“DATE NIGHT” (2010) Review

”DATE NIGHT” (2010) Review

After watching the 2010 comedy, ”DATE NIGHT”, I found myself amazed that its two stars – Steve Carell and Tina Fey – had never worked together. At least not before this movie. Both managed to become stars within the last eleven years. Both possessed a wry, yet off-the-world sense of humor that made their respective television series successful. So, why did it take them so long to work together?

You know what? Who cares? I should thank my lucky stars that Carell and Fey had finally decided to co-star in this hilarious comedy. Directed by Shawn Levy, ”DATE NIGHT” told the story of a suburban couple named Phil and Claire Foster, suffering from a mid-life crisis in their marriage. They decided to renew their romantic juices by attending a new, upscale restaurant in Manhattan. When they failed to get a table on their own, the Fosters decide to pretend to be another couple named Tripplehorn that failed to appear for their reservation. The two are eventually mistaken as the Tripplehorns by a pair of corrupt police detectives, working for a local mobster. The detectives believed that the Fosters have a small computer flash drive that contains information on a politician with connections to the mobster. Hilarity ensued as the Fosters struggled to stay alive and get their hands on the flash drive in order to clear their names.

The main reason I seemed to be in shock over Steve Carell and Tina Fey is because I believe they had managed to work very well, together. Who am I kidding? While watching ”DATE NIGHT”, I felt as if I had stumbled across a dynamic new screen team. How these two managed not to work together for so many years in the past seemed like a great mystery. The miraculous thing about Carell and Fey’s screen chemistry is not only did their styles merged into comedy magic, both actors-comics did an excellent job in the movie’s one dramatic scene in which their characters – Phil and Claire – expressed pent-up frustrations over the pressures of family life and the diminishing romance in their marriage.

Carell and Fey were ably supported by solid performances from the rest of the cast. Mark Wahlberg was both sexy and humorous as Holbrooke Gran, former intelligence agent-turned-security expert that happened to be a former client of Claire’s. Taraji P. Henson gave a richly sardonic performance as N.Y.P.D. Detective Arroyo, whose help the Fosters tried to recruit. Common and Jimmi Simpson gave subtle, yet sinister performances as Detectives Collins and Armstrong, the corrupt detectives working for a local gangster named Joe Miletto. Ray Liotta gave his usual, hypertensive performance as local mob boss, Miletto. Aside from Carell and Fey, the real laughs also came from a hilarious William Fitchner as the corrupt and perverse District Attorney Frank Crenshaw, whose perversity turned out to be the movie’s catalyst. J.B. Smoove was hysterical as a Manhattan cab driver who inadvertently got drawn into a high speed chase involving the Fosters, the two corrupt detectives and the police. But James Franco and Mila Kunis were just as hilarious as the Tripplehorns, a pair of married low-life criminals whose restaurant reservations had been taken by the Fosters.

Another aspect of ”DATE NIGHT” that I enjoyed so much was the film’s screenplay written by Josh Klausner. Not only did I find it funny, but also well-written with plenty of strong characterizations. Klausner took a common malaise for many married couples and created a hilarious, yet exciting action-adventure. The plot touched upon a good number of topics – crime, sex, police corruption, political corruption, computer technology, love and marriage. And not only did Levy utilized his talented cast and Klausner’s script with great skill, he also provided the movie with sight gags that left me in stitches. One such scene involved the Fosters’ initial escape from the corrupt detectives at a Central Park boathouse. Another featured the Fosters’ attempt to implicate District Attorney Crenshaw at one of Miletto’s local whorehouses.

I am trying to recall a flaw or two that I may have spotted in the movie. If I must be frank, I cannot think of one at the moment. If anyone can recall one, please let me know. Regardless of whether there are any flaws I may have overlooked, ”DATE NIGHT”turned out to be one of the funniest movies I have seen in recent years. More importantly, it just might serve as the beginning of a hilarious screen team in the form of Steve Carell and Tina Fey.

“CRANFORD” (2007) Review

“CRANFORD” (2007) Review

Seven years ago, the BBC aired a five-part miniseries adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s series of stories about a small town in North West England. After viewing the 2004 miniseries, “NORTH AND SOUTH”, my curiosity regarding the 2007 miniseries became piqued and I turned my attention toward it.

Created by Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin, directed by Simon Curtis and Steve Hudson, and adapted by Heidi Thomas;“CRANFORD” is based upon three of Gaskell’s novellas published between 1849 and 1858 – “Cranford”, “My Lady Ludlow”, and ”Mr Harrison’s Confessions”. Birtwistle, Conklin and Thomas took aspects of Gaskell’s stories, re-shuffled them and added some of their own plotlines to create the five-episode miniseries. “CRANFORD” mainly focused upon the small English village between 1842-1843, during the early years of the Victorian Age. On the surface, Cranford seemed like an idyllic community in which time remained stuck in the late Georgian Age. However, progress – both technological and social – began its intrusion upon the community for better or worse. The arrival of a young doctor named Frank Harrison with modern new ideas about medical practices, and a railway construction crew on the town’s outskirts that meant the arrival of the railway, change and possibly unwelcomed citizens; seemed to be the prime symbols of the encroaching Industrial Age.

Many humorous and tragic incidents shown as minor plotlines are scattered throughout ”CRANFORD”. But the main stories seemed to focus upon the following characters:

*Miss Matilda “Matty” Jenkyns – the younger of two elderly sisters who had to endure a series of travails that included the death of a loved one, the reunion with an old love and the loss of her income.

*Dr. Frank Harrison – Cranford’s new young doctor who has to struggle to win the trust of Cranford’s citizens and the love of the vicar’s oldest daughter, Sophy Hutton.

*Lady Ludlow – the Lady of Hanbury Court who struggles to maintain funds for her spendthrift son and heir living in Italy.

*Mr. Edmund Carter – Lady Ludlow’s land agent, who views Lady Ludlow’s attempts to raise funds for her dissolute son with a leery eye and clashes with his employer over the fate of the young son of a poacher.

*Harry Gregson – the very son of the poacher, whom Mr. Carter views as promising and whom Lady Ludlow views as someone who should remain in his station.

*Octavia Pole – a spinster and Cranford’s town gossip who proves to be the subject of a series of hilarious events.

I realize that ”CRANFORD” is a highly acclaimed program. And I also understand why it became so popular. The production team for “CRANFORD” did an excellent job in conveying television viewers back in time to the early Victorian Age. The miniseries possessed some very whimsical moments that I found particularly funny. These moments included Miss Deborah Jenkyns’ assistance in helping Miss Jessie Brown and Major Gordon stay in beat during their rendition of”Loch Lomond” with a spoon and a teacup; Miss Pole’s hysteria over a thief in Cranford; Caroline Tomkinson’ infatuation with Dr. Harrison; and especially the incident regarding the cat that swallowed Mrs. Forrester’s valuable lace.

Yet, ”CRANFORD” had its poignant moments. Dr. Harrison’s futile efforts to save young Walter Hutton from the croup, along with Miss Deborah Jenkyns’ death allowed Episode 2 to end on a sober note. And the doctor’s more successful efforts to save Sophy Hutton from typhoid gave the last episode a great deal of drama and angst. I found it almost difficult to watch Miss Matty endure one crisis after another – until she finally prevailed with the establishment of her own tea shop, with the help of the ladies of Cranford and her reunion with her long lost brother. My heartstrings also tugged when the conflict between Mr. Carter and Lady Ludlow over Harry Gregson ended on a tragic, yet poignant note. But the one scene that left me in tears turned out to be the series’ final shot of Cranford’s citizens bidding good-bye to the recently married Dr. Harrison and Sophy. The miniseries closed on what seemed to be a real sense of community.

And that is what the theme of ”CRANFORD” seemed to be about – at least to me. Community. However, this theme and the Gaskell novellas that the miniseries were based upon have led me to a conclusion. There seemed to be a lack of balance or blending between the series’ format and the material. If ”CRANFORD” had been based upon one novel or a series of novels that served as a continuing saga, I would never have any problems with its tight structure of a five-episode miniseries. But ”CRANFORD” was based upon three novellas written over a period of time that were certainly not part of a continuing saga. And if I must be frank, I personally feel that the miniseries could have served its source of material a lot better as a one or two-season television series.

I realize that producing a television series that was also a period drama would have been more expensive than a miniseries or a series set in the present. But Heidi Thomas’ script seemed vague for the miniseries format. With the exception one particular storyline, ”CRANFORD” seemed to be filled with minor stories that were usually resolved within one to three episodes. For example, the Valentine card storyline that left Dr. Harrison in trouble with the ladies of Cranford stretched across three episodes. Even the railway construction storyline only appeared in three episodes and not in any particular order. Miss Matty’s financial situation only stretched into two episodes. And plots featuring the lace-swallowing cat, Miss Matty’s relationship with Mr. Thomas Holbrook, and Jem Hearne’s broken arm only appeared in one episode. The only storyline that consistently appeared in all five episodes turned out to be the conflict between Lady Ludlow and Mr. Carter over Harry Gregson’s future.

But one cannot deny that ”CRANFORD” was blessed with a first-rate cast. The cream of this cast consisted of a sterling group of veteran British actresses, whose characters dominated the series. However, only a handful of performances really caught my attention. Two of them belonged to Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins as the Jenkyns sisters – the mild-mannered Matty and the domineering Deborah. Judging from their outstanding performances, I can easily understand how one of them earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress and the other won both an Emmy and a BAFTA for Outstanding Lead Actress. Another outstanding performance from a veteran actress came from Francesca Annis, who portrayed the intensely conservative Lady Ludlow. Annis did a wonderful job in conveying her character’s rigid opposition to education for the lower classes and struggle to overcome these feelings in the face of her kindness and compassion. Philip Glenister, who made a name for himself in the 1995 miniseries ”VANITY FAIR” and in the award winning series”LIFE ON MARS” and its sequel, ”ASHES TO ASHES”; certainly proved his talents as an actor and strong screen presence in his portrayal of the intense, yet very practical Mr. Edmund Carter. I especially enjoyed Glenister’s scenes with Annis, while their characters clashed over the fate of young Harry Gregson. Providing the bulk of comic relief were actresses Imelda Staunton (from 1995’s ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” and ”HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX”) and Julia McKenzie (the new Miss Jane Marple for ITV). They portrayed two of Cranford’s biggest gossips, Miss Octavia Pole and Mrs. Forrester. Staunton seemed truly hilarious, while portraying Miss Pole’s terror and anxiety over becoming the victim of a thief. And not only was McKenzie funny as the finicky Mrs. Forrester, she gave a poignant soliloquy in which her character recalled a past act of kindness from Miss Matty.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed ”CRANFORD”. Thanks to directors Simon Curtis and Steve Hudson, along with production designer Donal Woods, screenwriter Heidi Thomas and costume designer Jenny Beavan; the miniseries gave television audiences a warm, humorous and poignant look into village life in early Victorian England. But despite the production team and the cast, I believe the miniseries has a major flaw. Its source material – three novellas written by Elizabeth Gaskell – did not mesh very well with the miniseries format. I believe that ”CRANFORD” would have been better off as a television series. Such a format could have served its stories a lot better.

How Iron Man Ruined “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR″ For Me

HOW IRON MAN RUINED “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” FOR ME

I am so disappointed with Marvel. And I am especially disappointed with its latest entry for the Marvel Cinematic Universe – namely “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”. I never thought I would be so disappointed with a Captain America film, considering how much I loved “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER” and especially “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER”.

As for “CIVIL WAR”, I found it disappointing. Worse, I left the movie theater feeling unusually angry. And a great deal of my anger was focused on Tony Stark aka Iron Man’s role as the movie’s co-lead, which the writers had allowed to nearly dominate the film. Someone on the TREK BBS forum had pointed out that “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” had sewn up the plot lines left dangling from “THE WINTER SOLDIER”. And the movie did so . . . WITH BAD WRITING!

“CIVIL WAR” started with a flashback of Tony’s parents getting killed in 1991. The screenplay tried to make a mystery of it, but even a dummy would have known who was the killer.
Steve’s romance with Sharon Carter was rushed, because the Sokovia Accords story line and Tony’s man pain made it impossible for the screenwriters to do justice to it. Now, we have fans demanding that Steve become a bisexual, so that he can have a romance with his old buddy, Bucky Barnes. One, I cannot believe that these fans are so unwilling to see how badly written that Steve and Sharon’s romance was that they would rather he become a bisexual. Really? Because the screenwriters had failed to follow up the promise of Steve and Sharon? And two, I find it ironic (or not) that they would not consider Steve having a romance with Sam Wilson, who is African-America.

Speaking of Sam and Bucky, I noticed that their relationship was never really explored. Instead, the movie presented their rivalry over the role of Steve’s “best friend” in a series of silly comedy routines in which they are mildly hostile toward one another. The movie spent 10 to 15 minutes showing how Tony Stark recruited Peter Parker (who really had no business being in this movie) for Team Iron Man. They could have saved this first meeting in MCU’s upcoming“SPIDER-MAN” movie. Yet, “CIVIL WAR” failed to explain or show why Scott Lang and Clint Barton had decided to side with Steve.

Zemo’s whole revenge plot was all about Tony finding out that Bucky, as the brainwashed Winter Soldier, had killed his parents in order to break up the Avengers for what happened in Sokovia. Again, it became all about Tony. The worst aspect of all of this is that Marvel ended Steve and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s conflict with HYDRA in such a weak manner. The studio ended it on “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” – with Phil Coulson and Glenn Talbot coordinating a series of bombing on HYDRA bases . . . off screen. I found that incredibly pathetic. Someone on Tumblr had pointed out that Steve Roger’s personal arc in “CIVIL WAR” had been weakened by the screenwriters’ unnecessary focus on Tony Stark. After seeing this movie, I heartily agree. What is really sickening about this is that Marvel Studios came up with the idea to focus the Civil War arc in a Captain America movie in order to lure Robert Downey Jr. into another Marvel film.

You would think after the box office successes of movies like “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” and“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” that this idea was unnecessary. But apparently, Marvel thought otherwise and decided to shove an Avengers film into a Captain America movie . . . all because they could not do without the increasingly overrated Robert Downey Jr. And because of this decision, I have now developed deep contempt toward Marvel Studios.

“THE JOURNEY OF AUGUST KING” (1995) Review

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“THE JOURNEY OF AUGUST KING” (1995) Review

When the 1995 adaptation of John Ehle’s 1971 novel, “The Journey of August King” hit the theaters, it barely made a flicker in the consciousness of moviegoers. In a way, I could see why.

“THE JOURNEY OF AUGUST KING” begins with widowed farmer August King traveling through the hills of western North Carolina in the spring of 1815, after selling his produce, making a final payment on his land, and purchasing goods at the local markets. During his journey, he learns about a hunt for an escaped slave. August eventually comes across the slave – a 17 year-old girl named Annalees. Although he is unwilling to expose her to slave catchers and her owner, a brusque farmer named Olaf Singletary; August wants nothing to do with her. But Annalees, sensing a sympathetic soul, literally follows August’s wagon until she literally forces him to help her. For the next several days, August and Annalees engage in a tension-filled journey in an effort to dodge Singletary and his slave hunters . . . and fellow travelers, whose curiosity or friendliness threatened to expose August and his new travel companion.

Earlier, I had stated that I could understand why “THE JOURNEY OF AUGUST KING” barely made a flicker in the consciousness of moviegoers. One, the movie was based upon a novel that had been published 24 years earlier. And two, Miramax made little effort to publicize this ninety-minute film. I suspect the reason behind the lack of real publicity has to do with the film’s subject – American slavery. Aside from the recent movie, “DJANGO UNCHAINED”, the topic of U.S. slavery has not been that popular with moviegoers and television viewers in the past twenty years or so. I am not going to claim that “THE JOURNEY OF AUGUST KING” is a cinematic classic. But I do wish that Miramax had made a bigger effort to promote this film.

“THE JOURNEY OF AUGUST KING” had its flaws. There were times when the movie’s pacing threatened to crawl to a halt – especially in its second half hour. At the beginning of the movie, August claimed that it would take him at least three days to reach his farm. Yet, the journey to his farm and a nearby trail for escaped slaves seemed to take him and Annalees to reach. Perhaps this is not surprising. I also got the feeling that most of the characters traveling on that road – including August and Annalees – seemed to be traveling in circles. There were times when the pair seemed to be ahead of Singletary . . . and there were times when he seemed to be ahead of them. Very confusing. I only had one final complaint. Thandie Newton gave an excellent performance as Annalees in this movie. But . . . there were times I found her Southern slave girl accent a little exaggerated. I guess I should not have been surprised, considering that the actress hails from Britain.

Thankfully, “THE JOURNEY OF AUGUST KING” possessed a lot more virtues than flaws. Despite her occasionally shaky Southern accent, Newton gave a first-rate performance as the extroverted, yet desperate fugitive slave, who took the chance to recruit the reluctant white farmer to help her. And Jason Patric was brilliant as the cautious August King, suffering from loneliness following the death of his wife. The actor did an excellent job in conveying his character’s development from the farmer who allowed his compassion and loneliness to overcome his caution . . . and at the same time, maintain his quiet nature. More importantly, both Patric and Newton produced a sharp, yet slightly sensual screen chemistry. Larry Drake (from “DARKMAN” and NBC’s “L.A. LAW”) gave a subtle, yet frightening performance as Annalees’ relentless owner, who is determined to recapture her. The movie also boasted a solid supporting performance from Sam Waterston as August’s neighbor and a local lawman.

“THE JOURNEY OF AUGUST KING” had more to offer. One, it featured some solid direction by Andrew Duigan. Also, the movie was filmed in – where else? North Carolina. Not only did it looked beautiful, its beauty was enhanced by Slawomir Idziak’s sharp and colorful photography. Although I would not view the movie’s setting as an excuse to provide eye-catching costumes, I must admit that Patricia Norris did an excellent job in re-creating the styles of Early America Appalachia through her costume designs.

I was surprised to learn that author John Ehle wrote the movie’s screenplay. I am usually wary of novelists writing the screen adaptations of their own novels. They tend to overdo it with over-the-top dialogue or protracted pacing. Granted, a third of the movie did suffer from a slow pacing, but I feel that Ehle did an otherwise excellent job in translating his novel into a movie. I was especially impressed by his portrayal of both August and Annalees. As I had noted earlier, August’s character was very well developed, without the loss of his core nature. Some film critics have complained that Annalees was portrayed as a passive character. I never got that impression. Granted, August had to help her evade Singletary and his slave hunters. But critics seemed to forget that Annalees had more or less forced August to help her. More importantly, she steadfastly maintained her own sense of individuality – even to the point of reacting violently when she believed August was expressing sexual interest in her during the movie’s first half hour. Ehle also provided a good deal of action and tension – surprisingly so for a movie that is basically a character study.

With the success of “DJANGO UNCHAINED”, the Oscar winning movie, “12 YEARS A SLAVE” and the new television series, “UNDERGROUND”, I hope that more film fans would consider taking the time to view “THE JOURNEY OF AUGUST KING”. It has its flaws, but I feel that it is a rewarding character study of two people during a period that is considered dark during this country’s history.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1970s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1920s: 

FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1970s

1 - American Gangster

1. American Gangster (2007) – Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe starred in this biopic about former Harlem drug kingpin, Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts, the Newark police detective who finally caught him. Ridley Scott directed this energetic tale.

 

2 - Munich

2. Munich (2005) – Steven Spielberg directed this tense drama about Israel’s retaliation against the men who committed the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Eric Bana, Daniel Craig and Ciarán Hinds starred.

 

Rush-2013

 

3. Rush (2013) – Ron Howard directed this account of the sports rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 Formula One auto racing season. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl starred.

 

4 - Casino

4. Casino (1995) – Martin Scorsese directed this crime drama about rise and downfall of a gambler and enforcer sent West to run a Mob-owned Las Vegas casino. Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone starred.

 

5 - Super 8

5. Super 8 (2011) – J.J. Abrams directed this science-fiction thriller about a group of young teens who stumble across a dangerous presence in their town, after witnessing a train accident, while shooting their own 8mm film. Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Kyle Chandler starred.

 

6 - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

6. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) – Gary Oldman starred as George Smiley in this recent adaptation of John le Carré’s 1974 novel about the hunt for a Soviet mole in MI-6. Tomas Alfredson directed.

 

7 - Apollo 13

7. Apollo 13(1995) – Ron Howard directed this dramatic account about the failed Apollo 13 mission in April 1970. Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon starred.

 

8 - Nixon

8. Nixon (1995) – Oliver Stone directed this biopic about President Richard M. Nixon. The movie starred Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen.

 

9 - Starsky and Hutch

9. Starsky and Hutch (2004) – Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson starred in this comedic movie adaptation of the 70s television series about two street cops hunting down a drug kingpin. Directed by Todd Phillips, the movie also starred Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman and Snoop Dogg.

 

10 - Frost-Nixon

10. Frost/Nixon (2008) – Ron Howard directed this adaptation of the stage play about David Frost’s interviews with former President Richard Nixon in 1977. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen starred.

“THE HULK” (2003) Review

“THE HULK” (2003) Review

Poor Ang Lee. His 2003 adaptation of the Marvel Comics character, Bruce Banner aka the Hulk, has been the target of hostility and contempt from comic book fans for the past six-to-seven years. After Universal Pictures had released Louis Leterrier’s adaptation back in 2008, many had declared his film superior to Lee’s movie. But after recently viewing the 2003 movie, I do not believe I can agree with their assessment. Mind you, I am not claiming that Lee’s film was better than Leterrier’s. The 2008 film possessed certain aspects that Lee’s movie lacked. But I also believe that the 2003 film possessed traits that were certainly lacking in the later film.

”THE HULK” was basically an origins tale about how a genetics researcher from Berkeley, California became a massive, green-skinned creature named the Hulk. Ironically, this tale began years before his birth. In one of the most original and chilling opening credits sequences I have ever seen, the movie revealed how his father David Banner, a genetics researcher for the U.S. Army, was conducting experiments on himself to improve human DNA. The Army, represented by Lieutenant Colonel “Thunderbolt” Ross, learned of his experiment and ordered it shut down. Nothing came from Banner’s experiment at first. But he managed to inadvertently pass his mutated DNA to his son, Bruce. The sequence ended with Banner causing a massive explosion of the facilities’ gamma reactor, and accidentally killing his wife during an argument with her about Bruce. Banner ended up in a mental hospital for nearly three decades.

With his father in a mental hospital and his mother dead, Bruce Banner was sent into foster care and adopted by a family called Krenzler. Thirty years later found Bruce as a genetics researcher at the University of California in Berkeley. One of his colleagues happened to be Betty Ross, General Ross’ estranged daughter and Bruce’s ex-girlfriend. After saving another colleague from a Gamma radiation explosion, Bruce’s altered DNA (now affected by the radiation) led him to manifest into a green-skinned monster – ”a hulk” – whenever he lost his temper.

When I had earlier compared ”THE HULK” to the 2008 film, ”THE INCREDIBLE HULK”; I was not trying to be diplomatic when I had stated that neither film was superior to the other. I honestly believe this. If there is one thing that the 2008 film can boast about was that its action sequences were superior to the ones found in Lee’s film. The Taiwanese-born director had a bad habit of shooting a good number of his action scenes from a long distance angle. This seemed very apparent in one sequence that featured the U.S. Army’s attempt (led by General Ross) to kill the Hulk, following the latter’s escape from a desert military facility to San Francisco. There were times when I found it difficult to maintain an interest in this particular scene. Another sequence I had problems with featured Bruce/the Hulk’s final confrontation with his genetically altered father, who had become a powerful electrical being. Frankly, it seemed nothing more than a vague display of CGI special effects against a dark backdrop that damn near made it impossible to watch their fight with a clear eye. One sequence that almost caught my attention featured the Hulk’s battle with David Banner’s mutated dogs that had been sent to kill Betty. I say “almost” because I thought the fight had lasted longer than necessary. And I simply could not get excited over Bruce’s fight with a trio of dogs that looked like something from the 1994 film, ”THE MASK”.

Where ”THE HULK” reigned supreme over ”THE INCREDIBLE HULK” was its story and strong characterizations. Quite frankly, it possessed more depth and pathos than the 2008 film. The movie managed to delve into Bruce’s childhood horrors, which had led to his tendency to bottle up his emotions. His personal demons also revealed how this trait had affected his past relationship with Betty and help contribute to the Hulk’s manifestation. Another interesting aspect of the movie was the father/child theme that seemed to dominate its story. Not only did both Bruce and Betty suffer from damaged relationships with their respective fathers, their past romance and continued love for each seemed to be regarded by David Banner and General Ross as potential threats. And both men seemed incapable of resisting an urge to manipulate and control their children’s lives.

Ang Lee managed to gather an impressive cast for his film. I believe kudos should have gone to Eric Bana for his on-spot portrayal of the emotionally repressed Dr. Bruce Banner. The Australian actor did an excellent job of delving into his character’s emotional psyche, yet keeping it all in check in order to reveal Bruce’s difficulties in expressing himself. Jennifer Connolly gave a subtle performance as Betty Ross, Bruce’s ex-girlfriend and fellow geneticist. She ably managed to portray Betty as a woman frustrated by Bruce and her father’s penchant for emotional repression; and also torn by her love and loyalty toward Bruce, and her fear that only her father’s military resources can save him.

Sam Elliot was top-notch as the intense and paranoid General Ross, who seemed more interested in branding Bruce as a danger to his daughter and the Establishment, due to the latter’s family connections. ”THE HULK” marked the second movie in which I heard Elliot used a growl to mark his character’s intense nature. And I hope that he never uses it again. In a rare performance, Josh Lucas portrayed minor villain Glenn Talbot, Bruce and Betty’s former colleague that left the U.S. Army to join the private sector for more cash. Lucas did a first-rate job in portraying Talbot’s venal and smarmy nature without going over the top. His character also had one of the oddest death scenes in film history.

Two actors portrayed Bruce’s father, Dr. David Banner – Paul Kersey and Oscar nominee Nick Nolte. Kersey portrayed the young Dr. Banner, whose obsession with improving human DNA in the film’s mesmerizing opening credits ended up having major consequences for his family – especially his son. I am amazed at how Kersey managed to convey such a strong presence with very little screen time. It was a damn good thing Lee cast Nick Nolte in the role of the older David Banner, because Kersey struck me as a hard act to follow. However, Nolte gave what I believe was the best performance in the movie. He certainly did an excellent job in conveying Banner’s continuing obsession with his original experiment. Yet, thirty years in a prison managed to unhinge Banner’s personality, making him even more obsessive. He also acquired a possessive attitude toward Bruce’s Hulk alter-ego, viewing the latter as his true son. Nolte not only beautifully captured this aspect of the scientist’s personality, but also the latter’s hostile view of Betty Ross, and an increasingly hostile attitude toward the military industry complex and society at large. This hostility was openly revealed in what I can only describe as a fascinating speech that dripped with contempt.

Frederick Elmes did an excellent job in photographing the movie’s settings of Berkeley, San Francisco and the Nevada desert. I also have to commend visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren for a split screen technique that allowed Lee to cinematically mimic the panels of a comic book page. I thought that was truly inspired – especially in the scene that featured Talbot’s death. At Industrial, Light and Magic, Muren also supervised the movie’s CGI effects – especially the computer generated Hulk. The interesting thing about this movie’s Hulk is that his facial expression seemed more varied than the expressions of the 2008 version. However, I was not that impressed by Muren’s design of David Banner’s”hulkish” dogs. They struck me as something from 1994’s ”THE MASK” – a little too cartoonish for my tastes.

In the end, ”THE HULK” is a well-written movie with interesting characters. I find it only marred by questionable action sequences. If Marvel Entertainment ever decide to combine this movie’s characterizations and depth with the action sequences from ”THE INCREDIBLE HULK”, it would have one hell of a movie on its hands.

“ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” (1976) Review

“ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” (1976) Review

Last May and June marked the fortieth anniversary of a well-known historical event – namely the Watergate burlaries. The ensuing scandal were investigated by two Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The pair’s investigations were eventually chronicled in a best-selling book and later, a 1976 movie based upon the book.

As many know, five men were arrested by the police for breaking and entering the Democratic National Committee office at theWatergate Hotel during the early hours of June 17, 1972. At least two other break-ins had occurred. But the arrests of Bernard Barker, Vergilio Gonzales, Eugenio Martínez, Frank Sturgis, and James McCord caught the attention of Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Their investigations – along with those from Time Magazine and The New York Times – of a series of crimes committed on behalf of the Nixon Administration led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in August 1974 and a best-selling book that chronicled Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate investigations.

Robert Redford bought the rights to Woodward and Bernstein’s book for $450,000 with the notion to adapt it into a film, with him serving as producer. Redford had no intention of acting in “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN”. But someone at Warner Brothers agreed to release the film only if he co-starred in it. Redford agreed to portray Bob Woodward. He also brought aboard Alan J. Pakula as the film’s director and William Goldman as screenwriter. Redford, Pakula and producer Walter Coblenz hired Dustin Hoffman to portray Carl Bernstein. When Post executive editor Ben Bradlee realized that the film was going to be made with or without his approval; he, Woodward and Bernstein made a great effort to serve as the film’s technical advisers. Bradlee hoped that the movie would have a positive impact upon the public’s view on journalism.

After viewing “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” (for the umpteenth time), it occurred to me Bradlee’s hope may have come true. At least for a while. The movie was very effective in conveying the dogged investigation that Woodward and Bernstein underwent to uncover the Watergate scandal. Mind you, “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” only chronicled Woodward and Bernstein’s investigation from the arrest of the men involved, to their discovery of Nixon Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman‘s involvement, and finally to January 20, 1973; the day of Nixon’s second inauguration. In other words, it covered only the first seven months of the scandal, unlike Woodward and Bernstein’s book. And the phrase – “Follow the money” – had been invented for the movie. It was never featured in the book.

But who cares about these minor differences? “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” still managed to be a superb look into both the investigative process for journalists (something that today’s journalists need to study). It also provided great character studies of both Woodward and Bernstein, their interaction as a team, and also those whom they worked for at the Washington Post – especially Ben Bradlee, Harry M. Rosenfeld, and Howard Simmons. One of the more positive aspects of Woodward and Bernstein’s investigation in the movie dealt with the journalists’ handling of the various people they interviewed. I really found it fascinating – especially the scenes that featured the team’s interactions with Judy Hoback , Hugh Sloan Jr., Donald Segretti and W. Mark Felt aka “Deep Throat”.

Even though Pakula and Goldman went through a great deal on focusing upon the movie’s portrayals of the characters – major and minor, it never eluded the fact that Woodward and Bernstein’s investigation was all about the Watergate break-in and the Nixon Administration. What I found amazing about the movie’s plotting was that it did not focus on Nixon and his men right away. To emphasize the pair’s dogged investigation – especially from their point of view – the movie slowly but firmly widened the spotlight from that final break-in in June 1972 to the array of tricks, plots and crimes that members of the Nixon Administration planned to ensure the President’s re-election in November.

David Shire’s score for “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” struck me as subtle and very fitting for the movie’s themes of subterfuge, paranoia and secrets, while I was watching the film. But I have to be honest . . . it did not strike me as particularly memorable. On the other hand, I was more than impressed by Gordon Willis’ photography. I enjoyed his use of shadows, especially in the scenes that featured Woodward’s meetings with “Deep Throat”. I also enjoyed his use of deep focus photography. I found them very effective in the Washington Post scenes. More than anything, I enjoyed how Willis gave the movie, especially the exterior shots of Washington D.C. a natural look that was the hallmark of 1970s cinema.

But I cannot talk about “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” without discussing the movie’s performances. I tried to think of one performance that seemed out of step or simply bad. And I realized that I could not. The movie featured some truly outstanding performances. One, “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” featured cameo performances from those who were known at the time or future stars. First-rate performances came from the likes of Polly Holliday, Ned Beatty, Penny Fuller, Carl Franklin, Valerie Curtin, John McMartin, Lindsay Crouse, Allyn Ann McLerie and Meredith Baxter. But there were supporting performances that I found exceptional. Stephen Collins gave a wonderfully subtle performance as Hugh Sloan Jr., the Republican aide who was disgusted by the illegal activities of the Nixon Administration. Martin Balsam was great as Post editor Howard Simmons, one of those who had nurtured the careers of younger journalists like Woodward and Bernstein. And I especially enjoyed Jack Warden’s colorful portrayal of Harry Rosenfeld, the Post editor that oversaw the Watergate coverage. Jane Alexander received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance as Judy Hoback, a bookeeper for CRP. She deserved the attention, thanks to her ability to convey Hoback’s jittery personality in such a subtle manner. And Jason Robards won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his spot-on portrayal of Ben Bradlee. I thought his portrayal of Bradlee would be all over the map. Much to my delight, he managed to keep it tight and entertaining at the same time.

Aside from director Alan J. Pakula, the two men who really held this movie together like glue were Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. They were superb as Woodward and Bernstein. It seemed a pity that neither was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award. Then again, if that had happened, their nominations would have guaranteed the victory of a third party. If I had my way, I would have allowed them to share the award. Both Redford and Hoffman were like a well-oiled team. The actors not only delved into the individual personalities of their characters, but also made it easy for moviegoers to see how two such men disparate men became such an effective journalistic team. They made one of the best on-screen acting team I have ever seen . . . period. And it is a pity that people rarely acknowledge this.

I am not saying that “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” is a flawless film. There is no such thing as a movie that is flawless in my eyes. However, the only flaws that come to mind is that the movie only covered the first seven months of Woodward and Bernstein’s investigation and it utilized a phrase that was never used in real life or featured in the 1974 book. Otherwise, I feel that “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” is one of the best movies to be released in the 1970s. And to this day, I find it hard to believe that of all movies, it turned out to be “ROCKY” that beat it for the Best Picture Oscar.