“INFERNO” (2016) Review

“INFERNO” (2016) Review

Author Dan Brown has written at least four novels featuring the character of Harvard University professor Robert Langdon. At least three of them have been adapted for film by producer Brian Grazer and director Ron Howard. Although three years had passed between the first two movies, “THE DaVINCI CODE” (2006) and “ANGELS & DEMONS” (2009), Grazer and Howard waited another seven years before their third adaptation, “INFERNO”, hit the movie screens. 

Based upon Brown’s 2013 novel, “INFERNO” begins with a mystery. Robert Langdon awakens inside a hospital room in Florence, Italy, with no memory of what happened to him during the past few days, but with occasional visions of a scorched Earth. One of the doctors tending him, Dr. Sienna Brooks, reveals that he is suffering from amnesia, due to a bullet wound to the head. When the pair discovers that another doctor is actually an assassin after Robert, Sienna helps him escape. The pair find a “Faraday pointer”, a miniature image projector with a modified version of Sandro Botticelli’s famous painting “Map of Hell”, which is based on Dante’s 14th century painting, “Dante’s Inferno”. Robert and Sienna realize this is the first clue in a trail left by Bertrand Zobrist, a billionaire geneticist who believed that rigorous measures were necessary to reduce the Earth’s growing population. Zobrist had earlier committed suicide after being chased by armed government agents. As Robert and Sienna set about finding the virus created by Zobrist, they are chased by two parties. One of them is the hospital assassin, a woman named Vayentha, who works for a private security company called “The Consortium”, who is acting on behalf of Zobrist. They are also being chased by agents of the World Health Organization (WHO).

“INFERNO” proved to be a box office flop . . . at least in the United States. International moviegoers, on the other hand, embraced the film, making it an international hit. How did I feel about the film? To be honest, I rather liked. Actually, I like all three film adaptations of Dan Brown’s novel. But I would place “INFERNO” at number two. I would not regard it as fascinating as “THE DaVINCI CODE”, but I certainly found it more interesting than “ANGELS & DEMONS” due to a twist to the narrative that I did not see coming.

Was there anything I found negative about the film? A part of me wished that Robert Langdon’s talent for religious iconology and symbology had played a stronger role in the movie. No, I take that back. Langdon’s talent in these field did play a strong role. Through him, he was able to find the virus created by Zobrist. He was also able to find the location where Zobrist and later his followers planned to release the virus. But like “ANGELS & DEMONS”, the narrative for “INFERNO” did not provide that much insight in the world of religious and historic iconology as the one for “THE DaVINCI CODE”. It seemed a bit of a let down for me. I also have one other problem with “INFERNO” – namely the film’s showdown between Langdon, the W.H.O. agents and Zorbrist’s followers. Visually, I found the sequence’s location inside the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul more than satisfying and strong in atmosphere. But I had a problem in how the leader of Zobrist’s followers died. It seemed vague. And when I discovered that particular character had died before Langdon’s struggle with another Zobrist follower, I was taken by surprise. Unpleasantly so.

But despite its flaws, I still enjoyed “INFERNO”. It had a good, solid cast led by Tom Hanks. It was nice to see him portray Robert Langdon again. More importantly, I enjoyed how he conveyed Langdon’s reaction over the unusual situation that the character found himself in the movie’s beginning. I must admit that I was not that impressed by the news of Felicity Jones being cast as his co-star in this film. I simply could not imagine a possible screen chemistry between the pair. And yet, they worked well together. It helped that Jones gave an excellent performance, especially in those scenes in which her character seemed a bit overwhelmed in the situations in which they found themselves.

The movie featured other first-rate performances. Hanks had another female co-star – Sidse Babett Knudsen, who gave a warm and skillful performance as Langdon’s former lover, W.H.O. director Elizabeth Sinskey. Omar Sy was exceptionally complicated and superb as Christoph Bouchard, leader of the SRS team (Surveillance and Response Support) of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control team looking for Langdon. Ana Ularu struck me as particularly intense as the Consortium agent ordered to follow Langdon. Ben Foster’s performance as the transhumanist scientist Bernard Zobrist only appeared in a few scenes in the movie. Yet, the actor did an excellent job in conveying his character’s charismatic personality. My favorite performance was given by Irrfan Khan, who was spot-on as head of “The Consortium”, the security firm hired by Zobrist to ensure that the latter’s virus would be found. I found Khan’s performance to be not only entertaining, but also complex and ambiguous.

However, the performances were not the only aspect of “INFERNO” that I enjoyed. I will admit that I felt a bit of disappointment with the movie’s Italian setting . . . especially since the previous Langdon film, “ANGELS & DEMONS” was also set in that country. However . . . I must admit that I found Salvatore Totino’s sharp and colorful. I thought the cinematographer did an excellent job in capturing the beauty and color of Italy, Hungary and Turkey. And I thought both Tom Elkins and Daniel P. Hanley did a first-rate job with the film’s editing – especially in the various action sequences and Langdon’s flashbacks.

Despite my complaint that the film’s narrative failed to engage in deeper exploration of Langdon’s knowledge of iconology and the vague details of the main protagonist’s death, I really had no problems with the narrative for “INFERNO”. I thought it was a pretty damn good story. I liked how author Dan Brown and screenwriter David Koepp utilized Langdon’s specialty to create a nail-biting thriller in which humanity’s fate was threatened. Zorbrist proved to be another one of Brown’s protagonist, whose extremist views set the story in motion. For some reason, I found myself admiring how the narrative for “INFERNO” combined elements of art history, philosophy, politics, a travelogue, and a James Bond thriller. All I can say is . . . good job.

I realize that “INFERNO” had received mainly negative reviews from critics. And personally, I would never regard it as one of the best films of 2016. But considering the original manner in which the plot commenced and the way screenwriter David Koepp balanced various elements to create an interesting story. And thanks to Ron Howard’s slick direction and a first-rate cast led by Tom Hanks, “INFERNO” also proved to be very entertaining.

Top Ten Favorite THANKSGIVING Television Episodes

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Below is a list of my favorite television episodes about the Thanksgiving holiday: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE THANKSGIVING TELEVISION EPISODES

1 - Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Pangs

1. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – (4.08) “Pangs” – Vampire slayer Buffy Summers deal with a Native American vengeance spirit, the sudden appearance of her nemesis Spike and the preparation of a large holiday meal on Thanksgiving in this hilarious episode.

2 - Friends - The One Where Ross Got High

2. “Friends” – (6.09) “The One Where Ross Got High” – Live-in lovers Monica Geller and Chandler Bing invite her parents for their first Thanksgiving holiday and are shocked to discover that the latter does not like Chandler for reasons that have to do with Monica’s brother Ross.

3 - WKRP in Cinncinati - Turkeys Away

3. “WKRP in Cinncinati” – (1.07) “Turkeys Away” – In this classic episode of the 1970s/80s sitcom, radio station owner Arthur Carlson takes a more hands-on managerial approach by organizing the greatest Thanksgiving promotion in radio history by dropping live turkeys from a helicopter. Hilarious performance by Richard Sanders.

4 - Friends - The One With All the Thanksgiving

4. “Friends” – (5.08) “The One with All the Thanksgivings” – In this funny episode, the six friends recount their worst Thanksgivings.

5 - Mad Men - The Wheel

5. “Mad Men” – (1.13) “The Wheel” – The marriage of Don and Betty Draper reach a new level following Betty’s evaluation of their marriage during the Thanksgiving holiday. And secretary Peggy Olson experiences a professional high and a personal crisis.

6 - Friends - The One With All the Football

6. “Friends” – (3.09) “The One With the Football” – Emotions run high on Thanksgiving when the gang have a game of touch football initiated by Monica and Ross’ sibling rivalry, while Chandler and Joey compete over a Dutch model.

8 - How I Met Your Mother - Slapsgiving

7. “How I Met Your Mother” – (3.09) “Slapsgiving” – Marshall Eriksen and Lily Aldrin host their first Thanksgiving dinner as a married couple. Ted Mosby and Robin Scherbatsky are still dealing with the breakup of their relationship and Marshall terrorizes Barney Stinson with the threat of a third slap he is due, thanks to an old bet.

9 - The West Wing - Shibboleth

8. “The West Wing” – (3.08) “Shibboleth” – The Thanksgiving holiday draws a group of Chinese Christians claiming religious persecution to the White House. Also Chief of Staff Le McGarry is at loggerheads with his sister over the issue of school prayer.

10 - Seinfeld - The Mom and Pop Store

9. “Seinfeld” – (6.08) “The Mom and Pop Store” – In this classic episode, George Constanza decides to buy a convertible once owned by “Jon Voight”; Cosmo Kramer tries to save a small shoe-repair business, much to Jerry Steinfeld’s detriment; and Elaine Benes wins tickets for her boss to participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

10 - Will and Grace - Queens For a Day

10. “Will and Grace” – (7.10-7.11) “Queens For a Day” – Lovers Will Truman and Vince D’Angelo decide to allow their “families” meet for the Thanksgiving holiday at the D’Angelo home with disastrous results.

“UNDERGROUND”: Things That Make Me Go . . . Hmmm?

Ever since its premiere back in March 2016, I have been a major fan of “UNDERGROUND”, the WGN cable series about a group of Georgia slaves who attempt the journey to freedom in antebellum America. But I am also a big history buff. And since “UNDERGROUND” has a strong historical background, it was inevitable that I would notice how much the series adhered to history. Although the series’ historical background held up rather well, there were some aspects of the series that I found questionable, as listed below:

“UNDERGROUND”: THINGS THAT MAKE ME GO . . . HMMM?

Women’s Hairstyles – I had no problems with the hairstyles worn by the African-American female characters. However, I cannot say the same white female characters – especially the two sisters-in-law, Northern socialite Elizabeth Hawkes and Southern plantation mistress Suzanna Macon. The latter’s hairstyle seemed to be some vague take on mid-19th century hairstyles for women. However, the hairstyle worn by the Elizabeth Hawkes character seemed to be straight out of the late 19th century or the first decade of the 20th century.

Patty Canon – A group of professional slave catchers/traders were featured in the episodes between (1.06) “Troubled Waters” and (1.09) “Black & Blue”. These men were led by a notorious illegal slave trader named Patty Cannon. The lady herself finally appeared in the flesh in the tenth and final episode of Season One, (1.10) “White Whale”. However, the presence of Miss Cannon in a story set in 1857 proved to be anachronistic, for she lived between the 1760s and 1829. Hmmm.

Location, Location and . . . Location – One aspect of the series that annoyed me was that viewers were more or less left in the dark was the locations of the fleeing fugitives in two episodes – “Troubled Waters” and (1.07) “Cradle”. Their journey in Season One was spread throughout four states – Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio. I really wish that showrunners Misha Green and Joe Pokaski had kept track of the fugitives’ locations – especially in those particular episode. Also in “Troubled Waters”, they traveled north (I think) aboard a keelboat that previously served as a floating whorehouse. I am aware that a few rivers in the United States flow northward. But I could have sworn that the two nearest ones in the series’ setting would be the New River in southeastern North Carolina and the Monongahela River that flows from West Virginia to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Neither river is that close to the fugitives’ route.

James as a Field Slave – In the second episode, (1.02) “War Chest”, viewers learned that the Masons’ housekeeper, Ernestine, is willing to have sex with planter Tom Macon in order to secure the safety of her children, which includes preventing their seven year-old son James from becoming a field slave. Ernestine’s efforts come to nothing for the episode “Cradle” opened with Ernestine and her older son, Sam, preparing young James for the harshness of the cotton fields. While the scene was heartbreaking, I also found it slightly unrealistic. Slave children on large-scale plantations would not be sent to the fields (cotton, sugar, tobacco, etc.) until they were at least nine or ten years old. The sight of James in the cotton field would have been more realistic if he had been a few years older.

Harriet Tubman – The series’ Season One finale ended with successful fugitive Rosalee meeting the famed Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman at the Philadelphia home of abolitionist William Still. This is not a blooper, considering that Miss Tubman’s base of operation stretched between Maryland (her home state) and the New York-Canada border. However, since news of actress Aisha Hinds being cast to portray the famous abolitionist in the series’ second season, I cannot help but wonder if the setting will shift toward the East Coast.

Sam’s Role on the Macon Plantation – The series’ premiere, (1.01) “The Macon 7” first introduced Sam – Rosalee’s older half-brother and Ernestine’s oldest child – as the Macon plantation’s carpenter. Audiences saw Sam serve in this role until the fifth episode, (1.05) “Run & Gun”, when he and the other remaining slaves on the plantation worked out in the cotton field to put out the fire caused by one of the main fugitives, Cato. Sam worked in the cotton field until his escape attempt at the end of “Cradle”and his death in (1.08) “Grave”. Yet, I have no idea why owner Tom Macon kept him in the cotton fields. Considering that the latter never suspected him for helping the Macon 7 escape, why would he have Sam working in the field, instead of the carpenter’s wood shop?

Boo’s Fate – The Season One finale saw the youngest of the Macon 7, Boo, playing in the garden of William Still’s Philadelphia home. Before that, the young girl lost her mother Pearly Mae first to slave catcher August Pullman and later to Ernestine’s act of murder on the Macon plantation. She then lost her father to members from Patty Cannon’s gang on the banks of the Ohio River. After spending time at the home of Elizabeth and John Hawkes, she was reunited with Rosalee and Noah, before joining the former at Still’s home. But Noah got captured and Rosalee decided to return south to find him. So what will happen to Boo, now that she is literally orphaned? She certainly cannot remain in the United States. Her time with the Hawkes proved that.

End of the Journey – Northern States or Canada – Ever since the series began, many characters – especially the Macon 7 – discussed about taking the arduous 600 miles or so journey from Georgia to the Ohio River and freedom. Yet, no one even brought up the idea of continuing the journey to Canada. After all, Season One is set in 1857, seven years following the passage of the Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act. The fugitive law was mentioned by Elizabeth Hawkes’ former beau, Kyle Risdin, who used it to force her husband John Hawkes to assist in the search and capture of a fugitive slave. So why did the Hawkes, Still, and the Underground Railroad conductors in Kentucky (I believe) failed to inform members of the Macon 7 that reaching the North would not be enough . . . that they would have to travel all the way to Canada in order to be safe?

Ernestine’s Position on the Macon Plantation – Sam was not the only member of Rosalee’s family that left me confused about the chores assigned on the Macon plantation. I also found myself confused about the chores of Rosalee’s mother, Ernestine. “The Macon 7” made it clear that Ernestine was the Macon family’s housekeeper. In fact, the series featured scenes of her acting as supervisor of the house slaves. And yet . . . other episodes featured Ernestine supervising the work inside the plantation’s kitchen. I found this odd. Surely the plantation had its own cook preparing and supervising the meals? Plantations and the households of wealthy families would have a cook. Why did this series have Ernestine, a housekeeper, supervising the kitchen? As housekeeper, Ernestine would not be serving drinks or food to the Macon family and their guests. She would order a maid for this function. Yet, the series has shown Ernestine not only ordering maids to serve food, but also herself performing the same chore. Huh? But the biggest mind bender occurred in the fourth episode, (1.04) “Firefly”, which featured Ernestine butchering a hog. I really found this difficult to accept. The housekeeper of a wealthy family acting as a butcher? C’mon! Really?

Despite the above quibbles, I really enjoyed “UNDERGROUND” and look forward to watching Season Two. I only hope that this second season will feature less anachronisms.

“THE IMITATION GAME” (2014) Review

 

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“THE IMITATION GAME” (2014) Review

One of the more critically acclaimed movies to hit the movie screens in 2014 was “THE IMITATION GAME”, a loose adaptation of the 1983 biography, “Alan Turing: The Enigma”. The movie focused upon the efforts of British cryptanalyst, Alan Turing, who decrypted German intelligence codes for the British government during World War II. 

I never saw “THE IMITATION GAME” while it was in the theaters during the winter of 2014-2015. After seeing it on DVD, I regret ever ignoring it in the first place. Then again, I was ignoring a good number of films during that year. I have been aware of two previous movies about the United Kingdom’s Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park during World War II. But “THE IMITATION GAME” came closer to historical accuracy than the other two films. Is it completely accurate? No. There were a good deal of the usual complaints from historians and academics about the film’s historical accuracy. But you know what? Unless I find such inaccuracy too ridiculous to swallow or it failed to serve the story, I honestly do not care.

I do have a complaint or two about “THE IMITATION GAME”. The movie began with Turing being arrested by the police, because the arresting officer in question thought he was a Soviet spy. I found it odd that this Detective Nock had decided to question Turing on his own, instead of reporting the latter to MI-6. More bizarre is the fact that during interrogation, Turing told the police detective about his work, which should have been classified.

And during my first viewing of “THE IMITATION GAME”, I had assumed the film would be more about Turing’s homosexuality than his role in breaking the Germans’ Enigma code. After all, the movie began in 1951, when Turing was arrested for suspicion of espionage (due to his lack of a war record) and eventually charged for practicing homosexuality. But the movie focused a lot more on his work at Bletchley Park. His homosexuality did have some impact on the movie’s narrative – Turing’s memories of his schoolboy friendship with a boy named Christopher Morcom and his fears of his homosexuality being discovered. But the screenplay failed to explore the one potentially powerful aspect of his homosexuality in the story – namely his 1951 arrest and the chemical castration he underwent to avoid prison. Instead, the event was merely used as an epilogue for the movie and I found that rather disappointing.

Otherwise, I enjoyed “THE IMITATION GAME” very much. Screenwriter Graham Moore created an otherwise powerful look at Turing and his work at Bletchley Park. Moore took great care to explore the cryptanalyst’s complex personality and its affect upon Turing’s colleagues and his friend, Joan Clarke. I especially enjoyed Turing’s friendship with Clarke and how she eventually helped him bond somewhat closer with his exasperated colleagues. Moore’s screenplay also did an excellent job of exploring Turing’s work at Bletchley Park in great detail. This exploration revealed something that took me completely by surprise – namely his creation of an electromechanical machine that helped break the Enigma code. Due to his work on this machine, Turing has become known as the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. Moore ended up winning a much deserved Best Adapted Screenplay for his work.

But not even a first-rate screenplay can guarantee a winning film. Fortunately for Graham Moore, Morten Tyldum signed up as the film’s director. Who is Morten Tyldum? He is a Norwegian director who is highly acclaimed in his native country. And I thought he did a great job in transferring Moore’s screenplay to the movie screen. It could have been easy for a movie like “THE IMITATION GAME”, which featured a great deal of dialogue and hardly any action, to put me to sleep. Thankfully, Tyldum’s direction was so well-paced and lively that he managed to maintain my attention to the very last reel. And I thought he juggled the occasional flashbacks to Turing’s schooldays and the 1951 scenes featuring the latter’s encounter with police Detective Nook with the World War II sequences very competently.

“THE IMITATION GAME” was also blessed with a first-rate cast. Benedict Cumberbatch earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the complex and brilliant Alan Turing. I really do not know what else to say about Cumberbatch’s performance other than marvel at how he made a superficially unlikable character seem very likable and more importantly, vulnerable. Keira Knightly earned her second Academy Award nomination for portraying Joan Clarke, Turing’s closest friend and a brilliant cryptanalyst in her own right. One of Clarke’s relatives complained that Knightley was too good looking to be portraying the rather plain Clarke. It seemed a pity that this person was more concerned with the actress’ looks than her excellent and fierce portrayal of the intelligent Clarke, who proved to be a loyal friend of Turing’s and at the same time, refused to put up with some of his flaky behavior toward her.

The supporting cast included the likes of Matthew Goode, who gave a sharp and witty performance as cryptanalyst and analyst Hugh Alexander and Charles Dance as Commander Alastair Denniston, the the no-nonsense and unoriginal head of the codebreakers. It also featured solid performances from Allan Leech as John Cairncross, the soft-spoken codebreaker who proved to be a mole for the KGB; Rory Kinnear as Detective Nock, the inquisitive police inspector who learned about Turing’s war activities; and Mark Strong, who gave a very cool performance as Stewart Menzies, head of MI-6 between 1939 and 1952.

Yes, “THE IMITATION GAME” had its flaws. I feel that the film’s flaws came from the 1951 sequences in which Alan Turing found himself arrested by the police. Otherwise, I really enjoyed screenwriter Graham Moore and director Morten Tyldum look into the life of the famous cryptanalyst. I also have to give credit to a cast led by a brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley for making this film not only enjoyable, but also fascinating.

“AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” (2004) Review

 

“AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” (2004) Review

The year 2004 marked the umpteenth time that an adaptation of Jules Verne’s travelogue movie, ”Around the World in Eighty Days” hit the movie screen. Well . . . actually, the fifth time. Released by Disney Studios and directed by Frank Coraci, this adaptation starred Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Cécile de France, Ewan Bremmer and Jim Broadbent.

This adaptation of Verne’s novel started on a different note. It opened with a Chinese man named Xau Ling (Jackie Chan) robbing a precious statuette called the Jade Buddha from the Bank of England. Ling managed to evade the police by hiding out at the home of an English inventor named Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan). To keep the latter from turning him in to the police, Ling pretends to be a French-born national named Passepartout, seeking work as a valet. After Fogg hired “Passepartout”, he clashed with various members of the Royal Academy of Science, including its bombastic member Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent). Kelvin expressed his belief that everything worth discovering has already been discovered and there is no need for further progress. The pair also discussed the bank robbery and in a blind rage, Phileas declared that that the thief could be in China in little over a month, which interests “Passepartout”. Kelvin pressured Phileas Fogg into a bet to see whether it would be possible, as his calculations say, to travel around the world in 80 days. If Fogg wins, he would become Minister of Science in Lord Kelvin’s place; if not, he would have to tear down his lab and never invent anything again. Unbeknownst to both Fogg and “Passepartout”, Kelvin recruited a corrupt London police detective named Inspector Fix to prevent the pair from completing their world journey. However, upon their arrival in Paris, they met an ambitious artist named Monique Larouche (Cécile de France), who decides to accompany them on their journey. Ling also became aware of warriors under the command of a female warlord named General Fang (Karen Mok), who also happens to be an ally of Lord Kelvin.

I might as well make this short. ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” did not do well at the box. In fact, it bombed. In a way, one could see why. In compare to the 1956 and 1989 versions, it took a lot more liberties with Verne’s original story. Phileas Fogg is portrayed as an eccentric inventor, instead of a Victorian gentleman of leisure. He takes on a bet with a rival member of the Royal Academy of Science, instead of members of the Reform Club. Passepartout is actually a Chinese warrior for an order of martial arts masters trying to protect his village. Princess Aouda has become a cheeky French would-be artist named Monique. And Inspector Fix has become a corrupt member of the London Police hired by the venal aristocrat Lord Kelvin to prevent Fogg from winning his bet. Fogg, Passepartout and Monique traveled to the Middle East by the Orient Express, with a stop in Turkey. Their journey also included a long stop at Ling’s village in China, where Fogg learned about Ling’s deception.

Some of the comedy – especially those scenes involving Fix’s attempts to arrest Fogg – came off as too broad and not very funny. Also, this adaptation of Verne’s tale was not presented as some kind of travelogue epic – as in the case of the 1956 and 1989 versions. The movie made short cuts by presenting Ling and Fogg’s journey through the use of day-glow animation created by an art direction team supervised by Gary Freeman. Frankly, I thought it looked slightly cheap. I really could have done without the main characters’ stop in Turkey, where Monique almost became Prince Hapi’s seventh wife. It slowed down the story and it lacked any humor, whatsoever. I am a major fan of Jim Broadbent, but I must admit that last scene which featured his rant against Fogg and Queen Victoria on the steps of the Royal Academy of Science started out humorous and eventually became cringe-worthy. Poor man. He deserved better.

Did I like ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS”? Actually, I did. I found it surprisingly entertaining, despite its shortcomings. Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan made a rather funny screen team as the resourceful and clever Ling who had to deceive the slightly arrogant and uptight Fogg in order to quickly reach China. Cécile de France turned out to be a delightful addition to Chan and Coogan’s screen chemistry as the coquettish Monique, who added a great deal of spark to Fogg’s life. Granted, I had some complaints about Broadbent’s performance in his last scene. Yet, he otherwise gave a funny performance as the power-hungry and venal Lord Kelvin. It was rare to see him portray an outright villain. And although I found most of Bremmer’s scenes hard to take (I am not that big of a fan of slapstick humor), I must admit that two of his scenes left me in stitches – his attempt to arrest Ling and Fogg in India and his revelations of Lord Kelvin’s actions on the Royal Academy of Science steps.

There were many moments in David N. Titcher, David Benullo, and David Goldstein’s script that I actually enjoyed. One, I really enjoyed the entire sequence in Paris that featured Ling and Fogg’s meeting with Monique and also Ling’s encounter with some of General Fang’s warriors. Not only did it featured some top notch action; humorous performances by Chan, Coogan and de France; and colorful photography by Phil Meheux. Another first-rate sequence featured the globe-trotting travelers’ arrival at Ling’s village in China. The action in this sequence was even better thanks to the fight choreography supervised by Chan and stunt/action coordinator Chung Chi Li. It also had excellent characterization thanks to the screenwriters and the actors. One particular scene had me laughing. It featured Coogan and the two actors portraying Ling’s parents during a drunken luncheon for the travelers.

I wish I could say that this version of ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” is the best I have seen. But I would be lying by making such a statement. To be honest, all three versions I have seen are flawed in their own ways. This version is probably more flawed than the others. But . . . I still managed to enjoy myself watching it. The movie can boast some first-rate performances from the cast – especially Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan and Cécile de France. And it also featured some kick-ass action scenes in at least three major sequences. Thankfully, it was not a complete waste.

“The Power of One” [PG-13] – 15/20





“THE POWER OF ONE”

PART XV

“What the hell is going on?” Leo demanded, the minute he had materialized in the middle of the room. Chris remained silent.

Paige saw her oldest sister heave a weary sigh. “And good evening to you, Leo,” the youngest Charmed One commented. The Elder rewarded her with a glare.

Piper asked, “What do you want, Leo?”

“There’s been a disturbance. Detected by the Council,” Leo continued anxiously. “Has something happened to Wyatt?”

It was Harry who answered, “He’s lost his powers. Actually, they were stolen. By his nanny.”

Horror filled both Leo and Chris’ eyes. “Oh my God!” the former cried. He turned on his former wife. “Piper, how could you let something like that happen?”

Again, Piper sighed. “I didn’t . . . let it happen . . . Leo!”

“You hired her! Couldn’t you tell that she was a danger?” the Elder shouted back. “Couldn’t any of you sense that?”

Piper retorted, “I’m not a psychic!”

“Well, Phoebe is!” Leo pointed at his former sister-in-law. “And she’s empathic!”

The middle Charmed One opened her mouth in protest. “Wha . . .? I mean, I didn’t sense anything from her! But I did become suspicious . . .” Everyone stared at her. “I mean . . . I saw her taking samples of Wyatt’s hair from his brush.”

“And you didn’t say anything?”

Phoebe shot back, “Of course I did! But . . .” She broke off, and shot an embarrassed glance at her older sister.

Paige sighed. She would give anything not to be a witness to another Piper-Leo quarrel. Or an inquisition from Leo AND Chris. “Okay, so we weren’t that suspicious of Don . . . I mean, Daley Bakker. What can we say, Leo? She was a good actress.”

Leo’s angry eyes swept over the three sisters. “You just dismissed Phoebe’s suspicions?”

“Not completely,” Harry replied. “Phoebe didn’t have any evidence to back her up. And Olivia was also suspicious, so she checked this Donna or Daley’s background.” He shook his head with disbelief. “Man! If only you knew the truth about her!”

“What . . .?” Leo’s face turned red. “I can’t believe this! Phoebe AND Olivia become suspicious of this woman and you did NOTHING?”

Piper finally lost her temper. “For God’s sake, Leo! The woman had helped me protect Wyatt from a demonic attack! What was I supposed to think?”

Chris asked, “Isn’t this Miss Thompson . . .?”

“Bakker,” Cecile immediately corrected. The two whitelighters stared at her, as she glanced away.

Chris continued, “. . . this Miss . . . Bakker a demon, as well?”

Cole replied, “No, she’s human. I could tell. According to Andre, she’s a bokor.”

“A what?” Chris demanded.

Andre explained, “West African name for evil magic practitioners.”

Leo cried, “Who cares what she is? Where is she? Isn’t there some spell or potion that can be used to return Wyatt’s powers to him?” He turned to Chris. “And why didn’t you warn us about this Daley woman? You’re from the future.”

Chris shot back, “No one had ever told me about her! And I haven’t been born, yet! Besides,” he sneered at Leo, “you had met Wyatt’s nanny, this evening. You mean to say that you couldn’t tell that she was a phony?”

All eyes focused upon the young Elder. Whose face turned a deeper shade of red. For a moment, Paige wondered if Leo was about to suffer a heart attack. Her former brother-in-law immediately went into a defensive mode. “How am I supposed to know? I’m not a telepath or empathic!”

“It would be useless anyway,” Cecile commented. “We think that she has an amulet that protected her from psychic powers or magic of any kind. Including Cole’s powers. And we think that Ms. Bakker may have received said amulet from the daemon who had attacked Piper, a few days ago.”

Phoebe added, “I think that Donna . . . I mean, Ms. Bakker had arranged that attack to convince Piper to hire her.”

Leo’s blue eyes went wide with disbelief. “Are you serious? You mean that not even the Power of Three . . . or Cole can overcome this amulet?”

A brief second followed before Cole heaved a sigh and said, “The amulet belongs to a dominion spirit named Caspiel . . .”

OH GOD!” Despair flashed briefly in Leo’s eyes. Apparently, he knew all about dominion spirits. “This . . . woman not only has Wyatt’s powers, but the amulet of a dominion spirit, as well?”

Paige replied gingerly, “Well . . . yeah. But don’t worry. Cecile and Andre will try to find out which spell or ritual that Donna woman had used.”

Cole added, “And Andre and I will be looking into the daemon she may have hired. Perhaps someone can tell us where we might find Ms. Bakker.”

Paige saw the disbelief in Leo and Chris’ eyes. She understood how they felt. Even if they all found Daley Bakker, how on earth were they all going to deal with a powerful Vodoun bokor in possession of Wyatt’s powers . . . and a dominion spirit’s amulet? Not even Cole, with all of his powers would stand a chance.

The telephone rang. Paige answered the call. “Hello?” A familiar voice filled her ears. “Oh. Yeah.” She handed the cordless phone over to the middle sister. “Uh, Pheebs? It’s Jason. He wants to know when you plan to return to the party.”

————-

The two men teleported in front of a sprawling, one-story house made from adobe, within the Santa Fe city limits. “This is it,” Andre commented. “Esmeralda Ross’ home.” They strode toward the entrance and Cole pressed the doorbell.

Seconds later, a voice cried out, “Yes? Who is it?”

Cole cleared his voice before he replied, “Santa Fe Police. There’s been a disturbance down the road. We need you to answer a few questions.”

“I don’t know anything!”

Cole rolled his eyes as he continued, “Ma’am, we’re questioning all of the neighbors along this road. Please cooperate.”

Two or three minutes passed before a woman in her early forties opened the door. Her eyes swept over Cole and Andre with deep suspicion. “You’re the police? Where’s your ID?”

The half-daemon ruthlessly shoved the door wide open, forcing the woman against a wall. “Hey!” she cried. “Jake, Karl, Vernon . . . get rid of them!”

Three men converged upon the two friends. A tall, burly man with auburn hair thrust a knife at Andre. The latter immediately blocked the attack with a few martial arts moves, before forcing the knife into his attacker’s gut. The man sank to the floor with a cry.

Cole found a gust of wind swirling toward his direction. He immediately beamed out of the whirlwind’s path and reappeared by the aerokinetic. The gust of wind struck the third man, forcing him back against a wall . . . and what looked like an iron hook. The latter grunted as the hook sank into his back. The aerokinetic’s eyes grew wide as he pointed a gun at Cole. He pulled the trigger. The half-daemon used his telekinesis to deflect the bullets . . . back into the man’s chest. Like his companions, he also died.

Both Cole and Andre stared at the house’s owner, who huddled against the wall with frightened eyes. “Are you Esmeralda Ross?” Cole demanded.

The witch murmured a Latin incantation and an energy ball formed in one hand. She hurled it at Cole, who swatted it away, with his telekinesis. “Oh shi . . . Who in the fuck are you?” she cried.

Using his telekinesis, Cole lifted the witch off the floor. “I’m going to ask you the last time. Are you Esmeralda Ross?”

“Fuck you!”

Andre picked up a pile of mail from the coffee table and examined it. “She’s Esmeralda Ross, all right.” He glanced around the living room. So did Cole. Half-opened boxes were scattered about. “Looks like someone is planning to move.”

Cole returned the witch to the floor – butt first. A grunt escaped her mouth, as he continued, “Okay Miss Ross, you’re going to answer a few questions for us.”

Miss Ross struggled to her feet. Then she smoothed down her red hair that resembled a dye job. Cole noticed for the first time that Esmeralda Ross also possessed sharp features that nearly made her resemble a weasel. “What questions?” she coolly shot back.

“Like . . . who had hired your former client – a daemon named Nairn – to attack one of the Charmed Ones and her son, several days ago?”

Feign confusion filled Miss Ross’ dark eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Andre held out one hand, allowing a ball of fire to hover over his open palm. “This sure is a nice place you’ve got,” he said, glancing around the room in an approving manner. Then his expression hardened. “Be a damn shame that the last thing you’ll see is this place burning down . . . around you.”

The witch’s face paled. “I don’t know . . . what . . .”

“Listen to me,” Cole ordered in a cold and harsh voice, “we know that you have acted as Nairn’s agent for his assassination jobs for the past fifteen years or so. And we know that it was you who had met and made arrangements with Nairn’s last client. So, who had hired him to attack the Charmed One?”

Seconds passed before Miss Ross let out a gust of breath. “Okay. All right, I’ll talk. It was . . .” A devious light flashed in her eyes. “A coven of daemons had hired me. The Crotona Coven had hired Nairn to attack Piper Halliwell.”

For a brief moment, shock overcame Cole. Riggerio led the Crotona Coven. Why would the . . . Then he recalled the devious look in the witch’s eyes. He realized that she had lied. Cole slowly walked toward her in a menacing manner, causing her to literally hug the wall. “What do you take us for?” he murmured. “Do you really think we’re that stupid?”

Fear now glimmered in Miss Ross’ eyes. “I . . .” she began. “I mean, I don’t know . . .”

“One of my powers happened to be telepathic suggestion,” Cole continued. He now stood inches away from the beleagured witch. “Tell us who had hired your boss . . . or I’ll force you to tell me. After that, I’m sure that my friend would be more than happy to burn down this house . . . over your head.”

Miss Ross glanced at Andre, who responded with a mirthless smile. “Okay,” she squeaked. “I’ll tell you the truth.”

Cole nodded. “So, who had hired Nairn? Was it a female bokor? Or a male one?”

“Bokor?” Genuine confusion appeared on the witch’s face. “You mean one of those Voodoo people? No. Of course not!”

“Don’t lie to me!”

Miss Ross cried out in panic, “It’s the truth! No bokor or mambo or priest had hired Nairn! It wasn’t even a mortal!” She moved toward one of the open windows.

Cole and Andre exchanged confused looks. Then the latter asked, “Are you saying that another daemon had hired him?”

“No, not a daemon!” Miss Ross said with a shake of her head. “I mean . . . not the kind of daemon you’re familiar with.”

Frowning, Cole added, “But you said that the client wasn’t a mortal.”

“It wasn’t that kind of daemon. The guy wasn’t even evil. I swear! In fact, Nairn was instructed not to kill the witch. He only had to make sure that she didn’t interfere with him killing the child.”

“So, who hired him?”

With fear still flickering in her eyes, Miss Ross answered, “Look I realize that you might not believe this, but it was a . . .” It happened so fast that Cole had not time to react. Just as the witch was about to name Nairn’s last client, an arrow zoomed through an open window and struck Miss Ross directly in the heart. She let out a gasp and sank upon the ground.

Andre knelt beside the witch’s fallen body and checked her pulse. “Dead,” he announced grimly. “Shot right through the heart.”

Cole finally recovered from the shock of the witch’s death and beamed outside. He stood in the dark, as he attempted to sense the assassin’s presence. Whoever had killed Esmeralda Ross had disappeared quickly. The killer had been a teleporter. Cole heaved a frustrated sigh and returned inside the house.

“Did you find anyone?” Andre asked.

The half-daemon shook his head. “Not a soul. Whoever had killed her and hired Nairn definitely was not mortal.”

“Which means that Daley Bakker didn’t hire him,” Andre added.

Cole heaved a sigh. “That’s not all.”

“Oh?”

The half-daemon’s mouth formed a grim line. “The killer was NOT a darklighter. Or like Miss Ross said . . . not the kind of daemon I’m familiar with.”

Andre frowned. “Then who had killed her?”

With a shake of his head, Cole replied, “Who knows?” Then he sighed again. “Shit!”

END OF PART XV

Wonder Woman’s Backstory in “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”

WONDER WOMAN’S BACKSTORY IN “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”

I am sooooo disappointed in Gal Gadot.  Very disappointed.  I am certain that many had heard what she said at some press conference for “JUSTICE LEAGUE”.  She had made a claim regarding her character Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince.

Ms. Gadot claimed that director Zack Snyder had made a mistake with Wonder Woman’s backstory in the 2016 movie, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”.  Quite plainly, she thought it was wrong of Snyder, along with screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer to have Wonder Woman make the following comment to Bruce Wayne aka Batman in the movie:

“A hundred years ago I walked away from mankind; from a century of horrors… Men made a world where standing together is impossible.”

In other words, Ms. Gadot thought it was wrong for Snyder and the two screenwriters have Wonder Woman turn her back on humanity during the century between her activities in World War I and the events of the 2016 movie.  Here is the article.

I am certain that many agreed with her.  In fact, the online publication, The Mary Sue agreed with her.  I DO NOT.  I saw nothing wrong with Wonder Woman experiencing personal conflict following her experiences during World War I and Steve Trevor’s death.  It made her an INTERESTING CHARACTER and not some one-note Marble Model protagonist.  But noooooo  . . . Ms. Gadot had to make that declaration.  I cannot help but wonder if this is some major hint of Patty Jenkins’ desire to make next Wonder Woman film set in the 1980s.  If so, I could not give a shit.

To hell with it!  I refuse to accept what she said.  In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if the actress feels that she’s incapable of portraying Wonder Woman as a complex individual.  Furthermore, Ms. Gadot’s words have now lessen my enjoyment of both “WONDER WOMAN” and any future film featuring the Amazonian princess in this current franchise.

 

“Henry Cavill’s Comments on the DCEU”

“HENRY CAVILL’S COMMENTS ON THE DCEU”

I just read this article about Henry Cavill’s comments on the first three or four films of the D.C. Comics movie franchise aka the DCEU.  Needless to say, I am disappointed.

I am really disappointed that Henry Cavill had made that comment in the first place.  It was bad enough when Gal Gadot made that statement about Zack Snyder’s portrayal of Wonder Woman in “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” and now this.  I get the feeling that Warner Bros. and Geoff Johns are trying ret-con the franchise and are using its actors to support their actions. I realize that many would agree with both Cavill and Gadot’s statements, but I do not.

It is amazing how people can be so hypocritical. For years, comic book fans, moviegoers and critics have complained about the one-dimensional portrayal of Superman as some glorified boy scout. When Zack Snyder finally portrayed Superman as a complex individual with virtues, flaws and emotional issues, people did a reverse and started bitching about how “depressing”, etc. Superman was and wanted him to return being that glorified boy scout.

I am not one of those moviegoers who feel that a certain genre has to be stuck in some kind of style or method of storytelling.  I refuse to get sucked into that kind of one-dimensional mentality.  But if the moviegoers want the DCEU movie franchise to follow a similar narrow-minded house style that Marvel has succumbed, with a heavy emphasis on humor and no criticism of modern society, then I can assume that is what Warner Bros. will give them.

These critics and moviegoers will finally get what they deserve.  And quite frankly, I feel they do not deserve much, because it is quite apparent that many of today’s critics and moviegoers are incapable of appreciating non-conformist or challenging storytelling in any kind of movie or television genre.