“THE HULK” (2003) Review

“THE HULK” (2003) Review

Poor Ang Lee. His 2003 adaptation of the Marvel Comics character, Bruce Banner aka the Hulk, has been the target of hostility and contempt from comic book fans for the past nineteen years. After Universal Pictures had released Louis Leterrier’s adaptation back in 2008, many had declared his film superior to Lee’s movie. But after recently viewing the 2003 movie, I do not believe I can agree with their assessment. Mind you, I am not claiming that Lee’s film was better than Leterrier’s. The 2008 film possessed certain aspects that Lee’s movie lacked. But I also believe that the 2003 film possessed traits that were certainly lacking in the later film.

”THE HULK” was basically an origins tale about how a genetics researcher from Berkeley, California became a massive, green-skinned creature named the Hulk. Ironically, this tale began years before his birth. In one of the most original and chilling opening credits sequences I have ever seen, the movie revealed how his father David Banner, a genetics researcher for the U.S. Army, was conducting experiments on himself to improve human DNA. The Army, represented by Lieutenant Colonel “Thunderbolt” Ross, learned of his experiment and ordered it shut down. Nothing came from Banner’s experiment at first. But he managed to inadvertently pass his mutated DNA to his son, Bruce. The sequence ended with Banner causing a massive explosion of the facilities’ gamma reactor, and accidentally killing his wife during an argument with her about Bruce. Banner ended up in a mental hospital for nearly three decades.

With his father in a mental hospital and his mother dead, Bruce Banner was sent into foster care and adopted by a family called Krenzler. Thirty years later found Bruce as a genetics researcher at the University of California in Berkeley. One of his colleagues happened to be Betty Ross, General Ross’ estranged daughter and Bruce’s ex-girlfriend. After saving another colleague from a Gamma radiation explosion, Bruce’s altered DNA (now affected by the radiation) led him to manifest into a green-skinned monster – ”a hulk” – whenever he lost his temper.

When I had earlier compared ”THE HULK” to the 2008 film, ”THE INCREDIBLE HULK”; I was not trying to be diplomatic when I had stated that neither film was superior to the other. I honestly believe this. If there is one thing that the 2008 film can boast about was that its action sequences were superior to the ones found in Lee’s film. The Taiwanese-born director had a bad habit of shooting a good number of his action scenes from a long distance angle. This seemed very apparent in one sequence that featured the U.S. Army’s attempt (led by General Ross) to kill the Hulk, following the latter’s escape from a desert military facility to San Francisco. There were times when I found it difficult to maintain an interest in this particular scene. Another sequence I had problems with featured Bruce/the Hulk’s final confrontation with his genetically altered father, who had become a powerful electrical being. Frankly, it seemed nothing more than a vague display of CGI special effects against a dark backdrop that damn near made it impossible to watch their fight with a clear eye. One sequence that almost caught my attention featured the Hulk’s battle with David Banner’s mutated dogs that had been sent to kill Betty. I say “almost” because I thought the fight had lasted longer than necessary. And I simply could not get excited over Bruce’s fight with a trio of dogs that looked like something from the 1994 film, ”THE MASK”.

Where ”THE HULK” reigned supreme over ”THE INCREDIBLE HULK” was its story and strong characterizations. Quite frankly, it possessed more depth and pathos than the 2008 film. The movie managed to delve into Bruce’s childhood horrors, which had led to his tendency to bottle up his emotions. His personal demons also revealed how this trait had affected his past relationship with Betty and help contribute to the Hulk’s manifestation. Another interesting aspect of the movie was the father/child theme that seemed to dominate its story. Not only did both Bruce and Betty suffer from damaged relationships with their respective fathers, their past romance and continued love for each seemed to be regarded by David Banner and General Ross as potential threats. And both men seemed incapable of resisting an urge to manipulate and control their children’s lives.

Ang Lee managed to gather an impressive cast for his film. I believe kudos should have gone to Eric Bana for his on-spot portrayal of the emotionally repressed Dr. Bruce Banner. The Australian actor did an excellent job of delving into his character’s emotional psyche, yet keeping it all in check in order to reveal Bruce’s difficulties in expressing himself. Jennifer Connolly gave a subtle performance as Betty Ross, Bruce’s ex-girlfriend and fellow geneticist. She ably managed to portray Betty as a woman frustrated by Bruce and her father’s penchant for emotional repression; and also torn by her love and loyalty toward Bruce, and her fear that only her father’s military resources can save him.

Sam Elliot was top-notch as the intense and paranoid General Ross, who seemed more interested in branding Bruce as a danger to his daughter and the Establishment, due to the latter’s family connections. ”THE HULK” marked the second movie in which I heard Elliot used a growl to mark his character’s intense nature. And I hope that he never uses it again. In a rare performance, Josh Lucas portrayed minor villain Glenn Talbot, Bruce and Betty’s former colleague that left the U.S. Army to join the private sector for more cash. Lucas did a first-rate job in portraying Talbot’s venal and smarmy nature without going over the top. His character also had one of the oddest death scenes in film history.

Two actors portrayed Bruce’s father, Dr. David Banner – Paul Kersey and Oscar nominee Nick Nolte. Kersey portrayed the young Dr. Banner, whose obsession with improving human DNA in the film’s mesmerizing opening credits ended up having major consequences for his family – especially his son. I am amazed at how Kersey managed to convey such a strong presence with very little screen time. It was a damn good thing Lee cast Nick Nolte in the role of the older David Banner, because Kersey struck me as a hard act to follow. However, Nolte gave what I believe was the best performance in the movie. He certainly did an excellent job in conveying Banner’s continuing obsession with his original experiment. Yet, thirty years in a prison managed to unhinge Banner’s personality, making him even more obsessive. He also acquired a possessive attitude toward Bruce’s Hulk alter-ego, viewing the latter as his true son. Nolte not only beautifully captured this aspect of the scientist’s personality, but also the latter’s hostile view of Betty Ross, and an increasingly hostile attitude toward the military industry complex and society at large. This hostility was openly revealed in what I can only describe as a fascinating speech that dripped with contempt.

Frederick Elmes did an excellent job in photographing the movie’s settings of Berkeley, San Francisco and the Nevada desert. I also have to commend visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren for a split screen technique that allowed Lee to cinematically mimic the panels of a comic book page. I thought that was truly inspired – especially in the scene that featured Talbot’s death. At Industrial, Light and Magic, Muren also supervised the movie’s CGI effects – especially the computer generated Hulk. The interesting thing about this movie’s Hulk is that his facial expression seemed more varied than the expressions of the 2008 version. However, I was not that impressed by Muren’s design of David Banner’s ”hulkish” dogs. They struck me as something from 1994’s ”THE MASK” – a little too cartoonish for my tastes.

In the end, ”THE HULK” is a well-written movie with interesting characters. I believe it was only marred by questionable action sequences. If Marvel Entertainment ever decide to combine this movie’s characterizations and depth with the action sequences from ”THE INCREDIBLE HULK”, it would have one hell of a movie on its hands.

Five Favorite Episodes of “IRON FIST” Season One (2017)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of “IRON FIST”, the Marvel Netflix adaptation of the Marvel Comics hero. Created by Scott Buck, the series starred Finn Jones as Danny Rand aka Iron Fist:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “IRON FIST” SEASON ONE (2017)

1. (1.06) “Immortal Emerges from Cave” – Danny Rand aka Iron Fist and Ward Meachum, the son of his late father’s partner, Harold Meachum; search the Rand Enterprises warehouses for clues as to the operations of the criminal organization known as the Hand. Meanwhile, Danny receives an invitation from one of the Hand’s leaders, Madame Gao, to fight three operatives for the freedom of one of their hostages.

2. (1.13) “Dragon Plays with Fire” – With the Hand no longer around to monitor him, Harold Meachum takes control of Rand Enterprises. Danny learns of Harold’s role in the deaths of his parents and both he and Ward are forced to confront the former CEO in this season finale.

3. (1.11) “Lead Horse Back to Stable” – Danny refuses to return to K’un-Lun, the mystical city where he became the Iron Fist, despite the urgent demands of his friend, Davos. Former Hand acolyte and dojo owner Colleen Wing tries to convince Danny that she knew nothing about the Hand’s activities. Harold and his daughter Joy Meachum plot to prevent the Hand from taking over Rand Enterprises.

4. (1.01) “Snow Gives Way” – In the series’ premiere, Danny returns home to New York City after spending fifteen years at K’un-Lun. Because he was presumed dead, along with his parents, Danny has difficulty convincing Ward and Joy of his true identity and the fact that he controls 51% of Rand Enterprises.

5. (1.10) “Black Tiger Steals Heart” – An injured Danny finds himself at the Hand dojo where Colleen had been trained and meets her former mentor/trainer, Bakuto. Meanwhile, Harold kills a board member in order to pave the way for Joy to convince the others to reinstate her, Ward and Danny back on the company’s board.

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”: The Last Stand Against Mediocrity

The following article was written during Season One of ABC’s “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” – the winter of 2013/2014:

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”: THE LAST STAND AGAINST MEDIOCRITY

The age of serial drama or adventure is over. It is over. I came to this conclusion after learning the dismal ratings for the last episode of ABC’s “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” called (1.10) “The Bridge”. And ironically, my statement is not a criticism directed at the series or its latest episode.

I recently learned that the ratings for “The Bridge” had dropped considerably. Many fans would see this as a sign of the show’s not-so-sensational quality. I realize that “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” is not flawless. There is no such thing as a flawless show. But it has the potential to become a first-rate one, as the quality of its writing grow with time. But judging from the reaction to the show from the past two months, I can clearly see that American television viewers and critics now lack the patience to deal with a serial drama. They will not allow shows like “S.H.I.E.L.D.” to develop at a steady pace. They want instant perfection right off the bat.

I blame televisions series like “LOST”, the new “BATTLESTAR: GALACTICA”, and “ONCE UPON A TIME”. All three shows gave television viewers an excellent First Season that seemed to blow their minds. And thanks to shows like the one I had just listed, an excellent first season is what many viewers have come to expect from a TV show in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. Superb shows like “BABYLON 5”“BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” and “ANGEL” did not have perfect first seasons. First first seasons were decent, but flawed. But in time, all three developed into excellent shows by their second and third seasons. And this is why I consider them among the finest series in television series. I am also reminded of cancelled shows like “FLASHFORWARD” and “THE EVENT”. I might as well be frank. The first half of their single seasons never struck me as exceptional or impressive. But both shows managed to develop in quality by the end of their seasons. And both shows promised great potential, as well. But the respective networks refused to give them a chance and cancelled them, instead of giving them a second season.

Considering that the writing for television series like “BABYLON 5” and “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” managed to slowly develop over time, I now realize that I can never consider shows like “LOST” and “ONCE UPON A TIME” among the best in television history. Sure, they were entertaining and revealed flashes of brilliant writing. Unfortunately, I believe that the writing for “LOST” flip-flopped in quality during its remaining five seasons. Despite some first-rate story arcs and plot twists over the years, it never reached the same level of quality that it had enjoyed during its first season. Many fans were dazzled by “ONCE UPON A TIME” during its first season. But the series is now in the midst of its third season. And I feel that eventually, it will suffer the same fate of inconsistent quality as “LOST” did.

The first season of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” reminds of those first seasons for shows like “BABYLON 5” and “BUFFY”. Like the two now defunct shows, the first season for “S.H.I.E.L.D.” is obviously flawed. But I feel that it has potential, especially in the story line regarding the agency’s battle with an organization called Centipede. When the series first began, I could barely stand characters like Grant Ward, Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons. I found the former aggressively bland, and the other two rather annoying and out of place. The series has just finished airing its tenth episode and I have grown to appreciate all three characters. This is due to their fleshing out as interesting characters, instead of remaining mere cliches.

For me, this is a sign of why I like the production styles of television producer/writers like Joss Whedon and J. Michael Straczynski. They do not try to wow the audience off the bat with a spectacular premiere or first season. Both Whedon and Straczynski, and other show creators like them, are willing to allow their stories and characters to develop with time . . . like true storytellers. But today’s television viewers do not seem to appreciate real storytelling. They do not appreciate a steady development of story and characters. They want to be dazzled right off the bat. And the creators of shows like “LOST” and “ONCE UPON A TIME” are willing to feed them dazzling premieres to automatically draw in viewers. Because of this new style of storytelling and lack of audience patience, I fear that “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” will not last beyond a first season. And if it does last, I fear that the networks might force Whedon and his brother, Jed Whedon will transform the series into an episodic one that allow guest starring costume heroes to push the main characters into a back seat.

Oh well. There is nothing I can do about it. In fact, all I can do is sit back and speculate on the future of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. If it ends up cancelled by the end of the season or is transformed into episodic television; the show’s fate will become another step down in the quality of television writing – especially for the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I fear culture is in serious danger of going to the dogs.

Post-Script: “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” lasted another six seasons. It finally went off the air during the summer of 2020. And yes, it continued to use the serial drama narrative format – both successfully and not so successfully.

Top Favorite Movies of the Decade (2010-2019)

Below is a list of my top favorite movies of the decade between 2010-2019:

TOP TWENTY FAVORITE MOVIES OF THE DECADE (2000-2009)

1. “Django Unchained” (2012) – Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed this first-rate film about a slave-turned-bounty hunter, who searches for his enslaved wife in antebellum Mississippi, with the help of his mentor. Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson star.

2. “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016) – Zack Synder directed this superb and vastly underrated second installment in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) about supervillain Lex Luthor’s efforts to manipulate veteran vigilante Batman into a pre-emptive battle with Superman, whom Luthor is obsessed with destroying. Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill starred as Bruce Wayne aka Batman and Clark Kent aka Superman.

3. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) – Chris Evans starred in this superb sequel to his 2011 hit about the Marvel superhero, who finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy regarding S.H.I.E.L.D. and its old nemesis, HYDRA. The movie was directed by Anthony and Joe Russo.

4. “Lincoln” (2012) – Steven Spielberg directed this excellent look at President Abraham Lincoln near the end of his presidency. Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones star.

5. “Man of Steel” (2013) – Zack Snyder directed this excellent reboot of the Superman mythos, in which the Kryptonian superhero battles a nemesis from his father’s past. Henry Cavill starred as Clark Kent aka Superman.

6. “Inception” (2010) – Christopher Nolan wrote and directed one of the most unique films I have seen – which told the story of a thief who uses dream sharing technology to steal and plant corporate secrets. Leonardo DiCaprio starred.

7. “Saving Mr. Banks” (2013) – John Lee Hancock directed this superb and emotional tale about author P.L. Travers and producer Walt Disney’s tug-of-war over the development of the 1964 movie, “MARY POPPINS”. Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks starred.

8. “Dunkirk” (2017) – Christopher Nolan wrote and directed this acclaimed look at the British Expeditionary Force’s evacuation from Dunkirk, France in 1940. Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance starred.

9. “Hidden Figures” (2016) – Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe starred in this Oscar nominated biopic about the true story of African American women who provided NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions. Theodore Melfi directed.

10. “The Great Gatsby” (2013) – Baz Luhrmann co-wrote and directed this splashy yet entertaining adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel about a mysterious millionaire during the early years of the Jazz Age. Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton starred.

11. “True Grit” (2010) – Ethan and Joel Coen wrote and directed this excellent adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel about a fourteen year-old girl’s desire for retribution against her father’s killer. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hattie Steinfeld starred.

12. “Gone Girl” (2014) – David Fincher directed this outstanding and colorful adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel about whether a man is responsible for the disappearance of his wife or not. Ben Affleck and Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike starred.

13. “Silver Lining Playbook” (2012) – David O. Russell wrote and directed this Oscar-nominated adaptation of Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel, “The Silver Linings Playbook”. Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper and Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence starred.

14. “The Avengers” (2012) – Joss Whedon wrote and directed this excellent blockbuster in which S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury forms a team of superheroes to save Earth from Asgardian villain Loki and alien invaders. The cast included Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Samuel L. Jackson.

15. “Wonder Woman” (2017) – Gal Gadot starred in this excellent movie about the D.C. Comics’ heroine Wonder Woman and her experiences during World War I. Patty Jenkins directed.

16. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016) – Gareth Edwards directed this excellent stand alone film in the Star Wars saga about a group of Rebels who learn about the Imperial Galaxy’s new weapon, the Death Star, and set about stealing the plans. Felicity Jones and Diego Luna starred.

17. “Rush” (2013) – Ron Howard directed this exciting biopic about Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda … and their rivalry during the 1976 racing season. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl starred as the two rivals.

18. “Solo: A Star Wars Movie” (2018) – This excellent STAR WARS movie set ten years before the Original Trilogy, told the story of the early years of Han Solo as a smuggler and criminal. Directed by Ron Howard, Alden Ehrenreich starred in the title role.

19. “Black Panther” (2018) – Chadwick Boseman starred in this excellent adaptation of the Marvel Comics hero Black Panther aka King T’Challa of Wakanda about the title character’s efforts to maintain his position as Wakanda’s king, while dealing with a vengeful relation. Directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, the movie co-starred Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong’o.

20. “Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood” (2019) – Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed this excellent tale about a fading actor and his stunt double struggling to regain success in the film industry during the final year of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles. Oscar nominee Leonardo Di Caprio, Oscar winner Brad Pitt and Oscar nominee Margot Robbie starred.

Honorable Mention: “Incredibles 2” (2018) – This first-rate direct sequel to the 2004 hit Disney animated film follows the Parr family as they try to restore public’s trust in superheroes, while balancing their family life. They also find themselves combating a new foe who seeks to turn the populace against all superheroes. Directed by Brad Bird, Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter and Samuel L. Jackson provided the voices.

“KISS ASS” (2010) Review

“KICK ASS” (2010) Review

When I first saw the 2004 crime thriller, ”LAYER CAKE”, I thought that Matthew Vaughn would be spending the rest of his directing career in helming movies with a similar genre . . . and become a rival for his colleague, Guy Ritchie. Vaughn proved me wrong. Three years after ”LAYER CAKE”, he directed a fantasy comedy called ”STARDUST”. Another three years passed before Vaughn released another directorial effort – a spoof of the superhero genre called ”KICK ASS”.

Based upon the comic book of the same name by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., ”KICK ASS” told the story of an ordinary New York teenager named Dave Lizewski, who sets out to become a real-life superhero by calling himself “Kick-Ass”. However, Dave gets caught up in a bigger fight when he meets Big Daddy aka Damon Macready, a former cop, who in his quest to bring down the evil drug lord Frank D’Amico, has trained his 10-year-old daughter Mindy to be the ruthless vigilante, Hit-Girl. Big Daddy and Hit Girl’s murderous actions against D’Amico’s operations led the gangster to believe that Kick Ass was endangering his operation. His son, Chris, volunteers to become another costumed vigilante named Red Mist and lure Kick Ass to his doom.

I had considered seeing ”KICK ASS”, when it was first released in the theaters during the spring of 2010. However, the movie slipped my mind and I never got around to viewing it, until it was first released on DVD. After seeing the movie, I admit feeling a bit of regret that I had never seen it in the theaters. I enjoyed it very much. In fact, I would go as far to say that it has become one of my favorite movies in the superhero genre. Adapted for the screen by writer Jane Goldman and Vaughn, ”KICK ASS” provided plenty of laughs, action and pathos. Watching an unskilled high school teenager try to fight hardened criminals through the guise of a costumed vigilante struck me as one of the funniest and absurd things I have ever seen on film. Another bizarre scene that remained stamped in my mind focused on Macready/Big Daddy training his daughter to withstand a bullet to the chest, while wearing a ballistic vest. One would think it would be difficult to laugh at a movie filled with so much graphic violence – even violence directed at adolescents and a 10 year-old. And yet, Vaughn and Goldman, along with the cast, managed to strike the right balance between the laughter, the drama and the violence.

Speaking of the violence, I must admit there were times when I found it slightly hard to bear. One of the scenes I especially had difficulty dealing with centered around Kick Ass’s first attempt as a vigilante – an attempt that led to him being stabbed and severely beaten. It just seemed a bit too much. I could also say the same for the torture that both Kick Ass and Big Daddy endured at the hands of D’Amico’s men and the latter’s death. And I also must admit that at times I found Hit Girl’s murderous rampage against D’Amico’s men rather graphic. The idea of a ten year-old girl killing so many men . . . just seemed a bit too much. But the hardest scene to watch turned out to be Hit Girl’s confrontation with D’Amico. I suppose one could laugh at the idea of a ten year-old girl in a brutal fight against a grown man. But watching it on the screen made it difficult for me to laugh.

As much as I enjoyed ”KICK ASS”, the idea of an ordinary teenager believing he could face hardened criminals on the street without any self-defense training strikes me as being too absurd. Frankly, if I had known someone like Dave Lizewski in real life, I would begin to wonder about his mental capacity. If you really think about it, Dave truly had to be either be a mental gourd or simply a nut case – like the idiot who jumped off that skyscraper at the beginning of the film. A person could argue that Dave was nothing more than a fictional character like Peter Parker aka Spider-man. But would Peter Parker really be stupid enough to face hardened criminals on his own without any super abilities or self-defense training? Even Macready made sure that young Mindy would be trained as a skillful fighter before setting her loose against D’Amico’s men.

If there is one thing that Vaughn could be proud of was the exceptional cast that helped drive ”KICK ASS”. No one felt more surprised than me to learn that Aaron Johnson, who portrayed Dave Lizewski aka “Kick Ass”, was British born and raised. I felt surprised because his portrayal of an American teenager was spot on. Johnson captured all of the emotions, desires and angst of his character with sheer perfection. Another performance that blew my mind came from Nicholas Cage, the soft-spoken former cop and vigilante Big Daddy, who also happened to be an angry and murderous man determined to seek vengeance against mobster Frank D’Amico for ruining his life and career. I believe his role as Damon Macready might prove to be one of the best in his career. I do not know if mobster Frank D’Amico will prove to be one of Mark Strong’s best performances, but I must admit that he did a superb job. He kept the D’Amico character from being a one-dimensional villain and did a great job with the character’s New York accent. If she plays her cards right, Chloë Grace Moretz might become more than just the talented child actress that she is at the moment. Her portrayal of the tough, 11 year-old vigilante, Mindy Macready aka “Hit Girl” was not only entertaining, but almost as frightening as Strong’s villainous turn. The funniest performance, in my opinion, came from Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who portrayed D’Amico’s son, Chris and fake vigilante Red Mist. He provided plenty of laughs as the mobster’s slightly sarcastic son torn between a penchant for costumed heroes and a desire to follow in his father’s footsteps into a life of crime And his fight scene with Johnson nearly had me in stitches. And both Michael Rispoli and Lyndsy Fonseca gave strong support as D’Amico’s cool and clever lieutenant Big Joe and the feisty object of Dave’s desire, Katie Deauxma.

Aside from Vaughn and Goldman’s first-rate script, ”KICK ASS” benefitted from Ben Davis’ colorful and original photography. The film was not only rich in color, it provided some interesting shots that subtly reminded moviegoers that the movie was based upon a comic book series. At least three shots struck me as reminiscent of comic books and one reminded me of another comic book hero movie from the 1990s. One scene featured Macready’s former partner examining drawings that revealed the Macreadys’ tragic acquaintance with D’Amico and how they became a pair of murderous vigilantes. Another featured a close up of Big Daddy on the verge of death, after being tortured by D’Amico’s men. And the last and most obvious featured D’Amico’s death at the hands of Kick Ass. And in a very funny scene that featured Kick Ass and Red Mist’s escape from one of D’Amico’s burning warehouse brought back memories of the very last shot from the 1995 movie, “BATMAN BEGINS”.

Despite my initial reluctance toward ”KICK ASS” and some of its excessive violence, I found myself enjoying the movie. In fact, I will go one step forward in stating that I found it to be one of the better movies from 2010. Matthew Vaughn ended up impressing me very much.

Five Favorite Episodes of “LUKE CAGE” Season One (2016)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of “LUKE CAGE”, the Marvel Netflix adaptation of the Marvel Comics hero Luke Cage. Created by Cheo Hodari Coker, the series starred Mike Colter as Luke Cage:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “LUKE CAGE” SEASON ONE (2016)

1. (1.07) “Manifest” – New York City Councilwoman Mariah Dillard’s political career comes under fire following some violence between her gangster cousin Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes and vigilante Luke Cage. Also, Cottonmouth picks up information from Hernan “Shades” Alvarez, his arms dealer’s liaison, that could put Luke on the run.

2. (1.11) “Now You’re Mine” – In one bold move, a person from Luke’s past and Cottonmouth’s arms supplier, Willis Stryker aka Diamondback, puts Luke on the defensive, NYPD Detective Mercedes “Misty” Knight in dire straits, and Harlem’s safety in jeopardy during a confrontation at the Stokes family’s nightclub, Harlem’s Paradise.

3. (1.02) “Code of the Streets” – Luke is pulled deeper into the fight for his neighborhood in Harlem when, as a favor to his close friend Henry “Pop” Hunter, he tries to help a kid who’s in trouble with Cottonmouth after participating in the theft of the gangster’s money during an arms deal.

4. (1.04) “Step in the Arena” – Following Cottonmouth’s attack on the restaurant/apartment building where Luke lived, the latter recalls his past as former Savannah police officer Carl Lucas and the experiments that he had endured while as a prisoner at the Seagate Prison in Georgia.

5. (1.12) “Soliloquy of Chaos” – Misty digs deeper for the truth regarding Luke and Diamondback’s connection and a recent murder, while Harlem’s power players throw the city into confusion.

“THE GREEN HORNET” (2011) Review

“THE GREEN HORNET” (2011) Review

My memories of the costumed hero, the Green Hornet, are pretty sketchy. I can only recall actor Van Williams portraying the character in the short-lived television series from the mid-1960s, with future martial arts icon, Bruce Lee, portraying his manservant and partner-in-crime fighting, Kato. But if I must be honest, I never saw any of the episodes from the series. My memories of Williams and Lee as the Green Hornet and Kato were limited to their guest appearances on the ABC series, “BATMAN”.

When I had first heard about plans to release a movie about the Green Hornet featuring comic actor, Seth Rogen in the title role, I met the news with less than enthusiasm. One, I have never been a fan of the Green Hornet character. Two, I have never been a fan of Rogen’s at the time. And three, the fact that this new version of “THE GREEN HORNET” was filmed as a comedy-adventure put it completely out of my mind, after I received the news. It was not until the movie was released in theaters and I found myself with nothing else to do for a weekend, when I went ahead and saw the movie.

In a nutshell, “THE GREEN HORNET” is an origins tale about Britt Reid, the playboy heir to a Los Angeles newspaper owner. Following the death of his autocratic father, Britt befriends the latter’s mechanic and assistant – a technical genius and martial arts fighter named Kato. The pair manages to save a couple from being robbed and assaulted one night, while vandalizing a statue of the late James Reid. Inspired by their act of good deed and some close calls with the criminals and the police, Britt and Kato decide to make something of their lives by becoming a masked crime fighting team called the Green Hornet . . . and his unnamed partner. Due to their close call with the police, Britt and Kato pretend to be criminals in order to in order to infiltrate real criminals, and also to prevent their enemies from using innocents against them. Their first target turns out to be a Russian mobster named Benjamin Chudnofsky, who has uniting the criminal families of Los Angeles under his command, and whom James Reid was trying to expose. To get Chudnofsky’s attention, Britt uses his newspaper, The Daily Sentinel as a vehicle to publish articles about the “high-profile criminal” the Green Hornet. Britt hires an assistant and researcher named Lenore Case, who has a degree in criminology, and uses her unwitting advice to raise the Green Hornet’s profile.

What was my opinion of “THE GREEN HORNET”? Honestly? I enjoyed it very much. I found it funny, entertaining, and exciting. First and foremost, the movie possessed plenty of laughs, thanks to Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s script. I usually do not find Rogen all that funny. But I must admit that his attempts at being the big crime fighter, while Kato saved his ass time-and-again, left me in stitches. Realizing that Britt lacked any self-defense skills, Kato created a gun filled with stun gas for the former to use against their enemies. And I found Rogen’s portrayal of Britt’s egotistical reaction to the gun rather hilarious. Not only did “THE GREEN HORNET” provide plenty of laughs, but it also had some first-rate action sequences. My favorites include the Green Hornet and Kato’s encounter with a group of street thugs that led them to a meth lad controlled by Chudnofsky, their attempt to extract themselves from a trap set by the gangster at a construction site and the fight between Britt and Kato at the Reid mansion over the many issues that had developed between the two. But the major sequence that started at the Japanese restaurant and ended at The Daily Sentinel really impressed me and I have to give kudos to Michel Gondry for his direction.

I suppose that Seth Rogen could have portrayed Britt Reid/the Green Hornet in a straight manner, but I do not know if I would have bought it. A more conventional leading man could have been hired for the role, but if I must be honest, I was too impressed by Rogen to really care. Many critics complained that Rogen portrayed Reid/the Green Hornet as a man-child. And he did . . . at first. But the script and Rogen’s performance allowed (or forced) Reid to face the consequences of his massive ego and his decision to become a crime fighter and grow up in a very painful way. I have never heard of Jay Chou, who is a well-known musician and actor from Taiwan. But I must admit that I was very impressed by his performance as Kato, Britt’s talented and exasperated partner-in-crime fighting. His acting style seemed to strongly remind me of Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen’s – very subtle and very quiet. Yet, Chou also displayed a wry sense of humor that I found entertaining. And I was surprised to discover that he managed to convey not only Kato’s resentment and fear that the latter might be regulated to becoming the Green Hornet’s “sidekick”, but also his own egotistical nature. More importantly, his subtle acting style contrasted perfectly with Rogen’s more bombastic style and the two formed a first-rate screen team.

I had been appalled by the news that Christoph Waltz was cast as the main villain in “THE GREEN HORNET”, especially on the heels of his success in 2009’s “INGLORIOUS BASTERDS”. The idea of an acclaimed actor in a costumed hero action movie with comic overtones seemed so beneath him. But after seeing the movie, I am soooo glad that he was cast as the Russian gangster, Benjamin Chudnofsky. He was both hilarious and scary at the same time. Most villains featured in comedy action films tend to be either bland or simply ruthless and scary. Thankfully, Waltz’s Chudnofsky was not bland. But he was scary, ruthless . . . and funny as a middle-aged gangster, suffering from a mid-life crisis. Now, how often does one come across a villain like that in action movies? I had assumed Cameron Diaz’s role as Britt’s assistant, Lenore Case, would be a rehash of the Pepper Potts character from the “IRON MAN” movie franchise. Thankfully, Rogen and Goldberg wrote the Lenore role as an intelligent woman, whose brains provided plenty of information for the Green Hornet and Kato; and as a no-nonsense woman who refused to replay the Tony Stark/Pepper Potts scenario or be in the middle of a love triangle between Britt and Kato, despite their attraction to her. And Diaz perfectly captured all aspects of the Lenore character with her usual charm and skill. I was also impressed by David Harbour’s performance as the charming, yet morally questionable District Attorney, Frank Scanlon. Edward James Olmos was on board to provide solidity as Britt’s personal moral guide and editor of the the Daily Sentinel.

There were a few flies in the ointment in “THE GREEN HORNET”. One came from Tom Wilkinson’s portrayal of Britt’s father, James Reid. I realize that he was portraying a negative authority figure – the cold and demanding father. But his performance came off as bombastic and somewhat flat. I also found the pacing in the movie’s first fifteen minutes rather uneven. Britt’s relationship with his father and the latter’s death seemed to move along at a pace that I found a bit too fast. But at the same time, Chudnofsky’s meeting with a local gangster portrayed by James Franco was conveyed with more depth and at a slower pace. Fortunately, Gondry seemed to have found his pacing after this uneven beginning and movie rolled along with a balanced mixture of action, angst, and laughs.

For Green Hornet purists like actor Van Williams that were upset over Rogen’s comedic interpretation of the crime fighter, there is nothing I can say. I do not particularly agree with them that the movie should have been a straight action-drama. “THE GREEN HORNET” could have been another “BATMAN BEGINS” or even “DAREDEVIL”. Perhaps I would have liked it. But I did enjoy Rogen’s interpretation very much. Hell, I more than liked it. I enjoyed it so much that I saw it in the theaters for a second time and even bought a DVD copy of it. This is probably the first movie that I have ever enjoyed Rogen as an actor. My enjoyment increased tenfold, thanks to his screen chemistry with musician/actor Jay Chou. And this is the first time I have ever enjoyed the story of the Green Hornet.

“THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” (2003) Review

“THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” (2003) Review

Comic novel writer Alan Moore must have a legion of fans to rival or maybe even surpass Marvel Comics icon, Stan Lee. I have noticed that whenever one of his comic creations is adapted as a motion picture, many of these fans seemed to crawl out of the woodworks to express their judgment on the finished film. This certainly proved to be the case for 2003’s “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN”.

Based upon Moore’s comic series, “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” followed the adventures of famous 19th century literary characters that became part of a league to stop a madman named the Fantom from starting and profiting from a major world war, during the summer of 1899. Among the members of the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are:

*Allan Quartermain, British big game hunter and explorer
*Captain Nemo, the Indian pirate/captain of the Nautilus and inventor
*The Invisible Man aka Rodney Skinner, invisible thief
*Mina Harker, British chemist/widow of Jonathan Harker and vampire
*Dorian Gray, British gentleman and immortal
*Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Edward Hyde, British scientist/evil alter ego
*Tom Sawyer, American Secret Service agent

The story begins in the spring of 1899 with an attack upon the Bank of England by men dressed in German Army uniforms, using explosives and automated weapons. A month later, men dressed in British Army uniforms, attack a Zeppelin factory, using the same or similar weapons. Both the British and German Empires seemed to be on the verge of war. A British government emissary arrives in British East Africa to recruit the famous big game hunter and explorer Allan Quartermain to investigate. Quatermain expresses disinterest in the mission, until some armed men attack a gentleman’s club in order to assassinate him. Upon his arrival in London, Quartermain learns from his new boss, a mysterious government official named “M”, the latter’s plans to form a new version of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in order to thwart the war mongering plans of the Fantom. According to “M”, the Fantom plans to start a war and profit from it by blowing up Venice, Italy during its Festival.

While recruiting the immortal Dorian Gray at his home, the League is attacked by the Fantom and his men. During the attack, the League acquires a new member, an American Secret Service agent named Tom Sawyer. As the League sets out to recruit Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Hyde in Paris and later for Venice aboard the Nautilus, Nemo’s submarine; they remain unaware that the Fantom’s plans to start a world war involves more than just blowing up a major city. His plans also involve acquiring and selling the League’s collective skills as weapons of war.

I have never read Alan Moore’s comic series. Nor do I have plans to read it. In fact, I have not laid eyes upon a comic book or novel since the age of nine. For me, comparing Moore’s story to the movie adaptation seemed irrelevant to me. But I can give an opinion of the movie. What did I think of it? Well, I had enjoyed it when I first saw it, eight years ago. And I still continue to enjoy it, whenever I view my DVD copy.

Mind you, “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” was not perfect. One, I never understood the reasoning behind the Fantom’s attack upon the League members at Dorian Gray’s home . . . especially since he proved to be so interested in acquiring or stealing their skills/talents. My second problem concerned a certain invention created by Captain Nemo – namely an automobile. I realize that the movie was set in an alternate 1899. I also understand that Nemo’s character was supposed to be the creator of various inventions a’la Jules Verne. What I did not understand was how Tom Sawyer knew how to drive Nemo’s car throughout the streets of Venice at top speed, without any previous experience behind the wheel. Three, I found Quartermain’s description of American shooting (“buckaroo” that shoots too fast without any real accuracy) not only ludicrous, but false. Who on earth came up with this opinion in the first place? My father, who had been an expert shot in the military, immediately dismissed Quartermain’s description of American gunmanship, claiming that he had been taught to utilize patience for long distance shooting. My final beef has to do with Dan Laustsen’s photography for the movie’s exterior shots. Quite frankly, I found it unnecessarily dark. The only exterior scenes or shots that featured any bright light were the sequences set in British East Africa and aboard Captain Nemo’s submarine, the Nautilus, while above surface. All other exterior shots were either at night, in the rain or overcast. I have the deepest suspicion that all of this was done to save money on the exterior scenes.

However, despite my complaints or those by the fans were disappointed with the movie’s adaptation, I enjoyed “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” very much. Hell, I saw it twice when it first reached the movie theaters, eight years ago. And the moment it was released on DVD, I immediately bought it. It may not have been the perfect adaptation of Alan Moore’s comic series, but I thought that it had a pretty damn good story, thanks to screenwriter James Dale Robinson.

One, I like stories about friends or colleagues that form a team to achieve a goal that involves a great deal of action. For me, “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” is like a 19th century forerunner of The Justice League of America or The Avengers. And I have to give credit to Moore for coming up with the idea of using 19th century literary characters as members of the team and the story’s main villain. I found it very innovative. Many fans and critics had complained that with Sean Connery in the role of Allan Quartermain, the latter seemed to dominate the film. I agree that Connery’s Quartermain turned out to be the movie’s main character. But I do not agree that he dominated the movie. The other supporting characters were given a good number of chances to strut their stuff . . . so to speak. If anything, the movie seemed to have a strong, ensemble feel to it. This was especially apparent by the time the Nautilus reached Venice.

Speaking of Venice, the movie seemed to reach a turning point by the time the League reached it. During Nautilus’ voyage between Paris and Venice, the story showcased the numerous conflicts and jealousies that the team seemed to engage, as they became more acquainted with one another. But when forced to work together to foil the Fantom’s plans to destroy Venice, all conflicts were thrown aside and the League worked together as a very effective team. Venice also represented a major plot twist in the story. It is in Venice, when the League discovered a traitor within its midst . . . and the fact that they had been betrayed on a major scale by the Fantom. Personally, I found it to be one of the most satisfying aspects of the movie.

I read an article that Stephen Norrington had a great deal of trouble with Sean Connery and vowed to give up directing. Needless to say that despite the conflict between director and star, the latter gave one of his more poignant performances as the aging hunter who has become disenchanted with the British Empire, after his service to it has caused him so much loss. I was also impressed by Naseeruddin Shah’s portrayal of the intrepid Captain Nemo. He seemed to be the only member of the cast who seemed as commanding as Connery. I also enjoyed Peta Wilson’s performance as the sexy and intelligent vampire, Nina Harker. One of my favorite scenes featured her character’s surprising revelation that she was a vampire. Most people seemed to dismiss Shane West’s portrayal of Tom Sawyer, but I rather enjoyed it. He managed to create a strong chemistry with Connery, and I also found his quiet wit rather endearing. Tony Curran was a blast as Rodney Skinner, gentleman thief and the Invisible Man. He gave a hilarious performance and projected a lot of style for a character that was barely seen. Stuart Townsend seemed to be the epitome of degenerate style and sexuality as the immortal, Dorian Gray. He also had the good luck to spout some of the best lines in the movie. Richard Roxburgh gave an effectively quiet and intense performance as the man who created the League, the mysterious “M”. But as far as I am concerned Jason Flemyng had the best role in the movie as the morally conflicted Dr. Henry Jekyll and his alter ego, the ferocious, misshapen giant, Mr. Edward Hyde. I really enjoyed how he managed to slip back and forth between the two personalities. More importantly, Flemyng did an excellent job in incorporating Hyde’s darkness into Jekyll and the latter’s decency into Hyde with great ease. Well done.

Despite my complaints about Laustsen’s photography of the movie’s exterior shots, I must admit that he did a pretty good job in shooting the film. And Paul Rubell did a first-rate job with his editing – especially in the sequence that featured the League’s attack upon the Fantom’s lair at the Asiatic Artic. I also thought that Jason Barnett and his team did an excellent job in handling the makeup – especially for the Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde characters. One last aspect of the movie that truly impressed me was Carol Spier’s production designs that nicely captured an alternate or Jules Verne-style take on the late Victorian Age. This was especially apparent in the interior designs for Nemo’s submarine, the Nautilus.

I could recommend that others keep an open mind in watching ”THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN”. Although it does not bear a close resemblance to Alan Moore’s comic series and I am not particularly fond of its dark exterior shots, I must admit that I was impressed by James Dale Robinson’s screenplay, the ensemble cast and some of the production designs. Considering what he had to work with – especially an allegedly difficult leading man – I think that director Stephen Norrington did a solid job in bringing it all together for what I believe to be a very entertaining movie.

Memorable Television Episodes

Below is a list of television episodes from the past two to three decades that I find memorable:

MEMORABLE TELEVISION EPISODES

1. “BABYLON 5” (3.10) “Severed Dreams” – When President Clark of Earth Alliance escalates his brutal repression upon Earth’s population, Captain John Sheridan of Babylon 5 declares the space station independent. Hugo Award winner.

2. “GAME OF THRONES” (3.09) “The Rains of Castamere” – The new King of the North, Lord Robb Stark, his mother Catelyn and his wife Queen Talisa; arrive at the estate The Twins for the wedding of his uncle Edmure Tully to one of Walder Frey’s daughters. Brandon Stark’s small traveling group decide to split up after a close call with the Freefolk. And Daenerys Targaryen plans to invade Yunkai in order to free that city’s slaves.

3. “LOST” (2.07) “The Other 48 Days” – This episode depicted the first 48 days on the island of the surviving Tail Section passengers of Oceanic 815.

4. “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” (1.17) “Turn, Turn, Turn” – In this companion piece to the 2014 movie, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been compromised by an old enemy from the past and Agent Phil Coulson’s team do not know whom to trust.

5. “THE FLASH” (6.09) “Crisis on Infinite Earths: Part Three” – The Arrowverse heroes continue their efforts to prevent the Anti-Monitor from destroying the multiverse and creating a new one.

6. “GAME OF THRONES” (1.09) “Baelor” – Robb goes to war against the Lannisters in an effort to save his father, Eddard “Ned” Stark, imprisoned at King’s Landing. His half-brother Jon Snow finds himself struggling on deciding if his place is by Robb’s side or with the Night’s Watch. Khal Drogo falls ill from an infected battle wound and Daenerys is desperate to save him.

7. “LOST” (6.14) “The Candidate” – With Jack Shephard’s help, the Man in Black rescues the castaways/candidates from Charles Widmore’s compound. But their plans for leaving the island are forced to change.

8. “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” (5.22) “The Gift” – Buffy Summers and her friends prepare for battle when the hell god Glory plans to use her sister Dawn to open up a portal to a demonic dimension.

9. “D.C.’s LEGENDS OF TOMORROW” (2.17) “Aruba” – The Legends decide to break a cardinal rule of time traveling in order to prevent the Legion of Doom from using the Spear of Destiny to change the world’s reality for good.

10. “BABYLON 5” (3.22) “Z’ha’dum” – After his supposedly dead wife Anna Sheridan turns up very much alive on Babylon 5, Captain Sheridan ignores previous warnings and travels with her to the Shadows’ homeworld Z’ha’dum.

Five Favorite Episodes of “JESSICA JONES” Season One (2015)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One 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 ONE (2015)

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1.  (1.10) AKA 1,000 Cuts” – A discovery about the past of her former tormentor, the telepathic Kilgrave, has the chance to change the game between the latter and enhanced private detective Jessica Jones.

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2.  (1.01) “AKA Ladies’ Night” – In this series premiere, Jessica is hired by a couple to find their daughter, an NYU student athlete who has vanished.  But the case turns out to be more than a simple missing persons case. 

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3.  (1.06) “AKA You’re a Winner!” –  Former lover and enhanced bar owner Luke Cage  hires Jessica to help him find someone who may have skipped town, but she fears he’ might learn too much about her past history with his late wife.

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4.  (1.12) “AKA Take a Bloody Number” – Jessica’s hunt for Kilgrave reunites her with Luke. Her foster sister, radio talk show host Trish Walker receives some unexpected information about NYPD Sergeant Will Simpson and Jessica.

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5.  (1.03) “AKA It’s Called Whiskey” – Jessica thinks she has found a weapon to use against Kilgrave. After discovering that Luke is an enhanced person like her, Jessica bonds with him.  And Kilgrave uses Simpson to go after Trish, who has become involved with Jessica’s case against him.