Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Below are images from "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY", the 2008 adaptation of Jane Austen's 1811 novel. Adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by John Alexander, the miniseries starred Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield:
"SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" (2008) Photo Gallery
Friday, July 25, 2014
"X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE" (2009) Review
I must admit that when I had learned of Marvel’s plans to release a fourth movie in the ”X-MEN” franchise some five or six years ago, I did not warm to the idea. And when I learned that this fourth movie would focus upon the origins of James Howlett aka Logan aka Wolverine, my wariness deepened.
Fortunately, ”X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE” eased most of my doubts. It turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining movie. Directed by Gavin Hood, it told the story of how a Canadian mutant named James Howlett (or Logan) became the amnesiac Wolverine first introduced in the 2000 film, ”X-MEN”. The movie not only provided a brief glimpse of his tragic childhood in mid-19th century Canada, which included the deaths of his stepfather; and real father and his relationship with his half-brother, Victor Creed aka Sabertooth, along with an extraordinary title sequence that highlighted the two brothers’ experiences as Canadian mercenaries for the U.S. Army during the Civil War, World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War. But the gist of the film centered around their work as mercenaries for the U.S. Army’s “Team X”, led by military scientist Major William Stryker; and James’ (Logan’s) later conflicts with Victor and Stryker after he left the team.
”X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE” had received some bad word of mouth before its release at the beginning of May. A rumor circulated that either Marvel or 20th Century-Fox had meddled with director Hood’s finished work. Since I do not know whether this is true or not, all I can do is comment upon what I had seen on the movie screen.
First, I have to say that ”X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE” was not perfect. One, I never understood why James and Victor had served as mercenaries for the U.S. Army during both World War I and II, since Canada had participated in both wars and at least seven decades had passed between the deaths of John Howlett and Thomas Logan (James’ step-father and father) in 1845 and their participation in World War I in 1917-1918. And two, how did Stryker know that Victor had less chance of surviving the adamantium process than James? Was it ever explained in the movie? I also had problems with two of the characters in the movie, along with Nicholas De Toth and Megan Gill’s editing. But I will discuss those later.
Despite some of the flaws mentioned in the previous paragraph, ”X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE” turned out to be better than I had expected. The movie took viewers on James Howlett’s emotional journey that started with him as a young boy in 1845 Canadian Northwest Territories, who stumbled upon an unpleasant truth about his parentage in the worst possible way. By the time the movie ended, James (or Logan) had fought in several wars, participated in Team X’s black operations, estranged himself from Victor, fallen in love, experienced loss, acquired his adamantium claws and lost his memories. Several fans had complained that Logan’s character did not seem like the complex loner from ”X-MEN” throughout most of the movie. Instead, he seemed more like the slightly benign team player that had emerged at the end of ”X-MEN 3: THE LAST STAND”. I must admit that these fans have a point. Only . . . I am not complaining. This only tells me that screenwriters David Benioff and Skip Woods had properly done their jobs. If Logan’s character had remained the cynical loner throughout the entire film, I would have been disappointed. One key to good writing is character development. In all of the previous three ”X-MEN”, Logan’s character had developed slowly from the loner to the team player shown at the end of ”THE LAST STAND”. But ”X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE” is only one movie. And in that single film, the screenwriters, along with Hood and actor Hugh Jackman had to show the audience how James Howlett became that amnesiac loner. The last thing I wanted to see was a one-dimensional portrayal of his character. And I am thankful that I have no reason to complain about Logan’s character arc.
Not only was I impressed by Logan’s character development (which was the gist of the story), I was also impressed by how Hood, Benioff, Woods and Jackman handled Logan’s relationships with Victor and Stryker. I enjoyed how the screenwriters created the con job that both Stryker and Victor had committed against Logan. They had manipulated Logan into volunteering for the adamantium process, so that he could seek revenge against Victor for his girlfriend’s death. What Logan did not know was that he had been nothing more than an experiment – a test run – to see if the process would work for Stryker’s new weapon – a mutant called Weapon XI or Deadpool that had been injected with the abilities of other mutants, including Logan’s healing factor. I feel that Benioff and Woods’ creation of the con job was an imaginative twist to the story . . . and very essential to Logan’s character development.
Speaking of Logan, I must say that Hugh Jackman did an excellent job of conveying Logan’s emotional journey in the film. Thanks to his first-class performance, he took Logan from the loyal, yet wary half-brother of the increasingly violent Victor Creed to the amnesiac mutant who ended up rejecting Remy LaBeau’s help amidst the ashes of Three Mile Island. Mind you, Jackman’s portrayal of Logan has always been first-rate. But since this movie featured a more in-depth look into the character’s development, I feel that it may have featured Jackman’s best performance as aggressive and self-regenerative mutant.
Liev Schreiber seemed equally impressive in his portrayal of Logan’s half-brother, Victor Creed aka Sabertooth. Like Logan, Victor possessed a regenerative healing factor, an aggressive nature and superhuman senses. But Schreiber’s Victor seemed not to have embarked on an emotional journey. Instead, his character seemed to be in some kind of quandary. Not only did Schreiber portray Victor as a more aggressive and violent man than Logan, but he did so with a touch of style that seemed to be lacking in Tyler Mane’s portrayal in the 2000 movie. Schreiber also did a magnificent job in revealing Victor’s conflicted feelings toward the character’s younger half-brother. He loves James, yet at the same time, harbors several resentments toward the younger man – including one toward Logan’s abandonment of Team X and him.
Normally I would pity the actor forced to fill Brian Cox’s shoes in the role of U.S. Army scientist William Stryker. The Scottish actor had given a superb performance in ”X-MEN 2: X-MEN UNITED”. Fortunately, Marvel hired Danny Huston for the role. Not only did he successfully fill Cox’s shoes in my opinion, he managed to put his own stamp on the role. Like Cox, Huston did a great portrayal of Stryker as the soft-spoken, yet ruthless and manipulative military scientist who would do anything to achieve his goals regarding the existence of mutants. But whereas the older Stryker simply wanted to destroy mutants, Huston’s Stryker seemed to desire control over them . . . for his own personal experiments. And Huston . . . was superb.
I felt more than satisfied with most of the movie’s supporting cast. Ryan Reynolds was memorable in his brief role of a wisecracking mercenary with lethal swordsmanship named Wade Wilson. He was both hilarious and chilling as the mutant who eventually became Stryker’s premiere experiment – Weapon XI aka Deadpool. Taylor Kitsch made a charming, yet intense Remy LaBeau, the New Orleans hustler and mutant who had escaped from Stryker’s laboratory on Three Mile Island. Rapper will.i.am made a solid screen debut as the soft spoken teleporter, John Wraith. Dominic Monaghan gave a quiet and poignant performance as Bradley, another member of Stryker’s Team X that happened to be a technopath. Kevin Durand as funny as the super strong Fred Dukes aka Blob, who developed an eating disorder after leaving Team X. Daniel Henney was intense and unforgettable as Team X’s ruthless tracker and marksman, Agent Zero. I enjoyed Tahyna Tozzi’s portrayal of the strong-willed Emma “Frost” so much that I found myself wishing she had been the movie’s leading lady.
Which brings me to Lynn Collins as Kayla Silverfox. I am sure that Ms. Collins is a competent actress. But her performance as Kayla, Logan’s telepathic girlfriend struck me as a bit uninspiring. Oddly enough, she physically reminded me of Evangeline Lilly of ”LOST”. In fact, her portrayal of Kayla damn near came off as flat so much that her acting skills almost seemed as mediocre as Ms. Lilly’s. Considering Ms. Collins’ reputation as an actress, I suspect that screenwriters Benioff and Woods are to blame for the flat portrayal of Kayla, instead of Ms. Collins’ acting skills. Tim Peacock gave a competent, yet unmemorable performance as the younger Scott Summers aka Cyclops – another mutant who became one of Stryker’s prisoners on Three Mile Island and a part of the Weapon XI experiment. If this Cyclops is supposed to be twenty years younger than the one featured in the first three ”X-MEN” films, then I believe that a younger actor should have been cast in this film. Why? I never got the impression that James Marsden’s Cyclops had been somewhere between 34 and 38 in the three previous films.
As I had stated earlier, I was not impressed by Nicholas De Toth and Megan Gill’s editing of the film. At times, it struck me as slightly choppy and amateurish. Only the editing featured in the opening title sequence struck me as impressive. And imaginative. However, Donald McAlpine’s photography and the visual effects supervised by Dean Franklin, Craig Veytia and Mike Rotella struck me as very impressive – especially in the title sequence and the scene featuring Logan and Victor’s fight against Deadpool on Three Mile Island.
In conclusion, I found ”X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE” to be surprisingly enjoyable. It turned out better than I had expected, despite some flaws. It would probably rank third for me in the ”X-MEN” franchise – somewhere between ”X-MEN 3” and ”X-MEN”. It also turned out to be one of my favorite movie for the summer of 2009.
Monday, July 21, 2014
”’FLASHFORWARD’: A Potential Nipped in the Bud”
Ever since ABC cancelled one of its freshman series, the science-fiction drama called ”FLASHFORWARD”, many television critics and fans have expressed the belief that the series failed to garner enough viewers due to its less than stellar writing. Now . . . I have stated that many have expressed this belief, but there were a good number of viewers who believe that the network should have given the series a chance to grow over the years. I happen to be one of those who agree with the latter.
Based upon the 1999 novel written by Robert J. Sawyer, ”FLASHFORWARD” revolved around the lives of several people after a mysterious event caused nearly everyone on the planet to simultaneously lose consciousness for two minutes and seventeen seconds on October 6, 2009. During this "blackout” people saw what appeared to be visions of their lives on April 29, 2010 - a global "flashforward”. Created by Brannon Braga and David S. Goyer, the series starred Joseph Fiennes, John Cho, Courtney B. Vance, Christine Woods, Jack Davenport, Sonia Walger and Dominic Monaghan.
When the series first aired in late September, it became an immediate ratings hit and stayed that way during its first ten (10) episodes. Then ABC made the decision to put the series on hiatus for three-and-a-half months. Why? I have no idea. But after the series resumed its run in mid-March 2010, its ratings tanked. In fact, the ratings remained low until it was finally cancelled by ABC some two-and-a-half months later. Does this story sound familiar? Why, yes it does. The very same fate nearly befell the CBS science-fiction/post-apocalypse series, ”JERICHO”. Thanks to a campaign by fans to save the series, ”JERICHO” was given a second season – which amounted to seven episodes that aired in a new time slot. Namely Tuesday nights at 10:00 PM. No amount of fan campaign could convince ABC to give ”FLASHFORWARD” a chance. But there are a good number of fans who are angry at how the network handled the series.
Yet, those critics and fans who did not criticize ABC’s handling of the series have claimed that ”FLASHFORWARD” was a failure that was destined for cancellation. Many of these critics and viewers claimed that the series failed to live up to the same quality as another ABC series, namely the pop culture hit, ”LOST”. Personally, I have a problem with this assessment of “FLASH FORWARD”. One, it was only in its first season. Its story had just begun. To expect it to be perfect right off the bat struck me as ridiculous. Now, I realize that both “LOST” and the NBC series, “HEROES”, managed to immediately dazzle U.S. viewers and critics with highly regarded series premieres and well written first seasons. But a closer look would reveal that after their remarkable first seasons, the storytelling qualities of both ”LOST” and ”HEROES” managed to do nothing but decline following their first seasons. And I believe that this was a major mistake for both shows. Both tried to maintain the momentum of their dazzling debuts . . . and failed. At least as I am concerned. Mind you, ”LOST” managed to occasionally deliver some exceptional episodes and story arcs over the years. But it was never delivered a consistently top-notched season after Season One. As for ”HEROES”, it simply went down the drain following its first season. How it managed to stay on the air for another three seasons simply amazed me.
Ever since the dazzling debuts of “LOST” and “HEROES”; television network executives have expected and demanded that other multi-seasonal series with a science-fiction/fantasy background repeat their initial success. I believe that this was a mistake. Some of the best science-fiction/fantasy television series I have seen have started out with a less than dazzling or even mediocre season debut. Good examples of this are “BABYLON 5″, “JERICHO” and “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. Both ”BABYLON 5” and ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” were given chances to fulfill their potential. Just as ”JERICHO” was developing into a well-written series, CBS permanently pulled its plug . . . aborting its chances of fulfilling any potential.
As I had stated earlier, “FLASH FORWARD” also started with a less than dazzling first season. I might as well be frank. It was not perfect. But I do believe that it had great potential to grow into a well written sagal. If the series had aired in the previous decade, I suspect that might have been given the chance to develop into something remarkable. It certainly had potential. But, we are stuck in the ”LOST” era of television broadcasting. Today’s television network executives do not seem to have the patience or willingness to give a series a chance to grow. They want and demand instant success. And unless they are willing to change their modis operandi, future science-fiction/fantasy television series with levels of qualities similar to “BABYLON 5″ and “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” threaten to become a thing of the past, never to be shown on television again. I certainly did not see that level of quality writing in shows like “LOST” or “HEROES”, despite their longevity on the air.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Below are images from "WANTED", the 2008 adaptation of Mark Millar's comic book miniseries. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, the movie stars James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman:
"WANTED" (2008) Photo Gallery
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One of "ONCE UPON A TIME". The series was created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz:
FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF "ONCE UPON A TIME" - Season One (2011-2012)
1. (1.18) "The Stable Boy" - This very interesting episode revealed the origins of the Evil Queen's antipathy toward Snow White. In the present, Mary Margaret Blanchard (aka Snow White) faces prosecution for Kathryn Nolan's alleged murder.
2. (1.07) "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" - Sheriff Graham begins to remember his life as The Huntsman in the Enchanted Forest, while Emma Swan begins to wonder if she is falling for him. A fascinating, yet tragic episode.
3. (1.11) "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree" - This episode reveals the back story of newspaper editor Sidney Glass' life as a Genie in the Enchanted Forest, and how his relationship with the Evil Queen led him to become the Magic Mirror.
4. (1.15) "Red-Handed" - While Emma makes former waitress Ruby her assistant in the sheriff's office, flashbacks reveal the latter's life as Red Riding Hood, culminating in a very surprising twist.
5. (1.12) "Skin Deep" - While Emma suspects that Mr. Gold (aka Rumplestiltskin) will seek vigilante justice against the person who broke into his house, flashbacks reveal Rumplestiltskin's complex relationship with Belle.