Top Five Favorite Episodes of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season One (2013-2014)

ABC's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." - Season One

Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One of Marvel’s “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen; the series stars Clark Gregg.: 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” SEASON ONE (2013-2014)

1 - 1.17 Turn Turn Turn

1. (1.17) “Turn, Turn, Turn” – All hell breaks loose when the events of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” leads to the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the exposure of HYDRA moles within their ranks.

2 - 1.21 Nothing Personal

2. (1.20) “Nothing Personal” – Former S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill helps Coulson and his team track down fellow agent Skye, who has been snatched by HYDRA and former ally, Mike Peterson aka Deathlok.

3 - 1.13 - T.R.A.C.K.S.

3. (1.13) “T.R.A.C.K.S.” – The team’s search for the head of the Centipede organization, the Clairvoyant, takes a troubling turn when they board a train in Italy on which a Cybertek employee is shipping a package to Ian Quinn, a wealthy follower of the Clairvoyant.

4 - 1.10 The Bridge

4. (1.10) “The Bridge” – Coulson recruits Mike, who has become a new S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, to help him and the team track down fugitive Edison Po and the Centipede organization, which is a part of HYDRA. Unfortunately, trouble ensues when Centipede manages to kidnap Mike’s son.

5 - 1.15 Yes Men

5. (1.15) “Yes Men” – The team helps Asgardian Lady Sif hunt down enchantress Lorelei, who has plans to create an army with the help of Human males. Unfortunately, the team and Sif encounter trouble when Agent Grant Ward falls under her spell.

HM - 1.22 Beginning of the End

Honorable Mention: (1.22) “Beginning of the End” – In the first season’s finale, Coulson and his team raid the Cybertek facility controlled by HYDRA agents and receive much needed help from former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury.

 

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“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” (2013) Review

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“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” (2013) Review

As I had stated in my review of “IRON MAN 3”, I had assumed that the release of the 2012 blockbuster, “THE AVENGERS” would signal the end of Marvel’s multi-film saga about the group of comic book heroes and their government allies, S.H.I.E.L.D. Not only did “IRON MAN 3” prove me wrong, but also the recent television series, “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”and the second movie about the God of Thunder, “THOR: THE DARK WORLD”

Like the 2011 movie, “THOR”, this latest film begins thousands of years ago. Back in day (or year); Bor, the father of Odin, clash with the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim and their leader Malekith, who seeks to destroy the universe using a weapon known as the Aether. After conquering Malekith’s forces, Bor hides the Aether within a stone column. He was also unaware that Malekith, his lieutenant Algrim, and a handful of Dark Elves have managed to escape by going into suspended animation.

Many years later, Thor and his fellow Asgardians (which include his friends Lady Sif, Fandral and Volstagg) help their comrade Hogun repel marauders on the latter’s homeworld, Vanaheim. It proves to be the last battle in a war to pacify the Nine Realms, which had fallen into chaos following the destruction of the Bifröst. And in London, astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster is led by her intern Darcy Lewis and the latter’s intern, Ian, to an abandoned factory where objects have begun to disobey the laws of physics by disappearing into thin air. Jane is teleported to another world, where she is infected by the Aether. Both the Asgardians and Jane’s former mentor, Dr. Erik Selvig learn on separate occasions that the Convergence, a rare alignment of the Nine Realms, is imminent. While the event approaches, portals (one of which Jane had fallen into) linking the worlds appear at random. Heimdall alerts Thor of Jane’s recent disappearance, leading the latter to search for her on Earth. When she inadvertently releases an unearthly force upon a group of London policemen, Thor takes her to Asgard. Unfortunately, the Asgardian healers do not know how to treat her. Odin, recognizing the Aether, warns Jane’s infection will kill her given enough time, and that the Aether’s return heralds a catastrophic prophecy. Unbeknownst to Odin, the re-emergence of the Aether also ends the Dark Elves’ suspended animation and revives their determination to use the substance to darken the universe.

“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” has proven to be a major box office, after its release nearly five years ago. This is not surprising, considering the enormous success of Marvel’s Avenger saga. “IRON MAN 3”, set six months after the events of the 2012 film, also proved to be a big hit. Some people have claimed that the first film about Thor was superior. As much as I had enjoyed “THOR”, I cannot say that I would agree. It reeked just a bit too much of a superhero origin tale. Personally, I found the plot for “THOR: THE DARK WORLD” more satisfying.

Mind you, this second God of Thunder movie did not strike me as perfect. It had a few flaws. Although I applaud director Alan Taylor and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau’s expansion of the Asgard setting beyond the royal palace and the Bifröst, the latter’s photography for that particular setting seemed to lack Haris Zambarloukos’ dazzling and colorful photography from the 2011 film. Instead, there seemed to be a slightly dull cast to Morgenthau’s photography of Asgard. Thor’s friends did not particularly project that same screen chemistry that I found so enjoyable in the first film. Aside from one major scene in which Thor plotted Jane’s escape from Asgard, they rarely had any scenes together. And Tadanobu Asano’s Hogun had even less scenes. I wonder if this was due to the actor’s major role in the 2013 movie, “47 RONIN”.

Aside from these nitpicks, I enjoyed “THOR: THE DARK WORLD” very much. As I had earlier stated, I found it more enjoyable than the first film. Thanks to the screenplay written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the movie provided a stronger narrative, beyond a simple origin tale. The three screenwriters explored the consequences of past events from both “THOR” and “THE AVENGERS” – Loki’s actions in both movies; Thor’s original destruction of the Bifröst, which led to chaos in the Nine Realms and his long separation from Jane Foster, the latter’s inability to move on, and the impact upon Erik Selvig from being possessed by Loki. However, the movie also explored how a past event in the Asgardians’ history – their conflict with the Dark Elves – managed to once again, have a negative impact upon Earth. For a movie that was juggling a good number of subplots, along with a major plot, I thought the writers and director Alan Taylor did a first-rate job in balancing it all in the end.

Taylor has limited experience as a movie director, but he has a long history as a television direction. Despite his longer experience with television, I must admit that I found myself more than pleased with his direction of “THOR: THE DARK WORLD”. And I was also very impressed. I was especially impressed by his handling of certain action scenes, like the Dark Elves’ invasion of Asgard, the fight scene between Queen Frigga and Malekith, the escape from Asgard, and Thor and Loki’s confrontation against Malekith and the Dark Elves. But the one action scene that really impressed me turned out to be Thor and Jane’s attempt to prevent Malekith’s use of the Aether against Earth and the rest of the universe. This scene not only benefited from Taylor’s direction, but also Dan Lebental and Wyatt Smith’s editing. The movie’s action sequences were nicely balanced by some of its dramatic and comedic scenes. I especially enjoyed Thor and Loki’s quarrel over the latter’s past actions, Thor’s reunion with Jane, and Darcy and Ian’s attempt to free Erik from a mental institution. One particular scene featured a quarrel between Thor and Odin over how to deal with the threat of the Dark Elves. It strongly reminded me of the two men’s quarrel over the Frost Giants in the first film . . . but with an ironic twist. Instead of Odin being the mature and reasonable one, this time it is Thor.

My only complaint about the movie’s performances has to do with Tadanobu Asano. Due to his limited appearance in the film, he never really had a chance to give a memorable performance. I hope to see more of him in the next film. Both Jamie Alexander and Ray Stevenson gave competent performances as Thor’s two other friends – Lady Sif and Volstagg. Instead of Josh Dallas, this movie featured Zachary Levi in the role of Thor’s fourth friend, Fandral. Levi had been originally cast in the role for the 2011 film. But due to his commitments to NBC’s “CHUCK”, Dallas got the role. But the latter’s commitment to ABC’s “ONCE UPON A TIME” forced Marvel and Disney to give the role back to Levi. Aside from the initial shock of seeing him in a blond wig, I must admit that Levi made a very dashing Fandral. I was very happy to see Kat Dennings reprise her role of Jane’s intern, Darcy Lewis. She was as funny as ever. She also had an extra straight man in the form of Jonathan Howard, who portrayed “her” intern, Ian Boothby. The movie also featured a very funny cameo by Chris Evans, who portrayed Loki disguised as Steve Rogers/Captain America.

Christopher Eccleston may not have made the most witty villain from the Marvel canon, but I found his portrayal of Malekith very scary . . . in an unrelenting way. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje struck me as equally impressive as Malekith’s lieutenant, Algrim. It was a pity that I could barely make him out in his new appearance as the Kurse. Renee Russo’s role as Queen Frigga was expanded in this second film and I am so thankful that it was. Not only did she have a marvelous dramatic scene with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, but watching her sword fight against Eccleston’s Malekith reminded me of her role in the “LETHAL WEAPON” films. Idris Elba repeated his masterful portrayal of Asgard’s gatekeeper, Heimdall. I especially enjoyed him in two scenes – Heimdall’s efforts to prevent the Dark Elves’ attack and his discussion with Thor about helping Jane leave Asgard against Odin’s will. More importantly, audiences get to see him in even more scenes. Stellan Skarsgård was very hilarious in his portrayal of Dr. Erik Selvig in this film. I realize that one should not laugh at the idea of someone suffering from a mental trauma, but I could not help it. I do not think I have ever seen Skarsgård so entertaining in a Marvel film. Anthony Hopkins did a marvelous job in conveying Odin’s increasing fragile rule over Asgard and control of his emotions. This was especially apparent in the scene featuring Odin and Thor’s disagreement over the Dark Elves.

For the first time in a Marvel film, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is not portrayed as an out-and-out villain, but a more morally complex character, thanks to his relationships with Asgard’s royal family – especially Thor and Frigga. Hiddleston was as playful and witty as ever. And I especially enjoyed his interactions with Chris Hemsworth. In fact, I can say the same about Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Thor’s love, astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster. Personally, I found her funnier and her chemistry with Hemsworth a lot stronger in this second film. And I was especially happy to see her take a more active role in helping Thor defeat the main villain. As for Chris Hemsworth, he continued to roll as the God of Thunder, Thor. He did a marvelous job in developing his character into more complex waters, especially in regard to his relationships with Jane, Loki and Odin. And one of my favorite scenes in the movie featured Thor’s silent reaction to his discovery that Jane had a date with another man. I hope that one day, people will truly appreciate what a first-rate actor he can be.

“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” had a few flaws. What movie does not? But thanks to Alan Taylor’s direction, an excellent cast led by a talented Chris Hemsworth and a very complex script written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, it not only turned to be very entertaining, but also better than the previous film. At least for me.

 

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“THE AVENGERS” (2012) Review

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“THE AVENGERS” (2012) Review

Back in 2007, Marvel Studios set out to do something that DC Comics managed to achieve some forty-four years ago through a Saturday morning animated series. The studio initiated a series of movies based upon some of its company’s popular comic book characters. This series first culminated into the 2012 hit movie, “THE AVENGERS”

The initial group of comic book heroes that became a team in “THE AVENGERS”, turned out to be the following – Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, the Black Widow and Hawkeye. The first four starred in their own movies in what has become known as “Phase One” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). And the last two characters, the Black Widow and Hawkeye, appeared as supporting characters in 2010’s “IRON MAN 2” and 2011’s “THOR” respectively. Each movie, starting with 2008’s “IRON MAN”, hinted at the formation of Marvel Comics’ team of superheroes.

Written by Zak Penn and Joss Whedon and directed by the latter, “THE AVENGERS” begins with Loki, the villain from “THOR” and the latter’s adopted brother, making a deal with the leader of the Chitauri aliens called the Other to lead an army on Earth, in order to subjugate the human race. In order to do this, Loki needs to retrieve the Tesseract, a powerful energy source originally found on Earth in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”. The Tesseract opens a doorway that allows Loki to arrive a top secret S.H.I.E.L.D., use his scepter to enslave a few agents, Dr. Eric Selvig and Clint Barton aka Hawkeye and take the Tesseract.

In response to Loki’s attack, S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury reactivates the Avengers Initiative. He, along with agents Phil Coulson and Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow; recruits Steve Rogers aka Captain America, Tony Stark aka Iron Man and Dr. Bruce Banner aka the Hulk to form a team and stop Loki’s plans and recover the Tesseract. Both Captain America and Iron Man manage to capture Loki in Germany. But during a flight back to the States, Thorarrives and frees Loki, hoping to convince him to abandon his plan and return to Asgard. Instead, a confrontation ensues between the three heroes before Thor agrees to accompany them all back to the Helicarrier, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying aircraft carrier. Despite Loki being a captive, the Avengers still needed to find the missing Tesseract. Even worse, Loki does not remain a captive very long.

Nearly six years have passed since “THE AVENGERS” first hit the movie screens. And during its time in the movie theaters, it became one of the highest-grossing film of all time. Most fans and critics of comic hero movies tend to view any film with more than one villain as a box office or critical disaster. And yet . . . many of these same critics and fans seemed to have no problem with a movie featuring six comic book heroes. I find that rather . . . odd and contradictory, but there is no explaining humanity’s chaotic nature. I have never had a problem with a comic book movie featuring more than one villain or hero, as long as that movie was well written. And I cannot deny that Whedon and Zak Penn wrote a first-rate movie.

First of all, Marvel Studios had made the wise decision to map out the movie’s plot with four to five other movies. This enabled them to set up most of the characters before shooting “THE AVENGERS”. Natasha Romanoff had received a small introduction in “IRON MAN 2”. And Clint Barton was allowed nothing more than a cameo appearance in “THOR”. This meant that these two were the only ones left to be properly introduced in this film, along with their previous relationship as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Even the Tesseract, the energy source that Loki will use to allow Chitauri warriors to invade Manhattan in the movie’s last act, had originally been introduced in “CAPTAIN AMERICA” and hinted briefly in “IRON MAN 2” and in the Easter Egg scene for “THOR”. I wish I knew who had the idea to set up the story and characters for “THE AVENGERS” in previous movies. I would congratulate him or her for convincing Marvel to pursue this course of storytelling. For it paid off very well.

Second, I was impressed at how the main cast members – especially those portraying members of the Avengers – managed to click so well and create a viable screen team. Whedon and Penn’s script did not make it easy for them. Only the Black Widow and Hawkeye initially felt comfortably working together and even their relationship was disrupted by Loki’s temporary enslavement of Hawkeye’s mind. I could point out one or two particular performances by the cast. But if I must be honest, practically all of them stepped up to bat and performed beautifully. Okay, I must admit there were a few dramatic scenes that really impressed me.

I enjoyed the quarrel between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, thanks to Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, who did a great job in developing the characters from initial hostility and wariness to trust and teamwork.  I also enjoyed Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, who continued their outstanding work and screen chemistry as the two Asgardian siblings, in a scene in which Thor tries to convince Loki that he and their family still loved the latter, despite his actions in “THOR”. Scarlett Johansson managed to appear in three scenes that impressed me. One featured a contest of will and intellect between her Black Widow and Hiddleston’s Loki. Another featured both her and Mark Ruffalo, as she manages to convince Bruce Banner to help S.H.I.E.L.D. to track down the Tesseract. But my favorite scene featured a heart-to-heart conversation between Natasha and her old partner, Clint Barton, as they discussed her past and his mind enslavement by Loki. Samuel L. Jackson did an excellent job as the intimidating, yet manipulative director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury. He also seemed surprisingly spry for a man in his mid-60s, as his character dodged several near death experiences. Clark Gregg was entertaining as ever as one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top agents, Phil Coulson. It was nice to see Stellan Skarsgård repeat his role as Dr. Eric Selvig. Although his role was not particularly big, Selvig had a major impact on the plot. And Skarsgård managed to give his usual, top-notch performance. Cobie Smulders managed to hold herself well as one of Fury’s assistants, Maria Hill. It is a pity that Whedon was unable to showcase Alexis Denisof a little more as leader of the Chitauri aliens. I suspect that being cloaked and hidden in the small number of scenes probably did not help much, in the end.

I remembered that Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal of Bruce Banner/the Hulk has received rave reviews from the critics and the fans. Many critics had also suggested that his portrayal of the character was superior to both Eric Bana’s performance in 2003 and Edward Norton’s 2008 portrayal. I say bullshit to that. I suspect that the critics had spouted this crap, because Ruffalo got to portray the Hulk in a movie that proved tobe a box office and critical hit. Ruffalo did a great job in portraying Bruce at this later stage of his existence as the Hulk. However, I also feel there was nothing exceptional about his performance that made his Hulk superior to Bana and Norton’s. This whole notion of Ruffalo giving a better performance than the other two actors strikes me as nothing but a lot of fanboy horseshit.

One cannot talk about “THE AVENGERS” without discussing the film’s visual effects. What can I say? They were outstanding. Well . . . somewhat outstanding. Seamus McGarvey’s photography struck me as very effective in giving the movie an epic feel. And his work was vastly assisted by the visual effects team led by Jake Morrison. For a movie set either in New York City, or over the Atlantic Ocean, aboard a flying aircraft carrier, I was very surprised to learn that a great deal of the movie was shot in both Albuquerque, New Mexico and Cleveland, Ohio. Surprisingly, the film crew only spent two days shooting in Manhattan.

I do have a few complaints about “THE AVENGERS”. One, although I was impressed by Whedon’s direction and McGarvey’s photography, I cannot say the same about the work they did for the Black Widow/Hawkeye fight scene aboard the Helicarrier. To be honest, I found it slightly murky and confusing. Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek’s editing did not help. Their work revived bad memories of Paul Greengrass’ quick-cut editing at its worst. Honestly? Jon Favreau did a better job of shooting her fight scenes in “IRON MAN 2”. I also realized that Whedon had been talking out of his ass, when he claimed that a good deal of the movie would be shown from Steve Rogers’ point-of-view.  One, I never thought that Whedon had a firm handle on the Steve Rogers’ character.  Whedon’s Steve Rogers aka Captain America seems willing to question authority figures – only in extreme circumstances.  This is not the Steve Rogers who is more inclined to follow his own path than blindly follow orders.  Even worse, the film never really hinted any troubles Steve may have experienced dealing with the early 21st century.  And then we come to the Dr. Bruce Banner aka the Hulk character.  Could someone explain why the Hulk turned out to be more powerful than a pair of Norse gods – namely Thor and Loki? How in the hell did that come about? This certainly was not the case over fifty years ago, when Thor beat the pants of both the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner in the Marvel issue, Avengers #3 (Jan. 1964). Could someone please explain this phenomenon?

I have another minor problem with the movie. In the past five years, fans of the MCU movies have been aware that the Titan supervillain, Thanos, has been collecting all of the Infinity stones, including the Tesseract featured in this film. And yet … Thanos handed over one of the stones – the Mind Stone set in a scepter – to Loki for the latter’s use during the Chitauri’s invasion of Earth. Why would he do that? Thanos is going through a great deal of trouble to get his hands on the Infinity stones. Why would he hand over the only stone – even temporarily – he had in his possession? That makes no sense to me. If I had been Thanos, I would have kept that stone close to me, no matter what.

“THE AVENGERS” may not be perfect. But it is still obviously one of the best comic book movies I have seen, hands down. And it turned out to be one of the best movies of 2012. It deserved all of the accolades it had received. And for the first time in his career, Joss Whedon seemed to have directed a movie that matched his work with his “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” and “ANGEL” television series.

 

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“THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” (2006) Review

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“THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” (2006) Review

I have never read Agatha Christie’s 1931 novel, “The Sittaford Mystery”. And I have read a lot of her novels. But since the novel did not feature Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple, or Tommy and Tuppence Beresford; I never took the trouble to read it. Well, that is not fair. I can think of at least two or three Christie novels that did not feature any of these sleuths that I have read. But I have never read “The Sittaford Mystery”

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that the ITV channel had aired an adaptation of the novel in which Geraldine McEwan appeared as Jane Marple. Okay. This is not the first time this has happened, considering that Christie did not write that many Miss Marple novels. “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” revolved around the murder of a politician who is viewed as a potential Prime Minister in the 1950s. The story begins in the 1920s Egypt, where Clive Trevelyan and a few companions stumble across an important archaeological discovery. Then the story jumps nearly thirty years later when Trevelyan, now a politician, returns to his home Sittaford House in Dartmoor with his aide John Enderby, while Parliament decides on whether he will become Britain’s new Prime Minister, following the retirement of Sir Winston Churchill. Due to his friendship with the novelist Raymond West, Trevelyan finds himself forced to accept the latter’s elderly aunt, Miss Jane Marple, as a house guest.

Much to Miss Marple and Enderby’s surprise, Treveylan decides to chance the snowy weather outside and stay at a local hotel six miles away. The hotel include guests who seemed to be very familiar with Treveylan or familiar with an escapee from the local Dartmoore prison. One of the guests conduct a séance using a Ouiji board, which predicts Treveylan’s death. Hours later, the politician is found stabbed to death in his room. With Miss Marple stuck at Sittaford House (temporarily); Enderby; a young journalist named Charles Burnaby; and Emily Trefusis, the fiancee of Treveylan’s wastrel ward James Pearson; set out to find the murderer. However, it is not long before the trio find themselves seeking Miss Marple’s help.

“THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” strikes me as a rather confusing tale. I have a deep suspicion that in his effort to somewhat change the plot from Christie’s original novel, screenwriter Stephen Churchett ended up creating a very convoluted story . . . right up to the last reel. I have seen this movie twice and for the likes of me, I still have no real idea of what was going on . . . aside from the first fifteen minutes and the movie’s denouement. I was aware that the hotel featured guests that had connections with or knew Treveylan, including a former lover, her wallflower daughter, a middle-aged woman who seemed to be a fan of Treveylan, and an American businessman and his aide.

Churchett created a script filled with so many red herrings – unnecessary, as far as I am concerned – that I simply gave up in trying to guess the murderer’s identity and waited for Miss Marple to expose him or her. Upon my first viewing. Upon my second viewing, I tried to examine the plot for any hints or clues that would lead to the killer’s identity. Unfortunately, that did not happen until at least fifteen minutes before Miss Marple revealed the killer. I was also disappointed with how the movie resolved the romantic entanglements of Emily Trefusis, Charles Burnaby, James Pearson and a fourth character. I found it so contrived, for it came out of left field with no set up or hint whatsoever. What I found even more unconvincing was the last shot of the murderer staring at the camera with an evil grin. This struck me as an idiotic attempt by director Paul Unwin to channel or copy Alfred Hitchcock’s last shot of Anthony Perkins in the 1960 movie, “PYSCHO”. I found that moment so ridiculous.

I will give kudos to Rob Harris, the movie’s production designer. I thought he did a competent job in creating the movie’s setting – a snowbound English community in the early-to-mid 1950s. But do to the majority of the film being limited to either Treveylan’s home and the hotel, Harris really did not have much to work with. Frances Tempest certainly did with her costume designs. I found nothing outstanding about them. But I must admit that I found them rather attractive, especially the costumes that actress Zoe Telford wore. On the other hand, I found Nicholas D. Knowland’s cinematography rather odd . . . and not in a positive way. I did not like his photography, if I must be brutally honest. His unnecessary close-ups and odd angles struck me as an amateurish attempt by him and Unwin to transform “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” into an independent film or Hammer-style horror flick.

The performances in “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” proved to be a mixed bag. I have usually been a fan of Geraldine McEwan’s portrayal of Miss Jane Marple. But I feel that she took the whole “verbose elderly lady” act a bit too far . . . especially in her scenes with Timothy Dalton during the first fifteen to twenty minutes. If I must be honest, most of the performances in the film seemed to be either over-the-top or close to being over-the-top. This was especially the case for Michael Brandon, Zoe Telford, Laurence Fox and Patricia Hodge. James Murray managed to refrain himself during most of the film. But even he managed to get into the act during the movie’s last fifteen minutes or so. Carey Mulligan’s performance seemed competent. She did not blow my mind, but at least she did not annoy me. Robert Hardy made a cameo appearance as Prime Minister Winston Churchill. This marked the eighth or ninth time the actor portrayed the politician and honestly, I could see this appearance was nothing more than a walk in the park for him. There were only four performances I truly enjoyed. One came from Mel Smith, who gave a very competent performance as Treveylan’s right-hand man, John Enderby. I could say the same about Rita Tushingham, who gave a nuanced performance as a mysterious woman with knowledge of an ugly part in Treveylan’s past. The role proved to be his last, for he passed away not long after the film’s production. James Wilby was satisfyingly subtle as the town’s local hotel owner, who had a secret to maintain. For me, the best performance came from Timothy Dalton, who was dazzling at the story’s main victim, Clive Trevelyan. Considering that he was portraying a somewhat theatrical character, it is amazing that he managed to keep his performance under control, and struck a tight balance between theatricality and subtlety.

It is obvious to anyone reading this review that I did not like “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY”. I could complain about the changes made to Agatha Christie’s novel. But I have never read it, so I saw no point in making any comparisons. But I still cared very little for the movie. I found the direction and photography rather amateurish. And aside from a few first-rate performances, I was not that impressed by the majority of the cast’s acting – including, unfortunately, Geraldine McEwan’s.

“FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM” (2016) Review

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“FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM” (2016) Review

After the 2011 movie “HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART II” hit the movie theaters, I had assumed that would be the last film set in J.K. Rowling’s “wizarding world of Harry Potter”. Her 2007 novel, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” was her last one in a series of seven books. But . . . lo and behold, Warner Brothers Studios, who had released the films based upon her novel, found a way to continue the series. The end result was the release of the recent film, “FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM”.

“FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM” is based upon a 2001 book written by Rowling. Somewhat. First of all, the book is not a novel, but a “scholarly” book about the magical creatures found in the Harry Potter universe. Second of all, the book was published under the fictional pen name of one Newt Scamander. What Rowlings, who served as the film’s screenwriter, did was used the Newt Scamander pen name and transformed him into the movie’s main character. In the film, British wizard and “magizoologist” Newt Scamander arrives by boat to New York City in the fall of 1926. Newt has arrived in the United States to release a magical creature called the Thunderbird in the Arizona desert. While listening to a sidewalk speech given by a non-magical (No-Maj) fanatic named Mary Lou Barebone, one of his charges – a creature called Nifler escapes from his magically expanded suitcase, which contains other magical creatures. Even worse, he meets No-Maj cannery worker and aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski, and they accidentally swap suitcases. As Newt struggles to regain possession of his suitcase, Nifler and other magical creatures that have managed to escape; he runs afoul of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), thanks to a demoted auror named Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein, eager to regain her position. Between his search for his missing magical creatures, regaining his suitcase from Jacob Kowalski and the MACUSA; Newt has to deal with a creature called the Obscurus, which uses children as host bodies and is causing destruction around Manhattan and not attract the attention of Ms. Barebone and her abused adopted children – including the adolescent Credence Barebone.

When I first saw “FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM”, I was surprised to discover that J.K. Rowling was the movie’s sole screenwriter. I found this especially surprising, considering that one of the movie’s producers happened to be Steve Kloves, who had served as screenwriter for seven of the eight “HARRY POTTER” movies. And I must say that I thought she did a pretty damn good job. At first, I thought Rowling had created a disjointed tale. The movie seemed to possess at least three separate plot lines:

*Newt’s search for the missing creatures in his possession

*The Obscurus’ destruction

*Mary Lou Barebone’s anti-magic campaign

But Tina Goldstein finally exposed Newt’s magical suitcase to MACUSA, Newt’s plot line became connected to the story arc regarding the Obscurus. And both story arcs became connected to Mrs. Barebone’s anti-magic campaign when audiences learned that MACUSA Director of Magical Security Percival Graves had recruited Credence to help him locate the child who might be the Obscurus. Seeing how these individual story arcs formed to become part of one main narrative reminded me of the 2008 World War II Spike Lee drama, “MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA”. Speaking of World War II, I was happily surprised to learn that a major plot twist near the end of “FANTASTIC BEASTS” promises to lead to the featured a major plot twist that will serve as part of this new series’ main narrative about the upcoming Global wizarding war that will play out during the rise of fascism and the war. How clever of Rowling.

What else did I like about the movie? Frankly, the production designs. I was very impressed by Stuart Craig and James Hambidge’s re-creation of 1926 Manhattan. For me, among their best work proved to be their creation of a 1920s magical speakeasy operated by a goblin gangster named Gnarlack. Nor am I surprised that the pair managed to earn an Oscar nomination for their work. I was also impressed by Colleen Atwood’s costume designs for the film. One, she did an excellent job in re-creating the fashion of the mid-1920s. More importantly, Atwood put an interesting fantasy twist for the costumes worn by the magical characters. For some reason, the clothes worn by the American wizarding community of the 1920s seemed to be more tasteful and elegant than those worn by the British wizarding community of the late 20th/early 21st century. And guess what? Ms. Atwood also earned an Oscar nomination for her work. The only problem I had with the movie’s technical effects was Philippe Rousselot’s photography. Mind you, I had no problems with the film’s epic sweep. But I did not particularly care for the photography’s brown tint – a color that I personally found unnecessary and rather disappointing. I realize that the story is set during the middle of autumn. But was it really necessary to photograph the movie with an unflattering brown tint to indicate the time of the year?

I certainly had no problems with the movie’s performances. Eddie Redmayne did a marvelous job in portraying the introverted wizard Newt Scamander, who seemed to have an easier job of interacting with the creatures in his care instead of his fellow humans. I also noticed that in one hilarious scene, which involved Newt’s attempt to recapture an African Erumpent at the city zoo, Redmayne displayed a talent for physical comedy by engaging with a “mating dance” with the animal. Katherine Waterston, whom I last saw in the 2015 drama “STEVE JOBS”, gave a very intense, yet engaging performance as the demoted auror, Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein. I was impressed by how Waterston combined two aspects of Tina’s personality – her driving ambition, which has come close to undermining her strong penchant for decency on a few occasions. Dan Fogler gave a very entertaining and funny performance as the No-Maj cannery worker and wannabe baker, Jacob Kowalski. Not only did I find his performance very funny, he also managed to create a strong screen chemistry with both Eddie Redmayne and Alison Sudol, who portrayed Tina’s sister Quennie Goldstein. Sudol was an absolute delight as the carefree witch, who is not only proficient in Legilimens, but who also falls in love with Jacob.

I never thought I would see Colin Farrell in a “HARRY POTTER” film. To be honest, he never struck me as the type. But he seemed to fit quite well in his excellent portrayal of the ruthless and intense Auror and Director of Magical Security for MACUSA, Percival Graves. I was especially impressed with his performance in scenes that featured Graves’ interactions with Credence Barebone – scenes that seemed to hint some mild form of erotic manipulation. Speaking of Mr. Barebone, Ezra Miller was in fine form as the emotionally repressed Credence. The ironic thing about Miller’s performance is that at first, his character seemed slightly creepy. In fact, one could label his Credence a “young American Severus Snape with a bad haircut and no wit”. Thanks to Rowling’s screenplay and Miller’s performance, I came away with a portrait of a sad and abused young man, who hand channeled his anger at those who exploit him via magic.

“FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM” marked the first time in which I can recall a magical person of color as a major supporting role – namely the MACUSA’s elegant president Seraphina Picquery, portrayed by Carmen Ejogo. Unlike characters such as Dean Thomas or Kingsley Shacklebolt, President Picquery was not simply allowed to speak a few lines before being swept to the sidelines or off screen. Audiences received more than a glimpse of the glamorous Seraphina. I was also happy to discover that President Picquery was not portrayed as some one-dimensional character without any depth. Thanks to Ejogo’s skillful performance, she portrayed the MACUSA as a pragmatic and ruthless woman who could be quite ambiguous in her efforts to maintain order within the American wizarding community. I found myself equally impressed by Samantha Morton’s portrayal of the religious fanatic, Mary Lou Barebone. What really impressed me about Morton’s performance is that she did not resort to excessive dramatics to convey Mrs. Barebone’s fanatical . . . and abusive personality. Morton gave a subtle and intense performance that conveyed a portrait of a rather frightening woman – especially one who was not magical. The movie also featured solid performances from Jon Voight, Ronan Raftery, Josh Cowdery, Faith Wood-Blagrove and Ron Perlman’s voice. The movie also featured a surprise cameo appearance from Johnny Depp, whose character will play an important role in the sequel films that will follow this one.

I find it ironic that when I had first learned about the plans for “FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM”, I was against it. I thought J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers Studio had taken the Harry Potter franchise as far as it could go after seven novels and eight films. And yet . . . after seeing this film, I immediately fell in love with it. The movie had a few flaws. But I ended up enjoying it, thanks to the complex plot written by Rowling, David Yates’ solid direction, the visual effects and the first-rate cast led by Eddie Redmayne. And now . . . I look forward to seeing more films about the different wizarding communities during the early 20th century.

 

 

The Great “ONCE UPON A TIME” Costume Gallery

kinopoisk.ru

Below is a gallery featuring the costumes designed by Eduardo Castro for Seasons One and Two of the ABC series, “ONCE UPON A TIME”. Do not expect to find Jennifer Morrison, Jared S. Gilmore, Eion Bailey or others performers not featured in any of the Fairy Tale Land flashback sequences:

THE GREAT “ONCE UPON A TIME” COSTUME Gallery

The Ladies

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The Men

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Going Co-ed

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Notes and Observations on “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE” (1977)

The following is a list of minor notes and observations that came to me, during my recent viewing of “Episode IV: A New Hope”. I hope that you enjoy them:

Notes and Observations on “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE” (1977)

*According to the movie’s opening scrawl, Leia possessed the Death Star plans that could “provide freedom to the galaxy”. Is that what happened at the end of the movie?

*Wow! R2-D2 really looks worn and old aboard the Organas’ ship, the Tantive IV. It is easy to imagine that he has been around for over three decades.

*Are the troops firing upon the stormtroopers, Alderaanian troops? If so, does that mean Leia had contradicted herself when she told Tarkin and Vader that Alderaan was a peaceful planet?

*When Vader made his entrance, the first thing that popped into my mind was Anakin leading the clone troopers to the Jedi Temple in ROTS.

*Father and daughter meet. At last.

*I hate to say this, but I have always found C3-P0 and R2’s adventures on Tatooine before meeting Luke to be slightly boring. Okay. I did find it boring.

*The technology inside the Jawa’s ship looked very outdated.

*It is interesting how Owen had to ask Threepio if he spoke Bocce for the moisture vaporators. Which tells me that he did not immediately know Threepio’s identity. But then, Threepio had not introduced himself.

*“But I was going into Toshi Station to pick up some power converters!” – Ah yes! The infamous Skywalker whining at work. I really don’t understand why many fans complained of Anakin’s whining in AOTC. Luke had to have inherited his whining from someone.

*C3-P0 finally introduces himself and R2-D2 when they are alone with Luke, inside the Lars’ garage.

*So, Threepio and Artoo were not personally in Leia’s service aboard the Tantive IV, as I had first imagined. I had forgotten that they had become the property of Captain Antilles.

*I did not realize that Luke knew where Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi lived.

*The moment Luke had mentioned R2 and 3P0 might belong to Obi-Wan, Owen ordered their memories to be wiped. Interesting.

*For some bizarre reason, I found myself seeing Padme comfort Luke and telling him not to grow up too fast.

*Artoo seemed to have set a lot in motion. Leia hid the Death Star plans in his system. Artoo was the one who set out to find Obi-Wan, bringing about the old Jedi Master and the future Jedi Master’s first meeting. And because Luke was forced to search for R2, he managed to avoid Owen and Beru’s fate.

*I also noticed that Vader did not bother to join the search for R2 and 3P0 on Tatooine.

*It is a good thing that those Tusken Raiders did not know that Luke was the son of the Jedi who had wiped out a tribe of their kind.

*Did Obi-Wan immediately recognize the two droids?

*”He was the best star-pilot in the galaxy, and a cunning warrior.” – It is nice to know that’s how Obi-Wan remembered Anakin. But then these next words, as he handed over Anakin s lightsaber to Luke rather spoiled the moment – “I have something here for you. Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn’t allow it.” – especially in light of how Obi-Wan really managed to acquire the lightsaber. Obi-Wan’s description of how Vader had “murdered” Anakin spoiled the moment even further.

*If the Emperor had dissolved the Imperial Senate as stated by Tarkin in the movie, then it is obvious that Lucas had abandoned the earlier idea of Palpatine being a pawn or puppet of other politicians, as indicated in the 1976 edition of The Journal of the Whills.

*”Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.” – Was this an example of Vader’s past Jedi training coming to the fore? Or was this an example of his Sith background? Or his 30 odd years as a Force user?

*Some people have stated that Luke’s upbringing had prepared him to face Owen and Beru’s deaths a lot better than Anakin had dealt with Shmi’s death. But considering Luke’s reaction to Obi-Wan’s death, along with Han and Leia’s endangerment in both ESB and ROTJ, I would say that Luke did not feel as emotionally close to the Lars as he did to the other three.

*”Mos Eisley Spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.” – Famous words to live by. I wonder if Obi-Wan had ever visited Mos Espa.

*I love how the special effects recently added to the film, has enhanced the details of Mos Eisley during Luke and Obi-Wan’s arrival.

*I was surprised to notice the small number of human customers and inhabitants inside the cantina in Mos Eisley.

*For one crazy moment, Sir Alec Guiness sounded like Ewan McGregor in the scene where Obi-Wan and Luke meet Han Solo for the first time.

*”That’s okay. I’m never coming back to this planet, again.” – Careful Luke. Never make promises that one cannot keep.

*Does anyone know the name of the creature that followed Luke and Obi-Wan to the Millennium Falcon’s hangar?

*I had no idea that Boba Fett had been working for Jabba the Hutt before the incidents of ESB.

*I don’t think that even the massacre at the Jedi Temple in ROTS could ever exceed the horror of Alderaan’s destruction. Tarkin made Vader look like an amateur.

*Did I detect a slight British accent coming out of Carrie Fisher’s mouth?

*While watching Obi-Wan begin Luke’s training in the Jedi skills, I realized that this is the first time I’ve seen a 19 year-old Jedi youngling.

*”That’s good. You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.” – A rather apt description of one’s introduction into the Force.

*”I sense something. A presence I have not felt since . . .” – I find it odd that Vader was able to immediately sense Obi-Wan, yet Obi-Wan did not sense Vader until the latter nearly found him?

*“Bring em’ on! I prefer a straight fight to all of this sneaking around!” – I found Han’s comment rather odd, considering that he was a smuggler.

*”Better her than me!” – I found Han’s refusal to save Leia rather cold, considering that she would end up being his future love.

*Leia was imprisoned in cell block 1138. Hmmm . . . do you suppose that Robert Duvall is with her?

*Han gave the worst impression of an Imperial trooper I have ever seen. Classic moment.

*”Hi! I’m Luke Skywalker. I’m here to rescue you.” – Brother and sister meet for the first time since their births.

*”Will someone please get this big, walking carpet out of my way?” – Ah! Leia is still Daddy’s girl.

*Watching Luke and Leia swing to safety reminded me of Anakin and Padme’s failure to do the same in AOTC.

*Anakin (Vader) vs. Obi-Wan: Part II – in retrospect, is not as exciting or thrilling as their first duel on Mustafar.

*Vader’s dialogue seemed rather wooden during his duel with Obi-Wan.

*”Not this ship, sister.”/”It is for me, sister.” – Without a doubt, these are the two worst lines ever uttered in a STAR WARS movie. And both lines had been spoken by Harrison Ford.

*For a guy that had been traumatized by Obi-Wan’s death, Luke seemed to have recovered from his grief rather fast. Even to the point that he ended up contemplating a romance with Leia before the Falcon could reach Yavin IV.

*Despite the Battle of Yavin sequence, the movie never recaptured or continued its drive, following the Falcon’s escape from the Death Star.

*Why did Han and Chewbacca attend the pilot’s briefing on their mission to destroy the Death Star? Especially since the two never had plans to hang around any longer or join the Rebel Alliance.

*Typical of Vader/Anakin in that he had decided to join the Imperial fighters in the battle, instead of remaining with the generals.

*What do you know? Uncle Dennis . . . oop! I mean, Wedge to the rescue!

*It seemed as if Lucas had incorporated nearly every World War II aviator cliché into the Battle of Yavin sequence.

*Someone in my family had pointed out that the Rebels never really had any kind of strategy to destroy the Death Star. Instead, the Alliance military leaders merely had an objective and a method to destroy the station.

*When Obi-Wan had urged Luke to use the Force, had he foreseen that Vader would sense it?

*When I first saw ANH, I had wondered why Vader did not die in the end. From a 29 year perspective, I know understand why.

*The medal ceremony featured a good number of pilots in the audience. So, where had they been during the Battle of Yavin?

*Someone had described the medal ceremony near the end of the film as a pyhrric victory for the Rebel Alliance. When one contemplates on what laid ahead for Luke, Leia, Han and the others . . . that person may have been right.

*I would describe ANH as the most fun of all the STAR WARS movies. A straight out adventure flick with heroes, villains, damsels and wizards. Which would explain why many fans consider it to be the best of the saga. However . . . as much fun ANH was, it harbored very few meaningful metaphors and complexities in compare to the five other films that followed. It’s a lot of fun, but somewhat a little shallow to me.