Knighteley, Ronan gave a superb and natural performance as the confused and emotional Briony. It is not surprising that her work eventually earned BAFTA, Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress.

Before I end this review, I have to point out something that troubled me about "ATONEMENT". I might as well admit that I have never read McEwan’s novel . . . which is why the following storyline left me feeling confused. From what I have read about the film and the novel, Briony’s cousin, Lola Quincey, had been raped by the Tallis’ guest, Paul Marshall. And yet . . . she married the man, five years later. Why? Was it because she never knew that Marshall had been the one who had raped her? But judging from the hostile look she had given Briony at her wedding, Lola seemed well aware of that fact. Did Marshall actually raped her? Or had he seduced her that night the twins disappeared and Robbie was arrested? Perhaps the novel made the details of Lola’s storyline clearer. The movie left it murky. At least for me.

In the end, I must admit that "ATONEMENT" proved to be one of the best movies released in 2007. Was it the best movie of that year? I do not think so. I have recently seen "NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN”and believe that it deserved that Best Picture Oscar. But despite some of the movie’s flaws, director Joe Wright managed to lift the usual Merchant Ivory façade of Britain’s past and create an emotionally dark film from Ian McEwan’s novel.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Top Ten Favorite CHRISTMAS Television Episodes


Below is a list of my favorite television episodes about the Christmas holiday: 


1 - Friends - 6.10 The One With the Routine

1. "Friends" - (6.10) "The One With the Routine" - Joey Tribianni's girlfriend invites him, Monica and Ross Gellar to accompany her to the taping of "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve". Meanwhile, Chandler Bing, Rachel Green and Phoebe Buffay try to search for the Christmas presents that Monica gave them, so they can give her appropriate presents in return.

2 - The West Wing - 2.10 Noël 

2. "The West Wing" - (2.10) "Noël" - Christmas bells and music forces Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman to deal with the aftermath of being shot during an assassination attempt earlier in the season.

3 - Chuck - 2.11 Chuck vs. Santa Claus

3. "Chuck" - (2.11) "Chuck Versus Santa Claus" - An amateur criminal on the run from the police crashes into the Buy More and takes Chuck Bartowski, his sister Ellie, her fiance Devon and the Buy More employees hostage on Christmas Eve.

4 - Seinfeld - 6.10 The Race

4. "Seinfeld" - (6.10) "The Race" - Jerry Seinfeld meets an school old rival, who suspects that he had cheated in a high school race and wishes to re-run it. Elaine Benes finds out her boyfriend is a Communist, who convinces Cosmo Kramer to become one.

5 - Magnum PI - 4.10 Operation Silent Night

5. "Magnum P.I." - (4.10) "Operation Silent Night" - Christmas Eve holds some unusual surprises for Thomas Magnum, T.C. (Theodore Calvin), Rick Wright and Jonathan Higgins when their helicopter crash on a deserted island via that the a Navy is planning to use for artillery practice.

6 - Remington Steele - 4.09 Dancer Prancer Donner and Steele

6. "Remington Steele" - (4.09) "Dancer, Prancer, Donner and Steele" - The Remington Steele Detective Agency's Christmas party is interrupted by three gun-wielding Santas, who take everyone hostage and threaten to blow up the building.

7 - Monk - 4.09 Mr. Monk and the Secret Santa

7. "Monk" - (4.09) "Mr. Monk and the Secret Santa" - Police consultant Adrian Monk investigates the death of a police detective who dies at a S.F.P.D. Christmas party after drinking from a poisoned bottle of port that was delivered to Captain Leland Stottlemeyer.

8 - Twilight Zone - 2.11 The Night of the Meek

8. "The Twilight Zone" - (2.11) "The Night of the Meek" - Art Carney starred in this classic episode as a drunken department store Santa Claus, who is fired on Christmas Eve before finding a bag that gives people anything they want.

9 - Homicide Life on the Streets - 3.08 All Through the House

9. "Homicide: Life on the Streets" - (3.08) "All Through the House" - When the squad face duty on Christmas Eve, John Munch and Stanley Bolander investigate the death of a streetside Santa Claus. Meanwhile, Meldrick Lewis and Megan Russert try to find a young woman's killer. And Tim Bayliss tries to hustle his colleagues in cards during a quiet night in the squad room.

10 - Scarecrow and Mrs. King - 1.10 The Long Christmas Eve

10. "Scarecrow and Mrs. King" - (1.10) "The Long Christmas Eve" - Agency spies Amanda King and Lee Stetson's violent encounter with two KGB agents lead to a long night of détente on Christmas Eve inside an isolated cabin.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"THERE WILL BE BLOOD" (2007) Photo Gallery

Below is a gallery of photos from the 2007 Paul Thomas Anderson film, "THERE WILL BE BLOOD", starring Daniel Day-Lewis (who won both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for his performance), Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Ciarán Hinds and Kevin J. O'Connor: 

"THERE WILL BE BLOOD" (2007) Photo Gallery

Friday, December 19, 2014

"EASTERN PROMISE" (2007) Review

"EASTERN PROMISES" (2007) Review

Nine years ago, I saw for the first time, the crime thriller directed by David Cronenberg called, ”A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE”. Viggo Mortensen had starred in the movie, portraying a happily-married café owner, whose Good Samaritan actions against two thugs led to his disclosure as a former mob enforcer. Both Cronenberg and Mortensen reunited two years later to collaborate on another crime thriller called, "EASTERN PROMISES"

Based upon a screenplay written by Steve Knight, ”EASTERN PROMISES” began with a gangland murder and the death of a 14 year-old Russian-born prostitute after giving birth to an infant girl. The two incidents would resonate over the lives of a London hospital midwife of Russian descent named Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts), a Russian mob boss and restaurant owner named Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), his wastrel son Krill (Vincent Cassel), and the mob boss’ enigmatic chauffeur, Nikolai Luzhin (Mortensen).

The plot is a little too complex for me to explain in this review. Needless to say that it centered around the mob boss’ attempt to recover the dead prostitute’s diary, which found itself in the hands of the hospital midwife. I would suggest that one find a way to see the movie. It will not disappoint. I know I found it very interesting. Yes, it has violence, but not as much that was found in ”A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE”. But the amount of blood shown in the film – especially in the gangland slaying and the prostitute’s death – seemed to like a metaphor of the story’s theme . . . and the connection between the major characters.

On the surface, ”EASTERN PROMISES” seemed like a typical crime thriller centered around a Russian crime family in London. But the plot – like three of the major characters – turned out to be something quite different than what appears to be on the surface. What seemed like a gang war, turned out to be a lurid family secret that brings down the Russian mobster. As I had earlier pointed out, this theme is also apparent in three of the four major characters:

*Krill – who seemed like a crude and murderous monster on the surface, who proves to be more benign

*Semyon – a talented cook and mob boss, whose grandfatherly demeanor hides a darker and more ruthless personality

*Nikolai – the enigmatic chauffeur, whose practical and cynical nature makes him unsuited to merely be the family’s driver. As in the case of Semyon and Krill, he turns out to be someone very different.

And it is through the eyes of the London midwife, Anna that the audience becomes acquainted with the exotic (at least for American and British eyes) world of Russian émigrés mingled with the violence and degeneracy of the Vory v Zakone (Russian Mafia). Thanks to Cronenberg’s direction, the world of the Vory v Zakone seemed so exotic and something never seen before. In fact, it seemed so insular that the usual British atmosphere of London almost seemed miles away, despite the presence of Scotland Yard. One sequence that came to mind is the hand-to-hand fight between Nikolai and two Chechen assassins seeking revenge for the gangland murder featured in the movie’s opening scene. The sight of a nude Mortensen viciously defending his life against two burly assassins inside a London bathhouse is one that I will never forget. And I suspect that it will become an unforgettable scene in the minds of moviegoers for years to come. 

I was also impressed by the performances in the movie. Despite having the least interesting character, Watts managed – with her usual competency – to infuse pathos and spirit into the London midwife. And Mueller-Stahl did an excellent job of portraying a brutal and ruthless man who manages to hide these traits under a veneer of warmth and civility. But I feel that Cassel deserves an Oscar nod for his portrayal of the pathetic Krill, who tries to hide his weaknesses (or what he conceives as weakness) with a crude and extroverted persona. 

Finally, there is Viggo Mortensen, whose portrayal of the enigmatic Nikolai might finally allow the critics to truly appreciate his skills as an actor. Instead of using words or openly expressed emotions, Mortensen manages to reveal his character to the audience through subtle words (in a Russian accent that surprisingly works), body language, costume and especially in his eyes. What makes Mortensen so remarkable as a film actor is that he has no need for big speeches (which he had attempted in ”LORD OF THE RINGS: Return of the King”) or outbursts of emotions to convey to express his characters’ personalities. This certainly seemed true in the scene in which Nikolai has sex with one of the prostitutes, in the whorehouse owned by Krill’s father. Nikolai does not simply have sex with the woman. He IS FORCED to do so . . . on the orders of Krill, who wants Nikolai to prove that he is not a homosexual. The audience was well aware that the prostitute felt violated and exploited. But Mortensen managed to convey through his eyes, Nikolai's feelings of violation, exploitation . . . and disgust at Krill’s desire to watch him have sex with the prostitute. Good performances by Mortensen, Cassel and the actress who portrayed the prostitute.

What else can I say about "EASTERN PROMISES"? It was not the best movie I had seen in 2007.  But I feel that it is a fascinating and emotionally complex story that seems different from the usual crime thriller. Unlike "A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE", it is not capped by a violence sequence that gives us the last word on the protagonist’s fate. Yet, all the same, I found it very tense and emotional.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Notes and Observations on "STAR WARS: Episode IV - A New Hope"

The following is a list of minor notes and observations that came to me, during my recent viewing of “Episode IV: A New Hope”. I hope that you enjoy them: 

Notes and Observations on "STAR WARS: Episode IV - A New Hope"

*According to the movie’s opening scrawl, Leia possessed the Death Star plans that could “provide freedom to the galaxy”. Is that what happened at the end of the movie?

*Wow! R2-D2 really looks worn and old aboard the Organas’ ship, the Tantive IV. It is easy to imagine that he has been around for over three decades.

*Are the troops firing upon the stormtroopers, Alderaanian troops? If so, does that mean Leia had contradicted herself when she told Tarkin and Vader that Alderaan was a peaceful planet?

*When Vader made his entrance, the first thing that popped into my mind was Anakin leading the clone troopers to the Jedi Temple in ROTS.

*Father and daughter meet. At last.

*I hate to say this, but I have always found C3-P0 and R2’s adventures on Tatooine before meeting Luke to be slightly boring. Okay. I did find it boring.

*The technology inside the Jawa’s ship looked very outdated.

*It is interesting how Owen had to ask Threepio if he spoke Bocce for the moisture vaporators. Which tells me that he did not immediately know Threepio’s identity. But then, Threepio had not introduced himself.

*"But I was going into Toshi Station to pick up some power converters!” - Ah yes! The infamous Skywalker whining at work. I really don’t understand why many fans complained of Anakin’s whining in AOTC. Luke had to have inherited his whining from someone.

*C3-P0 finally introduces himself and R2-D2 when they are alone with Luke, inside the Lars’ garage.

*So, Threepio and Artoo were not personally in Leia’s service aboard the Tantive IV, as I had first imagined. I had forgotten that they had become the property of Captain Antilles.

*I did not realize that Luke knew where Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi lived.

*The moment Luke had mentioned R2 and 3P0 might belong to Obi-Wan, Owen ordered their memories to be wiped. Interesting.

*For some bizarre reason, I found myself seeing Padme comfort Luke and telling him not to grow up too fast.

*Artoo seemed to have set a lot in motion. Leia hid the Death Star plans in his system. Artoo was the one who set out to find Obi-Wan, bringing about the old Jedi Master and the future Jedi Master’s first meeting. And because Luke was forced to search for R2, he managed to avoid Owen and Beru’s fate.

*I also noticed that Vader did not bother to join the search for R2 and 3P0 on Tatooine.

*It is a good thing that those Tusken Raiders did not know that Luke was the son of the Jedi who had wiped out a tribe of their kind.

*Did Obi-Wan immediately recognize the two droids?

*”He was the best star-pilot in the galaxy, and a cunning warrior.” – It is nice to know that’s how Obi-Wan remembered Anakin. But then these next words, as he handed over Anakin s lightsaber to Luke rather spoiled the moment – “I have something here for you. Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn't allow it.” - especially in light of how Obi-Wan really managed to acquire the lightsaber. Obi-Wan’s description of how Vader had “murdered” Anakin spoiled the moment even further.

*If the Emperor had dissolved the Imperial Senate as stated by Tarkin in the movie, then it is obvious that Lucas had abandoned the earlier idea of Palpatine being a pawn or puppet of other politicians, as indicated in the 1976 edition of The Journal of the Whills.

*”Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.” – Was this an example of Vader’s past Jedi training coming to the fore? Or was this an example of his Sith background? Or his 30 odd years as a Force user?

*Some people have stated that Luke’s upbringing had prepared him to face Owen and Beru’s deaths a lot better than Anakin had dealt with Shmi’s death. But considering Luke’s reaction to Obi-Wan’s death, along with Han and Leia’s endangerment in both ESB and ROTJ, I would say that Luke did not feel as emotionally close to the Lars as he did to the other three.

*”Mos Eisley Spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.” – Famous words to live by. I wonder if Obi-Wan had ever visited Mos Espa.

*I love how the special effects recently added to the film, has enhanced the details of Mos Eisley during Luke and Obi-Wan’s arrival.

*I was surprised to notice the small number of human customers and inhabitants inside the cantina in Mos Eisley.

*For one crazy moment, Sir Alec Guiness sounded like Ewan McGregor in the scene where Obi-Wan and Luke meet Han Solo for the first time.

*”That’s okay. I’m never coming back to this planet, again.” – Careful Luke. Never make promises that one cannot keep.

*Does anyone know the name of the creature that followed Luke and Obi-Wan to the Millennium Falcon’s hangar?

*I had no idea that Boba Fett had been working for Jabba the Hutt before the incidents of ESB.

*I don’t think that even the massacre at the Jedi Temple in ROTS could ever exceed the horror of Alderaan’s destruction. Tarkin made Vader look like an amateur.

*Did I detect a slight British accent coming out of Carrie Fisher’s mouth?

*While watching Obi-Wan begin Luke’s training in the Jedi skills, I realized that this is the first time I’ve seen a 19 year-old Jedi youngling.

*”That’s good. You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.” – A rather apt description of one’s introduction into the Force.

*”I sense something. A presence I have not felt since . . .” – I find it odd that Vader was able to immediately sense Obi-Wan, yet Obi-Wan did not sense Vader until the latter nearly found him?

*"Bring em’ on! I prefer a straight fight to all of this sneaking around!” – I found Han’s comment rather odd, considering that he was a smuggler.

*”Better her than me!” – I found Han’s refusal to save Leia rather cold, considering that she would end up being his future love.

*Leia was imprisoned in cell block 1138. Hmmm . . . do you suppose that Robert Duvall is with her?

*Han gave the worst impression of an Imperial trooper I have ever seen. Classic moment.

*”Hi! I’m Luke Skywalker. I’m here to rescue you.” – Brother and sister meet for the first time since their births.

*”Will someone please get this big, walking carpet out of my way?” – Ah! Leia is still Daddy’s girl.

*Watching Luke and Leia swing to safety reminded me of Anakin and Padme’s failure to do the same in AOTC.

*Anakin (Vader) vs. Obi-Wan: Part II – in retrospect, is not as exciting or thrilling as their first duel on Mustafar.

*Vader’s dialogue seemed rather wooden during his duel with Obi-Wan.

*”Not this ship, sister.”/”It is for me, sister.” – Without a doubt, these are the two worst lines ever uttered in a STAR WARS movie. And both lines had been spoken by Harrison Ford.

*For a guy that had been traumatized by Obi-Wan’s death, Luke seemed to have recovered from his grief rather fast. Even to the point that he ended up contemplating a romance with Leia before the Falcon could reach Yavin IV.

*Despite the Battle of Yavin sequence, the movie never recaptured or continued its drive, following the Falcon’s escape from the Death Star.

*Why did Han and Chewbacca attend the pilot’s briefing on their mission to destroy the Death Star? Especially since the two never had plans to hang around any longer or join the Rebel Alliance.

*Typical of Vader/Anakin in that he had decided to join the Imperial fighters in the battle, instead of remaining with the generals.

*What do you know? Uncle Dennis . . . oop! I mean, Wedge to the rescue!

*It seemed as if Lucas had incorporated nearly every World War II aviator cliché into the Battle of Yavin sequence.

*Someone in my family had pointed out that the Rebels never really had any kind of strategy to destroy the Death Star. Instead, the Alliance military leaders merely had an objective and a method to destroy the station.

*When Obi-Wan had urged Luke to use the Force, had he foreseen that Vader would sense it?

*When I first saw ANH, I had wondered why Vader did not die in the end. From a 29 year perspective, I know understand why.

*The medal ceremony featured a good number of pilots in the audience. So, where had they been during the Battle of Yavin?

*Someone had described the medal ceremony near the end of the film as a pyhrric victory for the Rebel Alliance. When one contemplates on what laid ahead for Luke, Leia, Han and the others . . . that person may have been right.

*I would describe ANH as the most fun of all the STAR WARS movies. A straight out adventure flick with heroes, villains, damsels and wizards. Which would explain why many fans consider it to be the best of the saga. However . . . as much fun ANH was, it harbored very few meaningful metaphors and complexities in compare to the five other films that followed. It’s a lot of fun, but somewhat a little shallow to me.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

"GOLDFINGER" (1964) Photo Gallery


September 17 marked the 50th anniversary of "GOLDFINGER", the 1964 adaptation of Ian Fleming's 1959 James Bond novel. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie starred Sean Connery as James Bond. Below are images from the film: 



1964 Goldfinger 02