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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Anybody who has read Mary Shelley's landmark horror novel
"Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus," published in 1818, knows
Hollywood has taken liberties with it. Basically, Shelley's saga has
spawned more than 70 movies. Most of them would make the Gothic author
spin in her grave. Among the movies, "Hamlet" director Kenneth
Branagh's "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" (1994), with Robert De Niro,
qualifies as the best, displaying greater fidelity to the novel than
any other adaptation. The latest rendering of Shelley's work, "Push"
director Paul McGuigan's "Victor Frankenstein" follows dutifully in the
footsteps of the Universal Pictures' classic with Boris Karloff as the
monster. Nevertheless, "American Ultra" scenarist Max Landis provides
some provocative changes. McGuigan and Landis pay tribute not only to
the influential 1931 James Whale film with Karloff, but also Mel
Brooks' farcical "Young Frankenstein" (1974), co-starring Gene Wilder
and Peter Boyle. A triumph of production design in its recreation of
Victorian Era London, "Victor Frankenstein" emerges as a energetic
effort to launch a new franchise. Mind you, this isn't one of those
horror movies where everything ends in fire and ashes. Instead, the mad
scientist learns from his blunders, while everybody else--aside from
the vile monster-- gets away. No, the PG-13 rated "Victor Frankenstein"
won't afflict you with nightmares. Certainly it contains its share of
gripping, white-knuckled moments, but it concerns itself more with
thrilling rather than frightening audiences. Mind you, none of this
will matter because "Victor Frankenstein" won't generate adequate box
office to justify a sequel. British secret agents, old-school boxing
champs, dames with arrows, animated dinosaurs, and heroes from a
distant galaxy will divert virtually everybody from watching this
rambunctious melodrama that deserves a far better fate.
The first thing McGuigan and Landis change in the "Frankenstein" formula is the character of Igor. This revisionist tale unfolds from the viewpoint of the hero's faithful laboratory assistant. "Harry Potter" superstar Daniel Radcliffe plays an anonymous, subjugated, hunchbacked, circus clown. Everybody in Lord Barnaby's Circus mistreats this harmless innocent. Despite the circumstances of his miserable existence, the clown serves as the circus medic. Improbably enough, he indulges himself in the study of anatomy, and his anatomical illustrations are incredibly detailed. Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay, Lady Sybil on "Downton Abbey"), a picturesque trapeze performer far above Igor's social status, is the only person who doesn't treat him like excrement. During a performance, she plunges to the ground, and the deformed clown saves her life. When this accident occurs, a medical student, Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy of "X-Men First Class"), rushes to Lorelei's side, too. Victor is impressed with the clown's resourcefulness and capacity to improvise on the spot. Indeed, Frankenstein is so impressed that he helps the clown escape from the circus after his cruel employer, Barnaby (Daniel Mays of "Byzantium"), has confined him in an animal cage. McGuigan stages this audacious getaway, as Victor and the clown narrowly elude Barnaby's fire-breathing and knife-slinging henchmen, like a daring Indiana Jones' cliffhanger. The surprise is the clown isn't a hunchback! Frankenstein perforates the clown's hump, actually a cyst, drains it, and them straps him into a back brace that straightens out his posture. Frankenstein then names him after his former roommateIgor Strausmanwho has vanished under mysterious circumstances. Clearly, Radcliffe's Igor shares little in common with previous Igors. Frankenstein makes Igor his partner, and they experiment with reanimating a pilfered pile of chimpanzee body parts. "If life is temporary," observes Frankenstein, "why can't death?" During a demonstration at the Royal College of Medicine, Frankenstein and Igor bring a ghastly looking chimp to life. Sadly, this maniacal monkey business goes haywire, and Frankenstein has to kill the chimp after it goes on a rampage. Later, Frankenstein's intimidating father (Charles Dance of "Underworld 5") reprimands his ungrateful son for wasting time on such unspeakable experiments. Meantime, one of Victor's fellow medical students, Finnegan (Freddie Fox of "Pride") displays a deviant interest in Victor's use of electricity to reanimate dead tissue.
"Victor Frankenstein" reminded me of those invigorating "Sherlock Holmes" epics pairing Robert Downey, Jr., with Jude Law. Director Paul McGuigan, who helmed four Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman "Sherlock" episodes for BBC-TV, keeps our protagonist dodging adversaries, including an obnoxious Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott of "Spectre"), who has been investigating the murder of a circus employee that died when Frankenstein rescued Igor. During their escape, one circus henchmen accidentally killed a cohort, and Turpin has been snooping into Frankenstein's sinister shenanigans. Meantime, Igor takes time out to romance Lorelei who left the circus after she fell. Naturally, she frets about Igor's antics with Frankenstein. At the same time, Frankenstein immerses himself in his experiments. Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy are splendidly cast as fast friends, with Radcliffe as more sympathetic and McAvoy as more insane. The questionable activities that they engage in to obtain body parts aren't depicted. Never do we see them either plundering graveyards for human remains or raiding zoos for animal body parts. Nevertheless, McAvoy's Victor Frankenstein is every bit as fanatical as Peter Cushing's Victor Frankenstein in the 1960s' Hammer Studios Frankenstein movies. The complaint that some Frankenstein fanatics may raise is the belated introduction of the monster. Not until the big finale are we shown the monster. Indeed, this monster is humongous, boasting two sets of lungs and two hearts. Comparatively, he resembles the albino giants in Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" (2012). Alas, the monster spends less than fifteen minutes on screen, and he lacks the ability to speak like Robert De Niro's literate monster in "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." Moreover, he is not the intellectual giant that Aaron Eckhart was in "I, Frankenstein" (2014). Like the escapade where our protagonists took flight from the circus, McGuigan orchestrates several other sequences with similar gusto. The final scene in an eerie Scottish castle where the monster draws its first breath beneath stormy skies stitched by jagged lightning bolts is sensational stuff. "Victor Frankenstein" ranks as an electrifying "Frankenstein" adaptation.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Interesting casting distinguishes this episode of "Bronco" with guest star Lorne Greene playing a Union Navy officer navigating his way through the west in "Prairie Skipper." Captain Amos Carr (Lorne Greene of "Bonanza") and Bronco stumble onto each other in the middle of the wilderness as our eponymous hero is driving a herd of cattle as the trail boss. Bronco has lost his way because he couldn't find a suitable place to take his herd across a river. Meantime, Texas native Tom Barkley (Stephen Chase of "The Blob") and twenty gun hands have been scouring the countryside for his wife Miranda (Arlene Howell) who he claims has been kidnapped. Eventually, we learn that Miranda is Carr's wife, but Miranda pits every man against every other man, and she has been two-timing not only Amos but also Barkley. This episode packs extra action because Bronco's ramrod Jed Thomas (Bing Russell of "The Magnificent Seven") is the foreman for the man that assigned Bronco to drive the cattle. They are constantly at odds with each other, and Miranda aggravates the predicament when she hurls herself at Bronco. Eventually, Amos and Tom realize that they're being duped by the wily female. Chiefly, this episode is memorable because future Ponderosa owner Greene is on hand. Television series regular Mickey Simpson plays a good guy for a change who happens to be Amos Carr's bosun. The appearance of a naval officer in the old west riding in a wagon with a small cannon is sufficiently offbeat to add to the novelty factor.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Pretty Woman" superstar Julia Roberts shatters her glamorous image in
the grim but surprising police procedural thriller "Secret in Their
Eyes," co-starring Academy Award winning actress Nicole Kidman, Oscar
nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Emmy-nominated actor Alfred
Molina. This occasionally gripping but often conventional film is a
remake of the superb 2009 Argentinean opus "The Secret in Their Eyes."
Scripted originally with a man in mind, Roberts' steps into the
rewritten supporting role as a grieving single-mom who happens to be a
veteran detective determined not only to take the law into her own
hands but also exact vengeance on the suspected murderer of her
daughter. Furthermore, the man in the Argentinean movie was not a
pistol-packing policeman, but a statistics-minded bank clerk!
Reportedly, "Shattered Glass" writer & director Billy Ray rewrote the
role specifically for Julia Roberts. Incidentally, Ray is best known
for scripting movies such as "Flightplan," "Captain Phillips," and "The
Hunger Games." Of course, it remains to be seen whether Julia Roberts'
loyal fans will accept the "Erin Brockovich" actress as a plain-Jane,
tomboy with a sadistic streak. In contrast, murder mystery aficionados
who thrive on grisly melodramas may have a tough time imagining Roberts
as such a demented soul. Mind you, entertaining as this formulaic
American crime saga is, it isn't as imaginative as its distinguished
predecessor that took home the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2010.
Appropriately enough, the director who helmed the inspired original
film, Juan José Campanella, served as the executive director for
"Secret in Their Eyes." Presumably, Campanella must have conferred his
blessing on the Hollywood adaptation by supervising it as an executive
FBI agent Ray Kasten (Chiwetel Ejiofor of "American Gangster") has been reassigned to Los Angeles. He has been dispatched to assist a special anti-terrorist task force in the aftermath of New York City's 9/11 catastrophe. Ray has grown chummy with two investigators, Jess Cobb (Julia Roberts) and Bumpy Willis (Dean Norris of "Lethal Weapon 2"), but District Attorney Martin Morales (Alfred Molina of "Spider-Man 2") and gimlet-eyed Detective Reg Siefert (Michael Kelly of "Man of Steel") infuriate him. Morales has just recruited a new deputy D.A., Claire Sloan (Nicole Kidman of "Australia"), who is an statuesque blonde. Everybody, particularly Jess, soon realizes Ray is infatuated with Claire. Claire remains as cool as a glacier as she moves around Ray. Nevertheless, she is doesn't entirely ignore him. Meantime, Ray has been conducting surveillance on a mosque when a report reaches him about a Jane Doe corpse in a nearby dumpster. Everybody assembles at the mosque where the police have set-up a crime scene. Ray is the first detective to gaze into the dumpster. Horror overwhelms him when he recognizes the corpse; the dead girl, Carolyn Cobb (Zoe Graham of "Boyhood"), is none other than Jess's daughter. Distraught beyond description, Jess climbs into the dumpster and cradles her dead daughter in her arms.
Eventually, Ray ferrets out an enigmatic suspect, Marzin (Joe Cole of "Offender"), on the basis of a company picnic photo. The villain is shown staring at Carolyn in the picture. Later, Ray discovers that Marzin had been hanging around the mosque. Inevitably, Ray clashes with an abrasive Morales about his conduct. Ray is an defiant FBI agent who ignores boundaries when they interfere with his objectives. Launching his own investigation, Ray refuses to share either evidence or leads with the detectives assigned to the case. Ray provokes Morales' wrath because the loose cannon FBI agent has been neglecting his prime directive. He is supposed to monitor potential terrorist threats to Los Angeles. Morales threatens to notify the FBI about Ray's insubordination and have him recalled. Nothing Morales does, however, derails Ray's obstinate search for Carolyn's murderer. At one point, Claire finds herself drawn into his investigation. Together, they expose Marzin as the killer, but events beyond their control prevent them from prosecuting this dastard.
"Secret in Their Eyes" inherited its flashback-riddled narrative structure from the original. The remake unfolds 13 years after Carolyn's unsolved murder as Ray shows up Los Angeles to convince Clairenow the District Attorney that she must reopen the case because he has new evidence about the identity of the suspect. Comparatively, in the original, the hero revisited his old stomping ground 25 years afterward because he is using Carolyn's homicide as the subject for a novel. The two films switch back and forth between past and present with nimble abandon. This hopscotch technique could confuse audiences accustomed to straightforward chronological yarns. In this respect, the American version takes advantage of these incessant shifts in time to accentuate the suspense and the surprises. Whereas the Argentinean cop was not personally acquainted with the murder victim, the FBI agent worked closely with the daughter's mother as a colleague. The American remake suffers primarily from the changes that Billy Ray has made with certain characters. First, the incendiary FBI agent explodes like a powder keg and emerges as his own worst enemy. The investigator in the original rarely lost his temper. Second, the hero's partner in the Spanish film mustered greater charisma than the hero's crippled counterpart in the remake. Third, the hero's antagonist boss is neither as eloquent nor as profane as the hero's superior in the original. Fourth, the motive for the hero to return in the remake is more contrived than the hero's reappearance in the first film. Fifth, a "Gone in 60 Seconds" stolen car chop-shop scene qualifies as hopelessly gratuitous with its standard-issue shootout. Despite the flawed characters and the uneven scenes, the remake successfully duplicates more scenes from the original than it wrecks. The best example occurs when Kidman and Ejiofor collaborate to dupe the villain into confessing his crime. Unfortunately, Kidman and Ejiofor generate little chemistry as a couple supposedly attracted to each other. Altogether, "Secret in Their Eyes" doesn't surpass its infinitely superior predecessor "The Secret in Their Eyes." Nevertheless, Julia Roberts manages to broaden her repertoire.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This low-budget crime caper about a quartet of clueless cretins who
assemble to rob a bank qualifies as inspired lunacy. Director Gary
Yates and scenarist Lee MacDougall have fashioned a funny little flick
with good and bad characters. The morality of this piece is such that
the robbers are punished for their notorious deeds. However, despite
their abject failure to reap the benefits of their ill-gotten gains,
the sympathetic ones are redeemed for a largely happy ending. The
soundtrack ripples with memorable Top-40 hits, including Three Dog
Night's "Mama Told Me Not to Come," April Wine's "Say Hello," Creedence
Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen The Rain." Clocking in at a
spartan 79 minutes, "High Life" doesn't squander a second and drums up
many surprises as well as a refreshing sense of spontaneity. The
personalities of these small-time criminals are etched brilliantly,
too. Dick (Timothy Olyphant of "Hitman") is a hospital janitor, but he
doesn't hang onto this job for long. A former prison cell mate, Bug
(Stephen Eric McIntyre of "The Lookout"), visits Dick at work, and Dick
gets fired in short order for Bug's shenanigans. Dick's other loser
friend Donnie (Joe Anderson) who knows how to steal purses and wallets
and withdraw money from the owner's ATM accounts. Dick concocts a
scheme where Donnie will pull out $60 and then use other cards to get
$54o. Dick recruits a romantic looking French guy Billy (Rossif
Sutherland of "Timeline") who will take both the receipt and the cash
into the bank and complain to a teller. Dicks hopes that the bank will
contact the repair crew, and Bug and he will masquerade as a repairmen
and raid the ATMs. Dick's well-laid plans go awry when the pretty
teller, Alma (Brittany Scobie of "The Plague"), that Billy sweet-talks,
decides not to inform her manager that the ATMs are on the blink.
Instead, she takes the cash for herself. Incredulously, our
protagonists watch her stroll off to lunch with the $540.
No sooner have our heroes witnessed this disaster than an armored truck whips up to the bank. Bug, who is high on cocaine, brandishes an arsenal of firearms. Billy pulls out his gun, too. Dick struggles to convince Bug and Billy from resorting to violence. Bug shoots Billy because these two haven't gotten along well since they met. Bug hijacks the armored truck with Donnie and his relative Lynn (Kelly Wolfman of "Reasonable Doubt") inside and takes it to their other former prison inmate friend, Moondog (Michael Bell of "Goon") who owns a garage. In a frenzy, Bug uses a jackhammer to drill a hole in the top of armored truck and pipe in carbon monoxide. He does this to flush Lynn and Donnie out of the vehicle. Meantime, Dick has helped Billy up off the pavement and put him in a car and they careen off to Moondog's garage. Dick watches as Bug pulls $300-thousand out of the armored truck. While nobody is looking, Lynn slips an exploding paint canister into the bag. Dick and Bug flee the scene to a ranch, but Dick refuses to ride off into the sunset with Bug.
"High Life" is an impressive comedy of errors. The cast is first-rate, especially Timothy Olyphant and Donald Sutherland's other son Rossif. Stephen Eric McIntyre makes a grim villain with a trigger happy streak in his warped psyche. Yates creates both suspense and comedy and the film never degenerates into a gritty, unsavory saga, as it could easily have done. I'd never heard of it unless I saw it on clearance sale at a Dollar General Discount store.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The fair to middling Yuletide yarn "Love the Coopers," about a
dysfunctional family and their dog during a snowy Christmas in
Pittsburgh, wrecks the halls rather than decks them. Like "The Family
Stone" and Thanksgiving themed "Home for the Holidays," this outing
depicts the various trials and tribulations that four generations of a
family face as they assemble for their ritualistic Christmas Eve
dinner. "Corrina, Corrina" director Jessie Nelson and "Stepmom"
scenarist Steven Rogers supply soap opera rather than holiday hilarity
in this contrived PG-13 rated hokum that shares more in common with a
Lifetime movie than a Hallmark movie. Literally, everybody in "Love the
Coopers" is concealing something, lying about something, and/or hating
somebody else. A top-drawer ensemble cast that shouldn't be squandering
its considerable talents for such a contrived exercise in tedium makes
this bittersweet potboiler more tolerable than it has any right. Diane
Keaton and John Goodman play the long-suffering couple that sponsors
this disastrous dinner. Keaton appears in her element as a Martha
Stewart housewife who has more than enough time to lavish on this
supper. After all, she appeared in the similarly minded "Family Stone."
For a change, heavyset John Goodman looms front and center as her
husband for a change rather than as an eccentric bystander on the
periphery. Goodman's presence reminds us that not all Hollywood
husbands need look either trim and slim like Michael Douglas or
charismatic like Brad Pitt. Naturally, obstacles galore ensue as the
various couples encounter the problems in their lives and struggle to
triumph over them. No matter how robust the cast is, everybody is
inevitably upstaged by a large mixed breed dog named Rags that steals
the show in the final frame with the surprise of all surprises.
Charlotte (Diane Keaton of "Anne Hall") and Sam Cooper (John Goodman of "The Big Lebowski") have been married for 40 years. They have a grown-up son, Hank (Ed Helms of "The Hangover"), with a family of his own, while their adult daughter, Eleanor (ravishing Olivia Wilde of "Cowboys and Aliens"), has found neither love nor success as a playwright. Eleanor has just flown back home, and she is loitering at the local airport terminal because she doesn't want to face her folks. Eleanor and her mom rub each other the wrong way, and the former doesn't approve of the patronizing way the latter treats her. Eleanor is beginning to feel the burden of being single. Since her fiancée cheated on her, she has been leery of the opposite sex, but she still craves affection. At the airport, she comes across a soldier on leave, Charlie (Jake Lacy of "Obvious Child"), whose flight has been grounded because of inclement weather. Eleanor and Jake have a series of encounters and eventually get chummy. Rather than face her mom as a single daughter, Eleanor invites Jake to accompany her to her parents' holiday dinner and masquerade as her fiancé. Charlotte's widowed father, Bucky (Alan Arkin of "Argo"), has retired and frequents a local diner where he has developed a platonic friendship with a young waitress, Ruby (Amanda Seyfried of "Momma Mia"), who may have tried to slash her wrist at some time in the past. Bucky has been cultivating Ruby's appreciation of movies with Hollywood classics like Charlie Chaplin's "City Lights" and the Judy Holliday comedy "Born Yesterday." Meantime, an even more obnoxious character lingers on the sidelines in the person of Charlotte's jealous younger sister Emma (Oscar winner Marisa Tomei of "My Cousin Vinny") who has always clashed with her sister. Emma remains single and self-absorbed. She carries drama around with her like luggage.
Conventional as this set-up appears with the meal as the finale, more is going on than initially than meets the eye. Charlotte and Sam plan to use the Christmas dinner to announce their imminent divorce. Director Jessie Nelson and scenarist Steven Rogers hint, but never outright explain what prompted Charlotte and Sam's martial meltdown. Mind you, we catch a glimpse of their adorable second daughter who didn't survive infancy. Presumably, her demise has taken a toll on Charlotte's life and ruined her happiness. Sam wants to embark on a trip to Africa with her that they had planned decades ago. Sadly, Charlotte has forsaken her adventurous spirit. Meantime, Hank and his estranged wife Angie (Alex Borstein of "Ted") squabble about their three children, a lusty teenage son named Charlie (Timothée Chalamet of "Interstellar"), his younger brother Bo (Maxwell Simkins of "And So It Goes"), and their 5-year old sister, Madison (newcomer Blake Baumgartner) who spouts the crude phrase "You're such a dick." Of course, Madison provides the comic relief because everybody is appalled by her tactless diction. Furthermore, Hank has been replaced as a Sears' portrait photographer by automation. Worse, he hasn't informed anybody that he is no longer employed! Aside from Eleanor's antics, Emma faces the worst predicament of her life. She swallows a brooch at a jewelry store, and the store detective nabs her. Pittsburgh policeman, Officer Williams (Anthony Mackie of "Marvels' Avengers"), claps Emma in cuffs and transports her to jail. During the drive, Emma bonds with Officer Williams, and he reveals that not only is he gay, but he also is terribly lonely. Eventually, the Cooper dinner turns into a family feud. Everybody is at each other's throats when suddenly Bucky collapses from a stroke. The family rushes their paterfamilias to the emergency room. Fortunately, Bucky doesn't kick the bucket, and the family manages to resolve their differences.
Virtually every character in "Love the Coopers" is objectionable. Moreover, the filmmakers have given us too many characters to keep track of and furnished too few details about some. The biggest surprise is that "Love the Coopers" is narrated from the perspective of Charlotte and Sam's Saint Bernard named Rags. Although it is a clever conceit, no dog could know as much as this omniscient narrator knows. Holiday movies are a dime-a-dozen, but "Love the Coopers" isn't worth a dime.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The suspenseful episode of the "Lawman" television series finds Marshal Dan Troop (John Russell) and Deputy Johnny McKay (Peter Brown) struggling to find a killer before a politician on the stump arrives for a whistle-stop speech in Laramie. The action opens with three classic western character actors, Jack Elam, Ted de Corsia, and Donald "Red" Barry, riding into the outskirts of Laramie and taking refuge in a barn. Spense (Jack Elam of "Support Your Local Sheriff")has been hired to assassinate Senator Wellborn (Paul Keast)when his train rolls in at midnight and he gives a speech supporting statehood. Spense has a rifle with a telescopic site and he fires a bullet that is so powerful it can penetrate three men back to back. The well-dressed Barrett (Ted de Corsia of "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral") appears to be the brains behind the operation, while Shorty (Donald Barry of "Skalako") is just a hired gun. Marshal Troop receives word from the telegrapher (Walter Baldwin) that there will be an attempt on the senator's life. Spense and Barrett send Shorty into town to scope it out. Meantime, Troop sends Johnny into the bars to find out about any strangers. Shorty makes the mistake of getting shot when he tries to ambush Troop, and Johnny saves Troop's life with an accurate shot. They search the corpse and find one of Spense's bullets. Troop and Johnny locate Shorty's horse, and he rides into the night to track the horse with a lantern. Meanwhile, Johnny awaits the arrival of the train so that he can hop aboard it before Wellborn makes his appearance. No sooner has Johnny jumped onto the train and warned Wellborn than Spense opens fire. Troop spots the barn, tosses the lantern into it, igniting the hay, and guns down both Spense and Barrett. "Lone Ranger" director Stuart Heisler does a good job of generating suspense from the teleplay by "War Wagon" scripter Clair Huffaker and one-time only writer Booker McClay. Heisler relies on the use of close-ups of clocks to heighten the suspense like Fred Zinneman did in the film "High Noon." As usual, John Russell is at his stalwart best as the stern Marshal Troop. My only quibble about this otherwise exciting episode is the use of an obvious miniature train that delivers the Senator to Laramie. For the record, the action in this episode transpires after dark.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The 24th entry in the James Bond film franchise, Oscar-winning
"American Beauty" director Sam Mendes's "Spectre," tops "Casino Royale"
(2006) and "Quantum of Solace" (2008), but it doesn't surpass "Skyfall"
(2012). Ultimately, despite a variety of problems, this globe-trotting
007 outing boasts enough good stuff to offset the bad. If picturesque
settings, robust performances, sumptuous production values, and a
lavish $250 million plus budget constituted the bottom line for a
cinematic blockbuster, "Spectre" would rank as the best ever Bond.
Unfortunately, several factors undermine "Spectre,"including Sam
Smith's mellow theme song, sophomoric scripting, lackluster villains,
and a sluggish 148 minute running time. The above-average but formulaic
screenplay by "Gladiator's" John Logan, regular Bond scribes Neal
Purvis & Robert Wade, and "Edge of Tomorrow's" Jez Butterworth
generates occasional spontaneity. The scenes depicting a brawl aboard a
helicopter and later on an aircraft crashing into a convoy of vehicles
amount to exciting milestones for the series. The car chase through
Rome is thoroughly routine, and the fistfight above the train is more
noisy than dangerous. Furthermore, the basic plot recalls the Tom
Cruise espionage epic "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation" where the CIA
sought to disband the IMF. One of Bond's secondary opponents dreams and
schemes about dismantling the double-O section, putting our protagonist
out to pasture, and relying on a global satellite surveillance network
to thwart terrorism. Despite these drawbacks and letdowns, "Spectre"
benefits from an incomparable supporting cast. Ralph Fiennes
distinguishes himself as Bond's new boss, M, while Ben Whishaw as
Bond's quartermaster extraordinaire, Q, has more time to display his
skills. Former wrestler David Bautista acquits himself admirably as
Blofeld's chief thug, while Jesper Christensen is a hold-over from
"Casino Royale" and "Quantum of Solace." If you're a Bond fan, you'll
appreciate the homages to "From Russia with Love," "You Only Live
Twice," "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," "The Spy Who Loved Me," "For
Your Eyes Only," and "License to Kill." Naturally, Daniel Craig returns
as pugnacious 007, and he guns down a score of hooligans, beds a couple
of babes, and swaps blows with the biggest hulk of a henchman since
Roger Moore's Bond grappled with Richard Kiel's humongous Jaws.
"Spectre" unfolds in Mexico City during the annual Day of the Dead festivities. James Bond has been shadowing Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona of "Malèna"), and he discovers Sciarra and his cronies plan to explode a bomb in a crowded nearby stadium. Mind you, the new M (Ralph Fiennes of "Skyfall") didn't send Bond to pursue this dastard. Instead, 007 received a posthumous video from the former M (Judi Dench of "GoldenEye") about Sciarra. In the event of her death, M instructs Bond to kill Sciarra and attend his funeral. Bond tails Sciarra to Mexico City and eavesdrops on a conversation before Sciarra's conspirators spot him. A harrowing shoot-out ensues. One of Bond's bullets ignites the bomb, and the explosion collapses half a city block, with 007 narrowly escaping death. Predictably, M is furious about the international incident that Bond has precipitated. Of course, Bond says little about his reasons for killing Sciarra. Later, Bond sneaks off to Rome against orders to confabulate with Sciarra's widow Lucia (Monica Bellucci of "Shoot'em Up"), and he gate crashes a gangster summit. He runs afoul of the nefarious Mr. Hinx (David Bautista of "Guardians of the Galaxy") who pursues him. Simultaneously, M tangles with the new head of the Joint Intelligence Service, smarmy Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott of the BBC's "Sherlock"), who has merged MI5 and MI6. Denbigh wants to scrap the double-0 section and replace it with a Babel-like global satellite surveillance system codenamed "Nine Eyes." Although Denbigh has the ear of the Home Secretary, something about the mysterious conglomeration of private backers who financed his project bothers M. Meantime, Bond races off to rescue another damsel, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux of "Blue Is the Warmest Color"), who identifies the criminal organization that Bond has been investigating as 'Spectre.'
If you haven't seen Daniel Craig's earlier James Bond escapades, you may be baffled by some of the events and characters. Not only does "Spectre" bring a sense of closure to Craig's previous Bonds, but it also reunites our redoubtable hero with his career-long nemesisErnst Stavro Blofeld. For the record, James Bond has been contending with Blofeld as far back as the original Sean Connery 007 epics in the 1960s. Although we didn't see Blofeld in "Dr. No," we caught glimpses of him with his white cat in "From Russia with Love" and "Thunderball." Finally, Blofeld appeared in plain sight in "You Only Live Twice," "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," "Diamonds Are Forever," and "Never Say Never Again." We got a glimpse of him again in "For Your Eyes Only," but "Spectre" represents the first time since "Never Say Never Again" that Blofeld has stepped into the limelight. Oscar-winning character actor Christoph Waltz of "Inglourious Basterds" comes out of the shadows and confronts Bond late in the third quarter of "Spectre." Waltz makes a terrific villain, but Mendes and his scripters have short-changed him on screen time. Blofeld's final infamy sends Bond scrambling frantically in search of the plucky heroine at the old MI 6 building poised to be blown to smithereens. This ticking time bomb scene recalls the finale of the Sylvester Stallone movie "Expendables 3." Sadly, unlike a traditional James Bond movie, "Spectre" furnishes 007 with few ingenious gadgets. He is reduced to wearing a wristwatch that comes with an alarm clock bomb. Most of Blofeld's staff consists of executives or clerical staff, and Blofeld's gunmen are terrible shots. It is only when the end credits roll that we learn the name of Blofeld's chief henchman that David Bautista portrays. Mr. Hinx should have lasted longer than he does. Indeed, he should have shown up for the finale in the MI 6 building, so he could prevent Bond from escaping with Madeleine Swann.
Altogether, "Spectre" lacks sufficient spectacle to overshadow "Skyfall."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Armenian director Sarik Andreasyan's first English-language film
"American Heist" is a generic, sometimes pretentious, B-movie crime
thriller about an abortive New Orleans bank heist. The thing that
bothered me throughout this lackluster 95-minute epic was why
Oscar-winning actor Adrian Brody went slumming to make this minor
exercise in formula film making. Sure, I can understand why Hayden
Christensen might make a grubby little bit of grit like this to show
off his acting chops, get to brandish a firearm, and distance himself
from the "Star Wars" galaxy. Actually, Christensen isn't bad. Perhaps
some of Brody's Method-like acting rubbed off on him. I can't
understand why gorgeous Jordana Brewster would grovel as Christensen's
romantic interest in this fair to middling potboiler. Clearly,
everybody must have been motivated by a paycheck.
First, you have to understand that this is a saga about losers. Frankie (Adroan Brody) has some pals who protected him in prison from perverts that wanted to rape him with toothpaste strong-arm him into participating in their heist, and he strings along his brother James. Incidentally, Frankie served 10 years in prison for killing a cop, and he emerges from prison at the start of the movie to visit his younger brother James. James spent 16 months behind bars and now toils as a mechanic. James dreams of establishing his own shop, but the bank denies him a loan. Of course, this makes James a sympathetic character.
"American Heist" begins with James hearing gunshots in a building and then the film flashbacks to a day earlier, and we see him toiling as an auto mechanic. He catches up with an old flame, Emily (Jordana Brewster of "The Fast and the Furious"), who had left New Orleans after Katrina. She is back now working as a dispatchers for the New Orleans Police Department. After Frankie gets out of jail, he visits his younger brother and they meet later at a small bar. Frankie tells James about an idea for flipping and fixing houses and introduces him to his associates Ray (Tory Kittles of "Dirty") and Sugar (Akon of "Coach Carter"), who will provide the upfront money. As it turns out, Ray and Sugar are two heavily armed, trash-talking thugsters who make James complicit in their illegal shenanigans. They ride in James' Duster to a remote location, shoot it up, and flee with a security SUV hot on their trail, but James manages to lose the rent-a-cop. Ray orders James to get rid of the Duster.
Now, James is supremely upset with his sleazy, no-good brother for not watching out for him. Frankie shows up at James' house with Ray and Sugar in tow. Sugar takes the Duster and ditches it with Ray sits on the front steps and talks about a proposed bank job. Ray spouts off like he knows something about life when he justifies their decision to rob a bank. Consider Ray's rant: "Take a look around, kid. What do you see? Homes being foreclosed. People working two, three jobs just to put food on the table and still drowning in debt. Don't get me wrong. This country was founded on great ideals and principles. But they've all been ruined by the banks. Open your eyes, Jimmy. It's the banks that are robbing you." And then later Ray adds, "You know who my favorite president was? Thomas Jefferson. Because he saw all of this coming and tried to stop it. He fought the banks. JFK, too, and they killed him for it. 'The banking institution is more dangerous than an army,' he said. He also said that every generation needs a revolution, Jimmy. The American dream is just that, just a f#*king dream." James knows that he is in deep crap when Ray tells him "to get some sleep, but no sleep walking." What clinches everything is Ray's next line: "Any problems you cause will be very bad for your brother." Whether he likes it or not, James is trapped between a rock and a hard place. Ray explains how the heist will work. "War is a continuation of politics, only by other means. Politics is a continuation of economics by other means. This is our bank. This is our war. And this is our plan of attack." As it turns out, James will hijack several cars and blow them up to distract the police. At this point, "American Heist" gets interesting. The gang plans to create distractions just as Steve McQueen and his cronies did in Sam Peckinpah's "The Getaway." Naturally, since this is a 'crime does not pay' thriller, the heist fails and fails miserably when an innocent bystander crossing the street spots the robbery. Later, James learns that his wayward brother Frankie put sugar in Emily's gas tank. Frankie warns James that things will go bad for Emily if James screws up
The best part of "American Heist" is the heist itself. Of course, everything goes wrong for the robbers. Nevertheless, Andreasyan demonstrates a modicum of talent during the robbery that takes place in the last half-hour. Ray is cold-blooded when he blasts the bank manager at point blank. The police chopper that crashes into the building is an unexpected delight. Frankie's last ditch effort to redeem himself occurs near fade-out when he dresses James as a bank customer and smuggles him out as a hostage. Mind you, Brody delivers a brilliant performance as the scumbag brother, while Christensen is tolerable as his callow brother. Brewster is squandered as eye candy. You have to wonder if James and Emily hook up after the botched bank robbery. "American Heist" is a potboiler with an adequate budget, some strong performances, and a well staged bank heist. Ray's rants are interesting, but nothing about his little 'us against the system' opus qualifies as memorable.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Director John Milius' "The Wind and the Lion" qualifies as an excellent historical yarn about a true incident. Of course, certain liberties have been taken with the material, and Milius acknowledges the most important change. In real life, the person kidnapped was not a well-dressed woman, but a man. This gripping adventure wouldn't be half as much fun if a man were the hostage. Sean Connery proves that he was an actor when he took on this role because he looks nothing like James Bond. Brian Keith proved himself to be a formidable actor, too, in his portrayal of President Theodore Roosevelt. The action scenes are orchestrated with flair by Milius, and Candice Bergen and Sean Connery have charisma. If you are a Sean Connery fan, "The Wind and the Lion" show him in top form. John Huston steals every scene that he is in as Roosevelt's adviser John Hay. Since Milius wrote and directed this movie, you can be certain that the firearms are correct, too.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jack Lambert ranked as a classic villain in American cinema and television during his 28 year career. Mind you, he was never more menacing than as an itchy-fingered, trigger-happy gunslinger who sought Matt Dillon's scalp in the "Gunsmoke" episode entitled "There Was Never a Horse." Sadly, Hollywood never gave Lambert the chance to see his name glitter above the title on a movie marquee the way it later did his fellow contemporary character actors, such as Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Henry Silva, and Lee Van Cleef. Lambert radiates evil charisma as the scowling Kin Creed, and he is on the prod for anybody to kill. He rides into Dodge and ties his horse to a crowded hitch rail. He upsets a lounging cowboy by turning loose his horse so he can have room for his own mount. Creed forces the barkeeper to search for a bottle of rye even when the barkeep assures him that he has no more rye to sell. He riles a drunken cowboy (future movie director Joseph Sargent of "The Taking of the Pelham One, Two, Three") in the Long Branch later when he advises him to "Go home to your pigs, mister," and then kills him. Marshal Dillon concedes that Creed broke no law when he shot the cowboy. "I don't like gunmen here, Creed," Matt informs Creed in no uncertain terms. "I'll tell you something, Marshal, it didn't mean a thing to me to kill that drunk just now," Creed explains, "Not proud of it . . ., but taking a man like youthat'd be different." When Creed pistol whips a barroom patron, he forces Matt into a confrontation. Creed shoots Matt in the forearm and the wound causes him to drop his six-gun. The revolver breaks once it strikes the dirt and now it is no longer useful because the cylinder has fallen out of the frame. Matt knows that Creed won't follow up and kill him in cold blood. Creed insists that Matt tells him why he won't finish the lawman off. Matt sums it up the situation, "Because you wouldn't be able to brag about killing an unarmed man?" Creed refuses to shoot it out with Matt once he spots the forearm wound. "That's bleeding pretty bad. I ain't gonna shoot me no cripples neither," vows Creed. Meantime, somebody else shoots Kin in the back. The ethics that Kin displayed in the dealings with Matt prove to be his Achilles ' heel when a lesser man looking for a reputation enters the picture and kills him before Matt can slap leather with him again. Before the showdown, Matt knew that some people in Dodge were betting that he would shoot it out with Creed. Matt justifies his reluctance to square off against Creed to a citizen: "You know what I got in this envelope here? It's a paycheck from the United States Government, and it's for enforcing the law. It's not for stepping out into the street and shooting it out with every crazy gunman that comes into Dodge trying to make a reputation for himself." The message in John Meston's teleplay 'live by the gun and die by it' was re-echoed throughout other westerns in the 1950s, particularly "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral." This was one of the more memorable episodes, and one of Jack Lambert's stellar career moments.
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