Whenever film critics or film fans bring up the subject of Best Picture Oscar winners during the 1970s, the topic usually turned to movies like 1975s “ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO NEST”. But the two main Oscar winners usually discussed are the “GODFATHER” movies – 1972’s “THE GODFATHER” and 1974’s “THE GODFATHER – PART II”. The 1973 Oscar winner, “THE STING” is sometimes remembered . . . but not always with the same reverence. At least it seems that way to me.
“THE STING”, which was a caper film set during the middle of the Great Depression, reunited stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford with director George Roy Hill. The latter had directed the pair in the 1969 biopic Western, “BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID”. In “THE STING”, Newman and Redford portrayed a pair of grifters who set out to con a vicious crime boss who had ordered the death of a friend. Screenwriter David S. Ward was inspired by the careers of grifters Fred and Charley Gondorff, whose exploits were featured in David Maurer’s book, “The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man”.
The movie begins in 1936 Joliet, Illinois; in which three grifters – Johnny Hooker, Luther Coleman and Joe Erie – con an unsuspecting victim out of $11,000 in cash. Both Hooker and Erie discover from a corrupt cop named Lieutenant Synder that they had conned a numbers racket courier, who was carrying the $11,000 for a vicious crime boss named Doyle Lonnegan. Even worse, Lonnegan has discovered their identity and sent hit men to kill them. The killers manage to murder Coleman before Johnny and Joe can split up. On Coleman’s advice, Hooker seeks out Henry Gondorff, a world-class grifter hiding from the F.B.I. in Chicago with his girlfriend, Billie, who runs a brothel in the city. Hooker asks Gondorff’s help in getting revenge for Luther’s death. Although reluctant to pull a con against the crime boss, Gondorff decides to use an elaborate and supposedly obsolete scam known as “the wire”, using a crew of con artists to create a phony off-track betting parlor. Hooker eventually discovers that both Lonnegan’s hitmen and Lieutenant Synder have tracked him to Chicago, and he has to maintain a step ahead of them in order to keep Gondorff’s scam on track.
While watching “THE STING”, I found myself wondering if there was anything about it that did not appeal to me. I realized that most of my problems with the film were at best, ascetic. Before the turn of the 21st century, Hollywood seemed to have great difficulty in recapturing women’s fashion in the early-to-mid 1930s . . . and that includes hairstyles. In fact, this seemed apparent in “THE STING” regarding the hairstyles for actresses Eileen Brennan and Dimitra Arliss. I hate to say this, but it looked as if Brennan was wearing a wig. And Arliss’ hairstyle reminded me of one worn by women in the 1940s, not the 1930s. Only Sally Kirkland managed to escape this fate. Hmmm . . . you know what? I cannot think of any other flaws in “THE STING”. At least not now. Perhaps I need to watch it again. I could complain about Marvin Hamlisch’s use of Scott Joplin’s music used in a movie set in the mid-1930s- especially since Joplin’s music dated back at least 30 years before the movie’s setting. But for some reason it worked. It worked. I could write an essay on how songs written at the turn of the 20th century meshed so well in a movie set during the Great Depression. But I cannot explain how this happened, other than movie magic.
However, there is so much to admire in this film. Former 20th Century Fox studio head, Darryl Zanuck, once said that the backbone to any movie is the story. And I heartily agree. Apparently, the producers of “THE STING”, Tony Bill, Julia and Michael Phillips, felt the same about the movie’s screenplay written by David S. Ward. On the surface, “THE STING” is a first-class story about grifters pulling a major con against a crime boss responsible for the death of one of their own. First of all, Ward’s script gave audiences a detailed account of the con pulled by Gondorff, Hooker and the others. Audiences not only got to see the con play out from the beginning to the end, but also its planning stages and unexpected problems. There were three major problems that the grifters had to face – namely Lonnegan’s contract on Hooker for the con that he, Coleman and Erie had pulled; Hooker’s conflict with Detective Synder, who was after the grifter for passing counterfeit money as a bribe to him; and the F.B.I., who seemed to be closing in on Gondorff. And Ward’s screenplay handled all of these plot lines with a seamless skill that led to his Academy Award win for Best Original Screenplay.
I can honestly say the same about George Roy Hill’s direction. When Hill won the Best Director Oscar for his work on “THE STING”, he had responded that with Newman, Redford and Ward’s script; he could not lose. But I have come across a good number of movies that possessed a first-rate cast and a decent script. Yet, these films still managed to result in pure crap. Another director could have screwed up with the cast and script given, but Hill did not. Instead, he transformed quality material – the cast, the crew and the script – into Oscar gold. He also injected a great deal of oomph into the movie’s storytelling by shooting it with a “Saturday Evening Post style” that included page turning chapter headings and graphics. He and cinematographer Robert Surtees imitated the flat camera style of the old Warner Brothers gangster films of the 1930s, which included ending each scene with a slide across the screen or a circular motion. The most interesting thing about Hill’s direction is that he managed to inject the desperate air of the Great Depression in a movie that is generally regarded as somewhat light froth. And that is a hell of a thing to accomplish. Both Newman and Redford had expressed great admiration toward Hill’s stylized direction and his firm handling of the movie during its production. After watching the movie for the umpteenth time, I can see why they held him in such high regard.
Looking at “THE STING”, I am still amazed that aside from a few locations around Southern California and Chicago, most of it was filmed on the Universal Studios lot. As a Southern Californian, I have seen those backlot locations during many visits to the studio. But I am still amazed at how Bob Warner’s special effects, the film’s art department, James W. Payne’s Oscar winning set decorations and Robert Surtees’ cinematography made me forget about the studio lot locations and convince me that I had transported back to Depression-era Chicago and Joliet. I could also say the same about Edith Head’s costume designs, which led to her winning an Academy Award. But Albert Whitlock’s visual effects – especially his matte paintings – really gave this movie its unique visual style, as shown below:
I am happy to say that Whitlock also won an Academy Award.
“THE STING” marked the second screen teaming of Paul Newman and Robert Redford. It seems a damn shame they never shot other films together, because those two are magic as a team. Hell, they were magic period. Newman was perfect as Henry Gondorff. He did a great job in portraying who proved that despite his world weary attitude, he was still the master grifter capable of operation a first-rate con job, acting as mentor to less experienced grifters and handling unexpected problems. I especially enjoyed the sly air that Newman injected into the character and one particular scene in which his Gondorff emotionally manipulated the Doyle Lonnegan character. Someone once claimed that Robert Redford was wrong for the Jay Gatsby character, because his personal background and “golden boy” looks prevented him from understanding the air of desperation that drove Fitzgerald’s character. I disagree. In fact, I would point to Redford’s portrayal of Johnny Hooker in “THE STING” as an example of why that particular criticism is utter bullshit. He did a beautiful job of conveying Hooker’s impatience, addiction to gambling and more importantly, air of desperation – traits that led him into trouble with Lonnegan and Stryder in the first place.
Robert Shaw’s portrayal of Red Grant is considered one of the best James Bond villains of all time. Frankly, I found his portrayal of crime boss Doyle Lonnegan to be a lot more scary. Lonnegan must have been one of the most chaotic characters that the actor had portrayed. On one hand, Lonnegan seemed to be the epitome of the cold-blooded businessman, who did not suffer the loss of even one penny. At the same time Shaw was excellent in portraying the gangster’s pride and hair-trigger temper that led him into moments of recklessness. “THE STING” was the first movie that ever made me take notice of actress Eileen Brennan . . . and this was seven years before her Oscar-nominated performance in “PRIVATE BENJAMIN”. I thought she gave a very sly and sexy performance as Gondorff’s grifter/madam girlfriend, Billie. This was especially apparent in one scene in which she was forced to deal with Lieutenant Synder, who was searching for Hooker. Speaking of Synder, this role marked the first major one on film for Charles Durning. I thought he did a marvelous job as the vindictive and crooked Joliet cop. Durning did an excellent job in conveying Synder’s venal nature in a very subtle manner.
Both Ray Walston and Harold Gould gave very entertaining performances as two of Gondorff’s trusted men – J.J. Singleton and Kid Twist. Walston injected a good deal of sardonic humor that I found particularly fun to watch. And Gould gave a very elegant performance as the charming Twist. Jack Kehoe, who was also in 1988’s “MIDNIGHT RUN”, did an excellent job of portraying Hooker’s loyal, yet slightly nervous partner, Joe Erie. Kehoe was especially effective in the one scene in which Erie had a brief conversation with Lonnegan during the con. I suspect a good number of people would be surprised to learn that Robert Earl Jones, who portrayed Luther Coleman, was the father of actor James Earl Jones. After watching the father’s performance as the aging grifter who served as Hooker’s mentor, it is easy to see from whom the junior Mr. Earl Jones had inherited his talent. Robert Earl Jones, despite a screen time of twenty minutes or less, gave a first-rate performance as the doomed elderly grifter.
What else can I say about “THE STING”? I managed to spot a flaw or two. But right, I cannot think of any more flaws. I would have to watch the movie again. However, between the film’s visual artistry, Marvin Hamlisch’s use of Scott Joplin’s music, David S. Ward’s excellent screenplay and the first-rate cast led by Paul Newman and Robert Redford; director George Roy Hill created magic. And it is due to this magic that “THE STING” remains one of my favorite movies of all time, to this day.
Below is a list of my favorite movies set during the 1600s:
TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET DURING THE 1600s
1. “The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge” (1974) – Richard Lester directed this adaptation of the second half of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1844 novel, “The Three Musketeers”. The movie starred Michael York, Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway.
2. “The Man in the Iron Mask” (1977) – Richard Chamberlain portrayed duel roles in this loose adaptation of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1847-50 novel, “The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later”. Directed by Mike Newell, the movie co-starred Jenny Agutter, Patrick McGoohan and Ralph Richardson.
3. “The Three Musketeers” (1973) – Richard Lester directed this adaptation of the first half of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1844 novel, “The Three Musketeers”. The movie starred Michael York, Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway.
4. “Adventures of Don Juan” (1948) – Errol Flynn starred in this swashbuckling movie as the infamous Spanish nobleman and fencing master for King Philip III and Queen Margaret of Spain’s court, who comes to the aid of the couple when another nobleman plots to steal the throne from them. Vincent Sherman directed.
5. “The New World” (2005) – Terrence Malick wrote and directed this cinematic look at the founding of the Jamestown, Virginia settlement. The movie starred Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christopher Plummer and Christian Bale.
6. The Three Musketeers” (1948) – George Sidney directed this adaptation of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1844 novel. The movie starred Gene Kelly, Van Heflin, Lana Turner and June Allyson.
7. “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (2005) – Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson starred in this adaptation of Tracy Chevalier’s 1999 historical novel about a Dutch housemaid; her employer, painter Johannes Vermeer; and the creation of his famous 1665 painting. Peter Webber directed.
8. “The Wicked Lady” (1945) – Margaret Lockwood starred in this adaptation of Magdalen King-Hall’s 1945 novel, “Life And Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton”. Directed by Leslie Arliss, the movie co-starred James Mason and Patricia Roc.
9. “Forever Amber” (1947) – Otto Preminger directed this adaptation of Kathleen Winsor’s 1944 novel about the rise of a 17th century English orphan. Linda Darnell and Cornel Wilde starred.
10. “The Crucible” (1996) – Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder starred in this adaptation of Arthur Miller’s 1953 stage play about the Salem Witch Trials. The movie was directed by Nicholas Hytner.
How is it that a movie about one of the most famous blunders in British military history could remain so entertaining after 86 years? Can someone explain this? Warner Brothers’ take on the famous Charge of the Light Brigade, in which the Light Brigade of the British cavalry charged straight into the valley between the Fedyukhin Heights and the Causeway Heights during the Crimean War, is not what one would call historically accurate. Most of the movie took place in British occupied Northern India in the 1850s. Aside from the last twenty or thirty minutes, the movie really has nothing to do with the Crimean War. And yet . . . who cares? ”The Charge of the Light Brigade” is so damn entertaining that I found myself not even thinking about historical accuracy.
Directed by Michael Curtiz, and written by screenwriters Michael Jacoby and Rowland Leigh; the movie is an entertaining mixture about vengeance against the leader of a treacherous local tributary rajah in Northern India named Surat Khan (C. Henry Gordon); and a love triangle between Geoffrey and Perry Vickers – two brothers who are British Army officers (Errol Flynn and Patric Knowles) who happened to be in love with the same woman – the daughter of a British general (Olivia DeHavilland) named Elsa Campbell. I might as well start with the love story.
On the surface, the love triangle in ”THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE” seemed pretty simple – one woman torn between two men. Instead of having two best friends in love with the same woman, we have two brothers. But even that is nothing unusual. What turned out to be so unusual about this particular love story – especially in an Errol Flynn movie – is that the leading lady is NOT in love with the leading man. Within fifteen minutes into the story, the movie revealed that the leading man – namely Flynn – lost the affections of the leading woman (and fiancée) – De Havilland – to the secondary male lead – namely Knowles.
At first, it boggled in the mind. What woman in her right mind would prefer Patric Knowles over Errol Flynn? The latter had a more flamboyant character and was obviously the movie’s main hero. However . . . Knowles was not exactly chopped liver. Knowles was just as handsome as Flynn in his own way and a competent actor to boot. And his character – although less flamboyant than Flynn’s – had a quiet charm of its own. I also got the feeling that Flynn’s character seemed more in love with his job as an Army officer during the British Raj than he was with dear Elsa. Geoffrey Vickers seemed to have it all . . . until his brother Perry and Elsa’s little romance pulled the rug from under his self-assured life. And yet, he seemed damn reluctant to admit that Elsa loved Perry more than him. Reluctant may have been a mild word. Geoffrey seemed downright delusional in his belief that Elsa loved him only . . . and that Perry was merely harboring an infatuation for his fiancée. What made matters worse was that everyone – including Elsa’s father (Donald Crisp) and diplomat Sir Charles Macefield (Henry Stephenson) – supported Geoffrey’s illusions. Only Lady Octavia Warrenton (Spring Byington), wife of British General Sir Benjamin Warrenton (Nigel Bruce) seemed aware of Elsa and Perry’s feelings for one another.
Before I discuss the movie in general, I want to focus upon the cast. Flynn, DeHavilland and Knowles were ably supported by a talented cast drawn from the British colony in 1930s Hollywood (with the exception of two). American-born Spring Byington and British actor Nigel Bruce were charmingly funny as the verbose busybody Lady Octavia Warrenton and her husband, the long-suffering Sir Benjamin. They made a surprisingly effective screen pair. Donald Crisp was his usual more than competent self as Elsa’s loving, but humorless father, Colonel Campbell – a by-the-book officer unwilling to accept that his daughter had switched her affections to the younger Vickers brother. Henry Stephenson gave an intelligent performance as the competent diplomat, Sir Charles Macefield, who is charged with not only keeping the peace, but maintaining British control in a certain province of Northern India. It was easy to see why Flynn’s character seemed to hold him in high regard. David Niven was charming, but not very memorable as Geoffrey Vicker’s best friend, James Randall. Only in one scene – in which Randall volunteers to leave the besieged Chukoti Fort in order to warn Sir Benjamin at Lohara of Surat Khan’s attack – did Niven give a hint of the talent that would eventually be revealed over the years. And of course, one cannot forget American actor C. Henry Gordon’s portrayal of the smooth-talking villain, Surat Khan. Gordon could have easily portrayed Khan as another ”Oriental villain” that had become typical by the 1930s. On one level, Gordon’s Khan was exactly that. On another . . . Gordon allowed moviegoers to see Khan’s frustration and anger at the British handling of his kingdom.
Olivia DeHavilland once again proved that even in a costumed swashbuckler, she could portray an interesting female character without sinking into the role of the commonplace damsel-in-distress. With the exception of the sequence featuring the Siege of Chokoti, her Elsa Campbell spent most of the movie being torn between the man she loved – Perry Vickers, the man she has remained fond of – Geoffrey Vickers, and her father’s determination that she marry Geoffrey. Elsa spent most of the movie as an emotionally conflicted woman and DeHavilland did an excellent job of portraying Elsa’s inner conflicts with a skill that only a few actresses can pull off. And DeHavilland was merely 20 years old at the time she shot this film.
I really enjoyed Patric Knowles’ performance in this movie. Truly. One, he managed to hold himself quite well against the powerhouse of both Flynn and DeHavilland. I should not have been surprised. His performance as a sleazy Southern planter in 1957’s ”BAND OF ANGELS” was one of the bright spots in an otherwise mediocre film. And two, his Perry Vickers was a character I found easy to root for in his pursuit of Elsa’s hand. I especially enjoyed two particular scenes – his desperate, yet charming attempt to be assigned to Chokoti (and near Elsa), despite Sir Charles’ disapproval; and his anger and frustration over Geoffrey’s unwillingness to face the fact that Elsa’s affections had switched to him.
There are four movie performances by Errol Flynn that have impressed me very much. Three of those performances were Geoffrey Thorpe in ”THE SEA HAWK” (1940), James J. Corbett in ”GENTLEMAN JIM” (1942) and Soames Forsyte in ”THAT FORSYTE WOMAN” (1949). The fourth happens to be his performance as Captain/Major Geoffrey Vickers in ”THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE”. Not many film critics or fans have ever paid attention to his performance in this film, which is a pity. I suspect they were so flabbergasted by the idea of him losing Olivia DeHavilland to Patric Knowles that they had failed to pay any real attention to his performance as the complex and slightly arrogant Geoffrey Vickers. Superficially, Flynn’s Vickers is a charming, witty and very competent military officer. He seemed so perfect at the beginning of the film that it left me wondering if there were in cracks in his characters. Sure enough, there were. Thanks to a well written character and Flynn’s skillful performance, the movie’s Geoffrey Vickers became a complex, yet arrogant man who discovers that he is not very good at letting go at things that seem important to him, whether it was Elsa’s love or a desire for revenge against the villain. In the end, Geoffrey’s flaws became the instrument of his destruction. The amazing thing about Flynn’s performance as Geoffrey Vickers was that it was his second leading role. And the fact that he managed to portray such a complex character, considering his limited screen experience at the time, still amazes me.
As I had stated before, the movie’s historical account of the Crimean War and the infamous charge hardly bore any resemblance to what actually happened. The movie seemed to be about the British’s interactions with a Northern Indian minor rajah named Surat Khan. The British, led by diplomat Sir Charles Macefield, struggle to maintain a “friendly” relationship with Khan, while his men harass British troops in the area and he develops a friendship with a visiting Russian Army officer Count Igor Volonoff (Robert Barrat). The phony friendship and minor hostilities culminated in an attack by Khan against one of the British forts in his province – Chukoti, which is under the command of Colonel Campbell. The battle for Chukoti eventually turned into a massacre that only Geoffrey and Elsa survived. But more interesting, it seemed like a reenactment of an actual siege and massacre that happened at a place called Cawnpore, during the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857-58 . . . three to four years after the setting of this movie. For a movie that is supposed to be about the Light Brigade Charge and the Crimean War, it was turning out to be more of a fictional account of British history in India during the 1850s.
But the movie eventually touched upon the Crimean War. After the Chukoti Massacre, Surat Khan ended up in hot water with the British government in India. Due to his friendship with Volonoff, he found refugee with the Russians. And he ended up as a guest of the Russian Army during the Crimean War. Following her father’s death, Elsa finally convinced Geoffrey that she is in love with Perry. And the regiment of both brothers – the 27th Lancers – is also sent to Crimea. According to Sir Charles, their posting to the Crimea would give them an opportunity for revenge against Khan. But when the 27th Lancers finally received an opportunity to get their revenge against Khan, Sir Charles denied it. And so . . . Geoffrey took matters in his own hands and ordered the Light Brigade – which included his regiment – and the Heavy Brigade to attack the artillery on the heights above the Balaklava Valley. This is so far from what actually happened . . . but who cares? I enjoyed watching Flynn express Geoffrey’s struggles to contain his thirst for revenge and eventual failure.
And then the charge happened. My God! Every time I think about that sequence, I cannot believe my eyes. Part of me is horrified not only by the blunder caused by Geoffrey’s desire for revenge . . . but by the fact that 200 horses and a stuntman were killed during the shooting of that scene. Flynn had been so outraged by the deaths of the horses that he openly supported the ASPCA’s ban on using trip wire for horses for any reason. At the same time, I cannot help but marvel at the brutal spectacle of that scene. No wonder Jack Sullivan won the Academy Award for Best Assistant Director for his work on this particular scene.
On the whole, “THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE” is a very entertaining and well-paced spectacle. Frankly, I think that it was one of the best movies to be released during the 1930s and certainly one of Errol Flynn’s finest films. For those who honestly believed that the Australian actor could not act . . . well, they are entitled to their opinions. But I would certainly disagree with them. On the surface, Flynn seemed like his usual charming and flamboyant self. However, I was very impressed at his portrayal of the self-assured and slightly arrogant Geoffrey Vickers, who found his private life slowly falling apart. Olivia DeHavilland, Patric Knowles, Donald Crisp, C. Henry Gordon and Spring Byington gave him excellent support. Thanks to Jacoby and Leigh’s script, along with Michael Curtiz’s tight direction, “THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE” turned out to be a first-class movie with an interesting love story with a twist, political intrigue, well-paced action and a final sequence featuring the charge that remains mind blowing, even after 86 years.
Thirteen years ago, writer-director Neil Blomkamp made a name for himself with the release of his science-fiction thriller, “DISTRICT 9”. The movie made a celebrity out of the movie’s leading man, Sharlto Copely, as well. A few years passed before the two men paired up with Matt Damon and Jodie Foster to make a second science-fiction movie called “ELYSIUM”.
Set in the year 2154, “ELYSIUM” told the story of Max Da Costa, a parolee and former car thief who lives in ravaged Los Angeles. In the 22nd century, two classes of Humans exist – the very wealthy, who live on a luxurious space station called Elysium; and the poor, who live on an overpopulated, devastated Earth. Ruthless androids police the impoverished residents on Earth, while the Elysian citizens are serviced by robotic servants in a comfortable and luxurious setting. And while Earth’s citizens receive questionable and ineffective health care from health care workers at rundown hospitals, Elysian citizens regularly use man-sized medical devices called Med-Pods in their homes that keep them free from disease and wounds. Max, who had grown up as an orphan and spent a good deal of his life in prison, now works on an assembly-line at a robotic factory that provides the technology for Elysium called Armadyne Corporation.
An accident at the plant exposes Max to radiation and he discovers that he has five days left to live. Armadyne CEO John Carlyle has Max fired. His friend Julio introduces him to a notorious smuggler and hacker named Spider, who organizes illegal caravans to Elysium. Spider agrees to get Max to Elysium, if Max can help him steal valuable financial information from Carlyle. Spider arranges for Max to receive a fake Elysium ID needed to use the Med-Pods, a primitive powered exoskeleton that increases his strength to rival the android sentinels, and a cerebral data uplink, which will allow Max to transfer information from Carlyle’s mind to his own. With help from a team that includes Julio, Max intercepts Carlyle’s space shuttle and steals the latter’s data (including the program), uploading it to his own brain. The team, however, finds the data scrambled by Carlyle’s security measures and cannot transmit it to Spider. Even worse, Max and the others are forced to deal with a brutal mercenary named Kruger, who works for Elysian Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt. And Delacourt wants the information that Max had downloaded from Carlyle’s mind in the hopes of using it to stage a coup d’etat against Elysium’s President Patel. The information from Carlyle’s mind could also help Max’s childhood friend, Frey, who is not only a nurse, but also the mother of a young girl dying from leukemia.
Although I had been impressed by “DISTRICT 9” years ago, I have to be honest and say that I found a few aspects of the movie a little off-putting. I cannot say the same about “ELYSIUM”. There is nothing about it that I found off-putting . . . only questionable. However, “ELYSIUM” failed to impress me. I am sorry, but it simply did not. The movie did benefit from some virtues. I have to give credit to Blomkamp’s screenplay for exploring issues that affect our lives today . . . and may even have a bigger impact upon our future – immigration, transhumanism, class issues and especially health care issues. And I must say that I found Blomkamp’s vision of 22nd century Los Angeles, reinforced by Philip Ivey’s production designs and Trent Opaloch’s photography, to be very interesting and original. And I cannot help but wonder if his vision will prove to be prophetic. The movie’s action sequences struck me as impressive. And I found Blomkamp’s handling of the sequence featuring Max’s theft of Carlyle’s data from the latter’s mind to be first-rate. Personally, I feel that it is the best sequence in the movie.
Too bad “ELYSIUM” featured even more aspects that I found either questionable or simply . . . off-putting. Yes, I know that I had earlier claimed that the movie did not have any off-putting aspects about it. I now realize I had been wrong. My biggest complaint about “ELYSIUM” happens to be its second half. Whatever intelligence Blomkamp injected into the script’s first half, he seemed to have ripped it away in its second. And this happened when Max made a bargain with Kruger for a trip to Elysium in exchange for Carlyle’s program (threatening suicide by a live grenade next to his head). It did not help that Frey and her daughter were along for the ride with Max as hostages of Kruger. So many stupid incidents occurred during the movie’s second half; including the reconstruction of Kruger’s damaged face from an exploded grenade held by Max with the Med-Pods. Kruger should have been dead after what happened to his face. But following his recovery . . . oh God! It was just one big mess! I would tell what happened, but I fear I have given away too much of the plot, already.
There were other aspects of “ELYSIUM” I found disturbing. According to its premise, 22nd century humanity will be divided into two classes – working class and the elite. So, what happened to the middle-class? Did economic upheavals caused its elimination? And if the middle-class had ceased to exist, to which class did Max’s immediate supervisor at the plant belonged? Or the doctor that Frey worked with? And why did Max seemed to be the only white person among the working-class in Los Angeles? Surely, there were other whites among the working-class? And if Blomkamp intended for Los Angeles’ working-class to consist mainly of a large majority of Latinos and less blacks and Asian-Americans, why cast the obviously white Matt Damon as Max Da Costa?
Speaking of Damon, he gave a decent performance as the movie’s protagonist, Max Da Costa. But he did not exactly rock my boat. He tried. But Max never struck me as a particularly interesting character. I would have been more impressed by Jodie Foster’s portrayal of the cold-blooded Jessica Delacourt, if I were not so confused by her accent. If anyone has an idea of what her accent was supposed to be, please let me know. One could always count on Sharlto Copely to give a top-notch performance in any movie. His portrayal of Delacourt’s thug, Kruger, was certainly an all-out effort on his part. Unfortunately, Kruger struck me as one of the most-one-dimensional villains I have ever seen on the movie screen in the past few years. One would think that an old friend like Blomkamp could have written Kruger with a little more dimension for Copely. I have never seen any of Alice Braga’s previous performances. And she struck me as a very competent actress. But like Copely, she was saddled with a one-dimensional character that no skillful acting could overcome. At least for me.
There were some performances that impressed me. William Fitchner gave a first-rate performance as the businesslike and brainy CEO John Carlyle, whose bigotry toward the working-class led to a dislike of being touched. Wagner Moura infused a great deal of energy into his performance of the smuggler and hacker, Spider. And this energy carried into every scene he was in. Diego Luna, whom I last saw in 2012’s “CONTRABAND” gave a very compassionate performance as Max’s loyal and caring friend, Julio. It was nice to see Faran Tahir, who portrayed Elysium’s President Patel, after a few years. And like Moura, he infused a good deal of energy into his performance and the movie, thanks to some skillful acting.
“ELYSIUM” could boast some virtues, including an interesting premise, excellent production designs and photography, and skillful acting from some of the cast. But a few one-dimensional characterizations and a plot that lost a great deal of intelligence in its second half resulted in “ELYSIUM” becoming something of a disappointment for me.
“POLDARK” SERIES THREE (2017) EPISODES ONE TO FIVE
Series Two of “POLDARK” ended on a dark note for me. The last six of its ten episodes featured the adaptation of Winston Graham’s 1953 novel, “Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793”. And if I must be brutally honest, I was not happy with it. Not one bit. Due to my low opinion of Series Two’s second half, I did not look forward to Series Three.
The first five episodes of Series Three focused on showrunner Debbie Horsfield’s adaptation of Graham’s 1973 novel, “The Black Moon: A Novel of Cornwall, 1794-1795”. That is correct. Following the publication of “Warleggan”, Graham waited twenty years to continue his “Poldark” series. Many fans of Graham’s novels consider “The Black Moon” and the two novels that followed as the best in the series. I certainly did. I still do.
Episode One of Series Three picked up after Series Two’s last episode. The episode opened with a very pregnant Elizabeth Warleggan and her husband George Warleggan galloping across the countryside. When it looked as if Elizabeth’s horse might be in danger of running away, up popped a concerned Ross Poldark, the series’ protagonist, to come to her rescue. Only Elizabeth was not in the mood to offer her gratitude. She remained angry over the events of late Series Two. Ross’ feelings for Elizabeth and the fact that she might be carrying his child, has not disappeared. While the War of the First Coalition raged on, Ross arranged for the secret wedding of his close friend, Dr. Dwight Enys to heiress Caroline Penvenen. Before the newlyweds could enjoy their honeymoon, Elizabeth went into labor, forcing Dwight to deliver the new Warleggan offspring, Valentine Warleggan . . . on the night of a “black moon”. And Caroline’s Uncle Ray Penvenen passed away on the same after giving his blessing to the newly married couple.
The first five episodes of Series Three also introduced several new characters. One of them happened to be Morwenna Chynoweth, Elizabeth Warleggan’s younger cousin. She was hired by the Warleggans to serve as governess to Elizabeth’s older son, Geoffrey Charles Poldark. Demelza Carne Poldark’s two brothers, Sam and Drake Carne, were also introduced in Series Three. Following the death of the Carne family’s patriarch, Tom Carne, the pair decided to seek their fortunes in the parish where Ross and Demelza resided. Not long after their introductions, both Morwenna and Drake became acquainted with one another and fell in love . . . fully supported by the young Geoffrey Charles. Other newcomers included the Reverend Osborne Whitworth, a young vicar from an local elite family; Tholly Tregirls, an old roguish friend of Ross’ late father; Sir Francis Basset, a high-born landowner who wants to sponsor Ross as a political candidate; Lord Falmouth, a local aristocrat also interested in finding a political candidate to sponsor; and Hugh Armitage, Dwight Enys’ fellow prisoner of war, a Royal Navy officer and kinsman to Lord Falmouth. However, there seemed to be a missing character in Series Three – namely Ross’ old servant, Jud Paynter. Due to showrunner Debbie Horsfield and the BBC deciding that dear old Jud would be underused, they gave actor Phil Davis the boot.
I noticed that a few story arcs had emerged between Episodes One and Five:
*Dwight Enys’ capture by the French and Ross’ efforts to find and rescue him *Sam Carne’s efforts to establish a Methodist congregation in the parish *The growing romance between Morwenna Chynoweth and Drake Carne *The effect upon Valentine Warleggan’s birth upon the Trenwith household *George Warleggan’s efforts to acquire political office
I like Dwight Enys. A lot. One of the reasons why I like him so much is that he has been willing to accept responsibility for his actions – namely his affair with Keren Daniels back in Season One. But for some reason, I could not get excited over Ross’ efforts to both find and rescue him from a French military prison. One, I knew he would be eventually rescued. And two, it is possible that I was not that interested in watching Ross Poldark play “Action Jackson in France” – not in Episode Three or Episode Five. One major result from the rescue mission proved to be the death of Captain Henshawe, Ross’ right hand man. Episode Five made a big deal of his death. So did the media and a good number of fans. However, I just could not summon any sense of grief on my part. I barely remember the guy. I am sorry, but I did not. All I remember is Captain Henshawe’s funeral, which Horsfield had transformed into a major production scene, and gave Ross another opportunity to engage in more of his brooding man pain.
And unless I am mistaken, I do not recall Ross’ first trip to France (shown in Episode Two) being that eventful . . . or long. Nor did it help that during Episode Five, Horsfield’s transcript had shifted between scenes of the actual rescue mission in France, and a soirée hosted by Lord Falmouth that the Warleggans, Morwenna, Demelza and Caroline attended. Why Horsfield made this narrative decision, I have no idea. It merely increased my disinterest in the rescue mission. The only aspect of this story arc that I found interesting were Horsfield’s additional scenes featuring Dwight’s struggles as a prisoner of war. I thought these scenes effectively conveyed the urgency for his rescue. But as I had earlier stated, I found it difficult to experience any interest in the actual rescue sequence.
Horsfield made even more additions to this story arc by having both Caroline Penvenen (Dwight’s lady love) and Verity Blamey (Ross’ cousin) discover that their significant others were missing at sea in Episode Three. However, this failed to drum up my interest in this story arc. And why did Horsfield allow Caroline and Dwight to get married in Episode One? The pair did not become man and wife until one of the early chapters of “The Four Swan”. And their wedding was a large one that included George and Elizabeth Warleggan as guests. So . . . what was the point of this secret wedding ceremony? So that Ray Penvenen would have the opportunity to give his blessing to the union before he died? How maudlin.
Then there was Sam Carne’s religious fervor and his desire to establish a Methodist congregation in the local neighborhood. I sympathized with Sam, especially when he tried to find a building for his growing congregation. But I found his earlier efforts to enforce Methodist worshiping practices during an Anglican service struck me as slightly off putting. There were moments when I found myself supporting George Warleggan’s opposition to Sam’s efforts – for a different reason. On the other hand, I found it odd that Ross had originally expressed no interest in helping Sam. He seemed to regard his two brothers-in-law as nuisances and mere extended versions of his father-in-law, Tom Carne. I should not have been surprised by Demelza’s willingness to help one of her younger brothers. But I was. For in Graham’s 1973 novel, she barely made any effort to help Sam find a building for his new congregation. I can only assume this was one of Horsfield’s excuses to push Demelza’s character to the forefront of this adaptation.
As for the younger Carne brother, Drake, an interesting story emerged, featuring his romance with Elizabeth Warleggan’s cousin, Morwenna Chynoweth. From a cold eye, Drake and Morwenna’s relationship seemed to be a remake of William Shakespeare’s play, “ROMEO AND JULIET”. None of the other major characters seemed to be interested in supporting this relationship, due to the ever lasting feud between Ross and George. Ross’ interest in Drake’s feelings for Morwenna seemed to be as non-existent as his interest in helping Sam. At least not until after Drake had accompanied him on the rescue trip to France in Episode Five. Apparently, poor Drake had to prove his manhood in order to attract Ross’ sympathy. George simply wanted to use Morwenna to further his own ambitions. Eager to find an elite sponsor to help him kick start a political career, George pushed Morwenna forward as a possible bride to a widowed vicar named the Reverend Osborne Whitworth. As his wife, Elizabeth naturally was willing to help him in his efforts.
Morwenna and Drake also received no support from Aunt Agatha Poldark and Demelza. Both had pointed out that marriage would difficult or near impossible between two people from different classes. I had expected this from an old snob like Aunt Agatha. Demelza’s opposition to the romance – at least according to Horsfield – proved to be mind-boggling and a little false to me. Especially since she had married a man outside of her class and supported another mixed marriage involving class – Dwight and Caroline. Drake and Morwenna’s only support came from Elizabeth and Francis’ son, Geoffrey Charles. However, the latter seemed more focused on Morwenna’s feelings, instead of Drake’s. Considering that Geoffrey Charles was only nine to ten years old at the time, the young couple’s desire to be together struck me as doomed. It did not surprise me that Morwenna eventually caved in and decided to end her romance with Drake. Her decision to end the romance led him to join Ross’ rescue expedition to France.
One of the aspects of Debbie Horsfield’s adaptation of “Warleggan” that I had despised so much was her handling of the night Ross and Elizabeth conceived their only son, Valentine Warleggan. I still despise it because Horsfield had transformed an act of rape on Ross’ part to barely disguised consented sex in order to save his reputation with the series’ viewers. In doing so, Horsfield managed to rob some of the tragic aspects of Elizabeth’s story – aspects filled with a gender theme. Thanks to Ross’ male ego and rage, Elizabeth found herself trapped in a situation in which she was forced to pass off his son as George’s. At least in the novel. In Horsfield’s version, Elizabeth is not really a victim of Ross’ ego, but merely of her own lust. In other words, Elizabeth brought upon this situation regarding Valentine upon herself. Horsfield managed to literally rob the gender aspect of Graham’s story arc for Elizabeth . . . for the sake of the leading man’s reputation. That a woman would write such a thing struck me as rather disgusting. But what Horsfield did to Elizabeth in regard to the latter’s relationship with Valentine lowered my opinion of the show runner even further. For reasons I cannot explain, Horsfield thought it would be more dramatic if Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan was portrayed as a cold parent, who resented her newly born son for forcing her to constantly lie to her husband George about his paternity. Elizabeth Warleggan . . . a cold parent? What a joke! I certainly do not recall her being a cold parent to either of her sons – not in the novels or in the 1975-77 series. More on this character arc later.
Horsfield also changed Ross’ reaction to Valentine’s birth. Following his rape of Elizabeth and Valentine’s birth in the novel, Ross went out of his way to ignore his second son. He wanted nothing to do with Valentine. Yet, Horsfield had Ross galloping after a pregnant Elizabeth in some effort to save her and make up for ignoring her following the night of Valentine’s conception. What on earth? On the night of Valentine’s birth – the night of the “black moon” – Ross spent most of his time silently brooding not far from Trenwith like some emotionally immature schoolboy. Aunt Agatha’s gloom-filled declaration that young Valentine was cursed, due to being born on the night of a “black moon” added what I believe was one ridiculous element to this story arc. There was another aspect of Ross’ character arc that I disliked and it had a lot to do with his relationship with Francis and Elizabeth’s son, Geoffrey Charles. In “The Black Moon”, young Geoffrey Charles had developed a hero worship of Drake Carne, while Morwenna Chynoweth was serving as his governess. This led him to be the sole supporter of the pair’s romance. However, Horsfield seemed to believe it was necessary to have Geoffrey Charles develop a hero worship of Ross . . . to the point that his attitude toward his stepfather reeked with as much snobbery as Ross and Aunt Agatha’s. And Geoffrey Charles’ relationship with Drake, which remained relevant even in the series’ later novels, seemed to have diminished a bit. Why? Why did Horsfield do this? To make Ross’ role in this adaptation of “The Black Moon” more relevant? To further ease the taint of rapist that clouds his character? Who knows.
Following the birth of his “son”, George Warleggan took the opportunity to kick start his political ambitions. I never understood why Graham had George follow this path. The character was an extremely wealthy man and the owner (or part-owner) of one of the most powerful banks in Cornwall. If anything, George has always struck me as the type who would financially sponsor a politician to serve his needs in Parliament. Instead, George attempted to court the attention of the likes of Lord Falmouth and Sir Francis Basset to finance his candidacy in Parliament. He had already managed to become a magistrate after Ross had rejected the position. George’s new role as a magistrate featured him handing down judgments – including one in which he dismissed rape charges against a scion of a high-born family. When I viewed this scene, I could only shake my head in a mixture of disgust and disbelief. One, I believe this . . . rape trial was never in “The Black Moon”. And two, it struck me as nothing more than a hypocritical attempt by Horsfield to erase the rape or rape-fantasy taint of Ross’ actions against Elizabeth in Series Two. George’s role as a magistrate also struck me as odd, considering that he seemed to be the lead magistrate during the Truro assize. Despite being the youngest . . . and least experienced man on the bench.
After becoming a magistrate, George eventually set his sights upon becoming a Member of Parliament (M.P.). His efforts to do so led to his attempt to push his cousin-in-law into a marriage with the Reverend Whitworth, who has blood connections to the Godolphin family. However, his and Elizabeth’s efforts at matchmaking hit a roadblock, thanks to Morwenna’s romance with Drake Carne and her refusal to regard the widowed vicar as a future husband. Instead, George turns to Lord Falmouth as a possible sponsor and manages to secure invitations for himself, Elizabeth and Morwenna at the peer’s soirée in Episode Five. Needless to say, between George’s clumsy attempts at character assassination of Ross and the news of the latter’s rescue of Dwight and other prisoners of war, his efforts to impress Lord Falmouth failed. Especially since one of those prisoners happened to be one Hugh Armitage, a relative of the peer. Horsfield’s portrayal of George’s embarrassment at Lord Falmouth’s soirée seemed rather heavy-handed to me. And I found it odd that Falmouth was introduced in the story by this point. He was first introduced in “The Four Swans: A Novel of Cornwall, 1796-1797” . . . and Horsfield has yet to finish her adaptation of “The Black Moon”. Very confusing.
Episode Four also featured a ridiculous sequence in which Caroline Penvenen tried to raise money to purchase food for locals starving from a drought and failed crops. In the novel, George and other local landowners donated money and the food was purchased. In this version, George did donate money to the fund. And then . . . oh God, I cannot believe I am writing this. Ross used the money to purchase goods that had to be smuggled on shore. This led to a contrived scenario in which George organized a troop of militia to catch and arrest Ross and the smugglers for free trading. Needless to say, George’s plans failed and he ended up looking like a fool. And I ended up shaking my head in disbelief in this heavy-handed and puerile attempt by Horsfield to villify George even further. Ever since Series Three began, Horsfield seemed hellbent upon transforming George into a one-note moustache-twirling villain. The complex man from Series One and Two seemed seemed to have disappeared. And poor Jack Farthing sometimes looks as if he is drowning in Horsfield’s gradual one-note portrayal of his character.
Some of the characters in the series seemed to have change for the worst in Series Three. Well, in Ross’ case, he had regressed to the Gary Stu hero from Series One and early Series Two. Well . . . not completely. His refusal to serve as a local magistrate (giving George the opportunity to fulfill the position) and unwillingness to help his brothers-in-law may have saved him from being a complete Gary Stu. And yet, I thought that Horsfield had focused a bit too much on Ross’ French adventures – especially in Episode Three. Most people would wonder why I found this unsatisfying. One, I found the portrayal of his first trip to France rather laughable. I do not know. Perhaps I see this regression as some effort by Horsfield to make him heroic and ideal in the viewers’ eyes, following his transgression against Elizabeth in Series Two.
Ross may not have completely regressed into a Gary Stu. But I thought Demelza Poldark had become the epitome of a Mary Sue during these first five episodes of Series Three. Before Series Three had aired in Britain, Horsfield had complained about the limited number of scenes featuring the leading lady in Graham’s 1973 novel. However, I suspect that Horsfield may have overdone it a bit . . . to the point of Demelza emerging as a world-class Mary Sue. The show runner had allowed Demelza become more involved in helping her brother Sam establish a Methodist church than she was in the novel. Instead of Caroline collecting funds to purchase food for the starving locals, Horsfield had Demelza joining her in this endeavor. Demelza also recruited the help of Caroline, her brothers and Sam’s Methodist congregation to divert George and the militia from Ross’ smuggling operation for the starving locals. I also noticed that Demelza seemed rather controlling in these episodes – especially toward Ross. I suppose this was Horsfield’s idea of Demelza paying back Ross for that night with Elizabeth. In fact, Demelza’s whole demeanor in these first five episodes seemed to be that of an early 21st century female, instead of a late 18th century wife and mother. Not only has Demelza become a Mary Sue, but also an anachronism.
For reasons that still astound me, Horsfield had added scenes of Demelza trying to convince Morwenna to end her romance with Drake. I found this mind boggling for two reasons. One, Demelza and Morwenna did not interact with each other until the second half of the 1977 novel, “The Angry Tide”. And two, Horsfield’s efforts to paint Demelza with as much sympathy as possible in these scenes did not work for me. Considering that Morwenna was Elizabeth’s cousin and Demelza remained hostile toward her former cousin-in-law, the series’ leading lady came off as hypocritical to me. Apparently, she believed there was nothing wrong with her, a former miner’s daughter and kitchen maid, to marry a landowner. It was okay for an heiress like Caroline Penvenen to marry an impoverished doctor from a working-class family. But apparently, her working-class brother marrying a young woman from an impoverished, yet upper-class family was a bad idea. If Demelza had simply used the current feud between Ross and George as a reason, I could understand. But she never did. According to Horsfield, Demelza believed Morwenna was too fragile to withstand a marriage to someone from Drake’s class. Many viewers bought this argument. I did not. Demelza did not know Morwenna well enough to make this assumption.
One of the aspects of Horsfield’s adaptation of “The Black Moon” that I found puzzling was her decision to switch back and forth between scenes of the rescue mission in France and Lord Falmouth’s soirée. What was suppose to be the connection between the two scenes? The only connection I could summon was that one of the prisoners rescued by Ross was Lord Falmouth’s kinsman, Lieutenant Hugh Armitage. And George learned about this piece of bad news (for him) from Elizabeth during the soirée. But George, Elizabeth and Morwenna were not the only guests at the soirée. Demelza and Caroline also attended. And from the moment when Demelza first laid eyes upon Elizabeth and George, she made a snide comment, criticizing the couple for attending a party during wartime. I do not believe Demelza could ever be more hypocritical than she was at that moment. Especially since she was also attending the soirée . . . during wartime. But Horsfield needed another moment to make George look bad and Demelza to seem more ideal. What is even worse is that many fans lapped up this shit.
WHAT IN THE HELL DID DEBBIE HORSFIELD DO TO THE CHARACTER OF ELIZABETH WARLEGGAN? Why did Horsfield inflict these extreme changes upon the character? Why? What was the point of portraying Elizabeth in this ugly manner? It was bad enough that Horsfield refused to allow Elizabeth to remain angry at Ross for the rape. Oh I forgot. We are supposed to believe that he did not rape her, despite the fact that he had literally forced himself on her,until the last moment. Instead, Elizabeth is angry at Ross for abandoning her, following that night on May 9, 1793. And here is where I shake my head in disbelief at Horsfield’s failure to remember that this story is set in the late 18th century and not the 20th or 21st centuries. I have already complained about Horsfield portraying Elizabeth as an indifferent and cold parent to her second son. Why did the show runner do this? Someone had tried to explain that Elizabeth was suffering from postnatal depression. For how long? She had remained indifferent to Valentine months after his birth – even when he was diagnosed with rickets. Are we supposed to believe that this negative portrayal of Elizabeth was supposed to make her interesting? I did not find it interesting. I found this portrayal heavy-handed and infantile. Right now, I find myself doubting Debbie Horsfield’s talent as a writer.
I am not stating that Elizabeth was an ideal or perfect person. She was not. Elizabeth was definitely guilty of supporting George’s efforts to convince Morwenna to marry the odious Reverend Osborne Whitworth. In the novel, Elizabeth genuinely thought Whitworth would be a fine match for Morwenna – being unaware of the man’s true nature. She also believed that an arranged marriage for Morwenna would work as well as her marriage of convenience to George had worked for her. And to be honest, I believe that Elizabeth did not want to get into a conflict with George, especially since they had only been married for two years. But this production seemed to hint that Elizabeth’s efforts to play matchmaker for Morwenna and Whitworth stemmed from her resentment and jealousy toward Geoffrey Charles’ regard for her young cousin. Which was never the case in the novel.
But there was one change to Elizabeth’s character that truly irritated me. Horsfield had transformed Elizabeth into an addict who relied upon laudanum and wine to help her endure her marriage to George. Despite her occasional bouts of insecurity, Elizabeth never had to resort to using drugs and alcohol to endure marriage to George or her life in general. Two, Elizabeth may have been insecure at times, but I have always regarded her as a strong-willed person, despite her “fragile” appearance. Three, she never had to “endure” being married to George. Elizabeth realized that George was no picnic and had his flaws in the novel. But she found her second marriage more satisfying than she did being married to Francis. Unfortunately, Debbie Horsfield seemed incapable of understanding this. And apparently, so did many fans. Perhaps Horsfield and the fans could not endure any character preferring marriage to George over Francis . . . or any Poldark.
And I cannot help but wonder if was this addiction story line Horsfield’s way of kowtowing to those fans who wanted Elizabeth punished for marrying the wealthy George Warleggan in the first place? Was it really a crime to marry someone for money . . . especially when that person is aware that he or she has been chosen for their wealth? In the late 18th century, when such a marriage was common? Once more, Horsfield failed to understand that the “POLDARK” series was set in the Georgian Era and not in modern times? Ross did not marry Demelza for love. I believe he had married her as some middle-finger gesture to his upper-class neighbors, following Jim Carter’s conviction for poaching. And he would have never married her back in Series One if Demelza had not seduced him in the first place. Demelza’s reason for her act of seduction had more to do with giving Ross a reason to keep her at Nampara (as a kitchen maid and mistress) and not send her back to the home of her abusive father. Yet, neither Ross or Demelza has ever been condemned for their actions by Winston Graham, the producers from the 1970s series, Debbie Horsfield or the saga’s fans. Personally, I found Elizabeth’s reason to marry George a lot more practically and easier to understand than Ross’ reason for marrying Demelza.
Most of the performances in these first five episodes of Series Three seemed to be solid. I noticed that Robin Ellis made another appearance as the Reverend Doctor Halse in a scene in which he expressed regret at Ray Penvenen’s death. I like Ellis, but I find myself wondering over his continued appearances in this series, considering that Halse is no longer relevant in the saga, by this point. Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson were competent as usual. But there were moments when I found Tomlinson’s portrayal of Demelza rather anachronistic. I do not know whether to blame the actress or Horsfield’s writing. I read somewhere that the BBC and Horsfield had fired Phil Davis, who had portrayed Jud Paynter, because they felt that his character was no longer relevant. I found this assumption rather odd, considering that Jud played a major role in a plot development in “The Four Swans”. Ellise Chappell, Harry Richardson, Harry Marcus, Josh Whitehouse, Tom York and especially veteran James Wilby all made solid debuts in the series. But I found Christian Brassington’s debut as the slimy Reverend Osborne Whitworth rather fascinating. I understood he gained a few pounds for the role. I hope he will be able to lose those pounds, once the series ends. However, I have to give special kudos to Jack Farthing and Heida Reed for their portrayals of George and Elizabeth Warleggan. It must have been difficult for both actors to rise above the shitty material dumped into their laps by Horsfield. They may have struggled at times, but in the end, I believe they may have risen above it.
You know, it is one thing to make occasional changes, while adapting a novel, play, etc. for a movie or television production. With her adaptation of “The Black Moon”, Debbie Horsfield no longer seemed to be making the occasional changes. She seemed to be rewriting Winston Graham’s 1973 novel into this barely recognizable tale reeking with ham-fisted melodrama. And I find myself wondering know how long I can put up with this crap.
Years ago, I had viewed a 1946 movie called “DEVOTION”. It was a fictionalized movie about the lives of the Brontë sisters. Needless to say, I had finished the movie feeling less than impressed. I also recently viewed the 1973 BBC miniseries, “THE BRONTES OF HAWORTH”. I considered it an improvement over the 1946 film but found myself turned off by the bombastic dialogue. In the end, I discovered “TO WALK INVISIBLE”, another biopic about the Brontë sisters. Despite my disappointment in the previous two productions about the sisters, I decided to give it a chance.
Unlike previous cinematic biographies of the Brontë family, the setting for “TO WALK INVISIBLE” during the three-year period between 1845 and 1848. The series began with the family’s reunion at their home in Yorkshire, after Branwell Brontë was dismissed from his position as tutor, and Anne Brontë, who had been working as a governess for the same family, resignation. Anne reluctantly informed her two sisters – Emily and Charlotte – that Branwell had been dismissed for his sexual affair with the mistress of the house. The three sisters came to the conclusion that despite years working as governesses or housekeeping for their father, the Reverend Patrick Brontë, they had continued their one passion – writing. However, the sisters eventually realized the possibility of a bleak future for themselves, and they could no longer regard their writing as a mere hobby. Reverend Brontë’s was becoming increasingly blind. The sisters also realized they could not depend upon Bramwell to support them, due to his alcoholism, lies and erratic behavior. Due to this realization, the three sisters decided to embark upon professional careers as authors in order to support the family’s financial situation . . . and maintain their love for writing.
“TO WALK INVISIBLE” has to be the only Brontë family biopic that has failed to bore me. I think it is a well-paced drama that did an excellent job of exploring the family’s emotional dynamics. Thanks to Sally Wainwright, it featured some tight writing. What I mean is . . . Wainwright did not drag the story’s pacing, making it unnecessarily long. Yet, at the same time, she prevented the narrative at dashing forward at breakneck speed. Wainwright’s excellent direction also helped the production.
Another aspect of “TO WALK INVISIBLE” that I found interesting was its raw portrayal of the Brontës’ lives in Yorkshire. Most period dramas have a tendency to project of veneer of gentility in its production designs. The most “genteel” or “sophisticated” aspect of production designs for “TO WALK INVISIBLE” seemed to be Grant Montgomery’s designs for Charlotte and Anne Brontë’s journey to London in the movie’s second half and Tom Pye’s costume designs for the Charlotte Brontë character. However, Montgomery’s production designs were not the only aspect of this movie that projected its raw portrayal of the Brontës’ lives. I could also say the same about Wainwright’s portrayal of financial desperation that faced the family by 1845 and Bramwell Brontë’s behavior and the consequences. “THE WALK INVISIBLE” was not the first period drama from the U.K. that convey the more rugged aspect of life before the 20th century. But Wainwright’s writing, dialogue (especially for Bramwell) and direction injected a certain rawness and energy that seemed more suited for crime dramas or war movies. And I loved it.
I cannot deny that I truly enjoyed the performances for “TO WALK INVISIBLE” – especially from those who portrayed the four Brontë siblings. Finn Adkins projected a great deal of emotional energy as the uber ambitious Charlotte Brontë. Chloe Pirrie struck me as equally energetic as the moody and sharp-tongued Emily Brontë, who also projected a fierce sense of protection toward her family – especially her father. Adam Nagaitis nearly stole the movie as the only brother, Branwell Brontë. I have to admit I found it fascinating to watch Nagaitis convey how Bramwell’s self-destructive tendencies – alcohol and drug addiction, insecurity, and a licentious love affair with an employer’s wife – led him to destroy the artistic potential within him. I realize that many would disagree with me, but I believe Charlie Murphy had the most difficult role in this production – that of the family’s youngest sibling, Anne Brontë. I thought Murphy did an excellent job of portraying both Anne’s reserved nature that barely hid a driving ambition. It is the type of role that people tend to ignore . . . just as many literary critics had ignored Anne Brontë for over a century. And finally, there was Jonathan Pryce, who portrayed the siblings’ surviving parent, Patrick Brontë. I would not regard the Reverend Brontë as one of Pryce’s most interesting roles. But I cannot deny that he gave a very solid performance as the family’s patriarch, whose control and protection seemed to be in a decline due to age and oncoming blindness.
If there is another biographical production about the Brontë family that I might regard as compelling, please let me know. I realize that “TO WALK INVISIBLE” is not historically accurate – at least not completely. But thanks to the raw and energetic wiring and direction of Sally Wainwright, along with a superb cast, the two-part production did more to ignite my interest in the Brontë family than any other biopic or miniseries I have ever seen.
One of the first hits of the year 2012 turned out to be a neat little political thriller directed by Daniel Espinosa, titled “SAFE HOUSE” that was directed by Daniel Espinosa.
Penned by David Guggenheim, “SAFE HOUSE” is about a young and ambitious C.I.A. agent named Matt Weston, whose present assignment is the “housekeeper” of an Agency safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. When ex-C.I.A. agent-turned-international criminal Tobin Frost turns himself in to a nearby U.S. consulate, Weston is informed by his superiors at Langley that Tobin will be brought to the safe house by an Agency torturer named Daniel Kiefer and his men. Weston watches the torture, until the process is interrupted by mercenaries led by a man named Vargas. He has been after Frost for some information that the latter acquired from an MI-6. Kiefer and the other C.I.A. agents are killed by Vargas and his men. And Weston escapes the safe house with Frost as his captive.
As I had stated earlier, “SAFE HOUSE” is a neat little political thriller filled with exciting chase sequences and nail-biting fight scenes. All of this was filmed in and around Cape Town, Africa; which struck me as a refreshingly original setting for a spy thriller. More importantly, screenwriter Guggenheim allowed all of the action to revolve around the computer file that the Tobin Frost character had acquired. The file contained information on the illegal activities of various intelligence officials throughout the world – including those from the C.I.A. The Vargas character had been recruited to get his hands on the file and kill Frost in the process. Due to this subplot, Guggenheim managed to introduce the element of a “mole” within the C.I.A. And the mole in question might either be Weston’s mentor, David Barlow, or the latter’s colleague, Catherine Linklater.
I cannot deny that “SAFE HOUSE” is an entertaining thriller and I could easily see why it did so well at the box office. It possessed a tight plot concerning betrayal. The movie also questioned Weston’s determination to maintain his C.I.A. career by allowing Frost to recount his own intelligence career and the circumstances that led him to turn rogue. However . . . it was not a perfect movie. It has its share of flaws that will never allow it to be considered one of the best spy thrillers to come out of Hollywood.
I have complained in past reviews about the new style of cinematography and editing that has prevailed in action-adventures since the BOURNE movies directed by Paul Greengrass. Yep . . . the same type of cinematography, direction and pacing is also prevalent in “SAFE HOUSE”, thanks to director Daniel Espinoza, cinematographer Oliver Wood and editor Rick Pearson. Oh well. I suppose one has to endure some unpleasant aspects for the sake of a decent story. Speaking of the story . . . well, how can I say this? I enjoyed it. But I must admit that I found it rather predictable. It did not take me very long to figure out the “mole” who had sent Vargas to kill Frost. And I managed to figure out Weston and Frost’s fates at least a half hour before the movie ended.
Thankfully, “SAFE HOUSE” provided plenty of first-rate performances that allowed me to . . . somewhat overlook the movie’s flaws. Some of my favorite Denzel Washington roles have always been those that reeked of moral ambiguity. And Tobin Frost proved to be one of his most ambiguous roles to date. I must admit that I was a bit surprised by his character’s goal by the film’s last twenty minutes. I had assumed that his position as a rogue agent was a means to bring justice to the “mole” within the C.I.A. or in protest of some operation that threatened innocents. I was wrong. His actions had been purely motivated by greed. Yet, I could not help cheering him on, as he managed to evade his pursuers throughout the movie. Ryan Reynolds portrayed a less ambiguous role – namely the inexperienced C.I.A. agent Matt Weston, who has ambitions to rise within the Agency. Reynolds was in his mid-30s when this film was shot a decade ago. Yet, he did a first-rate job in capturing the naivety and ambitions of someone who could be at least a half-decade younger. This allowed Reynolds convey Weston’s gradual maturity with great skill. By the end of the movie, his Weston almost seemed like a completely different from the young man at the beginning of the film.
“SAFE HOUSE” also boasted some solid performances from Sam Shephard, who portrayed the garrulous C.I.A. Director Harlan Whitford; Vera Farmiga as C.I.A. operative Catherine Linklater, who seems determined to believe that Weston is a fellow conspirator of Frost’s; Liam Cunningham as the MI-6 agent who provided Frost with the files; Rubén Blades as a former contact of Frost’s, whose help he seeks in a local Cape Town township; Robert Patrick, who gave his character – C.I.A. torturer Daniel Kiefer – a sharp air of professionalism; and Nora Arnezeder, as Whitford’s French girlfriend, who left confused by his sudden determination to distance himself from her. My favorite supporting performance came from Brendan Gleeson, whose portrayal of Weston’s mentor, David Barlow, seemed to rival Washington’s when in regard to moral ambiguity. Gleeson injected enough mystery into the character to make a viewer wonder if he is the mole or not. At the same, it is quite apparent that he cares about Weston’s career and safety.
“SAFE HOUSE” may not be the best spy thriller to come along in quite a while. I found the plot rather predictable and I was not that impressed by the Greengrass-style photography and editing. But I cannot deny that Daniel Espinoza directed an entertaining thriller, thanks to a solid script written by David Guggenheim and an excellent cast led by Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds.
Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of “IRON FIST”, the Marvel Netflix adaptation of the Marvel Comics hero. Created by Scott Buck, the series starred Finn Jones as Danny Rand aka Iron Fist:
FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “IRON FIST” SEASON ONE (2017)
1. (1.06) “Immortal Emerges from Cave” – Danny Rand aka Iron Fist and Ward Meachum, the son of his late father’s partner, Harold Meachum; search the Rand Enterprises warehouses for clues as to the operations of the criminal organization known as the Hand. Meanwhile, Danny receives an invitation from one of the Hand’s leaders, Madame Gao, to fight three operatives for the freedom of one of their hostages.
2. (1.13) “Dragon Plays with Fire” – With the Hand no longer around to monitor him, Harold Meachum takes control of Rand Enterprises. Danny learns of Harold’s role in the deaths of his parents and both he and Ward are forced to confront the former CEO in this season finale.
3. (1.11) “Lead Horse Back to Stable” – Danny refuses to return to K’un-Lun, the mystical city where he became the Iron Fist, despite the urgent demands of his friend, Davos. Former Hand acolyte and dojo owner Colleen Wing tries to convince Danny that she knew nothing about the Hand’s activities. Harold and his daughter Joy Meachum plot to prevent the Hand from taking over Rand Enterprises.
4. (1.01) “Snow Gives Way” – In the series’ premiere, Danny returns home to New York City after spending fifteen years at K’un-Lun. Because he was presumed dead, along with his parents, Danny has difficulty convincing Ward and Joy of his true identity and the fact that he controls 51% of Rand Enterprises.
5. (1.10) “Black Tiger Steals Heart” – An injured Danny finds himself at the Hand dojo where Colleen had been trained and meets her former mentor/trainer, Bakuto. Meanwhile, Harold kills a board member in order to pave the way for Joy to convince the others to reinstate her, Ward and Danny back on the company’s board.
There are certain movies in this world that I cannot be objective about – one way or the other. One of those movies happened to be the 1952 MGM musical, “SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN”.
Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, “SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN” was the brain child of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) producer and songwriter, Arthur Freed. While his 1951 musical “AN AMERICAN IN PARIS” was in its last stages of production, Freed came up with the idea of a musical that depicted – somewhat – the transition from silent films to talking pictures in Hollywood, during the late 1920. He recruited Broadway playwrights Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who had written three previous musicals for the studio, to write a screenplay that revolved around a collection of songs he had co-written with Nacio Herb Brown during the same period that the movie is set.
“SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN” begins at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, where a premiere is being held for Monumental Pictures’ latest release – “The Royal Rascal”. Starring the film’s protagonist Don Lockwood and his leading lady, Lina Lamont, the movie is a big hit with the audience. On his way to a party held by the studio’s head, R.F. Simpson, Don manages to avoid a group of screaming fans by hitching a ride with a young woman named Kathy Seldon. The two have a brief argument over the merits of screen and stage acting before Kathy delivers him to Simpson’s home. During the party, Simpson reveals his plans to convert the studio to talking pictures following the success of Warner Brothers’ 1927 release, “THE JAZZ SINGER”.
Monumental’s employees and contract players finally realize that Simpson was serious when orders for Don and Lina’s next assignment – “The Dueling Cavalier” – to be converted into a talking picture. However, the production is beset by a few problems. One, Don has to contend with his leading lady, the shallow and conniving Lina Lamont, being convinced that they are meant to be great lovers in real life. Two, Don has fallen in love with Kathy Seldon, whom he discovers is a minor contract player on the Monumental lot. Three, no one – including the film’s director Roscoe Dexter – has no idea of how to film a talking picture, let alone deal with the new sound equipment. And worst of all, Lina possesses a grating voice and strong New York accent that no diction coach can erase. Despite these problems, Don continues to pursue Kathy and Monumental Pictures soldiers on in its attempt to produce and release its first talking picture.
As many know, “SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN” is considered one of the best Hollywood musicals ever made. And honestly, I would be the last to argue against this opinion. But upon my recent viewing of the film, I realized that I had one or two problems with the movie. Yes . . . definitely two. One of those problems proved to be the Cosmo Brown character portrayed by Donald O’Connor. Do not get me wrong. I love the character. But . . . what exactly was his position at Monumental Pictures? The movie began with flashbacks featuring Don and Cosmo’s careers as barely successful vaudevillian song-and-dance men, their arrival in Southern California, Don’s early career as a stunt man, Cosmo’s role as a studio musician, and Don’s start as a major star and Lina Lamont’s leading man. Also, Cosmo seemed to serve as Don’s sole member of his entourage in Hollywood. Yet, by the end of the film, he has become head of Monumental Pictures’ music department, due to a few ideas he had about saving “The Dueling Cavalier”? That was all it took for Cosmo to unintentionally force the studio’s previous music department’s head out of a job? That seemed a bit too much for me to swallow. I was also disturbed by one scene in which Lina Lamont managed to intimidate studio chief R.F. Simpson into acquiescing to her every demand. I found that scenario rather hard to swallow. I do not care what kind of contract she had. I simply cannot see any Hollywood studio willing to agree with one that would give any contract player that level of power. Not even in a movie.
My bigger problem with “SINGIN IN THE RAIN” proved to be the film’s second half. It seemed that by the time Cosmo, Don and Kathy discussed how to save the studio’s first talking picture, the movie’s narrative was in danger of running out of steam. Of course, we all know that the movie had to deal with Lina’s downfall and Kathy’s ascension as a star. But I found it disturbing that screenwriters had to include a seventeen-minute ballet – the famous “Broadway Melody” – to stretch out the film. Without it, the movie’s running time would have lasted roughly 86 minutes. Hmmm . . . one would think that screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green could have stretched out the film’s narrative a little better than that. Do not get me wrong. I enjoyed the “Broadway Melody” . . . well, most of it. I must confess that I am not a fan of the segment that featured Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse and a long white scarf. Needless to say, I found it extremely boring! Every time the ballet came to this point, I have to press that FastForward button on my DVD remote to skip past it.
Despite these quibbles, I love “SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN”. Why deny it? One, I enjoyed the story. I thought Comden and Green had created a very entertaining and romanticized story about Hollywood’s transition from silent films to talkies in the late 1920s. Not only did I find it entertaining, I also found it extremely funny. Among the film’s best moments include Don Lockwood’s amusing and rather exaggerated recollection of his and Cosmo Brown’s years in vaudeville and their arrival in Hollywood; Don and Kathy’s rather funny first meeting on the streets; the revelation of Lina Lamont’s awful voice; the hilarious and chaotic filming of “The Dueling Cavalier”; and the equally hilarious test screening of the film that proved to be a disaster. There were just so many moments that left me in a state of uncontrolled laughter.
As for the film’s narrative – it is simple enough. “SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN” is about the Hollywood’s transition from silent movies to talking films via the experiences of a fictional movie studio. I realize that this might sound like pretentious bullshit, but there were times that I found myself wondering if Don Lockwood served as a metaphor for Monumental Pictures. Or if Lina Lamont and Kathy Seldon symbolized the silent and upcoming sound eras. Okay, that does sound like pretentious bullshit. But I do find it odd that Don eventually eases into a relationship with Kathy around the same time that Monumental embraces talking pictures. You know what? Perhaps I should back off and simply state that I enjoyed the film’s comedic narrative about the transition to sound and leave it at that.
Of course, I cannot discuss “SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN” without bringing up the film’s musical numbers. I learned that most of the songs were written by the movie’s producer, Arthur Freed and his former partner, Nacio Herb Brown. Comden and Green wrote two of the film’s songs – “Make ‘Em Laugh” (which strongly resembled Cole Porter’s tune, “Be a Clown”) and “Moses Supposes” (with Roger Edens). But if I had to be honest, the choreography that accompanied most of these songs made those songs memorable to me. This was especially the case for “Make ‘Em Laugh”, “Moses Supposes”, “Good Morning” and “Singin’ in the Rain”.
“Make ‘Em Laugh” featured a delightfully frenetic dance number by Donald O’Connor that still boggles the mind after 66 years. For a guy who claimed that he was basically a hoofer, this extraordinary dance number proved that he was a lot more. O’Connor was also featured in two dance numbers with star Gene Kelly. And one of them was “Moses Supposes”. Although I found the song amusing, but not particularly memorable, I thought Kelly and O’Connor’s dancing was superb. In fact, I would consider their dance routine to be among the best I have seen on film. “Good Morning”, a song that was featured in one of MGM’s past films, was also charming and peppy. I could say the same about the dance number by Kelly, O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. I could . . . but I would also like to add that this dance number conveyed that the trio had a magical screen chemistry, which is why it has always been a favorite of mine. Now, the “Singin in the Rain” was a pleasant song written and published back in 1927 and if I must be honest, Gene Kelly did not utilize any special dance steps for his performance. And yet . . . there is something special about it. The entire number struck me as an ultimate expression of unadulterated joy. And it reminded me of a happy moment during my childhood when my sister, brother and I were outside of our apartment building scampering on the lawn during a rain shower.
There were other musical numbers that I enjoyed. “All I Do Is Dream of You” is a delightful song-and-dance number performed by Debbie Reynolds and a group of chorus girls. This scene must have marked the first time moviegoers saw how talented the actress truly was. I also enjoyed Kelly and O’Connor’s first dance number in the movie, “Fit as a Fiddle (And Ready for Love)”, which served as a part of Don Lockwood’s hilarious early recollections of him and Cosmo Brown as part of a vaudeville act. And of course, there was the “Broadway Melody” ballet. Yes, I admit that I did not care for one part of it; which involved Kelly, Cyd Charisse and a long scarf. However, the rest of the ballet struck me as outstanding . . . especially that sexy-as-hell dance number between Kelly and Charisse. I will be the first to admit that “Beautiful Girls” number struck me as a bit of a bore. However, I was entertained by the number’s fashion show (something that many studios used to include in their movies between the end of the 1920s to the beginning of the 1940s) that featured some of Walter Plunkett’s most colorful costume designs:
What can I say about the performances in “SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN”? They were outstanding. Even those performances from supporting characters like Millard Mitchell, a hilarious Douglas Crawley, Kathleen Freeman, Madge Blake and a very young Rita Moreno proved to be very entertaining. The movie’s best performance came from Jean Hagen, who hilariously portrayed the vain and talentless Lina Lamont, whose unattractive voice threatened to end her career with the emergence of talking pictures. Hagen, who had earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, had based her performance on Judy Holliday’s Billie Dawn character from the play, “BORN YESTERDAY”. Hagen had been Holliday’s understudy. What I found impressive about Hagen’s portrayal is that not only did I find her Lina Lamont beneath contempt, a small part of me found her a bit pathetic and sad. Because she had only appeared in the “Broadway Melody” ballet, Cyd Charisse did not have a speaking role. But her superb and sexy dance number with Kelly re-charged her movie career for greater glory throughout the 1950s.
Another cast member who earned an acting award was Donald O’Connor, who won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy for portraying Don Lockwood’s closest friend, the musically inclined Cosmo Brown. Aside from his brilliant dancing, O’Connor gave a delicious performance as the sardonic and witty musician, who seemed to take great pleasure at taking pot shots at Lina Lamont. Aspiring actress Kathy Selden proved to be Debbie Reynolds’ sixth role in her long film and television career. Was it the role that finally led her to stardom? Probably. For most of the film, Kathy Selden is a nice, peppy girl with ambitions to make it big in films. I would have dismissed Reynolds’ performance as that of a safe, leading lady if it were not for her dancing talents that had emerged in this film (thanks to Kelly’s tutoring). However, there is one scene – namely Kathy Seldon’s first meeting with actor Don Lockwood – that foreshadowed her brilliant talent for comedic acting.
When people discuss Gene Kelly’s performance in “SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN”, they usually talk about his . . . well, his dance numbers. Especially the “Broadway Melody” ballet, his duet with O’Connor in the “Moses Supposes” number, and of course . . . the “Singin’ in the Rain” dance. As much as I enjoyed his dancing performance, I had to admit that I also enjoyed his portrayal of Don Lockwood. I liked how Kelly made it clear that although Don’s wit is not as sharp as Cosmo’s, it still existed and that he can be a very good comedic actor. This was especially clear in those scenes in which he has to fight off Lina’s constant pursuit of him. One truly funny moment featured a sequence in which he shot a series of insults at Lina, while they filmed a scene from the silent version of “The Dueling Cavalier”. Kelly was also very funny when his character, Don Lockwood, gave a hilarious account of his and Cosmo’s early years on the vaudevillian circuit and in Hollywood. More importantly, I enjoyed how Kelly skillfully conveyed Don’s insecurities and fear of the latter’s career fading, after his initial encounter with Kathy Seldon’s faux pretentious attitude toward movie acting.
Yes, “SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN” is not perfect. But . . . I cannot deny that I believe it is one of the best movie musicals I have ever seen, hands down. It is a masterpiece, thanks to Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s entertaining and funny screenplay, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s direction of both the narrative and musical scenes and wonderful performances by a cast led by Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor. To this day, I find it hard to believe that following its initial release, it was only a modest hit.
When I first saw the 2004 crime thriller, ”LAYER CAKE”, I thought that Matthew Vaughn would be spending the rest of his directing career in helming movies with a similar genre . . . and become a rival for his colleague, Guy Ritchie. Vaughn proved me wrong. Three years after ”LAYER CAKE”, he directed a fantasy comedy called ”STARDUST”. Another three years passed before Vaughn released another directorial effort – a spoof of the superhero genre called ”KICK-ASS”.
Based upon the comic book of the same name by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., ”KICK-ASS” told the story of an ordinary New York teenager named Dave Lizewski, who sets out to become a real-life superhero by calling himself “Kick-Ass”. However, Dave gets caught up in a bigger fight when he meets Big Daddy aka Damon Macready, a former cop, who in his quest to bring down the evil drug lord Frank D’Amico, has trained his 10-year-old daughter Mindy to be the ruthless vigilante, Hit-Girl. Big Daddy and Hit Girl’s murderous actions against D’Amico’s operations led the gangster to believe that Kick Ass was endangering his operation. His son, Chris, volunteers to become another costumed vigilante named Red Mist and lure Kick Ass to his doom.
I had considered seeing ”KICK-ASS”, when it was first released in the theaters during the spring of 2010. However, the movie slipped my mind and I never got around to viewing it, until it was first released on DVD. After seeing the movie, I admit feeling a bit of regret that I had never seen it in the theaters. I enjoyed it very much. In fact, I would go as far to say that it has become one of my favorite movies in the superhero genre. Adapted for the screen by writer Jane Goldman and Vaughn, ”KICK-ASS” provided plenty of laughs, action and pathos. Watching an unskilled high school teenager try to fight hardened criminals through the guise of a costumed vigilante struck me as one of the funniest and absurd things I have ever seen on film. Another bizarre scene that remained stamped in my mind focused on Macready/Big Daddy training his daughter to withstand a bullet to the chest, while wearing a ballistic vest. One would think it would be difficult to laugh at a movie filled with so much graphic violence – even violence directed at adolescents and a 10-year-old. And yet, Vaughn and Goldman, along with the cast, managed to strike the right balance between the laughter, the drama and the violence.
Speaking of the violence, I must admit there were times when I found it slightly hard to bear. One of the scenes I especially had difficulty dealing with centered around Kick Ass’s first attempt as a vigilante – an attempt that led to him being stabbed and severely beaten. It just seemed a bit too much. I could also say the same for the torture that both Kick Ass and Big Daddy endured at the hands of D’Amico’s men and the latter’s death. And I also must admit that at times I found Hit Girl’s murderous rampage against D’Amico’s men rather graphic. The idea of a ten-year-old girl killing so many men . . . just seemed a bit too much. But the hardest scene to watch turned out to be Hit Girl’s confrontation with D’Amico. I suppose one could laugh at the idea of a ten-year-old girl in a brutal fight against a grown man. But watching it on the screen made it difficult for me to laugh.
As much as I enjoyed ”KICK-ASS”, the idea of an ordinary teenager believing he could face hardened criminals on the street without any self-defense training strikes me as being too absurd. Frankly, if I had known someone like Dave Lizewski in real life, I would begin to wonder about his mental capacity. If you really think about it, Dave truly had to be either be a mental gourd or simply a nut case – like the idiot who jumped off that skyscraper at the beginning of the film. A person could argue that Dave was nothing more than a fictional character like Peter Parker aka Spider-man. But would Peter Parker really be stupid enough to face hardened criminals on his own without any super abilities or self-defense training? Even Macready made sure that young Mindy would be trained as a skillful fighter before setting her loose against D’Amico’s men.
If there is one thing that Vaughn could be proud of was the exceptional cast that helped drive ”KICK-ASS”. No one felt more surprised than me to learn that Aaron Johnson, who portrayed Dave Lizewski aka “Kick Ass”, was British born and raised. I felt surprised because his portrayal of an American teenager was spot on. Johnson captured all of the emotions, desires and angst of his character with sheer perfection. Another performance that blew my mind came from Nicholas Cage, the soft-spoken former cop and vigilante Big Daddy, who also happened to be an angry and murderous man determined to seek vengeance against mobster Frank D’Amico for ruining his life and career. I believe his role as Damon Macready might prove to be one of the best in his career. I do not know if mobster Frank D’Amico will prove to be one of Mark Strong’s best performances, but I must admit that he did a superb job. He kept the D’Amico character from being a one-dimensional villain and did a great job with the character’s New York accent. If she plays her cards right, Chloë Grace Moretz might become more than just the talented child actress that she is at the moment. Her portrayal of the tough, 11-year-old vigilante, Mindy Macready aka “Hit Girl” was not only entertaining, but almost as frightening as Strong’s villainous turn. The funniest performance, in my opinion, came from Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who portrayed D’Amico’s son, Chris and fake vigilante Red Mist. He provided plenty of laughs as the mobster’s slightly sarcastic son torn between a penchant for costumed heroes and a desire to follow in his father’s footsteps into a life of crime. And his fight scene with Johnson nearly had me in stitches. And both Michael Rispoli and Lyndsy Fonseca gave strong support as D’Amico’s cool and clever lieutenant Big Joe and the feisty object of Dave’s desire, Katie Deauxma.
Aside from Vaughn and Goldman’s first-rate script, ”KICK-ASS” benefitted from Ben Davis’ colorful and original photography. The film was not only rich in color, but it also provided some interesting shots that subtly reminded moviegoers that the movie was based upon a comic book series. At least three shots struck me as reminiscent of comic books and one reminded me of another comic book hero movie from the 1990s. One scene featured Macready’s former partner examining drawings that revealed the Macreadys’ tragic acquaintance with D’Amico and how they became a pair of murderous vigilantes. Another featured a close up of Big Daddy on the verge of death, after being tortured by D’Amico’s men. And the last and most obvious featured D’Amico’s death at the hands of Kick Ass. And in a very funny scene that featured Kick Ass and Red Mist’s escape from one of D’Amico’s burning warehouse brought back memories of the very last shot from the 1995 movie, “BATMAN BEGINS”.
Despite my initial reluctance toward ”KICK-ASS” and some of its excessive violence, I found myself enjoying the movie. In fact, I will go one step forward in stating that I found it to be one of the better movies from 2010. Matthew Vaughn ended up impressing me very much.