Saturday, March 31, 2012

Controversial Finale: "BOARDWALK EMPIRE" (2.12) "To the Lost"


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CONTROVERSIAL FINALE: "BOARDWALK EMPIRE" (2.12) "To the Lost"

The Season Two finale of "BOARDWALK EMPIRE", (2.12) "To the Lost" has been viewed as an end of an era for a good number of the series' viewers and television critics. It marked an event that left some fans satisfied and others in a state of anger and resentment. But one cannot deny that this event – along with a few others – allowed the series to enter a new phase for its third season.

One of the changes that materialized in "To the Lost" turned out to be the marriage between Atlantic City's re-installed political boss, Enoch "Nucky" Thompson and his Irish-born mistress, the widowed Margaret Schroeder. Although both harbored feelings for each other, their marriage obviously seemed like one of convenience. Margaret had received a summons from Federal prosecutor Esther Randolph as a possible witness against Nucky for her husband’s murder back in Season One. By "To the Lost", Margaret had embraced religion as a reaction to her daughter becoming a victim of the polio outbreak. When Nucky learned about her summons, he asked her to marry him in order to prevent her from testifying against him and to avoid serving time in prison. Margaret agreed. But she had also hoped to convince Nucky to do the same – before and after the charges against him were dropped. To her disappointment, Nucky revealed no interest in embracing religion. Worse, he had signed over a piece of valuable property to Margaret, when he feared that the Federal government might confiscate his possessions.

When Margaret learned about the murder of Alderman James Neary – an enemy of Nucky's – she immediately assumed he was behind the crime. As it turned out, she was wrong. Nucky's former protégée, Jimmy Darmody, committed the deed with friend Richard Harrow’s help, in an effort to win the political boss' forgiveness for his betrayal. However, Margaret went ahead and signed over Nucky’s land to the Catholic Church. The ironic aspect of Margaret’s reasoning behind her actions was that she harbored a secret of her own. In the season’s seventh episode, (2.07) "Peg of Old", she had sex with Owen Sleater, Nucky’s new bodyguard. This happened at a time when Nucky was facing an assassination attempt arranged by Jimmy. Margaret eventually found the nerve to confess her infidelity to the local priest and to God. Margaret seemed willing to judge Nucky for his lies – real and imagined. Yet, she failed to find the courage to confess her sin of infidelity to Nucky.

Albert "Chalky" White, the unofficial leader of Atlantic City’s African-American community, had to endure numerous difficulties during Season Two. The Ku Klux Klan attacked his bootleg operation in the season’s premiere episode, (2.01) "21", resulting in the deaths of several of his men. Chalky managed to kill one of the Klansmen during the attack. He ended up being charged with murder. Nucky's attorney managed to get him out of jail on bail, but Chalky still faced a trial. This ended when Jimmy managed to get the State Attorney’s office to drop the murder charges. Jimmy, along with Richard’s help, attacked a Klan gathering at gunpoint, shot two men and demanded the men who had attacked Chalky’s warehouse in "21". After delivering the men to Chalky and the latter’s new right-hand man, former jail cell nemesis Dunn Purnsley, Jimmy asked the former to contact Nucky on his behalf. This arrest would lead to the first of two meetings between Jimmy and Nucky and the former's controversial death that ended Season Two.

Like many other fans of "BOARDWALK EMPIRE", I had made the mistake of assuming that Nucky would eventually forgive Jimmy for his Season Two transgressions. After all, the Jimmy Darmody character was the second lead in the series. After watching "To the Lost", I realize that I had been living in a fantasy. So had Jimmy. The deaths of his wife Angela and father, the Commodore, in (2.11) "Under God's Power She Flourishes" had left him shaken to his core. I suspect this also led him to realize it would be in his best interest to seek forgiveness from Nucky. Jimmy engaged in a campaign to make up for his past transgressions – which included a murder attempt on Nucky. With Richard’s help, he nabbed the Klansmen who was responsible for the attack on Chalky’s bootlegging operation; set up both Alderman Jim Neary and Eli Thompson for election fraud, before faking Neary’s death as a suicide; and claimed that Eli was responsible for introducing the idea of a hit on Nucky. But all of this did not work. It was Richard who pointed out that no matter what Jimmy did, Nucky would never forgive him.

Now that I think about it, I found myself wondering why Jimmy never considered the possibility that Nucky was not the forgiving type . . . until it was too late. Surely he must have remembered Nucky's reaction when he and Al Capone had stolen Arnold Rothstein's whiskey shipment in the series' premiere, (1.01) "Boardwalk Empire". Nucky had been so angry that he fired Jimmy as his driver and demanded that the World War I veteran pay $3,000 as compensation for committing the robbery in his town and without his consent. Jimmy was forced to flee from Atlantic City to Chicago, when a witness to the heist reappeared. And even though Nucky asked Jimmy to return to help him deal with his war against Rothstein, he remained angry over the heist. Now if Nucky was unable to completely forgive Jimmy for the whiskey heist in Season One; his chances of forgiving the younger man for an attempted murder seemed pretty moot. And no one - including myself - seemed to realize this.

I am not condoning Nucky's murder of Jimmy. I believe that what he had done was wrong. But I must admit that I found some of the outraged reactions against the crime rather puzzling. Although some had expressed disappointment over Jimmy's sanction of the murder attempt on Nucky in "Peg of Old", the level of anger toward Jimmy seemed particularly mute in comparison to their anger toward Nucky for his actions in "To the Lost". This same television season also saw the death of lead actor Sean Bean in another HBO series, "GAME OF THRONE". Some had expressed surprise at the turn of events, but not anger.

Some fans might point out that it was Nucky's younger brother and Atlantic City's sheriff, the resentful Eli Thompson, who had initiated the idea of killing Nucky. Jimmy even told Nucky of Eli's participation in the hit. I suspect that Nucky suspected that Jimmy had told the truth. But he had considered two things. One, Eli was his brother. And two, it was Jimmy who gave the final decision to have Nucky killed. In the end, even Eli failed to completely escape Nucky's wrath. Although his life was spared, the political boss forced him to plead guilty to the corruption charges and face at least two years in prison (or less with parole). Something tells me that Eli's career as Sheriff of Atlantic County had ended permanently.

Jimmy had also been wrong to order the hit on Nucky. Yet, the level of anger toward his act was barely minimal. Were these fans upset that Nucky had succeeded, where Jimmy had failed? Or was their anger due to the loss of the younger and good-looking Michael Pitt, who had NOT been the series' lead? Because no one had expressed similar sentiments over the older Bean's departure from "GAME OF THRONES". Was this major outrage over Jimmy's death had more to do with superficial preference than moral outrage? It is beginning to seem so to me.

I had enjoyed Michael Pitt's portrayal of the troubled Jimmy Darmody, during his two-year stint on "BOARDWALK EMPIRE". But unlike many other fans, I cannot accept the views of some that the series had jumped the shark with his character's death. I refuse to claim that the series' quality will remain the same, or get better or worse. I can only make that judgment after Series Three has aired. But the very talented Steve Buscemi remains at the lead as Enoch "Lucky" Thompson. And creator Terence Winter continues to guide the series. Considering the number of changes that marked "To the Lost", I am curious to see how the story will continue.

Friday, March 30, 2012

"DOWNTON ABBEY" (2011) Series Two Photo Gallery



Below are images from Series Two of the ITV series, "DOWNTON ABBEY", created by Julian Fellowes:


"DOWNTON ABBEY" (2011) Series Two Photo Gallery












Thursday, March 29, 2012

"EL DORADO WEST" [PG] - Chapter Sixteen



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


Chapter Sixteen – Cholera Along the Platte River

June 5, 1849
Not long after we had left Fort Kearney, Mr. James had revealed that he and his fellow mountain men had a saying about the Platte River. "Too thick to drink, too thin to plow". Those were his words. And in the past week-and-a-half since our departure from the fort, I see what he meant.

The Platte River is the most pathetic looking body of water I have ever laid eyes upon. There are times when it looks more like a large stream, instead of a river. Although the Mississippi River looked rather ugly, it has a majestic look that makes the Platte pale in comparison. Come to think of it, the Platte also pales in comparison to the Missouri River. Worst of all, its water is brackish, making it impossible to drink. Mr. James and Mr. Wendell both advised the rest of us not to drink from the water. Instead, they have been finding campsites for the train along occasional water springs that provide fresh water. But on four occasions, the wagon train has been forced to camp along the Platte. And we have been forced to boil the water drawn from the river before drinking it. This is intolerable.


June 9, 1849
When Benjamin and I had left St. Louis, I felt certain that we had escaped the cholera that raged along the Mississippi River Valley. Apparently not. Thanks to the number of emigrants traveling westward this spring, the cholera epidemic has reached the Western plains. And it has finally struck our wagon train. The company woke up this morning to discover that Mr. John Cross has been struck down by the disease. At this moment, he lies inside the Cross wagon, barely hanging on to life. Fearful that the disease might spread throughout the train, Mr. James advised that we push on. And he ordered Marcus Cross to remain behind and nurse his cousin.

Mrs. Robbins had volunteered to remain behind and help Mr. Cross nurse his cousin, but Mr. James immediately rejected her services. He pointed out that we could not afford to allow the disease to spread to other emigrants. The Crosses would have to endure their travails alone.


June 11, 1849

We finally learned news about the Cross cousins. During our noon halt, one of the Mr. Palmers spotted a lone wagon traveling toward us. It belonged to the Crosses. Both Mr. James and Mr. Wendell rode out to meet the travelers. Or should I say . . . traveler? They came back with the news that Mr. John Cross had passed away from cholera, hours after we had left him and his cousin behind.

After burying his cousin along the trail, Mr. Marcus Cross rushed to catch up with the wagon train, the morning following his cousin’s death. It took him a day. And during those 24 hours, he managed to remain free from the taint of cholera. However, some members did not want him to rejoin the train. The Gibsons, the Goodwins, Mr. Anderson and even Benjamin demanded that Mr. Cross remain at a distance, until they could be certain that he would not spread the cholera to the rest of us. Fearing a mutiny, Mr. James had no choice to inform Mr. Cross of their ultimatum.

End of Chapter Sixteen

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"EVIL UNDER THE SUN" (2001) Review


Evil1


"EVIL UNDER THE SUN" (2001) Review

There have been four adaptations of Agatha Christie's 1941 novel, "Evil Under the Sun". One version was a radio play that broadcast in 1999. The Adventure Company released its own adaptation in 2007. John Bradbourne and Richard Goodwin released a movie version in 1982. However, the adaptation that has recently caught my attention is the 2001 television movie that aired on ITV's "AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT".

While dining at his friend Captain Arthur Hasting's new Argentine restaurant, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot suffers a sudden collapse. His doctor reveals that Poirot need to lose weight or risk a heart condition. Both the doctor and the detective's secretary, Miss Lemon, book Poirot at a health resort on the coast of Devon called Sandy Cove. Miss Lemon also insists that Captain Hastings accompany him.

At the Sandy Cove Resort, both Poirot and Hastings come across the usual assortment of guests. Among them was a well-known stage actress named Arlena Stuart Marshall. Many of the guests disliked Arlena, including her new husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall and her 17 year-old stepson, Lionel. Another guest, Mrs. Christina Redfern harbored jealousy over Arlena's indiscreet affair with hubby Patrick. Well-known dressmaker Rosamund Darnley, was an old flame of Captain Marshall's, and also harbored jealousy toward Arlena. A fanatical vicar named the Reverend Stephen Lane viewed Arlena as the embodiment of evil. An athletic spinster named Emily Brewster harbored resentment toward Arlena for bailing out on a play she had invested. The only guests who seemed to harbor no feelings regarding Arlena were a Major Barry and a Mr. Horace Blatt. But both seemed to be involved in some mysterious activities around the resort's island - including the location where Arlena had been waiting to meet for a clandestine lover. When Arlena's body is discovered strangled to death, Poirot and Hastings work with Scotland Yard inspector Japp to investigate the crime.

When I was younger, I had read Christie's novel on a few occasions. I tried to enjoy the novel. I really did. I understood that it was a favorite among Christie fans. But I never managed to rouse any enthusiasm for the story. There was something about it that struck me as rather flat. This 2001 television adaptation seemed to be an improvement over the novel. Perhaps a visual representation on the television screen made it easier for me to appreciate the story. I certainly cannot deny that Rob Hinds' production designs struck me as colorful and sleek - a perfect continuation of the Art Deco style that had dominated the "AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT" since the beginning. I was also impressed by Charlotte Holdich's sleek costume designs for the cast - especially the female characters. Overall, "EVIL UNDER THE SUN" proved to be eye-candy for those who usually enjoy television and movie productions with a 1930s setting.

The subplot involving Poirot's health certainly made it easier for me to understand why he would vacation at a not-so-interesting hotel resort. To be honest, I could not see someone like the flashy Arlena Marshall being a guest at such a low-key location. Screenwriter Anthony Horowitz made a wise choice in transforming Arlena's 16 year-old stepdaughter Linda Marshall, who studied magic; into a 17 year-old boy, studying poisons. Arlena had been strangled. And Scotland Yard made it clear that large hands had been responsible for the crime. The idea of a 16 year-old girl with man-size hands struck me as slightly improbable. After all, if Christie wanted Linda to be considered as a serious suspect, she should have changed the character's gender, which Horowitz did; or find another method to bump off Arlena Stuart.

The above mentioned changes in Christie's story - Poirot's health problems and the transformations of the Linda/Lionel Marshall character - seemed like improvements over the original story. However, other changes made it impossible for me to love this adaptation. I understand why the series' producers and Horowitz had decided to include Hastings, Japp and Lemon into the story. After all, the Eighth Series, which aired in 2000 and 2001, proved to be the last that featured these three characters. But none of them had appeared in the 1941 novel. Hastings' presence only gave Poirot a pretext for vacationing at Sandy Cove in the first place. Unfortunately, the running joke about Poirot's distaste toward the resort's health-conscious menu for its guests became tiresome within one-third of the movie. Other than the Argentine restaurant sequence, Horowitz failed to make Hastings' presence relevant to the story. And why on earth was Chief Inspector Japp investigating a murder in Devon? He was outside of Scotland Yard's jurisdiction, which was limited to Greater London and the home counties of Essex and Hertfordshire in the East of England; along with Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey and Kent in South East England. In other words . . . what in the hell was Japp doing there in Devon? Miss Lemon proved to be the only veteran recurring cast member that proved to be relevant to the story. She helped Poirot investigate another murder case with connections to Arlena Stuart's murderer.

The cast gave solid performances. But I could not recall any memorable performances among them. The four main cast members - David Suchet, Hugh Fraser, Philip Jackson and Pauline Moran - were competent as usual. I was also impressed by Michael Higgs (Patrick Redfern), Carolyn Pickles (Emily Brewster), Ian Thompson (Major Barry), Tamzin Malleson (Christine Redfern) and especially Russell Tovey (Lionel Marshall). But there were performances that failed to rock my boat. David Mallinson's portrayal of Kenneth Marshall struck me as . . . meh. He was not terrible, but simply not that interesting. Marsha Fitzalan's performance as Rosamund Darnley seemed a bit off. Her portrayal of the dressmaker struck me as gossipy and callow. She seemed like an early 20th century version of her old role, Caroline Bingley; instead of the warm and strong-willed Rosamund. Both Tim Meats and David Timson's performances seemed slightly hammy and rather off for such a low-key production. But the real worm in the apple proved to be Louise Delamere's portrayal of victim Arlena Marshall. I realize that Delamere was given a role that seemed the least interesting in Christie's novel. But Horowitz's script and Delamere's performance failed to improve upon it. Delamere ended up projecting a fourth-rate version of Diana Rigg's performance in the 1982 film.

Overall, "EVIL UNDER THE SUN" proved to be a mixed bag. Production wise, it looked sleek and colorful. The script provided a few improvements over Christie's novel. And there were some first-rate performances that included David Suchet. But in the end, I felt the movie was slightly undermined by other changes that I found unnecessary and some not-so impressive performances.

Monday, March 26, 2012

"WESTWARD HO!": Part Three - "CENTENNIAL" (1978-79)


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Below is Part Three to my article about Hollywood's depiction about the westward migration via wagon trains in 19th century United States. It focuses upon "", the third episode of the 1978-79 television miniseries, "CENTENNIAL":


"WESTWARD HO!": Part Three - "CENTENNIAL" (1978-79)

I. Introduction

Between the fall of 1978 and the winter of 1979, NBC aired an adaptation of James Michner's 1973 novel, "Centennial". The twelve-part miniseries spanned 180 years in the history of a fictional town in Northern Colorado called Centennial. Episode Three, titled "The Wagon and the Elephant", revealed the experiences of a Pennsylvania Mennonite from Lancaster named Levi Zendt and his bride, Elly, during their overland journey to the west.

In the early spring of 1845 (1844 in the novel), Levi found himself shunned by his conservative family after being falsely accused of attempted rape by a local Mennonite girl named . Apparently, Miss Stoltzfus did not want the community to know about her attempts to tease Levi. Only two other people knew the truth, two 17 year-olds at the local orphanage - Elly Zahm and Laura Lou Booker. Levi eventually befriends Elly. And when he decides to leave Lancaster, he asks Elly to accompany him to Oregon as his bride.

Since "CENTENNIAL" was about the history of a Northern Colorado town, one would easily assume that Levi and Elly never made it to Oregon. Instead, a few mishaps that included Elly nearly being raped by their wagon master named Sam Purchas and a bad wagon wheel, convinced the Zendts to turn around and return to Fort Laramie. There, they teamed with former mountain man Alexander McKeag and his family to head toward Northern Colorado and establish a trading post.

"The Wagon and the Elephant" is my favorite episode of "CENTENNIAL". One of the reasons I love it so much is well . . . I love the story. And aside from one of two quibbles, I believe the episode gave a very effective portrayal of life for an emigrant traveling by wagon train.


II. History vs. Hollywood

From a historical perspective, I believe producer John Wilder made only one major blooper in the production. The fault may have originated with writer James Michner's novel. Before leaving Lancaster, Levi Zendt purchased a large Conestoga wagon from a teamster named Amos Boemer. As I have stated in the Introduction, a Conestoga wagon was a heavy, large wagon used for hauling freight along the East Coast. It was considered too big for mules or oxen to be hauling across the continent. Which meant that the Zendts' Conestoga was too heavy for their journey to Oregon.

The wagon eventually proved to be troublesome for Levi and Elly. Yet, according to the episode's transcript and Michner's novel, the fault laid with a faulty left wheel, not the wagon's impact upon the animals hauling it. In St. Louis, both Army captain Maxwell Mercy and wagonmaster Sam Purchas had advised Levi to get rid of his teams of gray horses, claiming they would not survive the journey west. Levi refused to heed their warning and Purchase swapped the horses for oxen behind his back. This was a smart move by Purchas. Unfortunately, neither the wagonmaster or Captain Mercy bothered to suggest that Levi rid himself of the Conestoga wagon. Since the miniseries said nothing about the size of the Zendts' wagon, it did not comment on the amount of contents carried by the couple and other emigrants in the wagon party.

But I must congratulate both Michner and the episode's writer, Jerry Ziegman, for at least pointing out the disadvantages of using horses to pull a wagon across the continent. "The Wagon and the Elephant" also made it clear that the Zendts were traveling along the Oregon Trail, by allowing their wagon party to stop at Fort Laramie. The miniseries called it Fort John, which was another name for the establishment. Before it became a military outpost, the fort was known officially as "Fort John on the Laramie".

The miniseries' depiction of the emigrants' encounter with Native Americans was not exaggerated for the sake of Hollywood drama . . . thank goodness. The Zendts, Oliver Seccombe and other emigrants encountered a small band of Arapahos led by the mixed-blood sons of a French-Canadian trapper named Pasquinel. Levi, who was on guard at the time, became aware of Jacques and Michel Pasquinel's presence and immediately alerted his fellow emigrants. A great deal about this encounter reeked with realism. The emigrants were obviously well armed. The Pasquinels and the other Arapaho only consisted of a small band of riders. More importantly, no violence erupted between the two parties, despite Sam Purchas' obvious hostility. Due to Paul Krasny's direction, the entire encounter was tense, brief and polite. The miniseries also conveyed a realistic depiction of whites like Purchas to randomly murder an individual brave or two out of sheer spite or hatred.

Thanks to the episode, "The Wagon and the Elephant", "CENTENNIAL" provided a brief, yet realistic portrait of westward emigration in the mid 19th century. The miniseries was historically inaccurate in one regard - the Conestoga wagon that Levi and Elly Zendt used for their journey west. But in the end, this episode provided a injection of history, without allowing Hollywood exaggeration to get in the way.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

"HUGO" (2011) Photo Gallery



Below are images from Martin Scorcese's adaptation of Brian Selznick's 2007 novel, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret". The movie stars Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz and Ben Kingsley:


"HUGO" (2011) Photo Gallery





































Thursday, March 22, 2012

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





"LIES AND CONSEQUENCE"

PART IV

The rain continued to drench San Francisco, as the black Porsche made a left turn on Prescott Street. As Cole continued down the street, Phoebe broke the silence between them and startled him with a question. "Why are you driving?"

"What?" The half-daemon shot a quick glance at his ex-wife.

Phoebe repeated, "Why are you driving? Why don't you just shimmer or however you teleport these days?"

Cole cleared his throat in his usual manner. "First of all, I don't need to teleport. I have a car. And I'm not in a hurry. Second, I like driving my car as much as I possibly can."

"Oh."

Another bout of silence followed before Cole added, "Listen Phoebe, why don't you tell me what's really on your mind?"

A sigh left Phoebe's mouth before she continued, "What did you mean by . . . 'If you say so', when I told you that Jason was upset over what happened with Richard's spell?"

"Because I think you're just fooling yourself," Cole answered in a matter-of-fact tone.

"Excuse me?" Phoebe's voice rang with indignation.

Cole repeated, "You're fooling yourself, Phoebe. And you know it."

"What the hell do you . . .?"

Sharply, Cole interrupted. "C'mon Phoebe! You know damn well why Dean had really broken it off between the two of you. You had lied to him about being a witch. Or to put it another way, he's probably pissed that you had kept this a secret from him."

"Since when did you become a telepath?" Phoebe retorted bitterly.

"Actually, one of my powers is telepathic manipulation."

"Cole!"

The black Porsche came to a halt in front of a stop sign. Several people crossed the street. Cole realized that he had forgotten about Phoebe's tendency to deliberately blind herself from reality. Which was not surprising, since he had not seen her in nearly two months. "Phoebe, when you had first told me about the whole Mata Hari mess, you made it clear that you and Dean had broken up before Montana had cast his little spell." Once the intersection was cleared, Cole continued driving.

The Charmed One glared at him. "So?"

"You don't get it, do you?" The Halliwell manor loomed into sight. Cole guided the Porsche into an available parking space. "I suspect that Dean would have eventually tolerated you being a witch, if you had told him a lot earlier. After all, he loved you enough to stay with you for nearly a year. But during that same period, you had kept a secret from him. A big secret. What did you expect?"

Phoebe's face trembled with anger. "This is pretty rich coming from a guy who had lied to me during the first two months we were together!"

Cole rolled his eyes. "Yes Phoebe, I had kept my identity a secret from you. As I recall, we were both keeping secrets. I didn't lead on that I was a half-daemon, sent to kill you and your sisters. And you three were determined to keep your identities a secret from me. Come to think of it, the same happened when Piper and Leo first dated." Phoebe glared at him. "Leo told me," Cole continued. "Some time after Prue's death."

"Okay, so we both had lied!" Phoebe retorted. "But still . . ."

Switching off the car's engine, Cole turned to face his ex-wife. "But what? C'mon Phoebe! Paige had been nagging you to tell Dean the truth about yourself for months. In fact, she seemed to be the only member of your family who doesn't keep secrets from guys she is serious about. She had told both her old boyfriend and that guy, Nate that she was a witch. Whereas you, Piper and even Prue . . . well, your histories with the men in your lives in that regard haven't been all that great in the past few years."

Anger glimmered in Phoebe's dark eyes. "I don't think you even have the right to tell me . . ."

"Phoebe, this isn't about my past fuck-ups," Cole retorted. "This is about yours. Why don't you just admit that you had fucked up a pretty good thing with Dean? From what you've told me, it all went to hell even before idiot Montana had cast his spell. I hate to say this, but maybe you're just paying the consequences for your lies. Hell, I have."

From the corner of his eyes, Cole saw Phoebe's face become a mask. He could almost hear her teeth grinding. Then he glanced ahead and saw his brother-in-law's Mazda parked several yards ahead. "Hmmm, I didn't realize that Harry was here."

"I better get going," Phoebe suddenly announced. She opened the door. "Thanks for the ride."

A sigh left Cole's mouth. He knew that tone from long experience. Phoebe was pissed off. Not because she believed that he had committed some contemptible act. She was pissed because he had exposed a truth about her and her family that embarrassed her. Even worse, an ex-husband, whom she had once viewed as nothing more than an evil bastard, had exposed her. And Phoebe has always been a person who preferred to live with her illusions - if possible.

"Glad to help," Cole murmured. Phoebe climbed out of the car. "And Phoebe?" She paused, as the rain began to soak her hair and face. "I'm truly sorry about you and Dean. I mean it."

Something like a stiff smile barely cracked the Charmed One's lips. "Yeah. Thanks. I'll see you around." She slammed the door shut and marched toward the manor's front stoop.

Cole watched his ex-wife climbed the stoop. For the second time in his life - the first time occurred last summer - he pitied Phoebe. But what could he do? Only she could help herself. One day, she would have to realize that she was her own worst enemy. Hell, he had to learn that hard lesson, himself. In fact, he still might be learning.

The half-daemon heaved one last sigh, switched on the engine and drove away from the Halliwell manor.



THE END

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"HAYWIRE" (2012) Review




"HAYWIRE" (2012) Review

Director Steven Soderbergh has directed his share of film genres, which range from the caper flick to a complex drama about the drug trade. The director finally set his sights on the action genre in a movie called "HAYWIRE".

Starring mixed martial arts fighter, Gina Carano, "HAYWIRE" is about a free-lance black operations agent who seeks revenge against her boss, after he sets her up to be framed for the death of a journalist and murdered. The story begins with Mallory Kane arriving at an upstate New York diner. After encounter with a fellow colleague named Aaron, in which a fight ensued, Mallory forces another diner to drive her to safety. During the drive, she recounts what led to her being hunted down by her employer. A week ago, Mallory and Aaron were tapped by their employer to rescue a Chinese journalist named Jiang in Barcelona. Following the success of the mission, Mallory is recruited by Kenneth to pose as the wife of a British agent named Paul in Dublin. Mallory agrees and accompanies Paul to a party at Russborough House, where they meet with his contact, Studer. When she sees Paul and Studer meet from afar and stumbles across Jiang's dead body, Mallory realizes that she had been set up by Kenneth. She has a fight with Paul in their hotel room before she shoots him dead. After evading Kenneth's agents and the Dublin police, Mallory leaves Ireland and makes it to the United States, and the roadhouse diner in New York. Mallory manages to evade the American police and more of Kenneth's agents before making plans to seek revenge against him and his co-conspirators.

When I first saw the trailer for "HAYWIRE", I must admit that it caught my interest, especially since Steven Soderbergh was the movie's director. The positive reviews from film critics increased my anticipation to see the movie. But when I finally saw it in the theaters, my only reaction was SHEER DISAPPOINTMENT. I am sorry, but "HAYWIRE" proved to be a very disappointing movie for me. And for the likes of me, I cannot understand how it managed to earn so many rave reviews from critics.

I cannot deny that the movie had potential. Steven Soderbergh served as the film's director. "HAYWIRE" possessed a first-rate cast that included Ewan McGregor, Antonio Bandaras, Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton, Michael Fassbender, Mathieu Kassovitz (from 2005's "MUNICH"), Channing Tatum and Michael Angarano. And although the movie's lead, Gina Carano, is not an experienced actress; her experiences as a mixed martial arts fighter made her fight scenes look very realistic. Somewhat. So, what went wrong with this movie?

One, I had a big problem with Lem Dobbs' screenplay. I found it very unsatisfactory. Using flashbacks in the first half seemed unnecessary in a movie that allegedly possessed a pretty linear story. The reasoning behind Kenneth's conspiracy with Studer and his betrayal of Mallory seemed lacking in any substance or logic. What was the conspiracy? Kenneth discovered that Mallory planned to quit his firm. Fearing that her departure would mean a major loss of customers, he plotted with a Spanish middle-man named Rodrigo, who had a client - Studer - who wanted to stop the journalist Jiang from exposing his criminal activities. Their plan? Get Mallory and Aaron to snatch Jiang in Barcelona. Get Mallory to Ireland, where she gets framed for Jiang's death (he had been murdered by Paul) and killed by Paul. This plot seemed so fucking lame. Really. Why bother framing Mallory for Jiang's death? It was soooo unnecessary. What is even worse about this movie is that while the movie revealed Mallory's search for revenge against Kenneth and even Rodrigo, any attempt to go after Studer never materialized. I left the theater with one sentence ringing in my head - "Was that it?"

And I found the fight scenes seemed to lack even less logic - especially her fight with Paul in the Dublin hotel and Kenneth in Mexico. If Paul had been recruited to kill her, why do so in that ridiculous manner? As they were entering their hotel room, he was behind her. All the man had to do was shoot (with a muffler) or stab her in the back, as he was following her into the room. Instead, Paul behaved like a real amateur by striking from behind . . . and with his bare fist. 'Amateur Hour' continued with Mallory's fight with Kenneth. Like Paul, she was behind her prey - her former boss - on a Mexican beach. And like Paul, she attacked Kenneth from behind with bare fists. What ensued was the lamest fight scene I have ever seen on film. Poor Ewan McGregor. A man with his grace and physicality for on-screen fighting deserved better than this.

Oscar winner Michael Douglas portrayed a U.S. government agent in "HAYWIRE". But I never could understand the purpose of his role in the story. What was his purpose in this movie? Why was he needed? I could not tell whether he was part of Kenneth and Studer's plot or simply their patsy. And finally we come to Gina Carano. Look, I cannot deny that she is great as an on-screen fighter. Her experiences as a mixed martial arts fighter made this possible. But she is no actress. The odd thing is that her lack of acting experience is not a problem. There have been others with very little acting experience who have proven to be pretty good in front of the camera. She is simply not one of them.

What else can I say about "HAYWIRE"? If Lem Dobbs had written a better script and if Carano's fight sequences had been staged with a little more logic, it could have become a promising film. And while I admire Gina Carano's martial skills, the role of Mallory Kane should have gone to someone who could both act and convey solid on-screen fighting. I have not been this disappointed by Steven Soderbergh's work since 2004's "OCEAN'S TWELVE".

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Nine "The Crime" Commentary




"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Nine "The Crime" Commentary

The ninth episode of "CENTENNIAL" proved to be an improvement over the last installment. Picking up a few months after "The Storm", "The Crime" proved to be an intriguing episode that featured a blossoming romance, psychological warfare and two shocking events.

"The Crime" begins during the spring of 1888, which finds Oliver Seccombe at the end of his reign as manager of Venneford Ranch. Unable to face a future in disgraced and unemployed, Seccombe commits suicide to end his misery. His widow, Charlotte Seccombe returns to England to grieve. After a conversation with her dying uncle, the Earl of Venneford, she becomes the sole owner of the Colorado ranch. Upon her return to Centennial, Charlotte becomes attracted to ranch hand-turned-foreman, Jim Lloyd, and sets out to woo him in her subtle way.

Hans Brumbaugh's efforts to find permanent farm hands continue to frustrate him. Using John Skimmerhorn as an intermediary, he contacts Ignacio "Nacho" Gomez to recruit future farm hands from Mexico. "Nacho" tries to recruit his nephew,Tranquilino Marquez, into immigrating to the United States and Colorado. But the cynical younger man does not seem interested in leaving Mexico. Brumbaugh, Jim and Amos Calendar are still threatened by gunfighters, hired by the remnants of the Petis gang, who want revenge for the deaths of Frank and Orvid Pettis in Episode Seven. Sheriff Axel Dumire was forced to arrest a hired gun in a tense moment at Centennial's train station.

Speaking of Sheriff Dumire, he continues to harbor suspicions that the Wendell family are more than just actors and entertainers. He believes they are swindlers, who acquired a home by using the Badger Game on the town's local pastor, Reverend Holly. Dumire's suspicions create a surprising consequence - namely a burgeoning friendship with the Wendells' only son, Philip. Although the young boy encourages the friendship to keep an eye on Dumire and vice versa, the two develop a liking for one another. Their friendship is tested when Maude and Mervin Wendell try to use the Badger Game on a Mr. Sorenson, a visiting businessman interested in purchasing land near Centennial. When the scam backfires, Sorenson attacks Mervin and Maude accidentally kills him with a blow to the head. Philip comes to his parents' aid by hiding the man's body in a nearby creek, Mervin discovers a great deal of money inside Sorenson's satchel and Dumire begins to investigate the man's disappearance.

"The Crime" proved to be one of the better episodes from the miniseries' second half, thanks to Charles Larson's screenplay and Virgil Vogel's direction. It proved to be a well-balanced mixture of character study, psychological warfare and romance. The consequences from "The Shepherd" continue to cast a shadow on the lives of Hans Brumbaugh, Jim Lloyd and Amos Calendar. Oliver Seccombe's suicide proved to be a sad and poignant affair, thanks to Timothy Dalton and Lynn Redgrave's performances. The surprising consequence to Seccombe's death proved to be a burgeoning romance between two unlikely people - Charlotte and ranch hand, Jim Lloyd. On paper, the idea of a romance between a British aristocrat and a cowboy from Texas seemed so unlikely . . . and even a little clumsy. Yet, it worked thanks to Larson's writing and subtle performances from Redgrave and William Atherton. Brumbaugh's search for permanent ranch hands served to introduce a new character to the saga, future immigrant from Mexico, Tranquilino Marquez - a story that will continue with more detail in the following episodes.

But the episode's pièce de résistance proved to be the cat-and-mouse game between Sheriff Axel Dumire and the Wendell family. The story line about the two antagonists began in "The Storm", when Dumire tried to run the theatrical family out of Centennial. Their scam on Reverend Holly kept them in town. Two events threatened the Wendells' increasingly popularity with the citizens of Centennial. One, young Philip and Dumire have developed a surprising friendship, despite their wariness of each other. And two, the Wendells' use the Badger Game on the businessman, Mr. Sorenson not only backfired, but led to manslaughter, when Maude bashed him on the head. Eventually, the sheriff became aware of Mr. Sorenson's disappearance and what followed was a delicious game of cat-and-mouse and some tense psychological warfare between Dumire and Philip. I really enjoyed it, thanks to some superb performances by Brian Keith, Doug McKeon, Lois Nettleton and Anthony Zerbe.

Although I had enjoyed "The Crime" in the past, I never really considered it as one of my favorite episodes from the miniseries. I have now changed my mind. Now that I am older, I feel as if I have developed a greater appreciation of the episode. And I also believe that it just might be one of the better ones of the miniseries.

Monday, March 19, 2012

"SHANGHAI EXPRESS" (1932) Photo Gallery



Below are images from Josef von Sternberg's 1932 movie, "SHANGHAI EXPRESS". The movie starred Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook and Anna May Wong:


"SHANGHAI EXPRESS" (1932) Photo Gallery