Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"The Wrong Promise"




"THE WRONG PROMISE"

While going over the LOSTTV-FORUM website, I had noticed a thread that asked members how they would have ended "LOST". After reading several other sites and articles about the series, I posted my answer.

There was one thing that I wish Cuse and Lindelof had not added into the script for (6.17)"The End". I wish they had not allowed Kate to promise Claire that she would help raise Aaron after reaching civilization.

I realize that Kate was trying to assure Claire that everything would be all right, once the latter was reunited with Aaron. But in the end, her promise to help raise Aaron struck me as the wrong one to make. Why? It was not possible for her to do so.

When she had departed Los Angeles on the Ajira Flight 316 in (5.06) "316", Kate had broken the parole imposed upon her in (4.04) "Eggtown". Her ten-year parole. I would not be surprised if the moment she returned to civilization after the plane's departure from the Island, chances are Kate ended up in prison for breaking her parole. That would have left Carole Littleton to help daughter Claire raise Aaron.

And I doubt that Kate could have set foot in Australia to reunite with Claire and Aaron after leaving prison. In fact, I doubt that the Australian government would have allowed her to re-enter the country. The last time she was in Australia, she had entered the country illegally and as a fugitive from the law.

All I can say is . . . what were Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof thinking, when they allowed Kate to make that promise to Claire? They could have found another way for the former fugitive to ease the young Australian woman's fears. And now, the majority of fans automatically believe that Kate had helped Claire raise Aaron. Without Carole Littleton's help.

Monday, February 27, 2012

"THE COMPANY" (2007) Photo Gallery


company05

Below are images from "THE COMPANY", a three-part TNT miniseries that was based upon Robert Littell's 2002 novel about the Cold War. Directed by Mikael Salomon, the miniseries starred Chris O'Donnell, Alessandro Nivola, Rory Cochrane, Alfred Molina and Michael Keaton:


"THE COMPANY" (2007) Photo Gallery

















Sunday, February 26, 2012

"MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL" (2011) Review




"MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL" (2011) Review

Looking back on the "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE" franchise, I noticed that a movie seemed to appear every four to six years. There are a few things unique about the latest movie, "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL". One, Paula Wagner did not co-produce the movie with star Tom Cruise. J.J. Abrams, who directed the third film, did. And two, for once the villain's goal turned out to be a lot different from those in the past three movies.

Directed by Brad Bird (who was responsible for Disney animation classics, "THE INCREDIBLES" and "RATATOUILLE"), "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL" focused on the efforts of an IMF team led by Ethan Hunt to prevent a nuclear disaster. During a mission to procure the files of a terrorist named "Cobalt", Ethan and his fellow agents are implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin. The IMF is shut down, causing Ethan's team and an intelligence analyst named William Brandt to go rogue and clear the organization's name. In order to do this, they have to find "Cobalt", a Swedish-born nuclear strategist named Kurt Hendricks, and prevent him from using both a Russian nuclear launch-control device from the Kremlin and the activation codes stolen by an assassin hired by Hendricks to send a nuclear missile to U.S. soil.

"MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL" was highly received by both critics and moviegoers after its release. And it is easy to see why. This is a well-written story filled with personal drama, intrigue and great action. In a way, "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL" reminds of both the 1996 movie that introduced the franchise and the last act of the third film, 2006's "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III". In this movie, Ethan Hunt, his immediately colleagues and the entire IMF agency has been disavowed and only Hunt and three of his colleagues are in any position to reverse the situation.

Personal drama is introduced in the opening scene that featured the murder of IMF agent Trevor Hathaway, who was romancing one of Ethan's colleagues - Jane Carter. And the fate of Julia Hunt, Ethan's bride from the previous film, turns out to have an emotional impact on Brandt, who is revealed to be a former field agent. Intrigue is revealed in scenes that feature the IMF team's efforts to acquire the nuclear activation codes at a Dubai hotel from the assassin who had killed Hathaway, Brandt's revelation as a former field agent, and Carter's efforts to acquire satellite override codes from an Indian telecommunications mogul to prevent Hendricks from launching a nuclear missile.

But if there is one thing that many fans and critics seemed bowled over in "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL" are the actions sequences shot with great style by director Brad Bird. I could write an essay on the exciting sequences that filled the movie. But only two really impressed me. One involved a prolonged fight between Hunt and Hendricks over the launch-control device at an automobile processing plant in Mumbai. But the movie's pièce de résistance involved the team's efforts to acquire the nuclear device's activation codes from the assassin that killed Hathaway. Not only was it filled with intrigue, it involved Hunt scaling the exterior of another high rise, two major fight scenes involving Hunt and Brandt against Hendricks' men; and Carter against Hathaway's killer, the assassin Sabine inside a Dubai hotel (filmed at the city's highest building Burj Khalifa).

Tom Cruise returned for a fourth time as IMF agent, Ethan Hunt. I realize that the actor is not popular with many moviegoers. Personally, I guess I do not care. First of all, I have always believed he was a charismatic and first-rate actor. And his talents were definitely on display in his portrayal of the IMF agent. The cockiness of Cruise's Hunt from the 1996 film hardly exists anymore. He is now older, wiser and a lot more subtle. Cruise's Hunt has become a fine wine that has aged with grace.

Simon Pegg returned to portray IMF programmer Benjy Dunn, who has been promoted to field agent. I might as well confess. I found his Benjy slightly annoying in the third film. Pegg's humor remained intact, but for some reason I found him a lot more funnier and not annoying at all. Paula Patton gave an excellent and passionate performance as IMF agent Jane Carter. Not only did Patton handled the action very well, she did a great job in conveying Jane's efforts to rein in her desire for revenge against the assassin who murdered her lover and fellow agent. Once again, Jeremy Renner proved what a great actor he is in his portrayal of former IMF agent-turned-analyst William Brandt. I enjoyed how he conveyed Brandt's fake inexperience in the field and his recollections of the assignment that went wrong - namely the protection of Ethan's wife, Julia.

I also have to commend Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist's subtle portrayal of the nuclear strategist, whose extremism led him to kick start a plot to rain a nuclear disaster upon U.S. shores. Unless he was using a stunt double, Nyqvist also impressive in the fight scene between Hunt and Hendricks in Mumbai. Josh Holloway of "LOST" made a brief appearance as the doomed IMF agent, Trevor Hathaway, who was murdered at the beginning of the movie. Holloway did a good job with what little he was given to do. But I must admit that I feel he is unsuited for the silver screen. If he hopes to become a bigger star, I would suggest he stick to television. His presence is more effective in the latter.

If I have one problem with "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL", it was the villain's goal - namely to send a nuclear missile to the U.S. According to the script penned by André Nemec and Josh Appelbaum, Hendricks' decision to fire a missile stemmed from a desire to start a nuclear war and initiate the next stage of human evolution. What the hell! This sounds like something from a James Bond movie. In fact, it reminds me of the 1977 movie, "THE SPY WHO LOVED ME". What on earth made Cruise, Abrams, Bird, and the screenwriters to pursue this cartoonish plotline? I found it so illogical and unlike the goals of the previous villains, who only sought either money or political and career power. I just realized that I have another problem with the movie - namely Michael Giacchino's handling of the franchise's theme song, originally written by Lalo Schifrin. Quite frankly, it sucked. I found it just as unmemorable as the adaptations of Schifrin's score in the past two movies. Only Danny Elfman's version of the score in the first movie really impressed me.

Despite my misgivings about the villain's goal in the story and Giacchino's take on the famous theme song, I really enjoyed "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL". I enjoyed it so much that it became one of my favorite films of the year. And I hope that the success of this film will lead Cruise and the others to do a third film.

Friday, February 24, 2012

"Lies and Consequence" [PG] - 1/4




"LIES AND CONSEQUENCE"

RATING: PG - Adult language.
SUMMARY: Phoebe deals with the consequences of her breakup with Jason Dean.
FEEDBACK: - Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: The Charmed Ones, Cole Turner, Chris Halliwell, Jason Dean, Darryl Morris and other characters related to Charmed belong to Spelling Productions, Brad Kern and Constance Burge. Olivia McNeill Turner, Harry McNeill and a few other characters are my creations.
NOTE: Takes place about three weeks following "Breath of the Undead". Alternate Universe Season 6.



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

"LIES AND CONSEQUENCE"

PART I

While San Francisco soaked from a mid-winter downpour, Harry McNeill drove his silver-blue Mazda along Prescott Street. He finally came upon a parking space several yards away from the Halliwells' salmon-colored manor. After he eased the car into the parking space, he switched off the engine.

"Is this really necessary?" Harry's passenger demanded. "I've already apologized to Phoebe for what happened."

Harry gave the dark-haired young man a pointed look. "As I recall, all you did was give Jason the potion to vanquish the spirit from Phoebe's body. I don't recall an apology coming out of your mouth."

Richard Montana opened his mouth. Then he closed it. "Well, I . . . I figured you and Paige would be pissed after I had promised not to use magic again. Especially Paige. But I only wanted to free myself from my family's bad karma. How was I to know that I would end up channeling Mata Hari's spirit into Phoebe?"

A long suffering sigh left Harry's mouth. He and Paige had met Richard at Ostera's last fall. They learned that he came from a magical family embroiled in a feud with another magical family named Callaways. The young couple had befriended the male witch, when they helped him deal with the ghost of his former love. What they had not bargain was Richard's addictive use of magic to deal with his personal problems.

"Look Richard," Harry finally said, "I understand. But unless you want Paige and her sisters to be pissed at you forever, I suggest that you apologize in person. And then we'll try to do something about your . . . problem." He reached for his umbrella in the backseat, before climbing out of the car. Richard, who already carried an umbrella, did the same.

The two men dashed through the heavy rain and toward the Halliwell manor. Once they reached the top of the stoop, Harry rang the doorbell. Minutes passed before Piper Halliwell opened the door. "Harry!" she greeted with a friendly smile. Then her eyes fell upon the other male witch and chilled slightly. "Richard, what are you doing here?"

"I came to speak to Phoebe," Richard replied nervously. "To all of you."

Coolly, Piper replied, "Phoebe hasn't returned home, yet."

"May we enter anyway?" Harry begged. "It's wet out here." He indicated the downpour with a quick nod.

Piper opened the door further. "Sure. Come on in. Paige just got home from work. She's in the kitchen, fixing a cup of hot chocolate. Do you two want a cup?"

"Considering this wet weather, it sounds like a great idea," Harry said, after he and Richard entered the manor.

The oldest Charmed One led the two men into the kitchen. They found Paige sitting at the table, rocking a sleeping Wyatt in her arms. A steaming mug of hot chocolate sat on the table in front of her. "Hey Harry," she warmly greeted her red-haired boyfriend. Her eyes chilled slightly at the sight of Richard. "Oh, it's you. Here to clean up your mess?"

Richard opened his mouth, but Harry spoke instead. "I believe that Richard has already cleaned up his mess, when he gave Jason that potion to use on Phoebe. By the way, was Phoebe speaking with a French accent, when she was possessed?"

Piper shrugged her shoulders. "I guess so. Why? Wasn't Mata Hari a spy in Paris?"

"She was Javanese born," Richard explained. "Mata Hari came from a family of Dutch colonists in Indonesia."

"Thanks for the history lesson, Richard," Paige acidly retorted. The male witch's face turned red.

Harry felt sorry for Richard. He knew that the other man harbored a slight infatuation of Paige. But he did not worry about, since Paige had never shown any interest in Richard.

Piper went to the stove and began to prepare hot chocolate for the visitors. "By the way, Richard, don't you have something to say?"

Richard cleared his throat. "Uh . . . yeah. Um, Piper . . . Paige, I want to apologize for what happened to Phoebe. Like I had told Harry before, I was only trying to rid myself of my family's bad karma. I had no idea that I would end up channeling Mata Hari's spirit. And I certainly didn't realize that Phoebe was in the house, at the time."

Paige retorted, "You weren't supposed to be using magic in the first place! Remember? I should have insisted that you leave before we left the house. And not leave you in the attic all alone."

"But I thought if I . . ."

Piper added, "Richard, if you're having such a big problem with using your magic, why don't you simply bound or strip away your powers?"

Nodding, Paige said, "That's what I've been saying."

"I disagree." Everyone stared at Harry.

Paige demanded, "You've got a better idea?"

Harry thanked Piper, after she handed him a mug of chocolate. "Yeah, I do." He turned to the other man. "Richard, you need to seek help. Badly. Bounding or stripping your powers won't help you. You'll simply find something else to use as a means to hide from your problems - booze, drugs, food, or maybe sex. You need someone to help you deal with your problems. Face them. And since a psychiatrist is out of the question, maybe this witch coven in Vermont can help."

"More witches?" Paige asked. "What can they do that we can't?"

"Help him."

Richard frowned. "How? I mean . . . why recommend them?"

Harry explained, "The Blue Wave Coven are a group of witches trained in both psychiatric and spiritual guidance. Not only can they help you deal with your personal problems, they can also help you control your magic."

"And I won't have to strip my powers?" an incredulous Richard asked.

Harry replied, "I don't think the Blue Wave Coven would recommend it. But I might be wrong. Why don't you pay them a visit, first? They were a big help to Olivia, after her . . ." From the corner of his eye, he saw Richard wince. Harry sighed. "Dude, you've got to stop reacting every time my sister's name is mentioned."

Richard inhaled sharply. "I'm sorry, but I just find it weird that your sister's name is the same as my Olivia. And that her former fiancé's name was Richard."

"Yeah . . . whatever," Paige muttered. "About this Blue Wave Coven . . . are you going to Vermont to check them out?"

The two sisters and Harry stared at Richard. Who sighed. "I really should consider this coven, should I?"

"I think you should," Harry replied.

Richard took a sip of hot chocolate. "Well, before I contact them, I still need to apologize to Phoebe. Where is she?"

"Probably still at work," Paige answered.

Piper shook her head. "No, she's not. Phoebe told me that she had planned to leave the office early. To see Jason." She sighed. "I wonder how that panned out."


END OF PART I

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Eight "The Storm" Commentary




"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Eight "The Storm" Commentary

The eighth episode of "CENTENNIAL" is a bit of a conundrum for me. Of the eight episodes so far, it seemed to be the only one in which the time span struck me as rather confusing. Which is a pity, because I found it rather interesting.

"The Storm" had the potential to be one of the better episodes of the miniseries. Unfortunately, it seemed marred by a good deal of mistakes that left the time span rather confusing. The previous episode, "The Shepherds" ended with Levi Zendt leaving Centennial to visit his hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. And since the episode opened with Levi's arrival in Lancaster, I can only assume that the episode began in the fall of 1881. Levi did not return to Centennial until the onset of winter. And this led me to assume that the episode spanned a few months around the late fall and early winter of 1881. However, certain aspect in the episode seemed to hint that several years, instead of a few months, had passed between Levi’s arrival in Lancaster and the winter storm that finally struck Centennial.

Charles Larson's screenplay made it clear that Levi's visit to Pennsylvania did not last that long. In fact, his wife Lucinda and his son, Martin, expressed surprise that he had returned home to Centennial before the winter. And considering that it took seven days to journey by rail from the West Coast to the East Coast; Levi's journey from Colorado to Pennsylvania should have taken less than seven days. In total, his entire trip should have lasted less than a month. And yet . . . there were signs in the episode that several years had passed since the end of "The Shepherds". One, the character of Amos Calendar seemed to have aged by a decade. Seriously. While Levi was in Pennsylvania, the Findlay Perkins character had arrived in Centennial. Around the time of his arrival, Oliver and Charlotte Seccombe were behaving like a couple that had been married for several years, instead of honeymooners. More importantly, a semi-manor made of brick (or stones) had replaced the clapboard ranch house that served as Venneford Ranch's main house. I doubt very much that Seccombe was able erect a small manor house within a month or two. Also, the winter storm that struck the Western Plains occurred in 1886-1887. Levi's journey to Pennsylvania should have occurred five years later. Larson's handling of the episode's time span seemed so sloppy that I could only shake my head in disbelief.

But the episode's time span was not the only thing that troubled me. The first thirty minutes of "The Storm" featured a number of flashbacks I have not seen since "Only the Rocks Live Forever". The flashbacks in that first episode made sense. It was the only episode that featured the character of Lame Beaver in the main narrative, yet at the same time, allowed viewers access to the character's past. Because "The Storm" featured the deaths of Levi Zendt and Mule Canby, viewers were subjected to flashbacks featuring Levi's journey to the West in "" and the Skimmerhorn cattle drive in "The Longhorns". Instead of providing background to the characters of Levi and Mule, these flashbacks only dragged the episode's first half hour.

Thankfully, "The Storm" was not a complete waste of time. It featured some first-rate drama and performances. The episode marked the first appearances of the Wendell family. So far, the family has managed to charm most of Centennial's citizens with their good manners, verbal skills and acting talent. They have also attracted the suspicion of one Sheriff Axel Dumire. As I had stated earlier, the character of Mule Canby, last seen wounded and hauled to a military fort by R.J. Poteet in "The Longhorns". He has become a trick shot artist for a circus, with Nacho Gomez as his assistant. Their reunion with former members of the Skimmerhorn drive - Jim Lloyd, John Skimmerhorn and Amos Calendar - provided the episode with a very warm and emotional moment before Canby's tragic death in a tent fire.

There were two story arcs in "The Storm" that proved to be the highlights of the episodes. One story arc featured Levi and Lucinda's frustrations with their younger offspring, the unhappy and unstable Clemma. Following his return to Centennial, Levi was surprised by the appearance of his daughter, who was supposed to be going to school in St. Louis. Instead, the couple learned of their wayward daughter's lurid exploits that included prostitution, jail time and marriage to a bigamist. In a memorable speech, Levi reminded Lucinda that despite the disappointments and unhappy times, they had also experienced many positive things in their lives - including their marriage and the growth of Centennial. Unfortunately, this poignant moment was spoiled by Clemma's decision to leave town on the first available eastbound train - a decision that led to Levi's death near the rail tracks during the winter storm.

The storm also featured in a tense plot arc that spelled the possible doom of Oliver Seccombe's career as a rancher. His handling of the Venneford Ranch's accounts had led his London bosses to send a Scottish accountant named Findlay Perkins to check the books. Both John Skimmerhorn and Jim Lloyd tried to explain to the accountant that the region's method of free-range cattle ranching made it impossible to precisely account for every cow or bull on the ranch. Being a very perceptive man, Findlay was still able to discover that Seccombe had been mishandling the ranch's profits in order to build the new house for his wife, Charlotte. Before Findlay could return to Britain, the storm struck the region, forcing him to remain at Venneford. One of the episode's highlights proved to be the tense scenes between Findlay and the Seccombes, as they waited out the storm.


The episode's biggest virtue proved to be the outstanding performances by the cast. Just about everyone in this episode gave top-notch performances. But there were a few I would consider to be the best. One of them came from Gregory Harrison, who made his last appearance as former emigrant-turned-merchant, Levi Zendt. Timothy Dalton and Lynn Redgrave were superb as the besieged Oliver and Charlotte Seccombe, anxious over their future with Venneford Ranch and forced to deal with the likes of Findlay Perkins. Clive Revill gave an excellent performance as the Scottish accountant. And his scenes with Dalton and Redgrave were filled with delicious tension and humor. It was nice to see Greg Mullavey as the always gregarious Mule Canby. And I truly enjoyed the tensions between Brian Keith's suspcious Sheriff Axel Dumire and the wonderfully scheming Wendells, portrayed by Anthony Zerbe, Lois Nettleton and Doug McKeon. But the stand-out performance came from Adrienne LaRussa's excellent portrayal of the sad and conflicted Clemma Zendt. LaRussa was superb in conveying all aspects of Clemma's personality, which included her spiteful teasing of Jim Lloyd, and her insecurities. But she gave an Emmy worthy performance in the scene in which she conveyed Clemma's pathetic life back East to the Zendts.

It is a pity that "The Storm" was marred by a questionable time span and unnecessary flashbacks. The episode had the potential to be one of the best in the 12-part miniseries. It marked the death of a major character and also a change in Centennial's history with the end of free-range ranching and the Wendells' arrival. But some outstanding performances and the winter storm featured still made it one of the more interesting episodes, in the end.


Monday, February 20, 2012

"THIS MEANS WAR" (2012) Photo Gallery



Below are images from the new comedy called "THIS MEANS WAR". Directed by McG, the movie stars Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy:


"THIS MEANS WAR" (2012) Photo Gallery








































Friday, February 17, 2012

"THE LADY VANISHES" (1938) Review




"THE LADY VANISHES" (1938) Review

During a seventeen year period between 1922 and 1939, legendary director Alfred Hitchcock became one of the more prolific directors during the early years of British cinema. Films such as 1934's "THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH" and 1935's "THE 39 STEPS" caught the attention of film critics and Hollywood producers. But it was 1938's "THE LADY VANISHES" that paved the way for Hitchcock to achieve Hollywood fame and fortune.

Based upon Ethel Lina White's 1936 novel, "The Wheel Spins", "THE LADY VANISHES" is about a young English woman named Iris Henderson, who stumbles across a mystery surrounding the disappearance of an elderly woman and fellow Briton from a train traveling westward, across Europe. In the fictional country of Bandrika, a group of travelers eager to resume their journey west is delayed by an avalanche that has blocked the railway tracks. Most of the travelers bunk at a local hotel, where Iris and her two friends had been staying for their holiday. Later that night, a folk singer plays a tune that catches the attention of the elderly Miss Froy (May Whitty), who has been working abroad for several years as a governess. Before the singer can finish his tune, he is silenced . . . murdered.

The following morning, the rail tracks are cleared and the passengers are able to resume their journeys. Iris, who plans to marry a wealthy man upon her return to England, becomes one of the train's passengers. While waiting to board the train, a flower pot meant for Miss Foy, hits Iris on the head. Other passengers include a young English musicologist named Gilbert; Miss Froy; a adulterous couple named "Mr. and Mrs. Todhunter", who are returning home to their respective spouses; Caldicott and Charters, two friends eager to return to England for a cricket match; and a Central European surgeon named Dr. Egon Hartz, who is accompanying a patient to his clinic. Iris and Miss Froy become acquainted, first in their compartment and later, in the dining car for some tea. Upon their return to their compartment, Iris falls asleep. When she awakens, the the governess has vanished, and Iris is shocked to learn that the other passengers in her compartment claim that Miss Froy had never existed.

Many film critics have claimed that "THE LADY VANISHES" was Hitchcock's best film during his English period as a director. I cannot agree or disagree, since the only other Hitchcock film made in Britain that I have seen was "THE 39 STEPS". Unfortunately, I have not seen that particular movie since I was a teenager. However, I cannot deny that "THE LADY VANISHES" was a first-rate, yet slightly flawed movie. I also cannot deny that I consider it to be one of his better movies during the first half of his career as a director.

"THE LADY VANISHES" possessed several aspects that made it very enjoyable for me. One, the movie is set during a journey - in this case, a train journey across Europe. I am a big sucker for "road" movies, especially when it is well made. Two, Hitchcock and the movie's two screenwriters, Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, made several changes to White's novel - the most important that changed the Miss Foy character from an innocent who had stumbled across a secret to a genuine spy with some vital information for the British government. This particular change injected an air of necessity into the movie that allowed its story to be more suspenseful and urgent. The movie also benefited from some first-class photography by cinematographer Jack E. Cox. He did a solid job of conveying the illusion of travel. But I was especially impressed by two scenes featuring Cox's use of a train window - a moment in which Iris sees Miss Foy's name on a dining car window, and Gilbert's discovery of Miss Foy's existence by his glimpse of a tea box wrapping pressed briefly pressed against another window.

Hitchcock originally considered Lilli Palmer as his leading lady. But he changed his mind and went with unknown actress Margaret Lockwood, who was a fan of Ethel Lina White's literary heroines. Personally, he made the right choice. I have nothing against Lilli Palmer, who was a talented actress in her own right. But Lockwood really made Iris her own with a passionate and intelligent performance. Iris could have easily become one of those beautiful, yet slightly bland damsels that solely depended upon men to help her. But Lockwood infused the character with a strong will and an intelligence that allowed her to be a major participant in the deduction of Miss Foy's whereabouts. A successful stage actor, Michael Redgrave did not want to be a part of the "THE LADY VANISHES", being reluctant to leave the stage to be in a film. John Gielgud convinced him to accept the role of Gilbert and Redgrave became an international star, following the movie's release. And it is easy to see why. The man had a natural talent for the screen. And that is not something I can say about many other stage actors who have been lured into movies. Not only did he have a natural grace and charm, his portrayal of Gilbert struck me as both subtle and very funny. He and Lockwood projected a strong screen presence together. And I am surprised that "THE LADY VANISHES" proved to be the first of only two movies they made together. Pity.

"THE LADY VANISHES" was also blessed by a first-rate supporting cast. Paul Lukas gave a very subtle role as the European doctor that proved to be the main villain. Although her character proved to be the story's main catalyst, Dame May Whitty had very few scenes in this movie. Yet, her warm and intelligent performance as the mysterious Miss Foy proved to have a strong presence throughout the story. Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford had worked on both the stage and in films throughout the 1930s before they worked together for the first time in "THE LADY VANISHES" as the two cricket-loving passengers, Caldicott and Charters. The pair created screen magic and would end up working together as a first-rate comic team for years to come. Cecil Parker and Linden Travers provided some subtle melodrama as a pair of adulterous lovers returning home to their spouses in Britain. Parker's character, the pretentious "Mr. Todhunter", ended up serving as an allegory of the appeasement supporters who preferred caving in to Adolf Hitler's demands, instead of war. Mind you, the use of the "Mr. Todhunter" character seemed a bit heavy-handed, but effective.

As much as I enjoyed "THE LADY VANISHES", I cannot deny that I found it somewhat flawed. All right, I found it flawed . . . period. The movie's first twenty minutes at the Bandrika inn struck me as a little boring. Only Iris and Gilbert's first meeting kept me from falling asleep. And if I must be frank, I found that scene a little hard to accept. After getting kicked out of his room for disturbing Iris' sleep, Gilbert barged his way into her room and threatened to sleep there if she did not retract her complaint. Why was Iris' room unlocked? What woman (or man) would leave his hotel room unlocked in a strange country, far from home? Even in 1938?

My biggest problem with "THE LADY VANISHES" turned out to be the British xenophobia that marred the movie's last half hour. Now, a part of me realizes the movie may have been a propaganda piece against fascism. But in "THE LADY VANISHES", I believe that Hitchcock, Gilliat and Launder went too far. One, the English-born "nun" (read actress) whom Dr. Hartz hired to guard the unconscious Miss Foy became outraged when she learned that her prisoner was also English. Let me see if I understand this. "The Nun" had no problems helping Dr. Hartz maintain a prisoner, as long as the latter was not a fellow Briton? Really? Even more incredulous was the shoot-out scene in which all of the English passengers found themselves inside the dining car and engaged in a shoot-out with Hartz and his fellow countrymen, after the train is diverted to a side track. Why not allow passengers from nations such as France, Belgium, Holland or the Scandinavian countries participate in the shootout? Why was it so important to Hitchcock and the screenwriters to allow only Britons to duke it out with Hartz and his men? This scene was one of the most blatant forms of xenophobia I had ever come across.

But you know what? Despite the xenophobia and the movie's dull beginning, "THE LADY VANISHES" remains a big favorite of mine. It is still a first-rate political thriller that is infused with sharp humor and a very believable romance, thanks to Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave. I am not surprised that in the end, "THE LADY VANISHES" ended up serving as the catalyst for Alfred Hitchcock's Hollywood career.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"EL DORADO WEST" [PG] - Chapter Fourteen



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



Chapter Fourteen – A Fine Romance

May 29, 1849
Today proved to be an exceptionally pleasant day. More than pleasant, if I must be honest . . . but I will touch upon that matter, later. After several days of rain, our wagon train encountered bright sunshine and blue skies. The positive change in the weather seemed to have improved everyone’s mood and led to good behavior. For once, Benjamin was able to spend all day without complaining about any unladylike behavior I might display – well, most of the day. Even Clive Anderson and Marcus Cross managed to spend the entire day without exchanging one hostile word or glance. A miracle indeed.

I might as well confess. The weather, the scenery and the lack of conflict made the day pleasant for me. But what made this day more than pleasant were the hour or two spent in Mr. Wendell’s company. Mr. James wanted to spend some time with Benjamin – to reminisce about old Mr. Whitman, I suspect. Our intrepid guide lent me his horse, a handsome chestnut gelding named Spirit. Frankly, I welcomed the chance to ride Mr. James’ horse. The latter reminded me of the mare I had left behind in Cleveland. And sitting on a wagon buckboard for hours could be strenuous on my lower back.

No sooner than I found myself on Spirit, Mr. Wendell appeared by my side and asked me to ride with him, as he scouted the trail ahead. A deep suspicion appeared in my mind that both Mr. Wendell and Mr. James had arranged this. We soon found ourselves cantering several yards ahead of the train. I told him about the Flemings and my childhood, back in Cleveland. He told me about his childhood in a town called Frederick in Maryland. Mr. Wendell’s parents had been slaves before their emancipation just weeks before the outbreak of the second war against England. He was the youngest son and the fourth child in a family of five. After meeting Mr. James and Mr. Whitman, Mr. Wendell left his family at the age of sixteen to head West.

Mr. Wendell’s family background seemed very intriguing to me. But I remained curious about whether he had been the runaway slave being hunted back in Missouri. I meant to question him on the matter, but Mr. Wendell suggested that I follow him, as he rode further ahead of the wagon train. Although reluctant to follow him at first, a feeling washed over me that he could be trusted. So, we both rode further ahead, until the wagon train disappeared from our view.

The handsome scout led me to a small bluff just southwest of the wagon train, where we dismounted from out mounts. The bluff overlooked a sight that left me completely breathless. Not only was I able to spot our own wagon train rambling westward, I also saw several other trains that traveled ahead and behind us. The entire horizon seemed to team with canvas-topped wagons. I exclaimed that all of North America seemed to be traveling west.

“Maybe,” Mr. Wendell replied. “I’ve never seen this many wagons on the trail. Not in the twelve years I’ve spent out west.”

As we continued to eye the view below us, I spotted what seemed to be a wide stream or narrow river in the western horizon. Mr. Wendell informed me that was the Platte River. It did not strike me as an impressive body of water. Mr. Wendell added that the water tend to be brackish. “With all of these trains using the water, I reckon it must be a lot worse, now.”

Mr. Wendell remained rooted in the same spot for several minutes. Before I could control myself, I leaned back against his chest, finding the contact warm and very reassuring. I finally realized what I had done and quickly removed my head from his chest. Mr. Wendell gently grabbed hold of my shoulders and turned me around to face him. A languorous settled between us and I felt certain that he would kiss me. Instead, Mr. Wendell merely stared into my eyes before suggesting that we mount our horses. As we rode back to the wagon train, I felt a sense of disappointment that he did not kiss me.

Later that evening, Mr. Wendell informed everyone else that we should be reaching the Platte River within days. No one said a word about my early afternoon excursion with Mr. Wendell . . . except for Benjamin. My dear brother lectured me about being alone with a man, claiming that it was improper for a young woman like me to be alone with any man other than himself. Benjamin also ordered me never to leave the train alone with Mr. Wendell or any other male member of the train. I did not respond, for I promised myself that I would disobey him the first chance I got. At least as far as Mr. Wendell was concerned.


End of Chapter Fourteen

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Oysters Rockefeller



Here is some information about a well-known dish that originated in New Orleans, Louisiana called Oysters Rockefeller:


OYSTERS ROCKEFELLER

Oysters Rockefeller is a dish that consists of oysters topped with ingredients such as parseley, other green herbs, bread crumbs and a rich butter sauce, served on the half-shell. The dish was originated in 1899 by one Jules Alciatore, the son of the founder of the famous New Orleans restaurant, Antoine's.

The dish was named after the richest man in the United States at the time, John D. Rockefeller. Alciatore developed Oysters Rockefeller in the face of a shortage of French snails, substituting the locally available oysters for snails. Antoine's has been serving the original recipe dish since 1899. Although many New Orleans restaurants have claimed to be serving the original version of the dish, Antoine's has refuted their claims, stating that no other restaurant has successfully duplicated the original recipe. The restaurant also claimed that Alciatore' original recipe for the dish was passed down to his children, and has apparently never left the family's hand.

Here is a recipe (probably not the original) for Oyster's Rockefeller:


OYSTERS ROCKEFELLER

Ingredients:


1 pound butter
1 rib celery, finely chopped
2 bunches green onions, finely chopped, about 2 cups
1 bunch parsley, fine chopped
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon Pernod, Anisette, or Herbsaint
1 1/4 cups seasoned bread crumbs
4 dozen oysters in their shells
rock salt


Preparation:

Melt the butter in a large skillet and add the celery, scallions and parsley. Saute for 5 minutes, then add the Worcestershire and Tabasco. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes. Add the Herbsaint or Pernod and bread crumbs; cook for 5 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the mixture to a bowl.
Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour, until cold but not firmly set. Shuck oysters. Discard the top shells; scrub and dry the bottom shells. Drain the oysters. Arrange several oyster shells in baking pans lined with about 1 inch of rock salt. Arrange several pans in advance, if desired. Place 1 oyster in each shell. Heat oven to 375°. Remove the chilled Rockefeller topping from the refrigerator and beat it with an electric mixer to evenly distribute the butter and infuse air into the mixture; transfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip. Pipe a tablespoon of the mixture onto each oyster, then bake in a 375° oven for 5 to 8 minutes. Allow about 6 oysters for each guest. If possible, bake these in batches of 6 in oven-safe pans, so each person can be served a pan of hot Oysters Rockefeller right out of the oven.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

"BOARDWALK EMPIRE" Season Two (2011) Photo Gallery



Below are images from the HBO series called "BOARDWALK EMPIRE". Produced by Terence Winter, Mark Wahlberg and Martin Scorcese, the series stars Steve Buscemi:



"BOARDWALK EMPIRE" Season Two (2011) Photo Gallery