Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"PERSUASION" (2007) Review




"PERSUASION" (2007) Review

When it comes to adaptations of Jane Austen novels, I tend to stick with a trio of titles - ”Pride and Prejudice”, ”Emma” and ”Sense and Sensibility”. Before this year, I have never seen a screen adaptation of any remaining Austen novels. Until I saw the 2007 adaptation of her last completed novel published in 1818, ”Persuasion”.

Directed by Adrian Shergold, ”PERSUASION” told the story of Anne Elliot, the sensible middle daughter of a vain and spendthrift baronet named Sir Walter Elliot. At the age of 19, Anne had fallen in love with a young naval officer named Frederick Wentworth. But due to his lack of fortune and family connections, Sir Walter and Anne’s friends expressed displeasure at the idea of her becoming Mrs. Wentworth. But it was a family friend named Lady Russell who persuaded Anne into breaking off her engagement to Frederick. Eight years later, the Elliot family found themselves in financial straits due to the careless spending of Sir Walter and his oldest daughter, Elizabeth. They ended up leasing their house and estate – Kellylynch Hall in Somersetshire – to an Admiral Croft and his wife. The latter turned out to be the older sister of the now Captain Wentworth.

While Elizabeth and Sir Walter set off for their new residence in Bath, Anne remained behind to take care of further business in Somersetshire; including taking care of her hypochondriac sister Mary Musgrove, who is married to Charles Musgrove and living in a nearby estate. During one of his visits to his sister, Frederick re-entered Anne’s life. He had risen to the rank of Captain and has become rich from prize money awarded for capturing enemy vessels during the Napoleonic Wars. Frederick also became viewed as a catch by every eligible young woman – including her brother-in-law’s two sisters, Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove. But Anne suspected that Frederick had not forgiven her for rejecting his offer of marriage so many years ago. And both end up learning how to overcome their personal demons in order to let go of the past and find a new future together.

Hands down, ”PERSUASION” has to be the most emotional Jane Austen tale I have ever come across. In fact, I would go as far to say that this tale literally had me squirming on my living room sofa in sheer discomfort during many scenes that featured Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth. Or . . . I found myself heaving with frustration – especially during the movie’s last ten to fifteen minutes, as Frederick made an effort to emotionally reconnect with Anne, while the latter’s family continued to put obstacles in her way. However, it eventually struck me that the main barrier between Anne and Frederick’s reconciliation came from the two lovers. I would probably go as far to say that the couple’s personal demons over the past broken engagement perpetrated the entire story. And I truly enjoyed this – in a slightly perverse way.

Thanks to screenwriter Simon Burke’s writing and Sally Hawkins’ performance, I came away with a feeling that Anne had existed in a fog of resignation ever since her rejection of Frederick’s proposal, eight years ago. Aside from struggling to keep her family out of financial straits – despite Sir Walter and Elizabeth’s spending – I wondered if she had spent all of those years flagellating herself for allowing Lady Russell to persuade her into giving up Frederick. Her self-flagellation seemed to have continued during moments when Frederick either snubbed her or when their past connections came up in conversation. Frederick’s attitude did not help matters, considering that he spent most of the movie coldly rebuffing Anne or wallowing in resentment. This especially seemed to be the case after he learned that Anne had rejected another suitor after Lady Russell (again) persuaded her that he would be an unsuitable match for her. Frederick’s anger and resentment assumed a righteous tone following that revelation. His attitude ended up blinding him from the fact that his friendliness toward the Musgrove sisters – especially Louisa – had led many to assume he was seriously interested in her. At that moment, Frederick realized two things – his inability to forgive Anne had nearly led him to a marriage he did not desire; and that he still loved her. In other words, ”PERSUASION” had the type of romance that really appealed to me. I found it complex, difficult and slightly perverse.

In the movie’s third act, Anne joined Sir Walter and Elizabeth in Bath. She became acquainted with an old friend named Mrs. Smith. She also acquired a new suitor – her cousin, the widowed and now wealthy Mr. William Elliot. Unfortunately, the William Elliot character proved to be the story’s weakest link. Many fans of Austen’s novel have complained that Simon Burke’s screenplay failed to adhere closely to the author’s portrayal of the character. I have read a few reviews of the 1995 adaptation and came across similar complaints. In the Austen novel, William Elliot happened to be heir to Sir Walter’s baronetcy and the Kellylynch estate upon the older man’s death due to a lack of sons. Fearing that Sir Walter might marry Elizabeth’s companion, Mrs. Clay, and produce a son; William set out to ensure his inheritance by re-establishing ties with Sir Walter and marry one of the latter’s remaining single daughters . . . namely Anne.

I can see why many have criticized the movie’s portrayal of William Elliot. But I find it interesting that many have not considered the possibility that the fault originated with Austen’s novel. Think about it. Why did William went through so much trouble to court Anne? Could he not tell that she had little interest in him? Why not court the daughter who did express interest – namely Elizabeth? And why did William believe that a marriage to Anne or any of Sir Walter’s daughters would secure his inheritance of the Elliot baronetcy and Kellylynch? How would such a marriage prevent Sir Walter from marrying a younger woman capable of giving him a son? After all, the man remained a vital and attractive man at the age of 54. And even if William had prevented Mrs. Clay from marrying Sir Walter, there would be other eligible young women (preferably wealthy) that would not mind marrying Sir Walter in order to become Lady Elliot and mistress of Kellylynch. Personally, I feel that the William Elliot storyline in the novel was a contrived and flawed attempt to provide a romantic complication for Anne and Frederick. And instead of re-writing Austen’s portrayal of William or getting rid of him altogether, Burke and director Adrian Shergold decided to vaguely adhere to the literary version.

Another problem I had with ”PERSUASION” turned out to be the supporting cast. Well . . . some of the supporting cast. Poor Tobias Menzies could barely do anything but project a bit of smugness and false warmth with the poorly written William Elliot character. And if I must be frank, I could not remember the faces of characters like Mary Elliot Musgroves’ husband and sisters-in-law, the Crofts, Mrs. Clay and Mrs. Smith. Fortunately, I cannot say the same about those who portrayed Anne’s immediate family, Captain Harville and Lady Russell. The always competent Anthony Stewart Head gave a spot-on performance as the vain and arrogant Sir Walter Elliot. One can only assume that Anne had inherited her personality from her mother. Both Julia Davis and Amanda Hale were memorably amusing as Anne’s sisters – the equally vain and arrogant Elizabeth Elliot and the self-involved hypochondriac Mary Elliot Musgrove.  I also enjoyed Joseph Mawle's portrayal of Captain Harville, one of Wentworth's closest friends.  I found his performance quiet and subtle in a very satisfying way.  And Alice Kriege’s portrayal of the well-meaning, yet snobbish Lady Russell struck me as very complex and very subtle. Her performance made Lady Russell seem like a kind woman with a surprising lack of tolerance that ended up wrecking havoc on Anne’s life for eight years.

For my money, ”PERSUASION” truly belonged to Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones as Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth. I believe that both did beautiful jobs in breathing life into the two lead characters. Someone had once complained in another article that in ”PERSUASION”, the two leads exchanged very little dialogue with each other and other characters. This person also added that it almost felt like watching a silent movie. This only confirmed my belief that both Hawkins and Penry-Jones are more than competent screen actors. Through their expressions and very little dialogue, they managed to convey their characters’ emotions, demons and development.

Not only did Hawkins express Anne Elliot’s resignation to a life as Sir Walter’s unmarried and overlooked daughter; she also revealed Anne’s despair and discomfort over dealing with Frederick Wentworth’s silent anger and contempt. And in the movie’s last half hour, the actress made it a joy to watch Anne bloom again under the attentions of her morally questionable Cousin William Elliot and Frederick’s renewed interest. One would think that Penry-Jones’ had an easier job in his portrayal of Captain Wentworth. Well . . . he had less screen time. Though his character did strike me to be just as complex as Anne’s. Penry-Jones took Frederick’s character through an emotional journey during the entire film; via anger, contempt, indifference, mild cheerfulness, longing, jealousy, desperation and joy. Some of his best moments featured Frederick’s struggles to keep his emotions in check. More importantly, both Hawkins and Penry-Jones had such a strong screen chemistry that most of their scenes that featured them staring longingly at each other had me muttering ”get a room” under my breath.

I just realized that I have not mentioned a word about Anne Elliot’s infamous run through the streets of Bath. Many fans have complained that no decent young English lady of the early 19th century would ever do such a thing. Others have viewed it as simply a ludicrous scene that made Anne look ridiculous. I must admit that a part of me found the sequence rather ridiculous-looking. But I have managed to consider some positive aspects to this scene. One, it represented Anne’s desperate attempt to connect with Frederick before it was too late. And two, the scene provided colorful views of the very distinctive-looking Bath.

Many fans have complained about the movie’s 93-minute running time. They claimed that ”PERSUASION” should have been a lot longer. Perhaps they had a point. After all, the 1971 adaptation had a running time of 210 minutes. And the 1960-61 version aired as a series of four episodes. On the other hand, some fans of the movie claimed that Austen’s novel was not as long as some of her previous ones. Also, the much admired 1995 version had a running time of only 107 minutes.

The 93 minute running time for ”PERSUASION” did not bother me one bit. I really enjoyed this latest version of Austen’s novel very much. Granted, it had its flaws – namely the handling of the William Elliot character. But I believe that this flaw can be traced to Austen’s novel. Flaws or not, I enjoyed ”PERSUASION” so much that I immediately purchased a DVD copy of it after seeing the movie on television. In my opinion, director Adrian Shergold’s BAFTA nomination was very well-deserved.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"KNIGHT AND DAY" (2010) Photo Gallery



Below are photos from the new action movie called "KNIGHT AND DAY". Directed by James Mangold, the movie stars Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz:


"KNIGHT AND DAY" (2010) Photo Gallery




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Monday, June 28, 2010

"The Power of One" [PG-13] - 3/20




"THE POWER OF ONE"

PART III

Power transference. Daley heaved a sigh, inside her private office. She had checked her spell book for anything on the subject, but came up empty. Not surprising, since she has never dealt with the transfer of power during her fifteen years as a sorceress.

Another sigh left her mouth and she examined her spell book one more time. Again, nothing. She slammed the book shut. Perhaps she should forget about this insane idea and go ahead with the plans to expand her business. Then again . . . to hell with it! She had to find a way to access that child's powers.

Out of desperation, Daley scanned her bookshelf for any information she might find on West African magic. She finally came upon a book titled "THE SUPERNATURAL WORLD OF THE IVORY COAST". It had been written by an early 20th century anthropologist named Jonathan Close. Much to Daley's surprise, the book contained detailed information on the region's myths . . . and practices of various West African shamans. Including spells that she never knew had existed. It still eluded Daley that a British anthropologist would come upon such a discovery. And record them. Perhaps he had been so fervent in his desire to record West African culture, he failed to realize that he had exposed practices and spells that others would consider valuable . . . and dangerous.

After removing the book from the shelf, Daley examined it - page by page. She came across rituals that had been performed by now dead houngans, mambos and other magic practioners. Rituals for good health, prosperity, and protection against evil spirits. The latest chapters, however, included spells and ritual on a more sophisticated level. In one of the chapters, Daley finally found a ritual that transferred psychic abilities and magic from one being to another. A ritual, according to the book, that had first been created by a 12th century sorcerer. After reading the details of the ritual, Daley realized that she had found what she was looking for. The sorceress copied details and instructions of the ritual on a notebook. Once she was finished, she reached for her cordless telephone and dialed a number.

"Hello?" a voice finally answered. "This is the Halliwell residence. May I help you?"

Daley replied, "Is this P. Halliwell, who had placed an ad for a nanny?"

"Yes, this is Piper Halliwell. Who is this?"

Taking a deep breath, Daley continued, "Hi, my name is Donna Thompson. I saw your ad in THE LUNAR VOICE newspaper. And I was wondering if the nanny position had been filled.

Piper Halliwell informed Daley that she had not filled the position. "Right now, you're the second person who has called about the job. Uh, why don't you come by, tomorrow? Say around eleven in the morning? There might be a few more applicants. And after I finish with the interviews, I'll . . . make my choice."

"Okay. Sounds great to me. I'll see you tomorrow, around eleven. Bye." After the other woman said good-bye, Daley disconnected the line. And smiled.

---------

Around five-thirty that evening, Piper bid good-bye to the third and final applicant for the position of Wyatt's nanny and hung up the telephone. "Well, that's three so far," she said to her guest. "Two women and a man have answered the ad."

Chris, who had dropped by to warn the sisters about a shape-shifting demon that steals the essence and powers of other beings, frowned. "What ad?"

Piper shot an annoyed glance at the young whitelighter. "The ad I had placed in newspapers and in some of the local occult stores for the position of nanny. For Wyatt."

"A nanny for . . ." Disbelief poured out of Chris' blue eyes. "Are you crazy? Getting a nanny for Wyatt?"

"Well, it's either that or allow my club to sink into bankruptcy," Piper retorted. "I need some time to get back my customers and attract new ones. Which means I'll need a regular babysitter for Wyatt. A nanny."

Chris demanded, "What about Paige and Phoebe? Or D. . .Leo?"

Piper sighed. "Both Phoebe and Paige have jobs . . . and a social life. As for Leo . . ." She rolled her eyes in contempt. "Forget it. He's too busy being an Elder."

"Still . . ."

"Don't you have other charges to see?" she interrupted in a too-sweet voice that failed to match the hard gleam in her eyes.

The whitelighter's face turned red. "There's still the matter of that demonic shape shifter . . ."

"We'll let you know when we find it. Bye." Piper continued to stare at Chris, letting him know in no uncertain terms that he was no longer welcomed.

Fortunately, Chris got the hint. He gave Piper a sharp nod and immediately orbed out of the kitchen. Much to the Charmed One's relief.

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

Dinner at the Golden Horn restaurant did not turn out as Cecile had hoped. Or expected. Although Olivia and Andre proved to be lively dinner companions - with Cole providing his usual caustic wit - Cecile remained mired in her present dark mood.

She stared at her boyfriend, while he related his findings at Olivia's new store. Poor Andre, she thought. He seemed so happy. So energetic. Soon, she would have to pull the plug on his happiness, when she breaks the bad news. Cecile had considered telling him over a week ago. But when Olivia had asked him to accompany her to San Francisco and help appraise certain items in that new shop, the Vodoun priestess had decided to postpone her announcement. She realized that it could wait until their return to New Orleans.

". . . and the next thing I knew," Andre said, "I found myself holding a statute of Ammut."

Olivia frowned. "Who?"

Cole explained, "Ammut. An ancient Egyptian daemon that devours the souls of those whose hearts proved to be too heavy to be sent to the Hall of Maat. Which is where judgment of the dead is performed."

"Ewww!" Olivia said with a shiver. She said to the half-daemon, "You seemed to know a lot of this stuff."

"Not as much as Andre," Cole protested. "He had studied a lot on the mythologies of this world and other dimensions."

Andre shook his head. "What I can't understand is how this guy . . . what was his name?"

"Stefan Kostopulos."

"How did he get his hands on such stuff?" Andre continued, "Including a medallion created by a dominion spirit."

The red-haired witch replied, "I don't know. According to his son, Kostopulos was a big collector of antiquities. He also studied the occult, but I got the feeling that he didn't know the significance of some of the stuff he had collected."

"I bet that Cecile's mama would love to get her hands on some of that stuff. Right, cherie?" Andre addressed the question to Cecile.

The Vodoun priestess blinked, aware that she had been drawn into the conversation. "Huh? Oh . . . yeah, I guess."

"You guess?" Andre shook his head. "Baby, I've seen some of the stuff inside your mama's shop. A lot of those items are pretty freaky. I mean, there's a reason why she keeps 'certain items' locked up in that storeroom in the back."

Olivia frowned. "Is that what Mrs. Dubois does with her . . . uh, with the certain items in her shop? Lock them up in a back room? Maybe I should do the same. There's an empty storeroom in the back." She squirmed slightly in her chair. "Right now, I think I need a trip to the restroom." She stood up.

Andre also stood from his chair. "Yeah. Same here. Excuse us, folks." He and Olivia left the table.

The moment the pair exited from the private dining room, Cole turned to Cecile. "Is there something wrong?"

"Huh?" Cecile blinked. Was her bad mood that apparent?

Looking worried, the half-daemon said in a low voice, "You seemed to be on another planet, lately. I'm talking about what you had told me, earlier. About our lives being in a rut. What was that about?"

Oh shit! Cecile could have kicked herself for opening her big mouth. Realizing that Cole would not easily dismiss the matter, she heaved a large sigh. And decided to tell the truth. "It's about . . ." Cecile hesitated. "I . . . I guess I want something new in my life. You know what I mean?"

A confused looking Cole shook his head. "No, I don't. What . . .?"

"May I ask you something?" Cecile realized that she had caught the half-daemon off guard. To be honest, she did not really care. "You were the one who first brought up marriage to Phoebe, right? You were the one who asked her to marry you? And not the other way around?"

Cole's expression became guarded. Almost mask like. "What are you getting at?"

Cecile's mouth curved into a wry smile. "I guess that's a big yes."

"Yeah, I had asked Phoebe to marry me. So what?"

After a brief hesitation, Cecile continued, "Why? What I'm getting at . . . Hell! Look, all I want to know is why you were the one to ask Phoebe, before she could ask you."

Cole hesitated. Then a slight smirk appeared on his mouth. "I don't know, Cecile. Because it's traditional for the man to ask, I guess."

Cecile rolled her eyes in contempt. "Cole, get real! This is the 21st century. And I know you're not a sexist. So, stop bullshitting me and please answer the answer the question."

The half-daemon shot a quick glance at the dining room's door. And sighed. "All right. If you must know . . . I guess I had wanted something different with Phoebe. Something more permanent. You know, build a life together. Only it didn't . . ." Pain flashed in his blue eyes for a brief moment. "I guess it didn't work out."

Nodding, Cecile said, "Now, you know what I want."

Surprise reflected in Cole's eyes. "Wait a minute! Are you saying that you want to get married?"

After a brief hesitation, Cecile shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. Maybe." She paused again. "Yeah, I do. Why not? I'm tired of our old relation . . ." Spotting Andre and Olivia in the doorway, she broke off. "Don't say anything to Andre or anyone else!" she hissed. "Please? Not until I'm ready." Then she smiled at the newcomers, ignoring Cole's stunned expression. "So, are you guys ready for dessert?"

----------

The doorbell rang. Piper glanced at the grandfather clock. It read 10:43 in the morning. It seemed that the first applicant for Wyatt's nanny had finally arrived.

Doubts began to assail the Charmed One's senses. Piper took a deep breath. Calm down, she told herself. But what if she was making a mistake? Chris seemed to think so. Along with Barbara McNeill and Cole. And their experiences with that elf nanny seemed to hint to Piper that perhaps a nanny might not be in the cards. After the last attack on Wyatt, the Elf Nanny decided she had enough with the Halliwell household.

Again, the doorbell rang. Piper sighed. Screw it, she decided. Might as well finish what she had started. She fixed a bright smile on her face and opened the door. "Good morning," she greeted the slender man, standing in the doorway.

The newcomer held out his hand. "Hi! Warren Koslo. I uh, I saw your ad on the bulletin board at Ostera's." He referred to the herbal shop where Paige worked.

"Oh." Piper shook his hand. "Um, why don't you come inside?"

Mr. Koslo smiled. "Sure." Piper stepped aside and ushered him inside the manor.

Less than five minutes after Warren Koslo's arrival, the doorbell rang again. "Excuse me," Piper said to her guest. Then she left him inside the Solarium with Wyatt and headed for the front door.

The next applicant turned out to be a middle-aged Latino woman with short hair and stoic features. "Good morning," she greeted in a pleasant voice. "My name is Mrs. Rosa Madrigal. I'm here for the nanny position. I saw the ad on the bulletin board, at the Red Pyramid."

"How nice." The Charmed One smiled at the newcomer. She widened the door. "Why don't you come in?" Then she held a hand to Mrs. Madrigal. "I'm Piper Halliwell, Wyatt's mother. Uh . . ." She glanced toward the direction of the Solarium. "I'm interviewing another candidate right now."

Mrs. Madrigal looked slightly disappointed. "You are?"

"Oh, don't worry. He's the first one to arrive. Um, why don't you wait here, until I finish?"

A polite smile appeared on the older woman's face. "Oh. Okay. Of course." Then she sat down on the sofa. Piper flashed one quick smile at her, and returned to the Solarium and Warren Koslo.

The doorbell rang for the third time that morning. Piper bit back a frustrated oath, and smiled at Mr. Koslo. Once more, their interview had been interrupted. She sighed and shot a weary smile at the applicant. "Excuse me." Then she glanced at Wyatt, who seemed fast asleep in his basquinet, and headed for the living room.

On her way to the front door, Piper smiled at Mrs. Madrigal. The doorbell rang one last time, before she finally opened it. Outside stood a slender black woman of medium height, curly long hair, along with wide brown eyes and narrow cheekbones on a narrow face. "Hi," the woman greeted, "I'm Da . . . Donna Thompson. I saw your ad in THE LUNAR VOICE for the nanny position."

Piper shook the woman's hand. "Come on in. You're the third person to show up."

Brown eyes widened in surprise, as Ms. Thompson entered the manor. "Third person?" she said with a frown.

"Yeah, um why don't you take a seat?" Piper indicated the living room, where Mrs. Madrigal sat. "I'll get to you, as soon as I finish with Mrs. Madrigal, here, and my other applicant."

Ms. Thompson eyed Mrs. Madrigal with wary eyes. She sat down in the chair, left of the sofa. The two female applicants exchanged polite smiles. Piper heaved a soft sigh and returned to her guest in the Solarium. At that moment, the Charmed One realized that she was in for a long morning and afternoon.


END OF PART III

Saturday, June 26, 2010

”’FLASHFORWARD’: A Potential Nipped in the Bud”




”’FLASHFORWARD’: A Potential Nipped in the Bud”

Ever since ABC cancelled one of its freshman series, the science-fiction drama called ”FLASHFORWARD”, many television critics and fans have expressed the belief that the series failed to garner enough viewers due to its less than stellar writing. Now . . . I have stated that many have expressed this belief, but there were a good number of viewers who believe that the network should have given the series a chance to grow over the years. I happen to be one of those who agree with the latter.

Based upon the 1999 novel written by Robert J. Sawyer, ”FLASHFORWARD” revolved around the lives of several people after a mysterious event caused nearly everyone on the planet to simultaneously lose consciousness for two minutes and seventeen seconds on October 6, 2009. During this "blackout” people saw what appeared to be visions of their lives on April 29, 2010 - a global "flashforward”. Created by Brannon Braga and David S. Goyer, the series starred Joseph Fiennes, John Cho, Courtney B. Vance, Christine Woods, Jack Davenport, Sonia Walger and Dominic Monaghan.

When the series first aired in late September, it became an immediate ratings hit and stayed that way during its first ten (10) episodes. Then ABC made the decision to put the series on hiatus for three-and-a-half months. Why? I have no idea. But after the series resumed its run in mid-March 2010, its ratings tanked. In fact, the ratings remained low until it was finally cancelled by ABC some two-and-a-half months later. Does this story sound familiar? Why, yes it does. The very same fate nearly befell the CBS science-fiction/post-apocalypse series, ”JERICHO”. Thanks to a campaign by fans to save the series, ”JERICHO” was given a second season – which amounted to seven episodes that aired in a new time slot. Namely Tuesday nights at 10:00 PM. No amount of fan campaign could convince ABC to give ”FLASHFORWARD” a chance. But there are a good number of fans who are angry at how the network handled the series.

Yet, those critics and fans who did not criticize ABC’s handling of the series have claimed that ”FLASHFORWARD” was a failure that was destined for cancellation. Many of these critics and viewers claimed that the series failed to live up to the same quality as another ABC series, namely the pop culture hit, ”LOST”. Personally, I have a problem with this assessment of “FLASH FORWARD”. One, it was only in its first season. Its story had just begun. To expect it to be perfect right off the bat struck me as ridiculous. Now, I realize that both “LOST” and the NBC series, “HEROES”, managed to immediately dazzle U.S. viewers and critics with highly regarded series premieres and well written first seasons. But a closer look would reveal that after their remarkable first seasons, the storytelling qualities of both ”LOST” and ”HEROES” managed to do nothing but decline following their first seasons. And I believe that this was a major mistake for both shows. Both tried to maintain the momentum of their dazzling debuts . . . and failed. At least as I am concerned. Mind you, ”LOST” managed to occasionally deliver some exceptional episodes and story arcs over the years. But it was never delivered a consistently top-notched season after Season One. As for ”HEROES”, it simply went down the drain following its first season. How it managed to stay on the air for another three seasons simply amazed me.

Ever since the dazzling debuts of “LOST” and “HEROES”; television network executives have expected and demanded that other multi-seasonal series with a science-fiction/fantasy background repeat their initial success. I believe that this was a mistake. Some of the best science-fiction/fantasy television series I have seen have started out with a less than dazzling or even mediocre season debut. Good examples of this are “BABYLON 5″, “JERICHO” and “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. Both ”BABYLON 5” and ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” were given chances to fulfill their potential. Just as ”JERICHO” was developing into a well-written series, CBS permanently pulled its plug . . . aborting its chances of fulfilling any potential.

As I had stated earlier, “FLASH FORWARD” also started with a less than dazzling first season. I might as well be frank. It was not perfect. But I do believe that it had great potential to grow into a well written sagal. If the series had aired in the previous decade, I suspect that might have been given the chance to develop into something remarkable. It certainly had potential. But, we are stuck in the ”LOST” era of television broadcasting. Today’s television network executives do not seem to have the patience or willingness to give a series a chance to grow. They want and demand instant success. And unless they are willing to change their modis operandi, future science-fiction/fantasy television series with levels of qualities similar to “BABYLON 5″ and “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” threaten to become a thing of the past, never to be shown on television again. I certainly did not see that level of quality writing in shows like “LOST” or “HEROES”, despite their longevity on the air.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"The Power of One" [PG-13] - 2/20




"THE POWER OF ONE"

PART II

Later that evening; Olivia, Cole, the two visitors from New Orleans and the Halliwells appeared at the McNeills' house for the dinner party hosted by Jack and Gweneth McNeill. No sooner had the guests arrived, they - along with the McNeills - gathered inside the large drawing room and waited for the family manservant to announce dinner.

"I just read the latest copy of THE LUNAR VOICE," Barbara said to Piper. The blond-haired witch, who was married to Olivia's older brother, had joined the redhead, Cecile and Piper near the fireplace. "And I saw an ad placed by a P. Halliwell . . . for the position of nanny. Was that . . . Did you place that ad? Is that the reason why Paige was asking me about local Wiccan newspapers?"

Piper sighed. "Yeah. I . . . I'm trying to find a permanent nanny for Wyatt."

"Why?"

Olivia immediately came to Piper's defense. "Barbara!"

Her sister-in-law assumed an innocent and confused expression. "What? I simply asking Piper about that ad in THE LUNAR VOICE."

"Yeah, and with all the subtlety of a Gestapo interrogator. Is there a problem?"

Barbara let out a gust of breath. "No, there isn't a problem. I'm simply curious, that's all. I mean . . . this is Wyatt we're talking about. He's only nine months old and already he's had more supernatural activity surrounding him than all of us in a period of three years. And I'm just . . . surprised . . . well, you know what I mean!"

"I understand," Piper replied. "That's why Olivia had suggested that I place the ad in 'certain' newspapers and shops in the city."

"Where's Wyatt right now?"

Olivia pointed to where Paige, Phoebe and her grandmother stood. "Over there, in Gran's arms." She said to the other women, "I had also asked Cole's uncle - Marbus - if he knew of anyone who could baby sit Wyatt."

"What about Leo?" Barbara asked.

Piper's face immediately became a cold mask. "What about him?"

"Um . . ." Barbara began. But a quick jab in the side by Olivia cut her short, leaving her to finish lamely, "Never mind. What about that Elf Nanny?"

Piper continued, "Oh, she, uh . . . vowed never to step foot inside the manor, after those two warlocks tried to attack Wyatt. She likes a quiet household. So, I need a new nanny, fast. Like I had told Olivia, I'm having trouble with P3 at the moment. And splitting my time between Wyatt and the club - along with dealing with demons . . . and Leo's absence . . ." The Charmed One sighed. "I don't know. It seems like everything is falling apart."

"In other words, this whole mess started, because Leo decided that being an Elder was a lot more important than his family." The other women stared at Cecile, who had broken her silence. She stared back. "What?"

Frowning, Olivia commented, "Is it just me, or are you sounding a little bitter right now?"

"I'm not being bitter," Cecile protested. "Just telling the truth. If Leo had really loved Piper . . . or if she was that important to him, he would have never become an Elder."

Piper's eyes cast downward. "I think you might be right," she muttered.

Triumph gleamed in Cecile's dark eyes. "See? You really can't trust a man's love. First, they'll move heaven and earth to possess us. Then sooner or later, they end up taking us for granted. We become like background noise to them." The others continued to stare at her. "Well, am I wrong?" Cecile let out a gust of breath, turned on her heels and walked away.

"Wow," Barbara murmured. "What's wrong with her? You don't think that she and Andre are having troubles, do you?"

A new voice added, "She's frustrated. Cecile, I mean." Olivia and the other two women found Phoebe standing behind them. "I could sense Cecile's frustration." Annoyed, Olivia bit back a retort.

Piper, on the other hand, made her displeasure known. "Phoebe! Do you mind?"

Looking slightly affronted, Phoebe protested, "What? Cecile is obviously frustrated about something! Probably Andre."

Her older sister heaved a sigh. "We all know that you're now an empath, Pheebs. But could you please put a sock in it?"

"I can't help sensing everyone's emotions!" Phoebe retorted. "I don't know how to control this new power. At least not yet."

Olivia tartly added, "But I'm sure that you can control that tongue of yours. Must you broadcast everyone's feelings to the world, every time you sense them?"

A deep silence fell between the four women. Phoebe's face turned pink. "Excuse me," she said in a stiff voice, before walking away.

Feeling slightly remorseful, Olivia apologized to Piper. "Sorry about that. I guess I had lost my temper."

"I'm not," Piper grumbled. "That new power of hers has been driving us crazy. Just over a week ago, Paige had lost her temper and shoved an apple into Phoebe's mouth."

The image of Phoebe's mouth plugged by an apple nearly sent Olivia into a spate of giggles. Nearly. Instead, she kept her mirth to herself and said, "Oh well. At least you can't deny that Phoebe is right about Cecile. She is frustrated."

"Do you think it has to do with Andre?"

Olivia responded silently with a slight shrug.

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

The following morning, Andre and Olivia met the latter's grandmother outside of an antiquity shop on Union Square. "There you are," the elderly woman declared. She glanced at her watch. "You're late."

"Only by fifteen minutes," Olivia muttered. She retrieved a key from her purse and used it to unlock the shop's front door. "Here we go. Welcome to . . ." Her face formed a slight frown. "Well, I haven't renamed it, yet." She switched on the lights.

Andre took one sweeping glance around the shop's interior and whistled.

"My sentiments exactly," old Mrs. McNeill added. "Goddess! I've never seen so many . . . How much is all of this stuff worth, Livy?"

With a sigh, Olivia answered wearily, "You really don't want to know. Fortunately, Alexis Kostopulos wanted to get rid of the shop so badly that I managed to buy it at a cheaper price."

"Why?" Andre asked.

"Well, his father had been murdered by someone looking for a medallion that used to be in this shop. Didn't Cole tell you about the Erebor medallions, and the attack on the Whitelighter Realm?"

The houngan nodded. "Oh yeah." His eyes fell upon a small, sandalwood box with Druidic symbols carved on the sides. "So, where are the . . . um other pieces that you were talking about?" He picked up the box. "Besides this?"

Olivia replied, "The rest of the items are scattered throughout the shop. Mixed with the other items. Hopefully, you and Gran will be able to identify and separate them from the regular items. While I'm at work."

"Hmmm." Mrs. McNeill swept a finger across one of the glass casings. "This looks like a job that might take a week or two."

Andre added, "That's no problem for me. Besides . . ." he paused, wondering if he should allow the two women in his confidence.

"Besides what?" Olivia asked.

The houngan sighed. "This trip should give me plenty of time to find . . . a ring. To buy."

"A ring?" Mrs. McNeill frowned. "What for?"

After a brief hesitation, Andre decided to confess. "Well, I plan to ask Cecile to marry me. I'm looking for an engagement ring."

The two women reacted with delight. "Oh my God!" Olivia cried. "I can't believe it! Finally! After all these years!"

"I'm so happy for you," Mrs. McNeill added. Then she frowned. "But . . . you mean to say you couldn't find a ring in New Orleans?"

Andre sighed. "Yeah, I did look around for one. But I couldn't find one that satisfied me. You know, the right one. Maybe I'll find one, while I'm here in San Francisco."

Olivia's eyes grew wide with excitement. "Wow! An engagement! I can't wait for Cecile to find out. Maybe this will get her out of that bad mood of hers."

A smile illuminated Mrs. McNeill's lined face. "Oh, I'm sure that it will"

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

Cole and Cecile silently stood side-by-side inside the elevator, as it conveyed them to the spacious boardroom of McNeill Enterprises. The half-daemon tried to think of something to say. He even considered discussing the upcoming business conference, but they had covered that topic more than adequately, in the past few days.

A quick glance at Cecile's forlorn expression told him that she was not in the mood to talk. Come to think of it, the Vodoun priestess has been in a bleak mood since her arrival, yesterday. Unable to deal with the silent tension any longer, he finally murmured, "Penny for your thoughts."

"Huh?" Cecile stared at the half-daemon with wide eyes.

Cole continued, "You seemed to be deep in thought. Is there something on your mind? The upcoming meeting?"

Cecile shook her head. "No. I'm fine. I . . ." She sighed. Long and hard. "Have you ever thought that your life might be in a rut, sometimes? That no matter how much you try, everything stays the same?"

Wondering what brought on this rant, Cole stared at her. "Uh . . . well, considering the changes I've been through during the past three years . . . not really."

Another sigh left Cecile's mouth. "What about those years before that? Before you first met Phoebe? I mean . . . didn't you feel then that your life was in a rut?"

"What are you getting at?"

"I . . ." The elevator stopped. The doors slid open and Cecile walked out before she could form a coherent answer.

The pair found themselves greeted by a well-dressed young executive. "Ms. Dubois? Mr. Turner? Hello, my name is Milo Kendrick. I'm Mr. McNeill's assistant. Please follow me." He led Cole and Cecile into an expensively furnished boardroom, where Harry and Jack McNeill awaited them. Along with other members of the Board. As the door closed behind them, Cole realized that Cecile's surprising revelation would have to wait for another time.

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

A young man in his late twenties burst into Daley's herbal shop off Telegraph Road, later that morning. The Vodoun sorceress recognized the newcomer, and rang up her customer's purchases. No sooner had the latter left; she led the younger man to the stockroom in the back.

"Did you and Jeffrey find out anything about these . . . Charmed Ones?" Daley asked.

The young man, a narrow-faced novice bokor with rich brown skin and handsome features named Marc Beaudine, breathlessly sat down on a nearby stool. He removed a small notebook from his jacket pocket. "Yeah. They're practically famous in the local Wiccan community."

"That's nice," Daley commented tartly. "The question is . . . why are they famous?"

Marc removed a few sheets of folded paper from his jacket and handed them to Daley. "I got that from the Internet. There's this tale, or legend or whatever about these three sisters from a long line of witches, who are destined to become the world's most powerful witches. Called the Charmed Ones. They were destined to kill the leader of some demonic faction. Someone called the Source."

Daley read the sheet of paper, which had been printed from an Internet website on Wiccan mythology. "I think I had heard about this Source. From a warlock I used to know. Too bad he's dead."

"Well, I know this other warlock," Marc added. "And he told me and Jeffrey that this Source is dead. He had been killed nearly two years ago. By these witches called the Charmed Ones. Wilson - he's the warlock I had spoken with - told me a lot about them."

"So, who are they? The Charmed Ones?"

Marc continued, "Like I said, three sisters who happened to be witches. They're believed to be the most powerful witches ever."

A frown appeared on Daley's face. "What do you mean by . . . believed? Aren't they the most powerful Wiccan witches?"

"Well . . . not really. According to Wilson, they would have been, if it wasn't for the Aingeal Staff Bearer."

"Now, I'm confused. The who?"

Sighing, Marc added, "A witch from some Scottish family, who happens to be the bearer of a powerful wizard's staff. The present bearer is a descendant of this wizard. But no one knows his or her identity. But the Aingeal Staff Bearer is just as powerful as the Charmed Ones. And these sisters are only that strong when they come together as the Power of Three."

Daley took a deep breath. "And what is the name of this family of witches?"

"Halliwell," Marc replied. "Right now, the family's name is Halliwell."

"That name sounds familiar."

A sly smile curved Marc's lips. "It should. Phoebe Halliwell. Of the 'DEAR PHOEBE' column of the BAY-MIRROR."

Daley felt flabbergasted. "Are you kidding me?" The idea of a local celebrity being a powerful witch would have never occurred to her. "Wait a minute. She's one of the Charmed Ones?"

"Yep! And so is the owner of that nightclub on Fremont. You know . . . P3? Her name is Piper Halliwell. There's a third sister, but Wilson didn't get her name. As for Piper, she's the mother of this powerful child you had told me about. Do you remember that day, over eight months ago, when we weren't able to perform any magic?"

Nodding, Daley replied, "Yeah. I never did find out what happened that day."

Marc leaned forward, his brown eyes glittering with intensity. "That was the day Piper Halliwell gave birth to her son. His father is believed to be a whitelighter."

"A what?"

"Whitelighters. They're daemons. Only they're on the side of good. Guardian angels or something like that."

Daley said, "So, what you're saying is this child is the son of an extremely powerful witch and a daemon."

Marc continued, "And he's also an extremely powerful little baby. He has great magical powers. Stronger than his mother, his aunts, his daddy and everyone else. Other daemons and warlocks have been trying to get their hands on his powers for months."

The idea of possessing the Halliwell child's magic struck Daley as very appealing. With such power, she could destroy the leadership of the local Vodoun community. Or any other magical community that opposed her. And protect her little side business, so that it could develop into a multi-billion dollar business. If only she could get her hands on the child.

"By the way," Marc added, "I've discovered something interesting about the Halliwell baby." He handed Daley a newspaper. "That's one of the local Wiccan papers. Called THE LUNAR VOICE. Turn to page eight."

Daley turned to the page as instructed. It was filled with employment ads and notices. "What am I looking for?" she asked.

"The ad near the bottom of the page. In the column, second from the left."

Sure enough, Daley founded what she was looking for. It was an ad seeking a nanny for a nine month-old baby. It featured a telephone and a person of contact - namely P. Halliwell. The sorceress smiled. This sounded promising. Very promising, indeed.


END OF PART II

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"WIVES AND DAUGHTERS" (1999) Photo Gallery



Below is a gallery from "WIVES AND DAUGHTERS", the 1999 BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's last novel. Written by Andrew Davies and directed by Nicholas Renton, the miniseries starred Justine Waddell, Bill Paterson, Francesca Annis, Keeley Hawes, Anthony Howell, Tom Hollander and Michael Gambon:


"WIVES AND DAUGHTERS" (1999) Photo Gallery














































Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Kathryn Janeway and Starfleet Principles in “STAR TREK VOYAGER” (2.14) "Alliances"




Kathryn Janeway and Starfleet Principles - “STAR TREK VOYAGER” (2.14 )"Alliances"

Many ”STAR TREK” fans have claimed that the lead character of ”STAR TREK VOYAGER” lead character, Captain Kathryn Janeway, barely developed as a character during the series’ seven (7) season run. After watching the Season Two episode, (2.14) "Alliances”, I am can see that I would never agree with those critics of Janeway’s character. The Season Two Kathryn Janeway featured in this episode struck me as a far cry from the Janeway that finally returned to Earth in the series finale, (7.25-7.26) “Endgame”.

But this article is not simply about Kathryn Janeway. It is mainly about the good captain and the major role she played in ”Alliance”. The episode began with a Kazon attack upon Voyager, which resulted in damages to the starship, several wounded and the death of another Voyager crewman - the popular ex-Maquis and close friend of Commander Chakotay named Kurt Bendera. After Chakotay delivered the eulogy after the funeral, Crewmen Hogan and Michael Jonas voiced their opinion to Captain Janeway that Voyager should operate in a manner similar to the Maquis and consider making a deal with the Kazon for safe passage. Naturally, Janeway refused to consider the idea of trading technology with Kazon, which is something they have proposed in the past. But her resistance to the idea of an alliance eventually faded when Chakotay and Lieutenant Tuvok both proposed that she consider an alliance with one or two Kazon factions to secure peace. Not to trade technology, but to offer protection from attacking forces and emergency supplies. As I had pointed out, the Captain was reluctant to accept Chakotay’s idea, but eventually accepted. Ensign Harry Kim seemed horrified by the idea, claiming that the Federation would never consider forming alliances with the likes of the Kazon. Apparently, the young ensign forgot about the treaty that the Federation had signed with the Klingon Empire in the late 23rd century (something that Tuvok had reminded the Captain about) and one with Cardassia a few years earlier. Fortunately, Janeway ignored Kim’s protests.

During the series’ first two seasons, Janeway had been a rigid practitioner of Starfleet's principles, unwilling to be flexible about her command style. She also had a bad habit of ignoring advice that required her to be a little more flexible . . . unless it suited her. Obviously, Chakotay's suggestion of mixing a little Starfleet principles with Maquis methods never really appealed to Janeway. And I got the feeling that she was determined to prove him wrong. Bear with me. There was nothing wrong in Janeway’s policies about following Starfleet principles - when the situation demanded it. After all, if Janeway had not maintained discipline on her ship, Voyager could have easily become another U.S.S. Equinox. However, there was a time for adhering to Starfleet . . . and a time for using other methods.

Chakotay's idea of forming an alliance with the Kazon seemed sound. Even Tuvok thought it was a good idea. Yet, Janeway decided to sabotage Chakotay’s idea by accepting Torres and Paris’ not-so-bright suggestion of forming an alliance with Seska and Maj Cullah of the Kazon Nistrim sect. Why on earth would she agree to sign a treaty with the very Kazon sect that the crew of Voyager had been in conflict with since Season One’s (1.11 “State of Flux”). And why did she not simply consider contacting other Kazon sects, as Chakotay and Tuvok had suggested. Then Janeway added more fuel to the fire when she disregarded Tuvok's advice against forming an alliance with the Trabe, the Kazons' blood enemy. The Trabe used to be a major power in the Delta Quadrant that were also brutal slave masters ruling over the Kazon race. The Kazon eventually revolted and stole all of the Trabe technology, spacecraft and even their home world. The Trabe had been reduced to wanderers that were constantly pursued by Kazon fleets and unable to settle on any permanent planet for fear of being exterminated by the former slaves. In the end, Tuvok’s objections against an alliance with the Trabe proved to be sound. The effort to form an alliance with the Kazon ended up being undermined by the Trabe’s attempt to assassinate the Kazon majes (leaders).

As I had earlier stated, one of Janeway's major flaws had been her inability to be flexible in the face of Voyager’s extraordinary situation in the Delta Quadrant. During Seasons One and Two, she seemed obsessed with maintaining Starfleet principles. In the end, this strict adherence to these principles did not prevent Voyager's capture by Seska, Maje Cullah and the Kazon in the Season Two finale, (2.26) “Basics, Part I”. Following this last incident with Seska and the Kazon, Janeway switched tactics and adhered more closely with utilizing Maquis methods. I would have cheered her for this . . . except she went from one extreme to another. Her determination to use any means possible to get home nearly led to Voyager's destruction in the early Season Three episode, (3.04)"The Swarm”, when she decided to trespass into a hostile alien space after being warned away. Another form of this kind of extremism occurred when she decided to form an alliance with the Borg in order to avoid what she believed was certain destruction at the hands of Species 8472 in (3.26-4.01) “Scorpion”. This alliance led to Species 8472’s defeat and many home worlds opened to conquest and assimilation by the Borg. After Voyager's encounter with the U.S.S. Equinox in (5.26-6.01) “Equinox”, Janeway finally learned to become flexible by striking a balance between maintaining Starfleet principles and being a little creative when the occasion demanded.

As for "Alliances”, it had the potential to be an excellent episode. Unfortunately, too much had occurred during the episode’s 45 minutes running time. ”Alliance” could have . . . should have been a two-part episode. But writer/producer Jeri Taylor decided to stuff this very eventful story into one episode. Worse, the story ended on a sour note with Janeway's speech reaffirming Starfleet principles. Her strident speech not only made me wince, it also made me wonder if she was feeling a little smug at proving both Chakotay and Tuvok wrong. The ending did not strike me as one of her finest hours.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"THE DIVORCEE" (1930) Review




"THE DIVORCEE" (1930) Review

I just watched "THE DIVORCEE" last night. This 1930 MGM film tells the story of a happily married couple, whose marriage crumbles under the taint of infidelity. This is the second time I have seen this film and again, found myself surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

Norma Shearer portrayed Jerry Martin, a happily marrried New York socialite, who discovers that her husband, Ted (Chester Morris), had a drunken one night stand with some blowsy woman. She tried to pretend that it was bridge under the water and openly forgave him. But his infidelity continued to bother her. And when he leaves New York for a business trip to Chicago, she has a one night stand with his best friend, Don (Robert Montgomery). Jerry confesses her infidelity . . . and discovers that as far as Ted is concerned, what was good for the goose, was not for the gander. The couple divorces and spends an unhappy year trying to forget one another. They eventually reconcile at a party in Paris.

I understand that the Jerry Martin role nearly evaded Norma Shearer, because husband and MGM production chief Irving Thalberg did not feel that the role suited her. She used a series of sexy photographs taken by George Hurrell to convince Thalberg that she could do the role. And she certainly proved that she was the right woman for the role. What I liked about Shearer's take on Jerry was that she was not one type of woman or another. She was a complex woman who discovered that she could not hide her feelings - whether she was disturbed by her husband's infidelity and hypocricy; or her longing to reconcile with him, despite enjoying the company of other men. Shearer certainly deserved the Academy Award she had received for Best Actress.

Although he had some moments of over-the-top acting as Ted Martin - Jerry's husband, Chester Morris did a pretty good job portraying the newspaper man, who tried to dismiss his own infidelity . . . and discovered how his wife truly felt in the worst possible way. What I found interesting about Ted's character was how alcohol led to a great deal of his troubles. It was alcohol that encouraged Ted to cheat on Jerry. And it was the booze that he had indulged, following the breakup of his marriage that led to the loss of his job. Morris did a great job in portraying a complex and flawed man without becoming some one-note antagonist.

Robert Montgomery was at turns rather funny and sexy as Don, Ted's best friend with whom she cheated on. Many have dismissed Conrad Nagel as a boring actor, who performance in the movie was not worth mentioning. Mind you, his role as Paul, Jerry's former boyfriend was not as splashy as Morris or Montgomery's, but Nagel still managed to invest enough angst as a man who is dealt a double blow in life when the woman he loves (Jerry) marries another man and he finds himself in a loveless marriage with a woman (Judith Wood), whose face he had disfigured due to a drunken car accident.

While watching this film, I was surprised how the attitudes and personalities of most of the major characters seemed revelant today. Despite the late 20s/early 30s wardrobe and slang, the so-called "Bright Young Things" were really not that different from the Twenty and Thirtysomethings in the dating scene, today. I felt as if I had been watching some comedy-drama about a marriage, set in the late 20th or early 21st centuries. As a sideline, I also enjoyed the movie's East Coast setting and set designs by Cedric Gibbons. And I especially liked Shearer's wardrobe, designed by the famous Adrian.

I realized that "THE DIVORCEE" had a "happy ending" that many modern viewers do not care for. But for me, it was an ending in which both husband and wife were humbled. They not only forgave each other, but forgave themselves. Hell, I bought it. But more importantly, "THE DIVORCEE" continued to be an entertaining and fascinating movie, even after eighty years.

Friday, June 18, 2010

"THE A-TEAM" (2010) Photo Gallery



Below are photos from "THE A-TEAM", the new adaptation of the 1983-1987 television series. Directed by Joe Carnahan, the movie starred Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel and Patrick Wilson:


"THE A-TEAM" (2010) Photo Gallery