“PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF” (2010) Review

”PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF” (2010) Review

Ten years ago, I had stumbled across a second literary children/young adult’s sci-fi/fantasy franchise other than ”HARRY POTTER” that became a best seller. I became aware of the PERCY JACKSON franchise when I saw the trailer for the 2010 movie, ”PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF”.

The ”PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS” series was the creation of a best-selling mystery writer named Rick Riordan. The novels centered around a New York City adolescent named Percy Jackson who discovered he was a demigod – the offspring of a mortal woman named Sally Jackson and the Greek god Poseidon. He also discovered that his best friend, a physically disabled fellow student named Grover Underwood was really a satyr assigned to be his protector; and one of his high school teachers is a centaur.

“PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF” is an adaptation of the series’ first novel. Following the discovery of Percy Jackson’s true identity, a fury disguised as a substitute teacher attacked him during a field trip. The fury accused him of stealing the powerful lightning bolt that belonged to his uncle – Zeus, the ruler of Mount Olympus and god of the sky and thunder. Percy also discovered that one of his other teachers, Mr. Brunner, was the centaur Chiron at a place for demigods called Camp Half-Blood. Following the fury’s attack, Percy brings his mother Sally Jackson to Camp Half-Blood. However, the Minotaur allegedly killed Sally before they could enter the camp. Following the attack, Percy learned that he was Poseidon’s son and that most of the camp’s other inhabitants are demigods like himself.

Another uncle – Hades, the God of the Underworld – informed Percy that he has Mrs. Jackson in captivity and is willing to release her in exchange for Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt. Percy also learned that he has two weeks to return the lightning bolt or a war will commence between Zeus and his father Poseidon – a war that might have negative repercussions on the mortal world. In the hopes that Hades can convince Zeus of his innocence of the theft, Percy and Grover set out to find to find an entrance to the Underworld, along with three pearls that can help him make a quick exit from that domain. Both are accompanied by their new friend, Annabeth Chase, who happened to be the demigod daughter of Athena.

I did not harbor any high expectations before I saw ”PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF”. As I had stated earlier, I have never read any of Riordan’s novels. And considering it had been released during the late winter season, I did not expect to enjoy it very much. However, much to my surprise, I did. I found the story to be an engaging and entertaining story filled with family drama, humor, action and dazzling special effects. More importantly – at least for me – the movie’s running time seemed perfect for this adaptation. Not too short and not too long. I also enjoyed the three main characters’ encounters with a variety of characters from Greek mythology during their journey that included a Mintaur, Medusa, and the Lotus Eaters. Most importantly, Percy’s quest to find entry to the Underworld and the three pearls resulted in a road trip that took the heroes from Manhattan to Los Angeles, via New Jersey, Nashville and Las Vegas. And I just love road trips in movies.

”PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS” did not have the same level of special effects that enhanced the “HARRY POTTER” films. Why did I mention HARRY POTTER? Well, the director of this movie, Chris Columbus, had also directed the first two HARRY POTTER films. And yet, PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS had a slightly more mature style. I suppose that was due to its main characters being four or five years older than the three main HARRY POTTER characters in that franchise’s first two films. I understand that the Percy Jackson character was younger in the literary version of “THE LIGHTNING THIEF”. Since I have never read the novel . . . nor intend to, I do not care about the change in Percy’s age.

The cast of “PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF” struck me as pretty solid. Columbus did a good job in steering the actors through the movie. And Logan Lerman, who portrayed Percy, turned out to be better than I had expected. I have to admit that at first glance, he seemed like a rather bland performer. However, the blandness of Lerman’s physical look did not match the actor’s skills as a performer and charisma. When I first saw this film, I was astounded by how charismatic and energetic Lerman proved to be as a screen actor.

But aside from Lerman and four other performances, I found nothing exceptional about the cast. Who were these other four exceptional performers? One of them turned out to be Uma Thurman, who gave a deliciously wicked performance as Medusa, the gorgon who used her eyes to turn humans and other beings into stone for her garden collection. I also enjoyed Steve Coogan’s rather wild and charismatic take on the god, Hades. And I must say that I found his performance surprisingly sexy. And Rosario Dawson also gave a sexy performance as Persephone, the parthenogenic woman who became Hades’ bored and put upon consort in the Underworld. In fact, one of her sexiest moments occurred when she flirted with a very interested Grover. Speaking of Grover, Brandon T. Jackson gave a hilarious performance as the young satyr who happened to be Percy’s best friend. I found him brave, resourceful, witty and an absolute hoot.

“PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF” was not the best fantasy film I have ever seen. In some ways, it came off as a poor man’s “HARRY POTTER” flick. This is especially apparent in the film’s depiction of Camp Half-Blood, the training camp located off Long Island for children with a Greek god/goddess as a parent. There were moments when the film looked so half-assed that I nearly shook my head in disbelief. And its production values were certainly not of the same quality as any of the POTTER films or many others I can recall. But I found the movie enjoyable to watch and would have no qualms about seeing it again.

 

Ruminations on “ARROW” (1.20) “Home Invasion”

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I just recently re-watched the Season One episode of “ARROW” called (1.20) “Home Invasion”.
 
RUMINATIONS ON “ARROW” (1.20) “Home Invasion”
Ever since his return after spending five years marooned on a South China island, Oliver Queen has been going after corrupt men whom his late father, Robert Queen, believed was destroying his hometown, Starling City via crime fighting activities as the vigilante, the Green Arrow (or “the Hood”).  Following the destruction of the family’s yacht, the Queen’s Gambit, Robert handed Oliver a list of powerful and/or corrupt men whom he believed were dangers to the city.  Oliver was rescued five years later and commenced upon ridding Starling City of the men on Robert’s list with the help of two people – former Army veteran and bodyguard John Diggle and Queen Consolidated IT analyst, Felicity Smoak.
When Oliver and his father had first left Starling City five years earlier, they had been accompanied by Sara Lance, the younger sister of his girlfriend Laurel Lance.  Oliver and Sara had been engaged in an illicit affair behind Laurel’s back.  Upon his return to Starling City, Oliver realized that he still loved Laurel, but his infidelity and Sara’s death had ended their relationship.  While Oliver engaged in his vigilante activities, Laurel had moved on with a romantic relationship with an old friend of hers and Oliver, Tommy Merlyn.
In the twentieth episode of Season One, “Home Invasion”, Oliver, John and Felicity decided to go after the next man on Robert Queen’s list – Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot by setting up a trap with the help of the intelligence agency, A.R.G.U.S.  Oliver and his team already had two previous encounters with Deadshot in episodes (1.03) “Lone Gunmen” and (1.16) “Dead to Rights”.  John specifically wanted Deadshot captured, due to his belief that the gunman had killed his younger brother on the orders of someone else.  Meanwhile, Laurel’s latest clients, Eric and Nancy Moore, had agreed to testify against a financial adviser named Edward Rasmus, who swindled them. The night before their deposition however, they were assassinated by a hitman named Mr. Blank.  However, the Moores’ orphaned son Taylor witnessed his parents’ murder and became Mr. Blank’s next target.  After taking charge of Taylor, Laurel and Tommy asked Oliver to help them find a place to hide the boy.  Oliver not only did this, but also abandoned the plan to help John and A.R.G.U.S. trap Deadshot in order to save the lives of Taylor, Laurel and Tommy.  Because of this, Deadshot escaped the trap and John dumped his frustration and ire upon Oliver by accusing the latter of allowing his feelings for Laurel to get in the way of his activities as “the Hood”.
Now, I understand that John had wanted revenge against Deadshot for the death of his brother, Andy.  But . . . I found it difficult to sympathize with him in “Home Invasion”.  I could not believe that John had went into a snit fit because Oliver had decided to help Laurel and Tommy protect young Taylor Moore from Mr. Blank, instead of help him set a trap for Deadshot.  And I will explain why.  If John had been angry at Oliver for failing to call and tell him that he wanted to deal with protecting Taylor before they deal with Deadshot, I would have understood.  In fact, Oliver should have done exactly that and John could have helped.  But the latter made it all about him, Oliver and Laurel.  And judging from Felicity’s reaction, along with the series’ showrunners and the episode’s two writers, I got the feeling that the audience was supposed to sympathize with John and question Oliver’s decision to help Laurel and Tommy . . . especially Laurel.
Well, I say bullshit to that. John made the issue more than young Tommy.  He made this situation all about his desire for revenge against Deadshot, over Laurel’s need to help Taylor.  Pardon me for saying this, but I feel that John, Felicity, along with the showrunners and the screenwriters, were wrong.  Regardless of Oliver’s own reasons for helping Laurel, I believe that Taylor required his immediate help a lot more than John’s desire for revenge did.  Especially since a hitman was dead set in killing the boy.  It seems a pity that neither John or Felicity were able to understand.  Apparently, being comrades-in-arms, along with John’s desire for revenge) was more important than a child’s life.

“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT” (2018) Review

“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT” (2018) Review

Ever since I was a kid, I have always been a fan of the “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” franchise . . . with one exception. I was a fan of the 1966-1973 television series, which I had viewed faithfully as a kid. I saw one episode of the 1989-1990 television sequel, but I failed to become a fan. But my enjoyment of the franchise kick started once more with the release of the 1996 film of the same title and I have never looked back.

As many know, the 1996 film, which starred Tom Cruise as IMF Agent Ethan Hunt led to five more films. The latest, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT”, was released in theaters during the summer of 2018. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, this sixth entry in the movie franchise focused on Ethan and his team’s hunt for stolen plutonium. The material had been stolen by a group of terrorists called the Apostles, the remnants from terrorist Solomon Lane’s organization called the Syndicate, from “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION”. When Ethan and his team – Luther Stickell and Benji Dunn – failed to get their hands on plutonium early in the film, CIA Director Erica Sloane instructs Special Activities Division operative August Walker to shadow and observe Hunt and the others as they attempt to retrieve the plutonium. Thanks to a nuclear weapons expert they had captured named Nils Delbruuk, the team learns that an extremist named John Lark might be behind the Apostles. And in order to get to Lark and the plutonium, Ethan’s team might have to kidnap an imprisoned Solomon Lane and deliver him to London without MI-6 agent Ilsa Faust interfering with their plans.

Many film critics raved over “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT” after it first hit the theaters. In fact, some are regarding it as the best installment in the franchise and one of the greatest action films of all time. Do I agree? I honestly do not know. The movie had a few flaws that makes me hesitate to regard it in this manner. One, it featured the return of Solomon Lane. Seeing him in this film, led me to believe there was one too many villains in this film. I honestly wish that Ethan Hunt had scragged Lane at the end of “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT”. And to make matters worse, he was still alive by the end of the film. I also had a problem with Vanessa Kirby’s character, an arms dealer named Alanna Mitsopolis aka the White Witch. Apparently, Lark wanted to purchase from her the cores for the plutonium. When Ethan impersonated Lark, she was the one who had demanded that Lane be snatched from a French intelligence convoy that was conveying him to another prison. After this scenario played out, Ms. Mitsopolis had disappeared from the narrative, until it was revealed in the end that she had made a deal with MI-6 to arrange for them to get their hands on Lane. And you know what? This whole scenario involving both Ms. Mitsopolis and Lane seemed a bit convoluted and unnecessary. In fact, I could have done without the presence of either of them. And how on earth did Lane end up in France, when he was arrested in London? Surely as a former MI-6 agent, Lane would be considered first dibs to his former agency. In fact, why would the British government give him up in the first place? But who knows? Perhaps a re-watch of the film will lead me to change my mind.

However, the above complaints are not signs that I did not enjoy the film. Trust me, I still managed to enjoy “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT”. Very much. I agree with many of those critics who praised the film for just about every aspect of it. Yes, I had some squabbles with McQuarrie’s plot. But I must admit that I enjoyed other aspects of it. For a minute, I had assumed that once again, Ethan would find himself disavowed by the agency and the C.I.A. Instead, McQuarrie added an interesting element in which the C.I.A. assigned an operative to keep an eye on the activities of Hunt and his team. And the character of August Walker proved to be a breath of fresh air as his arrogant and aggressive persona provided an extra conflict for Hunt to deal with, while they pursue the Syndicate and the missing plutonium. Another addition that spiced up the plot and included a touch of pathos was Ethan’s reunion with his ex-wife Julia Meade in Kashmir, where Lane planned to detonate two nuclear weapons and where she and her new husband were representing Doctors Without Borders.

Naturally, I cannot discuss a film like “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT” without pointing out the action sequences. Yes, the movie had plenty of action scenes. But there were a few that stood out for me. One of them featured Ethan and Walker’s arrival in Paris via a parachute jump. Okay, that kind of entry struck me as unnecessary and rather clichéd. But I also found it rather entertaining and a perfect way to convey Walker’s arrogance and Ethan’s impatience with the former. Other exciting action sequences that I found particularly memorable were a brutal fight between a thug mistaken as John Lark and Ethan and Walker inside the bathroom of a Parisian nightclub; and a high-speed chase through the streets of Paris. But for me, the best action scene proved to be the last one which found the IMF team (and surprisingly Julia) racing against time to save Benji from Lane and stop Lark’s team from setting off two nuclear weapons over the Siachen Glacier. Needless to say, this action sequence involved Luthor and Julia trying to disable one weapon; Ilsa engaged in a brutal fight against Lane, while attempting to save Benji and disable the second weapon; and Ethan engaged in a wild helicopter chase in order to get his hands on the weapons’ detonators, which ends near the edge of a cliff. For me, this entire action sequence was the movie’s pièce de résistance.

“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT” marked the sixth time that Tom Cruise portrayed IMF Agent Ethan Hunt. My first instinct is to wonder when Cruise will stop portraying the character, especially as a man of action. But while watching the film, I had completely forgotten about my doubts and simply enjoyed the film . . . and his performance. Watching Cruise portray Hunt over a period of twenty-two years is like witnessing the aging of fine wine. Thanks to the actor’s superb performance, his Ethan Hunt has grown less cocky over the years (to a certain extent), more subtle and definitely more mature. This was especially apparent with Ethan’s interactions with the aggressive August Walker.

A fine cast supported Cruise in this film. Like Cruise, Ving Rhames as IMF computer tech/hacker Luther Stickell has been with the franchise since the beginning. And he was marvelous as usual as the pragmatic Luther Sticknell. I especially enjoyed the poignant performance he gave in one scene that featured Luther’s own reunion with Julia Meade. Simon Pegg was funny as ever as the slightly skittish Benji Dunn, whose skills as a field agent seemed to grow with each movie. Michelle Monaghan returned to portray Ethan’s ex-wife, Julia. I enjoyed her role a lot better in this film. The actress finally had a chance to portray Julia as a breathing individual, instead of some feminine ideal.

Three actors from “ROGUE NATION” returned to appear in this film. Rebecca Ferguson gave an excellent performance in her second outing as former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust, who is determined to return Solomon Lane back in the hands of her agency. Sean Harris reprised his role as former MI6 agent-turned-terrorist, Solomon Lane. I admit that I wanted the franchise to focus on a new Big Bad, but I cannot deny that Harris’ performance was as creepy as it was in the fifth film. I enjoyed Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of Alan Hunley, the former CIA Director who later became the new IMF Secretary, in this film than I did in “ROGUE NATION”. Once his character ceased to be Ethan’s antagonist, Baldwin was able to skillfully portray him as intelligent and practical man, instead of a buffoon.

And yes . . . “FALLOUT” featured some new kids on the block. Many critics were very impressed by Vanessa Kirby’s portrayal of black market arms dealer, Alanna Mitsopolis. I found her performance very entertaining, but I was not that dazzled. Wes Bentley gave a solid performance as Julia’s new husband, Erik. I only wish that the screenplay had explored his character a bit more. I was impressed by Angela Bassett’s performance as the pragmatic and ruthless Erika Sloane, the C.I.A. Director who had replaced Hunley. I especially enjoyed her scenes with both Baldwin and Henry Cavill that allowed her to convey the extent of Sloane’s paranoia. But the real surprise turned out to be Cavill, who gave a superb performance as August Walker, the C.I.A. assassin, who had been assigned by Sloane to monitor Ethan’s team, following their loss of the plutonium cores. What I admired about Cavill’s performance is how he managed to skillfully convey not only Walker’s penchant for aggressiveness, but also the character’s cool manner and rampant arrogance. His Walker was a real prick and it was no wonder that he drove Ethan up the wall.

Despite a few problems I had with the movie, I really enjoyed it. In fact, I can honestly say that “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT” is my second favorite film in the franchise. No wonder the critics loved it. And I can thank a superb cast led by Tom Cruise, and Christopher McQuarrie for his first-rate screenplay and excellent direction.

 

“EL DORADO WEST” [PG] – Chapter Three

 

The following is Chapter Three of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:

Chapter Three – Mr. Whitman’s Offer

March 1, 1849
Another one of Cleveland’s colored citizens departed for California, today. Josiah Norris, a carpenter and former classmate of Randolph’s, had sold his shop, purchased a wagon and team and headed for Pittsburg. Chances are he will probably board a steamboat as far west as Cairo, Illinois.

First Tom Russell leaves and now, Josh Norris. Who will be next? Benjamin Fleming? I only hope. Yet, I suspect that my chances of leaving Cleveland might prove to be very slim. Despite a sizeable bank account from my years as manager of one of Papa’s livery stables, I did not possess enough funds to finance a journey to California and sustain me in the goldfields.

“How much do you have?” Mr. Whitman asked. A former mountain man who had made his fortune in the fur trade, he happened to be our next door neighbor. After making his fortune, Mr. Whitman opened several dry goods stores throughout Northern Ohio. Quite an accomplishment for a man who had spent the first fifteen years of his life as a slave in Maryland.

It was Mr. Whitman who had told me about Josiah. He understood my need to leave Cleveland. After all, he had been young once. At fifteen, he had escaped his master and made his way to Pittsburg where he joined a fur trading expedition to the Illinois country. And that had been his first journey. In the ensuring thirty years, he had seen St. Louis, New Orleans, the Missouri River, Jefferson Territory, the Rockies and the Southern Plains. Only these days, he seemed to be afflicted by bad health.

Again, he asked, “How much, son?”

I told him. Five hundred dollars. Only enough to get me as far as Fort Laramie. Maybe.

Mr. Whitman agreed that five hundred dollars was not enough. His next question took me by surprise. “How would you like another twenty-five hundred?” Three thousand dollars! It was more than enough. But I could not understand why he would give me over two thousand dollars. And because of that, I had no choice but to refuse his offer.

March 5, 1849
The country has a new President – Zachary Taylor, who happened to be the new Mexican War hero. Papa dismissed the news with a sneer. “Another Southern slave owner,” he grumbled. And one who, along with Winfield Scott, had conquered Mexico’s former possessions.

On the same day that our new president was inaugurated, Ephraim Whitman died peacefully in his bed. He had been 69 years old. Not only had I lost a chance to acquire needed funds for the trip west, I had lost a true friend. Mr. Whitman had been 75 years old. Two sons and a daughter survived him. I can only assume they will inherit the Whitman fortune. Lucky fellows!

End of Chapter Three

“ANT-MAN & THE WASP” (2018) Review

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“ANT-MAN & THE WASP” (2018) Review

Two months after the theatrical release of the explosive “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR”, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) released “ANT-MAN & THE WASP”, the sequel to the 2015 movie, “ANT-MAN”. Peyton Reed, who had directed the previous film, returned to helm the latest one.

Set two years following the events of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”“ANT-MAN & THE WASP” found Scott Lang aka Ant-Man nearing the end of two years of house arrest for his participation in the battle at Leipzig Airport in Germany and his violation of the Sokovia Accords. Unbeknownst to Scott, his use of the Ant-Man suit and arrest led the U.S. government to view Dr. Hank Pym’s Ant-Man particles technology and the Ant-Man suit as a violation of the Sokovia Accords. Both Hank and his daughter, Hope van Dyne, ended up becoming wanted fugitives from the law.

In the film’s opening, Hank and Hope briefly manage to open a tunnel to the Quantum Realm, where they believe his wife, Dr. Janet van Dyne, might still be trapped after shrinking to sub-atomic levels during a mission as the Wasp in 1987. Two (or three) days before the end of his house arrest, Scott has a dream about him taking on Janet’s body, when he was briefly inside the Quantum Realm two years earlier. He leaves a telephone message to Hank about the dream and a few hours later, finds himself kidnapped by Hope. Despite their anger at Scott for his actions with Captain America two years earlier, Hope and Hank need his help to stabilize Hank’s quantum tunnel and pinpoint Janet’s location, so they can retrieve her. However, there are a few problems that the trio have to overcome: 1) Evading Special FBI Agent Jimmy Woo, who has been assigned to monitor Scott; 2) prevent both arms dealer Sonny Birch and a quantum unstable masked woman from Hank’s past named Ava Starr aka “Ghost” from stealing Hank’s shrunken lab that contains the quantum tunnel.

In the wake of movies like “BLACK PANTHER” and “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR”“ANT-MAN & THE WASP” seemed like a light, adventure frolic in compare. Like its 2015 predecessor, the movie is a story about a family. Yes, I can anticipate the next comment. “BLACK PANTHER” was also a family saga. But unlike that film, “ANT-MAN & THE WASP” is a lighter fare that centered around the Pym-van Dyne family and the rescue of one particular member – Dr. Janet van Dyne aka the Wasp. Or the first Wasp. For once, Scott’s relationship with his daughter Cassie Lang does not play a major role in the film’s narrative. But his business relationship and friendship with his fellow ex-convicts – Luis, Dave and Kurt – did. Luis, along with Dave, Kurt and Scott had created a home security firm called X-Con Security Consultants. However, Scott’s efforts to help Hank and Hope threatened the friends’ plans to recruit new clients and financing for their new firm. After many mishaps, kidnappings and brushes with the law, Scott managed to recruit his friends to help the Pym-van Dyne family rescue Janet van Dyne from the Quantum Realm and deal with the threat of the Ghost and especially, Sonny Burch. And Hank’s past conflict with former colleague Elihas Starr led to him dealing with the latter’s angry and desperate daughter, Ava Starr aka Ghost.

Just like the 2015 movie, “ANT-MAN & THE WASP” brimmed with a great deal of light and witty humor. Some of the humor struck me as a bit too light – especially Hope’s use of the large-sized ant to fool the F.B.I. into believing that Scott had not broken his house arrest. But a good deal of the humor struck me as spot-on. This included a sequence in which Scott, while wearing Hank’s unfinished Ant-Man suit, breaking into Cassie’s school locker to retrieve the old one; Scott’s witty interactions with the F.B.I. agent monitoring him, Agent Jimmy Woo; and the crazy car chase through San Francisco’s streets in which Team Pym struggled to prevent both Sonny Burch’s men and Ava from getting their hands on Hank’s mobile lab. But if I had to select the funniest – and what I believe to be the second-best – scene in the movie, it would have to be the one in which Sonny Burch and his men attempt to extract information from Luis using drugs, while Dave and Kurt looked on. That had to be the funniest scene in the movie and one of the funniest in the entire MCU franchise.

“ANT-MAN & THE WASP” also featured some pretty good action sequences. First and foremost was the San Francisco car chase mentioned in the previous paragraph. I thought director Peyton Reed did an excellent job in switching back and forth between the scenes that featured either Ant-Man or the Wasp and Luis during the sequence. Both Ant-Man and the Wasp’s fight scenes with the Ghost struct me as entertaining and a little mind-blowing. At the same time, Reed and the film’s special effects team did an excellent job in conveying how the Pym particles tech used by Ant-Man, the Wasp and Luis affected the chase sequence. This chase culminated in an excellent visual moment in which an enlarged Ant-Man rose through San Francisco Bay in order to get his hands on Hank’s lab, which had been snatched by Sonny Burch. Truly a memorable moment. But my favorite sequence featured the Wasp’s first-rate brawl with Sonny Burch’s men inside a San Francisco restaurant, as she attempted to retrieve the money she and Hank had gathered to pay for a piece of equipment that Burch had refused to give her.

However, for a movie strong on comedy, it provided a good deal of emotional drama and pathos in the film. After all, at its heart, “ANT-MAN & THE WASP” is a family-dominated film. Just as I had earlier pointed out. The movie opened on an emotional note as audiences watched Hank and Janet say good-bye to a young Hope before embarking on that mission that would leave Janet lost in the Quantum Realm for the next three decades. Between Janet’s communication to her family via Scott’s body, the revelation of Ava’s family tragedy and her current physical state and more importantly, Janet’s actual reunion with Hank and Hope; the movie brimmed with some deep and very satisfying emotions. The one sequence that left me in tears proved to be the Pym-Van Dyne family reunion. Audiences did not learn, until the film’s first post-credit scene that the events of “ANT-MAN & THE WASP” had occurred before and during the events of “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR”. And ironically, that last moment in which moviegoers discovered how Thanos’ snap affected the character in this movie struck me as more tragic and effective than the ending of “INFINITY WAR”.

As much as I enjoyed “ANT-MAN & THE WASP”, I cannot deny that it had flaws. For me, the film’s main flaws stemmed from “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” and the Sokovia Accords. I have never liked the Sokovia Accords story arc. Not only did I find it questionable written, but not fully explored by the MCU after the 2016 movie – with the exception of early Season Four of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “ANT-MAN & THE WASP”. My main problem with the Sokovia Accords is that the MCU writers do not seem to know the difference between an accord and a law. And since neither Scott, Hank or Hope had signed the document, I saw no reason why they should be affected.

But apparently, after being rescued from the government’s Raft by Steve Rogers aka Captain America; along with Clint Burton aka Hawkeye made a deal with the Federal courts and settled for two years of house arrest for violating the Accords. While being incarcerated inside the Raft, Scott had unintentionally revealed Hank’s name, which led both Tony Stark aka Iron Man and Thaddeus Ross to recall that Hank Pym had created the Ant-Man suit. But when Scott made the deal, both Hank and Hope became wanted fugitives because Hank had not registered the Ant-Man suit. I have a lot of problems with this scenario.

One, due to the bombing in Vienna, Austria; the Accords had not yet been ratified when Scott and Clint were first arrested. Two, Hank had first created the Ant-Man suit back in the 1980s and had been unaware of Scott’s use of the suit in Berlin. After being freed by Steve, Scott had shrunken the suit and mailed it to his daughter Cassie, while declaring that it had been destroyed. If the suit was officially considered destroyed, why was Scott arrested anyway without the crucial evidence any prosecutor would need to convict him? Why were Hank and Hope declared as fugitives for failing to register a suit that officially no longer existed? Why did Hope become a wanted fugitive? The Feds remained unaware of the Wasp suit and her use of it. And she had played no role in the creation of the Ant-Man suit. Also, the writers did not need the Sokovia Accords as a reason for Scott to face conviction and house arrest. He had violated his parole when he left the country to help Steve, Sam Wilson aka the Falcon and the others. One day, I will write an article on why I regard the Sokovia Accords arc as the biggest pile of shit ever created by the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But I will add that the story arc made the narrative for “ANT-MAN & THE WASP” occasionally frustrating for me.

“ANT-MAN & THE WASP” suffered from one more flaw. The movie’s villains did not strike me as particularly strong. As individual characters, both Sonny Burch and Ava Starr were interesting. They did not strike me as strong adversaries for this movie. Sonny was basically a slick capitalist who wanted to use Hank’s technology to bolster his bank account. And his story arc was comedic at best. Although Ava provided plenty of strum and drang in the plot – including her threat to kidnap Cassie Lang and use her to convince Scott to hand over Hank’s portable lab. But Ava’s goal was fueled by anger at Hank for what happened to her father, and a desperate desire to use his quantum technology. By the end of the film, it took Janet to help stabilize her condition. Although I found both characters interesting, neither was another Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket, who had proven to be a more interesting and dangerous character to me.

I certainly had no problems with the film’s performances. Abby Ryder Fortson, Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale gave solid performances as Scott’s daughter Cassie Lang, his ex-wife Maggie Paxton and the latter’s second husband, police officer Jim Paxton. Randall Park gave a funny and sly performance as F.B.I. Special Agent Jimmy Woo (who was a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent), who happened to be Scott’s parole officer. Laurence Fishburne proved to be both humorous and enduring as Dr. Bill Foster, Hank’s former partner who became Ava’s guardian following the deaths of her parents. Both Tip “T.I.” Harris and David Dastmalchian were hilarious as Scott’s friends and co-owners of the X-Con Security firm, Dave and Kurt. Once again, Michael Peña proved to be a comedic dream as Scott’s closest friend, Luis, who proved to be the brainchild of X-Con Security. Harris, Dastmalchian and especially Peña were breathtakingly funny in one scene in which Luis found himself being interrogated by Sonny Burch after being injected with truth serum. That has to be, without a doubt, the funniest scene in any MCU movie I have ever watched.

Michelle Pfieffer was only seen in the film’s pre-credit and post-credit scenes, along with at least fifteen minutes of the main narrative. And yet, being the first-rate actress that she is, managed to provide a very poignant performance as the missing Dr. Janet van Dyne aka the former Wasp. Due to the comedic elements of his character, Sonny Burch did not strike me as a particularly memorable villain. But I cannot deny that I found the character very entertaining, thanks to Walton Goggins’ smooth and insidious performance that seemed to be punctuated with a good deal of sharp comedy. I have only seen Hannah John-Kamen in at least two other films – “TOMB RAIDER” and “READY PLAYER ONE”. While I found her appearance in the latest Lara Croft film rather brief and unmemorable, I was very impressed by her intense performance as one of the villains in “READY PLAYER ONE”. In “ANT-MAN & THE WASP”, John-Kamen skillfully added a lace of desperation to her intense performance as Ava Starr who frantically tries to get her hands on Hank’s quantum lab in order to save her life.

After viewing “ANT-MAN & THE WASP”, I think I was more impressed with Michael Douglas’ portrayal of Dr. Hank Pym aka the former Ant-Man than I was in the 2015 film. This movie revealed just how emotionally volatile and annoying Hank Pym could be. Douglas did a superb job in exploring Hank’s not-so-pleasant personality and at the same time, managed to make him still likable. Evangeline Lilly’s portrayal of the film’s leading lady Hope van Dyne aka the Wasp struck me as more relaxed in this film than in it was back in 2015. That is understandable, considering that Hope seemed to be in a better place emotionally in her relationship with her father and as the new Wasp. I also happily noticed that Lilly managed to give a more witty, relaxed and elegant performance. I also found her rather funny, thanks to scenes that featured her scenes with Scott at Cassie’s school and Luis’ drug-enhanced flashbacks during his interrogation by Burch. Paul Rudd was equally funny as the movie’s leading man, Scott Lang aka Ant-Man. Rudd brought his usual charm and comic timing to the fore throughout the movie. But he also proved what a truly first-rate actor he can be – especially in one scene in which Janet’s spirit took control of his body. He did an excellent job in recapturing Pfieffer’s mannerisms and diction without being heavy-handed or obvious.

Overall, I enjoyed “ANT-MAN & THE WASP” very much. My only problems with the film was that it could have used a stronger villain and screenwriters used the Sokovia Accords as part of its narrative, when it was unnecessary. However, “ANT-MAN & THE WASP” featured some great direction by Peyton Reed, excellent performances by a cast led by Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly, a first-rate family comedy-drama and a very memorable and poignant post-credit scene.

 

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“NORTHANGER ABBEY” (1986) Review

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“NORTHANGER ABBEY” (1986) Review

Most movie and television adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels are either highly acclaimed or perhaps even liked by fans and critics alike. I can only think of two or three adaptations that have been dismissed them. And one of them happened to be the 1986 A&E Network/BBC adaptation of Austen’s 1817 novel, “Northanger Abbey”.

Adapted by Maggie Wadey, “NORTHANGER ABBEY” follows the experiences of seventeen-year-old Gothic novel aficionado, Catherine Morland, who is invited by her parents’ friends, Mr. and Mrs. Allen, to accompany them on a visit to Bath, England. This is Catherine’s first visit to Bath and there she makes new acquaintances such as Isabella Thorpe and the latter’s crude brother, John. She also becomes friends with the charming and quick-witted clergyman Henry Tilney and his sweet-tempered sister, Eleanor. While Catherine’s brother James courts Isabella, she finds herself becoming the romantic target of the ill-mannered John. Fortunately for Catherine, she becomes romantically captivated by Henry Tilney, who seemed to have fallen for her, as well . . . much to the displeasure of the Thorpes. Eventually, Henry and Eleanor’s father, General Tilney, invites Catherine to visit their estate, Northanger Abbey. Because of her penchant for Ann Radcliffe’s gothic novel, “The Mysteries of Udolpho”, Catherine expects the Tilney estate to be filled with Gothic horrors and family mysteries. Instead, Catherine ends up learning a few lessons about life.

Personally, I do not consider the 1817 novel to be one of Austen’s best. It has always seemed . . . not fully complete to me. I never understood why the Thorpes actually believed that the Morlands were wealthy, considering John’s longer acquaintance with Catherine’s brother, James. And why did John tell General Tilney that Cathrine’s family was wealthy in the first place? For revenge? His actions only encouraged the general to invite Catherine to Northanger Abbey. But I digress. This article is not a criticism of Austen’s novel, but my view on this first movie adaptation. And how do I feel about “NORTHANGER ABBEY”? Well . . . it was interesting.

There are aspects of “NORTHANGER ABBEY” that I liked. First of all, director Giles Foster had a first rate cast to work with. I cannot deny that the movie featured some top-notch and solid performances. Both Katharine Schlesinger and Peter Firth gave first-rate performances as the two leads, Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney. Now, I realize that many Austen fans had a problem with Firth’s characterization of Henry. And they are not alone. But I cannot deny that he did a great job with the material given to him. Best of all, not only did Schlesinger and Firth have great screen chemistry, but also exchanged one of the best kisses I have ever seen in an Austen adaptation. But if I must be honest, there was not a performance that failed to impress me. The entire cast were excellent, especially Robert Hardy as Henry’s perfidious father, General Tilney; Cassie Stuart as Isabella Thorpe; Ingrid Lacey as Eleanor Tilney; and Jonathan Coy as the vulgar John Thorpe.

Watching “NORTHANGER ABBEY”, it occurred to me that its production values were superb. Truly. I noticed that the movie seemed to be set in the late 1790s – the period in which Austen first wrote the novel, instead of the late Regency era (when it was officially published). Cecilia Brereton really did justice in re-creating Bath in the late 1790s. My two favorite scenes – from an ascetic point-of-view – featured Catherine’s meetings with the Thorpes and Eleanor Tilney at the city’s Roman Baths; and the two assembly balls. Nicholas Rocker did a superb job in designing the movie’s colorful costumes. In fact, I adored them. The costumes, the hairstyles and even the makeup designed by Joan Stribling beautifully reflected the movie’s setting.

Now that I have waxed lyrical over “NORTHANGER ABBEY”, it is time for me to tear it down. Despite some of the movie’s more positive aspects, I can honestly say that I do not like this film. I almost dislike it. There were too much about it that turned me off. Surprisingly, one of those aspects was the characterization of Henry Tilney. The novel had hinted a witty and playful man with a wicked sense of humor. The sense of humor remained, but Henry’s condescending manner toward Catherine and penchant for lectures really turned me off. I cannot blame Peter Firth. I do blame Maggie Wadey for transforming Henry from a man with a wicked sense of humor, to a slightly humorous, yet ponderous character. And why did Wadey transform the vulgar John Thorpe into a borderline stalker? Honestly, the way he eyed Catherine whenever Henry was in her midst made me believe he would be a first-class serial killer. I also believe that Wadey went too far in her characterization of General Tilney. Instead of being a stern and rigid tyrant, the general became an aging and mercenary Lothario, whose dissipation depleted the family’s income. Artistic close-ups of Robert Hardy’s face wearing a salacious expression did not help matters. To reinforce General Tilney’s dissipation, Wadey included a character called the Marchioness, an aristocratic refugee of the French Revolution who has become his mistress. Personally, I found her addition to the cast of characters to be irrelevant.

And the problems continued to roll. The main house of the Tilneys’ estate is supposed to be an abbey, not a castle. Why on earth did the production designer and the producers choose Bodiam Castle as the location for the fictional Northanger Abbey? The scenes featuring Catherine’s vivid and “Gothic” imagination struck me as unnecessarily long and rather off-putting. I felt as if I had stumbled across a horror movie, instead of a Jane Austen adaptation. Also, Catherine’s friendship with Isabella seemed to have been given the short-shrift. Quite frankly, I do not think it was developed very well. Wadey had a chance to clean up some of the flaws in Austen’s novel – namely the Thorpes’ interest in Catherine and the trick that John Thorpe played on General Tilney about the Morelands’ wealth or lack of it. And why did Wadey include that minor sequence featuring the Tilneys’ young black slave? All the kid did was lure Catherine outside to the estate’s lawn in order to impress her with his gymnastic skills. And for what? I am trying to think of a witty comment to express my contempt for this scene. All I can do is shake my head and wonder what the hell was Wadey thinking.

Who was responsible for hiring Ilona Sekacz to compose the movie’s score? I wish I could compliment Ms. Sekacz’s work. I would if it had served as the score for an episode of “MIAMI VICE”, a soft porn movie, or some other television series or movie from the 1980s. Sofia Coppola used early 1980s pop music to serve as the score for her 2006 movie, “MARIE ANTOINETTE”. Surprisingly, it worked. I think it worked because Coppola utilized the right song for the right scene. But Sekacz’s score, which featured a strange mixture of new age and period music, night club jazz, and synthesizers, was never utilized properly. Or perhaps I simply found the music too strange or off-putting for me to appreciate it. It certainly did not blend well with the actual movie released on American and British television.

“NORTHANGER ABBEY” has some aspects that prevents me to viewing it as a total write-off. It does feature some first-rate performances – especially from leads Katharine Schlesinger and Peter Firth – and I adore both Cecilia Brereton’s production designs and Nicholas Rocker’s costumes. But the movie has too many flaws, including an unpalatable score and some very questionable characterizations, for me to consider it a first-class, let alone a decent adaptation of Austen’s novel. This is one movie that I will not be watching with any regularity.

“NEW MOON” (2009) Review

“NEW MOON” (2009) Review

The sequel to last year’s box office hit, ”TWILIGHT” was released in theaters, last weekend. Based upon Stephanie Meyer’s 2006 novel and directed by Chris Weitz (2007’s ”THE GOLDEN COMPASS”), ”NEW MOON” continued the story of Isabella “Bella” Swan, the Washington State teenager and her love for vampire Edward Cullen.

”NEW MOON” began several months after the 2008 film, with Bella celebrating her birthday. However, her life underwent a drastic change when she cut her finger during a birthday party held for her by her vampire boyfriend Edward and his family, the Cullens. Her blood attracted the attention of Edward’s brother, Jasper Hale, and he attacked Bella. Not long after Jasper’s attack, Edward informed Bella that he and the rest of the Cullen clan plan to leave Forks. Following his departure, Bella succumbed to depression for several months, until she renewed her friendship with Jacob Black, the son of her father’s Quileute friend. Unfortunately, Bella’s relationship with Jacob threatened to fall apart, when he fell in love with her despite her feelings for Edward and when he began to manifest into a werewolf – a natural enemy of vampires.

I had not been particularly kind in my review of “TWILIGHT”. And in ”NEW MOON”, I noticed that some of the aspects I had disliked in the 2008 film were also apparent in this second film. The dialogue – especially between Bella and Edward – seemed as atrocious as ever. I found the movie’s 130 minute running time to be unnecessarily long. Bella and Edward’s relationship not only brought back bad memories of the romance between Buffy Summers and the vampire Angel during the first three seasons of Joss Whedon’s ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”, it also made me realize that William Shakespeare’s play, ”ROMEO AND JULIET” might be overrated.

But what can one expect from adolescent love in fiction? If it caused young individuals to behave in the most ridiculous manner, then I can deal without it on my television screen or on a movie screen. And just to show how ridiculous adolescent angst was portrayed in this film, all I have to do is point out Edward and especially Bella’s behavior in ”NEW MOON”. For example, Bella sank into a depression for at least four to six months following Edward’s departure from Forks. Excessive much? She also risked her life with stupid acts that included accepting a ride from a group of bikers that reminded her of the bunch that nearly accosted her in ”TWILIGHT”, riding a motorcycle before Jacob could teach her and engaging in bungee jumping without any elastic cord whatsoever. Why? Because Bella had discovered that thrill-seeking activities granted her visions of Edward. My God! What an infatuated moron! After Alice Cullen had a vision of Bella’s cliff jumping stunt, Edward assumed that his human ex-girlfriend had committed suicide and decided to kill himself by provoking the Volturi, a powerful coven of vampires, into killing him in Italy. What an idiot . . . you know what? Who wrote this crap?

And there were other aspects of the movie that bothered me. I never understood why Jacob and the rest of the werewolves in his pack found it necessary to walk around bare-chested, while in human form. If they were afraid of ruining their clothes, while transforming into werewolves, then they should have did without the shorts and tennis shoes as well. It would have made more sense. And I found the movie’s finale in Volterra, Italy to be a bore. Not only did I found Edward’s suicide attempt a waste of time, I also found his and Bella’s confrontation with the Voluturi vampire coven had seriously dragged the movie’s last half hour. Which also made me view this use of Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning in this sequence as a waste of their talents.

Surprisingly, ”NEW MOON” was not a complete exercise in torture for me. It had its moments. I have to give kudos to director Chris Weitz for the original way he had depicted Bella’s depression by revolving a camera around actress Kristen Stewart, as she sat in front of window, revealing views of the passage of time during a four to six month period. Javier Aguirresarobe’s photography of the Pacific Northwest was just as impressive as Elliot Davis’ in the first film . . . and just as atmospheric. I can also say the same about his photography of Siena, Italy that served as the town of Volterra. Many of the interactions between Bella and Jacob seemed like a breath of fresh air, following the overwrought angst fest between her and Edward. With Jacob, she seemed so . . . normal. Relaxed. Until Jacob manifested into a werewolf and declared his love for her. Still . . . Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner had a natural screen chemistry that made me wish that Bella had chosen Jacob, instead of Edward.

I had been somewhat tolerant of Stewart’s screen chemistry with Robert Pattison in the first film. But after viewing ”NEW MOON”, my tolerance went by the way of the Dodo bird. I just found it so difficult to endure Bella and Edward’s moments together. Without Pattison around and during Bella’s saner moments, Kirsten Stewart gave a natural and competent performance. And she also did a good job in carrying the film on her shoulders. Graham Greene gave a subtle performance as Harry Clearwater, a Quileute tribal elder and friend of Bella’s father, Charlie. I also found Billy Burke’s portrayal of Bella’s father, Charlie Swan, a little more impressive in this film – especially in a scene in which Charlie pleaded for Bella to break out of her depression. Dakota Fanning was impressively sinister as Volturi vampire Jane. And Michael Sheen gave an entertaining performance as Aro, the leader of the Volturi coven, even if I found his appearance, like that of Fanning, a waste of time. However, the performance that really impressed me came from Taylor Lautner, who portrayed Bella’s friend and newly manifested werewolf, Jacob Black. If I have to be honest, Lautner struck me as the movie’s true bright spot in an otherwise unimpressive film. He seemed like a natural and very relaxed actor. It seems a pity that his career has not gone any further since the “TWILIGHT” franchise ended. I also thought that he brought out the best in Stewart, allowing her to be more natural, relaxed and a lot less constipated.

When I first saw “NEW MOON” in the theater, my eyes spotted a poster for the ”TWILIGHT” saga third film, ”ECLIPSE”, as I left. I must admit that I had not been looking forward to seeing it. But my sister (a fan of the movie, who is also familiar with Stephanie Meyer’s novels), informed me that the Jacob Black role was even bigger in this next film. After a re-watch, I will see if “ECLIPSE” proved to be a continuation of the mediocrity and annoying angst fest I had found in ”TWILIGHT” and ”NEW MOON”.

“EL DORADO WEST” [PG] – Chapter Two

The following is Chapter Two of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:

Chapter Two – The Marriage Proposal

February 20, 1849
Charles Maxwell has proposed marriage to my sister, Alice. God above! I just cannot image a lively girl like Alice married to that walking block of ice. What had Father been thinking to give that man his consent?

Like the Flemings, the Mawells happened to be an old and respected Negro family here in Cleveland. Charles had been the first Maxwell to attend Oberlin College, one of the few universities in this country to accept both women and non-whites as students. I had attended Oberlin for two years before leaving five years ago. My younger brother, Jerome, is now a student there.

If my family could be considered staid, the Maxwells were downright archaic. Being related to a handful of the first families of Virginia (through slavery, of course), they considered themselves to be amongst Cleveland’s most respected Negro families. Frankly, I consider them to be a bunch of bores. If Alice does accept Charles’ proposal, she would have my deepest sympathy.

February 22, 1849
Rejoice! Rejoice! Alice has rejected Charles’ marriage proposal.

I seemed to be the only family member who is relieved by this turn of events. The household is in an uproar. Randolph called Alice a fool for rejecting Charles. Papa remained silent, but his displeasure was apparent. A potential for a family dynasty has crumbled in the wind, thanks to Alice’s decision. My other siblings seemed not to care one way or the other. As for my mother . . . Poor Mama! She had a fit after learning about Alice’s decision. She ranted, raved and called my sister an ungrateful child. Now she refuses to speak with Alice.

I am certain that my parents will get over Alice’s decision to reject Charles’ offer. She is such a beautiful and lively girl. She is bound to catch the eye of some other man. Whether any of them possesses Charles Maxwell’s attributes remains to be seen.

 

“FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” (2015) Review

“FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” (2015) Review

I have never seen “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD”, the 2015 adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel. And yet . . . my knowledge of this film led me to view two previous adaptations. And finally, I found the chance to view this adaptation, directed by Thomas Vinterberg.

“FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” told the story of a young 19th century rural English woman named Bathsheba Everdeene and the three men in her life – a sheep farmer-turned-shepherd named Gabriel Oak; her neighbor and owner of the neighborhood’s largest farm, William Boldwood; and an illegitimate Army sergeant named Frank Troy. Bathsheba first met Gabriel Oak, a former shepherd who had leased and stocked a sheep farm. Gabriel proposed marriage, but Bathsheba rejected his proposal even though she liked him. She valued her independence more. Later, Bathsheba inherited her uncle’s prosperous farm, while Gabriel’s fortune disappeared when his inexperienced sheep dog drove his flock over a cliff. When the pair’s paths crossed again, Bathsheba ended up hiring Gabriel as her new shepherd. Meanwhile, Bathsheba became acquainted with her new neighbor, a wealthy farmer named William Boldwood. He became romantically obsessed with her after she sent him a Valentine’s Day card as a joke. But before she could consider Mr. Boldwood as a potential husband, Sergeant Frank Troy entered her life and she immediately fell in love and married him. Eventually, Bathsheba came to realize that Frank was the wrong man for her.

A good number of people compared this adaptation of Hardy’s novel to the 1967 movie adapted by John Schlesinger. Personally, I did not. As much as I enjoyed the 1967 movie, I have never regarded it as the gold-standard for any movie or television adaptation of the 1874 novel. But like the other two version, Thomas Vinterberg’s recent adaptation had its flaws. Looking back on “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD”, I can honestly say that I had at least a few problems with it.

I wish the running time for “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” had been a bit longer than 119 minutes. I believe a longer running time would have given the film’s narrative more time to explore the downfall of Bathsheba and Frank’s marriage. Unfortunately, it seemed as if Vinterberg and screenwriter David Nicholls had rushed through this entire story arc. I was surprised when Bathesheba admitted to Gabriel that her marriage to Frank had been a mistake on the very night of hers and Frank’s harvest/wedding party, when an upcoming storm threatened to ruin her ricks. I realize that this conversation also occurred during the night of the harvest/wedding party in the novel. But from a narrative point-of-view, I believe this conversation between Bathsheba and Gabriel would have worked later in the story . . . when it has become very obvious that her marriage to Frank has failed.

In fact, Frank Troy’s entire character arc seemed to be rushed in this film. Many have complained that Tom Sturridge’s portrayal of Frank was flawed. I do not agree. I did not have a problem with the actor’s performance. I had a problem with Vinterberg and Nicholls’ portrayal of Frank. In my review of the 1967 adaptation, I had complained about the overexposure of Frank’s character in that film. In this version of “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD”, Frank’s character seemed to be underexposed. Aside from a few scenes that included Bathsheba and Frank’s first meeting, his display of swordsmanship, his revelation about his true feelings for Bathsheba and Boldwood’s Christmas party; I do not think that this movie explored Frank’s character as much as it could have.

Another aspect of Frank Troy’s arc that suffered in this film was the character of Fanny Robin. Anyone familiar with Hardy’s novel should know that Fanny was a local girl who worked at the Everdene farm. Before Gabriel’s arrival, she had left to become Frank’s wife. Unfortunately, the wedding never happened because Fanny went to the wrong church. Frustrated angry, Frank prematurely ended their relationship. If Frank was underexposed in “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD”, poor Fanny was barely developed. I could solely blame Thomas Hardy for this poor use of Fanny’s character, since he was also guilty of the character’s underdevelopment. But I have to blame Vinterberg and Nicholls as well. They could have easily added a bit more to Fanny’s character, which is what the 1998 miniseries adaptation did. Alas . . . audiences barely got to know poor Fanny Robin.

“FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” may not have been perfect, but I still found it to be a first-rate film. One, it is a beautiful movie to watch. “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” may have lacked the sweeping cinematography featured in the 1967 movie, but I must admit that I enjoyed Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s elegant, yet colorful photography. I can also say the same about the Art Design team of Julia Castle, Tim Blake and Hannah Moseley; and Kave Quinn’s production designs, which did a stupendous job of re-creating a part of rural England in the late 19th century. But I really enjoyed Janet Patterson’s costume designs, as shown in the images below:

 

Although the novel was published in 1874, Patterson’s costumes made it apparent to me that Vinterberg had decided to set this adaptation during the late 1870s or early 1880s. Did this bother me? No. I was too distracted by Patterson’s elegant, yet simple costumes to care.

Yes, I had a problem with the film’s limited portrayal of Frank Troy and especially Fanny Robin. But I still enjoyed this adaptation very much. The reason I enjoyed it so much is that Vinterberg and Nicholls did an excellent job of staying true to the narrative’s main theme – namely the character development of Bathsheba Everdene. From that first moment when Gabriel Oak spotted the spirited Bathsheba riding bareback on her horse, to her early months as moderately wealthy farmer, to the infatuated bride of an unsuitable man, to the emotionally battered but not bowed woman who learned to appreciate and love the right man in her life; “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” allowed filmgoers share Bathsheba’s emotional journey during an important period in her life.

The ironic thing is that Bathsheba’s story arc is not the only one featured in this film. Both Vinterberg and Nicholls also explored Gabriel Oak’s personal journey, as well. Superficially, Gabriel seemed to be the same man throughout the film. And yet, I noticed that Gabriel seemed a bit too sure of himself in the film’s opening sequence. He seemed sure of his possible success with a sheep farm and his efforts to woo Bathsheba. And yet, between the loss of his herd and Bathsheba’s rejection, Gabriel found himself forced to start all over again with his life. Although he remained constant in his love for Bathsheba and his moral compass, it was interesting to watch him struggle with his personal frustrations and setbacks – especially in regard to his feelings for Bathsheba.

Whereas audiences watch Bathsheba and Gabriel develop, they watch both John Boldwood and Francis Troy regress to their tragic fates. The strange thing about Frank was that he had a chance for a happier life with Fanny Robin. I still remember that wonderful sequence in which Frank waited for Fanny to appear at the church for their wedding. It was interesting to watch his emotions change from mild fear, hope and joy to outright anger and contempt toward Fanny for leaving him at the altar, all because she went to the wrong church. I still find it interesting that Frank allowed his pride and anger to get the best of him and reject the only woman that he truly loved. Boldwood . . . wow! Every time I watch an adaptation of Hardy’s story, I cannot help but feel a mixture of pity, annoyance and some contempt. He truly was a pathetic man in the end. Perhaps he was always that pathetic . . . even from the beginning when he seemed imperious to Bathsheba’s presence. After all, it only took a Valentine’s card – given to him as some kind of joke – to send him on a path of obsessive love and murder.

The performances in “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” certainly added to the film’s excellent quality. The movie featured some pretty first-rate performances from the supporting cast. This was apparent in Juno Temple’s charming and poignant portrayal of the doomed Fanny Robin. I was also impressed by Jessica Barden for giving a very lively performance as Liddy, Bathsheba’s extroverted boon companion. The movie also featured solid performances from Sam Phillips, who portrayed Frank’s friend, Sergeant Doggett; Victor McGuire as the corrupt Bailiff Pennyways; and Tilly Vosburgh, who portrayed Bathsheba’s aunt, Mrs. Hurst.

As I had earlier pointed out, many have criticized Tom Sturridge’s portrayal of Frank Troy. I do not disagree with this criticism. If I must be honest, I was very impressed with Sturridge’s performance. I thought he conveyed the very aspect of Frank’s nature – both the good and the bad. This was especially apparent in three scenes – Frank’s aborted wedding to Fanny, his initial seduction of Bathsheba, and his emotional revelation of his true feelings for Fanny. It really is a pity that Vinterberg did not give Sturridge more screen time to shine. Thankfully, Michael Sheen was given plenty of screen time for his portrayal of Bathsheba’s possessive neighbor, John Boldwood. I must confess . . . I have never seen Sheen portray any other character like Boldwood. It was a revelation watching the actor beautifully embody this emotionally stunted man, who allowed a silly Valentine’s Day joke to lead him to desperately grasped at at prospect for love.

I had never heard of Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts until I saw this film. This is understandable, considering that “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” was the first English-speaking movie in which I had seen him. Vinterberg must have been a major fan of Schoenaerts to be willing to cast him as the obviously 19th century English shepherd, Gabriel Oak. I am certainly a fan of his portrayal of the stalwart Gabriel. Schoenaerts did a superb job in conveying Gabriel’s emotional journey – especially in regard to the ups and downs in the character’s relationship with Bathsheba. I am still amazed by how the actor managed to convey Gabriel’s emotional state, while maintaining the character’s reserve nature.

I believe Carey Mulligan may have been at least 28 or 29 years old, when “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD”, making her the second oldest actress to portray Bathsheba Everdene. Some have complained that Mulligan seemed a bit too old to be portraying the early 20s Bathsheba. I can honestly say that I do not agree. During the film’s first 20 minutes or so, Mulligan’s Bathsheba did come off as a bit sophisticated and all knowing. It eventually occurred to me that the actress was merely conveying the character’s youthful arrogance. And yet, Mulligan skillfully the character’s personal chinks in that arrogance throughout the movie – whether expressing Bathsheba’s insistence that Gabriel regard her solely as an employer, the character’s embarrassment over being pursued by the obsessive Boldwood or Frank’s overt sexual attention to her, or her desperation and humiliation from his emotional abuse. Mulligan gave an excellent and memorable performance.

I cannot say that the 2015 movie, “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” is perfect. Come to think of it, none of the adaptations I have seen are. Despite its flaws, I can honestly say that it is another excellent adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel, thanks to Thomas Vinterberg’s direction, David Nicholls’ screenplay and a superb cast led by Carey Mulligan.

 

“THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” (2018) Review

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“THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” (2018) Review

After ten years and eighteen films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) finally released “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR”. The movie represented the first half of a culmination of the previous films that either focused or touched upon the super-villain Thanos’ attempt to attain possession of a collection of powerful gems known as the Infinity Stones.

Although 2008’s “IRON MAN” signaled the beginning of the MCU franchise and the introduction of the latter’s collection of comic book heroes/heroines, supporting players and villains; I believe that the true beginning of this story arc involving Thanos and the Infinity Stones began in 2011 with two movies – “THOR” and “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”. The former introduced the Tesseract, a cube that contained the Infinity Stone known as the Space Stone, in its post-credit scene. However, the Space Stone was more fully explored in the second 20111 movie, “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”. After 2011, most of the Infinity Stones were either introduced, explored or both in the MCU movies that followed. Only one stone made its introduction in “INFINITY WAR” – the Soul Stone.

Before I find myself wallowing into an essay about the Infinity Stones, let me continue with this review. “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” began several minutes after 2017’s “THOR: RAGNAROK” left off. Thanos had caught up with the Asgardian refugee ship and with the help of his minions, inflict considerable damage upon the survivors and their new king, former Avenger Thor. Why? Apparently, before their flight from Asgard’s destruction, Thor’s adopted brother, Loki, had taken the Tesseract, which had been inside Asgard’s royal vault. After killing half of the Asgardian survivors (the other half had managed to escape), Asgard’s gatekeeper Heimdall, beating Thor and killing Loki; Thanos took the Space Stone and blew up the ship. It turned out that the Tesseract was the second Infinity Stone that Thanos managed to acquire. Before the events of this film, Thanos and his minions had attacked and destroyed half of Xandar homeworld before he managed to get his hands on the Power Stone, last seen in 2014’s “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”. And before Heimdall was killed, he used Asgard’s Bifrost sword to transport a beaten Dr. Bruce Banner aka the Hulk to warn the Avengers and Earth about Thanos’ campaign to collect the Infinity Stones. Meanwhile, the Guardians of Galaxy come across Thor’s body floating in space and rescue him. Thanks to Heimdall’s actions, along with the Guardians’ rescue of Thor; the movie’s main protagonists become aware of Thanos’ current campaign to hunt down the remaining Infinity Stones and set about preventing him from raining more destruction upon the universe.

What can I say about “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR”? When I first heard about the movie’s premise, I immediately felt that the only way this would work was if the narrative was set up in the same style as war films like “THE LONGEST DAY” or “A BRIDGE TOO FAR”. You know . . . blockbuster combat films about a particular battle or campaign that featured an all-star cast. Despite being a comic book movie, “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” proved to be exactly just that. The movie’s narrative centered around most of the MCU’s protagonists trying to prevent Thanos from collecting all of the Infinity Stones and carrying out his plan to eradicate half of the universe’s population in order to prevent the decrease of essential resources. And more importantly, the screenplay written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely almost hit the right note when it tried to maintain a balancing act between the franchise’s numerous stars. And considering that this movie was all about Thanos’ efforts to utilize the stones in the first place, it seemed quite apparent that he proved to be the movie’s main character. And personally, I feel that was the right thing to do.

In fact, some of the film’s best scenes and story arc had a lot to do with Thanos . . . and especially his relationship with his adoptive daughters, Gamora and Nebula. Thanos’ relationship with the latter seemed just as straight-forward as she had described it in 2017’s “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL. 2”. It seemed perfectly clear that Thanos did not give a rat’s ass about Nebula, especially since he seemed to display no remorse or hesitation to use her life as a bargaining chip for the location of the Soul Stone. Thanos’ relationship with Gamora, on the other hand, seemed to be a different and murkier kettle of fish. Some fans have debated on whether he truly loved Gamora. I believe he did, in his own warped way, as the following image depicted:

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And the tears that Gamora had shed, when she thought she had killed him on Nowhere made it pretty obvious that she harbored feelings for him, as well. By the end of the movie, it seemed pretty obvious that Thanos loved his crusade to “save” the universe from overpopulation a lot more than Gamora . . . to the point that he was willing to sacrifice her life for possession of the Soul Stone. I have to give screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely credit for portraying Thanos as a very complex character. Do not get me wrong. I do not regard Thanos as the best MCU villain in the franchise so far. I simply found his different relationships with adoptive daughters Gamora and Nebula a lot more interesting than his goal with the Infinity Gauntlet.

The film featured other story arcs that I found interesting. I have mixed feelings about Thor’s story arc. On one hand, I managed to spot several plot holes in his narrative. On the other hand, it was a relief to see the new Asgardian king finally face the emotional consequences of the losses he had sustained in not only this film, but also “THOR: RAGNAROK”. Thanks to Gamora’s connection to Thanos, “INFINITY WAR” served the main protagonists very well. Audiences finally got to see Gamora and Peter Quill aka Star-Lord declare their love for one another. Rocket managed to form a new bond with Thor, of all people . . . and lose another close bond. “INFINITY WAR” also saw the development of the romance between Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch and Vision and how Thanos’ search for the Infinity Stones affected that relationship. The movie paid scant attention to the Sokovia Accords, which I did not find surprising. But two satisfying developments came from the brief mention of the agreement, when James “Rhodey” Rhodes aka War Machine expressed is deep regret for signing the Sokovia Accords, along with his refusal to obey Thaddeus Ross’ order for the arrests of Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson and Wanda Maximoff. For me, it was Don Cheadle’s finest moment in the MCU franchise.

“INFINITY WAR” also featured some pretty interesting action sequences. I can count at least XX of them as among my favorites. One of them included a conflict on the streets of Manhattan in which the two sorcerers Dr. Stephen Strange and Wong, Tony Stark aka Iron Man and Peter Parker aka Spider-man battled against one of Thanos’ adopted children, Ebony Maw. The battle ended with Strange being kidnapped, due to his possession of the Time Stone. I thought it was well-handled. However, I find it odd that both Strange and Wong had difficulty with a being who was basically a telekinetic. Another battle I found interesting was Strange, Iron Man and Spider-man’s first meeting with Star-Lord, Drax and Mantis on Thanos’ homeworld, Titan. Although I found it enjoyable, I also found it odd, considering that of all the Guardians, Star-Lord did most of the work against the travelers from Earth . . . and succeeded. I do not know what to say about the battle that unfurled in Wakanda. On a visual level, I found it spectacular. And there were some good moments like Scarlet Witch’s encounter with Thanos; the arrival of Thor, Rocket and Groot; and the brief interaction between Rocket and James “Bucky” Buchanan during the battle. But overall . . . I simply cannot decide whether I loved it or simply tolerated it. Perhaps I loved some parts of it.

As for the movie’s visual effects . . . they were okay. There were a few spectacular scenes. I was especially impressed by Ebony Maw’s arrival in Manhattan, as shown in the following image:

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And I really enjoyed Thor’s initial arrival on Wakanda, in which he killed a good number of Thanos’ forces:

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But overall, I was not particularly dazzled by the film’s visual effects.

No movie is perfect. And I can honestly say that about “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR”. When I first learned that so many of the franchise’s past characters – especially the costumed heroes – would be featured in this film, my first reaction was wariness. After seeing the movie twice, I believe my initial wariness was justified on a certain level. I will re-phrase my original assessment of the movie – I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it enough to see it at the movie theaters twice. But, “INFINITY WAR” had its problems. And one of those problems proved to be the numerous protagonists that filled the narrative. But wait? Did I not earlier praise the MCU and the screenwriters for creating a narrative that was similar to all-star movie epics like “THE LONGEST DAY” and “A BRIDGE TOO FAR”. Yes, I did. But this narrative style still threatened to spiral out of control. There was no real balance in how McFeely and Markus treated the film’s characters. Not really. A good number of the characters – including major ones – were more or less treated as guest stars in this film.

Most of the characters who had rebelled against the Sokovia Accords – Captain America, Falcon, Black Widow, Winter Soldier, Ant-Man and Hawkeye – were not utilized very often. A major character like Captain America had finally been reduced to a guest star. Falcon, Black Widow and Winter Soldier barely had any lines. And both Ant-Man and Hawkeye were missing in this film. Only the Scarlet Witch seemed to have a larger role and that was due to her being the romantic interest of Vision, who had one of the Infinity Stones embedded into his forehead. I was also amazed how even Iron Man, Doctor Strange and Spider-man seemed to have disappeared and re-appear for a long stretches of time, following their departure from Earth aboard Ebony Maw’s ship. And why did the film’s screenplay not allow Wong to accompany them on the journey to Thanos’ homeworld, Titan. Hell, the inhabitants of Wakanda – Black Panther aka King T’Challa, Okoye, M’Baku and Princess Shuri – seemed to minor players in this film, considering that a major battle was fought within their country’s borders near the film’s finale. Both Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders managed to appear as former S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury and his assistant Maria Hill in the film’s only post-credit scene. In it, both had witnessed the impact of Thanos’ Infinity Stones snap in Manhattan, before disappearing themselves. And before they did, Fury managed to send a message to a new Avenger – Captain Marvel aka Carol Danvers. That was it? Jackson and Smulders were used as a publicity scene for the upcoming Captain Marvel film? God, what a waste!

I wonder if the reason why the focus on the characters struck me as so unbalance was due to them being scattered . . . all over the universe, really. The reason why movies like “THE LONGEST DAY” and “A BRIDGE TOO FAR” worked so well is that these films kept the focused on one particular setting – whether it were the beaches of Normandy, Frances and the surrounding countryside, or the stretch of road that encompassed three Dutch small cities. “INFINITY WAR” featured more settings than a James Bond movie and all of the major characters were scattered throughout those different locations on Earth and in space. Even a relative of mine found this rather convoluted.

There were other aspects of the film’s narrative that left me scratching my head. I do not know where to begin. Oh yes . . . the film opened with Thanos and his minions in control of Thor’s ship (formerly owned by the Grandmaster), most of the inhabitants dead, Heimdall wounded and a bruised Thor a prisoner of Thanos. And all I could ask was . . . where was Valkyrie, along with former gladiators Korg and Miek? Where did they go? Were they dead? How did Thor, who was the new ruler of the remaining Asgardians and the new Allfather lose so easily against Thanos? As the new Allfather, he should have given Thanos and the “kids” a lot of trouble. I mean . . . not even Thanos’ use of the Power Stone failed to kill Thor. Really? Why did the Hulk wait for Loki to introduce him like some damn circus act? I mean . . . the Hulk is not more powerful than Thor. He never really was, despite the MCU’s effort to pretend otherwise. Why did Loki tried to kill Thanos with a dagger? A dagger? This is the being who managed to cast a mind spell on someone as powerful as Odin. Why did he not consider this, instead of attacking Thanos with a dagger?

The next major scene featured Doctor Strange, Wong, Tony Stark and Peter Parker. Why was it so difficult for Doctor Strange and Wong to defeat Ebony Maw? The latter is an alien with a telekinetic ability. That was his ability . . . telekinesis. A psychic ability and nothing else. Strange and Wong were sorcerers. Which meant they had abilities beyond psychic ones. What happened? Why did they not use . . . magic? He was able to use magic to prevent Ebony Maw from getting his claws on the stone. Why not use magic to defeat Maw? Now that I think about it, Strange was also in possession of the Time Stone. Why did he not use it? And this was way before his ludicrous claim that there was only one out of 14 million chances in which to defeat Thanos. I call bullshit on this, for it seems nothing more than contrived nonsense to justify what happened later in the film. And why did Tony suggest that they continue traveling to Titan? To keep the battle for the Time Stone away from Earth? Ah, does this mean both Tony and Stephen had forgotten about the Mind Stone . . . which was with Vison . . . on Earth?

This movie was filled with characters making dumb decisions – from Gamora deciding to accompany Peter Quill, Drax and Mantis to Knowhere, knowing that Thanos was there and she knew the location of the Soul Stone; to Peter Quill losing his shit and ruining the plan to trap Thanos on Titan after learning about Gamora’s fate; to Steve suggesting they take Vision to Wakanda in order to remove the Mind Stone from the latter’s head and keep him alive; to T’Challa giving them permission to land in Wakanda; to Thor losing his shit during the Wakanda battle and striking Thanos in an area that was bound to allow the Titan to live just a bit longer. Most fans have been dumping most of the blame on Star-Lord. Some of them, including the Russo Brothers, have dumped most of the blame for what happened in the end on Thor. I blame Thanos. As far as I am concerned, he made the dumbest decision to wipe away half of the universe’s living beings for . . . what? To preserve the remaining living beings so that there were enough resources for everyone? This is a stupid plan. He could not think of anything else? Like providing more resources for the universe? Why did he set this plan in motion in the first place? Because he could not save his homeworld? Or what?

And there were other matters. Why did the empathic Mantis, who had managed to control the emotions of someone as powerful as Ego, failed to do so with Thanos? What was the point of including Secretary of Defense Thaddeus Ross in this story? To prove how useless and irrelevant the Sokovia Accords story arc truly was? When I learned that both Clint Barton and Scott Lang were under “house arrest” for violating the Accords in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”, I merely rolled my eyes in disgust. By the way, who was financing Steve, Natasha, Sam and Wanda’s activities for the past two years? When did Wanda and Vision finally commenced upon their romance? You mean to say that after eighteen months or so (since the events of “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING”), Tony and Pepper were still engaged? Where was Nakia? When did Gamora learn about the location of the Soul Stone? How did Johann Schmidt aka Red Skull survive 73 years after the Space Stone transported him to Vormir? Despite having the Dr. Erskine’s formula in his blood, he was never frozen in stasis like Steve and Bucky. Why on earth was it necessary for Thor to go to Nidavellir to create the Stormbreaker axe to be used on Thanos? Why? He should have been powerful enough to take on the Titan on his own in the first damn place. Had McFeely and Markus forgotten that Thor was the new Allfather?

The real problem I have with “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” – aside from the plot holes – is that it is not that original to me. Not really. First of all, the idea of a villain plotting to to commit genocide for environmental reasons had played a major role in two recent movies – 2015’s “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” and the 2016 movie, “INFERNO”. In an Arrowverse crossover event from three years ago, super villain and immortal Vandal Savage managed to kill all of the costumed heroes who were featured in that story – with the exception of Barry Allen aka the Flash. Instead, he used time travel to go back and change the fates of his friends and colleagues. Hmmm . . . sound familiar? How about this? Nearly a decade ago, I had created a series of “Charmed” Alternate Universe stories in which the Charmed Ones befriended another family of witches. Needless to say, among my stories featured a powerful demon who managed to kill most of the main characters, including two of the Charmed Ones. It was very similar to what happened to many of the characters in the finale for “INFINITY WAR”. And guess what? The whole thing was resolved through the use of time travel – which I assume will be used in “AVENGERS 4”. So, how can I be impressed with how McFeely, Markus and the Russo brothers ended the story for “INFINITY WAR”, when both the Arrowverse producers and I did something similar? What I found even more annoying about the film’s ending is that most of Thanos’ victims proved to be those MCU heroes and protagonists first introduced after “THE AVENGERS”. Fury and Hill seemed to be the only pre-Phase II characters that were killed. And there were only a few post-Phase I characters like Rocket the Raccoon, Wong, Princess Shuri, Okoye and M’Baku, who survived. Personally, I found it ridiculous that Marvel could not take the chance to kill off one or two of the original Avengers members.

I wish I could comment on all of the film’s performances, but that would take forever. I will comment on those that caught my attention, both good and bad. I have already commented on Don Cheadle’s very satisfying performance. The movie featured solid performances from those who had – to be honest – provided more memorable ones in past movies, like Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benedict Wong, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Chadwick Boseman, Winston Duke, Danai Gurira, Dave Bautista, Benedict Wong, Benicio del Toro, Jacob Batalon, William Hurt, Vin Diesel and Pom Klementieff. Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch gave solid performances as well, but there were times when both actors seemed bent upon proving whose character was more irritating. Personally, I believe Letitia Wright won this contest in her portrayal of Wakanda’s Princess Shuri. Wright’s character came off as a bit overbearing in her effort to prove her technological knowledge against the likes of Bruce Banner. Tom Holland gave a charming performance as Peter Parker aka Spider-man, but I must admit that I found his last scene, in which Peter was disappearing after Thanos’ “snap”, a bit over-the-top.

Both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany gave poignant performances as the pair of Avengers lovers Wanda Maximoff and Vision. Bradley Cooper gave a very funny voice performance as Rocket the Raccoon, especially in scenes in which the talking raccoon interacted with both Thor and Bucky Barnes. As for Sebastian Stan, I was more impressed by his last scene, as he conveyed Bucky’s fear and panic, while disintegrating, with one word – Steve’s name. Peter Dinklage gave a memorable performance as the gruff and sardonic Eitri, the giant dwarf (you have to see him to believe it) who created Thor’s Stormbreaker axe. Karen Gillian’s Nebula has come a long way since 2014’s “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” and I enjoyed how the actress managed to maintain the character’s gruff exterior and at the same time, convey Nebula’s deep affection for her sister Gamora. And then there was Chris Pratt, who did an exceptional job of portraying the emotional gauntlet that Peter Quill aka Star-Lord had experienced in this film. I was especially impressed by his performance in that tender scene in which Peter and Gamora conveyed their love for one another.

For me, the film’s most valuable players proved to be Chris Hemsworth, Zoe Saldana and Josh Brolin. Like Pratt, Chris Hemsworth had the opportunity to convey Thor’s emotional turmoil that the latter had experienced in both this film and “RAGNAROK”. At the same time, Hemsworth was as charming as ever, while portraying Thor’s more familiar and enduring traits. Zoe Saldana gave one of her best performances as one of the Guardians, Gamora, who finds herself torn between her determination to foil Thanos’ plan to use the Infinity Stones and her lingering love and affection toward him. Frankly, I thought Saldana beautifully conveyed this emotional tightrope in one scene in which Gamora expressed her grief after believing she had killed her adoptive father. Although I found Thanos’ plans to cull the herd of the universe’s sentient beings rather stupid, I cannot say the same about Josh Brolin’s portrayal of the homicidal super villain. Brolin gave a superb performance as the Titan, who not only proved to be ruthless and canny, but also affectionate and loving . . . in a twisted way. Frankly, I think Brolin deserve a major acting award nomination or two for his performance. I found him more effectively scary and complex in this film than I did in “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”.

It must seem pretty obvious that I do not have a high regard for “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR”. I do not believe that it is a terrible movie. In fact, it struck me as a pretty damn good movie. I thought the Russo Brothers, along with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and a first rate cast led by Josh Brolin created a memorable and entertaining film. But the movie seemed to be marred by a good deal of plot holes and questionable narrative decisions that have led me to wonder if this film might be overrated by so many movie critics and fans of the MCU. You know what? I believe it is. And yet . . . I would still recommend the movie for viewing.