Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"GREEN ZONE" Review




”GREEN ZONE” Review

Over three years ago, journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran wrote a book about the early days after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the occupation and governance particularly of Baghdad and the search for weapons of mass destruction. Director Paul Greengrass and actor Matt Damon took ”Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone” and turned it into a political thriller about the clashing ideals of U.S. personnel on how to handle the occupation of Iraq.

The story began with U.S. Army Warrant Officer Roy Miller’s search of a third location for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) allegedly created by Saddam Hussein’s government. Upon arriving at this third location, Miller discovered no signs of mass destruction weapons being manufactured or stored . . . just as he had discovered at the two previous locations. During a debriefing at the American “Green Zone” (the location of the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad), Miller announced his discoveries or lack of them and openly questioned the intelligence reports regarding the weapons. His comments earned the attention of the CIA’s Baghdad bureau chief, Martin Brown and Clark Poundstone, a Pentagon Special Intelligence official. The two men have different agendas regarding the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Brown wanted to utilize Saddam Hussein’s Army generals to help the U.S. keep the peace and prevent the country from succumbing to civil war. Poundstone, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with the generals. Instead, he wanted them dead and to install a pro-American puppet named Ahmed Zubadi as Iraq’s new leader. When an Iraqui man named ‘Freddy’ informed Miller of the location of the Iraqi generals, the warrant officer not only found himself caught between Brown and Poundstone’s agendas, but those of other characters – including his own.

”GREEN ZONE” is not the best political thriller I have ever seen. But I must admit that it is a pretty damn good movie. What made this particular movie interesting is that nearly all of the major characters have their own agendas. Some managed to achieve their agendas. Some did not. And at least one managed to achieve his agenda, only to lose in the end. ”GREEN ZONE” turned out to be one of the most ambiguous stories I have seen in recent years. Ambiguous on a level that would surprise many. And I suspect that many moviegoers would have preferred if the supporting characters’ moral compass – especially those of the Iraqi characters - had been a little less murky. But Greengrass and screenwriter Brian Helgeland decided not to take that route. And I am glad. The supporting characters’ ambiguity not only forced the lead character, Roy Miller, to become a wiser man; but made the story more interesting to me.

In another review of ”GREEN ZONE”, I read a complaint that none of the main characters really developed. I would disagree . . . from a certain point of view. What happened to most of the main characters was that most found themselves forced to face the realities of their situations. They spent so much of their time pursuing a particular agenda, until they realized that what they had wanted or were fighting for was nothing more than an illusion. Not only did Miller come to this realization, but also the movie’s main antagonist, Clark Poundstone.

”GREEN ZONE” marked Matt Damon’s third collaboration with director Paul Greengrass. If anyone had expected U.S. Warrant Officer Roy Miller to be another Jason Bourne, they would end up disappointed. Damon’s Roy Miller was not some superspy trying to come to terms with his violent past. Miller was a well-trained and competent Army warrant officer (ranked below a commissioned officer and above a high ranking non-commissioned officer) who had naively believed the Bush Administration’s propaganda about Iraq’s mass destruction weapons program. Damon did a top-notch job in conveying Miller’s slow realization that not only had he been naïve regarding his country’s decision to invade Iraq, but also about Iraq’s political situation. By the movie’s end, his Miller was still a very competent Army warrant officer. But the character also became a wiser and slightly embittered man. As a side note, the Miller character was based upon Warrant Officer Richard (Monty) Gonzales, whose Mobile Exploitation Team was charged with finding the WMDs during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Greg Kinnear was excellent as usual in his portrayal of the Pentagon Special Intelligence official, Clark Poundstone. His Poundstone seemed to have an air of a typical politician – charming, manipulative and very arrogant. Yet, these very traits blinded Poundstone from the true state of Iraqi politics. And Kinnear ably conveyed the official’s shock upon realizing that he had been very naïve. Brendan Gleeson’s character, CIA bureau chief Martin Brown, seemed like a different kettle of fish. Although both men were manipulative, Brown seemed more appraised of Iraq’s political situation and a lot more honest with Miller – a situation that would lead him to make the warrant officer an ally. And Gleeson did an excellent job in conveying Brown’s failure to consider the lengths Poundstone would go to achieve his goal.

The rest of the supporting cast also provided first-rate support – aside from one. Khalid Abdalla gave an emotional performance as ‘Freddy’, an Iraqi man who revealed the presence of Saddam’s generals and became Miller’s interpreter. His own personal agenda would prove to be the story’s wild card. Amy Ryan gave a complex performance as Lawrie Dayne, the journalist who realized that Poundstone had used her as a propaganda machine for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Her character was based upon former New York Times reporter, Judith Miller. Ambiguity seemed to be the name of the game in Yigal Naor’s performance as the ruthless General Al-Rawi, the Iraqi general who eventually discovered that Poundstone had lied to him about utilizing the Iraqi Army to help the U.S. keep the peace. The one performance that struck a negative note to me belonged to Jason Isaacs, who portrayed Major Briggs, an unscrupulous Delta Force officer, who portrayed Poundstone’s personal thug. I am not accusing Isaacs of a bad performance. I have to lay the blame upon Brian Helgeland, who wrote the character as one-dimensional. I doubt that any actor as talented as Isaacs could have done anything with the role except portray him as written – a murderous, yet competent thug.

Production designer Dominic Watkins did a solid job in recapturing the chaos of those early months of the American presence in Iraq. The contrast between war-torn Baghdad and the resort-like atmosphere of ‘the Green Zone’ struck me as amazing. Do not ask me about John Powell’s score for the movie, because I found it unmemorable. However, I cannot say the same about Barry Ackroyd’s photography. For me, it brought back bad memories of the shaky cam style featured in previous Greengrass/Damon movies like ”THE BOURNE SUPREMACY” and ”THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”. This particular cinematography style struck me as even more confusing in ”GREEN ZONE” This was especially apparent in the movie’s final action sequence. Just imagine the shaky cam photography and editing from the last two BOURNE films in a sequence shot at night and you might see how confused and dizzy I had felt from the experience.

As I had stated earlier, I would never call ”GREEN ZONE” one of the best political thrillers or war movies I have seen. The movie possessed certain elements I did not care for – the cinematography, Christopher Rouse’s editing and the portrayal of Jason Isaacs’ character. But the movie did have an interesting and complex story. The rest of the cast gave first-rate performances, given the ambiguous roles written for them. In the end, both Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon did themselves proud.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"The Half-Blood Demon" [PG-13] - 1/7




THE HALF-BLOOD DEMON

RATING: PG-13 Mild violence and adult language.
SUMMARY: The Halliwells, Olivia McNeill and others react to Cole's decision to get rid of his powers. Set between AU S5 and S6
FEEDBACK: - Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: The Charmed Ones, Leo Wyatt, Darryl Morris and Cole Turner belong to Constance Burge, Brad Kern and Spelling Productions. The McNeills, Marbus and Nimue are thankfully, my creations.

NOTE: The story picks up right after "Defense of the Realm".


----------

"THE HALF-BLOOD DEMON"

PART 1

Paige continued to stare at Cole with disbelief. "Why on earth would you want to get rid of your powers?"

Cole opened his mouth to speak, but Phoebe replied instead, "Because his powers have been a source of trouble for him, Paige. Since he came back from the Wasteland. You should know that."

"Are you talking about the same powers that had just saved your ass in the Whitelighter Realm?" the youngest Charmed One shot back.

Paige referred to an upheaval within the Whitelighter Realm that had ended when Phoebe, Piper - along with Olivia McNeill and Cole - managed to foil a plot by darklighters to take over the Elders Council. But the three witches and the half-demon failed to save most of the Elders recently initiated into the Council. Only two out of nine survived. Once more, the Council found itself forced to recruit new members. Leo turned out to be among the new recruits and Piper had not reacted well to this new turn of event. In an effort to bring peace within the household, Phoebe surprised everyone with news of Cole's intention to strip away his active powers.

Phoebe rolled her eyes. "Since Cole is now this all-powerful demon, he has to deal with other demons and warlocks trying to steal his powers. Like Barbas and the Crozats. Getting rid of those powers, will end the danger for all of us."

Paige retorted, "Well, isn't that peachy! And what happens if someone manages to steal ourpowers Phoebe? Or Wyatt's? We may not be as powerful as Cole, but we're powerful enough to attract a lot of evil."

"Yes, I know Paige," Phoebe said through clenched teeth. She shot an uneasy glance at the half-demon, who tried to ignore her. "But Cole . . . well, there's the matter of his temper. He does have a temper, you know. Right baby?"

Cole managed a dim smile and muttered, "Right."

Phoebe added, "And what if he ends up misusing his powers because of some . . . I don't know . . . temper tantrum?"

"Like we do all the time?" Paige retorted. Before Phoebe could respond, the younger woman turned to Cole. "Is this what you really want?"

Again, Cole opened his mouth. And again, Phoebe beat him to the punch. "Of course he does!" the middle Charmed One protested. "Haven't you been listening?"

"Gee Phoebe! I've been listening to you! But Cole has barely been able to utter a sound. Well, except for one word."

Cole felt his face grow warm, when he finally spoke. "Don't worry, Paige. It's what I want. Really. I think this is the best decision for both of us." Phoebe's body sagged with relief. From the corner of his eyes, he noticed the shocked expressions on Piper and Leo's faces.

So did Paige. "Well," she said to her sister and brother-in-law. "What do you think?"

Phoebe began to protest. "Paige! It's not their decision to . . ." Cole squeezed her arm, signaling her to be quiet. He was interested in Piper and Leo's reactions.

The couple exchanged wary looks, before Leo said, "Well, I don't know about Piper, but this sounds like a good idea to me. And at least we'll now have the opportunity to control the circumstances of how to remove his powers."

"We?" Piper shot her husband an acidic look. "Why should Paige ask for your opinion? Considering you've decided to turn your back on this family and become an Elder."

"Piper!"

The oldest Halliwell turned her back on her husband and faced the others. "I'm sorry Phoebe, but I'm going to have to agree with Paige. I don't know if this is a good idea."

Now Phoebe cried out, "Piper!"

"I'm sorry honey, but every time Cole loses his powers, disaster happens. First, he ended up getting possessed by the Source."

Phoebe shot back, "Well, it's nice to see that you've finally accepted the truth about what happened!"

A sigh left Piper's mouth. "Yes Phoebe, I do. But this doesn't change my opinion about this power-stripping idea. The first time, Cole ended up possessed. And the second time, Barbas ended up stealing his powers. I just don't . . . maybe you two should seriously consider this."

"How do you know that disaster will happen again?" Phoebe demanded. Then she turned to Chris Perry, their new whitelighter. "What about you? What do you think?"

Chris blinked. "Huh?"

An impatient Phoebe shook her head. "Never mind," she said contemptuously. She returned her attention to her sisters. "Paige, Piper? Our minds are made up. Okay? Now will you help us with the spell or not?"

Piper heaved a sigh. "All right. If you insist. Only I don't know if the usual power stripping potion will work."

Cole's heart sank, while a smile illuminated Phoebe's face. "What about the spell that Paige had used on Cole, last year?" She turned to her younger sister. "Didn't you make some changes with the power stripping potion in order for it to work on Cole?"

"Yeah, I did," Paige replied coolly. "Only I'm not going tell you what I did."

"Paige!"

The youngest Charmed One continued, "I'm sorry Pheebs, but I simply refuse to help you in what I think is a serious mistake. You're going to have to do it on your own."

Phoebe's face grew hard. "Fine! I'll just check the Book of Shadows." She headed for the staircase.

"I took out the recipe for the new potion," Paige called after her older sister. "I did it last January. I didn't think he would want it in there. So . . ." Paige brushed past Phoebe and began her descent up the staircase, ". . . like I said, you'll have to find another way to make that potion." And she continued on toward the second floor.

Cole heaved an inward sigh of relief. The thing he dreaded most had been delayed.

--------

"Are you certain about this?" Artemus asked his assistant. "About Belthazor's powers?" The daemon had recovered long enough from Prax's revelation . . . one that foresaw Belthazor removing his powers - and Artemus acquiring them.

Prax, Artemus' more-than-competent assistant, nodded. "Yes sir. This seer named Kyra had revealed the vision to me, through her chalice."

Artemus leaned back against his favorite leather chair, inside the study of his Pacific Heights townhouse. He sighed. "Can you imagine, Prax? If I had Belthazor's powers for myself? Can you imagine what I could do? I would be the more powerful than the McNeills, the Charmed Ones, the Elders and the various demonic orders, combined. I wouldn't need a Grimoire to rule as the next Source."

"What about the Halliwell infant?" Prax inquired. "On the day of his birth, all magic had stopped. None of us could use our powers."

A smug smile creased Artemus' lips. "But Belthazor could." Prax stared at him. "Kelson had actually seen him teleport from Mark Giovanni's home that day. When he thought no one was watching him."

Frowning, Prax asked, "Does this mean he and the child are equally powerful?"

The older daemon shook his head. "I suspect that Belthazor might be slightly more powerful. But I'm not certain. I wish there was a way I could find out. But not now." With a wave of his hand, he turned off his CD player. "Right now, we should focus upon Belthazor. Does this seer Kyra know when he plans to remove his powers?"

Prax shook his head. "I'm afraid not."

"Hmmm." Artemus placed his glass of port on the liquor cabinet. "Then we will have to find out. Find a chameleon daemon for me. Have him . . . or her report to me as soon as possible."

With an obsequious bow, Prax replied, As you wish, Artemus." Then he strode out of the study.

---------

Inside the living room of Nathalie Green's townhouse, Olivia allowed the ice to swirl in her tea. The two witches had just finished a delicious meal that featured grilled lamb chops. A song from Nathalie's CD player began to play a familiar tune. Olivia frowned. "Geez Nat! What is it about you and the 70s? 'Boogie Nights'?"

Nathalie, a tall, dark-haired woman with a long, equinine face and pale skin, shot Olivia a sardonic glare. "I wouldn't sneer if I were you, Miss McNeill. I happen to know that 'Boogie Nights' is your favorite song from that decade."

"Right group, wrong song. Heatwave's other song, 'Groove Line' is a favorite of mine. But my entire music collection doesn't comprise of 'the Greatest Hits of the Seventies'."

Nathalie returned her attention to her laptop computer screen and typed a few strokes. "You know, I didn't invite you over for dinner just to insult my musical tastes."

Olivia stared at the other woman. "Why did you invite me?"

"To talk to you." Nathalie closed her laptop. "About Cole."

Oh no. A sigh left Olivia's mouth. "You've got to be kidding!"

Nathalie shot back, "No, I'm not. I heard what happened. From Barbara and Bruce." She paused. "So, you're just going to leave it like that?"

"Like what?"

Sighing, Nathalie continued, "You're just going to allow Phoebe Whatshername take Cole without a fight?"

Olivia snorted with derision. "As I recall, Cole had deliberately returned to Phoebe."

"Only because you had dumped him, while you were under that spell!"

Keeping her patience in check, Olivia declared, "Don't you understand, Nat? Cole ran right back to Phoebe, after he thought we were through. And I don't recall him making any effort at reconciliation, after he found out about Paul's spell. Now what does that tell you?"

"It tells me that Cole must have rebounded with Phoebe!" Nathalie retorted. "Which means they're simply wasting their time, because their new little romance won't work."

Olivia frowned. "Why not?"

"Didn't you hear what I had said? Cole is using Whatshername . . ."

"Phoebe."

Nathalie continued, "Yeah, well he's obviously using her for rebound. Frankly, I don't think he's very happy at the moment."

Olivia took a sip of her tea . . . and tried to ignore the glimmer of hope within her breast. "Meaning?"

"Hey, I was at Quake, a few nights ago," Nathalie said. "With Igor Petrov. I saw Cole and Phoebe. He didn't look very happy, and both seemed to be a little uncomfortable in each other's company. If you're still in love with Cole, tell him. Do something before you lose him for good."

A silent Olivia finished her tea, while she contemplated Nathalie's words. Do something, her friend had advised. But do what? Beg Cole to leave Phoebe and take her back? What if he did not want her back? What if any action on her part would accomplish nothing? Believing the futility of any action on her part, Olivia shook her head. "I don't know," she said. "I don't know if there's anything I can . . ." She broke off. "Never mind." Then she changed the subject. "By the way, what were you typing?"

Nathalie snapped open her laptop. "Nothing much. Just a few notes for my new book. You know, the one I had told you about, last spring."

"Oh yeah. Something about the shadow self. Are you using only mortals as subjects?"

Typing a few strokes on the computer's keyboard, Nathalie replied, "A few daemons as well. In fact, anyone who's willing to become a subject."

Olivia hesitated. "What about whitelighters?"

Nathalie snorted. "Knowing them, they probably wouldn't acknowledge that they have a dark side. Besides, I haven't had a whitelighter since I was seventeen. And that relationship didn't last very long. Two years, at the most."

"I know an Elder who might cooperate. Her name is similar to yours. Natalia Stepanova."

Nathalie blinked. "Wait a minute. Why does that name sound familiar?"

Olivia replied, "Because you had met her six years ago, in Scotland. She used to be Cousin Keith's whitelighter for a few years. Then they became friends."

"And she's an Elder now?"

"Yep! It happened a few days ago, as a matter of fact. There was an . . . altercation in the Whitelighter Realm." Olivia told Nathalie about the destruction of the old Elders Council, the culprits responsible, the Eregor medallions and the new Elders. "Before I came here, Natalia showed up at my apartment. She told me that Leo is now an Elder."

Nathalie frowned. "Huh. What about Gideon? Is he still alive?"

Her hostess' question took Olivia by surprise. "Yeah, he's still alive? You know Gideon?"

"Remember that magic school that Harry had attended for about two months?" Nathalie asked. "The one operated by the whitelighters?"

Olivia hesitated. "Yeah. Harry hated that place. He ended up getting expelled. I think he had deliberately made sure it would happen." Olivia snorted. "Gideon sure remembered him."

Nathalie added, "Yeah, well I remembered Gideon from the year I had spent there. And I also hated it. Hell, I've learned more about witchcraft and magic in general from my grandmother and my coven, than I did at that school."

"Hmmm." Olivia drained the last of her tea. "As for Natalia Stepanova, I'll see if I can summon her. Ask if she'll talk to you. Or maybe I can get Dad's former whitelighter. They're still friends."

In a low voice, Nathalie said, "May I assume one cannot say the same about you and Leo?"

"You may assume," Olivia retorted.

Nathalie shook her head. "Wow Livy! Cole and Leo. Two close relationships down the drain in such a short space of time. How do you do it?"

Olivia decided to ignore her friend's last remark.


END OF PART 1

Monday, March 29, 2010

"THE BOUNTY HUNTER" Photo Gallery



Below are photos from the new action comedy, "THE BOUNTY HUNTER". Directed by Andy Tennant, the movie stars Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler:


"THE BOUNTY HUNTER" Photo Gallery

























Sunday, March 28, 2010

”THE PACIFIC” (Episode Two) Commentary



I wrote this brief commentary on the second episode of "THE PACIFIC":


”THE PACIFIC” (Episode Two) Commentary

Episode Two of HBO’s ”THE PACIFIC” continued the saga of the U.S. Marines during the Guadalcanal campaign. Episode One focused mainly on Robert Leckie’s combat experiences during the campaign. This latest episode centered on the combat experiences of Sergeant John Basilone and his fellow comrades from the 7th Marines regiment.

By the time I had finished watching Episode Two, I found myself battling a tension headache. And it was all due to action sequences featured in this episode. Granted, I also found the battle scenes in Episode One rather tense, the action in this second episode knocked it out of the ballpark for me. Around late October 1942, John Basilone and a handful of his fellow Marines were forced to fight off a frontal assault by the Japanese Army. Between the assault and Basilone’s encounters with Japanese troops, while fetching more ammunition literally had me squirming on my living room sofa. And I must say that Jon Seda did a great job of portraying Basilone’s heroics and making it look natural in the process. I also have to give kudos to actor Joshua Biton for his emotional portrayal of one of Basilone’s close friends, J.P. Morgan.

With the exception of an aerial bombing sequence, this particular episode did not feature Leckie and his friends in actual combat. Instead, the episode focused upon them dealing with various other problems during their stay on Guadalcanal – lack of supplies, inadequate arms and . . . um, health issues. Poor Runner dealt with an attack of the runs and Leckie found himself throwing up after consuming stolen canned peaches on a half-empty stomach. Leckie and a good number of other Marines stole supplies left on the beach for the arriving U.S. Army. In a hilarious scene, Leckie managed to pinch the peaches, along with cans of other food; and a pair of moccasins and a box of cigars that belonged to an Army officer. I never knew that actor James Badge Dale had a talent for comic timing . . . until now.

Episode Two also revealed a glimpse of Eugene Sledge back in Mobile. He and his father, Dr. Sledge, have discovered that Sledge’s heart murmur no longer exists. Upon this discovery, Sledge wasted no time in announcing his intention to join the Marines. And viewers will eventually see the results of that decision by Episode Five.

By the end of the episode, the Marines were ordered to leave the island, much to the relief of many. Both Basilone and Morgan found themselves trying to rationalize the death of their friend, Manny Rodriguez, while other Marines loaded up in boats taking them off the island. A scene that featured good, solid acting by both Seda and Biton. The episode’s last scene featured Leckie and his friends learning from a Navy cook aboard ship that their actions on Guadalcanal had been reported in American newspapers and that they were now all regarded as heroes. Judging from the expressions on the Marines’ faces, they seemed conflicted on how to accept the news. This wonderfully performed scene by Badge Dale and the actors portraying Leckie's friends - Josh Helman (Chuckler), Keith Nobbs (Runner) and Jacob Pitts (Hoosier)- was mentioned in Leckie’s memoirs.

Like Episode One, this was a well done that left me feeling tense and an array of other emotions. I only hope that the miniseries’ remaining episodes will match the quality of the first two.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Favorite Films Set in New York City



Below is a list of my favorite films either set in New York City:


FAVORITE FILMS SET IN NEW YORK CITY



1. "American Gangster" (2007) - Ridley Scott did a superb job in sending moviegoers back to the late 1960s and early 1970s in this biopic about gangster Frank Lucas and the New Jersey cop that caught him, Ritchie Roberts. Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe co-starred.





2. "Spider-Man 2" (2004) - Sam Rami directed this best entry of the SPIDER-MAN franchise in which the crime fighting web-slinger decides to give up his costume for a normal life. The movie starred Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris and Alfred Molina.





3. "Bullets Over Broadway" (1994) - Woody Allen directed this hilarious Oscar-winning tale about the behind-the scenes of a Broadway play in the late 1920s. John Cusak, Oscar winner Dianne Weist and Oscar nominees Jennifer Tilly and Chazz Palminteri co-starred.





4. "The Heiress" (1949) - William Wyler directed this superb adaptation of Henry James' 1880 novel, "Washington Square", about a New York heiress in the late 1840s being pursued by a penniless fortune hunter. Oscar winner Olivia De Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson and Miriam Hopkins co-starred.





5. "The Thin Man" (1934) - The first (and one of the best) of six movies about a former detective and his wife, Nick and Nora Charles. This story, based upon Dashiell Hammett's novel, has Nick Charles investigating the disappearance of a wealthy friend accused of murdering his girlfriend. William Powell and Myrna Loy starred.





6. "Kate and Leopold" (2001) - Meg Ryan and Golden Globe nominee Hugh Jackman co-starred in this romantic tale about an English duke who time travels from New York in 1876 to the present and falls in love with a career woman in the modern day Manhattan. Directed by James Mangold, Liev Schreiber and Breckin Meyer co-starred.





7. "Hello Dolly!" (1969) - Gene Kelly directed this fun and splashy adaptation of the Broadway musical about a matchmaker in 1890 New York who inflicts chaos upon the lives of a Yonkers businessman, his employees and his niece. Barbra Streisand, Walter Matthau and Michael Crawford starred.




8. "Manhattan Murder Mystery" (1993) - This funny tale about a middle-aged couple investigating the possible murder of one of their neighbors made me a fan of Woody Allen movies. The director, along with Diane Keaton, Alan Alda and Anjelica Huston co-starred.




9. "Kid Galahad" (1937) - Edward G. Robinson portrayed a tough boxing manager who decides to promote a young bellhop as a potential boxing champ in this exciting drama. Directed by Michael Curtiz, Bette Davis, Wayne Morris, Jane Bryan and Humphrey Bogart co-starred.




10. "Die Hard with a Vengeance" (1995) - Bruce Willis returned to portray NYPD detective John McClane for the third time in this exciting thriller directed by John Tiernan about the detective's attempts to prevent former East German mercenaries led by Jeremy Irons from bombing New York City. Samuel L. Jackson portrayed his reluctant partner - a Harlem electronics store owner dragged into the fray.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"COP OUT" (2010) Review




”COP OUT” (2010) Review

The moment I first saw the trailer for Kevin Smith’s new action comedy, ”COP OUT”, I knew I did not want to see it. The jokes in the trailer struck me as flat. Stars Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan seemed to lack any screen chemistry whatsoever. But since there were no other new movies out at the time, I went to see it anyway.

”COP OUT” told the story of two New York City Police detectives who found themselves suspended from the force after their efforts to nail a young Mexican immigrant gang banger with ties to a drug lord ends in failure. Police detectives Jimmy Monroe and Paul Hodges are drawn back into the case centered around drug lord Poh Boy inadvertently when Jimmy attempts to raise money for his daughter’s upcoming wedding by selling his father’s rare baseball card. Unfortunately, a petty thief named Dave steals the card and sells it to Poh Boy. The drug lord refuses to give Jimmy back the card, unless the latter and Paul finds a stolen car that contains something valuable for him.

There were aspects of ”COP OUT” that failed to appeal to me. One, Tracy Morgan’s little comedy routine that involved his character using clichéd movie lines to get a suspect to talk left me feeling irritated. As much as I like Sean William Scott (Dave, the petty thief), his role not only struck me as nearly irrelevant – aside from the baseball card theft – but also irritating. In fact, I believe I found him just as irritating as Tracy Morgan’s character did. And I wish to God that director Kevin Smith and the movie’s producers had not chosen Guillermo Diaz for the role of Poh Boy. In fact, I wish that Mark and Robb Cullen had not created the character in the first place. It must be one of the hammiest movie roles I have ever come across in the past decade.

Before anyone gets the idea that I found ”COP OUT” to be a complete waste of my time, I did not. I will never view this movie as a favorite of mine, or one of the best “cop buddy” films I have ever seen. But I must admit that the movie turned out to be better than I had expected. One of the movie’s strengths turned out to be the Cullens’ screenplay. Mind you, I found nothing particularly unique about it – save for the fact that the two protagonists ended up investigating the very case they had been kicked off, due to one of the heroes’ family crisis. Two, Smith directed a well-paced story filled with some pretty good humor and a great deal of action. In other words, the movie kept me awake. Last but not least, both Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan managed to create a viable screen chemistry, despite my misgivings from the trailer. Which surprised me a great deal. Willis and Morgan almost came off as a modern-day Abbott and Costello.

Actually, both Willis and Morgan managed to portray a pair of interesting characters. Willis’ Jimmy Monroe was a down-to-earth man with a failed marriage and a partner he has to keep from drifting off to Neverland. And yet, his Jimmy has a quirky, yet occasionally sadistic sense of humor that I found attractive. Although Morgan’s Paul Hodges started off as an irritating character, I eventually warmed up to him. Morgan portrayed Paul as a warm and extroverted man who harbors a great deal of affection for his partner and love for his wife – even if that love threatened to transform into an overwhelming jealousy.

Despite my complaints about Sean William Scott’s character, the petty thief Dave, I must admit that I found him occasionally funny. I certainly enjoyed Ana de la Reguera’s performance as Gabriela, the mistress of a murdered criminal whom Jimmy and Paul found in the trunk of the very car wanted by Poh Boy. Gabriela possessed something that Poh Boy wanted. More importantly, de la Reguera’s performance struck me as warm, funny and very feisty. As I had stated earlier, I did not care for Guillermo Diaz’s performance as the drug lord Poh Boy. Quite frankly, I found it too over-the-top for my tastes. I suppose Smith wanted Diaz to portray Poh Boy as psychotic. I just simply found him annoying. Kevin Pollak and Adam Brody portrayed Hunsaker and Mangold, two N.Y.P.D. detectives that happened to be Jimmy and Paul’s rivals. Personally, I found their performances unmemorable. And there were moments when I wondered if Pollak seemed bored with his role. I certainly was.

I suspect that ”COP OUT” has failed to become a hit film in the three weeks since its release. It is not what I would call an original film. There seemed to be a hint of originality in the plot involving one of the lead’s family crisis and the main villain. Yet, it struck me as a typical action comedy from the 1980s and 90s. Some of the characters either irritated me or struck me as irrelevant. And I did not care for the main villain. But I still enjoyed the movie’s story and humor. The pacing did not drag, thanks to Kevin Smith’s direction. And Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan made a surprisingly effective screen team. In the end, I would not mind seeing it again.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Crossroads of the Force" [PG-13] - Epilogue




"CROSSROADS OF THE FORCE"

EPILOGUE

CORUSCANT

Darth Rasche laid flat on his bed, inside the Emperor Palpatine Surgical Reconstruction Center, staring at the ceiling. When his eyes became weary at that particular sight, he tried to direct his gaze elsewhere . . . anywhere other than his hands. Or what used to be his hands. He did not know what to call them. Cybernetic implants? Freaks of nature?

Upon his arrival on Coruscant, the Sith Lord had been rushed to the medical facility to be fitted with new robotic hands. The droids – on the Emperor’s orders – kept him conscious during the entire operation. Rasche still recalled how the pain fueled his anger at being put in such a situation. Within three days, his body had rejected the new parts and Rasche nearly died from a serious infection. In the end, he survived, thanks to the Force and the medical droids. They fitted him with another pair of cybernetic hands . . . only this time, with more success.

Another sigh left the Sith Lord’s mouth. Rasche finally lowered his gaze and focused it upon his new artificial hands that now rested upon his lap. The gold-plated robotic fingers reminded him of those belonging to a protocol droid. Anger and a sense of loss welled inside him. He had not felt this desire to cry out in rage and lash at the universe for putting him in such a position, since that day he had first became a Sith Lord. Instead, he continued to stare at his new hands.

The sound of a door sliding open filled Rasche’s ears. He glanced up and saw his master enter the room. “Master, what are . . .?”

“How do you feel, Lord Rasche?” the wizened Sith Lord gently asked.

Rasche remained silent, as the older man’s question - for some reason - had fueled his anger. He muttered in a dark tone, “Fine.”

“Yes. I can see,” Lord Sidious replied caustically. “I thought you would like to know that our suspicions regarding Senator Dahlma had been correct. The liaison on Ord Mantell, Kalen Tom, managed to learn that she has become involved in this some new rebellion against the Empire. It seemed that she and a group of others were attending some kind of conference at Worlport. Tom managed to learn that the former Senator Yeb of Andalia had also attended. Unfortunately, he had failed to identify the others, due to the abysmal security on that planet. But do not worry, my young friend. One day, I shall learn their identities . . . and destroy them.”

Good luck. The thought bitterly rang in Rasche’s head. Solipo Yeb and a few others have managed to evade arrest for the past ten years. He remained silent and returned his gaze to the ceiling.

“You seem unusually quiet, Lord Rasche,” Palpatine continued. “In fact, I sense a great deal of unhappiness and anger within you.”

No longer able to hold back his resentment, Rasche lashed out. “How would you feel if you had been humiliated and your hands had been castrated?”

A flash of sympathy briefly appeared in the older Sith Lord’s yellow eyes. “Very angry. But you are no longer helpless. I have given you new hands. More powerful hands. With them, you will be able to . . .”

“Don’t you understand? Skywalker had defeated me! He helped Senator Dahlma escape and chopped off my hands! Why did you bother to save me? Why not simply find another apprentice?”

Palpatine regarded Rasche with a cryptic expression. “And why would I do that?”

Rasche glared at his master. “Why not? After all, you had recruited Feris Olin to kill me, several years ago.”

To the younger man’s satisfaction, surprise briefly flickered in Palpatine’s eyes. “How did you . . .?”

“Find out?” Rasche finished. “I am a Sith, my master. The Force was strong with me.”

An amused smile curled the Emperor’s mouth. “Yes. I should have realized that you might have learned about Master Olin.”

Rasche continued, “By the way, Senator Dahlma was not the only one who appeared on Ord Mantell. I also saw Olin. Along with three other people. One of them was a spacer I have heard of before. A Voranda Sen. She . . .”

“She was killed in the Moorja System,” Palpatine coolly finished. “Yes, I know about her. According to a spy, she had been attempting to recruit pilots for this new rebellion. I had wanted her captured alive, but the captain of the Invader ended up destroying her, instead. Very clumsy of him.”

But Rasche was not finished. “This Captain Sen may not be the only one who is dead.” He paused to ascertain the Emperor’s reaction. “I saw a stormtrooper shoot Olin, during my duel with Skywalker.”

Palpatine inhaled sharply. Then he quickly recovered with a barely sympathetic cluck. “Hmmm. Poor fellow. At least we have one less Jedi to worry about. And if I must be frank, Master Olin has not been a concern of mine for years. Not since he had failed to contact me, several years ago.”

The older man’s words sparked another surge of anger within Rasche. “So, you did conspire with Olin to kill me. Why? I no longer surved your purpose?”

“Of course not!” the Sith Master retorted with derision. “Master Olin had merely been a spy . . . and a tool. A test for you. How long has it been since you last killed a Jedi or any other Force user, before Ord Mantell? Judging from your failure to kill Skywalker, I would say it has been far too long, my young apprentice.” Rasche’s face grew hot with embarrassment, as Palpatine continued. “Unfortunately, Master Olin had abandoned my service before he could provide the test.”

His anger once again rising, Rasche shot back, “Then you should have abandoned me! Instead of giving me these . . . these . . . things!” He raised his new hands.

Palpatine’s yellow eyes acquired an intensity that Rasche had not seen in years. “I have no intention of letting you go my Lord Rasche. I need a strong apprentice, such as yourself, to help me continue the Sith’s presence in this galaxy!” Rasche opened his mouth to protest, but the Sith master continued. “You do not understand, do you? Skywalker had surrendered the chance to kill you, due to some misplaced compassion he had failed to rid himself of. A Lieutenant Nance had informed me of what had occurred inside that hangar. It took Skywalker quite a while to defeat you. Much longer than it would have taken him, ten years ago. This only tells me that he has grown weaker with the Force.” The Sith Lord spit out his last sentence with great contempt. “Perhaps you are not ready to face Skywalker, yet. But one day, my young friend . . .” Palpatine graced Rasche with a smile that radiated self-assurance. “One day, you will.”

Silence engulfed the room, punctuated by beeps from the medical droid. Rasche stared at his mentor, wondering if the latter had foreseen Skywalker’s death. Then again, Sidious could merely be trying to bolster his self-esteem. “I . . . could you . . .?”

“Enough questions, my friend. You need your rest.” The Emperor’s voice oozed with sympathy. “Once you are well, we shall see about returning to business, which includes dealing with this new rebel threat.”

Rasche nodded. “What about . . . Skywalker? Now that we know the name of his starship, shouldn’t we set about finding him?”

Palpatine sighed. “Ah yes. The former Darth Vader.” A cold smile curved his lips. “You should not concern yourself with him,” he replied. “At least not yet. Like I said before, one day . . . Skywalker will seek us out. And when that day arrives, you will deal with him. Permanently. Rest well, my Lord Rasche.” Palpatine nodded imperiously and left the room.

The Sith apprentice laid back on his bed and contemplated his master’s words. A memory from the past month came back to him. A memory that featured Anakin Skywalker’s haunted expression, when the latter hesitated to strike him down. Rasche looked forward to the day when he would reunite with his predecessor and destroy the man. But he hoped to accomplish something else – to learn why Skywalker had refrained from killing him.


THE END

Monday, March 22, 2010

"NORTH AND SOUTH" (2004) Photo Gallery



Below are photos from the 2004 miniseries, "NORTH AND SOUTH". Based upon Elizabeth Gaskell's 1855 novel, the miniseries starred Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage. Brian Percival directed:


"NORTH AND SOUTH" (2004) Photo Gallery