Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Spells, Lies and Remorse" [R] - 7/9




"SPELLS, LIES AND REMORSE"

CHAPTER SEVEN

The bell over Ostera's front door rang, signaling a new customer. Both Paige and Barbara glanced up from the inventory sheet spread over the counter and were surprised to see Olivia enter the shop. "Hey!" Barbara greeted cheerfully. "What are you doing here?"

Smiling, Olivia walked over to the counter. "Just a little shopping, today. For some herbs and resin."

"New spell?" Paige asked.

Olivia's smile tightened. Which made Paige feel slightly uneasy. "No, not really. Just stocking up."

Barbara asked, "What do you need?" Olivia handed her a list. "Huh. Interesting." She handed the list to Paige. "Honey, why don't you and Maddy get this for Livy?"

Very reluctantly, Paige headed for the stockroom, where she found the other shop assistant, opening a large box. "Hey Maddy, we've got a job to do." She showed the younger woman the list. "We have to get this stuff for Olivia." The two women commenced upon finding the requested herbs.

"Italian Cypress seeds?" Madeline declared out loud. "What the hell?"

Paige sighed. "I know. This is a strange list. Yarrow, garlic, willow evergreen." Her eyes widened at the sight of one item. "Nightshade?"

"Hmmm," Maddy commented. "Deadly."

It took the two women nearly fifteen minutes to gather all of the supplies on the list. They returned to the store's front room, where they found Barbara dealing with a new customer. Olivia remained standing in front of the counter, patiently waiting for her supplies.

"Here you go," Paige said, as she and Maddy dumped the items on the counter. "Do you want to wait for Barbara?"

Olivia shook her head. "That's okay. I have to get back to work. You can ring it up."

After scanning the items, Paige announced the total sum. "Twenty-seven dollars and thirty-two cents." Olivia handed her thirty dollars. "So," Paige continued, as she took the money, "what's all this stuff for?"

Olivia gave the younger witch a cool look. "Like I said . . . stocking up."

"Oh. Yeah." Paige arched a dubious brow. "I forgot. Well, you sure know how to pick some interesting stuff for stock." She placed the last item into a plastic bag.

"Hmmm. Well," Olivia picked up the bag. "Gotta go. I'll see you."

Paige added, "Will you be at your parents' brunch, tomorrow?"

"I don't think so. I've been feeling a little tired, lately." Olivia started toward the door.

"Wait!"

Impatience stamped on her face, Olivia hesitated. "Yes?"

"Um, have you seen Cole, lately?"

Green eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Why do you ask?"

Feeling slightly intimidated by Olivia's odd manner, Paige murmured, "Well . . . uh, I haven't see you guys . . . together. I mean, I heard . . ."

"We broke up, if you want to know," Olivia stated bluntly. "Actually, I broke up with him."

The news sent Paige into a state of shock. "Wha . . .? Why?"

Olivia's face assumed a cold mask. "Excuse me?"

"Uh . . . nothing." Paige took a deep breath. "Well, I guess you have to leave, huh?"

Once more, Olivia stared at the younger woman. "I guess so." Then she smiled. Somewhat. "I'll see you later, Paige."

"Yeah. Later." Paige watched nervously, as the red-haired witch left the shop. She murmured under her breath, "Oh my God! What the hell happened to her?"

----------

"Oh my God! Not again!" Darryl Morris nudged his wife. It was the following Sunday evening, and the couple sat inside the House of Prime Rib, one of San Francisco's more popular restaurants. They had left their sons to spend the week with Darryl's parents. He pointed at a couple sitting inside a booth, on the other side of the dining room.

Sheila frowned at the couple. "What are you talking about? What's wrong?"

Darryl sighed. "Oh yeah. I guess I never told you about last Thursday. Or was it Friday?"

"Friday?" Sheila stared at her husband. "What happened, last Friday?"

"Olivia made a date with Paul Margolin. For dinner."

Disbelief shone briefly in Sheila's dark eyes. "What's the big deal?" she finally said. "He seems like a reasonably good-looking man. Decent. And didn't you once tell me that he was a witch? Like Olivia?"

"Yeah, but I thought she had grown bored with him, last spring." Darryl frowned, as a thought came to him. "Now that I think about it, she hadn't seemed all that interested in him, during the trial. It wasn't until after we had lunch . . ."

Sheila asked, "Is it true that Phoebe and Cole have reconciled? I was at Ostera's, when I heard the news."

Darryl shrugged his shoulders. "That's what I had heard. Maybe that would explain those two." Husband and wife continued to stare at the couple. "Man, I can't believe it. Was Cole and Phoebe the reason why Olivia got interested in Margolin, again?"

"Should we drop by and say hello?"

Darryl contemplated his wife's question for a minute. Then he saw their waiter approaching their table. "Nah, maybe we should let Olivia and Margolin have their privacy. Besides, I think our food is ready."

-----------

Inside Cole's penthouse, Phoebe took a sip of her Manhattan. "Hmmm, not bad." She glanced around the living room. "This place looks a little different. What did you do to it?"

"Nothing really," Cole replied. He sat next to Phoebe, holding a martini. "You just haven't seen it in a long time."

Her eyes now resting on the row of plants resting on the shelf above the fireplace, Phoebe said, "Are you sure? I don't recall seeing plants in here."

A heavy silence fell between the pair. When Phoebe had first received Cole's invitation, she had felt overjoyed. Thrilled. Now, she began to wonder if this date had been a good idea. Both she and Cole seemed wary in each other's company. Perhaps those fifteen months apart had taken a toll on their ability to feel comfortable in each other's presence.

Cole cleared his throat. "Phoebe, I . . ." He paused, and glanced toward the kitchen. "Uh, the reason I wanted to see you tonight . . . Well, it's about your question. You know . . ." He coughed slightly.

Phoebe decided to help out. "I understand," she said gently. "You wanted to work it out with Olivia, first."

"Actually, I was going to say yes."

Phoebe nearly choked on her cocktail. "Huh?"

Smiling briefly, Cole continued, "I don't see why we can't give it a shot." He quickly sobered. "But I have to be honest. Olivia had recently decided to end it between us. A couple of days ago, I would have been upset. Now," he sighed, "I guess I wasn't really that surprised."

"I'm so sorry, Cole." Phoebe's voice oozed sympathy. Another silent pause followed. "Um . . . how do you want . . .?"

Cole placed his martini glass on the table and removed the Manhattan from Phoebe's grip. He placed that next to his martini. Then he covered Phoebe's hands with his own. The touch of his skin sent a warm flush throughout her body. "Why don't we just take it one day at a time?" he quietly suggested. "I think it would be best for both of us. Okay?"

One day at a time. Although Phoebe found the suggestion a little too slow for her taste, she realized that it would do. Especially if it meant getting Cole back into her life. She gave him a warm smile. "One day at a time sounds great to me."

-----------

Leo orbed into one of the seats around the dining room, taking both Paige and Piper by surprise. "I'm home!" he declared. "What's for dinner?"

"Where have you been?" Piper demanded. "It's almost been two days!"

"Honey, you knew I had business to attend to. Another charge." Leo reached for the pitcher of iced tea. "And it was a difficult case, I might add."

Paige stared at her brother-in-law. "Who was the charge?"

"Paige, you know better than to ask me."

"How about this?" the younger Charmed One asked. "When was the last time you saw Paul Margolin?"

Leo frowned at Paige. "What . . . what are you getting at?"

Piper cut in. "Paige! It's nothing, Leo. Just some crazy idea that Paige has come up with."

"It's not crazy!"

"Paige, Leo hasn't been home in two days. Let him eat!"

But the younger woman refused to give up. "C'mon Piper. I only want to know what's going on between and Paul. And what does Olivia has to do with it?"

Leo's blue eyes expressed confusion. "Paige, what are you talking about?"

"Harry and I saw Olivia and Paul at the Golden Horn, last Friday night. And they were looking quite chummy." Paige hesitated. "I had . . . I had talked Harry into reading Paul's mind. To find out what was going on . . ."

Leo exclaimed, "My God, Paige! What were you thinking? You should have known that Harry isn't allowed to use his telepathy like that! It's a breach of privacy!"

"Yeah? Well, so is what you and Paul have been scheming in regard to Olivia!" Paige shot back. "According to Harry, Paul said something about some plan going well, and your name came up."

Not only did Paige continue to stare at Leo, but so did Piper. "Leo?" she said. "Is there something going on we don't know about?"

An exasperated sigh left Leo's mouth. "It's nothing. Paul . . . he merely wanted my advice regarding Olivia. Apparently, he's still interested in her. I told him that if he was still that interested, he should give it a go."

"And what did he do to Olivia to make her interested in him, again?" Paige demanded.

Leo cried out, "He didn't do anything! Maybe Olivia's finally tired of Cole! Or maybe, she didn't like the fact that he and Phoebe are friends, again. I don't know!"

Piper spoke up. "Paige, maybe we ought to give this a rest. I don't think you have anything to be suspicious about."

Paige slumped into her chair. "Fine."

Piper rolled her eyes and handed a platter of meat to her husband. "Pork chops, Leo?"

The whitelighter hesitated, before he grabbed the platter. But his eyes continued to stare uneasily at Paige. Which failed to dim her suspicions. Judging from Leo's unease, he was worried about something. And Paige intended to find out.

-----------

Harry hung up the telephone and rejoined his family inside the drawing room. The McNeills, along with Paul Margolin, had retired there, following a sumptuous meal prepared by his mother.

"Who was that?" Gran asked.

"Paige." Harry returned to his seat. "She, uh . . . her brooch is missing and she wanted to know if I had found it inside my car."

Gran continued, "Well, did you?"

"I'll check later."

Olivia's green eyes sparkled with mischief. "So, you and Paige had a date. Strange, she didn't say anything to me."

Harry gave his sister a thin smile. "It was nothing. I took her out, last Friday night. To the Empress of China, in Chinatown."

A brief frown flitted across Bruce's face. Fortunately, their usually uber-observant sister had not noticed. Olivia smiled. "Very impressive. How was your date?"

"Uh . . . interesting."

Olivia continued, "Paul took me out to dinner that night. At the Golden Horn." She smiled warmly at the ADA.

Harry choked back his bile, and smiled. "Hmmm, isn't that nice?"

After Olivia and Paul had departed over an hour later, Jack turned to his younger son. "Okay Harry, what did Paige really want to talk to you about?"

"Leo's back," Harry grimly replied. "She tried to question him about Livy and Paul, but it didn't go anywhere. She also wants to question him again." He hesitated. "I told her to lay off, since Bruce and I have a plan."

The oldest McNeill sibling looked surprised. "We do?"

"Of course. Don't you remember what Paul had told us, earlier?" Harry asked. "About his upcoming lunch with the D.A.? It's supposed to be tomorrow."

Bruce shook his head silently.

Harry sighed. "Okay, I see you weren't paying attention. While Paul is having lunch with his boss, you'll be meeting Leo inside his office."

"What makes you think that Leo is going to talk to me?" Bruce demanded.

Harry smiled. "Don't worry, Big Brother. Leo will think he is meeting with Paul. And thanks to your shapeshifting ability, you'll make sure that he will."

------------

Monday morning dawned bright over San Francisco. Olivia stood inside the kitchen, as she prepared a potion that she believed would become a final solution to a problem . . . a problem that came in the form of a certain daemon named Belthazor.

While she hummed, "Nobody Does It Better" under her breath, she reached inside one of the cabinets and retrieved a small, black cauldron. Olivia filled it with water - straight out of San Francisco Bay - and placed it on top of the stove. She turned on the flame and the water inside the cauldron began to boil. Next, came the ingredients she had purchased at Ostera's - jasmine, yarrow, garlic and willow. Olivia also added the Nightshade. A puff of black smoke exploded above the cauldron and she allowed the mixture to continue boiling.

Leaving the kitchen, Olivia headed back into the living room and toward the altar she had previously set up in a small corner. She removed the pentagram, sketched inside a circle, from the altar and replaced it with another circle - which contained a heptagram. Then she lit both of the altar's candles and placed sprigs of evergreen around the altar. Finally, she poured the Italian Cypress seeds into the cauldron. Satisfied that everything had been prepared, Olivia returned to the kitchen, removed the cauldron from the stove and placed it over the heptagram.

Olivia then donned her ceremonial robe, retrieved the Aingeal staff from her closet and stood before the altar. Holding the staff in her left hand, she grabbed a stick of tree bark and mumbled an incantation in Celtic - invoking the names of Hecate and Pele. While she continued to chant, she added a piece of earthworm, a piece of water snake, a dried up spider and a sliver of salamander flesh to them mixture inside the cauldron. Then using prongs, she retrieved a small lump of mercury, dropped it into the mixture and finished the incantation with a flourish. The red carnelian stone in her staff shone bright red. And another puff of red smoke exploded above the cauldron.

Once the smoke had cleared, Olivia returned the staff to her bedroom closet and removed her robe. She retrieved the cauldron and returned it to the kitchen. After spreading a white, cheesecloth over a small cooking pot, Olivia poured the cauldron's contents upon the cloth. After the liquid had seeped through, she squeezed the last of it into the pot and placed the cloth on the kitchen's counter, allowing the contents to dry. Then she poured the liquid from the pot into several small bottles - ammunition for another day - and washed her hands in the kitchen sink.

Now that her task had been completed, Olivia picked up her cordless telephone and dialed a number. "Hi, Paul. It's me, Olivia. I'm finished with that potion we had discussed. Well, almost. I have a little dehydration to complete."

"When do we use it?" the other witch asked.

Olivia glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall. It read ten twenty-three. "How about in a few hours? Meet me at Cole's penthouse around two-thirty, this afternoon. We would have to get there before him."

Doubt clouded Paul's voice. "Are you sure you don't want to try, tomorrow? This afternoon seemed to be cutting it a little close. I have that lunch with the D.A., don't forget."

"You won't be finished before two?" Olivia asked.

A pause followed before Paul continued with a sigh. "I guess I can. If it begins to stretch too long, I'll just tell Coleman that I have an afternoon appointment. I'm sure he'll understand."

"Good. I'll see you this afternoon. Bye." Olivia hung up, allowing herself a satisfied smile. If all went well, Cole Turner aka Belthazor would no longer exist by the end of the day.


END OF CHAPTER 7

Friday, October 30, 2009

"THE GREAT RACE" (1965) Review




”THE GREAT RACE” (1965) Review

During the 1950s and the 1960s, the Hollywood film industry had released many films that were later dubbed as ”blockbusters”. These films were made to compete with the growing popularity of television during the post-World War II era. Most of the blockbusters released during the 1950s turned out to be period dramas and musicals. The period dramas and musicals continued way into the 1960s. However, they were joined by all-star comedies with long running times. One of these comedies turned out to be 1965’s "THE GREAT RACE".

Directed by Blake Edwards, "THE GREAT RACE" told the story of a long distance road race from New York City to Paris in 1908, between two daredevil rivals. One of these rivals happened to be Leslie Gallant III (aka "The Great Leslie"), a handsome, brave and dashing daredevil who represented the epitome of the well-bred American gentleman of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Leslie also possessed a slightly condescending manner that matched his superficial perfection to a "T". The Great Leslie’s daredevil rival was a swarthy, mustache-twirling villain named Professor Fate. But whereas Leslie’s successful stunts gave him respectability from American public, businessmen and the media, Fate has been nearly regulated to the status of a buffoon, due to his constant failures. The latter resulted in Fate’s eternal grudge against his more handsome and successful rival. When the white-suited hero proposed a long road race from New York City to Paris in order to promote a new car (the Leslie Special) designed by him and built by the Weber Motor Company, Fate decided to thwart Leslie’s plans of victory by building his own super car for the race (the Hannibal Eight). Meanwhile, a female photojournalist and suffragette named Maggie Dubois managed to convince the editor of the The New York Sentinel to hire her to cover the race.

I might as well be blunt. I tend to have mixed views about Hollywood blockbusters. I either love them, in spite of themselves. Or I dislike them. While viewing some of these blockbusters from the 1950s and 60s, they struck as bloated as some of today’s blockbusters. And "THE GREAT RACE" certainly seemed like the blockbuster of the bloated variety. With a running time of two hours and forty minutes, it seemed to long for a mere comedy. Really. The movie also shared a similar flaw with another 1965 blockbuster, "THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES". In other words, it is a long comedic movie about a race in which only a small percentage of the film featured the actual event. First of all, Edwards and his co-writer, Arthur A. Ross, spent at least 40 to 45 minutes of the film setting up his characters and the preparation for the race. Forty-five minutes. And although the next two hours centered on the actual race, moviegoers only saw the participants race during the first leg of the race that featured the results of a series of sabotage committed by Fate’s assistant, Maximilian, against Leslie and Fate’s other competitors. Most of the movie centered around the main characters’ adventures in the small Western town of Boracho, in the wintry chills of Alaska, Imperial Russia and a fictionalized European country called Carpania and its capital of Potsdorf (during which the movie became a spoof of Anthony Hope’s classic, "The Prisoner of Zenda"). Moviegoers were able to see the race one last time, when the Leslie Special and the Hannibal Eight raced along the outskirts and within the city of Paris - the final destination. For a movie called "THE GREAT RACE", very little racing was actually seen.

Another problem that "THE GREAT RACE" shared with "THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES" was the abundance of slapstick humor in the story. It came dangerously close to being too MUCH for my tastes. I did not mind the Boracho saloon fight (an obvious spoof of fight scenes in Hollywood Westerns). Nor did I mind Maximilian’s sabotage of Fate’s other competitors at the beginning of the race. But Fate’s attempts to sabotage Leslie’s daredevil stunts in the movie’s first fifteen or twenty minutes and the pie fight inside the Potsdorf royal kitchen irritated me to no end. I believe that both scenes may have unnecessarily dragged the film.

Yet, bloated or not, I cannot deny that "THE GREAT RACE" is a very, very entertaining film. Edwards and Ross did a top notch job in creating a story set during the pre-World War I era in the United States and Europe. During this period, Western society was in its last gasp of clinging to the nineteenth century – a world filled with constricting fashion for women, elegant manners, European royalty with some political power, and binding society’s rules. And yet . . . Edwards and Ross’s story made it clear this world was also disappearing, due to the presence of motorized vehicles on the roads, the suffragette movement, the popularity of daredevils like Leslie and Fate, the threat of political loss for European royalty and the diminished presence of Native Americans in the West. What made "THE GREAT RACE" so amazing was that Edwards revealed these social changes in a cinematic style straight from silent era films like "THE PERILS OF PAULINE", with slapstick comedy added for good measure.

Speaking of the movie’s comedy, I realize that I had complained a good deal about some of it. However, Edwards and Ross’ script did provide plenty of comedic moments that I absolutely enjoyed. One such moment featured the Great Leslie’s meeting with the board members of the Weber Motor Company. The meeting itself merely served as the springboard for the race. But a surprise visitor gave the scene a comedic touch that I found particularly funny. Other funny moments included:

*Maggie Dubois’ reaction to singer Lily O’Lay’s flirtation with Leslie

*The entire Boracho sequence

*Miss Dubois’ brief, yet successful attempt to replace Hezekial Sturdy as Leslie’s co-driver

*Fate’s explanation of the attraction between Leslie and Miss Dubois

*The entire Alaska sequence

*Fate, Miss Dubois and Max’s arrival in a Russian town

*General Kuhster’s attempt to instruct Fate on how to impersonate Crown Prince Hapnick’s laugh

*Leslie and Miss Dubois’ quarrel during the last leg of the race

*Fate’s rant against Leslie’s perfection after the two competitors reached the Eiffel Tower and the finish line

"THE GREAT RACE" also included an entertaining score written by Henry Mancini. The composer also co-wrote two songs with Johnny Mercer – a charming tune called "The Singing Tree" (that also served as the movie’s main tune) and a rousing song called "He Shouldn't A Hadn't A Oughtn't A Swang on Me". Donfeld aka Don Feld designed some colorful costumes, reminiscent of the fashions of the 20th century’s first decade. However, I must admit that I found some of Natalie Wood’s costumes a bit over-the-top – namely two of the Western outfits she wore in the Boracho sequence. The movie also featured a swordfight between Leslie and a Carpanian aristocrat named Baron Von Stuppe (Ross Martin) during the Potsdorf sequence. And I consider that particular swordfight to be one of the best in Hollywood history. I am aware that Curtis had some theatrical sword fighting experience in some of the swashbucklers from the 1950s. But Ross Martin’s skills with a sword took me by surprise. Perhaps he had learned it, while training for the theater.

As far as I am concerned, the best asset of "THE GREAT RACE" was its cast. Edwards managed to collect a top-notch cast filled with extremely talented performers. Aside from the stars, the movie was filled with some great talent. Arthur O’Connell and Vivian Vance were hilarious as Maggie Dubois’ long-suffering editor and his pushy suffragette wife, Henry and Hester Goodbody. Marvin Kaplan portrayed Frisbee’ Mr. Goodbody’s slightly befuddled assistant. The Boracho sequence featured a hilarious performance by Larry Storch as the town’s ruthless local outlaw, Texas Jack. And Dorothy Provine gave one of the movie’s best performances as Boracho’s local saloon chanteuse, Lily O’Lay. Not only did she give a rousing rendition of "He Shouldn't A Hadn't A Oughtn't A Swang on Me", she also injected her character with plenty of wacky humor and charm. The Carpania sequence provided George Macready to give a solid performance as Prince Hapnick’s solid, but traitorous aide, General Kuhster. And Ross Martin was deliciously suave and villainous as Baron Rolfe von Stuppe, General Kuhster’s ally in the coup d’état against the Crown Prince.

Peter Falk garnered a great deal of notice as Maximilian, Professor Fate’s loyal, yet slippery henchman. And he deserved all of the good notice he had received, thanks to his subtle and sly performance. More importantly, Falk managed to create a first-rate comedic team with the likes of Jack Lemmon. Keenan Wynn’s role as Hezekiah Sturdy, Leslie’s assistant. Wynn basically gave a solid performance as Leslie’s right-hand man. But Edwards gave him two scenes in which he absolutely shone without saying a word. One featured a moment in which his character tried to work up the courage to ask a beautiful Carpanian aristocrat to dance at the royal ball. Another featured his silent, yet long-suffering reactions to Leslie and Miss Dubois’ final battle-of-the-sexes quarrel during the race’s last leg into Paris.

Tony Curtis had worked with his two co-stars in previous movies. He had co-starred with Natalie Wood in 1964’s "SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL" And he worked with Jack Lemmon in Billy Wilder’s 1959 comedy classic, "SOME LIKE IT HOT". In "THE GREAT RACE", he re-created screen chemistry with both of them for the second time. In this movie, Curtis portrayed the handsome, clean-cut and well accomplished daredevil, Leslie Gallant III aka the Great Leslie. Superficially, his character seemed rather dull and bland in compare to Lemmon and Wood’s more theatrical roles. Superficially. But after watching Curtis portray the embodiment of early 20th century male perfection, one could finally understand why Professor Fate disliked him so much. Curtis’ Leslie struck me as INSUFFERABLY perfect. Anyone who spends even a day in his company could easily develop an inferiority complex. And Curtis did such a superb job in portraying Leslie’s rather annoying perfection with an excellent mixture of slight pomposity and tongue-in-cheek. Some of the best moments featured a long speech by Leslie, followed by a cinematic twinkle in his eyes or on his teeth that led other characters to do a double take. Curtis’s Great Leslie gave a perfect example of why straight arrow types are secretly despised.

The one character that managed to create cracks in Leslie’s perfectionism turned out to be the suffragette/journalist, Maggie Dubois – portrayed with great enthusiasm and perfection by Natalie Wood. The curious thing about Miss Dubois was that she was portrayed with a mixture of both Leslie and Fate’s personalities. Like Leslie, Miss Dubois was an accomplished and highly intelligent woman who also happened to be a multi-linguist and excellent fencer. On the other hand, she shared Fate’s cunning and talent for lies and manipulation. She also possessed a moral ambiguity that led her into conning Hezekiah to relax his guard, so that she could handcuff him onto an eastbound train. Unlike other women, Miss Dubois never allowed herself to swoon at Leslie’s feet . . . even if she wanted to. Instead, I found it a pleasure to watcher her tear down Leslie’s self-esteem, until he found himself declaring his love for her.

One cannot discuss "THE GREAT RACE" without mentioning Jack Lemmon’s superb performance. His Professor Fate has to be one of the best roles in the actor’s career. More importantly, I believe that Fate is one of the most entertaining villains in Hollywood history. This was a character that seemed to revel in his villainy with a bombastic manner, a five o’clock shadow on his chin and deep impatience and contempt toward anyone who was not . . . well, him. Yet, he was shrewd enough to surmise that Maggie Dubois’ dedication toward women’s sufferage would prove to be the Great Leslie’s Achilles’ heel. And his rant against his handsome rival near the film’s conclusion was a delicious study in Fate’s own insecurities about Leslie. If portraying the moustache-twirling villain was not enough, Lemmon also portrayed the affable, yet drunken Crown Prince Hapnick of Carpania with a slight effeminate twist during the film’s parody of "The Prisoner of Zenda". Hapnick’s regal, yet slightly drunken entrance turned out to be one of the film’s highlights for me. I always thought it was a shame that Fate and Hapnick never really got the chance to interact with each other. Considering Lemmon’s comedic talent, such a scene would have been a hoot.

As I had stated earlier, "THE GREAT RACE" has plenty of obvious flaws. It is an overblown film about a long distance road race, in which little of the actual race was shown. And there were times when the slapstick comedy threatened to become just a bit too much. Especially during the famous pie fight sequence. But Blake Edwards, with co-writer Arthur Ross, created a fun and colorful film that re-created the world of old-fashioned road races and daredevil stunts during the turn of the last century. It also featured colorful costumes and settings, great humor, one of the best screen swordfights ever and a superb cast led by Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

WALL STREET CRASH and THE GREAT DEPRESSION Movies



Today marks the 80th anniversary of the Wall Street Crash of 1929. On October 29, 1929 - known as "Black Thursday" - the most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States occurred, which resulted in the Great Depression, a severe, worldwide financial depression. Below are just a handful of movies in which the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression featured heavily:


WALL STREET CRASH and THE GREAT DEPRESSION Movies



1. "King Kong" (1933) - a 1933 landmark black-and-white monster film about a gigantic gorilla named "Kong" and how he is captured from a remote lost prehistoric island and brought to civilization against his will. Created by Merian C. Cooper, the movie starred Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot.






2. "Wild Boys of the Road" (1933) - William Wellman directed this tale about teenagers forced to become hobos, while traveling by rail. Frankie Darro, Edwin Phillips and Dorothy Coonan (Wellman's soon-to-be wife) co-starred.






3. "The Roaring Twenties" (1939) - Raoul Walsh directed this crime thriller about the rise and fall of World War I veteran-turned-gangster, set against the backdrop of the 1920s and the Wall Street Crash in '29. James Cagney, Priscilla Lane, Gladys George and Humphrey Bogart starred.






4. "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940) - John Ford directed this adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel about an Oklahoma family named Joad, who lose their farm during the Depression and journey to California to become migrant workers. Henry Fonda and Oscar winner Jane Darwell starred.






5. "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" (1969) - Sydney Pollack directed this adaptation of Horace McCoy's novel about a disparate group of characters desperate to win a Depression-era dance marathon in Los Angeles; and the opportunistic emcee who urges them on to victory. Jane Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, Susannah York, Red Buttons and Oscar winner Gig Young starred.






6. "Paper Moon" (1973) - Ryan and Tatum O'Neal co-starred in this adaption of the novel "Addie Pray" about a con man and the young daughter of a prostitute in Depression era Kansas. Madeline Kahn and Randy Quaid co-starred and Peter Bogdanovich directed.






7. "The Day the Bubble Burst" (1982) - Television movie how the 1929 stock market crash hurt the elite and the struggling; and the forces that may have caused the crash to occur. Joseph Hardy directed.






8. "Annie" (1982) - John Huston directed this film adaptation of the Broadway musical that was based upon the popular Harold Gray Depression era comic strip, "Little Orphan Annie". Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney, Carol Burnett and Ann Reinking starred.






9. "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000) - Ethan and Joel Coen directed this loose adaptation of Homer's "Odyssey", about three escapees from a chain gang in 1930s Mississippi, who become a singing sensation after recording a song for easy money. Golden Globe winner George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson and John Tuturro starred.






10. "Seabiscuit" (2003) - Gary Ross directed this adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand's book about the famous 1930s racing horse, Seabiscuit and his popularity near the end of the Depression. Toby Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper and Elizabeth Banks starred.






11. "Cinderella Man" (2005) - Ron Howard directed this biopic about boxer James J. Braddock and how the Great Depression affected his life and career. Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger, Craig Bierko, Paddy Considine and Paul Giamatti starred.






12. "King Kong" (2005) - Peter Jackson directed this successful remake of Merian C. Cooper's 1933 film about the giant ape that was captured and brought back to Depression era Manhattan. Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody and Kyle Chandler starred.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"AMELIA" (2009) Photo Gallery



Below are photos from the new biopic about 1930s aviatrix Amelia Earhart called "AMELIA". Directed by Mira Nair, the movie starred Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor and Christopher Eccleston:


"AMELIA" (2009) Photo Gallery














































Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"MAD MEN": Joan Holloway and the Art of Imagery




”MAD MEN”: Joan Holloway and the Art of Imagery”

After reading some of the message boards and articles about ”MAD MEN”, it is quite clear to me that the character, Joan Holloway, is very popular to many of the series’ fans. They view her as a mature, stylish woman who knows how to use her sexuality to control her life. However, I disagree. I have finally realized that my opinion of Joan is not as positive as those of her fans.

One might get the impression from my opening statement that I dislike Joan. Trust me, I do not. I do not harbor any love for Joan, but I do believe that she is one of the many fascinating characters on ”MAD MEN”. But I cannot put her on a pedestal the way many other fans have done. In some ways, Joan reminds me of the Creative Director at Sterling Cooper, Don Draper. Both of them seemed to have mastered the art of projecting the illusion of people who have mature and stable personalities. Because the series’ viewers are very familiar with Draper’s background, we are aware of the fact that Don is far from being the mature man that projects. But many fans seem incapable of realizing that Joan is no more together than Don or any of the other major characters.

You want to know what really irritates me about a lot of fans in regard to Joan? They go through such lengths to defend her actions on the show. Actions that I have personally found to be questionable. It is one thing to be a fan of a certain character. It is another to deliberately blind oneself to that character’s flaws. And Joan is the one character that most fans refuse to criticize . . . to a point that I find very annoying. I do not want to dislike Joan. But if this adulation and tendency to ignore her flaws keep up, I might find myself nearly hating her. And I think it would be a waste of time to express hated for a fictional character.

In the Season Two episode, (2.02) “Flight 1”, Joan met copywriter Paul Kinsey’s girlfriend at the time – an African-American woman named Sheila White at a party held at his apartment in Montclair, New Jersey. Joan and Paul, who had been lovers in the past, were discussing various wines and liquors, when Sheila walked up to introduce herself. When Paul found himself distracted by another guest, Joan made this remark to Sheila:

”When Paul and I were together, the last thing I would have taken him for was open-minded.”

It had been a vicious and catty remark. And not surprisingly, a good number of fans believed that Joan reacted in a subtle, yet racist manner. Yet, it did not take long for Miss Holloway’s fans came to her rescue. Many of them claimed that Joan tried to point out Paul’s pretentious behavior, stating that he was dating Sheila in order to appear as a “liberal”. But according to actor Michael Gladis, Paul was genuinely attracted to Sheila. This made sense, considering that the pair dated for nearly a year. The fans refused to believe this. They used Paul’s personality to make excuses for Joan’s remark. None of them stopped to wonder why Joan had even bother to make such a remark in the first place, considering that she and Paul were in the middle of a friendly conversation before she met Sheila. Come to think of it, many failed to remember that during her argument with Paul, Joan had dismissed Sheila as a check-out cashier, despite the fact that Sheila told her that she was a grocery store manager. But in the fans’ eyes, Joan could do no wrong. I believe that the blogger of ”What Tami Said” had put it best:

”Poseur Paul introduces Joan Hollowell, head of the steno pool, to his (surprise) black girlfriend, Sheila, the manager of a local supermarket. When the ladies are left to talk, Joan first patronizes Sheila, intoning that maybe one day she'll be able to "pull up in a station wagon" and shop at the supermarket, as well as work there. When Sheila points out that she has already shopped there, as she grew up in the suburb, Joan turns more nasty: (paraphrasing) It's great that you and Paul are together. When we were together I wouldn't have thought he would be so broad-minded. It's left to the viewers' imaginations what else Joan may have said, but later in the office Paul confronts her and she accuses him of dating Sheila merely to seem "interesting.".

Now, it is clear to me that Paul certainly is a showy, pompous ass and just the type to think hanging with Negroes is proof of sophistication. It is also clear that Joan is a Queen Bee sort who doesn't take kindly to female competition or being left behind by a former paramour. But it is also more than clear, given Joan's insistence on putting Sheila in "her place," that Joan is particularly offended by a former beau moving on to a black woman. She digs with the "maybe one day you'll be able to shop there" and "he wasn't that broad minded" thing and takes care to insult Sheila out of Paul's hearing.

The meaning of the interaction between Joan and Sheila seems obvious to me, especially given the early 60s time frame. The Civil Rights Act had not been signed. There had been no Freedom Summer. Blacks in about 11 states could not vote. Is it such a surprise that the average American held racially biased beliefs? To me, it is no more surprising than the sexism that runs rampant in the show. But many of the comments on "Mad Men" forums are ambivalent about the racism in the show's recent episode.

Joan is not a racist, see, just a little bitchy. Part of the problem is that the character, with her pneumatic body and take-no-prisoners attitude is sort of a riot grrl favorite of the show's fans. No one wants to brand someone they like a racist. It's more comfortable to find other explanations for bad behavior toward people of color”


However, Joan’s remarks to Sheila White was nothing in compare to her next faux pas. Well, I would not exactly call it a faux pas. I would call it a mistake of major proportions. In the Season Two episode, (2.05) “The New Girl”, the Sterling Cooper employees and fans of the series discovered that Joan had become engaged to her doctor boyfriend. In (2.12) “The Mountain King”, we discovered that said fiancé’s name was Greg Harris. And in the same episode, he learned that Joan had been Sterling Cooper executive Roger Sterling’s former lover. Being the temperamental and insecure bastard that he was, Greg raped Joan inside Don Draper’s office in a show of power. Many fans speculated that after such a heinous act, Joan might dump said fiancé. However, it was confirmed in the early Season Three episode, (3.03) “My Old Kentucky Home” that Joan eventually married the brutish Greg. Fans also learned that Greg was also a loser, who proved to be an untalented surgeon.

The reaction to the news of Joan’s marriage was interesting. Many fans speculated on when Joan would finally dump her loser/rapist husband. Or if he would end up in Vietnam, where he could experience a convenient death. Or they had pointed out his childish behavior when he informed Joan about the end of his career as a surgeon in (3.06) “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”. Yet, whenever I posted a question about why Joan would bother to marry Greg after what he had done to her, I would receive answers like the following:

”People were not brought up in those days to think of rape the way we do today. Greg didn't use a gun or a knife, or threaten Joan in any way. Men were brought up to think that if a woman was wearing sexy clothes, or was on a date with a guy, or willingly went into a room with a man alone, she'd already said yes to sex with him on a certain level. She'd already forfeited her right to say no, especially if she had accepted any sort of gifts from him. Men believed a woman wouldn't do any of that stuff unless she really wanted it anyway. And men were expected to take control, like Rhett Butler and John Wayne.

Women, on the other hand, even though they knew that none of those things mean a woman wants sex per se, believed that men simply could not control themselves, and so a woman who let herself be alone in a room with a man really was asking for it.

Joan probably just figures Greg got too hungry to wait for dinner, figuratively speaking. She probably dismisses her own feelings of violation as an overreaction, and just doesn't think about it anymore. It doesn't make her love him less. She never expected him to be perfect. She expected him to be a successful doctor who owed a hefty chunk of his success to her.”


Now, unless I had misread the above statement, I got the feeling that many of Joan’s fans were excusing Joan’s decision to marry her rapist/fiancé on the grounds that as a woman of the 1950s and 1960s, she was either unaware that she had been raped, or that she simply dismissed the incident as inconsequential. I really cannot imagine any woman or man dismissing an act of rape against them as an overreaction on her/his part. Frankly, I found such an excuse rather disturbing. Was it really that important not to criticize Joan for marrying Greg after what he had done to her? Was it really that important to insult the intelligence of many grown women of the 1950s and 60s in an effort to avoid any criticism of Joan? Whenever I see the following photograph, I feel certain that Joan was quite aware of what had happened to her:





To assume that a thirty-one year-old woman with vast sexual experience would be unaware that she had been raped or that it did not really bother her . . . you know what? I do not know what to say about that. Actually, I do. What I find really disturbing about such excuses is that most of them were made by other women. That was truly disturbing. So, why did Joan marry Greg, despite the rape? I came across this theory in a response to an article about Joan:

"Rape was probably believed to be something that happens between strangers, and that it was the fault of a women or girl for being a) pretty/sexy, b) out late, c) alone, d) wearing something feminine and/or revealing, and e) you know, alive. Hell, beliefs about rape are still shockingly backward, as both the discussions about Roman Polanski and Pete’s actions in “Souvenir” prove."

I am tired of this excuse that women of Joan's generation were ignorant about rape. I believe Joan knew damn well that she had been raped. I believe that she had allowed some desperate need to get married to overcome any revulsion she may have harbored for Greg. And if Joan had such a desperate need for a wedding ring that she would marry her rapist, it did not reflect very well upon her. Joan has no one to blame but herself for becoming Mrs. Greg Harris. There was no real reason for her to marry this rapist. Unless for some perverse reason, she was actually in love with him. But judging from the manner in which she had crowed over receiving her engagement ring in “The New Girl”, I have doubts that she felt this way about him. Judging from said mentioned scene, I suspect that Joan saw Greg as a trophy husband.

If Peggy had the will to overcome social expectations and pursue a career in advertising, why did Joan fail to do the same? Remember her stint as Harry Crane’s assistant in (2.08) “A Night to Remember”? Joan was briefly given additional responsibilities at Sterling Cooper, by reading soap-opera scripts to determine ad placement. Joan discovered that she likes reading soap-opera scripts to determine ad placement, and that she had a knack with charming the clients. After a few days, Harry Crane hired a young, somewhat clueless man to take over the ad placement job from Joan. Joan was clearly disappointed (especially when all but asked by Harry to train the new man), but quietly gave in. Why did Joan fail to stick up for herself by offering herself as a permanent script reader? Some fans would probably argue that Harry or her former lover, Roger Sterling, would have rejected her because she was a woman engaged to be married. Regardless of whether Harry or Roger would have rejected her for the position, Joan could have made the effort to say something. But she did not.

Several months later, Joan passively surrendered herself to becoming the wife of Dr. Greg Harris. Did Joan ever consider that a) she is not cut out to be a wife/mother; and b) marrying one’s rapist was not a good idea? I still recall her reaction to Sally Draper’s presence, when the latter appeared at the offices of Sterling Cooper with Don Draper in (2.04) “Three Sundays”. Joan did not strike me as the maternal type in that one scene. And judging from the manner in which Joan had flinched when a drunken Greg lost his temper in ”Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”, I could only wonder if she ever found herself regretting that she had married Greg.

A member of the TELEVISION WITHOUT PITY forum defended Joan’s decision to marry Greg in the following passage:

”That wasn't true for a lot of women in the past: Marriage wasn't just something that they would have liked to have but could live a full life without it. The failure to "marry well" meant to someone like Joan (and the vast majority of women before the 1970s) would not get anything they wanted in life -- no children, no family, precious few friends or confidantes, no role in society, and very significantly, the very real probability of living out a life of diminished financial means, or even poverty. Not being married to Joan wasn't just the prospect of not having Dr. Husband to show off on her arm to the rest of the girls, but the prospect of not being a full member of society and living a life in poverty.”

I understand that society demanded that women consider marriage and motherhood over a career for women. I also understand that there is nothing wrong with a woman leaving the workforce to become a full time housewife. But there were already professional women in advertising and other professions during that period. I cannot help but feel that the above passage was an exaggerated excuse on Joan’s behalf. Before Season Two, Joan had ascended to the position of Sterling Cooper’s office manager and head of the secretarial pool. She had received several marriage proposals in the past, and witnessed Peggy’s ascent from newly hired secretary to a senior copywriter (with her own office) by ”The Mountain King”. I am sorry, but the only excuse I can find for Joan’s decision to marry Greg is that she loved him. Sincerely. As I had stated earlier, I have trouble believing that Joan loved him that much.

The past several seasons of ”MAD MEN” has revealed one aspect of Joan’s personality. Image means a great deal to her. Frankly, I could say the same about all of the series’ major characters. However, I have rarely come across any criticism or comments about Joan’s penchant for shallow projection. Many of Joan’s advice to Peggy in the first two seasons – especially Season One – seemed to revolve around image. When former roommate Carol, revealed feelings for the red-haired Joan in (1.10) “The Long Weekend”, the latter icily ignored Carol’s revelation and insisted that they go ahead with their dates with two middle-aged businessmen. I understood that Joan did not share Carol’s feelings, but I suspect that it was more important to her to maintain the illusion that her roommate never made that revelation in the first place. Although many fans believe that Joan’s outburst to Sheila White was simply motivated by her disgust at what she perceived as Paul using his former girlfriend to project the image of the open-minded liberal. I believe that Joan’s outburst had more to do with her own personal humiliation at the idea of a former boyfriend moving on with a woman who would be considered a social inferior. She failed to speak up for herself following her stint as a script reader for Harry Crane and married Greg Harris after he had raped her in order to achieve what she believed was the ideal life for a woman – marriage to an upwardly mobile husband and a house in the suburbs.

It is easy to see that Joan had sacrificed a great deal – sacrifices that led her no longer employed by Sterling Cooper and married to the insecure, and brutish Greg Harris. One could claim that Joan had been a victim of society . . . that she had no choice but to dismiss the idea of another career at Sterling Cooper or marry the fiancé who had raped her, in order to survive as a woman in 1960s America. I find that difficult to accept. Despite the limitations women had in the 1960s, they still had choices. Characters like Peggy Olson and real life women who managed to carve out careers before the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s are proof that even Joan had choices. I suspect that mindful of her self image, Joan had internalized that she wanted a life as an upper middle-class suburban housewife and ended up making some very serious mistakes in her life.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"Spells, Lies and Remorse" [R] - 6/9





"SPELLS, LIES AND REMORSE"

CHAPTER SIX

The waiter handed Cole and Phoebe, each a menu. "Here you go," he said. "Would you like to order now?"

Cole glanced at Phoebe, who shook her head. He said to the waiter. "Give us a few minutes." The other man nodded, and walked away. A giggle escaped from Phoebe's mouth. Cole stared at her. "What is it?"

"Nothing." Phoebe paused. "Well, this. This is nice. I mean, when was the last time we were here, at the Crab House?"

Cole sighed and allowed the memories to return. "Two years, five months and two weeks ago. Well, to be exact, one week. Right after Piper and Leo's wedding."

Phoebe smiled. "I remember. That was the night we had those pictures taken in a photo booth, here at the Pier."

"Hmmm." Cole took a sip of his water.

Voices from other diners inside the Crab House filled the silence that developed between the couple. Cole took a few more sips of water and averted his gaze to the view of the Golden Gate Bridge, beyond the window. Phoebe finally broke the silence. "It's funny," she said. "I had pasted one of those pictures in the Book of Shadows." Cole glanced at his former wife. "To describe your human half. I had added it after . . ." She paused. "I mean, just before . . . you know, before I became a banshee."

Cole blinked. He knew what Phoebe had meant to say. She had added information about his human side just after Raynor had forced him to kill that witch. "Oh. Is it still there? The picture?" When Phoebe hesitated, Cole quickly guessed the answer to his question. "Well, I hope that you've managed to save the other pictures," he added with a mirthless chuckle. "I'd hate to think that my four dollar investment had turned out to be a waste."

"I'm sorry Cole." Phoebe's head hung low.

A slight frown creased Cole's forehead. "Sorry about what?"

Phoebe sighed. "Everything. For over a year, we had wasted a second chance to be together, because I had allowed my fears to come between us."

"Phoebe . . ."

The middle Charmed One shook her head. "No! Cole . . . don't. I'm tired of running away from the truth. I was so afraid of being evil that I . . . well, I guess I had projected my fears upon you."

"I guess those classes in Psychology have finally paid off," Cole said with another chuckle.

"Cole . . ."

"Look Phoebe, there's an old saying that Elise McNeill once told me. It takes two to break up a marriage. Maybe you and your sisters could have given me the benefit of the doubt. But I should have never made that deal with the Seer. I had suspected that she would trying something . . ." He broke off and stared at the Bridge for the second time. A sigh left his mouth. "I guess that I was afraid of losing you . . . to the Source. Especially after he had used the Hollow to steal Piper and Paige's powers. And when I came back from the Wasteland, I shouldn't have tried so hard to win you back. Perhaps give you some room to breath."

Phoebe absent-mindedly began to play with the sugar bowl. "I guess we both had screwed up."

"Yeah," Cole murmured. "But at least we're friends again." He paused, as if he had received an epiphany. "Or perhaps that was our real problem."

"What do you mean?"

Cole sighed. "Were we ever friends? Even when we loved each other?"

Phoebe opened her mouth to speak. No sound came from her mouth. Instead, she shook her head in a helpless manner.

"I mean, think about it," Cole continued. "The first two months we were together, both of us were lying to each other. We barely knew each other before we first had sex. And after we had started over again before Piper's wedding, we simply jumped back into the romance. We were always doing that."

"People have been known to begin successful relationships without knowing each other very long," Phoebe shot back. Almost resentfully.

Nodding, Cole said, "Perhaps. But did you ever stop to think that . . . well that neither of us were mature or experienced enough to deal with falling in love so fast?"

A pause followed before Phoebe added, "Well, we're friends now."

Cole stared into her dark eyes. Eyes that radiated hope and desire. "Oh."

"Maybe you're right about us moving too fast in our relationship," Phoebe continued. "But . . ." She hesitated. "But can't we start all over again? Just take it a little slow, this time?"

Nine, perhaps ten months ago, Cole would have jumped at Phoebe's offer. But now, he had someone else to consider. Olivia.

Phoebe added, "I realize that you might not want to hear this, Cole. But it seems to me that it's over between you and Olivia. She doesn't seem to want to have anything to do with you. I'm not . . ." Despite the restaurant's low lighting, Cole could see red spots on Phoebe's cheeks. She took a deep breath. "I'm not asking you to jump right into bed with me. But could you think about it? About us being together, again?"

Cole responded in the only manner he could - with a wide-eyed stare.

-----------

"Hey." Paige greeted the oldest Charmed One, as she entered the kitchen the following morning. Piper glanced over her shoulder and coolly returned the younger woman's greeting. Paige winced. She could clearly see that Piper had not forgotten their confrontation over Phoebe's vision. In an attempt to erase the hostility that hung thick inside the kitchen, Paige cheerfully added, "So, where's Wyatt?"

"Upstairs. Fast asleep. I've already fed him." Piper placed several bacon strips into the frying pan. "So is Phoebe. I think. I didn't hear her come in, last night."

Paige said, "I did. She came in about twenty minutes after I did."

"Well, that's a relief."

It did not take a genius to figure out the meaning behind Piper's words. Phoebe arriving home on time could only mean that she did not spend the night with Cole. Paige sighed and sat down in one of the kitchen chairs.

The sizzle of frying bacon filled the air. Piper opened the refrigerator and removed some eggs. "So . . . how did your date go, last night?"

"It wasn't bad . . . at the beginning," Paige replied. After Harry's attempt to read Paul Margolin's thoughts, the mood between the two young witches had sobered. Paige squirmed, while Piper stared at her. "We, uh . . . Harry and I had ran into an unpleasant surprise at the Golden Horn."

With a sneer Piper said, "One of Harry's old girlfriends? Like Dana Morton?" Paige glared at the older woman. Who looked immediately contrite. "Sorry."

"No, it wasn't an old girlfriend," Paige coldly replied. Her anger immediately vanished. "It was Olivia. And Paul Margolin."

"Oh." Piper cracked an egg into a porcelain bowl. "What's so unpleasant about that?"

Paige watched her sister crack more eggs into the bowl. "I don't know, Piper. Maybe it's the idea of Olivia dating a man whom she once described as being dull."

Piper heaved a sigh. Then she turned to face the other woman. "Paige, has it ever occurred to you that Olivia simply had enough of Cole and decided to consider greener pastures?"

"Gee Piper, if Olivia wanted greener pastures that badly, she would have accepted Paul's offer to take things seriously, last April. Don't you think?" Piper rolled her eyes, while Paige continued. "Besides, now that Olivia is giving Cole the cold shoulder, he's running back to Phoebe. Who's welcoming him with open arms."

Piper returned her attention to the eggs. "It won't last," she growled. "Phoebe will soon come to her senses."

"Really? You better hope and pray that both Olivia and Cole does, as well."

"Paige . . ."

But the youngest Charmed One was not finished. "By the way, where's Leo?"

Piper cracked another egg into the bowl. "I don't know. He had left last night to answer a summons from one of his charges. Why?"

"What's the name of this charge?"

Once more, Piper whirled around to stare at Paige. "What are you getting at?"

Paige told her about last night. "After we had spotted Olivia and Paul together, I talked Harry into reading their minds."

"Paige! Are you crazy?"

The younger woman ignored her sister. "I know it was the wrong thing to do. And Harry didn't want to do it - especially read Olivia's mind. He figured that she would detect him. But he did managed to read a little from Paul's mind."

Piper turned away. "I'm not listening to this."

Paige continued. "He heard these words in Paul's thoughts - 'I can't believe it. It really worked. Leo will be . . .' And then a waiter had interrupted." She paused. "I don't know about you, Piper, but I can't help but wonder what Leo has to do with all of this."

-----------

"And I heard this in Paul's mind," Harry said to his family. "'I can't believe it. It really worked. Leo will be . . .' And then he was interrupted." Harry paused, while the other McNeills stared at him in horror. He sighed. "Okay, I realized that you're all disappointed that I had used my telepathy on Paul. I know I am. Hell, I've been beating myself about it, all night."

Gweneth McNeill sighed. "By the way, how did your date with Paige go?"

"It was nice. At first." Harry paused. "Until we saw Olivia and Paul at the Golden Horn." He shook his head in disbelief. "I never realized that underneath all that intelligence and wit was a paranoid and obsessive woman."

A smirk curved Gwenth's mouth. "Well, you must really be attracted to her." Harry shot a dark look at his mother.

Jack McNeill frowned. "What on earth does Leo have to do with Olivia and Paul?"

Harry shrugged his shoulders. "I have no idea. But if Olivia has been acting strange lately . . ."

"You mean her sudden interest in Paul?" Bruce added.

Jack eyed his son suspiciously. "What are you saying? That magic was involved . . . on Leo's part?"

"Leo and Paul."

Barbara shook her head in disbelief. "A whitelighter casting a spell on one of his charges?"

"Actually, Leo hasn't been Olivia's official whitelighter for years," Gweneth reminded her family. "You know how he feels about Cole. And if Paul is involved, then he would be the one to cast a spell upon Olivia."

"Paul Margolin casting a spell on a fellow witch?" The McNeills' elderly matriarch exclaimed. "The Wiccan Boy Scout?" The others stared at her. "Well, isn't that Cole's nickname for him?"

Gweneth rolled her eyes. "Please! Just because Paul believes himself to be the epitome of goodness, it doesn't mean that he is. We all know how he feels about Olivia. And Cole. If his feelings are that strong, it is possible that he would cast such a spell."

Jack asked, "But where does Leo fit into all of this?"

Good question, Harry thought. Hopefully, Paige will eventually find out.

-----------

Cole reached for the digital clock on his nightstand and stared at it. The clock read 8:27 in the morning. He sighed and realized that he had been awake for the past five hours.

After delivering Phoebe to the Prescott Street manor, Cole had stopped by Vorando's for a few drinks. He had hoped to discuss his problems with Riggerio, the daemon who owned the nightclub. But Riggerio was out of town on a business trip. And Marbus had matters to attend with the Gimle Order. After drowning his troubles with a few martinis, he went home and fell asleep for a few hours. A bad dream featuring Olivia and Phoebe had awaken him from his brief slumber.

Following his interrupted sleep, Cole spent the next five hours contemplating Phoebe's suggestion. Start over again? The two of them? Cole considered it, but he realized that his desire to win back Phoebe's hand had faded since meeting Olivia. Granted, he did not allow his life to revolve around the redhead. Olivia would not have tolerated a possessive or clinging lover. And Cole's experiences with Phoebe had ended any desire on his part to repeat his past mistakes. But Olivia had opened new horizons for him. She had allowed him . . . No. She had encouraged him to be his own man. Not the notorious demonic killer that the Source and Raynor wanted, or the perfect man/supernatural vigilante that Phoebe had tried to create. Olivia had wanted to be with Cole Turner aka Belthazor - both the good and the bad.

However, Olivia no longer seemed satisfied with him. She apparently wanted someone like the Wiccan Boy Scout. And it looked as if she finally got what she wanted. Had the last two months spent on the DiMatteo case finally led the two witches to become close, again? It was the only explanation that Cole could consider.

The half-daemon sat up and threw the sheets off him. He donned a pair of black trousers and a gray T-shirt. He decided to give Olivia one last chance to explain what had gone wrong between them. Because he sure as hell had no idea.

Seconds later, Cole beamed out of his bedroom and into the corridor, outside Olivia's apartment. After a brief hesitation, he rang the doorbell. A minute passed before a voice murmured, "Who is it?"

"It's Cole. I want to speak with you."

Two minutes passed before Cole rang the doorbell for the second time. Finally, the door opened and he found himself facing the beautiful redhead. She regarded him with baleful eyes. "What do you want, Cole?"

The half-demon's mouth hung open for a second. Then, "I, uh . . ." He took a deep breath. "Look Olivia, I just want to know . . . What have I done to piss you off?"

Green eyes expressed contempt. "You really are one arrogant bastard, aren't you?"

"What?" Now, what in the hell has he done?

Olivia continued, "You seemed to believe that this is all about you. That my life has to revolve around you. Well, it doesn't . . . Belthazor!" Contempt oozed from her voice, as she uttered his demonic name. Cole winced. "You know, there are other people in my life. People who haven't spent a least a century leaving behind dead innocents like a trail of blown roses."

Now Cole felt confused. "Since when have you ever been bothered by my past?"

"I don't know, Cole. I guess since you had failed to tell us about your uncle," Olivia shot back. "Or the fact that your mother now heads the Thorn Brotherhood."

An exasperated Cole protested, "I didn't know about my mother, until three hours before you did! As for Marbus . . ." He shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. I just never got around to mentioning him."

But Olivia was not listening. Instead, she continued to rant over Cole's habit of harboring secrets. Pretty soon, her rants became accusations. "Or maybe there was another reason why you never mentioned your family." Her green eyes resembled polished stones, as she sneered at him with contempt. "After all, once a daemon, always a daemon. Right Belthazor?"

"Olivia?" Cole shook his head in disbelief. It seemed as if the ghost of Prue Halliwell had taken possession of the redhead.

"I'm sorry Cole, but I don't think our relationship is going to work." Olivia's expression became distant. Cold. "It's over between us." She slammed the door in Cole's face, leaving him stunned . . . and heartbroken.

-----------

Bruce was in a fix. His watch read four thirty-seven and he was already running late. Two days ago, a local historical society had reserved one of the Golden Horn's private rooms for a dinner party. A dinner that was scheduled to begin in over six hours from now. Although he and his kitchen staff had just began to preparation of the food, Bruce discovered that one of his assistants had failed to order several cases of wine for the dinner.

"Shit!" he murmured to himself. He drove his Jaguar into the parking lot of the Wine Cellar, an exclusive liquor store in the Castro District. Since Bruce happened to be a regular customer, he decided to drop by and hope the store's owner could provide an emergency supply of the wine he needed.

After easing his car into a parking space, Bruce climbed out and entered the store. Instead of searching the shelves for the wine, he headed straight for the store's owner. "Emilio! Good afternoon!"

"Bruce!" Emilio Rinaldi, owner of the Wine Cellar, gave the chef a cheerful wave. Then he stared at Bruce with shrewd eyes. "Don't tell me. Let me guess. You have an emergency?"

Bruce hung his head in desperation. "I need a case of wine. Badly. It's for a private dinner party at the Golden Horn."

Emilio asked, "What are the main courses?"

"Beef Wellington and Eggs en Gelee. Along with Peas in Lettuce, Calliflower Polonaise and Tomato Vinaigrette."

Nodding, the storeowner said, "Hmm, this sounds like you'll need several bottles of Cabernet Saivignon."

"Precisely!"

Emilio added, "I'll check my stock. He disappeared through a door that led to the store's cellar. Meanwhile, Bruce stood before the counter. Waiting.

Several minutes passed before a new customer entered the store. Bruce glanced at the front door and was surprised to see Cole. He called out the half-daemon's name.

Cole seemed surprised . . . and a little wary at the sight of the witch. "Bruce," he greeted politely. "Doing a little shopping?"

"It's an emergency," Bruce replied. "For a private dinner I'm preparing at the restaurant." He paused and noted Cole's unhappy demeanor. "So, uh . . . how are you doing?"

A wan smile appeared on Cole's face. "Fine. I'm . . . doing okay. Excuse me." He turned away.

"Hey! Wait a minute! Cole!" The other man paused. Bruce hurried toward him. "Hey, what's going on? You look as if your favorite pet had just died."

A heavy, dry sigh escaped from Cole's mouth. "It's over between us. Olivia and me."

"Look, just because Livy has been acting odd lately . . ."

Cole interrupted. "I just got the official word from her, this morning. As far as she's concerned, we're through."

"Oh." Bruce did not know what to say. He felt tempted to convey his family's suspicions about Leo and Paul. But knowing Cole's bull-by-the-horn nature, Bruce feared that the half-daemon would go after the pair and ruin any chances of them learning the truth behind Olivia's sudden aversion to her now former boyfriend. "I . . . uh, . . . Hey man, I'm sorry to hear that." Bruce paused. "Did she explain why?"

With a shrug, Cole replied, "She had mentioned something about me not telling her about Marbus. And not trusting me." He reached for a bottle of Chardonnay, glanced at it and placed it back on the shelf. "To hell with it," he growled. "I'm not in the mood to waste fifty bucks so I can drown my sorrows in booze. I'll see you later." He turned away and walked out of the store.

------------

Phoebe's cell phone rang. She retrieved it from her purse and answered it. "Hello?"

"Phoebe? It's Cole."

"Cole!" The witch perked up at the sound of her ex-husband's voice. "Uh, what are you . . . is there something you want?"

A silent pause followed before Cole answered, "Yeah. Are you free for dinner, tomorrow night?"

Phoebe nearly had a heart attack over Cole's question. "Did you . . .? I mean, yeah! Yes, I'd love to have dinner with you."

"Good. I'll be preparing dinner at my place," Cole continued. "You'll really love it. Can you be here around seven?"

In a voice that rang with happiness, Phoebe replied, "Yeah, sure. I'll be ready. I'll see you tomorrow night?"

"Tomorrow night it is. Good-bye, Phoebe."

"Bye!" Phoebe hung up the telephone. Thrilled over Cole's invitation, she had failed to recognize the melancholy in his voice.


END OF CHAPTER 6

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"DIRTY DEEDS" (2002) Review



Below is my review of the 2002 Australian gangster movie set in the late 1960s called ”DIRTY DEEDS”:


”DIRTY DEEDS” (2002) Review

Written and directed by David Caesar, the 2002 movie ”DIRTY DEEDS” is a gangster comedy about an Australian mobster who finds himself besieged by the American Mafia when his lucrative casino business, buoyed by the influx of U.S. soldiers in town for R&R during their tours in Vietnam in 1969, attracts their attention. The comedy starred Bryan Brown, Toni Collette, John Goodman, Sam Worthington and Sam Neill.

This quirky and slightly black comedy centered on an Australian mobster named Barry Ryan (Bryan Brown), who seemed to have it all in 1969. He has a successful casino business, a feisty wife named Sharon who loves him (Toni Collette); Darcy, his nephew who has just returned from military service in Vietnam (Sam Worthington) and might be a potential enforcer for him; a needy and beautiful young mistress named Margaret (Kestie Morassi); and Ray, a corrupt police officer in his pocket who can keep him out of jail (Sam Neill). However, all good things usually come to an end . . . or is threatened. And in Barry’s case, this happens when the American Mafia decides it wants a piece of Barry’s action with the casino. Even worse, Barry has to deal with a trigger-happy rival who wants to drive him out of business. The two American mobsters named Tony and Sal (John Goodman and Felix Williamson) arrive and both Sharon and Ray advise Barry to show them a good time, until he can find a way to get rid of them without attracting more unwanted attention from the Mafia. However, Darcy has also proved to be a problem. The Vietnam War veteran seemed to have no taste to become a gangster. And he ends up falling in love with Margaret, Barry’s mistress. And Margret has fallen in love with Darcy.

One of the reasons why I liked ”DIRTY DEEDS” so much was that its plot seemed character driven. I am not saying that the movie was all characterization and no plot. Oh contraire. But Caesar’s script allowed each major character’s desires and fears to drive the plot. Which I definitely enjoyed. And each character – aside from the younger American mobster portrayed by Williamson – found either their livelihoods or lives threatened. And even when certain characters end up as opponents – Barry and Tony over the former’s casino business, Barry and Darcy over Margaret, and Sharon and Margaret over Barry – I found myself rooting for them all. Once again, I have to compliment Caesar’s writing for creating a group of interesting and very complex characters. The one character who failed to win anything in the end turned out to be the trigger happy Sal, who seemed so certain of his superiority as an American and a Mafia hit man that he failed to realize that he was out of his depth before it was too late. And while watching ”DIRTY DEEDS”, I was surprised to learn that Australian soldiers had served in Vietnam during the 1960s.

I also have to give kudos to Caesar for collecting a first-rate cast. I was more than surprised to discover that Australian actor Felix Williamson had been cast in the role of Mafia hit man, Sal. Although Sal is not what one would describe as a multi-dimensional character, Williamson managed to shine in one scene that featured Sal’s chilling and arrogant revelation to Darcy about how the Mafia was able to profit from the American presence in Vietnam. Sam Neill gave a deliciously cynical performance as the corrupt and pragmatic police officer Ray, who decided to bide his time and see who would emerge as the winner in the tug-of-war between Barry and the Mafia visitors. Ketsie Morassi earned a Best Supporting Female Actor award from the Film Critics Circle of Australia for her portrayal of Margaret, Barry’s young mistress. Morassi managed to expertly transform Margaret from the desperate young mistress trying to project a sophisticated façade to the relaxed young woman who found herself falling in love with her lover’s nephew.

When I first saw the summer movie, ”TERMINATOR SALVATION”, it occurred to me that Sam Worthington looked oddly familiar. I finally recalled seeing him in my first viewing of ”DIRTY DEEDS”. In this movie, he gave a relaxed performance as Barry’s charming nephew, the Vietnam War veteran Darcy. Worthington’s Darcy was so charming and forthright that it was easy to see why Margaret fell in love with him. And why Tony started to regard him as a son. But that easy-going nature also contrasted with Darcy’s growing uneasiness that he was not cut out to be a mobster, let alone become his uncle’s new enforcer. And being the talented actor that he is, Worthington managed to convey Darcy’s angst over his relationship with Barry with great ease. John Goodman’s performance as the older Mafioso Tony seemed just as relaxed as Worthington’s performance . . . and nuanced. Unlike the arrogant Sal, his Tony is a weary gangster who has come to regret his decision not to follow in his uncle’s footsteps as a restaurant owner and become a professional criminal, instead. Although he manages to hold his own in his dealings with Barry, Tony senses a kindred spirit in Darcy and tries to prevent the younger man from following into Barry’s footsteps.

Bryan Brown was naturally at the top of his game as the ruthless, yet besieged mobster, Barry Ryan. He is probably one of the few actors I believe is capable of portraying tough and masculine types without overdoing it. And his Barry was tough and very masculine. But Brown also managed to convey Barry’s anxiety that he might not be able to fend off the American takeover of his business . . . or his insecurity over the fact that his mistress prefer a younger man over himself. If I were to choose my favorite character in this film, it would have to be Sharon Ryan, portrayed by the always talented Toni Collette. Hell, the woman almost stole the picture from everyone else as the feisty, yet supportive mobster wife, who turned out to be more ruthless than her husband. She certainly earned a well deserved Best Female Actor nomination from the Film Critics of Australia. If I had my way, I would have handed over the award to her.

By the way, I have to give kudos to production designer Chris Kennedy, art director Chris Batson, and costume designer Tess Schofield for doing an excellent job for saturating the firm in a late 1960s atmosphere. Schofield took it further by conveying the generational differences between the characters in their costumes. Whereas Barry, Tony, Ray and Sharon’s costumes reflected their generation’s more conservative tastes, Margaret and Darcy’s reflected their generation’s participation in the Swinging Sixties. Geoffrey Hall’s cinematography struck me as pretty solid, but I cannot help but wonder how he felt about a certain scene that I found questionable. I am referring to the sequence that jumped back and forth between Tony and Sal’s participation in Barry’s boar hunt in the Outback and Barry’s Michael Corleone’s style murders of the Americans’ allies – his rivals and a traitor in his organization – back in Sydney. Frankly, it did not work for me. I now understand that Tony and Sal’s boar hunting was supposed to serve as a metaphor of Barry’s hunt of his enemies. But the whole sequence struck me as a bit sloppy and confusing . . . and I could have done without it.

Despite my one quibble about the movie, I can honestly say that I really enjoyed ”DIRTY DEEDS”. David Caesar had written and directed quirky and entertaining movie about Australian criminals and the effects of the Vietnam War in 1969. The movie’s cast and the production crew also did an excellent job of projecting the movie’s 1960s setting. I had enjoyed this movie so much that I am now searching for a DVD copy of it to buy. I only hope that I do not have to wait too long.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

TIME MACHINE: John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry




TIME MACHINE: John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry

This month, October 16-19 marked the 150th anniversary of abolitionist John Brown's raid on the town of Harper's Ferry. The event lasted over a period of three to four days and is now considered one of the catalysts of the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865):

After a period of recruiting followers and raising money, John Brown rented a farmhouse just four miles north of Harper's Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). He had planned to hold Harpers Ferry for a short time, expecting that many volunteers - white and black - would join him in a wild plan to free the slaves in the Southern states. Brown hope to gather ammunition from a local Army armory, make a rapid movement southward, sending out armed bands along the way. He planned to free more slaves, obtain food, horses and hostages, and destroy slaveholding morale. Brown planned to follow the Appalachian mountains south into Tennessee and even Alabama, the heart of the South, making forays into the plains on either side

On the evening of October 16, 1859; he and his followers arrived in the small town of Harper's Ferry. They captured several townspeople, including Colonel Lewis Washington, the great-grandnephew of George Washington. The band of abolitionists also cut the telegraph wire and seized a Baltimore & Ohio train passing through. An African-American baggage handler on the train named Hayward Shepherd confronted the raiders and was subsequently shot and killed. Ironically, a freed slave became the first casualty of the raid. Then for unknown reasons, Brown let the train continue unimpeded. The train reached Washington the next day and the conductor alerted the authorities.

President James Buchannan ordered a detachment of U.S. Marines to march on Harpers Ferry, under the command of Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee of the 2nd U.S. Army Cavalry on October 17. Lee was on leave from Texas and visiting his family in nearby Arlington. By the following day, on October 18, the Marines under Lee and the local militia managed to trap Brown and many of his followers inside the town's engine house. Following a military attack, Brown's surviving followers and the man himself were captured.

The Marines and the local militia spent the following day - October 19 - hunting down any remaining participants of the raid. Meanwhile, Lee a summary report of the events that took place at Harpers Ferry to Colonel Samuel Cooper, the U. S. Army Adjutant General. According to Lee's notes Lee believed John Brown was insane:

"...the plan [raiding the Harpers Ferry Arsenal] was the attempt of a fanatic or mad­man".

Lee also believed that the African-Americans used in the raid were forced to participate by John Brown himself:

"The blacks, whom he [John Brown] forced from their homes in this neighborhood, as far as I could learn, gave him no voluntary assistance."

The future Civil War general, a slaveowner himself, failed to consider that the free blacks amongst Brown's followers would have no qualms about following Brown on their own free will. He seemed to regard them as nothing more than docile children.

The raid's aftermath led to John Brown standing trial for treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia in nearby Charles Town for trial. He was found guilty of treason and was hanged on December 2, 1859. His execution was witnessed by the actor John Wilkes Booth, who would later assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. Four other raiders were executed on December 15 and two more on March 16, 1860. Colonel Robert E. Lee and another officer who served under him during the raid, J.E.B. Stuart, became officers in the Confederate States Army during the following Civil War.

If you want to know more about John Brown and the Harper's Ferry Raid, check out the following books and novel:

"John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights" (2006) by David S. Reynolds

"John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry: A Brief History with Documents" (2008) by Jonathan Earle

"Flashman and the Angel of the Lord" (1994) by George MacDonald Fraser


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"THE GREAT RACE" (1965) Photo Gallery



Below is a gallery of photos from Blake Edwards' 1965 comedy, "THE GREAT RACE". This tale about a 1908 auto race from New York to Paris starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Peter Falk and Keenan Wynn:


THE GREAT RACE" (1965) Photo Gallery