Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN" (2003) Review





"THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN" (2003) Review

Comic novel writer Alan Moore must have a legion of fans to rival or maybe even surpass Marvel Comics icon, Stan Lee. I have noticed that whenever one of his comic creations is adapted as a motion picture, many of these fans seemed to crawl out of the woodworks to express their judgment on the finished film. This certainly proved to be the case for 2003’s "THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN".

Based upon Moore’s comic series, "THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN" followed the adventures of famous 19th century literary characters that became part of a league to stop a madman named the Fantom from starting and profiting from a major world war, during the summer of 1899. Among the members of the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are:

*Allan Quartermain, British big game hunter and explorer
*Captain Nemo, the Indian pirate/captain of the Nautilus and inventor
*The Invisible Man aka Rodney Skinner, invisible thief
*Mina Harker, British chemist/widow of Jonathan Harker and vampire
*Dorian Gray, British gentleman and immortal
*Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Edward Hyde, British scientist/evil alter ego
*Tom Sawyer, American Secret Service agent

The story begins in the spring of 1899 with an attack upon the Bank of England by men dressed in German Army uniforms, using explosives and automated weapons. A month later, men dressed in British Army uniforms, attack a Zeppelin factory, using the same or similar weapons. Both the British and German Empires seemed to be on the verge of war. A British government emissary arrives in British East Africa to recruit the famous big game hunter and explorer Allan Quartermain to investigate. Quatermain expresses disinterest in the mission, until some armed men attack a gentleman’s club in order to assassinate him. Upon his arrival in London, Quartermain learns from his new boss, a mysterious government official named "M", the latter’s plans to form a new version of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in order to thwart the war mongering plans of the Fantom. According to "M", the Fantom plans to start a war and profit from it by blowing up Venice, Italy during its Festival.

While recruiting the immortal Dorian Gray at his home, the League is attacked by the Fantom and his men. During the attack, the League acquires a new member, an American Secret Service agent named Tom Sawyer. As the League sets out to recruit Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Hyde in Paris and later for Venice aboard the Nautilus, Nemo’s submarine; they remain unaware that the Fantom’s plans to start a world war involves more than just blowing up a major city. His plans also involve acquiring and selling the League’s collective skills as weapons of war.

I have never read Alan Moore’s comic series. Nor do I have plans to read it. In fact, I have not laid eyes upon a comic book or novel since the age of nine. For me, comparing Moore’s story to the movie adaptation seemed irrelevant to me. But I can give an opinion of the movie. What did I think of it? Well, I had enjoyed it when I first saw it, eight years ago. And I still continue to enjoy it, whenever I view my DVD copy.

Mind you, "THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN" was not perfect. One, I never understood the reasoning behind the Fantom’s attack upon the League members at Dorian Gray’s home . . . especially since he proved to be so interested in acquiring or stealing their skills/talents. My second problem concerned a certain invention created by Captain Nemo – namely an automobile. I realize that the movie was set in an alternate 1899. I also understand that Nemo’s character was supposed to be the creator of various inventions a’la Jules Verne. What I did not understand was how Tom Sawyer knew how to drive Nemo’s car throughout the streets of Venice at top speed, without any previous experience behind the wheel. Three, I found Quartermain’s description of American shooting ("buckaroo" that shoots too fast without any real accuracy) not only ludicrous, but false. Who on earth came up with this opinion in the first place? My father, who had been an expert shot in the military, immediately dismissed Quartermain’s description of American gunmanship, claiming that he had been taught to utilize patience for long distance shooting. My final beef has to do with Dan Laustsen’s photography for the movie’s exterior shots. Quite frankly, I found it unnecessarily dark. The only exterior scenes or shots that featured any bright light were the sequences set in British East Africa and aboard Captain Nemo’s submarine, the Nautilus, while above surface. All other exterior shots were either at night, in the rain or overcast. I have the deepest suspicion that all of this was done to save money on the exterior scenes.

However, despite my complaints or those by the fans were disappointed with the movie’s adaptation, I enjoyed "THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN" very much. Hell, I saw it twice when it first reached the movie theaters, eight years ago. And the moment it was released on DVD, I immediately bought it. It may not have been the perfect adaptation of Alan Moore’s comic series, but I thought that it had a pretty damn good story, thanks to screenwriter James Dale Robinson.

One, I like stories about friends or colleagues that form a team to achieve a goal that involves a great deal of action. For me, "THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN" is like a 19th century forerunner of The Justice League of America or The Avengers. And I have to give credit to Moore for coming up with the idea of using 19th century literary characters as members of the team and the story’s main villain. I found it very innovative. Many fans and critics had complained that with Sean Connery in the role of Allan Quartermain, the latter seemed to dominate the film. I agree that Connery’s Quartermain turned out to be the movie’s main character. But I do not agree that he dominated the movie. The other supporting characters were given a good number of chances to strut their stuff . . . so to speak. If anything, the movie seemed to have a strong, ensemble feel to it. This was especially apparent by the time the Nautilus reached Venice.

Speaking of Venice, the movie seemed to reach a turning point by the time the League reached it. During Nautilus’ voyage between Paris and Venice, the story showcased the numerous conflicts and jealousies that the team seemed to engage, as they became more acquainted with one another. But when forced to work together to foil the Fantom’s plans to destroy Venice, all conflicts were thrown aside and the League worked together as a very effective team. Venice also represented a major plot twist in the story. It is in Venice, when the League discovered a traitor within its midst . . . and the fact that they had been betrayed on a major scale by the Fantom. Personally, I found it to be one of the most satisfying aspects of the movie.

I read an article that Stephen Norrington had a great deal of trouble with Sean Connery and vowed to give up directing. Needless to say that despite the conflict between director and star, the latter gave one of his more poignant performances as the aging hunter who has become disenchanted with the British Empire, after his service to it has caused him so much loss. I was also impressed by Naseeruddin Shah’s portrayal of the intrepid Captain Nemo. He seemed to be the only member of the cast who seemed as commanding as Connery. I also enjoyed Peta Wilson’s performance as the sexy and intelligent vampire, Nina Harker. One of my favorite scenes featured her character’s surprising revelation that she was a vampire. Most people seemed to dismiss Shane West’s portrayal of Tom Sawyer, but I rather enjoyed it. He managed to create a strong chemistry with Connery, and I also found his quiet wit rather endearing. Tony Curran was a blast as Rodney Skinner, gentleman thief and the Invisible Man. He gave a hilarious performance and projected a lot of style for a character that was barely seen. Stuart Townsend seemed to be the epitome of degenerate style and sexuality as the immortal, Dorian Gray. He also had the good luck to spout some of the best lines in the movie. Richard Roxburgh gave an effectively quiet and intense performance as the man who created the League, the mysterious "M". But as far as I am concerned Jason Flemyng had the best role in the movie as the morally conflicted Dr. Henry Jekyll and his alter ego, the ferocious, misshapen giant, Mr. Edward Hyde. I really enjoyed how he managed to slip back and forth between the two personalities. More importantly, Flemyng did an excellent job in incorporating Hyde’s darkness into Jekyll and the latter’s decency into Hyde with great ease. Well done.

Despite my complaints about Laustsen’s photography of the movie’s exterior shots, I must admit that he did a pretty good job in shooting the film. And Paul Rubell did a first-rate job with his editing – especially in the sequence that featured the League’s attack upon the Fantom’s lair at the Asiatic Artic. I also thought that Jason Barnett and his team did an excellent job in handling the makeup – especially for the Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde characters. One last aspect of the movie that truly impressed me was Carol Spier’s production designs that nicely captured an alternate or Jules Verne-style take on the late Victorian Age. This was especially apparent in the interior designs for Nemo’s submarine, the Nautilus.

I could recommend that others keep an open mind in watching "THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN". Although it does not bear a close resemblance to Alan Moore’s comic series and I am not particularly fond of its dark exterior shots, I must admit that I was impressed by James Dale Robinson’s screenplay, the ensemble cast and some of the production designs. Considering what he had to work with – especially an allegedly difficult leading man – I think that director Stephen Norrington did a solid job in bringing it all together for what I believe to be a very entertaining movie.

Monday, August 29, 2011

"Torn Duties" [PG] - 1/6




"TORN DUTIES"

RATING: PG - Mild adult language and violence.
SUMMARY: Paige's job clash with her activities as a Charmed One, when she and her sisters hunt for a magical sword.
FEEDBACK: - Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: The Charmed Ones, Darryl Morris and other characters related to Charmed belong to Spelling Productions, Brad Kern and Constance Burge. The McNeill family and Cirhan are my creations.
NOTE: Takes place about a week-and-a-half following "Bride of Belthazor" AU Season 6.





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"TORN DUTIES"

Part One

"Here you go." A smiling Paige Matthews handed over a bulging plastic bag to the customer. "Your Burdock Root and Mandrake. Please come back again."

The customer thanked Paige and left the herbal shop. The Charmed One glanced at the clock on Ostera's far wall. It read one twenty-two in the afternoon. Barbara McNeill, the shop's owner, should be returning from lunch soon. Paige heaved a contented sigh and returned her attention to the shop's inventory list on the counter.

The bell above the front door rang, signaling a new customer. Paige glanced up and felt surprised to see her sister Piper enter - along with the Halliwells' new whitelighter, Chris Perry. Both looked slightly damp from the downpour outside.

"I don't see why we couldn't have orbed inside the shop," the young whitelighter complained. "Now, we're all wet and I might catch a cold."

Piper rolled her eyes and growled, "Put a sock in it, will you?" She turned to her younger sister. "Hey Paige, are you busy right now?"

"Uh . . . well, I am working on this inventory." The other two stared at her. Paige immediately added, "I'm not that busy. Why?"

"According to Chris . . ."

The whitelighter interrupted. "We have a job," he declared. "Actually, you do. The Elders have learned that a magical sword might turn up in the hands of some antiquity dealer, here in town." He paused to glance at Piper, who rolled her eyes in annoyance. "They believe that this antiquity dealer - named Michaels - might be a demon. And we have to . . . I mean, you have to prevent him from handing it over to any other demonic bad guys."

A dazed Paige merely stared at the newcomers. "Well, that's great," she finally said. "But couldn't this have waited until after work?" From the corner of her eye, she saw Maddy Oser, a witch, who also happened to be her fellow shop assistant, emerge from the stockroom.

"It can't wait!" Chris insisted. "We need to find that sword as soon as possible."

Paige directed her gaze to Piper. "Is this about that Excalibur sword? The sword that Wyatt is destined to have?"

Piper shook her head. "No, this is an entirely different sword." She glanced at Maddy, who quickly looked away. "Uh . . . maybe we better wait until you get off from work."

"No!" Chris exclaimed. "We need to find that sword now."

Paige began, "But Chris . . ."

The whitelighter persisted in his argument. "Paige, this is serious!"

"Yeah, well so is my job!" Paige retorted. "Barbara got pissed off the last two times you had talked me out of leaving work in the middle of the day. I don't want to get into more trouble."

Concern lit up Piper's eyes. "Trouble? What do you mean?"

"I mean that Barbara is getting ticked off by my disappearances from work, whenever we go chasing after some demon."

Chris retorted, "She's a witch. She should understand."

"Wanna bet?"

Piper added, "Maybe we should hold off finding this sword until later."

But Chris refused to concede to Piper's suggestion. He insisted that it was imperative that they find this sword for the Elders Council. "Some witch in Belgium had tracked down the sword in Antwerp." He paused dramatically. "Before she and her whitelighter were killed. Before they both died, the whitelighter had informed the Council that the sword might be sold at some auction house owned by a demonic antiquity dealer, here in San Francisco. So, c'mon! Let's go."

Paige sighed. "Oh God." She turned to her colleague. "Say Maddy, I've got to step out for a few minutes. I'll be back. Okay?"

The other shop assistant - a personable-looking young witch with large brown eyes and chestnut hair - rushed toward the shop's front area. "Wait a minute!" she cried. "Barbara should be back, soon. What do I tell her?"

"Tell her that I had a family emergency," Paige replied. "What else?" She grabbed her raincoat and umbrella before she, Piper and Chris orbed out of the shop.

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

The bell over the shop's door rang for the umpteenth time. Ostera's owner, Barbara Bowen McNeill, rushed inside, dripping wet. She glanced at the young woman who stood behind the main counter. "Hey Maddy." Barbara paused. Her eyes quickly scanned the shop. "Where's Paige? In the back?"

Maddy's eyes flickered briefly. Her face turned pink. "Um . . . she . . . uh, Paige . . . um, had a family . . . emergency."

A spurt of anger flickered in the pit of Barbara's stomach. "What kind of family emergency?" she demanded quietly. "What happened?"

The shop assistant's cheeks turned red. "Uh . . . I don't really know, exactly. Paige wasn't . . . specific."

A frustrated sigh escaped from Barbara's mouth. She could easily imagine what kind of 'family emergency' had led Paige to leave in the middle of the afternoon without permission. Again.

"Look Barbara," Maddy added, "I know you're upset about . . ."

The blond witch held up her hand. "Don't. Don't start making excuses for her, Maddy. When Paige gets back, send her to my office." Wearing a stony expression, Barbara marched toward the store's office in the back.

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

Paige, Piper and Chris entered the elegant showroom of an auction house on Montgomery Street. Various humans - some of them with odd traits - filled the rows of gilt-edged chairs. Several antiquities laid spread across long tables on each side of the podium up front. Larger antiquities were stacked against the wall behind the podium.

"Wow!" Paige declared. "Look at this place! I wonder what's the combined net worth of every person in this room."

Chris murmured, "There's a good chance that some of these . . . clientele are of the demonic persuasion."

"Always have to look at the 'bright' side of things, don't you?" Paige retorted tartly.

"I'm just doing my job!"

Piper added in a voice low enough for only her two companions to hear, "Enough young'uns! Let's get this show on the road."

The two women and their whitelighter sat down. A tall man with a pale complexion and thinning brown hair approached the podium. "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. A. Michael's House would like to welcome you to its presentation and auction of the Bernard van de Weyer Collection."

"The who?" Paige murmured.

Chris hissed back, "Some guy we believe had ended up with the sword. The Council thinks he might be a warlock."

The tall man continued, "We will begin with this exquisite headdress that once belonged to a 16th century Masai priest." An assistant picked up a cone-shaped and elaborately woven headdress and displayed it to the audience. "Shall we begin the bidding?"

Piper whispered to Chris, "Is that the demon, A. Michaels?" She nodded at the tall man behind the podium.

"I don't know!" Chris replied.

Eventually, a well-dressed, short black man purchased the headdress for nearly twenty-thousand dollars - much to Paige's shock. The next item on the agenda turned out to be an ancient Persian urn. Within a half hour, all fifteen items had been sold. Piper turned to Chris. "What happened to the sword?"

"I don't know," Chris said with a shrug. "The Council was told that it would probably be sold through . . ."

A caustic Paige interrupted, "The Council? I should have known they would screw up!" She glanced at her watch. "And I'm running late. Barbara might be back."

"You can't leave now!" Chris protested. "We need to find . . ." He glanced around and lowered his voice. ". . . that sword!"

Paige hissed back, "Well, next time, try to get the right information so that we don't end up wasting our time!" She sprung to her feet. "I'm out of here." And she marched out of the auction room.

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

Barbara heard the bell above the front door ring. The two female voices followed. One of them belonged to Paige. Slowly, she stood up and made her way to the store's showroom. Sure enough, the Charmed One stood in front of the counter, looking slightly flustered.

"So, you're back," Barbara coolly greeted. "Is the . . . 'family emergency' over with?"

Paige's dark eyes blinked. "Oh, uh . . . yeah. Everyone's cool."

"Good." Barbara paused. "Exactly, what was the 'family emergency'?"

A long silent pause followed. Paige's eyes darted back and forth, until they settled upon a wide-eyed Maddy. The latter looked as if she longed to shrink back into herself. A sigh left Paige's mouth before she continued. "Okay, the family emergency had something to do with magic. Chris and Piper came by and told me about this magical sword . . ."

Curtly, Barbara interrupted. "You mean to say that you had disappeared from work to go chasing after some magical sword on behalf of the whitelighters?"

"It's called the Sword of Haldane," Paige added breathlessly. "It once belonged to this French . . . I mean, Belgian sorcerer who . . ."

"Don't tell me. It has great power and the whitelighters fear it will end up in the hands of some daemon. Who might use it to become the next Source." Barbara rolled her eyes. "Did I get it right?"

Paige's mouth hung open. She finally replied in a small voice, "Uh . . . yeah. I guess. Chris didn't exactly go into . . ."

Barbara held up her hand and Paige fell silent. A sigh left the older woman's throat. "Paige, this is your last warning. With the exception of a real family emergency - the next time you leave the shop during working hours, I will dock your pay for the time you're missing."

Dark eyes grew wide with shock. "Wha . . .?"

"Would you prefer that I fire you? Now?"

Paige's slender shoulders slumped in defeat. "No. No, I don't."

With a sharp nod, Barbara said, "Good. Now, I need you to deliver a box of herbs to this coven in Sausalito, for me. You can use the van."

"Yeah," Paige murmured. "Sure."

Pity for the Charmed One welled within Barbara. She felt tempted to rescind her threat, but only for a moment. Paige needed to learn a lesson about job responsibilities. And hopefully, she might eventually learn to maintain a balance between different aspects of her life.

-----------

A slender male with pale blond hair and intense, wintergreen eyes entered the circular chamber of the Gimle Order Council. The Council's twelve members - especially one daemon with thick, graying hair - regarded him with anxious eyes.

"Well?" the Order's leader demanded. She happened to be an imposing female daemon named Rannveig. "What of Ulmund's sword?"

The blond daemon, whose named happened to be Cirhan, briefly cast his eyes downward. "It never appeared. The sword, I mean. It never appeared as an item at the auction."

The Council members reacted with consternation and anxiety. "That's impossible!" the gray-haired daemon named Ulmund exclaimed. He rose to his feet. "You mean to say that Belgian antiquity dealer had been wrong?"

Cirhan sighed. "Or lying." Ulmund's face nearly turned sheer white. "Or perhaps Loxias has not received the sword, yet."

Another member of the Council, the auburn-haired Marbus, asked, "Was there anyone of interest at the auction?"

After a brief hesitation, Cirhan answered, "I had recognized two daemons - Acrimonis and Milliam of the Varhol Order. I also recognized the wizard, Wilfrid Oldland." He paused as images of a trio of strangers flashed in his mind. "And there were these people . . . mortals, I believe. Two females and one male. They didn't bid on any items. And when the auction ended without the sword's appearance, they seemed disappointed. One of them was definitely a mortal. The other two . . ." Cirhan broke off and shook his head.

"What?" Rannveig demanded.

The younger daemon continued, "I think they might be half-whitelighter. Their auras seemed to hint they were also part mortal. Like Marbus' nephew, Belthazor."

"Part mortal, part whitelighter?" Marbus frowned. "Describe the mortal."

Cirhan stared at the usually jovial Council member. "Well, she was in her early thirties - for a mortal that is. Short. Probably five-feet-two or three. Dark long hair and dark eyes. She had a slightly maternal air about her. Slightly thick in the waist. Not fat, just . . . thick."

Marbus inhaled sharply. "Sounds like Piper Halliwell, the oldest Charmed One." Again, he frowned at Cirhan. "And the other female? The one you believe to be half-whitelighter . . . was she slightly taller? Around five-feet-six?"

"Yes," Cirhan replied with a nod. "She had red hair, only I don't think it was her natural hair color. She had dark eyes and pale skin." He paused, as memories of the two women flashed in his mind. "You know, I believe they were related."

Nodding, Marbus replied, "Of course they are. Half-sisters. Two of the Charmed Ones and Belthazor's former sisters-in-law. And the male was probably their new whitelighter. Belthazor had informed me that the Halliwells found out that he was also part-whitelighter."

"He also seemed related to them," Cirhan added.

Confusion whirled in Ulmund's gray eyes. "Wait a minute! Why would the Charmed Ones be after my sword?"

Marbus commented, "Perhaps they're after it on behalf of the Whitelighters. Don't forget that a former Source have been killed by non-daemons on three occasions - by the Charmed Ones nearly two years ago, by the wizard Liam Monaghan in 1311 and by Ulmund's mortal ancestor, the witch Griogair Haldane, in 571. I can only assume that the Whitelighters' Elders desire another weapon to be used against any powerful magical being, in case something happens to the Charmed Ones. Or maybe use it as a weapon against my nephew."

Rannveig sighed. Long and hard. "I see that having new leaders have not changed the Whitelighters one bit." She turned her gaunt face at Cirhan. "If you find yourself facing the Charmed Ones, it would probably be best if you allow them to assist you in finding the sword. However . . . you must insist upon returning the sword to Ulmund if you do find it."

"And what if they and their whitelighter insist upon turning the sword over to their Elders?" an anxious Ulmund demanded.

Marbus provided the answer. "Ask for Belthazor's help." He paused, as a thought came to him. "Oh, wait a minute. He and Olivia are still on their honeymoon. Try the McNeills. Any one of them can help you retrieve the sword."

With a sigh, Cirhan nodded. "I understand." He understood, all right. Returning the Haldane Sword to Ulmund might prove to be more difficult than he had originally imagined.

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

"Barbara docked an hour from your paycheck?" Phoebe exclaimed. Believing that Piper and Paige might need help in their present assignment, Chris had recently orbed the middle Charmed One from the Hong Kong hotel suite that she shared with Jason to the Halliwell manor in San Francisco. Since Jason had undertaken a minor business trip to Taipei, Phoebe was free to join her sisters.

Paige reached for a carrot stick from one of the platters on the kitchen table. "I didn't say that. I said that she had threatened to dock my paycheck." A groan escaped from her mouth. "I think this afternoon had nearly broken the camel's back, if you know what I mean. Barbara was really pissed."

"Didn't she understand that you had a job to do?"

Piper, who was in the midst of dicing vegetables for a stew, commented, "I think that in Barbara's eyes, Paige's job was at the store."

Phoebe protested, "What about protecting innocents from evil? Granted, I'm not as crazy about it as I used to be. But still . . ."

"You do know that Barbara and the other McNeills don't view witchcraft the same way we do," Paige said, interrupting. "Harry once hinted that we might be nothing but glorified demon hunters."

Chris spoke up. "You're magical witches. Powerful witches. The McNeills might not understand . . ."

"They're also powerful witches, Chris," Paige said, interrupting. "Or have you forgotten?" She gave him a pointed look. "Frankly, I'm beginning to agree with Harry. I mean, why are we doing this? Hunting down demons and such like a bunch of vigilantes?"

Piper coolly remarked, "You and Phoebe were the ones who wanted to keep our powers. Remember? When the Angel of Destiny had offered to strip them from us."

Phoebe protested, "Hey, I only agreed to keep our powers, because I didn't want to feel unprotected."

Paige pressed her mouth together and turned away from her sisters. She had the oddest feeling that Phoebe and Piper - the latter especially - wanted to blame her for their continuing lives as witches. And she did not like it.

"I realize that you guys don't like it," Chris said, "but you did make the choice to continue protecting innocents. And if you give up now, who's going to protect the innocents of today . . . and the future?" When Paige and her sisters failed to respond, he added, "Thought so. And Paige, you can always get another job. You're not gonna work at that shop forever. But you'll always be a Charmed One. For the rest of your life." He sighed. "So, can we please talk about getting our hands on that sword?" Then he continued the discussion on their assignment.

Piper leaned toward Paige and whispered in the latter's ear, "You know, for one bizarre moment, Chris reminded me of Leo. Scary, huh?"

"No shit," Paige muttered back.

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

Bruce declared in a disbelieving voice, "You docked an hour from Paige's paycheck?"

"I didn't say that!" Barbara protested. "I only threatened to dock her pay if she disappeared from work, the next time." She and Bruce lay on their large four-poster bed, inside their bedroom. The blond witch glanced anxiously at her husband. "Do you think I went too far?"

"Of course not!" Bruce replied with a shake of his head. "I'm only surprised that it took you so long to finally react. You've been complaining about her absences for the past two months or so."

Sighing, Barbara added, "I really hated to threaten her like that. Believe or not, Paige has a talent for retailing. And the customers seemed to like her. But ever since - Whatshisname? The new whitelighter?"

"Chris," Bruce injected.

Barbara repeated darkly, "That's right. Chris. Ever since he became their whitelighter . . . What the hell is that guy's damage, anyway? He seemed to be dragging Paige and her sisters on some kind of . . . frenzied daemon hunt. And the odd thing is that they're still taking orders from the Whitelighters and Chris specifically, despite their dislike of the Elders . . . and their distrust of him. I just don't get it."

"It's that old idiom that they live by . . . 'protecting the innocent'."

Bruce's remark drew a frown from Barbara. "What on earth . . .?"

Her husband rolled his eyes in contempt. "C'mon Barbara! How many times have you heard Paige or her sisters talk about how they have to 'protect the innocents' or 'kick evil's ass'?"

"Oh God!" Barbara moaned. "God, I keep forgetting that they have this idea of a witch being some kind of daemon hunter. I thought they had finally learned otherwise, last summer."

"Which is why Paige probably have no qualms about skipping work to . . . fight evil. I think you did the right thing about issuing that warning to her."

Barbara sighed, as she snuggled into her husband's arms. "I hope you're right. Because I don't want to force her to quit. She's too good an assistant and I'd hate to lose her."

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

A slender, petite woman with shoulder-length honey-blond hair stepped out of one of the Carnahan Hotel's elevators. She briskly strode across the building's sixth floor, until she reached the fourth door on the right. After inserting the electronic key into the lock, she opened the door and strode into the hotel room.

The woman dumped her purse onto the hotel room's bed and sighed. She had returned to sanctuary. Using her telekinesis, she closed the room's curtains. A small white bag filled with Angelica's Root hung from the doorknob. Satisfied that the Angelica Root continued to protect the room from magical beings, the woman retrieved her cell phone from her purse and dialed a number. Seconds later, another female answered. "Oria Mundi speaking."

"Oria? It's me, Mira Novak. I'm here in San Francisco." She paused. "And I have the package."

Relief and delight filled the other woman's voice. "Mira, darling! You made it! But so late? It's almost midnight." She paused. "Have . . . Has . . . Do you think you have been followed by any of Loxias' people?" Oria snorted with derision. "People! If one can call them people."

Mira had originally planned to teleport from Antwerp to San Francisco. But her fears of being tracked by the very daemons who worked for the one called Loxias led her to travel across the Atlantic and the United States in mortal style - by airplane. "No, I don't think so. I had arrived in San Francisco, yesterday evening, by plane. Which is one of the reasons why I had 'failed' to appear at Loxias' auction. Although to be honest, he would have never sold the sword through auction, anyway. Just offer me a flat fee."

"Yes darling," Oria commented. "I must say that one million dollars seems like such a paltry sum for something so valuable. And powerful." A long pause followed. "I'm surprised that you don't plan to keep the sword for yourself. With the right spell, you could become the new Source or possibly leader of all the magical realms."

With a sigh, Mira explained, "I'm not interested in becoming the new Source or any other powerful leader. I don't want to spend the rest of my life waiting for someone to knock me off some throne." She flopped down on the bed. "I just want to collect a lot of money, buy an exclusive place where I can practice my magic in solitude. I didn't spend seven years as one of Ulmund's protégés, only to add more stress in my life by becoming the new Source or anything like that."

"Darling, being a powerful leader isn't all that bad," Oria drawled. "But you seem to know what's best for you. And that's what I admire about you, dear Mira. You're such an intelligent and sensible person. Especially realizing that you were going nowhere with that do-gooder, Ulmund. Now, about our transaction . . ."

The two females continued their conversation, as they made plans to meet.


END OF PART ONE

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"JOHNNY TREMAIN" (1957) Screencaps Gallery

johnny-tremain

Below are screencap images from "JOHNNY TREMAIN", the 1956 Disney adaptation of Esther Forbes' 1944 children's novel. Directed by Robert Stevenson, the movie starred Hal Stalmaster, Luana Patten, Richard Beymer, Jeff York and Sebastian Cabot:


"JOHNNY TREMAIN" (1957) Screencaps Gallery

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

"INTO THE WEST" (2005) - Jacob Wheeler and the Awareness of Self





"INTO THE WEST" (2005) – Jacob Wheeler and the Awareness of Self

Many people would usually consider the topic of Self Awareness when discussing New Age religions or Eastern mysticism. Characters from a TV Western miniseries seems like the last thing anyone would think of when discussing the meaning of Self. Yet, a major character led me to consider this very topic, while re-watching Steven Spielberg’s 2005 miniseries about two families – Lakota and western Virginia - called "INTO THE WEST".

"Self" has been described as the essential self or the core of an individual. A person who has learned to live one’s life with a strong sense of Self is considered as someone who has achieved or come close to a level of self-actualization - namely, achieving personal growth through accepting the true core of oneself. If there is one character in "INTO THE WEST" who seemed to personify self-actualization, it was Thunder Heart Woman (Tonazin Carmelo and later Sheila Tousey), the Lakota woman who had married into the Wheeler family. I am not saying that Thunder Heart Woman was a person with no insecurities, personal demons or anything of the sort. But of all the major characters, she seemed to be more in tune of what and more importantly, who she was.

In the miniseries’ second episode titled, "Manifest Destiny", Thunder Heart Woman had seemed impervious to her white in-laws’ attitude toward her, during her immediate family’s short stay with her in-laws in Virginia. Even when faced with the disapproval of a German minister and fellow wagon immigrant called Preacher Hobbes (Derek de Lint), she remained impervious to his bigotry. At least according to her husband’s narrative. But this essay is not about Thunder Heart Woman. It is about one of the men in her life – the one love in her life, who managed to catch my attention. Namely one Jacob Wheeler (Matthew Settle and later John Terry).

The third of four brothers from a Virginia wheelwright family, Jacob Wheeler seemed very similar to his Lakota wife – the type of person that seemed to know his own mind. The miniseries’ first episode, ”Wheel to the Stars” revealed that Jacob’s Virginia family seemed to view him as a non-conformist . . . or oddball. He, in turn, regarded his hometown of Wheelerton, Virginia; his family and its profession with mild contempt. In short, this young Virginian was a fish out of water in 1825 America and he knew it. This would explain Jacob’s longing to see the world beyond his hometown and the eastern United States. He did not hesitate to express his enthusiasm for the West. After meeting mountain man James Fletcher (Will Patton), he immediately set out to achieve his desire to leave Wheelerton.

Possessing a talent for persuasion, Jacob managed to convince two of his brothers – Nathan (Alan Tudyk) and Jethro (Skeet Ulrich) – into joining his trek to the West. Jethro turned back at the last minute and Nathan ended up accompanying him. After Jacob and Nathan parted ways in St. Louis, the former caught up with Fletcher and famed mountain man, Jedediah Smith (Josh Brolin) and convinced the latter to allow him to accompany Smith’s expedition to California. I could probably list a number of examples of Jacob’s talent for persuasion, along with his exuberant and non-conformist nature. What I had failed to mention was that he possessed a strong and stubborn will to achieve what he desired. A perfect example of this was his determination to return to California after he, Smith and their fellow mountain men had been kicked out of the province by Mexican authorities. Not only did Jacob manage to achieve this goal, he did so at a great price. And yet . . . one of the interesting aspects of the Jacob Wheeler character is that despite possessing a strong will and extroverted nature, he also had certain vulnerable characteristics and insecurities. Especially insecurities. In both ”Wheel to the Stars” and ”Manifest Destiny”, Jacob’s relationships with his Wheelerton family and Thunder Heart Woman revealed just how insecure he could be.

Jacob seemed to have a rather peculiar relationship with his Virginia family. Despite regarding them with contempt for their provincial attitudes, he had also allowed their attitudes to bring out his own insecurities. His grandfather Abraham (Ken Pogue), his father Enoch (Serge Houde) and his three brothers – Nathan, Ezra (Joshua Kalef) and Jethro – either derided or teased him about his lack of interest in the family’s wheelwright business. And all of them viewed Jacob as a daydreamer with no sense of family duty or any common sense. The Wheelers have never hesitated to express their low opinion of Jacob’s desire to experience life beyond Wheelerton. I cannot help but wonder if the Wheelers’ contempt toward Jacob’s non-conformist ways had bred a sense of insecurity within him. Or if this insecurity was one of the reasons behind his desire to escape Wheelerton for the west.

It is possible that I may have stumbled across one result from Jacob’s less-than-ideal relationship with his Virginia family. I do not know if anyone else had noticed, but it seemed to me that whenever any of the other Wheelers teased, ranted or expressed contempt toward Jacob or his views on the West, he rarely bothered to defend himself. Jacob did not defend himself whenever his brothers mocked him at the dinner table.; when Jethro made the ”tail tucked between your legs” comment, following Jacob’s return to Wheelerton in ”Manifest Destiny”; and when Enoch accused him of luring both Nathan and later, Jacob to the West. Instead of defending himself, Jacob merely remained silent in an effort to ignore the hurtful comments.

However, there have also been moments when he did defend himself. Jacob made a snarky comment about his grandfather Abraham’s penchant for rambling on about his past as Revolutionary War veteran and the family’s business. And the elderly man reacted in such a vitriolic manner that I found myself wondering if Jacob had ended up with a new hole in his backside. When Nathan raged against him for helping an escaped slave named Ben Franklin (Sean Blakemore) in Tennessee, Jacob insisted they had done the right thing considering that Ben had earlier released Nathan after holding him hostage with a knife. And when Nathan lost his temper over Jacob’s refusal to follow him to Texas, the younger brother merely insisted upon continuing his intention to join Jedidiah Smith’s expedition.

One could only wonder why Jacob had rarely bothered to defend himself against his family’s scorn. Did he share Thunder Heart Woman’s talent for imperviously ignoring the scorn and prejudices of others? I rather doubt it. Whereas Thunder Heart Woman had seemed unconcerned by others, Jacob’s face tends to express his pain or embarrassment caused by his family’s attitudes. I suspect that deep down, Jacob longed for not only his family’s respect, but their acceptance of his true self. But unlike many people, he was not willing to change his nature for the Wheelers or anyone else’s acceptance.

Why did Jacob decide to return to Wheelerton with his pregnant wife and daughter after eleven years in the West? In his narration, Jacob claimed that he wanted Thunder Heart Woman and his daughter Margaret Light Shines (Elizabeth Sage, later Irene Bedard) to meet his Virginia family. Perhaps he was telling the truth. Yet, a part of me found that hard to believe. The moment Jacob began to enjoy his Lakota in-laws’ hospitality, he felt certain that his own family extend the same kind of warmth to his wife. And yet . . . he had insisted upon returning to Virginia. Why? Had Jethro hinted the truth in his ”tail tuckered between his legs” comment – that Jacob encountered nothing but failure in the West and returned back to Virginia for a livelihood? Or was it something deeper? Perhaps a last chance for Jacob to seek final acceptance from his family? Who knows.

Whatever Jacob had sought in 1836 Virginia, he did not find it. His father Enoch revealed that the family’s wheelwright business had suffered a setback, due to the economic depression that struck the United States in the mid and late 1830s. And the Wheelers seemed no more closer in accepting Jacob for himself or his Western family. His cousin, Naomi Wheeler (Keri Russell) viewed Indians as non-human. His brother Ezra regarded Thunder Heart Woman as a mere ”squaw”. Naomi’s sister, Rachel (Jessica Capshaw), viewed young Margaret’s hand as a piece of dung. And Enoch seemed to act as if his new daughter-in-law and grandchildren did not exist. No wonder Jacob ended up complaining about the Wheelers’ treatment of his Lakota family.

Eventually, Jacob decided to take his wife and children and return to the West permanently – preferably Californa. It seemed the Wheelers’ continuing disregard toward them – along with news of his idol Jedediah Smith’s death – led to this decision. He almost seemed cold and distant toward his parents and Ezra. But he did not count on Jethro and his three female cousins’ decision to accompany him to California. Apparently, not all of the Wheelers viewed him as an oddball for his preference for the West. Jacob seemed heartened by Jethro’s decision to join him. And although Naomi, Rachel and Leah’s (Emily Holmes) decision to join the trek West took him by surprise, Jacob readily accepted their company. In the following narration, he came to this conclusion:

”I hope that I would prove equal to the responsibility I had undertaken.”

I found this comment rather odd. Jethro and the three cousins had been determined to follow Jacob and Thunder Heart Woman on the trek to California, regardless of anything he would have done or said. Even Jethro had later pointed this out.

The next three years (1837-1840) must have been the best Jacob had ever experienced with any of the Virginia Wheelers. The three cousins – Naomi, Rachel and Leah – finally began to view Thunder Heart Woman as a member of the family and cherished her and Jacob’s three children (Abraham had been born in Wheelerton in 1836 and Jacob Jr. was born in Missouri sometime in late 1840). Jacob’s close relationship with Jethro seemed like a far cry from the conflicts with Nathan that marred his trip to the west back in the 1820s. One would begin to think that Jacob no longer suffered from any insecurity by this point. And yet . . . they only remained buried inside him, waiting for the right moment to manifest.

In the end, it took the wagon train journey to California (dubbed ”the Wagon Train of Doom” by me) featured in ”Manifest Destiny” for Jacob’s insecurities to get the best of him. Upon their arrival in Independence, Missouri in the fall of 1840, the Wheeler family remained there during the winter before joining a California-bound wagon train led by one Stephen Hoxie (Beau Bridges) in the spring of 1841. Surprisingly, only Thunder Heart Woman seemed reluctant to leave Missouri. I suspect she had enough of being constantly on the move for the past several years. But the rest of the Wheelers, especially Jacob, seemed determined to head for California.

Once the Hoxie wagon company began their westward trek, everything seemed to be faring well. The weather seemed beautiful. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits – including the black family from Illinois named Jones that managed to join the wagon train without any opposition. Both Naomi and Rachel attracted the romantic attention of the train’s two scouts – ‘Skate’ Guthrie and James ‘Jim’ Ebbets (Ryan Robbins and Christopher Heyerdahl). This contentment finally ended when Thunder Heart Woman spotted wolves feeding off the corpse of a buffalo and when the train later crossed what I believe was the Big Blue River. The incident proved to be the first of two disagreements between the couple. Thunder Heart Woman viewed the wolves as a sign that the wagon train would come to a bad end. She insisted that the Wheeler family return to Missouri. Jacob dismissed her worries as superstition on her part. But the expression on his face clearly indicated his doubts on the wisdom of the trip.

Then the first disaster struck. One of the emigrants, a German-born minister named Preacher Hobbes (Derek de Lint), lost control of his wagon during the crossing. Distracted by the Hobbes family’s situation, Jethro nearly lost control of his wagon. Leah fell out of the wagon and drowned in the river’s fast flowing water. Although Hobbes received an angry response for his carelessness from Captain Hoxie, the Wheeler women’s anger seemed to be directed at Jacob for leading them to this western trek. The expression of guilt seemed very palpable on Jacob’s face, as Naomi demanded that he take the family back to Missouri. Leah’s death proved to be just the beginning.

The further west the wagon train traveled, more disasters followed. The emigrants were forced to deal with a severe thunderstorm and a cattle stampede that left the only son of a black emigrant named Absalom Jones (Neville Edwards) dead. Not long after the storm and the stampede, both Naomi and Rachel married two of the wagon train’s scouts, Skate and Jim. But that brief period of happiness failed to last when the wagon train attempted to travel through a pass. While traversing a pass, a wagon broke free, knocked Rachel down and ran over her leg, causing a severe compound fracture. The leg eventually became infected. Hobbes, the closest thing to a doctor available, tried to amputate Rachel’s leg; but his efforts turned out to be clumsy and Rachel died before he could finish. Although no family member angrily demanded that return to Missouri, the expression on Jacob’s face obviously conveyed his feelings of guilt.

The final blow to Jacob’s disastrous return to the west occurred when Mrs. Jones died from cholera. Since the Wheelers’ wagons had been traveling with the Jones’ wagon at the back of the train, they had been exposed to the disease. Hoxie and the scouts forced the Wheelers and the remaining members of the Jones family (Mr. Jones and Sally Jones) to remain behind under quarantine while the main body of the wagon train carries on. Only Naomi was able to continue with the train, since she had been with her new husband. Jethro became afflicted with symptoms of cholera but recovered. Both Jacob and Thunder Heart Woman drifted into a serious quarrel, when he suggested that she take their children and attempt to find her Lakota family. Needless to say, Thunder Heart Woman took the suggestion badly and reminded Jacob that he should have listened to her warnings about the journey.

No new outbreaks occurred after Jacob ordered that all drinking water be boiled. The Wheelers and the Jones rushed to catch up with the wagon train, but discovered that it had been attacked by Cheyenne warriors. All of the emigrants had been wiped out, aside from Naomi, who first became a captive and later, a wife of a Cheyenne chief Prairie Fire (Jay Tavare). The Wheelers and the Jones families were also attacked by Cheyenne warriors. They managed to repulse the attack, but Jacob ended up seriously wounded by an arrow in his chest. The surviving emigrants tried to move on with a wounded Jacob, but the juts and bumps of the trail made it impossible for him to endure the pain. Instead, he insisted that Thunder Heart Woman, Jethro, Mr. Jones and the children continue west to California without him, since he would only prevent them from crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains before winter. They left him behind with great reluctance.

The period that Jacob spent east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains allowed him to wallow in loneliness and grief over the separation from his family. But he remained determined to find them. And it took him another four to five years before he finally did. Becoming a member of John Charles Frémont’s California Volunteer Militia during the Mexican-American War allowed Jacob to scour the region for signs or news of his remaining family. Five years passed before he finally came upon the ranch that Jethro and Thunder Heart Woman had settled. Jacob also discovered that in the intervening years, his brother and wife had considered him dead, began a relationship and had a child – a little girl named Cornflower. Devastated by this turn of events, Jacob decided not to reveal himself to his family. At least not openly. Instead, he left the wooden medicine wheel necklace that Thunder Heart Woman had given him when they first met to his youngest child, Jacob High Cloud. Another five years passed before Jacob finally reconciled with his family, due to the efforts of his daughter, Margaret Light Shines.

Ever since I first saw ”INTO THE WEST” and especially the above mentioned scene from ”Manifest Destiny”, I have found myself wondering about Jacob’s actions. I understood why he decided not to intrude upon the family that Jethro and Thunder Heart Woman had formed upon their arrival in California. But why did he leave the medicine wheel necklace to young Jacob? Surely, he knew that his family would be aware that he was alive . . . and knew about their situation? Looking back on his action, it struck me as a very passive-aggressive on his part. He lacked the courage to face Jethro and Thunder Heart Woman. And yet, he seemed determined to thwart the happiness they had created . . . as if he was punishing them for continuing their lives without him. Or perhaps Jacob felt a great deal of envy toward Jethro because the latter turned out to be the one who successfully led the family to California, and not him.

Perhaps Jacob had always a passively-aggressive personality from the beginning. His relationship with his Virginia family struck me as being marked by a great deal of passive-aggressive behavior from the start. Jacob seemed determined to be his own man, whether in his enthusiasm for the West, his decision to leave Wheeler or join Jedediah Smith’s expedition over following his brother Nathan to Texas. And yet . . . he never defended himself in the face of their criticism. Instead, he resorted to resentful silence. Why did he constantly fail to defend himself? Was he merely trying to keep the peace? Or did some small part of him fear that his family may have been right about him? It seemed strange than many fans and critics of "INTO THE WEST" seemed to adore Jacob for his seemingly self-assurance and outgoing personality. At the same time, they derided Jethro for being an insecure loser in their eyes. I got the feeling that they were so busy either scorning Jethro or adulating Jacob that they failed to detect the latter’s personal insecurities and darker traits. And Jacob certainly had them by the bucketful.

Did Jacob ever overcome his insecurities? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I wonder if many are aware of this, but it usually takes an individual to overcome his or her faults during an entire lifetime. A good number of people never succeed in overcoming all of their faults. And since "INTO THE WEST" focused more on his and Thunder Heart Woman’s children in the last three episodes, audiences never discovered if he had overcome all of his faults and insecurities. Jacob certainly seemed more at peace in his old age than he did during his first forty years. Perhaps those years of solitude near the Sierra Mountains foothills helped him finally achieve some inner peace.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"HORRIBLE BOSSES" (2011) Review




"HORRIBLE BOSSES" (2011) Review

The summer of 2011 provided moviegoers with a slew of what I would call raunchy black comedies. May saw the release of "BRIDESMAIDS" and "THE HANGOVER, PART II". "BAD TEACHER" premiered in late June. And two weeks later saw the release of the most successful of the bunch, "HORRIBLE BOSSES".

Directed by Seth Gordon, "HORRIBLE BOSSES" starred Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis. The trio co-starred as three best friends who decide to murder their respective overbearing, abusive bosses (portrayed by Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell) who they believe are standing in the way of their happiness. Nick (Bateman) works at a financial firm for emotionally-abusive Dave Harken (Spacey), who dangles the possibility of a promotion to Nick, only to award it to himself. Dale (Day) endures sexual harassment from his boss, Dr. Julia Harris (Aniston), who threatens to falsely tell Dale's fiancee that he had sex with her unless he actually has sex with her. And Kurt (Sudeikis) actually enjoys his job under his boss Jack Pellitt (Donald Sutherland). But after Jack dies from a heart attack, the company is taken over by Jack's cocaine-addicted, amoral son Bobby (Farrell). One night at a bar, Kurt jokingly suggests that their lives would be happier if their bosses were no longer around. After a brief hesitation, the trio agree to the idea. In search of a hit-man, the friends travel to a bar and meet Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx), an ex-con who agrees to be their "murder consultant". Jones suggests that Dale, Kurt and Nick kill each other's bosses to hide their motive while making the deaths look like an accident.

I really did not know how I would accept "HORRIBLE BOSSES". Being a fan of the 2009 movie, "THE HANGOVER", I had found myself slightly disappointed by the recent sequel, "THE HANGOVER, PART II". And I was not really anticipating "HORRIBLE BOSSES". But since I was in the mood to watch a new movie, I went ahead and saw it anyway. And I enjoyed it . . . very much.

Screenwriters Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein did a great job in finalizing a script that took several years to finalize. Superficially, the idea of three amateurs committing murder without attracting the attention of the police seems rather ridiculous. Two of the characters, Nick and Dale, certainly viewed the idea with amusement or disbelief. But further transgressions by their respective bosses finally pushed them to the idea with hilarious results. One of the funniest aspects of "HORRIBLE BOSSES" was the problem that the three friends endured to find a professional hit man to do the job. Their search led to a hilarious meeting at a motel with a man who does "wet work" (Ioan Gruffudd) - namely pissing on his clients. The three friends' second search for a hit man leads them to a local bar, where Kurt manages to insult an African-American bartender in an effort to be "politically correct". Their trip to the bar also leads them to "Motherfucker" Jones, an ex-convict who claims to be a hit man. As it turns out, Jones went to prison for video piracy and merely conned the three friends for money. But after agreeing to be their "murder consultant", his advice for them to kill each other's boss led to some hilarious scenes, including one that featured Dale's encounter with the psychotic Dave Harken, when the latter nearly died from accidentally consuming some peanuts.

"HORRIBLE BOSSES" benefited from some funny performances by the supporting cast. Well, most of the supporting cast was funny. Only Donald Sutherland, who portrayed Kurt's amiable boss, was never given a chance to display his talent for comedy. Thankfully, the likes of Ioan Gruffudd, Julie Bowen, P.J. Byrne and Bob Newhart received the chance to tickle the audiences' funny bones. The three actors hired to portray the "horrible bosses" proved to be horrifying in a hilarious way. If I have to be honest, Dave Harken was not the first aggressive psycho he has portrayed in a comedy. His performances in "SWIMMING WITH SHARKS" and "THE MEN WHO STARED AT GOATS" come to mind. Despite his past experiences with such characters, Spacey still managed to make it all look fresh in his portrayal of Nick's manipulative and aggressively controlling boss. Jennifer Aniston's performance as Dr. Julia Harris was a revelation. Mind you, her Rachel Green character on the television series, "FRIENDS" was very complex. But I have never seen her portray such a scummy character before . . . and with such comedic skills. Colin Farrell's appearance in the movie was not as long as Spacey and Aniston's, but it was just as funny. In fact, I would cite Farrell's performance as coke-addicted and self-delusional Bobby Pellitt struck me as the funniest of the three performances. His rants against the employees he wanted fired was one of the funniest scenes in the movie. And finally, it was good to see Jamie Foxx in a comedy again. Actually, he had a supporting role in the 2010 movie, "DUE DATE" and he was funny. But his role in that movie seemed mildly amusing in compare to his hilarious portrayal of "Motherfucker" Jones, the criminal wannabe, who seemed more adept at video pirating and posing than being a hardened criminal.

But the craziness of "HORRIBLE BOSSES" could have easily fallen apart without Seth Gordon's direction and especially the performances of the three leads - Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis. As funny as the movie was, it was bizarre enough to fall apart at the slightest misstep. One, the trio made a solid and charismatic comedy team. I would go as far to add that they could easily rival the comedic team from the "HANGOVER" movies. Jason Bateman is deliciously sardonic and witty as the ass-kissing Nick Hendricks, who spent most of his professional career toadying to guys like Dave Harken. I have never been aware of Jason Sudeikis before this movie. I am aware that he had co-starred with Aniston in last year's comedy, "THE BOUNTY HUNTER", but I do not even remember him. He was certainly memorable as the trio's verbose lady's man, who first talked his two friends into committing murder. But the funniest performance came from Charlie Day, who portrayed the slightly nervous and "hopelessly romantic" Dale Arbus. It is quite apparent that most of the other characters - including his two buddies - have no real respect for him. Nick and Kurt did not take his complaints of sexual harassment by his boss seriously. One, I suspect they find it hard to believe that any female would find him attractive and two, society views the idea of a man complaining of sexual harassment by a woman seems ludicrous. But it was the hilarious and socially awkward Dale who found an effective way of dealing with the sexually aggressive Julia without any problems, whatsoever.

There have been some complaints about "HORRIBLE BOSSES". Some critics have complained that the movie was racially or gender-wise offensive. Others have complained that it was silly. I agree that "HORRIBLE BOSSES" was silly . . . but in a positive way. Besides, most comedies of this manner tend to be rather silly. But thanks to a wacky script and a first-rate cast, the silliness in "HORRIBLE BOSSES" made it the most enjoyable comedy I have seen in quite a while. I really look forward to its DVD release.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"EL DORADO WEST" [PG] - Chapter Six



The following is Chapter Six of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:



Chapter Six - Gateway to the West

April 4, 1849
St. Louis. Finally! I have never felt so relieved to leave the floating death trap that was the ALBERT P. SIMPSON. Four more passengers keeled over before we finally berthed at St. Louis' levee. I wondered why the city officials did not put the SIMPSON's passengers under quarintine before we could disembark.

"Why bother?" Alice had replied. According to her, half of St. Louis' citizens have already keeled over from cholera since last December. She felt it would be a miracle if we manage to depart St. Louis . . . alive. Ever since leaving Cleveland, I have detected an increasing sharpness in my dear sister's tongue. Am I now facing the real Alice Fleming? I hope not.

The city's citizens have developed their own cure for the deadly disease - cholera masks. A person could perchase one for ten dollars. Alice says that I should not even bother. She claims that cholera came from bad food and milk, and not the air. Naturally, I could not take the word of a nineteen year-old girl from a well-to-do family over any respectable doctor. So I went ahead and purchased two masks. Alice refused to wear hers.

St. Louis struck me as a grander city than Cinncinati. I was informed by a deckhand on the SIMPSON that it was the biggest city west of Pittsburg. However, Cleveland seemed a lot cleaner. The river traffic that docked near the levee seemed twice the amount we had encountered in Cinncinati. Just above the levee stood an elegant white building with an olive green, dome-shaped roof.

The mass of humanity that we had first encountered in Cinncinati seemed twice as big, here in St. Louis, only with added touches - red-skinned Indians, trappers, blue-coated Army officers and soldiers, and olive-skinned Mexicans. I gather that the latter were among those who drove the freight wagons along the Santa Fe Trail. And naturally there were slaves. After all, Missouri happened to be a slave state. Mind you, they were not the occasional fugitive slaves captured by bounty hunters. They were black men, women and children shackled together in long coffles and hearded into Lynch's, the city's slave pen on Market Street. What sad-eyed, ragged creatures they were! The expressions on their faces seemed to indicate resignation to their fate.

Alice suggested that we purchase more supplies for our trip west. I told her there was no need. We will have plenty of opportunities for that in Independence. "But the merchants there will charge the earth!" she insisted. Alice had learned this bit of news from an old fur trapper she had met aboard the ALBERT P. SIMPSON. When did she find the time to become aquainted with some trapper without my knowledge? This soothsayer of the Plains had recommended we travel to Independence by land, instead of a Missouri River steamboat. Alice added that it would be cheaper and we would not arrive at the jump-off point too soon.

"The perfect time for a wagon train to depart from Independence is early May," she added. Leaving Independence before that period of time meant the possibility of being snowbound in the Sierra Nevadas. She also suggested that I trade the horses for mules or oxen. Horses were unsuited for pulling wagons over a long distance. And we should travel light as possible. "He also suggested that we never take short cuts."

Feeling slightly intimidated by my sister's surprising knowledge of traveling across the plains, I replied sardonically, "Anything else?"

Alice had nothing further to say. Thank goodness. I wish to God that mountain man had minded his own business. However, a voice at the back in my head whispered that I should heed the advice.



April 6, 1849
We spent two days in St. Louis, outfitting for our journey. We purchased lynch pins, rope, chains, barrels, flour, bacon, cornmeal, beans, dried apples, coffee and other equipment. And as Alice had suggested, I traded my team of horses for mules. It saddened me to bade farewell to those wonderful animals. They had accompanied us from Cleveland and I will miss them.

During our two-day shopping spree, our wagon joined three others to form a small camp not far from Jefferson Barracks - an Army outpost southwest of the city. Among our new companions were a middle-aged couple from Kentucky named Robbins. Alice managed to form a surprisingly quick friendship with Mrs. Robbins, a habitual gossip. We also became aquainted with two families from Pennsylvania on their way to Oregon. And lo and behold, the old trapper who had made Alice's acquaintance on the ALBERT P. SIMPSON had joined our little company. His name was Lyman James and he did not look as old as I had imagined. At least somewhere between fifty and sixty years old. Like the Robbinses, Alice and myself, he was bound for California. Only he chose not to travel by wagon . . . just his horse and a pack mule.

We spent our last night around a campfire, listening to Mr. James' recollections of his years as a mountain man. A night of tales about rendevouses, near escapes, Indian war parties and the Western landscape brought back memories of Mr. Whitman. I asked Mr. James if he ever knew my former benefactor.

"Ephraim Whitman?" he asked. A wistful expression appeared on his face. "By God! I haven't heard that name in years! One of the best trappers I have ever known. And a good friend. He taught me and Joe Wright all about the fur trade. Heard he had settled somewhere in Ohio."

I told him that Mr. Whitman had ended up in Cleveland. I also informed him about my benefactor's death, last month. The former trapper seemed to age within seconds. "Poor old Ephraim," he muttered. "At least he had lived a good life." It was the best ephitat anyone could have given Mr. Whitman.


End of Chapter Six

Monday, August 22, 2011

"EVIL UNDER THE SUN" (1982) Photo Gallery



Below are images from "EVIL UNDER THE SUN", the 1982 adaptation of Agatha Christie's 1941 novel. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie starred Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot.


"EVIL UNDER THE SUN" (1982) Photo Gallery

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

"SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" (1981) Review




"SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" (1981) Review

Jane Austen's 1811 novel, "Sense and Sensibility" has been a favorite with her modern-day fans. The novel has produced at least three television and two movie adaptations and a literary parody. However, this review is about the seven-part, 1981 BBC adaptation. 

Directed by Rodney Bennett and adapted by Alexander Baron and Denis Constanduros, "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY"starred Irene Richards and Tracey Childs as the two main protagonists - sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. The story focused on the sisters' attempts to find happiness in the tightly structured society of early 19th century England. Through their experiences with men and their relationship with each other, Elinor and Marianne learn that one must strive for a balance of both sense and sensibility.

From an overall point of view, this "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" seemed to be a solid adaptation of Austen's 1811 novel. I have noticed in many articles and reviews of Austen adaptations made in the 1970s and 1980s, fans tend to view them as"faithful" in compare to later ones. Frankly, I have yet to see an Austen adaptation made before or after 1986 as completely faithful. And I can extend this opinion to this 1981 production. One, Baron and Constanduros' screenplay began with the grieving Dashwood women returning to Norland Hall, after viewing a potential new home. And there is no sign of a Margaret Dashwood - the youngest of the three sisters - in sight. But since the other versions of the novel are no more or less faithful, I do not have a problem with this. But I did have a problem with the miniseries' ending. It featured Edward Ferrars asking for Elinor's hand in marriage and Colonel Brandon commencing his courtship of a receptive Marianne. That is it. The ending seemed a bit too abrupt for my tastes.

And I had other problems with "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY". I realize that the male characters in Austen's novel were not as strongly written as the female characters. But the uninspiring casting in this production made their roles seem even weaker. I am sorry to say that Bosco Hogan as Edward Ferrars did not impress me. He gave a solid, yet lackluster performance. Peter Woodward gave a charming performance as the novel's ne'er-do-well, John Willoughby. Unfortunately, Woodward's presence barely made a dent in the production. And his biggest scene - in which Willoughby expressed remorse for his bad treatment of Marianne to Elinor - featured some over-the-top acting. But not all of the male performers disappointed me. 

Watching Diana Fairfax's performance as Mrs. Dashwood, I found myself wondering why Elinor was forced to assume so much responsibility for their household at Barton Cottage. Fairfax's Mrs. Dashwood barely seemed like the emotional widow who was forced to come down to earth by her more sensible older daughter. She seemed just as sensible in her own way. Annie Leon's portrayal of Mrs. Jennings struck me as pleasant, affable and very supportive of the Dashwood sisters. But there was something missing in her performance. She seemed subdued in compare to Austen's portrayal of the character. Leon's Mrs. Jennings failed to be the nosy, cheeful vulgarian that I had come to love. I barely remember Marjorie Bland's portrayal of Mrs. Jennings' older daughter, Lady Middleton. She failed to leave a mark in my memories. I could say the same about Hetty Baynes as Mrs. Jennings' younger daughter, Mrs. Charlotte Palmer. And Margot Van der Burgh's Mrs. Ferrars seemed more like a dress rehearsal for Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Austen's "Pride and Prejudice".

But there were performances that impressed me. Julia Chambers and Pippa Sparks made a very entertaining Lucy and Ann Steele. I was especially impressed by Chambers' performance, which struck a fine balance between Lucy's scheming and desperation to become a member of the respectable and wealthy Ferrars family. Philip Bowen's portrayal of Robert Ferrars struck me as rather funny. He gave the character a foppish edge that I have never seen in other portrayals of the character. Donald Douglas was certainly down-to-earth in an affable manner as Mrs. Dashwood's cousin, Sir John Middleton. Amanda Boxer gave a spot-on portrayal of the cold-blooded and domineering Fanny Dashwood. At first, I was not that impressed by Robert Swann's portrayal of Colonel Brandon. However, as the story progressed, Swann skillfully revealed the character's passion and emotions behind the stoic facade. But the one performance that really impressed me was Peter Gale's as the Dashwood family's new patriarch, John. Although he gave a solid performance in the miniseries' early episodes, he really came into his own in the role, when the story shifted to London. I was especially impressed by one scene in which Gale's John tried to point out the suitability of Colonel Brandon as a match for Elinor. Both Irene Richards and Tracey Childs gave solid performances as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. The two actresses did a first-rate job of holding the miniseries together as the the leads. And both were somewhat spot-on in their portrayal of the two sisters. Mind you, I would have liked if Richards had revealed the passion that Elinor harbored for Edward in small moments. And I wish that Childs' Marianne was not so sober - especially in a few scenes in the miniseries' earlier episodes. But in the end, they did a good job.

As far as production design goes, I am afraid that Paul Joel did a solid job. But there was nothing about his work that I found particularly impressive. I suspect that he may have been hampered by the budget. I was NOT impressed by Dorothea Wallace's costumes. Frankly, I found them rather cheap looking and in some cases, slightly ill fitting. Like the miniseries' production design, it was probably hampered by the budget. Overall, I would have to say that this "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" was the least impressive looking adaptation I have ever seen.

"SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" had its virtues. Both Irene Richards and Tracey Childs gave solid performances and kept this production together, along with director Rodney Bennett. The supporting cast also included memorable performances from the likes of Peter Gale, Amanda Boxer, Donald Douglas, Julia Chambers and Peter Woodward. And screenwriters Alexander Baron and Denis Constanduros managed to create a solid script that was nearly faithful to the story. But due to a good number of disappointing performances and a rather cheap looking production, this is probably my least favorite adaptation of Austen's novel.