Saturday, October 22, 2016

Batman (1989): A Review


Batman came about at a most curious time.  If people thought of Batman at all, it was that of a campy television show, one that had made the Dark Knight into a figure of fun (the film version did not help dispel the idea that Batman was camp at best).  Also, comic book-based films had suffered a beating after the horrors of Superman III AND Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.  As such, Batman was already facing a tough fight.  Through in the casting of Michael Keaton, an actor best known for comedies like Mr. Mom and Beetlejuice, as the Dark Knight and many in the fanbase were prepared for a disaster.  And did I mention that the director of Batman was the same guy who made Beetlejuice?

However, Batman did what few thought possible: it created a brilliant adaptation that has stood the test of time, coupled with great performances and an iconic theme that I think is still held as THE Batman theme (even if most Batman fans have worshipped at the altar of newer adaptations).

There's a myth spreading about the criminals in Gotham City of a strange creature who targets wrongdoers, a large bat.  It doesn't take long to discover that there is such a creature, who when asked who he is, replies coldly, "I'm Batman".  Not believing or caring about the growing rumors is one Jack Napier, second-in-command to Gotham mobster Gus Grissom (Jack Palance).  Napier has been secretly involved with Grissom's mistress, Alicia (Jerri Hall), oddly the least dangerous and unhinged thing Napier is involved with.  Grissom sends Jack to eliminate evidence at a chemical factory, but Jack discovers that he's been set-up by Grissom to be killed by the corrupt police in his payroll.

Fortunately for him, Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle), the rare honest cop, shows up to insist Napier be caught alive.  Unfortunately for him, so does Batman.  Napier's efforts at escape fail, and he falls into a vat of acid.  Everyone believes Napier is dead, but he's got a few tricks up his sleeve.  The first one is his new name to go with the disfigured face.  You can call him, "Joker" (Jack Nicholson).

The only person who is convinced that there is a six-foot-bat harassing Gotham's criminals is Gotham Gazette reporter Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl).  Into this comes photographer Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger), best known for her glamorous images but who has earned praise for covering a violent political revolution.  She too is convinced there's a story here, and teams up with Knox.

It isn't long before both encounter millionaire Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton), and his loyal manservant, Alfred (Michael Gough).  Wayne takes an instant interest in does Joker, who now has unleashed his merry madness upon Gotham. A war now begins between the two, with Vale caught in the middle.

The mad Joker terrorizes Gotham with his own brand of chemical warfare, which does not please the Mayor of Gotham or the new, honest District Attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams).  The City is determined to have Gotham's Bicentennial, but ultimately give up for security reasons.

In sweeps Joker, who offers Gothamites a beautiful offer: he will throw a big party for Gotham, and throw out $20 million.  In exchange, he demands a duel with The Batman.

The war between Joker and Batman is intensified when Wayne discovers that Napier is responsible for the murder of Bruce's parents so long ago. 

At the Bicentennial Celebration, Joker taunts Batman, until Vale and Knox find that Joker is unleashing his Smylex poison gas and plans to kill everyone.  Batman sweeps in and is brought down by The Joker, who thinks he's killed his hated rival...and managed to capture the luscious Miss Vale to boot.  It's up to Gotham Cathedral for one last final confrontation between these two foes.

In the end, Batman is triumphant, and gives Gotham a gift should they need his help again: the Bat-Signal.

Batman has so much going for it, that with the passage of almost 30 (!) years, we forget just how good it is.   At the top of the list are the performances.

Keaton had a great deal to prove.  As stated, he was known primarily for comedy, so his casting was controversial to say the least.  However, Keaton did a fantastic job as both Bruce Wayne and Batman.  One of his best scenes was when he goes to Vale to admit his secret identity.  Keaton brings a mixture of lightness and hesitancy with some seriousness, bridging some if not humor at least levity from the somewhat oppressive nature of the Batman world.

His Batman is perfectly serious without being overwhelmingly dour.  His Bruce Wayne has a slight awkwardness that makes it plausible to imagine people haven't put two-and-two together.

Batman, however, has a total ace up its sleeve: Jack Nicholson as The Joker.  It is hard for Millennials and many people to imagine anyone other than Heath Ledger as the Clown Prince of Crime, but for most GenXers, it's Nicholson who defined this brilliantly bonkers master-criminal.  Nicholson makes the Joker into a believable character, one who is dangerous but also outlandish, in keeping with how the character was before he became, in my view, too psychotic and murderous. 

Nicholson reminds me of how another serious and brilliant actor (Gene Hackman) made his own comic book villain (Lex Luthor) into someone who was both humorous and dangerous.  Their enormous talent has something to do with it.  Nicholson, not to get sidetracked, latches on to the unhinged danger of Joker while bringing his demonic humor to life.

I think that this is because Burton made this version of Gotham City into one that works within its world.  It is outlandish but it works within the generally fantasy world of Batman.  In other words, the world of Batman appears real but not too real where we cannot note the comic book trappings.  It is oppressive without being depressing and devoid of any sense of hope.  There wasn't much humor if any really (though a few bits were allowed, such as Batman's complaint after rescuing Vale that despite her claim, "You weigh more than 108"), but it wasn't overly dark and gloomy.

As a side note, at first I thought the 'death by beauty products' was silly, but having re-seen Batman, it does keep to how demented and outrageous the Joker was.

I can't fault Basinger for being a bit of a damsel-in-distress, and she was at times a bit blank.  Still, she did a respectable job.  Won't go after Wuhl either, but part of me thinks he could have been dropped and let Vale take a more commanding role.

Now, while many Batman fans objected to having Napier be the Wayne's killers, I don't think it's a dealbreaker.  I'd rather object to the sometimes silly moments (such as how dumb/egocentric Joker must be to believe Vale would so quickly find him desirable).  That bit would bother me only in that it is hard to believe a.) Wayne would not realize Jack was his parent's killer when first seeing him, and b.) no one in Gotham would know the Wayne Family tragedy.

Part of me also thinks Batman expect you to know a lot of the mythos already (the opening is a nod to Batman's origin story, so whether they were teasing us or not we cannot say).

Still, so much of the film works that what flaws it has pretty much can be ignored or forgiven.  Throw in Danny Elfman's iconic Batman theme and you have one of the best comic book-based films around.

Great performances, a plausible world, and Elfman's score combine to make Batman a standard to judge other comic book adaptations.  Dark without being overwhelming gloomy, Batman revived the comic book genre...a genre where we'd see the Batman franchise itself fall and rise.

That, however, is in the future. 


Next Batman Film: Batman Returns

Friday, October 21, 2016

Batman (1966): A Review

BATMAN (1966)

Batman has come a long way in these 75+ years.  Millennials know him as this dark, tormented figure, a man in eternal angst over his life and the misery of his Gotham City.  Gotham, the Batman prequel television series, expands on that dire world where the future Dark Knight will emerge.

It might therefore come as a genuine shock to remember that there was a time when Batman was anything but dark and gloomy.  In fact, Batman was the height of camp humor, a merry figure who was very tongue-in-cheek, whose villains were outlandish and unapologetically so.  The Batman television show ran for a mere three seasons, but during that time we had the first full-length Batman film.  Batman was very much in keeping with the pop/camp nature of the television series, a chance for the guest villains to have a major union of lunacy and humor that winks at the audience.

Something Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, or even David Mazouz's Bruce Wayne would not be aware of.

Four villains from the Rogue's Row of Gotham's master criminals have joined forced: The Joker (Cesar Romero), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), the Riddler (Frank Gorshin), and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether).  Working together as "United Underworld", their goal is, to quote Riddler, "first Gotham City, and then THE WORLD!"  To do this, they have to get rid of the Dynamic Duo: Batman and Robin.

The Caped Crusaders' alter egos, millionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne (Adam West) and his youthful ward Dick Grayson (Burt Ward) are at first unaware of this nefarious plot, but soon things come together.  It comes from the first step on the United Underworld's master plan: the abduction of Commodore Schmidlapp (Reginald Denny, in his final role) to use his newest invention, a Dehydrating Machine, which they will use for their own nefarious purposes.

Those involve kidnapping the members of the United World's Security Council, and they will also use it against Batman to try and kill him.  As can be expected, things don't go the super-criminals way, especially when they attempt to use the luscious Soviet journalist Miss Kitka to seduce Bruce Wayne as part of a plot to lure the Caped Crusader to rescue the millionaire philanthropist.

Well, after a battle the villains are captured, and a delicate operation takes place to attempt and restore the UW's members to their state.  The end results weren't exactly what everyone had in mind, but no matter...the Dynamic Duo sneaks off, ready for more adventures.

If anything, Batman is fully aware of its own lunacy and makes no apologies for it.  Right from the get-go Batman is going to be exactly like the television show: bonkers, self-aware, and tongue firmly in cheek as it spoofs itself.

We see this straight from the beginning, when Batman & Robin go in the Bat-copter to attempt to rescue the Commodore's ship.  To descend down to the ship, the ladder reads "Bat Ladder", then when an obviously fake shark starts pulling on Batman's leg, he calls to get the get Bat-Repellant, easily grouped by various aquatic animals.

One boggles at the idea that Batman and Robin prepare for any eventuality, no matter how random or insane, yet this is the world of Batman, gleefully silly and not afraid to embrace it.  Throughout the film, everyone camps it up, hams it up, and since everyone is in on the joke, no one has any cause to be offended or to take any of this seriously.

In many ways, Batman is a bit like an extended episode, but unlike the series, it has a few things that television would not let it get away it.  As the plot begins to unravel, Riddler yells at Catwoman, "Shut up, you feline floozy!", as harsh a comment as any I've heard from anyone from the television show. The flirtation between Bruce Wayne and Miss Kitka (as obvious a name on something that transcends self-awareness) is surprisingly daring and risqué.  Their efforts at détente would probably not go over well with television censors, with her invitation to come up to her penthouse for a little climax.

Of course, the fact that she offers to slip into something more comfortable while he finishes his cocoa shows just how overtly silly everything in Batman is (as if passing the Benedict Arnold Monument in Gotham Central Park wasn't a big-enough clue that here, everyone isn't just IN on the joke, they ARE the joke).

Speaking of jokes, Lorenzo Semple's screenplay manages to keep a pretty solid balance between our four supervillains, though I'd argue that if I had to choose, I'd say Meredith's Penguin was the ringleader.  If push came to shove I would say that Gorshin is the best version of the Riddler ever brought to screen (sorry, Carrey and Cory Michael Smith).  Each of our villains knew their characters, and if you've seen the show, they are pretty much the same.

We even got a bit of heart from Penguin, who tells his henchmen to be careful as they pour the sands of other henchmen as part of their bat-crazy scheme to take down the Caped Crusader.  "Be careful," we quacks.  "Every one of them has a mother".

The only new cast-member is Meriwether as Catwoman, and she does a wonderful job balancing the alluring Miss Kitka and the villainous Catwoman.  Let's face it: the term 'villains' doesn't quite fit our quartet of crooks, but they did a great job.

Same goes for West and Ward.  It's just a terrible disservice to West to have been typecast for doing a great job as the campy, way-out Caped Crusader.  Same goes for Ward's turn as the 'voice of the youth' (his line of saying "One thing I don't dig", lends things a delightfully retro fun).

Yes, one can argue about the logic of even something as overtly silly as Batman (the perpetually befuddled Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara reaching correct conclusions by the rather elaborate leaps of logic is a bit hard to swallow), but again, since we all had a good time with this, we need not worry about such matters.

One real highlight was the opening, where Nelson Riddle's jazz score balanced the various themes for our villains with a really jaunty and even thrilling musical sequence. 

Ultimately, Batman succeeds because it knows what it is and doesn't pretend to be anything else.  Everyone is having a lark sending up the excessive seriousness of it all, and while it will take perhaps a generation or two to make the Dark Knight less morose, maybe in the future people can take a page from Batman and lighten things up just a touch.


Next Batman Film: Batman (1989)

How Times Have Changed...

Monday, October 17, 2016

Hell or High Water: A Review


Hell or High Water brings to mind many other films, particularly No Country For Old Men.  It covers similar territory both geographically (both take place in West Texas) and themes (older law enforcement officer tracks down criminals).  Unlike No Country For Old Men, I actually liked Hell or High Water.  Sometimes things go a little awry, but on the whole the film works both as commentary on the financial woes of average people and a character study on its subjects.

Toby Howard (Chris Pine) is facing tough times on his West Texas ranch.  His recent divorce and the cost of caring for his recently-deceased mother has left him pretty much in debt, so much so that the Texas Midlands Bank may take it.  His brother, ex-con Tanner (Ben Foster) has come to help Toby, but that help involves robbing said bank with small denominations, stealing just enough to literally pay the bank with their own money in order to keep the ranch.  While Toby is a reluctant participant in this endeavor, he does go along with it, seeing it as the only way to raise the funds quickly.  He needs to hold onto the ranch so as to keep the oil rights to the Texas Tea that has recently been discovered there, which will help Toby's estranged sons gain a fortune. Tanner, for his part, just loves robbing banks, and is clearly in his element.

Into this mix comes Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), for whom this string of robberies will be his last case before finally retiring.  He's not looking forward to retiring, seeing it as almost a death sentence.  His half-Indian, half-Mexican partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) tolerates Hamilton's faux-bigotry, knowing that it is more irascibility and displeasure at leaving the Rangers than any real animosity that drives Hamilton's rather brusque manner and questionable comments.

Hamilton is a shrewd customer, aware of how his robbers think, and sees a pattern: small-town Texas Midland Banks and even gauges a motive (the correct one).  Putting his hunch on the line, he stakes out one of the few TMB that hasn't been hit, convinced his thieves will strike it next.

Unbeknown to the Rangers, the brothers have headed up to an Oklahoma casino for the dual purpose of laundering the stolen money and gain more through the gambling.  Toby is still a man wrestling with his conscience, but Tanner has little if any to worry himself over, down to having no problem having sex with the casino hotel's desk clerk while Toby is in the very next bed.

Back to Texas for one more hit, which will allow them to get enough money to pay the bank.  The brothers hit another TMB, though not the one Hamilton and Parker were at.  Hamilton was proven correct in his theory, just not in the location.  As they race towards the other town, the Howard Brothers come across a crowded bank...and some armed civilians.

This IS Texas, after all.

Tanner kills the guard and a patron, but as they escape they find themselves being chased by other townsfolk in their pickups, armed with their own guns.  Tanner pulls out an automatic weapon to chase them away, and the brothers split up, though Toby is wounded in the chaos (both physically and emotionally).  Tanner leads everyone away from Toby, and up in the mountains Tanner manages to shoot Alberto in the head from a far-off distance.  Marcus, both enraged and extremely upset at the death of his friend, decides to take matters into his own hands.  With the help of a local who knows the area, they go behind where Tanner has them at bay and, despite his age and shock, kills Tanner.

Toby manages to escape, head back to the casino, and manages to get the final amount, much to the bank's irritation. 

Some time later, Hamilton has retired, and despite what the Rangers investigated he is convinced Toby was in on it.  Toby and Marcus have a face-off when Marcus goes to Toby's ranch and puts out his theory.  Toby will neither confirm nor deny the charge, but there's nothing Marcus can do.  Ultimately, while the oil well's money goes to the sons (with the same bank as trustee), Marcus suggests that they might meet again, to settle unfinished business.

Perhaps at this juncture I should point out that I am from West Texas (El Paso to be precise).  As such, I know a bit of the people in Hell or High Water, what kind of people they are, and I can vouch for the general accuracy of how the people in this region were portrayed.  They were loyal, hard-working, and not ashamed or embarrassed to pack heat publicly.

As a side note, there have been people who, thanks to Open-Carry, walk around with guns, and I think even a rifle, inside the library.  So long as they keep them in their holster there is nothing that can be said, and while I personally am not a fan of open-carry (though I'm amenable on concealed), I can say that the final confrontation between the Howard Brothers and the bank customers is surprisingly plausible.

Again and again I come back to No Country For Old Men in that both films have the same setting and some of the same plot points (the old lawman pursuing the criminals).  There are major differences though, for example the old lawman in No Country For Old Men, as far as I remember, wasn't facing retirement, nor was the lawman in Hell or High Water as shocked by the crimes being committed as in No Country For Old Men

Director David Mackenzie and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan put in nods to the reason for the brothers' action whenever we see a driving montage.  The highways and byways of West Texas are littered with billboards offering loans and assistance for foreclosures, the literal signs of desperation in this area devastated by predatory lending and financial woes.

Sometimes these not-so-subtle acknowledgements of the financial crisis were a bit much, as if they were going slightly overboard with them, and the score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis was a bit overt in the mood it was attempting to set (putting in appropriately sad and somber music at the beginning to tell us the 'tragic' nature of Hell or High Water). 

Those about are the only real criticisms I have against Hell or High Water, since just about everything about it was top-notch.  This has to be one of Chris Pine's best performances, showing the actor within the Captain Kirk and intense blue eyes he's better-known for.  I liked how Pine used his body to convey Toby's discomfort and unease with himself and his actions, that halting manner of a generally good, quiet man who goes to extreme methods to 'do right' for his children.  His scene with the waitress whom he gives a generous tip with his ill-gotten gains (and who has no desire to return the tip as she herself faces tough times and is sympathetic to the brother's actions, though it is until later she learns what they did) is a beautiful one.  Pine expresses his hesitancy with her, the genuine kindness of Toby, almost the shyness he has.  It is a beautiful performance.

It's also a perfect counterbalance to Foster's wild Tanner, the id to Toby's ego.  Foster has always been an incredible talent who has never had the real breakout/breakthrough his talents merited.  He had a disastrous turn in X-Men: The Last Stand as Angel, and while he gave great performances in Ain't Them Bodies Saints (where he played against type as a gentle man) and as Stanley Kowalski in the National Theater production of A Streetcar Named Desire, Foster has not had that big role, that one performance that made everyone look.  Hell or High Water has to be that breakout, because he dominates the screen every time he's there.  Sometimes just his voice does so, as when he disparages Mr. Pip in one of the film's rare moments of humor (another scene where Hamilton and Parker deal with a cantankerous waitress while waiting for the brothers is another). 

To me, it would be a downright scandal if Ben Foster does not get a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Hell or High Water.  This type of role, that of the slightly unhinged man, isn't new territory for Foster.  It is, however, his best work so far in a career that should be moving forward.

As for Bridges, part of lack of enthusiasm for him comes from the fact that he seems to be doing a repeat of what we've seen in his recent films like Crazy Heart, True Grit, and Heaven help us, R.I.P.D. and Seventh Son.  Granted, his slightly bitter yet mournful Texas Ranger is his best performance in a while, and he does have great moments as he contemplates the criminals and his own impending end (particularly when he sets out to avenge his friend and take Tanner down), but Bridges has done this type of role before.

That isn't strictly a criticism of Bridges or his performance in Hell or High Water, just an acknowledgment that this isn't new territory for him.

Hell or High Water is simply an excellent film, one of the best of the year.  It is a bright light among the wreckage that 2016 has been.  A somber tale of despair in a remote part of the world, with fantastic performances by Chris Pine and Ben Foster, along with one of Jeff Bridges' best work in a while, Hell or High Water is an elegant elegy of two different men, united by blood and need.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Gotham: Burn the Witch Review


Confound this awful election where we have to pick two lousy candidates.  Thanks to the first Presidential debate between Deplorable Donald and Corrupt Hillary, a good chunk of Burn the Witch, the second episode of Gotham, was lost.  What we did get was a good episode that like most of them, threw a lot at us and is starting the ball rolling.  How well it will pick up things (or in the case of Jada Pinkett Smith, drop them) remains to be seen.

Bounty hunter James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is looking for renegade/crazed criminal Fish Mooney (JPS), who in turn is looking for her mad scientist creator, Dr. Hugo Strange (B.D. Wong).  In order to get him, she has to first find him, and there's someone who can help her out: her old friend, Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue).  Bullock, who may be shady but is still an honest cop, won't help her willingly.  In order to help him out, she has to use her powers: touching someone makes them susceptible to her will.

With that, Bullock easily falls prey and leads her to the secret mansion where Strange is holed up.  Bullock, however, is no fool, and he 'drops' his badge in front of his car, a way of letting both Gordon and Captain Barnes (Michael Chiklis) know he's in danger.  Gordon convinces Barnes to take him and some men to the mansion, where they face a hostage crisis.

Complicating matters is Oswald Cobblepot, better known as The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor).  He's still enraged that Mooney is alive and is in full kill mode.  He starts haranguing local officials to take care of the 'monsters' that have escaped from Arkham Asylum, but he has one particular monster in mind.  Learning of the siege at the hideout, Penguin and his henchman Butch (Drew Powell) lead a mob determined to storm the compound and drag her out.  Barnes now faces both a hostage crisis and a potential riot simultaneously.

Gordon sneaks into the compound to rescue Harvey, but Mooney has her own low-rent X-Men to get him.  However, she is alarmed by the mob outside, and cuts a deal with Gordon: he'll let her take Strange with her and escape the way he came in in exchange for Harvey.  With that, she spirits the terrified mad scientist out for her to both cure her and create an army of mutants.  Somehow in all the chaos, Penguin is held as a hero.

In other Gotham news, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) has finally been introduced to the mysterious organization behind various machinations.  Let's call them...The Court of Owls (though that is not the name given).  A deal is struck: in exchange for dropping the investigation of both his parents' murder and Indian Hill, the "Court" will leave Bruce and his associates unharmed.  This crushes Bruce, but it was the best he could do to keep Alfred (Sean Pertwee) safe.  Whether Wayne's doppelganger, who just showed up at Wayne Manor, is likewise held to safety remains to be seen.

As an apparent result of one of Mooney's henchmen's activities, the once-child Ivy Pepper has emerged as an older figure (Maggie Geha).  She has little idea of where she's at, but is appalled and angered at how the man who rescued her is tossing dying plants.

Gordon and his reluctant partner-in-crime solving, Valerie Vale (Jamie Chung) share a moment of passion, which is unfortunate since Dr. Leslie "Lee" Thompkins (Morena Baccarin) has returned to Gotham.

As I said, it's a bit difficult to give an accurate review to Burn the Witch since we lost some important parts of the episode, particularly the end.  However, what was seen showed that it was a good, solid episode lifted by some extremely good performances.

Of particular note is Mazouz, who is doing double duty as Bruce Wayne and his mysterious doppelganger.  As Wayne, Mazouz is growing more commanding in his presence, a far cry from the haunted and terrified boy from the Pilot.  He has grown more assured, this Bruce, and Mazouz's performance makes that idea that he will grow into The Dark Knight more believable.

Another strong performance was that of Erin Richards as the totally bonkers Barbara Kean.  Though she had just one scene it was still quite memorable, making her gleefully evil insanity a more dangerous edge.  I do wonder if her Babs is slipping into Harley Quinn-style cuckoo, but give Richards credit.  Where once she was the most reviled of characters, Bonkers Babs as I call her has now turned into a fan-favorite due to her mix of crazy and evil (and crazy evil).

Logue continues to bring the mix of sarcasm and honesty as Bullock, and seeing RLT go all pitchfork-and-brimstone raged fighter is a treat. 

I will criticize the somewhat low-rent Mooney Gang (their version of Quicksilver was not a good actor), and it remains to be seen whether Geha as the new, more sensual future Poison Ivy will be able to bring anything to the storyline.

(As a side note, I did not see her kill her benefactor, nor the literal burning of those Penguin's mob killed.  I'm not sure I would have approved, given how critical I've been about the sometimes shockingly graphic violence on Gotham.  I also question Penguin letting Fish live after some flattery, but there it is).

As for JPS, well, her Fish Mooney still divides the fanbase.  I'm neither a Moonie or a Fish-Hater.  I think that's because I always felt Fish was always a bit camp, always a bit broad, and Smith plays it as such.  So far reintroducing her hasn't harmed the show and it's being kept at a minimum, so I have little if anything to complain in that department.

Still, as things are developing on Gotham, on the whole Burn the Witch seems to be holding up a strong Season Three. 


Next Episode: Look Into My Eyes

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Casual Vacancy: A Review


President Hillary Clinton referred to her opponent's base as "a basket of deplorables".  This seems an apt a description of all the characters in J.K. Rowling's first 'adult' novel, The Casual Vacancy.  Everyone in the book was so horrid that I could never care what happened to any of them.  Now we have a television miniseries adaptation of The Casual Vacancy.  This is a rare moment when I did read the book before seeing the series, so now I have a chance to see what they changed and/or kept.

I can understand what J.K. Rowling was going for with The Casual Vacancy.  After spending years as the Grand Wizardess of the Harry Potter Universe, she wanted to emerge as "a serious author" (even though the latter Harry Potter books were very serious, downright dark I'd say).  As such, what more tempting story than something equally sprawling and epic: a major war between fellow citizens in a quaint little town that encompasses all of the current U.K. in a grand allegory.

I pretty much detested The Casual Vacancy, finding it so awful that I'm sure most publishers would not have accepted it save for the fact that with Sprawling Rowling's name attached to it, the book was a guaranteed best seller.  Would the adaptation of The Casual Vacancy do things better?

No.  There is only so much that can be done to make a pretty lousy book into even a so-so miniseries.  You can work only with what you have, and The Casual Vacancy has so many awful defects that even in the truncated version adapted for television there could be only so much that could be done.  This adaptation of The Casual Vacancy is like the book in one way: they are both bad despite the creative mind's best efforts (or perhaps because of them).

Sleepy little Pagford is facing a great crisis.  The EVIL people want Sweethouse Manor, a community center/methadone clinic, shut down stat.  They find all the junkies and losers from The Fields (what we in the U.S. would call "the projects") are spoiling their wonderful little town.  Instead, the EVIL people, headed up by fat businessman Howard Mollison (Michael Gambon) and his bitch of a wife Shirley (Julia McKenzie) want, with Lord & Lady Sweetlove's secret consent, to turn Sweethouse Manor into a spa (Lord & Lady Sweetlove's ancestor having bequeathed it to Pagford for the betterment of the community but the descendants eager to get out of the benefactor business).

This move enrages the GOOD people: Barry Fairbrother (Rory Kinnear), Sikh doctor Parminder Jawanda (Lolita Chakrabarti) and school counselor Tess Wall (Monica Dolan).  They know that Sweethouse Manor serves a greater purpose, and that if closed, it will force those in The Fields to travel for an hour, on an unreliable bus, to another city, Yarvil, which would be devastating to the community.

Fairbrother is the only thing standing in the way of the EVIL Mollisons and their EVIL cohorts from getting their way.  His vote on the parish council stops their plans.

Pity that Barry Fairbrother dropped dead of an aneurysm.

With his seat vacant, the council is short of the quorum.  The EVIL Mollisons now see a chance to break the deadlock and get their way thanks to this 'casual vacancy'.  With that in mind, the EVIL Mollisons push their weak-willed son Miles (Rufus Jones) to run for Barry's vacant seat.   This is done over the loud objections of Miles' wife, Samantha (Keely Hawes).  Jawanda and Wall, horrified at the prospect of a third Mollison on the parish council (especially the weak-as-water Miles, who would rubberstamp everything Momsy and Daddums say) decide something must be done.  Jawanda recruits Tess' husband, Colin Wall (Simon McBurney) over Tess' objections.

Both wives see their husbands as being temperamentally unfit for any elected position, but their objections are ignored: Miles' spinelessness and Colin's need to 'carry on as Barry would' being the motives for them.

Also briefly in the race is Barry's half-brother, Simon Price (Richard Glover), one of the repulsive creatures ever created in all literature.  A foreman at a warehouse, Simon abuses his wife Ruth (Marie Critchley) and his sons Andrew (John Hurst), better known as 'Arf', and Paul (Sonny Ashbourne Serkis) in ways that would shock Nero (short of sexual).  We first see him deliberately smashing the front tire of Andrew's bike and then reprimanding him for having a smashed front tire.  In same scene, Simon mocks Paul using a girl's bike despite Simon's refusal to give him anything else.

And those acts are some of the more pleasant ones Simon commits against his family.

Simon is convinced that as a new parish councilor, his already dirty palms will get more grease, and he doesn't shrink from forcing his family to place Simon Price for Parish Council flyers in Barry's funeral program.  Neither does he shrink from getting stolen goods (such as a large-screen television that he sees in Barry's house, figuring it's his due for being Simon Price).  That TV will play a large part in the future.

Soon all the sleaze of Pagford starts streaming out in full force.  The Wall's son, Stuart (Brian Vernel), better known as 'Fats' (despite being thin), has nothing but contempt for his bourgeois parents and wants nothing out of life other than some good weed and lots of sex.  The object of his desire is Krystal Weedon (Abigail Lawrie), the girl from The Fields who dresses like a slut and has the mouth of a she's obviously a good person.  She has her qualities: caring for her infant brother Robbie and at times for her heroin-hooked hooker Terri (Keely Forsyth), but she is also a right vulgar tart who gives Fats a handjob at the library, though her motives for this are a bit fuzzy.

About the only good person is Kaye Bowden (Michelle Austin), the Weedon's newest case manager who plays no part in any of the wild goings-on around her, and whose daughter Gaia (Simona Brown) has caught Arf's eye.

The election rolls along, but there's a twist in the tale: The Ghost of Barry Fairbrother.  Online on the parish website, The Ghost starts revealing very private and secret information on all the candidates.  Simon's pilfering is exposed, sending him into both a panic and fury, down to dumping the television into the river (and nearly throwing Andrew off the same bridge when he accuses his son of being "The Ghost").

He's accidentally right: Andrew hacked into the website and revealed the truth about his father, but didn't actually provide any evidence if memory serves correct.  Miles is held up for ridicule, down to having his man-boobs and weak-willed nature put out there (though this appears to be an open secret).  Colin gets humiliated as well, but still he and Miles gamely go on with the campaign (Simon pulls out).

The EVIL Mollisons grotesqueness continues unabated: Shirley constantly puts down Samantha at every turn, but doing it in a faux-dear Grannie style that is so obvious it is sickening.  At last, the election, one where Barry's widow writes "You're both WANKERS" on her ballot, Colin votes against himself, and Miles wins by one vote.

With the election concluded, the EVIL Mollisons hurriedly call a meeting and vote on Sweethouse Manor, and the vote to close it down to remake it into a spa passes with an almost disinterested Miles voting the family way.  A combination victory party/Howard's 70th Birthday Party is given, but despite their best efforts Lord & Lady Sweetlove snub the upstart EVIL Tory Mollisons by not going to the party (even though they knew they were the 'guests of honor').  Samantha stands up to her bitch of a mother-in-law after having first left Miles, and for once, Miles defies his mother and sides with his wife.

However, the election is still not the end of it.  Arf and Fats have a break when Fats tries to get at Gaia with a little help from marijuana (which Gaia finds physically revolting), and Arf has one more trick as the Ghost of Barry Fairbrother.  He puts online a short video of a randy Howard having anal sex with his shopgirl, and a humorously enraged Shirley plays it for him as he has a heart attack. 

Sweethouse Manor closes immediately after the vote, which causes devastation for the community, particularly in The Fields.  Terri, who had been making positive steps in her recovery, now has to take an hour-long trip to get treatment, but who should be waiting for her but her on-off boyfriend and his group of junkies.  Krystal comes to her house to find them overrunning the place, and this fills her with terror.  In desperation she takes Robbie and flees to the secret trysting place for her and Fats, telling him she's pregnant (the truth of it is disputable).  In their argument, Robbie wanders off, close to the river.  Krystal, terrified Robbie has drowned, dives into the river.

Fortunately for Robbie, he was picked up by Vikram Jawanda (Silas Carson), Parminder's husband who jogs daily.  Unfortunately for Krystal, she drowns near the Sweethouse's estate when she gets caught in the wires of a television set mysteriously floating by.  Andrew and Simon see Krystal's body and they know the truth, and this is the final break Andrew has with his insanely abusive father.  Simon, in turn, finds that rather than be fired, he got promoted to manager, and now there's a change in him too.

The communities of Pagford and The Fields tries to move on, as gamely as they can.

You really can't fix something that is almost beyond repair, something that The Casual Vacancy book was before it even was picked up as a miniseries. Screenwriter Sarah Phelps had an extremely difficult task on her hands: to make something as unorganized and downright awful as The Casual Vacancy into something more streamlined and functional.  She managed to bring some cohesion to Sprawling Rowling's tome, which took a lot of doing.

Phelps managed this by cutting out so much from the novel.  Of particular note was the whole subplot of the Jawandas and Kaye Bowden.  In the original novel, Parminder was hardly a good person: she belittled her daughter Sukhvinder (Ria Choony) for not being as pretty as her sisters.  Kaye Bowden, for her part, came to Pagford to follow a man, much to the irritation of her daughter Gaia.  Phelps wisely cut the entire Bowden story altogether: here, she is at Pagford due to her job and her job alone.  Phelps also made Bowden a more sympathetic character than Rowling did, a woman who genuinely cares about the Weedons and Gaia and not forever besotted by a man who sleeps with her but who doesn't respect her.

With regards to the Jawandas, Phelps' adaptation was give and take.  Gone were the sisters or Sukhvinder's cutting due to her small amount of facial hair which she cannot remove due to her Sikh faith, and added were whole scenes with Vikram.  In the novel, he was hardly present, a mere shadow that the sexually frustrated women of Pagford thrust their sexual desires on (sex on legs, I think he was described)...all except Samantha, who had a fixation on a member of a boy band one of her daughters was a fan of.  Truth be told, The Casual Vacancy gave the character of Vikram more to do in the miniseries than in the whole of the book.

The biggest change between book and screen regards the fate of the Weedon children.  In the original novel, Jo gleefully drowns little Robbie (where Sukhvinder attempted to resuscitate him), and Robbie's death so horrified Krystal that she rushed home to commit suicide by deliberately overdosing on her mother's smack.  I guess the BBC simply did not have the courage to show a dead baby floating in a river and opted to make this change.  In a certain way it works (apart from sparing the viewer the obvious horror of seeing a dead baby on television).

It ties the Price and Weedon stories together, even if it is in a ghoulish fashion.  It also cleans up a messy part of The Casual Vacancy: cutting out so much and making so many astonishing coincidences.

Phelps cut so many subplots, even whole characters, but also added a few more wrinkles, the most glaring was making Simon the half-brother of Barry.  This really doesn't add much to the story to where we ask what it was doing there.

If you look at the performances, it is the younger set who came out of it much better than the adults.  Gambon and McKenzie had some good moments (such as when they were elegantly escorted out of Lord & Lady Sweetlove's mansion, a nice bit of comedy).  However, when Shirley discovers her husband's debauched infidelity with his shopgirl (who looks like she's in her 60s while he screams such silly lines as "I love your peachy ass"), her looks is one that had me laughing out loud.

Here is this awful, awful woman getting a bit of comeuppance and she should be devastated by the public exposure of her EVIL husband's ass-screwing, and the look she has is indescribably hilarious.  Gambon doesn't do himself any favors when he is starting his heart attack, clutching his chest and making faces to out-do McKenzie's comical grimacing. 

It really is not the actors' fault exactly.  Despite Phelps' best efforts, the script could do only so much to shape Rowling's anti-Tory manuscript, with thin caricatures and one-note characters.  Just like in the book, the GOOD people were always noble (despite being in their own way simply horrible people), while the EVIL people were ALWAYS EVIL, Rowling and Phelps never giving any of the Mollisons any degree of humanity.

Then again, I don't think they were supposed to have any.  We're just supposed to be so revolted by them we would side with Fairbrother/Jawanda/Wall, and the adaptation does make them slightly better people than in the book, where they were awful in their own way.

Yet I digress.  The younger set, as I said, gave better performances, primarily I think because they worked to play people other people could if not relate at least understand, maybe even sympathize, rather than caricatures that Rowling created.  Of particular note is Lawrie as Krystal, who with her eyes and face expressed the deep fears and hurt underneath her tartish behavior and mouth. Hurst too made Andrew extremely sympathetic both in the horrible abuse he suffers and in his hidden desire for Gaia (which in the novel is chock-full of auto-erotic exercises while in the book it's more merely unrequited and thus, cleaner).

Still, The Casual Vacancy adaptation has some of the same problems the book has.  It's so heavy-handed that it sometimes plays like parody.  The names Fairbrother and Sweetloves are a bit too on-the-nose either sincerely or ironically.  The weird appearances of "Death" gives it a slightly Deathly Hallows feel and is almost out-of-place in what is supposed to be serious straightforward 'drama'.  Sometimes director Jonny Campbell couldn't resist going all-out on being anti-subtle (playing The Pet Shop Boys' It's A Sin when Simon is desperate to return the stolen television is a bit much). Sometimes the script contradicts itself: in one scene, Shirley says she knows nothing of tablets, but in another she searches Samantha's online history with the greatest of ease.

Ultimately, if it weren't for the younger actors, The Casual Vacancy would be simply unbearable.  As it stands, it's as good an adaptation of a lousy book written by a famous authoress which would probably not have been given the time of day if not for her name attached to it.  A forgettable series based on a forgettable book with only the younger actors finding any use for it as a calling card, The Casual Vacancy need not be filled.    



Thursday, October 13, 2016

Star Trek Beyond: A Review


Can something exceed expectations and still be mediocre? Star Trek Beyond manages some positives.  It's better than Star Trek Into Darkness.  Apart from that, there's nothing awful about Star Trek Beyond but nothing spectacular, nothing that makes one want to keep following more adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

It's been three years into the Enterprise's five-year mission, and Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is finding all this travelling empty and meaningless.  The thirty-five year old captain is having a midlife crisis, so much so that after a bizarrely bungled peace mission, Kirk thinks of moving on.  Also facing personal issues is Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto), who has learned of the death of Ambassador Spock.  This makes him wonder whether he too, should move on from Starfleet Command and go to his Vulcans on their new home.  This internal crisis causes a breakup between Spock and Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

Arriving on the massive space station Yorktown, the various Enterprise crew appear to be drifting a bit.  Fortunately for them, a distress call from within an unexplored nebula brings the Enterprise out from Yorktown station in a rescue attempt.  Kalara (Lydia Wilson) begs help for her crew deep inside the unexplored nebula, stranded on the planet Altamid.  As can be expected, the distress call is really a trap (where is Admiral Ackbar when you need him!) and the Enterprise is mercilessly attacked.  These bee-like destructive metal creatures tear at the ship, until after a long and brutal effort, Kirk orders the crew to abandon ship.  A strange creature searches the Enterprise for the peace offering we saw earlier, but finds it is incomplete.

The various Enterprise crew are now forced to separate in space, essentially tag-teaming on Altamid.  Uhura is with the newly-token-gay character Mr. Sulu (John Cho), who are captured by our villain, Krall (Idris Elba).  The cantankerous Enterprise doctor, Dr. "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban), has taken flight with the ever-cerebral Mr. Spock (where the good doctor's medical training helps save a badly injured Vulcan).  Captain Kirk finds himself with navigator Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin), as well as Kalara.  Engineer Montgomery "Scottie" Scott (Simon Pegg) doesn't get any Enterprise crew with him.  Instead, he finds Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), an earlier crash victim who offers to help him if he helps her. 

Did I mention Simon Pegg co-wrote the script?

It turns out she has been holed up in the U.S.S. Franklin, an earlier Starfleet ship on Altamid, and the engineer is able to help her get her camouflage in more functioning order.  Soon Kirk and Chekov stumble upon the Franklin (after having disposed of the traitorous Kalada), and together they manage to get Spock and McCoy aboard with the ship's rudimentary transport system.

Now all they have to do is rescue Uhura and the now-token-gay Sulu and go back.  There's a slight hitch in those plans, however: the 'evil' Krall has coerced one of the Enterprise crewmembers to give him the missing peace of the Maguffin and with it, he will have his Doomsday Device.  His first order of business? To get out of Altamid and attack the Yorktown, and from there, the whole of the Federation.

If nothing else, Star Trek villains tend to think big.

With his crew now regrouped after a daring rescue, Kirk & Company must use the antiquated Franklin to go after Krall, whose secret history with the Federation is revealed.  It's a Fast and Furious race to get to Krall, who sends his robotic bees to tear at the Franklin the same way they tore into the Enterprise.  However, at last they have a strategy for this: what McCoy calls "classical music".

The Franklin has a curiosity: rap music, and the bees are destroyed by playing The Beastie Boys' Sabotage.  The mind boggles if the Franklin had carried into space, say instead of Public Enemy's Fight the Power, Loreena McKennitt's The Mystic's Dream

It's now a full-on attack on the Yorktown, and it is a fierce battle between Krall and Kirk that leads to the saving of the Yorktown and the end to the much-tormented Krall.  With this newest victory under his belt, Kirk rethinks his decision to be an Admiral, and Spock rethinks his decision to leave the Enterprise as well.

We see the crew of the Enterprise looking up, awaiting their newest adventure.

As I said, there is nothing really terrible about Beyond, but there isn't anything special about Beyond either.  It all seems rather perfunctory, as if people in front and behind the camera are all fulfilling contracts and going through the motions.

This is the first NuTrek film where I felt the cast was essentially doing parodies of the original Star Trek characters.  I was irritated at McCoy's perpetual irascibility in particular, as if what was actually interesting the first, even second-time round was now just so much 'well, most people think DeForest Kelley played it like this, so I've got to do it exactly like he was supposed to do it, right down to the 'Damn it, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a...' bit that is part of any good (or bad) Dr. McCoy parody performance".  Beyond looked as if the mere fact that it was Star Trek was supposed to make everything exciting, but it constantly fell flat.

I put a great deal of the blame on Pegg and his co-writer, Doug Jung.  I understand Pegg is a super-fan and an all-around 'expert' on all things Star Trek, which leads me to think that Beyond is bad fanfic greenlit. There was no set-up for the Enterprise's mission, no real build-up to just about anything in Beyond.  Karala's betrayal?  Not only were we expecting this 'twist', we were wondering how they would suggest it.  They suggested it by putting it in by throwing it in when the story needed it to be in.  Since we didn't get to know Karala, why should her 'betrayal' be shocking?

Again and again, what should be exciting, what should be moving, what should be interesting, fails and fails again.  Pegg and Jung were interested in just moving things from one point to the next, with little to no interest in building up anything (tension, suspense, comedy, what have you).

Perhaps the worst part of this 'we should care but don't' comes through the newly-revealed idea that Mr. Sulu is gay.  For all the hue-and-cry about this hereto unknown aspect of Sulu's identity, the entire situation is played in such a shockingly nuanced manner that it is astonishing that Pegg congratulated himself on his 'progressivism'.  The first hint that Sulu is gay is the fact that he has a picture of a little Asian girl. 

The second, and we're supposed to believe, official 'outing' of Hikaru Sulu, is when said adorable little Asian girl is brought by a nondescript Asian man (co-writer Jung...what IS IT with the writers casting themselves in their film?  Don't give Doctor Who destroyer Steven Moffat any ideas...), and the three walk away together, with Sulu rubbing the nondescript Asian man's back with his thumb, which I guess in Star Trek is erotic foreplay.

Sorry, but the fact that one man rubbed another man's back with his thumb doth not equal gayness.  It's astonishing that despite the legalization of same-sex marriage and all the strides gays have made, this sorry 'blink-and-you-miss-it' bit was made out to be some sort of revolutionary act.  For all we know, that could be Sulu's brother or other relative.  There was no sense that there was any romance between said nondescript Asian man and Sulu.  There wasn't even any sense that adorable little Asian girl was in any way, shape or form connected to either man.

It's already bad enough that a particular plot point was introduced, but what makes it all the worse is that it is totally irrelevant to Beyond.  If Pegg/Jung had added a scene or dialogue where Sulu discusses his desire to see his partner and daughter, THEN maybe it would have added something.  As it stood, not only was there no point in having this element in the film, it didn't even bother to follow through.

As a side note, the original Sulu, George Takei, wasn't too thrilled that the NuTrek Sulu was made gay (even if it was a 'tribute' to Takei himself, who is gay).  I am amused by the fact that Pegg, who is straight, essentially lectured a gay man about what it's like to be gay in a fictional universe. 

Would that count as Peggsplaining?

In short, Pegg and Jung pretty much botched so much of Beyond it will be a wonder if Paramount lets them have another crack at it.

Not that director Justin Lin did any better. Everything was so rushed and chaotic it made things ironically enough less exciting.  There are many things I hate about modern filmmaking, and one of them is shaky-cam.  Beyond has it in abundance.  It's a sad thing to see a Star Trek film rush from one scene to another, making the characters so dull, the villain another of those "he's really a victim" motivations, and all a horrid shaky-cam.

Everything in Beyond ultimately was perfunctory.  Michael Giacchino's score was appropriate, hitting the emotional cues when the film called for it (appropriately 'mournful' or 'exciting', but not interesting or memorable). 

I'm not sure whether Star Trek Beyond will, in the future, be looked on as the Star Trek reboot that showed it needed to be rebooted itself, but there is something of a crisis with the NuTrek.  It has to either shift into its own universe and loosen the bonds it has with the Original Series, or continue to play itself out as weak rehashes of what we've seen before with nothing either new or interesting to tell us.

I'm not sure whether I should be insulted or sad that Star Trek Beyond essentially ripped off a major plot point from of all things, Mars Attacks

Star Trek Beyond is not terrible.  It's just not that very good.  

Das Vadanya, Anton


Next Star Trek Movie: TBA

Sunday, October 2, 2016

PT-109: A Review


PT-109 is a rare biopic in that its subject matter was still alive to see it.  In fact, in the annals of Presidential biopics, PT-109 is, if memory serves correct, one of only three biopics when the subject was not just still alive but in office.

The other Presidential biopics made during said President's term: W. and the Obama first-date movie Southside With You.

While Oliver Stone's film of the 43rd President was, shall we say, a little biased against its subject, PT-109 had the full cooperation and endorsement of President John F. Kennedy.  As such, it is suspect as to whether the film would have been anything other than a de facto reelection commercial.  Sadly, the film was released five months before JFK's assassination, so there's no way of knowing whether PT-109 would boost JFK's standings. 

New U.S. Navy Lieutenant John F. Kennedy (Cliff Robertson) has arrived in the Pacific, ready to take command.  His new crew isn't particularly thrilled with this green commander, but being servicemen, they follow orders.  Kennedy eagerly accepts command of the PT-109, a ship that has seen better days.  Ever cool, calm, and collected, he gets his crew to put the old ship together and make it ship-shape.

On one of his missions, his ship rescues men trapped by the Japanese on a beach and barely manages to get everyone before the 109 runs out of gas.  They come perilously close to capture, but manage to get rescued themselves.  On another, the 109 fails to stop in time and crashes onto a shed floating on a small American-held island. 

This is a minor inconvenience as we get to the gist of the story: when the 109 is sliced in two by a Japanese warship.  Kennedy manages to get the survivors aboard one half of the ship, but realizes the ship will not hold.  There's also the danger of enemy capture, so he orders his men to swim three miles to an island that may or may not have Japanese troops. He brings them to safety, including one seriously injured whom he carries across on his back.

On the island, there is tension and fear, but Kennedy remains resolute.  The Navy searches for him and the PT-109 crew, but believes them dead.  Two swimming expeditions by Kennedy and his friend/new officer Ensign Ross (Robert Culp) finds nothing.  However, as it happens, two natives come across the group and Kennedy & Ross send a message through them via coconut.  This message is received by Australians, and they are rescued.

With that, the injured get treated, and while Kennedy can leave the theater of war due to his experiences, he opts to remain.

The question one should ask while watching PT-109 is 'would it be interesting if the main character were named Barney Ross and not John Fitzgerald Kennedy?'  In other words, if this were just another war film, or even a biographical one about the Naval version of Audie Murphy, would we as the audience care? 

My answer is, 'not really'.  This is because PT-109 I figure already takes it for granted that we know who the subject is and, if not familiar with the story, at least aware of the main character.  For all the importance that this had on the life (political and private) of the future President, PT-109 never bothered to get into what made this a turning point for Jack. 

In fact, as played by Robertson (whose casting President Kennedy approved), Kennedy comes across as a pretty flat, even boring character.  It is a fantastic story: scion of Boston wealth (though not a Brahmin), a bit of a dilettante, fresh out of Harvard (or Haavaad), goes into war rather than avoid it.

Curiously, JFK's teasing of the correct pronouncing of "Harvard" was the ONLY hint of Kennedy's distinct Massachusetts accent, which Robertson didn't bother to try for. 

PT-109, however, makes JFK a remarkably simple figure: calm, stoic, but with no energy, nothing to recommend him for any interest.

Same goes for the crew, many of whom I didn't even remember.  The only thing I recall about the crew was that the future Mr. Roper from Three's Company and the future Baretta (who did NOT murder his wife per a jury's decision).

Part of the problem with PT-109 was also the staging of the film.  Many times the sets looked like sets, particularly when they are stranded on the island.  This is curious given that the film was 'personally supervised' by Warner Brothers head Jack L. Warner himself per the screen credits.  At what is suppose to be the dramatic moment of the film, the actual disabling of the PT-109, it wasn't all that interesting, particularly because it looked so staged and fake.

Still, there were some parts that were good.  The first battle where the PT ship rescues the men pinned on the beach was not bad.

PT-109, sadly, was a little too in love with its subject to make him interesting.  It's an interesting time capsule on how Hollywood went out of its way to curry favor with the President (something Hollywood has been doing with every Democrat since).  It's far too long for the story that it's telling, but PT-109 is one of those films that cries out for a remake.

Separated from any Kennedy worship, this story of a true Profile in Courage could make for a fascinating character study/action film.  The story is there.  All it needs is a good director, good actor, and good script.