“INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULLS” (2008) Review

 

“INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” (2008) Review

As much as I enjoyed this latest installment of the INDIANA JONES saga – ”Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” – I had found myself perplexed by it. There was something about the movie’s tone that failed to strike a chord similar to the past three movies. It took a second viewing of the movie for me to understand that it had a lot to do with its setting. 

”INDIANA JONES and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is set in 1957, in which Colonel-Doctor Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) leads a convoy of Soviet troops, dressed as American soldiers on a mission to infiltrate a military base in the Nevada desert called “Hangar 51”. Spalko and her men force Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) to lead them to a crate holding the remains of an extraterrestrial creature that crashed ten years before in Roswell, New Mexico. When Jones attempts to escape, he is foiled by his old partner, George “Mac” McHale (Ray Winstone), who reveals that he is working with the Soviets. Jones then escapes on a rocket sled into the desert, where he stumbles upon a nuclear test town and survives a nuclear blast by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator. While being debriefed, Jones discovers he is under FBI investigation because his friend Mac is a Soviet agent. Jones returns to Marshall College, where he is offered a leave of absence to avoid being fired because of the investigation. As he is leaving, Jones is stopped by Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) and told that his old colleague, Harold Oxley (John Hurt), disappeared after discovering a crystal skull in Peru.

Like ”LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD” of last year, I had harbored some serious doubts on whether George Lucas and Steven Spielberg could relive the old magic of their previous three Indiana Jones adventures of the 1980s. Needless to say, my fears proved to be groundless. Like the Bruce Willis “DIE HARD” movie, this fourth installment ended up being very entertaining. And although it had some of the old magic of ”RAIDERS””TEMPLE OF DOOM” and ”LAST CRUSADE”, it had a tone that made it different from the other three. It took a movie review by someone named Lazypadawan and a second viewing of the movie to not only notice the difference, but to eventually appreciate it.

The main problem I originally had with ”CRYSTAL SKULL” was the presence of a spaceship at the end of the story. The City of Gold that Indy, Spalko, Oxley and others wanted to find, ended up with something to do with . . . an inter-dimensional beings. One might as well call them aliens, judging by their look. This is something that has never been seen in an Indiana Jones film before. And of course it has not. The other three movies had been set in the 1930s. It would be only natural that they had a feel of a 30s B-serial adventure. But I made the mistake of expecting a 1930s serial adventure in a story set in the late 1950s. What I should have realized – and what Lazypadawan had pointed out in her review – was that ”KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” was not supposed to be a 30s serial adventure set in the 1950s. It was supposed to be a send up of the 1950s “B” movies. And what are the elements of a “B” movie from the 1950s? Here are just a few:

*atomic power
*the presence of Soviet troops or spies
*science fiction
*horror
*hybrid of science fiction and horror
*conflicts between biker hoods and high school/college jocks
*the “Red” scare
*Soviet (and American) interests in psychic paranormal activities and UFOs

”KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” had most, if not all elements in the film. I had just read a review in which someone had complained that the movie seemed like a “rip-off” of a cheesy B-movie. I had made that same mistake when I saw the spaceship sequence near the end of the movie. But now I know better. Lucas and Spielberg had every intention of the movie being a “rip-off” of 1950s B-movies. Like I had said before, it would only make sense.

Someone else had mentioned that Harrison Ford had not seemed this animated in years. I am not surprised. Indiana Jones had always been amongst his favorite characters. And it really showed in his performance. It is also nice to see that after 27 years, his chemistry with Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood) seemed as strong as ever. By the way, she was great. And I was very impressed by Shia LaBeouf as Marion and Indy’s love child – Mutt Williams aka Henry Jones III. As much as I liked his performance in ”TRANSFORMERS”, I have always thought it seemed a bit too frantic for my tastes. I much preferred his role as Henry III (I’m sorry, but I can barely bring myself to say – let alone write – “Mutt”). LaBeouf managed to convey a strong screen presence that matched Ford, without resorting to the frantic acting he had utilized in “TRANSFORMERS”.

Like Ford, I could tell that Cate Blanchett really enjoyed her role as the villainous Soviet Colonel-Doctor Spalko. She was as obsessive and ruthless as the past Indy villains. But Blanchett’s performance had a verve and theatricality I have not seen since Amrish Puri’s portrayal of Mola Ram in ”THE TEMPLE OF DOOM”. And John Hurt filled Denholm Elliot’s role as friend/mentor of the Jones family quite beautifully. But unlike Marcus Brody, Harold Oxley had a good reason for his loopy behavior. I also enjoyed Ray Winstone’s performance as Indy’s treacherous old friend and colleague, McHale. In a way, he reminded me of the Elsa Schneider character in “LAST CRUSADE”. But as much as I like Alison Doody, I must say that Winstone’s take on a very morally ambiguous character had been handled with more skill.

Is there anything about ”KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” that I disliked? Well, I was not impressed by John Williams’ score. There was nothing original or memorable about it, aside from moments of the old Indy theme being rehashed. Rather disappointing. Nor was I fond of the movie’s heavy-handed style of action and special effects. However, I could honestly complain about the same about the other three films. But the one thing that really irritated me was the sequence featuring the villain’s defeat/destruction. In the end, it was not Indy who had defeated the villain or set her destruction in motion. It was the inter-dimensional being. In other words, Indy became nothing more than a passive bystander of the villain’s defeat. This is the one major fault I have noticed in two other Indiana Jones films. And it gave those films – at least in my eyes – an anticlimatic feeling that I found disappointing. In ”RAIDERS”, the opening of the Ark of the Covenant set in motion Belloq and the Nazis’ deaths. Both Indy and Marion were tied to a pole, unable to do anything except keep their eyes closed. In ”THE LAST CRUSADE”, Elsa Schneider turned out to be responsible for the main villain’s death and the destruction of his men through her handling of the Grail Cup. Perhaps Lucas and Spielberg were trying to convey some message about humans being too arrogant to take heed of things/beings that are more powerful or more evolved than mankind. But that same message had also been conveyed in ”TEMPLE OF DOOM”. Only in that particular movie, Indy’s action – namely invoking the power of Shiva with the Sanakara stone – did lead to the villain Mola Ram’s destruction. Perhaps this is why I have always found the 1984 movie’s finale a lot more impressive than those of the other three movies.

But despite my initial confusion on what Lucas and Spielberg were doing with the movie’s 1950s theme, along with my disappointment of the score and the handling of the villain’s defeat, I found ”KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” to be very enjoyable. It was great to see Indiana Jones back in action, again. And even more satisfying was his marriage to his lady love, Marion Ravenwood, in the end. After 30 odd years, those two finally got it right.

“The Love Triangle From Hell”

”THE LOVE TRIANGLE FROM HELL”

Now that the James “Sawyer” Ford/Juliet Burke romance has ended with a blast in “The Incident”, fans of “LOST” are once again speculating on whom Kate Austen will choose for her permanent mate by the end of the series – James or Dr. Jack Shephard. Honestly? I no longer care. And right now, I am beginning to wonder if I ever did. 

As much as I disliked Kate, I used to believe that she was better off with Sawyer. He seemed more like an equal partner than someone who would look down upon her . . . like Dr. Shephard. Then I remembered. Jack have a bad habit of treating Kate as a wayward child. How many times have viewers seen him vent his anger or frustrations upon her, treating her as someone beneath him? Then again, Jack also had a bad habit of being a pushover for Kate’s schemes and lies. After all, she did managed to manipulate him into opening the U.S. Marshal’s case in ”Whatever the Case May Be”, despite his anger at her lies. Even worse, he allowed himself to be manipulated into supporting her lie that she was Aaron Littleton’s mother.

I had figured that at least Sawyer would never have been stupid enough to be manipulated by an obvious liar like Kate. Looking back on their relationship, I realized I was wrong. Yes, Sawyer would have allowed himself to be manipulated by Kate. And he would have done so with his eyes wide open. Why? Because like Jack, he was stupid enough to do anything for her. He pretty much made that clear in ”The Hunting Party” and in one of the late Season 3 episodes, when they were sleeping together. Even Sawyer has used Kate . . . in his scheme to assume control of the castaways’ guns in ”The Long Con”. He used her to plant a suspicion about Ana-Lucia Cortez in order to distract everyone from his own scheme. But that was a rare occasion. Before Season 5, Sawyer allowed to use him. Especially for sex. What was even more pathetic about their Season 3 affair was that Kate was using him as rebound over her jealousy toward Jack’s new friendship with Juliet. Sawyer knew it and made the choice to be her bed warmer anyway. Moron.

Most Sawyer/Kate fans would see nothing wrong with this, arguing that Sawyer was a grown man who had made his own choice. Well, the Jack/Kate fans can say the same about Jack’s choices. After all, he did commit perjury at Kate’s trial to support her lies about her relationship with Aaron and to continue his own lies about her activities on the island, following their return to the States. And Jack finally did cave in to Kate’s ultimatum after their return to the States that he would be allowed to share her bed – only if he agreed to act as Aaron’s father. Thinking below his belt, Jack caved in to Kate’s demands, until his guilt over their lies led to a fight between them and his abandonment of Kate and Aaron. But it did not take him very long to help her keep custody of Aaron . . . even when the three year-old’s grandmother was in Los Angeles for business regarding her daughter’s death and Oceanic Airlines.

This also brings me to Juliet Burke. Jack had used her back in Season 3 and most of Season 4 to hide his own discovery of Kate and Sawyer’s sexual encounter in the Others’ cages. I think that Jack liked her a lot, but he was never in love with her. Yet, that did not stop him from using her. And I suspect that Sawyer did the same in Season 5. When I noticed Sawyer and Juliet’s interactions between each other in the first eight episodes of that season, I thought they made a first-rate pair and was happy to see their romance confirmed in ”La Fleur”. But recalling Sawyer’s reaction to seeing Kate again after three years at the end of that particular episode and the silent exchange that Juliet had witnessed in ”The Incident”, I now suspect that Sawyer may have used her as rebound for being apart from Kate during those three years. After all, it was Sawyer who had convinced Juliet to remain on the island, claiming that he needed her company. Perhaps he did. But if he really did love Kate more, I have nothing but contempt toward him for using Juliet . . . just as much as I have contempt toward Jack for doing the same thing. And I think I would have been happier if Jack, Sawyer and Kate had ended up in that pit before everything had blown to sky high, instead of Juliet.

Most fans would have pointed out that the Terrible Trio should not deserve Juliet’s fiery death. After all, Jacob had interacted with Jack, Kate and Sawyer before the fateful crash of Oceanic Airline’s Flight 815 in September 2004. But you know what? That would not have been a substantial argument for me. Considering Jacob’s view of humanity, I consider him to be a fucking moron. And the fact that he had ”touched” Jack, Sawyer and Kate did not impress me one bit. I still believe that their asses should have been blown to hell. Instead, Cuse and Lindehof will continue one of the most badly written love triangles in television history into the last season of ”LOST”. But I can no longer tolerate watching two men whom I hardly have any respect for, fight over a worthless bitch like Kate. No wonder I can barely muster any further interest in this series.

“MOONRAKER” (1979) Review

 

“MOONRAKER” (1979) Review

Well, I just watched “MOONRAKER”. Today, it is considered to be one of the worst Bond movies of all times. It has been accused by fans and critics alike of taking the Bond franchise into a realm of tasteless excess and fantasy. I will not deny there are aspects of “MOONRAKER” that turned me off – including Bond’s final confrontation with the villain aboard the latter’s space station. But after watching it . . . I cannot honestly list “MOONRAKER” as one of my least favorite Bond films, let alone as one of the worst. Trust me, I have seen a lot worst.

Despite some similarities, the movie did not heavily adapt the 1955 novel. The movie kept the same villain – Hugo Drax. And it did involve rockets and space travel. Also, the villain’s intent did involve the destruction of a place – in the novel, the villain wanted to destroy London and in the movie, the human race on Earth. But . . . there were differences. Instead of a British policewoman named Gala Brand, the movie features an American CIA agent/NASA-trained astronaut named Dr. Holly Goodhead.

There were several aspects of “MOONRAKER” that made me want to wince. Now, I did not mind the boat/gondola chase in the Venetian canals, but watching Bond’s gondola turned into a land vehicle . . . yeah, it made me want to wince. Along with a few of Roger Moore’s lines. The fact that Jaws’ villainy (last seen in “THE SPY WHO LOVED ME”) came across as less menacing and more comic in this movie did not help. The double-take pigeon? I had barely noticed it. But the final battle between American astronauts and Drax’s men turned me off considerably. I felt as if I was watching a second-rate version of “STAR WARS” – blasters and all.

But “MOONRAKER” had its virtues. The movie’s production quality seemed to be among the best in the franchise, thanks to director Lewis Gilbert, and cinematographer, Jean Tournier. The movie took the audience from California to Venice, Brazil and finally outer space. Aside from the latter, the film’s photograph captured these setting beautifully. I especially enjoyed John Barry’s score, along with the movie’s theme song written by both Barry and lyricist Hal David, and sung by Shirley Bassey. Aside from a few cliché lines, I found nothing wrong with Roger Moore’s performance. He seemed to be at the top of his game. I was especially impressed by his take on Bond’s reaction to being nearly killed by Drax’s Astronaut Training Centrifuge. Michel Londsdale seemed smooth and villainous as the space-obsessed billionaire Hugo Drax. However, I was a little put off by having to deal with another megalomaniac out to destroy the world in order to rule the survivors. I find such storylines rather tiresome. But the rest of the cast seemed adequate.

I do have a few complaints about four cast members. Lois Chiles was in her early 30s and already a veteran of a few movies (“THE GREAT GATSBY” and “DEATH ON THE NILE” included) by the time she did “MOONRAKER”. As Dr. Holly Goodhead, she managed to physically project the image of a memorable Bond leading lady that happens to be a competent CIA agent and astronaut. But despite her experience, she did come off as slightly wooden. Actually, I could say the same for Corinne Clery as the doomed Corinne and Emily Bolton as the Brazilian agent, Manuela. “MOONRAKER” seemed to be filled with beautiful leading ladies with limited acting skills. I also had a problem with Richard Kiel. As I had stated before, he seemed less menacing and more comic than he did in “THE SPY WHO LOVED ME”. However, I was impressed by Kiel’s acting in one particular scene – when Bond convinces Jaws that Drax plans to exterminate him for his imperfections. Kiel had wonderfully captured Jaws’ confusion and growing realization that he might be betrayed and killed by his employer.

I had started watching “MOONRAKER” with the belief that I was about to experience one of the worst Bond movies in the franchise’s history. As it turned out, I was wrong. I think that Roger Moore had put it best when he said that “MOONRAKER” was not a bad movie . . . until it shifted to outer space and became a second-rate “STAR WARS”, which only occurred during the movie’s last half hour. This unfortunate shift of setting seemed to have influenced many of the franchise’s fans about the movie. Many seemed so focused upon the movie’s last half hour and other flaws that they seemed to have forgotten its virtues.

“TAKEN” (2009) Review

”TAKEN” (2009) Review

Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen wrote this tight thriller about a retired CIA agent who tracks down his daughter after she was kidnapped by Albanian criminals engaged in the sex slave traffic, while traveling in Europe. Directed by Pierre Morel, the movie stars Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen and Olivier Rabourdin.

Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, a divorced, former paramilitary officer from the CIA’s famed Special Activities Division. His 17-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) lives with his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and her new wealthy husband Stuart (Xander Berkeley). After Kim accompanies her close friend, Amanda (Katie Cassidy) to Europe, they are kidnapped by sex trade traffickers from the apartment they share in Paris. Since Mills was talking to Kim at the time the kidnapping took place, he is able to get some information on who may have snatched her and Amanda before heading to Paris to track them down.

I am going to put my cards on the table. I enjoyed ”TAKEN” . . . a lot. It was a fast paced thriller filled with the usual stuff one can find in a top-notch action film – exciting car chases, tension, well choreographed fight scenes and sharp acting. I would not view it as an exceptional film. If I have to be honest, there is nothing new in this film that I have not seen in previous action thrillers. It also had its share of clichés that usually pop up in other action films. But I still enjoyed it. If there is one thing I must commend upon the movie is the level of global involvement in the sex slave traffic. Morel and screenwriters Besson and Kamen not only involved Kim’s Albanian kidnappers into the trade, but also French government officials and customers from all over the globe.

The cast did a pretty good job. But I was particularly impressed by four actors in particular. Olivier Rabourdin was surprisingly interesting as Jean-Claude – an old friend of Mills’ who also happens to be a former operative and now deputy director of the French intelligence agency. At first, I had assumed that Rabourdin would act as an ally who would help Mills in his search for his daughter. But thanks to Rabourdin’s performance, his role turned out to be surprisingly more ambiguous. I was also impressed by Famke Janssen’s performance as Mills’ ex-wife, Leonore. This was a different Janssen, who portrayed an uptight woman still harboring some residual of bitterness toward Mills and the way their marriage had ended. And I have to give kudos to Maggie Grace for effectively portraying a character that was at least seven to eight years her junior. Although I am certain that many actresses in their mid-twenties have portrayed a teenager, I have rarely come across many that were as convincing as Grace. She was excellent.

Liam Neeson must have been at least fifty-five years old when he filmed ”TAKEN”. Mind you, there have been other actors around his age or older who have managed to convincingly portray action characters. But his performance as Bryan Mills could give Jason Bourne or James Bond some stiff competition. Granted, his interactions with the various thugs and bodyguards almost made him seem unnaturally superhuman. But if one might as well accuse Matt Damon’s Bourne or Daniel Craig’s Bond of the same thing. Thankfully, Neeson’s Mills was more than just an above-average action hero. The Irish-born actor also infused his character with all of the emotional angst, paranoia and anger any father would face at the prospect of one’s child being snatched by strangers and placed into danger.

I do have one major complaint about ”TAKEN” – namely the photography and editing featured in the movie. Like ”THE BOURNE SUPREMACY”, ”THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” and ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” before it, ”TAKEN” is filled with that ”shaky camera” technique that I loathe so much. I realize that this technique was used to give a film an ad-hoc, news, or documentary feel. Frankly, I have never seen the need for to give action movies such as ”TAKEN” this type of style for action films, with the exception of movies based upon real life dramas or war movies. Thanks to director Morel, cinematographer Michel Abramowicz, and editor Frédéric Thoraval; the shaky camera technique only made me feel dizzy and frustrated. I am thankful that the fight scenes – especially in the film’s last twenty minutes – did not seem affected by this technique. However . . . Paul Greengrass, who directed the last two ”BOURNE” films, has a lot to answer for making this filming technique popular for action films.

In a nutshell, ”TAKEN” is not exactly what I would call an original film. It utilized many of the typical clichés used in action films. And the subject – the sex slave traffic – has been told with greater detail in such productions like 2005’s ”HUMAN TRAFFICKING”. And the shaky camera technique used by Morel, Abramowicz and Thoraval made it difficult for me to enjoy some of the actions scenes, especially those featuring car chases. But thanks to a first-rate cast led by Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace, solid direction by Morel and a straightforward script written by Besson and Kamen, ”TAKEN” is a tense, yet entertaining film that I found very satisfying. I enjoyed it so much that I might be inclined to go see it again.

“Neighbors” [PG] – 9/11

“NEIGHBORS”

Part 9

From inside the warlocks’ trap, Phoebe felt a familiar portent of impending doom. And her feeling had nothing to do with a premonition of any kind. But it felt hard to dismiss such feelings while a group of warlocks carrying athames watched and waited with evil intent on their faces.

Phoebe sighed. How she wished that she, Piper and Paige had heeded Olivia McNeill’s advice to stay away. It seemed ironic that within a period of six months, the Charmed Ones would find themselves in a trap similar to the one that the Seer had imprisoned them within. Only this time, they would not be able to deflect the warlocks’ attack. Especially since the latter planned to use a good old-fashioned stab fest to kill the sisters . . . after draining their power with this trap.

The dark-haired leader of the warlock coven raised his hand for some kind of action. Before he could do anything, a figure in black materialized beside him. Phoebe’s heart literally jumped with relief. It was Cole.

“What the . . .?” Crozat stared at Cole in shock. “Who the hell are you?”

Cole’s mouth stretched into a smirk. “What’s the matter, Crozat? Forgotten me, already?”

The warlock’s eyes grew wide. “Belthazor? But I thought you were dead!”

“Well, Belthazor is,” Cole coolly replied. “Have been for at least a year. I was even the Source for a while. Until I was killed.” He seared the Charmed Ones with a death glare. Phoebe shivered.

Crozat declared, “The Source? You were the Source? I had heard about a new Source, last spring. But he was vanquished by the Charmed Ones.”

“That’s right.” Cole continued to glare at the Halliwells. “But I survived. Ironically, thanks to my human side.” His eyes veered back to Crozat. “And I’m here to take back what’s mine.”

Crozat sneered. “Take back what? Your loving bride?”

Blue eyes that had once looked at Phoebe with love and passion, now regarded the warlock with icy rage. Crozat immediately assumed a more humble expression. “The only thing I want back is the Source’s power. And the only way I can achieve that is through their whitelighter.”

One of the warlocks cried out, “What a load of crap! He’s lying! How can a whitelighter help him become the Source? I say we kill him now! He’s just one daemon.” Before Phoebe could blink, Cole destroyed the dissenter with one quick fireball.

“Anyone else want to doubt my word?” Cole challenged. The warlocks remained silent.

Inside the trap, Paige whispered in a sarcastic tone, “I guess not. I see that Belthazor or maybe the Source is back. At least in spirit.”

“Paige!” Piper hissed. The younger woman remained silent.

Phoebe, however, remained silent, as she continued to listen in on the conversation outside the trap. A frowning Crozat added, “Gregor was right. How can a whitelighter help you become the Source again?”

Cole nonchantlantly replied, “Easy. The Charmed Ones’ whitelighter was the one who had hid the Grimoire. And whoever possesses it, can become the Source. I intend to get my hands on that Grimoire.”

“Leo destroyed the Grimoire, right?” a worried Paige asked.

Piper sighed. “Of course he did! He tossed it into a volcano.”

“But that doesn’t mean it was destroyed.”

Irritated by their chatter, Phoebe snapped at her sisters. “Hey you two! Can you please keep it down?”

“Why bother?” Paige retorted. “It’s plain that Cole wants to become the Source, again. At least he can’t use possession as an excuse, this time. I wonder how he plans to use Leo.”

Phoebe shot back, “Well, if you just keep quiet for one moment, we’ll find out!” Everyone fell silent and continued to listen to the conversation outside the trap.

“What makes you think the whitelighter will tell you where to find it?” Crozat asked. Phoebe assumed he was referring to the Grimoire.

Cole replied, “You’ve got the Charmed Ones. You can kill them and steal their powers. But not until I lure their whitelighter here and get him to retrieve the Grimoire for me. He’ll do anything to keep them alive. Especially his wife . . . who’s carrying his child.” Cole glanced at Piper. “He’s broken the rules for her, before.”

“Oh no!” Piper murmured to her sisters. “He’s not serious, is he?”

Before Phoebe could reply, she caught sight of a flash of red in front of the one of the warehouse’s windows. Red hair. Seconds later, her eyes adjusted to the sight of Olivia McNeill climbing through that window. The police inspector was followed by another redhead. Her brother, Harry McNeill. “Piper, Paige!” Phoebe hissed. “Look over there. Near the second window from the right. It’s Olivia and Harry McNeill.”

Piper frowned. “What are they doing here?”

“Isn’t it obvious? They’re here to help us. And Cole. He must be distracting the warlocks.”

A doubtful Paige added, “Are you sure? Maybe the good inspector found out about Cole.”

“Paige!” To Phoebe’s relief, the hard tone in her voice convinced Paige to keep quiet. The three sisters watched in silence, as the two McNeill siblings cautiously positioned themselves for an attack. Cole, however, continued his conversation with the warlock leader.

“. . . all a good story, Belthazor,” Crozat was saying. “But you haven’t told us how you plan to lure their whitelighter here.”

Casually, Cole turned his back on Crozat and glanced around. Then he gave the warlock a chilling smile. A smile that Phoebe found disturbing. “Simple,” he said. Then with a flick of his wrist, he vanquished another warlock.

The next thing Phoebe knew, all hell had broken loose. At least for the warlocks. While Cole continued to incinerate more warlocks, Olivia McNeill sent others flying across the room and into large crates and the walls. Others she knocked unconscious using martial arts skills that Phoebe could only envy. One warlock flung an athame toward her direction. Fortunately, she used her telekinesis to counter the attack and bury it into the warlock’s chest.

Harry McNeill, like his sister, used martial arts on the warlocks. And he used something else that Phoebe could not see. She saw him stare at a pair of warlocks. Who eventually stabbed themselves with their athames. And the realization finally hit Phoebe. “Of course! He’s a telepath!” she murmured. Subliminal suggestions.

Paige asked, “What did you say?”

“Harry McNeill. Didn’t you see him? He used his telepathic abilities to force those warlocks to kill themselves.”

Piper said, “Never mind that. I think this trap is weakening. See?” She pointed at the force shield and a hole immediately formed, thanks to her combustion power.

“Try it again,” Paige suggested. Which Piper did. A second hole appeared. “Maybe if you keep using your power, the trap will finally break.”

Piper retorted, “Are you kidding? I’m only punching holes in this thing!”

Phoebe added, “Maybe the only way for Piper to break free is for more warlocks to disappear. Remember, they’re using the combination of their powers to keep this trap intact.” She glanced at their saviors. To her relief, the McNeills and Cole were still alive. And kicking ass.

To Phoebe’s right, Harry dispatched more warlocks using his telepathy. One warlock managed to jump him from behind. Fortunately, Harry viciously elbowed the latter in the gut, before knocking him down with a well-placed blow to the face. Before the warlock could recover, Harry tossed a small vial at him, and the warlock disintegrated in a ball of flames.

A small group of warlocks suddenly formed a circle around Cole and Olivia, causing the latter to gasp. Cole disappeared out of sight. A second later, he reappeared behind one warlock and quickly snapped the latter’s neck. Then he reappeared behind another warlock. One quick twist and -snap- that warlock was dead.

A blond-haired female warlock in a security guard’s uniform threw an athame at Cole. Olivia used her telekinesis to redirect the weapon, sending it straight into the warlock’s throat. She flung another warlock against the wall, causing his back to make impact into a jutting hook.

Rage filled the dark eyes of the warlocks’ leader. He stuck his arm out and sent a line of flames toward Olivia, much to Phoebe’s horror. Now she knew who had killed that warlock in Candlestick Park, last Saturday. She blinked and the next thing she knew, Olivia and Crozat had changed places. Leaving the warlock leader to feel the impact of the flames. Cole. There could be no other explanation. Her ex-husband had just saved Olivia, using the same power he had used when he had saved Phoebe from Agent Jackman’s bullet, last spring.

With Crozat and many other warlocks dead, the power holding the trap around the Charmed Ones, faltered. Once more, Piper used her combustion power to break the force field . . . and finally succeeded. The destruction of the trap seemed to stun the remaining warlocks, forcing them to reel about in confusion.

“Stand back!” Olivia barked. Once everyone followed her order, she used her telekinesis to gather all of the warlocks – alive and the remaining dead – to the same spot where the Charmed Ones had been held. Then the red-haired witch glanced at the Halliwells. “Okay, ladies.”

Phoebe, Piper and Paige stared at Olivia, then at each other. “Jeez! Did you see that?” the youngest sister muttered.

“Hello! The Power of Three! Use a spell to get rid of them now!” Olivia seemed to be using her power to hold those warlocks still alive, at bay.

Her sisters faced Phoebe and they struggled to create an impromptu spell. Unfortunately, this evening’s events had left their power slightly weakened.

“What’s the matter with us?” a concerned Piper asked.

Phoebe stared at her older sister in panic. “It’s the trap. It must have weakened our powers.”

Olivia cried out, “Hey! What’s taking you so long? I can’t hold them forever!”

“Oh, uh, . . . evil that has formed here,” Phoebe began. Then, “No, wait! Let’s try . . . no.”

An exasperated sigh left Olivia’s mouth. She turned to the half-demon. “Cole! Could you, please?”

Cole nodded. Then he formed an enormous fireball in his hands and tossed it at the warlocks. Every one of them, whether they were alive, unconscious or dead, disappeared into a ball of explosion. Olivia shook her head with mild disbelief. “You are such a ham,” she said with a teasing smile.

“It takes one to know one,” Cole shot back. He was also smiling. Which disturbed Phoebe. Very much. She could almost feel the hot knife of jealousy, twisting in her gut.

Piper mumbled to her sisters, “Well, that’s great. The Charmed Ones saved by two witches and a demon. Boy, do I feel like an eunuch.” Phoebe could not have said it any better.

END OF PART 9

A Few Problems Regarding “AVATAR” (2009)

A Few Problems Regarding “AVATAR” (2009)

I am going to put my cards on the table. I have a problem with James Cameron’s new movie, ”AVATAR”. In fact, I have several problems with it. I was willing to remain silent about these problems, but after the movie’s recent big win at the Golden Globe Awards, I realized that I could not keep silent about them.

One would think I was just another fan expressing her dislike of ”AVATAR”. On the contrary, I happened to like ”AVATAR” very much. I saw the movie three times. And it became one of my top ten favorite movies of 2009. So, why post a rant against the movie? Because I fear that the movie has become a front runner for the Best Picture Academy Awards. And as much as I had enjoyed ”AVATAR”, I do not believe that it will not deserve all of its accolades. Even worse, I have a bone to pick about the movie’s distribution.

Award Season

Two nights ago, ”AVATAR” scored big at the Golden Globes Award show. It managed to collect at least two major awards – Best Director for James Cameron and Best Picture. In a documentary about 20th Century Fox called ”20TH CENTURY FOX: THE FIRST FIFTY YEARS” (1997), a former executive had pointed out that legendary producer and studio boss Darryl Zanuck believed that the backbone of any good movie was the story. Not the special effects, the casting or even the score; but the story.

Now, I am not claiming that ”AVATAR” has a weak story. Actually, I believe that it has a solid, good story with a relevant theme. However, many critics and moviegoers – including myself – believe that the story has mediocre dialogue. Even worse, it also seems very unoriginal. In fact, I would go as far to say that it is close to being a blatant rip-off of the 1990 Academy Award winner, ”DANCES WITH WOLVES”. Frankly, I cannot see how a movie that is unoriginal to the point that it seems to blatantly plagiarize another film deserves to win a Golden Globe Best Drama Picture award, let alone the Academy Award for Best Picture. I simply cannot.

3-D Special Effects and Movie Tickets

What has really ticked me off about ”AVATAR” is the fact that director James Cameron had decided to film the damn thing in 3-D. Well, he also provided regular prints of the movie. And the movie theaters have allowed filmgoers the choice to view the 3-D showings or regular showings. Unfortunately, all of the movie theaters that I usually attend, offer more showings of the film in 3-D. Worse, not only are the regular viewings scheduled late at night, filmgoers have to pay higher ticket prices for the 3-D showings. This really pisses me off. I find the 3-D glasses very uncomfortable. And the special effects struck me as being less impressive than those featured in the Terminator 2 3-D: Battle Across Time show at Universal Studios Hollywood. The higher ticket prices for the 3-D effects are simply not worth the effort. At least not to me. And I feel that Cameron, 20th Century Fox and the movie theaters are ripping off moviegoers in the process.

Will ”AVATAR” win the Best Picture Oscar? I suspect that it will. And frankly, I consider this a travesty. I am not saying that the movie is terrible. It is not. But Cameron has already managed to win a slew of Oscars for a movie with impressive visual effects and a mediocre script that turned out to be a blatant rip-off of 1937’s ”MAYTIME”. I am talking about 1997’s ”TITANIC”. And I fear that history will repeat itself when he wins a slew of awards for ”AVATAR” – a movie with the same virtues and flaws.

“BULLITT” (1968) Review

Below is my review of the 1968 classic crime drama, “BULLITT”, which starred Steve McQueen and was directed by Peter Yates:

”BULLITT” (1968) Review

Many fans of Steve McQueen seemed to revel in their view of him as some kind of epitome of 1960s Hollywood cool. And his starring role in the 1968 crime drama, ”BULLITT” seemed to symbolize this viewpoint more than any of his other roles – before or after. As much as I feel reluctant to embrace the idea of coolness of any kind, I must admit that McQueen did project some kind of aura in the film that made him such a strong screen presence . . . just like any film star worth his or her weight in gold.

Fortunately, ”BULLITT” also happened to be a first-class crime thriller that was directed with style, energy and competency by Peter Yates. Based upon Robert L. Fish’s 1963 novel, “Mute Fish”, the movie told the story of a San Francisco lieutenant named Frank Bullitt (McQueen), who is assigned by a haughty and well-born local politician named Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) to protect an informant (Felice Orlandi) from the Chicago mob. Chalmers hoped that bringing down the Chicago mob would lead to an improvement in his political standing. However, the assignment turns into a murder mystery that resulted into some surprising twists.

The head of Warner Brothers-Seven Arts studio had originally planned for ”BULLITT” to be shot on location in Los Angeles, California. But director Yates felt that the City of Angels had been seen quite enough in previous crime dramas and mysteries. He also had no desire to shoot the film under the studio’s constant eye. So, Yates convinced the studio to allow him to shoot the film on location in San Francisco. As much as I love Los Angeles, I am glad that Yates made this choice. San Francisco proved to be a perfect setting for the movie and its surrounding hills provided the perfect backdrop for the movie’s car chase that became one of the most influential car chase sequences in movie history.

Speaking of the car chase, I understand that McQueen took lessons in stunt driving in order to perform some of the stunts in the chase sequence. Now, McQueen only drove a little in the scene. Most of his stunt driving had been performed by Bud Ekins, famed stuntman and motorcycle racer. And I have to give kudos to stunt coordinator Carey Loftin for creating an exciting and memorable sequence. Another favorite action sequence of mine proved to be the final showdown at the San Francisco International Airport – a scene filled with both tension and superb action. Yates’ direction and Frank P. Keller’s film editing proved to be the decisive factors that made the above scenes first rate. Keller went on to win an Academy Award for Best Film Editing.

Screenwriters Alan Trustman and Harry Kleiner did an excellent job of adapting Robert L. Fish’s 1963 novel, ”Mute Witness” for the screen. Not only did they managed to re-create a murder mystery that proved to be somewhat complex with great competency, the two writers also managed to delve into Frank Bullitt’s persona. And this is a job that could have proven to be nearly impossible, due to the character’s subtle and reserved personality. The Mystery Writers of America rewarded Trustman and Kleiner for their work with a 1969 Edgar Award for Best Mystery Screenplay.

Although many fans tend to view ”BULLITT” as a showcase for Steve McQueen, I noticed that he had been ably supported by a talented cast. Robert Vaughn (another actor who became a 1960s icon for his starring role in the television series, ”THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” ) expertly portrayed politician Walter Chalmers as a charming, self-involved and arrogant man who expects the world to revolve around him, due to his wealth. Portraying Bullitt’s girlfriend, Cathy, was a 24 year-old Jacqueline Bisset. Just a year earlier, she had a brief appearance in the James Bond spoof ”CASINO ROYALE”. The role of Bullitt’s girlfriend, who fears that he might love his job more than her, not only hinted the talent that would make her a star, it proved to be a career-making one for her. Don Gordon (who also happened to be a close friend of McQueen’s) gave a quiet and solid performance as as Sergeant Delgetti, Bullitt’s right-hand man. Simon Oakland also gave solid support as one of Bullitt’s police superiors, Captain Bennett. The movie also featured brief appearances by future stars such as Robert Duvall as a local cab driver, Norman Fell as Police Captain Baker – Chalmers’ toady – and Georg Stanford Brown as a young, hospital doctor.

As for star Steve McQueen . . . he practically owned the movie. Hell, he deserved to own the movie. Not only did he provide his usual magnetic screen presence, McQueen gave what I believe to be one of the best performances in his career. I had heard on the movie’s DVD featurette that McQueen did not really view himself as an actor. Instead, he saw himself as a mere reactor to his co-stars’ lines. I wish . . . I hope that someone had told him that reacting is one of the qualities that marked a first-rate screen performer. And McQueen did it very well. Hell! He could be a first-rate actor when words came out of his mouth. In the case of ”BULLITT”, his character turned out to be not particularly verbose. Which left McQueen to express Frank Bullitt’s emotions via facial expressions and in his eyes. What I liked about McQueen’s performance was that he did not simply portray the character as some epitome of 60s cool. He portrayed Bullitt as an intelligent and quiet man whose no-nonsense personality seemed to lack patience for either incompetence or egotistical types like Chalmers.

Thanks to critics, some moviegoers and organizations like the American Film Institute (AFI), the public is expected to accept their prevailing views about any movie . . . regardless if they view a movie as either a classic, mediocre or simply terrible. Because of my nature, I have a tendency to ignore the prevailing view and form my own opinion. ”BULLITT” seemed to have the reputation as a classic crime melodrama. And Frank Bullitt is viewed as one of McQueen’s best roles. In the case of ”BULLITT” and McQueen, I would heartily agree.