YOUR MOVIES LISTS: RUSSELL CROWE

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Russell Crowe as Maximus in GLADIATOR (2000)

Russell Crowe as Maximus in GLADIATOR (2000)

YOUR MOVIE LISTS: Russell Crowe

By Michael Arruda

Last week I unleashed THE HORROR JAR, lists of odds and ends about horror movies. Today I present YOUR MOVIE LISTS, lists of odds and ends about non-horror movies.

Kicking things off is a list of notable Russell Crowe movies. With the release of Crowe’s latest movie NOAH (2014) in theaters this weekend, here is a partial list of some prior Russell Crowe films:

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997) – Kevin Spacey and Kim Basinger were the big names in this one when it came out in 1997, but it was Russell Crowe who generated all the buzz. The first time I saw Russell Crowe in a movie.

GLADIATOR (2000) – The biggie. The film that pretty much made Crowe a household name. His performance as Maximus is one of his best. Great supporting work by Oliver Reed, in what would be his final role.

A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001) – Crowe delivers a top-notch performance as John Nash in Ron Howard’s Oscar Winner for Best Picture. Crowe was nominated for Best Actor but lost out to Denzel Washington in TRAINING DAY.

MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (2003) – Crowe plays Captain Jack Aubrey in this rousing high seas adventure based upon the novels by Patrick O’Brian.

CINDERELLA MAN (2005) – Crowe again teams with director Ron Howard, once more with outstanding results, in this bio pic of boxer Jim Braddock.

3:10 TO YUMA (2007)- Crowe’s outlaw squares off against Christian Bale’s rancher in this exciting western which might be my favorite Russell Crowe movie. It’s certainly my favorite Russell Crowe performance. Ben Foster also delivers an exceptional supporting performance as Crowe’s psychotic right hand man Charlie Prince.

BODY OF LIES (2008) – Crowe plays a CIA agent who gives his operative on the ground (Leonardo Di Caprio) in the Middle East the runaround in this Ridley Scott directed thriller. The first time I was less than impressed with a Russell Crowe performance.

THE NEXT THREE DAYS (2010) – Crowe plays John Brennan who takes the law into his own hands to prove that his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is innocent of a murder charge— but is she? A convoluted plot knocks this one down a few notches.

THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012) – RZA’s stylish actioner lacks substance making this one a misfire. Crowe plays an assassin named Jack Knife. Crowe appears overweight and out of shape here.

LES MISERABLES (2012) – Crowe plays Javert opposite Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean in this film adaptation of the stage musical, which is based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Crowe’s singing grates throughout, but when he’s not singing he’s very good as the policeman who won’t quit.

BROKEN CITY (2013) – Crowe is a crooked mayor who tangles with an ex-cop played by Mark Wahlberg in this mediocre thriller. For me, the fifth straight underwhelming Russell Crowe film.

MAN OF STEEL (2013) – Crowe breaks out of his slump by playing Superman’s father Jor-El. His performance is one of the best parts of this mixed bag of a superhero movie.

NOAH (2014) – Crowe plays Noah in this retelling of the famous Bible story, which emphasizes action and melodrama. Crowe really shines here as the man who builds an ark and against all odds saves humankind from God’s wrath.

And that brings us up to date.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

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PICTURE OF THE DAY: THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTIEN (1957) – Behind the Scenes Look

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Behind the scenes on the lab set of THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)

Behind the scenes on the lab set of THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)

PICTURE OF THE DAY: THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) – Behind the Scenes Look

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look from the Hammer Films classic, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957).

This is from the lab set, shot on a Hammer sound stage, and is from the scene immediately following the creation sequence. After the Creature (Christopher Lee) had attacked Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing), it was knocked unconscious by Victor’s assistant Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), and in this scene the unconscious Creature is strapped to a table while Victor Frankenstein examines it, all the while Paul tries to convince him to destroy the murderous Creature, to no avail, of course.

Here we see what looks to be the make-up man touching up Peter Cushing’s make-up, or perhaps adjusting him for lighting. Actually upon closer examination it looks like the man is adjusting Cushing’s collar, perhaps loosening it properly since this followed the scene where Cushing’s Victor Frankenstein had been strangled by the Creature.

Robert Urquhart, who played Victor’s cantankerous former tutor-turned-assistant, still seems to be in character, ready to scold Victor for creating a monster and begging him to destroy it.

“You madman!” He seems to be preparing to say.

It looks like they’re touching up Christopher Lee’s make-up as well. Lee has joked in interviews that when making this film, people used to avoid him on the set because he looked so disgusting in his Creature make-up. Lee has also told stories of how on those few occasions he was on the set without his make-up, no one knew who he was. “Oh, you’re the guy playing the Creature? Didn’t recognize you without your monster face on.”

That guy standing over Lee sure looks like he’s holding a cell phone/smartphone which he’s using to take a picture of the future film star. Hmm. Maybe he’s a time traveler from the future gone back in time to visit the set. That’s a neat idea, and it’s something I would do if I had a time machine. I would visit the sets of my favorite movies.

Back to that guy standing over Lee— what is he really doing, anyway? What’s that he’s holding in his left hand? A camera? A light? A mirror?

I like all the lab equipment in the background. That’s always been one of my favorite parts about THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. I love the way they made the lab look. It’s especially impressive in color. Director Terence Fisher utilized all sorts of different colors in the lab, as you’ll see an array of greens, reds, and purples interspersed throughout.

This image comes from the web site Virtual History, located at http://www.virtual-history.com/movie/image/27551.

Enjoy!

—Michael

 

THE HORROR JAR: HAMMER FRANKENSTEIN SERIES

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Hammer FrankensteinTHE HORROR JAR:  HAMMER FRANKENSTEIN Series

 

By Michael Arruda

 

For those of you who love lists, welcome to THE HORROR JAR, your home for lists of odds and ends about horror movies.

 

Up today, a list of the HAMMER FRANKENSTEIN movies, those Frankenstein films produced by England’s famed Hammer Films Studios:

 

 

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)

Baron Frankenstein:  Peter Cushing

The Creature:  Christopher Lee

Directed by Terence Fisher

Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster

Music by James Bernard

Running Time: 82 minutes

 

THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958)

Baron Frankenstein:  Peter Cushing

The Monster:  Michael Gwynn

Directed by Terence Fisher

Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster, with additional dialogue by Hurford Janes

Music by Leonard Salzedo

Running Time:  89 minutes

 

THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964)

Baron Frankenstein: Peter Cushing

The Monster:  Kiwi Kingston

Directed by Freddie Francis

Screenplay by John Elder

Music by Don Banks

Running Time:  84 minutes

 

FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967)

Baron Frankenstein:  Peter Cushing

The “Monster”/Christina:  Susan Denberg

Directed by Terence Fisher

Screenplay by John Elder

Music by James Bernard

Running Time:  92 minutes

 

FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969)

Baron Frankenstein:  Peter Cushing

The “Monster”/Professor Richter:  Freddie Jones

Directed by Terence Fisher

Screenplay by Bert Batt and Anthony Nelson-Keys

Music by James Bernard

Running Time:  101 minutes

 

 

THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970)

Baron Frankenstein:  Ralph Bates

The Monster:  David Prowse

Directed by Jimmy Sangster

Screenplay by Jeremy Burnham and Jimmy Sangster

Music by Malcolm Williamson

Running Time:  95 minutes

 

FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974)

Baron Frankenstein:  Peter Cushing

The Monster:  David Prowse

Directed by Terence Fisher

Screenplay by John Elder

Music by James Bernard

Running Time:  93 minutes

 

Thanks for reading!

 

—Michael

SECOND LOOK: LES MISERABLES (2012)

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les-mis-posterSECOND LOOK:  LES MISERABLES (2012)

By Michael Arruda

 

 

I was pretty tough on LES MISERABLES (2013) when I reviewed it last year for this blog.  I think my title was, LES MISFIRE?

 

To be fair, I didn’t dislike LES MISERABLES when I saw it in the theater.  I simply was disappointed it wasn’t better, and I think it came across in my review that I wasn’t all that crazy about it. 

 

Anyway, I saw it again recently on DVD, and I have to say, I did enjoy it better the second time around.

 

While my biggest criticisms remain the same- that the film seemed to lack a soul, that it came off as completely gloomy and dark with the theme of redemption noticeably absent, and that the pacing seemed off, in that things moved too quickly without natural breaks in between scenes and songs, I did appreciate more about the film the second time around.  I even found Russell Crowe’s singing somewhat more tolerable.

 

I love the stage musical LES MISERABLES, and I suppose any film version wouldn’t be able to match the spectacle of how it plays on the stage.  This film version by director Tom Hooper didn’t even seem to try.  It dove right into a brutal realism that somehow didn’t work as well as it should have.  I mean, both Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway looked phenomenal in their misery, but this gritty heavy realism came off as too dark for the bulk of the movie and detracted from the musical numbers.  It’s a case where Jean Valjean and Fantine looked so beaten and emaciated that it was difficult at times to suspend disbelief and accept them breaking into song.  The realism also made for some harsh musical numbers. 

 

I still thoroughly enjoyed Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Jean Valjean, and Anne Hathaway as Fantine.  Both their acting performances and singing voices were amazing.  Russell Crowe, on the other hand, was a different story.  I found his voice grating when I saw the movie the first time.  I found it slightly less harsh this time around.  I also enjoyed Crowe’s performance as Javert better the second time around and found him to be a much more dominant character than when I saw it the first time. 

 

I still was not wowed by Amanda Seyfried as Cosette, which still surprises me, since usually I enjoy her a lot.  And although his singing voice was among the best in the movie, Eddie Redmayne didn’t blow me out of the water as Marius either.

 

And the pacing of the film definitely slows down during the third act.

 

Yet, the film looked just as amazing on DVD as it did on the big screen.  Not much was lost in terms of picture quality.

 

Parts of the story also worked better for me the second time.  The blockade sequence near the end I thought fell flat on the big screen.  I found it more compelling this time around.  I remember growing restless in the theater at this point in the movie, and this wasn’t a problem in the comfort of my living room.  The chase storyline between Jean Valjean and Javert also played better at home, perhaps because of the intimacy of the smaller screen.

 

So, is LES MISERABLES worth your time on DVD? 

 

Well, it certainly provides grand entertainment, and it does a pretty nice job bringing the musical to life.  It remains to be seen whether or not making it darker, grittier, and more depressing than the stage musical was a good idea.  I wasn’t nuts about this interpretation, mostly because the sense of hope found throughout the musical seems to be lost here.  But this wasn’t enough to ruin the movie for me.

 

And with Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway leading the way, and Russell Crowe doing the same, especially when he’s not singing, the cast also excels. While I do have a problem with the dark take this movie has on the story, I have to admit that I appreciated its dramatic elements better the second time around.

 

LES MISERABLES, the 2012 movie version, in spite of its flaws, is still an engaging musical and certainly worth a look.

 

—END—

 

 

THE QUOTABLE CUSHING: NIGHT CREATURES (1962)

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Peter Cushing as Dr. Blyss/aka Captain Clegg in NIGHT CREATURES (1962)

Peter Cushing as Dr. Blyss/aka Captain Clegg in NIGHT CREATURES (1962)

THE QUOTABLE CUSHING:  NIGHT CREATURES (1962)

By

Michael Arruda

 

Welcome to another edition of THE QUOTABLE CUSHING, that column where we look at and celebrate Peter Cushing’s best lines in the movies.  Today we look at one of my favorite Peter Cushing movies, the hardly heard of and extremely underrated Hammer Film NIGHT CREATURES (1962).

 

NIGHT CREATURES was one of Hammer’s forays into the pirate movie genre, and yes, they made several movies about pirates.  At the time, NIGHT CREATURES was most notable for its competition with a Walt Disney production of the same story.  As you would expect, the Disney version, DR. SYN, ALIAS THE SCARECROW (1963), starring Patrick McGoohan in the lead role, dominated at the time and was a hit back in the early 1960s when it aired in three installments on the Disney TV program Wonderful World of Color in 1964.  It was later was re-edited into a feature length film.

 

What this meant for HAMMER, was that for years NIGHT CREATURES was lost in the shuffle and remained largely an unwatched film, which is too bad, because it’s one of Hammer’s best.  It was never released on VHS in the United States. It is available now on DVD.

 

In NIGHT CREATURES, Peter Cushing plays Dr. Blyss, aka Captain Clegg, a reformed pirate who is now posing as a parson, while still involved in illegal rum smuggling in the town of Dymchurch.  But he is very much reformed, as he prohibits his men from using violence, and like Robin Hood, he uses the money earned from the rum smuggling to help the poor and hungry. 

 

Things grow complicated when Captain Collier (Patrick Allen), the man who had chased Captain Clegg over the high seas, arrives in Dymchurch with a company of soldiers to investigate reports of drug smuggling.

 

In the Disney version, the main character Dr. Syn disguised himself as a scarecrow, hence Disney’s title.  In NIGHT CREATURES, it’s Dr. Blyss’ young associate Harry Crabtree (Oliver Reed) who dons the guise of a scarecrow to serve as a lookout.

 

Here’s a look at some fun quotes from NIGHT CREATURES, screenplay by Anthony Hinds and Barbara S. Harper, based on the novel Dr. Syn by Russell Thorndike: 

 

 

When Captain Collier (Patrick Allen) first meets Dr. Blyss (Peter Cushing) he doesn’t recognize him as Captain Clegg, since he’s dressed as a parson and it’s likely the captain never set eyes on the pirate while chasing him.  Plus, Captain Clegg is reportedly dead.

 

Collier is looking for a place for his men to stay the night, but Blyss has no intention of helping out.  He wants Collier to march his men back to their ship for the night so he can deliver the rum shipment without impediment.  The dialogue throughout the film between Blyss and Collier is some of the most lively and most memorable in the film.  Let’s listen:

 

DR. BLYSS:  Ah, Captain, admiring our little church?  And you’ve removed your hat I see.  Are you no longer in the service of the king?

 

CAPTAIN:  I came to find the Squire.  But I’m also looking for quarters for my men, Parson. 

 

DR. BLYSS (looking at the interior of his church):  Not in here, I hope.

 

CAPTAIN (smiling): No.  But you’ll know the most suitable places.

 

DR. BLYSS:  Ah, yes.  Have you tried the inn?

 

CAPTAIN:  Oh come now, Parson, there’s only one room in the inn.

 

DR. BLYSS:  And you’ve taken that I expect.  Well, it’s hardly big enough for all of you, is it?  Let me see now.  There’s Mrs. Wagstaft, but no, she’s just had another, hasn’t she?  Her thirteenth I think it is.  That would be a little crowded, wouldn’t it?  And a little noisy too I expect!  (laughs) Would you mind just holding that?  (hands Captain his prayer booke so he can put on his gloves.) Dr. Pepper has a spare room.  But he’s been attending some rather nasty cases of the plague recently so I couldn’t really recommend there. 

 

No.  No, I’m afraid the inn is about all we can offer.  Thank you.  (takes back book)  Really I think the best thing you can do is to march your men back to the ship just for tonight and then march them back again here tomorrow.

 

CAPTAIN:  We’re staying the night in Dymchurch.

 

DR. BLYSS:  Are you?  (with a curious grin) I wonder where?

 

 

 

Earlier Dr. Blyss has to deal with one of his most unreliable men, Mr. Rash (Martin Benson).  Hammer favorite Michael Ripper also appears in this scene, as he enjoys one of his best roles in this one, as Dr. Blyss’ right hand man, the coffin maker, Mr. Mipps.  In this scene, Rash panics over the presence of Captain Collier and his men, and he orders his fellow smugglers to destroy the rum, but Dr. Blyss arrives and is none too happy with Rash’s behavior here.

 

RASH (ordering the disposal of the rum):  Get rid of it!

 

DR. BLYSS:  Mr. Rash!  Since when have you given orders?

 

RASH: Well, I thought with all them fellas snooping ar—.

 

DR. BLYSS:  There’s no need for you to think.  I think for all of you.  Is that clearly understood? 

 

RASH:  As you say.

 

DR. BLYSS:  Exactly.  As I say.  The goods will be delivered tonight in the usual way, at midnight. 

 

MAN:  What about the revenue men?

 

DR. BLYSS:  There’s a chance they’ll be gone by then.

 

RASH:  Well suppose they’re not gone?  I don’t like it! 

 

DR. BLYSS:  I am not interested in whether you like it or not, Mr. Rash!  Just as long as you do as I tell you.  You’ve been in this trade long enough to know we all have to take risks. 

 

RASH (to Mipps):  It’s been all right for him.  He’s done very nicely out of it all these years.

 

MIPPS:  Yes, very nicely.  He’s taken all of his fair share and squandered it on food for those who were hungry and clothes for them that didn’t have any.

 

DR. BLYSS:  All right, Mr. Mipps.  Now listen.  I want the word spread that the king’s men are not to be offered accommodation in the village.  There is to be no room for them anywhere.

 

GROUP:  Aye.

 

DR. BLYSS:  And remember:  there’s to be no violence, either.  Mr. Rash! 

 

RASH:  I heard you.

 

DR. BLYSS:  Then say so!  Midnight then.

 

 

Captain Collier arrives in Dymchurch upon the tip of a man named Tom Ketch.  The film opens with Ketch’s death, a victim of “the Marsh Phantoms.”  In this scene, Captain Collier asks Mr. Mipps to take him to Ketch.  The Captain doesn’t know Ketch is dead, and Mipps for his own amusement leads the Captain to believe that the man is still alive.

 

This scene is a great showcase for Michael Ripper’s acting abilities, as he gets to enjoy some great lines as Mr. Mipps here:

 

MIPPS:  But Captain, you came here to see Tom Ketch, didn’t you?  (calls) Tom?

 

(They walk across the room  and in a dramatic revelation, Mipps shows the Captain Tom Ketch’s dead body.)

 

MIPPS:  Came in this morning.  I haven’t had time to touch him up yet.

 

CAPTAIN COLLIER:  He was alive last night.  How did he die?

 

MIPPS:  He was found floating in one of the ponds on the marshes.  The Squire found him this morning when he was out riding, the Squire—.

 

CAPTAIN (angrily): How did he die, man?

 

MIPPS:  Dr. Pepper signed the certificate, natural causes, but I should have thought from the look of the poor fellow that he died of fright.  Now, that’s more like unnatural causes.

 

CAPTAIN:  Frightened to death? What by?

 

MIPPS:  Well, he didn’t tell us of course, being dead, but I think it was the Marsh Phantoms.

 

CAPTAIN:  The what?

 

MIPPS:  The Marsh Phantoms.  People around here don’t believe in them, say they don’t exist, but that’s during the day time of course.  At night if you ask them to go for a walk across the marshes you’ll find that they have something very much more important to do like bolting the door and going to bed.

 

CAPTAIN:  Old wives’ tales.  You said the Squire discovered the body?

 

MIPPS:  Yes. 

 

CAPTAIN:  Where do I find him?

 

MIPPS:  He’ll probably be at the church saying his prayers.  Shall I take you to him?

 

CAPTAIN:  No, I’ll find it.

 

MIPPS:  As you wish.

 

(Exits)

 

MIPPS (To Ketch’s corpse):  Thanks, matey!

 

 

 

 

I’d also like to give a shout out to Patrick Allen who is absolutely spot-on as Captain Collier.  He’s right up there with Peter Cushing and Michael Ripper in this one, in terms of acting.

 

In this scene, Collier thinks he has found his scarecrow, and he thinks it’s Dr. Blyss. The night before, his men shot at a scarecrow that moved, wounding it in the arm, but when they reached the spot where the scarecrow had been, the figure was gone.  They did find blood, however.

 

The next morning, in Dr. Blyss’ home, Collier discovers muddy boots, and he thinks he has found his man.  He intends to prove it:

 

CAPTAIN:  Did you sleep well last night?

 

DR. BLYSS:  Why, exceptionally well.  And you?  Oh, no, you were out looking for the phantoms, weren’t you?  Of course!  Don’t tell me you’ve only just returned?

 

CAPTAIN:  Yes.

 

DR. BLYSS:  Dear me, you must have walked a long way.  Did you have any luck?

 

CAPTAIN:  Yes, and no.

 

DR. BLYSS:  That’s comprehensive, anyway.  (pouring coffee)  Cream?  What did you find?

 

(Captain shows him boots he just found in hall)

 

CAPTAIN:  A scarecrow that bled.  (grabs Blyss’ arm.  Blyss flinches.  Rolls up Blyss’ sleeve but does not see the expected bullet wound)  Why did you flinch when I touched your arm?

 

DR. BLYSS:  It wasn’t my arm, Captain.  You trod on my foot.

 

 

Great line. 

 

If you’ve never seen NIGHT CREATURES, you’re missing quite a treat.  It’s one of Hammer’s best movies.

 

Thanks for joining me today on THE QUOTABLE CUSHING.  I’ll see you next time on another edition of THE QUOTABLE CUSHING when we look at more fun quotes from another memorable Peter Cushing movie.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

—Michael

 

What I’m Reading: SOLO, A James Bond Novel, By William Boyd

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Solo-by-William-BoydWhat I’m Reading – Solo By William Boyd

A James Bond Novel

Book Review by MICHAEL ARRUDA

 

Okay.  I admit.  When it comes to James Bond, I’m biased.  I love the movies.  The books, not so much.

That being said, I have enjoyed the Ian Fleming James Bond novels that I’ve read.  I just haven’t liked them as much as the movies.

The most fun part for me of reading Fleming’s novels is seeing firsthand his vision of the James Bond character, which is very different from the way the character is portrayed in the movies, by any of the actors, Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, or Daniel Craig.

Fleming passed away in 1964, but starting in the 1980s, the James Bond novels continued with a series of novels written by John Gardner, who penned these stories into the 1990s.  Afterwards, other authors took over.

Solo by William Boyd is the latest of the James Bond novels and the first by Boyd.  I was eager to read it.

Solo takes place in 1969, and the character of James Bond is 45 years old.  M sends Bond on a mission to Zanzarim, Africa, a country in the midst of a civil war.  M informs Bond that it’s his job to see that this war doesn’t happen, as it is in the best interest of Her Majesty’s government.  To avert this war, Bond is instructed to find the rebel leader, a man named Solomon Adeka, and in the words of M, to make him “a less efficient soldier.”

So, Bond travels to Africa under the guise of a newspaper reporter, where he befriends a young beautiful female contact, Efua Blessing Ogilvy-Grant, who helps him infiltrate the rebel forces.  Bond also meets the very deadly Kobus Breed, Adeka’s right hand man, whose calling card is that he hangs his enemies on hooks through their jaws, like human-sized fish.

Bond soon finds that things in Zanzarim aren’t what they seem, and in order to get to the bottom of things and save his own life in the process, Bond has to go undercover and work “solo” and without sanction from Her Majesty’s government.  His investigation eventually leads him to the United States, where he’s reunited with his old friend Felix Leiter, and together they solve the mystery of the Zanzarim revolution.

For a spy novel, Solo certainly takes its time.  The pace is anything but urgent, and Bond doesn’t decide to go “solo” until well into the novel, nearly two thirds of the way through.  As a result, I had a mixed reaction to Solo.  While I certainly enjoyed the characterization of James Bond, I really couldn’t get into the story, as the events in this plot never really grabbed me.

The early scenes of Bond infiltrating the foreign press corps so he can get close to the rebel leader Adeka are very slow moving, and they do very little in the way of moving the plot forward.

I also found the plot about the Zanzarim revolution difficult to get my head around.  Bond doesn’t really know why M is so interested in stopping this revolution, and as a result, neither do we.  It’s difficult to care about what’s going on when we’re not even sure what Bond is fighting for.

When Bond finally does decide to go “solo” towards the end of the novel, this plot point also fails to lift the story to a higher level simply because in the movies James Bond has chosen to go rogue in a number of films, including two of the recent Daniel Craig Bond films, QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008) and SKYFALL (2012) and the second Timothy Dalton film LICENSE TO KILL (1989), so this plot point isn’t new or exciting.

To be honest, I found the story here in Solo to be somewhat of a snooze.

Author William Boyd fares much better when writing characters.  I thoroughly enjoyed his characterization of James Bond, and I enjoyed being inside Bond’s head.  He makes Bond a tough no-nonsense agent, clever and covert when he has to be, and also a deadly assassin.  There’s a particularly brutal scene in which Bond exacts revenge on a key enemy, and it’s one of the more effective scenes in the novel.

Boyd’s Bond also drinks and smokes enough to make Ian Fleming proud.    If Bond weren’t a fictional character, he’d be dead from all the alcohol and nicotine he consumes.

Of the movie Bonds, I definitely pictured Daniel Craig as William Boyd’s James Bond.

The character of Efua Blessing Ogilvy-Grant was one of my favorite characters in the book.  She’s smart, tough, and very sexy.  Boyd seems to excel at writing the love scenes in this one, as they are some of the more tender and memorable sequences in the novel.  Ogilvy-Grant is more than just a femme fatale, as she’s also a formidable opponent who gives Bond a run for his money when she becomes more than what Bond expected.

Kobus Breed is also a memorable villain, one who lives up to the role, as he instills fear in those who cross him.  Boyd does a nice job making Breed frightening.  And Breed really is the main villain in the novel, since the more powerful players pulling the strings, the people Breed works for, tend to hide in the shadows and we never really get to know them as well as we do the brutal and overly violent Breed.

Solo was an OK read, but to be honest, I was a little disappointed.  I expected more from a James Bond novel.  I thought the plot was difficult to get into, and the action and suspense minimal until the third act.  I also thought the titled “solo” plot-point where Bond goes rogue to take on the bad guys on his own nothing new and actually rather tired.

Solo therefore is a mediocre Bond tale that could have benefitted from a more emotional and tangible plot.  Its characterizations are all on the money, but the plot Bond and his friends find themselves in is rather blah.

I was neither shaken nor stirred.

—END—

The Value of Friendship on Display in THE INTOUCHABLES (2011)

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the-intouchables-posterDVD Review:  THE INTOUCHABLES (2011)

By

Michael Arruda

THE INTOUCHABLES (2011), a French film written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, is a movie about friendship, and it’s this uncharacteristic relationship between a quadriplegic and his caregiver that makes this film rewarding.

Philippe (Francois Cluzet) is a quadriplegic millionaire, paralyzed from the neck down as the result of a paragliding accident.  Driss (Omar Sy) is a bitter young man of African descent who’s content to collect unemployment benefits.  When he arrives at the job interview for Philippe’s caregiver, he quickly announces that he’s only interested in obtaining a signature to prove he is actively looking for a job so he can collect his unemployment check.

In his present condition, Philippe is completely bored with his life.  His only contacts are with his beautiful assistant Magalie (Audrey Fleurot) and his aide Yvonne (Anne Le Ny), and they have fallen into the same rut as Philippe.  When Driss bursts into the interview, relaxed and full of spirit, flirting with Magalie, since he has no interest whatsoever in the position, his refreshing off the cuff attitude strikes a chord in Philippe.

To Driss’ surprise, he is hired to be Philippe’s caregiver on a trial basis.  He says yes when he sees the rich plush conditions of the home in which he’ll be living.  At first, Driss resists some of the duties, as he balks at helping Philippe with his bathroom needs and personal hygiene.  But Driss can’t help being drawn into conversations with Philippe, as Philippe finds in Driss a refreshing alternative to his usual caregivers.  Driss does not treat him with pity or extra compassion, but talks to him like he’s just one of the guys.

It’s the core of this friendship that drives this movie along.  As the two men grow closer, they begin to share more intimacies about their lives.  For example, in one of the movie’s funniest scenes, Driss asks Philippe if he can still make it with a woman, and Philippe tells him that he can’t in the traditional way since he’s paralyzed from the neck down.  But, Philippe adds, the body has other erogenous zones, like the ears.  Philippe adds with a laugh, “and I have two of them!”

Philippe also confides in Driss about a love letter relationship he has with a woman named Eleonore, who he has never met.  Driss encourages him to take the relationship to the next level and meet her in person, something that so far Philippe has been too anxious to do.

When Philippe learns that Driss paints, he goes out of his way to find a buyer who might be interested in the young man’s work.

THE INTOUCHABLES tells a story about a unique friendship, a quadriplegic and his caregiver, but it’s the value of friendship, the way these two men get to know each other and like each other, that makes this story so enjoyable.

This friendship also extends to Driss and Philippe’s staff, especially Magalie and Yvonne.  Driss’ personality is infectious, and he livens up the entire household.  Driss and the older Yvonne share a sincere camaraderie, and it’s through his conversations with her that he learns a lot about both Driss and the household in general.

His relationship with Magalie is quite the different story.  Driss is constantly flirting with her, and he can’t understand why she rebuffs his advances.  During one scene, for instance, he invites her to take a bath with him in his elegant bathtub, and to his shock, she says yes, and starts to unbutton her blouse.  As Driss undresses, she laughs and leaves.  When Driss finally learns why she’s never been interested in him, it’s one of the more memorable parts of the movie.

The cast is flawless, driven of course by the two leads.  Francois Cluzet is solid and earnest as Philippe.  He comes off as a man trying to get on with his life in spite of his devastating accident.  He accepts his condition and wants no sympathy.  He simply desires to continue living, and Driss provides the spark which enables him to do this.

Omar Sy is excellent as Driss, and he gives the best performance in the film.  Sy makes Driss such a lively, genuine, and ultimately very real person that you can’t help but like him.  He made me completely understand and believe why Philippe was so taken with him.

Audrey Fleurot is alternately sexy and icy cold as Magalie, and I completely bought into Driss’ fascination with her, and Anne Le Ny is sweet and affable as Yvonne.

The meaning of the title THE INTOUCHABLES is open to debate, since it’s not mentioned in the movie, nor are there any clear references to the term.  Before seeing the movie, I immediately thought of the lowly untouchables of India’s caste system, a group of people born into poverty and cruelly and unfairly shunned by the rest of society.  I thought the term perhaps was going to refer to Driss, as seen through the eyes of Philippe, but Philippe is no racist, and he never treats Driss as an inferior person.

I believe the title refers to the fact that the friendship between Philippe and Driss is pure, that it’s above reproach, untouchable by those who question it or think less of it.  For instance, at one point in the movie Philippe’s attorney warns him about hiring Driss because of his questionable background, but Philippe rejects this advice and tells his attorney that he doesn’t care about the man’s past.

THE INTOUCHABLES is a subtle heartwarming movie that tells a sincere and very likeable story.  In this day and age in which people seem to be drifting more and more into lives of social isolation, communicating through the internet and social media as opposed to face to face interactions, its story of an unconventional friendship between two men is both satisfying and reassuring, in that the need for human contact and the respect, camaraderie, and dignity that goes along with it is a life-giving necessity.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.