“IRON MAN 2” (2010) Review

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Below is my review of “IRON MAN 2”, the 2010 sequel to 2008’s “IRON MAN”:

”IRON MAN 2” (2010) Review

I must say that I am grateful to the filmmakers of ”IRON MAN 2”, sequel to the 2008 blockbuster, ”IRON MAN”. I am grateful that they only waited two years to make this movie, instead of three years or more. But even if they had made the movie more than two years after the original film, I believe the movie proved to be worth any wait.

Some IRON MAN fans and film critics have expressed the opinion that ”IRON MAN 2” was inferior to the original 2008 movie. I certainly feel differently. I believe that this movie was superior to ”IRON MAN”. Mind you, this new film had a few flaws. One, I was baffled by Tony Stark’s reluctance to join S.H.I.E.L.D. I had assumed after the appearance of the organization’s leader, Nick Fury, in the original film’s Easter egg sequence that he was eager to join. Even Tony’s appearance in 2008’s ”THE INCREDIBLE HULK” seemed to hint this. So what happened? Is it possible that screenwriter Justin Theroux failed to see the last ”HULK” film? One would think so. As much as I was impressed by Matthew Libatique’s cinematography, I must admit that I did not find it as impressive as his photography in the 2008 film. But I discuss this subject in greater detail, later.

”IRON MAN 2” may not have been perfect; but as I had stated earlier, I believe that it is superior to the first film. Do not get me wrong. I loved ”IRON MAN”. I still do. But in an article I had written about some of the Summer 2008 movies, its plot struck me as simple and a little unoriginal. I cannot say the same about its sequel. Thanks to Theroux and director Jon Farveau, ”IRON MAN 2” focused upon the consequences of Tony Stark becoming and admitting to being Iron Man in the last film. During the six months since the end of the last film, Iron Man’s actions as a superhero has allowed him to maintain world peace. His actions have also attracted the attention of a U.S. Senate committee, led by Senator Stern, who demanded that Tony release the Iron Man technology for military application. Stark refused, claiming his competitors are years away from successfully recreating the technology. But more trouble seemed to plague Tony. The palladium core inside the miniaturized arc reactor that he had created to power his Iron Man armor and prevent the shrapnel from a disastrous Afghanistan trip in the last film from reaching his heart . . . was slowly poisoning his blood system. Foreknowledge of a possible early death led Tony to acts of excessive and dangerous behavior – including re-instituting the Stark Expo first initiated by his father back in the 1970s, appointing his personal assistant Pepper Potts as the new CEO of Stark Industries, in and participating in the Monaco Grand Prix, at the Circuit de Monaco.

It is in Monaco where Tony has his first encounter with Ivan Vanko, a Bratva member and Russian physicist who happened to be the son of another physicist and former Stark Industries employee, Anton Vanko, who was fired by Howard Stark and deported back to the Soviet Union. Anton Vanko had also worked on the original plans of the arc reactor with Stark Sr., but the plans remained in the hands of Stark Enterprises. Vanko Sr.’s death at the beginning of the movie sent Ivan into a spiral of grief, leading him to create his own suit containing an arc reactor. Vanko used his new suit to attack Tony at Monaco. The attack attracted the attention of another weapons industrialist named Justin Hammer, an arch-rival of Tony’s. Hammer arranged Vanko’s escape from jail and recruited the Russian physicist to design drones similar to the Iron Man armor for the Stark Expo.

Tony also has to deal with the return of S.H.I.E.L.D. in his life. Unbeknownst to him, the organization’s leader, Nick Fury had assigned one of his agents to infiltrate Stark Enterprises to assess Tony as a possible agent. His spy turned out to be Tony and Pepper’s new assistant, Natalie Rushman aka Natasha Romanoff. Although Fury has become reluctant to recruit Tony for membership in S.H.I.E.L.D., he managed to provide vital materials to the industrialist to allow him to develop a safe element for his arc reactor implant that also provides superior power.

One would begin to wonder if the screenwriters had dumped one too many plotlines in the movie’s script. Some critics have complained that the movie possessed one too many villains. I would disagree. ”IRON MAN 2” simply had a complex plot that did not – in my opinion – struck me as difficult to follow. In fact, I believe that the plot’s complexity allowed the movie to be superior to the 2008 film. As for the number of villains, there were two – Ivan Vanko and Justin Hammer.”IRON MAN” also had two villains.

Robert Downey Jr. reprised his role as Tony Stark aka Iron Man. I am trying to think of something to say about his performance. But what is there to say? He was magnificent as always by skillfully portraying every aspect of Tony’s personality – both the good and the bad. Yes, Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark was a charming, caring, brilliant and strong-willed man. But he was also narcissist, egotistical, and somewhat self-centered. This is a man who used his Iron Man technology to bring about world peace, instead of using it for personal gain and who had enough trust in his personal assistant to name her as the new CEO of his company. Yet, this same man resorts to alcohol to escape from his demons and is thoughtless enough to give his new CEO strawberries as a gift – completely forgetting that she is allergic to the fruit. Downey Jr.’s performance as Stark seemed to be among the best comic book hero portrayals I have ever seen on the silver screen.

In one of the last scenes in ”IRON MAN”, Tony said the following to his personal assistant, Virginia “Pepper” Potts:

”You know, if I were Iron Man, I’d have this girlfriend who knew my true identity. She’d be a wreck, ’cause she’d always be worrying that I was going to die, yet so proud of the man I’d become. She’d be wildly conflicted, which would only make her more crazy about me.”

In ”IRON MAN 2” Pepper certainly discovered how stressful her life could be as the object of affection (or desire) of a celebrated costumed hero. Gwyneth Paltrow returned to the role of Pepper Potts, Tony Stark’s personal assistant-turned-new CEO of Stark Industries. And I have to say that the actress did a skillful job of conveying the stress and anxiety that threatened to overwhelm her character. One of my favorite scenes featured a moment when Pepper’s emotions finally overwhelmed her, as she tendered her resignation in an angry tirade.

As everyone knows, Marvel Entertainment had decided to replace Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle for the role of Tony’s best friend, Lieutenant-Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes U.S.A.F. I will not discuss the circumstances that led Cheadle to replace Howard. I will say that Cheadle gave a top notch performance as Rhodey. Do I consider him to be a better choice than Howard? No. I would say that the quality of both actors’ performances struck me as equal. Not that I find that surprising. Both Cheadle and Howard are excellent actors with a strong screen presence. I did notice that Cheadle’s sense of humor never had the opportunity to flourish, until the movie’s final scenes. And his screen chemistry with Downey Jr. did not seem as strong as the Downey Jr./Howard pairing. But he certainly did not disappoint.

I must confess that I have only seen Mickey Rourke in three other movies, besides ”IRON MAN 2”. Aside from his award winning performance in ”THE WRESTLER”, I was never that impressed by him. When I had learned that he would be cast as the main villain, Ivan Vanko, I had qualms about Jon Farveau and Marvel’s decision. In the end, I found myself very impressed by his performance. He managed to portray a menacing, yet emotional personality in a suitably low-key manner. However, I could barely understand some of his lines through the thick Russian accent. Sam Rockwell was as volatile as Rourke was low key. And surprisingly, his volatile performance perfectly suited his character, Tony Stark’s fellow defense contractor – Justin Hammer. What I especially enjoyed about Rockwell’s performance was his ability to inject a raging inferiority complex underneath the gregarious personality.

Scarlett Johanssen had the opportunity to strut her stuff as Natalie Rushman aka Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow, Pepper’s new assistant and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. I must admit there were times I wondered if Johanssen’s character had a personality. It finally dawned on me that she simply possessed a no-nonsense persona that could kick ass. Director Jon Farveau returned as Tony’s bodyguard and chauffeur, Happy Hogan. Thankfully, he got to do a lot more in ”IRON MAN 2”, which included coming to Tony’s rescue with the Iron Man suit during Vanko’s attack during the Monaco Grand Prix, and assisting (somewhat) Natasha during the latter’s breach at Hammer Industries. Samuel L. Jackson’s role as head of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury, was increased in this second film. And all I can say is . . . thank goodness! I really enjoyed his strong screen presence and lively conversations with Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. I got the feeling that the two actors really enjoyed working with one another (unless I happened to be wrong).

Clark Gregg returned in the role of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson. Not only was he his usual quiet and assuming self, but also deliciously snarky. John Sterling of ”MAD MEN” made an appearance as Tony’s father, the late Howard Stark, in old film clips viewed by Tony. Slattery’s Howard Stark struck me as lively and witty as Downey Jr.’s Tony. His performance made it easy for me to see the genesis of Tony’s own personality. And Gary Shandling tossed aside his usual comic persona to convincingly portray U.S. Senator Stern, a determined politician who wants the Iron Man armor in government hands. However, he was allowed a rather snarky and very subtle joke in the film’s last scene.

As I had stated earlier, I was not that impressed by Matthew Libatique’s cinematography in ”IRON MAN 2”. Mind you, I did not find it terrible or a travesty to the art of motion pictures. But I cannot recall viewing any fantastic airborne sequences that were featured in ”IRON MAN”. Aside from Rhodey’s arrival at the Edwards Air Force Base in the War Machine armor, the movie did not feature any daytime aerial scenes, just slightly confusing night time sequences near the beginning and the end of the film. But, as I will point out later, there was one exception. However, I found most of the film’s action sequences very exciting – especially Vanko’s attack upon Tony in Monaco; the birthday brawl between Tony and Rhodey in the Iron Man and War Machine suits; Natasha’s fight against Hammer’s security guards; and the aerial chase sequence over the Stark Expo between Iron Man and the Vanko-controlled War Machine.

I could end the article with a recommendation to see ”IRON MAN 2”. But what would be the point? The movie has already earned over four times its budget, during the past month. However, in case you have not seen it, I recommend that you do.  I consider it better than the 2008 film.

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“THE WOMAN HE LOVED” (1988) Review

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“THE WOMAN HE LOVED” (1988) Review

I have come to the conclusion that any movie producer willing to do a project on Wallis Warfield Simpson, later the Duchess of Windsor would eventually realize that said project is bound to generate a great deal of emotion – not only in Great Britain, but even in the United States. I have never come across a female historical figure who has polarized the public the way this 20th century American-born socialite has.

The first screen production about Wallis Simpson and her romance with Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII and the Duke of Windsor I ever saw was the 1978 BBC miniseries, “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON”. But I have seen screen portrayals of both Mrs. Simpson and Edward VIII in other productions, including this television movie called “THE WOMAN HE LOVED”. The television movie aired on CBS in 1988. I wish I could say this movie was the best on-screen interpretation of the infamous romance that rocked the British monarchy back in the mid-1930s. However, I would be lying if I did. But I certainly do not believe it is the worst.

“THE WOMAN HE LOVED” told the story of the famous romance mainly from Mrs. Simpson’s point-of-view, via flashbacks. The movie began in 1972 with her arrival in Britain for the first time in years to attend the funeral of her third and final husband, the Duke of Windsor. While the recently widowed Duchess seeks solitude inside Buckingham Palace as a guest of the Royal Family, she reminisces about about her marriage to American-born businessman Ernest Simpson in 1928 led to her entry into British high society and her relationship with Edward Windsor. Aside from the 1972 flashback, most of the movie began with Wallis’ marriage to Simpson and ended with her marriage to the newly created Duke of Windsor in May 1937. It also covered Wallis and Edward’s affair, which began when he was Prince of Wales and continued after he became King Edward VIII. Also, Wallis’ marital problems with Simpson, along with their divorce and the Abdication Crisis, which occurred during the fall of 1936 were also covered in this film. This is not surprising, considering this is the narrative formula that is used in most productions about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

How did I feel about the movie? Well . . . I did not hate it. But I did not exactly love it. I must admit that its production values were top notch for a television film with a foreign setting. One has to give Kenneth Sharp credit for a detailed re-creation of London and Great Britain between 1928 and 1936. If there is one thing I can say about “THE WOMAN HE LOVED” is that it is a beautiful looking period drama. Sharp’s work was ably assisted by Brian Morgan’s sharp and colorful cinematography. Hell, his work looked better than many period dramas I have seen on both the small and large screen. Although I found Allyn Ferguson’s score not particularly memorable, I thought he and director Charles Jarrott did an excellent in selecting certain tunes that added to the movie’s 1930s setting. But one aspect of the movie’s technical aspect that really blew my mind was Robin Fraser-Paye’s costume designs. Can I say . . . WOW? Or better yet, below are images of Fraser-Paye’s work:

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On the other hand, William Luce’s screenplay did not have the same effect upon me. As I had hinted earlier, the screenplay for “THE WOMAN HE LOVED” was the basic narrative used for most productions about the historic couple. I would go even further to say that Luce’s work was a paint-by-the-numbers job. There were moments that did impress me. Most of those moments featured conversations between Wallis and Simpson – especially when their marriage was breaking apart. I was especially amused by one particular quarrel between them that ended with Wallis sharply ordering their dog from her bed. Some of the biggest problems I had with “THE WOMAN HE LOVED” is that Wallis and Edward’s story is treated solely as a movie adaptation of a romance novel. And I am not a fan of romance novels. I did not expect the movie to be some Charles Higham-style trashy revelation about the Windsor couple. I have seen plenty of recent productions – “UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS (Season One)” and “THE KING’S SPEECH” – that portray Wallis as some kind of gauche, gold digging whore. Unfortunately, “THE WOMAN HE LOVED” went to another extreme – painting Wallis as some kind of American-born Cinderella and Edward as this poor, misunderstood prince who had been denied some sliver of happiness due to royal tradition. The movie did offer crumbs of the couple’s ambiguity – Wallis’ affair with Edward and the latter’s determination to steal another man’s wife. But despite these moments of ambiguity, “THE WOMAN HE LOVED” was simply an exercise in romantic gloss.

“THE WOMAN HE LOVED” featured the screen reunion of Jane Seymour and Anthony Andrews, who first co-starred with each other in the 1982 television costume movie, “THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL”. Both were outstanding in that film. I wish I could say the same about their performances in “THE WOMAN HE LOVED” . . . but I cannot. I am not saying they gave bad performances. Both Seymour and Andrews offered some examples of their talent in a few scenes. Most of Seymour’s best scenes were with actor Tom Wilkinson, who portrayed Ernest Simpson. Perhaps her performances in these scenes led to her Emmy nomination. Perhaps. However, I find it easy to question this nomination, due to Seymour being forced to portray Mrs. Simpson as an occasionally star-struck adolescent. I could blame her questionable Upper South accent (the American socialite came from an old Baltimore family), but I never believed that a bad or questionable accent could really harm a performance. Andrews had a particularly effective scene in which his Edward angrily expressed his frustration with the British Establishment, who refused to accept Wallis as his future wife. I found this scene to be a breath of fresh air, considering most of his consisted of dialogue that struck me as wooden. But in the end, both actors were simply hampered by Luce’s romantically one-note screenplay.

Olivia De Havilland also received an Emmy nomination – a Best Supporting Actress nod for her portrayal of Wallis’ aunt, Bessie Merryman. And if I must be honest, I find this puzzling. I am not criticizing De Havilland. I thought she gave a solid performance, considering the slight amount of screen time given to her. But there was nothing about it that dazzled me. Lucy Gutteridge portrayed Edward’s previous mistress, the American-born Thelma, Viscountess Furness. By some ironic twist, Gutteridge portrayed Furness’ twin sister, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, in the 1982 television movie, “LITTLE GLORIA, HAPPY AT LAST” and earned an Emmy nomination. As for her portrayal of Thelma, it was pretty solid, but not particularly mind dazzling. In fact, none of the other supporting performances in the movie – Julie Harris, Robert Hardy, Phyllis Calvert and David Waller – did not strike me as particularly memorable. I must admit I was surprised to see Waller reprise his role as Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, which he had originated in “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON”. Only Tom Wilkinson’s wry and cynical portrayal of the cuckolded Ernest Simpson came close to really impressing me. While everyone else seemed to be a bit too theatrical or simply going through the motions, Wilkinson made the low-key Simpson a rather interesting personality.

I really do not know what else to say about “THE WOMAN HE LOVED”. I cannot deny that visually, it is a very beautiful looking movie that did an excellent job of re-creating Great Britain during the two decades between the two world wars. But instead of providing a balanced and ambiguous portrait of Wallis Simpson and her third husband, King Edward VIII; director Charles Jarrott and screenwriter William Luce decided to portray their relationship as some kind of cinematic romance novel. And I believe their work may have hampered the performances of the cast led by the usually talented Jane Seymour and Anthony Andrews. If you want a realistic feel of the Wallis Simpson/Edward VIII affair, this may not be your movie. But if it is a onscreen fairy tale romance you are looking for, this might be your flick.

“DREAMGIRLS” (2006) Review

“DREAMGIRLS” (2006) Review

When I first learned that “DREAMGIRLS”’ eight Academy Award nominations did not include one for Best Picture and a Best Director nod for Bill Condon, it seemed pretty odd to me. The movie, based upon the 1981 Broadway musical, had already won plenty of accolades – including a Best Musical/Comedy Picture and two other Golden Globe awards. Was it possible that “DREAMGIRLS” had failed to live up to its hype?

Several movie critics, including one for “The New York Times” claimed that this might be the case. This critic and others went on to say that although “DREAMGIRLS” was a pretty good movie, it lacked the qualities to be considered as a nominee for Best Picture. Since I had yet to see “DREAMGIRLS”, I began to wonder if my sister – who had highly recommended the movie – had exaggerated its good qualities.

Last weekend, I finally saw “DREAMGIRLS”. Needless to say, I feel that my sister had not exaggerated. The movie not only possessed a rich, in-depth look at the music industry for African-Americans in the 1960s and 70s, it can also boast fine performances and a very unusual direction.

The cast, which included Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Anika Noni Rose, Danny Glover and Jennifer Hudson. Foxx, Knowles and Glover all did competent jobs in their respective roles. I was especially surprised to see Foxx (usually seen in comedy roles and Oscar winner for his portrayal of Ray Charles) portray villainous record producer Curtis Taylor Jr. in such a subtle, yet intimidating manner. Knowles proved that she can be a competent actress – especially in two scenes that feature her character’s (lead singer Deena Jones) growing resentment toward Taylor’s control over her career and life. It was good to see Glover in a substantial role again, after so many years. He was his usual competent self as the more conservative manager of Eddie Murphy’s character, James “Thunder” Early. Another character connected to the Early role was Lorrell Robinson, portrayed by Anika Noni Rose. I must admit that Rose’s portrayal of the young, star-struck Lorrell seemed a little hammy and unconvincing. Fortunately, her performance improved, as her character matured.

Two of the best things about “DREAMGIRLS” turned out to be the show-stopping performances of Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson as R&B singer, James “Thunder” Early and the Dreams’ real talent Effie White. Not only have both performers won Golden Globe awards for Best Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress, both have received Oscar nominations for the same categories. Murphy bypassed his usual comedic performances to portray James Early, a R&B singer doomed to have his raw talent being slowly squeezed to death by Curtis Taylor’s ambition for acceptance by the white audience in 1960s/70s America. Not only did Murphy give a brilliant performance as the doomed Early, he also proved that he could be a knock-out musical talent. “DREAMGIRLS” must have seemed like sweet revenge for Chicago native, Jennifer Hudson. After being dismissed by “American Idol” judges halfway into competition, Hudson managed to win the role of Effie White, a talented and mercurial singer forced to deal with rejection by Taylor because of her“soulful” voice and physical appearance. Hudson’s show-stopping performance of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going”combined the best of her acting ability and magnificent voice, and may have possibly rivaled Jennifer Holliday’s performance of the same song in the Broadway version.

Not only did “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” beautifully showcased Jennifer Hudson’s talent, it also proved a theory of mine. I once told a friend that singing in front of a live audience took more than simply holding a microphone and singing. To get the song across to the audience, the performer needed to act out the meaning behind the song through facial expressions and body language. Such expressions through song has been shown before on both the screen and stage, but Hudson took it to a level that left me breathless . . . and almost crying. Not only did the song’s lyrics expressed Effie White’s desperation to maintain Curtis Taylor’s love, but her facial expression and body language effectively did so, as well. I also have to commend Knowles, Foxx, Rose, Keith Robinson (who played Effie’s songwriter brother C.C.) and Sharon Leal (who played Effie’s replacement, Michelle Morris) for their performances in a scene in which they all express their hostility and resentment toward Effie’s volatile behavior. For a moment, I thought I was watching an operetta.

In fact, one felt the sense of watching an operetta, instead of the usual musical. Since the Astaire/Rogers series of the 1930s, movie musicals have perfected the art of movie dialogue seamlessly segueing in a song. In “DREAMGIRLS”, not only does the dialogue segue into song, but sometimes segue back into dialogue in the middle of a song. Or . . . two characters would end either do the following: 1) interrupt the dialogue with a few lines of song; or 2) switch back and forth between song and dialogue. This made “DREAMGIRLS” feel like no other movie musical I have ever seen and I have to commend director Bill Condon for creating this unusual style for any musical.

Now, I find myself back to thinking about the Academy Award nominations. Were those critics right to believe that the Academy was right to withhold Best Picture and Best Director nominations for “DREAMGIRLS”? In the end, those critics are entitled to their own opinions. I had learned from another source that “DREAMGIRLS” had enough votes from the Academy members to receive a Best Picture nomination. But from my personal view, all I can say is . . . ”What the hell was the Academy thinking?”

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.

 

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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 SUPERSIZERS”: Eating Through History

 

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Here is a look at a series of episodes about the history of food, mainly in Britain:

 

“THE SUPERSIZERS”: Eating Through History

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In April 2007, the BBC aired a special episode in which food critic Giles Coren and broadcaster-comedienne Sue Perkins explored the history of food during the Edwardian Age. The result was the television special called “Edwardian Supersize Me”. This episode was part of a series called “The Edwardians — the Birth of Now”.

Following the success of this special, the BBC commissioned a series of six episodes in which Coren and Perkins explored the history of food through six eras in British history. This series, which aired in May and June of 2008, was called “The Supersizers Go . . .”. Below is a list of the episodes:

“The Supersizers Go . . .”

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“Wartime”

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“Restoration”

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“Victorian”

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“Seventies”

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“Elizabethan”

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“Regency”

Following the success of “THE SUPERSIZERS GO . . .”, the BBC commissioned a second series of episodes featuring Coren and Perkins called “THE SUPERSIZERS EAT . . .”. Here is the list of episodes from that series:

“The Supersizers Eat . . .”

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“The Eighties”

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“Medieval”

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“The French Revolution”

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“The Twenties”

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“The Fifties”

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“Ancient Rome”

“AMERICAN GANGSTER” (2007) Review

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“AMERICAN GANGSTER” (2007) Review

Six years ago, I saw a movie that managed to more than spark my interest. I am talking about the 2007 drama directed by Ridley Scott called, “AMERICAN GANGSTER”. The movie, which starred Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, told the story about drug lord Frank Lucas and the New Jersey cop who brought him down, Ritchie Roberts.

Set between 1968 and 1976, “AMERICAN GANGSTER” began with the death of Harlem mobster and Lucas’ own boss, Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson. Following Johnson’s death, Lucas found himself embroiled in a rivalry for control of Harlem. Realizing that he lacked the cash to assume control, he began a scheme that cut out middlemen in the drug trade and buying heroin directly from his source in Southeast Asia. He also organized the smuggling of heroin from Vietnam to the U.S. by using the coffins of dead American servicemen (“Cadaver Connection”).

The story also focused upon the man who had eventually captured Lucas, namely a New Jersey cop for Essex County named Ritchie Roberts. Roberts turned out to be a rare case amongst the law enforcers in the Tri-State area – namely an honest cop. When he and his partner, Javier Rivera stumbled across a cache of untraceable drug money, Roberts had insisted that it be reported. This one act not only drove his fellow cops (apparently honest cops were not trusted) to ostracize both Roberts and Rivera, and drove the latter to overdose on drugs that happened to be part of Lucas’ new product called ‘Blue Angel’. The movie not only focused upon Lucas and Roberts’ professional lives, which would eventually lead to the former’s arrest in 1975; it also focused on their private lives. Whereas drug lord Lucas is a loyal family man and faithful husband, honest cop Roberts turned out to be a notorious philanderer who had allowed an old friend and local mobster to be his son’s godfather.

Director Ridley Scott did a superb job of steering the audience into the world of the drug trade, East Coast organized crime and law enforcement from the late 1960s to the mid 1970s. With Steve Zillian’s script, he also managed to give the audience a clear view of capitalism and its corrupting influence on mobsters, the police and local neighborhoods. This was especially conveyed in two scenes. One featured a conversation between Lucas and competitor Nicky Barnes (Cuba Gooding Jr. in a cameo role), the former gave the latter a lesson on brand names and other forms of capitalism. It seemed that Barnes had been selling his product using Lucas’ brand name of Blue Angel. Believe or not, drug dealers apparently did stamp brand names on their products. Why not? Alcohol and tobacco companies do. The other featured a segment on how corrupt cops like NYPD Detective Trupo (Josh Brolin) extort both money and drugs and cut into the mobs’ profits by selling the latter on the street.

Also Scott and Zillian gave the audience a look at the devastating impact that street drugs had on society – including soldiers in Vietnam, local citizens of Harlem and cops like Roberts’ partner, Rivera. Scott managed to re-create this setting without allowing the movie’s setting to slide into a cliche. I got so caught up in the movie that by the time it ended, two hours and forty mintues had passed without me realizing it.

In 1995, both Washington and Crowe did a movie together – a science-fiction thriller called, “VIRTUOSITY”. Needless to say that by the time the movie’s first half hour had end, I realized it was a stinker. And yes, it did deservedly bomb at the box office. Fortunately for Scott, he was lucky to work with the two dynamic actors’ second collaboration. And both Washington and Crowe were lucky to co-star in a movie that turned out to be twenty times better than “VIRTUOSITY”. Washington effortlessly re-created both the charm and the menace of the drug lord. And Crowe infused his usual intensity into the solidly honest Roberts. “AMERICAN GANGSTER” was also blessed by a solid cast led by the likes of Cuba Gooding Jr. as the very splashy drug kingpin Nicky Barnes, the intense John Ortiz as Roberts’ drug addicted partner, Javier Rivera, Ruby Dee as the staunchly emotional Mama Lucas and Josh Brolin in his deliciously corrupt portrayal of NYPD Detective Trupo.

I was very disappointed when “AMERICAN GANGSTER” failed to receive numerous Academy Award nominations during the 2007-2008 movie award seasons. In fact, it only earned two – a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Ruby Dee and a Best Art Direction nomination for Arthur Max and Beth A. Rubino. And nothing else. Like I said, I felt very disappointed. If you have not seen “AMERICAN GANGSTER” yet, I recommend that you do so. After all, it is now available on DVD.

“THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS” (2009) Review

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Below is my review of “THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS”, a new comedy-drama directed by Grant Heslov that stars George Clooney and Ewan McGregor:

“THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS” (2009) Review

Grant Heslov directed this comedic adaptation of Jon Ronson’s book about the U.S. Army’s exploration of New Age concepts and the potential military applications of the paranormal. The movie starred George Clooney as one of the participants in this program and Ewan McGregor, who portrayed a journalist who stumbles across the story, while reporting on businesses with military contracts in Iraq. One of the surprising aspects of this movie is that its story is based upon fact. According to author Jon Ronson, there was actually a similar unit actually existed within the U.S. Army. The names were changed . . . and probably some of the facts, but the Army did explore New Age concepts and military applications of the paranormal.

The movie followed McGregor’s character, a journalist with the Ann Arbor Daily Telegram named Bob Wilton who stumbles onto the story of a lifetime when he meets a Special Forces operator named Lyn Cassady (Clooney) after flying to Kuwait out of anger, due to a recent divorce with his wife. During a trip across the Iraqi countryside, Cassady revealed his participation in an Army unit that trained to develop a range of par psychological skills by using New Age concepts. The unit ended up being named the New Earth Army. While the pair endured a journey that included encounters with a gang of Iraqi criminals, their fellow kidnap victim (Waleed Zuaiter), the head of a private security firm named Todd Nixon (Robert Patrick) and two rival groups of American contractors who engage in a gunfight against each other in Ramadi.

During Wilton and Cassady’s journey, the latter revealed the story behind the creation of the New Earth Army and its founder, a Vietnam War veteran named Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) who travelled across America in the 1970s for six years to explore a range of New Age movements (including the Human potential movement) after getting shot during the Vietnam War. Django used these experiences to create the New Earth Army. Django’s recruits ended up being nicknamed”Jedi Warriors”. By the 1980s, two of Django’s best recruits were Lyn Cassady and Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), who developed a lifelong rivalry because of their opposing views of how to implement the First Earth philosophy. Lyn wanted to emphasize the positive side of the teachings, whereas Larry was more interested in the dark side of the philosophy. Wilton and Cassady’s journey ended when they located a military base in the middle of the desert. They discovered that Larry Hooper has become the founder and head of PSIC, a private research firm engaged in psychological and psychic experiments on a herd of goats and some captured locals. A dismayed Cassady also learned that a now decrepit Django has become an employee of PSIC.

I must admit that I was not in a big hurry to see ”THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS”. In fact, I never had any intention of seeing it in the first place. The only reason I went to see the movie in the first place was that I was desperate for something to watch. The movie season for the past two months has seemed pretty deplorable to me. Aside from ”THE INFORMANT’, I have not been able to stumble across a movie that I would find appealing. And what about ”THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS”? Did I find it appealing? Honestly? It is not the best movie I have seen this year. But I must admit that thanks to Grant Heslov’s direction and Peter Straughan’s screenplay, I found the movie rather humorous in an off-kilter manner. Some of the most humorous scenes featured:

*Wilton and Cassady’s flight from a group of Iraqi criminals

*The ”Battle of Ramadi” between two American private security armies

*Bill Django’s six year exploration of New Age movements

*The results of Wilton and Django’s spiking of the Army base food with LSD.

At first, the movie’s approach to New Age religion and movements seemed inconsistent. The first half of the film did not seem to treat it as a joke. However, once Wilton and Cassady reached the base housing the PSIC, Straughan’s script treated the subject with a lot more respect. It took me a while to realize that the story was told from Bob Wilton’s point-of-view. It only seemed natural that he would first view the New Earth Army and New Age beliefs as a joke. But after time spent with Cassady and later Django at the PSIC base, Wilton naturally developed a newfound respect for both topics. The movie also provided a slightly pointed attack upon the U.S. military presence in Iraq. Normally, I would have cringed at such protesting in a comedy. Fortunately, Heslov used humor – and very sharp humor at that – to mock American presence in the Middle Eastern country.

I think that Lyn Cassady might turn out to be one of my favorite roles portrayed by George Clooney. One, he gave a hilarious performance. And two, he also did a marvelous job in infusing Cassady’s role with a mixture of super-military machismo and wide-eyed innocence. And despite his questionable American accent, I was very impressed by Ewan McGregor’s poignant performance as the lovelorn Michigan journalist (his wife left him for his editor), who travels to Iraq to prove his bravery to his former wife . . . only to discover something more unique. Another joyous addition to the cast turned out to be Jeff Bridges, who gave a wonderfully off-kilter performance as Cassady’s mentor and founder of the New Earth Army, Bill Django. And Larry Hooper, the one man allegedly responsible for bringing down Django’s New Earth Army, turned out to be another one of Kevin Spacey’s delicious villainous roles.
I suspect that ”THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS” did not turn out to be a hit film, I was not that surprised. I suspect that many moviegoers might found the film’s use of topics such as the Army’s exploration of New Age movements and the paranormal to mock American military presence in Iraq a bit hard to take. And there is the possibility that filmgoers might find Straughan’s script used constant flashbacks to tell the story of the New Earth Army during Cassady and Wilton’s journey throughout Iraq rather confusing. Personally, I rather liked the movie. I doubt that it will ever be a big favorite of mine, but I still found it entertaining and interesting.