Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Below are images from Season One of "HOUSE OF CARDS", Netflix's television remake of the 1990-1995 BBC miniseries trilogy that was based upon Michael Dobbs' 1989 novel. Produced and developed by Beau Willimon, the series stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright:
"HOUSE OF CARDS" SEASON ONE (2013) Photo Gallery
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
"KICK ASS 2" (2013) Review
The 2010 superhero action-comedy movie, "KICK ASS" barely profited at the box office, three years ago. Although it was well received by the critics, it barely made a dent into public opinion, until it was eventually released on DVD and became a cult favorite.
Due to the increasing popularity of "KICK ASS" over the next two to three years, Universal Pictures decided to finance a sequel. The 2010 film was based upon the 2008-2010 comic book series created by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. The pair created two sequels to their creation - "Kick Ass 2" and "Hit Girl", which this new movie sequel is based upon.
Following his retirement from being costume hero Kick Ass, Dave Lizewski discovers that life of a normal citizen does not suit him. He seeks Mindy Macready aka Hit Girl to train him in becoming a more proper hero. Because Mindy has promised her guardian Marcus Williams not to engage in vigilante activities, she secretly trains Dave in hand-to-hand combat. Meanwhile, the now fatherless Chris D'Amico accidentally kills his mother with a tanning bed, when they argue over her apathy towards his father's death. Now in control of his family's money, Chris decides to re-invent himself as a super villain known as "The Motherfucker", and swears to get revenge on Kick-Ass for the death of his mobster father, Frank D'Amico. Dave's training with Mindy ends when Marcus discovers that she has been leaving the house as Hit Girl and hanging around with Dave. With Mindy no longer at his side, Dave joins a band of costume vigilantes called "Justice Forever", led by a former Mob henchman named Sal Bertolinni aka Colonel Stars and Stripes. And Chris recruits his own band of followers, with the help of one of his father's former henchmen named Javier.
Writer-director Matthew Vaughn, who wrote and directed the 2010 film, did not return as one of the screenwriters and director for "KICK ASS 2". Instead, he, along with Brad Pitt, served as one of the movie's producers. Jeff Wadlow was chosen to write the screenplay and direct "KICK ASS 2". Mind you, I believe he did a pretty good job. But a part of me ended up longing that Vaughn had co-written and directed the film. Like many sequels,"KICK ASS 2" failed to be better or just as good as the original film. But it was not the disaster that some people claimed it was.
If I have to be brutally honest, Wadlow lacked Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman's wicked and slightly off-kilter sense of humor. Even worse, Wadlow borrowed one of Vaughn and Goldman's jokes from the first movie- involving bullets and flak jackets - that simply came off as tired, instead of funny and fresh. But "KICK ASS 2" did include some funny moments. My favorites included Dave's first solo fight against a group of thugs, Javier's constant chiding of Chris' habit of giving some of his henchmen politically incorrect names, and Dave's first meetings with fellow costume vigilantes Doctor Gravity and Colonel Stars and Stripes and other members of "Justice Forever". I must admit that I found Mindy's attempt to be a "normal" girl in order to placate Marcus' anxieties rather amusing, but not exactly a highlight of the movie. But There is one particular scene I DID NOT find funny at all - namely Chris' attempted rape of Miranda Swedlow aka Night-Bitch. Perhaps I should be grateful that Wadlow did not repeat Millar and Romita's comic book sequence featuring the gang rape of Dave's old girlfriend, Katie Deauxma. But I did not appreciate the humor featured in Chris' failed rape attempt . . . or the fact that this scene segued into Miranda suffering a major beating by one of his minions.
Even before Chris and his followers appeared at Miranda's home, the movie had already taken a darker turn with the bad guys' brutal murder of Colonel Stars and Stripes. And during Miranda's beating, another one of Chris' minions, a muscular ex-KGB agent and convict named Mother Russia, murdered ten cops that appeared on the scene. This led to a crackdown on all costumed vigilantes by the police. And when Dave's father confessed to being Kick Ass, the movie became even darker. Ironically, I found this dark plot turn beneficial to the movie. I believe it improved the movie - story wise. In fact, Dave's reaction to his father's death proved to be more realistic and satisfying than his reaction to his mother's death in "KICK ASS".
Although "KICK ASS 2" featured some pretty damn good performances, there were a few that stood out for me. One of them came from Aaron Johnson-Taylor, whom I believe gave an excellent performance as Dave Lizewski. Mind you, I had not been impressed by his performance in "ANNA KARENNIA". I suspect that the critics' negative reaction to that performance had spilled over to his performance in this movie. And I do not believe he deserved such unfair criticism. Chloë Grace Moretz was marvelous, as always, as the butt-kicking Mindy Macready aka Hit Girl. Despite my lukewarm reaction to her "MEAN GIRLS" story arc, I thought she conveyed a good deal of complexity and vulnerability in her portrayal of Mindy's attempts to become popular and in the latter's complicated relationship with godfather Marcus Williams.
Speaking of the latter, I really enjoyed Morris Chestnut's performance as Mindy's well-meaning godfather. Thanks to his portrayal, one could tell that Marcus meant well and had a great deal of concern toward his goddaughter. But at the same time, anyone could see that his feelings were ruled by fear. I suspect that many people had expected Jim Carrey's portrayal of Colonel Stars and Stripes to be a copycat of Nicholas Cage's performance as Mindy's late father, Damon Macready aka Big Daddy. Fortunately, Carrey's character proved to be a different kettle of fish, a charismatic leader who seemed to have better social skills and an intolerance for profanity. And the actor-comedian did a hell of a great job with the role. Christopher Mintz-Plasse's continuing portrayal of Chris D'Amico proved to be a great surprise in this movie. Mind you, I had been very impressed by his comic timing in"KICK ASS". I read somewhere that he had been uneasy over whether he could transform Chris into a darker character. Well, you know what? Not only did Mintz-Plasse managed to explore Chris' darker traits, his character proved to be just as scary as Frank D'Amico in the first film. More importantly, the actor maintained Chris' goofier persona at the same time.
"KICK ASS 2" also featured some supporting performances that I found impressive. Donald Faison struck me as exceptionally funny as the enthusiastic Doctor Gravity. John Leguizamo gave a warm and funny performance as Frank D'Amico's former henchman and Chris' present bodyguard, Javier. Ukrainian body-builder Olga Kurkulina proved to be surprisingly and effectively scary as Chris' top henchman, Mother Russia. Garrett M. Brown had some wonderful and poignant moments with Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the very concerned Mr. Lizewski. And Lindsay Booth proved to be equally poignant as Miranda Swedlow aka Night Bitch, a victim of Chris D'Amico's vengeance, who rallied at the end to support Dave and Mindy in the final showdown.
One would think I really loved "KICK ASS 2", considering the amount of positive things I had to say about it. I did not love it or embraced it as I did the first film. It had some flaws I could not swallow, especially the attempted rape scene. But I feel that it was good enough for me to enjoy, thanks to Jeff Wadlow's writing and direction, along with some fine performances from a cast led by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.
Monday, October 28, 2013
"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I" (1985) - EPISODE SIX "1860-1861" Commentary
We finally come to the last episode of the 1985 miniseries, "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I". And it is a doozy. This is the episode in which the Hazard and Main families unknowingly say good-bye to the past and present before their lives are turned upside-down by the American Civil War.
Episode Six opens on Presidential Election Day (November 6, 1860), two days after Lieutenant Billy Hazard's arrival in Charleston, South Carolina; at the end of Episode Five. An excited Brett Main, who had been staying at her sister's home since her quarrel with their brother Orry at the family's plantation, Mont Royal anticipates meeting Billy. Brett's elation over her reunion with her fiancé during a luncheon is dimmed by his anger over Orry's reluctance to approve their marriage, and a violent encounter with a group of pro-secession thugs hired by Ashton to kill Billy. Following Abraham Lincoln's election as the new president, the state of South Carolina begin its preparations to secede from the United States. Before secession can be achieved, George Hazard visits Orry at Mont Royal to mend their estrangement and convince the other man to approve Billy and Brett's upcoming marriage. The two men go to Charleston to inform the engaged couple. Unfortunately, Billy receives orders to report to Fort Moultrie, which turns out to be a protracted stay following South Carolina's secession from the Union. Following Texas' secession a month later, Charles Main resigns from the U.S. Army and heads back home to South Carolina.
Less than two months later, Billy receives orders from his commander, Major Robert Anderson to report to the War Department in Washington D.C. and deliver dispatches. He uses the opportunity to marry Brett at Mont Royal. The wedding finally allows Ashton to plot her revenge against Billy, using Forbes LaMotte's help. Fortunately for Billy, Madeline LaMotte overhears Forbes, his Uncle Justin and friend Preston Smith going over Ashton's plot. With great difficulty and pain from Justin, Madeline escapes from Resolute and heads for Mont Royal to warn the Mains. Billy and Brett are ambushed by Forbes and Preston on their way to the rail stop. Just as Billy and Forbes engage in a duel that would have left the former with a useless pistol, Charles arrives in time to assist his friend. The conflict ends with Forbes' death at Billy's hand, Justin bereft of his nephew and wife, and Ashton banished from Mont Royal by Orry. In April 1861, Orry mortgages Mont Royal to return money that George had invested in their sawmill. During his journey north, Major Anderson had been forced to surrender his command at Fort Sumter. With small difficulty, Orry arrives at Lehigh Station, where he meets George and Constance's new daughter. Also, a vengeful Virgilia incites a mob to attack the Hazard home and lynch Orry. Fortunately, George manages to intimidate his neighbors into calling off the attack. Virgilia leaves Belvedere for the last time with some loot in hand. And George and Orry bid each good-bye before the latter departs Lehigh Station for his journey back to South Carolina.
I must say that "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I" certainly ended with a bang. And a very satisfied one. There were some problems. I found Terri Garber's performance in a scene that featured Ashton's rant against Brett and Billy rather hammy. She gave a great performance throughout most of the miniseries. But this one scene was probably her weakest moment. I was very curious over Elkhannah Bent's appearance in Washington D.C. on the day of President Lincoln's inauguration. He was still wearing a U.S. Army uniform, despite the fact that his home state of Georgia had already seceded two months earlier. In fact, I found it surprising that Charles Main did not resign from the Army, until two months after South Carolina's secession. The miniseries continued its irritating habit of expressing an erroneous length of time for the period Madeline La Motte was being drugged by her husband. But the episode's real problem proved to be the character of Forbes LaMotte, nephew of Justin LaMotte.
I had no problems with actor William Ostrander's portrayal of Forbes. He gave a subtle and skillful performance. This was especially apparent in one scene in which Forbes, Justin and Preston discussed Ashton's plan to have Billy murdered. David Carradine was fine, despite a few hammy moments. On the other hand, David Weaver's portrayal of Preston Smith struck me as rather stagey . . . over-the-top. Only Ostrander managed to project any villainy with real subtlety. While watching Episode Six, I found myself wondering why Forbes had even bothered to help Ashton kill Billy. Why? I understood why in Jakes' novel. The literary Forbes was in love with Brett. He did not take her rejection of him no better than Ashton took Billy's rejection. I never got the impression that Forbes was in love with either Brett or Ashton in the miniseries. Forbes seemed to regard Brett's rejection as a minor annoyance. And his feelings toward Ashton seemed to be based on pure lust and amusement. So why did he agree to murder Billy on Ashton's behalf? The screenwriters' portrayal of Forbes is probably one of the miniseries' major failures.
However, I still regard Episode Six as one of the miniseries' better chapters. Once again, Richard T. Heffron proved his talent for directing crowd scenes. I was especially how he handled the growing frenzy and chaos of "secession fever" that permeated Charleston in two scenes - namely Billy and Brett's encounter with street thugs and the night Charleston announced South Carolina's secession from the Union. Ironically, the latter sequence began in Ashton's dining room, where Brett, Orry and George heard the bells of St. Michael's Churchannounced the secession. This latter sequence not only benefited from Heffron's depiction of the celebration in the streets, but also the Mains and George's somber reaction to the news. Other first-rate crowd scenes were in the sequence featuring Orry's northbound journey to Lehigh Station. They include the announcement of Major Anderson's surrender of Fort Sumter on a train headed for Philadelphia, Orry's encounter with fervent Unionists in that city, and his and George's encounter with a lynch mob instigated by Virgilia. The miniseries also featured one exceptional action sequence - namely Ashton and Forbes' attempt to murder Billy. From the moment Ashton learned of Billy and Brett's departure from Mont Royal to Forbes' death at the hands of Billy, this sequence crackled with energy, excellent pacing and suspension; thanks to Heffron's direction and a well-written score by Bill Conti. The episode also benefited from Stevan Larner's sweeping photography, especially in the secession sequences and the one featuring the murder attempt on Billy. In fact Larner earned a well-deserved Emmy nomination for his work in this episode. Vicki Sánchez offered some lovely costume designs for this episode. I was veryenamored of two particular designs worn by Terri Garber and Wendy Kilbourne:
But this day dress worn by Genie Francis really appealed to me:
Like the miniseries' other episodes, the dramatic scenes for Episode Six proved to be its pride and joy. Both James Read and Patrick Swayze provided some of their best moments in two scenes - one that featured George Hazard's visit to South Carolina in the episode's first half, and the other that featured Orry Main's perilous journey to Pennsylvania. John Stockwell had his best moment as Billy Hazard in a scene that featured Billy's anger over Orry's refusal to approve Brett's marriage to him. He had ample support from Genie Francis. I also enjoyed Jonathan Frakes and Wendy Fulton's performances in a scene in which Stanley and Isabel Hazard discussed their plans to take over Hazard Iron during George's absence during the war. It is a pity that Fulton did not reprise her role as Isobel. Both Mary Crosby and Deborah Rush gave solid performances, but Fulton seemed to personify the literary character. Hal Holbrook made his first appearance as President Abraham Lincoln in a fine and subtle performance - a skill that he will maintain in "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II". However, the best dramatic scene featured Constance Hazard's attempt to convince her sister-in-law Virgilia to stay with the family in Lehigh Station, following the debacle with the lynch mob. Both Wendy Kilbourne and Kirstie Alley performed the hell out of that scene.
Despite certain flaws I had detected in Episode Six, I must admit that I really enjoyed it. The episode not only featured some exciting historical moments and a first-rate action sequences, but also some excellent dramatic scenes that brought out the best in producer David L. Wolper, director Richard T. Heffron and the cast. Episode Six proved to be the first example of how all three miniseries seemed to end on a positive note, production wise."NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I" might be flawed, it is still a joy to watch and one of my favorite miniseries of all time.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Below are images from the new thriller called "THE FIFTH ESTATE". Based partly on Daniel Domscheit-Berg's 2011 book, "Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World's Most Dangerous Website", as well as David Leigh and Luke Harding's 2011 book, "WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy"; and directed by Bill Condon, the movie starred Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl:
"THE FIFTH ESTATE" (2013) Photo Gallery