“SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” (2008) Review

”SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” (2008) Review

After finally seeing the 2008 Academy Award winning Best Picture, ”SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE”, I am beginning to suspect that this film had garnered a great deal of unnecessarily extreme reactions. Moviegoers either loved it with every fiber of their being or considered it as either vastly overrated or insulting to the citizens of India. My reaction to the movie has been neither.

Directed by Danny Boyle, co-directed by Loveleen Tandan and written by Simon Beaufoy, ”SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” is about a young man from the slums of Mumbai who appears on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” (Kaun Banega Crorepati, mentioned in the Hindi version) and exceeds people’s expectations, arousing the suspicions of the game show host and of law enforcement officials. Beaufoy based his script upon the Boeke Prize-winning and Commonwealth Writers’ Prize-nominated novel, ”Q & A” (2005), written by Indian author and diplomat Vikas Swarup.

The question is – do I believe that ”SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” had deserved its Best Picture Oscar? Honestly? No, I do not. In fact, the movie did not even make my list of Top Ten Favorite Movies of 2008. In some ways, I do feel that it is slightly overrated. No movie is perfect, but the flaws in this movie – or aspects of the movie I saw as flaws – made me wonder how it managed to win Oscars in the Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay categories. I realize that this movie is based upon Swarup’s novel, in which the plot is centered around a popular game show. But I really could have done without this particular plot device. I found the scenes that featured Jamal Malik’s moments during the question-and-answer sessions of the game show unnecessarily dramatic. This plot device also provided a ridiculously over-the-top ‘happy ending’ that provided a sharp contrast to most of the story. And the idea that the game show questions provided triggers to Jamal’s reminisces about his childhood and his feelings about Latika, a girl he first fell in love with following the deaths of their parents in a mob attack did not exactly work for me. It seemed . . . off. There were times when director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy made it difficult to keep track on what Jamal was reminiscing in regard to the question he was being asked on the game show. By biggest complaints centered around the movie’s second half, the characterization of Latika and Chris Dickens’ editing.

At least two-thirds of ”SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” are focused around the boyhoods of Jamal’s recollections of his childhood in the slums of Mumbai with his older brother, Salim. In my opinion, this was the movie’s strongest part. It was not perfect, but a hell of a lot better than the second half. There have been complaints that Boyle’s savage look into Mumbai’s slums is not the real India. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is not. I would not know. I have never seen the real India. I must admit that the series of incidents presented in the movie’s first half left me feeling that I was watching an Anglo-Indian version of a Charles Dickens novel. Especially ”Oliver Twist”. And I found it fascinating, despite the squalor presented on the screen. But once the movie’s setting shifted to 2006 Mumbai, I found myself mired in a contrived story in which the rescue of Jamal’s love, Latika, from a wealthy gangster depended upon his success on the ”Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” show. As it turned out, Latika ended up being rescued by Jamal’s gangster brother, Salim.

Speaking of Latika, she proved to be another problem. Quite frankly, I found her character rather one-dimensional and frustrating. She seemed to be the ultimate example of the damsel-in-distress archetype. Jamal saw her as his ”destiny”. I saw her as this rather uninteresting character that became nothing more than a trophy for various characters – including Jamal. There was one scene in which Salim decided to claim Latika as a sex partner after he had saved her and Jamal by killing some minor gangster for whom she worked. Jamal naturally tried to prevent Salim from claiming Latika. Latika did nothing . . . until she agreed to sleep with Salim to prevent him from hurting Jamal. And I . . . was disgusted. She could have easily helped Jamal overcome Salim. Instead, she stood there like an idiot before offering herself to the older brother. The only time Latika ever really did something for herself was when she unsuccessfully tried to flee from the wealthy gangster. She was a very frustrating character and I felt sorry for the actresses – especially Freida Pinto – forced to portray such an uninteresting character. One last problem I had with this movie was Chris Dickens’ editing. It seemed like it was more appropriate for a MTV music video clip, instead of a two hour movie. Worse, it interfered with my enjoyment of Anthony Dod Mantle’s colorful cinematography. What makes this nauseating is that Dickens managed to win an Oscar for his work.

On the whole, ”SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” is pretty good movie that tries to give Westerners a peek into late 20th century and early 21st century India. The movie can boast some first rate performances by the movie’s lead actor, Dev Petel, who portrayed the 18 year-old Jamal, Tanay Chheda as the pre-adolescent Jamal, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail as the young Salim and Tanay Chheda as the early adolescent Salim. I was also impressed by Irrfan Khan’s performance as the police inspector who interrogated Jamal throughout most of the movie. He and Petel created a very interesting screen team. As I had stated earlier, I was also impressed by Mantle’s cinematography in the movie. Despite the squalor that permeated the scenes featuring Jamal and Salim’s childhood, he infused the photography with color, energy and sweep. And what can I say about the exciting music featured in this film? I loved it. A. R. Rahman definitely deserved his Oscar for one of the most exciting and original film scores I have heard in years . . . and that includes ”Jai Ho”, the song he wrote for the film. By the way, he earned a well deserved Oscar for that as well.

Considering the eight (8) Academy Awards that it had earned; I wish I could say that it deserved all of its awards. But I do not think it did. Despite the movie’s first-rate cast, Mantle’s excellent photography and Rahman’s superb score, I cannot say that it was the best movie I had seen in 2008. In fact, it failed to make my list of 10 favorite movies for that year. Frankly, I found Simon Beaufoy’s script rather uneven and his characterization of the Latika character one-dimensional. And Danny Boyle failed to rise above these flaws with his direction. But . . . despite the movie’s flaws, I could honestly say that it would have made my list of the top 20 movies of 2008.

Advertisement

My Ranking of the DCEU Movies

Below is my ranking of the eleven DC Extended Universe movies released between 2013 and 2021:

MY RANKING OF THE DCEU MOVIES

1.  “Batman v. Superman:  Dawn of Justice” (2016); dir. Zack Snyder

2.  “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (2021); dir. Zack Snyder

3.  “Man of Steel” (2013); dir. Zack Snyder

4.  “Wonder Woman” (2017); dir. Patty Jenkins

5.  “Suicide Squad” (2016); dir. David Ayer

6.  “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” (2020); dir. Cathy Yan

7.  “Aquaman” (2018); dir. James Wan

8.  “Shazaam!” (2019); dir. David F. Sandberg

9.  “Justice League” (2017); dir. Zack Snyder (and Joss Whedon)

10. “Wonder Woman 1984″ (2020); dir. Patty Jenkins

11. “The Suicide Squad” (2021); dir. James Gunn

Ranking of “THE RIGHT STUFF” (2020) Episodes

Below is my ranking of the episodes from the Disney Plus limited series, “THE RIGHT STUFF”, Disney’s adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book. Created by Mark Lafferty, the series stars Patrick J. Adams, Jake McDorman and Colin O’Donoghue:

RANKING OF “THE RIGHT STUFF” (2020) EPISODES

1. (1.05) “The Kona Kai Séance” – After Mercury 7 astronaut John Glenn helps fellow astronaut Alan Shepard prevent the latter’s indiscretion from being exposed by the media, Glenn confronts his fellow astronauts over their relations with young female fans. Also, a greater conflict develops between him and Shepard over who will be the first sent into space.

2. (1.03) “Single Combat Warrior” – After mysterious bouts of vertigo, Shepard turns to U.S. Navy nurse Dee O’Hara to help him. Meanwhile, Cocoa Beach, Florida has transformed from a ghost town to a perpetual party between the Mercury astronauts and young groupies. Gordon “Gordo” Cooper finds himself tempted by another woman.

3. (1.06) “Vostok” – With President John F. Kennedy now in the White House, NASA finds itself under scrutiny by his administration and Shepard’s flight delayed. When NASA learns of his heart arrhythmia, Mercury astronaut Donald “Deke” Slayton is removed from the Mercury program.

4. (1.01) “Sierra Hotel” – NASA aerospace engineer Chris Kraft and his team are assigned to select the first seven astronauts for NASA’s Mercury program out of over 100 highly capable applicants.

5. (1.07) “Ziggurat” – Weather endangers Shepard’s flight. Meanwhile, tensions between him and Glenn hit a breaking point over a his past indiscretion and a letter written by the latter.

6. (1.08) “Flight” – After Shepard’s historic flight into space, he feels underwhelmed and restless. Gordo’s marriage to his wife Trudy is on the brink of collapse due to a comment he had made during a press conference. Slayton becomes the new Chief of the Astronauts Office and informs astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom that the latter will be the next American in space.

7. (1.04) “Advent” – During the holidays, the Russian space program achieves another milestone, throwing the future of NASA into question. Shepard and his wife Louise adopt her orphaned niece. Cooper is contacted by a former lover, which forces his confrontation and reconciliation with Trudy.

8. (1.02) “Goodies” – The Mercury 7 astronauts become aware of their instant fame and the pitfalls that come with it.

“THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS” (2009) Review

“THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS” (2009) Review

Grant Heslov directed this comedic adaptation of Jon Ronson’s 2004 book about the U.S. Army’s exploration of New Age concepts and the potential military applications of the paranormal. The movie starred George Clooney as one of the participants in this program and Ewan McGregor, who portrayed a journalist who stumbles across the story, while reporting on businesses with military contracts in Iraq.

One of the surprising aspects about “THE MEN WHO STARED AT GOATS” is that its story is based upon fact. According to author Jon Ronson, there was actually a similar unit actually existed within the U.S. Army called the Stargate Project. The film featured a different name for the units . . . and had probably changed some of the facts, but the Army did explore New Age concepts and military applications of the paranormal. “THE MEN WHO STARED AT GOATS” followed McGregor’s character, a journalist with the Ann Arbor Daily Telegram named Bob Wilton. After an emotional divorce from an unfaithful wife, Bob goes to Kuwait to report on the Iraq War. He stumbles upon an interesting story when he meets a Special Forces operator named Lyn Cassady during a trip across the Iraqi countryside. During the road trip, Cassady reveals his participation in an Army unit that trained to develop a range of par psychological skills by using New Age concepts. The unit ended up being named the New Earth Army. While the pair endured a journey that included encounters with a gang of Iraqi criminals, a kidnapped victim of the criminals, the head of a private security firm named Todd Nixon and two rival groups of American contractors who engage in a gunfight against each other in Ramadi.

During Wilton and Cassady’s journey, the latter revealed the story behind the creation of the New Earth Army and its founder, a Vietnam War veteran named Bill Django. The latter had traveled across America in the 1970s for six years to explore a range of New Age movements (including the Human potential movement) after being wounded during the Vietnam War. Django used these experiences to create the New Earth Army. Django’s recruits ended up being nicknamed “Jedi Warriors”. By the 1980s, two of Django’s best recruits were Cassady and Larry Hooper, who developed a lifelong rivalry with the former because of their opposing views of how to implement the First Earth philosophy. Cassady had wanted to emphasize the positive side of the teachings, whereas Hooper was more interested in the negative side of the philosophy. Wilton and Cassady’s journey ended when they locate a military base in the middle of the desert.

I must admit that I had not in a big hurry to see “THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS” when it first hit the theaters ten years ago. In fact, I never had any intention of seeing it. The only reason I went to see the movie in the first place was that I was desperate for something to watch. The Fall 2009 movie season had seemed pretty dim to me. Aside from “THE INFORMANT”, I had difficulty finding a movie that appealed to me. And what about “THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS”? Did I find it appealing? Honestly? It was not the best movie I had seen in 2009. But I must admit that thanks to Grant Heslov’s direction and Peter Straughan’s screenplay, I found the movie rather humorous in an off-kilter manner. Some of the most humorous scenes featured:

*Wilton and Cassady’s flight from a group of Iraqi criminals

*The “Battle of Ramadi” between two American private security armies

*Bill Django’s six year exploration of New Age movements

*The results of Wilton and Django’s spiking of the Army base food with LSD.

At first, the movie’s approach to New Age religion and movements seemed inconsistent. The first half of the film treated the subject as a joke. However, once Wilton and Cassady reached the base housing the PSIC, Straughan’s script treated the subject with a lot more respect. It took me a while to realize that the story was told from Bob Wilton’s point-of-view. It only seemed natural that he would first view the New Earth Army and New Age beliefs as a joke. But after time spent with Cassady and later Django at the PSIC base, Wilton naturally developed a newfound respect for both topics. The movie also provided a slightly pointed attack upon the U.S. military presence in Iraq. Normally, I would have cringed at such protesting in a comedy. Fortunately, Heslov used humor – and very sharp humor at that – to mock American presence in the Middle Eastern country.

I think that Lyn Cassady might turn out to be one of my favorite roles portrayed by George Clooney. One, he gave a hilarious performance. And two, he also did a marvelous job in infusing Cassady’s role with a mixture of militaristic machismo and wide-eyed innocence. And despite his questionable American accent, I was very impressed by Ewan McGregor’s poignant performance as the lovelorn Michigan journalist (his wife left him for his editor), who traveled to Iraq to prove his bravery to his former wife . . . only to discover something more unique. Another joyous addition to the cast turned out to be Jeff Bridges, who gave a wonderfully off-kilter performance as Cassady’s mentor and founder of the New Earth Army, Bill Django. And Larry Hooper, the one man allegedly responsible for bringing down Django’s New Earth Army, turned out to be another one of Kevin Spacey’s deliciously villainous roles. The movie also featured performances that ranged from solid to zany from the likes of Stephen Lang, Robert Patrick, Nick Offerman, Waleed Zuaiter, Rebecca Mader and Glen Morshower.

“THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS” managed to earn less than $70 million dollars at the box office. Because it only had a budget of $24 million, it still managed to earn a small profit. However, it was not a hit film and it received mixed reviews. Perhaps the audience found the film’s subject a bit hard to swallow. There is also the possibility that film goers found screenwriter Peter Straughan’s script use of constant flashbacks regarding the New Earth Army rather confusing. Personally, I rather enjoyed the movie. It never became a big favorite of mine, but I still found it entertaining and interesting.

Five Favorite Episodes of “JESSICA JONES” Season Two (2018)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season Two of “JESSICA JONES”, the Marvel Netflix adaptation of the Marvel Comics heroine. Created by Melissa Rosenberg, the series stars Kristen Ritter as Jessica Jones:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “JESSICA JONES” SEASON TWO (2018)

1. (2.06) “AKA Facetime” – Super powered New York City private detective Jessica Jones gate crashes an exclusive country club, while hunting for the killer of another enhanced person with connections to Dr. Miklos Kozlov, the doctor who had given her powers. Jessica’s adoptive sister Trish Walker’s addiction to a combat enhancing drug spirals out of control.

2. (2.02) “Sole Survivor” – Jessica stumbles across a new lead on the IGH company at an abandoned clinic, where she had stayed as a girl following the accident that killer her family. Attorney Jeryn “Jeri” Hogarth faces an ultimatum after the secret regarding her Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ASL) gets out.

3. (2.13) “AKA Playland” – Jessica finds herself torn between two worlds and facing an impossible choice after finding herself on the road toward the U.S.-Canada with her enhanced mother Alisa Jones, who was believed to be dead.

4. (2.02) “Freak Accident” – Jessica sets out to find Dr. Kozlov and makes a startling discovery. Trish recruits Jessica’s neighbor and associate, Malcolm Ducasse for backup as she visits a figure from her past, a television director named Maxmilian Tatum who had sexually abused her when she was a child actress.

5. (2.04) “God Help the Hobo” – Between anger management classes and tabloid scandals, Jessica and Trish track down a third patient linked to the IGH company. Jessica’s apartment superintendent, Oscar Arocho, extends an olive branch after their previous quarrel about her powers.

“EVIL UNDER THE SUN” (2001) Review

“EVIL UNDER THE SUN” (2001) Review

There have been four adaptations of Agatha Christie’s 1941 novel, “Evil Under the Sun”. One version was a radio play that broadcast in 1999. The Adventure Company released its own adaptation in 2007. John Bradbourne and Richard Goodwin released a movie version in 1982. However, the adaptation that has recently caught my attention is the 2001 television movie that aired on ITV’s “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”.

While dining at his friend Captain Arthur Hasting’s new Argentine restaurant, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot suffers a sudden collapse. His doctor reveals that Poirot need to lose weight or risk a heart condition. Both the doctor and the detective’s secretary, Miss Lemon, book Poirot at a health resort on the coast of Devon called Sandy Cove. Miss Lemon also insists that Captain Hastings accompany him.

At the Sandy Cove Resort, both Poirot and Hastings come across the usual assortment of guests. Among them was a well-known stage actress named Arlena Stuart Marshall. Many of the guests disliked Arlena, including her new husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall and her 17 year-old stepson, Lionel. Another guest, Mrs. Christina Redfern harbored jealousy over Arlena’s indiscreet affair with hubby Patrick. Well-known dressmaker Rosamund Darnley, was an old flame of Captain Marshall’s, and also harbored jealousy toward Arlena. A fanatical vicar named the Reverend Stephen Lane viewed Arlena as the embodiment of evil. An athletic spinster named Emily Brewster harbored resentment toward Arlena for bailing out on a play she had invested. The only guests who seemed to harbor no feelings regarding Arlena were a Major Barry and a Mr. Horace Blatt. But both seemed to be involved in some mysterious activities around the resort’s island – including the location where Arlena had been waiting to meet for a clandestine lover. When Arlena’s body is discovered strangled to death, Poirot and Hastings work with Scotland Yard inspector Japp to investigate the crime.

When I was younger, I had read Christie’s novel on a few occasions. I tried to enjoy the novel. I really did. I understood that it was a favorite among Christie fans. But I never managed to rouse any enthusiasm for the story. There was something about it that struck me as rather flat. This 2001 television adaptation seemed to be an improvement over the novel. Perhaps a visual representation on the television screen made it easier for me to appreciate the story. I certainly cannot deny that Rob Hinds’ production designs struck me as colorful and sleek – a perfect continuation of the Art Deco style that had dominated the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” since the beginning. I was also impressed by Charlotte Holdich’s sleek costume designs for the cast – especially the female characters. Overall, “EVIL UNDER THE SUN” proved to be eye-candy for those who usually enjoy television and movie productions with a 1930s setting.

The subplot involving Poirot’s health certainly made it easier for me to understand why he would vacation at a not-so-interesting hotel resort. To be honest, I could not see someone like the flashy Arlena Marshall being a guest at such a low-key location. Screenwriter Anthony Horowitz made a wise choice in transforming Arlena’s 16 year-old stepdaughter Linda Marshall, who studied magic; into a 17 year-old boy, studying poisons. Arlena had been strangled. And Scotland Yard made it clear that large hands had been responsible for the crime. The idea of a 16 year-old girl with man-size hands struck me as slightly improbable. After all, if Christie wanted Linda to be considered as a serious suspect, she should have changed the character’s gender, which Horowitz did; or find another method to bump off Arlena Marshall.

The above mentioned changes in Christie’s story – Poirot’s health problems and the transformations of the Linda/Lionel Marshall character – seemed like improvements over the original story. However, other changes made it impossible for me to love this adaptation. I understand why the series’ producers and Horowitz had decided to include Hastings, Japp and Lemon into the story. After all, the Eighth Series, which aired in 2000 and 2001, proved to be the last that featured these three characters. But none of them had appeared in the 1941 novel. Hastings’ presence only gave Poirot a pretext for vacationing at Sandy Cove in the first place. Unfortunately, the running joke about Poirot’s distaste toward the resort’s health-conscious menu for its guests became tiresome within one-third of the movie. Other than the Argentine restaurant sequence, Horowitz failed to make Hastings’ presence relevant to the story. And why on earth was Chief Inspector Japp investigating a murder in Devon? He was outside of Scotland Yard’s jurisdiction, which was limited to Greater London and the home counties of Essex and Hertfordshire in the East of England; along with Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey and Kent in South East England. In other words . . . what in the hell was Japp doing there in Devon? Miss Lemon proved to be the only veteran recurring cast member that proved to be relevant to the story. She helped Poirot investigate another murder case with connections to Arlena Marshall’s murderer. The movie also featured one scene in which Poirot verbally castigated one of the suspects – the married Patrick Redfern – for conducting an affair with victim Arlena Marshall. This brief conversation seemed to strike a false note for me. Poirot might disapprove of adultery, but he would never so indiscreet as to confront an adulterer over any extramarital activities.

The cast gave solid performances. But I could not recall any memorable performances among them. The four main cast members – David Suchet, Hugh Fraser, Philip Jackson and Pauline Moran – were competent as usual. I was also impressed by Michael Higgs (Patrick Redfern), Carolyn Pickles (Emily Brewster), Ian Thompson (Major Barry), Tamzin Malleson (Christine Redfern) and especially Russell Tovey (Lionel Marshall). But there were performances that failed to rock my boat. David Mallinson’s portrayal of Kenneth Marshall struck me as . . . meh. He was not terrible, but simply not that interesting. Marsha Fitzalan’s performance as Rosamund Darnley seemed a bit off. Her portrayal of the dressmaker struck me as gossipy and callow. She seemed like an early 20th century version of her old role, Caroline Bingley; instead of the warm and strong-willed Rosamund. Both Tim Meats and David Timson’s performances seemed slightly hammy and rather off for such a low-key production. But the real worm in the apple proved to be Louise Delamere’s portrayal of victim Arlena Marshall. I realize that Delamere was given a role that seemed the least interesting in Christie’s novel. But Horowitz’s script and Delamere’s performance failed to improve upon it. Delamere ended up projecting a fourth-rate version of Diana Rigg’s performance in the 1982 film.

Overall, “EVIL UNDER THE SUN” proved to be a mixed bag. Production wise, it looked sleek and colorful. The script provided a few improvements over Christie’s novel. And there were some first-rate performances that included David Suchet. But in the end, I felt the movie was slightly undermined by other changes that I found unnecessary and some not-so impressive performances.

Five Favorite Episodes of “GAME OF THRONES” Season Two (2012)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season Two of “GAME OF THRONES”, HBO’s adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s 1998 novel from his A Song of Ice and Fire series, “A Clash of Kings”. The series was created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “GAME OF THRONES” SEASON TWO (2012)

1. (2.09) “Blackwater” – King Robert Baratheon’s younger brother, Stannis Baratheon, arrives at Westeros’ capital, King’s Landing, to battle for the city and the Iron Throne.

2. (2.06) “The Old Gods and the New” – Former Stark hostage Theon Greyjoy seizes control of Winterfell to please his father, Balon Greyjoy of the Iron Islands. Jon Snow captures a wildling named Ygritte. And the people of King’s Landing begin to turn against King Joffrey during a riot in the capital’s streets. Daenerys Targaryen looks to buy ships to sail for the Seven Kingdoms.

3. (2.10) “Valar Morghulis” – In this season finale, Joffrey ends his engagement to Sansa Stark in favor for an engagement to Renley Baratheon’s widow, Margery Tyrell, in the wake of the Lannisters’ new alliance with her family. Daenerys seeks to rescue her baby dragons from the warlocks of Qarth.

4. (2.05) “The Ghost of Harrenhal” – Temporary Hand of the King Tyrion Lannister investigates a secret weapon that King Joffrey and his mother, Queen Cersei, plan to use against Stannis’ invasion force. Meanwhile, as a token to Arya for saving his life on the road from King’s Landing, an assassin named Jaqen H’ghar offers to kill three people that she chooses.

5. (2.04) “Garden of Bones” – Sansa is nearly punished by Joffrey following her brother Robb Stark’s latest victory over the Lannister forces. Lord Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish arrives at Renly’s camp just before the latter can face off against Stannis. Daenerys and her company are welcomed into the city of Qarth. Arya and her travel companions – Gendry and Hot Pie – find themselves imprisoned at Harrenhal Castle.

My Ranking of the JACK RYAN Movies

Below is my ranking of the five movies featuring the C.I.A. character Jack Ryan, created by Tom Clancy. Four of these movies were adaptations of Clancy’s novels:

MY RANKING OF THE JACK RYAN MOVIES

1. “Clear and Present Danger” (1994) – In this adaptation of Clancy’s 1989 novel, C.I.A. analyst-turned-Acting Deputy Director Jack Ryan finds himself drawn into an illegal and secret war by the U.S. government against a Colombian drug cartel. Directed by Philip Noyce, Harrison Ford starred for the second time as Ryan.

2. “The Hunt For Red October” (1990) – John McTiernan directed this adaptation of Clancy’s 1984 novel, Ryan figures out that a rogue Soviet Navy submarine commander is planning to defect and scrambles to find a way to help the defection to happen without the Soviet Union’s knowledge. The movie starred Alec Baldwin as Ryan and Sean Connery.

3. “The Sum of All Fears” (2002) – In this loose adaptation of Clancy’s 1990 novel, Ryan stumbles across a neo-Nazi plan to use a catastrophic event to start a conflict between the United States and Russia. Directed by Phil Alden Robinson, the movie starred Ben Affleck as Ryan.

4. “Patriot Games” (1992) – This adaptation of Clancy’s 1987 novel featured Ryan facing the consequences of his decision to interfere with the assassination of a minor member of the British Royal Family by an extremist faction of the I.R.A. Directed by Philip Royce, this movie featured Harrison Ford’s first turn as Ryan.

5. “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” (2014) – This original story featured Ryan uncovering a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack, during his early years as a C.I.A. analyst. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the movie starred Chris Pine as Ryan.

“THE LAST AIRBENDER” (2010) Review

“THE LAST AIRBENDER” (2010) Review

Eight to nine years ago, director M. Night Shyamalan had decided to explore the world of fantasy-adventure by filming “THE LAST AIRBENDER”, the 2010 adaptation of the 2005-2008 animated television series, “AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER”. This movie is a fantasy-adventure tale set in a fictional, Asian-influenced world with Chinese martial arts and elemental manipulation.

“THE LAST AIRBENDER” tells the story of a young monk and the only surviving airbender (one with the psi ability to manipulate air) named Aang, who is believed by others to be the future Avatar – one who can manipulate all four elements of air, water, fire and earth. With his two new friends from the Southern Water Tribe, Aang seeks to learn to manipulate three other elements – water, earth and fire. In this movie, he journeys with his friends Katara (a waterbender) and her brother Sokka to the Northern Water Tribe, where he can learn how to master the waterbending skill from a master. Tracking Aang, Katara and Sokka is Prince Zuko, the Crown Prince of the Fire Nation; who has been exiled by his evil father, Fire Lord Ozai and sent to capture the future Avatar. With the Avatar’s capture, Zuko’s honor and right to the throne will be restored.

I would have never bothered to see this movie. But an office colleague of mine had really enjoyed the movie and recommended that I go see it. Needless to say, I do not regret following her advice. Mind you, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” was not perfect. Nor would I regard it as a favorite of mine. The movie’s first five to ten minutes failed to kick start my interest. It bored me so much that I found myself on the verge of falling asleep. Most of the cast members gave performances that ranged from mediocrity to sheer boredom. And a good deal of the movie’s dialogue seemed extremely cheesy to me – the kind of dialogue one would find in the ”STAR WARS” and the ”LORD OF THE RINGS” movie franchises.

One of the biggest problems with “THE LAST AIRBENDER” for me proved to be the casting. Many of the leads – namely those characters that portrayed the film’s protagonists were portrayed by white actors. White actors in a movie set in Asia, portraying East Asians or Inuits? I found that troublesome. And although the film also featured non-Westerners in major roles, they portrayed the film’s main antagonists. I do not know about the rest of you, but this form of casting seemed to reek of racism.

However, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” had its virtues. Ironically, its main virtue proved to be the cast. I was impressed by the performances of the film’s two leads, Noah Ringer and Dev Patel, who portrayed Aang and Zuko respectively. These two literally kept this movie together. It also helped that both young actors possessed genuine martial arts experience. I was also impressed by Shaun Toub, who portrayed Zuko’s wise uncle, Iroh; Aasif Mandvi, who played the Fire Nation’s cold-blooded military commander, Zhao; and Cliff Curtis, who portrayed the ruthless leader of the Fire Nation, Fire Lord Ozai. Andrew Lesnie’s photography, Philip Messina’s production designs and the art directions supervised by Richard L. Johnson were very impressive, if not mind blowing. However, I did find Judianna Makovsky’s costume designs to be very beautiful and memorable.

From what I understand, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” was not exactly a hit. The movie managed to earn a profit, but barely enough to fully earn back the money spent on its production and not enough to be regarded as a box office hit. It has failed to fully earn back the money spent on its production. Well . . . what can I say? Regardless of whether it was a hit or not, regardless of its flaws – including racist casting, “THE LAST AIRBENDER” managed to provide some semblance of entertainment.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set Between 1700 and 1749

Below is my current list of favorite movies set between 1700 and 1749:

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET BETWEEN 1700 AND 1749

1. “Tom Jones” (1963) – Tony Richardson directed this Best Picture Oscar winner, an adaptation of Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel, “The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling”. The movie starred Albert Finney and Susannah York.

2. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (2006) – Gore Verbinski directed this second entry in Disney’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise about the search for the chest that contains Davy Jones’ heart. The movie starred Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.

3. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003) – Gore Verbinski directed this first entry in Disney’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise about a dashing pirate who forms an alliance with an apprentice blacksmith in order to save the latter’s beloved from a crew of pirates – the very crew who had mutinied against the former. The movie starred Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.

4. “Kidnapped” (1960) – Peter Finch and James MacArthur starred in Disney’s 1960 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novel about family betrayal in 1740s Scotland. Robert Stevenson directed.

5. “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” (2007) – Gore Verbinski directed this third entry in Disney’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise about the Pirate Lords’ alliance and their stand against the East Indian Trading Company and Davy Jones. The movie starred Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and Geoffrey Rush.

6. “Against All Flags” (1952) – Errol Flynn and Maureen O’Hara starred in this swashbuckler about a British sea officer who infiltrates a group of pirates on behalf of the government bring them to justice. George Sherman directed.

7. “Rob Roy” (1995) – Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange starred in this adventure film about Scottish chieftain Rob Roy McGregor and his conflict with an unscrupulous nobleman in the early 18th century Scottish Highlands. Michael Caton-Jones directed.

8. “The Master of Ballantrae” (1984) – Michael York, Richard Thomas, Fiona Hughes and Timothy Dalton starred in this second adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1889 novel about two estranged Scottish noblemen, who are also brothers. Douglas Hickox directed.

9. “Swashbuckler” (1976) – Robert Shaw starred in this adaptation of Paul Wheeler’s story, “The Scarlet Buccaneer”, about an early 18th century pirate who forms an alliance with the daughter of a disgraced judge against an evil imperial politician. James Goldstone directed.

10. “The Master of Ballantrae” (1953) – Errol Flynn, Anthony Steel and Roger Livsey starred in an earlier adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1889 novel about two estranged Scottish noblemen, who are also brothers. William Keighley directed.