“A VIEW TO A KILL” (1985) Review

“A VIEW TO A KILL” Review

The year 1985 marked a milestone in the history of the Bond franchise. This was the year in which EON Productions released their latest Bond film, “A VIEW TO A KILL”. The movie would turn out to be Roger Moore’s last turn as the British agent, James Bond. With this movie, Moore would become the only actor who has portrayed Bond for EON Productions more than any other – seven times. Sean Connery would also portray Bond seven times, but his last effort would not be for EON Productions.

But this review is not about Moore’s tenure as James Bond. It is about his last movie – namely “A VIEW TO A KILL”. The franchise’s 14th installment is not what I would call a remarkable film. But I do not consider it a travesty like many other Bond fans do. On the whole, it struck me as a slight remake of the 1964 film, “GOLDFINGER” in regard to one scene and the villain’s objective. In “GOLDFINGER”, the villain’s objective was to destroy the U.S. gold reserve at Fort Knox with a nuclear bomb in order to drive up the value of his own supply of gold. In “A VIEW TO A KILL”, the villain’s objective was to destroy the U.S. dominant control of the microchip market by causing a “natural disaster” in Silicon Valley. Both movies also feature scenes in which the villain reveals his scheme to potential “investors”. But whereas “GOLDFINGER” created a major plot hole in its version of this particular scene, “A VIEW TO A KILL” managed to avoid one.

Bond’s discovery of a microchip on the body of the dead Agent 003 in Siberia leads to MI-6’s investigation of an industrialist named Max Zorin, who now owns the very company that the British government and military have contracts. Bond’s investigation leads to his introduction of certain individuals – a former Nazi criminal/scientist named Carl Mortner, an oil geologist named Conley and the movie’s leading lady, whose name is Stacy Sutton. In a nutshell, these three characters – especially Sutton – allowed Bond to discover Zorin’s past as a KGB agent, his betrayal of his bosses, and his plot to destroy Silicon Valley. Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum’s screenplay is not very original, considering its strong similarity to “GOLDFINGER”. Fortunately for “A VIEW TO A KILL”, director John Glen did what he could with Wilson and Maibaum’s screenplay and did a commendable job in avoiding the major mistakes of the 1964 film. Granted, the movie’s portrayal of the San Francisco Police seemed straight out of the Keystone Cops. Nor I did not care for the writers’ attempt to keep Stacy in the story by allowing her character to reveal the details of Zorin’s plot. It seemed to be stretching things a bit. But in the end, I rather liked the story. And I liked Glen’s direction. I believe that he did better with movies like “FOR YOUR EYES ONLY”“OCTOPUSSY”“THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS” and even “LICENSE TO KILL”. But at least I have nothing major to complain about.

The cast’s performance seemed to be pretty solid. The only complaint I have of Roger Moore is that in certain scenes, he looked a little too old and tired to be portraying Bond. Some fans would attribute this to his age (he was 57 when he shot the movie). But from what I had learned, Moore had been suffering from the flu at the time. However, there were scenes in which he looked like a handsome, middle-aged man. Despite his illness, Moore managed to turn in a good performance that had not been marred by the occasional silly joke, as it had in “OCTOPUSSY”. Aside from the silly Beach Boys moment and the movie’s final scene, the humor in “A VIEW TO A KILL” seemed more restrained and tasteful. Ironically, three of Moore’s best moments featured both humor – which featured Bond’s impersonation as a spoiled and demanding playboy and his reunion with KGB agent Pola Ivanova (Fiona Fullerton) – and also drama – his dislike of Zorin apparent, following the murder of Mr. Howe (Daniel Benzali) of the Department of Conservation.

I would never regard Tanya Roberts (“CHARLIE’S ANGELS”/“THAT 70s SHOW”) to be a great actress. Hell, I have enough trouble viewing her as a good actress. She was basically solid as Stacy Sutton, the California State geologist, whose oil company Zorin wanted to buy. But she did have her moments of wooden acting. Fortunately for Roberts, she can at least claim to be a better actress than either Barbara Bach or Lois Chiles. And despite her acting limitations, she managed to inject a great deal of spirit and moxie into the Stacy character. Oscar winner Christopher Walker, on the other hand, was great. I loved his slightly off-kilter portrayal of the greedy and psychotic Max Zorin – former KBG agent-turned-entrepreneur and industrialist. And considering that Walken was portraying a psychotic, it is a credit to his skills as an actor that he did not ham it up for the screen. He even managed to provide some great moments. But my favorite Walken moment featured Zorin’s reaction to his discovery that Bond’s true identity. And of course there is Grace Jones as Zorin’s equally psychotic henchwoman, May Day. Perhaps she was not as psychotic, considering she was able to mourn the deaths of her two female assistants (Alison Doody and Papillon Soo Soo). But like Walken, she brought a lot of style and verve to her role without going over the top. And for an exhibitionist like Jones, it was a miracle.

The regular Bond cast seemed to be their solid selves. I especially enjoyed Moore’s last on-screen interaction with Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny). However, I must confess that the movie’s last scene of Q (Desmond Llewelyn) using a remote controlled “rover” to peep into Bond and Stacy’s shower activities at the end of the movie struck me as distasteful. Included among Bond’s allies is Patrick Macnee, portraying Sir Godfrey Tibbett. Tibbett is a gentleman horse breeder who helps MI-6 investigates the mystery of Zorin’s success on the racetrack (microchips imbedded in the horses’ flesh). Macnee (the fourth ”AVENGERS” cast member to appear in a Bond film) gave a very competent and classy performance and seemed to have produced a good screen chemistry with Moore. It seemed a shame that he was only present in the movie’s first half.

Cinematographer Alan Hume did a great job in taking advantage of the elegant settings of Paris, the French countryside and surprisingly, San Francisco. In fact, I believe that ”A VIEW TO A KILL” marked one of those rare times in a Bond movie in which the U.S. locations actually looked tasteful or interesting. I am usually not a fan of Duran Duran, but I must admit that I am a fan of their rendition of the movie’s theme song – “A View to a Kill” (written by Duran Duran and John Barry). I am not surprised that the song ended up second on the U.K. pop charts and at the top of the charts in the U.S.

“A VIEW TO A KILL” will never be considered a top favorite of mine. Aside from the cinematography, the theme song by Duran Duran and Christopher Walken’s performance, there is nothing really remarkable about it. Many Bond fans consider it a travesty that Moore had to end his tenure on such a low note. I personally do not regard “A VIEW TO A KILL” as a low note for Moore. In fact, I feel that he was lucky to end his tenure with a good, solid action film of which he had nothing to feel ashamed.

“MIDNIGHT” (1939) Review

“MIDNIGHT” (1939) Review

I believe that I can say in all honesty that I have been a major fan of some of Billy Wilder’s work for years. Movies like “SUNSET BOULEVARD”“SOME LIKE IT HOT” and “DOUBLE INDEMNITY” have been among my top favorite movies of all time. But all of these movies have not only been written or co-written by Wilder, but also directed by him. It is rare for me to say the same about any of the movies he had written before he had become a director. Rare, but not completely impossible. One such movie is the 1939 comedy classic, “MIDNIGHT”.

Directed by Mitchell Leisen (whom Wilder detested), “MIDNIGHT” told the story of an American showgirl named Eve Peabody, who finds herself stranded in Paris during a rainstorm. Tibor Czerny, a Hungarian taxi driver, takes pity on her and drives her around Paris in a fruitless attempt to help her find a new job as a singer at a nightclub. When Tibor offers Eve refuge at his apartment, she decides to give him the slip – despite her attraction to him. Eve manages to crash a Parisian socialite’s late night party, where she meets Georges Flammarion, a wealthy industrialist who is desperate to end his wife Helene’s affair with a wealthy playboy named Jacques Picot. Georges hires Eve to pose as Baroness Czerny, an American married to a wealthy Hungarian aristocrat, in order for her to seduce and lure Jacques away from Helene’s arms. Unfortunately for Eve, one of Tibor’s taxi colleagues discover her whereabouts and the Hungarian appears at the Flammarions’ estate as Eve’s husband, the Baron Czerny.

Thanks to Billy Wilder and Preston Surges, Mitchell Leisen had an undeserved reputation as a hack director with a penchant for set décor, due to his homosexuality. In other words, they saw him as nothing more than a window dresser. This opinion of Leisen remained fixed by film critics for years, until recently. Perhaps these same critics had finally remembered that Leisen had directed movies such as “EASY LIVING”“HOLD BACK THE DAWN” and especially “MIDNIGHT”, which I believe is one of the funniest screwball comedies from the 1930s. How could film critics ignore this elegant and hilarious tale of love, adultery and deception in pre-World War II France? Did they believe that someone other than Leisen had directed it? I do have to give kudos to Wilder and partner Charles Brackett for concocting this sharply funny tale of love and deception. But c’mon! Their script alone did not make this movie the classic it is today. Leisen deserved a great deal of the credit.

First of all, Leisen found himself with a first-rate cast for “MIDNIGHT” and created magic with them. Claudette Colbert brought great wit and charm to the role of the stranded Eve Peabody. As her performances in both “MIDNIGHT” and 1942’s “THE PALM BEACH STORY” attested, Colbert seemed to have a talent for portraying witty and charming golddiggers. Don Ameche portrayed Hungarian Tibor Czerny, Eve’s would-be suitor with an earnest aggressiveness that I found charming and occasionally disturbing. Ameche gave Tibor a tenacious air that struck me as slightly intense. Portraying Eve’s wealthy benefactor was the legendary John Barrymore in what was probably his last great role on film. He was very witty and effective as the manipulative, yet unhappy Georges Flammarion, who recruits Eve into a deception to win back his wife’s affections from her playboy lover. Mary Astor, who would reunite with Colbert in “THE PALM BEACH STORY”, did a fabulous job as the jealous and acid-minded Helene Flammarion. Francis Lederer gave a charming, yet competent performance as Helene’s lover, but I did not find him particularly impressive. Also included in the cast was Rex O’Malley, who deliciously portrayed Helene’s faithful and witty companion, Marcel Renaud. O’Malley’s character struck me as a more comic version of a similar character he had portrayed in 1936’s “CAMILLE”, starring Greta Garbo. Last but not least, the cast included famous columnist Hedda Hopper portraying a French socialite, whose late night party that Eve crashes.

“MIDNIGHT” has a lot to offer – even for today’s viewers. It had a competent director in Mitchell Leisen (despite his past reputation with critics), a first-rate cast led by Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche and a sharp and funny screenplay written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. But what I really love about this movie is its setting – Parisian high society in the late 1930s. Thanks to certain contract directors like Josef von Sternberg and Ernst Lubitsch, Paramount Studios had developed a reputation for possessing an European infliction in its house style by the 1930s. And “MIDNIGHT” possessed this infliction in droves, thanks to Leisen’s talent for creating an atmosphere. The movie also benefited from scenes that featured Eve crashing Madame Stephanie’s late night party, Tibor and his fellow taxi drivers’ search for Eve through the streets of Paris, Eve waking up in her new hotel suite in the nude, her meeting with Helene at a Parisian couture house and the dazzling party held by the Flammarions’ country estate, which included an entertaining Latin band. All of these scenes would strike any viewer as examples of the Lubitsch “touch”. Yet these scenes and many others were photographed by the Utah-born Charles Lang and directed by Leisen, who was born in Michigan.

For a movie that is eighty-one years old, “MIDNIGHT” has not really aged one bit. It is still a very entertaining film filled with superb comic acting and razor sharp wit. I certainly had fun watching it and I suspect that many others would feel the same.

claudette colbert taking off shoes gif

“REMINGTON STEELE”: Top Five Favorite Season One (1982-1983) Episodes

Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One (1982-1983) of NBC’s “REMINGTON STEELE”. Created by Robert Butler and Michael Gleason, the series starred Stephanie Zimbalist, Pierce Brosnan, James Read and Janet DeMay:

“REMINGTON STEELE”: TOP FIVE FAVORITE SEASON ONE (1982-1983) EPISODES

1- 1.21 Sting of Steele

1. (1.21) “Sting of Steele” – Remington Steele’s former mentor, Daniel Chalmers, travels to Los Angeles to seek Steele’s help in dealing with a vindictive and crooked London casino owner, and winds up romancing Laura Holt’s mother, Abigail, in this takeoff of the 1973 movie, “THE STING”. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. and Beverly Garland guest starred.

2 - 1.05 Thou Shalt Not Steele

2. (1.05) “Thou Shalt Not Steele” – A woman from Steele’s past asks him to help her steal a valuable painting that Laura has already agreed to protect, while the latter deals with her visiting mother. Cassandra Harris and Beverly Garland guest starred.

3- 1.16 Steele Crazy After All These Years

3. (1.16) “Steele Crazy After All These Years” – Fellow detective Murphy Michaels’ college homecoming is marred by a murder that awakens memories of a bombing on campus ten years before. Annie Potts, Sharon Stone, Todd Susman, Tony Plana, Allyce Beasley and Xander Berkeley guest starred.

4- 1.13 A Good Night Steele

4. (1.13) “A Good Night’s Steele” – Laura and Steele pose as a doctor and insomniac patient respectively, in order to find a murderer at a sleep disorder clinic. Paul Reiser guest starred.

5- 1.20 Steele Gold

5. (1.20) “Steele’s Gold” – A prospector’s journal stolen during a party leads Laura, Steele and Murphy on a wild gold hunt through the desert with murder suspects. William Russ guest starred.

HM - 1.22 Steele in Circulation

Honorable Mentioned: (1.22) “Steele in Circulation” – After preventing a banker from committing suicide, Steele recruits Laura and Murphy’s help in finding out who had tricked the man into stealing over two million dollars.

“SHINING THROUGH” (1992) Review

“SHINING THROUGH” (1992) Review

Many years have passed since I saw “SHINING THROUGH”. Many years. But after reading several reviews of the film over the years, I found myself wondering why I had enjoyed it in the first place. Why? Not many people really liked it.

Based upon Susan Isaac’s 1988 novel, “SHINING THROUGH” told the story of a woman of Irish and German-Jewish ancestry named Linda Voss and her experiences during World War II. The story begins when Linda applies for a job as a secretary at at prestigious Manhattan law firm. Linda is initially rejected, due to not being a graduate of a prestigious women’s college. But when she reveals her knowledge of German, she is hired on the spot. Linda serves as a translator to an attorney named Ed Leland, who is revealed to be an O.S.S. officer after the United States enter World War II. They also become lovers. Despite personal conflicts and separations, Linda and Ed resume their working relationship, until she volunteers to replace a murdered agent in Berlin on short notice. Much to Ed’s reluctance, Linda heads to Berlin and eventually becomes the governess to the children of a high-ranking Nazi officer named Franz-Otto Dietrich.

I eventually learned that “SHINING THROUGH” has developed quite a bad reputation over the years. Many consider it inferior to Isaac’s novel. It is even part of the “100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made” list by Golden Raspberry Award founder, John Wilson. This low opinion of “SHINING THROUGH” has led me to avoid it for years after I had first saw it. In fact, I became even more determined to avoid it after reading Isaac’s novel. Then I recently watched the movie again after so many years and wondered what was the big deal. I am not saying that “SHINING THROUGH” was a great movie. It was not. But I found it difficult to accept this prevailing view that it was one of the worst movies ever made. More importantly, my opinion of the novel is not as highly regarded as it is by many others. Basically, I have mixed feelings about the novel and the film.

The technical crew for “SHINING THROUGH” did a first-rate job. Production designer Anthony Pratt did an excellent job in re-creating both the eastern United States and Germany during the early 1940s. He was ably assisted by cinematographer Jan de Bont, whose photography struck me as particularly rich, sharp and colorful. I found Peter Howitt’s set decorations particularly effective in the Berlin sequences. I especially enjoyed the late Marit Allen’s costume designs for the film. I thought she did an excellent job in ensuring that the costumes effectively reflected the characters’ nationalities, gender, class and positions.

Before I discuss the movie’s virtues and flaws, I have to do the same for Isaac’s novel. I was very impressed by how the writer handled Linda Voss’ relationships with attorney John Berringer, his wife Nan Leland and the latter’s father, Ed Leland rather well. I found Isaac’s handling of Linda’s private life very romantic, complex, detailed, rather messy and very realistic. In fact, I remember being so caught up by Linda’s personal life that by the time the story jumped to the Berlin sequences, I realized that this segment had taken up over half of the novel. But once Isaac’s moved to the story to Linda’s wartime experiences as a spy in Berlin, I found myself feeling very disappointment. It seemed so rushed and unfulfilling. I was also surprised by how my feelings for the novel seemed to be the complete opposite of my feelings toward the movie.

Unlike Isaac’s portrayal of Linda’s private life, I was not impressed by how David Seltzer handled the character’s romance in the movie’s first half. I had no problems with Melanie Griffith and Michael Douglas. They had a decent chemistry, if not particularly spectacular. But the Linda/Ed romance lacked the detailed complexity and realism of the literary romance. Instead, I found it turgid, somewhat simple-minded and a bad rehash of clichéd World War II romances found in many past movies. I even had to endure a rendition of the old wartime standby, “I’ll Be Seeing You”, while Linda and Ed hash over his disappearance during the war’s first six months. I also noticed that Seltzer eliminated the John Berringer and Nan Leland characters, which reduced Linda and Ed’s romance into a one-note cliché. All I can is . . . thank God the movie shifted to Linda’s experiences in Berlin. I realize that many fans of Isaac’s novel would disagree with me, but I feel that Seltzer handled the story’s second half – both as the movie’s director and screenwriter – a lot better than Isaac. I realize that this revelation might seem sacrilege to many of the novel’s fans, but I stand by my opinion. Seltzer’s screenplay seemed to go into more detail regarding Linda’s mission in Germany – from the moment when the elderly, German-born Allied spy called “Sunflower” escorts her from Switzerland to Berlin; to Linda’s search for her Jewish relations; and finally to when Linda and Ed’s attempt to cross back into Switzerland. This entire sequence was filled with exciting action, drama, surprising pathos and some first-rate suspense – especially between Linda and two particular characters. My three favorites scenes from this entire sequence were the development of Linda’s friendship with Sunflower’s niece, Margrete von Eberstein; her outing to Berlin’s zoo with the Dietrich children; and her showdown with a Nazi spy after escape from Dietrich’s home. I found Linda’s developing friendship with Margrete fun to watch. The entire sequences regarding both the visit to the zoo and Linda’s showdown with a spy two very suspenseful, yet fascinating sequences.

As I had earlier stated, Melanie Griffith and Michael Douglas did not exactly burn the movie screen as a romantic couple. But I thought they managed to create a solid romance . . . enough to rise above Selzer’s turgid writing that seemed to mar the movie’s first forty minutes or so. Griffith did a first-rate job as Linda Voss by conveying both the character’s passion and clumsy skills as a spy. My only problem with Griffith’s performance is that she did not seem to make an effective narrator. Her voice was too soft and Seltzer’s words struck me as over-the-top. Michael Douglas portrayed Ed Leland – Linda’s boss and eventual lover – and gave a very good performance. I thought he was very effective in conveying Ed’s no-nonsense personality. But in my opinion, the best performance came from Liam Neeson, who portrayed Linda’s second employer – Franz-Otto Dietrich. First of all, I have to give kudos to Neeson for portraying Dietrich without the usual negative overtones usually associated with on-screen Nazi officers. Neeson portrayed Dietrich as a soft-spoken and charming man, who also seemed to be a devoted father and very observant man. At the same time, Neeson took care to convey to audiences that Dietrich could also be very ruthless with great skill and subtlety.

“SHINING THROUGH” was the second time I had become acquainted with Joely Richardson. I was very impressed by her portrayal of Linda’s only Berlin friend, Margrete von Eberstein, who happened to be Sunflower’s niece and also a spy for the Allies. Richardson gave a particularly effervescent performance as the very charming Margrete. She also clicked very well with Griffith on screen. John Gielgud probably gave the most crowd pleasing performance in the film as Sunflower, the German aristocrat-turned-Allied spy. Gielgud provided some memorable zingers, while his character delivered scathing criticism of Linda’s skills as a spy. The movie also featured brief appearances of veteran character actors Wolf Kahler and Thomas Kretschmann, who later became a rather busy character actor in the U.S. It also featured solid performances by Patrick Winczewski, Ronald Nitschke, Sheila Allen, Sylvia Sims, Francis Guinan; along with Anthony Walters and Victoria Shalet as the Dietrich children.

Do I believe that “SHINING THROUGH” deserved the movie critics’ contempt, along with the numerous Razzies awards it acquired? No. Not really. It is not the greatest World War II melodrama I have ever seen. And I certainly would not have placed it on a “best movies” list of any kind. “SHINING THROUGH” is basically a mixed bag, much like the Susan Isaac novel upon which it is based. Like the novel, the movie is a study in contradiction. Writer-director David Seltzer’s handling of the Linda Voss-Ed Leland romance could be called a cinematic embarrassment. It is only a miracle that Melanie Griffith and Michael Douglas’ performances were not marred by such bad writing. On the other hand, Seltzer did an excellent job in writing and directing the sequences featuring Linda’s adventures in Germany. If you are not expecting a cinematic masterpiece, I would suggest watching it . . . even if it means enduring the movie’s first forty minutes or so.

“JANE EYRE” (1973) Review

“JANE EYRE” (1973) Review

When I began this article, it occurred to me that I was about to embark upon the review of the sixth adaptation I have seen of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel. I have now seen six adaptations of “Jane Eyre” and plan to watch at least one or two more. Meanwhile, I would like to discuss my views on the 1973 television adaptation.

For the umpteenth time, “JANE EYRE” told the story of a young English girl, who is forced to live with her unlikable aunt-by-marriage and equally unlikable cousins. After a clash with her Cousin John Reed, Jane Eyre is sent to Lowood Institution for girls. Jane spends eight years as a student and two as a teacher at Lowood, until she is able to acquire a position as governess at a Yorkshire estate called Thornfield Hall. Jane discovers that her charge is a young French girl named Adele Varens, who happens to be the ward of Jane’s employer and Thornfield’s owner, Edward Rochester. Before she knows it, Jane finds herself falling in love with Mr. Rochester. But the path toward romantic happiness proves to be littered with pitfalls.

After watching “JANE EYRE” . . . or least this version, I hit the Web to learn about the prevailing view toward the 1973 miniseries. I got the impression that a number of Brontë fans seemed to regard it as the best version of the 1847 novel. I can honestly say that I do not agree with this particular view. Mind you, the miniseries seemed to be a solid adaptation. Screenwriter Robin Chapman and director Joan Craft managed to translate Brontë’s tale to the screen without too many drastic changes. Yes, there are one or two changes that I found questionable. But I will get to them later. More importantly, due to the entire production being stretch out over the course of five episode, I thought it seemed well balanced.

I was surprised to see that “JANE EYRE” was set during the decade of the 1830s. It proved to be the second (or should I say first) adaptation to be set in that period. The 1983 television adaptation was also set during the 1830s. Did this bother me? No. After all, Brontë’s novel was actual set during the reign of King George III (1760-1820) and I have yet to stumble across an adaptation from this period. Both this production and the 1983 version do come close. But since “Jane Eyre” is not a historical fiction novel like . . . “Vanity Fair”, I see no reason why any movie or television production has to be set during the time period indicated in the story.

The movie also featured some solid performances. I was surprised to see Jean Harvey in the role of Jane’s Aunt Reed. The actress would go on to appear in the 1983 adaptation of the novel as Rochester’s housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. As for her portrayal of Aunt Reed, I thought Harvey did a solid job, even if I found her slightly theatrical at times. Geoffrey Whitehead gave an excellent performance as Jane’s later benefactor and cousin, St. John Rivers. However, I had the oddest feeling that Whitehead was slightly too old for the role, despite being only 33 to 34 years old at the time. Perhaps he just seemed slightly older. The 1973 miniseries would prove to be the first time Edward de Souza portrayed the mysterious Richard Mason. He would later go on to repeat the role in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1996 adaptation. Personally, I feel he was more suited for the role in this adaptation and his excellent performance conveyed this. I do not know exactly what to say about Brenda Kempner’s portrayal of Bertha Mason. To be honest, I found her performance to be something of a cliché of a mentally ill woman. For me, the best performance in the entire miniseries came from Stephanie Beachum, who portrayed Jane’s potential rival, the haughty and elegant Blanche Ingram. I do not think I have ever come across any actress who portrayed Blanche as both “haughty” and lively at the same time. Beachum did an excellent job at portraying Blanche as a likable, yet off-putting and arrogant woman.

Many fans of the novel do not seem particularly impressed by Sorcha Cusack’s portrayal of the title character. A good number of them have accused the actress of being unable to convey more than a handful of expressions. And they have accused her of being too old for the role at the ripe age of 24. Personally . . . I disagree with them. I do not regard Cusack’s performance as one of the best portrayals of Jane Eyre. But I thought she did a pretty damn good job, considering this was her debut as an actress. As for her “limited number of expressions”, I tend to regard this accusation as a bit exaggerated. Yes, I found her performance in the scenes featuring Jane’s early time at Thornfield a bit too monotone. But I feel that she really got into the role, as the production proceeded. On the other hand, many of these fans regard Michael Jayston’s portrayal of Edward Rochester as the best. Again, I disagree. I am not saying there was something wrong with his performance. I found it more than satisfying. But I found it difficult to spot anything unique about his portrayal, in compare to the other actors who had portrayed the role before and after him. There were a few moments when his performance strayed dangerously in hamminess. Also, I found his makeup a bit distracting, especially the . . . uh, “guyliner”.

The production values for “JANE EYRE” seemed solid. I felt a little disappointed that interior shots seemed to dominate the production, despite the exterior scenes of Renishaw Hall, which served as Thornfield. Some might argue that BBC dramas of the 1970s and 1980s were probably limited by budget. Perhaps so, but I have encountered other costumed productions of that period that have used more exterior shots. I had no problem with Roger Reece’s costume designs. But aside from the outstanding costumes for Stephanie Beacham, there were times when most of the costumes looked as if they came from a warehouse.

Earlier, I had commented on the minimal number of drastic changes to Brontë’s novel. I am willing to tolerate changes in the translation from novel to television/movie, if they were well done. Some of the changes did not bother me – namely Bessie’s visit to Jane at Lowood and the quarrel between Eliza and Georgiana Reed, during Jane’s visit at Gateshead Hall. But there were changes and omissions I noticed that did not exactly impress me. I was disappointed that the miniseries did not feature Jane’s revelation to Mrs. Fairfax about her engagement to Mr. Rochester. I was also disappointed that “JANE EYRE” did not feature Jane begging in a village before her meeting with the Rivers family. Actually, many other adaptations have failed to feature this sequence as well . . . much to my disappointment. And I was a little put off by one scene in which Mr. Rochester tried to prevent Jane from leaving Thornfield following the aborted wedding ceremony with over emotional kisses on the latter’s lips. Not face . . . but lips. I also did not care for the invented scenes that included a pair of doctors telling Reverend Brocklehurst that he was responsible for the typhus outbreak at Lowood. What was the point in adding this scene? And what was the point in adding a scene in which two society ladies discussed John Reed during a visit Thornfield?

Overall, “JANE EYRE” proved to be a solid adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s novel, thanks to director Joan Craft and screenwriter Robin Chapman. Everything about this production struck me as “solid”, including the performances from a cast led by Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston. Only Stephanie Beachum’s portrayal of Blanche Ingram stood out for me. The production values struck me as a bit pedestrian. And I was not that thrilled by a few omissions and invented scenes by Chapman. But in the end, I liked the miniseries. I did not love it, but I liked it.

“Phoebe Halliwell and the Nexus Theory”

“PHOEBE HALLIWELL AND THE NEXUS THEORY”

Recently, I watched the ”CHARMED” Season One episode called (1.15) “Is There a Woogy in the House?”. In this episode, Phoebe Halliwell’s childhood fear of a boogeyman in the basement called the ”Woogeyman” proves to be true and it ends up taking possession of her and a few others – including her sister Prue’s ex-boyfriend, Andy Trudeau. Following this experience with the Woogeyman, Phoebe came to a conclusion regarding her moral compass.

The episode began with an aftershock from a previous earthquake. The aftershock not only revealed Phoebe’s childhood fear of something called the “Woogyman”, it has an ongoing source of amusement for her two sisters. That is, until a violent earthquake unleashes a long-dormant shadow demon on the day Prue has plans to hold a dinner party for her boss and a Bucklands’ customer. The latter first takes possession of a repairman, summoned to investigate a strange odor from the manor’s basement. After Prue and Piper leave the manor, the Woogeyman uses the repairman to summon Phoebe to the basement and she also becomes possessed. Phoebe’s strange behavior not only manages to ruin the dinner party, she also summons the Buckland’s client – a Professor Whittlesbey, who knows a good deal about the manor’s history – to the basement and the Woogeyman. Professor Whittlesbey becomes possessed. After Prue and Piper find themselves locked out of the manor by Phoebe, the two set out to discover what Professor Whittlesbey was hinting about the manor, when the dinner party first began. Unfortunately, the possessed professor ends up being arrested after she had physically attacked her assistant, Josh. Prue and Piper learn more details about the Halliwell manor from Josh:

Josh: You know, I’ve met people like that. (He looks at Piper.) A spiritual nexus is a point of incredible energy.

Prue: Equidistant from the five spiritual elements.

Josh: That’s right. The place or thing that could be swayed either way.

Piper: Either way?

Josh: Yeah. Either to be a source of undeniable good or undeniable evil.
 Uh, look ladies, I’m gonna follow her and make sure she’s okay. Feel free to browse around our office if you think it will help.

In other words, Prue and Piper came to some conclusion that because the manor was situated in the center of this Nexus – shaped as pentagram – it was the source of great power that can be a source of good or evil. Once Phoebe managed to banish the Woogeyman, she came to a conclusion about the Nexus and her moral compass:

Phoebe: I’m beginning to wonder if I have a good one [dark side]. (Prue and Piper stare at her.) Well, I am. I mean, up until now, I didn’t even think I had a dark side. I mean, not any more so than anyone else.

Prue: Yeah, well the important thing is the good side won out.

Phoebe: Yeah, but I must have been more susceptible than either one of you, otherwise he wouldn’t of chosen me, right? Right?

Piper: You were the only one that was born in the house, that makes you more connected to it. That spiritual nexus thing.

Phoebe: That’s exactly my point. I could go either way. Good or evil. Kinda freaky.

What in the hell was Constance Burge thinking? What on earth made her think that someone would be stupid enough to buy such a theory straight out of Sunday school for eight year-olds? Phoebe could easily turn good or evil, because she was born above the Nexus? That was Burge’s idea of characterization?

It was bad enough that Prue got the elements mentioned in the episode wrong:

Prue: Okay, to find a way back in, we have to know what we’re up against. The professor said that a true spiritual nexus sits equidistant from the five basal elements. So, that’s earth, fire, water, wood and metal.

Then she added:

Prue: Looks like it’s not just on a spiritual nexus, but a wiccan one as well. Which means it’s a battleground for good and evil.

The spiritual nexus beneath the manor was definitely not a Wiccan one. Wiccans are associated with the following five elements – earth, fire, water, air and spirit. The five elements mentioned by Prue in the episode are the following – earth, fire, water, wood and metal. These elements are associated with Chinese philosophy, not Wiccans.

But it got worse. At least for me. By the end of the episode, Phoebe claimed that because she was born in the manor (in other words, above the nexus), she was more susceptible to being possessed by the Woogeyman than her sisters. What . . . a . . . load . . . of . . . crap! If for this reason Phoebe was more susceptible toward evil, then one might as well say the same about the others that ended up possessed by the Woogeyman – the repairman, Professor Whittlesey, one of the Halliwell neighbors . . . and Andy Trudeau. And I am certain that not one of them was born inside the manor. If Piper or Prue had been inside that manor alone instead of Phoebe, the Woogeyman could have easily possessed either of them.

Why do I find this Nexus Theory about Phoebe hard to swallow? It does not make any sense to me. That is not good characterization. I do not even know what to call it. Phoebe was more prone to evil . . . and therefore more prone to be possessed by the Woogeyman? Had it ever occurred to Constance Burge or the episode’s writers, Chris Levinson and Zack Estrin, that Phoebe ended up possessed, because she had the bad luck to be in the manor alone with the repairman?

First of all, the series has managed to prove that all four sisters had personality quirks that made them easily prone to evil. Prue’s anger, pride and arrogance made her very susceptible to evil. Probably more so than the other three sisters, due to her anger issues. Piper’s inability to deal with loss and her selfishness made her easily susceptible to evil. Phoebe’s selfishness and willingness to use shortcuts in life made her easily susceptible to evil. And Paige’s self-righteousness and sadistic nature made her susceptible. Everyone – whether in real life or in fiction have personality traits that makes them susceptible to evil. Why Constance Burge could not accept this and instead, used this Nexus Theory to describe Phoebe’s flaws eludes me. Perhaps Burge wanted an easier plot device to describe Phoebe’s personality . . . instead of good old-fashioned, well-written characterization.

I cannot deny that I have always enjoyed “Is There a Woogeyman in the House?”. It has always been one of my favorite episodes from Season One. But this theory about the Nexus and Phoebe’s moral compass nearly ruined it for me. It is a crap theory, supported by bad writing. The series could have simply recognized that just about anyone – namely any sentient being – can choose a path of good or evil, given the right circumstances or emotional button pushed. But Constance Burge and this episode’s writers decided to resort to easy and sloppy characterization by feeding the viewers this black-and-morality crap by using the Nexus to explain Phoebe’s occasional delinquent behavior. It seemed like a bad ending to a pretty good episode.

“CONTAGION” (2011) Review

“CONTAGION” (2011) Review

When I first saw the trailer for Steven Soderbergh’s movie, “CONTAGION” nine years ago, it brought back some old memories. I found myself remembering Wolfgang Peterson’ 1995 film, “OUTBREAK”, which starred Dustin Hoffman; and the influenza pandemic that terrified the world’s population back in 2009. With those in mind, I decided to check out Soderbergh’s movie. When the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world this year, my curiosity got the best of me for the second time in my life and re-watched this film.

“CONTAGION” is a medical thriller about the rapid progress of a lethal contact transmission virus that kills within days. As the fast-moving pandemic grows, the worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than the virus itself. And as the virus spreads around the world, ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart. The movie began with a Minnesota woman named Beth Emhoff returning home after a business trip to Hong Kong and a side trip to Chicago to cheat on her second husband with an old flame. Two days later, she collapses from a severe seizure before dying in a hospital. Her husband, Mitch Emhoff, returns home and discovers that his stepson – Beth’s son – has died from the same disease. Other people who have had contact with Beth eventually die in China, Great Britain and Chicago, leading medical doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization to investigate the origin of the disease.

While watching “CONTAGION”, I noticed that its narrative bore a strong resemblance to the one featured in Soderbergh’s 2000 Oscar winning movie, “TRAFFIC”. But I noticed that “CONTAGION” had failed to generate the same level of interest that the 2000 movie managed to do. And I find this ironic, considering that I seemed to prefer this movie over the Oscar winning film. I do not mean to say that “TRAFFIC” was the inferior movie. As far as I am concerned, it was a superb film. But I simply preferred “CONTAGION” more. It could be that I found a viral pandemic to be a more interesting topic than drug trafficking, due to the events of 2009 and the current global COVID-19 pandemic. What can I say? I find the topic of this film very relevant and currently, a lot scarier.

I cannot deny that “CONTAGION” scared the hell out of me. The idea that a new disease springing up and spreading throughout the world’s population so fast practically blew my mind back in 2011 and still does. And I have to say that both Soderbergh and the movie’s screenwriter, Scott Burns, did a great job in scaring the hell out of me. What I found even scarier were the various reactions to the disease. Soderburgh and Burns did a great job in conveying factors that drove mass panic and loss of social order, the difficulties in investigating and containing a pathogen and the problems of balancing personal motives and professional responsibilities. Another amazing aspect about “CONTAGION” is that Soderbergh and Burns avoided the usual cliché of portraying the pharmaceutical industry or the military as the villains. Instead, everyone – the government agencies, politicians at every level and even the public at large – are portrayed in an ambiguous light. Looking back on “CONTAGION”, I realized that I only had one minor complaint – Soderbergh’s direction did come off as a bit too dry at times.

Soderbergh and his casting director managed to gather an exceptional job for the cast. Cast members such as Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bryan Cranston, Elliot Gould, Chin Han, Sanaa Lathan, Jennifer Ehle John Hawkes and Enrico Colantoni gave very solid performances. But I found at least five performances truly memorable. One came from Jude Law, who portrayed an aggressive freelance journalist named Alan Krumwiede, who convinces some of his readers to use a a homeopathic cure based on Forsythia, on behalf of companies producing the treatment. I found Law’s character so annoying that I did not realize how skillful his performance was, until several hours after I saw the movie. Kate Winslet gave a very poignant performances as Dr. Erin Mears, a CDC doctor who is forced to face the consequences of the political agendas of a local government and the disease itself. Laurence Fishburne did an exceptional job in conveying the ambiguous situation of his character, CDC spokesman Dr. Ellis Cheever, who found himself torn between his duties with the agency, keeping certain aspects about a possible cure from the public, and his desire to ensure his wife’s safety. But I believe the best performance came from Matt Damon, who portrayed the widower of the doomed Beth Emhoff. Damon was superb in portraying the many aspects of Emhoff’s emotional state – whether the latter was grieving over his wife’s death, dealing with her infidelity, or ensuring that he and his daughter remain alive despite the increasing chaos and death that surrounded them.

I did not know whether I would still enjoy “CONTAGION”, but I did . . . much to my surprise. Not only did I enjoyed it, the movie scared the hell out of me, especially in regard to current events. And I cannot think of any other director, aside from Steven Soderburgh, who can do that with such a dry directorial style.

“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” (2015) Review

“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” (2015) Review

When I had first learned that a fifth movie for the “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” movie franchise would be shot, I must admit that I was not particularly thrilled. As far as I was concerned, three or four movies were enough. The last film, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL”, struck me as the high note of the franchise. I had doubts that the next film could be an improvement of the last film.

Paramount Pictures and the film’s producers (which included star Tom Cruise and J.J. Abrams) went ahead to produce and release the franchise’s fifth entry, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION”. The movie begins with IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agents Ethan Hunt and Benji Dunn engaged in a mission to intercept nerve gas being sold to terrorists. But when Hunt is captured and escapes from the customer who wanted the nerve gas, he becomes aware of an international criminal consortium called the Syndicate. He also meets a disavowed MI6 agent and Syndicate operative named Ilsa Faust, who helped him escape. But C.I.A. Director Alan Hunley does not believe in the existence of the Syndicate. Hunley also goes before a Senate committee to disband the IMF, despite Agent William Brandt’s efforts to stop him. Declared a rogue agent by the C.I.A., Hunt enlists the aide of Ilsa Faust and his former IMF colleagues – Benji, Luther Stickell and Brandt – to provide evidence on the existence of the Syndicate and bring down the organization’s leader who had earlier captured him.

If anyone had been reading some of my past reviews of the Summer 2015 movies (which I doubt), that person would noticed a good number of complaints on my part regarding the pacing of these movies. I will say this about “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION”, it possesses a strong finish. And screenwriters Christopher MacQuarrie and Drew Pearce also managed to create a very interesting and complex tale that involved deception, double-crosses and misconceptions. And thanks to MacQuarrie, who also served as the movie’s director, “ROGUE NATION” featured both some first-rate dramatic scenes and outstanding action sequences.

My favorite dramatic scenes included Brandt’s clash with Hunley over the future of IMF; Faust’s attempts to convince the Syndicate’s leader, former MI-6 agent Solomon Lane, that she is loyal to him; Faust’s encounter with her MI6 Director Atlee, the quarrel between Hunt and the always skeptical Brandt on how to handle Lane, a USB flash drive that everyone seems to want, and Dunn’s kidnapping; and the confrontation between Hunt, Brandt, Hunley, Atlee and the Britain’s Prime Minister. But my favorite episode proved to be one of the last. It featured Hunt’s efforts to convince Lane to let Dunn go in exchange for the information on the flash drive. Thanks to the performers in that scene, I thought it was a phenomenon scene filled with tension.

But “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” is also an action film. And it featured some very outstanding scenes. Trailers and television spots made a big deal of the movie’s opening action shot featuring Tom Cruise and a cargo plane. I would have been impressed if I had not seen it so many times. But I was impressed by the high tension sequence at an opera performance in Vienna. I thought both MacQuarrie and film editor Eddie Hamilton handled it very well. Another favorite sequence proved to be Hunt, Faust and Dunn’s attempt to steal information about the Syndicate from inside an underwater turbine tank in Morocco. In fact, I think I was even more impressed with MacQuarrie and Hamilton’s work in this sequence than I was with the one in Austria. And I thought the film’s last action sequence in the streets of London was well handled and suspenseful . . . especially the fight scene between Faust and Lane’s right-hand man, Janik Vinter.

There is a good deal to like about “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION”. But I would never regard it as my favorite movie from the franchise. Heck, I would not even rank it as my second favorite. As much as I liked the movie . . . I had some problems. One, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” featured the fourth movie in the franchise in which either Ethan Hunt finds himself on the run as a rogue agent or when the IMF is in danger of being permanently disbanded. In the case of this movie, both happened. A senate committee disbanded IMF and Hunt ended up on the run, hunted by the C.I.A. Four movies out of five . . . this strikes me as a bit too much after five movies. And unoriginal. And why would the C.I.A. director go before a senate committed to disband the IMF? I could have sworn that the latter was a division or section of the C.I.A. It certainly seemed that way in the 1996 movie, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE”. Following the death of Jim Phelps, Ethan’s Hunt immediate supervisor proved to be then Director Eugene Kittridge (portrayed by Henry Czerny). And the IMF was located at the C.I.A. Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Hunt also answered to Director Theodore Brassel (Laurence Fishburne), who also worked out of Langley. See what I am getting here? Why is this movie portraying the C.I.A. and the IMF as two separate agencies? I also could not help but shake my head that Hunley wanted to disband the IMF for what happened in “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL”. I understand that Hunley was upset that Hunt allowed those nuclear weapon codes to get into the hands of the main villain. But that happened four years ago. And why bring down an entire agency or division over the actions of one agent? Hunley should have simply went after Hunt. Speaking of the latter, while he was making goo-goo eyes at Elsa Faust, did he remember his estranged wife, Jules? Are they still legally married? Does he still love her?

What exactly was William Brandt’s current position at IMF? I never heard of a mere agent having enough authority to report before a Senate committee? I read somewhere that in this movie, IMF was currently without a director? Huh? This would never happen in the intelligence community. Even if there was no permanent director on hand, there would be an interim director before a permanent one could be found. Was MacQuarrie and Drew Pearce trying to hint that Brandt had risen up the IMF ladder? Why not Hunt? Why not allow Hunt to become the temporary director and allow Brandt to be the field agent? It would make more sense. What did not make any sense was that opening action sequence involving the retrieval of those nerve gas canisters. It would have been a lot easier for Hunt and Dunn to snatch the nerve gas before it could be loaded on that cargo plane. But the way the whole stunt was planned and carried out, I got the feeling it was nothing more than a glorified stunt planned to show audiences that Cruise still had what it took to be an action star. And it bored me. Also, I found myself slightly confused about the movie’s plot – namely the goals of Elsa Faust and Solomon Lane. At first, I thought Faust wanted the information that would expose the Syndicate. As it turned out, the information that she, Benji and Hunt had stolen was the same information that Syndicate leader wanted . . . MI6 funds that could finance his terrorist organization. So . . . was Faust playing Hunt and MI6 all along? Was Lane playing Hunt? Or did the screenwriters make a rather confusing switch in the plot in order to surprise the audiences? I have no idea.

I certainly had no problems with the movie’s performances. Tom Cruise gave a top-notched performance as Ethan Hunt . . . as always. But I got the feeling that there was nothing particular new or mind blowing about his performance. Many critics seemed to be more than impressed by Rebecca Ferguson’s performance as the allegedly disavowed MI6 agent, Elsa Faust. Yes, she did an excellent job in giving a very complex performance. But the “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” movie franchise has always been blessed with excellent and interesting women characters. She is not the first. Simon Pegg was very funny as IMF tech/agent Benji Dunn. More importantly, he did an excellent job in conveying Dunn’s growing confidence as a field agent. Although he did make a cameo appearance in the fourth “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE”, it was nice to see Ving Rhames appear as a supporting player again, reprising his role as the talented hack/IMF computer technician, Luther Stickell. And it was nice to see Jeremy Renner reprise his role as IMF Agent William Brandt again. He gave first-rate performance, as always. But I was very disappointed that he was not feature in any major action sequences, other than the Morocco car chase.

The role of C.I.A. Director Alan Hunley must be the first bureaucrat I have ever seen Alec Baldwin portray. Being the consummate actor he has always been, Baldwin gave an excellent portrayal of a limited-minded man whose resentment and anger toward another man led him to disband an entire agency (or division). I was very impressed by Simon McBurney’s performance as the MI6 Director, Attlee. He did an excellent in conveying the character’s manipulative and slightly malevolent personality. Sean Williams’s character, Solomon Lane, definitely struck me as malevolent, thanks to the actor’s performance. There were times when his character came off as a one-dimensional James Bond villain. But fortunately, his scenes with Cruise later in the film allowed audiences to fleetingly see the emotional toll that Lane had endured as an MI6 agent. “ROGUE NATION” also featured a very funny cameo appearance by Tom Hollander as the Prime Minister. I find this ironic, considering the tense nature of the scene he had appeared in.

In a nutshell, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” was an entertaining and exciting addition to the movie franchise. I thought Christopher MacQuarrie and Drew Pearce managed to create an interesting tale filled with intrigue, double-cross, first-rate action and excellent acting from a cast led by Tom Cruise. However . . . I thought the movie slightly suffered from some plot holes and a writing formula that is starting to seem a bit tired. Fortunately for me, the franchise’s sixth film proved to be a bit more original.

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” and the Disappointment of Season Two (2014-2015)

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” AND THE DISAPPOINTMENT OF SEASON TWO (2014-2015)

I might as well put my cards on the table. I did not like Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. In fact, I almost despised it. But what I despised even further is this belief among television viewers and critics that Season Two was an improvement over the series’ first season. This told me that today’s society has no real concept of what constitutes good or bad storytelling.

After the Season One finale, (1.22) “Beginning of the End”, first aired, I made a prediction that the producers and writers would respond to the complaints about the show’s slow storytelling and give them what they want in the following season. When I first saw the Season Two premiere, (2.01) “Shadows”, I saw to my disappointment that Joss Whedon’s Mutant Enemy, Marvel and Disney did exactly that. “Shadows” was a travesty for me. But the worst was yet to come. By the time the series’ mid-season finale (2.10) “What They Become” had aired, I was ready to throw in the towel for this series. So, what kept me watching “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” after that horrible mid-season episode? My family. By this time, the members of my family had become regular viewers of the show. However, I did my level best to ignore as many episodes as I could. Unfortunately, I was unable to ignore most of the episodes that made up the second half of the show.

Where there any aspects of Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” that I liked? There were some performances that impressed me. Both Reed Diamond and Dichen Lachman made first-rate villains as former HYDRA commander Werner Reinhardt aka Daniel Whitehall and the Inhumans’ leader Jiaying. I suppose I have to give some credit to Mutant Enemy and Marvel/Disney for promoting Henry Simmons (Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie) to series regular, despite getting rid of B.J. Britt (Antoine Triplett) and maintaining J. August Richards (Mike Peterson aka Deathlok) as a recurring cast member. This show’s attitude toward non-white characters and performers is still bad enough to make my stomach turn. And there are at least four episodes that I managed to really enjoy this season, namely:

(2.04) “Face My Enemy” – Agent Melinda May is kidnapped and a HYDRA impersonator takes her place in order in order to lure S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Phil Coulson into a trap. This episode first introduced the brainwashed Kara Palamas aka Agent 33.

(2.15) “One Door Closes” – This episode featured flashbacks on how agents like Alfonso MacKenzie, Bobbi Morse and especially Robert Rodriguez survived the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., while serving aboard one of the agencies’ aircraft carriers and formed their own S.H.I.E.L.D. faction.

(2.17) “Melinda” – Once again, Agent May is the focus. In this episode, she looks into Coulson’s actions as S.H.I.E.L.D. director, while in control of the agency’s main base. This episode also flashed back to how her first encounter with the Inhumans led to a great deal of trauma for her.

(2.21-2.22) “S.O.S.” -The two S.H.I.E.L.D. teams, now under Coulson’s leadership, try to prevent Jiaying from destroying the agency and mankind. Meanwhile, Bobbi Morse is held hostage by Grant Ward and Kara Palamas in order to coerce her into confessing her actions as a S.H.I.E.L.D. mole within HYDRA.

It is a miracle that I actually managed to enjoy three of this season’s twenty-two episodes without being disgusted, bored or pissed off. Why? Because there is a good deal of Season Two that I heartily disliked. One, I disliked the change in the series’ storytelling. I disliked how Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen seemed more interested in providing as much action as possible, without any real consideration toward the series’ narrative. There have been complaints about the series’ convoluted writing for the past season. But most fans and critics have not been listening or paying attention. Even the season finale, “S.O.S.” reflected this penchant to stuff as much action as possible. I found it unnecessary for the writers to include two major story arcs in this episode. They could have saved the Bobbi Morse kidnapping arc for a separate episode.

And then there was (2.19) “The Dirty Half Dozen”, the series’ tie-in to the summer blockbuster, “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”. The writers took a break from the Inhumans story arc to bring back HYDRA and do . . . what? Coulson, his team, Robert Gonzales’ S.H.I.E.L.D. team, Grant Ward and Kara Palamas infiltrated a HYDRA base operated by one Dr. List to save Mike Peterson aka Deathlok and Inhuman Lincoln Campbell, who had been kidnapped by the villainous agency. This gave Coulson the opportunity to discover the location of the main HYDRA base and the organization’s leader, Wolfgang von Strucker. This whole episode was about setting up the prologue for the second “THE AVENGERS movie and trying to repeat the critical success of Season One’s (1.17) “Turn, Turn, Turn”. As far as I am concerned, the Season Two episode failed. Why? The Season One episode had a far reaching impact on both the season and series’ narrative. “The Dirty Half Dozen” barely made an impact on the rest of the season, other than driving Ward and Kara away from S.H.I.E.L.D. And the season’s main narrative immediately returned to the Inhuman story arc. I have never known for Mutant Enemy to be this clumsy in their writing in the past.

Another aspect of Season Two that I disliked so much was the unwillingness of the showrunners to take their time with their stories. “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” is supposed to be at its core, a serial drama. The story lines for serial dramas are supposed to take its time … even to the point of them being played out over several seasons. Due to some need for higher ratings and pleasing the fans who seemed to be unaware of what a serial drama is supposed to be, the Whedons and Tancharoen rushed headlong into Season Two’s story arc without bothering to set up the introductions of the new characters. Well, I take that back. They took their time with the Daniel Whitehall and Jiaying characters. But they rushed headlong into the introductions of Lance Hunter, Alphonso MacKenzie and Bobbi Morse without any real setup. Why? They wanted to rush right into the action. Storytelling has now reached a point in which novels, movies and serial television series have to jump into the action without any real set up or introduction. Why? Because so many people have become so damn impatient. Or else today’s society has the attention span of a gnat.

Mutant Enemy also did a piss-poor job of handling some of their characters. For example . . . there is Grant Ward. Why is this character still on the show? Why is he still a regular? He was in slightly more than half of the episodes, this season. In fact, he was missing a lot in the second half of Season Two. He has become a irrelevant character. Mutant Enemy should have wasted his ass at the end of Season One. Most of Season Two saw Brett Dalton portray Ward as some mysterious super spy, while channeling Julian McMahon’s acting style. It did not help that producer Jeffrey Bell tried to claim that Dalton possessed the same level of acting skills and screen presence as James Marsters of “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. I did not know whether to laugh at the implication or shake my head in disgust. Worse, I was subjected to three episodes of the saga regarding Ward’s relationship with his brother, Senator Christian Ward (Tim DeKay). The entire story arc came to nothing and no future impact upon the series’ narrative. Ward ended the season with accidentally killing Kara and declaring his intentions of becoming the new HYDRA leader. All I can say is . . . good luck. Why? Recently, Marvel and Disney announced that Daniel Brühl had recently been cast to portray Baron Zemo, the new HYDRA leader for the upcoming film, “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”. If so . . . why is Ward still around?

Another problematic character for me proved to be Skye aka Daisy Johnson aka Earthquake (or whatever her name is). I used like Skye . . . back in Season One. I did not like her very much in Season Two. Her story arc dominated the season just a little too much. She also lost some of her sense of humor. Her martial arts skills developed just a bit too fast for me to consider them realistic. And quite honestly, I realized I could not care less about the Inhuman story line. Or the fact that Skye became a “super being”. I am still pissed that Mutant Enemy allowed Skye to become one without any change in her physical looks. Yet, it was so damn important that another character, Raina, have her looks drastically altered. I guess that is what happens when an actress of African descent appears on this show.

Then again, this series’ treatment of its non-white characters, especially African-Americans, has always been problematic . . . even in Season One. It grew worse in Season Two. At least two non-white male characters – Antoine “Tripp” Triplett and the other S.H.I.E.L.D. director Robert Gonzales – were bumped off. I am still angry over Trip’s death. And I am disgusted over the handling of Gonzales character. I cannot count the number of episodes in which Coulson maintained this smug and superior attitude toward Gonzales, which left me feeling disgusted. The manner of his death also disgusted me. But I was not surprised. Mutant Enemy also managed to kill off three non-white female characters in “S.O.S.” – Jiaying, Raina and Kara Palamas. Three non-white women . . . in one episode. What in the fuck?? Disney/Marvel and Mutant Enemy did make Henry Simmons a series regular at the end of the season. Yet, they did so at least sometime after they had promoted Adrianne Palicki. They also promoted Luke Mitchell, who portrays Inhuman Lincoln Campbell. But for some reason, J. August Richards, who has been portraying Mike Peterson since the series’ premiere, is still stuck portraying a recurring character. Why? Was it really that important to Marvel/Disney and Mutant Enemy to provide a white male love interest for Skye? Let me get this straight. It was okay for Mutant Enemy to have two regular characters portrayed by women of Asian descent. It was okay for the production company to have three regular characters portrayed by British white . . . one woman and two men. But for some reason, they cannot maintain more than one regular character of African descent? Too disgusted beyond words.

I do not know what else to say about Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. I disliked it. Immensely. The series’ writing struck me as a clear indication that the quality of storytelling, especially for the serial drama format, is going down the tubes. Even worse, a good number of television viewers and critics seem unaware of this. Their idea of good storytelling is to rush headlong into the narrative with a great deal of action and hardly any setups or introductions. This is sloppy writing at its worst. Originally, I had believed that all of the mistakes I had spotted while watching Season Two would remain for Season Three and beyond. I proved to be partially right. Some of Mutant Enemy’s mistakes remained until the series’ end. And some, thank goodness, were never repeated again.

“BUCCANEER’S GIRL” (1950) Review

“BUCCANEER’S GIRL” (1950) Review

I have always been a sucker for old films – especially those that are costumed flicks. Between my late teens and late twenties, I had developed a habit of watching old movies on late night television. One of those films was the 1950 comedy swashbuckler, “BUCCANEER’S GIRL”.

Directed by Frederick De Cordova, the movie began with a ship commanded by a pirate named “Frederic Baptiste” attacking and ransacking a trader ship bound for New Orleans during the first decade of the 19th century. One of Baptiste’s victims is a Boston-born young woman named Deborah “Debbie” McCoy who also happens to be a stowaway. Although Baptiste’s first mate had ordered two crewmen to place Debbie in one of the long boats with the passengers, they decide to keep her aboard the pirate’s ship for . . . entertainment. However, Baptiste intercepts them and decides to keep Debbie on board before delivering her to Tortuga.

Although Debbie gets to know Baptiste’s crew, she stows away aboard the pirate’s long boat, when his ship arrives in New Orleans. Not long after her arrival in the Crescent City, Debbie is taken in by one Mademoiselle Brizar, the proprietor of a “School for Genteel Young Ladies”, who also serves as an agent for young women like Debbie with musical talent. After a few months of training, Debbie performs at a local tavern, where she learns that the pirate “Baptiste” is actually a local sea captain and trader named Captain Robert Kingston who has been using his piratical activities to plunder the ships of another wealthy shipping magnate named Alexander Narbonne, who had earlier used the real Baptiste (killed by Kingston) to get rid of his business competition. Debbie also discovers that Captain Kingston is engaged to the Governor’s niece, Mademoiselle Arlene Villon, who is also coveted by Narbonne.

One has to be blind, deaf and dumb not to realize that “BUCCANEER’S GIRL” is basically a B-movie. The plot, written by Samuel R. Golding, Joseph Hoffman, Joe May and Harold Shumate; does not exactly possess any real depth. In fact, I am rather surprised that so many writers had worked on screenplay for this movie. Nevertheless, “BUCCANEER’S GIRL” proved to be a very entertaining movie.

Did the movie have any faults? Well, since it is a B-movie, I would not describe the sets and production values as particularly top notch. And although I found Yvonne Wood’s costume designs very colorful and attractive, I cannot help but wonder if they were accurate depictions of fashion from the first decade of the 19th century.

However, I do have one major complaint about the film. But I do not really consider that to be a fault. I will admit that I found the movie’s ending rather vague and slightly confusing. The majority of the film centered on the conflict between Captain Robert Kingston aka the fake Baptiste and his business/romantic rival, Alexander Narbonne. Both men sought the hand of the Governor’s niece, Arlene Villon. Kingston used the “Captain Baptiste” persona to go after Narbonne’s ships in revenge for the latter using the real Baptiste to destroy shipping rivals. Well, Kingston eventually achieved his goal when he destroyed the last three ships in Narbonne’s fleet during a two-to-three minute montage in the movie’s second half. Unfortunately, the movie’s last act focused on Kingston being arrested for piracy and a scheme to spring him out of jail. And I found this last sequence rather anti-climatic and a little disappointing, if I must be frank.

But despite the film’s ending, I must admit that I enjoyed “BUCCANEER’S GIRL”. Very much. It is a very entertaining film, thanks to a rather clever screenplay. The 1950 film is one of the very few swashbucklers that starred a woman. And get this, the movie’s main protagonist – one Debbie McCoy – is not a pirate or a seaman of any kind. And . . . she is certainly no swordsman. Instead, Debbie McCoy is that rare protagonist in a swashbuckler film, whose possess a talent for singing, witty repartees, stowing aboard ships and clever thinking. Universal Studios was wise to cast Yvonne De Carlo in this role. Not only did the actress gave an excellent and entertaining performance, she also seemed to be up to the task for her musical numbers. I did notice that of the three songs she performed, only one of them were lip synced by a sorprano.

Since the movie’s protagonist turned out to be a singer from Boston, naturally she required a leading man who is more of a swashbuckling type. In another act of clever acting, the screenwriters created Captain Robert Kingston, a respectable sea captain who doubled as the pirate “Baptiste”. Due to her penchant for stowing away, Debbie not only becomes familiar with Kingston and his crew, she also becomes one of the few people who knows about his double act. The filmmakers went out of their way to hire Philip Friend, an actor with a credible screen presence, but one not as strong as the leading lady’s. The odd thing about “BUCCANEER’S GIRL” is that although the leading protagonist is a woman and entertainer, the movie’s narrative focused upon the conflict between the protagonist’s leading man and the film’s main villain.

The movie also featured very entertaining performances from Elsa Lancaster, who portrayed Debbie’s mentor Madame Brizar and Jay C. Flippen, who portrayed Kingston’s first mate, Jared Hawkens. Robert Douglas made an effective villain as shipping magnate Alexander Narbonne. Norman Lloyd, who eventually became well known to television audiences on NBC’s “ST. ELSEWHERE”, gave a sly performance as Narbonne’s slimy assistant, Patout. And Andrea King was sufficiently haughty as Kingston’s well born fiancée Arelene Villon. I was surprised to see Henry Daniell in this film as the local militia’s commander, Captain Duval. Five to ten years earlier, Daniell would have been cast as the main villain.

However, there is more to appreciate about “BUCCANEER’S GIRL”. It has a funny and very witty narrative, thanks to its four screenwriter. And although I found the historical accuracy of Yvonne Wood’s costumes a bit questionable, I cannot deny that I also found them colorful, as seen in the images below:

The movie also featured some mildly entertaining songs written by Walter Scharf and Jack Brooks. I especially enjoyed the last song performed in the film, “A Sailor Sails the Seven Seas”. Very jaunty. I was especially impressed by Russell Metty’s photography. It was unusually sharp and beautiful for B-movie. Metty put a lot of care into it.

In the end, “BUCCANEER’S GIRL” proved to be a surprisingly entertaining film. Yes, the ending struck me as slightly vague and anti-climatic. But everything else about the movie have so much to offer, including energetic direction from Frederick De Cordova, a clever narrative and excellent performances from a cast led by Yvonne De Carlo and Philip Friend. This is one film I have never grown tired of watching.