“THE ACCOUNTANT” (2016) Review

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“THE ACCOUNTANT” (2016) Review

I have seen some unusual crime dramas in my life. Most of these films or television programs usually revolved around odd narrative structures, characters in unusual situations or characters with eccentric ticks. And I have also seen the occasional film about autistic characters. But for the likes of me, I cannot recall seeing a crime drama of any form in which the main character is autistic . . . until I saw the recent film, “THE ACCOUNTANT”

Written by Bill Dubuque and directed by Gavin O’Connor, “THE ACCOUNTANT” told the story of Christian Wolff, a mental calculator who works as a forensic accountant at ZZZ Accounting in Plainfield, Illinois. Christian also tracks insider financial deceptions for numerous criminal enterprises. His services are brokered to him by a “Voice on his phone”, from a restricted number. Christian had been diagnosed with a high-functioning form of autism and offered an opportunity to live at Harbor Neuroscience Institute in New Hampshire. However, his Army officer father thought otherwise and decided Christian learn to overcome his autism via extensive training in martial arts and sharpshooting. This decision drove Christian’s mother to leave his family, which included a younger brother. 

The story begins with “The Voice” giving Christian a new assignment – auditing state-of-the-art robotics corporation Living Robotics, whose in-house accountant, Dana Cummings, has found suspicious financial discrepancies. The company’s CEO and his sister, Lamar Blackburn, and his sister, associate Rita Blackburn, willingly cooperate with Christian’s investigation; but CFO Ed Chilton dismisses Dana’s findings as a mistake. When Christian – with minor help from Dana – eventually discover the embezzlement of $61 million dollars from the company, a hitman named Braxton forces the diabetic Chilton to self-administer a fatal insulin overdose by threatening to kill both him and his wife brutally in the manner of a home invasion. The Blackburns later surmises that Chilton was the embezzler and close the investigation, leaving Christian distraught as he has not completed his study. However, the embezzler decides that both Christian and Dana still poses a major threat and instructs Braxton and his men to kill the pair. At the same time, Christian’s past activities have attracted the attention of Raymond King, the director of FinCEN in the Treasury Department, who recruits a young data analyst named Marybeth Medina into helping him identify and arrest Christian. He does this via blackmail by threatening to expose her undeclared criminal past if she refuses. 

Judging from the above mentioned plot, one would surmise that “THE ACCOUNTANT” has a complicated plot. I would not say that. I would not label Dubuque’s screenplay as simplistic or unoriginal. But I must admit that the embezzlement plot was not exactly a brain teaser for me. It did not take me very long to figure out the identity of the embezzler and Braxton’s client. More importantly, Christian’s final encounter with the embezzler ended on a . . . well, anti-climatic note for me. Let me rephrase this. That final encounter started out rather exciting, due to Christian’s fights with Braxton and his men, who found themselves serving as the embezzler’s bodyguard. But the manner in which that entire action scene ended struck me as anti-climatic and rather disappointing.

Despite its ending, I must admit that I found most of “THE ACCOUNTANT” rather enjoyable. The creme of the movie proved to be its deep exploration of the Christian Wolff character struck me as very interesting – especially the flashbacks featuring his childhood and the tragic circumstances that led to his father’s death. The story delved into his problems with overcoming his autism, his father’s refusal to consent professional counseling for his, and his struggles to interact with others. The movie also explored Christian’s few successes in forming relationships with a small handful of people that include his younger brother; the mute daughter of the Harbor Neuroscience Institute’s director named Justine; an accountant he had met during a brief stint in prison named Francis Silverberg; an Illinois farm couple that allowed him to practice his sharpshooting on his property; and Dana Cummings. I was also taken by surprised by Christian’s connection to FinCEN Agent King and the latter’s reason for coercing Agent Medina to investigate the case. Perhaps this is why “THE ACCOUNTANT” worked better as a character study/crime drama . . . without the mystery of the embezzler’s identity attached to it.

“THE ACCOUNTANT” featured some solid performances from the supporting cast that included John Lithgow, Jean Smart, Jeffrey Tambor, Andy Umberger, Alison Wright, Robert C. Treveiler, Ron Prather and Susan Williams. But I especially enjoyed Jon Bernthal’s performance as the ruthless, yet sardonic hit man, Braxton. I also enjoyed Cynthia Addai-Robinson’s portrayal as the blackmailed Agent Marybeth Medina, whose fear of being exposed gradually crumbled away due to a desire to pursue justice. J.K. Simmons gave an interesting performance as Agent Ray King, whose ruthless pursuit of Christian proved to be unusually emotional. Anna Kendrick gave a rather charming performance as accountant Dana Cummings, whose original response to Christian seemed to be one of bewilderment. As the two become close, both Kendrick and Ben Affleck developed a charming, sibling-like chemistry on-screen. 

Speaking of Affleck, I thought he gave one of the most interesting performances of his career, so far. I realize that many critics and moviegoers tend to overlook Affleck’s acting skills – something that I never understood – but I thought he really knocked it out of the ballpark portraying a character who was not only a highly skilled ex-military type, but also someone who is both a mental calculator and is autistic. Hollywood has featured a lead who is autistic (1988’s “RAIN MAN”) and even a young autistic boy who had witnessed a murder (1998’s “MERCURY RISING”). But a leading man in an action film? The character of Christian Wolff and Ben Affleck’s performance was something quite new to me. 

Yes, I will admit that I was a little disappointed by the mystery surrounding the movie’s embezzling plot. I was also a bit disappointed by how the movie’s final action sequence ended. I found it a bit too anti-climatic. But I really enjoyed the rest of the movie, especially its portrayal of the main character, Christian Wolff. I thought director Gavin O’Connor handled both an interesting story created by screenwriter Bill Dubuque and an excellent cast, led by the talented Ben Affleck, in what I believe might be one of his most interesting roles.

 

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“LOST”: The Island Guru

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“LOST”: THE ISLAND GURU

There have been countless number of character essays and theories posted by “LOST” fans about Island Destiny Man – John Locke (Terry O’Quinn). Quite frankly, I have only read a small number of those articles. But recently, I have been watching some of the series’ episodes from Seasons One and Two. After viewing some of them, I have grown aware of a certain trait of Locke’s that I find annoying. 

When John Locke’s back story was first introduced in the episode, (1.04) “Walkabout”, viewers discovered that he had been a wheelchair bound employee of a box company in Tustin, California. Viewers eventually discovered that Locke was the illegitimate son of the fifteen year-old Emily Locke and a con artist named Anthony Cooper. Locke spent most of his childhood and a great deal of his adult years longing to be a man of action and someone special. He spent those years honing his skills as a hunter and gathering a great deal of knowledge on so many subjects.

In September 2004, John Locke had traveled to Australia to participate in a “walkabout tour” that would allow him to ”live in the wilderness” for a certain period of time with a group of tourists. Employees of the Melbourne Walkabout Tours took one look at Locke’s disabled state and refused to accept him on one of their tours. Forced to return home to California, Locke boarded the Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 on September 22 – a flight that was supposed to take him from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles, California. Only he and his fellow passengers never reached United States soil. Instead, they found themselves stranded on a mysterious island in the South Pacific. Locke also discovered that the island had somehow cured his crippled legs. From this moment on, Locke became an acolyte of the island. And judging from his interactions with characters like Charlie Pace and Boone Carlyle, he searched for his own band of acolytes to share his beliefs.

Locke spent most of Season One helping the castaways survive those first 44 days on the island and offer them sage advice. He also had two encounters with a mysterious smoke monster, became the survivors’ “great white hunter”, helped Boone Carlyle deal with unhealthy for his stepsister, Shannon Rutherford, helped Charlie Pace kick a heroin addiction and convinced spinal surgeon Jack Shephard to assume leadership of the castaways. This all changed in the episode, (1.19) “Ex Deux Machina”, when Locke and Boone discovered a Nigerian plane filled with heroin and bodies in the jungle. In that episode, he had convinced Boone to crawl into the plane to examine it. Because he had failed to inform Boone that he had a prophetic dream that the plane would lead to Boone’s death, he lied to Jack about the true situation of Boone’s wounds after the actual accident. From that moment on, the series began to unravel even more of Locke’s less admirable traits. Many fans and even actor Terry O’Quinn have expressed regret that Locke had not remained the wise, self-assured man from Season One. 

But my recent viewings of some of the Season One and Season Two episodes have led me to wonder if Locke’s “self-assuredness” had been nothing more than a façade. Also, that same self-assuredness seemed to have revealed a trait within Locke that I found personally distasteful. Superficially, John Locke’s willingness to help others like Charlie and Boone seemed may have seemed admirable. It certainly did to many viewers. No one has ever complained about his “methods” in helping those two. And for me, his methods in helping Charlie and Boone has made me wonder if John Locke was – like Jack Shephard – a slightly bullying and controlling man. 

Charlie Pace
I had first noticed these traits in Locke during the Season One episode, (1.06) “House of the Rising Sun”. This episode’s subplot featured an expedition in which Jack, Charlie, Kate Austen and Locke examined a large cavern as a provision for housing and water for the castaways. While alone with Charlie, Locke took the opportunity to reveal his knowledge of the musician’s heroin habit:

[We see Charlie walking away from caves trying to take drugs out of his pocket, looking behind him. But Locke is coming from the opposite direction.]
CHARLIE: Listen to me, you old git, I’m going in the jungle. A man has a right to some privacy.
LOCKE: Just hand it to me. You’re going to run out. My guess is sooner rather than later. Painful detox is inevitable. Give it up now at least it will be your choice. 
CHARLIE: Don’t talk to me like you know something about me.
LOCKE: I know a lot more about pain than you think. I don’t envy what you’re facing. But I want to help. [Charlie walks away]. Do you want your guitar?
[Charlie turns and comes back.]
LOCKE: More than your drug?
CHARLIE: More than you know.
LOCKE: What I know is that this island might just give you what you’re looking for, but you have to give the island something.
CHARLIE [giving Locke the drugs]: You really think you can find my guitar?
LOCKE: Look up, Charlie.
CHARLIE: You’re not going to ask me to pray or something.
LOCKE: I want you to look up.
[Charlie looks up and almost cries when he sees his guitar on a cliff above.]

Judging from the above scene, Locke’s idea of helping Charlie was to insist that the latter hand over the remaining heroin he had left. He insisted. That was Locke’s initial idea of helping Charlie. Knowing the location of Charlie’s guitar, which the latter valued more than anything, Locke then maneuvered Charlie into giving up the drugs in return for the guitar.

In the following episode, (1.07) “The Moth”, Charlie had demanded that Locke return his drugs – which the former agreed to do – ONLY when the former asked for the third time:

[Shot of Charlie running from a boar. Some luggage falls, the boar is trapped in a large net trap.]
LOCKE: Nice work, Charlie. You make excellent bait.
CHARLIE [angrily]: I’m glad I could oblige. Now give me my bloody drugs.

Act 2
CHARLIE: Did you hear what I said? I want my drugs back. I need ’em.
LOCKE: Yet you gave them to me. Hmm.
CHARLIE: And I bloody well regret it. I’m sick, man. Can’t you see that?
LOCKE: I think you’re a lot stronger than you know, Charlie. And I’m going to prove it to you. I’ll let you ask me for your drugs three times. The third time, I’m going to give them to you. Now, just so we’re clear, this is one.
CHARLIE: Why? Why? Why are you doing this? To torture me? Just get rid of them and have done with it?
LOCKE: If I did that you wouldn’t have a choice, Charlie. And having choices, making decisions based on more than instinct, is the only thing that separates you from him [indicating the boar].

Now I realize that Locke simply wanted to help Charlie. And I realize that he honestly believe that he was giving Charlie a choice. But if that was John Locke’s idea of a choice, he could keep it, as far as I am concerned. I found Locke’s idea of giving someone a choice rather boorish and controlling. He did not simply give Charlie a choice. What Locke did was manipulate Charlie into making a choice . . . but only on his terms. If Locke really wanted Charlie to utilize his free will to make a choice – one way or the other – about the heroin, he should have given Charlie the heroin when the latter first asked. Some fans have argued that Charlie would have never given up the heroin if Locke had handed it over right away. My answer to that is . . . tough shit. Seriously. Charlie should have made the decision to either continue taking the heroin or stop using . . . on his own. Without Locke’s interference or manipulation. 

In the Season One finale, (1.24) “Exodus II”, Charlie accompanied Sayid in a search for Danielle Rousseau, a long time castaway who had kidnapped Aaron Littleton in order to exchange him for her own kidnapped daughter. During that search, the pair came across a Nigerian plane with dead bodies and Virgin Mary statuettes filled with heroin. In a weak moment, Charlie took one of the statuettes behind Sayid’s back. It turned out to be the first of many trips in which Charlie ended up filching a statuette or two, until he managed to build up quite a collection. The ironic thing is that Charlie managed to refrain from using the heroin in his possession. Claire Littleton – Aaron’s mother, Mr. Eko and eventually Locke discovered in Season Two’s (2.10) “The 23rd Psalm” and (2.12) “Fire and Water” that Charlie had possession of the statuettes. This, along with Charlie’s frantic concern and actions over Aaron, led Locke to assume that Charlie had resumed using drugs again:

CHARLIE: Hey, John, can I talk to you for a second?
LOCKE: Yeah, what is it, Charlie?
CHARLIE: I take it you heard about what happened last night.
LOCKE: If you mean you taking the baby out of Claire’s tent in the middle of the night — yeah, I heard.
CHARLIE: This whole thing was a big misunderstanding, John. I was sleepwalking. I don’t how or why —
LOCKE: Is there something you want from me, Charlie?
CHARLIE: I was hoping you could speak to Claire for me. You know, put in a good word.
LOCKE: Are you using?
CHARLIE: What?
LOCKE: Heroin. Are you using again?
CHARLIE: Kate sees a horse — nothing. Pretty much everybody’s seen Walt wondering around the jungle. But when it’s Charlie it must be the bloody drugs, right?

Charlie did lie about having the drugs in his possession. But he had been telling the truth about using. When Locke found Charlie’s stash of statuettes, he reacted in the following manner:

[Back on the Island, Charlie holds a couple of baggies of heroin in his hand.]
LOCKE [suddenly, off camera at first]: I’m disappointed in you, Charlie.
CHARLIE: You following me?
LOCKE: How long have you been coming out here?
CHARLIE: John, you’ve got the wrong idea, man.
LOCKE: You said you destroyed them all, and yet here they are. How is that the wrong idea?
CHARLIE: I came out here to finish the job. I’m going to get rid of these right now.
LOCKE: Yeah, that’s very convenient now that I found you. [Locke goes to the statues with his pack.]
CHARLIE: What are you doing?
LOCKE [putting the statues in his pack]: There was a time when I let you choose whether or not you were going to do this to yourself. Now I’m making that choice for you.
CHARLIE: Oh, you don’t believe me? Give them to me. Give them to me right now; I’ll destroy them. Look. [He breaks up the baggies in his hand] I’ll throw them in the sodding wind. Look, John, I know I lied, alright. [Locke starts walking away] Wait, wait, wait. Remember all those talks we had, you and me? You said everything happens for a reason — this island tests us. That’s what this is, John, at test. This is my test. That’s why these are here.
LOCKE: These are here because you put them here, Charlie. [Locke starts to leave again.]
CHARLIE: Wait, John, wait. [Charlie grabs Locke’s arm, and Locke angrily breaks free.] What are you going to do? Are you going to tell Claire? You can’t. If she sees them, I’m done. She’ll never trust me again, and she has to, John. It’s about the baby, alright? Aaron’s in danger. You have to believe me.
LOCKE: You’ve given up the right to be believed, Charlie.
 

Now, I can understand how Locke would be pissed off that Charlie had lied to him about having the statuettes. But the manner in which he took possession of them reminded me of a bullying parent. At that moment, Locke decided that he would do something about Charlie’s drug problem by taking away the heroin without the latter’s permission. Like a parent would act toward an errant child. All Locke could have done was express disappointment at Charlie for the latter’s lies. But he behaved as if he had the right to take the drugs away . . . and “make the choice” for Charlie to stop using. The sad thing is that Charlie allowed him to get away with such controlling behavior.

Booone Carlyle
By mid Season One, John Locke found another disciple to mentor. It all began when Charlie and a very pregnant Claire had been kidnapped by a spy for the Others – Ethan Rom – in the episode (1.10) “Raised By Another”. In the following episode, (1.11) “All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues”, a party that included Locke, Jack, Kate Austen and a wedding planner named Boone Carlyle set off into the jungle in search of the two kidnapped castaways. Eventually, the quartet split into two teams when Kate revealed that she also had tracking skills. Jack and Kate formed one team, and Locke and Boone formed the other. And at this moment, the master/apprentice relationship between the latter pair was born.

This relationship between Locke and Boone lasted approximately eight to nine episodes – between “All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues” and (1.19) “Ex Deux Machina”. During this period, Locke and Boone discovered a steel door to the hatch (Swan Station) that would dominate Season Two. The two men spent several episodes trying to find ways to open the hatch, while lying to the castaways that they were on expeditions hunt for boar. These expeditions were briefly postponed in the episode, (1.13) “Hearts and Minds”, when Boone decided to tell Shannon about the discovered hatch:

BOONE: Look, at least I’ve got to tell Shannon.
LOCKE: Why?
BOONE: What do mean, why? She’s my sister.
LOCKE: Why do you care about her so much?
BOONE: You don’t know her man. She’s smart, she’s special in a lot of ways.
LOCKE: Fair enough.
BOONE: She’s been asking me about this. I can’t keep lying to her.
LOCKE: You mean you can’t keep lying to her, or you can’t stand the way she makes you feel because you’re lying to her?
BOONE: Both. Whatever. Look, she can keep a secret.
LOCKE: You’re sure?
BOONE: Yes, I’m sure.
LOCKE: No, I mean, are you sure you want to do this?
BOONE: I’ve got to get her off my back. She keeps asking me about this, she keeps asking me about you, about the whole thing.
LOCKE: You’re sure you’ve thought through the ramifications?
BOONE: Yes.
LOCKE: So be it.
[Boone turns around, Locke clocks him with a knife handle.]
 

After this surprising moment, Locke tied Boone to a tree and used drugs to force the latter to experience a vision quest :

[Shot of Boone tied up. Locke is mixing the stuff in the bowl.]
BOONE: Locke, what is this? Do you hear me? Untie me right now.
LOCKE: Or what?
BOONE: I swear I won’t tell anyone about the hatch thing, okay? I promise.
LOCKE: I’m doing this, Boone, because it’s time for you to let go of some things. Because it’s what’s best for you. And, I promise, you’re going to thank me for this later.
BOONE: Hey, I don’t think this is best for me. [Locke smears the stuff he’s been mixing onto the wound on Boone’s head.] What is that?
LOCKE: An untreated wound, out here, is going to get infected.
BOONE: You’re not going to just leave me here.
LOCKE: Whether you stay is up to you. The camp is 4 miles due west.
BOONE: Which way is west?
[Locke throws a knife into the ground, just out of Boone’s reach.]
LOCKE: You’ll be able to cut yourself free once you have the proper motivation.
BOONE: Locke!
[Boone is struggling in the ropes, trying to reach the knife.]
BOONE: Help, help!
 

Locke claimed that he was forcing Boone to submit to a vision quest “for his own good”. Perhaps helping Boone find closure in his relationship with Shannon had been on his mind. But I find it interesting that Locke had decided to manipulate Boone into this situation after the latter decided to reveal the secret about the hatch. And regardless of whether Locke truly had Boone’s interests at heart or not, he really had no business forcing Boone into that situation in the first place. No wonder the younger man attacked Locke upon returning to the camp. 

It all worked out in the end. Locke’s enforced “vision quest” convinced Boone to leave Shannon alone and allow her to continue her romance with Sayid. More importantly – at least for Locke – the two men continued to maintain the secret of the hatch within the next six to seven episodes. However, Boone never really forgotten Locke’s heavy-handed method of coercing him into a vision question. He made this perfectly clear in “Ex Deux Machina”:

[The scene switches to Boone and Locke at the hatch.]
LOCKE: I had a dream last night. I asked for a sign and then I saw a plane crash—a Beechcraft [pointing] right out there. It was a dream, but it was the most real thing I’ve ever experienced. I know where to go now.
BOONE: Go for what?
LOCKE: To find what we need to open this bastard up.
BOONE: Have you been using that wacky paste stuff that made me see my sister get eaten?
LOCKE [laughing]: No, no.
BOONE: Because, John, I’ve got to tell you—signs and dreams… 

In the end, Boone paid a heavy price for becoming John Locke’s protégée . . . assistant . . . or however you want to call him. In the same episode, Locke dreamed of the following – a Beechcraft plane crashing, as well as his mother pointing in its direction; a blood-stained Boone; being confined to his wheelchair and a woman from Boone’s past who had died from a fall. As shown in the above passage, Locke did reveal some of his dream to the younger man. Unfortunately, he failed to tell Boone about seeing the latter covered in blood. With Locke’s legs temporarily paralyzed, he urged Boone to climb into the Beechcraft. The younger man managed to briefly contact someone via the plane’s radio (it turned out to be Bernard Nadler from the Tail Section of Flight 815) before the plane fell over and severely injured Boone. Locke managed to regain the use of his legs and carry Boone back to camp. But since he had failed to inform Jack about the nature of Boone’s injuries, the latter eventually died in the next episode, (1.20) “Do No Harm”.

Other Castaways
Charlie Pace and Boone Carlyle were not the only survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 to whom Locke had volunteered his advice. In (1.14) “Special”, he tried to give parenting tips to Michael Dawson on how to handle the latter’s ten year-old son, Walt Lloyd. Being older than Charlie and Boone, and resentful of Locke’s growing relationship with Walt, Michael angrily rejected Locke’s advice. Ironically, I sympathized with Michael. God knows he barely knew anything about being a parent, considering Walt’s mother kept Michael away from the ten year-old. But Michael had never asked for Locke’s advice or sympathetic ear. And the older man did not help matters by attempting to teach Walt on how to throw a machete without Michael’s permission.

Locke’s relationship with spinal surgeon Jack Shephard is practically legendary among “LOST” fans. And yet, their relationship had begun on a harmless note when Locke informed Jack that most of the castaways regarded him as their leader. This was Locke’s way of convincing Jack to accept the mantle of leadership. In the end, Locke grew to regret the advice he had given for by Season Two, he ended up clashing with Jack over the leadership of the castaways. Which I did not found surprising, considering that both men shared a penchant for controlling others . . . in their own fashion. 

There have been other instances in which Locke inflicted his own will against the desires and choices of others . . . or manipulated others. In “The Moth”, he prevented Sayid from setting up a signal to help the castaways get rescued. He committed a similar act in Season Three’s (3.13) “The Man From Tallahassee”, when he blew up the submarine that the Others had provided for Jack’s departure from the island. In (3.19) “The Brig”, Locke manipulated James “Sawyer” Ford into murdering his own father, Anthony Cooper. It seemed that Cooper had conned Sawyer’s family of their money back in the 1970s – an act that drove Mr. Ford to commit the double act of murder/suicide. And in the Season Three finale, (3.24) “Through the Looking Glass II”, Locke murdered island newcomer Naomi Dorrit in cold blood to prevent her from signaling her companions from an offshore freighter.

For me, there is one scene that truly symbolized the conflicting and sometimes hypocritical nature of John Locke. In Season Two’s (2.11) “The Hunting Party”, Locke and Jack had discovered that Michael had left the camp in a desperate search to find Walt, who had been kidnapped by the Others in ”Exodus II”. And the two eventually clashed over how to react over Michael’s desperate flight:

LOCKE: Doesn’t seem to be — trail’s as straight as the interstate — the path of a man who knows where he’s going. [Locke stares at Jack a moment] Where are you going, Jack?
JACK: What?
LOCKE: Well, let’s say we catch up with him, Michael. What are you going to do?
JACK: I’m going to bring him back.
LOCKE: What if he doesn’t want to come back?
JACK: I’ll talk him into coming back.
LOCKE: This is the second time he’s gone after Walt. He knocked me out; he locked us both up. Something tells me he might be past listening to reason.
JACK: What? You think we should just let him go — write him off?
LOCKE: Who are we to tell anyone what they can or can’t do?

What exactly did Locke say to Jack? Oh yes . . . “Who are we to tell anyone what they can or can’t do?” I found the comment a very ironic one for John Locke to make, considering his past history with Charlie, Boone and Michael. Judging from the above dialogue, Locke seemed to be a fervent believer in free will and choices. Yet, he seemed incapable of practicing what he was preaching. Despite his belief in free will and free choices, I suspect that John Locke suffered from a malady that afflict many human beings – namely a desire to inflict one’s will or control over others. Power over another is a heady drug and many would bend over backwards or make any excuse to indulge in that desire. A very popular excuse, at least with Locke, seemed to be that he had acted for the greater good on behalf of his fellow castaways – regardless of whether they had asked for his help or not. From what I have seen of Locke’s character over the series’ six seasons, he reminded me of a certain type of character who has appeared in many forms of literature over years. This type happens to an individual who has exercised very little control over his/her life and who has spent most of his/her life being manipulated by others. This has certainly been true of Locke’s character in his relationships with his parents, employers, Other leader Benjamin Linus and other acquaintances. Especially Ben Linus and his father. This could explain why given the opportunity, Locke never hesitated to make decisions for others without their consent or manipulate them with a Draconian touch that seems rather sinister. 

The ironic thing is I have rarely come across any criticisms regarding Locke’s penchant for inflicting his will upon others. Many fans have complained about his willingness to be manipulated by others, especially his father Anthony Cooper and leader of the Others, Ben Linus. Some fans have complained about his obsession over the island and his long-running feud with Jack. But I do not recall coming across any complaints about his actions with Boone in ”Hearts and Mind”. And many have complimented him for the way he dealt with Charlie’s drug addiction in Season One. I wish I could share in this adulation, considering that Charlie did give up his heroin addiction. But I cannot. I believe that Locke – and possibly many fans – was more focused upon the endgame, instead of the journey. What I am trying to say is that Locke seemed so intent upon achieving a goal – whether it was to get Charlie to give up drugs or convince Boone in getting over Shannon – that he failed to realize that such goals required a great deal of work on their parts. I would have been more impressed if both Charlie and Boone had come to the realization that they needed to get over their desires and obsessions on . . . their . . . own, or made the decision to achieve these goals without being manipulated by Locke. But since Locke had decided to interfere in the lives of both men, he pretty much robbed them of their struggles.

After reading this article, one would believe that I dislike John Locke. I do not. Frankly, I consider him to be one of the most fascinating characters from “LOST”. Like many other fans, I bought into that image of him as this mysterious and all wise man who not only understood the island better than the characters, but also understood them and their situation better than them. What I had failed to realize back in Season One that underneath the persona of the all wise island guru, John Locke was an insecure man whose enthusiasm over being healed by the island led him to interfere and manipulate the lives of some of his fellow castaways. This enthusiasm not only led him to wallow in a delusion that he knew all there was to know about life, it also hid the fact that as an individual, Locke had a long path in achieving self-realization . . . a path that he finally concluded after death.

 

2Ns4G

 

“MANSFIELD PARK” (1999) Review

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“MANSFIELD PARK” (1999) Review

From the numerous articles and essays I have read on-line, Jane Austen’s 1814 novel, “Mansfield Park” did not seemed to be a big favorite amongst the author’s modern fans. In fact, opinions of the novel and its heroine, Fanny Price, seemed just as divided today, as they had been by Austen’s own family back in the early 19th century. 

When director-writer Patricia Rozema was offered the assignment to direct a film adaptation of “Mansfield Park”, she had originally rejected it. She claimed that she found both the novel and the Fanny Price character unappealing. In the end, she changed her mind on the grounds that she wrote her own screen adaptation. The result turned out to be an adaptation filled with a good deal of changes from Austen’s original text. Changes that have proven to be controversial to this day.

One obvious change that Rozema had made centered on the heroine’s personality. Rozema’s script allowed actress Frances O’Connor to portray Fanny as a talented writer with a lively wit and quick temper. Mind you, Rozema’s Fanny continued to be the story’s bastion of morality – only with what many would view as sass. Rozema also allowed the Edmund Bertram character to become romantically aware of Fanny a lot sooner than the character did in the novel. Because of this revision, actor Jonny Lee Miller portrayed an Edmund who seemed a bit livelier and less priggish than his literary counterpart. Characters like the Crawfords’ half-sister and brother-in-law, the Grants, failed to make an appearance. Fanny’s older brother, William Price, ceased to exist. And in this adaptation, Fanny eventually accepted Henry Crawford’s marriage proposal during her stay in Portsmouth, before rejecting it the following day.

But the biggest change made by Rozema had involved the topic of slavery. The writer-director allowed the topic to permeate the movie. Austen’s novel described Fanny’s uncle by marriage, Sir Thomas Bertram, as the owner of a plantation on the island of Antigua. Due to a financial crisis, Sir Thomas was forced to depart for Antigua for a certain period of time with his oldest son as a companion. Upon his return to England and Mansfield Park, Fanny asked him a question regarding his slaves. Sir Thomas and the rest of the family responded with uncomfortable silence. Rozema utilized the Bertrams’ connection to African slavery to emphasize their questionable morality and possible corruption. She also used this connection to emphasize Fanny’s position as a woman, a poor relation, and her semi-servile position within the Mansfield Park household. Rozema used the slavery connection with a heavier hand in scenes that included Fanny hearing the cries of slaves approaching the English coast during her journey to Mansfield Park; a discussion initiated by Sir Thomas on breeding mulattoes; Edmund’s comments about the family and Fanny’s dependence upon the Antigua plantation; oldest son Tom Bertram’s revulsion toward this dependence and graphic drawings of brutalized slaves. These overt allusions to British slavery ended up leaving many critics and Austen fans up in arms.

One aspect of “MANSFIELD PARK” that impressed me turned out to be the movie’s production values. I found the production crew’s use of an abandoned manor house called Kirby Hall to be very interesting. Rozema, along with cinematographer Michael Coulter and production designer Christopher Hobbs, used the house’s abandoned state and cream-colored walls to convey a corrupt atmosphere as an allusion to the Bertrams’ financial connection to slavery. Hobbes further established that slightly corrupted air by sparsely furnishing the house. I also found Coulter’s use the Cornish town of Charlestown as a stand-in for the early 19th century Portmouth as very picturesque. And I especially enjoyed his photography, along with Martin Walsh’s editing in the lively sequence featuring the Bertrams’ ball held in Fanny’s honor. On the whole, Coulter’s photography struck me as colorful and imaginative. The only bleak spot in the movie’s production values seemed to be Andrea Galer’s costume designs. There was nothing wrong with them, but I must admit that they failed to capture my imagination. 

I cannot deny that I found “MANSFIELD PARK” to be enjoyable and interesting. Nor can I deny that Rozema had injected a great deal of energy into Austen’s plot, something that the 1983 miniseries failed to do. Rozema removed several scenes from Austen’s novel. This allowed the movie to convey Austen’s story with a running time of 112 minutes. These deleted scenes included the Bertrams and Crawfords’ visit to Mr. Rushworth’s estate, Sotherton; and Fanny’s criticism of Mary Crawford’s caustic remarks about her uncle. This did not bother me, for I feel that such editing may have tightened the movie’s pacing. Other improvements that Rozema made – at least in my eyes – were changes in some of the characters. Fanny became a livelier personality and at the same time, managed to remain slightly oppressed by her position at Mansfield Park. Both Edmund and Henry were portrayed in a more complex and attractive light. And Tom Bertram’s portrayal as the family’s voice of moral outrage against their connection to black slavery struck me as very effective. In fact, I had no problem with Rozema’s use of slavery in the story. I am not one of those who believed that she should have toned it down to the same level as Austen had – merely using the topic as an allusion to Fanny’s situation with the Bertrams. Austen opened Pandora’s Box by briefly touching upon the topic in her novel in the first place. As far as I am concerned, there was no law that Rozema or any other filmmaker had to allude to the topic in the same manner. 

However, not all of Rozema’s changes impressed me. Why was it necessary to have Henry Crawford request that he rent the nearby parsonage, when his half-sister and brother-in-law, the Grants, resided there in the novel? If Rozema had kept the Grants in her adaptation, this would not have happened. Nor did I understand Sir Thomas’ invitation to allow the Crawfords to reside at Mansfield Park, when Henry had his own estate in Norfolk. I suspect that Sir Thomas’ invitation was nothing more than a set up for Fanny to witness Henry making love to Maria Bertram Rushworth in her bedroom. Now, I realize that Henry is supposed to be some hot-to-trot Regency rake with an eye for women. But I simply found it implausible that he would be stupid enough to have illicit sex with his host’s married daughter. And why did Maria spend the night at Mansfield Park, when her husband’s own home, Sotherton, was located in the same neighborhood? And why was Fanny in tears over her little “discovery”? She did not love Henry. Did the sight of two people having sex disturb her? If so, why did she fail to react in a similar manner upon discovering Tom’s drawings of female slaves being raped?

Many fans had complained about Fanny’s acceptance of Henry’s marriage proposal during the visit to Portmouth. I did not, for it allowed an opportunity for Fanny’s own hypocrisy to be revealed. After all, she claimed that Henry’s moral compass made her distrustful of him. Yet, upon her rejection of him; Henry exposed her as a liar and hypocrite, claiming the real reason behind her rejection had more to do with her love for Edumund. Unfortunately . . . Rozema seemed determined not to examine Fanny’s exposed hypocrisy and dismissed it with an intimate scene between her and Edmund; the revelation of Henry’s affair with Maria; and Edmund’s rejection of Henry’s sister, Mary Crawford. 

This last scene regarding Edmund’s rejection of Mary revealed how truly heavy-handed Rozema could be as a filmmaker. In Austen’s novel, Edmund had rejected Mary, due to her refusal to condemn Henry for his affair with Maria and her plans to save the Bertrams and Crawfords’ social positions with a marriage between Henry and the still married Maria. Mary’s plans bore a strong resemblance to Fitzwilliam Darcy’s successful efforts to save the Bennet family’s reputation following Lydia Bennet’s elopement with George Wickham in “Pride and Prejudice”. In “MANSFIELD PARK”, Edmund rejected Mary after she revealed her plans to save the Bertrams from any scandal caused by the Henry/Maria affair – plans that included the eventual demise of a seriously ill Tom. The moment those words anticipating Tom’s death poured from Mary’s mouth, I stared at the screen in disbelief. No person with any intelligence would discuss the possible demise of a loved one in front of his family, as if it was a topic in a business meeting. I never got the impression that both the literary and cinematic Mary Crawford would be that stupid. In this scene, I believe that Rozema simply went too far. The director’s last scene featured a montage on the characters’ fates. And what fate awaited the Crawfords? Both ended up with spouses that seemed more interested in each other than with the Crawford siblings. I suppose this was an allusion to some fate that the Crawfords deserved for . . . what? Okay, Henry probably deserved such a fate, due to his affair with Maria. But Mary? I would disagree.

Ironically, both Rozema and Austen shared one major problem with their respective versions of the story. Neither the Canadian writer-director nor the British author bothered to develop Fanny and Edmund’s characters that much. In fact, I would say . . . hardly at all. “MANSFIELD PARK” revealed Edmund’s penchant for priggish and hypocritical behavior in scenes that featured his initial protest against his brother’s plans to perform the “Lover’s Vow” play and his final capitulation; his argument against Sir Thomas’ comments about breeding mulattoes (which Fanny expressed approval with a slightly smug smile) and his willingness to accept his family’s dependence on slave labor; and his support of Sir Thomas’ attempts to coerce Fanny into marrying Henry Crawford. The above incidents were also featured in the novel (except for the mulatto breeding discussion). Not once did Fanny criticize Edmund for his hypocritical behavior – not in the movie or in the novel. Instead, both Rozema and Austen allowed Fanny to indulge in her own hypocrisy by turning a blind eye to Edmund’s faults. Worse, she used Henry Crawford’s flaws as an excuse to avoid his courtship of her and later reject him. Henry’s angry reaction to her rejection was the only time (at least in Rozema’s movie) in which Fanny’s hypocrisy was revealed. Yet, not only did Fanny fail to acknowledge Edmund’s flaws, but also her own.

For me, the best aspect of “MANSFIELD PARK” proved to be its cast. How Rozema managed to gather such a formidable cast amazes me. Unfortunately, she did not use the entire cast. Two members – Justine Waddell (Julia Bertram) and Hugh Doneville (Mr. Rushworth) certainly seemed wasted. Rozema’s script failed to allow the two actors to express their talent. Waddell’s presence barely made any impact upon the movie. And Doneville seemed nothing more than poorly constructed comic relief. I almost found myself expressing the same belief for actress Lindsay Duncan, despite her portrayal of two of the Ward sisters – Lady Bertram and Mrs. Price. Her Lady Bertram seemed to spend most of the movie sitting around in a drug-induced state from the use of too much laudanum. However, Duncan had one memorable moment as Fanny’s mother, Mrs. Price. In that one scene, she gave emphatic advise to Fanny about Henry Crawford by pointing out the consequences of her decision to marry for love.

Victoria Hamilton fared better in her nuanced performance as the spoiled, yet frustrated Maria Bertram. She effectively conveyed how her character was torn between her pragmatic marriage to Mr. Rushworth and her desire for Henry Crawford. Frankly, I believe that Austen gave her an unnecessarily harsh ending. James Purefoy gave an interesting performance as the Bertrams’ elder son and heir, Tom. He expertly walked a fine line in his portrayal of Tom’s disgust toward the family’s involvement in slavery and penchant for a wastrel’s lifestyle. The late actress Sheila Gish gave a slightly humorous, yet sharp performance as Fanny’s other aunt – the tyrannical and venomous Mrs. Norris. 

I believe that the movie’s best performances came not from the leads, but from three supporting actors – Alessandro Nivola, Embeth Davidtz, and the late playwright-actor Sir Harold Pinter. The literary Henry Crawford had been described as a seductive man that quite enjoyed flirting with or manipulating women. Nivola certainly portrayed that aspect of Henry’s character with great aplomb. But he prevented Henry from becoming a one-note rake by projecting his character’s growing attraction to Fanny and the hurt he felt from her unexpected rejection. Embeth Davidtz gave an equally compelling performance as Henry’s vivacious sister, Mary. She skillfully portrayed Mary’s more endearing traits – humor and sparkling personality – along with her cynical views on authority and talent for cold-blooded practicality. However, not even Davidtz could overcome that ludicrous rip-off from 1988’s “DANGEROUS LIAISONS”, in which her Mary briefly stumbled out of the Bertrams’ drawing-room, mimicking Glenn Close, following Edmund’s rejection. It seemed like a flawed ending to a brilliant performance. For me, the film’s best performance came from Sir Harold Pinter. His Sir Thomas Bertram struck me as one of the most complex and multi-layered film portrayals I have ever come across. I find it astounding that this intimidating patriarch, who considered himself to be the family’s bastion of morality, was also responsible for the corruption that reeked at Mansfield Park and within the Bertram family. And Pinter made these conflicting aspects of the character’s personality mesh well together. Rozema added an ironic twist to Sir Thomas’ story. After being shamed by Fanny’s discovery of Tom’s drawings of abused slaves, Sir Thomas sold his Antigua estate and invested his money in tobacco. However, since U.S. states like Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky were the world’s top producers of tobacco at the time, chances are that the Bertrams’ benefit from slavery continued.

I suspect that if actress Frances O’Connor had portrayed the Fanny Price character as originally written by Jane Austen, she would have still given a superb performance. O’Connor certainly gave one in this movie. Despite Rozema’s refusal to openly acknowledge Fanny’s flaws in the script (except by Henry Crawford), the actress still managed to expose them through her performance. Not only did O’Connor did a great job in portraying Fanny’s wit and vivacity, she also revealed the social and emotional minefield that Fanny found at Mansfield Park with some really superb acting. I first became aware of Jonny Lee Miller in the 1996 miniseries, “DEAD MAN’S WALK”. I found myself so impressed by his performance that I wondered if he would ever become a star. Sadly, Miller never did in the fourteen years that followed the prequel to 1988’s “LONESOME DOVE”. But he has become well-known, due to his performances in movies like “MANSFIELD PARK”“TRAINSPOTTING” and the recent miniseries, “EMMA”. In “MANSFIELD PARK”, Miller portrayed the younger Bertram son, who also happened to be the object of Fanny Price’s desire. And he did a top-notch job in balancing Edmund’s virtues, his romantic sensibility and his personality flaws that include hypocrisy. I realize that Edmund was not an easy character to portray, but Miller made it all seem seamless.

Considering that Austen’s “Mansfield Park” is not a real favorite of mine, I am surprised that I managed to enjoy this adaptation of the novel. I will be frank. It is far from perfect. Patricia Rozema made some changes to Austen’s tale that failed to serve the story. Worse, she failed to change other aspects of the novel – changes that could have improved her movie. But there were changes to the story that served the movie well in my eyes. And the movie “MANSFIELD PARK” possessed a first-rate production and a superb cast. More importantly, I cannot deny that flawed or not, Rozema wrote and directed a very energetic movie. For me, it made Austen’s 1814 tale a little more interesting.

 

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“RED 2” (2013) Review

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“RED 2” (2013) Review

The 2010 adaptation of Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner’s comic book series proved to be very popular at the box office. Yet, I was surprised that it took another three years for the sequel, “RED 2” to be released in the movie theaters. Unless the movie in question is part of the STAR WARS franchise, it usually takes two years or less for a sequel to appear on the scene. 

“RED 2” picks up a few years after “RED”, which finds ex-C.I.A. agent Frank Moses trying to lead a normal life with his girlfriend, Sarah Ross. The effort seems to be a strain for both, although Frank seems to be more successful in accepting a “normal life”. Frank’s former colleague Marvin Bogge interrupts this “idyllic life” by warning Frank that people might be following them. Frank dismisses Marvin’s fears before the latter drives off before his car is blown up. After Frank and Sarah attend Marvin’s funeral, the former is captured by government agents to a Yankee White Facility, where he is interrogated by a C.I.A. operative named Jack Horton. Frank manages to escape the facility with the help of a resurrected Marvin. And the latter reveals that he and Frank were being hunted for being part of a secret operation called Nightshade, which smuggled a nuclear weapon created by one Dr. Edward Bailey, piece by piece into Russia back in the late 1970s or early 80s. Horton is ordered to label Frank, Marvin and Sarah terrorists to other countries. Former MI-6 assassin, Victoria Winslow informs her friends that she has been recruited by her former agency to kill them. She also informs them that former South Korean agent-turned-top contract killer Han Cho-Bai has been hired by the C.I.A. to kill Frank and Marvin. With so many after them; Frank, Marvin and Sarah are forced to learn the truth about Nightshade in order to clear themselves of the terrorist charge.

I had enjoyed “RED” when the movie first came out, three years ago. But if I must be honest, I did not love it. My opinion of it grew over the years. But after seeing “RED 2”, I realize that my views of it will never be as high as “RED 2”. The summer of 2013 seemed to be plagued by box office flops and from what I have seen of the box office take for “RED 2” after it had been in the theaters for three weeks, it is clear that it is a flop. Once again, I am faced with a movie that I seemed to like a lot more than the majority of moviegoers and critics. If I had been younger, I would have taken the public’s rejection of the film personally. But when I think of the number of failed movies that I have enjoyed over the years, I have come to the conclusion that I no longer cared whether the rest of the public share my feelings for a particular movie. As far as I am concerned, I enjoyed “RED 2” very much and look forward to its DVD release.

As in the 2010 movie, “RED 2” featured a past operation that has come back to haunt two of its main heroes – Frank Moses and Marvin Bogges. But in “RED 2”, the circumstances and plot surrounding the Nightshade Operation struck me as more plausible and better written that the covert operation featured in “RED”. Even the villains’ objectives struck me as a lot more plausible. Realizing this has made me wonder why my opinion of “RED” has increased in the past three years. “RED 2” also delved more into Frank’s relationship with his Kansas City-born paramour, Sarah Ross. I found it rather amusing that the ever paranoid Marvin seemed to understand Sarah’s need for action a lot better than Frank, who seemed determined to treat her as a china doll. But as Marvin pointed out – Frank is blinded by his fear of losing Sarah. Their relationship is also tested by Frank’s reunion with a former paramour – a KGB colonel named Katya, and Sarah’s talent for using her feminine wiles to deal with terrorists such as “The Frog” and a Russian Army officer at the Kremlin. Best of all, “RED 2” featured some top-notch villains – including the proficiently murderous C.I.A. agent Jack Horton and one Han Cho-Bai, viewed as the best contract killer in the world. “RED 2” also possess one of the best plot twists I have seen in some time. It certainly proved to be better than any of the plot twists featured in the 2010 movie. Jon and Erich Hoeber did a great job with a complex script.

Did I have any problems with “RED 2”? I had a little problem with Marvin’s ability to fake death. Considering that he was presumably killed due to a car bomb, I was surprised that no one found the idea of a pristine body inside the coffin rather questionable . . . especially Sarah Ross. And who really had been responsible for Operation Nightshade? The C.I.A. or MI-6? Or was it a joint effort? The Hoebers’ script never really made the matter clear.

The performances in “RED 2” were marvelous. Beginning with the three leads – Bruce Willis, John Malkovich and Mary-Louise Parker – and down to Titus Welliver, who more or less gave a cameo appearance; the movie rocked with some first-rate acting. For the second time, Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker created comic and romantic screen chemistry as the love-struck Frank Moses and Sarah Ross. Thanks to the actors’ comedic skills, both did a great job in conveying the pair’s relationship struggles of her boredom of being an “ordinary” couple and his penchant for being over protective. Once again, John Malkovich was marvelous as the deliciously paranoid Marvin Bogges, who in this film, also displays a talent for romantic counseling. Helen Mirren not only gave a deliciously witty performance as British assassin Victoria Winslow, she also proved that to be a bad-ass action star in some of the scenes in the movie’s second half. When I had learned that Lee Byung-hun from the “G.I. JOE” had been cast in the film, I assumed his character would be a great deal like the one he had portrayed in the Hasbro film franchise. I proved to be right . . . superficially. Thankfully, the actor’s portrayal of the assassin Han proved to be a great deal more emotional and rather funny, despite being deadly.

The movie also featured an excellent performance from Neal McDonough as the very dangerous and rather cold-blooded C.I.A. agent, Jack Horton. His character’s takedown of the agents at the Yankee White Facility struck me as somewhat creepy. Brian Cox reprised his role as Russian intelligence official, Ivan Simanov. He was funnier than ever – especially in one scene in which he was lovingly admiring Victoria’s form as she rescued Frank, Sarah and Marvin from a Russian firing squad. Catherine Zeta-Jones gave a sly and sexy performance as Frank’s paramour, Russian agent Katya. David Thewlis made a brief appearance as a techno-terrorist named “The Frog”. Not only did the actor did a great job during a chase scene in Paris, he was absolutely hilarious in a scene in which “The Frog” finally surrendered to Sarah’s wooing during an interrogation. The one performance that really impressed me came from Anthony Hopkins, who portrayed the scientist who first created Nightshade, Dr. Edward Bailey. Hopkins’ performance struck me as strange . . . and I am being complimentary. The actor was superb in projecting Bailey’s eccentricity, which developed after years of being stuck in an asylum by MI-6 for nearly three decades. And it was quite a thrill to see him in his only scene with Brian Cox . . . especially since both actors had portrayed Hannibal Lector with great acclaim.

Box office flop or not, I cannot deny that I enjoyed “RED 2” very much. Not only did it struck me as better than the original 2010 movie, but also proved to be one of my favorite movies for the summer of 2013. And I have director Dean Parisot, a great script written by Jon and Erich Hoeber, and a fabulous cast led by Bruce Willis to thank.

 

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“Ross Poldark and Noblesse Oblige”

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“ROSS POLDARK AND NOBLESSE OBLIGE”

“You are mistaken if you think greed and exploitation are the marks of a gentleman.” – Ross Poldark to George Warleggan, “P0LDARK” (2015) 

When I first heard Ross Poldark speak those words to his nemesis, George Warleggan in Episode Eight of the current “POLDARK”series, I found myself wondering if Ross might be full of shit. Or perhaps he was either illusional . . . or a class bigot. Regardless, I could not help but roll my eyes at his remark.

I realize that some might wonder how I could accuse Ross Poldark . . . Ross Poldark of class bigotry. This man has been a champion of the working-class in his little part of Cornwall. He has managed to befriend his workers. He has spoken out on behalf of them and other members of their class. And he has been willing to make any effort to come to their aid – especially those who work on his land, even if he sometimes come off as patronizing. He has certainly expressed anger when he believed any of them has needlessly suffered, due to the actions of the upper-class or other wealthy types. Ross had spent days in a state of drunken anger after one of his former employees, Jim Carter had died after spending over a year in prison for poaching. He had also married his kitchen-maid, Demelza Carne, despite the tongue-wagging of his elite neighbors and family members.

Also, one cannot deny that the Warleggans deserved Ross’ scorn. George Warleggan’s grandfather had been a blacksmith who eventually became a moderately wealthy man. His sons – George’s father and uncle Cary – acquired even more wealth, leading the family to become their parish’s wealthiest bankers. George was the first in his family to be and his family were a money hungry bunch that resort to grasping ways – legal or illegal – to not only acquire money, but also rise up the social ladder in order to become part of Cornwall’s upper-class. They are pretty much an ambitious and venal bunch who do not seemed to give a rat’s ass about the suffering of the lower classes. They also seemed willing to inflict suffering upon them for the sake of greater profits and social respectability. And yet . . . the interesting thing about the Warleggans is that they had managed to acquire great wealth on their own – meaning without the help of some aristocrat or member of the landed gentry.

So, why did I have a problem with Ross’ words? Were viewers really expected to believe that only noveau riche types like the Warleggans were capable of greed and exploitation? History tells us that the landed gentry and the aristocracy were just as guilty of greed and exploiting not only their workers, but their land, despite occasional moments of taking care of those beneath them when times were tough. And yet, I get the feeling that those moments of compassion stemmed from the idea of “noblesse oblige” – people of noble birth being duty bound to take responsibility for the well being of those under their patronage or employment. However, “noblesse oblige” had not prevented aristocrats and members of the landed gentry from engaging in years of exploiting their land, their tenants and their employees; living greedily from their profits, and doing a poor job of managing their money led to a decrease in their wealth. This was the case for Polarks, the Chynoweths and other upper class families – fictional or not – who found themselves cash poor by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. British landowners had been enclosing their lands – forcing tenant farmers to become agricultural laborers – since the late seventeeth century, at least a century before George Warleggan had enclosed the Trenwith estate, following his marriage to Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark. And they continued to do so well into the nineteenth century.

If Ross regarded himself, his uncle Charles Poldark, his cousin Francis Poldark and other members of the landed gentry like Sir Hugh Bodrugan, the Treneglos, Ray Penvenen and Unwin Trevaunance as “gentlemen”, then his comments to George were spoken in error. Most, if not all, of these gentlemen were capable of greed and exploitation. Ross might occasionally criticize the behavior of his fellow members of the upper-class, just as he had did following the death of his former employee, Jim Carter. But he has never expressed antagonism toward them with the same level that he has toward the Warleggans. It is quite obvious that he regarded these men as “gentlemen”. He seemed to have no problems with socializing or forming a business enterprise with them. And if this is the case, I cannot help but wonder about the true reason behind Ross’ antipathy toward the Warleggans. 

Had Ross’ antipathy originated with his exposure of the Warleggans’ cousin, Matthew Sanson, as a card cheat? I rather doubt it. Ross and some of his other acquaintances had been making snide comments about the Warleggans’ rise in wealth since the series began. No matter how many times George tried to befriend Ross throughout most of Series One, the latter would dismiss his effort with a sardonic or nasty comment. Yet, Ross seemed to have no problems with socializing with the likes of the snotty Ruth Teague Treneglos and her ineffectual husband; the money grasping blue-blooded politician Unwin Trevaunance, who sought heiress Caroline Penvenen’s hand for her money; or the self-absorbed Sir Hugh Bodrugan, who seemed to have no concern for anyone or anything, aside from his own pleasures – including Demelza Poldark, whom he pursued like some aged satyr. Even Ross is not the epitome of “gentlemanly” sainthood. He seemed so hellbent upon finding a wealthy source of copper or even tin from his mine, Wheal Grace that he failed to consider that he lacked the funds to ensure a safe environment for his workers. This determination to strike a lode without any safety measures led to an accident and the deaths of a few men. And his aggressive, yet adulterous actions against his widowed cousin-in-law (I might as well be frank – his rape of Elzabeth) in the eighth episode of Series Two made it perfectly clear that “gentleman” or not, Ross can be repulsive. 

And yet, despite all of this, Ross seemed to regard the Warleggans as an unworthy lot. I am not saying that George and his uncle are a nice bunch. They can be just as repulsive and greedy as their upper-class neighbors. And on several occasions, the Warleggans have made derisive comments about Demelza, who happened to be a miner’s daughter. All this tells me is that contrary to Ross’ comment to George, the latter’s family is no better or worse than the other upper-class characters in the “POLDARK” saga. They are quite capable of being snobs. But what about Ross? Is he a snob? He may be friendly toward his workers and willing to help them out, but his friendly and compassionate regard for them seemed to have a patronizing taint. In fact, his love toward his working-class wife Demelza seemed to have the same taint. 

Although his good friend, Dr. Dwight Enys, managed to rise from his working-class background to become a doctor, he did so with the help of upper-class patronage. And Ross provided his own patronage toward Dwight in helping the latter establish a medical practice in their part of Cornwall. Ross even helped Dwight in the latter’s romance with the blue-blooded Caroline Penvenen. I cannot help but wonder if the Warleggans had the benefit of “noblesse oblige” – namely an upper-class mentor to guide them in their rise to great wealth, would Ross have been less hostile toward them? 

Perhaps it is one thing for Ross Poldark to help the lower classes have a better life – by offering them jobs or homes, providing patronage for someone with potential like Dwight Enys, or marrying his kitchen maid. It is another thing – at least for him – to tolerate people from the lower classes like the Warleggans to rise up in wealth through their own efforts and not via the benefit of the “noblesse oblige”. And my gut instinct tells me that the Warleggans’ rise via their own grit, ambition and brains was something that Ross could not stomach.

“THE LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER” (1935) Review

 

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“THE LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER” (1935) Review

For years, I could never understand Hollywood’s penchant for making so many films about the British Empire during the first half of the 20th century. The film industry had released films about imperial outposts under the control of other countries – like France, Spain and even the United States. But why did they film so many about British Imperialism? One of those films is the 1935 feature, “THE LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER”

“THE LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER” is based upon the 1930 memoirs of a former British Army officer named Francis Yeats-Brown. But if you are expecting the movie to be a clear adaptation of Yeats-Brown’s book, you are in for a big disappointment. I suspect Paramount Pictures and producer Louis D. Lighton simply used the book’s title and setting – Imperial India – to create their own movie. The movie’s screenwriters, who included Waldemar Young and John L. Balderston, wrote a story about the experiences of three British Army officers serving with the 41st Bengal Lancers on the Northwest Frontier of India. The Scots-Canadian Alan McGregor welcomes two replacements to the 41st Bengal Lancers, the well-born Lieutenant Forsythe and Lieutenant Donald Stone (Richard Cromwell), who happens to be the son of the regimental commander, Colonel Tom Stone. McGregor is regarded as some kind of North American savage, who needs to reign in his aggression. Forsythe, who comes from an upper-class family, takes pleasure in mocking McGregor’s Scots-Canadian ancestry. And Stone grows to resent his father, who is determined to treat him coldly in order not to show any partiality. 

The three officers, who find themselves sharing the same quarters, slowly develop a grudging friendship. However, when word reaches the regiment from intelligence officer Lieutenant Barrett that a local chieftain named Mohammed Khan might be preparing an uprising against the ruling British, Colonel Stone and his senior officers respond with a display of both friendship and power to the chieftain. Unfortunately, Khan kidnaps Lieutenant Stone, using his mysterious “associate” Tania Volkanskaya (portrayed by a rather unexceptional Kathleen Burke) as bait. While Khan tries to extract vital information about a British ammunition caravan from Lieutenant Stone, the latter’s father refuses to make any attempt to rescue him. Outrage, McGregor and Forsythe go after their younger colleague without orders. 

As I had stated earlier, I never could understand Hollywood’s penchant for Imperial British adventures for many years. Until now. I read in a few articles that “THE LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER” was the first of its kind in this genre. Well . . . not really. The previous year – 1934 – saw the release of John Ford’s World War I adventure, “THE LOST PATROL”. And the silent era produced such films as 1929’s “THE FOUR FEATHERS”. But it was the box office and critical success of “THE LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER” that kicked off a major influx of British Empire movies that clogged the theaters up to the end of the 1930s. 

How do I feel about “THE LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER”? Well . . . I certainly do not view it as a bad movie. I thought it was pretty decent. There were aspects of it that I found unoriginal – namely the “bromance” between the three major characters and the conflict involving a rebellious chieftain. How can I put this? I have encountered both scenarios before in other British Empire movies. The three buddies? Hmmm . . . the friendship between McGregor, Forsythe and Stone strongly reminded of a similar friendship between the three protagonists in 1939’s “GUNGA DIN”. One could accuse the 1939 film of plagiarizing the 1935 film, since it was released four years later. But the friendship featured in “GUNGA DIN”was based upon Rudyard Kipling’s collection of short stories called “Soldiers Three”. Who is to say that the movie’s screenwriters used Kipling’s stories as inspiration for the “bromance” in “THE LIVES OF THE BENGAL LANCER”

Speaking of the movie’s trio, why did Paramount cast three American-born actors in the leading roles? Was there really a serious shortage of British actors? As I recall, Ray Milland was under contract with Paramount around that time. The writers made excuses for Gary Cooper and Richard Cromwell’s characters by portraying the former as a Canadian and the latter as an Anglo-American raised in the U.S. Franchot Tone is another matter. He portrayed the upper-class Englishman, Lieutenant Forsythe. Mind you, I have no problems with the actors’ performances. But I had a difficult time watching a movie set in British India . . . and starring three American actors.

I realize “THE LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER” was the first movie to really utilize the whole “local chieftain rebels against British Imperial authorities” into its plot. This was also used in subsequent movies like “GUNGA DIN”“THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE”, and “WEE WILLIE WINKIE”. The problem is that I have seen these movies before I saw the 1935 film. And if I must be brutally honest, the screenwriters and director Henry Hathaway’s use of this trope rather dry and bloodless. Hell, even the torture that Richard Cromwell’s character underwent was handled off screen.

After viewing “THE LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER”, it occurred to me that the movie’s character studies impressed me a lot more than the “action-filled” subplot. The interactions between the characters – especially between McGregor, Forsythe and Stone – struck me as a lot more interesting and complex. First of all, the screenwriters and Hathaway did an excellent job in portraying the problems (or lack of them) that the three major characters had with the film’s other supporting characters – especially their fellow British officers. I was especially impressed by the film’s portrayal of the officers’ low regard for McGregor’s so-called North American aggression, and with the younger Stone’s cool relationship with his estranged father. I was also impressed by how the three disparate leading characters developed into a strong friendship by the movie’s last act. But the screenwriters and Hathaway are not the only ones who deserve the praise. The movie’s strong characterization would have never worked without the first-rate performances from the cast – especially Gary Cooper as McGregor, Franchot Tone as Forstythe and Richard Cromwell as the younger Stone. The three actors were ably supported by solid performances from Guy Standing, C. Aubrey Smith and Douglass Dumbrille.

Do not get me wrong. I do not dislike “THE LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER”. I think it is a pretty solid film. But I find it difficult to believe or accept that it received a total of seven Academy Award nominations. Despite the movie’s strong characterizations and excellent performances, I did not find it particularly exceptional. A part of me believes simply believes it would have been better off as a character study (with a shorter running time) than an epic British Imperial adventure.

 

“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL” (2011) Review

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“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL” (2011) Review

Looking back on the “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” franchise, I noticed that a movie seemed to appear every four to six years. There are a few things unique about the franchise’s 2011 movie, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL”. One, Paula Wagner did not co-produce the movie with star Tom Cruise. J.J. Abrams, who directed the third film, did. And two, for once the villain’s goal turned out to be a lot different from those in the past three movies. 

Directed by Brad Bird (who was responsible for Disney animation classics, “THE INCREDIBLES”“THE INCREDIBLES 2” and “RATATOUILLE”, along with the live action movie “TOMORROWLAND”), “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL” focused on the efforts of an IMF team led by Ethan Hunt to prevent a nuclear disaster. During a mission to procure the files of a terrorist named “Cobalt”, Ethan and his fellow agents are implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin. The IMF is shut down, causing Ethan’s team and an intelligence analyst named William Brandt to go rogue and clear the organization’s name. In order to do this, they have to find “Cobalt”, a Swedish-born nuclear strategist named Kurt Hendricks, and prevent him from using both a Russian nuclear launch-control device from the Kremlin and the activation codes stolen by an assassin hired by Hendricks to send a nuclear missile to U.S. soil.

“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL” was highly received by both critics and moviegoers after its release. And it is easy to see why. This is a well-written story filled with personal drama, intrigue and great action. In a way, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL” reminds of both the 1996 movie that introduced the franchise, along with the fifth and the last act of the third film.
In this movie, Ethan Hunt, his immediately colleagues and the entire IMF agency has been disavowed and only Hunt and three of his colleagues are in any position to reverse the situation.

Personal drama is introduced in the opening scene that featured the murder of IMF agent Trevor Hathaway, who was romancing one of Ethan’s colleagues – Jane Carter. And the fate of Julia Hunt, Ethan’s bride from the previous film, turns out to have an emotional impact on Brandt, who is revealed to be a former field agent. Intrigue is revealed in scenes that feature the IMF team’s efforts to acquire the nuclear activation codes at a Dubai hotel from the assassin who had killed Hathaway, Brandt’s revelation as a former field agent, and Carter’s efforts to acquire satellite override codes from an Indian telecommunications mogul to prevent Hendricks from launching a nuclear missile.

But if there is one thing that many fans and critics seemed bowled over in “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL”are the actions sequences shot with great style by director Brad Bird. I could write an essay on the exciting sequences that filled the movie. But only two really impressed me. One involved a prolonged fight between Hunt and Hendricks over the launch-control device at an automobile processing plant in Mumbai. But the movie’s pièce de résistanceinvolved the team’s efforts to acquire the nuclear device’s activation codes from the assassin that killed Hathaway. Not only was it filled with intrigue, it involved Hunt scaling the exterior of another high rise, two major fight scenes involving Hunt and Brandt against Hendricks’ men; and Carter against Hathaway’s killer, the assassin Sabine inside a Dubai hotel (filmed at the city’s highest building Burj Khalifa).

Tom Cruise had returned for a fourth time as IMF agent, Ethan Hunt. I realize that the actor is not always popular with many moviegoers. Personally, I guess I do not care. First of all, I have always believed he was a charismatic and first-rate actor. And his talents were definitely on display in his portrayal of the IMF agent. The cockiness of Cruise’s Hunt from the 1996 film hardly exists anymore. He is now older, wiser and a lot more subtle. Cruise’s Hunt has become a fine wine that has aged with grace.

Simon Pegg made his second appearance in the franchise as IMF programmer Benjy Dunn, who has been promoted to field agent. I might as well confess. I found his Benjy slightly annoying in the third film. Pegg’s humor remained intact in this film, but for some reason I found him a lot more funnier and not at all annoying. Paula Patton gave an excellent and passionate performance as IMF agent Jane Carter. Not only did Patton handled the action very well, she did a great job in conveying Jane’s efforts to rein in her desire for revenge against the assassin who murdered her lover and fellow agent. Once again, Jeremy Renner proved what a great actor he is in his portrayal of former IMF agent-turned-analyst William Brandt. I enjoyed how he conveyed Brandt’s fake inexperience in the field and his recollections of the assignment that went wrong – namely the protection of Ethan’s wife, Julia.

I also have to commend Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist’s subtle portrayal of the nuclear strategist, whose extremism led him to kick start a plot to rain a nuclear disaster upon U.S. shores. Unless he was using a stunt double, Nyqvist also impressive in the fight scene between Hunt and Hendricks in Mumbai. Josh Holloway of “LOST” made a brief appearance as the doomed IMF agent, Trevor Hathaway, who was murdered at the beginning of the movie. Holloway did a good job with what little he was given to do. But I must admit that I feel he is unsuited for the silver screen. If he hopes to become a bigger star, I would suggest he stick to television. His presence is more effective in the latter.

If I have one problem with “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL”, it was the villain’s goal – namely to send a nuclear missile to the U.S. According to the script penned by André Nemec and Josh Appelbaum, Hendricks’ decision to fire a missile stemmed from a desire to start a nuclear war and initiate the next stage of human evolution. Hmmmm . . . . This sounds like something from a James Bond movie. In fact, it reminds me of the 1977 movie, “THE SPY WHO LOVED ME”. What on earth made Cruise, Abrams, Bird, and the screenwriters to pursue this slightly cartoonish plot line? I found it unlike the goals of the previous villains, who only sought either financial, political or career power. I just realized that I have another problem with the movie – namely Michael Giacchino’s handling of the franchise’s theme song, originally written by Lalo Schifrin. Quite frankly, it sucked. I found it just as unmemorable as the adaptations of Schifrin’s score in the past two movies. Only Danny Elfman’s version of the score in the first movie really impressed me.

Despite my misgivings about the villain’s goal in the story and Giacchino’s take on the famous theme song, I really enjoyed “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL”. I enjoyed it so much that it became one of my favorite films of 2011 and is still my favorite entry in the “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” film franchise.

 

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