The Voyage of Jack Aubrey

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is an underrated return to seafaring epics. I mostly knew about it, because my mom was such a big fan of Russell Crowe in the 2000’s. My parents actually saw Master and Commander in theaters while my brother and I were in school. It’s a strong follow up to A Beautiful Mind that also happens to co-star Paul Bettany. Master and Commander was a modest success, but Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl overshadowed it as a more fantasy based sailing adventure. Although based on a series of novels by the late Patrick O’Brian, Master and Commander failed to start a franchise.

It was however nominated for 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture, but The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King overshadowed it by winning nearly every category it was nominated in. Billy Boyd ironically appears in both films. Best Cinematography and Best Sound Editing were the only Oscar wins it could secure. They’re rightful wins since Master and Commander is very cinematic with a realistically immersive ship right out of the 1800’s. The HMS Surprise was a real boat, but Captain Jack Aubrey is entirely fictional. Crowe is a tough, but dignified British master and commander tasked with hunting down the French Acheron during the Napoleonic Wars.

Bettany plays Stephen, the ship’s surgeon and friend to Jack with a Charles Darwin-like desire to explore the Galápagos Islands. Both Crowe and Bettany learned to play classical instruments for their parts. The Naval crew is just as authentic with many children, teenagers, and seniors in command. There is music and merriment, but Captain Aubrey grows obsessed with capturing his prey. Violent storms and the threat of mutiny aren’t enough to stop him. The enemy is mostly kept in the shadows until the very end. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World brought much needed realism to a once thriving genre.

Master and Commander The Far Side of the World

Jack Aubrey sets sail

Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian

The Bounty is the last major adaptation of Mutiny on the Bounty. Unlike the 1935 or 1962 version, the Dino De Laurentiis produced film wasn’t nominated for Best Picture. Even though it has an all-star cast that includes Mel Gibson, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, and Bernard Hill. Plus Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson before they were famous. It’s a wonder I never heard of the 1984 remake, but it is meant to be more of a reinterpretation.

The Bounty is more historically accurate and mostly inspired by the book Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian. Both characters are portrayed as friends and are given equal attention in the story. Hopkins is a very human Captain Bligh who doesn’t feel like a villain until after their stay in Tahiti. The whole movie is framed with his court martial and we actually see everything he went through adrift at sea. Gibson is appropriately masculine as Mr. Christian, but he does overact a bit when the mutiny occurs. 

Their divide is caused by Christian finding love in Tahiti. Despite the PG rating, The Bounty is the only movie to accurately depict the topless women of Tahiti. I know it’s non-sexual, but they do get away with a lot of naked boobs and some pretty passionate moments between Christian and Mauatua. Christian isn’t entirely heroic in his mutiny and it’s kept vague what exactly happened on the island they settle on. The Bounty is a well produced adventure that’s probably the closest to historical fact we’re ever gonna get.

The Bounty

Mr. Christian seizes Captain Bligh

Remake of: Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)

Onward to Tahiti

Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) nearly sank Marlon Brando’s career. The original Mutiny on the Bounty was good enough to win Best Picture, but the remake wasn’t so fortunate. Although nominated in the category, Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) was a major box-office bomb and not exactly adored by critics. Of course most of the criticism was aimed at Brando. He developed a reputation for being difficult to work with and his interpretation of Mr. Christian isn’t much better.

Clark Gable was appropriately rugged, but Brando saw him as a high class British dandy instead. It’s hard to take him seriously at times. Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) is also 3 hours long, but it wasn’t difficult to sit through. The Ultra Panavision 70 Technicolor presentation does bring the ocean and Tahiti to life. The overall story is the same, but a lot of elements are either reduced or empelished. Trevor Howard doesn’t feel cruel enough as Captain Bligh. Christian’s anger and eventual mutiny doesn’t feel as earned as the original.

Bligh is practically sidelined by the end with more attention given to Christian discovering an island to settle on. The only other crewmember worth acknowledging is a very young Richard Harris as a troublemaking Seaman. More emphasis is actually given to breadfruit and the Bounty’s layover in Tahiti. It’s an island paradise shot on location with actual Tahitians cast. Christian’s love interest Maimiti was played by Brando’s third wife Tarita (but that’s a story for another day). Various script rewrites led to an ending that wasn’t very Hollywood. Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) is a setback for Brando that only The Godfather could redeem.

Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)

Mr. Christian and Maimiti

Remake of: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

Seizing the Boat

Mutiny on the Bounty is a classic sea voyage elevated by deeper themes. Once again I have The Simpsons to thank for introducing me to the story. Since it was parodied in the episode “The Wettest Stories Ever Told.” The 1935 film is based on the 1932 book based on an actual mutiny that occured in 1789. Mutiny on the Bounty is set aboard the HMS Bounty. The movie has a perfect three act structure. The first act features the crew sailing with the British Navy. The second act features the crew reaching their destination in Tahiti and the third act features the aftermath caused by the mutiny.

The primary crewmembers are the good Mr. Christian, the bad Captain Bligh, and the neutral Midshipman Byam. Clark Gable shaved his mustache to play Mr. Christian and his dedication shows. Charles Laughton is absolutely despicable as Captain Bligh. His ruthless dictator-like treatment of the crew is what leads to Christian’s mutiny. The only time you feel slight remorse for the captain, but I still wish his punishment was more severe. Franchot Tone is somewhere in the middle since Byam’s loyalty shifts between the Navy and his friend.

Both men find love in the island paradise of Tahiti where the Bounty has to trade breadfruit plants. Bligh seeks revenge, but Christian manages to evade capture and Byam gets the recognition he deserves. Mutiny on the Bounty was nominated for 8 Academy Awards including an unprecedented 3 Best Actor nominations for all three leads. Yet the only Oscar win it got was Best Picture. It’s not entirely historically accurate, but the larger than life production value makes Mutiny on the Bounty a big success.

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

Mr. Christian answers to Captain Bligh

Actions Speak Louder than Words

Tick, Tick… Boom! is an explosion of creative passion. Jonathan Larson will forever be known for creating the hit broadway musical Rent. Most people (myself included) never knew the man behind the music. Larson’s first major production was the semi-autobiographical Tick, Tick… Boom! Since both musicals made Larson a big name on Broadway, it only made sense for Lin-Manuel Miranda to make it his directorial debut. A musical biopic was guaranteed to get him some Oscar attention.

Although the Netflix produced Tick, Tick… Boom! was snubbed for Best Picture, Andrew Garfield was the most deserving of his Best Actor nomination. Garfield fully transforms into the awkward aspiring playwright with messy hair. The title refers to the ticking clock in his head. Larson feels like he’s running out of time and wants to accomplish his goals before he turns 30. Tick, Tick… Boom! spoke to me on a personal level. Since I myself am an aspiring writer who dreams of working in the entertainment industry as soon as possible.

Larson spends a lot of time on an ambitious musical called Superbia that never sees the light of day. Inspiration for Rent comes in the form of his gay friend Michael and strained relationship with his girlfriend Susan. Most characters are fictionalized versions of people in his life. Except for Stephen Sondheim who was a crucial piece of the puzzle. Garfield took singing lessons for the part, but his song and piano skills are so good that you can’t even tell. Longtime singer Vanessa Hudgens legitimizes every performance. For me the most memorable songs are “30/90,” “Therapy,” and “Louder Than Words.” Larson’s sudden death at the young age of 35 isn’t depicted, but his memory will live on thanks to Tick, Tick… Boom!

tick, tick... BOOM!

Jonathan Larson at the piano

When the Sun Goes Down

In the Heights isn’t the musical revival it wanted to be. After Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda could do no wrong. 2021 was a packed year for him that began with his very first Broadway production, In the Heights. I never heard of the musical, but an adaptation was considered even before Hamilton was created. Miranda’s bankability and Hollywood’s recent obsession with diversity made it the right time for a movie. Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu took the reigns and the musical received a major promotional push. Whether it was lack of interest, the Pandemic, or HBO Max’s simultaneous streaming scheme, but In the Heights bombed at the box-office. Reviews were predictably in the 94% range. Much like Crazy Rich Asians, In the Heights also feels overhyped and not a Best Picture contender like people thought.

Anything In the Heights does, West Side Story (2021) does better, but I still liked parts of the former. In Washington Heights, Manhattan the streets are made of music and everyone in the community has an el sueñito (dream). Even a movie with a majority Hispanic cast can still be targeted for not having enough afro-latino characters. Miranda’s lead role of Usnavi was given to his younger Hamilton co-star Anthony Ramos. Though Miranda still has a bit part as a snowcone sailsman. Usnavi is a bodega owner who dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic. Melissa Barrera plays Usnavi’s love interest Vanessa who dreams of becoming a fashion designer. The other couple is the non-hispanic Corey Hawkins as dispatcher Benny and newcomer Leslie Grace as college dropout Nina.

There’s also the communities Abuela Claudia, Usnavi’s cousin Sonny with big dreams, Nina’s father who wants a better life for his daughter, and the sassy salon girls. A winning lottery ticket brings everyone together, but rising heat and an incoming blackout threatens everything. Dealing with a changing neighborhood is true to the musical, but In the Heights was made a bit more heavy handed with added problems like racism and undocumented immigration. The titular song “In the Heights” and the catchy “96,000” are fun starter songs, but the musical really starts meandering after awhile. The romantic “When the Sun Goes Down” is the only inventive song with a gravity defying dance number. In the end, In the Heights has more energy than skills.

In the Heights

Usnavi dances with Vanessa

I’m Not Throwin’ Away My Shot!

Hamilton is the hit Broadway musical by breakout singer-songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda. Not since Cats or Wicked has a Broadway production become so popular outside of the musical community. Hamilton makes history fun with a unique interpretation of Alexander Hamilton’s life set to rap music. Miranda got the idea after reading the Founding Fathers’ biography. Although it is interesting to learn more about the first secretary of treasury and his many overlooked accomplishments, Hamilton was never meant to be entirely historically accurate. The show cast people of color since it already feels modern with all the rapping. I never expected to see a Hamilton movie for reasons like that.

Hamilton (2020) is a pre-recorded performance from 2016 put to film. I never know how to review plays put to film since they’re sometimes more Broadway than movie. I can still appreciate how well it’s performed and the cinematic angles it sometimes possesses. A lot of studios wanted to get their hands on the musical, but the rights ended up in the unlikely hands of Disney. Hamilton ended up on Disney+ with a PG-13 rating that had to censor a few F bombs. The runtime is 2 hours & 40 minutes complete with an intermission. I was pretty into it at first, but you really start to feel the length when you’re watching it at home.

Hamilton features most of the original cast including Miranda as Hamilton, Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr, Daveed Diggs as Lafayette & Thomas Jefferson, Christopher Jackson as George Washington, and Jonathan Groff as King George III. Most events are dramatized including Hamilton’s war work, romantic exploits, legal actions, financial plannings, and tense relationship with frenemy Aaron Burr. Most songs blur together, but “Alexander Hamilton” and “My Shot” are a big stand out. Hamilton is ultimately a story about being remembered for your accomplishments.


Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Fathers

I’m the Greatest Sorcerer!

Willow gave Warwick Davis his much deserved time in the spotlight. After getting his start in Return of the Jedi, George Lucas wrote the movie especially for him. It is rare to have a little person in a lead role afterall. After Star Wars and between Indiana Jones, Lucas intended the fantasy epic to be his next big thing. Despite hiring his buddy Ron Howard as director, Willow wasn’t the success he was hoping for. I know Willow has a cult following, but I never made an effort to see it until now. I had no idea Willow was about a baby until I saw it. According to a prophecy, a baby girl is destined to one day overthrow the evil Queen Bavmorda. So she orders her minions to find the infant at any cost.

If that sounds just like Sleeping Beauty, the difference is the baby Elora never grows up. I expected a time jump, but it’s not that kind of story. This fantasy world is divided between tall people called Daikini and little people called Nelwyn. Willow Ufgood is a young Nelwyn with a wife and kids who finds the baby in a basket. If that sounds just like the story of Moses, I’m sure that was intentional. Willow wants to be a great sorcerer, but his unsureness holds him back. He reluctantly agrees to take Elora to her own kind in order to fulfill the prophecy. On his first quest, Willow is accompanied by a small band of warriors. If that sounds just like The Hobbit, get used to those similarities.

Willow does feel overlong and not as special as it should be. Willow’s quest changes several times and he’s joined by a revolving door of companions. Like Val Kilmer as the likeable rogue swordsman Madmartigan or Joanne Whalley as the warrior daughter of the evil queen. There’s also a pair of comedic brownies and a cursed sorceress who helps Willow perfect his magic. Speaking of magic, Industrial Light & Magic made a crucial technical leap in a scene where the sorceress morphs into a variety of animals. Other effects aren’t as impressive as they probably were in the 80’s. Willow has plenty of heart, but nothing new to contribute to the realm of fantasy.


Willow on a horse

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

All the King’s Men (2006) is a perfect example of Oscar bait gone wrong. Proof that it’s not enough to have an all-star cast, a capable director, or a source material that already won several accolades. I haven’t seen too many bad dramas, but I know a bad remake when I see one. So many people expected All the King’s Men (2006) to sweep the Academy Awards before it even came out. Instead the movie bombed at the box office and holds a pathetic 11% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Director Steven Zaillian wrote a lot of great movies, but the biggest problem was execution. Even an impressive cast that includes Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins, James Gandolfini, Patricia Clarkson, and Mark Ruffalo wasn’t enough to elevate it. The original is only 1 hour & 49 minutes long, yet it covers so much more than a 2 hour & 8 minute movie. I don’t know how it can feel rushed and drag at the same time? The story is supposed to focus on the rise and fall of politician Willie Stark, but a lot more attention is given to the judge that he blackmails into dropping his impeachment case.

Stark’s political campaign almost feels like an afterthought. So many characters are shortchanged in the process. All the King’s Men always took place in the South, but now everyone has a thick hit or miss Southern accent. Penn never feels sympathetic as Stark. His loudmouthed performance is matched by the melodramatic tone. The remake reaches peak pretentiousness when it switches to black & white during the climax. All the King’s Men (2006) backfired on all possible fronts.

All the King's Men 2006

Willie Stark address the people

Remake of: All the King’s Men (1949)

Power Corrupts

All the King’s Men is a brilliant portrayal of political corruption. One I may not have seen if not for its Best Picture win. In a way, All the King’s Men almost feels like redemption for Citizen Kane. I don’t always watch political movies, but All the King’s Men is very engrossing and surprisingly easy to follow. The somewhat fast paced editing helps a lot when certain complex issues are condensed. The movie depicts the rise and fall of politician Willie Stark. The title is of course a direct parallel to Humpty Dumpty. Stark was created for the 1946 book of the same name, but he was partially based on Huey Long. 

Stark begins his political campaign as an honest man from humble beginnings. He works to fight corruption until he himself becomes the very thing he sought to destroy. Stark truly changes with an impassioned speech to his fellow hicks that more than earned Broderick Crawford an Oscar for Best Actor. When Stark wins his second race for Governor, he ends up making dirty deals, drinking, being unfaithful to his wife, and dealing with potential career ending scandals. Jack Burden covers Stark’s campaign and is one of a few people who remain loyal to him no matter how bad he gets.

Stark’s own son is the one who nearly costs him his career. Jack’s lady love Anne Stanton betrays him by becoming the Governor’s mistress. Mercedes McCambridge also deserved her win for Best Supporting Actress. In her debut performance, McCambridge plays Stark’s no-nonsense campaign assistant with a jealous love for her boss. Although I’d label it a political thriller, noir is a good way to describe the inevitable fate of a power hungry politician. All the King’s Men is a victory of storytelling.

All the King's Men

Willie Stark’s campaign