Saturday, October 29, 2016
Below are images from Oliver Stone's new biopic called "SNOWDEN". Based on "The Snowden Files" by Luke Harding and "Time of the Octopus" by Anatoly Kucherena, the movie starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden:
"SNOWDEN" (2016) Review
Thursday, October 27, 2016
"SUICIDE SQUAD" (2016) Review
The year 2016 has proven to be a strange one for Warner Brothers Studios and fans of DC Comics. Their creation - the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) franchise had released two films that proved to be box office hits, yet critical flops. One of those movies was the Zack Synder film, "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE". And the other was the summer film, "SUICIDE SQUAD".
Three years before the release of these two films, the DCEU franchise witnessed its kickoff with the release of "MAN OF STEEL", another origin tale of Clark Kent aka Superman. Whereas "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN" seemed to be more of a direct sequel to the 2013 movie, the narrative for "SUICIDE SQUAD" seemed to be something of a reaction to Superman's death in "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN".
Written and directed by David Ayer, "SUICIDE SQUAD" began several months after the previous film. Amanda Waller, director of the Federal agency Advanced Research Group Uniting Super-Humans (A.R.G.U.S.), convinces the Defense Department to allow her to assemble "Task Force X", a team of dangerous criminals imprisoned at Belle Reve Prison in Louisiana, to engage in high risk black ops missions. The criminals that she has selected are:
*Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot - an elite marksman and professional assassin, who has a warm relationship with his only daughter
*Harleen Quinzel aka Harley Quinn - a former psychiatrist and crazed supervillain who is in a relationship with the psychotic gangster "the Joker"
*Chato Santana aka El Diablo - a former Los Angeles based gang member with a powerful pyrokinetic ability, who had turned himself in after accidentally killing his wife and children
*George "Digger" Harkness aka Captain Boomerang - an Australian-born thief with an unpredictable personality and a talent with deadly boomerangs and knives
*Waylon Jones aka Killer Croc - a supervillain who suffers from a skin condition that causes him to develop reptilian features and a powerful strength
*Dr. June Moone aka Enchantress - an archaeologist who is possessed by an ancient evil force that transforms her into a powerful sorceress
*Christopher Weiss aka Slipknot - a mercenary and assassin who specializes in tactical grappling and scaling
Waller assigns an Army Special Forces officer named Colonel Richard "Rick" Flagg to lead the squad into the field. He is assisted by a group of Navy SEALS led by GQ Edwards, and a widowed Japanese vigilante and martial arts expert named Tatsu Yamashiro aka Katana, who also happens to be a friend of Flagg's. While Waller and Dr. Moore are in Midway City, the latter transforms into the Enchantress and manages to escape from the former's control. The Enchantress then frees her brother Incubus from a South American artifact, allowing him to take control of a Midway City businessman's body. While both the Enchantress and Incubus besiege the city, the former transforms many of its citizens into her monstrous minions and decides to build a mystical weapon to eradicate mankind. Meanwhile, Waller finally decides to deploy the squad to extract a high-profile mark from the besieged Midway and from possible capture by the Enchantress.
As I had earlier pointed out, the moment "SUICIDE SQUAD" hit the theaters, most of the critics trashed it. I must admit that I was baffled by their reactions. It is one thing to trash the DCEU's earlier entry, "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE", even though I did not agree with their negative opinions. But "SUICIDE SQUAD" got trashed as well? Two DCEU movies in one year?
"SUICIDE SQUAD" was not perfect. One of the problems I had with the movie's narrative is that the setting struck me as a bit constricted, considering its 123 minutes running time. At least two-thirds of the film was set during one night in the downtown area of a major city. Also, I never understood why Amanda Waller and Rick Flagg went out of their way to keep the identity of the high-profile mark that the squad had to rescue a secret. Even if they had revealed the truth to Deadshot and the squad's other members, the latter would have been forced to go ahead with the rescue, due to the nano bombs injected into their necks that coerced the squad to cooperate.
Speaking of the nano bombs, I found myself thinking about the character portrayed by Adam Beach, Christopher Weiss aka Slipknot. I hate to say this, but David Ayer really wasted his role. Unlike the other members of the Suicide Squad, there were no glimpses of his backstory in flashbacks. In fact, his name was not even mentioned in the scene in which Amanda Waller introduced her scheme to create the squad. Nor was he seen in the sequence in which Waller and Flagg "recruited" the other members. Audiences knew nothing about Slipknot's role in the film, until he made his first appearance at a military base, where the other squad members had gathered. So . . . what was the point of Slipknot's role in the movie? Utilizing a scene from one of the comic books for "Suicide Squad" in which Captain Boomerang managed to convince Slipknot to join him in an escape attempt from the military, he was merely used as a plot device to show what would happen to the squad's other members if they try to escape. Death by an explosion from an injected nano bomb. That is all.
Despite the above problems I had with this film, overall, I liked it very much. Okay, who am I kidding? Hell, I loved this movie! It was a hell of a ride and a lot of fun. And it did a great job in expanding the DCEU even more. Just as Zach Synder had connected "MAN OF STEEL" with "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE", David Ayer did the same by connecting the latter with "SUICIDE SQUAD". More importantly, he also connected this movie with one of the upcoming DCEU films, "JUSTICE LEAGUE" in one scene featuring Captain Boomerang getting arrested by Barry Allen aka the Flash in a flashback and in a post-credit scene featuring Amanda Waller and Bruce Wayne aka Batman. The latter scene proved to be a special connection between Waller's failed attempt to make the Enchantress a part of the squad, her files on other meta humans like the Flash and Aquaman, and Bruce Wayne's government contacts that would allow her to avoid any consequences from the whole Enchantress/Midway City debacle.
I also enjoyed how "SUICIDE SQUAD" began with the introduction of the squad's "recruits". While Amanda Waller narrated, the movie embarked upon a series of entertaining flashbacks that revealed the squad members' talents, crimes and how they were captured. Naturally, my two favorite backstories were about Deadshot and Harley Quinn. Both of them revealed how their encounters with Batman led to their incarceration. I was surprised to see another member of the future Justice League of America, namely the Flash, in Captain Boomerang's flashback.
Another aspect of "SUICIDE SQUAD" that I found interesting was how the squad's members managed to form a well tight unit on their own, even when their ties to others were either disconnected like Deadshot's to his daughter Zoe during his time in prison; questionable like Harley Quinn's disturbed and abusive romance with the Joker; and in the case of three other members, non-existent. El Diablo has spent most of his time in prison mourning over the family he had killed and indulging in self-isolation. Killer Croc's reptilian appearance has led him to be isolated and reviled by his fellow criminals and society at large. As for Captain Boomerang, he made it quite clear in a flashback when he double-crossed a colleague that he preferred to work alone. Despite these disparate situations, the squad learned to work together. More importantly, they even learned to work with Rick Flagg, Katana and the Navy SEALs, despite the distrust between the squad and their military watchdogs.
There had been a good deal of criticism from critics and some fans about how Ayer dealt with the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker. Many seemed to believe that Ayer had whitewashed the abusive nature of their relationship. That is not the relationship I had seen on screen. It really was not that difficult for me to notice how the Joker seemed to be in control of their relationship. Flashbacks revealed how he had exploited her infatuation for him. I also noticed his disturbing penchant for infantilizing her at times. Even the wardrobe that Harley wore to Midway City seemed to indicate that the Joker regarded her as his possession - namely her "Daddy's Lil Monster" T-shirt and "Puddin"choker:
And yet, I do not recall the Joker wearing any clothing or accessories hinting that he is Harley's possession. Curious. In fact, the controlling nature of their relationship seemed indicative in other relationships in the movie. The Enchantress proved to be something of a control freak. Brimming with resentment over humanity for imprisoning her and her brother Incubus, the sorceress decides to mankind. And yet . . . she transformed many of Midway City's citizens into her minions and seemed to be the dominant half of her relationship with Incubus. On the other hand, Amanda Waller seemed to be the "Queen of Control" in "SUICIDE SQUAD". She uses her position as Director of A.R.G.U.S. to assume control of the criminals who form the squad. And to insure that they will cooperate, she has small nano bombs implanted in their necks. She also tried to use her possession of the Enchantress' heart to control the latter. And she encouraged a romance between Rick Flagg and the Enchantress' human identity, Dr. June Moone, to guarantee Flagg's undivided cooperation.
What can I say about the cast? Personally, I thought the cast members were the best thing about "SUICIDE SQUAD". I have not seen Will Smith in a really good movie since 2012's "MEN IN BLACK III". And I really enjoyed his entertaining, yet first-rate and ambiguous portrayal of sharpshooter Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot. Margot Robbie gave what has turned out to be a superb performance as the hilarious, yet somewhat insane Dr. Harleen Quinzel aka Harley Quinn. Frankly, I think her performance was one of the best in the movie. Another performance that really impressed me came from Viola Davis, who nearly ruled above the others as the ruthless and diabolical Amanda Waller, Director of A.R.G.U.S. The ironic thing is that Waller's character was not the movie's main antagonist, yet Davis' portrayal of her was so scary that she might as well have been.
Jay Hernandez was marvelous as the emotionally tortured Chato Santana aka El Diablo, whose guilt over his family's deaths have led him to be reluctant to participate in the fight against the Enchantress. Karen Fukuhara was equally marvelous as Tatsu Yamashiro aka Katana, the expert martial artist/swordswoman, who guarded Rick Flagg and mourned her dead husband with the intensity of El Diablo's flames. Speaking of Rick Flagg, it is amazing that I have never noticed Joel Kinnaman before this movie. I was surprised to learn that he was not the first choice for the role, for I believe he fitted it like a perfectly well-tailored suit. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's role as Waylon Jones aka Killer Croc was not as big as I would have liked. But the British actor still managed to give a great performance as the isolated supervillain, who managed to maintain a healthy attitude about his own self-esteem . . . despite what others may have thought about him. The biggest surprise proved to be Jai Courtney's portrayal of Australian criminal George "Digger" Harkness aka Captain Boomerang. I have seen Courtney portray a series of intense characters - both heroes and villains. I never knew that he had a talent for comedy. Because . . . dammit! The man was funny as hell.
I thought Jared Leto gave one of the most interesting and original portrayals of the D.C. Comics supervillain, the Joker, I have ever seen. It was . . . well, very dangerous, but in a very sexy way. A sexy Joker. I never thought I would ever say that about the famous villain. But Leto did give a rather sexy and entertaining performance. "SUICIDE SQUAD" also featured some solid supporting performances from the likes of Cara Delevingne as Dr. June Moone aka the Enchantress, Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne aka Batman, David Harbour as a Federal official named Dexter Tolliver, Shailyn Pierre-Dixon as Zoe Lawton, Corina Calderon as Grace Santana, Scott Eastwood as Navy SEAL GQ Edwards, Common as a Gotham City criminal named Monster T and yes, even Adam Beach as Christopher Weiss aka Slipknot . . . despite his limited appearance.
Although I had a problem with director David Ayer's use of the Slipknot character and other minor aspects of the narrative for "SUICIDE SQUAD", I must admit that I enjoyed the movie a lot. Very much. In fact, it has become my favorite movie from the summer of 2016 and one of my favorite movies of the summer. Despite what other critics may have thought about it, I thought it was one hell of a film. I look forward to a sequel.
Sunday, October 23, 2016
"POLDARK" SERIES ONE (2015): EPISODES FIVE TO EIGHT
Within the past year, I had developed a major interest in author Winston Graham's 1945-2002 "POLDARK" literary saga and the two television adaptations of it. Series One of the second adaptation produced by Debbie Horsfield, premiered on the BBC (in Great Britain) and PBS (in the United States) last year. Consisting of eight episodes, Series One of"POLDARK" was an adaptation of 1945's "Ross Poldark - A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787" and "Demelza - A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790". Whereas Episodes One to Four adapted the 1945 novel, Episodes Five to Eight adapted the 1946 novel.
Episode Four left off with the death of Ross Poldark's uncle, Charles; leaving Trenwith, the family's premiere estate, in the hands of his cousin Francis. Ross' former kitchen maid and new bride, Demelza Carne Poldark, formed a friendship with Francis' sister Verity and accompanied Ross to a rather tense Christmas celebration at Trenwith, which was further marred by an unexpected appearance of the noveau-riche Warleggan family and friends. Ross also learned that copper had been discovered inside his mine and that Demelza had become pregnant with their first child.
Episode Five began several months later with the arrival of a traveling theater company that includes a young actress named Keren, who attracts the attention of miner Mark Daniels. The episode also marked the arrival of two other players - Dwight Enys, a former British Army officer and doctor, who happens to be a former comrade of Ross'; and young Julia Poldark, whose birth interrupted her parents' enjoyment of the traveling theater company's performance. The four episodes featured a good number of events and changes in Ross Poldark's life. Julia's birth led to a riotous christening in which he and Demelza had to deal with unexpected guests. Francis lost his fortune and his mine to George Warleggan's cousin Matthew Sanson at a gaming party. Ross learned that his former employee Jim Carter was seriously ill at the Bodomin Jail and tried to rescue the latter with Dwight Enys' help. The tragic consequences of their attempt led to Ross' ill nature at the Warleggan's ball. Dwight drifted into an affair with Keren Daniels, with tragic results.
Ross and several other mine owners created the Carnmore Copper Company in an effort to break the Warleggans' stranglehold on the mineral smelting business, while Demelza plotted to resurrect her cousin-in-law Verity Poldark's romance with Captain Andrew Blamey. The success of her efforts led to an estrangement between Ross and Frances. Demelza's matchmaking also led to financial disaster for her husband's new business venture. A Putrid's Throat epidemic struck the neighborhood, affecting Francis, Elizabeth and their son Geoffrey Charles. Not long after Demelza had nursed them back to health, both she and Julia were stricken by disease. The season ended with a series of tragic and tumultuous events. Although Demelza recovered, Julia succumbed to Putrid's Throat. The Warleggans' merchant ship wrecked off the coast of Poldark land and Ross alerted locals like Jud and Prudie Paynter to salvage any goods that wash up on the shore. This "salvaging" led to violence between those on Poldark lands and neighboring miners and later, both against local military troops. One of the victims of the shipwreck turned out to be the Warleggans' cousin, Matthew Sanson. After Ross insulted Sanson's death in George Warleggan's face, the season ended with the latter arranging for Ross' arrest for inciting the riot.
I must admit that I liked these next four episodes a bit more than I did the first quartet. Do not get me wrong. I enjoyed those first episodes very much. But Episodes Five to Eight not only deepened the saga - naturally, considering a they were continuation of the first four - but also expanded the world of Ross Poldark.
One of the aspects of Series One's second half that caught both my attention and my admiration was the production's continuing portrayal of Britain's declining economic situation during the late 18th century . . . especially for the working class. Both Episodes Five and Seven featured brief scenes that conveyed this situation. In Episode Five; Ross, Demelza and Verity encounter a starving family on the road to Turo, begging for food or money. A second brief scene in Episode Seven featured Demelza baking bread and later, dispersing it to the neighborhood's starving poor. However, the series also featured bigger scenes that really drove home the dire economic situation. Upon reaching Truro in Episode Five, both Demelza and Verity witnessed a riot that broke out between working-class locals and the militia when the former tried to access the grain stored inside Matthew Sanson's warehouse. I found the sequence well shot by director William McGregor. The latter also did an excellent job in the sequence that featured locals like the Paynters ransacking much needed food and other goods that washed ashore from the Warleggans' wrecked ship. I was especially impressed by how the entire sequence segued from Ross wallowing in a state of grief over his daughter's death before spotting the shipwreck to the militia's violent attempt to put down the riot that had developed between the tenants and miners on Ross' land and locals from other community.
Even the upper-classes have felt the pinch of economic decline, due to the closing and loses of mines across the region and being in debt to bankers like the Warleggans. Following the discovery of copper inside his family's mine in Episode Four, Ross seemed destined to avoid such destitution. Not only was he able to afford a new gown and jewels for Demelza to wear at the Warleggan ball in Episode Six, he used his profits from the mine to create a smelting company - the Carnmore Copper Company - with the assistance of other shareholders in an effort to break the Warleggans' monopoly on the local mining industry. One cannot say the same for his cousin Francis, who continued to skirt on the edge of debt, following his father's death. Unfortunately, Francis wasted a good deal of his money on gambling and presents for the local prostitute named Margaret. In a scene that was not in the novel, but I found both enjoyable and very effective, he lost both his remaining fortune and his mine, Wheal Grambler, to the Warleggans' cousin, Matthew Sanson, at a gaming party. But this was not the end of the sequence. Thanks to director William McGregor and Horsfield's script. The sequence became even more fascinating once the Poldarks at Trenwith learned of Francis' loss, especially Elizabeth. And it ended on a dramatic level with Francis being forced to officially close Wheal Grambler in front a crowd. I realize the sequence was not featured in Graham's novel, but if I must be honest; I thought Horsfield's changes really added a good deal of drama to this turn of events. Not only did McGregor shot this sequence rather well, I really have to give kudos to Kyle Soller, who did an excellent job in portraying Francis at his nadir in this situation; and Heida Reed, who did such a superb job conveying the end of Elizabeth's patience with her wayward husband with a slight change in voice tone, body language and expression.
I was also impressed by other scenes in Series One's second half. The christening for Ross and Demelza's new daughter, Julia, provided some rather hilarious moments as their upper-crust neighbors met Demelza's religious fanatic of a father and stepmother. Thanks to Harriet Ballard and Mark Frost's performances, I especially enjoyed the confrontation between the snobbish Ruth Treneglos and the blunt Mark Carne. It was a blast. Ross and Dwight's ill-fated rescue of a seriously ill Jim Carter from the Bodmin Jail was filled with both tension and tragedy. Tension also marked the tone in one scene which one of the Warleggans' minions become aware of the newly formed Carnmore Copper Company during a bidding session. Another scene that caught my interest featured George Warleggan's successful attempt at manipulating a very angry Francis into revealing the names of shareholders in Ross' new cooperative . . . especially after the latter learned about his sister Verity's elopement with Andrew Blamey. Both Soller and Jack Farthing gave excellent and subtle performances in this scene. Once again, McGregor displayed a talent for directing large scenes in his handling of the sequence that featured the wreck of the Warleggans' ship, the Queen Charlotte, and both the looting and riot on the beach that followed. Series One ended on a dismal note with Ross and Demelza dealing with the aftermath of young Julia's death and Ross' arrest by the militia for leading the beach riot. Although I found the latter scene a bit of a throwaway, I was impressed by the scene featuring a grieving Ross and Demelza, thanks to the excellent performances from series leads, Aidan Turner and Elinor Tomlinson.
If there is one sequence that I really enjoyed in Series One of "POLDARK", it was the Warleggan ball featured in Episode Six. Ironically, not many people enjoyed it. They seemed put out by Ross' boorish behavior. I enjoyed it. Ross seemed in danger of becoming a Gary Stu by this point. I thought it was time that audiences saw how unpleasant he can be. And Turner did such an excellent job in conveying that aspect of Ross' personality. He also got the chance to verbally cross swords with Robin Ellis' Reverend Dr. Halse for the second time. Frankly, it was one of the most enjoyable moments in the series, so far. Both Turner and Ellis really should consider doing another project together. The segment ended with not only an argument between Ross and Demelza that I found enjoyable, but also a rather tense card game between "our hero" and the Warleggans' cousin Matthew Sanson that seemed enriched by performances from both Turner and Jason Thorpe.
I wish I had nothing further to say about Episodes to Eight of Series One. I really do. But . . . well, the episodes featured a good number of things to complain about. One, there were two sequences in which Horsfield and McGregor tried to utilize two scenes by showing them simultaneously. Episode Seven featured a segment in which both Demelza and Elizabeth tried to prevent a quarrel between two men in separate scenes - at the same time. And Episode Eight featured a segment in which both Ross and Demelza tried to explain the circumstances of their financial downfall (the destruction of the Carnmore Copper Company and Verity Poldark's elopement) to each other via flashbacks . . . and at the same time. Either Horsfield was trying to be artistic or economic with the running time she had available. I do not know. However, I do feel that both sequences were clumsily handled and I hope that no such narrative device will be utilized in Series Two.
I have another minor quibble and it has to do with makeup for both Eleanor Tomlinson and Heida Reed. In Episode Eight, the characters for both actresses - Demelza Poldark and Elizabeth Poldark - had been stricken by Putrid's Throat. Both characters came within an inch of death. Yet . . . for the likes of me, I found the production's different handling of the makeup for both women upon their recovery from Putrid's Throat rather odd. Whereas Elizabeth looked as if she had recently recovered from a serious illness or death (extreme paleness and dark circles under the eyes), the slight reddish tints on Demelza's face made her looked as if she had recently recovered from a cold. Winston Graham's portrayal of Demelza has always struck me as a bit too idealized. In fact, she tends to come off as a borderline Mary Sue. And both the 1970s series and this recent production are just as guilty in their handling of Demelza's character. But this determination to make Demelza look beautiful - even while recovering from a near fatal illness - strikes me as completely ridiculous.
If there is one aspect of this second group of Series One's episodes that really troubled me, it was the portrayal of traveling actress Keren Smith Daniels and her affair with Dr. Dwight Enys. After viewing Debbie Horsfield's portrayal of the Keren Daniels character, I found myself wondering it Debbie Horsfield harbored some kind of whore/Madonna mentality. Why on earth did she portray Keren in such an unflattering and one-dimensional manner? Instead of delving into Keren's unsatisfaction as Mark Daniels' wife and treating her as a complex woman, Horsfield ended up portraying her as some one-dimensional hussy/adultress who saw Dwight as a stepping stone up the social ladder. Only in the final seconds of Keren's death was actress Sabrina Barlett able to convey the character's frustration with her life as a miner's wife. Worse, Horsfield changed the nature of Keren's death, by having Mark accidentally squeeze her to death during an altercation, instead of deliberately murdering her. Many had accused Horsfield of portraing Keren in this manner in order to justify Mark's killing of her, along with Ross and Demelza's decision to help him evade the law. Frankly, I agree. I find it distasteful that the portrayal of a character - especially a female character - was compromised to enrich the heroic image of the two leads - especially the leading man. Will this be the only instance of a supporting character being compromised for the sake of the leading character? Or was Horsfield's portrayal of Keren Daniels the first of such other unnecessary changes to come?
Despite my disppointment with the portrayal of the Keren Daniels character and her affair with Dwigh Enys and a few other aspects of the production, I had no problems with Episode Five to Eight of Series One for "POLDARK". If I must be honest, I enjoyed it slightly more than I did the first four episodes. With the adaptation of "Demelza - A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790" complete, I am curious to see how Debbie Horsfield and her production staff handle the adaptation of Winston Graham's next two novels in his literary series.
Thursday, October 20, 2016
Below are images from "STAR TREK BEYOND", the third entry in the recent STAR TREK reboot franchise. Directed by Justin Lin, the movie stars Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Idris Elba:
"STAR TREK BEYOND" (2016) Photo Gallery