Monday, January 31, 2011

"TRUE GRIT" (2010) Review




"TRUE GRIT" (2010) Review

I have never read Charles Portis’ 1968 novel called "TRUE GRIT". And my only glimpse of Henry Hathaway’s 1969 film adaptation was of John Wayne charging horseback toward a band of outlaws, while armed with a weapon in both hands. So it was with great curiosity that I went to see Joel and Ethan Coen’s recent film adaptation of the novel.

”TRUE GRIT” told the story of 14 year-old Mattie Ross’s efforts to seek justice and retribution for the murder of her father in post-Civil War western Arkansas. Due to the local law’s failure to arrest her father’s killer, Tom Chaney, Mattie travels to Fort Smith and recruits a U.S. Marshal named Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn to hunt down and arrest Chaney in the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma). Unbeknownst to Mattie, Cogburn teams up with a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf, who seeks Chaney for the murder of a state senator and his dog. The two men depart Fort Smith and cross into Indian Territory without Mattie. However, she refuses to be left behind and quickly catches up with the two men.

I must admit that I had no idea how I would accept ”TRUE GRIT”. First of all, it was a remake of a successful that led to an Academy Award for its star. Many remakes tend to be inferior to the original movie. However, there have been remakes that are just as good as the original – like James Mangold’s ”3:10 TO YUMA”. There have also been remakes that turned out to be superior to the original – like 1941’s ”THE MALTESE FALCON” and 1988’s ”DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS”. Since I have never seen the 1969 version of ”TRUE GRIT” in its entirety, I do not see how I could compare it to this new version. I will admit that it turned out to be a very entertaining and intelligent adaptation of Portis’ novel.

In short, I enjoyed ”TRUE GRIT” very much. Thanks to Joel and Ethan Coen’s writing and direction, the movie struck me as a well-balanced combination of a character study, action film and coming-of-age tale. The movie’s first half, which featured Mattie Ross’s attempts to settle her father’s affairs and recruit Cogburn or anyone else willing to hunt down Chaney. A good deal of the movie’s midway point featured interactions between the three protagonists – Mattie, Cogburn and LaBoeuf – during their journey through the Indian Territory. But once Mattie and Cogburn come across outlaws associated with a fugitive gang leader named “Lucky” Ned Pepper, the movie’s action kicks into high gear. More importantly, the movie’s shift into action did not impede its strong characterizations and drama one bit. Another aspect of ”TRUE GRIT” that I had enjoyed was the dark humor – a trademark of the Coens’ work – that permeated the movie. It certainly befitted the movie’s dark coming-of-age tale and its characters.

I also have to give kudos to the movie’s production designer, Jess Goncher. He did a superb job in re-creating Fort Smith, Arkansas and the Indian Territory during the late 1860s. One of the best things he ever did was choose or suggest the production film the movie in New Mexico and Texas – states that bordered Oklahoma (formerly the Indian Territory). In doing so, he allowed the movie’s setting to adhere closer to Portis’ setting in the novel. Goncher was ably assisted by costume designer Mary Zophres, whose costumes perfectly captured the movie’s setting and character; and cinematographer Roger Deakins, whose photography strongly reminded me of the old daguerreotype images of the mid-to-late 19th century.

Matt Damon found himself following in the footsteps of singer Glen Campbell, in his portrayal of Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. I have seen some of the 1969 film and I must admit that Campbell gave a pretty solid performance. But Damon’s portrayal of the character struck me as more detailed and skillful. In fact, the actor did an excellent job in portraying the competent, yet egotistical lawman. Not only did Damon made me forget that he had very little experience with Westerns, he is one of two actors I have ever seen convey the correct method (breathing included) in long distance shooting. Josh Brolin had more experience with Westerns – including a co-starring role in the ABC series, ”THE YOUNG RIDERS” and the Coens’ award-winning film, ”NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN”. He portrayed the heroes’ main target, hired hand/outlaw Tom Chaney. The actor did not appear in many scenes of ”TRUE GRIT”, but his character permeated the movie’s first half like a malevolent spirit. Once he made his appearance, Brolin’s Chaney seemed insignificant and dimwitted. Yet, as the movie continued on, Brolin revealed more of Chaney’s cunning and stealth with great skill and subtlety. The movie also benefitted from a solid performance by supporting actor Barry Pepper, who portrayed “Lucky” Ned Pepper, an outlaw leader who is sought by Cogburn. The actor’s Ned Pepper struck me as a curious mixture of ruthlessness, pragmatism and honor. He seemed to have no qualms in killing the 14 year-old Mattie over her evasions regarding Cogburn’s whereabouts. And yet, after she honestly answered his questions, his character seemed very willing to keep his word about sparing her life. I have always been an admirer of Pepper’s talents. This role certainly confirmed my opinion.

When I had discovered that Jeff Bridges would end up reprising the role that led to an Academy Award for John Wayne, I almost felt sorry for him. Almost. I eventually realized that my sympathy would be wasted on him. Bridges was talented and charismatic enough to put his own stamp on the role of Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn. Sure enough, Bridges did exactly just that. His portrayal as Cogburn seemed so thorough that I found it difficult to see the actor within the character. His darker portrayal of the character also made me forget about Wayne’s friendlier spin on the role. The main character of ”TRUE GRIT”, in my opinion, turned out to be one Mattie Ross, the 14 year-old daughter of the murdered man. Her desire and determination to seek retribution for her father’s death turned out to be story’s catalyst. Hailee Steinfeld beautifully captured every aspect of Mattie’s complex nature. In fact, there were times I had felt as if I was watching a strong-willed and ruthless woman inside an adolescent’s body. However, Steinfeld’s performance also reminded me that behind the strong will and ruthlessness lurked an innocent and inexperienced young girl. Steinfeld’s chemistry with her co-stars seemed so strong that I found myself wondering how Cogburn, LeBouef or both would regard Mattie if she had been an adult. I have heard speculations of a possible Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Steinfeld. In my opinion, she deserved a nomination for Best Actress. After all, she was not only the leading female character, but the story’s main character.

It just recently occurred to me that ”TRUE GRIT” failed to earn any Golden Globe nominations – major or minor, last month. Frankly, I considered this a joke. Not only did I enjoy it very much, I consider it to be one of the best movies I have seen this year. It is a rare occurrence to find a remake that is just as good or perhaps even slightly better than the original. Fortunately, the movie has just earned 10 Academy Award nominations. And thanks to Ethan and Joel Coen, ”TRUE GRIT turned out to be one of those rare gems.

Friday, January 28, 2011

"The Uninvited" [PG-13] - Act II




"THE UNINVITED"

ACT II

The Melora Dimension has served as a sanctuary - a literal 'No Man's Land' - from the numerous conflicts that have flared between various factions in the magical world. Arnen, one of the dukes of the dominion spirit, Usiel; had discovered the lush, green dimension, over four thousand years ago. Following a devastating conflict between two wizard covens, Arnen - with Usiel's permission - decided to transform Melora into a sanctuary where all magical beings - except for deities, who harbored no interest in hobnobbing with non-deities - could find respite from the never-ending battle for power in the universe.

Gweneth McNeill and Cole had revealed all of this to Olivia and the others before the half-daemon teleported the entire family to Melora. But what she had learned did not prepare for the other dimension's reality. The redhead had visited her share of other dimensions during her fourteen-and-a-half years as a witch, but none could match the sheer lush and natural beauty of Melora. Aside from the Valinor Dimension.

"Good God!" Bruce exclaimed, as his eyes scanned the surroundings.

Barbara clutched her husband's arm. "No kidding! I can't think of any spot on Earth that looks this beautiful."

Cole replied, "Now you know why the Melora dimension has been so popular with the magical world."

"And no one has tried to take control of it?" Harry asked.

Gweneth commented, "And face the wrath of both Arnen and Usiel? No one dares."

"Where is this Berisa Resort?" Jack asked.

A sheepish expression appeared on Cole's face. "Ooops! I, uh . . . I think I may have teleported us to the wrong spot. Hold on, everyone." Seconds later, the half-daemon beamed the McNeill family to the middle of a long driveway that led to a sprawling building. The Berisa Resort Hotel turned out to be a six-story, villa-style building with a red-tile roof with spirals soaring from it. A wide verandah with wicker chairs scattered across it wrapped around the building's ground floor. It reminded Olivia of the Coronado Hotel in San Diego - only larger and with more intricate designs.

"This is it," Cole declared. He led his future wife and in-laws up the driveway and toward the hotel's entrance. Once inside the lobby, Olivia could not help but gasp out loud. She had never seen such sheer elegance and luxury in her life. Certainly not in any of the luxury hotels and resorts she had visited over the years.

Harry exclaimed, "Wow! And I mean wow!"

"You can say that again," Olivia's grandmother commented. "Gwen, why haven't you told us about this place?"

Gweneth shook her head. "Because I haven't thought about it, in nearly forty years. But it certainly brings back memories."

Olivia, Cole and Jack strolled toward the front desk. Behind it stood the hotel clerk, a humanoid male with light blue skin, long earlobes and no hair. The half-daemon asked the latter for directions to the location of the Turner party. The clerk's dark eyes blinked. "Turner?" He glanced at a large book in front of him. "I'm sorry sir. There is no Turner party booked for this hotel."

An irritated sigh left Cole's mouth. "Is there a party hosted by Nimue of the Thorn Order?"

Again, the clerk checked the book. "Ah yes! Yes, there is. The Thorn Order's party is being held in the Leithian Room. Hosted by Nimue."

"That would be it," Cole murmured.

"Hadir!" The clerk summoned a tall, bi-pedal creature with deeper blue skin, two tusk-like ears that flowed from the crown of his head, wide dark eyes and four arms. He wore a uniform similar to that of a bellboy. "We have more visitors for the party in the Leithian Room. Escort them, there."

The creature . . . or Hadir bowed to Cole and the McNeills. "Please follow me," he rumbled in a deep voice. He then led them to their destination - a large, elegant ballroom with a black-and-white marble floor, candlelit chandeliers, and a nymph-shaped fountain surrounded by an ottoman. Water sprouted from the nymph's mouth. "The Leithian Room."

"Bloody hell!" Gweneth murmured. "Remind me to book this place for the next major family occasion."

Cole tipped Hadir with some kind of gold currency and the latter disappeared. At that moment, Nimue made her way toward the newcomers, smiling brightly. "Welcome!" she greeted cheerfully. "I'm so glad that you finally made it. Belthazor." She offered one cheek to her son. Who reluctantly kissed it. "And Olivia." The demoness grabbed hold of her future daughter-in-law's hands. "My dear, you look absolutely lovely."

"Thank you," Olivia replied with a smile. And so do you." She shot a glance at her fiancé, who regarded his mother with slight suspicion. "I see that we're not the first to arrive."

Nimue added, "You're among the early arrivals. Marbus and his family are here." She indicated her brother and his family with a wave of her hand. "Let me introduce you." She led the McNeills over to one of the refreshment tables - and her brother's family. "Marbus, look who's here."

The jovial daemon greeted his nephew and the McNeills with his trademark good humor. "Well, it's good to see all of you. Glad you could make it. You remember my wife, Mauve, don't you?" He indicated a tall, dark-haired elegant woman, who stood beside him. Olivia recalled meeting her at one of the McNeills' Sunday brunches, nearly two months ago. Mauve had also joined Marbus at the other engagement party, at the St. Francis Hotel. The daemon continued, "And these are my children - Liam and Siobhan."

Liam turned out to be a tall man who strongly resembled his mother. Like her, he possessed sharp, elegant features and very dark hair and eyes. Siobhan, on the other hand, was a married woman with two children. She shared her father and aunt's auburn hair and piercing blue eyes. The same eyes that Cole also possessed. Olivia also noticed that her fiancé's cousin stood an inch shorter than herself.

After all the introductions had been made, Liam said to Olivia, "I must say that it's nice to finally meet you. It was quite a shock to find out that Cole has finally found someone to marry."

"Thanks," Olivia said with a smile. "But I won't exactly be Cole's first wife."

Siobhan's blue eyes widened. "Of course! Frances!"

Cole rolled his eyes and retorted, "You mean, Phoebe." He glared at his uncle. "Marbus!"

"What?" the older daemon protested. "I can't help it if I can't remember her name, properly."

Mauve asked, "Is she here? Fra . . . I mean, Phoebe."

"I don't think she's coming," Jack said. His gaze focused upon the ballroom's entrance. "But I believe that her sisters have arrived."

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

The two figures teleported in front of the hotel's driveway. One of them - Eric Logan - heaved a sigh. "All right," he said. "Let's get this over with."

His companion gripped his arm. "Wait a minute. How do you plan to get inside? You don't have an invitation."

Logan stared at the daemon. "I don't need an invitation. I have you."

"Don't be absurd! I have no intention of introducing you as my personal guest. No one will expect me to show up with a companion. Especially one who's assigned to kill the bride-to-be."

A sigh left the warlock's mouth. "Great! Then it looks as if I'll have to check in as a guest. And join the party later. As a waiter." He shook his head is disgust, as he and his companion strode up the driveway. "I should have never accepted this job," he muttered. "A hit inside the Melora dimension?" He glared at his companion. "Even if I get away with it, sooner or later, Arnen or any of his goons will track me down for violating the dimension's sanction against violence."

"Oh please!" The daemon retorted airily. "The so-called 'sanction against violence' is not the law in this dimension. It's just an idea that everyone pays lip service. Don't worry."

Logan protested, "I should have went after the witch near her home or job! Not here, in Melora."

"Artemus felt that the target would be less on her guard, her in Melora." When Logan failed to respond, his companion expressed impatience. "Listen, if you think you cannot complete this assignment, we'll find someone who can. Like myself."

Logan scoffed at the suggestion. "You may be a daemon, but I am the assassin. Or else Artemus and Prax would have never hired me. Don't worry. I'll do the job."

"Fine," his demonic companion shot back. "Then stop your bitching, so we can get inside." The warlock glared at the daemon and continued toward the hotel.

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

Piper felt inclined to pinch herself, as her eyes roamed over the vast ballroom. She had never encountered such beauty, elegance or luxury in her life. Not even in the McNeills' San Mateo home, Castle Dunleith in Scotland, or the Westin St. Francis' Colonial Room. Quite simply, the Melora dimension and the Berisa Resort Hotel had completely blown her mind from the moment she, Paige and Chris had arrived.

"There's something wrong about this place," Chris commented. He glanced uneasily around the room. "It just doesn't seem normal for both good and evil to hang together. Like old war buddies at a reunion."

Piper rolled her eyes. She and Chris sat at one of the tables that surrounded dance floor. "I can't believe I'm hearing this from a half-whitelighter who fell in love with a witch assassin."

"It's not the . . ." Chris broke off and sighed. "Okay, maybe some might consider me falling in love with Bianca as wrong . . ."

"No kidding," Piper murmured. She reached for her glass of champagne. "Look Chris, let's put an end to this conversation, okay? You haven't been honest with us about a lot of things. Especially about you being part witch. By the way, Leo didn't raise a fuss when we mentioned this place. Why should you?"

Chris snorted with derision. "Yeah, like he would know everything."

Perturbed by Chris' continuing hostility toward her former husband, Piper demanded, "What is with you and Leo? Why do you resent him so much?"

A long pause followed before the young whitelighter replied, "Let's just say that our future relationship isn't so hot."

Before Piper could demand a further explanation, Scott Yi appeared at the table with a plate of food. "So, how are you enjoying the Melora dimension?" he asked, before sitting down in an empty chair.

"Great," Piper replied. She frowned. "I didn't see Darryl. Are you the only one from the station who's here?"

Scott replied, "I believe that Darryl did receive an invitation, but I think that he and Sheila were more than satisfied with the party at the St. Francis. If you know what I mean."

Knowing Darryl's anxiety toward all things magical, Piper understood perfectly. She glanced at Scott's plate. "Is that food . . . uh, normal?"

With a shrug, Scott said, "Of course. These are appetizers. Canapés. Smoked Trout, Frittata, Ricotta Cheese and Spinach and little Quiche Lorraine. Haven't you tried anything, yet?"

Piper's stomach growled in reply. "To be honest, I didn't know if I should."

"Go ahead and try it," Scott insisted. "Of course, there are some dishes that aren't from our dimension. But I don't think that will kill you. Trust me."

"Well . . ."

Chris spoke up. "I think Mo . . . uh, Piper and I will eat later."

"Excuse me?" Piper glared at Chris. "Since when did you become my nutritionist? Or babysitter, for that matter?"

The young whitelighter explained, "I just think you should be careful about what you eat in this place."

"Chris, knock it off! You're becoming a bore."

Scott picked up one canapé and commented, "You don't have to worry about this place. Like I said, it's quite safe. Most of the time."

Piper stared at the sorcerer/cop. "I didn't realize that you were familiar with this place."

"Oh sure," Scott replied. "I've known about it, since I was in high school. The Chinese call it Lotus Haven. This is my first visit, here." He sighed. "Just as my uncle had described it."

A figure in dark-blue loomed before the table's three occupants. "Yes, it is quite perfect. Isn't it?" Piper and her companions glanced up at the slim man, who smiled at them. His smile revealed large, white teeth that struck the oldest Halliwell as wolfish. "Hello." His deep gray eyes focused upon Piper. "May I assume that you are one of the Charmed Ones?"

Both Chris and Scott immediately stiffened. Piper maintained her cool and tartly replied, "You may assume. Do I know you?"

The man . . . or whatever he happened to be, threw back his head and laughed. "I'm afraid that we've never met. My name is Guldur, by the way. Emphasis on the last syllable."

"You're a demon," Chris flatly stated.

Guldur stared at the whitelighter. "Why yes, I believe so. Are you, by any chance, a witch? Or a wizard? You look familiar." His eyes narrowed slightly. "Come to think of it, you fit the description of a whitelighter who had been looking for a daemon I know. A daemon named Gith. Poor bastard ended up dead, over a month ago."

For reasons that eluded her, Piper immediately came to her whitelighter's defense. "Actually, my sisters and I were the ones who killed Gith. He was trying to kill us." She gave the demon a challenging stare. "Is that a problem?"

Again, the demon laughed, taking Piper by surprise. "What do you think?" he finally answered, after his laughter had subsided. Then a deadly light gleamed in his eyes. "Twelve years ago, Gith had arranged the death of a close friend of mine. A very close friend. I even hired a zoltar to find Gith, but it seem that you and your sisters got to him, first."

Frowning, Scott said, "So, what you're saying is that . . ."

". . . the Charmed Ones had done me a favor," Guldur smoothly finished. He turned to Piper. "I would give you a reward, but something tells me that you wouldn't accept one from a daemon." Piper's only response came as a weak smile.

Cole appeared at the table, looking handsome in a tailored suit. "Perhaps you should accept that reward, Piper. It's not every day that a daemon as powerful as Guldur would be indebted to a witch."

"Belthazor!" The other demon turned to shake Cole's hands. "Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. I've already met the bride, by the way. Outstanding!"

Cole allowed himself a genuine smile. "Can't argue with you, there. Speaking of Olivia, have you seen her?"

It was Scott who answered, "I last saw her with Bruce and that friend of yours, Nathalie Green. Near the bar."

"Thanks." Before Cole turned away, he said to Guldur, "Since you're here, I can only assume that Lohdon is here, as well."

"Who?" Piper asked.

Guldur replied, "Lohdon. The head of my order."

Cole added, "I had expected to find a few members of the old Thorn Brotherhood, here, but not from the Fornost Order." His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Something tells me that Lohdon's presence has more to do with business than my upcoming wedding."

The other demon's eyes widened with innocence. "Really, Belthazor! How would I know? Lohdon doesn't tell me everything. Besides," his gaze focused past Cole's shoulder, "I believe that Lohdon should be the least of your worries."

"Wha . . .?" Cole's gaze followed Guldur's. His blue eyes grew wide with shock. "What in the hell is she doing here?" he growled.

Piper noticed that Cole was glaring at a curvy, dark-haired female with cat-shaped hazel eyes. Her wardrobe consisted of a tight-fitting dress and heeled sandals. The woman reminded Piper of a second-rate sex symbol from a 1960s "B" movie. "Who is that?" she asked.

Cole replied through clenched teeth, "A nightmare from the past." A scowl now fixed upon his face, he marched away from the table.

"Who is she?" Chris asked Guldur.

The demon sighed. "Oh, some old girlfriend of Belthazor's. Her name is Idril. They were quite an item for a brief period back in the late 60s or early 70s. And I heard that they were seeing each other again, some four or five years ago. As far as Belthazor is concerned, she was a mistake." An amused chuckle escaped his lips. "And it looks like Idril is one that refuses to go away."


END OF ACT II

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"DOWNTON ABBEY" (2010) Series One Photo Gallery



Below are images from the new ITV television series, "DOWNTON ABBEY". Created and written by Oscar-winning actor/writer, Julian Fellowes, the series stars Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Dan Stevens, Brendan Coyle and Maggie Smith:


"DOWNTON ABBEY" (2010) Series One Photo Gallery











































Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"FLASHMAN" (1969) Book Review




"FLASHMAN" (1969) Book Review

Forty-one years ago, an old literary character was re-introduced to many readers, thanks to a former Scottish journalist named George MacDonald Fraser. The author took a character from a famous Victorian novel and created a series of novels that placed said character in a series of historical events throughout the middle and second half of the 19th century.

The 1857 novel, ”TOM BROWN’S SCHOOLDAYS”, told the story of a young English boy named Tom Brown and his experiences at the famous school, Rugby, during the 1830s. One of Tom’s travails focused on his abuse at the hands of an older student – a bully – named Flashman. However, Flashman got drunk at a local tavern and in the following morning was expelled by Rugby’s famous headmaster, Dr. Thomas Arnold. Fraser took the Flashman character, gave him a first name – Harry – and continued his story following the expulsion from Rugby in the 1969 novel, ”FLASHMAN”.

The beginning of the novel saw the seventeen year-old Harry Flashman trying to find a new profession following his expulsion from Rugby. Due to his father’s wealth and his maternal Uncle Bindley Paget’s social connections, Flashman found a position as a junior officer in one of Britain’s most elite Army regiments, the 11th Hussars aka the Cherrypickers. And thanks to his talent for toadying and projecting a sense of style (inherited from his aristocratic late mother), Flashman managed to win the support and favor of the regimental commander, the haughty James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan. Unfortunately, Flashman’s ideal life as a leisurely Army officer came to an end. His involvement with the French mistress of a fellow officer kicked off a series of events that led to Flashman being swept into the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842). One of those events included seducing one Elspeth Morrison, the sixteen year-old daughter of a wealthy Scottish merchant. After being forced to marry her by her relations, Flashman was kicked out of the 11th Hussars and sent to India by Lord Cardigan, who regarded the marriage as a step down the social ladder for the usually favored young Army officer.

It was in Afghanistan that Flashman earned the nickname, “Bloody Lance” by taking credit for his servant’s killing of four Afghan attackers. There, he also met one Ilderim Khan, the son of a pro-British Afghan nobleman and became the latter’s lifelong friend and blood brother. This friendship would end up saving Flashman’s life during the Sepoy Rebellion in ”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME”. Flashman also managed to earn two deadly enemies – an Afghan warlord named Gul Shah and his mistress (later wife), a dancer named Narreeman. The source of the pair’s enmity toward Flashman originated with his rape of Narreeman.

More importantly, ”FLASHMAN” allowed readers to view many important events of the First Anglo-Afghan War. Not only did Flashman meet many historical figues such as Lord Cardigan, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, the Duke of Wellington, but also Alexander Burnes, Akbar Khan, William Macnaghten, Thomas Arnold, and the incompetent commander of the British Army in Afghanistan, General William Elphinstone.

I must admit that my opinion of the novel has changed a great deal over the years. Originally, I held a low opinion of ”FLASHMAN” for years, comparing it to the more epic-like sagas such as ”FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE” (1973), ”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME” (1975), ”FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” (1982) and ”FLASHMAN AND THE DRAGON” (1985). I still regard these four novels in a higher regard than ”FLASHMAN”. But I must admit that perhaps I had been a little unfair in my regard for the 1969 novel. It is actually a solid adventure story filled with historical interest, witty humor, sharp action and excellent pacing. Some fans of The Flashman Papers have expressed disgust or disenchantment with the Harry Flashman character portrayed in this novel. I suspect that a great deal of these negative opinions may have stemmed from Flashman’s rape of Narreeman. And I understand. However, many of these fans also complained about the young British officer’s crass style and manner – especially toward his father’s mistress, Judy. One has to remember that Harry Flashman aged from 17 to 20 years old in this story. He did convey some semblance of the style, common sense and instinct that would fool many people and serve him for years. But as an adolescent on the threshold of twenty, he had yet to learn some of the hard facts of life. As for his rough treatment and negative opinion of Judy, I suspect that his ego suffered a massive blow, when she rejected him, following a one-time bout under the sheets. A blow that he obviously had failed to recover from after six decades, while ”writing” his memoirs.

”FLASHMAN” also had its share of interesting fictional characters. I have already mentioned the villainous Gul Shah and his mistress (later wife) Narreeman. I have also mentioned the young Afghan who became a close friend of Flashy’s, Ilderim Khan. But he had an even larger role in ”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME”. And as I had mentioned, Elspeth also appeared in the novel. However, her presence in the novel would not be truly felt, until the last chapter that featured Harry’s homecoming. Fraser barely explored her personality in the novel, but he did allow a peek into her promiscuous and self-absorbed nature in that last chapter. One particular character, Sergeant Hudson, proved to be a reliable source of defense for Flashman during the retreat from Kabul. During this event, Flashman experienced one of the most bizarre moments of his life, while being rejected by the young wife of an Army officer named Mrs. Betty Parker, whom he was trying to seduce:

"'What the devil' says I. 'What’s the matter?'

'Oh, you brute!' she hissed - for she had the sense to keep her voice down – 'you filthy, beastly brute! Get out of my tent at once! At once, d’you her?'

I could make nothing of this, and said so. 'What have I done? I was only being friendly. What are you acting so damned missish for?'

'Oh base!' says she. 'You . . . you . . .'

'Oh, come now,' says I. 'You’re in very high ropes, to be sure. You weren’t so proper when I squeezed you the other night.'

'Squeezed me?' says she, as though I had uttered some unmentionable word.

'Aye, squeezed. Like this.' And I reached over and, with a quick fumble in the dark, caught one of her breasts. To my amazement, she didn’t seem to mind.

'Oh, that!' she says. 'What an evil creature you are! You know that is nothing; all gentlemen do that, in affection. But you, you monstrous beast, presume on my friendship to try to . . . Oh, oh, I could die of shame!'

If I had not heard her I shouldn’t have believed it. God knows I have learned enough since of the inadequacies of education given to young Englishwomen, but this was incredible."


This last encounter with Mrs. Betty Parker struck me as a hilarious metaphor for the blindingly naïve morality that had began to encroach early Victorian society.

”FLASHMAN” also provided some interesting historical vignettes from the First Anglo-Afghan War. And young Flashman managed to witness or participate in a good number of them. The novel allowed him to be the sole surviving British witness to the murder of political officer, Sir Alexander Burnes and his younger brother, Charles. He also witnessed the murder of another political officer named Sir William Macnaghten, along with Last Stand at Gandamak and the Siege of Jalalabad. But Fraser’s pièce de résistance in ”FLASHMAN” proved to be the disasterous Kabul retreat in which the British contingent under General Elphinstone were forced to march from Afghanistan to India in cold weather and dire circumstances:

"From other accounts of that frightful march that I have read – mostly Mackenzie’s and Lawrence’s and Lady Sale’s – I can fit a few of my recollections into their chronicle, but in the main it is just a terrible, bloody nightmare even now, more than sixty years after. Ice and blood and groans and death and despair, and the shrieks of dying men and women and the howling of the Ghazis and Gilzais. They rushed and struck, and rushed and struck again, mostly at the camp-followers, until it seemed there was a slashed brown body every yard of the way. The only place of safety was in the heart of Shelton’s main body, where the sepoys still kept some sort of order; I suggested to Elphy when we set off that I and my lancers should ride guard on the womenfolk, and he agreed at once. It was a wise move on my part, for the attacks on the flanks were now so frequent that the work we had been doing yesterday was become fatally dangerous. Mackenzie’s jezzailchis were cut to ribbons stemming the sorties."

Reading the above passage made me wonder about the wisdom of the current Western presence in Afghanistan. And there is nothing like a British military disaster to bring out the best of Fraser’s writing skulls. It proved to be the first of such passages in novels like ”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME” and ”FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS”.

In the end, Fraser did a solid job in initiating what would proved to be The Flashman Papers in his first novel, ”FLASHMAN”. Granted, the novel’s first part set in England struck me as slightly rushed. And the Harry Flashman character seemed a bit crude in compare to his characterizations in the novels that followed. Like many other readers, I found his rape of the Narreeman character hard to stomach. But Fraser did an excellent job in re-creating early Victorian Britain, British India, Afghanistan and the First Anglo-Afghan War. In short, ”FLASHMAN” turned out to be a solid start to an excellent series of historical novels.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" (1980) Review




”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” (1980) Review

As many fans of Jane Austen must know, there have been several screen and television adaptations of the author’s most celebrated novel, ”Pride and Prejudice”, published in 1813. I usually come across at least five of those versions – including the six-part BBC adaptation that aired in the U.S. in 1980. The miniseries was adapted by Fay Weldon and directed by Cyril Coke.

Only someone unfamiliar with Austen’s story would not know that ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” told the story of Elizabeth Bennet, the second-born daughter of an English gentleman and landowner in Regency England. The story focused on the efforts of her volatile mother to find eligible husbands for Elizabeth and her four sisters. It is also a love story about Elizabeth’s tumultuous relationship with a wealthy and haughty gentleman named Fitzwilliam Darcy. Through six episodes, the miniseries explored Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s emotions, as their relationship went from mild hostility, misunderstandings and prejudice, to love, respect and marriage. Many Austen fans consider Weldon’s adaptation to be the most faithful to the 1813 novel. After my recent viewing of the miniseries, I realized that I could never agree with that opinion.

I am not saying that ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” strongly differed from Austen’s novel. But I can honestly say that it was no more faithful than the 1995 version. Only screenwriter Fay Weldon’s variations differ from Andrew Davies’. In fact, most these differences were especially obvious in the segment that featured Elizabeth’s visit to Hunsford, the Collins’ home in Kent. But these differences did not lessen my enjoyment of the production. However, there were some aspects of the miniseries that did.

One aspect of ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” that annoyed me was its occasionally slow pacing. There were moments when I found myself wondering if I was watching a filmed play. Most fans would dismiss this complaint on the grounds that many BBC miniseries productions had been shot in this static style. True, but I have seen a few of these old productions that managed to maintain a brisk pacing. Another aspect of the miniseries that annoyed me was the internal monologues that expressed Elizabeth’s thoughts. This was especially apparent in scenes that reflected Elizabeth’s opinion of the letter she had received from Mr. Darcy following his disastrous marriage proposal; and in the sequences that featured her thoughts on her sister Lydia’s elopement with George Wickham and her parents’ marriage. Frankly, I found the use of this film device simply a cheap way to reflect Elizabeth’s opinions on the subjects. And these monologues nearly bogged the series’ pacing to a standstill.

But the real disappointment proved to be the miniseries’ portrayal of the Netherfield Ball. The ball given by Mr. Darcy’s close friend, Charles Bingley, was one of the novel’s centerpieces in nearly every adaptation of ”Pride and Prejudice”. The ball was replaced with a garden fête in the 1940 version. But it still turned out to be one of the movie’s centerpieces. So, why did Fay Weldon dropped the ball with this particular sequence? In this version, the Netherfield Ball segment lasted a little over six minutes. Elizabeth expressed her displeasure over Mr. Wickham’s non-appearance and the prospect of dancing with Mr. Darcy. She danced with both Mr. Darcy and her cousin, William Collins. She traded barbs with Caroline Bingley. And Elizabeth also witnessed her mother’s embarrassing boasts about elder sister Jane’s romance with Mr. Bingley. By deleting Mr. Collins brief discussion with Mr. Darcy and the embarrassing behavior of the other members of the Bennet family, Weldon’s screenplay seemed to have rendered the sequence half done. Worse, Cyril Coke shot the sequence at an incredibly fast pace. Between Weldon’s deletions and Coke’s pacing, the Netherfield Ball sequence seemed like such a disappointing affair.

When I first saw ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”, I became immediately enamored of the miniseries. As an adolescent, I thought it was one of the best things to come from British television. After my last viewing of the series, my opinion of it has somewhat diminished. But I still consider it to be very entertaining. Austen’s wit remained intact. Well . . . somewhat. Some of the jokes – like Elizabeth’s comment about Darcy’s and her penchant for “amazing” statements – failed to make any impact, due to Elizabeth Garvie’s delivery of the line. And many of Mr. Bennet’s witticisms seemed angry, instead of funny. But plenty of humor remained in the miniseries. Elizabeth’s first meeting with Lady Catherine de Bourgh and a reunion with Mr. Darcy struck me as one of the miniseries’ funniest scenes. Just about every scene with Mrs. Bennet or Mr. Collins provided plenty of laughs. The romances featured in ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” remained strong as ever, especially between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.

I would not consider Paul Wheeler’s photography for ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” to be that colorful. In fact, it looked slightly faded. One could attribute this to the fact that the miniseries has been aging for the past thirty years. Yet, I have seen other television productions made around the same time or earlier that looked more colorful. But I must admit that I enjoyed Joan Ellacott’s costume designs. They were certainly colorful and properly reflected the characters’ social status.

Any adaptation of ”Pride and Prejudice” would be nothing without strong leads to portray the two main characters, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. The 1980 miniseries certainly benefitted from strong performances provided by Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul. Garvie proved to be a very soft-spoken Elizabeth Bennet, reminding me of Greer Garson’s performance in the same role in the 1940 adaptation. Yet, beneath the soft tones, Garvie provided plenty of wit and steel. I found her performance very enjoyable. And David Rintoul definitely projected Mr. Darcy’s haughty demeanor. Some consider his performance to be the epitome portrayal of Austen’s famous character. Perhaps. Perhaps not. There were moments when Rintoul’s Mr. Darcy seemed a bit too haughty – especially when the character was supposed to be falling in love with Elizabeth. But I believe he still gave a first-rate performance. And he provided one of the miniseries’ funniest moments in a scene featuring Elizabeth and the Collins’ first visit to Rosings Park.

The rest of the cast seemed solid. But I can only think of a few exceptional performances. One came from Priscilla Morgan, whose portrayal of Mrs. Bennet managed to be extremely irritating without her resorting to caricature. I was also impressed by Marsha Fitzalan, who proved that Caroline Bingley could be both subtle and spiteful at the same time. Tessa Peake-Jones gave an entertaining performance as the bookish and pompous Mary Bennet. Her portrayal seemed more subtle than other actresses who have portrayed the character. Peter Settlelen also gave a solid performance as George Wickham, but he came off as too hale and hearty for me to consider him as an effective villain. And Peter Howell was certainly hilarious as the boorish and obsequious Mr. William Collins, Elizabeth’s cousin and Mr. Bennet’s heir. However, there were moments when he seemed a bit over-the-top.

And then there were the performances that I found questionable. I must admit that I was not impressed by Natalie Ogle’s portrayal of the childish Lydia Bennet. I found her acting skills somewhat amateurish. The actress who portrayed Kitty Bennet seemed a little too old for the role. And there were times when her Kitty seemed more mature (in a negative way) than the other four sisters. And Kitty is supposed to be the second youngest sibling in the family. Actor Moray Watson gave a sharp and entertaining performance as the Bennets’ patriarch. But I found his wit a bit too harsh and angry at times.

”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” has its share of flaws, which I have pointed out in this review. But its virtues outweighed the flaws – the biggest ones being the first-rate performances of the two leads, Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul. Screenwriter Fay Weldon and director Cyril Coke did an above-average job in adapting Jane Austen’s most famous novel.

Monday, January 24, 2011

"The Uninvited" [PG-13] - Act I




"THE UNINVITED"

ACT I

"Not bad," Paige declared, as she glanced around the elegant room. She took a sip of her gingerale. "Although, this party could use some decent music."

Harry smirked. "By decent music, are you referring to Alanis Morissette? Aimee Mann or the Bare Naked Ladies? Don't forget that Mom and Dad are hosting this engagement party for Cole and Olivia - and they come from a different generation." He and Paige sat at one of the tables that filled the Colonial Room at the Westin St. Francis Hotel. "Besides, what's wrong with 'The Look of Love'? I've always liked Burt Bacharach."

"I'm not into Oldies. I like my music, contemporary."

With a sigh, Harry shook his head. "Sometimes Paige, I think you have no sense of history."

The music finally stopped. One of the many couples on the dance floor broke away and approached Paige and Harry's table. "Why aren't you two dancing?" Piper asked. She sat in the chair, next to Paige's.

Harry replied, "It seems Paige isn't into Oldies." He glanced up at Piper's companion. "So Scott, are you enjoying yourself?"

"Great party." Scott Yi shot a friendly smile at Piper. Who responded with one of her own. Earlier in the evening, Olivia had introduced other members of her squad to the Halliwells. Paige and Piper learned that one of them, Scott Yi, not only knew about the existence of magic, but was also a practitioner. A powerful sorcerer. Scott's eyes scanned the hotel ballroom. "What happened to sister number three?"

Piper replied, "Phoebe? She's in Hong Kong. With her boyfriend. And boss."

"Oh, Jason Dean." The two sisters stared at him. "I remembered him from the DeWolfe Mann case. He was always calling the station about an update. And Olivia has told me about him."

Paige added, "Yeah, well Phoebe had decided to stay with Jason for a while."

"Have you heard from her, yet?" Harry asked.

Piper sighed. "She called about three days ago. Apparently, she and Jason had just returned from some party aboard a . . . taipan's yacht."

Both Harry and Scott exchanged amused glances at Piper's mention of the word, "taipan". Still smiling, the red-haired witch commented, "Taipan, huh? Boy, she really must be turning native."

"Turning 'Chinese' would be more like it," Scott added. "I guess that usually happens when someone becomes exposed to a new culture for a period of time."

Paige rolled her eyes. "Tell me about it! Every time we have a conversation with her, Phoebe starts spouting Eastern philosophy. Really gets on my nerves." Aware of Scott's presence, she shot him an embarrassed glance. "Ooops! Sorry, no offense."

"None taken," Scott shot back. "Besides, I understand. I knew a guy who became a born-again Christian. I was happy for him, but unfortunately, he wouldn't stop talking about it."

Piper nodded. "Knowing Phoebe, I'm sure that she'll get over her philosophical musings, once she returns home for good."

A soft, Irish voice said, "Phoebe is out of town?" The three witches and the sorcerer glanced up and found Cole's mother looming before them. Paige could not help but admire the demoness' chic, powder-green cocktail dress and stylish haircut. Mrs. Turner regarded the quartet with observant, blue eyes. "I wondered why I didn't see her, this evening."

Piper coolly replied, "Phoebe is . . ." She paused and broke off - as if she realized that she had said too much.

"Phoebe is . . . where?" Cole's mother asked.

Scott added, "Actually, she's in Hong Kong." Ignoring the Charmed Ones' dark glances, he stood up and held out his hand. "How do you do? I'm a friend of the bride-to-be. My name is Scott Yi."

"Elizabeth Turner," the demoness replied, shaking the police inspector's hand. "Cole's mother." She turned her gaze upon Harry. "And you must be one of Olivia's brothers. I see the family resemblance."

Harry stood up and smiled politely. "Yes, I'm Harry McNeill, Olivia's younger brother. It's nice meeting you." He shook hands with the demoness.

Mrs. Turner continued, "So, Phoebe is in Hong Kong. How charming. She must be with that publisher companion of hers. Jason Dean?"

The two Charmed Ones regarded Cole's mother with surprise . . . and suspicion. "How did you know about Jason?" Paige demanded.

"Well, after meeting my former daughter-in-law, last summer; I took it upon myself to learn more about her. And you." Mrs. Turner gave the two sisters a bright smile. "After all, Bel . . . Cole used to be part of your family." She returned her attention to Scott. "Have you, by any chance, ever heard of a man named Yi Tse Lao? I believe that he once owned a pharmacy on Grant Avenue."

Scott nodded. "Uh, that would be my great-uncle. My grandfather's brother."

"Really? As I recall, Mr. Yi owned a most remarkable shop. His collection of herbs and other . . . medicines was most extensive."

Piper demanded, "Is there a reason why you're here?"

With eyes that reflected a lack of emotion, Mrs. Turner glanced at Piper. Paige found the demoness unsettling. Then she turned to Harry. "By the way, Mr. McNeill, I'm looking for your parents. There is . . . something I wish to discuss with them."

"Discuss what?" Paige asked.

The demoness coolly replied, "Something. It's for Cole and Olivia's engagement." Her eyes pierced Paige's. "Anything else?"

Feeling slightly embarrassed, Paige murmured, "No."

Harry added, "They were dancing not long ago. I, uh . . ." He scanned the ballroom. "Oh, there they are. Near the refreshment tables."

"Thank you, my dear. Ladies, gentlemen." Mrs. Turner flashed one last smile at the quartet and walked away.

"Whew!" Paige released a gust of breath. "That is one scary woman. I can't understand why your parents would invite her to this party."

Harry replied, "Because she happens to be Cole's mother. And this is a family affair."

"She's also dangerous," Piper added. "In fact, I don't think even Cole is comfortable about her being here."

With a shrug of his shoulders, Scott said, "He should have thought about that before he told her about his engagement."

Harry stared at Paige. "I'm a little surprised that you would be against Mrs. Turner being here, considering that she had helped Olivia regain Cole's powers from that daemon."

"Did you really have to bring that up?" Paige retorted, still embarrassed over her part in that incident. "Besides, what Piper was trying to point out is that Cole's mom is a dangerous and powerful demon."

"Aren't we all dangerous? Good, evil, witch, daemon, sorcerer or whatever . . . our powers make us dangerous. In fact, any kind of power can be dangerous if not used properly. Don't you agree?" Scott shot back.

Paige opened her mouth to retort. But past memories of Cole's problems with the Source and the incident regarding Darryl and the Valkyries led the Charmed One to hold her tongue.

Piper avoided answering Scott's question. Instead, she changed the subject, much to Paige's relief. "I wonder if Cole and Olivia's engagement is really on Nimue's mind?" she asked. "Or is there something else she might want to discuss?"

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

Nimue found her son's future in-laws standing near a refreshment table, while a uniformed attendant served them food. "Hello!" she greeted the couple. Her eyes briefly glanced at the spread before them. "I must say that this food is quite lovely."

"Yes, it is," Gweneth McNeill said with a nod. "Thomas Rimpel is a marvelous chef. He's one of the few here in San Francisco whom I consider first-rate."

Jack McNeill smiled politely at the demoness. "Here for a bite to eat?"

"Oh no." Nimue shook her head. "I've just finished eating about ten minutes ago. I'm stuff. Actually . . . I wanted to speak with you, regarding a private matter. I'll wait for you, at your table." She smiled once more and headed for an empty table.

A few minutes later, the McNeills joined her, carrying plates of food. Once they had sat down, Jack said, "So, what exactly can we do for you?"

Nimue smiled. "I just wanted to thank you for inviting me to this party."

"Well, you are Cole's mother."

"Of course." Nimue continued, "And as Olivia's parents, I would like to invite you to my own engagement party for her and Belthazor. In fact, your entire family is invited."

Gweneth frowned. "I didn't realize that you were living in San Francisco."

"Oh, I'm not. I own a townhouse in Boston. On Beacon Hill." Nimue hesitated. "However, I don't plan to hold the party there. I . . . Have you ever heard of the Melora dimension?"

A gasp escaped from Gweneth's mouth. Her husband and Nimue stared at her. "Gwen?" Jack said. "You've heard of this place?"

"I only went there once," the redheaded witch replied. "When I was nineteen. Bloody gorgeous, it was. Melora is regarded as some kind of sanctuary from any conflicts between all kinds of magical beings - witches, whitelighters, darklighters, warlocks, daemons, wizards, fairies . . . you name it. Everyone put all of their conflicts aside and enjoy themselves at any of the dimension's resorts."

Nimue added, "That is about right. I felt that the Melora dimension would be the perfect place to hold the party. Considering the guest list.

Jack's eyes narrowed warily. "Guest list?"

"Oh . . . there will be a few members from my order. A wizard or two. I plan to hold the party at the Berisa Resort Hotel." Nimue gave the couple a reassuring smile. "It is quite lovely."

"You need to hold the party for a few guests . . . at a hotel?"

Bloody hell! Nimue sighed. "To be perfectly honest, there will be more than a few guests." She noticed the alarmed expression on the couple's faces. "Oh, but don't worry. I plan to have a variety of guests. My brother and his family will be there. Along with a few members of the Gimle Order, Belthazor's friend - Riggerio, and perhaps a witch or two. Like the Charmed Ones, perhaps? And hopefully Olivia's friend, Miss Green."

Jack and Gweneth McNeill seemed to relax slightly. "Well, I guess I won't mind accepting your invitation." The former turned to his wife. "Gwen?"

"I'm looking forward to seeing the Melora dimension again," Gweneth added.

Nimue smiled. "Good. I'm sure that you'll enjoy yourselves."

Two figures appeared beside the table. "Enjoy what?" Nimue glanced up and met the suspicious eyes of her son. Olivia stood next to him. His eyes still gleaming with suspicion, Belthazor added, "What exactly are you talking about?"

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

Chris orbed into the middle of the manor's Solarium. The two sisters glanced up from the television set. "Well, look who's here," Piper caustically announced. "Have you finally decided to tell us the truth about yourself? And why you're here?"

"I told you everything," the whitelighter protested. "About the fact that Wyatt might be in danger. About me being half-witch and half-whitelighter. About Bianca." His blue eyes reflected momentary pain at his mention of his former lover. "What more do you want?"

Paige replied, "How about who your parents are, and how you became to be half-witch? Or how we're supposed to save Wyatt? Or the fact that you didn't seem that concerned about Cole and Olivia's engagement?"

"My parents are my own concern," Chris shot back. "And as for Cole and Olivia - contrary to what Leo believes, their marriage won't be a future threat. Trust me."

Piper coolly regarded her whitelighter. "Why should we? You've either been lying to us, or trying to manipulate us. Why should we trust anything you say?"

Chris sighed. "Because I can't tell you everything, right now. This isn't the right time."

"When is the right time?" Paige demanded.

The half-whitelighter glanced around. "Where's Phoebe? Out on a date?"

A caustic Piper replied, "Try Hong Kong. She's with Jason Dean."

"What?" Chris looked horrified. "What the hell is she doing in Hong Kong? What about the Power of Three?"

Paige sighed. "We think that Phoebe's personal life is more important than killing demons, right now. Besides, she needed some time alone with Jason."

"But in Hong Kong?"

Piper retorted, "Hey! We had managed to do without the Power of Three, when Paige was in Europe, last summer. We can do it, again. And if we do need extra help, Paige can orb Phoebe back here. Or we can get the McNeills or Cole to help."

But Chris refused to be placated. "Are you serious? What if Phoebe being in Hong Kong and not here, leads to Wyatt . . ." He quickly broke off.

Paige stared at him. "What does Phoebe being in Hong Kong have to do with Wyatt?" Before Chris could answer, the doorbell rang. Paige jumped to her feet. "I'll get it."

Chris turned to Piper. "Listen, this idea of you allowing Phoebe to be in Hong Kong is a mistake."

"Who said that I had . . . allowed Phoebe to be with Jason?" Piper retorted. "She's a grown woman."

An anxious-looking Paige returned, escorting their visitor. Piper took one look at the latter and immediately shot to her feet. "Guess who's joined us for dinner?" the younger woman quipped nervously.

Elizabeth Turner emerged from behind Paige. A polite smile stretched her lips. "Good evening, Miss Halliwell. How are you?"

Piper glared at her sister. "Paige! You let her in?"

"I . . . I mean . . . she . . ." Paige began sheepishly.

Mrs. Turner's smile became tart. "Oh, there's no need for concern, my dear. I'm not here for any nefarious reason. If I were, I would not have used the doorbell."

Keeping her hostility in check, Piper demanded, "Then why are you here?"

Still smiling, the demoness eased herself into one of the wicker chairs. Piper burned inwardly burned at the woman's boldness. "To issue an invitation, Miss Halliwell. For an engagement party I'm hosting, in honor of Bel . . ." She paused, as her gaze fell upon Chris. ". . . in honor of Cole and Olivia." Then, "Do I know you, young man?"

"Uh . . . I don't . . ." Looking insecure, Chris glanced at Piper. "I don't think so. I'm a friend of the family."

Blue eyes continued to bore into the young whiteligher's. "And do you have a name?"

Again, Chris glanced at Piper. "Uh, Chris. Chris Perry."

"Hmm. It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Perry." Mrs. Turner returned her attention to the sisters. "As I was saying, I'll be hosting an engagement party for . . . Cole and Olivia. And I'm here to invite you."

The two sisters stared at each other. Should they accept? Paige shrugged her shoulders, as if conveying the message - "Why not?" Then Piper sighed and replied, "We, uh . . . would love . . . to come."

"Excellent!" Mrs. Turner responded with a brilliant smile. "They party will be held on Friday. You can pop up at any time you like."

Paige frowned. "Pop up? To where?"

The demoness hesitated, as her gaze returned to Chris. Piper sighed. "For heaven's sake! He's our whitelighter."

"Oh. I see." Mrs. Turner nodded. "Well then . . . the party will be held at the Berisa Resort Hotel, in the Melora Dimension. Like I said, you can pop in at any time. I'm sure that Miss Matthews will have no trouble in teleporting you." She smiled at Chris. "And Mr. Perry can join you, if he likes."

Looking slightly embarrassed, Chris mumbled, "I don't know . . . I . . . maybe I'll come. I think."

Mrs. Turner stood up. "Well, it's up to you. And I believe it is time for me to depart. I do look forward to seeing all of you. And say hello to Phoebe and young Wyatt, for me. Good evening." She flashed one last smile and shimmered out of the room.

The two Charmed Ones heaved a sigh. Chris regarded them with eyes shining with disbelief . . . and yelled, "Are you two out of your damn minds?"

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

Around the same time, the engaged couple returned to Cole's penthouse that he now shared with Olivia. After the Thanksgiving holiday, it had become her permanent residence. Although most of her furnishings had been placed in a storeroom, Cole and Olivia managed to move a few of her belongings into his penthouse - allowing the latter to look more hospitable.

"An engagement party in the Melora Dimension." Cole shook his head. "Why would she hold a party for us, in the first place? I'm not exactly beloved by the demonic community. And I sure as hell don't look forward to a reunion with the Thorn Brotherhood."

Olivia dumped her purse on the coffee table, and sat down on the sofa. "Do you think that one of your former colleagues might want revenge for Raynor's death?"

Cole flopped down on the sofa, next to Olivia, and sighed. "I doubt that any one of them would be able to kill me. At least outright. But any one of them could hurt you. Besides, I'm still wondering why Mother wants to hold a party for us."

"Let's see," Olivia commented sardonically. "You are her only son. And you did tell her about her engagement . . . which she had accepted a lot better than you said she would."

Cole grumbled, "I remember. I also remember that she has plans for a big bash in the Melora Dimension. And my question is - why?"

Olivia grabbed hold of one of Cole's hands. "Maybe she's trying to win back her son. How long have you two been estranged?"

"Since I was fifteen," Cole replied. "Or maybe sixteen. We had a brief reunion back in the late 30s. But I managed to remember why I distrusted her in the first place."

A tight smile stretched Olivia's lips. "Courtesy of Raynor, I'd bet."

Cole shot her a dark look. "What makes you . . . never mind."

"You know, Cole, even if your mom does have another reason to hold this party, I don't think her plans including harming either of us." Olivia shook her head. "I don't know. I just have this feeling. Maybe she wants our help, regarding a certain matter. Or information."

Rolling his eyes in disgust, Cole muttered, "Great! It's nice to know that Mother's 'little' party will be more than just about her son's happiness."

A sigh left Olivia's mouth, as she stood up and shook her head. "You know, I'm beginning to wonder why you had such difficulty in becoming part of the Halliwell family. You have so much in common with them. I'm going to bed." She shot a disappointed look at her fiancé and marched toward the master bedroom, leaving him to ponder her last words.

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

The warlock stood before Prax, feeling calm and collected. At five-feet eleven, he possessed a lithe and wiry body, dark-brown hair and sharp features. The warlock, otherwise known as Eric Logan, regarded the daemon with chilly, gray eyes. "I was told that you wanted to see me."

Prax indicated an empty chair in front of his desk. "Yes. My boss, Mr. Winslow, has a job for you."

"Mr. Winslow?" Logan allowed himself an amused smile. "Is he still using that name?"

The daemon glared at his visitor. "Yes. Now . . . he has a job for you. One that promises a very high fee." Prax tossed a thick, yellow envelope to the other side of the desk. "You will find information on the assignment, inside."

Logan grabbed the envelope from the desk and opened it. He removed a brown folder from inside. "What's this?"

"Like I said, information on your next target."

"Oh?" Logan opened the file. Inside laid a photograph of a beautiful, red-haired woman. The warlock whistled. "Not bad! Who is she?"

Prax leaned back into his chair, and locked his fingers together. "Olivia McNeill. She's a witch, who lives here in San Francisco."

A gasp left Logan's mouth. "Are you . . . You want me to kill . . ."

"To kill her, Mr. Logan," Prax coolly replied. "Yes."

Logan stared at the photograph. "But she's a McNeill witch. They're not exactly easy to kill, you know. My old mentor, Morella Walters tried to kill a McNeill witch in Boston, some fifteen years ago. Morella was one of the best assassins around. And she ended up dead, because of that last assignment."

"The McNeills might be difficult to kill, Mr. Logan." Prax leaned forward. "But they can be killed."

As he struggled to maintain his calm, Logan read the file, once more. "Wait a minute! It says here that she's dating Belthazor. Belthazor?"

"Actually Mr. Logan, they're engaged to be married."

At that moment, the warlock wondered if his potential employer had lost his mind. "My God! Even if I do succeed in killing the witch, my hide won't be worth a penny once Belthazor finds out I'm responsible! And he will find out!"

Prax sighed. "I don't see how. You're a shapeshifter. That's why we hired you. If you're in disguise, no one will find out that you were responsible for Miss McNeill's death. And you're one of our best contract assassins. We would never allow you to fall into Belthazor's hands."

"Bullshit! You could have given this job to a demonic assassin." Logan's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Why give it to me? A warlock?"

"Like I said, Mr. Logan, you're one of the best."

Another thought entered Logan's mind. "And you can't afford to have this hit traced to someone from your order. Am I right?"

"Please, Mr. Logan. Try to keep your paranoia in check." Prax hesitated. "I agree that a warlock would be more preferable for this assignment than a daemon. After all, you would be more difficult for Belthazor, his mother or any other daemon to detect. And if you're worried about that traitorous half-daemon getting revenge, we're in the process of planning something special for him. Now, inside the folder, you'll also find information we have received from a source."

Logan snickered. "You mean a spy."

Again, Prax sighed. "Whatever. Anyway, our source has given us information on Miss McNeill's whereabouts, this weekend. We have made arrangement for you to meet this . . ." A knowing smile curved Prax's lips. ". . . spy, who will help you reach Miss McNeill's destination." He pressed a button. An attractive female with chestnut hair and a shapely figure entered the office. Prax added, "By the way, Mr. Logan, would you like a drink?"

The warlock smiled at Prax's assistant. "A cup of coffee with sugar only. Thank you." The assistant nodded and left the office. Logan turned to Prax. "How much is the witch's death worth to you?"

One of Prax's eyebrows quirked upward. "I beg your pardon?"

"What will be my fee?" Logan leaned forward. "Considering whom I'm being hired to kill, along with the fact that my life will be in jeopardy if Belthazor ever finds out about me, I will be expecting a rather substantial fee."

Prax smiled. "Oh! May I assume that you have accepted the assignment?"

A sigh left Logan's mouth. "I would like for you to state your fee, first."

After a brief hesitation, Prax answered, "Ten million . . . Euros."

The moment Logan heard the amount, he realized that he would not being able to resist the assignment. Or its challenge. Again, he sighed. "Then you may assume that I have accepted this assignment. Shall we go over the particulars?" He returned his attention to the file's contents, while Prax resumed his instructions.


END OF ACT I

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"THE KING'S SPEECH" (2010) Photo Gallery



Below are images from the 2010 historical drama called "THE KING'S SPEECH". Directed by Tom Hooper, the movie stars Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter


"THE KING'S SPEECH" (2010) Photo Gallery













































Friday, January 21, 2011

"BAND OF BROTHERS" (2001) - Episode Eight “The Last Patrol” Commentary




"BAND OF BROTHERS" (2001) - Episode Eight "The Last Patrol" Commentary

Episode Eight of ”BAND OF BROTHERS”, ”The Last Patrol” saw the return of paratrooper David Webster (Eion Bailey). Last seen in "Crossroads", hobbling away from a battlefield in Holland, after being wounded; Webster returns from the hospital to find his old company recovering from the traumas suffered during the campaign in Belgium. With the Allies on the verge of victory, Easy Company begins to eye any chance of a return to combat with great wariness, during its stay in Haguenau, a town located in the Alsace region. Unfortunately, their luck fails to hold when Winters orders Spiers to select a group of men to carry out a dangerous scouting mission within the German lines.

Recently, one of my relatives read an autobiography of one of the Easy Company veterans still living (I will not reveal his name). I was surprised to discover that he harbored some ill will toward the miniseries for allowing a major showcase of another character, David Webster. Why? Webster had never participated in the campaign in Belgium. He never bothered to leave the hospital to rejoin Easy Company in time for that harrowing experience. Many people might find that hard to believe. Yet, this autobiography had been recently published – perhaps in the last two years. This veteran continued harbor resentment toward Webster for missing the Belgium campaign after sixty odd years. Sixty years strikes me as a hell of a long time to be angry at someone for something like this.

Screenwriters Erik Bork and Bruce C. McKenna certainly included this resentment toward Webster in ”The Last Patrol”. In fact, I would probably say that they were a bit heavy-handed on this topic, especially in the episode’s first five to ten minutes. This was certainly apparent when Bork, McKenna and director Tony To insisted upon actor Eion Bailey wearing a silly grin on his face, when his character is informed about those Easy Company men that were killed, seriously wounded or otherwise in Belgium. The episode was also heavy-handed in its portrayal of Easy Company’s reluctance to engage in more combat, whether it was a major battle or a patrol. The first half of the episode seemed to saturate with some of the veterans either commenting on their reluctance to fight or their resentment toward newcomers like the recent West Point graduate, Second Lieutenant Jones (Colin Hanks) or returnees like Webster, who missed the Belgian campaign. And I never understood why Winters and not Spiers had chosen the fifteen men to partake in the patrol. Winters was the 2nd battalion’s executive officer around this time, not Easy Company’s commander.

Although the episode eventually improved, it still had another major flaw. The major flaw turned out to be Webster’s narration. Unlike Carwood Lipton’s narration featured in ”The Breaking Point”, Webster’s narration not only struck me as heavy-handed as the episode’s handling of his return, but also ineffective. The main problem with this episode’s narration is that it had a bad habit of repeating what was already shown. Some have blamed Eion Bailey’s performance for the flawed narration. However, I blame the screenwriters for writing it, and the producers for allowing it to remain in the episode. The material, in my opinion, seemed unworthy of a talented actor like Bailey.

Fortunately, ”The Last Patrol” was not a disaster. To, Bork and McKenna – along with most of the cast - did an excellent job of capturing the weariness suffered by Easy Company, following the ordeals of Bastogne and Foy; despite some of the heavy-handedness. This was especially apparent in Scott Grimes’ performance, whose portrayal of Sergeant Donald Malarkey seemed to reek of despair and grief over the deaths of “Skip” Muck and Alex Penkala in the last episode. The episode also benefitted from a humorous scene that centered on Frank Piconte’s (James Madio) return from hospital, after being wounded during the assault upon Foy. It allowed audiences to see how the men of Easy Company (both the Toccoa men and the replacements) had bonded – especially after the Belgium campaign. This scene provided a bittersweet moment for Webster (which was apparent on Bailey’s face), who began to realize how much his lack of experience in Belgium may have cost him. However, the episode’s centerpiece turned out to be the first rate action sequence that featured the patrol crossing the Rue de Triangle (Triangle River) and infiltrating German lines to snatch some prisoners. Although brief and filmed at night, the sequence was also fierce, brutal and a painful reminder that escaping the horrors of war might prove to be a bit difficult, despite the paratroopers and the Germans’ reluctance to engage in more combat.

Aside from Scott Grimes, other first-rate performances came from both Matthew Settle (Spiers) and Donnie Walhberg (Lipton), who seemed to have developed some kind of brotherly bond; Colin Hanks, who gave a nice, subtle performance as Easy Company’s newest addition, Lieutenant Henry Jones; Damian Lewis, whose finest moment as Winters came when the latter prevented the men from participating in a second patrol; Craig Heaney, whose portrayal of the embittered and caustic Roy Cobb seemed a lot more effective than in previous episodes; and Dexter Fletcher, who has been a favorite of mine for years. Not only was his portrayal of 1st Platoon sergeant John Martin was as deliciously sardonic as ever, but he provided a strong presence in the episode’s only combat sequence.

Although some are inclined to criticized Eion Bailey’s performance in ”The Last Patrol”, I am not inclined to do so. Yes, I was not impressed by his early scenes that featured Webster’s return to Easy Company. But I blame the screenwriters, not the actor. Thankfully, the episode moved past that awful beginning and Bailey proved he could give a subtle and well-rounded performance as the cynical Webster, who has to struggle to deal with the possibility that the men he had fought with in two major campaigns now consider him as an outsider.

”The Last Patrol” might not be one of the better episodes of ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. But for some reason, I have always liked it. I suspect that despite its flaws, I liked how the screenwriters and director Tony To gave it a world weary aura that matched both the situation and emotions that the men of Easy Company were experiencing, after eight months of combat.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS" (2010) Review



Below is my review of the recent 2010 adaptation of one of Agatha Christie's most famous novels - "MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS":


"MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS" (2010) Review

After being on the air for nearly two decades, "Agatha Christie’s POIROT" decided to air its own version of the mystery writer’s 1934 novel, "Murder on the Orient Express". Although there have been two other well known adaptations of the novel – the famous 1974 movie that starred Albert Finney and the 2001 teleplay that starred Alfred Molina. But this latest version starred David Suchet (considered by many to be the ultimate Hercule Poirot) in the starring role.

Directed by Philip Martin and written by Stewart Harcourt, "MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS" opened with Hercule berating a British Army officer, who has been revealed to be a liar in regard to a case. Upon completion of said case, Poirto travels over to Istanbul, the first step of his journey back to England. There, Poirot witnesses the stoning of a Turkish woman for adultery with a Colonel Arbuthnot and a Miss Mary Debenham. Thanks to an old acquaintance named Monsieur Bouc, a director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (which owned the Orient Express lines), the detective manages to book passage aboard the famed continental train, the Orient Express. Among the passengers are Colonel Arbuthnot, Miss Debenham and a sinister American businessman named Samuel Rachett. The latter tries to hire Poirot’s services to protect him from unseen enemies; but the detective refuses due to a dislike toward the American. After the Orient Express becomes caught in a snowdrift in the middle of Yugoslavia, Rachett is found murdered in his compartment – stabbed to death twelve times. As it turned out, Poirot discovered that Rachett was a criminal named Casetti, who was guilty of kidnapping and murdering one Daisy Armstrong, the five year-old daughter of a wealthy Anglo-American couple. To protect the passengers from the Yugoslavia police, Monsieur Bouc hires Poirot to investigate the American’s murder.

Considering this film turned out to be the third, well-known adaptation of Christie’s novel, there were bound to be comparisons with the previous films – especially the famous 1974 version. All three movies featured changes from the novel. In this adaptation, screenwriter Stewart Harcourt decided to allow Poirot to witness the stoning of an adulterous Turkish woman. The characters of Doctor Constantine (a Greek doctor who volunteered to assist Poirot) and an American private detective named Cyrus Hardman were combined into a new character – an American obstetrician named . . . what else, Doctor Constantine. Rachett aka Casetti became a man who desired forgiveness for his kidnapping and murder of young Daisy. The brains behind Rachett’s murder turned out to be a different character. The Greta Ohlsson character was younger in this film. The movie featured a threat against Poirot’s life, after his resolution to the case. And the Orient Express remained snowbound a lot longer than in the novel and previous movies.

But the biggest change in "MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS" featured the addition of religion as a theme. In fact, the subject permeated throughout the entire movie. Television viewers saw scenes of both Poirot and surprisingly, Rachett, in the act of prayer. The movie also featured a discussion between Poirot and Miss Ohlsson on the differences between their dominations – Catholic and Protestant – and how they dealt with vengeance, justice, and forgiveness. Like many other Christie fans, I suspect that this addition of a religious theme was an attempt by Harcourt to allow Poirot to struggle with his conscience over his willingness to support Monsieur Bouc’s decision regarding the case’s solution.

There were some aspects of "MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS" that I found appealing. Due to the production’s budget, this adaptation spared the audience some of the over-the-top costume designs from the 1974 movie. The movie also featured first-rate performances from Denis Menochet (the best performance in the movie), who portrayed the car attendant, Pierre Michel; Brian J. Smith as Rachett’s private secretary, Hector McQueen; Barbara Hershey as the verbose tourist Mrs. Caroline Hubbard; Hugh Bonneville as Rachett’s valet, Edward Masterman; and Eileen Atkins as the imperious Princess Dragonmiroff. Despite portraying the only character not featured in the story, Samuel West gave an impressive, yet subtle performance as Dr. Constantine, whose occasional outrageous suggestions on the murderer’s identity seemed annoying to Poirot. I also have to give kudos to Harcourt for making an attempt to allow Poirot experience some kind of emotional conflict over the fate of Rachett’s killer(s). The novel never broached this topic. And in the 1974 film, Poirot twice expressed brief doubt and regret over the matter.

Despite some of the movie’s virtues, I found "MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS" rather disappointing. One of the biggest disappointments proved to be David Suchet’s performance. I have admired his portrayal of the Belgian detective for over a decade. But this movie did not feature one of Suchet’s better performances. In this movie, his Poirot struck me as harsh, judgmental and one-dimensional in his thinking. The movie also featured Poirot in full rant – against a British Army officer at the beginning of the story; and against the suspects, following the revelation scene. In fact, this last scene struck me as an exercise in hammy acting that made Albert Finney’s slightly mannered 1974 performance looked absolutely restrained.

Unfortunately, most of the cast did not fare any better. Joseph Mawle, who portrayed the Italian-American car salesman, Antonio Foscarelli, gave a poor attempt at an American accent. His British accent kept getting into the way. As for David Morrissey’s portrayal of Colonel Abuthnot, I could only shake my head in disbelief at such over-the-top acting – especially in the scene following Poirot’s revelation of the case. And I never understood the necessity of making the Mary Debenham character so anxious. Jessica Chastain’s performance did not exactly impress me and I found myself longing for the cool and sardonic woman from the novel and the 1974 version. I really did not care for Serge Hazanavicius’ portrayal of Monsieur Bouc, the train’s official. I found his performance to be ridiculously over-the-top and annoying. One could say the same about Toby Jones’ portrayal of Samuel Rachett aka Casetti. Poor Mr. Jones. I have been a big fan of his for the past five years or so, but he was the wrong man for this particular role. What made this movie truly unbearable was the last fifteen to twenty minutes, which became an exercise in overwrought acting by most of the cast. Including Suchet.

There were other aspects of this production that also bothered me. I never understood the necessity to change the instigator of the murder plot against Rachett. It made more sense to me to adhere to Christie’s original plot in that regard. And I found the use of religion not only unnecessary, but also detrimental to the story. I have nothing against characters with religious beliefs. But I found the scenes featuring both Poirot and Rachett praying in their compartments excessive. The religious topic transformed Poirot into a grim and humorless man. Even worse, I found myself wondering if Suchet's Poirot was suffering from some form of Post Traumatic Shock during the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the film. He seemed to moving in a state of silent shock, while others - especially Monsieur Bouc - talked around him. As for Rachett . . . I can only assume that the sight of him praying inside his compartment was supposed to be an indicator of his remorse over his crimes against Daisy Armstrong. Or did fear, instigated by a series of threatening letters, drove him to prayer? If so, the scene clumsily contradicted his other actions aboard the train – snarling at his employees and Pierre Michel, and propositioning Mary Debenham. The topic of religion also produced a tiresome scene filled with overwrought acting by Marie-Josée Croze, in which her character – Greta Ohlsson – lectured Poirot about the differences between Catholics and Protestants in regard to justice, revenge, forgiveness and remorse.

I found the stoning scene in Istanbul completely unnecessary and rather distasteful. I found it distasteful, because the scene changed Poirot’s character and allowed him to harbor a laissez faire attitude over the incident. Poirot also used the stoning scene to indulge in an excessive lecture to Mary Debenham about justice. He was right about the stoning being a part of a custom that no foreign visitor had a right to interfere. But his entire attitude about the matter did not seem like the Hercule Poirot I had become familiar with from Christie’s books, the movies and the "POIROT" series. Worse, the incident provided a contradicting viewpoint on vigilantism and justice. Think about it. Poirot said nothing against the stoning, which was an act of vigilantism, because not only did he view it as a foreign custom, but also as an act of justice against someone who had sinned. Yet, at the same time, he expressed outrage and disgust over Rachett’s murder – also an act of vigilantism. The entire topic reeked of hypocrisy and bad writing.

"MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS" possessed some virtues that its filmmakers could boast about. Performances from Brian J. Smith, Eileen Atkins, Hugh Bonneville, Barbara Hershey and especially Denis Menochet were first-rate. There were no over-the-top costumes that left me shaking my head. And thankfully, the Hector McQueen character strongly resembled the literary version. On the other hand, the movie seemed riddled with unnecessary changes that either lacked common sense or damaged the story. Its additions of the religion topic and stoning incident simply made matters worse in regard to story and characterization. And a good deal of hammy acting abounded in the movie and made me wince with discomfort, especially from David Suchet. In conclusion, this "MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS" turned out to be a disappointing affair for me.