Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"CINDERELLA MAN" (2005) Review

Here is my review of Ron Howard's 2005 biopic about boxer James J. Braddock:

”CINDERELLA MAN” (2005) Review

When I had first learned about Ron Howard’s biopic about boxing champion James J. Braddock, I was very reluctant to see the film. In fact, I did not even bother to go see it. Instead, I merely dismissed ”CINDERELLA MAN” as a ‘”SEABISCUIT” in the boxing ring’. After I finally saw the movie, I must admit that my original assessment stood.

”CINDERELLA MAN” and the 2003 Oscar nominated film, ”SEABISCUIT” seemed to have a lot in common. Both were released by Universal Pictures. Both films possessed a running time that lasted over two hours, both were sentimental stories that centered around a famous sports figure and both were set during the Great Depression. Unlike ”SEABISCUIT”, ”CINDERELLA MAN” told the story about a man – namely one James J. Braddock, an Irish-American boxer from New York and Bergen, New Jersey. The movie started out with Braddock (portrayed by Russell Crowe) as a boxing heavyweight contender in 1928, who had just won an important bout against another boxer named Tuffy Griffiths. But within five years, Braddock found himself as a has-been struggling to keep his family alive during the depths of the Depression, while working as longshoreman. Thanks to a last minute cancellation by another boxer, Braddock gets a second chance to fight but is put up against the number two contender in the world, Corn Griffin, by the promoters who see Braddock as nothing more than a punching bag. Braddock stuns the boxing experts and fans with a third round knockout of the formidable Griffin. After winning a few more bouts, Braddock ends facing boxing champ, Max Baer (Craig Bierko), for the heavyweight title in 1935.

Despite the similarities between ”CINDERELLA MAN” and ”SEABISCUIT”, I must admit that I regret not seeing this film in the theaters. It turned out to be a lot better than I had expected. Director Ron Howard, along with screenwriters Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman, did an excellent job of chronicling Braddock’s boxing career at a time when he had been labeled a has-been by the sports media. The movie also featured some excellent fight sequences that came alive due to Howard’s direction, Crowe, Bierko, and the other actors who portrayed Braddock’s opponents. Although the movie’s main event was the championship fight between Braddock and Baer during the last thirty minutes, I was especially impressed by the sequence that featured Braddock’s fight against Art Lansky (Mark Simmons). In my opinion, most of the praise for these fight sequences belonged to cinematographer Salvatore Totino, and editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill (who both received Academy Award nominations for their work) for injecting the boxing sequences with rich atmosphere and effective editing.

Ironically, the movie’s centerpiece – at least in my opinion – was its deception of the Depression. I understand that Howard had used the city of Toronto to serve as 1930s Manhattan and New Jersey. And judging from the results on the screen, he did an excellent job of utilizing not only the cast led by Crowe, but also the talents of production designer Wynn Thomas, Gordon Sim’s set decorations, Peter Grundy and Dan Yarhi’s art direction and Totino’s photography to send moviegoers back in time. There are certain scenes that really seemed to recapture the desperation and poverty of the Depression’s early years:

*Braddock begs for money from the sports promoters and boxing managers at Madison Square Garden
*Mae Braddock’s discovery of the gas man turning off the family’s heat
*The Braddocks witness the desertion of a man from his wife and family
*Braddock’s search for his friend, Mike Wilson (Paddy Considine), at a Hooverville in Central Park

Howard and casting agents, Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins, managed to gather an impressive group of cast members for the movie. The ironic thing is that despite the impressive display of talent on screen, hardly anyone gave what I would consider to be a memorable performance – save for one actor. Russell Crowe naturally gave an impressive, yet surprisingly likeable performance as James Braddock. Although I found his performance more than competent, I must say that I would not consider it to be one of his best roles. There was nothing really fascinating or complex about his Braddock. I suspect that screenwriters Hollingsworth and Goldsman could have made Braddock a more interesting character . . . and simply failed to rise to the occasion. I have to say the same about their portrayal of the boxer’s wife, Mae Braddock. Portrayed by Renee Zellweger, her Mae was a loving and supporting spouse, whose only kink in her personality revolved around her dislike of Braddock’s boxing. In fact, Zellweger’s Mae threatened to become a cliché of the countless number of women who end up as wives of men in dangerous professions. Thankfully, Zellweger managed to give an excellent performance and with Crowe, create a strong screen chemistry.

Paul Giamatti received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Braddock’s manager, Joe Gould. Many had assumed that Giamatti had received his nomination as a consolation prize for being passed over for his superb performance in ”SIDEWAYS”. After seeing his performance as Gould, I suspect they might be right. I am not saying that Giamatti gave a bad performance. He was excellent as Braddock’s enthusiastic and supportive manager. But there was nothing remarkable about it . . . or worthy of an Oscar nomination. If there is one performance that I found impressive, it was Paddy Considine’s portrayal of Mike Wilson, Braddock’s friend and co-worker at the New York docks. Considine’s Wilson was a former stockbroker ruined by the 1929 Crash, who was forced to become a menial laborer in order to survive. Although his plight seemed bad enough to generate sympathy, Considine did an excellent job of portraying the character’s bitterness and cynicism toward his situation, President Roosevelt’s ability to lead the country out of the Depression and the world itself. I hate to say this, but I feel that the wrong actor had received the Oscar nomination. God knows I am a big fan of Giamatti. But if it had been left up to me, Considine would have received that nomination.

We finally come to Craig Bierko’s performance as Max Baer, champion boxer and Braddock’s final opponent in the movie. Baer’s character first makes his appearance in a championship fight against Primo Carnera, following Braddock’s surprising upset over Corn Griffin. From the start, he is portrayed as a brash and aggressive fighter who does not know when to quit. And it gets worse. Before I continue, I want to say that I have nothing against the actor who portrayed Baer. Like Crowe, Zellweger and Giamatti, Bierko had to do the best he could with the material given to him. And he did the best he could. Bierko, being an above-average actor, infused a great deal of energy and charisma into his portrayal of Baer. It seemed a shame that Howard’s direction, along with Hollingsworth and Goldman’s script forced Bierko to portray Baer as some kind of callous thug who felt no remorse for killing two other fighters in the ring and was not above needling Braddock at a Manhattan nightclub by making suggestive remarks about Mae.

Baer’s son, Max Baer Jr. (”THE BEVERLY HILLIBILLIES”) had been naturally outraged by what he deemed was the movie’s false portrayal of the boxer. What the movie failed to convey was that Baer had only killed one man in the ring – Frankie Campbell – and had been so shaken up by the other man’s death that it affected his boxing career for several years. Nor did Baer ever make any suggestive remarks toward Mae Braddock. He also hugged and congratulated Braddock following the latter’s June 1935 victory. I really do not know why Howard thought it was necessary to turn Baer into a one-note villain. Someone claimed that the movie needed a nemesis for Braddock that seemed more solid than the vague notion of the Depression. If that is true, I believe that Howard and the movie’s screenwriters turned Baer into a villain for nothing. As far as I am concerned, the Great Depression made an effective and frightening nemesis for Braddock. This was brilliantly conveyed in Braddock’s bout with Art Lasky. At one point in this sequence, the New Jersey boxer seemed to be on the verge of defeat . . . until his memories of his family and how the Depression had affected them . . . urged him to a hard-won victory. Sequences like the Braddock-Lasky fight and Braddock’s search for Mike Wilson in the Central Park Hooverville made the Great Depression a more effective nemesis than the one-dimensionally crude behavior of falsely portrayed Max Baer ever could.

Despite the movie’s badly written portrayal of Baer, and slightly uninteresting major characters like James and Mae Braddock, and Joe Gould; ”CINDERELLA MAN” is still an excellent biopic that featured exciting boxing sequences. More importantly, it is one of the few Hollywood films that revealed an in-depth look into one of the country’s most traumatic periods – namely the Great Depression. Flawed or not, I believe that it is still worth watching.

Monday, February 23, 2009

"The Many Loves of Rafe McCawley" [PG-13] - 2/7


PART 2 - The Shelby Belle

LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK; DECEMBER 1940 . . . The two officers walked away from the station, desperately trying to resist the urge to rub their painful backsides. "Why in the hell do they have to stick those damn needles there?" Rafe grumbled. "Haven't they ever heard of the arm?"

Danny glanced warily at this friend. He recognized that disgruntled voice anywhere. It was a sign of Rafe's bad mood. And Danny suspected that the older man's present mood had nothing to do with the shots they had just received.

"Okay Rafe, what's your beef?" Danny demanded. "And don't tell me that it's the shots. You were already pissed before you received yours."

Rafe responded with a glare. "Oh really? And what exactly am I pissed about?"

"Mary Ann."

"Her name was Mary Jo, Danny!" Rafe retorted. "Not Mary Ann! Godalmighty! Did you dislike her so much that you can't even remember her name?"

Danny took a deep breath. Amazing. Nearly fourteen years had passed and Rafe still bore a grudge. "Dammit Rafe! I was almost ten years old at the time! I didn't know any better and I was feeling insecure about the whole thing. Besides, you didn't have to dump her."

A heavy sigh left Rafe's mouth. "I guess you're right." Both he and Danny stepped into the line for the next station. Ahead, a youthful-looking nurse with blonde hair, wrapped a black blood pressure band around a soldier's arm. Rafe continued, "I guess I shouldn't have abandoned Mary Jo like that. But I wouldn't have done it if you hadn't turned on me, like that." Brief hostility flared in his dark brown eyes.

"I know." Danny hung his head low. "I'm sorry I did it, Rafe. It's just that . . ."


Danny shrugged. "I don't know. I reckon I was jealous."

Rafe took a step forward in line. So did Danny. The former heaved another sigh. "It sure took you a hell of a long time to admit it. Oh well. I guess Mary Jo and I weren't meant to be, after all. Especially, after her family moved, later that summer."

Danny remained silent. He decided that the less said about Mary Jo Burnett, the better.

"Besides, Mary Jo ain't the only one you stopped me from seeing," Rafe continued. "Remember Lila Hopkins?"

Memories of lilac perfume, a bedroom, decorated in canary yellow, and a voluptuous chestnut-haired woman in a creamy yellow silk robe, flooded Danny's thoughts. Oh yes. Lila Deakins. He doubt there was a young man around his age in all of Shelby County, who would not be able to remember the Shelby Belle.

"Yeah, I remember Lila," Danny replied. "And if you expect me to feel guilty for what I did, you might as well hold your breath. Because I don't. You were out of control, Rafe. Remember?"

* * * *

SHELBY, TENNESSEE; JULY-SEPTEMBER 1931 . . . Strains of "I'm Through With Love" poured from the two-story frame house, situated in a hollow, off Shelby Road. Two adolescent boys, one fifteen years-old and the other, fourteen, stared at the house from behind an Oldsmobile, parked several yards away.

"That's it," Rafe said with breathless anticipation. "The Shelby House. C'mon." He stepped from behind the Oldsmobile and started toward the house. Seconds passed before he realized that Danny had not moved an inch. "Hey Danny! C'mon!"

Anxiety flared in his best friend's brown eyes. "I don't know, Rafe. I'm not sure about this."

Rafe heaved an exasperated sigh and grabbed Danny's arm. "C'mon scairdey-cat! She ain't gonna bite you."

"How do you know?" Danny demanded. "You haven't been here, before."

Which was the truth. Rafe had first heard about the Shelby House, two months ago - when he had spotted a woman leaving the local bank in town. It took one glance at her heart-shaped face - just once glance - for the fifteen year-old to fall in love. Well, perhaps fascination would be the best word . . .

Rafe heard his mother's disdainful sniff at the young woman. "So, that's the Shelby Belle," Brewton McCawley declared in a disapproving tone. "Looks more like trash to me." Her eyes brimmed with hellfire and righteousness. A look Rafe had never seen in his mother's eyes. "Rafe, I hope you never have anything to do with women like that. They're nothing but trouble."

The wrong words for anyone to say to a curious and lovesick fifteen year-old. Mrs. McCawley's warning had only increased Rafe's interest in the beautiful woman. And his determination to meet her. To learn the true identity of the "Shelby Belle", he asked several men around the county. Men who would never say a word to his parents. Or hesitate to answer. He received his answer from a local mechanic named Farley Bates.

"Ah, the Shelby Belle!" the stocky man had declared in a wistful tone. "You must be talking about Lila Deakins."

An impatient Rafe demanded, "Who is she?"

Farley gave the fifteen year-old boy a knowing look. "Probably the most infamous whore in this here parts. The most beautiful . . . and the most expensive. 'Course, after one gander at your pretty face, Lila just might give you a discount. Or let you stick your carrot in for free."

"You think so?" Rafe bit back his tongue, when he realized how hopeful he sounded.

A smile creased Farley's grimy face. "Boy, you are really smitten over that gal. Tell you what." He dug into the pockets of his overalls and retrieved a handful of bills. "Here. Why don't you use this money for a visit to the Shelby House. There's enough for your friend, Danny. You two are practically brothers." After Jake Walker's fatal heart attack, three years ago, Danny had moved in with the McCawley family.

"Hey, thanks Farley! I really appreciate it!" Rafe had beamed at the mechanic, before stuffing the bills into his pockets . . .

Danny said, "You mean it was Farley who gave you the money for this? What if your daddy finds out? After all, Farley does fix his airplane."

"C'mon Danny! What do you think Farley is gonna do? Confess? Not if he wants Daddy to continue hiring him." Rafe grabbed his friend's arm. "Now, c'mon! You act like we're going to a hanging."

The two boys slowly approached the house. A tall, black woman, holding a broom, stepped onto the porch and peered at the new arrivals. "What are you two boys doing here?" she demanded.

Feeling more nervous than he looked, Rafe cleared his throat. "We're here to see the Shelby Belle," he declared. Did his voice crack?

The woman scrutinized the two boys with world-weary eyes. "Uh huh. Ain't you boys a little young to be coming to a place like this?" Before Rafe or Danny could respond, she added, "Never mind. Miz Lila likes 'em young, anyway. C'mon in." She stepped aside, while the pair entered the house.

Nice place, Rafe thought. His eyes drank in the old-fashioned furnishings and well-stocked bar at the other end of the parlor. Aside from the bar, the interior of the Shelby House reminded him of the McCawley residence.

The housekeeper set aside the broom and started toward the staircase. "Have a seat. And I'll let Miz Lila know that she has company." As she started upstairs, Rafe and Danny nervously sat down on the nearest sofa.

A minute later, two scantily clad young women entered the parlor. Both Rafe and Danny stared at the abundance of flesh that stood before them. Giggling, they approached the two boys. "And who might you be?" asked a leggy blonde with bright blue eyes and heavy make-up. Still staring, neither boy seemed able to respond.

A throaty voice said, "They . . . are my customers." All eyes riveted upon a shapely woman, whose heart-shaped face not only possessed delicate features and hazel-green eyes, but was also framed by wavy auburn hair that bobbed near her chin. She wore a yellow Oriental gown over a pale-green full slip and stockings held up by green garters. Yet, none could hide the curves that made the other two women resemble schoolgirls.

"If you two girls don't mind," the Shelby Belle continued, "I suggest you scram! I assume you have other things to do." The two women scowled at their colleague and left the parlor. Hazel-green eyes focused on Rafe and Danny. "Now, who's first?"

Rafe shot up from the sofa like a bullet. "Me!" he crowed.

The Shelby Belle gave him a sultry smile and indicated the staircase.

* * * *

"First time, young man?"

"Huh?" Inside the yellow-and-white bedroom, Rafe sat on a large bed and gawked at the prostitute. Who was in the process of removing her robe.

The Shelby Belle smiled and stepped forward. Grabbing one arm, she gently forced Rafe to his feet and began to unfasten his shirt buttons. "I said, is this your first time?"

Rafe nodded, "Yes ma'am."

"Oh honey, you don't have to call me that. Makes me feel like an old spinster. My name is Lila. What's yours?" She slowly removed his shirt, following his undershirt.

Trembling, Rafe remained rooted to the floor. "My name is Rafe. Rafe . . ."

"That's okay, honey. No need for last names." Lila slid the green slip off her body. The fifteen year-old Rafe found himself staring at the prostitute in all her naked glory. His entire body grew immediately hard.

Rafe gulped. Aloud. "Did you say something, honey?" Lila asked.

"No ma . . ." Rafe paused and took a deep breath. "I mean, no. No, I didn't."

Lila slowly walked toward Rafe and gently shoved him on the bed. "Well Rafe. Let's see about getting you out of those pants. Shall we?" Slender hands reached for the fastener to Rafe's trousers.

* * * *

Rafe knew that for as long as he lived, he would never forget those first thirty minutes with Lila Deakins. She had introduced him to a world of sensuality and passion he had never thought possible. He almost had to fight a surge of jealousy when time for Danny's minutes with the Shelby Belle arrived.

Twenty minutes had passed when Danny finally returned downstairs to the parlor. Only a blind man would not have noticed the dazed expression on the fourteen year-old boy's face.

"Well?" Rafe demanded. "How was it?"

Danny took a deep breath. "It was . . . I, uh . . . Gee! I've never been through anything like that before," he finally declared.

Rafe grinned and threw an arm around his friend's shoulders. "Thought you might feel that way. Hell, I feel as if I just had the best day of my life! I'm gonna come back here, if it takes me a year."

* * * *

It took Rafe, exactly two weeks to pay a second visit to the Shelby House. Reluctant to ask Farley for extra funds, he saved enough from the money he had earned from his paper route.

Much to his delight, Lila greeted him like an old friend and proceeded to teach him more on the joys of sex. "Oh honey, you seemed to be real good at this!" Lila declared breathlessly, after their bout between the sheets. "For a youngster, you sure do put many of my other customers to shame." She drew a long fingernail along the middle of Rafe's bare chest. "I'd like to see you again."

Rafe let out a heartfelt sigh. "I wish I could, Lila, but . . ."

"But what?"

"I, uh . . . I probably won't be able to see you for a while."

Lila's voice oozed with disappointment. "And why not?"

Rafe replied in a low voice, "Money. I . . . I won't be able to afford to see you for at least a month or two."

"Hmmm." Lila pressed her soft, warm body against Rafe's. "Tell you what. I usually don't start work until two o'clock in the afternoon. If you can make it over here before then, maybe we can spend some time together - free. How do you like that?" She gave his left thigh a squeeze.

It took all of Rafe's self-control not to throw himself on Lila's body and plant it with a thousand kisses. Instead, he cried out in delight, "Hey, that's swell of you, Lila! Thanks!" He kissed one of her cheeks.

A pink flush crept up the prostitute's face. "My pleasure, honey," she warmly replied.

* * * *

Rafe could not wait to tell Danny, after leaving the Shelby House. He had meant to convince his friend to join him for his second visit, but the latter had a doctor's appointment in nearby Memphis. Rafe had to wait until after his mother and Danny's return, to reveal Lila's delightful proposal.

"You think that's wise, Rafe?" Danny's voice expressed concern. The two friends sat on their beds, inside the bedroom they shared. "I mean . . . I reckon it's okay for that one visit. But every day?"

Rafe could not believe his friend's attitude. "It won't be everyday," he protested. Just once in a while. Hell, how many fellas can claim they've been with the Shelby Belle that many times?"

"Anyone with enough money," Danny calmly replied. "Like Carl Jordan's daddy."

A snort escaped Rafe's mouth. "Lance Jordan couldn't buy six minutes with Lila! At least, not anymore. Especially since he lost all his money after the stock market crash, nearly two years ago."

"Well, there are other men with . . ."

Exasperated by what Rafe saw was his friend's stubbornness, he cried out, "Good Lord, Danny! What are you getting at?"

Danny sighed. "What I'm trying to say is that Lila Deakins isn't the type of gal you should waste your time with. Dammit Rafe, it ain't healthy being involved with a whore like that!"

"She ain't no whore!" Fearful that his parents may have overheard his outburst, Rafe added in a lower voice, "Lila happens to be a lady."

Danny shrugged. "Maybe she is to you. But she ain't to other men. And if you keep seeing her, maybe you'll catch something. Like the crabs."

"Lila makes sure that both of us are clean before we . . . well, you know."

To Rafe's surprise, Danny's face turned red. Even after a trip to a whorehouse, his friend managed to remain shy about sex. "Okay, what about this?" Danny continued. "What if someone who knows your folks, sees you there? I reckon there are a few of your daddy's friends who drop by the Shelby House, every once in a while."

Rafe barely heard Danny's words. "Maybe," he murmured. "Then again, maybe not. Lila wants me to visit before she starts work around two. I reckon no one would see me, if I do that."

"Rafe . . ."

Mrs. McCawley's voice rang from the hallway. "Rafe! Danny! Time for supper!"

"Yes ma'am!" Rafe shouted back. He shot his friend a reassuring grin. "Don't worry, Danny. Everything will turn out fine. You'll see."

* * * *

Rafe and Lila only had another six weeks together. Whenever the opportunity arose, Rafe usually found himself at the Shelby House, anywhere between eleven and two o'clock. The housekeeper, Velma, would allow Rafe to enter the house through the back door and from there, he would make his way to Lila's bedroom. The back door was the only impediment to Rafe's otherwise perfect month. Lila had insisted that he use it - in case of a close call with an unexpected visitor.

That close call eventually happened, one afternoon in early September. After Velma allowed Rafe through the back door of the Shelby House, he immediately sprinted upstairs. He made his way along the second floor hallway, when the door to Lila's bedroom swung open. Rafe immediately assumed it was the love of his life. He started toward the open door, when the sight of a familiar figure stopped him in his tracks. The figure turned out to be one of his father's poker friends - Mr. Bateman. Rafe quickly darted into an empty room nearby and waited for the man to head downstairs. Later that evening, Rafe told Danny about his close call. Two days later, his relationship with Lila screeched to a halt.

* * * *

He stared at the auburn-haired woman with disbelieving eyes. "Say that again?" he demanded.

Inside her bedroom, a scantily clad Lila heaved an impatient sigh. She retrieved a cigarette from a tin box on her dresser and stuck it between her teeth. "You heard me, Rafe. It's over. I don't want you here, anymore."


Hands on hips, Lila glared at him. "Because it's over. Dammit boy! Are you deaf? It was fun for a while, but not anymore. I need to be with someone new." She struck a match and lit her cigarette.

"Like that fella who was here, two days ago?" Rafe demanded.

Hazel-green eyes rolled upward in disgust. "Good Lord! He was right! You really are too young for me."

"He?" Rafe's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Who's 'he'?"

Lila took a puff on her cigarette. "No one in particular. Just forget it."

"Does that mean I can . . .?"

"No!" Lila's harsh response came as a slap across the face. Rafe blinked. "No, that doesn't mean you can come back. I don't want you here, anymore! Period! How many damn times do I have to tell you?"


Lila retorted, "Because you're too young for me! And I don't want to go to jail for messing around with fifteen year-old boys!"

Rafe's eyes widened in shock. "I never told you I was fifteen years old," he murmured. "How did you . . .?"

"Never mind on how I found out," Lila shot back. She paced back and forth across the room like an angry tigress, puffing on her cigarette. "All that matters is that you stay the hell away from this place, until you're old enough. Maybe you can come back in another two or three years from now. I suggest you stick to girls around your own age. Miz Enid and the rest of us don't need a spell behind bars for statutory rape. Now get out of here!" Lila pointed an angry finger at the door.

His head hung low, a defeated Rafe dragged his feet toward the door. All sorts of thoughts and emotions whirled within him. How could Lila throw him out like that? And who exactly was this 'he'? Certainly not his daddy's friend. Mr. Lammers had not even seen him. And who told Lila that he was fifte . . .

An ugly suspicion immediately formed in Rafe's mind. A suspicion that projected in the image of his best friend. "Danny!" Rafe paused and confronted Lila. "It was Danny who told you I was fifteen! When did he talk to you?"

A guilty expression flitted across Lila's face, before the latter hardened. "It doesn't matter who I talked with!" she snarled. "Just get the hell out! You're bad for business!"

"And you're bad for me, lady!" Rafe retorted. "If a fella can call you one!" Filled with anger, he marched out of Lila's room, slamming the door shut. It would be his last visit to the Shelby House.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hollywood Dance

Below are video clips featuring dance numbers from famous Hollywood musicals of the 1930s and 1940s:


Bill Robinson (1930)

From ”ROBERTA” (1935)“Too Hot to Handle”:

From “TOP HAT” (1935)“Cheek to Cheek”:

From “SWING TIME” (1936)“Bojangles of Harlem”:

From “THE ZIEGFIELD FOLLIES” (1946) Astaire and Kelly in “The Babbitt and the Bromide”:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Here is a gallery featuring the characters, Don and Betty Draper, from the acclaimed AMC series, "MAD MEN":


Monday, February 16, 2009



Let me make something clear . . . I have never read the literary version of ”THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO”, written by Alexandre Dumas. I have seen three movie versions – including this latest one starring James Caviezel. But I have never read the novel. So, for me to compare the literary version to this movie would be irrelevant.

In short, ”THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” is the story about a French sailor named Edmond Dantès (Caviezel), who finds himself a victim of French political machinations, thanks to the Emperor Napoleon, a jealous first mate named Danglars, his best friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce) and an ambitious local magistrate named J.F. Villefort (James Frain). Edmond ends up on an island prison called Château d'If, where he meets a fellow prisoner, a priest and a former soldier in Napoleon's army named Abbé Faria (Richard Harris). Faria is killed in an accident after informing Edmond about a fabulous hidden treasure. After Edmond uses Faria’s death to escape from Château d'If, he befriends a smuggler and thief named Jacopo (Luis Guzmán). The two find the treasure that Faria had talked about and Edmond uses it to establish the persona of the Count of Monte Cristo. His aim? To avenge himself against those who had betrayed him – Danglars, Villefort, Mondego and his fiancée Mercédès Iguanada (Dagmara Dominczyk), who had married Mondego after his arrest.

I have to give kudos to director Kevin Reynolds and screenwriter Jay Wolpert for creating a first-class adaptation of Dumas’ novel. From what I have read, it is not an exact adaptation of the novel. As if that was possible. Not that I care whether it was or not. I still enjoyed the movie. Despite some of the changes to the story, ”THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” still managed to retain its emotional ambiguity. Villains such as Villefort and especially Mondego are not as one-dimensional ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ as one might believe. The origin of Villefort came from his father’s ego-driven ambition. As for Mondego, his dislike and betrayal of Edmond had its roots in his own insecurity and bouts of self-hatred, despite his position as an aristocrat. As for Edmond, he becomes so blinded by his hatred and desire for revenge that his actions nearly ends in tragedy for Mercédès and her adolescent son, Albert (Henry Cavill) – the only innocents in this tale of betrayal and vengeance.

The cast was first rate. James Caviezel gave a superb performance as Edmond Dantès, the naïve French sailor who becomes a wealthy man bent upon vengeance. Caviezel took Edmond’s character and emotional make-up all over the map without missing a beat. And Guy Pearce was equally superb as the villainous Fernand Mondego, an arrogant aristocrat whose own jealousy and bouts of self-loathing led him to betray the only friend he would ever have. James Frain gave a solid performance as the ambitious Villefort, whose greed allows Edmond takes advantage of in order to exact his revenge. And I could say the same for both Dagmara Dominczyk, who portrayed Mercédès Iguanada, Edmond’s charming fiancée who found herself stuck in a loveless marriage with Mondego due to certain circumstances; and Luis Guzmán’s portrayal as the wise and loyal Jacapo. Henry Cavill gave a solid performance as Edmund's guiless, yet emotional son who gets caught up in the crossfire between Edmund and Fernand. And the late Richard Harris managed to create great chemistry with Caviezel as Edmond’s wise mentor, Abbé Faria.

Cinematographer Andrew Dunn and production designer Andrew Dunn did a great job of transforming locations in Ireland and the island of Malta into early 19th century France. And they were ably assisted by Tom Rand’s costume designs. Along with a first-rate cast, Kevin Reynolds’ competent direction and Jay Wolpert’s script, this version of ”THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” turned out to be an entertaining movie filled with exciting action, great drama and excellent storytelling. A first-rate movie all around.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"CINDERELLA MAN" (2005) Photo Gallery

Below is a gallery featuring photos from "CINDERELLA MAN", the 2005 biopic about boxer James J. Braddock. Directed by Ron Howard, the movie stars Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger and Paul Giamatti: 

"CINDERELLA MAN" (2005) Photo Gallery

Friday, February 13, 2009

"The Staff of Fire" [PG] - 4/6


Part IV

Saturday morning dawned and the occupants at Castle Dunleith discovered drizzling rain coming down from the gray clouds above. Paige felt certain that Colin McNeill would either cancel the picnic or move the family gathering inside the castle.

"Considering that it's too late to cancel the fete, it would have to be moved indoors," the laird announced to those who had gathered inside the dining hall for breakfast. He seemed mournful over the idea of an indoor picnic.

Paige, who stood with Cole before the dining hall's Sheraton sideboard, murmured, "He looks like a kid who had lost his favorite toy. The laird must really love picnics."

"You mean that you haven't noticed by now?" Cole whispered back. "From what Olivia has told me, he's one of those hale and hearty types who love the outdoors. I think he's one of what they call in this country, the 'huntin, shootin and fishin'" types."

A smile curved Paige's lips, as she reached for a grilled tomato. The Sheraton sideboard groaned under the weight of dishes prepared for breakfast - scrambled eggs, smoked kippers, sausages, bacon, toast, grilled tomatoes, beans, fruit and other assortments. It was customary in many upper-class British homes to serve breakfast, buffet-style. As she spooned a ladle full of scrambled eggs upon her plate, she noticed Olivia sitting at the table and speaking with the laird' aunt.

Cole asked, "When are Bruce and the others arriving?"

Paige replied, "Later this afternoon. Around three. Bruce and Barbara will be arriving. Along with Leo. I don't think Piper or Phoebe are interested in showing up."

"Too bad." Cole shrugged his shoulders. "They'll be missing something special. I've heard that the Aingeal ceremony is quite interesting. Rarely seen in the supernatural world."

The pair carried their plates to the table and sat down near Olivia and Mrs. Ferguson. Paige asked, "How long have you known about . . .?" She broke off the question, as a servant appeared with a dolly carrying juice, coffee and tea. The latter - the same woman whom Paige had noticed at the McNeills' dinner party a week ago - asked the pair if they would like something to drink. Paige asked for a glass of orange juice and Cole, coffee. After the servant handed Cole his coffee, a familiar sensation tingled at the back of Paige's neck. She stared at the servant as she moved toward the next diner.

"Something wrong?" Cole asked. He added cream and sugar to his coffee.

Paige tore her eyes away from the servant. "Huh?"

Cole gave her a hard stare. "Why are you staring at that waitress? Does she look familiar to you?"

"No, it's . . . Well, . . . I don't know. There's something odd about that woman. Something I can't put my finger on. I don't know. Maybe I'm imagining things."

The half-demon grunted. "Hmmph, considering your talent for spotting trouble, I doubt it." He took a swig of coffee. "With the ceremony coming up today, and all the hullabaloo over that car you and Olivia had spotted, maybe you should keep an eye on her."

"Maybe I will." Then Paige returned to their previous topic. "By the way, about that staff . . . how long have you known about it?"

According to Cole, he had first learned about the Aingeal staff during his childhood. As he continued on the subject, Paige's mind became fixated on several incidents and feelings that have left her slightly uneasy during this trip. The two strangers in the car outside the Bloomsbury townhouse, Olivia's notice of a similar car in Inverness, and her reaction toward one of the McNeills' servants here at Castle Dunleith all led Paige to wonder if her feelings of foreboding had anything to do with tonight's staff ceremony. Her ruminations soon began to wear down Paige, mentally. She decided to shrug it off for another time and enjoy her breakfast.


Between nine-thirty and ten in the morning, the light rain finally ceased. The sun broke through the gray clouds and Colin McNeill announced - rather happily - that the picnic would be held outdoors, after all. By noon, most of the guests had arrived at the castle, including those Paige had not met at last week's dinner party. Despite her disappointment over her sisters' decision not to accompany Leo here to Scotland, Paige managed to enjoy herself. Harry introduced her to more McNeills, and she was happy to discover that most of them did not share Fiona Craig's arrogant disposition.

Speaking of Fiona . . . she finally arrived around twelve-thirty in the afternoon. Bitchy as ever. She greeted Paige with a smile that screamed insincerity. "Well, if it isn't Olivia's little friend. Penny, right?"

Paige's lips stretched into a tight smile. "Paige. Penny was my grandmother's name."

"Och, terribly sorry. I've always had trouble matching names with faces," Fiona continued. "Especially unmemorable ones."

Paige opened her mouth to retort, when a third voice added, "With a memory like that, Fiona, it's a wonder you can remember a simple spell." Two figures joined Paige and Fiona - Olivia and Cecile. The former smiled coolly at her cousin. "Fiona, I see that you finally made it," Olivia said in a voice that made the other cousin's insincerity seem mild. "Unfortunately."

Fiona replied through clenched teeth, "Olivia." Her gazed shifted toward Cecile. "And . . . um, Lucille. Am I right?"

Cecile ignored the insult and said, "So Phyllis, Olivia tells me that you've also manifested pyrokinesis. Is that true?"

The dark-haired woman glared at the Vodoun priestess. "It's Fiona, and yes, I have pyrokinesis. It had manifested last April. And now it seems that I have become a contender for the staff. Who knows? I may end up being the new bearer." She preened slightly.

"Really?" Cecile eyed the witch doubtfully. "What makes you so certain? Or is this simply hope on your part?" Fiona's face turned red.

Paige spoke up. "Fiona told me, last week, that she had vanquished a demon, using her fire power."

Olivia's green eyes widened in mock appreciation. "Wow! One daemon! I'm impressed, cousin! I guess that you might as well claim that staff as yours, huh?"

"That's funny," Cecile piped in. "Haven't you killed more than one daemon with your new power, Livy?"

Looking thoughtful, while amusement shined in her eyes, Olivia replied, "Why yes! I do believe that you're right, Cecile. Now, how many of them have I killed?"

Paige replied in a droll voice, "At least seven or eight."


"Am I supposed to assume this means that you'll become the next Bearer of the Aingeal Staff?" Fiona asked in a tart voice.

Shrugging her shoulders, Olivia replied, "Perhaps. Perhaps not. Who knows?"

Fiona smirked. "Olivia dear, don't you think you're stretching your impersonation of Gary Cooper, just a tad too much? You want possession of the staff, just as much as I do."

"I doubt that any of us want to be the staff's bearer as much as you do, Fiona."

Acid tinged Fiona's voice. "And what exactly do you mean by that?"

Olivia gave her cousin a look that mixed pity with contempt. "Poor Fiona! I see that you haven't changed much, over the years. Still recovering from the loss of your glory days as Debutante of the Year?"

"You bloody bitch! How dare you?"

"My dear Fee," Olivia shot back, "I'm not the one going around and declaring to everyone that I'm going to be the staff's next bearer. Besides, what do you think having the staff is going to do for you? Magically return you back to the glory days of your youth?" She paused slightly as a malicious smile curved her lips. "Bring Allan back to you?"

A sound resembling a kitten being strangled escaped from Fiona's mouth. "Why you . . ." She bit off her words, flashed a dark look at Olivia and stomped away.

"Good job, McNeill," Cecile retorted with amusement. "You really did a good job of pissing her off."

Olivia rolled her eyes in contempt. "So what else is new? Fiona and I have been pissing each other off for years."

"Okay, but if Fiona does become the staff's new bearer," Cecile continued, "don't be surprised if she decides to use that thing on you, one day."

"Why? You had a premonition or something?"

Paige piped in, "Who's Allan?"

Olivia replied, "Ex-husband. He had left Fiona for another woman some two years ago. She hasn't recovered since."

At that moment, Cole appeared by the three women's sides. Paige noticed that he looked slightly haggard. "Dude!" she exclaimed. "Are you okay?"

Olivia peered at Cole. "Paige is right. You do look a little bedraggled."

"I feel like shit," Cole shot back. "And tired. Which is unusual for me. I, uh . . . I guess I need a little more sleep."

A concerned-looking Olivia gently caressed Cole's cheek. "I don't know why. You had slept pretty good, last night." She sighed. "Then again, perhaps you're right. Besides, the ceremony won't start until at least around eight o'clock, tonight. That should give you plenty of time for some rest. C'mon." She linked her arm with his and led him away.

Paige and Cecile watched the couple head toward the castle's terrace, which overlooked the garden and wide lawn. "Did you notice something odd about Cole?" the latter asked.

"Well, he seemed unusually tired," Paige replied. "For a powerful half-demon."

Cecile frowned at the couple's receding figures. "Yeah, and that's the problem. Cole reminds me of the time when he had been drugged. When we were dealing with the Crozats and Dako, last December. Remember?"

Paige grimaced, recalling the Vodoun spirit in Darryl Morris' body, attacking her. "Barely. I was in the hospital, at the time. What are you getting at?"

"If I didn't know better, I'd swear that he has been drugged. Today."

Shaking her head, Paige found Cecile's words hard to believe. "But Cole has a self-healing power. If he had been drugged, wouldn't his power be clearing his bloodstream, or something?"

"Depends upon how strong the drug is," Cecile replied. "Suzanne Crozat had fed Cole a very strong drug or herb. It nearly took him an entire day to recover. Looking at him now, reminded me of that day."

All of Paige's forebodings flooded her memory. "But . . . why? Why would someone drug Cole? To get him out of the way?"

Cecile gave Paige a long look. "What do you think?"


Keira Andrews stood behind one of the refreshment tables, as she served drinks to the McNeills' guests on the castle's grounds. Although patience has long been one of her virtues, this weeklong stint as a temporary servant for the Laird of Dunleith had stretched it to the limits. If she had to serve any more food or drinks, or toady to another bloody toff beyond today, she would simply go barking mad.

An overdressed woman wearing a ridiculously large hat approached the table and ordered a glass of champagne. Keira bit back a sigh, as she filled a crystal glass with Bollinger '84. After handing the glass of champagne to the woman, Keira spotted two figures passing the buffet tables - Olivia McNeill and Belthazor. The latter, Keira noticed, looked very haggard.

The potion she had mixed into Belthazor's coffee, this morning, finally seemed to be working. And as far as Keira was concerned, it was about bloody time. Russell had informed her that the potion would make the half-daemon unconscious within an hour. Instead, the potion had taken over six hours to affect Belthazor. Even worse, the daemon looked far from unconscious. However, not all seemed lost. The McNeill woman seemed to be escorting Belthazor back inside the castle. Probably to his bedroom. Which meant that Keira saw a perfect opportunity to snatch the witch.

The warlock excused herself and rushed toward Dave, who was busy serving food to one of the McNeill cousins. Once he was alone, Keira approached him. "Dave," she murmured. "Look behind you."

Dave glanced over his shoulder. "Belthazor and the witch," he murmured. "He looks a bit knackered, doesn't he? Looks like the potion is finally working."

Keira added, "I think they're heading back inside the castle. And considering the way Belthazor looks, I have a feeling that the witch will soon be alone."

The other warlock gave Keira a knowing look. "Meaning, we should give Russell a call. Let's get out of here." Dave slipped away from the table, with Keira close at his heels. Once they found themselves alone near the castle's courtyard, she waited silently, while Dave called Russell on his cell phone.

"Russ, it's time," Dave reported. "The potion is finally working, and the witch is taking Belthazor back inside the castle. Probably to bed. She'll soon be alone. What do we do?" A long pause followed, while Dave listened. Then, "Okay Russ, we'll be there. Ta." He disconnected the phone.

Keira asked, "Well?"

"We lure the McNeill woman to that gazebo near the lake and grab her," Dave explained. "By the way, Russ suggested that you use that blowpipe of yours. Just in case."

A knowing smile curved Keira's lips. She could not wait.


"How are you feeling?" Olivia asked. Inside the bedroom that she and Cole shared, the red-haired witch examined an increasingly haggard-looking half-daemon with concerned eyes.

Cole sat upon the bed and sighed. "I still feel like shit. Only it's worse. On one hand, I'm really exhausted, yet I don't seem to have this urge to go to sleep. It's weird."

Olivia gently urged him to sit back against the bed's headboard. "Why don't you lay back and close your eyes. You don't have to sleep. Just rest."

"If I didn't know any better," Cole continued, "I'd swear that someone had drugged me. Just like Suzanne Crozat. Only, I feel sluggish and barely conscious."

Frowning, Olivia pressed her hand against Cole's forehead. "Hmmm, you do feel a bit warm. You're not sick, are you?"

"I doubt it," Cole replied gruffly.

Olivia continued, "I tell you what. I'll go down to the kitchen and fix you a cup of tea. Something that will drain any drug from your system." She planted a light kiss on Cole's forehead. "I'll be back." She started toward the door.

Cole's voice called out her name. "Olivia!" She paused. "If I had been drugged . . . that means that someone wants me away from you. Be careful."

"I will." Olivia gave him a reassuring smile and left the bedroom.

As Olivia reached the ground floor, at the foot of the wide staircase, one of the servants approached her. "Excuse me, miss," the woman began. "Mr. Mc . . . uh, I mean the laird is looking for you." Olivia noticed that the woman spoke with a slight Scottish Lowland accent. "He's by that gazebo, near the lake."

So far? For a moment, Olivia hesitated. Recalling Cole's warning, she wondered if Cole had truly been drugged. And if this so-called summons by Colin was a trap. Olivia stared at the woman, recalling that the latter was among the servants hired for the week. "He wants me by the lake?"

The servant nodded. "Yes, miss." Then she turned away, obviously no longer concerned about Olivia or the message. Which convinced the witch that Colin genuinely wanted to see her. Perhaps the police had finally located that missing car.

Heaving a sigh, Olivia decided that Cole's tea would have to wait. She marched through a narrow corridor that led outside the castle. Skirting the crowds gathered on the terrace and on the lawn below, Olivia marched across the ground and toward the wide lake, located just south of the castle's grounds. There, on the north shore, stood a small white gazebo. Olivia recognized Colin's tall and stocky form, facing the lake.

As she approached the gazebo, Olivia called out her cousin's name. "Colin? Did you wanted to see me?" A gasp left her mouth, as the figure whirled around. It was not the laird who faced her, but a stranger. Holding a gun. "Who in the hell . . .?"

"If you don't mind, Miss McNeill," the man said with a menacing smile, "it would be easier for all of us, if you would just . . ."

Using her telekinesis, Olivia forced the gun from the man's hand. He cursed out loud. "Bloody hell! Len! Sean! Grab her!"

Two men emerged from the nearby underbrush and attacked Olivia. A blond-haired hulk tried to grab her arm. She effortlessly blocked his attack, before she sent him flying with a roundhouse kick. Before she could divert her attack to the other man, Olivia felt a sharp pain in the side of her neck. She glanced to her right. Standing near a clump of trees was the same woman who had directed her to the gazebo. Holding what looked like a blowpipe. Then everything went hazy - before it all faded to black.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"LOST" - The Aaron Littleton Lie

"LOST" - The Aaron Littleton Lie

On February 4, 2009, ”LOST” aired an episode called (5.04) ”The Little Prince”. In this episode, former fugitive Kate Austen discovered that that someone knows the secret of Aaron Littleton’s true parental lineage. When I first learned about this episode, I found myself wondering if the series would finally address the moral consequences of the Oceanic Six’s lie about Aaron. It did . . . on a very limited scale.

As everyone knows, Australian survivor, Claire Littleton had given birth to an infant son named Aaron on the castaways’ 41st day on the island. While on the run from the murderous Martin Keamy and his thugs; Claire, James “Sawyer” Ford and Miles Straume make camp for an overnight rest some fifty-seven days later. That night, a vision of her late father, Christian Shephard, led her to abandon Aaron and follow her father into the jungle. Sawyer and Miles spent nearly a day searching for her, before giving up and heading for the castaways’ beach camp. To make a long matter short, Aaron ended up with Kate Austen, a fugitive accused of murder, bank robbery and a few other crimes. Kate, Aaron, Desmond Hume, pilot Frank Lapidus and the other members of the Oceanic Six – Jack Shephard, Sun Kwon, Sayid Jarrah and Hugo Reyes – were rescued by Desmond’s lady love, Penelope Widmore, in her yacht. There, they made the decision to create a series of lies about their experiences on the island. One of those lies centered around Aaron’s parentage. In the Season Four episode, (4.12) ”There’s No Place Like Home, Part I”, Oceanic Airlines representative Karen Decker repeated the Oceanic Six’s lie to the press:

”Based on the location of the wreckage, our best estimate of the crash site is... (click) here. From there, the survivors were carried by the ocean's current to... (click) here--an uninhabited island in the Lesser Sunda Islands known as Membata. As you've all read in your briefing books, on day 103... (click) a typhoon washed up the remnants of an Indonesian fishing boat, including basic supplies and a survival raft. On day 108, the remaining six survivors, including Ms. Austen's baby which she gave birth to on the island of Membata, used this raft to journey here-- (click) an island called Sumba. They then came ashore near a village called Manukangga. This photo was taken by the local fisherman who found them. Once it was discovered who they were, they were transported to Honolulu by the U.S. Coast Guard. As you can imagine, this has been an extraordinarily trying experience. They have, however, agreed to answer a few questions. So, ladies and gentlemen, the survivors of Oceanic 8-1-5.”

Now, according to the Oceanic Six, Kate was six months pregnant when she was arrested by U.S. Marshal Edward Mars in Australia and later boarded Oceanic Flight 815 on September 22, 2004. Sometime between the crash and their arrival at an island called Sumba, Kate gave birth to Aaron. Six months following their return, the Shephard family – Jack and his mother, Marge – held a funeral for Christian Shephard, who had died in Australia before the crash. Kate (with Aaron), Sayid and his wife Nadia, and Hurley attended the funeral. Following the service, a blond woman approached Jack and informed him that she was Carole Littleton, Claire’s mother. While Kate stood nearby, holding Aaron, Carole also revealed that she had an affair with Christian and that Claire was Jack’s half-sister. This meant that Aaron was Jack’s nephew. Naturally, Jack was upset over the news. Even more important, both he and Kate failed to inform Ms. Littleton that she was standing just a few feet away from her grandson. The episode, (4.04) “Eggtown” revealed that Kate eventually stood trial for her crimes. Because her mother Diane Jensen – the prosecution’s star witness for the murder charge – refused to testify against her, Kate got away with the cold blooded murder of her father, Wayne Jensen. For some reason that still defies me, the prosecution decided to offer probation to Kate for her other crimes – which included bank robbery, assault of a Federal officer, grand larceny and grand theft auto. Kate agreed to ten (10) years of probation. In other words, she was not allowed to leave the state of California for a decade. I doubt that this verdict actually bothered Kate. It kept her out of prison and she was able to go home and continue her charade as Aaron’s mother.

In a recent episode of ”LOST” called (5.01) “Because You Left”, Kate had received a visit from two attorneys who claimed to have a court order demanding paternity tests be conducted to conclude if Kate is Aaron's biological mother. Kate used their visit as another opportunity to do what she does best – namely flee. This time, she did so with Aaron. In the following episode, (5.02) “The Lie”, Kate met up with her fellow Oceanic Six survivor, Sun Kwon, somewhere in Los Angeles and told the latter about the attorneys’ visit. Sun advised her to meet the attorneys again and kill them. According to Sun, the Oceanic Six had to maintain their lies in order to protect the island and those who had been left behind.

In the end, this excuse that Sun gave Kate is the same excuse that Jack first stated on Penny’s yacht some few years ago – namely their lies were necessary to protect those who had been left behind and the island itself from the authorities and especially Charles Widmore. In fact, many of the show’s fans have expressed their acceptance of this excuse on many ”LOST” forums, message boards and blogs. I must admit that I never understood the need for these lies, except for one reason – the media and the authorities would have found the truth ludicrous and committed the Oceanic Six to various mental institutions. Even if the authorities had believed their story, I doubt that anyone would have been able to find the island, considering that Ben Linus managed to move it using some ‘Donkey Wheel’ in the Season Four finale, (4.13) ”There’s No Place Like Home, Part III”. But what really annoys me to no end was the lie about Aaron and Kate.

Kate Austen must be a very popular character with the fans of ”LOST”. Of all the characters, she is the only one who has received more excuses for her crimes and mistakes than any of the others. Sawyer is probably a close second, but that is another matter. Many fans have spent more time on her ludicrous love triangle with Jack and Sawyer than on the fact that she is an unrepentant murderess and now, kidnapper. With Aaron, Kate has now committed the act of kidnapping via a lie. Mind you, she is not solely guilty of this latest crime. Jack, Sayid, Sun and Hurley are also guilty. Before ”The Little Prince” aired, everyone – including myself – believed that Jack had been the creator behind the lie surrounding Aaron. The episode eventually revealed that Kate was the one who had suggested the lie to Jack. He eventually accepted it and used it as part of his repertoire of other lies surrounding the island. Sayid, Sun and Hurley remained silent on the matter, while Kate carried out the lie. Along with the excuse mentioned in a previous paragraph, I have come across many excuses surrounding the lie about Aaron’s parentage. I have yet to come across an excuse or justification that made any sense to me. And God knows I have come across a good number of them. Here are just a few:

*Kate is a good mother.
*No one had any knowledge of whether Claire had any relations in Australia.
*Claire had originally been on her way to Los Angeles to give Aaron up for adoption.
*Sun’s Korean heritage prevented her from claiming to be Aaron’s mother.
*Claire had allowed Kate to leave the island with Aaron (this one was hard to swallow).
*In Kate’s dream, Claire told her not to bring Aaron back to the island.
*Carole Littleton’s affair with a much married Christian Shephard made her morally unacceptable as Aaron’s guardian (I swear, I actually came across this one)
*The psychic Richard Malkin had lied to Claire, when he told her that only she should raise Aaron. A “nice couple from L.A.” – namely Jack and Kate – were destined to raise him.
*Due to ”LOST” being a fictional story, there was nothing wrong with Kate pretending to be Aaron’s mother.
*By lying, the Oceanic Six did the best thing they could to protect Aaron.
*Claire left Aaron in the jungle to follow her father in (4.09) “The Shape of Things to Come”

And so on. One of the forums that really demonstrated the need for fans to see nothing wrong in Kate’s custody of Aaron is The Fuselage. Other forums such as Lost-Forums, Souless Spike, Television Without Pity more or less skirted the issue. Although the Lost-TV Forum posted a thread in which someone had criticized Kate for creating the lie about Aaron, most of the members who have responded are defending Kate’s actions . . . and bashing Jack for agreeing to the lie. Amazing. This woman has gotten away with the kidnapping of a child and she is getting a free pass by certain fans. Fortunately, not all of the show’s fans on this forum are defending her. There are some of them on other threads who have criticized Kate for her actions in regard to Aaron.

There are many aspects to the lie surrounding Aaron Littleton that I find questionable. First all, I have doubts about the Oceanic Six’s decision to lie about the island. In one of the flashbacks for “The Lie”, Jack claimed that the lies would protect those left behind on the island:

JACK: Hurley, what about you?

HURLEY: I don't think we should lie, dude.

JACK: We need to protect the people that we left behind, Hurley.

HURLEY: How does lying protect them?

JACK: It protects them from Charles Widmore. The guy hired a boatload of people to kill all of us. He faked a plane crash. I mean, you think telling him the truth, he's just gonna--he's gonna leave them alone?

Hurley was right. How would this lie protect those left behind from Charles Widmore? The Oceanic Six had witnessed the island’s disappearance. How could Widmore learn about the island’s whereabouts if the Oceanic Six had no idea where it had disappeared to? Should it not have been more important for them to tell the authorities that others had been left behind, so that they could be rescued? Of all of the survivors from Flight 815, only two people had formed any attachment to the island – John Locke and Rose Nadler. Rose’s husband, Bernard, was only willing to remain due to his wife’s belief that the island kept her healthy and alive. I suspect that the Oceanic Six’s real motivation behind their lies was due to their guilt over leaving the others behind. None of them ever bothered to stop at the beach camp to see if all of the Losties had made it to the freighter. Instead, they had Frank Lapidus fly them straight to the freighter in their bid to escape from the island. I suspect that guilt was the main motivator behind their lies.

But what was the main motivation behind the lie surrounding Aaron Littleton? In this scene from ”The Little Prince”, Kate Austen gave her reasons to Jack Shephard – one of two men she has managed to wrap around her finger during her three month stay on the island:

JACK: (Chuckles) At least one of us can sleep. It's gonna take more than two nights for me to get used to sleeping in a normal bed. What are we gonna do about him? About Aaron.

JACK: I don't know.

KATE: I've been thinking a lot about him. Did you know that Claire was flying to L.A. to give him up for adoption?

JACK: No. No, I didn't.

KATE: I think we should say he's mine.

JACK: What?

KATE: We could say that I was six months pregnant when I was arrested and that I gave birth to him on the Island. No one would ever know.

JACK: Kate, no. You don't have to... (sighs) There's other ways too this.

KATE: After everyone we've lost--Michael, Jin, Sawyer... I can't lose him, too.

JACK: Sawyer's not dead.

KATE: No. But he's gone. Good night, Jack.

JACK: Kate... If we're gonna be safe, if we're gonna protect the people that we left behind, tomorrow morning, I'm gonna have to convince everyone to lie. If it's just me, they're never gonna go for it. So I'm gonna turn to you first. Are you with me?

KATE: I have always been with you.

That was probably one of the most flimsy excuses I have ever came across for keeping a child, based upon a lie. It made Kate look like an over-emotional nanny who had resorted to kidnapping to keep a favored child by her side. She had grown attached to Aaron and could not deal with another loss after Sawyer’s departure from Frank’s helicopter? On one level, I can understand this. It is possible that she had grown emotionally attached to Aaron, considering what they had experienced before Penny’s rescue. On another level, I find this excuse questionable. There is something niggling in the back of my mind that Kate may have been using Aaron as an excuse to avoid time in prison. It is possible that she realized that she could not flee from the authorities following their return to the States . . . and decided to use Aaron as some kind of character reference without allowing him to show up at the trial. She did not need Aaron at the trial. She had Jack. Looking back on the trial featured in ”Eggtown”, Kate did not put up much of a fight against Jack testifying for her. But like I had said . . . it is merely a possibility. But surely she must have realized that Aaron would come into the picture some way or the other by claiming to be his mother. What did she expect?

There are those who claimed that Kate and the rest of the Oceanic Six had done nothing wrong by supporting the lie about Aaron’s parentage. Here, I beg to differ. Frankly, I found the lie to be appalling. Kate used Claire’s revelation that the latter was planning to give Aaron up for adoption as an excuse to claim the baby as her child. What she, Jack and the rest of the Oceanic Six failed to realize was that none of them knew the circumstances surrounding Claire’s original intent. They decided to accept the possibility that Claire lacked a family . . . and hand over an innocent child to a woman who was facing charges of murder and other crimes in the U.S. No one had known whether Kate would be able to avoid prison and decided to allow her to claim Aaron as her son. I found that despicable.

There is also the argument that Kate really had no choice but to raise Aaron. Sun could not claim the baby as her own, due to her Korean heritage. Many fans claimed that someone had to raise Aaron. Why? To protect him? What on earth made them think that Kate could protect Aaron? This is the same woman who ended up getting jumped by a mortally wounded Naomi Dorrit in the Season 4 premiere, (4.01) “The Beginning of the End”. How on earth was Kate supposed to protect Aaron? Very people did not even bother to consider that the Oceanic Six could have told the truth about Aaron’s parentage . . . and maintain their lies about the island. All they had to do was reveal at the press conference hosted by Oceanic Airlines in ”There’s No Place Like Home” that Claire had survived the plane crash, given birth to Aaron and died before the five adult survivors could be rescued. Chances are that Aaron would have ended up with his grandmother, Carole Littleton. The ironic thing is that when Carole made her second appearance in ”The Little Prince”, both Kate and Jack viewed the woman as some kind of villain or threat to their existence. Especially Kate:

KATE: Oh, my God.

JACK: (Exhales deeply) It's Claire's mother.

Act 5
JACK: Wait.

KATE: What am I waiting for, Jack?

JACK: Wait. I just... let's just think about this for a minute.

KATE: She knows.

JACK: Maybe she doesn't know.

KATE: No, but she knows about Aaron, and that's all that matters!

JACK: (Sighs) Let me go talk to her.

KATE: What?

JACK: If I can just explain to her why we did it--maybe if I can get her to understand why... she'll listen to me. I can fix this, Kate. I can fix it. Hey. Aaron is my family, too.

(Knock on door)


CAROLE: Dr. Shephard?

JACK: Hello, Ms. Littleton. Um... may I come in?

CAROLE: Of course.

(Door closes)

CAROLE: You look drenched.

JACK: No, no. No, I'm fine.

CAROLE: God, I haven't seen you since your father's funeral. How did you even know I was here?

JACK: Um... I knew you were here, Ms. Littleton, because I followed your lawyer.

CAROLE: Why would you do that?

JACK: I'm--I did it because, um... I understand that you feel the need to do this. But I need you to know that everything that Kate and I have done--it was for Aaron.

CAROLE: Who's... Aaron? I--I'm afraid I'm not following you.

JACK: Ms. Littleton, um... what are you doing here in Los Angeles?


(Thunder rumbles)

JACK: Let's go. Drive. Then call Sun and tell her to bring Aaron to the Long Beach Marina. We'll meet her there.

KATE: What--wh-what are you talking about? What happened?

JACK: Kate, we have to go now.

KATE: I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what just happened!

JACK: She doesn't know anything.

KATE: What?

JACK: She doesn't know. She still thinks that Claire is dead. (Pants) She doesn't even know that Aaron exists.

KATE: But the lawyer--

JACK: She sued Oceanic, and she's in town to pick up her settlement.

KATE: What, and it's just a coincidence that her lawyer happens to be the same one that's trying to take my son?

JACK: I don't know. But whoever's trying to take Aaron... it's not her.

KATE: Then who is it?

Amazing. Kate, Jack and the rest of the Oceanic Six were the ones guilty of kidnapping and both Jack and Kate end up viewing Carole Littleton as some potential kidnapper. It was enough to make me sick to my stomach.

Many fans have condoned the Oceanic Six’s actions by claiming that Kate turned out to be a wonderful mother for Aaron. Frankly, who gives a shit? I really DO NOT CARE what type of mother Kate turned out to be. What she and the rest of the Oceanic Six had done about Aaron was despicable. They had dragged an innocent child into an unnecessary deception with hardly any qualms, for their own selfish reasons. They really have no excuse for the lie about Aaron. And since the Oceanic Six have less than three (3) days to return to the island, they have ensured that the grieving Carole Littleton will never learn about the only link to her missing daughter – her grandson, Aaron. Of all the crimes that have been featured on ”LOST”, I found the lie about Aaron to be the most appalling I have ever witnessed on that show. The Oceanic Six disgusted me. Especially one Kate Austen.

Monday, February 9, 2009

"PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Curse of the Black Pearl" (2003) Review

"PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Curse of the Black Pearl" (2003) Review

Over five years ago, "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Curse of the Black Pearl" had burst upon the movie screens and to the surprise of many, became a major hit. Even more surprising, the movie ended up spawning a wildly successful movie trilogy within another four years and also a new cinematic icon for the 21st century – Captain Jack Sparrow.

Judging from the forums and blogs on the Internet, it seems to me that ”Curse of the Black Pearl” is the most popular film in the ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise. In a way, I can understand. It lacked the darker aspects of the two sequels that followed. Directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, ”Curse of the Black” is based upon the attraction at the Disney parks. In it, the pirates of the ship known as the Black Pearl, led by the vile Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), need to restore the missing piece of the ancient Aztec gold treasure of Cortes and sacrifice the blood of "Bootstrap" Bill Turner to save themselves from eternal punishment owing to a curse that fell upon them when they stole the gold. The buccaneers attack Port Royal and kidnap Miss Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) who has the missing piece of gold. In order to rescue Miss Elizabeth Swann, William Turner (Orlando Bloom) enlists the help of the fabled Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) who devises an ingenious plan to retrieve the Black Pearl from his mutinous former first mate, Captain Barbossa, and help William Turner save the love of his life

Screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio created a frolicking tale filled with swashbuckler action, an interesting supernatural story that involved cursed treasure and undead pirates, and sharp humor that almost bordered on the cock-eyed. Most of this humor came from the leading man himself, the excruciatingly talented Johnny Depp. His portrayal of the morally ambiguous and androgynous Captain Jack Sparrow took a great deal of moviegoers and critics by surprise. He certainly took me by surprise. No other actor in Hollywood or anywhere else has ever portrayed a pirate in this manner. Not surprisingly, Depp won an Academy Award nomination and a Screen Actors Guild award for his performance.

It seemed a shame that Geoffrey Rush had failed to earn any acting nominations for his performance as the menacing Captain Barbossa. Come to think of it, his performance was more than menacing. Like Depp, he gave a performance filled with a great deal of off-the-wall humor and sharp dialogue. I also enjoyed Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s performances as the star-crossed young lovers, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Ironically, both actors seemed to have better chemistry with either Depp, Rush or both than with each other. Until the final battle. And I found that odd, considering that their screen chemistry seemed a lot more convincing in the final action scene inside the large cavern on Isla de Muerta and in the two following sequels. I wonder if this had anything to do with the fact that Will and Elizabeth spent most of the movie suppressing their feelings for one another.

As for the rest of the cast that made up the movie, they were superb. Jack Davenport gave a commanding, yet sardonic performance as Will’s romantic rival – Commodore James Norrington of the Royal Navy. Mind you, Davenport really grew into the role in ”Dead Man’s Chest”, but he did a good job in this film. And what would a ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” be without Kevin R. Nally as Josiah Gibbs, Lee Arnberg as Pintel and MacKenzie Crook as Rigetti? I could list all of the supporting characters that made this movie memorable, but it would take forever. I will simply state that Verbinski was very lucky to find himself with an excellent cast.

I had noted earlier ”Curse of the Black Pearl” is not as dark as its two successors. I wonder if this is the reason why many fans prefer it over the other two. If I have to be honest, I do not share the same sentiments. Do not get me wrong. I love this movie. But it is not my favorite ”PIRATES” movie. That honor goes to the second film - ”Dead Man’s Chest”. As much as I love ”Curse of the Black Pearl”, there were times I wish it had been a little more ambiguous. With the exception of the Jack Sparrow character, the other characters are clearly either the good guys or the bad guys. There seemed to be little room for moral ambiguity.

There was another aspect of ”Curse of the Black Pearl” that I had noticed – even when I first saw the film. For a movie set in the Caribbean, I really did not see much of it. Yes, there were scenes set aboard ships. But aside from a sequence featuring Jack Sparrow’s arrival at Port Royal, his first meeting of Elizabeth and Norrington and the island where Barbossa stranded Jack and Elizabeth; the movie never really captured the aura of the Caribbean – at least for me. And I had noticed something else. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski used a lot of close ups in his shots. I remembered that those close ups made me feel slightly dizzy and claustrophic when I first saw the movie.

Despite certain elements of the film that did not appeal to me – Wolski’s photography and the less ambiguous tone of most of the characters – I still love ”Curse of the Black Pearl”. I love the story, Klaus Badelt’s score, Gore Verbinski’s direction, and the characters. Especially Johnny Depp’s performance. Hopefully, this movie and the two that followed will one day be viewed as film classics. They are already classics in my eyes.