Sunday, May 31, 2009

"X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE" (2009) Review



Below is a review of the latest movie in the "X-MEN" franchise:


”X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE” (2009) Review

I must admit that when I had learned of Marvel’s plans to release a fourth movie in the ”X-MEN” franchise, I did not warm to the idea. And when I learned that this fourth movie would focus upon the origins of James Howlett aka Logan aka Wolverine, my wariness deepened.

Fortunately, ”X-MEN ORIGINS: Wolverine” eased most of my doubts. It turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining movie. Directed by Gavin Hood, it told the story of how a Canadian mutant named James Howlett (or Logan) became the amnesiac Wolverine first introduced in the 2000 film, ”X-MEN”. The movie not only provided a brief glimpse of his tragic childhood in mid-19th century Canada, which included the deaths of his stepfather; and real father and his relationship with his half-brother, Victor Creed aka Sabertooth, along with an extraordinary title sequence that highlighted the two brothers’ experiences as Canadian mercenaries for the U.S. Army during the Civil War, World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War. But the gist of the film centered around their work as mercenaries for the U.S. Army’s “Team X”, led by military scientist Major William Stryker; and James’ (Logan’s) later conflicts with Victor and Stryker after he left the team.

”X-MEN ORIGINS: Wolverine” had received some bad word of mouth before its release at the beginning of May. A rumor circulated that either Marvel or 20th Century-Fox had meddled with director Hood’s finished work. Since I do not know whether this is true or not, all I can do is comment upon what I had seen on the movie screen.

First, I have to say that ”X-MEN ORIGINS: Wolverine” was not perfect. One, I never understood why James and Victor had served as mercenaries for the U.S. Army during both World War I and II, since Canada had participated in both wars and at least seven decades had passed between the deaths of John Howlett and Thomas Logan (James’ step-father and father) in 1845. And two, how did Stryker know that Victor had less chance of surviving the adamantium process than James? Was it ever explained in the movie? I also had problems with two of the characters in the movie, along with Nicholas De Toth and Megan Gill’s editing. But I will discuss those later.

Despite some of the flaws mentioned in the previous paragraph, ”X-MEN ORIGINS: Wolverine” turned out to be better than I had expected. The movie took viewers on James Howlett’s emotional journey that started with him as a young boy in 1845 Canadian Northwest Territories, who stumbled upon an unpleasant truth about his parentage in the worst possible way. By the time the movie ended, James (or Logan) had fought in several wars, participated in Team X’s black operations, estranged himself from Victor, fallen in love, experienced loss, acquired his adamantium claws and lost his memories. Several fans had complained that Logan’s character did not seem like the complex loner from ”X-MEN” throughout most of the movie. Instead, he seemed more like the slightly benign team player that had emerged at the end of ”X-MEN 3: The Last Stand”. I must admit that these fans have a point. Only . . . I am not complaining. This only tells me that screenwriters David Benioff and Skip Woods had properly done their jobs. If Logan’s character had remained the cynical loner throughout the entire film, I would have been disappointed. One key to good writing is character development. In all of the previous three ”X-MEN”, Logan’s character had developed slowly from the loner to the team player shown at the end of ”The Last Stand”. But ”X-MEN ORIGINS: Wolverine” is only one movie. And in that single film, the screenwriters, along with Hood and actor Hugh Jackman had to show the audience how James Howlett became that amnesiac loner. The last thing I wanted to see was a one-dimensional portrayal of his character. And I am thankful that I have no reason to complain about Logan’s character arc.

Not only was I impressed by Logan’s character development (which was the gist of the story), I was also impressed by how Hood, Benioff, Woods and Jackman handled Logan’s relationships with Victor and Stryker. I enjoyed how the screenwriters created the con job that both Stryker and Victor had committed against Logan. They had manipulated Logan into volunteering for the adamantium process, so that he could seek revenge against Victor for his girlfriend’s death. What Logan did not know was that he had been nothing more than an experiment – a test run – to see if the process would work for Stryker’s new weapon – a mutant called Weapon XI or Deadpool that had been injected with the abilities of other mutants, including Logan’s healing factor. I feel that Benioff and Woods’ creation of the con job was an imaginative twist to the story . . . and very essential to Logan’s character development.

Speaking of Logan, I must say that Hugh Jackman did an excellent job of conveying Logan’s emotional journey in the film. Thanks to his first-class performance, he took Logan from the loyal, yet wary half-brother of the increasingly violent Victor Creed to the amnesiac mutant who ended up rejecting Remy LaBeau’s help amidst the ashes of Three Mile Island. Mind you, Jackman’s portrayal of Logan has always been first-rate. But since this movie featured a more in-depth look into the character’s development, I feel that it may have featured Jackman’s best performance as aggressive and self-regenerative mutant.

Liev Schreiber seemed equally impressive in his portrayal of Logan’s half-brother, Victor Creed aka Sabertooth. Like Logan, Victor possessed a regenerative healing factor, an aggressive nature and superhuman senses. But Schreiber’s Victor seemed not to have embarked on an emotional journey. Instead, his character seemed to be in some kind of quandary. Not only did Schreiber portray Victor as a more aggressive and violent man than Logan, but he did so with a touch of style that seemed to be lacking in Tyler Mane’s portrayal in the 2000 movie. Schreiber also did a magnificent job in revealing Victor’s conflicted feelings toward the character’s younger half-brother. He loves James, yet at the same time, harbors several resentments toward the younger man – including one toward Logan’s abandonment of Team X and him.

Normally I would pity the actor forced to fill Brian Cox’s shoes in the role of U.S. Army scientist William Stryker. The Scottish actor had given a superb performance in ”X-MEN 2: X-Men United”. Fortunately, Marvel hired Danny Huston for the role. Not only did he successfully fill Cox’s shoes in my opinion, he managed to put his own stamp on the role. Like Cox, Huston did a great portrayal of Stryker as the soft-spoken, yet ruthless and manipulative military scientist who would do anything to achieve his goals regarding the existence of mutants. But whereas the older Stryker simply wanted to destroy mutants, Huston’s Stryker seemed to desire control over them . . . for his own personal experiments. And Huston . . . was superb.

I felt more than satisfied with most of the movie’s supporting cast. Ryan Reynolds was memorable in his brief role of a wisecracking mercenary with lethal swordsmanship named Wade Wilson. He was both hilarious and chilling as the mutant who eventually became Stryker’s premiere experiment – Weapon XI aka Deadpool. Taylor Kitsch made a charming, yet intense Remy LaBeau, the New Orleans hustler and mutant who had escaped from Stryker’s laboratory on Three Mile Island. Rapper will.i.am made a solid screen debut as the soft spoken teleporter, John Wraith. Dominic Monaghan gave a quiet and poignant performance as Bradley, another member of Stryker’s Team X that happened to be a technopath. Kevin Durand as funny as the super strong Fred Dukes aka Blob, who developed an eating disorder after leaving Team X. Daniel Henney was intense and unforgettable as Team X’s ruthless tracker and marksman, Agent Zero. I enjoyed Tahyna Tozzi’s portrayal of the strong-willed Emma “Frost” so much that I found myself wishing she had been the movie’s leading lady.

Which brings me to Lynn Collins as Kayla Silverfox. I am sure that Ms. Collins is a competent actress. But her performance as Kayla, Logan’s telepathic girlfriend struck me as a bit uninspiring. Oddly enough, she physically reminded me of Evangeline Lilly of ”LOST”. In fact, her portrayal of Kayla damn near came off as flat so much that her acting skills almost seemed as mediocre as Ms. Lilly’s. Considering Ms. Collins’ reputation as an actress, I suspect that screenwriters Benioff and Woods are to blame for the flat portrayal of Kayla, instead of Ms. Collins’ acting skills. Tim Peacock gave a competent, yet unmemorable performance as the younger Scott Summers aka Cyclops – another mutant who became one of Stryker’s prisoners on Three Mile Island and a part of the Weapon XI experiment. If this Cyclops is supposed to be twenty years younger than the one featured in the first three ”X-MEN” films, then I believe that a younger actor should have been cast in this film. Why? I never got the impression that James Marsden’s Cyclops had been somewhere between 34 and 38 in the three previous films.

As I had stated earlier, I was not impressed by Nicholas De Toth and Megan Gill’s editing of the film. At times, it struck me as slightly choppy and amateurish. Only the editing featured in the opening title sequence struck me as impressive. And imaginative. However, Donald McAlpine’s photography and the visual effects led by Dean Franklin, Craig Veytia and Mike Rotella struck me as very impressive – especially in the title sequence and the scene featuring Logan and Victor’s fight against Deadpool on Three Mile Island.

In conclusion, I found ”X-MEN ORIGINS: Wolverine” to be surprisingly enjoyable. It turned out better than I had expected, despite some flaws. It would probably rank third for me in the ”X-MEN” franchise – somewhere between ”X-MEN 3” and ”X-MEN”. And so far . . . it is my favorite movie this summer.

Friday, May 29, 2009

"LOST" - (5.11) "Whatever Happened, Happened" (Or . . . The Emergence of Saint Kate)



While looking back at some of the articles I have written about "LOST" and its characters, I discovered that I have written at least five articles that were either about the character, Kate Austen or in which she featured heavily. One would think that she is such a compelling character. But I do not think so. I suspect that my problem with Kate is that she is one of the most badly written characters on this show and in the history of television . . . and she is the female lead. And I find that disturbing. My dislike of the character went up a notch after I had watched the latest Kate-centric episode, (5.11) "Whatever Happened, Happened"


"LOST" - (5.11) "Whatever Happened, Happened" (Or . . . The Emergence of Saint Kate)

This latest episode of "LOST" - "Whatever Happened, Happened" was a badly written. It really was. I felt as if I had watched the emergence of a character called "Saint Kate", instead of an interesting episode about the reasons behind a woman's choices. But there were no reasons given for Kate's sudden desire to save Ben's life. Instead, the episode had her in a state of frantic over Ben's condition that did not make any sense. Even worse, the episode went too far and had her donate blood to him in a heavily contrived attempt to make her seem selfless and worthy to the fans.

First, I want to focus on the situation regarding young Ben's shooting. Why did Jack refuse to save Ben? Was his reason the same as Sayid's? Because Ben will grow up to be a manipulative and murderous man? How did Jack suddenly become anti-Ben, again? I read a piece on this episode on WIKIPEDIA, which claimed that Jack was to blame for creating the monster, Ben Linus. I find this hard to accept. It seemed as if they are trying to absolve Sayid of his crime. And that does not work with me.

Speaking of Sayid's crime, it seems that Ben will no longer have any memories of it, following Richard's treatment. If this was the case, what in the hell was the point of Sayid shooting Ben in the first place? What were the writers trying to achieve? Was the shooting nothing more than a contrived event to make Kate lovable to the fans again? Was it a plotline to explain how Ben became so murderous? Hell, they could have done that and allowed Ben to retain his memories of the shooting. This whole "erasing Ben's memories of Sayid's crime" made no sense to me. What was the purpose of it? To explain how Ben "lost his innocence"? Ben was already on that road by living under an abusive father.

But you know what? Despite Sayid shooting him, Jack's refusal to save him or Richard's memory-wiping cure, the one person who is mainly responsible for Ben's moral downfall . . . was Ben. Other people have come from traumatic backgrounds and managed to make decent lives for themselves. Ben does not have any real excuse. Sayid has to deal with his crime of shooting an innocent boy, himself. Jack has to deal with his refusal to treat that boy. But they are not mainly responsible for Ben's crimes. Ben is.

When I heard that Kate might finally confess about the lie surrounding Aaron, I thought she would end up confessing to Sawyer, Juliet and the other castaways. Instead, she confessed to Sawyer's old girlfriend, Cassidy. That was disappointing. And now, Sawyer still does not know about the lie surrounding Aaron. Nor does he know that Kate had no intention of returning to the island to save his life. And she still has the murder of Wayne Jensen hanging over her head. If we're supposed to root for them to get together following this episode, I think that the writers have failed. At least with me.

Regarding Kate's decision to return to the island, she tells Cassidy that her intention is to find Claire and get her back home to Aaron. How? Is Kate really that stupid? Surely she must have realized that there was no way to achieve this in 2007. She does not know about the runway that Frank Lapidus had used to land Flight 316. Locke had destroyed the Dharma submarine back in Season 3. And Kate knows about the destruction of the freighter. How was she planning to send Claire back to Aaron? Or was she simply talking out of her ass?

You know, ever since (4.04) "Eggtown", Kate's story arc has been badly handled by the writers. It started with that ludicrous attempt by her to get information from Miles about her status as a fugitive. Then it developed into the storyline surrounding her custody of Aaron that went no where. The only thing that the Aaron storyline achieved was a temporary estragement between her and Jack. It was revealed in (5.04) "The Little Prince" that she had decided to claim Aaron as her own, because she was traumatized over losing Sawyer. And yet . . . "Eggtown" made it clear that she was willing to use Aaron to re-start a romance with Jack. If Aaron represented as a substitute for the loss of Sawyer, why did she have a photograph of both Aaron and Jack on her mantlepiece in Los Angeles? Was this a symbol of her continuing desire for both Jack and Sawyer? Or what? And the storyline surrounding her return to the island . . . contrived and badly written. After refusing to return to the island for Sawyer's sake, she visits his ex-girlfriend, confesses the Aaron kidnapping and vows to return to the island in order to find Claire Littleton and send the Australian woman back to her son and mother . . . without knowing how to achieve this little act? The only thing Kate did right was hand Aaron over to Carole Littleton. And I saw that coming a mile away. Once Kate returned to Los Angeles, she uses Jack for comfort sex and later rejects him after boarding Ajira Flight 316.

And now the producers dumped the badly written "Whatever Happened, Happened" episode on the viewers in order to make Kate favorable to the viewers again. They had her acting like a frantic Florence Nightengale over a kid she hardly knew. I understand if she was perturbed over young Ben's situation, like the others (sans Jack). But the writers . . . took it too far with Kate's frantic desire to save him, which included her donating blood to him. And they even used this episode to blame Jack for Ben's slide into darkness. I guess that the show's writers and producers' attempt to redeem Kate in the eyes of the viewers seemed to be working. The viewers are eagerly lapping up this shit. But Lindehof and Cuse achieved this at a heavy price. In the end, all they did was sacrifice any semblance of artistic achievement for bad characterization and mediocre writing.

How sad.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Top Ten (10) Favorite British Empire Films



Below is a list of my top ten (10) favorite movies set in the British Empire:


TOP TEN (10) FAVORITE BRITISH EMPIRE FILMS




1. "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1936) - This account of a British regiment's experiences in British India and during the Crimean War happens to be my favorite Errol Flynn movie. It was directed by Michael Curtiz.





2. "The Four Feathers" (2002) - Despite the prevailing view, this my favorite version of A.E.W. Mason's adventure novel about a disgraced British Army officer to attempts to redeem himself in the Sudan, during the 1880s. Directed by Shekhar Kapur, the movie starred Heath Ledger, Kate Hudson and Wes Bentley.





3. "The Last of the Mohicans" (1992) - Michael Mann directed this latest version of James Fenimore Cooper's novel about the Seven Years War in the 1750s. Daniel Day Lewis and Madeline Stowe starred.





4. "The Letter" (1940) - William Wyler directed this second version of W. Somerset Maugham's play about the adulterous wife of a British rubber planter in Malayia. Bette Davis starred.





5. "Zulu Dawn" (1979) - This prequel to the 1964 movie, "ZULU" is a dramatic account of the British invasion of Zululand and their defeat at the hands of the Zulu during the Battle of Isandhlwana. Peter O'Toole, Burt Lancaster and Simon Ward starred.





6. "Gandhi" (1982) - Actor Ben Kingsley and director Richard Attenborough won two of the eight Academy Awards given to this biopic about the life of Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi.





7. "Carry On . . . Up the Khyber" (1968) - This sixteenth entry in the "Carry On" film series is a hilarious parody of the British Empire in India during the late 19th century. Directed by Gerald Thomas, the movie starred Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims and Charles Hawtrey.





8. "Australia" (2008) - Baz Luhman directed this surprisingly entertaining film about a British aristocrat that inherits her husband's Australian cattle station during the first year of World War II and becomes involved with a independent-minded drover and a half-Aborigine/half-white boy. The movie starred Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and Brandon Walters.





9. "The Four Feathers" (1939)
- Alexander Korda produced and Zoltan Korda directed this celebrated version of A.E.W. Mason's adventure novel. Set during the Mahdist War in the late 1890s, the movie starred John Clements, June Duprez, Ralph Richardson and C. Aubrey Smith.





10. "Conduct Unbecoming" (1975) - Michael Anderson directed this version of Barry England play about a British officer in 1870s India being charged in the assault of the widow of a dead officer. Michael York, Richard Attenborough, Susannah York, Chistopher Plummer, Stacy Keach and James Faulkner starred.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"ANGELS AND DEMONS" (2009) Photo Gallery



Below is a gallery of photos from "ANGELS AND DEMONS", the sequel to the 2006 hit film, "THE DaVINCI CODE". Based upon Dan Brown's novel and directed by Ron Howard, the movie stars Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgård and Armin Mueller-Stahl:


"ANGELS AND DEMONS" (2009) Photo Gallery


































Monday, May 25, 2009

"Lessons in Witchcraft" [PG] - 5/9




"LESSONS IN WITCHCRAFT"

Chapter 5

Seconds after Harry McNeill closed the door behind him, Piper turned to her sisters. "Is it me, or did they seemed to be in a hurry to leave? Especially Olivia."

"I think she's pissed at us," Paige replied. "You know, for our reaction to her theory about the elements."

"Well, can you blame us for reacting that way? Apparently everyone else - except for Harry - seems to think that her little theory is off the radar." Piper heaved a sigh and allowed her body to flop down on the sofa. She glanced at the sheaf of papers on the table in front of her. "And does she and Harry really expect us to buy all of this stuff for an altar? I mean we've managed to do quite well without one for nearly five years. Along with any magical tools."

Paige heaved a small sigh. "You know Piper, if you think so little of these lessons, why are you taking them?"

"Tell me Paige, how is using an altar going to help us vanquish demons?"

"Your problem is that you still believe that vanquishing demons is what witchcraft is all about. Which is why you can barely stand being a witch."

A nervous Phoebe immediately intervened. "Okay, guys! There's no need to fight. We're supposed to be sisters. Right?"

An awkward silence followed. Both Piper and Paige reluctantly apologized to each other. "Sorry," Piper mumbled. "Didn't mean to sound bitchy."

"You weren't bitchy," Paige protested. Piper gave her a long look. "Well, maybe a little. I wasn't any better. I guess I've been a little . . . pushy about the whole matter." She paused. "And self-righteous."

Phoebe sighed with relief. "There. Now, don't you two feel a lot better?"

Both Piper and Paige grumbled, "Yeah."

"Good." Phoebe heaved a sigh. "I wonder what tomorrow's lesson will be about?" she asked.

The words came out of Piper's mouth before she could stop herself. "Who cares? As long as it'll be short. Like Olivia had promised." The others stared at her. She shook her head. "Forget I said that."

-----------

At precisely six o'clock, the doorbell to Olivia's apartment rang. She opened the door and found the Charmed Ones standing outside. "Right on time," she commented, allowing the three other witches to enter.

Once inside, Phoebe glanced nervously around the living room. "So, Cole's not here?" she asked.

Olivia gave the middle Charmed One a shrewd look. "No. As far as I know, he's out grocery shopping. But don't worry. He doesn't plan to show up until later this evening." Phoebe's face turned slightly pink. Much to Olivia's pleasure. "Okay, why don't we start on the first lesson. Meditation."

Piper spoke up. "Oh, but we already know about meditation. At least Phoebe and I do. I think. I once used it to control my second power."

"So did I," Phoebe added.

Olivia stared at the two older sisters. "Do you guys meditate on a regular basis?"

Phoebe frowned. "Do we have to?"

"You don't have to, but I would highly recommend it," Olivia replied. "Meditation can be very important for Wiccans. And for practitioners of other religions, as well. Not only do we use it for controlling our powers, but also for grounding and centering our inner selves. That's why meditation is so important, when practicing magick."

Paige asked, "What's grounding?"

Olivia replied, "It means being connected with the natural energy that flows through the Earth. We have the ability to use that energy to gain entrance into other worlds. Other dimensions that are quite . . . well, spectacular."

"Why bother?" Piper said, shrugging her shoulders. "All we have to do is get Paige or Leo to orb us to other dimensions."

It took all of Olivia's self-control not to incinerate the oldest Halliwell with a stream of fire. How could anyone who seemed like such an intelligent and reasonable woman on the surface, be so damn obtuse? "Thank you, Piper. I'm glad to see that your knowledge of the supernatural world is so extensive," Olivia retorted sarcastically. "I didn't realize that teleportation was the only method for dimensional travel. My mistake."

Piper's face turned red.

"So, you're saying that meditation is another method?" Paige asked.

Olivia replied, "Actually, it's the best method. There are a lot of dimensions that can only be accessed through meditation. And most of these dimensions are on a higher plane of existence."

Phoebe added, "You make this all sound like it's about spiritualism or something."

"It is," Olivia said. "Don't forget that witches are basically priests and priestesses. And that Wicca is a religion."

"But not all witches are Wiccans."

Olivia nodded. "True. There are witches who are a part of other Pagan religions. Of course, they might be regarded as priests and priestesses."

Phoebe shook her head. "No, I mean . . . you know, who aren't part of any particular religion."

"Like I had told you before, they would be regarded as magick practitioners. You know, a mage or sorcerer."

Then Piper asked, "What about Christians?"

Realizing that they were about to drift into a controversial topic, Olivia took a deep breath. "Normally, I would say that particular religion does not acknowledge witches. But . . . there is a group called the Fellowship of Christian Magicians. I really don't know much about them and I would suggest that you do some investigation on your own."

"Is Paul part of this Fellowship?"

Olivia shrugged her shoulders. "I don't think so. He once told me that his family had practiced Druidism years ago, but his ancestors had switched to Christianity, back in the 1700s. His parents had converted to Wicca in the late 60s. And after their deaths, Paul had ended up being raised as a Christian by his grandparents. He began practicing witchcraft in secret, as a teenager. And after his grandparents' death, openly." Olivia sighed. "However, I think he still maintains a good deal of Christian beliefs, despite practicing magick. A lot of witches who haven't practiced that long, are like that. Including you, I've noticed."

"We follow the Wiccan code," Piper insisted.

Olivia frowned, wondering if she had heard correctly. "The Wiccan code? Didn't we discuss the Wiccan 'Rede' some two weeks ago?" Before Piper could answer, Olivia shook her head. "Look, why don't we get back to discussing meditation? Now, there are seven charkas . . ."

"What?" Phoebe demanded.

"Chakras. A chakra is an energy that centers upon a certain part of the body, due to a concentration of nerves," Olivia continued. "There are seven of them. The first is Root or Muladhara Chakras - for the ability to move in a loving way on the physical plane. The second is Svdhistana, which deals with the balance of feminine and masculine energies. And then there is the Solar Plexus or Massipura Chakra, which deals with the positive use of energy."

Paige interrupted. "Uh, can you slow down a bit, Livy? I'm trying to write all of this down."

The complaint reminded Olivia of the envelope on her desk. "Oh yeah." She stood up and retrieved the envelope. Then she removed the contents and passed them to the Charmed Ones. "Sorry, I forgot about the copies of the chakra chart that I had prepared for you. Ready to continue?" When the three sisters nodded, Olivia added, "Next, we have the Anahata or the Heart Chakra. That deals with emotion."

"How many uh . . . charkas have we . . .?" Phoebe began.

Olivia checked her copy of the chart. "So far, four." She paused. "Ready? Okay. Now, the fifth chakra is Vishuddha or the throat. It deals with verbal communication." Again, she paused. "The Third Eye is the sixth chakra and it deals with the Psychic Center. It's also called the Ajua. And the last chakra . . ."

"Thank God," Piper murmured. Olivia, who had overheard, stared at the Charmed One. Hard. The other woman's face turned red before she glanced away. "Sorry."

"The last chakra," Olivia resumed, "is the Crown Sahasrata." She paused. "This deals with Deity or the infinite. Or the Universe. All the same thing, basically. Meditation usually involves some kind of visualization. For example, a popular visualization used by Wiccans involves climbing a steep staircase that leads to a door. Or becoming slowly aware or focused upon the natural beauty of some meadow or forest in your mind." Olivia gave Piper an arch smile. "And since you have such vast experience in this area Piper, I'm sure that you know what I mean. Right?"

For the third time, Piper's complexion had turned slightly crimson. "Uh . . . yeah. Right."

Olivia smiled with mock delight. "Good! That means you can lead the others in regular meditation sessions."

"Huh?" Piper's jaw hung open in shock.

Deliberately ignoring the oldest sister's reaction, Olivia decided to move on to the next topic. "Now, we'll talk about color magic," she said. "Colors are important in every area in Wicca. I mean, we use them in everything. If you'll notice your meditation chart, you'll see that each chakra has a color association."

"Why?" Paige demanded. "Why are colors so important?"

Olivia immediately replied, "Because colors play an important role in how we feel, see and think." She removed more sheets from the yellow envelope on her desk, and passed them around.

The sisters glanced at the new sheets. "What does this mean?" Paige asked. "Black is associated with neutralization?"

"What does the word, neutralize mean?" Olivia responded.

With a shrug of her shoulders, Paige replied, "I guess to make ineffective? To destroy?"

Olivia nodded. "Precisely. When using a brandishing spell . . ."

"Don't you mean vanquishing?" Phoebe asked.

"Well, a spell for brandishing or vanquishing, we use the color black," Olivia continued. "And we use it, either for our altar, for candle magic or anything else."

A frowning Phoebe shook her head. "Wait a minute! Are you saying that we have to use a specific color for a certain kind of spell? I've never heard of that before. We just usually use white candles."

Figures, Olivia replied silently. That would explain why so many of the sisters' spells tend to go wrong. Instead, she solemnly replied, "Yeah, Leo has told me about some of your spells that went wrong. Have you always used white candles for spells?"

The sisters fell silent. Except for Paige who said, "Ooops! I guess we did."

"Well," Olivia continued, "let's look at the chart. The first color is Black. It's usually associated with binding, protection, neutralization, karma, death manifestation and will power."

Paige mumbled, "That's a hell of a lot."

"No kidding. Check out the functions for Royal Blue or Purple. They're used for spells involving business, logic, social matters, political power and material wealth." Olivia paused. "Hmmm, I guess that's why the Queen of England's robe is purple."

Phoebe glanced at the chart. "I thought Green would be associated with wealth. All I see are stuff like romance, friendship, beauty, soul mates, art, harmony, and . . ."

". . . prosperity," Olivia finished. "Green candles are used a lot for prosperity spells, also." Piper opened her mouth, but the older woman interrupted. "Uh, please don't ask me a question about personal gain. Please?" The Charmed One closed her mouth.

Olivia continued, "Next is Yellow or Gold. These colors deal with health, success, ambition, personal finances and careers. Then we have Orange, Light Blue or Grey. All three are associated with wisdom, healing, communication, intelligence memory and education. Red deals with passion, partnerships, courage swiftness and energy."

Paige asked, "And White?"

A sigh left Olivia's mouth. Finally . . . the end. "White . . . and silver are associated with psychic pursuits, psychology, dreams, astral projection, imagination and reincarnation." She paused. "Any questions?"

"Yeah," Piper replied. "Do we really have to buy all of this stuff? Different colored candles, and all of these magical tools like cauldrons, chalices, wands, altar cloths and such?"

Olivia stared at her. "Why not? Don't you already use certain tools? Scrying crystals, athames - although I hope that you've already trashed Cole's old one - cords . . ."

"Cords?" Paige frowned. "You never mentioned that."

Oh shit! Olivia mentally castigated herself. "Yeah, I guess I had forgotten. A cord is also a magickal tool. It's used for binding and unbinding. Like in a Wiccan wedding ceremony."

"Oh yeah," Piper added. "Like my wedding. Grams had used one."

Olivia nodded. "Right. As for buying these tools, I'm not saying that you have to, but . . . what the hell? Why not? It would make practicing magick a lot easier for you. Anyway," she sighed, "that's it for this evening."

"When is the next lesson?" Phoebe asked.

"Next Saturday." Olivia smiled. "And it's going to be a doozy. About other magical beings . . . including daemons." Her smile widened.


END OF CHAPTER 5

Sunday, May 24, 2009

STAR TREK VOYAGER RETROSPECTIVE: (3.24) "Displaced"




STAR TREK VOYAGER RETROSPECTIVE: (3.24) “Displaced”

I might as well be honest. I wish I could be objective about the ”STAR TREK VOYAGER” Season Three episode, ”Displaced”. But I cannot. My feelings for this episode are too strong. Let me explain.

Lisa Klink wrote the teleplay for this episode about Voyager’s crew members being replaced, one-by-one, with aliens from an unknown race. While arguing over a Klingon workout program that Chief Helmsman Tom Paris had created for the Holodeck, the pilot and Voyager’s Chief Engineer, B’ElannaTorres, are interrupted by a strange alien that has appeared aboard ship from nowhere. This phenomenon occurs over and over again, until both Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay realizes that this new alien race – called the Nyrians – are bent upon taking control of Voyager . . . but without the use of brute force. Eventually, the entire crew end up as prisoners on a habitat that also contains prisoners from other races whose ships and colonies were also conquered by the Nyrians in a similar manner.

Amidst the alien takeover of the ship, the continuation of the blossoming relationship between the ship’s Chief Helmsman, Lieutenant Tom Paris and Chief Engineer Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres hits a snag. In a previous episode called ”Distant Origin”, Paris had made a bet with Torres over the reason behind a ship malfunction. The Chief Helmsman won the bet and Torres was forced to participate with him in a Klingon exercise program in the Holodeck. Being inclined to avoid her Klingon heritage as much as possible, Torres resents that Paris is interested in all aspects of her entire self – both Human and Klingon. And later in the episode, both Torres and the Doctor revealed Tom’s own insecurities and his tendency to use jokes to hide them.

Temperatures seemed to have played a major role in ”Displaced”. From Paris and Torres’ heated argument over his Klingon martial arts program to the Nyrians and Torres’ low tolerance of cold temperatures, and to finally the warm reconciliation between the two future lovers inside the Holodeck. It was good to see Voyager’s crew – especially Janeway and Tuvok - work at retaking control of Voyager by utilizing the Nyrians’ teleportation system. I especially found Janeway’s ultimatums for the Nyrian leaders inside their habitat rather satisfying.

But what really made this episode rocked – at least for me – was the continuation of Paris and Torres’ courtship that began when the Chief Pilot made his first overture in ”The Swarm”, earlier in the season. By the time ”Displaced” had aired – some twenty episodes later – Paris has been in earnest pursuit of Torres. Lisa Klink had wonderfully brought out Paris’ determination to reveal to Torres, his interest in everything about her – and that included both her Human and Klingon sides – despite how she may have felt about the latter. Klink also did an excellent job of revealing the pair’s insecurities, which ended up providing many roadblocks to their romance and eventual marriage over three years later. Late Season Three and early Season Four had featured some of the best moments in the Paris/Torres relationship. At least until Season Seven. And among those gems included scenes from this episode.

Below are what I consider highlights from ”Displaced”:

*Paris and Torres’ quarrel over the Klingon martial arts program
*Tuvok’s revelation to Chakotay about his survival training experience on Vulcan
*Chakotay’s attempts to defend the ship from the Nyrians, reliving his old role as a Maquis captain
*The Doctor’s exposure of both Paris and Torres’ insecurities inside the Nyrian habitat
*Torres’ ”I’m not hostile” conversation with Harry Kim and his fearful reaction to her tone
*Paris and Torres’ frozen adventures inside another Nyrian habitat
*Janeway and Tuvok’s efforts to gain control of the Nyrians’ teleportation system
*Janeway’s confrontation with the Nyrian leaders


As I had earlier stated, I wish I could be objective about this episode. But how can I? Even after eleven years, I still love it. Lisa Klink’s teleplay seemed to feature everything – adventure, romance, humor, intrigue and rich characterization. It is easy to see why I consider ”Displaced” to be one of the best ”VOYAGER” episodes.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

"STATE OF PLAY" (2009) Review



Below is my review of the new political thriller, "STATE OF PLAY", starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck:


"STATE OF PLAY" (2009) Review

Aside from the Liam Neeson thriller, ”TAKEN”, I must admit that I have not found the movies released between January and April of this year, all that impressive. They have not been terrible. But I have harbored this feeling that I have been wallowing in a sea of mediocrity during the past winter and early spring. Thankfully, this ended when I finally the new political thriller directed by Kevin Macdonald called, ”STATE OF PLAY”.

Based upon the critically acclaimed 2003 British miniseries of the same name, ”STATE OF PLAY” is about a Washington D.C. newspaper's investigation into the death of a young congressional aide named Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer) and centers around the relationship between leading journalist Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) and his old friend Robert Collins (Ben Affleck), a U.S. congressman on the fast track and Baker’s employer. When Congressman Collins learns of his aide’s death, he asks his old friend, McAffrey to investigate her death when it is labeled as a suicide. McAffrey and a blogger with his newspaper named Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) not only learn that Baker was Congressman Collins’ mistress, but there might be a connection between her death and the private military company that the congressman was investigating.

I have heard a few proclaim that the original British miniseries is superior to this version. If so, then it must have been one hell of a production. I have never seen the miniseries, but I must admit that I found this version of ”STATE OF PLAY” to be very impressive. Kevin Macdonald’s solid direction screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, Peter Morgan, and Billy Ray created a tight thriller filled with interesting glimpses into the press and Washington politics. I doubt that this film will ever be critically acclaimed like the British miniseries or earn any award nominations, but it was a solid, well-acted movie filled with first-rate performances. And its story – unlike previous movies I have recently watched – did not end on a disappointing note. The movie ended with an unexpected twist that surprised me.

Russell Crowe led the cast, portraying Washington Globe journalist, Cal McAffrey. I would not consider his role as interesting as the Ed Hoffman character from ”BODY OF LIES”, Bud White in ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL”, Jeffrey Wigand in ”THE INSIDER” or his Oscar winning role in ”GLADIATOR” - Maximus Decimus Meridius. His Cal McAffrey is on the surface, an affable, yet slightly jaded reporter who becomes a relentless truth-seeker when pursuing a special story. In the case of Sonia Baker, McAffrey’s relentless investigation seemed rooted in his desire to extract his friend Collins from the gossip slingers over the latter’s affair with the aide and focus upon bringing down the private military company being investigated by Collins. Crowe is at turns relaxed and at the same time, intense and single-minded in his pursuit of journalistic truth.

Several years ago, I had found myself thinking that if there was ever a remake of the 1950 classic, ”SUNSET BOULEVARD”, who could portray the doomed Hollywood screenwriter, Joe Gillis. The first person that immediately came to my mind was Ben Affleck. Actress Nancy Olson once described William Holden at the time that particular movie was filmed as the typical handsome Hollywood leading actor . . . but with a touch of corruption that made his Joe Gillis so memorable. Frankly, I could say the same about Affleck. I saw him display this same trait in movies like ”BOUNCE” and ”HOLLYWOODLAND”. And I could see it in his performance as Congressman Robert Collins. Affleck managed to skillfully project Collins not only as a dedicated crusader who is determined to bring down the private military company with a congressional investigation, but also a flawed man who became sexually attracted to his beautiful aide, while struggling to control his anger at the knowledge of his wife Anne’s (Robin Wright Penn) past affair with McAffrey.

The rest of the cast included Rachel McAdams’ solid portrayal of a popular blogger turned junior political reporter named Della Frye, who finds herself in the midst of the career-making story and mentored by McAffrey. Helen Mirren’s Washington Globe editor Cameron Lynne is wonderfully splashy and strong, without being over-the-top. I could say the same for Jason Bateman’s performance as a bisexual fetish club promoter named Dominic Foy, who has the information that McAffrey and Frye need. Michael Berresse portrayed a mysterious hitman named Robert Bingham and he does a pretty good job. However, I must admit that I found his performance as a sociopath a little over-the-top . . . especially in his last scene. Although not as memorable as some of the other supporting cast, both Harry Lennix as a Washington D.C. cop and Jeff Daniels as Affleck’s congressional mentor gave solid support to the movie. And there is Robin Wright Penn, who portrayed the congressman’s wife, Anne Collins. Penn gave a complex performance as the politician’s wife who is not only hurt and betrayed by her husband’s infidelity, but wracked with guilt over her own past indiscretion with McAffrey, along with desire for him.

If you are expecting ”STATE OF PLAY” to be the next ”ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” or ”SEVEN DAYS IN MAY”, you are going to be slightly disappointed. I have seen better quality political films than this movie. But I can honestly say that I still found ”STATE OF PLAY” to be a solid and entertaining movie filled with intelligence, humor and a strong and steady cast.

Friday, May 22, 2009

"X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE" (2009) Photo Gallery



Below are photos from the new X-MEN about the origins of the Wolverine character called "X-MEN ORIGINS: Wolverine". The movie stars Hugh Jackman, Liev Schrieber, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins, will.i.am, Taylor Kitsch and Ryan Reynolds:


"X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE" (2009) Photo Gallery