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classicalsteve

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349 reviews in total 
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Interesting Show But Not Easy for the Viewers to Solve the Clues, 31 July 2015
7/10

The premise of "Race to Escape" is somewhat better than other reality shows. Two teams of three contestants each are blind-folded and placed inside separate rooms. Their blind-folds are removed and they have to figure out how to escape from their respective rooms. Each room has a large door with five bolts, and each bolt can be retracted by entering a four-digit numeric code into a keypad device near the door. Throughout the room are many objects and furniture, some replicas of artifacts, some modern, and some strange puzzles. Some of the objects, but not all, contain clues, and five different objects contain the numeric codes. Each team has one hour to find the codes and place them one-by-one into the device to release the bolts of the door and do so before the other team to be declared the winner. A set amount of prize money is announced at the beginning of the round, but the prize can change.

There are a few catches. Once the teams have gone beyond a certain amount of time, even if they win, the prize money, usually beginning at $25,000, will decrease. Also, if too many wrong codes are placed into the keypad box sequentially, the box will lock-up for two minutes, thus giving their opposing team an advantage and/or also sacrificing the amount of potential prize money. There is one out: either team at any time can opt to get the answer to one and only one clue, but they have to sacrifice $5000 of their potential prize money plus give minutes worth of time as a trade-off. Also, the clue answer cannot be for the last clue.

While I found the clues compelling and the objects interesting, there seemed to be a couple of problems. One issue I had was the host, Jimmy Pardo, often interrupts the flow of the show and reveals the answers to the clues being looked for by the contestants. Unfortunately, given the format of the show and the layout of the room, the audience can't really play along and try to answer the clues, because the objects are scattered around the room/set. The camera tended only to view an object when the contestants noticed it.

I enjoyed one viewing of the show, but because I couldn't really "play along" and find the answers, it's mainly watching two teams of three people run around and scatter for the answers. Because I was given many of the answers by the host, I knew what the contestants were trying to solve. I think the show would be more interesting and possibly more successful if we as the audience had the opportunity to look for and decipher the clues ourselves, somewhat in the same way a murder mystery allows for the audience to figure out "whodunnit". Of course this would mean rethinking how the room is laid out and/or how the camera shoots the show so the audience could clearly see the many different items. As it stands, I really can't play along, and therefore, I find the show less compelling.

The Gambler (2014/III)
The Loser Isn't Lovable Just Insufferable -- Worm of "Rounders" is Far More Compelling, 28 July 2015
3/10

I found nothing redeeming, let alone compelling or interesting, in Mark Wahlberg's character Jim Bennett. Certainly, I don't believe audiences always have to "like" a character but they have to be interested in them enough to look forward to their behavior and what happens to them even if you'd never have coffee with them. Edward Norton has made a career of playing unlikeable characters, but they are always compelling, such as Worm, in a similar vein, from "Rounders". Not unlike Bennett, Worm is vain, selfish, and downright stupid, deciding to cheat at cards playing poker with a bunch of municipal cops. But something about Worm always made him fascinating. Worm had strange charm and charisma.

In "The Gambler", not only is Bennett vane and selfish, he's also insufferable. When he's clearly ahead at the casino, he'll lay all his winnings on one gamble and then lose. And then he'll do the same thing at another table, constantly losing $1000's at a drop of a hat. His judgment is so bad he makes Worm of Rounders look like Albert Schweitzer! And he does so with not even a crack of a smile, just a perpetual frown. Worm, in his own weird way, is not only tolerable but compelling. Bennett is never so. And then we find a few scenes into the film, he's actually a literature professor. Then I thought, okay, he's a lousy gambler, but maybe he's an inspirational teacher. Wrong. He's just as insufferable as a teacher as he as a gambler. He chastises his students, telling them they have no chance in literature except one student, which he singles out. He tells the rest in fact that they're all losers. He makes Professor Kingsfield of "The Paper Chase" look like a kind-hearted softie. I started feeling like I wanted to avoid this character, and therefore the entire film.

So when the main plot sets in regarding Bennett putting up is own life as collateral, I didn't care. I could have cared less what happens to Bennett. The plot device is somewhat similar to "Rounders", where Mike McDermott and Worm put their lives on the line to cough up $15,000 before midnight or they'll turn into pumpkins. As dislike-able a character as Worm is, he's still fun to watch and it's entertaining to see what Worm will do to get himself into more hot water yet again. However, I had no such feelings for Bennett. I started feeling like, yeah, maybe it'll be good for the poor university students if he bites the big one. They wouldn't have to endure his long scolding sessions in which people are either James Joyce's or failures, and maybe someone could be put in his place who actually teaches. Although there is a fine supporting performance by Jessica Lange, ultimately, I couldn't root for the gambler. I just didn't care what happened to him.

Grant and Grace Steal the Screen in Delightful Hitchcock Action-Comedy, 28 July 2015
10/10

While he is most often associated with "Psycho", a dark brooding psychological horror tale, Hitchcock also knew how to have fun. "To Catch a Thief", which incorporates elements of action, suspense and comedy, is one of his best efforts of this type. Hitch often employed the likes of Cary Grant when he needed a more light-hearted character residing in Europe, and he used the incomparable Grace Kelly when he needed a witty love-interest to keep up with his male lead. This is a completely enjoyable and entertaining film with Grant and Kelly doing what they do best with Hitch at the helm.

In the French Riviera, near Monte Carlo and the Mediterranean Sea, some burglaries have disrupted this otherwise sleepy locale. The targets are jewels owned by French aristocrats and/or wealthy bourgeoisie in expensive houses. Nearby is a former jewel-heister residing in the same vicinity, John Robie, nicknamed the "Cat", played with subtle confidence by Cary Grant. The authorities are convinced the Cat has returned and is wreaking havoc on the community, but Robie insists he's not the one causing millionaire wives to sob at the loss of their priceless jewels. Robie realizes he will have to catch the burglar himself otherwise he'll probably be put on trial for the thefts.

Two Americans, Jesse Stevens and her daughter Frances (Grace Kelly), not only reside in the French Riviera but they also boast owning expensive jewelry. The Cat decides to solicit their help by pretending he's an American businessman who has taken a cursory interest in the thefts. However, Frances has heard of "the Cat" and the burglars, and she begins to suspect not only that he is the Cat but also he's responsible for the current thefts. Grant must play a game of "cat and mouse" in which he uses the Stevens as bait to catch the real thief and all the while staying out of police custody. We as the audience begin wondering who is the real thief and will he be easily apprehended, or have we been playing the fool in believing Grant?

A wonderful film, purely for entertainment value and not to be taken too seriously. The film was shot on location near Monte Carlo, especially on the narrow streets of the French Riviera. Legend has it that the Crown Prince of Monaco saw the cast shooting the film, spotted Kelly, and introduced himself. Shortly thereafter, they engaged in a media-driven romance ending with their marriage. In a tragic twist, Kelly, while driving on those same roads shot in "To Catch a Thief", lost control of her car which plummeted down the steep slopes, causing her death in 1982. Kelly was a real princess, both on and off screen, and hers was one of the most-publicized tragedies of a member of European royalty since before the death of Princess Diana only 16 years later. Interestingly, both princesses died in auto accidents.

How a Well-Mannered Grifter Compels a Published Psychiatrist into the World of Con Games, 22 July 2015
8/10

Dr. Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) is a celebrated psychiatrist who, at the beginning of the film, we learn has just published a bestselling self-help book. However, she is not as good a therapist as she is a writer. She interrogates her patients with subtle intimidation which causes them to pull away from her well-intended treatment. One of her patients comes to his appointment and claims an underground speak-easy of gamblers are out to get him because he owes a large gambling debt. Her patient tells her she must speak with "Mike", and Ford decides to take investigate.

She wanders into a shady bar with a gambling room at the back. There she finds Mike (Joe Mantegna), an amiable and well-dressed man who happens to engage in gambling. Turns out her patient's gambling debt is not as high as he had said. Mike makes the psychiatrist a deal: if she'll help him out in a current poker game, he'll forgive the debt. She agrees, and thus becomes enraptured with this cutting edge world of gamblers and grifters. She learns Mike is a grifter, a con artist who uses deception and cunning against marks who willingly give him money.

Dr. Ford, bored with her position as a psychiatrist at a local medical institution, decides she'll devote more of her time to writing. Her subject: gamblers and grifters who live on the periphery of mainstream society. She insists Mike teach her everything about con games. Not just gambling games, but the games he plays to extract cash out of unsuspecting victims, many of whom don't realize they are being conned.

David Mamet's foray into the world of grifters is one of the better offerings of its type. Similar fair include "The Sting", "The Film-Flam Man" and "The Grifters". Mantegna in particular makes the perfect con artist, whose charm and likability pull in marks from all social strata. In an interesting scene, Mantegna demonstrates why the "con" of "con man" means confidence in which the grifter gives his confidence to the mark. He compels a young soldier-in-training (William Macy) into giving a sizable amount of cash to a complete stranger at a Western Union office. A well-done and thoroughly entertaining film.

Disappointing Film in Which "Son of Sam" is not really the Main Story, 22 July 2015
4/10

In my opinion, Spike Lee missed out on a great opportunity. The so-called "Son of Sam" was the most feared serial killer in New York in the 1970's, similar to the Zodiac killer of the west coast of a few years earlier. When I heard Spike Lee had made a film about the killer, which I had little knowledge of since I'm a west-coaster, I was excited that this might be a very compelling offering from Lee. Instead, the film is not really about the serial killer "Son of Sam" per se, but rather the film focuses on a community of middle-to-lower middle class Bronx guys and gals during the height of New York paranoia about Son of Sam in the summer of 1977.

The story is really about these fictional characters who sometimes hear and/or speak about the Son of Sam killer. For most of my viewing of the film, I kept waiting for the film to develop more about the Son of Sam murders and the investigation. Instead the film centers on these fictional characters: Vinny, a hair dresser married to Dionna, a waitress, Ritchie, a punk-rock aficionado and part-time dancer at a gay bar, and Ruby, Vinny's half-sister who has a crush on Ritchie. At one point a New York police investigator, Detective Petrocelli, asks an urban mob boss, Luigi, to find the killer. Again, this detective is most likely fictional and had nothing to do with the real investigation of the crimes. Late in the film, one of the characters accuses another of being the Son of Sam killer.

The poster for this film is very misleading as it shows newspaper headlines about the serial killer Son of Sam. But in truth, Lee's film uses Son of Sam only as a developing crime story in the background while the story is more about these fictional characters. I guess Lee's intent was to present the atmosphere of this strange moment in time in New York, not long before the infamous New York blackout caused perhaps the worst looting of an urban center in United States history. However, the film doesn't focus much on the serial killer and the real investigation. Unfortunately, there has yet to be a good film about the Son of Sam killer which ranks with "Zodiac" made not long after about the Zodiac killer of the San Francisco Bay Area. "Zodiac" focused all of its attention on the killer, his victims and the on-going investigation. "Summer of Son" does not tell the story behind "Son of Sam".

The Literarlly Cut-Throat World of Con Artists, 28 June 2015
8/10

In most films about "grifters", or "con artists", they are almost always the ones the audiences root for, such as the lovable characters in "The Sting", Gondorff and Hooker (Paul Newman and Robert Redford) whose only marks are those who deserve it. In reality, grifters mark anyone they think they can take. And the more the mark has, the more the grifter thinks he or she can take from them. A con artist (aka confidence man or woman) uses camaraderie and deception to convince a potential victim to willfully give them money. In the best con games, the mark doesn't realize he or she has been "taken".

Roy Dillon (John Cusack) is a small-con grifter who was taught by an older con artist and magician. He perpetrates small-time tricks, like switching bills at bars, and getting in with strangers to play rigged games of chance. But he's never enacted bigger cons. His mother Lilly Dillion is also a grifter who works for the mobs which own many of horse racing tracks in California. She's paid to bet on long shots to decrease the pay offs in case the long shot wins, using the mob's own money, even though the track itself doesn't know the mob is actually paying into its own betting pool. For example, if a horse had 50-1 odds to win, and Lilly adds money into the betting pool making the odds 40-1, if the horse wins, the mob only has to pay off $40 to every $1 bet instead of $50. But there's a small hitch. Lilly is skimming off the top, betting less money than the mob has given her, and she hides the extra in the trunk of her car.

The wild card is a young female grifter name of Myra Langtry (Annette Bening) who was once in a big con game with a man name of Cole (J.T. Walsh). At the film's beginning we learn Roy is going with Myra, but he's not sure about her, and he doesn't know she's a grifter. After Roy unsuccessfully pulls one of his bate and switch the bills games on the wrong bartender which lands him a slug into the stomach, Lilly and Myra meet at hospital. From the get-go we know that Lilly and Myra are adversaries, both vying for the affections of Roy. Eventually, Roy and Myra leave on a road trip.

During the trip, Myra recounts her days with Cole and how they swindled Texas millionaires out of thousands in cash. They set up a phony office when oil prices were down and convinced Texas magnates to invest thousands of dollars into a scheme. Cole and Myra would convince the mark they could defraud the stock or bonds market by placing orders depending upon a shift in the market, such as a stock, bond or currency, and then cash in on the profits. The trick was a 7-second delay in which if there was a significant move of a stock and/or commodity up or down on the Tokyo exchange, they could either buy or sell before the information reached New York. When the mark brought the money, and all that was needed was to make the actual transaction, a phony scenario was presented to the mark involving authorities, and the mark and his money would soon part company.

But Roy has never tried anything so big before. And his mother Lilly wants Roy out of the con game, before he becomes like her, a loser who has sold her soul to the mob. She is physically punished by one of the mobsters for missing one of the high-stakes races when she takes Roy to hospital, and as luck would have it, one of the long-shots wins, forcing the mob to pay 70-1 odds. We know that this is a tug of war between these two women, the sexy upstart grifter Myra and the lonely loser old grifter Lilly.

An excellent film which probably more accurately portrays the cut-throat world of con artists. In reality, some con artists are playing deadly games, not like the characters portrayed in "The Sting", "The Film-Flam Man" and "House of Games". A French nobleman who had invested with Bernie Madoff committed suicide when the fraud was revealed, and others have been killed by con artists. The world of Roy, Lilly and Myra portrays a much deadlier world. While a great and compelling film, I would have liked Myra and Roy to engage the "big con" which in the end they avoid.

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Romantic Love Rectangle in 19th-Century Rural England, 8 June 2015
10/10

"Far From the Madding Crowd" is the fourth novel by and first success of British writer Thomas Hardy, first published in a single volume in 1874. Its title refers to the setting of the story which is 200 miles from London, which was certainly by the late 19th century a noisy and overcrowded metropolis. By contrast the setting is in rural England among mostly farmers and merchants in small towns. The present film is an excellent adaption of one of the high-spots of English literature conveying well both its setting, time and sensibility.

The story centers around a woman who comes into an unexpected inheritance and how she navigates the romantic affections of three male suitors. Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), not long into the film, receives the inheritance of a large farm from a passed-away uncle. Her first suitor, Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), is a sheep-raiser and herder who awkwardly makes his affections known. He is an independent entrepreneur and neighbor of Everdene who loses his stock and livelihood when one of his shepherding dogs goes crazy and forces the sheep to their deaths. As a result, he becomes a wandering worker-for-hire. Oak is soft-spoken but resolved, exhibiting subtle confidence in who he is and his knowledge of livestock.

Her next suitor is a 180-degree shift from Oak, William Boldwood. Boldwood is the wealthiest landowner in the surrounding county, possibly landed-gentry, but it's never made clear whether his wealth is from inheritance, business, or a combination of the two. Despite his wealth and prestige, the fine clothes he wears can't hide that he seems uneasy with himself, despite his name "Boldwood". He is not very confident around women, and when he becomes enamored with Everdene, his means of making his feelings known are worse than Oak, being uneasy and bashful. Despite being worth many times the other two suitors, he is the least confident of the three.

Sergeant Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge) is the most outwardly outspoken and seemingly confident of the three. While courting, he often dons his military uniform of bright red, the colour of British military. When a previous engagement to another woman fails, he seeks Everdene. Of the three, at first he appears to be the most successful in winning her affections, especially in a scene where he brandishes his sword in front of her. However, as events play out, the "confidence" of Troy is not all that it seems, and Everdene begins to see another side of Troy.

This is an excellent story about people living in rural Victorian England and the struggles of balancing both relationships and farming. While certainly the premise is somewhat fantasy in terms of three suitors vying for the affections of one woman, the storyline and characters never lapse into cliché. Also, the acting is first-rate, and I could see academy award nominations for the leads, particularly Carey Mulligan as Everdene. The photography is excellent with the lush English countryside in the background. Not to be missed if you enjoy movies such as this.

The Extended Version Is a Much Better Film: A Religious and Art History Thriller, 6 June 2015
10/10

I give the film 10 stars for the Extended Version, 8 stars for the theatrical version. When I saw the Da Vinci Code for the first time in the theater, I thought it was okay, but the whole experience seemed rushed. Much later when I bought the Da Vinci Code on Blu-Ray and saw it in the so-called Extended Version, the film was much more satisfying. The Extended Version is a superior film: more gripping, more suspenseful, and far more compelling. The Da Vinci Code the Extended Version makes better use of Ron Howard's fine directing, and the characters seem more developed. The first time around, everyone was in and out of the Louvre, and running all over Paris, not to mention everywhere else. In the Extended Version, the pacing seems more natural and the events aren't as hurried, allowing the story to "breath".

As has been pointed out by many a-reviewer, the plot is somewhat absurd. However, that's why we see films: to be taken away to another plane which may or may not work completely logically. The trick is whether or not audiences will suspend their disbelief and run with the story for two hours. The plot is essentially about the continuation of a religious "war" of sorts between two covert factions: The Priory of Zion, also known as the Keepers, and Opus Dei, an underground order within the Catholic Church which carries out extremist agendas, even without the knowledge of the Vatican. These factions and their 2000-year-old war have been kept hidden from the public at large. Harvard symbologist and cultural-history scholar Robert Langdon and a police researcher Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) become enmeshed in a diabolic religious plot in which the four top-ranking members of the Priory, called the Senechaux, have been assassinated.

The first scene involves an old man running for his life from a hooded assassin during after-hours at the Louvre Art Museum in Paris, France. The assassin, an albino named Salis (Paul Bettany) fires a fatal shot into Jacques Saunière (Jean-Pierre Marielle). Bleeding and dying, the old man drags himself to his feet with a pen in hand and engages in some kind of markings. The film then cuts to a lecture by Robert Langdon on the nature of symbols in world history. He is then confronted by the French police and asked to come to a murder scene. He was planning to meet the victim, Saunière, but the older man failed to show for their appointment.

He comes to the Louvre to see a horrific site: the body of Saunière splayed out like Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man with strange markings on his chest and invisible words on the floor. Unbeknownst to Langdon, the detective-officer in charge of the investigation Besu Fache (Jean Reno) believes Langdon guilty. By chance, Sophie Neveu arrives and through a secret message, informs him he is Fache's no. 1 suspect. The two flee together from the French police and become fugitives from justice. They engage in a two-day adventure in which they attempt to decipher anagrams, find artifacts and artworks, and reveal the meaning of codes all the while eluding the French police. The theme of the so-called "sacred feminine" recurs throughout the film, especially when the fugitives solicit the help of Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen). Teabing is a self-proclaimed solitary scholar and presumably independently wealthy Englishman residing in France whose historical conclusions are rather wide of mainstream academia. At the same time, the albino-assassin is hunting for an artifact called "the keystone". The secret order, Opus Dei, is trying to eradicate the long-held belief in the so-called Holy Grail.

If you like suspense films with some historical and art references added into the mix, the Da Vinci Code is one of the best films of its type. While the author Dan Brown certainly didn't invent the genre of art-history thrillers ("The Flanders Panel" by Arturo Pérez-Reverte was written over 10 years before "The Da Vinci Code"), it has become the most well-known and bestselling examples in its sub-genre. Some of the plot twists and explanations are certainly absurd if you analyze them critically. However, it really is a fun film. The only scene I don't care for is one in which they trick a young man to lend Langdon a cell phone on a bus to find out more about some historical names. In the book, this scene took place in the British Library, a much more interesting and appropriate locale to look up revered figures of the past. Still, a really fun movie that does give me the shivers at the end. I don't know why, but it does.

"Damages" (2007)
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The Firm Meets The Insider, Michael Clayton: Dynamic Legal-Thriller Show But a Bit Overlong, 3 June 2015
9/10

I'll review Season 1 since that's the only one I've seen. The first episode hooked and reeled me in straight-away, a cinematic fisherman hunting for viewer-ship game. In the first minutes we see the front of a high-rise apartment in New York. The color of the visuals are rather strange, a kind of washy yellow somewhat blurred. The camera then zooms to an elevator and a young woman, 30-ish, emerges, bloodied. She runs from the elevator, into the lobby, and out into the streets of New York. She's eventually found by law enforcement and brought to a precinct where she is held for questioning. Her name is Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), and she's a "plaintiff's attorney", a lawyer who represents clients who have civil grievances against other individuals, groups, corporations, even government agencies. She works for Hewes and Associates, a plaintiff law firm run by an effective but amoral attorney, Patricia "Patty" Hewes (Glenn Close), who uses ruthless tactics and endless negotiations to get the law suit outcomes she wants.

A subtitle then states "6 Months Earlier". The blurriness disappears and the colors appear back to normal. This is how the series is organized. We flash back and forth between the events of "now", which is shown as yellow-blurred, while all flashbacks are shown in normal color, until by the series end, the two eventually merge. Parsons is being offered a job at a relatively prestigious law firm, but she turns down the offer, eventually working for Hewes and Associates. Hewes and Associates captained by the uncompromising Patty Hewes are involved in a class action law suit against a billionaire magnate, Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson), brought by his former employees who accuse him of dumping millions of shares of the company stock, thereby making their stock options worthless. Also, we learn Parsons' soon-to-be sister-in-law, the brother of her fiancée, also has information and connections to Frobisher.

The series moves between the two periods of time, the "now" and the "then", and more pieces of each part of the puzzle are revealed, although the only way to tell if we're in the past or the present is the visual look. In the present, we soon learn Parsons had been attacked at an apartment flat. At first we are led to believe the apartment is hers, but then we find out she was staying at the apartment belonging to Patty Hewes. We also learn she has not only been attacked but she's accused of murdering someone else. As the series progresses, the flashbacks move closer and closer in time to the "now". The series balances between interesting corporate intrigue, like you might find in "The Insider" to urban violence, similar to "The Firm" and "Michael Clayton".

This is quite a compelling series from start to finish. Excellent performances by Rose Byrne as the young upstart attorney, Noah Bean as David Connor, Parsons' fiancée, Zeljko Ivanek as Ray Fiske, Frobisher's personal attorney, and Anastasia Griffith as Katie Connor, the future sister-in-law of Parsons. These are all "A" performances. The "A+" performances go to heavy hitters Glenn Close as Patricia Hewes and Ted Danson as Frobisher. I was particularly impressed with both actors in this series. The cutting stares and elongated silences of Close as Hewes practically draw blood, while Danson has a fascinating take on corporate magnate Frobisher, who flip-flops between moments of fair-minded reasonableness and ruthless detachment. Frobisher in particular is in constant denial about what he's doing, whether in work or pleasure, either cheating on his young wife or hiring hoodlums to carry out "dirty work". Similarly, we learn Hewes also plays a deadly game of lawsuit "cat and mouse", not only against her courtroom adversaries but even her own employees. I can't think of another actress who'd be able to play Hewes as effectively.

This is an extremely well-written and well-acted series. The only reason I give it 9 stars instead of 10 is I felt the number of episodes were too many. The story probably could have been told in about 7 45-minute episodes but instead the producers opted for 13. There were a few episodes in the middle, around 5 through 9, where I was getting impatient to get to the final denouement, and it felt like the story was being drawn out unnecessarily. Some of the forward-flash scenes, the blurry ones, were repeated several times with little new information, and I felt just a bit frustrated. Still the ending of the first season was a satisfying ending with the plot twists revealed, making sense more or less. I'll have to try the second season at some point, although I may have to wait to "recover" from this one.

A 21st-Century Indiana Jones in an Ocean's 11-Style Heist for Treasure:, 31 May 2015
8/10

In the wake of "The Da Vinci Code", "National Treasure" really is a very entertaining and fun fantasy-adventure film. While not perfect, it's better than most of the other treasure hunting of ancient artifact movies of this type, particularly the dismally disappointing "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull". The one compromise is that the viewer has to "buy' into some episodes which are almost laughably implausible. However, if you can get past some of the "are you kidding me" moments, it's still an engaging trek through some of early American history, enjoyable for family viewing.

Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) is the next generation in the Gates family of treasure hunters who believe in secret societies, conspiracies and cults. They are obsessed with a vast treasure they believe contain ancient relics such as sarcophagi, monuments, and artifacts from Antiquity, worth the equivalent of the entire collection residing in the Louvre. Although displaced from the Eastern Mediterranean, the treasure was hidden somewhere by Freemasons in the United States, or so they believe. According to family lore, the treasure was discovered by the Knights Templar during the Crusades of the 12th century in the ground beneath the place where the Israelite Great Temple of Jerusalem once stood, which was destroyed in 66 C.E. by the Romans. The later heirs of the Knights Templar, the Freemasons, moved the treasure to a secret location in North America. Some of the early American Freemasons and maybe an American Founding Father or three, placed secret clues hidden in obvious but concealed places to aid in its discovery by someone "pure", who adheres to the code of the Freemasons and the earlier Templar Knights. An early 19th century member of the Gates family was offered one of the clues. For several generations, the legend has been passed down, and now it has fallen to Ben Gates, although his father Patrick Gates (Jon Voight), no longer believes in the existence of the treasure, having wasted several decades with his father John Adams Gates (Christopher Plummer) trying to find the "treasure".

The first clue, revealed early in the first scene of the film, so I'm really not giving anything away, is "The Secret Lies with Charlotte". Benjamin Gates grandfather, John Adams, explains to the young Ben Gates the clue was given to his grandfather's grandfather from Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signatory of the Declaration of Independence and supposedly a Freemason. (Carroll is a real historical figure, although probably this story was made up for the film.) The family has been unable to find the meaning of the phrase.

Fast-forward 30 years. Benjamin Gates is now in middle-age, and he is seeking Charlotte. He finds "Charlotte" and another clue. The deciphering of the clue points to another clue residing on the underside of the original Declaration of Independence, the hand-written document which formally declared the North American Colonies' desire to secede from British rule. Simultaneously, Ian Howe (Sean Bean), once a trusted partner of Gates in the quest at the beginning of the film, has turned into an enemy rival who also wants the Declaration of Independence to find the next clue, and hopefully, the treasure. The film becomes a series of chases and clues, somewhat similar to the Da Vinci Code. At one point, the FBI enters into the picture, literally.

To stop the baddie Ian and his entourage of nameless henchmen from stealing the Declaration first, Gates and Co. resolve to steal it first, in "Ocean's 11" style. A fun, sort of madcap adventure fantasy, somewhat similar to the Disney films of the 1970's, like "Candleshoe" in which a treasure lies hidden within an old mansion. (Interestingly, "National Treasure" was also produced by the Disney Company.) A few of the scenes are a bit implausible, especially a few moments where the Declaration of Independence seems in dire jeopardy. However, the acting is good enough and the ideas behind the hunt compelling enough, that overall it still works well. Just don't take it too seriously. And think twice if the film has led you to believe stealing such a document from a national archive is easy as it seems in "National Treasure". I guarantee you, it isn't.


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