“WITHOUT A CLUE” (1988) Review

Below is my review of the 1988 Sherlock Holmes comedy called “WITHOUT A CLUE”:

”WITHOUT A CLUE” (1988) Review

With Guy Ritchie’s new Sherlock Holmes movie due to be released in theaters this Christmas, I had decided to watch another Holmes film called ”WITHOUT A CLUE”. Directed by Thom Eberhardt, the movie has the distinction of turning the Sherlock Holmes mythos on its ear by presenting a premise similar to the 1982-1986 NBC series, ”REMINGTON STEELE”.

Ben Kingsley portrayed Dr. John Watson, a late 19th century physician who had been forced to hide his talent as a criminal investigator by creating the fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, while applying for a position at a conservative hospital. Watson failed to gain the position, but managed to solve a crime. To get close to the crimes that came under his notice and satisfy public demand to see Holmes in person, he hired an alcoholic unemployed actor named Reginald Kincaid – portrayed by Michael Caine – to play Holmes.

The movie opened with Watson and Kincaid helping the envious Inspector Lestrade (Jeffrey Jones) and Scotland Yard solve an attempted robbery at a local London museum. By this time, Watson and Kincaid had been engaged in their deception for nearly a decade and the two have become increasingly weary of each other. But the disappearance of Bank of England £5 banknote printing plates and the printing supervisor Peter Giles (John Warner); along with the destruction of a paper mill by fire forced the pair to continue their deception once more. Their investigation led to a major counterfeiting case that threatened to disrupt the British Empire’s economy.

I suspect that ”WITHOUT A CLUE” might not be to everyone’s taste. The movie’s style of humor closely resembled that from the late Victorian/Edwardian music halls. Because of this, the humor ended up being considered flat or incomprehensible to some. I, on the other hand, loved ”WITHOUT A CLUE”. Not only did I appreciate the director and screenwriters’ attempt to compliment the movie’s style with its late Victorian setting; I also liked the fact that the setting also embraced the movie’s style of humor and dialogue. To be honest, I suspect that the humor might be late 20th century, but presented in a late Victorian theatrical style.

More importantly, I feel that screenwriters Gary Murphy and Larry Strawther had created a first-rate story in which Watson and Kincaid set out to solve the disappearances of the banknote plates and Giles. The story is filled with exciting action that included two shootouts, a major fire, an attempted kidnapping, deception, attempted murder and murder. At least twenty minutes into the movie, the script revealed the perpetuator behind the story’s series of crimes. And yet, it still managed to deliver a number of surprises that proved to be both ominous and hilarious.

It seemed a shame that Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley had never worked together again (unless I am proven wrong). The two actors produced such a marvelous screen chemistry that left me in stitches. Caine’s sly and hilarious portrayal of the alcoholic and womanizing fake Sherlock Holmes seemed like a perfect contrast to Kingsley’s uptight and long-suffering Dr. Watson. The two leads were ably supported by the very American Jeffrey Jones, who portrayed the pretentious and envious Inspector Lestrade; Lysette Anthony as the resolute, yet passionate daughter of the missing Peter Giles; Pat Keen as Dr. Watson’s loyal and very proper housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson; Matthew Savage as Dr. Watson’s young and intelligent assistant and leader of the Baker Street Boys; and Nigel Davenport, who portrayed the very aristocratic Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Smithwick. Paul Freeman, who became known as Indiana Jones’ arch-nemesis Rene Belloq, portrayed our heroes’ nemesis, the ruthless and intelligent Professor James Moriarty. What I especially enjoyed about Freeman’s performance was his elegant take on the role.

Although a fun and entertaining movie, ”WITHOUT A CLUE” does have its flaws. The movie’s Victorian style humor did come off as somewhat stagy in the first ten to fifteen minutes. This was especially apparent in the sequence that revealed Watson and Kincaid’s lifestyle at Watson’s home on Baker Street. At times, I felt as if I had been watching a stage play. And just before the final showdown, the pacing became so slow that it threatened to drag the movie. The heroes had just suffered a major setback in the case. They spent the period leading up to the finale, trying to figure out their next move. Despite this segment’s short running time, the movie’s slow pacing during this period nearly led me to fall asleep.

As I had earlier stated, ”WITHOUT A CLUE” might not be for everyone. Some may not appreciate both director Thom Eberhardt and the screenwriters’ efforts to blend its Victorian setting a music hall style humor. However, I found the humor both sly and hilarious. And along with some great action, a story filled with plenty of twists and a first-rate cast led by Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley, I would highly recommend it.

“G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA” (2009) Review

Below is my review of the new action film based upon the “G.I. Joe” toy franchise: 

 

”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA” (2009) Review

For the third time in my life, I saw a movie that was based upon a popular toy franchise. The latest movie with this particular premise turned out to be ”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA”. And if I must be honest, I ended up seeing the movie under confusing circumstances.

I never had any intentions of seeing ”G.I. JOE”. Let me make this perfectly clear. After the mindless action of the two”TRANSFORMERS” movies, I had vowed never to watch another action movie based upon a popular toy. In fact, I had intended to see the new comedy, ”JULIE AND JULIA”. My family and I ended up watching ”G.I. JOE”, because I thought a relative of mine wanted to see it. As it turned out, my relative thought ”I” wanted to see the movie. Which goes to show how dangerous the lack of communications can be. We ended up watching a movie that neither of us had intended to see.

Stephen Sommers, the creator of the recent ”MUMMY” franchise and director of the first two movies, directed this tale about the G.I. Joe Team, a covert unit of international special forces commandos, under the command of a U.S. Army general named Hawk (Dennis Quaid). Original, huh? Following an attempt by terrorists to steal nanotechnology-based warheads, two regular Army commandos – Conrad “Duke” Hauser and Wallace “Ripcord” Weems (Channing Tatums and Marlon Wayans) – join the “Joes” in an effort to prevent the warheads from falling into the hands of terrorists. During Duke and Ripcord’s training at the G.I. Joe’s command center in North Africa, two terrorists named the Baroneess (Sienna Miller) and Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) attack the base and in the process manage to wound General Hawk and steal the warheads. The Team eventually learn that the warheads’ creator – James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), owner of an arms manufacturing company called MARS – was responsible for the attack and wanted the warheads back for his own nefarious means.

What can I say about ”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA”? It was simply your typical summer action blockbuster based upon a popular franchise. And like many of these action films, it was filled with the usual explosions, violence, silly one-liners and special effects. Nothing special. Nothing original. It also featured an underwater battle between the “G.I. Joe” Team and McCullen’s troops. I read somewhere that Sommers wanted to pay homage to the 1965 James Bond movie, ”THUNDERBALL”. Well, he certainly succeeded as far as I am concerned. Sommer’s underwater battle in”G.I. JOE” seemed just as boring as the one featured in ”THUNDERBALL”.

Surprisingly, ”G.I. JOE” turned out to be better than I had expected. In fact, the movie possessed enough attributes for me to enjoy it. You heard right. I actually managed to enjoy ”G.I. JOE”. Despite the usual action nonsense, the movie turned out to rather enjoyable. More importantly, screenwriters Stuart Beattie, David Elliot and Paul Lovett included several twists in both the plot and some of the characterizations that took me by surprise. And ”G.I. JOE”does not strike me as the type of movie that could generate that kind of surprise. Another aspect of the movie that allowed it rise above the likes of the ”TRANSFORMER” movies, was its exploration of background stories of characters like Duke, the Baroness, McCullen, the Baroness’ brother Rex Lewis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the two former rivals, Storm Shadow and one of the “Joes”, Snake Eyes (Ray Parks). The movie also featured a surprisingly effective action sequence set in Paris – a sequence that ended with some noteworthy special effects produced under the supervision of Christian Roberton and shot wonderfully by cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen.

Another aspect of ”G.I. JOE” that impressed me was its cast. Aside from one particular actor, the actors and actresses struck me as surprisingly impressive. Channing Tatum led the cast as Duke, the Army Special Forces officer who decides to join the “G.I. Joe Team” in order to continue his assignment regarding the nanoprobe warheads. Duke is also haunted by a past tragedy that involved his former girlfriend, Ana Lewis aka the Baroness and her brother, Rex. Tatum has been making a name for himself as a up and coming actor for the past three years. I have to be honest. He does not exactly appeal to me as a screen presence. But I must admit that he is a solid actor and did a very competent job with his role. Portraying Duke’s best friend is comic actor, writer and producer Marlon Wayans. He portrayed Ripcord, another Special Forces soldier who decides to follow Duke in joining the “Joes”. Ripcord also harbors a desire to be acknowledged as a top military pilot and he falls in love with another member of the “G.I. Joe Team”. As expected, Wayans provided a great deal of laughter in a role that could easily be labeled as comic relief. Only in this movie, Ripcord has a well written romance and managed to save two major capital cities in the movie’s finale. Wayans not only handled the comedy with great ease, he also did a solid job in his romantic and action scenes.

The supporting cast was filled with first-rate actors and actresses that provided solid performances. I especially enjoyed Sienna Miller as Duke’s conflicted ex-girlfriend, Ana Lewis. Family tragedy led her to join McCullen’s villainous team and change her name to the Baroness. It seemed quite obvious that Miller was enjoying herself in the role. And Rachel Nichols gave an interesting performance as the brainy and uptight Scarlett, who learns not to open up her heart to Ripcord’s humor and warmth. Also, she and Wayans provided great screen chemistry. And it was great seeing Adewale Akinuoye-Agbale again, after three years. I have not seen him since early Season 3 of ”LOST”. In this movie, he was his usual commanding self as Hershel “Heavy Duty” Dalton, the team’s ordinance expert who acted as field commander of the “Joes”. I also enjoyed Said Taghmaoni as Abel “Breaker” Shaz, the Moroccan hacker and communications expert that harbored a fondness for bubble gum. I especially enjoyed his performance in a scene that featured his character’s dismay at being banned from French soil, following the Eiffel Tower debacle. I have to give kudos to Lee Byung-hun for giving a convincingly complex performance as the villainous Storm Shadow. Christopher Eccleston was pretty solid as the main villain, James McCullen. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a hoot as Ana’s slightly neurotic brother, Rex Lewis.

There was one performance that failed to impress me. And it belonged to Dennis Quaid as General Hawk, leader of the “G.I. Joe Team”. Now, I have been a fan of Quaid for years. Out of all the performances in the movie, his was the only one that turned me off. How can I put this? Quaid’s General Hawk sounded and behaved like an authority figure – whether it be a police officer, politician or military officer – from a 1950s or 60s “B” movie. You know – he spouted the usual flag-waving crap in a very exaggerated manner that came off as stiff. I only thank God that it was a small role.

Before I saw ”G.I. JOE”, I had suspected that it would become another ”TRANSFORMERS” or ”TRANSFORMERS 2”. Unlike the two Michael Bay movies, I did not have to turn off my brain to enjoy the film. And that surprised me, despite the movie’s flaws. Also, Stephen Sommers did a pretty good job in directing both the cast and crew to create a surprisingly entertaining movie. He also had the good luck to work from a solid script that provided a few good twists and surprises. ”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA” is not a cinematic masterpiece or exercise in intellectual introspection. If you want a movie that you might be able to enjoy with kids . . . or even a few friends, then I would recommend it.

“Return With a Vengeance” [PG-13] – 4/18

“RETURN WITH VENGEANCE”

CHAPTER 4

Olivia and Cecile strode inside the police squad room, attracting admiring glances from the former’s co-workers. And a hard stare from her partner.

Darryl stabbed a finger at the squad room’s clock. “Do you see that?” he demanded. “Exactly what time is it?”

“Eight after ten,” Olivia coolly replied. “And if you’re trying to point out that I’m late, don’t bother. I had called the Captain and told him that I would be late, this morning.”

Darryl’s shoulder’s sagged. “Thanks a lot. And I was about to give you a good tongue lashing.” His eyes fell upon Cecile. “Who’s this?”

“This is my friend, Cecile Dubois,” Olivia answered.

“Oh? The one from New Orleans?” Darryl nodded at the other woman. “Hey, nice to meet you. I’m Olivia’s partner, Darryl Morris.”

For the first time, Olivia noticed that her friend seemed to be in a trance. Frowning, she gave Cecile a slight jab in the side. “Cecile? This is Darryl Morris, my partner,” she repeated.

“Huh?” Cecile blinked. “Oh, nice to meet you.” Her eyes roamed appreciatively over the tall man, as she shook his hand.

Knowing what was on her friend’s mind, Olivia quickly hissed into the latter’s ear, “He’s married.”

“I see the wedding ring,” Cecile hissed back.

Darryl’s gaze shifted between the two women. “What are you whispering about?”

Cecile quickly replied, “Nothing. Well, it’s nice to finally meet you, Darryl.” Once again, there seemed to be a glazed expression on her face.

Both Olivia and Darryl stared at her. “Is there something wrong?” the latter asked. “You seemed a bit . . . I don’t know. Preoccupied?”

Cecile flashed a quick smile – one that seemed much too bright to suit Olivia. “No, no! I’m fine. I was . . . uh, just thinking of some errands I have to run. A little shopping.” She turned to Olivia. “Livy, mind if I borrow your car, today? I’ll pick you up, this afternoon. What time do you get off?”

Taken aback by her friend’s mercurial behavior, Olivia hesitated before she answered, “Uh, around four-thirty. Don’t forget that we’ll be having dinner with my parents, tonight.” She began digging into her purse for her keys. “Are you sure that you’re okay, Cecile?”

“I’m fine. Just a little tired. After I finish shopping, I’m going to take a long afternoon nap.” Cecile smiled as Olivia handed her the keys. “Well, I’ll see you later. Nice meeting you, Darryl.” And she strode out of the squad room.

The two partners continued to stare at Cecile’s retreating form. Darryl turned to Olivia. “What was that about?” he asked.

Olivia shrugged. “I have no idea. Maybe she’s just tired.” Then she recalled the gasp Cecile made when the latter first met Cole. “Then again . . .” Still deep in thought, she headed for her desk.

Darryl followed. “Then again . . . what?” He eased into the chair, behind his desk and leaned forward. “You know, she reminds me of Phoebe Halliwell, a little. Especially when Phoebe would get a premonition.” He paused and frowned. “Is your friend . . . like you? And the Halliwells?”

After a moment’s pause, Olivia shook her head. “No, not quite.”

“What do you mean . . . not quite?”

Olivia glanced around to make sure there were no eavesdroppers. “Cecile is a Vodoun priestess, not a witch. Her family practices Vodoun.”

Darryl frowned. “Practice what?”

Olivia leaned forward and hissed, “Vodoun. Otherwise known in Hollywood circles as Voodoo.”

Darryl’s eyes grew wide with horror. “Are you kidding ME?” His voice boomed throughout the squad room, attracting stares. He sighed and lowered his voice. “If she practices this . . . what exactly are her powers?”

“Telepathy and premonitions.”

Darryl stood up. “That’s it. Something is wrong. I don’t know, but if your friend is the same as Phoebe, something doesn’t bode well for me. Let’s go. Maybe we can catch up with her in the parking lot.” He grabbed his jacket and started toward the door.

Heaving a sigh, Olivia slid out of her chair, grabbed her jacket and followed her partner out of the squad room.

* * * *

The intercom on Cole’s desk buzzed. His secretary, Eleanor, announced, “Your eleven o’clock appointment has arrived, Mr. Turner.”

“Okay, Eleanor. Thanks. Send her in.”

Eleanor replied crisply, “Yes, Mr. Turner.” Over a month ago, Barbas, the Demon of Fear had plotted to steal his powers, by manipulating his mind. The former tricked Cole into believing that Lauren, his first secretary, was actually an unforgiving Phoebe bent upon convincing him that he was evil. In a desperate attempt to cease what he believed to be Phoebe’s endless words, Cole nearly strangled Lauren. He eventually managed to convince both Lauren and his bosses that some stranger at a party he had attended the night before, had drugged his drink with a hallucinogenic. Thanks to a police officer working on a case involving recent assaults upon wealthy partygoers, the firm’s owners and Laurel seemed willing to accept Cole’s explanation. Laurel also accepted Cole’s apology. But she refused to continue as his secretary. Cole did not blame her. Instead of crying over spilled milk, he decided hired someone new upon his return to the firm. Namely Eleanor.

The door to his office swung open and Eleanor escorted a beautiful woman with pale skin, dark eyes and dark shoulder-length hair inside. Cole’s eyes swept appreciatively over the visitor’s lithe figure and elegant appearance. A scent of orange blossoms surrounded her. Not bad at all, he thought. She could prove to be quite interesting for a night or two on the town.

Cole flashed a smile at his new visitor. “Good morning, Miss . . .?”

“Mrs. Maxwell. Suzanne Maxwell.” She smiled and offered her hand to Cole. “And you’re Mr. Cole Turner, I believe?”

“Just call me Cole. Why don’t you have a seat?” Cole indicated one of the empty chairs on the other side of his desk. He turned to his secretary. “Eleanor, why don’t you get Mrs. Maxwell a drink? A . . .?”

The new client spoke up. “I’d like a cup of coffee, thank you very much. And you can call me Suzanne.” Again, she smiled. It struck Cole odd that her voice reminded him of Olivia’s.

Once Eleanor left to fetch Suzanne her coffee, Cole settled in the leather chair behind his desk. “So,” he began, “how may I help you?”

Suzanne Maxwell explained that following a year after her husband’s death, she had decided to move to San Francisco. Not only was she interested in finding a new attorney to handle her affairs, but she also needed help in investing in property in the Bay Area. “Back in Vancouver,” she continued, “my husband and I had created a non-profit organization that provided housing and jobs for the needy. I would like to create something similar here in San Francisco.”

Cole took a deep breath. “Well, I can think of a few real estate agents you might consider meeting with. But first, let’s see about establishing your file with the firm.”

“Does that mean you will consider me as a client?” Suzanne leaned forward, her eyes wide and appealing. Orange blossoms filled Cole’s nostrils.

His lips curved into a smile. “I guess I can say yes. I’ll have Eleanor draw up a contract.”

Suzanne returned his smile that seemed to hint promise of something more than business. “That’s wonderful. Listen, why don’t we discuss this matter over dinner, tonight?

The idea of an evening with Suzanne Maxwell seemed appealing to Cole. He found her very attractive. And he could not recall spending a romantic evening with someone since his marriage to Phoebe, nearly nine months ago. Those evenings with Olivia had been spent with a close friend. Even if a part of him secretly wished it could be more.

Cole paused, as he contemplated his last thoughts. Did he just say . . .? “Mr. Turner? Cole?” Suzanne’s voice cut into his reverie. “About tonight?”

“Oh.” Cole remembered. He had been invited to join the McNeills for dinner, tonight – in honor of Cecile Dubois’ visit. “I’d love to join you for dinner, but I already have plans this evening,” he politely answered. “Perhaps tomorrow.”

The Canadian woman gave him a tight smile. “Perhaps.” A chill seemed to have settled in the office. It left Cole feeling very uneasy. Suzanne Maxwell seemed disappointed. Too disappointed, considering they had just met. And he wondered why.

* * * *

“Aren’t you supposed to be working right now?” Cecile asked. She, Darryl and Olivia stood next to the latter’s BMW convertible, in the middle of the station’s parking lot. The two inspectors had caught up with her, before she could leave.

Olivia sighed. “It’s Darryl. He’s worried that you had an odd reaction to meeting him. And he wants to know why.” She paused. “Quite frankly, so do I. You did seem a bit . . . distracted.”

“What are you talking about?”

Darryl Morris spoke in an urgent voice. “Olivia told me that you’re a witch like her. Only you practice Voodoo or something.”

“Vodoun,” Cecile automatically corrected.

“Yeah. She also told me that you receive premonitions. Visions of the future.” Darryl hesitated. “Did you see something when we first met?”

Cecile took a deep breath. She glanced at Olivia, who nodded. Oh well. “I didn’t see anything,” she said.

“What?” Both Olivia and Darryl had spoken at the same time.

“But I felt something,” Cecile continued. “I don’t know. Trouble. Impending doom. Something like that.”

Olivia frowned. “You didn’t have any vision? That’s strange. Is there a chance that your visions are being blocked?”

“By whom?” Cecile shot back, now feeling very concerned. “Or what?”

Inspector Morris interrupted with a frustrated cry. “Hey? Remember me? The one who might be facing impending doom?”

“Darryl, you don’t know that,” Olivia said, trying to reassure him. “Cecile doesn’t have to touch anything to receive a vision. For all we know, she had a vision about something else.”

The tall inspector looked doubtful. “Uh-huh. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll get confirmation from someone else. Maybe Phoebe can help.”

“Phoebe?” Cecile frowned. Who in the hell was this Phoebe?

Olivia answered for her. “Phoebe Halliwell. One of the Charmed Ones? Cole’s ex-wife. You know, the one who has premonitions.”

Now Cecile remembered. Obviously Darryl Morris believed that this Phoebe could receive a clearer vision. Perhaps she could. Cecile was not about to stand in his way. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to get a second opinion,” she finally said, feeling a bit put out, but hiding her feelings. “As for me, I have a few stores to visit. Starting with Macy’s. Excuse me, but I’ll see you both later.” Cecile climbed into the BMW.

As she steered the car out of the parking lot, Cecile’s thoughts returned to her recent premonition. Olivia must have guessed right. None of her premonitions have ever been so vague. At least not until she met Darryl Morris. Either there was something about his essence that blocked her vision, or the good inspector seemed destined to encounter something that might prove to be very powerful. Cecile hoped it was the former.

* * * *

Darryl knocked on the front door of the Halliwell Manor. A minute later, it swung open. In the doorway stood the middle Halliwell sister. “Darryl, hey! What are you doing here?”

“Hi Phoebe,” Darryl greeted. After spending a few hours on the DiMatteo case, he had convinced Olivia that they should pay Phoebe’s office at the SAN FRANCISCO BAY-MIRROR a visit. The two partners discovered that Phoebe was on vacation this week and that she could be found at the manor on Prescott Street. “I heard you were on vacation, this week.”

Phoebe shot Darryl a bright smile. “Yeah, Elise finally decided to emancipate me for a few days. I would have started yesterday, but I had some work to finish.” Her eyes shifted to Olivia and her smile disappeared. “Olivia.”

A small smile touched Olivia’s lips. “Phoebe. Nice to see you.”

The two visitors stepped inside the manor. Phoebe led them to the Sun Room. “So, what brings you two here?” she asked. Concern suddenly filled her dark eyes. “Is there something wrong? Piper? Paige?”

“More like Darryl,” Olivia responded laconically.

Phoebe frowned. “Huh?”

Darryl took a deep breath. He told her about Olivia’s friend . . . and the premonition the latter had recently experienced at the police station. “I wondered if you could get a clearer vision, since you’re stronger.”

“You don’t know that,” Olivia added. “Cecile is a very powerful psychic.”

Darryl shook his head. “But Cecile isn’t one of the most powerful witches of all time.”

“Maybe not among Wicca practitioners. But Cecile does not practice Wicca. She’s Vodoun.”

Olivia’s words fell upon deaf ears. Darryl returned his attention to Phoebe. “Could you give it a try? See if a premonition will come to you?”

Phoebe glanced uneasily at Olivia. Who remained silent. Firm determination gleamed in her eyes. “I’ll give it a shot. But I can’t guarantee anything. Give me your hand.”

Darryl allowed Phoebe to take hold of his hand. She closed her eyes. He could hear her breathing heavily. Then . . . a gasp escaped her mouth. “What?” he demanded.

“Nothing, except . . .” Phoebe’s eyes flew open. She heaved a deep breath. “I saw you in an alley, surrounded by onlookers, the police and paramedics. It looked as if you were at a crime scene. Both you and Olivia. And both of you were staring at the body of a Latino man. That’s it.”

A frown creased Darryl’s forehead. “That doesn’t sound like something foreboding,” he said. “Just another case to work on. Olivia’s friend told me that she had sensed something more serious.” A gust of breath left Darryl’s mouth. He saw a flash of doubt in Phoebe’s eyes. “Maybe she was imagining things,” he added.

Olivia opened her mouth to speak. Instead, she shook her head and looked away. Somehow, the gesture did not make Darryl feel any better.

* * * *

Edward Crozat’s eyes glowed with delight, as he stared at the small crate on his desk. “That’s it,” Ben Mallard declared. “The package you wanted. The Enigma had arrived in San Francisco, sometime before noon.”

“Well done!” Edward declared. “How did you know . . .?”

Mallard explained that a contact at one of the piers had alerted him to the ship’s arrival. “My . . . friend held it for me, until I could get there.” He paused before adding, “I had to pay him $5,000 of my own money.”

“Then you shall be compensated,” Edward added smoothly. Men, he decided, can be incredibly greedy. He had seriously considered killing the Customs agent. But as he had told Rudolf, Ben Mallard might prove to be useful in the future. Edward nodded at Cousin Henry, who opened the safe.

Henry returned to Edward’s desk, carrying a wad of bills. “Here you go, $67,000, plus an extra $5,000. All unmarked.” He stuffed the bills into a large yellow envelope. Just as Henry began to hand over the envelope to Mallard, a noise caught the attention of those inside the office.

Everyone turned to stare at the figure standing in the doorway. A janitor, whose eyes were fixed on the envelope in Cousin Henry’s hands. Edward’s eyes narrowed dangerously.

“Pardon me,” the janitor began nervously. “I didn’t realize . . .”

Henry’s hand shot up. Edward slapped it down before the former could use any magic. Then he gave the newcomer a polite smile. “Are you looking for someone?”

“Actually, I thought the office was empty. I came here to clean . . .”

“Rudolf, why don’t you show the man out?” Edward nodded at the young warlock. Who strode toward the nervous janitor. The latter’s eyes popped out, as Rudolf slammed a wicked-looking knife in the janitor’s gut.

“SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” (1995) Review

Below is my review of the 1995 version of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel, “Sense and Sensibility”

 

”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” (1995) Review

The year 1995 saw the beginning of an onslaught of Britain and the United States’ love affair with British author, Jane Austen. A love affair that has not abated after fourteen (14) years. In 1995, the BBC aired Andrew Davies’ miniseries adaptation of Austen’s most famous novel, ”Pride and Prejudice”. And later that year, Hollywood released its adaptation of another Austen,”Sense and Sensibility” – which I had just recently watched.
Directed by Ang Lee, ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”, starred Emma Thompson (who also wrote the screenplay), Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant. The story centered around Elinor (Thompson) and Marianne (Winslet), two daughters of Mr. Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) by his second wife (Gemma Jones). They have a younger sister, Margaret (Emilie François), and an older half-brother named John (James Fleet). When their father dies, the family estate passes to John, and the Dashwood women are left in reduced circumstances. The story follows the Dashwood sisters to their new home, a cottage on a distant relative’s property (Robert Hardy), where they experience both romance and heartbreak. The contrast between the quiet and sensible Elinor and the extroverted and occasionally impetuous Marianne is eventually resolved as each sister finds love and lasting happiness. This leads some to believe that the story’s title described how Elinor and Marianne find a balance between sense and sensibility in life and love.

Producer Lindsay Doran made an excellent choice in selecting Lee to direct the film. First of all, he drew some excellent performances from his cast – especially from Thompson, Winslet, and Rickman. Lee also effectively drew film goers back into Regency England without allowing the film to resemble some kind of stiff painting or a museum piece. Although he initially had trouble with dealing with Western-style of film making – especially in dealing with British cast members who questioned his direction and made suggestions regarding shots. He could be rather authoritarian with the cast, especially with Hugh Grant. The actor ended up calling him ”the Brute” behind his back. But he and the cast eventually got used to each other. Lee was also responsible for insisting that Thompson play the oldest Dashwood sister. And he Lee ordered Winslet to read poetry and novels from the late 18th century and early 19th century in order to get her to connect to Marianne’s romantic nature. And to give the movie its emotional core, he asked both Thompson and Winslet to room together during production. The two actresses remain close friends to this day.

Not only was Lee ably assisted by his superb cast, but also by crew members such as costume designers Jenny Beavan and John Bright, production designer Luciana Arrighi, set decorator Ian Whittaker, art directors Philip Elton and Andrew Sanders; and cinematographer Michael Coulter, whose photography beautifully captured the English countryside in all of its glory. I especially have to give kudos to Coulter’s photography and Arrighi’s production design for a beautiful re-creation of Regency London. I also enjoyed composer Patrick Doyle’s score for the film. His use of John Dowland’s song, “Weep You No More Sad Fountains” as Marianne’s own theme song struck me as very impressive. But I have to especially give kudos to Emma Thompson for her marvelous adaptation of Austen’s novel. It may not have adhered exactly to the novel, but I found it well written, lively and paced just right.

With the exception of two performances, I felt more than impressed with the cast. When Ang Lee had signed on as the movie’s director, he immediately suggested that Emma Thompson portray the oldest Dashwood sister, Elinor. Thompson considered herself too old for the role, considering that Elinor was at least 19-20 years old in the novel. But Lee suggested that she increase Elinor’s age to 27 in the screenplay, which would also make her distress at being a spinster easier for contemporary audiences to understand. Frankly, I feel that Lee made a good choice. Emma Thompson gave a superb performance as Elinor Dashwood, whose practical mind led her to act as the family’s de facto leader, following her father’s death. She also brilliantly conveyed Elinor’s emotional nature behind a mask of reticence via her eyes and various expressions. Kate Winslet had no need to be subtle as the more openly emotional Marianne Dashwood. Winslet was at least 20 years old when she filmed ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY’. Yet, even at that tender age, Winslet proved that she had the talent and acting chops to portray the very complex Marianne. I found it ironic that although her character was not what I would describe as subtle. And yet, Winslet managed to convey all aspects of Marianne’s personality – romantic, willful, emotional and sometimes a bit self-involved.

I found Alan Rickman impressive as one of the Dashwoods’ new neighbors, the quiet and dependable Colonel Christopher Brandon. I enjoyed the subtle manner in which Rickman expressed Brandon’s reluctance in expressing his love for Marianne, due to her feelings for another man. That other man proved to Greg Wise, who gave a surprisingly effective performance as the dashing, yet rakish Edward Willoughby. Wise has never struck me as an exceptional actor, but I must admit that I consider Willoughby to be one of his two best performances. The movie’s supporting cast also included Robert Hardy and the late Elizabeth Spriggs, who gave amusing performances as Sir John Middleton, the Dashwoods’ cousin and benefactor; and Mrs. Jennings, Sir John’s mother-in-law. Gemma Jones was excellent as the emotional and sometimes girlish mother of the Dashwood sisters. I was also impressed by Harriet Walter, who portrayed the sisters’ shrewish sister-in-law, Fanny Dashwood. And Hugh Laurie gave a hilarious performance as the sardonic and long-suffering Mr. Palmer, Mrs. Jennings’ other son-in-law. And I must say that Imogen Stubbs also impressed me by her subtle performance as the cunning and manipulative Lucy Steele, who seemed to have a claim for the same man that Elinor Dashwood longs for.

Speaking of Elinor Dashwood’s love, I finally come to the two performances that had failed to impress me. One of them belonged to Hugh Grant. He portrayed Edward Ferrars, one of Fanny Dashwood’s brothers that happened to be in love with Elinor and is claimed by the manipulative Lucy Steele as her fiancé. Remember his charming, yet modest performance in the hit 1994 comedy, ”FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL”? Well, his Edward Ferrars turned out to be an early 19th century version of his ”FOUR WEDDINGS” role. Grant simply gave the same performance, but with more stuttering and less charm. What had been fresh and original in 1994, ended up as old news a year later in ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”. Another performance that did nothing for me belonged to Imelda Staunton. She portrayed Charlotte Jennings Palmer, Mrs. Jennings’ daughter and Mr. Palmer’s wife. I realize that she was supposed to be an annoying character, but one could say the same about Sir John and Mrs. Middleton. But whereas I found Robert Hardy and Elizabeth Spriggs’ performances amusing, Staunton’s slightly over-the-top portrayal of Charlotte Palmer ended up irritating the hell out of me.

I understand that Andrew Davies had produced his own version of the Austen novel, last year. Since I have yet to see it, I cannot compare it to the 1995 version, directed by Ang Lee. I do know that I am more than impressed with this particular version. It came as no surprise to me that it earned seven (7) Academy Award nominations and won one (1) for Thompson’s Adapted Screenplay. ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” is one movie I could watch over again without ever getting tired of it.

“THE PACIFIC” (Episode Five) Commentary

I wrote this commentary on the fifth episode of “THE PACIFIC”

”THE PACIFIC” (Episode Five) Commentary

Episode Five began with war hero John Basilone in the middle of a war bond drive with Hollywood actress, Virginia Grey. Everything seemed to be hunky-dory with the Marine. Many servicemen seemed recognize his face on sight. And the good sergeant is also enjoying more passionate moments with the actress. This brief scene into the life of Basilone also featured his reunion with his younger brother George, already a Marine sergeant. The younger Basilone tried to express hope that he would be able to live to the older sibling’s name and reputation. But John immediately warned him not to bother. The last thing Basilone wants is his younger brother getting killed in combat over some reckless attempt to live up to his reputation.

This episode also marked Eugene Sledge’s baptism of fire, as he join Robert Leckie and his other fellow Marines of the First Division land on Peleliu for a major assault in September 1944. Three months earlier, Sledge had arrived on Pavuvu, where he had a joyful reunion with his childhood buddy, Sid Phillips and engaged in a brief conversation with Leckie on the meaning of war. But the privations of Pavuvu proved to be minor for Sledge, when the First Marines land on the hellish beaches of Peleliu.

Around the same time Sledge arrived on Pavuvu, Leckie returned to How Company and enjoyed a happy reunion with his three buddies – Chuckler, Runner and Hoosier. In typical Leckie fashion, he kept silent about his experiences at the psych ward on Banika and his encounter with the mentally unstable Ronnie Gibson. But he did find the time for a brief conversation in which he expressed his slightly more cynical views on what the war really meant. Sledge’s expression seemed to hint a reluctance to consider Leckie’s view. Peleliu will end up providing a different lesson for the Mobile, Alabama native. As for Leckie, Peleliu – at least in this episode – provided both some pain and a great personal fear.

Producers Gary Goetzman, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks made it clear that the Battle of Peleliu (which was fought between September and November 1944) would be shown in three episodes. Episode Five featured the First Marines Division landing on the island. And director Carl Franklin did a superb job in conveying the horrors that Leckie, Sledge and their fellow Marines had experienced in landing on the island and establishing a beach hold. The most interesting aspect of that landing came from Sledge’s point-of-view, as the camera followed him from his boarding of the amtrack (amphibious tracked vehicles) to the fury of battle on the beach.

With Sledge finally experiencing combat for the first time, the miniseries introduced new characters – Merriell “SNAFU” Shelton (Rami Malek); Bill Leyden (Brendan Fletcher); R.V. Burgin (Martin McCann); and Captain Andrew “Ack Ack” Haldane (Scott Gibson). Burgin barely uttered a word in this episode. I cannot even remember Leyden’s face. And Haldane seemed to be an officer in the tradition of Richard Winters of ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. Shelton is another matter. Judging from the comments on the Web, I suspect that many viewers had been looking forward to experiencing Malek’s performance as Shelton, as much as seeing Sledge experience combat for the first time. And the actor did not fail to deliver. He gave a riveting, yet eccentric performance as the slightly soulless Shelton.

As I had stated earlier, Peleliu provided a great deal of pain and anxiety for Leckie. One, his breakdown in Episode Four led Hoosier to fret over him during the Peleliu landing – much to his annoyance. The two eventually got separated from Chuckler and Runner before disaster happened. Poor Hoosier became seriously wounded in the leg. Although Leckie managed to summon a medic, poor Hoosier lost consciousness before he was carried away. Both Leckie and the audience were left in a state of anxiety over the Marine’s fate. Leckie finally managed to hook up with Runner. Unfortunately, both men seemed to be at a loss over Chuckler, who has yet to make an appearance. And they, along with Sledge and the rest of the First Marines Division were poised to begin the assault on the airfield on Peleliu.

In the end, Episode Five proved to be a solid and very interesting look into Eugene Sledge’s arrival in the Pacific Theater’s war zone. It also provided a peak into John Basilone’s experiences as a war hero on the homefront and what might possibly be the beginning of the end of Robert Leckie’s circle of friends. The episode provided some interesting moments. I enjoyed hometown friends Sledge and Phillips’ immediate reconciliation and its interruption by Sledge’s company commander, Captain Andy Haldane. For some reason, it reminded me of a scene from 1994’s ”FORREST GUMP” depicting the lead character’s arrival in Vietnam. Their reunion became more serious as Phillips tries to warn Sledge that combat was not as they had imaged when they were kids. Leckie’s reunion with his friends brought a smile to my face. I have grown accustomed to all four of them that much. Did anyone notice the grizzled sergeant who was practicing bayonet thrusts when Sledge first arrived on Parvuvu? Keep an eye on him. The episode also featured a poignant moment when Sledge discovered that Phillips had left Parvuvu for leave, back home in Mobile.

But the one scene that caught me by surprise centered on a brief conversation between Leckie and Sledge, inside the former’s tent. That the producers would feature a meeting between the two did not surprise me. After all, ”THE PACIFIC” is a historical drama, not a documentary. There were bound to be some historical inaccuracies. I have yet to see a historical drama that DID NOT have historical inaccuracies – including the much lauded ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. What I found surprising about this scene was that actors James Badge Dale and Joseph Mazello made it clear in this ARTICLE that they did not have any scenes togethers. Guys? Lying is a big “no, no” to me.

The episode finally shifted to the First Marines Division’s landing on Peleliu and it was a doozy. The scene featuring Sledge’s beach landing struck me as surreal, especially in that brief moment when the sun shone in the Marine’s eyes as the amtrack conveying his regiment prepared to leave the ship and hit the water. The actual beach landings for both Sledge and Leckie were graphic and rather scary. The scene in which Sledge witnessed Shelton removing gold teeth from a Japanese soldier struck me as an ominous sign of more darkness for the naïve Sledge to encounter. But the biggest heartbreak – at least for me – was the moment when Leckie witnessed Hoosier being seriously wounded by Japanese artillery.

The acting, as usual, was up to par. Joseph Mazello gave a excellent performance as the intense, yet naïve Sledge. In fact, I have to point out that the actor really knows how to use his eyes to convey his character’s emotional state. I could probably say the same about James Badge Dale, who continued to give consistently first-rate performances as Robert Leckie. Both he and Mazello were perfectly understated in their one scene together. Jon Seda, whom we have not seen since Episode Three was solid as war hero John Basilone. I especially enjoyed his performance in a scene with Mark Casamento, who portrayed his younger brother George. As Sid Phillips, Ashton Holmes gave one of his better performances by perfectly balancing his character’s joy at seeing childhood friend Sledge and war weariness at trying to explain the realities of combat to his buddy. Many fans had been anticipating Rami Malek’s debut as Sledge’s very eccentric comrade, Merriell “SNAFU” Shelton. And Malek managed to brilliantly live up to Shelton’s reputation as an eccentric and somewhat cold-blooded warrior. However, I felt a slight disappointment that the Shelton character had already arrived at this emotional point upon his introduction. Considering that his character was already a veteran of the Cape Gloucester campaign, I am not surprised. But the audience will never get to witness Malek develop his character to that point, as we got to witness Ronnie Gibson develop from a rather nervous Marine, to a slightly demented warrior and emotional wreck.

Episode Five was a pretty damn good episode. Audiences managed to witness a full-fledged battle sequence in the daylight for the first time since this episode aired. But I have one major complaint. It ended too soon. I realize that the Peleliu campaign will stretch out in two more episodes, but I still believe that this particular episode should have had a longer running time.

“THE UGLY TRUTH” (2009) Review

”THE UGLY TRUTH” (2009) Review

Romantic comedies – at least those I have personally found entertaining – have become increasingly difficult to come across in the past decade or two. In fact, I can honestly say that I can count at least five or six romantic comedies that I have truly liked during this period. And recently, ”THE UGLY TRUTH” became one of them. 

Directed by Robert Luketic, ”THE UGLY TRUTH’ told the story of Abby Ritcher, a romantically challenged producer of a television morning show named with slowly declining rating. In an effort to boost ratings, her manager hires a cynical and slightly crass television personality named Mike Chadway, who gives seemingly chauvinist comments about love and marriage to boost ratings. The two commence upon a rocky relationship. But when Abby falls for her next door neighbor, a handsome doctor named Colin, Mike persuades her to follow his lead. She agrees to his helpful advice and if he can get her the man she wants, proving his theories on relationships she will work happily with him. But if Mike fails, he agrees to quit.

I might as well put my cards on the table. I really did not expect ”THE UGLY TRUTH” to be entertaining. But much to my surprise, it was. And most of the entertainment came from the screen chemistry that generated between Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler. On screen, the pair was a basket of firecrackers, as they traded barbs, looks and kisses between each other. Heigl gave a deliciously funny performance as the uptight Abby, who stubbornly refuses to give up her ideal views on romance and especially in what she construed as the perfect man. And Butler was a hoot as the cynical, crass and yet witty Mike, whose views on romance and both genders came off as refreshingly honest.

Both Heigl and Butler were ably supported by a solid cast. Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins were hilarious as Georgia and Larry, the married co-anchors of Abby’s morning show, whose marriage was saved by some blunt advice given by Mike. Bree Turner gave a sly performance a Abby’s assistant, Joy, who lived vicariously through Abby and immediately sensed the chemistry between the latter and Mike. Nick Searcy provided stability to the cast as Abby’s no-nonsense manager, Stuart, whose decision to hire Mike would change Abby’s life. The only bad apple in the bunch came from Eric Winter’s performance as Colin, the object of Abby’s desire. Let me be clear . . . Winter did not give a bad performance. He simply had the bad luck to be saddled with a dull and one-dimensional role created by the screenwriters.

Robert Luketic did an excellent job of not only generating hilarious and first-rate performances from his cast. He also did justice to the screenplay written by Karen McCullah Lutz, Kirsten Smith and Nicole Eastman. And I must commend the screenwriters for creating a hilarious and entertaining romance. But I am also amazed that three female writers managed to avoid indulging in constant male bashing jokes (I said constant, for there were a few) and reveal that both men and women are guilty of bringing their own particular baggage to relationships. As I had stated earlier, their only misstep was the creation of the Colin character. Surely they could have created a more interesting rival for Abby’s heart.

Most critics gave ”THE UGLY TRUTH” mixed reviews. Some claimed that Heigl and Butler had no chemistry. Others claimed that Lutz, Smith and Eastman’s screenplay did not live up to the leads’ talent. They are entitled to their opinions. But I prefer to form opinions of movies on my own. And as far as I am concerned, I found ”THE UGLY TRUTH” – especially Heigl and Butler’s performances – to be very entertaining.

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: At World’s End” (2007) Review

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: At World’s End” (2007) Review

When I first saw the trailer for the third installment of the ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN”, I thought I was in for an overblown and possibly unentertaining movie. Quite frankly, the trailer did not impress me very much. And then word came out once the movie was released around May 24-25 that the movie was either confusing or not as good as the first two. I had approached ”AT WORLD’S END” with very low expectations. Thankfully, my expectations proved to be wrong. 

Was ”POTC 3” overblown? Yep. In fact, I can say the same about the first two movies. But at least the three movies were overblown in a manner that I found very enjoyable. And this third movie almost seemed to have an operatic quality about it. That operatic quality seemed to be focused around the movie’s two love stories – Will Turner/Elizabeth Swann (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley) and Davy Jones/Tia Dalma aka Calypso (Bill Nighy and Naomie Harris). One would think that the saga’s main character – Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and his main nemesis Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) would be overlooked. But these two characters provided both plenty of humor and surprisingly, angst to the movie.

”AWE” does not really have a complicated plot. Thanks to James Norrington’s (Jack Davenport) treachery in ”DEAD MAN’S CHEST”, the world of piracy finds itself in danger due to Lord Cutler Beckett’s (Tom Hollander) possession of Davy Jones’s heart. With Jones and the Flying Dutchman under his control, Beckett has the power to rid the seas of pirates and ensure that the British Crown, the East India Trading Company and himself will have control of the world’s seas. The recently resurrected Barbossa seemed to feel that the only way to stop Beckett is to summon the nine pirate lords of the Brethren Court. Both he and the recently deceased Jack Sparrow happened to be part of the Brethren Court. Because Jack had failed to name a successor, Barbossa needs Jack alive to take part in the meeting of the pirate lords. Will, who had witnessed a kiss between Elizabeth and Jack in ”DMC”, wants Jack alive for two reasons – he believes that Elizabeth is in love with Jack and he needs the Black Pearl to catch up with the Flying Dutchman. Elizabeth wants to bring Jack back to alleviate her guilt for luring the eccentric pirate to his death in the last film. Tia Dalma, the Vodoun priestess who had resurrected Barbossa needs both the latter and Jack for the “pieces of nine” that represent their positions as pirate lords. Those same pieces of nine could free Dalma from her bodily prison, enabling to become her true identity, the goddess Calypso.

Due to the needs and desires of the main characters, a great deal of double-crossing and back stabbing ensues – especially by Jack, Will and Barbossa. Another pirate lord, Sao Feng (Chow Yun Fat), gets into the act because he wants revenge against Jack for sleeping with his concubines . . . and to ensure his survival against Beckett’s purge.

I thought I would have trouble keeping up with so much treachery being committed. Oddly enough, I never did – aside from a few points. If Barbossa, Will and Elizabeth needed a ship so badly to reach the World’s End (Davy Jones’ Locker), how on earth did they reach Singapore in the first place? At first, I wanted to criticize the writers Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot for their vague explanation of the curse that had bound both Davy Jones and later, Will to command of the Flying Dutchman. Many fans – including myself – were forced to use the Internet to find out the details of the curse. As it turned out, Elliot and Rossio did include a scene in which Tia Dalma/Calypso had explained the curse in detail to Will. But for some reason, the film’s editors decided to cut it decrease the movie’s running time. Idiot editors. All they did was end up confusing a lot of fans, considering Elliot and Rossio confirmed that the Flying Dutchman curse was broken in the post-end credits scene when Will returned to Elizabeth for good. Other than that, I truly enjoy the movie’s story and have to commend the writers for doing a better job than I had anticipated.

The cast was exceptional as always. What can one say about Johnny Depp? His performance in this movie seemed even better than in the second film. I especially enjoyed three moments by Depp – his multifaceted performance of the many aspects of Jack’s personality in the Locker; the serious moment between Jack and Barbossa as the latter pointed out the folly of Jack’s tendency to run from trouble; and his look of horror when Jones managed to fatally stab Will. I had no idea that dear old Jack truly cared about Will.

And Geoffrey Rush came pretty close to stealing the picture from Depp. This time, his Barbossa turned out to be a much more complex and ambiguous than he was in ”CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”. Sure, we saw more of Barbossa’s villainy and double-crossing. But this is the same guy who also had no problems with marrying Will and Elizabeth . . . even in the middle of a sea battle. I swear that was one of the craziest wedding ceremonies I have ever seen on the movie screen. And when he double-crossed Jack for the last time, at least he was kind enough not to put Jack’s life in jeopardy.

Both Naomie Harris (who seemed a bit scary at times) and Bill Nighy provided great pathos as the romantically doomed Tia Dalma (Calypso) and Davy Jones. I especially enjoyed their scene in which each confronted the other with their past betrayals. Tom Hollander seemed to take great pleasure in his portrayal of the villainous Lord Beckett. Quite frankly, I can say the same about Chow Yun Fat, who seemed to enjoy delving into Sao Feng’s villainy. I had feared he would end up chewing the scenery, so to speak. Instead, he managed to come off as intimidating as Rush, Hollander and Nighy (and Harris, I may add). My only real complaint has to be Jack Davenport’s presence in the movie. Davenport has allowed his James Norrington to become a sad figure haunted by his ever-continuing love for Elizabeth and his betrayal in the last film. And I thought that he did a marvelous job in conveying Norrington’s regrets over his DMD actions. Unfortunately, there was not enough of Norrington in the film. Hell, the guy who portrayed Beckett’s right hand man – Mercer – had received more screen time. And there is something wrong with that.

But I feel that the movie truly belonged to Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley as the young lovers – Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. The pair’s characters and performances really struck a chord with me. Instead of the naïve and sweet lovers they had portrayed in the first film, the pair had become more ambiguous and complex. It seemed interesting to watch these two deal with each other’s insecurities, mistaken beliefs and constant sniping. They actually seemed like a real couple, instead of an idealized one. Most of the movie critics have praised Knightley for her performance. Granted, it was a major improvement over her acting in ”DMC” in which she had seemed a bit over-the-top at times, I do believe that Bloom deserved some of that praise, as well. But because he is a major teen idol, the critics have seemed fit to either ignore him or make insulting comments about his acting. I can only assume that their noses were so far up their asses that they failed to notice Bloom’s obvious talent for pathos . . . or the fact that he can be rather funny – especially in a scene in which he had volunteered to take command of the Black Pearl in the middle of one of Jack and Barbossa’s many shipboard quarrels. I hope that one day, Bloom will finally be appreciated as a good and dependable actor.

The movie has its flaws – especially the vague handling of the Flying Dutchman curse and James Norrington’s character – but I must admit that I was surprised that I managed to enjoy it a lot more than I had assumed I would. I have also heard rumors that Bruckheimer and Verbinski plan to make a fourth ”PIRATES” movie. I honestly have no idea on how to react to that. They are lucky in which they have managed to create three exceptional films. I cannot help but wonder if they are in danger of pushing their luck with a fourth one. Oh well. Only time will tell.

“Return With Vengeance” [PG-13] – 3/18

“RETURN WITH VENGEANCE”

CHAPTER 3

Olivia’s eyes were fixed upon the television set. She had never been particularly fond of CITIZEN KANE, but there seemed to be nothing else on television, at the moment. Nor did she feel like rummaging through her large collection of videos and DVD discs.

The dialogue from the movie continued to drone on and on. Olivia found her eyes growing heavy with sleep. She took a deep breath. If only she could hold on for one more second . . . Olivia’s eyes fell shut. The doorbell rang. She remained in her present state for another second. Another ring followed, along with a hard knock at the door. Olivia’s eyes fluttered open.

She glanced at the clock on the mantle. Ten twenty-seven. Who on earth would bother to pay her a visit at such an ungodly hour? Rubbing her eyes, Olivia strode over to the door and called out, “Yes? Who is it?”

“Guess who?” a voice from behind the door shot back.

Olivia frowned. The voice sounded very familiar to her. She peered through the peephole. Delight rose within her. She would know that face from anywhere. Olivia quickly opened the door and let out a squeal. “Cecile!”

The figure bundled in a wet coat and a rain scarf dragged her bags and umbrella inside the apartment. “Hey cherie!” she cried gleefully. “Where you at?” The two women then threw themselves into each other’s arms and squealed with delight.

Amidst all of the noise, a figure materialized beside Olivia. It was Cole, dressed in his usual black trousers and sleeveless white undershirt. “Olivia! Is everything okay?” he asked, looking both concerned and paranoid at the same time. “I thought I heard you . . .” He glanced at Cecile and his body relaxed. “Oh. You have a visitor. I, uh . . . I guess she’s wondering . . .”

Olivia smiled as she observed her two friends stare at each other. “Don’t worry. This is Cecile. The friend I had told you about? She’s quite used to seeing others teleport. Cecile, this is my friend and neighbor, Cole Turner. Cole, this is Cecile Dubois, my best friend.”

Cole held out his hand. “Cecile, it’s nice to finally meet you.”

“Yeah,” Cecile murmured, “same here.” Looking quite stunned, Cecile grabbed Cole’s hand and shook it. A gasp escaped her mouth.

Both Olivia and Cole frowned. “Something wrong?” the former asked.

“Muscle spasm,” the other woman quickly replied. “From jet lag.” She slowly removed her coat and scarf. At five-feet-four, the New Orleans-born woman stood nearly a foot shorter than Cole. She possessed rich brown skin, high cheekbones, and black almond-shaped eyes that many have found penetrating. “So, you’re the famous Cole Turner. Livy told me a lot about you.” Her eyes swept over his figure in an appreciative manner. “She didn’t do you justice.”

“Cecile!” Olivia’s cheeks grew hot with embarrassment, as she took her friend’s wet belongings.

Cole’s dark brows shot upward. “Really? Exactly how did Olivia describe me?” Amusement twinkled in his blue eyes.

Before her friend could respond, Olivia quickly spoke up. “I told her that you were a half-daemon . . . and a friend. A close friend. Right Cecile?”

Innocence gleamed in Cecile’s dark eyes. “If you say so, cherie.” Olivia sighed. She wanted to die from embarrassment. Right there on the spot.

Cole smiled. “Well, it was nice to meet you, Cecile. I wish I could stay longer, but I have a busy day, tomorrow.”

“Will you be busy, tomorrow morning?” The words came out of Olivia’s mouth before she could stop herself. Cole’s eyes expressed surprise. Even Cecile stared at her. Feeling self-conscious, Olivia added, “I just thought . . .”

Cole immediately responded, “I’ll be here at seven, sharp. See you tomorrow.” He gave the two women one last smile and disappeared.

After placing Cecile’s wet coat and scarf into the closet, Olivia helped her friend carry the latter’s luggage to the guest room. “I had the room prepared after you called.” She dumped one traveling bag inside the spare bedroom. “Only I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow.”

“I changed my mind and decided to leave today. Tomorrow’s flight was a little too crowded for my taste,” Cecile replied. She placed the other bag alongside the first one. “And you know how much I hate crowds.” She sighed. “Lord, I’m tired. And hungry. You got any leftovers?”

Olivia started toward the kitchen. “I can make you a quick omlette, if that’s okay with you.”

Seconds later, Cecile joined Olivia inside the kitchen. She sat down on one of the chairs that surrounded the table. “So, this is your new apartment. Very nice.” She added slyly, “And so is your new neighbor.”

Olivia removed several items from the refrigerator – eggs, butter, milk, red and green peppers, onions and cheese. She gave Cecile a pointed stare. “Meaning?”

“Meaning . . . nothing,” Cecile replied with a shrug. “I only meant that he seemed like a very nice man. Or half-demon, or whatever he is. He’s a daemon, right?”

After reaching for a knife, Olivia began chopping peppers. “Yeah, he’s a daemon. You don’t have a problem with him being one, do you?”

“Not after what you told me about him.” Cecile broke off a piece of cheese. “I like him. I don’t have a bad feeling about him. And besides, you’ve always been a good judge of character. Better than me, that’s for sure.” She popped the cheese into her mouth.

A mischievous smile curved Olivia’s mouth. “Does that include Andre?”

Cecile frowned. “On second thought, you’re not always right.”

“Oh dear God! What has Andre done now?”

The other woman’s frown deepened. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay.” Olivia finished chopping peppers.

Silence reigned inside the kitchen. It did not last. “Do you want to know what that son-of-a-bitch Andre did?” Cecile angrily cried, ending the silence. “He helped Janet Casey get a job at his uncle’s insurance company!”

“And?”

“And?” Outrage increased the decibel in Cecile’s voice. “You know how I can’t stand that woman! So does Andre!”

Olivia began chopping onions. “Why? Because she’s a little odd? Who isn’t? It seems to me that you have some . . . I don’t know, inferiority complex about Janet. It’s funny, since both of you seem alike in many ways.” Olivia paused. “Does that bother you?”

A sigh left Cecile’s mouth. “You know, remarks like that will only get you into trouble with me.”

“Well, I’ll still have Cole as a friend,” Olivia said with a smile. When Cecile failed to retort, her smile disappeared. She glanced up and noticed the other woman staring knowingly at her. “What?”

Cecile commented slyly, “You should see the look on your face. You’re attracted to him, aren’t you?”

Olivia rolled her eyes. “Of course I think he’s attractive!” she retorted. “What woman in her right mind, wouldn’t?” She cracked one egg into a bowl.

Cecile’s next words left Olivia feeling slightly uneasy. “I didn’t ask whether you thought he looked attractive. I asked if you were attracted to him. You know what I mean. You’re just avoiding the question.”

“If you must know,” Olivia shot back, “I only think of Cole as a friend. My neighbor. A chum, a buddy. And that’s all!” She glared at Cecile. “Get the picture?”

Cecile shrugged. “Yeah. Sure. Whatever you say.” She broke off another piece of cheese and popped it into her mouth. Almost under her breath, she added, “I wonder if Cole knows Andre.”

“Fat chance!” Olivia replied.

* * * *

The two women stared at Cole with disbelief. Especially Olivia. “You know Andre? Andre Morrell?”

As promised, Cole appeared at Olivia’s apartment for breakfast, at seven o’clock sharp, the following morning. He, Olivia and Cecile had just finished a meal that consisted of French toast and sausage. The two women told Cole about their twenty-year long friendship, which included six years at Stanford. And Cole answered all of Cecile’s curious questions about his past. One of those questions happened to be about her boyfriend, Andre.

Cole swallowed the last of his coffee. “Sure, I know Andre. We’ve been friends for the past ten years. While I was eluding the Source’s bounty hunters, two years ago, he helped me hide in planes of existence I’ve never even heard of.”

“Now, why hasn’t he ever told me about you?” an annoyed Cecile asked, partly to herself.

“Considering his past, maybe he feared you wouldn’t understand his friendship with a half-daemon.”

Cecile gave him a shrewd look. “So you know that Andre used to be a bokor? Of course you do! What am I saying?”

“Yeah, I know.” Cole paused. “He still practices magic, right?”

Nodding, Cecile added, “Andre is now a houngan, a priest. And a healer. He uses his power to help others. But redeemed or not, Andre is still Andre. He hasn’t changed that much.”

A soft chuckle escaped Cole’s mouth. The laugh felt easy on the ears. Cecile approved. “It’s been a while since I last saw him, but you’re right,” Cole admitted. “Which leads me to wonder how on earth you two met.”

“Andre and I have known each other since we were kids in New Orleans,” Cecile explained. She added that she had been aware of Andre’s embrace of dark magic and how it affected the Morrell family. “I never really got to know him until Olivia and I met him in Morgan City, some three years ago.”

Olivia added, “Andre was temporarily working for some drug dealer I had tracked from here. This guy was heavy into Vodoun. The police thought he used ‘voodoo’ to keep certain locals in check. They never realized that he had a genuine bokor, or sorcerer, working with him. To make a long story short, the drug dealer asked Andre to kill us . . . only he couldn’t.”

“He got tired of his life of crime,” Cecile added. “And of using black magic.”

Rolling her eyes, Olivia smirked. “C’mon Cecile! You know the real reason Andre gave up his life as a bokor. And it just wasn’t about him longing for a new life.”

An annoyed Cecile bit her lip. She loved Olivia like a sister, but the woman could be exasperating. No one loved playing devil’s advocate more than Olivia. Except for her father, Jack McNeill. And Andre.

“You know, you two ladies have very dangerous tastes in men,” Cole concluded. “A warlock and a Vodoun sorcerer. What’s next, I wonder?” Cecile gathered from his words that he knew about Olivia’s late fiancé, Richard Bannen.

Cecile replied, “Well, I don’t have a half-daemon as a close friend.” She smiled at Cole. “At least not yet.” He returned the smile. A wave of warmth seemed to radiate from the half-daemon. Which greatly surprised Cecile. He almost seemed to be at peace. She wondered if Olivia’s presence had anything to do with this feeling.

Cole opened his mouth to speak when blue lights appeared in the room. Seconds later, a familiar figure materialized. Cecile recognized Olivia’s whiteligher, Leo Wyatt. “Hey Leo!” Olivia greeted warmly. “What brings you here? Would you like some French toast?”

The whitelighter’s gaze lingered on the breakfast longingly, before it shifted to Cole. Leo frowned. “Oh. Cole. I didn’t realize you were here.”

A smirk appeared on Cole’s lips. “Leo. I didn’t realize you were coming. Is there something wrong? A disturbance in the Force?”

Coffee almost spurted out of Olivia’s mouth. Cecile hid her smile with a coffee cup. Leo’s handsome face turned red. Cecile saw the suppressed anger in his blue eyes. “I’m here to discuss a matter with Olivia. A matter between friends.”

“In other words, you’re here to besmirch my character again,” Cole sarcastically added. He heaved a large sigh and stood up. “Well, I know when I’m not wanted. Good day, ladies,” he said to Cecile and Olivia. “And thanks for the breakfast.” He disappeared.

Leo murmured darkly, “I see that no matter how he tries, he doesn’t change.” Then he finally seemed to be aware of Cecile staring at him. Again, he flushed. “Oh, I didn’t realize . . . It’s nice to see you again . . . uh, Cecile, right?”

“Yeah.” Cecile held out her hand. Leo shook it. “I haven’t seen you in quite a while, myself. Not since last May. Olivia has told me that you’re expecting a baby next spring.”

Leo smiled. “That’s right. Piper is at least four to five months pregnant, right now.”

Cecile returned his smile. “Congratulations.” Personally, she found the idea of an angel getting a witch pregnant very strange. But she kept such thoughts to herself.

After shooting a quick smile at Cecile, the whitelighter returned his attention to his charge. “So, you and Cole are now having breakfast together?” he demanded, frowning.

Olivia sighed. “Leo, please tell me that we’re not going to start on this conversation again!”

“I understand that you might be grateful to Cole for saving your life, three weeks ago, but . . .”

In a hard voice, Olivia shot back, “But nothing! My relationship with Cole is not about me being grateful! I like him. He’s a friend. And my friendship with him is none of your concern!”

“He’s a demon, Olivia! He’s evil!” Leo cried. “You have no idea of what he’s really like! You’ve only seen his good side.”

Green eyes expressed fake surprise. “His good side? Gee Leo, how can he be evil, if he also has a good side?”

Leo heaved an exasperated sigh. “You know what I mean!”

Olivia’s eyes narrowed. Cecile felt a brief pang of pity for the whitelighter. She recognized that look on her friend’s face. Someone was about to discover the brutal truth. And that person would not be one Olivia McNeill.

“Leo, why are you here?” the red-haired witch asked suspiciously. “Why are you here, this morning?”

The whitelighter hesitated. “I . . . I mean . . .”

“You mean what?” Olivia demanded relentlessly. “Your little visit has something to do with Phoebe Halliwell, doesn’t it? Cole and I ran into her at Morgan’s, yesterday.” Her green eyes bored into Leo’s. “What’s the matter, Leo? Does the idea of another woman with Cole bother her that much?”

Leo’s face became even redder. “Phoebe’s not jealous, if that’s what you mean.” The unease in his eyes said otherwise. “She’s concerned about you. We’re all concerned.”

“I’ve heard this before,” Olivia airily replied. “From Phoebe, as a matter of fact. According to her, Cole hurt her and she thinks he might hurt me.”

The whitelighter angrily declared, “He did hurt Phoebe! He betrayed us all when he . . .”

“When he became the Source? Yeah, I know all about that.” Olivia paused and gave Leo a shrewd look. “In fact, I may know a lot more than you do.”

A frown darkened Leo’s countenance. “What are you talking about? What has Cole been telling you?”

“Let’s just say that Gran scanned Cole’s memories of the past and projected them to us. The family. We know what really happened when he became the Source, earlier this year.”

Cecile spoke up. “This Source. Are you talking about the same daemon that led this . . . um, Source’s Realm? The one you told me about?”

Olivia nodded. “That’s the one.”

Disbelief mingled with pity in Leo’s eyes. “My God, Olivia! I can’t believe that you just accepted everything Cole told you. Don’t you know? One of his powers is the ability to manipulate the minds of others. He could have been sending your grandmother, false memories!”

Green eyes rolled in disgust and sighed. “Leo, I love you like a brother and I know that you mean well. But could you please get your head out of your ass and use your brains? Do you really believe that Cole could prevent Gran from learning the truth? For all of his powers, he couldn’t even prevent Barbas from messing with his head, last month!”

“Barbas?” Cecile asked.

“The fear daemon I once told you about.” Olivia continued, directing her words at Leo. “And Leo, do I have to remind you that Barbas has never been able to deal with the telepaths in Gran’s family? Why do you think he has been avoiding Collins telepaths for so many centuries?”

Realization seemed to have stricken the whitelighter. He stared at Olivia with stunned eyes. “Are you saying that . . . ? What exactly did your grandmother see in Cole’s mind?”

Olivia sighed. “That Cole had been possessed by the Source’s essence. After using the Hollow to take his powers and save the Charmed Ones. Cole had been possessed by the Source for practically three months. Now, while you contemplate this earth shattering news, do you want me to fix you some French toast?”

Poor man. Cecile stared at the whitelighter with pity. He had just become another victim of the McNeill Redball Express – otherwise known as Olivia’s blunt tongue. Poor man.

* * * *

The slightly battered cargo ship ended its voyager from Singapore, when it eased into one of the docks at Pier 34. The dock supervisor, Lloyd Janowski, glanced out of the window heaved a private sigh of relief. At last. Although three days late, the S.S. Enigma had finally arrived.

One of the dockworkers, a burly, blond-haired man named Clancy Walker, popped his head inside Janowski’s office. “Hey, is that the Enigma?”

Janowski growled. “Yeah, it’s finally here, thank God! And it’s about damn time!” He reached for the telephone.

“When do you want us to start unloading the Enigma’s cargo?”

A frown creased the supervisor’s face. “What’s the rush? You’re not even finished with unloading that freighter.”

Walker shrugged. “We’re almost finished. And besides, don’t we have another freighter that’s due from Yokohama, this afternoon?”

Janowski sighed. “It can wait. And as for the Enigma, you can begin on her hold. But after you finish unloading the Omega Star.” Once Walker disappeared, Janowski reached for his telephone and began dialing the telephone number for the U.S. Customs Office.

END OF CHAPTER 3

“PUBLIC ENEMIES” (2009) Review

Below is my review of “PUBLIC ENEMIES”, a recent movie on the last year of Dillinger’s life: 

”PUBLIC ENEMIES” (2009) Review

I must admit that when I first heard about Michael Mann’s plans to film a movie about Depression-era bank robber, John Dillinger, I became excited. It was not the subject that roused my interest. But I found the idea of Mann shooting a movie set during the height of the Great Depression – 1933 to 1934 – rather interesting. It has become a period in U.S. history that has caught my interest in the past five years. And the fact that Johnny Depp and Christian Bale had been cast in the leads as Dillinger and his nemesis, FBI Agent Melvin Purvis, merely increased my interest.

At first, I had assumed that I would love ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”. I assumed that Mann could do no wrong. Then to my surprise, I discovered that the film had received mixed reviews from film critics. From that moment on, I began to harbor doubts about the film’s quality. I never learn. Never. I had forgotten my most important rule about approaching a movie – the only opinion that should count for me is my own. And when I finally saw ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, I realized that I had to learn that particular lesson all over again.

I want to point out that ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” is not perfect. This does not bother me one bit. Perfect movies are extremely rare. And I suspect . . . not know, but suspect I may have seen one or two in my lifetime. However, ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”is not one of those rare examples of cinematic perfection. First of all, the movie – especially its first hour – seemed to be marred by an uncomfortable number of close-ups by cinematographer Dante Spinotti. This discomfort was especially apparent in action scenes like the prison escape from the Indiana State Prison featured in the film’s opening scene , “Pretty Boy” Floyd’s death at the hands of FBI Agent Melvin Purvis, and John Dillinger’s first bank robbery featured in the film. These close-ups brought back memories of the ones featured in Disney’s ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”.

But at the least the close-ups in the 2003 film were not further marred by quick editing done by Paul Rubell and Jeffrey Ford for this film. Watching their zip fast editing reminded me of those featured in movies like the last two ”BOURNE”films, ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE”, both ”TRANSFORMERS” movies, ”THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1-2-3” and ”STAR TREK”. I suspect that this new editing style is fast becoming the new thing in the film industry. Personally, I hate it. I find it cheap and confusing.

I have one last complaint about the film and it has to do with David Wenham’s appearance in the film. The Australian actor portrayed Harry Pierpont, one of Dillinger’s closest friends and a mentor. Yet, he barely spoke a few words in the movie. In fact, he seemed more like a background character than a supporting one. Giovanni Ribisi had more lines in the film and his character, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, had no real close ties with Dillinger. Why did Mann and the two other screenwriters, Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman, bothered to include the Pierpont character in the first place? Instead of at least a minor exploration of the Dillinger-Pierpont relationship, the screenwriters reduced Pierpont – Dillinger’s mentor – to a minor character with a few lines.

Now that I have put all of that negativity behind me, it is time to discuss why I had enjoyed ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” so much. Perhaps I am being a bit too subtle. I did not merely enjoy ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, I loved it. It has easily become my favorite movie this summer. So far. Fast editing and close-ups aside, I must admit that I admire how director Michael Mann handled the movie’s pacing. I was surprised to learn about the criticisms leveled at the movie’s running time (two hours and nineteen minutes) and especially its alleged running time. Personally, I was impressed by Mann’s steady pace. Expecting the movie to be over two hours long, I was surprised to discover that amount of time had passed when the end credits finally began to roll. Perhaps I had been so caught up in the story that I failed to notice the time. Which is a compliment to Mann’s direction . . . at least from me.

Many scenes directed by Man left me spellbound. They include Baby Face Nelson’s murder of a FBI Agent at a hotel ambush set up by Purvis; Dillinger’s press conference inside the warden’s office at the Crown Point Prison in Indiana; his escape from said prison; the FBI ‘s capture of Dillinger’s girlfriend, Billie Frichette; Frichette’s interrogation and beating at the hands of a FBI agent; and Purvis’ conversation with prostitute and brothel madam, Anna Sage.

But there were four scenes . . . actually, two scenes and two sequences that truly impressed me. The first one featured Purvis’ telephone conversation with his boss, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. In it, Purvis tries to convince the irate Hoover that many of their agents are not experienced enough to hunt down the likes of Dillinger and Nelson and that they need to recruit more experienced men . . . like Texas Rangers. Despite the fact that the two actors portraying Purvis and Hoover do not share the screen, the emotion between their characters crackled like flames, thanks to their performances and Mann’s direction. The other scene featured Dillinger’s arrival in Indiana by plane, after being arrested by Federal agents in Tucson, Arizona. Although brief, it struck a surreal note within me, thanks to Spinott’s photography. The cinematographer shot the entire scene with colors that projected a soft iron, mingled with a reddish-orange tint from the sun. Very beautiful.

Although I found the scenes mentioned above very memorable, I was rendered speechless by the following sequences. The first centered around the violent shootout at the Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin in April 1934. I am certain that many critics and moviegoers had ended up comparing this sequence with the famous Downtown Los Angeles shootout in Mann’s 1995 movie, ”HEAT”. Granted, the latter turned out longer and was filmed in the daytime, but this Little Bohemia shootout turned out to be just as effective and exciting, despite being filmed at night. But if there is one sequence that filled me with great satisfaction, it was the one that featured the last night of Dillinger’s life. Mann, along with Spinotti, production designer Nathan Crowley, Rosemary Brandenburg’s set designs, Patrick Lumb, William Ladd Skinner’s art direction, the screenwriters and the cast did a superb job in conveying the director’s own detailed account of that hot, July night in 1934. I, for one, was glad that Mann took his time in leading to that moment when Texas Ranger Charles Winstead shot Dillinger dead. The director gave movie audiences a glimpse of street life in Depression-era Chicago during the summertime. He also allowed the audience to experience Dillinger’s pleasure in viewing Clark Gable’s spunk and Myrna Loy’s beauty in the 1934 MGM movie, ”MANHATTAN MELODRAMA”. With the camera, the audience waited nervously along with Purvis, Winstead and the other lawmen who waited outside the Biograph Theater for Dillinger. This is one of the most detailed and marvelously shot sequences I have ever seen on film in the past decade or two.

Another aspect of ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” that struck me as unique was its style. Past movies about Depression-era criminals from the Midwest and the South like (1967) “BONNIE AND CLYDE”(1974) “MELVIN PURVIS, G-MAN”, and (1975) “THE KANSAS CITY MASSACRE” tend to have this rural or “good ‘ole boy” style, similar to movies and television shows like (1977) “SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT” and (1979-85) “THE DUKES OF HAZZARD”. These films were usually filled with a great deal of wild car chases, over-the-top acting and a Country-Western tune emphasizing the action. ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” seemed to go against this rural style. Instead, most of Mann’s Midwestern criminals are not some wild, country boys that went on a crime spree as some reaction against the Depression’s economic woes. His criminals – especially Dillinger – are professional criminals, whose experiences go back long before the first impact of the Depression. Nor is Mann’s Melvin Purvis is some long experienced “good ‘ole boy” lawman with a Mississippi Valley or Southwestern accent like Ben Johnson in (1973) “DILLINGER” or Dale Robertson in his two TV movies about the FBI agent. His Purvis is a lot closer to the real one, a South Carolinian gentleman in his early thirties, who happened to be a trained lawyer and an excellent shot. Both Dillinger and Purvis come off as more sophisticated than their portrayals featured in earlier movies. And the characters’ sophistication certainly reflected the movie’s more serious tone. Something I certainly had no problems with.

John Dillinger may turn out to be one of my favorite characters portrayed by Johnny Depp. Much has been made of Dillinger’s charm and joie de vivre . . . and Depp certainly did not hesitate to replicate it in front of the camera. One prime example of this charm was featured in Dillinger’s press conference inside the warden’s office at the Crown Point Prison in Indiana. I have seen the original 1934 newsreel featuring the famous press conference and I must say that Depp did a beautiful job of recapturing Dillinger’s actions – from the bank robber’s attitude, right down to his body language.

But there were other aspects of Dillinger’s personality that Depp did not hesitate to portray – his romantic charm that won Billie Frichette’s heart and cynical sense of humor. Most importantly, Depp’s performance reminded the audience that Dillinger had been capable of being a cold-blooded criminal. After all, he had drifted into crime long before the economic upheaval of the Depression. And Depp’s performance made that clear, whether his Dillinger was expressing fury at one colleague, whose beating of a prison guard led to the death of an old friend in the film’s opening prison break; his lack of remorse toward his many crimes, his connection to the Chicago mob; and his willingness to murder anyone who got in his way. Depp not only perfectly portrayed Dillinger as a charming and extroverted rogue, but also as a tender lover, a hardened criminal unwilling to give up his profession and if need be, a killer.

I have noticed that in the past two or three years, Christian Bale has found himself in the thankless task of portraying characters less flamboyant than his co-stars. This certainly seemed to be the case in the 2006 Victorian melodrama ”THE PRESTIGE” with the more outgoing Hugh Jackman; in the 2008 Batman sequel, ”THE DARK KNIGHT”, in which his performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman contrasted sharply with Heath Ledger’s wildly chaotic Joker; and in the recent”TERMINATOR SALVATION”, in which he seemed to be overshadowed in the eyes of many by the more overtly masculine Sam Worthington. Mind you, Bale gave superb performances in all of these films. Yet, his co-stars seemed to be grabbing most of the glory. This also seemed to be the case in ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, in which he portrays Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent assigned to capture Dillinger, one way or the other. Whereas Depp’s Dillinger is all charm and flash, Bale’s Purvis is a resolute and educated South Carolina gentleman, who also happened to be a somewhat competent lawman determined to hunt down the bank robber by any means possible. And that included following Director Hoover’s insistence on ”taking the white gloves off” or insisting that the FBI recruit experienced Texas Rangers for the manhunt. Bale not only did an excellent job in conveying Purvis’ quiet determination in hunting down Dillinger, but the agent’s anxious fear that he may never capture the bank robber on a permanent basis. Bale also effectively portrayed Purvis’ ruthlessness in dealing with those who stood between him and Dillinger. Melvin Purvis is not a splashy role for Bale, but the latter certainly did an excellent job of portraying the lawman’s many personality facets.

Before I saw ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, I had feared that the addition of Billie Frichette (Dillinger’s girlfriend) into the story would make her presence irrelevant and threaten to drag the film. Fortunately, Mann and the other two screenwriters – Bennett and Biderman – along with Oscar winner Marion Cotillard did justice to the Frichette character. Cotillard gave an excellent performance as a hatcheck woman who captured Dillinger’s heart. She portrayed Frichette as a slightly melancholy woman who not only resented society’s bigotry against her ancestry (her mother was half French, half –Menominee), but also feared that her relationship with Dillinger may not last very long. One of Cotillard’s best moments featured the hatcheck woman being interrogated and beaten by one of Purvis’ agents, who is determined to learn Dillinger’s whereabouts. And despite being French-born and raised, Cotillard proved that she could use a Midwestern accent circa 1933, just as well as an American actress.

”PUBLIC ENEMIES” seemed to be filled with some memorable supporting roles. And a handful of performances stood out for me. I enjoyed Jason Clarke’s quiet and subtle performance as Dillinger’s close friend and colleague, the dependable John “Red” Hamilton, who seemed convinced that he and the bank robber were doomed to live short lives. Clarke especially shone in an emotional scene in which a badly wounded Hamilton tried to convince Dillinger to stop clinging fervently to all people and things that mattered too much to him. And there was Billy Crudup (a face I have been seeing with great frequency over the past few years), who gave an entertaining and sharp performance as FBI Director and publicity hound, J. Edgar Hoover. Crudup managed to capture a great deal of the legendary director’s personality as much as possible – especially Hoover’s staccato-style speech pattern. And his scenes with Bale brimmed with a layer of emotion that made their on-screen relationship one of the more interesting ones in the movie.

Another performance that caught my attention belonged to Stephen Graham as the trigger-happy Lester “Baby Face Nelson” Gillis. I have to give Graham kudos for effectively projecting a certain facet of Nelson’s persona from both Dillinger and Purvis’ points-of-view. In Dillinger’s eyes, Graham portrayed Nelson as a trigger happy clown and bad Cagney impersonator, whose criminal skills seemed to belong to an amateur. In his major scene with Purvis, Graham portrayed Nelson as a dangerous criminal, quite capable of efficiently killing Federal agents in cold blood. And it was a pleasant surprise to see the always competent Stephen Lang as Charles Winstead, one of the Texas Rangers recruited by Purvis to assist in the FBI manhunt for Dillinger. Lang first worked for Mann in 1986’s ”MANHUNTER” and the television series, ”CRIME STORY”. Since then, he has portrayed a vast array of memorable characters over the years. In”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, he gave another excellent performance as the stoic and intimidating Winstead, whose vast experience with criminal manhunts allowed him to act as a de facto mentor for the less experienced Purvis. One last performance that caught my attention belonged to Branka Katić’s portrayal of Anna Sage, the so-called ”Woman in Red”who had betrayed Dillinger to the FBI in Chicago. Actually, Sage never wore red on the night she led the FBI to the Biograph Theater and Dillinger. But that is beside the point. Katić gave an intelligent performance as the world-weary, Romanian-born madam that found herself forced to help the FBI ambush the bank robber.

Every now and then, I eventually come across some comparisons between ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” and ”HEAT” in some of the articles I have read about the former. And the comparison usually ends in the 1995 movie’s favor. Do I agree with this assessment? Honestly, I have no answer. Both movies are superb crime dramas with a few flaws. Whereas ”HEAT”managed to capture the miasma of late 20th century Los Angeles, ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” reeked with the slightly gray aura of the Depression-era Midwest . . . especially Chicago. And whereas the pacing for ”HEAT” threatened to drag in its last hour, the quick editing and constant close-ups nearly marred the first hour of ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”. But you know what? I love both movies. And ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” proved to be another example of why Michael Mann continues to be one of my favorite movie directors.

“THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS” (1987) Review


“THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS” (1987) Review

Twenty-four years have passed since EON Productions first released its 15th entry in the Bond franchise – THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, starring Welsh-actor Timothy Dalton I first saw THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS on the night of July 31, 1987 – the date of its original U.S. release. My family and I saw it at the Grauman Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The theater was so packed that we ended up seated near the screen. I had a headache by the time the movie ended. Yet, watching “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS” that night was one of the most enjoyable movie going experiences of my life.

I have to say that EON Productions has been lucky in its choice of the six actors who managed to bring their own sense of style to the role of James Bond . . . and I mean all of them. And all were smart enough to portray Bond in a way that suited them, instead of adhering to what the public or the producers wanted them to play Bond.

The movie’s title comes from the 1966 short story, ”The Living Daylights” in which Bond is assigned to assassinate a KGB sniper out to kill a MI-6 agent trying to escape from the Soviet Bloc in Berlin. The movie’s director, John Glen, along with screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, took aspects of that short story and used it to initiate the screen plot. ”THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS” starts with a military exercise on Gilbratar in which three 00 agents – including Bond – test the British base by infiltrating it. One of the agents is killed by a KGB agent, who leaves a clue behind with the following words, ”Smiert Spionam”. The phrase, which means ”Death to Spies”, is repeated by Soviet general Georgi Koskov (portrayed by Jeroen Krabbe), after Bond helps him defect from Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. The defection sequence turns out to be a slight remake of the Fleming short story. But whereas the female sniper turns out to be a genuine killer in Fleming’s version; in the movie, she turns out to be Czech celloist, Kara Milovy (portrayed by Maryam D’Abo), who pretends to be a sniper in order to convince MI-6 that Koskov’s defection is genuine. The movie later reveals that Koskov also had Kara impersonate a sniper in order to set her up to be killed by MI-6, namely Bond. And why? It turns out that Koskov is a renegade who has allied himself with an arms dealer named Brad Whittaker (Joe Don Baker) who have been using KBG funds to profit from drug dealing, instead of purchasing arms for the Soviet Army. When another general, Leonid Puskin (John Rhys-Davies) becomes suspicious, Koskov and Whittaker frame the general for the murder of 002 on Gilbratar so that MI-6 will terminate him. Thanks to Bond’s suspicions and his alliance with Kara, the CIA and Afghan freedom fighters named the Mujahedeen, he prevents Koskov and Whittaker’s plans from coming to fruition.

First of all, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS is not a perfect movie. It has its flaws. The movie’s main flaw came in the form of the new Aston Martin Volante used by Bond during his escape from the Soviet authorities in Czechoslovakia to Austria. The car was equipped with weaponry such as to use during The Living Daylights mission, the car was equipped with all the essential weaponry that includes rocket launchers and lasers mounted in the hubcaps. Now if this had been”GOLDFINGER””THE SPY WHO LOVED ME” or ”TOMORROW NEVER DIES” this would not seem out of place. But a gadget laden Aston Martin does seem out of place in a taunt thriller like THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS and Dalton’s Bond does not seem like the type of guy who would feel comfortable driving such a vehicle.

The Aston Martin sequence emphasized another problem with THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS – namely the humor that accompanied this scene. Some critics had complained of Timothy Dalton’s lack of humor during his tenure as Bond. Actually, one could plainly see that Dalton did have a sense of humor – but one that seemed subtle, dry and slightly dark. It was not the type of humor that drew belly laughs like Roger Moore’s. Most of the movie managed to display Dalton’s type of humor very well. Except during the Aston Martin sequence that featured Bond and Kara’s escape from the Soviet authorities and troops. During this sequence, the producers obviously had not only decided to burden Dalton’s Bond with a gadget-filled car, but also jokes that seemed to fit Roger Moore’s style of humor. I hate to say this but Dalton simply lacked Moore’s talent for broad humor. And it showed during this sequence.

Another problem with the movie turned out to be the character of Brad Whittaker, an American arms dealer. Granted, Joe Don Baker turns in a very competent performance. But his character contributes very little to the story. True, his business as an arms dealer serves as a catalyst to the story, but as a Bond villain he comes off as somewhat weak. Quite simply, he hardly does anything. The movie’s entire plot – using MI-6 to kill off the suspicious Pushkin in order to continue misuse of KGB funds – turned out to be Koskov’s brain child. It was Koskov who plotted to get rid of Pushkin. It was Koskov who plotted to get rid of Kara. It was Koskov who had plotted to frame Bond for Pushkin’s murder. And I suspect that it was Koskov who had originally created the scheme to misuse KGB funds for drug dealing in the first place. Frankly, I think that Whittaker should have met the same fate as Hai Fat from ”THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN”. He was that irrelevant. Only in his final scene with Dalton does Baker’s Whittaker seem impressive. Instead of arranging some ridiculous death that would give 007 an opportunity to escape, Whittaker did not hesitate to kill Bond in the most brutal manner possible.

With a weak villain such as Whittaker, one would expect THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS to fall apart. But it did not, thanks to the movie’s other main villain – Soviet General Georgi Koskov. Many Bond fans tend to dismiss Koskov as another weak villain. I disagree. Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbe did a fantastic job in creating a character that seemed extroverted, charming and very likeable on the surface . . . and intelligent, devious, ruthless and cold-blooded underneath. This subtle duality in his personality comes to the fore in his relationship with Kara Milovy. He obviously had some kind of affection toward the blond cellist . . . enough to purchase a famous Stradivarius cello for her. Yet, when his deception threatens to be exposed, he cold-bloodedly arranged for her to be mistaken as a KGB assassin by Bond, so that the latter would kill her. After all, Kara knew about his relationship with Whittaker. If I had to be honest, I would prefer to be face-to-face wtih an obvious villain like Auric Goldfinger than to be unexpectedly stabbed in the back by the likes of Georgi Koskov.

Not only did Jeroen Krabbe contributed to the quality of THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, but so did the rest of the cast, including the London-born actress of Dutch-Georgian ancestry – Maryam D’Abo. Her Kara Milovy, the effervescent Czech cellist, seemed like a sister in spirit to the Bond leading lady of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE . . . only with a little more backbone. D’Abo infuses Kara with a fresh naivety and passion that has not been since Daniela Bianchi in FRWL. Even better, she and Dalton managed to create a magnetic, yet natural screen chemistry. But D’Abo has never been that popular with Bond fans. Apparently, she seemed too ladylike and not sexy enough for them. Another Bond fan had complained that once Bond learned all he could about Koskov from Kara in Vienna and she set him up to be captured by Koskov in Tangiers, her character became irrelevant to the story. This could be true. But if Kara became irrelevant after Tangiers, what were the writers supposed to do with her? Leave her there? I doubt that Koskov would allow a living Kara loose on the world to expose him. No wonder he had brought her along to Afghanistan. But even there, Kara proved to be more than “comic relief” as someone had put it. Thanks to her, Kamal Khan and his Mujahedeen fighters attacked the Soviet airbase and distracted the military personnel long enough to save Bond and give him the opportunity to steal the plane loaded with Whittaker and Koskov’s opium. Kara Milovy may not be the most popular of Bond leading ladies, but thanks to D’Abo’s performance, she is certainly one of my favorites.

I must admit that I found myself rather impressed by the rest of THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS cast. Robert Brown proved to be a more interesting “M” than he did in either OCTOPUSSY and A VIEW TO A KILL. His stuffy head of MI-6 proved to be an excellent contrast to Dalton’s Bond, with whom he constantly butt heads with. Although Robert Shaw had set the standards for the blond, muscle-bound henchman/killer in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, many have failed to be as memorable as him. As far as I am concerned, only one has come close . . . namely Andreas Wisniewski as Necros, Whittaker and Koskov’s hired killer. Like Shaw before him, Wisniewski had very little dialogue – in fact, probably less than the British actor. But he managed to project menace, intelligence and style without coming off as some muscle-bound clone like the Hans character in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and the Stamper character in TOMORROW NEVER DIES. Also included in the cast was legendary character actor, John Rhys-Davies, portraying Soviet General Leonid Pushkin, the very character whose suspicions of the Whittaker-Koskov partnership helped set the plot in motion. Unlike many of his other well-known roles, Rhys-Davies portrayed a more restrained character, yet managing to project his usual strong presence. He and Dalton played off each other very well in the famous Tangier hotel room scene, in which Pushkin nearly became one of Bond’s victims. And of course, there is Art Malik from THE JEWEL IN THE CROWNfame. In TLD, he played Kamran Shah, leader of a local Mujardeen unit. In a way, Malik’s character reminds me of Georgi Koskov – a strong and intelligent man who uses a benign persona to hide his true self. And Malik portrayed Shah with a giddy mixture of authority, charm, and mischievous wit.

That said, I want to say a few things about Timothy Dalton. Even though I was a major fan of Roger Moore, I realized by the mid-80s that it was time for him to retire from the role. With great fondness, I said adieu and breathlessly anticipated Timothy Dalton’s debut inTHE LIVING DAYLIGHTS. When THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS first came out, the media pointed out that Dalton had read all of Fleming’s novels, along with a biography of the author to get a vibe on the James Bond character. It is possible that many fans and critics, used to Roger Moore’s more humorous portrayal, found it difficult to accept Dalton’s grittier Bond. Personally, I feel all of that research had paid off. Dalton’s Bond was a tense and serious man with occasional flashes of grittiness, dark humor and a human heart – very much the personification of Fleming’s literary portrayal. Judging from the success of previous Bond actors, perhaps it was not necessary for Dalton to portray the role in such a serious manner. But hey! It worked for him. Many fans may not have appreciated his efforts twenty years ago, but now they do.

In the past seventeen-and-a-half years since LICENSE TO KILL‘s release, I have come to appreciate Dalton’s contribution to the Bond franchise even more. Whoever said that he was the right Bond at the wrong time was probably right. The man was ahead of his time . . . not just for the Bond franchise, but for many espionage films. People have also stated that Dalton had made a great impact on the franchise. Again, I believe that Dalton not only influenced Daniel Craig’s debut as Bond in the early 21st century, but many other espionage characters. Pierce Brosnan was not above utilizing Dalton’s darker take on Bond, every now and then. I also suspect that Dalton might be partially responsible for the influx of edgy, angst-filled spy or action/adventure characters that have emerged over the years. Characters portrayed by the likes of Matt Damon, Matthew McFaydden, Kiefer Sutherland, Harrison Ford and possibly even Richard Chamberlain and Robert DeNiro. Even the Tangier hotel scene between Dalton and D’Abo in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS seemed to have been copied in many action movies in the years that followed – including one between Dalton and Carey Lowell in LICENSE TO KILLand Harrison Ford and Allison Doody in INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE. But no one did it better than Dalton and D’Abo, as far as I’m concerned.

Screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, created a taunt thriller, reminiscent of past Bond movies like FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. Instead of the usual super villain bent upon controlling a major world market or the world itself, or the super terrorist groups up to its elbows in gadgets, Maibaum and Wilson took Fleming’s short story and created a tale of emotions, greed and betrayal. What I especially like about THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS is that it featured a series of excellent scenes and moments:

-the entire defection sequence starting from Kara’s appearance in the window and ending with Koskov’s departure from Austria

-Koskov’s exuberant greeting of Bond

-Necros’ attack on the MI-6 safe house

-Bond and Kara’s first meeting

-Bond and Kara’s arrival in Vienna

-Bond and Pushkin’s confrontation in Tangiers

-the fake assassination of Pushkin

-Bond and Kara’s confrontation in Tangiers

-Bond and Kara’s escape from the Soviet military jail in Afghanistan

-Kamran Shah’s revelation of true nature

-the Mujardeen’s attack on the Soviet air base

-Bond and Kara’s arrival in Pakistan

-Bond and Whittaker’s confrontation in Tangiers

Thanks to the above scenes and the script, the story came close to feeling like a real spy thriller, instead of a quasi-fantasy/action-adventure flick. As I had stated before, the movie’s only misstep seemed to be the use of the gadget-laden Aston-Martin and the insertion of dialogue not suited for Dalton’s acting style in the Czechoslovakia-to-Austria chase sequence. In fact, the sequence’s style seemed out of place for such a taunt thriller like THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS. Despite that particular sequence, the cast and the story, combined with John Glen’s competent direction and Alec Mills’ cinematography made THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS one of the finest – in my opinion – Bond movies in the franchise.

Returning back to that night in Hollywood, I recalled that the audience went wild over THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS. They especially seemed to take pleasure in the scene in which Bond and Kara managed to escape across the border into Austria. I had enjoyed “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS” so much that I saw it at least six or seven more times in the theaters before it was released on video. And for me that is a personal record – especially in regard to the James Bond film. Happy birthday, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS!

Memorable Lines

[after escaping out of a small jail cell]
Kara: You were fantastic. We’re free.
Bond: Kara, we’re inside a Russian airbase in the middle of Afghanistan.

“That’s too bad, Bond. You could’ve been a live rich man, instead of a poor dead one.” – Brad Whittaker

[James Bond and Kara Milovy snow-slide through customs in a cello case]
Bond: [yelling] We have nothing to declare.
Kara: [yelling] Except this cello.
[the word ‘cello’ echoes through the valley a few times]

[On Whitaker being crushed under a statue of the Duke of Wellington]
Bond: He met his Waterloo.

Koskov: I’m sorry, James. For you I have great affection, but we have an old saying: duty has no sweethearts.
Bond: We have an old saying too, Georgi. And you’re full of it.

Kara: What happened?
Bond: He got the boot.

[Bond is pointing a gun at him]
Pushkin: You are professional. You do not kill without reason.
Bond: Two of our men are dead. Koskov named you.
Pushkin: It is a question of trust. Who do you believe? Koskov, or me?
Bond: If I trusted Koskov we wouldn’t be talking. As long as you’re alive, we’ll never know what he’s up to.
Pushkin: [Slowly] Then I must die.

[after demonstrating a boom-box rocket launcher]
Q: [to Bond] Something we’re making for the Americans. It’s called a “Ghetto Blaster”.

[struggling with Kara’s cello]
Bond: Why didn’t you learn the violin?

[Bond and Saunders are discussing the change of plans on Koskov’s defection]
Koskov: James. James Bond!
Bond: [hugging Koskov] Later, General! [to Saunders] Lose them. I’ll pick you up at the border, twenty-three hundred hours. Be there.
Saunders: Where are you taking him? How will you get him out?
Bond: Sorry, old man, section 26, paragraph 5. Need-to-know. Sure you understand.

[Saunders has just been assassnated]
Kara: Did you hear?
Bond: Hear from Georgi?
Bond: Yes, I *got* the message.

Pushkin: Put him on the next plane to Moscow…
Koskov: Oh, thank you General, thank you so much…
Pushkin: …in the diplomatic bag.

[after removing his disguise] “Thank you both for your help. My name is Kamran Shah. Please forgive the theatricals, it’s a hangover from my Oxford days.” – Kamran Shah

[after destroying his car] “Glad I insisted you brought that cello.” – Bond

Bond: Just taking the Aston out for a spin, Q.
Q: Be careful, 007! It’s just had a new coat of paint!