Wednesday, July 31, 2013
"THE HANGOVER, PART III" (2013) Review
I must admit that I was surprised to learn that Todd Phillips had a second sequel to his 2009 hit comedy, "THE HANGOVER" in the works. I felt surprised, considering the critical reaction to his first sequel, 2011's "THE HANGOVER, PART II".
Many moviegoers and critics not only complained that the plot for "THE HANGOVER, PART II" bore a strong resemblance to "THE HANGOVER", but it was also inferior to the latter. As much as I liked "THE HANGOVER, PART II", I must admit that I agreed with these complaints. The critics were equally unkind to "THE HANGOVER, PART III". And it is here where I and a good number of moviegoers parted company. Mind you, I do not believe that this third film is as good as the 2009 movie or even better. But I do consider it better than the 2011 movie.
Set two years after "THE HANGOVER, PART II", this third film begins with "international criminal" Leslie Chow's escape from a maximum security prison in Thailand. Back in the United States, Alan Garner causes a major freeway pile up after he purchases a giraffe and accidentally decapitates it on a low bridge. Alan's father dies of a heart attack, while giving him a furious lecture for never owning up to his mistakes. Following the funeral, Alan's brother-in-law Doug Billings informs friends Phil Wenneck and Stu Price that Alan has been off his ADHD medication and is out of control. They attend an intervention, in which Alan agrees to visit a rehab facility in Arizona, so long as "the Wolfpack" takes him there. During the drive to Arizona, "the Wolfpack" is driven off the road by a vengeful drug lord named Marshall and "Black Doug", the drug dealer who had sold Alan some drugs in the first film. Marshall tells them that Chow had hijacked half of a gold heist. And since Alan had been the only one to communicate with Chow during his imprisonment, Marshall decided that "the Wolfpack" could locate him and retrieve the gold. Marshall holds Doug as hostage and gives the others three days to find Chow. Along the way, the three friends travel to Mexico and Las Vegas, break into a Mexican manor with Chow, get arrested and attempt to kidnap Chow.
The humor featured in "THE HANGOVER, PART III" did not strike me as sharp as the humor in the first two movies. One might find this a surprising remark for me, considering my earlier statement about this movie being better than the second one. I stand by my words. The humor featured in "THE HANGOVER, PART III" did not strike me as memorable as that found in the first two movies. On the other hand, a part of me strongly feels that this third movie is somewhat better than the second one. First of all, Todd Phillips and his co-writer, Craig Mazin, decided not to make the same mistake they made in "THE HANGOVER, PART II" - namely follow a similar plot line from "THE HANGOVER". Instead, they created an entirely different situation in which "the Wolfpack" find themselves in serious danger, thanks to Alan's correspondence with Leslie Chow, a vengeful drug dealer and the very slippery Chow. And for the first time, the Alan Garner character is forced to grow up . . . somewhat, after he falls in love with a Vegas pawnshop owner named Cassie. I found the latter especially gratifying, because Alan's man-child demeanor was beginning to wear a bit thin after the second film. More importantly, "THE HANGOVER, PART III" was not as tainted by the gross humor that nearly overwhelmed "THE HANGOVER, PART II". Unfortunately, the movie was not completely free of any gross humor. Phillips and Mazin decided they could not completely let go of the franchise's old premise and gross humor in a tacked on ending that DID NOT left me rolling in the aisles.
The performances in "THE HANGOVER, PART III" did not disappoint, despite the more subdued humor. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis continued to maintain their strong chemistry from the two previous films. I had hoped that Justin Bartha, who portrayed the fourth and least seen member of "the Wolfpack", would for once have a larger role in the film. Unfortunately, Bartha continued to be wasted in this franchise. The man must have the patience of a saint. Ken Jeong was as funny as ever as self-indulgent, yet slippery Leslie Chow. I was also impressed at how he skillfully portrayed the darker side of Chow. John Goodman gave a scary and intimidating performance as Marshall, the drug lord who forced the four friends to search for Chow. Mike Epps returned for another funny portrayal as "Black Doug", the inept drug dealer, who now serves as Marshall's chief of security. Heather Graham also returned from the first film in a sweet performance as Stu's first wife, the Vegas stripper Jade. To be honest, I am not that familiar with Melissa McCarthy. I have never seen "BRIDESMAIDS", "IDENTITY THIEF" or "MIKE & MOLLY". But I must admit that I was impressed by her portrayal of the feisty pawnshop Cassie and the chemistry she generated with Galifianakis' Alan Garner.
Despite the tacky misstep that ended "THE HANGOVER, PART III" and its not-so-sharp humor, I must admit that I liked it very much. I certainly found it more bearable to watch than the problematic 2011 movie. More importantly, "THE HANGOVER, PART III" proved to have a more original story, thanks to Todd Phillips and Craig Mazin's screenplay. And thanks to Phillips' direction and a first-rate cast, "THE HANGOVER, PART III" proved to be more entertaining than I had assumed it would be.
Monday, July 29, 2013
"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I" (1985) - EPISODE FOUR "1854-1856" Commentary
If I had to pick one or two episodes from 1985's "NORTH AND SOUTH" that I would view as personal favorites, one of my choices would be Episode Four. This episode provided a series of sucker punches to the audience that provided the miniseries' narrative with a strong forward drive.
The end of Episode Three saw the Hazard family leave their home in Lehigh Station, Pennsylvania in the summer of 1854 for a visit to the Main's plantation in South Carolina's low country. Episode Four picked up a week or two later with the Hazards attending a ball held by the Mains at Mont Royal, the latter's plantation. Everything seems to be all right in the world for the two families. Both Billy Hazard and Charles Main are on furlough following two years at West Point. And even Virgilia Hazard seemed to be behaving cordially toward her hosts and their neighbors. And then . . . everything goes to pot. On the very night of the ball, Virgilia meets Grady, the slave of neighbor James Huntoon. Ashton Main, still angry at Billy for rejecting her sexual offer two years ago, makes a beeline for sister Brett's current beau Forbes LaMotte, Madeline LaMotte's nephew-in-law and the two engage in a sexual tryst inside the plantation's barn. Unfortunately for Ashton, Billy walks in on her and Forbes and he swings his attention to Brett. The Hazard family's visit ends when Virgilia becomes romantically involved with Grady before she aids his escape from slavery and South Carolina. Two weeks after the Hazards' departure, Madeline discovers from her dying father that her dead mother was one-fourth black, making her one-eighth black.
The second half of Episode Four features Billy and Charles' graduation from West Point in June 1856. George and Orry reconcile after the debacle following Grady's escape two years earlier. Both discuss Billy's marriage proposal to Brett. However, Orry is reluctant to give his approval, due to the couple's regional differences. Billy and Brett's continuing romance leads a jealous Ashton to sleep with some of Billy's Northern-born friends at the cadet. Three months later, Madeline informs Orry about her father's revelation during one of their trysts at Salvation Chapel. Orry suggests they leave South Carolina together, before her husband Justin LaMotte learns about her family secret. Unfortunately, Ashton discovers she has become pregnant, due to her sexual trysts at West Point. She seeks Madeline's help to abort the unborn child. Madeline leads her to a free woman named Aunt Belle Nin to act as an abort Ashton's pregnancy. Unfortunately for Madeline, she had lied to Justin about her whereabouts. And upon her return to Resolute - the LaMotte plantation - she learns that Justin had exposed her lie about meeting a friend at a Charleston hotel for lunch. Angry over her lie and unwillingness to tell the truth about her whereabouts, Justin locks Madeline in one of the manor's bedrooms, allowing her to sustain on bread and water for several days. Madeline's free born servant, Maum Sally, tries to free her; but Justin prevents the escape attempt and kills the older woman with a punch to the face.
Wow! Not only did a great deal occurred in Episode Four, but important factors in the narrative that drove the story forward. However, before I wax lyrical over this episode, I must point out some of the flaws. One, I found it a little ridiculous that Billy and Charles wore their West Point cadet uniforms during most of their furlough in the episode's first half. Two, West Point was not in the habit of hosting balls on its campus following a graduation. Following the graduation ceremony, it was traditional for graduates to travel to New York City for a celebration luncheon at an elite hotel during the 19th century. And they would NOT be wearing their cadet uniforms long after the ceremony. Three, Grady told Virgilia that he had taught himself how to read. How? How does one achieve that without anyone else acting as tutor?
My biggest problem with Episode Four centered on Ashton's trysts with several West Point graduates during the night of the Academy's ball. I found the entire sequence rather unpleasant and sexist. Let me get something straight. Although I found Terri Garber's portrayal of Ashton Main very entertaining and well-done, I believe that Ashton is a repellent woman. But what I found even more repellent is author John Jakes' idea of what constitutes a villainous woman. Ashton, like a good number of his villains both female and male, tend to possess some kind of sexual perversion. In Ashton's case, she is portrayed as sexually promiscuous. And it is this promiscuity that is allegedly a hallmark of her villainy. Episode One introduced George Hazard arriving at a New York train station in the company of two prostitutes, with whom he previously had sex. The episode makes it clear we are to view George as a young, cheerful womanizer for us to admire. Episode Four featured Ashton having pre-marital sex with Forbes LaMotte and two years later, with a handful of West Point graduates. The episode makes it clear we are to view her as a sexual pervert and morally bankrupt. For me, Ashton's moral bankruptcy is stemmed from her racism and other elitist views, her selfishness and vindictive nature. Unless she had used her sexuality to engage in rape or some other violent behavior, I refuse to view Ashton's sexuality as something evil.
Despite my disgust at the portrayal of Ashton's sexuality and other flaws found inEpisode Four, I still enjoyed it very much. Once again, director Richard T. Heffron displayed his talent for big crowd scenes. This particular episode featured the dazzling Mont Royal ball sequence. Not only did Heffron and Larner did an excellent job with a carefully choreographed dance number accompanied by the tune, "Wait For the Wagon", they managed to capture the detailed little dramas that filled the sequence - including Virgilia's first meeting with Grady and the beginning of Ashton's trysts with Forbes LaMotte. The other major sequence featured in Episode Four also include Billy and Charles' graduation from West Point. George and Orry's West Point graduation inEpisode Two merely featured a few graduates receiving diplomas and the friends congratulating their fellow classmates. Audiences get to see their younger kinsmen march in an elaborate parade for the Academy's guests. The screenplay and Heffron's direction also explored minor dramas that included George and Orry's discussion about Billy and Brett at Benny Haven's tavern and Ashton's encounters with her cousin's fellow Academy graduates.
But the episode featured some other delicious dramatic moments. The best include the beginning of Virgilia and Grady's romantic relationship inside a deserted barn, during a hurricane. This scene not only benefited from Heffron's direction, but also some outstanding performances from Kirstie Alley and Georg Stanford Brown, who created a sizzling screen chemistry together. Another outstanding dramatic scene turned out to be the breakfast scene at Mont Royal during which the Hazards and Mains learn about Grady's escape and Virgilia's participation in it. Heffron's direction, along with excellent performances from Terri Garber, Jim Metzler (who was a bit hammy at times), John Stockwell, James Read and Patrick Swayze infused a great deal of delicious tension into this scene. But the stand-out performance came from Alley, who did a great job of expressing Virgilia's lack of remorse over Grady's escape and highly-charged words about the country's future with slavery. The actress and Brown also shined in a well-acted scene that featured a visit from abolitionist William Still to Grady and Virgilia's Philadelphia slum home. The scene also included a first-rate performance from Ron O'Neal as the famous abolitionist.
My article on Episode Three had commented on Garber and Genie Francis' portrayals of the Main sisters, Ashton and Brett. However, the actresses really knocked it out of the ballpark in a conversation scene between the two sisters during the West Point graduation parade sequence. Another excellent scene featured fine performances from the two leads - Swayze and Read - as George and Orry discuss the possibilities and drawbacks of a marriage between Billy and Brett. However, the episode's final outstanding scene displayed the brutalities of spousal abuse in the LaMotte marriage. Lesley-Anne Down, David Carradine and Olivia Cole gave superb performances during the ugly circumstances that followed Madeline's assistance in Ashton's abortion.
Cinematographer Stevan Larner and film editors Michael Eliot and Scott C. Eyler did excellent jobs in capturing the superficial glitter and glamour of the Mont Royal ball. Larner's photography perfectly captured the dark squalor of Virgilia and Grady's Philadelphia's hovel. And once again, he worked perfectly with Heffron, Eliot and Eyler in re-creating the military color of Billy and Charles' West Point graduation. Once again, Vicki Sánchez's costumes impressed me. Mind you, I was not that impressed by the costumes worn by Alley, Down and Wendy Kilbourne during the Mont Royal ball sequence. Their costumes looked more Hollywood than anything close to mid-19th century gowns. And the jewelry that gowns that Genie Francis and Terri Garber wore in that sequence, along with some other costumes:
Granted, Episode Four featured some flaws in the narrative regarding the West Point graduation sequence and a few other matters. But the episode not only featured some outstanding performances, but also plot lines that really drove it forward. Not surprising, it is one of my favorite episodes in the 1985 miniseries.
Saturday, July 27, 2013
Below are images from "THE LONE RANGER", the new adaptation of the 1933 radio show and the 1949-1957 television series. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Gore Verbinski, the movie stars Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer:
"THE LONE RANGER" (2013) Photo Gallery
Thursday, July 25, 2013
"MAN OF STEEL" (2013) Review
When I first learned that Warner Brothers Studios and D.C. Comics planned to release another Superman movie, I did not greet the news with any enthusiasm. In fact, my first reaction was sheer frustration. The last D.C. Comics movie I wanted to see was another Superman movie.
There were so many reasons for my negative reaction to the news of a new Superman movie. The last one I saw was 2006's "SUPERMAN RETURNS", which had been directed by Bryan Singer. There had also been two television series about the Man of Steel in the past twenty (20) years - "LOIS AND CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN" (1993-1997) and "SMALLVILLE" (2001-2011). The film subsidiary for Marvel Comics have shown a willingness to release movies featuring a vast array of their comic book characters. On the other hand, D.C. Comics seems to be stuck on either Superman or Batman for television and movie material. There have been minor exceptions to the rule - including the Oliver Queen/Green Arrow character that became a regular on "SMALLVILLE"; the 2011 film, "THE GREEN LANTERN"; and the recent WB television series, "ARROW" (the Green Arrow again). Wonder Woman has not been a subject of a movie or television series in her own right since the Lynda Carter series from the 1970s. An unsuccessful television series about the Flash failed to last one season. And Aquaman merely served as a guest character on"SMALLVILLE" for a few episodes.
I had one other reservation regarding the announcement of a new Superman movie. The producers had chosen Zack Synder to direct the film. And I have never been a fan of his past films, at least the ones I have seen - namely the very successful "300", the critically acclaimed "THE WATCHMEN" and "SUCKER PUNCH". When I learned he had been selected to direct the new Superman film, "MAN OF STEEL", my enthusiasm sunk even further. However, I saw the movie's new trailer last spring and my opposition to the movie began to wane. What can I say? It impressed me. So, I decided to open my mind and give "MAN OF STEEL" a chance.
Thanks to David S. Goyer's screenplay and the story created by him and Christopher Nolan, "MAN OF STEEL" follows the origins of Superman. Well . . . somewhat. The movie begins on the planet of Krypton, where scientist Jor-El assists his wife in the birth of their newborn son, Kal-El. Due to years of exploiting the planet's natural resources by the planet's inhabitants, the planet has an unstable core and faces imminent destruction. Jor-El and Lara plans to send their son to Earth to ensure his survival. They also infuse his cells with a genetic codex of the entire Kryptonian race, something that the planet's military commander, General Zod desires. Zod and his followers commit a military coup. And the general murders Jor-El, after learning what the latter did with the genetic codex. But Zod and his followers are immediately captured and banished to the Phantom Zone. When Krypton finally self-destructs, the explosion frees Zod and his people; setting them on a search for young Kal-El and the genetic codex at other worlds colonized by Kryptonians.
Kal-El eventually lands on Earth and in the middle of the Kansas countryside. A farmer and his wife - Jonathan and Martha Kent - adopts and raises him, renaming him Clark Kent. However, Clark's Kryptonian physiology gives him super abilities on Earth, which raises a lot of social problems for him. Jonathan eventually reveals to Clark that he came from another planet and advises not to use his abilities in public. Following Jonathan's death, a bereaved Clark spends several years roaming the country and working at odd jobs, while he deals with his grief and save people in secret. He eventually infiltrates a scientific discovery of a Kryptonian scout spaceship in the Arctic, which had been discovered by the military. Also there is a reporter from the Daily Planet named Lois Lane. Clark, who is unaware of being followed by Lois, enters the alien ship. It allows him to communicate with the preserved consciousness of Jor-El in the form of a hologram. Jor-El reveals Clark's origins and the extinction of his race, and tells Clark that he was sent to Earth to bring hope to mankind. Meanwhile, General Zod and his crew pick up a Kryptonian distress signal sent from the ship Clark had discovered on Earth. Zod arrives and demands the humans surrender Kal-El, whom he believes has the codex, or else Earth will be destroyed.
So . . . what did I not like about "MAN OF STEEL"? For one, I disliked the shaky cam photography used by Amir Mokri. I disliked its use by Paul Greengrass in some of his movies. I disliked its use in "QUANTUM OF SOLACE". And I certainly did not like its use in this film. It made the final confrontations between Superman and the Kryptonians more confusing. Then again, David Brenner's editing certainly did not help - not in this scene or in the burning oil rig sequence in the movie's first half hour. I have been a fan of Hans Zimmer for years. But I found his score for this movie rather heavy-handed, especially his use of horns. Speaking of Superman and the Kryptonians' final confrontations - I thought it was a bit over-the-top in regard to the destruction inflicted upon Metropolis. It reminded me of final action sequence in "IRON MAN 3", which I also did not care for.
Fortunately, there was a great deal more about "MAN OF STEEL" that I liked. And I find this amazing, considering my past opinion of director Zack Synder. David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan wrote a first-rate origin story for Superman. I noticed that they utilized the same or a similar story structure that they had used in the Dark Knight Trilogy. Instead of allowing Superman to face his most famous adversary in the first film, Goyer and Nolan utilized Superman's Kryptonian origins to play a major role in the film's story. Instead of Lex Luthor, Superman's main nemesis in "MAN OF STEEL" proved to be General Zod. Some fans of the franchise were annoyed by this. I was not. Goyer and Nolan also did a first-rate job in exploring Clark Kent/Superman's emotional growth, the loneliness he had endured during his childhood in flashbacks and those years he wandered before discovering the Kryptonian ship in the Artic, and his wariness toward the human race. I especially do not recall any previous Superman story or television series exploring the latter. How very original of Goyer and Nolan. Some fans have complained about the different twists that Goyer, Nolan and director Zack Synder made to the Superman mythos - especially in his relationship with reporter Lois Lane. I do not understand the complaints, considering the number of twists and changes that have been made to the Superman mythos in movies and especially television during the past twenty years. And honestly? The twist to Clark/Superman's relationship with Lois made the story fresher.
Although I did not particularly care for the over-the-top destruction featured in "MAN OF STEEL", I must admit that the special effects featured in that last scene impressed me very much. I was also impressed by their work in the sequence that featured Superman's fight against Faora-Ul and the other Kryptonian in Smallville. But the one sequence that featured some great special effects happened to be the one on Krypton. I found the effects very beautiful. In fact, there were other aspects of that sequence that really impressed me - namely Alex McDowell's production designs, Anne Kuljian's set decorations, Kim Sinclair and Chris Farmer's art direction and especially James Acheson and Michael Wilkinson's costume designs. Some have complained by the lack of red shorts for Superman's costume. But I did not miss them. More importantly, I liked how Sinclair and Farmer linked Superman's costume with those worn by many of the Kryptonians.
When I first heard that Henry Cavill had been hired to portray Clark Kent/Superman, I must admit that I was somewhat taken aback. Mind you, the idea of a British actor portraying an American comic book character was nothing new, thanks to Christian Bale's portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman and the Anglo-American Andrew Garfield's recent portrayal of Spider-Man. I only felt uncertain if Cavill could portray a Midwesterner with the proper accent. Okay, I am not an expert in Midwestern accents. But Cavill handled the American very well. More importantly, he gave a superb performance as the quiet, yet emotional Clark Kent who had spent a good number of years wallowing in loneliness. I was surprised that Amy Adams had signed on to portray Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane. I did not expect her to appear in a comic book hero movie. But I must admit that I really enjoyed her performance, especially since her Lois proved to be a lot less blind about Superman's secret identity and more willing to track down the truth. Michael Shannon effectively utilized that same intensity that provided for his Nelson Van Alden role in HBO's "BOARDWALK EMPIRE" in his performance as the single-minded Kryptonian General Zod.
Antje Traue proved to be even more scary than Shannon as Zod's second-in-command, the less verbal Faora-Ul. Laurence Fishburne gave an intense performance as Perry White, the no-nonsense editor of the Daily Planet. Russell Crowe's Jor-El not only proved to be charismatic, but something of a bad ass. Ayelet Zurer provided a great deal of pathos and emotion in her performance as Superman's mother, Lara Lor-Van. Diane Lane proved to be the movie's emotional rock in her down-to-earth performance as Martha Kent, Superman's adopted mother. And Kevin Costner's portrayal of Jonathan Kent proved to be just as charismatic as Crowe's Jor-El and as emotional as Zurer's Lara. The movie also featured some solid performances from the likes of Richard Schiff, Michael Kelly and Christopher Meloni. I was really impressed with Harry Lennix's performance as the commanding, yet paranoid General Swanwick.
"MAN OF STEEL" had a few problems. But I believe that the movie possessed a great deal more virtues, including a first-rate story created by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan and a superb cast led by a talented Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman. But I was very surprised by Zack Synder's direction, especially since he managed to curtail some of his less-than-pleasant excesses in past films and at the same time effectively helm a first-rate movie. For the first time, I found myself being more than pleased by a movie directed by Synder.
Monday, July 22, 2013
Below are images from the 1979 adaptation of Henry James' 1878 short story, "The Europeans: A Sketch". Produced by Ishmail Merchant and directed by James Ivory, the movie starred Lee Remick, Robin Ellis, Lisa Eichhorn and Tim Woodward:
"THE EUROPEANS" (1979) Photo Gallery