Friday, July 29, 2016
Below are images from "STAR WARS: EPISODE VII - THE FORCE AWAKENS", the seventh film in the"STAR WARS" franchise, now controlled by the Disney Studios and Lucasfilm president, Kathleen Kennedy. Directed and co-written by J.J. Abrams, the movie stars John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and Harrison Ford:
"STAR WARS: EPISODE VII - THE FORCE AWAKENS" (2015) Photo Gallery
Friday, July 22, 2016
"THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" (2012) Review
Five years after the release of 2007's "SPIDER-MAN 3", Sony Pictures and Marvel Films decided to release a new SPIDER-MAN movie. The latter proved not to be a third sequel to the 2002 movie, "SPIDER-MAN". Instead, it turned out to be a franchise re-boot featuring a new actor in the lead and the first film of a new trilogy.
With Andrew Garfield now portraying Peter Parker aka Spider-Man and Marc Webb directing, "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" commenced upon an entirely new saga about the web slinger. In this film, Peter is a geeky high school student and science major who lives with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May in a suburb of Queens, New York. At least a decade earlier, he had witnessed the mysterious disappearance of his father and mother, scientist Richard Parker and his wife, Mary. After discovering his father's old briefcase, Peter makes the acquaintance of the latter's former lab partner, Dr. Curt Connors, who is now working as a geneticist at Oscorp. Dr. Connors is working on cross-breeding experiments in order to discover a formula based on lizard DNA in order to regenerate missing limbs. During his first trip to Oscorp's Manhattan offices, he discovers that the fellow Midtown High School student that he loves, Gwen Stacy, is working there as the chief intern. Peter is also bitten by a genetically engineered spider.
During the subway ride home, Peter becomes aware of his new abilities. He also continues his visits to Dr. Connors at Oscorp. His new powers and visits to Oscorp lead to his growing neglect of his household duties. Peter also manages to help Dr. Connors by giving the latter Richard Parker's "decay rate algorithm", the missing piece in the scientist's experiments. After a quarrel with Uncle Ben, Peter storms out of the house and the latter hit the streets looking for him. Unfortunately for Uncle Ben, he encounters a thief who had just robbed a convenience store and is shot dead. Determined to find his uncle's murderer, Peter decides to assume the identity of the costumed vigilante, Spider-Man. When Oscorp executive Dr. Rajit Ratha decides to fire Dr. Connors and use the latter's formula at a VA hospital under the guise of a flue shot, Connors tries the formula on himself and becomes the human/lizard hybrid, the Lizard.
Many Marvel and Spider-Man fans had complained about the lack of need for a Spider-Man re-boot so soon after the last Sam Rami film. What many did not know was that Sony Pictures had signed a deal, guaranteeing major control over the Spider-Man franchise as long as the studio releases a movie every five years or less. Sony originally had plans for a fourth Spider-Man movie with both Rami and actor Tobey Maguire. But the plans fell through and the studio decided to re-boot the franchise with a new actor, a new director and a new trilogy.
Some fans and critics claimed that "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" was a lot closer to the original comics tale than the Rami films. I found this claim ironic, considering that the movie proved to be no more faithful to the comics than the films made in the last decade. Comic book fans know that Peter Parker's first love was Betty Brandt, whom he dated in high school and who eventually became J. Jonah Jamerson's secretary at The Daily Bugle. Peter met both Gwen Stacy (of this movie) and Mary Jane Watson (from the 2002-2007 films) in college, not high school. He was a lot younger when his parents died. But hey . . . I managed to enjoy both the Rami/Maguire trilogy and this film.
That is correct. I enjoyed "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN". It had plenty of well choreographed action. The special effects team from the Pixomundo company did an excellent job with the action sequences featuring Spider-Man's battles with the Lizard. The company's efforts were ably supported by Marc Webb's direction and the three cinematographers - Alan Edward Bell, Michael McCusker and Pietro Scalia. One of my few complaints about "SPIDER-MAN" was that the film almost seemed like two separate stories. I could never accuse "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" of that flaw. Screenwriters James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves made sure that Peter's transformation into Spider-Man and Dr. Connors' transformation into the Lizard were connected plot-wise. After all, Peter's visit to Connor at the Oscorp labs led to his painful encounter with a genetically altered spider. And the visit, along with Peter's discovery of his father's notes, led to the creation of the formula that enabled Connors to become the Lizard.
The movie also boasted some excellent performances by the cast. Andrew Garfield was outstanding as Peter Parker aka Spider-Man. He did an excellent job of portraying a fatherless boy in search of a father figure, who is forced to grow up on his own. Emma Stone portrayed Gwen Stacy, the girl whom Peter dated during his early years in college. Stone's Gwen was a smart, witty and earthy young woman who found herself torn between Peter and her father's opinion of Spider-Man and vigilantism. Another excellent performance came from Rhys Ifan, who did an excellent job in revealing the complex man whose disappointments in life led him to utilize the formula that transformed him into the Lizard. He also managed to convey Connor's darker personality through the CGI figure of the Lizard.
Other first-rate performances came from Denis Leary, who portrayed Gwen's father - NYPD Captain George Stacy. The latter role seemed a slight cry from Leary's usual roles. Although he managed to utilize his usual rapid fire wit, Leary also conveyed the image of a stern and responsible man, who harbored concerns not only for his daughter, but also the citizens of New York City. Martin Sheen and Sally Field created excellent chemistry as Ben and May Parker, the couple left to raise Peter after his parents' death. It is a crime that the pair never worked together before, because I thought they really crackled with chemistry. I could say that both had great chemistry with Garfield, as well. But I feel that Sheen had more interesting scenes with the young actor than Field. Irrfan Khan had to be convinced by his children to take the role of Oscorp executive, Dr. Rajit Ratha (a character created for the movie). I am glad they did, for he proved to be very effective as a shadowy representative for the corporation's reclusive CEO, Norman Oscorp. The movie also boasted solid performances from Chris Zylka as Flash Thompson; and from Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz as Richard and Mary Parker, Peter's parents.
I will not deny that "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" was a very entertaining movie for me. But it had its flaws. One, there seemed to be a minor lack of originality in the script. A good deal of the story seemed to be borrowed from the previous SPIDER-MAN movies. As with Maguire's Peter, Garfield's Peter started out with an unrequited crush with the leading female character. And Dr. Connors' career faced extinction, just as Dr. Otto Octavius did in "SPIDER-MAN 2". However, the movie also borrowed a subplot from the 2000 movie, "X-MEN". Just as Erik Lensherr plotted to transform the world's population into mutants via a machine, the Lizard in this movie, plotted to transform New York City's population into reptilian/human hybrids. In fact, his scheme struck me as lame. The problem for me laid in the fact that Connors did not transform into the Lizard, until the second half of the movie.
Speaking of the Lizard, as much as I had admired Ifans' performance, I was not that impressed by the villain's role as Spider-Man's foe. I mean, honestly . . . the idea of Spider-Man facing a giant lizard rampaging all over Manhattan did not do anything for me. Frankly, I saw dealing with the problem of the Lizard as a job for the Men in Black, not Spider-Man. Everyone seemed to be filled with praise for Emma Stone's portrayal of Gwen Stacy . . . including me. However, I had a problem with the screenwriters' portrayal of Gwen in this movie. Frankly, she seemed too perfect . . . too ideal. She lacked any real personal demons that could have made her interesting to me. I could never say the same about the comic book Gwen - even if she had a tendency to be a crybaby.
Could someone explain why Peter suddenly decided to end his search for the thief who had killed his Uncle Ben? It seemed as if the entire subplot had been dropped. And what happened to Dr. Ratha after Peter saved him on the Williamsburg Bridge? I have one last complaint . . . and it has to do with C. Thomas Howell's character, a construction worker named Ray. In the Williamsburg Bridge sequence, Spider-Man saved Ray's son from falling into the East River. Ray reciprocated Spider-Man's actions during the latter's final battle with the Lizard by using several cranes to help convey the web slinger (who had been shot in the leg by the NYPD) to Oscorp's tower, in order to stop the Lizard from using the formula on New Yorkers. I found that minor scene so incredibly cheesy that I practically cringed with embarrassment. It seemed as if the screenwriters were trying to re-create those moments from two of Sam Rami's films in which New Yorkers came to Spider-Man's aid. Only in this movie, I found Ray's actions embarrassing, not inspirational.
"THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" had much for me to admire. It had excellent performances from the cast led by Andrew Garfield. Marc Webb's direction in the action sequences and intimate scenes was first-rate. And the screenwriters managed to avoid the mistake from the Sam Rami 2002 film of creating a fragmented plot. Unfortunately, I believe that"THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" had other flaws - including a lack of originality - that made it difficult for me to embrace the idea that it was the best SPIDER-MAN movie ever made.
Sunday, July 17, 2016
This article was written after the Season Three finale of "ONCE UPON A TIME" aired in May 2014:
"THE PROBLEMS OF A SAVIOR COMPLEX"
The Season Three finale of ABC's "ONCE UPON A TIME" ended on a curious note. The finale consisted of two episodes - (3.21) "Snow Drift" and (3.22) "There's No Place Like Home" - in which two of the series' protagonists, Emma Swan and Killian Jones aka Captain Hook, found themselves transported back in time and to the Enchanted Forest due to circumstances beyond their control.
Let me make this brief. The main villain of Season Three's second half turned out to be Regina Mills' older half-sister Zelena, who was also known as the Wicked Witch of the West from "The Wizard of Oz". Due to Zelena's jealousy of her younger half-sister's privileged life, which included being raised by their mother Cora Mills aka the Queen of Hearts, she wanted to go back in time and erase Regina from existence. Although Zelena managed to set up a portal to convey her back in time, Regina managed to defeat her. Unfortunately . . . an angry Rumpelstiltskin ended up murdering an incarcerated Zelena for the death of his son, Neal Cassidy aka Baefire. Zelena's spirit ended up re-opening the time travel portal. And both Emma and Hook got sucked into the portal and into the past.
During the pair's adventures in the Enchanted Forest of the past, Emma nearly ruined the first meeting between her parents - Snow White and David, Prince Charming. She and Hook, with Rumpelstiltskin's help, set out to repair the timeline and ensure that her parents will not only meet, but fall in love. Their efforts to do so led to Emma's capture during the wedding party of Charming and Princess Abigail by Regina, also known as the Evil Queen. Inside the Queen's jail cell, Emma met a woman who had been incarcerated for helping Snow White flee Regina's wrath. With her and the woman set to be executed the following morning, Emma managed to break out of the cell. Hook, who had earlier warned Emma about changing the timeline, reacted with slight dismay when he discovered that she helped the woman escape. And yet . . . when Emma wanted to bring the woman with her and Hook to Storybrooke, Hook agreed to help her, arguing that the woman's family thought she was dead and they need to continue to believe it. The woman refused to go with Emma and Hook to Storybrooke, so the former knocked her unconscious and with Hook's help, brought her with them. As it turned out, the woman proved to be Maid Marian, Robin Hood's wife. And Marian's presence in Storybrooke brought an end to Robin's newly found romance with Regina Mills.
Judging from Regina's angry reaction to Emma and Hook's actions, many fans reacted in different ways to this new twist in the story arc between the two women. Many fans continue to assume that Regina will fall back on her old evil ways and seek revenge against Emma for ruining her romance with Robin. Some believe she will be tempted, but continue her redemption arc and eventually forgive Emma. What is interesting about all of this is that most of the fans seemed to be interested in how Regina will react to the loss of Robin in the upcoming fourth season. Only a few fans have even bothered to criticize Emma and Hook for their actions. Yet, despite these criticisms, other fans came to Emma's defense by stating that she was right to save Marian from being executed by Regina. I am tempted to discuss this situation from Regina and Robin's point of view. But right now, I am more interested in what led Emma to change the timeline in the first place.
I can image the response to the last sentence in the previous paragraph. What led Emma to change the timeline? To save Marion's life, that's why! Emma Swan is supposed to be "the Savior". As fan as the series and many of the fans are concerned, this is what she is supposed to do. I wish I could agree with that sentiment. I really do. But considering her actions in "There's No Place Like Home", I wish it were not so. Emma became labeled as "the Savior" back in Season One, when it was revealed that she was the person destined to break the curse that found many of the Enchanted Forest's inhabitants in "the Land Without Magic" - namely Storybrooke, Maine - thanks to Rumpelstiltskin's creation of it and Regina's willingness to cast it. After spending nearly a season refusing to believe in the curse, let alone the idea that the town's inhabitants came from a fairy tale world, Emma finally broke the curse with a "true love" kiss to her son Henry, who was trapped in a sleeping curse. And the only reason Emma found herself in this role as everyone's "savior" was because Rumpelstiltskin manipulated events so they would lead to this moment. And why? Because he wanted to find his son Baefire, whom he discovered had ended up in our world. Now, if the only reason Emma had been set up as "the savior" who break that first curse . . . why did everyone else continued to regard her as "the savior" after she broke it? Why did she, for that matter?
One would think I am accusing Emma Swan of developing a bad ego trip. And you know what? They would be right. I am well aware of the fact that Emma reacted with a great reluctance and wariness to the idea of her being "the savior". I am also aware of the fact that she was willing to flee Storybrooke (with Henry) in the Season One episodes, (1.20) "The Stranger" and (1.21) "An Apple Red as Blood" because she could not face the responsibility of being responsible for the lives of Storybrooke's citizens. But once she broke the curse in (1.22) "A Land Without Magic", Emma ended up embracing her "savior" role with a vengeance . . . despite her continued wariness. This was especially apparent in three episodes from Season Two and Three. After she, Snow White, Mulan and Aurora ended up captured by Cora and Hook in Season Two's (2.09) "The Queen of Hearts" in the present day Enchanted Forest, the following exchange occurred between the four women:
(Emma is futilely banging the door of the cell with her sword, while the rest of them watch.)
Snow White: We aren’t going to break it down, Emma. It was enchanted to hold Rumpelstiltskin. We don’t have a chance.
Aurora: This is my fault.
Mulan: No, it’s mine. Cora stole your heart because I failed to protect you.
Emma: That’s very sweet, but I believe it’s my fault. I’m the saviour, and I’m not doing much saving, am I?
When I first saw this episode during the fall of 2012, I thought nothing of Emma's words. But when I recently viewed the episode from my copy of the series' Season Two DVD box set, her comment stunned me. I could not believe what I had just heard. For the second time, Emma expressed her deep-seated view to her mother Snow White that she would always be destined to be "the savior" in the Season Three episode, (3.11) "Going Home". In this episode, Rumpelstiltskin had defeated his father Malcolm aka Peter Pan and Regina had to permanently destroy the curse by ripping the scroll that contain the words to it. Because Henry was born in "the Land Without Magic" and Emma managed to avoid the first curse, they were able to avoid being sent back to the Enchanted Forest. Before Regina destroy the scroll, both Regina and Snow White hinted that since Emma was "the savior", she was supposed to remain behind and take Henry away. Emma responded to Snow White with the following words:
"I'm the savior, right? I'm supposed to bring back all the happy endings."
Dear God. Emma's belief in her role as "the savior" truly reached egotistical heights in her conversation with Hook in"Snow Drift" in which both discussed Emma's plans to return to New York with Henry:
Hook: Don't listen to me, listen to your son. (He takes the storybook from his satchel and hands it to Emma.) He thought this might remind you of what you're leaving behind--your family.
Emma: Henry is my family and I am taking him where he is safe.
Hook: No, Swan. The safety-first nonsense is just that. You defeated the bloody Wicked Witch. You defeated Pan. You broke the curse. And you keep running. What are you looking for?
What I found amazing about Hook's words is that he had credited the defeats of Peter Pan and Zelena to Emma. Apparently, he had forgotten that Regina was the one who saved Henry's heart from Pan back in Neverland. Hook had forgotten that Rumpelstiltskin was the one who ultimately defeated Pan . . . and that Regina was the one who defeated Zelena. The only thing Hook got right was the fact that Emma had broken the curse. Some fans claim that Hook was merely trying to bolster Emma's self esteem. Emma's self esteem was not on Hook's mind. Emma's reluctance to live in Storybrooke with her parents WAS the topic between them. Hook merely slipped in Pan and Zelena's defeats into the conversation. And what I found even more amazing . . . and scary is that Emma never bothered to correct him. By this time, Emma had incorporated the idea of her being "the savior" so much that she ended up wallowing in illusions over who had really defeated the Big Bads of Season Three.
As for the situation with Maid Marian . . . I can only shake my head in disbelief. I realize that many fans believe that Emma should have chosen saving a woman's life over maintaining the timeline. I did not last fall and my feelings have remained the same. Throughout most of "Snow Drift", Hook had warned Emma about changing the timeline . . . for any reason. This reminds me of an episode from the 1998-2006 supernatural series, "CHARMED". In the latter's Season One episode called (1.17) "That '70s Episode", the Halliwell sisters traveled back in time to 1975 in order to prevent their late mother from being coerced into making a pact with a warlock - a pact that might have deadly circumstances for them. The youngest sister (at the time) Phoebe Halliwell gave into temptation and left a warning to her mother on how the latter would die nearly three years later. Realizing that she would end up changing the timeline, Phoebe tore up the letter before she and her sisters returned to 1999. As much as Phoebe wanted to save her mother, she realized that maintaining the timeline was the right thing to do . . . even if it meant her mother's early death.
Despite the constant warnings from Hook about changing the timeline, Emma ignored him and saved Maid Marian from the cell. While I might admire her willingness to save someone, I wish she had realized that one cannot save everyone all of the time. And sometimes, it is not a good idea. But in her arrogance and misplaced belief that she had to saveeveryone, Emma decided to change the timeline. To make matters worse, she forced Marian to accompany her and Hook back to Storybrooke, despite the fact that Marian wanted to remain in the Enchanted Forest and find her family. And Hook's argument that Robin and the others probably thought she was dead did not sit well with me. Emma had already screwed up the timeline by saving Marian. I did not see how dragging the latter back to Storybrooke was going to help the matter. As it turned out, it did not.
The Season Four premiere, (4.01) "A Tale of Two Sisters" featured Emma wracked with guilt for ruining Regina's newly formed romance with Robin. It was nice to see that Emma felt some guilt over wrecking havoc on the private lives of Regina, Robin and Marian. But her response to Regina made me realize that she has yet to understand the real problem behind her actions in "There's No Place Like Home":
"Henry brought me to Storybrooke to bring back the happy endings. My job is not done until I do that for everyone, including you."
Despite her feelings of guilt, Emma still believes that her role as "the Savior" will give Regina her happy ending and solve everyone's problems. She never considered the possibility that her belief that she always has to be "the Savior" had led her to upset the timeline and cause a great deal of personal trouble for Regina, Robin and Marian. She has not changed one bit. After what I saw in both "There's No Place Like Home" and "A Tale of Two Sisters", I have come to the conclusion that Emma has absorbed the idea of being "the Savior" to such a degree that she has become illusional. Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, have also become illusional in this belief that Emma is always supposed to be "the Savior". Unless they have plans for Emma to develop some kind of mental conflict over her role as "the Savior" later in the series, I suspect that Horowitz and Kitsis will never allow Emma to really face the consequences of her action inThere's No Place Like Home", aside from a few angry rants from Regina and encounters with the latest character in the series, Queen Elsa of "FROZEN". And just as I had predicted, Regina's anger merely lasted a few episodes before she eventually forgave Emma in (4.05) "Breaking Glass". I had complained in an earlier article that when it comes to Emma and her family, Horowitz and Kitsis have a bad habit of not allowing them to consider or face the consequences of their actions . . . with the exception of Snow White, who had committed murder. And the consequences she had faced proved to be mild and rather brief.
I must admit that I am getting weary of Emma constantly being labeled as "the Savior". This is a label that should have been dropped after she broke the original curse in "A Land Without Magic". The only reason she was fixed with "the savior" role in the first place was because Rumpelstiltskin had arranged for her to be the one to break that curse. The longer this series continues to label Emma as "the Savior", the more I will become convinced that she has developed serious complex issues over this role.
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Below is a gallery featuring photos from the 2002 television version of George Elliot's novel, "DANIEL DERONDA". The series starred Hugh Dancy, Romola Garai and Hugh Bonneville:
"DANIEL DERONDA" (2002) Photo Gallery