Wednesday, July 29, 2015
"THE FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER" (2007) Review
Eight years ago, I had found myself surprised that 20th Century-Fox decided to green light a sequel to the 2005 movie, "THE FANTASTIC FOUR". When the latter was released, many critics panned the movie as a ghost of other Marvel cinematic hits such as the "SPIDER-MAN" and the "X-MEN" franchise or the DC Comics hit, "BATMAN BEGINS".
Unlike the above-mentioned films and others such as 2003's "DAREDEVIL", "THE FANTASTIC FOUR" told the story of how four people with close connections ended up with super powers . . . and how they dealt with it. It also introduced the quartet's main antagonist, Victor Von Doom. I found the movie rather entertaining. But if I must be honest, it felt more like a character study than a costumed action film. Although the 2007 sequel, "THE FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER" managed to retain the comedic element of the first story, it turned out to be a suprisingly good action piece with strong character development.
The movie began with the arrival of a mysterious alien presence that caused havoc with the Earth's resources in various locations. This alien turns out to be the Silver Surfer (Doug Jones and voiced by Laurence Fishburne). The movie soon shifted to more familiar ground - namely the upcoming marriage of Reed Richards aka "Mr. Fantastic" (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue Storm aka "The Invisible Woman" (Jessica Alba). Or should I say . . . another attempt by the couple to get married. It seemed their past efforts at matrimony have ended up being delayed by either their roles as costumed super heroes, or Reed's anal obssession with his work. With the threat of the new alien presence announced by Army General Hager (Andre Braugher in a rather intimidating role), Reed and Sue are forced to cancel their wedding plans once more and join other Fantastic Four members - Ben Grimm aka "The Thing" (Michael Chiklis) and Sue's younger brother, Johnny Storm aka "The Human Torch" (Chris Evans) - to save the Earth from the Silver Surfer.
The blue-suited quartet are eventually embroiled in other crisis as well. As I had stated earlier, Reed and Sue end up enduring an angst fest over their failure to get married. Johnny's first encounter with the Silver Surfer ended up changing his DNA structure. Because of this, he is able to exchange powers with any of his colleagues with only a touch. Even worse, Johnny's uncertainty regarding his powers and his failure to seduce General Hager's beautiful aide - Captain Raye (Beau Garrett) - led him into an emotional crisis. Also, an old nemesis returned in the form of Dr. Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon). Claiming a desire to help the Army and the Fantastic Four deal with the threat of the Silver Surfer, Victor' real agenda turned out to be a desire to claim the Surfer's power source for his own use.
As I had earlier stated, the 2005 movie mainly told the story about how the quarter acquired their powers and became a costumed super hero team. The 2007 sequel, on the other hand, features a solid action-filled story on how the Fantastic Four battled the Silver Surfer, Victor von Doom, the U.S. Army and their own neurosis. This is probably why "THE FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER" proved to be a lot better than the original film. Yes, the humor had remained. But the 2007 movie seemed better paced, more solid . . . and dare I say it? More mature. Their interactions with both the Silver Surfer and General Hager turned the story from a basic comic book action flick into something more complex. And adding to the complexity were Reed and Sue's further obstacles facing their relationship, and Johnny Storm's troubles with his powers and his own self esteem.
Thankfully, the people at Marvel and 20th Century Fox had decided to reunite director Tim Story with the cast from the 2005 film. Because of this, Story was able to maintain the style created two years ago and take the FANTASTIC FOUR franchise to a more complex level. With the exception of Michael Chiklis and Julian McMahon, the returning cast managed to take their roles to a new level in characterization. Do not get me wrong . . . both Chiklis and McMahon gave excellent performances as Ben Grimm aka "The Thing" and Dr. Victor von Doom aka "Dr. Doom". But their characters were never given the opportunity to shine as much as the others. I could be wrong, but I suspect this was due to possible conflicting schedules with their respective TV series ("THE SHIELD" and "NIP/TUCK"). Andre Braugher's tough and intimidating performance as General Hager struck me as first-rate. I thought he really provided an excellent performance and strong presence that put the rest of the cast on their toes. The movie also featured solid performances from Kerry Washington, who continued her portrayal of Ben Grimm's girlfriend, Alicia Masters and Beau Garrett, who portrayed General Hager's non-nonsense aide, Captain Frankie Raye.
Both Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba's screen chemistry seemed a lot more believable in this film as their characters, Reed Richards and Sue Storm. Their characters' struggle to take their relationship to another level despite the obstacles put in their paths provided more energy into their screen chemistry. The real surprise turned out to be Chris Evans' portrayal as the usually shallow Johnny Storm. In this movie, Johnny discovered their was more to his life than fast vehicles, women and his celebrity status as one of the Fantastic Four. Who would have thought that this superficially charming character could possess real pathos? Yet, Evans' first-class performance made this possible. He also provided one of the movie's funniest scenes, when he "accidentally" torched the bridal bouquet before his new girlfriend, Captain Raye, could catch it. Although I found the Silver Surfer's abilities and his impact upon the Fantastic Four impressive, I must say that his personality struck me as a little too distant for me to really care about him. At least the revelation of his bondage to a powerful and destructive alien entity made his character a little more interesting than I had originally believed. And I have to give Laurence Fishburne kudos for doing an excellent job with the character's voice over.
I would highly recommend "THE FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER" if you are looking for some solid comic book action to pop into the DVD player. Granted, it does not have the level of angst or epic-like proportion of other Marvel movies such as the "SPIDER-MAN", "X-MEN" or Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) franchies, it is still a more complex and interesting story than its 2005 predesessor, "THE FANTASTIC FOUR".
Thursday, July 23, 2015
Below is a gallery featuring images from the 2008 movie, "CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN", the 2008 adaptation of C.S. Lewis' 1951 novel and the second installment of his "NARNIA" saga. The movie was directed by Andrew Adamson:
"THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN" (2008) Photo Gallery
Sunday, July 19, 2015
"AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.: THIS IS LOVE?"
Ever since the middle of Season One of Marvel's "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.", there has been a fandom dedicated to the relationship between two of the series' characters: former hackivist/turned S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Skye (no surname mentioned) and Agent Grant Ward. And despite the amount of attention dedicated to this potential romance on the Internet and in the media, I have found myself wondering if I should support it or not.
The relationship between Skye and Ward began in (1.01) "Pilot", the series' very first episode. Despite being a member of a hacktivist group called Rising Tide, Skye ended up being recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson and his newly formed team (which included Ward) track down a man named Mike Peterson, who had recently acquired super powers. Coulson assigned the no-nonsense Ward to serve as Skye's S.O. (Supervising Officer) and train her.
During Season One's first half, Ward trained Skye; while she responded with quirky jokes and mild flirtation. Then in the final scene of (1.08) "The Well", Ward began an affair with another member of Coulson's team - the formidable Agent Melinda May. I suspect that May slept with Ward as some form of comfort following his traumatic experiences with an Asgardian Beserker Staff. Their relationship lasted until a "repentant" Ward received a grilling for fraternizing with another agent and promised to end the affair in (1.13) "T.R.A.C.K.S.". Two episodes later in (1.15) "Yes Men", Ward admitted his attraction to Skye in a conversation with the rogue Asgardian goddess, Lorelei. She had him under her thrall at the time. The friendship between Skye and Ward deepened in the following four episodes - between (1.16) "End of the Beginning" and (1.19) "The Only Light in the Darkness". During this period, the events of "CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER" played out and resulted in the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D., the revelation of HYDRA's (a former Nazi science organization-turned-terrorist group) infiltration, and Skye's discovery that Ward had been a HYDRA mole on behalf of another S.H.I.E.L.D./HYDRA traitor, Agent John Garrett.
The relationship between Skye and Ward fell apart during Season One's remaining three episodes. Skye was forced to leave Director Nick Fury's secret Providence base and allow Ward to lead her into the arms of HYDRA and Garrett. The latter needed her to break the encryption code she had created to guard many S.H.I.E.L.D. files. After Coulson rescued her at the end of (1.20) "Nothing Personal" with the help of fellow agents Maria Hill and Antoine Triplett, Skye and Ward did not face each other again until the big confrontation between Coulson and Garrett in the season's finale, (1.22) "Beginning of the End". In that episode, Skye expressed her disgust and contempt for Ward and he ended up in Federal custody after enduring a beat down by May.
Since the airing of "Beginning of the End", fans have been divided over the future of Skye and Ward's relationship (dubbed "Skyeward" on the Internet). They have also been divided over the possibility of Ward's redemption in future episodes. How do I now feel about these issues? Honestly, I am a bit conflicted. At least about Ward's redemption. Do I believe that he is beyond redemption? Well . . . no. I do feel that it would take a great deal of sacrifice on Ward's part (possibly his death) to redeem himself for the murders of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents Victoria Hand, her assistants, and Eric Koenig; and the attempted murders of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents Leo Fitz, Jemma Simmons, Coulson and Skye.
What about "Skyeward"? How do I feel about the Skye/Ward relationship? Honestly? I do not sense any real love between them. Not really. The ironic thing is that I had earlier considered the possibility of a romance between them. After all, cast members Chloe Bennet and Brett Dalton managed to generate a pretty good screen chemistry. However, the revelation of Ward as a HYDRA mole led me to dismiss any considerations . . . for the present. But after my recent re-watching of several Season One episodes, I found myself wondering how I could have ever considered any possibility of a romance between them in the first place.
S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Skye
There are certain fans who believe that Ward could find redemption from his actions as a HYDRA mole through Skye's love. I have a problem with this theory. I have a problem, because I have doubts that Skye actually loves him . . . or ever loved him. Her flirtation attempts at Ward in the early episodes seemed to hint that Skye found Ward attractive. She even used a photograph of him as her laptop computer's wallpaper . . . like an infatuated schoolgirl. This attraction was especially apparent in an early scene from "Yes Men", in which both seemed physically aware of each other, while the latter expressed relief at her recovery from being shot by HYDRA scientist/industrialist Ian Quinn in "T.R.A.C.K.S.". Before this romantic exchange could progress, Skye expressed her dismay over Mike Peterson, who had just become Deathlok. Because she viewed him as a close friend, this was the second time she had expressed disbelief and concern over Mike's transformation. The first time this happened, Skye had discovered his transformation for the first time before Quinn shot her. And she expressed her dismay for the third when she was a prisoner of HYDRA in "Nothing Personal". For some reason, Skye found it difficult to give up on Mike.
At the same time . . . I do not recall Skye ever expressing similar feelings for Ward, when she discovered he was a HYDRA mole. Not once. When she finally confronted him about his betrayal to S.H.I.E.L.D., she merely expressed anger and disgust. In fact, she labeled him as someone "evil". In the season finale, her feelings toward him had transformed into contempt and she judged him as "weak", instead of "evil". The only member of Coulson's team who seemed unable to face Ward's betrayal or give up on him was Leo Fitz. From the moment the rest of the team learned about Ward's betrayal, Fitz expressed disbelief that Ward was a HYDRA agent and expressed numerous theories that Ward may have been coerced. Even moments before Ward tried to kill him and Jemma Simmons by ejecting them into the ocean, Fitz continued to blind himself from Ward's perfidy.
As I had stated earlier, Skye never tried to deny Ward's betrayal. One might point out her willingness to cooperate with Garrett over the encrypted files, when Mike endangered Ward's life in "Nothing Personal". But Skye was willing, if reluctantly, willing to allow Ward to die if it meant preventing HYDRA from accessing those files. In the end, it took Mike's argument that she would have Ward's blood on her hands if she did not cooperate. If Joss and Jed Whedon, along with Maurissa Tancharoen, are willing to satisfy fans with some plot twist that allows Skye's love to redeem Ward; they will have to dramatically change her character for that to happen.
S.H.I.E.L.D./HYDRA Agent Grant Ward
Judging from the Season One episodes I have seen, I would say that Grant Ward harbors stronger feelings for Skye than she does for him. And yet . . . I cannot sense any deep and abiding love on Ward's part for Skye. I can recall him expressing concern for her life, when she infiltrated Quinn's mansion in (1.03) "The Asset". He did seemed concerned for Skye's life after she had been shot by Quinn. Yet, other members of the team seemed more openly upset. Like Ward, Fitz expressed remorse that he did not accompany Skye to Quinn's Italian villa, where she got shot. But he seemed a lot more emotional than Ward. Simmons literally burst into tears. May lost her temper and nearly beat the living crap out of Quinn, who became their prisoner. And Coulson became uber-determined, actually desperate to find a means to save Skye's life - even to the point of breaking S.H.I.E.L.D. protocol and searching for the project that had resurrected him. Of all the team members, Ward seemed the least emotional over Skye's fate. Perhaps the latter was trying not to shed "unmanly" tears. Who knows? He did express his displeasure to his mentor John Garrett, who had ordered Skye's death. But his easy willingness to accept Garrett's dismissal of the incident struck me as a bit . . . interesting.
Ward's most emotional reaction to any character on the show was directed at Garrett. This happened when the latter's organs began to fail, due to internal cybernetic parts. Ward expressed deep concern when Garrett's health began to fail in(1.21) "Ragtag". And when a captured Fitz used an old World War II EMP device that further endangered Garrett's life, Ward nearly flipped out. Despite the fact that Garrett had ordered Quinn to kill Skye and Mike Peterson to endanger his life, Ward remained concerned over and loyal to the older man. Some might say that Ward's continuing loyalty to Garrett was a sign of emotional abuse he had received. But those flashbacks in "Ragtag" seemed more like examples of emotional manipulation from Garrett, not abuse.
And there is something else that bothers me. I found it odd that Ward's attraction to Skye finally became apparent to audiences in "Yes Men". Especially when May had brusquely brushed aside his concern and offers of help after she had been tortured in "T.R.A.C.K.S.". Minutes later, Ward spotted Coulson tenderly attending to May's wounds inside the Bus' (S.H.I.E.L.D. plane) medical bay. I found it odd that Ward would begin expressing any romantic feelings for Skye two episodes after what he had witnessed between Coulson and May. Was he fooling himself about Skye? Had he been fooling her and the rest of the team about his true feelings? Was he relieved that he no longer had to fake romantic feelings for May? Or had he viewed Skye as an easier target for his reluctant lover act? Who knows?
Those fans who have rejected the idea of a future romance between Skye and Ward tend to cite the latter's sexism, which reared its ugly head in both "Nothing Personal" and "Beginning of the End". But I had spotted other reasons that make me doubt these two might be destined for any future love. One, Skye had no problems accepting Ward's betrayal of the team and S.H.I.E.L.D., unlike Leo Fitz. On the other hand, she had trouble accepting Mike Peterson's cooperation with Garrett and HYDRA. As for Ward, he was willing to deliver Skye into Garrett's hands in episodes like "The Only Light in the Darkness", "Nothing Personal" and even "Beginning of the End". If he truly loved her, why would he be willing to endanger her in this manner? Is this supposed to Marvel's idea of love? Frankly, I rather doubt it.
I could see that both Skye and Ward found each other sexually attractive. But love? Sorry, but I am not buying it. Not at the moment. The Whedon brothers and Tancharoen will have to make numerous changes in Skye and Ward's personalities in order for me to believe they will eventually become one of the great romances for "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.".
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
"WUTHERING HEIGHTS" (1939) Review
Considering the popularity of the Brontë sisters, it is not surprising that there have been considerable movie, stage and television adaptations of their novels. I discovered there have been at least fifteen (15) adaptations of Emily Brontë's 1847 novel, "Wuthering Heights".
I might as well be frank . . . I am not a major fan of the novel. I never have been. I do not dislike it, but I have always preferred the famous novels of the author's two sisters - namely "Jane Eyre" (1847) by Charlotte Brontë and Anne Brontë's 1848 novel, "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall". For some reason, "Wuthering Heights" depresses the hell out of me. I have nothing against works of fiction laced with tragedy. But the heavy barrage of emotional and physical abuse, revenge, and over-the-top passion has always seemed a bit too much for me. Due to my less-than-enthusiastic regard for Ms. Brontë's novel, I have always been reluctant to watch any of the television or movie adaptations, with the exception of one - the 1939 movie produced by Samuel Goldwyn.
Directed by William Wyler, and starring Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier; "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" told the story of the passionate and doomed love story between one Catherine Earnshaw, the daughter of a Yorkshire landowner and an orphaned Gypsy boy named Heathcliff. The story opens with Mr. Earnshaw introducing Heathcliff to his family - Cathy and her brother, Hindley - at Wuthering Heights. While Cathy immediately befriends Heathcliff, Hindley becomes jealous of his father and sister's high regard of the newcomer. Heathcliff's pleasant life with the Earnshaw family ends when Mr. Earnshaw dies and a resentful Hindley forces him to become one of the family's servants.
Despite Heathcliff's new status within the Earnshaw family, his close relationship with Cathy remains close. Some eight to ten years later, the now adult pair have fallen in love and are meeting secretly on Penniston's Crag. One night, Cathy and Heathcliff are out when they discover the Earnshaws' neighbors, the Lintons, giving a party at the Grange. After climbing the garden wall, Cathy is attacked by a dog. The Lintons take Cathy in to care for her and Heathcliff is ordered to leave the Grange. Cathy becomes close with Edgar Linton and entranced by his wealth and glamour, while Edgar falls in love with her. When Edgar decides to propose marriage to Cathy, his action leads to a major fallout between Cathy and Heathcliff, the latter's departure for United States, his return, jealousy, obsession and in the end, tragedy.
As far as I know, the 1939 film eliminated the second half of Brontë's novel that centered on the generation featuring Heathcliff and Cathy's children. This elimination has led many fans of the novel to dismiss this version as a poor adaptation. Well, to each his own. I have never read Brontë's novel. And this is probably why I have such difficulty in dismissing "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" as unworthy of the novel. The only way I can judge the movie is on its own merits. And quite frankly, I believe it is one of the better costume dramas to be released during Hollywood's Studio Era.
Producer Samuel Goldwyn assigned his top director, William Wyler, to helm the movie. And Wyler did a superb job. Thanks to his direction, "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" turned out to be an atmospheric and well paced movie filled with superb performances by the cast. Wyler utilized the talents of cinematographer Gregg Toland, along with art designers James Basevi and Alexander Toluboff to re-create the novel's setting - the brooding Yorkshire moors with exquisite details.
The movie's most controversial aspect turned out to be Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht's screenplay. Many present-day critics believe that the two screenwriters took the bite out of Brontë's novel by romanticizing Heathcliff and Cathy's relationship. Literary critic John Sutherland accused Wyler, Hecht and MacArthur of portraying Cathy as a more passive character, willing to accept Heathcliff's abuse. Personally, I cannot help but wonder how he came to this conclusion. My recent viewing of "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" recalls a capricious and manipulative Cathy unable to hold back her scorn of Heathcliff in the face of the Lintons' wealth and glamour; and a Cathy more than determined to prevent Heathcliff and Isabella Linton's marriage. Not once do I recall a passive Cathy willing to accept abuse from Heathcliff.
Other critics of the movie have also accused Wyler and the two screenwriters of robbing Heathcliff the opportunity to seek revenge against Cathy and the Linton family by deleting the second half of the novel. These same critics seemed to have forgotten that a good deal of the movie's second half focused not only on Heathcliff's return to England, but also his efforts to get revenge on both the Earnshaw and Linton families. He did this by acquiring Wuthering Heights from an increasingly dissolute Hindley Earnshaw and more importantly, seeking Isabella Linton's hand for marriage. The latter finally reached its mark as far as Cathy was concerned. The emotional damage from Heathcliff's marriage to Isabella led to Cathy's death and tragedy. The biggest criticism that emerged from "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" was Samuel Goldwyn's decision to set the story in the mid-Victorian era, instead of the novel's late 18th and early 19th centuries setting. It is believed that Goldwyn made this decision either because he preferred this period in costumes or he was simply trying to save a buck by using old Civil War era costumes. Personally, I could not care less. The novel's setting was merely accelerated by five to six decades. And since "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" did not utilize any historical facts in its plot, I see no reason to get upset over the matter.
"WUTHERING HEIGHTS" went into production as a vehicle for actress Merle Oberon, who was a contract player at Goldwyn Studios. When Laurence Olivier, her co-star from 1938's "THE DIVORCE OF LADY X", was cast as Heathcliff, he campaigned for lover Vivian Leigh to replace Oberon as Catherine Earnshaw. Olivier's efforts failed and Oberon kept her job. Many critics believe that Leigh would have done a better job. I refuse to accept or reject that belief. However, I was very impressed by Oberon's performance. She did an excellent job in capturing Cathy's capricious and shallow nature. Although Oberon had a few moments of hammy acting, she was not as guilty as two of her co-stars. I find it rather disappointing that she failed to earn an Academy Award nomination. Her scene with Geraldine Fitzgerald (in which Cathy tries to dampen Isabella's interest in Heathcliff) and the famous soliloquy that ended with Cathy's "I am Heathcliff"declaration should have earned her a nomination.
Laurence Olivier made his Hollywood debut in the role of the Gypsy orphan-turned-future owner of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff. Olivier harbored a low opinion of Hollywood and screen acting in general. But Wyler's exhausting style of directing and tutelage enabled Olivier to drop his penchant for stage theatrics and perform for the camera. Mind you, I do not believe Wyler was not completely successful with Olivier. The actor still managed to display hints of hammy acting in his performance. And he did not seem that successful in his portrayal of a Heathcliff in his late teens or early twenties, in compare to Oberon, who seemed successful in portraying Cathy in that same age group. Regardless, Olivier gave a first-rate performance, and managed to earn the first of his ten Academy Award nominations.
Another performer who earned an Academy Award nomination was Geraldine Fitzgerald, for her performance as Isabella Linton. I cannot deny that she deserved the nomination. Fitzgerald gave a memorable performance as the passionate, naive and outgoing Isabella, who found herself trapped in an emotionally abusive marriage to a man that harbored no love for her. However, I believe that like Olivier, she was guilty of a few moments of histronic acting. I could never accuse David Niven of such a thing. The actor gave a solid performance as the quietly loving, yet privileged Edgar Linton. Flora Robson was superb as the story's narrator and Cathy Earnshaw's maid, Ellen Dean. And both Niven and Robson proved to be the production's backbone by being the only cast members that managed to refrain from any histronic acting altogether. I can also say the same about Hugh Williams' portrayal of the embittered and dissolute Hindley Earnshaw. Donald Crisp, Leo G. Carroll, Cecil Kellaway and Miles Mander also gave fine support.
I realize that "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" will never be a favorite of the fans of Brontë's novel. But as a movie fan, I cannot look down at this production. Thanks to William Wyler's direction, Gregg Toland's photography, solid adaptation by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and superb acting from a cast led by Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier; it is quite easy to see why it is considered as one of the best examples of Old Hollywood during one of its best years - 1939. I guess I will always be a fan.
Friday, July 10, 2015
Below are images from "JANE EYRE", the 1996 adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, the movie starred William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg:
"JANE EYRE" (1996) Photo Gallery
Thursday, July 2, 2015
"KNIGHT AND DAY" (2010) Review
Five years ago, Tom Cruise had put himself out on a limb by appearing in a movie, released during the summer of 2010. The movie in question turned out to be a romantic comedy thriller called ”KNIGHT AND DAY”. Co-starring Cameron Diaz, the movie was directed by James Mangold.
Surprisingly, seventy to eighty percent of ”KNIGHT AND DAY” was told from Diaz’s point-of-view. She portrayed an auto mechanic named June Havens who found herself swept into the adventures of an eccentric man claiming to be a former CIA agent named Roy Miller. Miller also claimed that he was trying to prevent a corrupt CIA colleague named Fitzgerald from finding a brilliant young inventor named Simon Feck and his new invention, a perpetual energy battery called the Zephyr, and selling both to a Spanish weapons dealer named Antonio. Unfortunately, his former director believes he is a rogue agent that has gone mentally off the grid.
I might as well be frank. ”KNIGHT AND DAY” did not strike me as an exceptional action film. The movie featured a series of minor scenes in which a drugged and semi-conscious June found herself being moved from one location to another by Miller. And since these scenes were shown from her point-of-view, I suspect this gave Mangold and screenwriter Patrick O’Neill the opportunity to move their characters around without any real detail. Personally, it seemed like a lazy way to progress the plot along. I was also confused over how Peter Sarsgaard’s character, Agent Fitzgerald, managed to arrange for other CIA agents to appear on the Wichita-Boston flight at the beginning of the movie as the entire crew and group of passengers. Nor did I understand why he bothered to keep June on that flight after Miller tried to ensure that she would miss it. Also, Mangold’s direction failed to infuse the movie with any special energy that could have made it memorable. Despite the somewhat eccentric plot, ”KNIGHT AND DAY” moved and felt like a typical action film.
But the movie also had its virtues. It featured some beautiful photography of Boston, Jamaica (which served as the Azores, off the coast of Portugal), Austria and Spain; thanks to cinematographer Phedon Papamichael. The movie also featured one hell of a plane crash, supervised by Chris Brenczewski. O’Neill wrote a solid plot that I could easily understand – something that has been lacking in a good number of action films (comedy or otherwise) recently. ”KNIGHT AND DAY” also provided some first-rate action sequences. My favorites included Miller’s fight against his former CIA colleagues aboard the Wichita-Boston flight; the gunfight on one of Boston’s highways; and Miller’s fight against a young German assassin named Danny, aboard a train bound for Salzburg, Austria. Humor proved to be another one of the movie’s virtues. Not only did cast members such as Cruise, Diaz, Paul Dano and Marc Blucas provide some excellent comic performances, O’Neill’s script provided them with plenty of material to work with. At least two scenes struck me as particularly funny – Miller’s ”with me, you survive” speech; June’s encounter with Feck and Danny, the assassin, aboard the train; and her encounter with the arms dealer, Antonio. But my favorite scene turned out to be the encounter between Miller, June and her ex-boyfriend, Rodney inside a Boston diner. I really found that scene hilarious.
There were no bad performances in ”KNIGHT AND DAY”. But I must admit that not all of them struck me as impressive. Both Viola Davis and Jordi Mollà gave solid, yet humorless performances as the CIA Director and Antonio, the arms dealer. Peter Sarsgaard, who portrayed Agent Fitzgerald, seemed amusing at times. Otherwise, he came off as distant and slightly stiff. And Maggie Grace provided mild humor as Diaz's younger sister. But the movie had its share of good performances. Dale Dye and Celia Weston provided plenty of laughs as Miller’s parents, who believed that their son was dead. Paul Dano proved that he also have a talent for comedy in his goofy and funny portrayal of Feck, the brilliant young scientist that created the Zephyr battery. But of the entire supporting cast, my favorite performance came from Marc Blucas, who portrayed June’s ex-boyfriend and a Boston fireman. Thanks to his two-season stint on television’s ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”, I have always been aware of the actor’s talent for off-beat humor. But Mangold’s direction and O’Neill’s script provided him with a role that truly exploited his comedic talents. Blucas portrayed Rodney not only as a compassionate and duty-bound man, but also a self-absorbed and shallow jerk. And he managed to achieve this balance with great subtlety and skill.
But what really made ”KNIGHT AND DAY” work for me were the two leads, Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. They had worked together before in the 2001 movie, ”VANILLA SKY” and it was easy to see that they both had a very good screen chemistry. Once again, Cruise proved his talent for both comedy and action as the slightly eccentric Roy Miller, whose idea of keeping his new companion safe was too keep her in a drugged state, as he carted her around the eastern United States and Europe. The actor also effectively conveyed his character’s self-assured nature without allowing it to be tainted by any signs of cockiness. This would not have been the case with a younger Cruise. What I liked about Cameron Diaz’s portrayal of June Havens was that she did an excellent job of conveying her character’s progression throughout the movie. Her June started as a reserved woman just recovering from the end of a trying relationship, progressed to the confused and frightened innocent caught up in intrigue and betrayal; and finally developed into a more confident woman who was self-assured about her love for Miller and what she needed to do to keep him safe.
”KNIGHT AND DAY” was not the best movie I had seen five summers ago. It certainly did not knock my socks off. But thanks to James Mangold’s direction, a solid script by Patrick O’Neill and an excellent screen team in the form of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. It is not a perfect film, but it was certainly better than I had originally assumed.