Sunday, October 30, 2016
"THE CELEBRATION OF MEDIOCRITY AND UNORIGINALITY IN “STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS"
Look … I liked the latest “STAR WARS” movie, “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. I honestly do. Heck, I feel it is better than J.J. Abrams’ two “STAR TREK” films. But I am astounded that this film has garnered so much acclaim. It has won the AFI Award for Best Picture. It has been nominated by the Critics Choice Award for Best Picture.
“THE FORCE AWAKENS”??? Really? It did not take long for certain fans to point out that the movie’s plot bore a strong resemblance to the first “STAR WARS” movie, “A NEW HOPE”. In fact, I am beginning to suspect that J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan had more or less plagiarized the 1977 film, along with aspects from other movies in the franchise. Worse, it has some plot holes that Abrams has managed to ineffectively explain to the media. In other words, his explanations seemed like shit in the wind and the plot holes remained obvious.
Then I found myself thinking about “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.”, Guy Ritchie’s 2015 adaptation of the 1964-1968 television series. I will not deny that the movie had some flaws. Just about every movie I have seen throughout my life had some flaws. But instead of attempting a carbon copy of the television series, Ritchie put his own, original spin of the show for his movie. And personally, I had left the movie theater feeling impressed. And entertained. It is not that Ritchie had created a perfect movie. But he did managed to create an original one, based upon an old source. Now that was impressive.
But instead of having his movie appreciated, a good deal of the public stayed away in droves. Warner Brothers barely publicized the film. Worse, the studio released in August, the summer movie season’s graveyard. And for those who did see the movie, the complained that it was not like the television show. Ritchie had made changes for his film. In other words, Ritchie was criticized for being original with a movie based upon an old television series.
I find this incredibly pathetic. One director is criticized giving an original spin to his movie adaptation. Another director is hailed as the savior of a movie franchise for committing outright plagiarism. This is what Western culture has devolved into, ladies and gentlemen. We now live in a world in which the only movies that are box office hits are those that form part of a franchise. We live in a society in which glossy and mediocre shows like “DOWNTON ABBEY” are celebrated. We live in a world in which a crowd pleasing, yet standard movie biopic like “THE KING’S SPEECH” can receive more acclaim than an original film like “INCEPTION”.
In regard to culture or even pop culture, this society is rushing toward conformity, familiarity and mediocrity. God help us.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
The following is a "PEARL HARBOR" (the movie) story I had written some time ago. It is called, "A Convenient Proposal" and is set several weeks following the Doolittle pilots to Hawaii:
A CONVENIENT PROPOSAL
SUMMARY: Rafe returns to Hawaii after burying Danny in Tennessee and asks Evelyn a very important question.
DISCLAIMER: Yadda, yadda, yadda! All characters pertaining to the motion picture, "Pearl Harbor", belong to Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay, Randall Wallace and the Walt Disney Company . . . unfortunately.
NOTE: Following Danny's death, I've always wondered how Rafe and Evelyn managed to resolve their problems and become the happily married couple shown at the end of the movie.
PART 1 - The Proposal
Talk about déjà vu. Evelyn Johnson stood near a gate at Hickham Field and watched a B-25 aircraft circle over the runway. Her hand gently pressed against her swollen belly, as she sighed.
Just nearly a month ago, she had stood at this very same spot, awaiting the arrival of the Doolittle Raid pilots who had returned from China. Evelyn recalled feeling a surge of happiness at the sight of one Rafe McCawley descending from another plane. That happiness had soon transformed into dread when Rafe failed to return her smile. And when the other surviving pilots left the plane, carrying a coffin, Evelyn's dread became grief. Draped over the coffin was Danny's flight jacket.
Danny Walker. A wave of grief washed over Evelyn. Along with guilt. She had been carrying his child for nearly seven months. Ever since that evening inside the hangar, following a flight over Oahu. Evelyn considered that evening a magical time for her. Without it and other times with Danny, she would have never recovered from her heart-wrenching grief that had threatened to consume her, following news of Rafe's "death" over the English Channel. Yet, Rafe did return and Evelyn's happiness soon became chaos.
The B-25 straightened out as it glided over the runway. The wheels extended and the plane finally touched down. Evelyn held her breath as it rolled to a stop. A minute passed before the plane's doors swung open. Four Army officers - two men and two women descended the stairway. A fifth figure appeared in the plane's doorway. Rafe.
Evelyn let out a gust of breath. Her heartbeat increased ten times its normal pace. A warm flush ignited her skin. Even after all that has happened between them in the past year-and-a-half, Rafe's presence still managed to affect her, since that first moment their eyes met back in New York.
Brown eyes scoured the airfield, until they rested upon Evelyn. An invisible electricity crackled in the air. Evelyn longed to run toward Rafe and throw her arms around him. Unfortunately, her bulky form made that impossible. Instead, she waved. Rafe returned her wave with a smile. A rather dim one, in Evelyn's opinion.
With one hand holding his overnight bag and the other, clenching his Army jacket, the Tennessee pilot strode toward Evelyn. "Hey," he greeted quietly.
Evelyn replied in an equally quiet voice, "Hey, yourself." She reached out to touch his arm. Rafe did not flinch from her touch. Nor did he seem to welcome it, either. His reaction disturbed Evelyn. To cover her feelings, her smile widened before she added, "Welcome back."
"Thanks." Rafe glanced around the field. "Where's Red and Gooz? I had sent them a telegram to pick me up."
"Yeah, Red told me. I asked him to let me pick you up, instead."
A slight frown crinkled Rafe's forehead. "Why?" he asked.
Doubt crept into Evelyn's heart. She began to wonder if he still felt the same for her after all that has happened between them. They had went through so much lately - eleven months apart, her romance with Danny, Rafe's return, the pregnancy, the attack at Pearl, her decision to marry Danny, the latter's death in China. It was a wonder that they managed to carry on a conversation.
Rafe repeated his question. "Why couldn't Red pick me up? I mean, considering your condition . . ."
An answer failed to reach the tip of Evelyn's tongue. What could she say? That the last time Rafe was in Hawaii, grief over Danny's death and the preparations for the burial in Tennessee kept them apart? That she longed to see him again? Remain longer than five minutes in his presence? Evelyn found herself unable to confess her true feelings to Rafe. Fear of rejection or outright laughter prevented her.
Evelyn finally replied, "I asked Red and Gooz to let me pick you up." She gave her shoulders a shrug. "I just wanted to welcome you back." The moment those words left her mouth, Evelyn regretted them. Her heart lurched as disappointment and confusion mingled in Rafe's brown eyes. My God! How lame that sounds!
* * * *
Rafe found himself in mental turmoil. That's it? She just wanted to welcome me back? What about I miss you? Or I love you?
He mentally castigated himself. What in the hell did he expect? An outburst of emotion? Hell, neither he or Evelyn have exchanged a word of love since she informed him of her plans to marry Danny right after the Pearl Harbor attack. Looking at her round belly reminded Rafe of that terrible moment at the motel court. When he learned that Evelyn was pregnant with Danny's child, Rafe realized that he had lost her for good.
"Shall we go?" Evelyn said, interrupting Rafe's thoughts. He stared at her dark eyes. Eyes that merely reflected friendly curiosity. Rafe let out a sigh and followed her away from the airfield.
The couple walked slowly - thanks to Evelyn's pregnancy - to a parked car, a 1937 black Buick convertible. Danny's car. Rafe spotted the bullet holes left by Japanese Zeroes on that unforgettable morning, over six months ago. A frown creased his brow, as he halted in his tracks. "I didn't realize you had Danny's car."
Evelyn's face turned pink. "Danny gave it to me, just before the both of you left for California. You know, when you reported to Colonel Doolittle. After he died . . . well, you and I never really saw much of each other and I found out that Danny left the car to me in a will." She paused, as the pink in her cheeks deepened. "It helped me get around easier. But you can have it, if you want." A slight wariness crept into her eyes.
"That's okay," Rafe murmured. "Danny wanted you to have the car. You should keep it."
Rafe added, "But I wouldn't mind using it every now and then. At least until I'm sent overseas."
A brief, sad smile touched Evelyn's lips. "Hmmm, overseas. I forgot about that. But since you're here," she handed Rafe a set of keys, "you can drive." Evelyn's smile broadened. Looking at it warmed Rafe's own heart and he smiled back. Forever the Southern gentleman, he escorted Evelyn to the convertible's passenger side and helped her climb in. She murmured a quiet "thank you" before he climbed into the driver's seat.
Within a matter of minutes, the Buick was speeding along the Hawaiian countryside. Evelyn instructed Rafe to drive toward a quiet, residential area near the beach, instead of the hospital base at Pearl. When her pregnancy had begun to show, she decided to rent a bungalow near the beach. "I would have rented a smaller house, but the girls decided they had enough of the base and moved in with me." Rafe assumed the girls were Barbara, Sandra and Martha.
Evelyn continued with a detailed description of the bungalow. Rafe barely heard a word. Not even the lush, tropical countryside could grab his attention. His mind focused on the road ahead . . . and past memories.
Hearing Evelyn's voice, seeing her smile and her pregnant state, produced a stream of regrets within Rafe. There seemed to be so many "if onlys" to choose. If only he had never volunteered to serve in the RAF's Eagle Squadron. If only he had more than a month with Evelyn before leaving the States for England. If only he had not been shot down over the English Channel. And if only he had returned to Evelyn before she could recover from her grief with Danny. What Rafe regretted the most was the death of his best friend - the only man he had ever regarded as a brother.
"Penny for your thoughts," a soft voice said, interrupting Rafe's musings.
He blinked and shot a quick glance at his companion. "Huh? What did you say?"
"I was describing the bungalow," Evelyn continued. "Yet, somehow I got the feeling that your mind was on something else."
Rafe gave a nervous cough. "What made you think that?"
"You just passed the road that leads to my house. Even after I told you to turn."
Embarrassed over his mistake, Rafe immediately made a U-turn. He then made a right turn on a small road and the convertible eventually came upon a two-story bungalow built out of whitewashed clapboards. "Well, here we are." Rafe announced after he stopped the car and turned off the engine. "Home."
The sounds of palm fronds rustling in the wind and waves beating against the shore filled the silence between the couple inside the Buick. Rafe would usually enjoy the shared silence with Evelyn. But not today. In fact, he wondered if he would ever learn to enjoy Evelyn's company again. But he had to. Especially after what he had promised his dying friend back in that rice paddy in China.
"Would like to come in for a cup of coffee or another drink?" Evelyn asked, breaking the silence before Rafe could.
Rafe felt his palms grow moist. God, this was difficult!
"Rafe?" Evelyn continued. "Did you hear me? Is everything okay?"
The pilot nodded. "Yeah. Everything's swell. Just swell."
Evelyn frowned. "Are you sure? You seem rather quiet." Despite her seemingly calm voice, Rafe thought he had detected a hint of nervousness.
"Don't worry. I'm fine. I just . . ."
"Just what?" Evelyn added.
A heavy sigh escaped Rafe's mouth. Memories of the past six months began to assault his mind. His arrival in Hawaii. Evelyn's reaction to his appearance at the hospital at Pearl. Danny's reaction. The fight at the Hula-La Bar. The Japanese attack, the following morning. Evelyn's revelation of her pregnancy. His talk with Danny on that California beach. The raid on Tokyo. Danny's death. Rafe sighed one last time. He might as well get it over with.
Rafe reached into the backseat for his jacket. "Uh, Evelyn," he began. "I have . . . well, I have something to ask you."
"Yes?" Dark eyes grew round.
A lump rose in Rafe's throat. He had not felt this nervous since that last night in New York City, when he said good-bye to Evelyn. Rafe reached inside one of the jacket pockets for a small, dark blue velvet case. "I . . . uh . . . hell!"
Evelyn's eyes fell upon the case. "Is that what I think that is?" Her voice projected muted emotion.
Rafe snapped open the case, revealing a small silver ring with a cluster of diamonds surrounding a small sapphire gem. A gasp escaped Evelyn's lips. Rafe had purchased the ring at a jewelry store in Washington D.C.
"Evelyn," he continued, staring into her dark eyes, "would you marry me?" Before she could answer, Rafe continued, "I realize you had expected to marry Danny, but with him gone and you expecting a baby . . . well, I'll be more than happy to take his place."
Evelyn's eyes widened. "You will?" she whispered.
"Of course." Rafe blinked at her unexpected response. Because I love you, he silently wanted to say. However, fear and pride prevented him from expressing his true feelings. Instead, he added, "Danny was like a brother to me. He would have wanted me to take care of you and the baby. And I swear, Evelyn, I'll do just that."
Rafe sat back into his seat, expecting a sign of approval from Evelyn. Instead, he found himself staring into a pair of very dark and angry eyes. Eyes that glared at him. Confusion whirled inside his brain. Why on earth was she angry? "Evelyn? What's wrong?" he asked.
"Wrong?" Evelyn replied in a soft and deadly voice. Rafe felt even more confused when she opened the door and began to climb out of the car. Her large girth made it difficult, but she managed to get out before Rafe had the chance to help her. Then she marched toward the bungalow.
"Evelyn? Evelyn! What's wrong?" Rafe cried as he rushed after her. It amazed him how a pregnant woman could move so fast. "Evelyn! Wait a minute! I just asked you to marry me!"
Evelyn reached the bungalow and inserted a key into the front door. Then she whirled upon him, her eyes flashing. "C'mon Evelyn," Rafe begged. "Talk to me! Dammit, I just proposed to you and now you're acting as if I had sullied your name!"
"You sullied a lot more!" Evelyn snapped, as she opened the door. "And by the way, you call that a proposal? As far as I'm concerned, Rafe McCawley, you know what you can do with your proposal! And where you can shove it!" She stepped inside the house and slammed the door on the face of a very bewildered pilot.
END OF PART 1
Sunday, October 16, 2016
"AMERICAN HUSTLE" (2013) Review
For the past three years, the career of David O. Russell seemed to be on a roll. During said period, he has directed, produced or both three movies that have garnered a great deal of acclaim and awards. The latest of this "Golden Trio" happened to be a period comedy drama called "AMERICAN HUSTLE".
Set mainly in 1978, "AMERICAN HUSTLE" is loosely based on the ABSCAM operation, set up by the F.B.I. as a sting operation against various government officials in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The movie begins with two con artists and lovers, Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, who are caught in a loan scam by F.B.I. Special Agent Richie Di Maso. The latter proposes to release them if Irving assists him in a sting operation against Mayor Carmine Polito of Camden, New Jersey and other officials. Sydney tries to convince Irving not to agree with Richie's proposal. But desperate to avoid prison and reluctant to leave his adopted son with his verbose and slightly unstable wife Rosalyn, Irving agrees to assist Richie and the F.B.I. The sting operation nearly starts off on the wrong foot, thanks to a clumsy tactic on Richie's part, but Irving manages to woo back the charismatic and popular Carmine, who is seeking funds to revitalize gambling in Atlantic City. The scam seems to be going fine, despite Sydney's growing relationship with Richie. But when Carmine introduces Irving, Sydney and Richie to the notoriously violent Mafia overlord Victor Tellegio into the plan to raise money; and Rosalyn's jealous nature and notoriously big mouth threatens to expose the sting operation; Irving realizes he has to come up with an alternate plan to save him and Sydney from the Mob and the F.B.I.
While watching "AMERICAN HUSTLE", it occurred to me that it is filled with some very interesting and eccentric characters. First, there are the two lovebirds - Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser - with his odd toupee and her fake British accent. Then we have Richie Di Maso is an ambitious "Mama's Boy" with hair permed into tight curls, who is a bit too eager to prove himself with the F.B.I. Irving's wife Rosalyn is an unhappily married woman with a big mouth and a careless and self-involved personality. And Mayor Polito is a happy-go-lucky politician with a rather large pompadour hair-style and questionable connections to the Mob. The movie is also populated with a Latino F.B.I. agent recruited by Richie to potray a wealthy Arab sheik, a charming Mob soldier who ends up falling for Rosalyn, Richie's frustrated and wary F.B.I. supervisor, and a very sinister Mob boss that can speak Arabic. If I have to be perfectly honest, I would have to say that the movie's array of characters struck me as being the movie's strong point.
This should not have been a surprise. "AMERICAN HUSTLE" is also filled with some great performances. Christian Bale gave a wonderfully subtle and complex performance as the aging and stressed out con man who reluctantly finds himself involved with a scam operation set up by the F.B.I. He certainly clicked with Amy Adams, who gave one of the most subtle performances of her career as the charming, yet desperate former stripper-turned-con artist, who found herself in a state of flux over her freedom and her relationship with her partner/lover. Bradley Cooper was practically a basket of fire as the aggressive F.B.I. Agent Richie Di Maso, who become over-eager to make a name for himself within the Bureau. Mind you, there were moments when Cooper's performance seemed to border on hamminess. I could also say the same for Jennifer Lawrence's portrayal of Irving's not-so-stable wife, Rosalyn. However, I must admit that Lawrence also provided the movie with some of its best comic moments. Jeremy Renner was a joy to watch as the charismatic mayor of Camden, Carmine Polito. The latter must have been the most happy-go-lucky role he has ever done.
"AMERICAN HUSTLE" also featured some first-rate performances from the supporting cast. Louis C.K. was very effective Richie's long suffering boss, Special Agent Stoddard Thorsen. Michael Peña provided some memorable comic moments as Special Agent Paco Hernandez, who surprised everyone with his ability to speak Arabic. Robert De Niro, who also made a surprising appearance as mobster Victor Tellegio, gave a subtle and intimidating appearance . . . especially in a scene in which he tested Agent Thorsen's ability to speak Arabic. The movie also featured solid performances from Jack Huston as a young mobster, Alessandro Nivola as Richie and Thoren's boss, Anthony Zerbe as a corrupt congressman, and Elisabeth Röhm as Mayor Polito's equally happy-go-lucky wife Dolly.
I was also impressed by the production designs for "AMERICAN HUSTLE". Judy Becker and her team did an exceptional job of bringing the late 1970s back to life. She was also assisted by Heather Loeffler's set decorations and Jesse Rosenthal's art direction. Michael Wilkinson's costume designs did an excellent job of not only capturing that particular era, but also representing the major character. This was especially apparent in his costumes for the Sydney Prosser, who used low-cut dresses and gowns to distract her marks. And I mean very low cut.
If there is one problem I have with "AMERICAN HUSTLE", it is probably Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell's screenplay. At first, it seemed perfectly fine to me. But eventually, there were aspects of the screenplay I found either troubling or confusing. One, I noticed that Russell tried utilize the use of multiple narrations that Martin Scorsese used in his 1995 movie, "CASINO". At first, he used Irving and Sydney's narration. Then he added Richie's voice to the mix. The problem is that I can only recall Richie's narration in one scene. Nor do I recall Sydney's narration in the movie's second half. Also, the first half of the movie seemed to hint that Richie's mark in his operation was Camden's Mayor Polito, who wanted to raise funds to revitalize Atlantic City. Why? Why would the mayor of Camden be interested in revitalizing the fortunes of another city, located in another county? And why was the F.B.I. so interested in Camden's mayor? At first, I thought the agency was aware of his mob ties. But when Carmine introduced Irving and Richie to mobster Victor Tellegio, both the con man and the Federal agent seemed by the mobster's appearance. So, why did Richie target Carmine in the first place? To make matters even more confusing, Richie extended his sting operation to several members of Congress. There seemed to be no focus in the operation and especially in the story.
Despite the confusing screenplay, I must admit that "AMERICAN HUSTLE" was an entertaining movie. Not only did it recaptured the era of the 1970s, but also featured some superb performances from a cast led by Christian Bale and Amy Adams. I thought it was entertaining enough to overlook its flaws.
Sunday, October 9, 2016
Below are images from "APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH", the 1988 adaptation of Agatha Christie's 1938 novel. Directed by Michael Winner, the movie starred Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot:
"APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH" (1988) Photo Gallery