REVIEW: BLOOD TIES

CAST

Marion Cotillard (The Dark Knight Rises)
Billy Crudup (Watchmen)
Clive Owen (Sin City)
Mila Kunis (Black Swan)
Zoe Saldana (Avatar)
Matthias Schoenaerts (The Danish Girl)
James Caan (Elf)
Noah Emmerich (Last Action Hero)
Domenick Lombardozzi (Public Enemies)
Jamie Hector (Heroes)
Griffin Dunne (War Machine)

After serving twelve years for murder (for killing a rapist and murderer he caught in the act), Chris (Clive Owen) is released from prison in 1974. His ex-wife, Monica (Marion Cotillard), is a drug-addicted prostitute. She has a son and a daughter. Chris tries to go straight with his new girlfriend Natalie (Mila Kunis) but is betrayed and sabotaged in his pursuit of a legitimate business venture. Returning to his criminal ways puts him in direct conflict with his brother Frank (Billy Crudup) who happens to be a New York City cop. Their sister, Marie (Lili Taylor), and their sick father, Leon (James Caan), want Chris and Frank to just get along with each other.When arresting Anthony Scarfo (Matthias Schoenaerts) at his house Frank happens to meet his ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Zoe Saldana) again. Though Vanessa is now married to Anthony and has a daughter by him, Frank and Vanessa get back together again anyway, and she decides to divorce Anthony. But in the meantime Frank becomes conflicted over allowing his brother Chris to flee the scene of a felony murder. After Anthony is released from police custody his first act is to seek revenge against Frank for destroying his home life. Chris uncovers the plot and must decide between saving his own skin and stopping Anthony in his tracks.Blood Ties may not be a breakthrough movie in itself, but it is powerful cinema nonetheless. Requires some patience as the plot builds up.

 

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REVIEW: ALLIED

CAST

Brad Pitt (Fight Club)
Marion Cotillard (The Dark Knight Rises)
Jared Harris (The Quiet Ones)
Lizzy Caplan (Cloverfield)
August Diehl (Salt)
Charlotte Hope (A United Kingdom)
Matthew Goode (Watchmen)

In 1942 during World War II, Royal Canadian Air Force intelligence officer Max Vatan travels to Casablanca in Morocco to assassinate the German ambassador. He is partnered with a French Resistance fighter named Marianne Beauséjour, who had escaped from France after her resistance group was compromised and killed.
The two pose as a married couple and grow close, despite agreeing that in their line of work feelings can get people killed. Marianne, who is trusted by the Germans, secures Max an invitation to the party where they plan to conduct the assassination. On the day itself, they make love inside a car in the middle of a desert sandstorm, knowing that they might not survive. However, the mission goes well and they both escape. Max asks Marianne to come with him to London and be his wife. The two get married, settle down in Hampstead, and have a baby girl named Anna.
A year later, Max learns from the Special Operations Executive that Marianne is suspected of being a German spy, having adopted her identity after the real Marianne was killed in France. In order to test their suspicions, SOE run a ‘blue dye’ operation: Max is ordered to write down a piece of false intelligence at home, where Marianne can find it. If the information is picked up from intercepted German transmissions, Max must personally execute her, or be hanged for treason. Max is told otherwise to act normally.
Defying orders, Max visits a former colleague named Guy Sangster who knew Marianne but, blind from a wartime injury, cannot confirm her identity. He reveals that the resistance fighter Paul Delamare worked with Marianne in France and would be able to identify her. Max seeks out a young pilot named Adam Hunter, gives him a picture of his wife, and instructs him to ask Delamare whether she really is Marianne. However, the following night, Max’s commanding officer Frank Heslop informs him that Hunter was killed while waiting on the ground for the answer. He also hears that the whole operation might be a test, before he is given a big job in the run up to D-Day.
The following night Max takes the place of a Lysander pilot and flies to France to meet with Delamare, who, it transpires, is being held at the local police station. Max and the resistance break into the jail to confront Delamare. He is drunk, but remembers that Marianne was a beautiful pianist. Back in England, Max takes Marianne to a local pub and demands she play the piano. Marianne cannot play, and admits she is a spy. She claims her feelings for Max are genuine and that she and her child were being threatened by German spies in London, including the woman who lives around the corner and often looks after Anna.
Max, unwilling to kill his wife, tells her they need to leave before the SOE catches them. He kills Marianne’s handlers and tries to flee the country via airplane, but Heslop intercepts them before they can escape. Marianne tells Max that she loves him, asks him to take care of Anna, then shoots herself. Heslop orders the soldiers present to report that Max executed Marianne as per his orders, so that Max himself will not be punished. After the war, Max moves to the ranch in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, that was always his ambition, and raises Anna. The film ends with Marianne reading the letter that she had earlier written to her daughter, anticipating that one day her real identity would be uncovered.If you are a fan of classic movies, watch it. Is it perfect? No, it certainly has weak points and flaws. But overall I was thoroughly entertained by it. It kept me on the edge of my seat, and I will definitely be watching again.

REVIEW: INCEPTION

CAST

Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50)
Ellen Page (Juno)
Tom Hardy (The Dark KNight Rises)
Ken Watanabe (Godzilla)
Dileep Rao (Avatar)
Cillian Murphy (Red Lights)
Tom Berenger (Platoon)
Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose)
Michael Caine (BAtman Begins)
Lukas Haas (Brick)
Talulah Riley (The Boat That Rocked)
Pete Postlethwaite (Solomon Kane)

Dominic “Dom” Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are “extractors”, who perform corporate espionage using an experimental military technology to infiltrate the subconscious of their targets and extract valuable information through a shared dream world. Their latest target, Japanese businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe), reveals that he arranged their mission himself to test Cobb for a seemingly-impossible job: planting an idea in a person’s subconscious, or “inception”.To break up the energy conglomerate of ailing competitor Maurice Fischer (Pete Postlethwaite), Saito wants Cobb to convince Fischer’s son and heir, Robert (Cillian Murphy), to dissolve his father’s company. In return, Saito promises to use his influence to clear Cobb of a murder charge, allowing Cobb to return home to his children. Cobb accepts the offer and assembles his team: Eames (Tom Hardy), a conman and identity forger; Yusuf (Dileep Rao), a chemist who concocts a powerful sedative for a stable “dream within a dream” strategy; and Ariadne (Ellen Page), an architecture student tasked with designing the labyrinth of the dream landscapes, recruited with the help of Cobb’s father-in-law, Professor Stephen Miles (Michael Caine). While dream-sharing with Cobb, Ariadne learns his subconscious houses an invasive projection of his late wife Mal (Marion Cotillard).When the elder Fischer dies in Sydney, Robert Fischer accompanies the body on a ten-hour flight back to Los Angeles, which the team (including Saito, who wants to verify their success) uses as an opportunity to sedate and take Fischer into a shared dream. At each dream level, the person generating the dream stays behind to set up a “kick” that will be used to awaken the other sleeping team members from the deeper dream level; to be successful, these kicks must occur simultaneously at each dream level, a fact complicated due to the nature of time which proceeds much faster in each successive level.The first level is Yusuf’s dream of a rainy Los Angeles. The team abducts Fischer, but they are attacked by armed projections from Fischer’s subconscious, which has been trained to defend against extraction. The team takes Fischer and a wounded Saito to a warehouse, where Cobb reveals that while dying in the dream would normally wake Saito up, the powerful sedatives needed to stabilize the multi-level dream will instead send a dying dreamer into “limbo”, a world of infinite subconscious from which escape is difficult and a dreamer risks forgetting they are in a dream. Despite these setbacks, the team continues with the mission. Eames impersonates Fischer’s godfather, Peter Browning (Tom Berenger), to suggest Fischer reconsider his father’s will. Yusuf drives the van as the other dreamers are sedated into the second level. In the second level, a hotel dreamed by Arthur, Cobb convinces Fischer that he has been kidnapped by Browning and Cobb is his subconscious protector. Cobb persuades him to go down another level to explore Browning’s subconscious (in reality, it is a ruse to enter Fischer’s).The third level is a fortified hospital on a snowy mountain dreamed by Eames. The team has to infiltrate it and hold off the guards as Cobb takes Fischer into the equivalent of his subconscious. Yusuf, under pursuit by Fischer’s projections in the first level, deliberately drives off a bridge and initiates his kick too soon. This removes the gravity of Arthur’s level, forcing him to improvise a new kick that will synchronize with the van hitting the water, and causes an avalanche in Eames’ level. Mal’s projection emerges and kills Fischer, Cobb kills Mal, and Saito succumbs to his wounds; all three fall into Limbo. While Eames sets up a kick by rigging the hospital with explosives, Cobb and Ariadne enter Limbo to rescue Fischer and Saito.Cobb reveals to Ariadne that he and Mal went to Limbo while experimenting with the dream-sharing technology. Sedated for a few hours of real time, they spent fifty years in dream time constructing a world from their shared memories. When Mal refused to return to reality, Cobb used a rudimentary form of inception by reactivating her totem (an object dreamers use to distinguish dreams from reality) and reminding her subconscious that their world was not real. However, when she woke up, Mal was still convinced that she was dreaming. In an attempt to “wake up” for real, Mal committed suicide and framed Cobb for her death to force him to do the same. Facing a murder charge, Cobb fled the U.S., leaving his children in the care of Professor Miles. Through his confession, Cobb makes peace with his guilt over Mal’s death. Ariadne kills Mal’s projection and wakes Fischer up with a kick. Revived at the mountain hospital, Fischer enters a safe room to discover and accept the planted idea: a projection of his dying father telling him to be his own man. While Cobb remains in Limbo to search for Saito, the other team members ride the synchronized kicks back to reality. Cobb eventually finds an aged Saito in Limbo and reminds him of their agreement. The dreamers all awaken on the plane and Saito makes a phone call.Upon arrival at Los Angeles Airport, Cobb passes the U.S. immigration checkpoint and Professor Miles accompanies him to his home. Cobb tests reality using his totem, a spinning top that spins indefinitely in a dream world, but ignores its result and instead joins his children in the garden.Christopher Nolan’s intelligent and complex SF movie is an intriguing thriller. similar to the director’s other perplexing movie, Memento, it is a film which rewards with each repeat viewing. Definitely a film to watch, probably more than once.

REVIEW: LA VIE EN ROSE

CAST

Marion Cotillard (Inception)
Gérard Depardieu (Saint-Amour)
Sylvie Testud (Two Women)
Jean-Pierre Martins (La Horde)
Emmanuelle Seigner (The Ninth Gate)
Pascal Greggory (Walled In)
Catherine Allégret (The Round Up)

5The film is structured as a largely non-linear series of key events from the life of Édith Piaf.  The film begins with elements from her childhood, and at the end with the events prior to and surrounding her death, poignantly juxtaposed by a performance of her song, “Non, je ne regrette rien”.6The film opens with Édith as a small child in 1918, crying after being teased by other children. Her mother stands across the alley singing, busking for change. Édith’s mother writes to her child’s father, the acrobat, who is fighting in the trenches of World War I battlefields, informing him that she is leaving Édith with her mother so she can pursue the life of the artist. Her father returns to Paris and scoops up a sick Édith, then in turn leaves the child with his own mother, who is a madam of a brothel in Normandy. Now living as a child in a brothel, surrounded by the often brutal and demeaning business of prostitution, Édith is taken under the wing of the women there, especially Titine, a young troubled redhead who becomes emotionally attached to the little girl. Titine sings to, plays with, and tenderly cares for Édith through travails including an episode of keratitis-induced blindness.3Years later, Édith’s father returns for her. Despite anguished protests from both Titine and Édith, he takes the child away to join him as he works as a circus acrobat. As Édith is outside cleaning up after dinner one night, she watches a fire eater practicing, and in the flames sees an apparition of St Thérèse, who assures her that she will always be with her—a belief that she carries with her for the rest of her life. When Édith is nine years old, her father leaves the circus after an argument with the manager and begins performing on the streets of Paris. During a lackluster performance of her father’s contortionist skills while Édith holds a hat for coins, a passerby asks if Édith is part of the show and, with prompting by her father to “do something” so the half-interested audience doesn’t leave, she spontaneously sings “La Marseillaise” with raw emotion, mesmerizing the street crowd.2

Years later, a nightclub owner named Louis Leplée approaches Édith while she sings (and drinks) on the streets of Montmartre for supper money with her friend Mômone. He invites her to his club for an informal audition. Impressed, he hires her, after creating for diminutive Édith (1.47m in height) a stage surname of Piaf, a colloquialism for sparrow. Soon, Leplée is shot dead, suspected by the police to be due to Édith’s connections to the mafia through the pimp who has demanded a large portion of her street singing earnings. When Édith next attempts a show at a low grade cabaret, she is jeered and shouted off the stage by a hostile crowd. Things go from bad to worse when Mômone is forcibly taken away to a convent for girls on orders from her mother. Desperate, Édith turns to Raymond Asso, a songwriter and accompanist. Through harsh means, he enlivens her performances by teaching her to gesture with her “great hands” while singing, and works with her on enunciation and other aspects of stage presence, including how to battle her initial fierce bouts of stage fright that almost prevent her from taking the stage for her first music hall performance.1

While performing in New York City, Édith meets Marcel Cerdan, a fellow French national who is a boxer competing for the World Champion title. Though she quickly learns from him that he has a wife, who runs their pig farm while he’s away, Édith tells Mômone that she is falling in love with Marcel. The affair that ensues (it begins shortly after he beats Tony Zale and becomes World Middleweight Champion), while supposedly secret, results in “La Vie En Rose” being played for Marcel wherever he goes. The morning after Édith has persuaded Marcel to fly from Paris and join her in New York, she wakes up to his kiss. She joyfully hurries to get him coffee and her gift to him of a watch, while she mocks and exasperatedly shouts at her oddly subdued entourage as they listlessly stand around her apartment. They finally break the news to her that Marcel’s plane crashed. Édith hysterically searches for the ghost of Marcel that was lounging on her bed just a few moments before, crying out the name of her lost lover.4The narrative bookends these scenes from Édith’s middle life with repeated vignettes of an aged-looking Édith with frizzy red hair, being nursed and tended to. She spends much of her time sitting in a chair by the lakeside, and when she stands, she has the stooped posture and slowness of a much older person. Another set of fractured memories shows Édith with short curly hair, plastered to her face as though she is feverish, singing on stage and collapsing while she tries to sing, a moment when Édith herself realizes that her body is betraying her, when she is hosting a party at a Parisian bistro, and topples a bottle of champagne because of her developing arthritis, and to the morphine addiction that ultimately plays a large role in her demise, as she injects the drug with a young lover in her bedroom. After her husband, Jacques Pills, persuades her to enter rehabilitation for her addiction, she travels to California with him, and the audience sees the sober but manic-by-nature Édith being driven around in a convertible, laughing, joking, teasing her compatriots and generally being the life of the party, until she takes the wheel and promptly drives into a Joshua tree. The hilarity is uninterrupted as Édith gets out and pretends to hitchhike—the whole episode appearing to be a metaphor for her lifelong frantic efforts to be happy and distracted by entertaining others, through all manner of disasters.1

Years later, Piaf, now frail and hunched, squabbles with her entourage about whether or not she will be able to perform at the Olympia. No one but Édith thinks that she will be ready to attempt the feat, but she ultimately faces this reality herself. Then, a new songwriter and arranger shows up with a song, “Non, je ne regrette rien”, and Édith exclaims: “You’re marvelous! Exactly what I’ve been waiting for. It’s incredible. It’s me! That’s my life, it’s me.” She announces that she will indeed perform it at the Olympia. Memories from prior to and during her last performance, when she collapses onstage, are interwoven through the film, foreshadowing the tragic end to a stellar but prematurely ended stage life. The memories appear to almost haunt Piaf. In one series, prior to what turns out to be her last performance, Édith is finally ready to go onstage after a series of delays, when she asks for the cross necklace that she always wears. As her staff rush away to get it, she sits and, in her quiet solitude, experiences more memories of her past, and after Édith puts on the retrieved cross and shuffles out onto the stage, the film presents more flashbacks as she is singing one of her signature songs, “Je ne regrette rien.”2

She relives a sunny day on a beach with her knitting, when an older Édith with an obvious stoop graciously answers the simple and polite questions of an interviewer: what is her favorite color? (blue), her favorite food? (pot roast), and then more poignant questions that she also answers without hesitation, again showing the longings of her life. If you were to give advice to a woman, what would it be? “Love.” To a young girl? “Love.” To a child? “Love.” As though he is carrying a swaddled infant, Louis easily carries Édith, tiny and wasted away at the age of 47, into her bedroom and tucks her into bed, while the subtitle removes any illusions that this is other than the last day of her life. She is afraid. She says she cannot remember things, but has a disjointed series of memories of the kind of small moments that somehow define all our lives more than the “big moments” do—scrambled and fragmentary as a dying person might experience—her mother commenting on her “wild eyes,” her father giving her a gift of a doll, and thoughts of her own dead child, Marcelle. The film ends with Édith performing “Non, je ne regrette rien” at the Olympia.

3

The film belongs to Cotillard, however, and all aspects of the film, from the brilliant writing of Olivier Dahan (who also directed) and Isabelle Sobelman, to film editing (especially the lip-synching to Piaf’s songs), and the sets, costuming, and makeup, are designed to enhance her performance. The film follows no chronology, jumping from her childhood to her last years and then to some of the high points of her career, creating an impressionistic film of some of the signal moments in her life. It is difficult to imagine any biopic that will ever come close to this one in its power, but then, again, it’s difficult to imagine any singer who will ever capture the world’s imagination in quite the way that Piaf did

REVIEW: HIGHLANDER: THE SERIES – SEASON 1-6

Image result for highlander the series logo

MAIN CAST

Adrian Paul (Eyeborgs)
Alexander Vandernoot (Pret-A-Porter)
Stan Kirsch (Shallow Ground)
Amanda Wyss (A Nightmare On Elm Street)
Elizabeth Gracen (Death of The Incredible Hulk)
Jim Byrnes (Sanctuary)
Philip Akin (Robocop 2014)
Michel Modo (My Father’s Glory)
Lisa Howard (Earth: Final Conflict)
Peter Wingfield (Caprica)

RECURRRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Christopher Lambert (Fortress)
Richard Moll (Scary Movie 2)
Wendell Wright (Power Rangers Wild Force)
Peter Deluise (21 Jump Street)
Matthew Walker (Andromeda)
Soon-Tek Oh (Mulan)
Vincent Schiavelli (Buffy)
John Novak (Wishmaster 3 & 4)
Garry Chalk (Dark Angel)
Joan Jett (The Sweet Life)
Gary Jones (Stargate SG.1)
Wes Studi (Mystery Men)
Marc Singer (V)
Brent Stait (Andromeda)
Joe Pantoliano (The Matrix)
Stephen Macht (Galaxina)
Scott McNeil (Beast Wars)
Vanity (52 Pick-Up)
J.G. Hertzler (Star Trek: DS9)
Tom Butler (Freddy vs Jason)
Werner Stocker (The White Rose)
Peter Howitt (Defying Gravity)
Roland Gift (Brakes)
Dee Dee Bridgewater (Another Life)
Jason Isaacs (Peter Pan)
Nigel Terry (Troy)
Anthoyn Head (Buffy)
Marion Cotillard (Contagion)
Peter Guinness (Alien 3)
Roger Daltrey (Tommy)
Peter Hudson (Hitman)
Michael Shanks (Stargate SG.1)
Cameron Bancroft (Legends of Tomorrow)
Douglas Arthurs (Stargate SG.1)
J.H. Wyman (Sirens)
Geraint Wyn Davies (Cube 2)
Traci Lords (Zack & Miri Make a Porno)
Andrew Jackson (Earth: Final Conflict)
Kendall Cross (Caprica)
Sheena Easton (Young Blades)
Don S. Davis (Stargate SG.1)
Robert Wisden (Watchmen)
Mitchell Kosterman (Smallville)
Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons)
Robert Ito (Quincy M.E.)
Dustin Nguyen (21 Jump Street)
Bruce A. Young (Jurassic PArk III)
Andrea Roth (Ringer)
Roddy Piper (They Live)
Bill Dow (Stargate Atlantis)
Gabrielle Miller (Down River)
Bruce Weitz (Hill Street Blues)
Nicholas Lea (V)
Lochlyn Munro (Little Man)
Jonathan Banks (The Lizzie Borden Chronicles)
Ed Lauter (The Number 23)
Roark Critchlow (V)
Jeremy Brudenell (Wish Me Luck)
Peter Firth (Victoria)
Angeline Ball (My Girl 2)
Nia Peeples (Pretty Little Liars)
James Faulkner (X-Men: First Class)
Nadia Cameron-Blakey (Batman Begins)
Emile Abossolo M’bo (Hitman)
Martin Cummins (Bates Motel)
Stephen McHattie (300)
Tamlyn Tomita (Heroes)
Hiro Kanagawa (Heroes Reborn)
Randall Cobb (Liar Liar)
Chandra West (White Noise)
Brion James (Blade Runner)
Jason Gray-Stanford (Bones)
Alan Scarfe (Andromeda)
John Pyper-Ferguson (Caprica)
Myles Ferguson (Little Criminals)
Jesse Moss (Ginger Snaps)
Sherry Miller (Bitten)
Laura Harris (Dead Like me)
Garwin Sanford (Stargate SG.1)
Anthony De Longis (Masters of The Universe)
Vincent Gale (Van Helsing)
Tamara Gorski (Hercules: TLJ)
Stella Stevens (General Hospital)
Barry Pepper (The Green Mile)
Vivan Wu (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III)
Richard Lynch (Puppet Master III)
Eugene Lipinski (Arrow)
David Robb (Downtown Abbey)
Lynda Boyd (Sanctuary)
Kim Johnston Ulrich (3rd Rock From The Sun)
Ben Pullen (Elizabeth I)
Paudge Behan (Veronica Guerin)
Carsten Norgaard (Alien vs Predator)
Anna Hagen (The Messengers)
Laurie Holden (the Walking Dead)
Gerard Plunkett (Sucker Punch)
Kristin Minter (Home Alone)
Wolfgang Bodison (A Few Good Men)
Pruitt Taylor Vince (Heroes Reborn)
Callum Keith Rennie (Flashforward)
Louis Ferreira (Stargate Universe)
Travis MacDonald (Warcraft)
Venus Terzo (Arrow)
Rachel Hayward (Jingle All The Way 2)
Nicholas Campbell (Da Vinci’s Inquest)
Peter Outerbridge (Beauty and the Beast)
Jill Teed (Battlestar Galactica)
Molly Parker (Deadwood)
Emmanuelle Vaugier (Two and a Half men )
Ann Turkel (The Fear)
Ron Halder (Stargate Sg.1)
Ocean Hellman (Voyage of The Unicorn)
Rae Dawn Chong (Commando)
Carl Chase (Batman)
Michael J. Jackson (Coronation Street)
Ricco Ross (Wishmaster)
Peta Wilson (La Femme Nikita)
Jamie Harris (Agents of Shield)
Crispin Bonham-Carter (Basil)
Stephen Tremblay (Unnatural Pursuits)
Jesse Joe Walsh (JCVD)
Tracy Scoggins (Lois & Clark)
Real Andrews (Born on The 4th of July)
Eric McCormack (Will & Grace)
Ian Tracey (Bates Motel)
Michael Kopsa (Dark Angel)
Alastair Duncan (The Batman)
Sandra Bernhard (2 Broke Girls)
April Telek (Walking Tall)
Andrew Divoff (Wishmaster)
Steve Bacic (Andromeda)
Kira Clavell (Ninja Turtles: Next Mutation)
Ron Perlman (Hellboy)
Peter Hanlon (Scary Movie)
Musetta Vander (Stargate SG.1)
Valetnine Pelka (8mm 2)
Sonja Codhant (Navarro)
Jonathan Firth (Withering Heights)
Danny Dyer (Severance)
Rachel Shelley (The L Word)
Alexis Denisof (Angel)
Anita Dobson (Eastenders)
Jasper Britton (The New World)
Alice Evans (The Originals)
Andrew Bricknell (Victoria)
Justina Vail (Seven Days)
Sandra Hess (Encino Man)
Claudia Christian (Babylon 5)
Jack Ellis (Bad Girls)
Paris Jefferson (Xena)_
Martin McDougall (Batman Begins)

Few television series’ that are based on movies live up to the original version, either because they simply don’t have right qualities that made the movie great or they the people making the show just don’t give a damn. “Highlander: The Series”, however, is one of those rare exceptions.

Image result for highlander the seriesBased off of the original 1986 fan favorite and produced by same the executive producers William Panzer and Peter Davis, it continued the saga of the immortals, a race of beings destined to fight one another in sword fights in a centuries long event called the game and who can only be killed by decapitation, with the opponent taking their head and their power. In particular, the show centers around one such immortal named Duncan Macleod (Adrian Paul in his best role) of the Clan Macleod, a descendant of Connor Macleod (Christopher Lambert who reprises his role for the pilot) from the first film.Image result for highlander the seriesBorn in the highlands of Scotland in 1592, Duncan has roamed the world for 400 years, seen many different events, and has fought in many different wars and many battles with other immortals. And that last part is one of the things that made the show great. You could count on almost every episode to feature a spectacular sword fight with the villain of the week, a battle of life and death, with Duncan Macleod emerging victorious from yet another trying ordeal and even more spectacular quickening.

Image result for highlander the seriesBased on that, you might expect a show centering on such a plot to become boring or same old, same old, and the show might very well have become so. But, the truth is the show managed to constantly entertain and thrill for most of its run in large part because of the talent the show had. Adrian Paul was more than capable of carrying a show, bringing not only charm and charisma to the role of Duncan but also a strong sense of honor and chivalry, thus making Duncan Macleod one of the great television heroes.Image result for highlander the seriesBut it wasn’t just Adrian’s acting that made the show great; it was also due to the well blending of strong supporting actors, guest stars and villains, writers, and set designers and directors. You had Richie Ryan (Stan Kirsch), a young man who becomes a part of Duncan’s world in a way he never imagined. Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes) a member of a secret society of mortals called the Watchers who dedicate themselves to watching and recording the deeds and actions of the immortals; the always enjoyable Methos (the wonderfully charismatic Peter Wingfield), a 5,000 year old immortal and the oldest living of his kind; Amanda (Elizabeth Grace), an immortal who’s had an on again, off again relationship with Duncan throughout the ages and who’s not put off by an occasional high-value heist or two to make a living, and a slew of guest stars, villains and other supporting actors that added to the show every week.Image result for highlander the seriesPlus, one must also give credit to behind the scenes people, who not only managed to make things interesting in the present, but the past as well. Every episode featured dazzling historical flashbacks, flashbacks that were so good there isn’t one where you didn’t believe the characters weren’t where the show said they were, be it World War I France or British Colonial India (these flashbacks are even more remarkable when you consider the fact that the show, because it was syndicated, had a much smaller budget than shows tied directly to a network). It was also a show that, like the original film, caused the viewer to wonder what would it be like to live indefinitely and witness the changing of the times? What kind of person would you become if you witnessed your time, your religion, possibly even your entire culture disappear into the mists of time?Image result for highlander the seriesAll this must be credited to the writers, led by creative consultant David Abramowitz, who had a lot to do with the magic of the show. Not to say, of course, that weren’t imperfections; some episodes dragged, and one or two of them were pretty bad (the episode “The Zone” is a good example of this), not to mention the fact that the show badly lost steam in the last season, a thing that tends to happen to most shows in the end. However, that being said, the show did far more for the Highlander franchise than any of the sequels ever did. For that reason, it’s a show that all fans of action and fantasy should check out.

REVIEW: NINE

CAST

Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot)
Marion Cotillard (The Dark Knight Rises)
Penelope Cruz (Blow)
Judi Dench (Spectre)
Fergie (Poseidon)
Kate Hudson (Gossip)
Nicole Kidman (The Others)
Sophia Loren (Pret-A-Porter)

Guido Contini is a gifted Italian filmmaker who, at the age of fifty, has developed writer’s block and urges all the women in his life, alive and dead, to help him with it – his mind wanders to his unfinished set, where dozens of dancers and the film’s leading ladies appear – first Claudia Jenssen, his leading lady; then his wife Luisa; his mistress Carla; his costume designer and confidant Lilli; his beloved Mamma; Stephanie, an American fashion journalist from Vogue; and finally Saraghina, a prostitute from his childhood; (“Overture Delle Donne”). It is 1965, and at the famous Cinecittà movie studios, in Rome, ‘everyone has questions for Signor Contini.’
At a press conference at the Hotel Excelsior on the Via Veneto, he’s charming and colourful, avoiding any clear answer on his new movie – his ninth with producer, Dante, – tentatively entitled Italia. Here he meets Stephanie, a Vogue fashion journalist, with whom he begins a flirtation. Escaping the biting probes of the reporters, he creates an elaborate fantasy, which becomes (“Guido’s Song”) where he explains that he wishes he were young and energetic once again, since his talent was better then.

He escapes the press conference, the reporters and his producer and arrives at the Bellavista Spa Hotel. While being examined by the doctor, he receives a call from Carla, his mistress (“A Call from the Vatican”). She describes her desire for him, as he excitedly listens on the other end. She arrives at the spa, expecting to share his suite, but is upset to find that she’s staying in a shabby pensione by the train station. Meanwhile, Guido learns that a Cardinal is also staying at his hotel and tells the cardinal’s assistant to arrange a meeting.

However, Dante soon arrives at the spa and escorts Contini to a banquet hall where the entire production team is assembled to help him prepare for his film. He sees Lilli, his costume designer, and begs for inspiration, while criticizing the costume she’s in the middle of making as not being something an Italian woman would wear. She reminds him of Luisa’s birthday the previous day and disagrees, saying that it reminds her of Folies Bergère, a Parisian music hall that featured showgirls, where she ‘learnt her art’ (“Folies Bergères”).

The Cardinal agrees to meet him and advises him to lead a more moral life and look to his youth for inspiration. Guido’s thoughts lead him to remembering Saraghina, a prostitute whom he and his friends paid to teach them the art of love and sex (“Be Italian”). Young Guido is caught by his school teachers/priests and whipped by his principal. He awakens on top of Carla, in a fit of anxiety and abruptly leaves to meet his production team for dinner. She wants to come, but he vehemently refuses, reminding her that they don’t want to hurt either of their spouses.

At dinner, he’s happily surprised to see Luisa, who has come at Lilli’s request. He embraces her and wishes her a happy birthday, promising that when she returns home, the house will be filled with flowers. She sits, and the young priest from earlier, who recognizes her as one of Guido’s earlier actresses, joins the table. In song, Luisa explains how she’s become a different woman to be Guido’s wife, abandoning her acting career to be at his side (“My Husband Makes Movies”). She then notices Carla entering the restaurant and leaves immediately, saying she feels tired. Guido doesn’t understand why and follows her, asking what’s happened. She ignores him and when he returns to the restaurant and sees Carla, he finally understands. He demands that Carla go back to the pensione, and she leaves, heartbroken.

When Guido goes to the suite to try to smooth things over, Luisa refuses to listen. He goes to the lobby and meets Stephanie, who has tracked him down. Guido and Stephanie continue to flirt, and she describes her love for his movies and how fashionable he makes everything seem (“Cinema Italiano”). She leaves her room key in his pocket. While in her room, watching her undress, he realizes how much he cares for his wife and leaves. He returns to the suite and promises that he’s done with cheating. Luisa embraces him, but he’s called away to help Carla, who’s overdosed on pills. The doctor comments how reckless and immoral Guido is, which Guido doesn’t contest. He stays with Carla until her husband arrives. He returns to the hotel to find that Luisa has left and the crew has returned to Rome to begin filming.

His mother returns to him to advise him to repair his life (“Guarda La Luna”). He calls Luisa from the studio to beg her to come to the screen testing that evening. She hangs up without response. He arrives at the set to film shots of Claudia in her costumes. She does a few takes, but leaves, saying she’ll return when she reads the script. Guido agrees that that’s fair and drives her away. They’re followed by paparazzi, but he manages to lose them. Claudia realizes that there is no script and they take a walk. She asks him what he wants the film to be about and his description closely resembles his own ordeal: a man lost and in love with so many women. When they stop to rest, she tells him that she loves him but he is unable to love her (“Unusual Way”). Claudia tells him he doesn’t see the real her, only the movie star he has created for the masses. She leaves.

He returns to review screen tests of new actresses and keeps looking to the back to see if Luisa has arrived. He’s relieved when she finally does. She watches and is heartbroken to see him say something in a clip to an actress that he’d said to her when they first met. When everyone leaves, she explains to him that he’s reminded her that she’s not special, just another link in the chain and leaves him (“Take It All”). He finally comes to terms with his mental block (“I Can’t Make This Movie”), realizing that he’s lost everything: his wife, his muse, his talent, and has nothing to make the movie. He apologizes to the staff that there was never a movie, just an idea, and has the set destroyed before leaving Rome.

Two years later, Guido is in a café in Anguillara looking at an advertisement for a play starring Luisa. He waits outside the theatre that night, and watches her leave with a man. He walks with Lilli a few days later and tries to find more information about her. Lilli tells him that she’s not going be to be the middle-man for them, implying that Luisa asks for him as well. She asks if he will ever make a movie again. He says that he won’t because he wouldn’t know what to make, except a movie about a man trying to win back his wife. Lilli says that that’s a good start and the costumes won’t be too bad either.

Guido returns to his element, passionate about a story once more. As he speaks with his actors about the scene, his nine-year-old self (Giuseppe Spitaleri) gathers the cast of Guido’s life together. As Guido takes his place in the director’s chair, the cast of Guido’s life assemble on the scaffolding behind him, culminating with the arrival of his mother and nine-year-old Guido running to sit on the older Guido’s lap (“Finale”). Luisa arrives without being seen and watches in that background, happy to see Guido back to his old self. She smiles as he is raised on a crane and calls, “Action!”Unusual story structure, creative direction, cinematography and editing, interesting characters and great performances from a top flight cast produced a compelling, convincing movie.

REVIEW: CONTAGION (2011)

CAST

Gwyneth Paltrow (Iron Man)
Laurence Fishburne (Hannibal TV)
Kate Winslet (Divergent)
Marion Cotillrd (La Vie En Rose)
Jude Law (Spy)
Matt Damon (Jason Bourne)
John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone)
Monique Gabriela Curnen (Lie to Me)
Jennifer Ehle (The Ides of March)
Elliott Gould (OCean’s Eleven)
Enrico Colantoni (Veronica Mars)
Bryan Cranston (Godzilla)
Chin Han (Arrow)
Sanaa Lathan (Blade)
Kara Zediker (Rock Star)

Returning from a Hong Kong business trip, Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) has a layover in Chicago to have sex with a former lover before returning to her family in suburban Minneapolis. She appears to have contracted a cold during her trip. Her six-year-old son from a previous marriage, Clark, also becomes symptomatic and is sent home from school. Beth’s condition worsens and two days later she collapses with severe seizures. Her husband, Mitch (Matt Damon), rushes her to the hospital, but she dies of an unknown cause.

Mitch returns home and finds that Clark has also died from a similar infection. Mitch is put in isolation but seems to be immune to the disease. He is released and returns home to his teenaged daughter Jory, who had been living with Mitch’s former wife and her husband and has decided to stay with Mitch since he’s now all alone. They face decaying social order and rampant looting of stores and homes. Mitch is unsure if Jory has inherited his immunity and he struggles with the frustration of quarantine, his desire to protect his daughter and learning that his wife was cheating on him immediately prior to both her death and that of his stepson.

In Atlanta, representatives of the Department of Homeland Security meet with Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) of the CDC and express fears that the disease is a bio weapon intended to cause terror over the Thanksgiving weekend. Dr. Cheever dispatches Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, to Minneapolis to begin investigating. Mears traces the outbreak back to Emhoff while negotiating with local bureaucrats initially reluctant to commit resources for a proper public health response to the virus. Dr. Mears later becomes infected and dies.

At the CDC, Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) determines the virus is a mix of genetic material from pig and bat viruses. Work on a cure stalls because scientists cannot discover a cell culture within which to grow the newly identified Meningoencephalitis Virus One (MEV-1). UCSF professor Dr. Ian Sussman (Elliott Gould) violates orders from Cheever (relayed through Hextall) to destroy his samples, and identifies a usable MEV-1 cell culture using bat cells. Hextall uses the breakthrough to work on a vaccine. Other scientists determine the virus is spread by fomites, with a basic reproduction number of four when the virus mutates, with projections of one in twelve of the population being infected, and a 25-30% mortality rate.

Conspiracy theorist Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) posts videos about the virus on his popular blog. In one video, he shows himself sick and later claims he recovered using a homeopathic cure derived from forsythia. In a panic, people seeking forsythia overwhelm pharmacies, spreading and accelerating the contagion as the infected come into contact with healthy people. Krumwiede’s claims attract national attention. During a television interview he discloses that Dr. Cheever had secretly informed friends and family to leave Chicago just before the city was quarantined. Cheever is then informed the government will investigate and may charge him for leaking information. Later it is revealed Krumwiede had faked being infected by the virus in an attempt to increase profits for shareholders in companies producing and selling forsythia. Krumwiede is arrested for conspiracy and securities fraud, only to walk free when his many supporters successfully raise funds to provide for his bail.

Using an attenuated virus Dr. Hextall identifies a possible vaccine. To cut out the lengthy time it would take to obtain informed consent from infected patients, Dr. Hextall inoculates herself with the experimental vaccine and immediately visits her gravely ill father, who has been infected with MEV-1. The doctor does not contract MEV-1 and the vaccine is declared a success. The vaccine’s production is rapidly increased, but due to limited production, the CDC awards vaccinations by lottery based on birth date. Inoculations take place for one full year until every survivor is vaccinated. First responders, doctors and others designated by the government are declared exempt from the lottery. Dr. Cheever gives his fast-tracked MEV-1 vaccination to the son of Roger (John Hawkes), a CDC janitor who had overheard Dr. Cheever’s phone call warning his girlfriend to leave Chicago.

Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard), a WHO epidemiologist, travels to Hong Kong to follow the Beth Emhoff lead. She collaborates with Sun Feng (Chin Han) and other local epidemiologists and public health officials; they identify Emhoff as patient zero. As the virus spreads, Feng kidnaps Orantes to use her as leverage to obtain MEV-1 vaccine doses for his village. Orantes spends months living with the villagers until the vaccine is announced. Feng exchanges Orantes for the vaccine doses. Her colleague mentions that the exchanged doses were placebos and Orantes rushes away to warn them. The death toll reached 2.5 million in the U.S. and 26 million worldwide. Dr. Hextall places samples of MEV-1 in cryogenic storage, alongside samples of H1N1 and SARS.

The source of the virus is revealed to viewers. A bulldozer (coincidently, operating for the company Emhoff works for) knocks down a palm tree disturbing some bats, with one finding shelter and food in a banana tree. That bat then flies over a pig pen, dropping a chunk of banana from its mouth, which was then eaten by a piglet. Chinese chefs later collected pigs from the pen and took them to a casino where one chef was called away from his preparations of the piglet, casually wiping his hands on his apron. The chef then shook hands with Beth Emhoff, giving her the mix of bat and pig viruses that makes her patient zero and the origin of the MEV-1 virus.

This was an interesting film. It is very realistic and while there is no major action plot, the realism keeps you hooked.