Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Below is a list of my favorite Season Two episodes from the CBS series, "ELEMENTARY". Created by Robert Doherty, the series stars Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson:
FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF "ELEMENTARY" SEASON TWO (2013-2014)
1. (2.10) "Tremors" - During a court hearing to determine whether he and Joan Watson should be kept on as consultants to the NYPD, Sherlock Holmes recalls the events that led to the shooting of Detective Marcus Bell.
2. (2.22) "Paint It Black" - Following Joan's kidnapping by terrorists, Sherlock and his brother Mycroft Holmes race to investigate the connection between her kidnappers and a Swiss bank executive in order to save her life.
3. (2.06) "An Unnatural Arrangement" - Sherlock and Joan investigate the attempted assault of Lieutenant Thomas "Tommy" Gregson's estranged wife, when their home is invaded.
4. (2.01) "Step Nine" - Sherlock and Joan travel to London to help the former's police partner, Inspector Lestrade, who has gone into hiding after threatening a murder suspect with a grenade. The pair also discovers that Sherlock's older brother Mycroft is living at 221B Baker Street, Holmes' former residence.
5. (2.17) "Ears to You" - Sherlock, Joan and the NYPD investigate when a former murder suspect receives a parcel with two severed ears in it, leaving the police to suspect that his "late" wife might still be alive and he might be innocent of murder.
Thursday, August 17, 2017
"GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2" (2017) Review
Before I started on this review, I found myself wondering which "phase" in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2" found itself. Phase Two? Phase Three? In fact, I continued to ponder more about the franchise's current phase than about the plot for this movie. Until I finally shook myself out of this stupor.
Back in 2014, Marvel Films/Disney Studios released "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY" during the month of August, more or less a graveyard for summer films. I suspect that Kevin Fiege had low expectations of the film's performance at the box office, due to its unfamiliarity with the general public. The movie proved them wrong and went on to become a major box office hit for that year. Due to its success back in 2014, Marvel Films/Disney Studios released a sequel, "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2" in the more exulted release date in early May, three years later. James Gunn, who had directed the 2014 film, returned to direct this film. And although he had also served as co-writer of the first film with Nicole Perlman, he served as this film's sole screenwriter.
Following the events of the 2014 film, Peter Quill aka Starlord and his friends have become renowned throughout the galaxy as the "Guardians of the Galaxy". The movie begins with the Guardians delivering stolen and valuable batteries to a race called the Sovereign, after they had protected the items from an inter-dimensional monster. In exchange, the Sovereign deliver Gamora's adopted sister Nebula, who had been caught earlier trying to steal the batteries. However, this peaceful transaction is disrupted when one of the Guardians, Rocket the Raccoon, steal some of the batteries for himself. The Guardians find themselves hunted by a fleet of ships controlled by the Sovereign and their leader, Ayesha. They eventually crash land on a planet inhabited by a mysterious figure, who destroys the Sovereign fleet for them. That figure turns out to be Ego, Peter Quill's powerful father first mentioned in the 2014 film. Ego turns out to be a god-like Celestial that manipulated the matter around its consciousness to form his "home" planet. He explains to Peter that he had projected a humanoid guise to travel the universe and discover a purpose. He eventually fell in love with Peter's mother Meredith Quill. Following her death, Ego hired Yondu to collect the young Quill, but the boy was never delivered and Ego has been searching for his son ever since. The latter invites Quill, Gamora, and Drax to his home planet. Meanwhile, Rocket and Groot remain behind to repair the ship and guard Nebula. Unbeknownst to all, Ayesha has hired Peter's former mentor, Ravagers leader Yondu Udonta to hunt them down. But the Guardians eventually discover that Ego might prove to be a bigger problem than either Ayesha or Yondu's crew.
I was surprised by the characterization featured in "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2". It had been one of the strong points of the 2014 movie. But director-writer James Gunn took it to another level in this film, as Gunn's screenplay further explored the main characters' backgrounds and emotional concerns. More important, the characterizations featured in this film led to better performances by the cast.
One good example was the exploration of Peter Quill's relationships with the two father figures in his life - his biological father Ego and his mentor, Yondu Udonta. Peter's search for a permanent father figure proved to have an ironic twist, considering his longing to meet his real father, Ego's charismatic personality and his occasionally hostile relationship with Yondu. Chris Pratt had to step up his game to develop Peter's character even further. He did . . . and proved that he could be a excellent dramatic actor . . . for the second (or third) time in his career. Kurt Russell gave a first-rate and charismatic performance in his portrayal of Ego. And thanks to Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan's excellent performances, the movie also explored Gamora's relationships with her adoptive sister, Nebula and their adoptive father, the villainous Thanos. Although the latter did not appear in the movie, his presence was strongly felt - especially in the confrontation between the two women as they confronted the circumstances that led to their estrangement. "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2" also featured the further development of Peter and Gamora's relationship. The potential romance in this relationship not only manifested in a charming dance between the pair on Ego's planet, but also a heated quarrel in which Peter expressed his frustration at being kept at a distance by Gamora. This scene featured great acting from both Pratt and Saldana.
Bradley Cooper had been highly praised for his voice performance as Rocket the Racoon in the 2014 film. The character's past was not really explored in this film. Considering his origin as a lab experiment, I found this a pity. But Rocket's problems with being part of a group and his emotional issues were touched upon - especially in a strong and emotional scene that featured a conversation between him and Yondu, while they were being held prisoner. Both Cooper and actor Michael Rooker nearly stole the movie with this scene between Rocket and Yondu. Also, Rocket found himself serving as the toddler Groot's protector - a strange twist, considering that the latter had been his protector in the previous film. I understand that actor Vin Diesel continued to provide the voice for Groot - and yes, I do mean Baby Groot. I thought Marvel would hire someone other than the deep-voiced Diesel for the role. But they brought him back. And I am amazed that he was able to forgo his usual deep voice to portray the toddler Groot. And speaking of the Yondu, his past reared its ugly head following the revelation that the other Ravager leaders had exiled his group due to child trafficking on Ego's behalf - including the kidnapping the young Peter Grill from Earth. This revelation also led to another in which audiences learn the true strength of Peter and Yondu's relationship.
The very literal Drax the Destroyer forms a strange friendship with a young empath named Mantis, who has been forced to serve as Ego's "pet" for a number of years. Although Drax's needling personality and strange sense of humor made his regard for the naive and sheltered seem abusive, I was surprised at how the pair managed to grow close - to the point that Drax nearly sacrificed himself for her safety. In these scenes involving Drax, Dave Bautista proved once again that he was a better actor than many had assumed, due to his past as a professional wrestler. And he had a first-rate co-star in Pom Klementieff's subtle and charming portrayal of the empathic Manits.
"GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2" also saw the return of Yondu's right-hand man, Kraglin, who was forced to overcome his sense of self-preservation in order to come to his captain's aid when the crew turned on Yondu. Ayesha, the Golden High Priestess and leader of the Sovereign, proved to be another interesting role for actress Elizabeth Debicki's filmography. Ayesha proved to be not only interesting, but also one of the most arrogant characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) . . . the type of character that eventually rubbed Rocket the wrong way. Audiences also got an expanded look into the world of the Ravagers. Thanks to Gunn's script, I realized that most of them - including Yondu - was not as despicable as I had originally assumed. And I was shocked and pleasantly to see the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Michelle Yeoh, Ving Rhames and Michael Rosenbaum as among the older leaders of the Ravangers.
But despite the movie's strong characterizations, I was not as impressed by "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2" as I thought I would be. It lacked something that the 2014 movie possessed - a strong narrative. At first, I thought Ayesha would prove to be the heroes' main protagonists, considering that she had hired the Ravagers to hunt down the Guardians in the first place. However, about midway into the movie, I realized that she was nothing more than a plot device (and a tiresome one at that) used by Gunn to drive the Guardians into the path of Ego, Peter's father. And in the end, it was really about him . . . and his plan to remake the universe into his image, using the seedlings he had implanted on different planets, impregnating various females like Meredith Quill and using his offsprings like Peter.
I know . . . this sounds confusing. Let me put it this way. For years, Ego traveled to different parts of the universe, planting seedlings on different planets. Then he seduced and impregnated women like Meredith so that he can utilize the powers of his offsprings to activate the seedlings . . . and he can terraform those planets into his image. As it turned out, Peter was the only offspring who had the power to help him activate the seedlings. Personally, I found this story rather lame. It was more or less just another "meglomaniac" trying to conquer the universe. In a way, it reminded me of Thanos' narrative within the MCU involving the Infinity Stones . . . only it involved "seedlings" and Ego's offsprings. I found this narrative less original and with more shortcuts. The film's minor plot lines involving the characters' emotional arcs struck me as more interesting.
The movie also featured the usual first-rate visual effects. I was surprised that so many visual effects companies were involved in the film's production. I think I managed to count at least nine of them. Wow. Nine companies involved in the visual effects? Hmmm . . . perhaps I should not have been surprised. "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2" seemed to lack a cohesive visual style, despite having a single production designer, Scott Chambliss. Some people were not impressed by the visuals for Ego's planet, as shown below:
Personally, I was. Mind you, there was nothing mind-blowing about the visual effects for Ego's planet. But I had enjoyed them, nonetheless. However, I was impressed by the special effects used to visually convey Rocket, Groot, Kraglin and Yondu's journey across the galaxy - involving several jumps. I found it very effective and rather funny.
Peter Quill's audio cassette tape played a major role in the score for "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY". Near the end of that particular movie, he came across the package that his mother Meredith had given him just before her death. The package contained another cassette with more of her favorite songs of her youth. I hate to say this, but I was not that impressed by the collection of songs used for "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2", aside from one or two. Even more surprising is that I found the songs featured in the movie's end credits to be a lot more entertaining . . . and right for the movie. Pity.
Overall, I enjoyed "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2". It was not exactly a disappointment thanks to the strong characterizations featured in the film and the first-rate performances by a cast led by Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana. But I must be honest, it was almost a ghost of the 2014 film. And this is due to what I believe was a weak narrative that included a villain with goals that struck me as unoriginal. It is a pity that Nicole Perlman did return to serve as director James Gunn's co-writer in this second film. I had the odd feeling that needed a collaborator for a stronger narrative.
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Below are images from the 1939 comedy called, "MIDNIGHT". Written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, and directed by Mitchell Leisen; the movie starred Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche and John Barrymore:
"MIDNIGHT" (1939) Photo Gallery
Sunday, August 13, 2017
Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of the NBC series, "TIMELESS". Created by Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan, the series stars Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter, Malcolm Barrett and Goran Višnjić:
TOP FAVORITE EPISODES OF "TIMELESS" SEASON ONE (2016-2017)
1. (1.07) "Stranded" - The time traveling team of Lucy Preston, Wyatt Logan and Rufus Carlin follow fugitive Garcia Flynn (who is determined to destroy the organization known as Rittenhouse) to 1754, during the French and Indian War, and find themselves stranded when his team sabotages their time machine, the Lifeboat. Katrina Lombard and Salvator Xuereb guest-starred
2. (1.13) "Karma Chameleon" - Wyatt and Rufus take an unauthorized trip back to Toledo, Ohio in 1983 in an effort to prevent the one-night stand between the parents of the man who ends up murdering Wyatt's wife, Jessica.
3. (1.13) "The Murder of Jesse James" - The team travels back to April 1882, after Flynn saves outlaw Jesse James from being murdered by the Ford brothers. Flynn uses the outlaw to help track down a former time traveling colleague. They recruit U.S. Marshals Bass Reeves and Grant Johnson to help them track down the pair. Coleman Domingo, Daniel Lissing, Zahn McClarnon and Annie Wersching guest-starred.
4. (1.04) "Party at Castle Varlar" - The team continues its search for Garcia Flynn in 1944 Nazi Germany,where they receive help from Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. Sean Maguire guest-starred.
5. (1.02) "The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln" - The team struggles over whether to prevent the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865; when they learn that Flynn has formed ties with John Wilkes Booth.
- Honorable Mention: (1.15) "Public Enemy No. 1" - Lucy and Rufus and a suspended Wyatt divert from a mission in order to track down Flynn to 1931 Chicago. They recruit Elliot Ness' help, when they discover that Flynn has joined forces with Al Capone to find Rittenhouse member, Chicago Mayor William Thompson. Misha Collins guest-starred.
Saturday, August 12, 2017
"HEREAFTER" (2010) Review
Clint Eastwood reunited with Matt Damon for ”HEREAFTER”, a fantasy drama about three people who are affected by death in different way in parallel stories. Damon portrayed a San Francisco factory worker named George who is able to communicate with the dead. Belgian actress Cécile de France portrayed a French television journalist who barely survived a tsunami, while on vacation. And twin brothers Frankie and George McLaren portrayed Marcus and Jason, an English boy and his elder twin brother, who is killed in a car accident.
I wish I could say that I loved ”HEREAFTER”, but I would be lying. I did not hate it. I found myself mildly interested in the stories of George, Marie and Marcus. Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan provided enough pathos in their stories – especially Marcus’ story – to make me somewhat interested in their fate.”HEREAFTER” had two outstanding scenes that knocked my socks off. One of the sequences centered on Marie’s harrowing experiences with a tsunami, which was featured in the movie’s opening scene. The other centered on the disastrous ending of a potential romance between George and a fellow cooking school student portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard, when her curiosity over his ability forced her to face a dark secret from her past. I also found myself moved by Marcus’ inability to recover from his twin brother’s death. But despite these virtues, ”HEREAFTER” did not strike me as one the year’s more interesting movies.
The major problem I had with ”HEREAFTER” centered on the film’s pacing. I found it so damn slow. Really. About seventy minutes into the film, I found myself struggling to stay awake. I thought that Eastwood had finally overcome his penchant for directing slow-moving films. Apparently, I was wrong. Another problem I had with the film was that the three storylines really had nothing to do with one another. Each of the plotlines could have easily been a single episode from an anthology television series about death and the afterlife. The movie’s conclusion at a book fair in London held the three plotlines together. And quite frankly, I was not that impressed by it. The plot device that Morgan used to connect the three main characters struck me as incredibly contrived . . . and weak.
If there is one thing I can say about ”HEREAFTER” is that it lacked bad performance. The entire cast did a solid job, with one or two outstanding performance. Although they came off as a bit stiff in one scene early in the film, the McLauren brothers did a solid job in portraying the grieving Marcus and his dead twin, Jason. Cécile de France ably conveyed Marie’s emotional journey from the successful television journalist, to a traumatized woman, whose near death experience during a tsunami led her to slowly question her existence. Matt Damon gave an excellent performance as George, the factory worker who used to be a professional psychic, thanks to ability to communicate with the dead. I thought he was very subtle as a man desperate to live a normal and not deal with the emotional impacts of his clients’ reunions with dead loved ones and the exposures of family secrets. The best performance, in my opinion, came from Bryce Dallas Howard, who portrayed a fellow cooking school student name Melanie, to whom George becomes romantically attracted. She was emotional and superb as her character first goads George into reading her memories and eventually regrets her actions, when he unexpectedly exposes the sexual abuse her father had inflicted upon her as a child.
Like Eastwood’s 1997’s opus, ”MIDNGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL”, ”HEREAFTER” is interesting enough for someone to watch at home . . . on a rainy day. But its slow pacing, fractured storylines and utterly contrived ending made me realize that I would never consider it a masterpiece, let alone one of my favorite movies.
Thursday, August 10, 2017
Below are images from "THE MIRROR CRACK'D", the 1980 adaptation of Agatha Christie's 1962 novel. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie starred Angela Landsbury as Miss Jane Marple:
"THE MIRROR CRACK'D" (1980) Photo Gallery