Friday, October 30, 2015
"FANTASTIC FOUR" (2015) Review
Rebooting a superhero movie franchise is nothing new in Hollywood. Warner Brothers has released two different series featuring the D.C. Comics character, Batman. That particular studio has also released one series of films about Superman, and has made two attempts to reboot a new series - first in 2006 and recently, in 2013. As far as I know, Marvel has only done this twice. Marvel Studios, along with Columbia Pictures, have released two series featuring the Spider-Man character and is the process of releasing a third series. And recently, Twentieth-Century Fox has released its second film series featuring the characters, the Fantastic Four.
This new version of "FANTASTIC FOUR", which was directed by Josh Trank, began with the first meeting of two friends, Reed Richards and Ben Grimm, as young teenagers. Reed managed to recruit Ben into his new project - the creation of, the director of a government-sponsored research institute for young prodigies called the Baxter Foundation. Reed is recruited to jaid Storm's children, scientist Sue Storm (who is adopted) and the somewhat reckless engineering prodigy Johnny Storm, into completing a "Quantum Gate", which was originally designed by Storm's wayward former protégé, Victor von Doom. Professor Storm managed to lure Victor back to the project, due to the latter's unrequited feelings for Sue.
The "Quantum Gate" project proves to be a success. But the Storms, Reed and Victor are disappointed to learn that the Foundation's government supervisor, Dr. Harvey Allen, plans to send a group from NASA to teleport to a parallel dimension known as "Planet Zero". In a defiant movie, Reed, Johnny and Victor decide to test the "Quantum Gate" first. Reed also invites Ben, whom he had not seen in a while, to join them. The quartet makes it to Planet Zero successfully. But when Victor attempts to touch the planet's ground, it starts to erupt, causing the four men to return to the teleporting shuttle, just as Sue begins to bring them back to Earth. Unfortunately, Victor is unable to return to the surface. And when the teleporter explodes upon the other three's return, it alters Reed, Johnny, Ben and Sue on a molecular level, giving them super-human abilities. The new quartet find themselves struggling with their new physical state and at the same time, in conflict with Dr. Allen and the government, who wants to exploit their abilities for military purposes.
I am going to put my cards on the table. "FANTASTIC FOUR" is not a great film. Then again, I have noticed over the years that most movies released in the month of August are usually not that hot . . . with some exceptions. I feel that this new"FANTASTIC FOUR" reboot proved to be no better or worse than the 2005 film . . . but for different reasons. This new film could have better. I cannot deny this. But it was sabotaged by certain factors.
One; the screenplay written by Trank, Jeremy Slater and Simon Kinberg made the mistake of allowing the five major characters to be younger than usual - with the exception of the Johnny Storm character, who was always younger than his colleagues. I could have accepted this change in age. But it had a negative effect on one of the characters - namely Ben Grimes aka the Thing. Due to his lack of scientific skills and the fact that space flight was not involved, Ben was not really needed in this story. Trank and the other screenwriters could have given him scientific skills, as they did with the Johnny Storm aka Human Torch character. But for some reason, he was simply an old school friend of Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic, This made his trip to "Planet Zero" with Reed, Johnny and Victor seem like a flimsy afterthought. Another character that suffered from the screenwriters' changes was Victor von Doom. Instead of the brilliant inventor/leader from Latveria, Victor is a brilliant anti-social computer programmer from the same country, who has lived in the United States since a young child. I had no problem with these changes, but I did have problems with how the screenwriters handled his character in the movie's second half. He was missing from "FANTASTIC FOUR" for quite a while, between the incident on "Planet Zero" and his return to Earth. And upon his return, the narrative rushed through Victor's encounters with the U.S. government and Franklin Storm, before he made his attempt to destroy Earth to keep "Planet Zero" safe from humanity.
The screenwriters' handling of Victor von Doom in the movie's last half hour illuminated one last problem with the film. Not only was Victor's character arc rushed in the end, so was the entire movie. And I found this rather unsatisfying. Despite my hangups over the Ben Grimes character, I had no problems with most of the film's narrative. But once the NASA men brought Victor back to Earth, it seemed as if Trank and the screenwriters were hellbent upon completing the film as quickly as possible. Or perhaps I should blame the movie's producers or the 20th Century Fox bigwigs. I learned that right before its release, someone had ordered three action sequences cut from the film. Why they did it . . . I do not have the foggiest idea. Did it improved the film? Again, I do not know. But I cannot help but wonder if those cut scenes would have prevented the film from rushing to its conclusion.
Does this mean I regard "FANTASTIC FOUR" as the worst movie from the summer of 2015? No. No, I do not. The movie possessed virtues that made it more than watchable for me. Unlike the 2005 movie, this latest reboot took its time in setting up both the characters and the circumstances that led to the creation of the Fantastic Four. Unlike today's film critics and fans, I do not believe in rushing the narrative in order to wallow in the action scenes. Action scenes should not be the backbone of a film. Thankfully, Trank and the other screenwriters seemed to fill the same. They took their time in setting up the characters' meeting via Reed Richards' point-of-view. They took their time in portraying the creation of the "Quantum Gate", allowing the narrative to strengthen the characters' interactions - especially the relationship between Reed and Sue Storm. The screenwriters also took their time in portraying the characters' difficulties with adjusting to their powers and their dealings with the U.S. military. Only in the last half hour, did they screw up.
Another improvement over the earlier film proved to be the portrayal of Johnny Storm. The 2005 film more or less used Johnny as comic relief. And while I found his antics amusing, I also found them rather shallow and a little annoying at times. In this new film, Johnny is still a hot-headed action junkie. But thankfully, the screenwriters and actor Michael B. Jordan prevented him from being a shallow source of comedy. And with the addition of the Franklin Storm character, the movie allowed some angst-filled family moments between father, son and adopted daughter Sue. More importantly, the screenplay gave Johnny a plausible reason to be involved in the "Quantum Gate" and journey to "Planet Zero". In the original comics from the early 1960s, Johnny was a sixteen year-old who had accompanied his sister, Reed Richards and astronaut/pilot Ben Grimes on the space journey that eventually gave them powers. The 2005 movie portrayed Johnny as a pilot and former astronaut, which I found incredibly implausible. No space agency or private corporation would be dumb enough to hire or recruit a young pilot in his early 20s to co-pilot a journey to space. I find it also implausible that Johnny was a former astronaut in this film, in the first place. It seems ironic that a movie torn to pieces by critics and film goers alike, failed to realize that its portrayal of how Johnny had acquired his abilities seemed ten times more plausible than the original comics or the 2005 film.
One last aspect of "FANTASTIC FOUR" that struck me as very plausible proved to be the team's interactions with the U.S. government. Trank and the other screenwriters allowed the "Quantum Gate" project to be sponsored by the Feds, allowing the relationship between the government and the Fantastic Four, Professor Storm and Victor von Doom fraught with tensions - before and after the initial journey to "Planet Zero". While watching this film, I found myself wondering why this did not happen to the main characters in the original comics from the 1960s or in the 2005 film. I never understood why this tenuous relationship was never explored before this movie. Even if the "Quantum Gate" project had not been sponsored by the U.S. government, the latter would have eventually learned about it and the team's new abilities. Trank and the other writers seemed to realize this. No one else did - including Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and the screenwriters for the 2005 film.
If anyone had any complaints about the performances in the movie . . . well, I would be surprised. Personally, I thought"FANTASTIC FOUR" featured some very competent performances. Miles Teller did a stellar job of combining Reed Richards' nebbish personality, enthusiasm and energy. At the same time, Teller skillfully allowed his character to mature and learn to accept responsibility by the end of the film. Many Marvel fans raised a fuss over the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, due to him being African-American. Considering that Marvel has changed the ethnic background of a few characters in the past, I never understood the fuss. Not only that . . . Jordan gave an intense, yet skillful performance as the volatile Johnny, who learns to overcome his resentment toward his father's efforts to dictate his future. I have always considered the character of Sue Storm rather difficult for any actress to tackle, considering there is nothing theatrical about her. But Kate Mara did a very solid job of conveying Sue's quiet, yet no-nonsense persona. Jamie Bell really did not have much to do in the film's first half, due to his lack of presence. But once his character, Ben Grimes became the Thing, Bell did an excellent job of portraying the character's intense, yet quiet anger over what happened to him.
The last time I saw Toby Kebbell in a movie, he was chewing the scenery as John Wilkes Booth in the 2010 film, "THE CONSPIRATOR". Thankfully, he maintained full control of his portrayal of computer geek loner, Victor von Doom and instead, gave a surprisingly intense, yet subtle performance. "FANTASTIC FOUR" proved to be Tim Blake Nelson's second Marvel film in which he portrayed a scientist. But in this film, Nelson proved to be more interesting and complex as the insidious Dr. Harvey Allen, who used a fake jovial attitude to intimidate the Fantastic Four (or most of them) into cooperating with the government. But my favorite performance came from Reg E. Cathey, who portrayed Professor Franklin Storm. If one looked at Cathey's warm, emotional and forceful performance, his Professor Storm seemed to be the movie's heart and soul. More importantly, I walked away feeling that his Storm was the true creator of the Fantastic Four.
I am not going to pretend that "FANTASTIC FOUR" was a great film. Then again, neither was the 2005 movie. I had a few problems with the Ben Grimes and Victor von Doom characters. And I found the ending rushed. But the movie did featured some very skillful performances and a great one by Reg E. Cathey. And despite the flawed ending, I had no problems with most of the film's narrative and thought it featured some improvements on both the 2005 film and even the original 1961 comics. Because of this, I have great difficulty in accepting the prevailing view of it being the summer's worst film. In fact, I do not accept this view at all.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
TIMOTHY DALTON AND THE JAMES BOND FRANCHISE
I am going to start out saying that EON Productions have been lucky in choosing six actors who managed to bring their own sense of style to the role of James Bond . . . and I mean all of them. And all were smart enough to portray Bond in a way that suited them, instead of adhering to what the public or the producers wanted them to play Bond.
That said, I want to say a few things about Timothy Dalton. Even though I was a major fan of Roger Moore, I realized by the mid-80s that it was time for him to retire from the role. With great fondness, I said adieu and breathlessly anticipated Timothy Dalton's debut in "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS". And I was not disappointed. The 1987 movie easily became one of my all time favorite Bond films and I became a major fan of Dalton's. Although the drug angle in "LICENSE TO KILL" seemed a little too "MIAMI VICE" for my taste, I still recognized it as a good revenge story that allowed Dalton to take the Bond role to a grittier edge. So, when I heard that he would no longer be playing Bond in the early 90s, I had felt a little disappointed. I had really enjoyed his interpretation of the role and felt that one or two more movies starring him would not hurt. I just was not ready to give up on him as Bond.
In the past twenty-six years since "LICENSE TO KILL"'s release, I have come to appreciate Dalton's contribution to the Bond franchise even more. Whoever said that he was the right Bond at the wrong time was probably right. The man was ahead of his time . . . not just for the Bond franchise, but for many espionage films. But I feel that his impact upon the franchise has been a lot stronger than many Bond critics would admit. First of all, it seemed very obvious - at least to me - that Dalton' interpretation of Bond may have strongly influenced Daniel Craig's debut as Bond in the 2006 movie, "CASINO ROYALE". It is also possible that Dalton's performance may have influenced his immediate successor, Pierce Brosnan, as well. After all, it seemed apparent to me that Brosnan was not above utilizing Dalton's darker take on Bond, every now and then.
I also believe that Dalton may have been partially responsible for the influx of edgy, angst-filled spy or action/adventure characters that have emerged over the years. Characters portrayed by the likes of Matt Damon, Matthew Macfadyen, Kiefer Sutherland, Harrison Ford and possibly even Richard Chamberlain and Robert DeNiro. Some directors of action films after 1987 seemed quite willing to shoot their own interpretation of the Tangier hotel scene between Dalton and Maryam D'Abo in "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS". Similar scenes have appeared in "LICENSE TO KILL", between Dalton and Carey Lowell; Bruce Willis and Bonnie Bedalia in "DIE HARD"; Harrison Ford and Allison Doody in "INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE"; Brosnan and Izabella Scorupco in "GOLDENEYE"; Brosnan and Teri Hatcher in"TOMORROW NEVER DIES" and again, with Sophie Marceau in "THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH". Even Matt Damon and Franka Potente got into the game in both "THE BOURNE IDENTITY" and "THE BOURNE SUPREMACY". But no one did it better than Dalton and D'Abo, as far as I'm concerned.
I had read in another Bond forum that Dalton and another actor did not have much an impact upon the Bond franchise as Sean Connery and Roger Moore. Of course I had disagreed. As I had stated earlier, Dalton's impact on the franchise - while not immediate - proved to have a very far reaching impact upon the Bond franchise. And he may have also had an impact on how many action characters would be portrayed over the next decade or two.
Monday, October 26, 2015
Below are images from "KING SOLOMON'S MINES", the 1950 adaptation of H. Rider Haggard's 1885 novel. Directed by Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton, the movie starred Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr and Richard Carlson:
"KING SOLOMON'S MINES" (1950) Image Gallery
Saturday, October 24, 2015
"MIAMI VICE" (2006) Review
When I first heard that Michael Mann had filmed a remake of the 1984-1989 classic crime drama, "MIAMI VICE", I was excited. Despite the disappointing way it went off the air, I had remained a big favorite of the show – especially its first two seasons.
Then word began to circulate that the movie version, which starred Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell was not as good as the NBC series. I heard that it lacked the style of the series and had a poor story. But despite all of the negative comments that had circulated, I was determined to see the movie and judge it for myself.
"MIAMI VICE" - namely the 2006 movie - began with Miami-Dade Police detectives Ricardo "Rico" Tubbs, James "Sonny" Crockett and their colleagues working undercover at a Miami nightclub to bring down a prostitution ring. In the middle of their sting operation, they are contacted by their former informant Alonzo Stevens, who believes that his wife is in danger. Stevens also reveals that he has been working as an informant for the F.B.I. and believes that he may have been compromised. Tubbs and Crockett learn that Stevens' wife was killed. And when they inform the informant, he commits suicide. Through their supervisor, Lieutenant Martin Castillo, the partners are recruited by F.B.I. Special Agent John Fujima to pose as drug smugglers, investigate a highly sophisticated Columbian drug ring and discover the identity of the Columbians' informant. Tubbs and Crockett manage to infiltrate the Columbians' drug ring, but in doing so, they come across Jose Yero, the paranoid associate of drug lord Archangel de Jesus Montoya. Even worse, Crockett becomes romantically involved in Montoya's mistress/financial adviser, Isabella.
Needless to say, I had ignored the negative comments about "MIAMI VICE" back in 2006 and went to see it anyway. And I enjoyed it . . . a lot. I enjoyed it so much that I saw it for a second time in the theaters, before I bought the DVD copy when it was first released. Like many others, I had expected to be very similar to the 1984-1989 television series. The sleek, colorful style from the series remained, which the fast cars and boats and sleek fashion for the cast members. But cinematographer Dion Beebe utilized colors that seemed less pastel and a little more darker. But the music - up-to-date - remained intact. I also noticed that the plot written by Michael Mann utilized elements from the television series' episode (1.15) "Smuggler's Blues". "MIAMI VICE" also featured some great action sequences. My favorite proved to be the outstanding shootout in the movie's finale that featured the Miami-Dade Police and the Aryan Brotherhood working for Yero. My only complaints about "MIAMI VICE" proved to be its opening and fade-out scenes. Both seemed a bit too abrupt for my tastes, but that is Michael Mann for you. He did the same with his 1995 movie,"HEAT" and his 2004 flick, "COLLATERAL".
Aside from Dion Beebe's photography, the other changes featured in the 2006 movie proved to be the relationship between Ricardo Tubbs and fellow police detective, Trudy Joplin. Despite the on-screen chemistry between Philip Michael Thomas and Olivia Brown in the television series, Tubbs and Trudy remained friends and colleagues during the series' five-year run. Michael Mann changed the nature of their relationship in the movie by allowing them to be both colleagues and lovers. In fact, the movie featured a very sexy and romantic love scene with Jamie Foxx and Naomie Harris, who portrayed the characters in the film. And unlike the television series, Sonny Crockett is not divorced, nor did he have a troublesome relationship with another colleague, Gina Calabrese. Instead, Crockett found himself falling in love with drug kingpin Archangel Montoya's lover and financial adviser, Isabella.
Both Jamie Foxx and Colin Ferrell were great, along with Gong Li, Naomie Harris and the rest of the cast. The partnership dynamics between Foxx and Farrell in the movie seemed to be different than the one between Thomas and Don Johnson in the television series. Do not get me wrong. Both Foxx and Farrell were excellent and had great chemistry. But their chemistry was different than the one between Johnson and Thomas. In this film, Tubbs is portrayed as the more mature partner; whereas Crockett served that role in the television series. And I was especially impressed by Foxx. For a guy that started out as a comic, he struck me as very commanding as Ricardo Tubbs. Whereas Johnson seemed to dominate the partnership in the television series, Foxx seemed to do so in the movie. This is not surprising, considering that Foxx is nearly a decade older than Farrell. The one other performance that really impressed me came from the always talented John Ortiz, who portrayed Montoya's paranoid henchman, Jose Yero.
It is a pity that the public and critics did not appreciate "MIAMI VICE" when it was first released back in 2006. Perhaps they honestly believed it was a mediocre or below par movie from Michael Mann. Then again . . . perhaps they had expected it to be more like the the television series from the 1980s. Yes, the movie had its flaws. But despite the latter, "MIAMI VICE" proved to be one of my favorite Mann films. And I had never expected for this to happen.
Friday, October 23, 2015
"TRAPPED BY A TITLE"
I feel sorry for Emma Swan. I may not like her very much at the moment. But I do feel sorry for her. More importantly, she has become, since Season Two, one of the most frustrating characters on "ONCE UPON A TIME". Which is probably why I have just written my third or fourth article about her.
From the moment her son Henry Mills found her in the series' premiere episode, (1.01) "Pilot" and revealed that she was destined to break a curse cast by his adopted mother, Regina Mills that currently trapped the citizens of Storybrooke; she has been stuck with the role of "Savior". Yes, I said "stuck". Because there is no other way to describe her situation, pre-"Dark One" curse. And she will continue to be stuck in the role, once she breaks free of the curse. Henry was the first to forced the role of "Savior". After Emma broke that first curse, her parents - Snow White and David Prince Chraming - and other citizens of Storybrooke enforced that role upon her as well. But I think this was a mistake on Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz's part. They should have dropped the "Savior" title, after Season One. Instead, they have allowed other characters, including the reformed Regina, to insist that she is the "Savior".
For me, this is so wrong on so many levels. Perhaps Kitsis and Horowitz are trying to re-create another Buffy Summers. Who knows? But this insistence that she has to be this savior who is supposed to be solely responsible for the lives of others and guarantee their happy endings is ridiculous. And it does not serve Emma's emotional growth as many believe it will. Instead, it has become something of a detriment to her character . . . an emotional straight jacket. As long as Emma continues to allow the others to dictate what she has to do for the rest of her life, she will never grow as an individual or as a character. Being "the Savior" should not have been her job description in the first place. This is something that was enforced upon her by Rumpelstiltskin's scheming, because he wanted a way to the "Land Without Magic" in order to find his missing son, Baelfire. And the Storybrooke citizens - especially Emma's parents and Regina - have enforced this role upon her, due to their inability to see her as someone other than a glorified magical vigilante. There is no real law that she has to spend the rest of her life giving people "happy endings". I see no reason why she always has to be the one who has to defeat some magical Big Bad. Past seasons have allowed others like Regina, Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White, Henry and Anna of Arendelle (via emotional persuasion) to defeat or help defeat the Big Bad. So why is everyone still insisting that Emma has to be "the One"?
However, I fear that once Emma is freed from the "Dark One" curse, she will continue to allow everyone to squeeze her into some straight jacket labeled "Savior". Because of this belief that she always has to save someone, Emma ended up making one of the biggest mistakes in her life in the Season Three finale, (3.22) "There's No Place Like Home" when she tried to change the timeline and save Maid Marian's life. She thought that because she was "the Savior", she had the right to commit the dangerous act of changing the timeline in order to save someone who had died in the past. Yet, she also believed that Rumpelstiltskin did not have the right to change the timeline in order to prevent Neal's death. Not only were Emma's actions hypocritical, they also led to Zelena's resurgence in their lives (Rumpelstiltskin helped with his so-called act of murder). In the Season Four finale, (4.23) "Operation Mongoose, Part 2" she called herself saving Regina's moral compass - something which the latter never asked in the first place - from an entity that eventually led her to become the new "Dark One".
Four years have passed since Emma first found herself stuck with the role of "Savior". This role has proven to be something of an emotional strain for other fictional "saviors" and "chosen ones" such as Buffy Summer, Jack Shepherd, and Harry Potter. I find it odd that other than late Season One when Henry and August Booth aka Pinocchio kept insisting that she has to break that first curse, Emma has never really dealt with any emotional strain over being a "chosen one". And the only reason she found it a strain was due to her inability to believe Henry and August about the curse. I find this both odd and unrealistic. The longer other "chosen one" or "savior" characters were forced to accept this role, the harder it became for them to deal with it. Instead, Emma dealt with the problems of her relationship with her parents and Neal, the growing strength of her powers, Henry's amnesia in late Season Three, Regina's anger in early Season Four over her time travel escapades, and her parents' lies regarding Maleficent and the latter's child, former childhood friend Lily Page. But not since Season One can I recall Emma dealing with the pressures of being the "Savior".
It occurred to me that sooner or later, Emma needs to break free of that role/straight jacket in order to dictate her own life. I am not stating that she needs to stop saving others or stop being a town sheriff (despite being lousy at the job). But she does not have to make being the "Savior" a life long job description. If Emma continues down this path, she just might make another mistake on the same level as the one she made in "There's No Place Like Home" or make a decision similar to the one that led her to become the "Dark One" . . . or something even worse. And she will never have the freedom to be herself.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Below are images from "MISSION IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION", the fifth entry in the "MISSION IMPOSSIBLE"movie franchise. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie, the movie stars Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt:
"MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION" (2015) Photo Gallery