“FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” (1982) Book Review

Below is my review of “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS”, author George MacDonald Fraser’s seventh novel in theFlashman Papers series: 

“FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” (1982) Book Review

Set during the Old West of 1849-50 and the mid 1870s, “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” has the distinction of being the first novel in the Flashman Papers series to begin outside of Great Britain. It will not be the last, but it certainly was the first. Penned by George MacDonald Fraser and published in 1982, the novel also happens to be my favorite in the series.

Since this particular novel happened to be an immediate follow-up to Fraser’s third novel, “FLASH FOR FREEDOM!”,“FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” began where the 1971 novel had ended – on the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana in the early spring of 1849. British Army officer Harry Flashman had just testified at Captain John Charity Spring’s trial, enabling the psychotic sea captain to avoid being convicted for slave trading in U.S. waters. In return, Spring agreed to provide Flashman passage back to England. Unfortunately for both men, Fate had a different path in mind when they encountered one of Flashman’s old nemesis at a local saloon – a slave trader/planter named Peter Omohundro, whom young Flashy had encountered on a northbound Mississippi River steamboat several months ago. After Spring killed the aggressively suspicious Omohundro during a brutal saloon fight, he and Flashman ended up seeking refuge with another one of Flashy’s past acquaintances from “FLASH FOR FREEDOM!” – the red-haired Cockney-born madam named Susie Wilnick. Flashman’s reunion with Susie proved to be just as sensuous as their last encounter. After a few bouts of sex, Susie asked him to marry. Lacking in any morals, yet providing a great deal of practicality, Flashman accepted her proposal. And being a steel-minded businesswoman, Susie dealt with the insane Captain Spring in the following manner, during supper:

“But by and by he (Spring) said less and less, and that none too clearly; I was just beginning to wonder if the drink had got to him for once when he suddenly gave a great sigh, and a staring yawn, caught at his chair arms as though to rise, and then fell face foremost into the blancmange.

Susie glanced at me, lifting a warning finger. Then she got up, pulled his face out of the mess, and pushed up one eyelid. He was slumped like a sawdust doll, his face purple.

“That’s all right,” says she. “Brutus!” And before my astonished eyes the butler went out, and presently in came two likely big coves in reefer jackets. At a nod from Susie, they hefted Spring out of his chair, and without a word bore him from the room. Susie sauntered back to her place, took a sip of wine, and smiled at my amazement.

 

“Well,” says she, “we wouldn’t ‘ave wanted ‘im along on our ‘oneymoon, would we?””

With Spring gone, Flashman no longer has a speedy means to reach England. Another chance to leave the Mississippi Valley and prosecution for slave stealing appeared when Susie announced her decision to close down her New Orleans whorehouse and take her retinue of slaves – prostitutes and servants – to San Francisco in California. The departure could not have come sooner for Flashman, as he had discovered during a stopover in St. Louis, Missouri:

“It wasn’t only the plague that worried me, either; St. Louis was the town where a few weeks earlier they’d been posting rewards of a hundred dollars for my apprehension, describing me to a T and warning the citizenry that I had Genteel Manners and spoke with a Foreign Accent, damn their impudence.”

I have been a fan of the Flashman novels for many years. But there are a few of them I would describe as truly epic. In my opinion, one of those epic novels happened to be “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS”. Fraser did a superb job in capturing the breath and scope of the American West in both the late 1840s and mid 1870s. His description of Flashman’s wagon train journey from Independence to Santa Fe that included a hair-raising interlude at Bent’s Fort was a masterpiece. I can also say the same for the sequence that featured Flashman’s harrowing escape from the Mimbreno Apaches across the New Mexico desert, featured in the last chapters of Part One.

Fraser wrote this particular saga in two parts. Part One, entitled “The Forty-Niner”, covered Flashman’s experiences in the United States and the Far West between 1849 and 1850. In this section, Flashman’s “marriage” to Susie Wilnick (he already had his wife Elspeth waiting for him back home in England) led to him becoming a wagon train emigrant and de facto captain during the period known as the California Gold Rush; the lover of Cleonie, one of Susie’s slave whores; manger of Susie’s Santa Fe whorehouse; a scalp hunter under the leadership of one John Joel Glanton (known to Flashman as “Gallantin”) in New Mexico’s Del Norte Valley; and eventually the son-in-law of the Mimbreno Apache chief, Mangas Colorado; and husband of the latter’s precious daughter, Sonsee-Array aka Takes Away Cloud Woman. After six months with his bride and her Apache relatives, which included the famous Geronimo, Flashman finally makes his escape and head northeast. While being chased by Apache warriors through the grueling Jornada Del Muerto desert, he is rescued by the famous Western tracker and guide, Kit Carson.

Part Two – called “The Seventy-Sixer” – was set between 1875 and 1876. It centered on Flashman and his wife Elspeth’s visit to the United for the Centennial celebration. The journey not only led to a series of reunions with acquaintances from the American Civil War, but also with those Flashman had met during his first visit to the West. Flashman’s reunion with a Sioux leader named Spotted Tail led directly to one with an old lover out for revenge and his minor participation in the Battle of Little Bighorn with Custer and the Seventh Calvary. Flashman’s visit also led to his acquaintance of a young man who managed to – not quite break his heart – but tweak it a bit.

In my review of “FLASH FOR FREEDOM”, I had complained of Fraser’s uneven portrayal of antebellum United States. I have no such complaints for this novel. Fraser did a much superior job in describing the antebellum United States and especially the West. In fact, I cannot recall finding any evidence of uneven pacing or historical inaccuracies, as I had done in the 1971 novel. What I really enjoyed about this novel was Fraser’s feel for both the novel’s period and landscape. One of his best passages featured his description of Kanzas Landing, Independence, and Westport (now Kansas City) in Missouri during the spring of 1849:

“They tell me that Kansas City nowadays covers the whole section, but in those days the landing and Westport and Independence were separated by woodland and meadow. And I wonder if today’s city contains more people than were crowded along the ten miles from Independence to the river when I first saw it in ’49: there were thousands of them, in tents and lean-tos and houses and log shacks and under the trees and in the few taverns and lodging-places; they were in the stables and sheds and shops and storehouses, a great swarming hive of humanity of every kind you can imagine – well, I remember the Singapore river in the earlies, and it was nothing to Westport-Independence. The whole stretch was jammed with wagons and carts and carriages, churning the spaces between the buildings into a sea of mud after the recent rain, and through it went the mules and oxen and horses, with the steam rising from them and the stench of hides and dung and smoke filling the air – but even that was nothing to the noise.

 

Every other building seemed to be a forge or a stable or a warehouse, a-clang with hundreds of hammers and the rasp of saws and the crack of axes and the creak of wheels and the thump and scrape of boxes and bales being loaded or unloaded; teamsters snapped their whips with a “Way-hay, whoa!”, foremen bellowed, children shrilled, the voices of thousands of men and women blended with it all in a great eager busy din that echoed among the buildings and floated off to be lost in the surrounding forest.”

Flashman’s first meeting Sonsee-Array – Mangas Colorado’s youngest daughter – struck an interesting note with me. It made me realize how much Flashman’s character had matured in the eight to nine years since his adventures in Afghanistan. In the first novel, 1969’s “FLASHMAN”, the 19 year-old British officer had an encounter with an Afghan dancer named Narameen that led to her being raped by him. Narameen also happened to be the lover of one of his enemies. Eight years later, while in the company of John Joel Glanton and his scalphunters, Flashman met the Apache chief’s daughter. First, he managed to save her from being raped by an Irishman he disliked named Grattan Nugent-Hare. When offered to “take her” himself, Flashman handled the situation with a lot more delicacy than he did with Narameen:

“You must understand the effect of this, of Flashy imposing his winning ways on that fortunate native wench. There she was, a helpless prisoner in the hands of the most abominable ruffians in North America, who had butchered her menfold before her eyes and were about to subject her to repeated rape, possible torture, and certain death. Up jumps this strapping chap with splendid whiskers, who not only kills out of hand the cad who is molesting her, but thereafter treats her kindly, pets her patiently, and absolutely asks permission to squeeze her boobies. She is astonished, nay gratified, and, since she’s a randy little minx at bottom, ready to succumb with pleasure. All thanks to style, as inculcated by Dr. Arnold, though I wouldn’t expect him to claim credit for it.

 

And mark the sequel. When other of her tribesmen, having got wind of the massacre, attack the scalp-hunters by night, she is alarmed for her protector. If he joins in the scrap – the last thing I’d have done, but she wasn’t to know that – harm may come to him, so being a lass of spirit she ensures his neutrality by clouting him behind the ear with a rock. Then, when her tribesmen have wiped out or captured most of the marauders (Gallantin and a few others alone escaped) she is at pains to preserve her savior from the general vengeance. Had he been a man without style, she’d have been the first to set about him with a red-hot knife.”

I found it ironic that his actions in “FLASHMAN” nearly cost Flashman his life on two separate occasions. Yet, in“FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS”, his actions ended up saving him and leading him to becoming husband to another, namely Sonsee-Array and son-in-law to Mangas Colorado. One of the novel’s funniest passages featured Flashman’s conversation with the Apache chief. I would include the conversation if I could, but it is rather long and would be better appreciated in its full glory. But Flashman had this to say about him:

“Sonsee-array was beside me, her hand slipping into mine, the sullen faces round us were indifferent rather than hostile, the Yawner (Geronimo) shrugged – and Mangas Colorado gave us a final curt nod and stalked away. Just the same, I couldn’t help thinking that old Morrison hadn’t been such a bad father-in-law.”

Before one starts thinking that Harry Flashman had learned to treat women with more respect by the age of 27, consider his earlier behavior toward Cleonie – one of Susie Wilnick’s mulatto prostitutes. The two had begun an affair during the wagon train journey along the Santa Fe Trail and continued it in Santa Fe. Cleonie, who had the bad luck (and stupidity) to fall in love with Flashy; proposed that they abandon Susie and head for El Paso, Texas. He agreed. Being the complete black-hearted villain, Flashman sold Cleonie to a priest acting as an agent for a Navaho chieftain on the night of their departure for two thousand dollars:

“I picked up my gear from the summer-house when he’d gone, and went quickly down through the crowded Plaza to the livery stable, where I slung my few traps over the mule, rode out on the Albuquerque trail. I won’t say I didn’t regret Cleonie’s absence – clever lass, fine mount, charming conversationalist, but too saucy by half, and she’d never have earned us two thousand dollars between Santa Fe and El Paso, not in a month of Sundays.”

It took Cleonie nearly twenty-seven years to seek revenge for his betrayal in Part Two of the novel.

The novel’s second half featured some interesting aspects in the story. One of the novel’s funnier moments dealt with Flashman’s reunions with Army officers he had met during the American Civil War – including some humorous descriptions of William Sherman and Philip Sheridan:

“So now you see Flashy in his splendid prime at fifty-three, distinguished foreign visitor, old comrade and respected military man, with just a touch of grey in the whiskers but no belly to speak of, straight as a lance and a picture of cavalier gallantry as I stoop to salute the blushing cheek of the new Mrs. Sheridan at the wedding reception in her father’s garden. Little Phil, grinning all over and still looking as though he’d fallen in the river and let his uniform dry on him, led me off to talk to Sherman, whom I’d known for a competent savage, and the buffoon Pope, whose career had consisted of losing battles and claiming he’d won.”

But nothing quite beat Flashman’s reunion with the infamous George Armstrong Custer. Fraser best described the American Army officer’s over-the-top personality with the Flashmans’ visit to a New York theater with Custer and his family:

“So we five dined frequently, and visited the theater, of which Custer was a great patron; he was a friend of Barrett the actor, who was butchering Shakespeare at Booth’s, and would sit with his eyes glued to the stage muttering “Friends, Romans, countrymen” under his breath.

 

That should have made me leery; I’m all for a decent play myself, but when you see someone transported from reality by them, watch out. I shan’t easily forget the night we saw some sentimental abomination about a soldier going off to the wars; when the moment came when his wife buckled on his sword for him, I heard sniffing and supposed it was Libby or Elspeth piping her eye. Then the sniff became a baritone groan, and when I looked, so help me it was Custer himself, with his hand to his brow, bedewing his britches with manly tears.”

In fact, during the Flashmans’ first dinner with the Custers, the emotional George Armstrong got on Flashy’s nerves with his constant complaints about his superiors in Washington and warbling about the Englishman’s own military service. Flashman responded by having a little sport with Custer’s ego in this hilarious scene at a New York restaurant:

“”Luck of the service,” says I, and because I was bored with his croaking I added: “Anyway, I’ve never been a general, and I’ve only one American Medal of Honor, you know.”

 

This was Flashy at his most artistic, you’ll agree, when I tell you that I knew perfectly well that Custer had no Medal of Honour, but his brother Tom had two. I guessed nothing would gall him more than having to correct my apparent mistake, which he did, stiffly, while Tom studied the cutlery and I was all apologies, feigning embarrassment.”

Although Part Two seemed to lack the epic scope of Part One, it did feature some memorable passages. In Part One, Flashman met several Sioux warriors on the journey west, through trail guide Dick Wootton. One of them was a future leader named Spotted Tail. Part Two featured a series of events that began with Flashman’s reunion with the Sioux leader Spotted Tail in Chicago, Illinois and one of his braves, Standing Bear. Thanks to that particular reunion, our fearful hero attracted the attention of a businesswoman named Mrs. Arthur B. Candy. She wanted to use Flashman’s fame in a land scheme in the Dakota Territories and invited to join her in an excursion to the area. Flashman and Mrs. Candy’s journey to the Dakota Territory was not very interesting, despite accompanying George Custer and the Seventh Calvary. But it did feature a colorful description of cavalry troopers boarding a Powder River steamboat in order to continue their journey to the Greasy Grass country:

“It was about ten days out of Bismarck that we came to the Powder mouth, where a great military camp was taking shape. With the arrival of Terry’s advance guard, and Gibbon only a few days’ march away, there was tremendous work and bustle; the Far West was back and forth ferrying troops and stores and equipment; her steerage was a bedlam of men and gear, while our deck was invaded by all manner of staff-wallopers in search of comfort; Terry held his meetings in the saloon; messengers went galloping pell-mell along the banks; a forest of tents and lean-tos sprang up in the meadows; the woods rang and hummed with the noise of men and horses, rumours of Indian movement far to the south were discussed and as quickly discounted; no one knew what the blazes was happening – indeed, it was like the beginning of any campaign I’d ever seen.”

More importantly, Flashman discovered that he had become a target of revenge. Mrs. Candy turned out to be none other than Cleonie, the former lover he had sold to the Navaho. Through her, he ended up becoming a captive of the Sioux on the eve of the Little Bighorn Battle at Greasy Grass. How Fraser’s “intrepid” hero ended up escaping the Sioux and participating in the infamous battle featured an interesting little scene involving him and a real life Sioux woman named Walking Blanket Woman:

“I looked at her now, giving her the full benefit, the sweet little soul – and like all the rest, she succumbed. As I say, it’s true, and here I am, and I can’t explain it – perhaps it’s the whiskers, or the six feet two and broad shoulders, or just my style. But she looked at me, and her lids lowered, and she glanced across the river where the troopers were riding down the coulee, and then back at me – this girl whose brother had been killed by my people only a few days back. I can’t describe the look in her eyes – frowning, reluctant hesitant, almost resigned; she couldn’t help herself, you see, the dear child. Then she sighed, lifted the knife – and cut the thongs securing my hands to the yoke.

“Go on, then,” says she. “You poor old man.”

 

Well, I couldn’t reply with my mouth full of gag, and by the time I’d torn it out she had gone, running off to the right with her hatchet and knife, God bless her.”

Although Flashman managed to survive the battle, he ended up as a prisoner of one Frank Grouard, who was known to the Sioux as Standing Bear. According to Fraser’s novel, Grouard turned out to be Harry and Cleonie’s son, who has spent most of his years being raised by the Navaho and later, the Sioux. What Fraser did was take the historical figure of Frank Grouard – the son of a Tahitian woman and an American missionary – and incorporated him into Flashy and Cleonie’s illegitimate son. However, Cleonie’s revenge plot fell to pieces, due to her son. Due to his dislike of her (and I do not blame him), Frank decided to spare his black-hearted father. And both father and son not only discovered that they shared similar traits, they also took a shining to each other. “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” featured that rare occasion in which Flashy had ever expressed any kind of emotion or regard for one of his offspring. When Frank decided to reject his offer to be officially recognized as his son, the two parted in one of the most touching scenes written by Fraser:

“”Frank!” I roared.

He checked at the crest and looked back. I felt such a desolation, then, but I couldn’t move after him, or say what I wanted to say, with all the sudden pain and regret for lost years, and what had come of them. I called up to him.

“I’m sorry, son, about it all.”

 

“Well, I’m not!” he called back, and laughed, and suddenly lifted his arms wide, either side. “Look, Papa!” He laughed again, and then he had ridden over the skyline and was gone.”

Although the novel featured a vast array of historical figures that included Dick Wootton, Spotted Tail John Joel Glanton, Mangas Colorado, Geromino, Kit Carson, Ulysses S. Grant, Frank Grouard, Crazy Horse and most memorably, George Armstrong Custer; Fraser did not fail his readers in providing some interesting fictional characters. Since the novel had picked up where “FLASHY FOR FREEDOM!” left off, Fraser allowed his readers to briefly reacquaint themselves with one of his best creations, the infamous Captain John Charity Springs. Another veteran from “FLASHY FOR FREEDOM!” turned out to be the Cockney-born New Orleans madam, Susie Wilnick, who had a larger role in this novel as Flash Harry’s 3rd or 4th wife (I lost count). I adored Susie. She was a sentimental, sensual and hard-headed businesswoman. She knew Harry for the rogue he truly was, but did not care. Even when she suspected him of sleeping around her stable of whores, she managed to pay him back by sleeping with the head of their teamsters – an Irish-born former Army officer named Grattan Nugent-Hare. Nugent-Hare turned out to be another interesting character created by Fraser. Although soft-spoken and practical, he turned out to be another rogue (who had left Santa Fe with some of Susie’s money) – only he lacked Harry’s sense of style. Flashman’s second bride in the novel turned out to be the Apache princess, Sonsee-Array aka Takes Away Clouds Woman – Mangas Colorado fictional daughter. She was an interesting, yet haughty and demanding thing who fully appreciated Harry’s sexual prowess. The real Mrs. Harry Flashman (namely Elspeth) had a major role in the novel’s second half. And she was just as charming, sexy and simple-minded as ever – even in her early fifties. There are times when I suspect that Elspeth might not be as stupid as she appears to be. I really enjoyed reading Harry’s suspicions that she may have had a tumble in the grass with Spotted Tail during a conference between the U.S. government and the Sioux and Cheyenne nations.

One last fictional character that played a major role in “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” was Cleonie Grouard, one of Susie’s prostitute slaves. She first caught Flashman’s attention during the wagon journey from Independence to Santa Fe. Once their affair had caught hold, Flashman ignored Susie’s other whores and focused his attention upon her, impressed by her style and looks. It did not take Cleonie very long to put down Flashy’s one time tumble with another slave named Aphrodite:

“”We all know – that is, if Aphrodite is to be believed.” She gave me an inquiring look, still with that tiny smile. “I, myself, would have thought she was rather . . . black . . . and heavy, for Master’s taste. But some men prefer it, I know.” She gave a little shrug. “Others . . .” She left it there, waiting.”

While their affair continued in Santa Fe, Cleonie also exposed Flashman’s lack of any real love for Susie:

“You do not love Miz Susie. And soon you will be leaving her, will you not?”

I found it interesting that Cleonie was shrewd and clever enough to spot Flashman’s true feelings regarding the other prostitutes he had slept with and Susie . . . and yet, she failed to sense his lack of any love toward her. Had love on her part truly blinded her? Perhaps. I also suspect that Cleonie’s own ego and pride made it difficult for her to even consider that Flashy felt the same about her, as he did about Susie, Aphrodite or any of the other whores in Susie’s stable. I am not saying that she deserved the fate that Flashman had dished out to her – being sold to the Navahos and enduring five years of captivity. She did not. And Flashman certainly deserved the fright that he had endured from of her vengeance, some 27 years later. But . . . I have never liked Cleonie. Not really. My dislike has nothing to do with some belief that she was a poorly created character. On the contrary. I believe that Fraser did an exceptional job in creating her character. But after reading “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” for the umpteenth time, I cannot help but feel that she was one egotistical bitch.

Do I have any quibbles about “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS”? Well . . . yes. Although well written and with a strong finish, the novel’s second half is not as strong or epic as the first half. Flashman’s adventures at Bent’s Fort in the novel’s first half led to the fort’s destruction and his meeting with a group of mountain men:

“I dug in my finger-nails and pulled, and pulled, until I could no more. I rested my face on one side, and above the scrubby grass in my line of sight there were the legs of a pony, and I hardly had time to think, oh, dear Jesus, the Indians . . . when a hand took me by the shoulder and rolled me over, and I was blinking up into a monstrously-bearded face under a fur cap, and I pawed feebly at a fringed buckskin shirt that was slick with wear, and then the beard split into a huge grin of white teeth, and a voice said:

 

“Waal, ole hoss, what fettle? How your symptoms segashooatin’? Say, ifn thar wuz jest a spoonful o’ gravy to go with ye, I rackon yore baked just ’bout good enough to eat!””

And here is where Fraser nearly grounded the novel to a halt by devoting a page-and-a-half to the mountain men’s dialect, which the author described as “plug-a-plew”. I would give more samples of their dialect, but frankly Fraser had provided too much of it, by allowing the mountain men to reminisce about Bent’s Fort in a conversation that nearly lasted two pages. Honestly, I really could have done without it. Also, was it really necessary to use a historical figure like Frank Grouard as the love child of Flashman and Cleonie – two fictional characters? I realize that Fraser must have found his character fascinating, but . . . he could have easily created another fictional character to serve as their son. I also had a problem with the route Fraser had chosen for Flashman and Susie to take to California. Early in the novel, Susie made it clear that she planned to relocate her establishment to Sacramento, California:

”It sounded reasonable, I said, but a bit wild to establish a place like hers, and she chuckled confidently.

 

“I’m goin’ ready-made, don’t you fret. I’ve got a place marked down in Sacramento, through an agent, an’ I’m movin’ the whole kit caboodle up the river to West next Monday – furnishin’s, crockery, my cellar an’ silver . . . an’ the livestock, which is the main thing.””

And how did Susie plan to move her establishment from New Orleans to Sacramento?

“Why, up to Westport an’ across by carriage to – where is it? – Santa Fe, an’ then to San Diego.”

All I can ask is . . . why? Why did Fraser have Flashman and Susie attempt that convoluted trail from New Orleans to Sacramento? They could have easily traveled by steamboat from New Orleans to the Red River and later, to Texas. From Texas, they could have traveled to Santa Fe in New Mexico. And from Santa Fe, they could have traveled along the Gila River Trail to San Diego, California. All they had to do was travel up the coast to San Francisco and later, Sacramento. Or . . . . a less convoluted route could have taken them upriver to St. Louis, Missouri. From there, they could have taken another steamboat across Missouri River to Westport. From there, all they had to do was following the Oregon Trail to Fort Hall in present-day Idaho and take the California Trail all the way to Sutter’s Fort. From there, they would have an easy journey from Sutter’s Fort to Sacramento. Instead, Fraser laid out a more convoluted route. And I suspect that he did so in order for Flashman to be captured by the Mimbreno Apaches and spend six months with them.

I could easily consider “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” as my favorite novel in the Flashman Papers series, due to its setting. After all, I have always been a big aficionado of the history of the American West. And I will admit that the novel’s setting is one of the reasons why I have enjoyed it so much. The novel does have its share of small problems. I believe that Fraser got carried away in his description of mountain men following the scene that featured the destruction of Bent’s Fort. If I must be honest, I believe that the author went a bit too far in using a historical figure like Frank Grouard as the son of Flashman and Cleonie – two fictional characters. I thought it was unnecessary. Susie’s planned route from New Orleans to Sacramento, via Santa Fe and San Diego, seemed convoluted. And the second half is not as interesting as the first half (a common flaw in many Flashman novels). But “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” is a delicious and well-written saga filled with fascinating historical figures like Mangas Colorado and George Armstrong Custer; as well as interesting and well-written fictional characters such as Susie Wilnick, Grattan Nugent-Hare and Cleonie Grouard. The novel also offered a well-documented look at the United States – especially the American West – before and after the Civil War. Quite frankly, I consider it to be one of George MacDonald Fraser’s finest works.

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“COP OUT” (2010) Review

“COP OUT” (2010) Review

The moment I first saw the trailer for Kevin Smith’s new action comedy, ”COP OUT”, I knew I did not want to see it. The jokes in the trailer struck me as flat. Stars Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan seemed to lack any screen chemistry whatsoever. But since there were no other new movies out at the time, I went to see it anyway. 

”COP OUT” told the story of two New York City Police detectives who found themselves suspended from the force after their efforts to nail a young Mexican immigrant gang banger with ties to a drug lord ends in failure. Police detectives Jimmy Monroe and Paul Hodges are drawn back into the case centered around drug lord Poh Boy inadvertently when Jimmy attempts to raise money for his daughter’s upcoming wedding by selling his father’s rare baseball card. Unfortunately, a petty thief named Dave steals the card and sells it to Poh Boy. The drug lord refuses to give Jimmy back the card, unless the latter and Paul finds a stolen car that contains something valuable for him.

There were aspects of ”COP OUT” that failed to appeal to me. One, Tracy Morgan’s little comedy routine that involved his character using clichéd movie lines to get a suspect to talk left me feeling irritated. As much as I like Sean William Scott (Dave, the petty thief), his role not only struck me as nearly irrelevant – aside from the baseball card theft – but also irritating. In fact, I believe I found him just as irritating as Tracy Morgan’s character did. And I wish to God that director Kevin Smith and the movie’s producers had not chosen Guillermo Diaz for the role of Poh Boy. In fact, I wish that Mark and Robb Cullen had not created the character in the first place. It must be one of the hammiest movie roles I have ever come across in the past decade.

Before anyone gets the idea that I found ”COP OUT” to be a complete waste of my time, I did not. I will never view this movie as a favorite of mine, or one of the best “cop buddy” films I have ever seen. But I must admit that the movie turned out to be better than I had expected. One of the movie’s strengths turned out to be the Cullens’ screenplay. Mind you, I found nothing particularly unique about it – save for the fact that the two protagonists ended up investigating the very case they had been kicked off, due to one of the heroes’ family crisis. Two, Smith directed a well-paced story filled with some pretty good humor and a great deal of action. In other words, the movie kept me awake. Last but not least, both Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan managed to create a viable screen chemistry, despite my misgivings from the trailer. Which surprised me a great deal. Willis and Morgan almost came off as a modern-day Abbott and Costello.

Actually, both Willis and Morgan managed to portray a pair of interesting characters. Willis’ Jimmy Monroe was a down-to-earth man with a failed marriage and a partner he has to keep from drifting off to Neverland. And yet, his Jimmy has a quirky, yet occasionally sadistic sense of humor that I found attractive. Although Morgan’s Paul Hodges started off as an irritating character, I eventually warmed up to him. Morgan portrayed Paul as a warm and extroverted man who harbors a great deal of affection for his partner and love for his wife – even if that love threatened to transform into an overwhelming jealousy.

Despite my complaints about Sean William Scott’s character, the petty thief Dave, I must admit that I found him occasionally funny. I certainly enjoyed Ana de la Reguera’s performance as Gabriela, the mistress of a murdered criminal whom Jimmy and Paul found in the trunk of the very car wanted by Poh Boy. Gabriela possessed something that Poh Boy wanted. More importantly, de la Reguera’s performance struck me as warm, funny and very feisty. As I had stated earlier, I did not care for Guillermo Diaz’s performance as the drug lord Poh Boy. Quite frankly, I found it too over-the-top for my tastes. I suppose Smith wanted Diaz to portray Poh Boy as psychotic. I just simply found him annoying. Kevin Pollak and Adam Brody portrayed Hunsaker and Mangold, two N.Y.P.D. detectives that happened to be Jimmy and Paul’s rivals. Personally, I found their performances unmemorable. And there were moments when I wondered if Pollak seemed bored with his role. I certainly was.

I suspect that ”COP OUT” has failed to become a hit film in the three weeks since its release. It is not what I would call an original film. There seemed to be a hint of originality in the plot involving one of the lead’s family crisis and the main villain. Yet, it struck me as a typical action comedy from the 1980s and 90s. Some of the characters either irritated me or struck me as irrelevant. And I did not care for the main villain. But I still enjoyed the movie’s story and humor. The pacing did not drag, thanks to Kevin Smith’s direction. And Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan made a surprisingly effective screen team. In the end, I would not mind seeing it again.

“WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” (1999) Review

“WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” (1999) Review

Eleven years have passed since the BBC first aired ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS”, the 1999 adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1865 novel. And despite the passage of time, it has a sterling reputation as one of the best adaptations of a literary source in recent years. 

Adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Nicholas Renton, ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” told the story of Molly Gibson, the young daughter of a local village doctor during the last decade of the Georgian era. The four-part miniseries struck me as Molly’s coming-of-age story. She and her widowed father lived an idyllic life until two things occurred. One, her father married a woman she disliked, a former governess named Hyacinth “Claire” Kirkpatrick. And two, Molly fell in love with one Roger Hamley, the scientifically-minded younger son of a local squire.

If Dr. Gibson had his way, Molly would have never experienced any coming-of-age. But after one of his apprentices became romantically interested in her, he became determined to keep her in a state of perpetual adolescence. But his actions merely ensured that he would fail. First, he arranged for Molly to become the companion to Mrs. Hamley, the sickly wife of the squire. This gave Molly the opportunity to form an emotional attachment to the Hamley, befriend and fall in love with younger son, Roger. Then Dr. Gibson committed another act that defeated his purpose. He married former governess Hyacinth Kirkpatrick in order to provide Molly with a stepmother. This action backfired, since Molly never warmed up to the selfish and socially ambitious older woman. However, she did befriend the new Mrs. Gibson’s rebellious and more worldly and daughter, Cynthia Kirkpatrick. Not only did both Kirkpatrick women managed to disrupt the Gibson household, but Molly’s relationship with Cynthia would open her eyes to a great deal more about relationships and life in general – both the good and bad.

Other subplots abounded in ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS”. Molly had a first-hand look into the conflict between the loveable, yet impatient and slightly selfish Squire Hamley and his more genteel older son, Osbourne. At first, the Hamleys seemed to regard Osbourne as the key to the family’s return to its former glory. But Osbourne’s scholastic troubles and excessive spending (for a secret French wife for whom he provided a private household) ended up disappointing Squire Hamley. Instead, he transferred his hopes to his younger and more studious son, Roger; who seemed to be on the verge of making a name for himself as a naturalist in Britain’s scientific community.

Another subplot centered on Cynthia Kirkpatrick. The French-educated and very beautiful young woman seemed to have struck both the Gibson family and the village of Hollingford with the force of a whirlwind. Cynthia projected a sexuality and worldliness that attracted nearly every male around her – including Roger Hamley. Unfortunately for Molly, Mrs. Gibson’s plans for her daughter included an ambitious marriage to the older Hamley sibling, Osbourne. But when the intensely pragmatic woman discovered that the older Hamley sibling’s health was in a precarious state, she encouraged Cynthia to set her sights on Roger. And considering his feelings for her, Cynthia had no trouble in achieving her mother’s goals with an engagement. Cynthia also had a secret that eventually affected Molly. Five years before, she had become secretly engaged to Lord Cumnor’s land agent, Mr. Preston. The latter’s insistence on a wedding date and Molly’s involvement on Cynthia’s behalf led the doctor’s daughter to become a target of village gossip.

Not only is Gaskell’s novel considered a masterpiece by literary critics, but this 1999 adaptation turned out to be highly regarded by television critics and viewers, as well. Some critics consider it to be the best adaptation of a Gaskell novel. Other critics believe it might be a toss-up between ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” and the 2007 miniseries,”CRANFORD”. The 1999 miniseries certainly won its share of television awards. And if I must be honest, those awards were well-deserved. ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” provided a complex and in-depth peek into an English village society during the last decade of the Georgian era through the eyes of Molly Gibson. I must admit that I have rarely come across a movie or television series set during the 1820s or the 1830s. And I would certainly consider ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” among the best. Screenwriter Andrew Davies and director Nicholas Renton did a marvelous job in drawing the audience into Molly’s world.

The setting and story of ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” – or at least most of them – seemed to perfectly represent this precarious stage in Britain’s history in which the country found itself balanced between the static world of the Georgian period and the social and scientific upheavals that ushered in the Victorian Age. Davies and Renton manifested this in Molly’s coming-of-age story, which included her father’s reluctance to allow her to develop into an adult and her relationship with Cynthia. The screenwriter and the director also manifested this precarious stage in the relationship between Squire Hamley and his two sons – Obsbourne and Roger. As for the latter, many believe that Gaskell based his character on her distant cousin, the naturalist Charles Darwin who became a prominent figure in the Victorian Age’s scientific community.

Davies and Renton also did an excellent job of exploring the in-depth emotions of familial and romantic love in ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” also explored the in-depth emotions of familial and romantic love. Molly’s close relationship with her father – fully explored in Episode One – eventually grew weaker due to Dr.Gibson’s attempts to keep her close and at an adolescent stage. I found it interesting that although Squire Hamley grew to adore Molly, he made it clear to the doctor that he would never consider her – the daughter of a country doctor – as a suitable wife for either of his sons. Yet, Roger Osborne ended up married to a young French woman beneath his social station, and Roger eventually became engaged to Dr. Gibson’s step-daughter, Cynthia and married to Molly by the end of the series. Already, Victorian Britain’s social upheavals – at least in ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” – had began to rear its head. Cynthia’s love life, which turned out to be the best plotline in the story – also turned Molly’s life upside-down and forced her onto the path of adulthood.

The miniseries’ greatest virtue turned out to be the collection of complex supporting characters that gave ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” its energy and drive. For me, this was especially true of five characters – Hyacinth Kirkpatrick Gibson (Francesca Annis), Squire Hamley (Michael Gambon), Osborne Hamley (Tom Hollander), Mr. Preston (Iain Glen) and Cynthia Kirkpatrick (Keeley Hawes). When the miniseries focused upon these characters, I found myself fascinated by the story. Each character struck me as so complex that it seemed a pity that none of them was the main character. Michael Gambon won both a BAFTA TV Award and a Royal Television Society Award for his portrayal of the likeable, yet socially rigid and selfish landowner, who seemed determined to return his family to its former glory, via one or both of his sons. I must admit that Squire Hamley was truly a fascinating and complex character. Although I liked him a lot, there were times I could have happily strangle him for viewing his sons as instruments for his familial ambitions and inability to truly understand them at times. Francesca Annis earned a nomination for her portrayal of the self-absorbed and social climbing Hyacinth Kirkpatrick Gibson. One would, at first, be inclined to label Hyacinth as an “evil” stepmother. But Annis’ performance made it clear that Hyacinth was not at all one-dimensional. She also managed to inject a good deal of pathos into her character, allowing one to understand that some of Hyacinth’s behavior stemmed from a sense of survival for herself and her family, due to years spent in the social wasteland as a governess and underpaid schoolteacher.

Tom Hollander gave a very affecting and sympathetic performance as the poetic Osborne Hamley, the squire’s elder son who constantly disappointed his father. From other articles and reviews of ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS”, many tend to view Osborne as a weak and self-involved man. I never got that impression from Hollander’s complex portrayal. Instead, I saw a man whose only real weakness was an inability to admit to his father that he had made a socially inacceptable marriage. It was this weakness that led to scholastic problems at the university and monetary problems. Iain Glen’s Mr. Preston seemed to be the villain of the story – at least on a superficial level. His Mr. Preston tried to coerce Cynthia into honoring her promise to marry him after five years. Superficially, Glen portrayed Mr. Preston as a smug and slightly arrogant man, who seemed obsessed with Cynthia. However, thanks to his complex performance, he revealed to audiences that Mr. Preston had been nothing more than a victim of Cynthia’s capricious and selfish behavior. As for Cynthia, Keely Hawes gave a delicious performance as Molly’s sexy and very likeable step-sister. What I found interesting about Hawes’ Cynthia is that the character possessed a talent for avoiding responsibility for her actions, along with an inability for returning love . . . yet, seems quite capable of winning the affections of everyone around her. Except for Dr. Gibson. The rest of the cast included Bill Paterson, who gave a charming, yet complex performance as Dr. Gibson; along with Barbara Flynn and Deborah Findlay as the Misses Brownings, and Rosamund Pike as Lady Harriet Cumnor, who all gave solid performances.

Justine Waddell did a good job in carrying the four-part miniseries and making Molly Gibson a very likeable leading character. Yet, there were times when Waddell’s Molly came across as a bit too ideal for my tastes. Aside from her quick temper, she seemed to lack any real personal flaws. One could name her naivety as a flaw. But that particular state of mind is something the average human being will always experience during his or her lifetime. Overall, Molly was . . . nice, but not what I would call an interesting lead character. Her reaction to her father’s new marriage and her involvement with Cynthia’s problems with Mr. Preston seemed to be the only times I truly found her interesting. I certainly could not say the same about Squire Hamley’s younger son, Roger. In fact, I did not find him interesting at all. To me, Roger was simply a BORING character. Perhaps Anthony Howell was not at fault and did all he could with the role. The actor certainly portrayed Roger as a likable and compassionate man. But the character was just boring. If I had been Gaskell or even Davies, I would have portrayed Roger as a more complex and interesting character. Or allow Molly to fall in love with a more interesting character. Alas, neither happened. Roger’s only flaw seemed to be a habit of falling in love with women on a superficial level.

Due to Molly’s idealistic personality and Roger’s dull one, I found their romance very unsatisfying. Renton handled their blossoming friendship rather nicely in Episode One. However, Roger took one look at Cynthia in Episode Two and immediately fell in love. Worse, he left England for Africa after proposing marriage to her. Roger did not return to Hollingford until past the middle of Episode Four. This left Renton and Davies at least a half hour or so to develop Roger’s romance with Molly and get them married. And how did he fall in love with her? Roger took one look at Molly wearing a sophisticated ball gown and hairstyle (courtesy of Lady Harriet) and fell in love. Ironically, he fell in love with Molly in the same manner he had fallen in love with Cynthia. That did not bode well with me. Many have praised Davies for providing a memorable ending to Gaskell’s story, considering that she died of a heart attack before completing the novel’s last chapter. I would have found it romantic myself, if I had not found the couple’s romance rushed and unsatisfying. I realize that ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” is not solely about Molly and Roger’s romance. I also realize that the romance was nothing more than one of the story’s subplots. But that does not excuse what I saw as a poorly dramatized romance that began and ended on a hasty note.

I also found the miniseries’ early sequence – Molly’s first meeting with her future step-mother at Lord Cumnor’s estate – somewhat unnecessary. I can only assume that this sequence was supposed to establish Hyacinth Kirkpatrick’s selfish nature and Molly’s dislike of her. Yet, by the time the series ended, I had the feeling that the impact of Molly’s relationship with her stepmother did not seem as strong as I had earlier believed it would, while watching Episode One. Most of Molly’s problems seemed to be centered around Cynthia’s relationships with both Roger and Mr. Preston.

Thankfully, ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” has more to offer than just an interesting tale and excellent performances. Production designer Gerry Scott did a solid job in bringing the late Georgian Era back to life in a small, English village. And if I must be honest, I adore Deirdre Clancy’s costumes. I found them colorful and strongly reminiscent of the late 1820s and early 1830s. Cinematographer Fred Tammes did justice to the miniseries’ early 19th century setting. He made Hollingsford look like a very colorful place to live and southern Africa very exotic, yet desolate.

I wish I could say that I found ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS” to be a complete delight. But due to a leading female character that I found too idealistic and her unsatisfying romance with a very dull character in the miniseries’ last quarter, I cannot make that claim. And as I had stated earlier, I found the early sequence featuring Molly’s first meeting with her future stepmother a bit unnecessary. But the virtues outweighed the flaws. ”WIVES AND DAUGHTERS”conveyed an interesting coming-of-age story, thanks to the leading character’s interactions with some well-written supporting characters. It also provided viewers with a tantalizing look into the changing social mores of Britain, as it prepared to transcend from the Georgian Era to the Victorian Age.

“Return With a Vengeance” [PG-13] – 10/18

“RETURN WITH VENGEANCE”

CHAPTER 10

Phoebe took one look at the gathering in front of the Halliwell manor and nearly panicked. Police cars, a paramedic van and an ambulance blocked the driveway. A crowd of onlookers had formed on the lawn and the sidewalk, below. Phoebe immediately parked her car across the street and rushed toward the nearest uniformed cop. 

“What the hell is going on?” she demanded.

The police officer eyed Phoebe warily. “Who are you?”

“Phoebe. Phoebe Halliwell. What’s going on? What happened?”

Surprise, followed by recognition lit up the officer’s eyes. “Hey! Are you that Phoebe Halliwell? The one who writes for the San Francisco . . .?”

“Officer!” Her voice rang with irritation.

Looking contrite, the officer explained that someone had been attacked. “Someone broke in and attacked one . . .” He scanned his notebook. “. . . a Miss Paige Matthews. Do you know her?”

The panic within Phoebe grew. “Paige is hurt? How? Where is she? Can I see her?” She tried to brush past the officer. He held her back. “Will you please let me go?”

“I’m sorry, Miss Halliwell. But the paramedics are now taking care of her.”

Phoebe felt a glimmer of hope. “Then she’s okay?”

“She’s seriously injured, but stable,” the cop answered. “Do you know her?”

Reining in her impatience, Phoebe retorted, “Yes! She’s my sister. My half-sister. Who attacked her?”

“We don’t know, miss. We do know that two of your neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Murillo, found her inside and called 911.”

From the corner of her eye, Phoebe spotted two familiar figures standing amongst the crowd on the lawn. Gweneth McNeill and Olivia’s friend from New Orleans. The Voodoo woman. What the hell were those two doing here?

“Excuse me,” she muttered to the cop and walked away. Phoebe approached the two women. “Mrs. McNeill?”

Gweneth McNeill faced Phoebe and her green eyes expressed recognition. “Phoebe! Oh dear! I’m sorry that you had to see this!”

“I heard that Paige had been attacked. What are you two . . . what are you doing here?”

Olivia’s friend glanced uneasily around her. Then she led Phoebe to a spot where no one could overhear. Mrs. McNeill joined them. “I saw it,” the former said. “I saw what happened to your sister.”

“Then shouldn’t you be speaking to the police?” Phoebe retorted. The other two women glanced sharply at her. Realizing that she had went to far, Phoebe immediately felt contrite. “I’m sorry. I . . .”

Mrs. McNeill gave her arm a sympathetic squeeze. “It’s all right. We understand.” Cecile murmured something, but Phoebe could barely hear her.

A second later, two paramedics emerged from the house, carrying a figure on a gurney. Paige. Phoebe immediately forgot her two companions, broke away and rushed to her sister’s side. One glance at Paige’s singed face made Phoebe cry out in dismay. “Oh my God! Paige!” She followed the paramedics to the ambulance.

A tall figure blocked her path. “I’m sorry, miss,” said one of the paramedics, “but you can’t get in.”

“She’s my sister,” Phoebe protested.

“I understand, miss. But there isn’t any room for you. We’ll be taking your sister to the San Francisco General Hospital. You can meet us there.”

Phoebe thanked the paramedic. She stood by and watched him and the other paramedic load Paige into the ambulance. The first paramedic climbed in after the patient, while his partner returned to their van. Once the ambulance started to back out of the driveway, Phoebe reached inside her purse for her cell phone. She dialed a familiar number. One that belonged to Piper’s phone.

* * * *

Cole and Olivia strode into the Emergency Room at the San Francisco General Hospital. And straight toward the receptionist’s desk. Olivia flashed her police badge. “Inspector McNeill, San Francisco Police,” she announced to the receptionist. “I believe a patient was brought in here not long ago. A Miss Paige Matthews.”

The receptionist directed her to one of the operating room, down the corridor. Olivia thanked the woman and left the desk. Cole quickly followed. The pair found a uniformed cop waiting, along with Gweneth McNeill, an elderly Latino couple, Cecile and Phoebe. Cole noted the anxious look on his ex-wife’s face.

“Officer.” Olivia strode directly to the cop. She flashed her badge for the second time. “Inspector McNeill. What happened?”

Cole and Olivia had been eating lunch at the Fairmont Hotel, when the latter received an urgent call from her mother about an attack upon Paige. The pair quickly made their way to the hospital where, according to Gweneth, Paige had been taken.

“Someone broke into the house and attacked Paige,” a shaken Phoebe declared before the cop could respond. “He would have killed her, if the Murillos hadn’t found her first.” Seeing the distressed look on Phoebe’s face, Cole’s first instinct was to draw her into his arms and offer comfort. However, instinct told him that Phoebe would not welcome any comfort from him. He sighed heavily.

The cop added, “Looks like someone used a weapon that gives out electrical shocks. A taser, maybe. Or a stun gun. Nearly stopped her heart.”

Phoebe let out a cry. Olivia admonished the cop with a glare. “Why don’t you get a statement from Mr. and Mrs. . . .”

“. . . Murillo,” the officer finished.

“Yeah. Our witnesses. And then find a nurse or doctor who can give an update on Ms. Matthews’ condition?” The cop acknowledged her order with a sharp nod and led the elderly couple along the corridor. Then Olivia turned to the others. “Now, what really happened?”

Before anyone could speak, Piper and Leo appeared. “Phoebe?” Piper rushed into her younger sister’s arms. “Oh my God! Phoebe, what happened to Paige? Is she all right?”

Mrs. McNeill spoke up. “She’s fine. The doctors are with her, right now.”

Confusion whirled in Piper’s dark eyes. “An operation? How was she hurt? Who attacked her?” She glanced at Cole. Hostility replaced confusion. “What is he doing here?”

Olivia tartly replied, “Cole and I were having lunch at the Fairmont, when I received a call from Mom. Now, will someone please tell me what the hell happened?”

Everyone began talking at once. Except for Cole. Finally, Cecile loudly ordered everyone to shut up. “This is what happened,” she continued. “Your mom and I ran into Paige and Phoebe at Barbara’s shop. Before they left, I . . .” She paused, as she glanced at the cop and the elderly couple, down the hall. “I had a premonition of Paige being attacked by someone. A shadowy figure, which I couldn’t make out. I tried to warn them both, but they had drove away.”

Mrs. McNeill added, “We tried calling their house, but neither Cecile and I knew their number. And I had left my phone book at home. Cole was in a meeting. And you were away from the station. By the way Livy, did you turn off your cell phone? We tried calling P3. No one answered. Neither Harry or Bruce knew the Halliwells’ number and they couldn’t get hold of Leo.” She stared pointedly at the whitelighter. “Why is it so difficult getting hold of you?”

Cole would have laughed aloud at Leo’s sheepish expression, if it were not for the grave situation. “I . . .” the whitelighter began. “Uh, Piper and I . . . we had an emergency regarding one of my other charges.”

“That always seems to be the case,” Mrs. McNeill murmured caustically.

Olivia glanced at her mother. “Mom!” The older woman apologized to Leo.

Phoebe frowned. “I don’t understand. I thought you didn’t have visions,” she said to Cecile. “How were you able to have one of Paige?”

“What makes you think I don’t have visions?” Cecile shot back.

Phoebe opened her mouth to speak. Before she could, the Murillo approached the group. Cole recognized them as the Halliwells’ next door neighbors. “Miss Halliwell!” The handsome, elderly woman in her early seventies grabbed Piper’s hand. “I’m so sorry for what happened to your sister! If I had known that man was going to attack her, I would have immediately called the police.”

Olivia stepped forward. “Hi. Inspector McNeill, San Francisco Police. And you are?”

“Dolores Murillo,” the older woman replied. She pointed at the elderly man standing behind her. “And this is my husband, Antonio. He was in the living room, watching TV and I was out front, tending my garden, when we heard the noise from next door. Well, I heard it.”

Mr. Murillo added, “So did I. But Dolores saw the man.”

“What man?” Olivia asked. “Can you describe him, Mrs. Murillo?”

For a brief moment, Mrs. Murillo paused. Then, “Well, I just told the policeman, but okay. He was tall. Very tall. Over six feet. Like you.” She spoke her last words to Cole, who felt slightly taken aback. Mrs. Murillo peered at him closely. “Mr. Turner? Is that you?”

Cole flashed a brief smile. “Yes, it is. It’s been quite a while, Mrs. Murillo.”

“Since last spring. How are . . .?”

Olivia immediately interrupted. “Um, Mrs. Murillo?”

“Oh yes.” The elderly woman continued. “The man was slightly taller than Mr. Turner. By an inch or two. Very good-looking. In fact, handsome. He was a black man with light-brown skin. Large forehead, I think. With dark eyes and a small goatee. And his clothes . . . good quality. Dark gray suit with a blue shirt and tie.” She paused reflectively. “You know, he looked very familiar.”

It did not surprise Cole that Mrs. Murillo’s description struck a familiar note. She had just described Darryl Morris. Judging from the stunned expressions on his companions’ faces, he realized they had all recognized the police inspector’s description.

Something like a gasp escaped from Olivia’s mouth. She smiled uneasily. “Well. Thank you for that description, Mrs. Murillo. I’ll call you if I need you. To sign a statement, later.”

“Okay.” The Murillos started to walk away, until the elderly woman paused. “Oh, one last thing. I forgot to mention this to that young man, but while we were waiting for the police and the ambulance, Miss Matthews was conscious for a brief moment and said a name before she passed out, again. Uh, . . . do you remember, Antonio?”

The old man nodded. “Of course. She said ‘Dako’. Whatever that means.”

The elderly couple said their good-byes and left. The moment they disappeared down the hall, both Cole and Cecile exclaimed at the same time. “Dako?” They stared at each other, stunned. Then, “You know about Dako?”

* * * *

The two figures met in an alley just off of Kearny Street. An anxious Ben Mallard said to Rudolf Crozat, “She knows. This police inspector. She knows about my connection to that janitor. And she wants to see me, later this afternoon. What the hell am I going to tell her?”

“You lie,” Crozat brutally replied. “Just tell her that you know nothing about the janitor.”

Mallard rolled his eyes in disgust. As if it were that easy. “I tried telling her. But she didn’t buy it. Apparently, someone saw me leaving the building minutes after you killed him. You killed him and I’m the one who’s going to be holding the bag. And I assure you, I won’t take full blame for this.”

“Are you threatening us?” Crozat punctuated his question with a menacing glare.

For a second, Mallard felt truly frightened. Malice and evil seemed to pour from young Crozat’s eyes. “I. . . uh . . . I mean . . .” Mallard took a deep breath. Never in his 42-year existence, had he ever found himself speechless. “No, I’m not . . .”

Crozat took a step forward. “You’re not what, Mr. Mallard?”

“Look, all I want is for you guys to take care of Inspector McNeill. Before she gets her hooks into me. I’m supposed to meet her around four-thirty.”

The other man’s expression became less menacing. “So, you want us to murder a police officer for you? Just don’t bother to show up. Is that so hard?”

Of all the dumb suggestions! “Don’t show up? How in the hell is that going to help me?”

“I don’t know,” Crozat airily replied. “But I’m sure that it will help my family.”

Before Mallard could comprehend the man’s words, he felt a sharp pain. “Wha . . .?” He glanced at the knife protruding from his stomach. Then he looked up and saw the malice in Crozat’s eyes. “Why?” he croaked.

Crozat removed the knife and shrugged. “What can I say? Killing you is the lesser evil. At least for now. Good-bye.” The last thing Benjamin Mallard saw was the knife’s blade that flashed across his throat.

END OF CHAPTER 10

“TOMORROW NEVER DIES” (1997) Review

I just recently watched Pierce Brosnan’s second outing as James Bond in this 1997 movie that co-stars Michelle Yeoh, Jonathan Pryce and Teri Hatcher.

“TOMORROW NEVER DIES” (1997) Review

I wish I could say that my opinion of the movie has improved over the years . . . but I would be lying. Mind you, TOMORROW NEVER DIES did have some highlights, but unfortunately, it possessed more negative traits than positive ones. I think it would be best if I list both the good and the bad about this movie:

Positive

*Michelle Yeoh

*Bond’s romantic scene with Danish linguist was rather sexy

*Foreign locations – Hamburg and Thailand (as Vietnam) never looked lovelier

*Bond and Wai-Lin’s escape from Caver building in Vietnam – great stunt
*Motorcycle chase – well done

*Pierce Brosnan – seemed natural . . . when he was acting in scenes with Yeoh

*Vincent Shirerpelli as Dr. Hamburg – oddly enough, I had rather liked him. He was a lot more interesting than Mr. Stamper. And his death was even more interesting, as well.

*Mr. Gupta – seemed like a pretty sharp and cool guy.

Negative

*Pierce Brosnan – his angsty scenes with Teri Hatcher seemed stiff and unnatural. And his voice tend to sound odd, when he’s giving the impression of supressing his emotions. Why did the director, Roger Spottiswode, have him shooting machine guns two at a time during the final confrontation on Carver’s boat? He looked like a walking action movie cliché.

*Jonathan Pryce – one of the most overbearing and annoying villains in the Bond franchise. Only Sophie Marceau in the latter half of THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH surpassed him.

*Plot – Is it just me or is the plot of this Bond movie seemed like an extended rip-off of a LOIS AND CLARK episode from its first season? Perhaps learning of Teri Hatcher’s casting must have given the screenwriters the idea.

*Moneypenny’s Little Sexual Joke – why is it that nearly every sentence directed by Moneypenny to Bond sounded like some kind of sly sexual joke? It got very annoying.

*Bond and Q’s Meeting in Hamburg – All Q was doing was handing over a car to Bond, and the director turned it into a hammy production number. What a bore and a waste of time!

*Mr. Stamper – a second-rate version of Red Grant. Where are Robert Shaw or Andreas Wisnewski when you need them?

*Car Chase Inside Hamburg Parking Structure – Bond uses a remote control . . . ah, never mind! The whole scene was a bore. Even worse, it happened after the marvelous Bond/Kaufman scene. What a waste of my time.

*Final Confrontation on Carver’s boat – Despite all of the gunfire exchanged and the other action, I found it to be too long . . . and boring.

*Wade – I did not need to see him again. Joe Don Baker was wasted in this film.

*Bond’s Cover as a Banker – I am beginning to suspect that Bond makes a lousy undercover agent. By opening his mouth and hinting at Carver’s boat, he ended up exposing himself. What an idiot!

*Teri Hatcher – She was wasted in this film. And she and Brosnan do not do emotional angst together, very well.

Also, TOMORROW NEVER DIES did managed to produce a few favorite lines of mine:

Favorite Lines

“Believe me, Mr. Bond. I can shoot you from Stugartt and still create the proper effect.” – Dr. Kaufman to Bond

BOND: “You were pretty good with that hook.”
WAI-LIN: “That’s from growing up in a rough neighborhood. You were pretty good on the bike.”
BOND: “Well, that comes from not growing up at all.”

“No more absurd than starting a war for ratings.” – Bond to Carver

KAUFMAN: “Wait! I am just a professional doing a job!”
BOND: “So am I.” (Then kills Kaufman)

Despite some of its virtues, TOMORROW NEVER DIES is not a favorite movie of mine. In fact, it is my least favorite Brosnan movie. It is more or less a generic burdened by an unoriginal plot and one of the hammiest villains in the franchise’s history.

“PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: The Lightning Thief” (2010) Review

“PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: The Lightning Thief” (2010) Review

Last winter, I discovered there was another literary children’s fantasy franchise other than ”HARRY POTTER” that became a best seller. Well, I am certain there are more than two of these franchises that I am not aware of. But I certainly became aware of the PERCY JACKSON franchise when I saw the trailer for ”PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: The Lightning Thief”.

The ”PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS” series had been created by a best-selling mystery writer named Rick Riordan. The novels centered around a New York City boy named Percy Jackson who discovered he was a demigod – the offspring of a mortal woman named Sally Jackson and the Greek god Poseidon. He also discovered that his best friend, a physically disabled young man named Grover Underwood was really a satyr assigned to be his protector.

This particular movie is an adaptation of the series’ first novel, ”The Lightning Thief”. Following the discovery of his true identity, a fury disguised as a substitute teacher attacked him during a field trip, while accusing him of stealing the powerful lightning bolt that belonged to his uncle – Zeus, the ruler of Mount Olympus and god of the sky and thunder. He also discovered that one of his other teachers – Mr. Brunner, was the centaur, Chiron at a place for demigods called Camp Half-Blood. His other uncle, Hades, informed Percy that he has his mother in captivity, and is willing to exchange her for Zeus’ lightning bolt. He also learned that he has two weeks to return the lightning bolt or a war will commence between Zeus and his father Poseidon – a war that might have negative repercussions on the mortal world. In the hopes that Hades can convince Zeus of his innocence of the theft, Percy sets out to find to find an entrance to the Underworld, along with three pearls that can help him make a quick exit from that domain. Grover and the demigod daughter of Athena named Annabeth Chase accompany him.

I did not harbor any high expectations before I saw ”PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS”. As I had stated earlier, I have never read any of Riordan’s novels. And considering it had been released during the pre-summer season, I did not expect to enjoy it very much. And yet . . . I did. Much to my surprise. I found the story to be an engaging and entertaining story filled with family drama, humor, actor and dazzling special effects. More importantly – at least for me – the movie’s running time seemed perfect. Not too short and not too long. I also enjoyed the three main characters’ encounters with a variety of characters from Greek mythology during their journey that included a Mintaur, Medusa, and the Lotus Eaters. Most importantly, Percy’s quest to find entry to the Underworld and the three pearls resulted in a travelogue that took the heroes from Manhattan to Los Angeles, via New Jersey, Nashville and Las Vegas. And I just love road trips in movies.

”PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS” does not have the same quality of special effects that had enhanced theHARRY POTTER films. Why did I mention HARRY POTTER? Well, the director of this movie, Chris Columbus, had also directed the first two HARRY POTTER films. And yet, PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS had a slightly more mature style. I suppose that was due to its main characters being four or five years older than the three mainHARRY POTTER characters in their early films. I understand that the Percy Jackson character was younger in the literary version of ”The Lightning Thief”. Since I have never read the novel . . . or intend to, I do not care.

The cast of ”PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS” struck me as pretty solid. Columbus did a good job in steering the actors through the movie. And Logan Lerman, who portrayed Percy, turned out to be better than I had expected. But aside from four performances, I found nothing exceptional about the cast. Who are these four exceptional performers? One of them turned out to be Uma Thurman, who gave a deliciously wicked performance as Medusa, the gorgon who used her eyes to turn humans and other beings into stone for her garden collection. I also enjoyed Steve Coogan’s rather wild and sexy take on the god, Hades. And I must say that I found him surprisingly sexy. And Rosario Dawson also gave a sexy performance as Persephone, the parthenogenic woman who became Hades’ bored and put upon consort in the Underworld. In fact, one of her sexiest moments occurred when she flirted with a very interested Grover. Speaking of Grover, Brandon T. Jackson gave a hilarious performance as the satyr who happened to be Percy’s best friend. I found him brave, resourceful, witty and an absolute hoot.

”PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS” was not the best fantasy film I have ever seen. In some ways, it came off as a poor man’s HARRY POTTER. This is especially apparent in the film’s depiction of Camp Half-Blood, the training camp located off Long Island for children with a Greek god as a parent. It looked so half-assed that I could only shake my head in disbelief. And its production values were certainly not of the same quality as any of the POTTER films or many others I can recall. But I found the movie enjoyable to watch and would have no qualms about seeing it again.

“MAD MEN”: Sex and Bobbie Barrett

The fans’ reactions to the character of Bobbie Barrett during Season Two of “MAD MEN” have always intrigued me. In this day and age – namely the early 21st century – I never understood why they had held her in such a low regard. Let me explain:

“MAD MEN”: Sex and Bobbie Barrett

I enjoyed Season Two of “MAD MEN” very much. In fact, I would say that I found it even more interesting than Season One. Many fans have commented that the female characters seemed to have developed a lot more in this past season than they did in the first season. And yet . . . when Season Two aired during the summer of 2008, many fans – both male and female – expressed a great deal of hostility toward one of the new characters – namely Bobbie Barrett. My first question is . . . why?

Why had there been such a great deal of hostility toward Bobbie? What was it about her that made her hated by many of series’ fans? As we all know, Bobbie is the wife and manager of insult comedian, Jimmy Barrett. The Barretts were first introduced in the episode (2.03) “The Benefactor”, when a drunken Jimmy, who had been hired as a spokesperson for Utz Potato Chips, insulted the owner’s wife. Sterling/Cooper’s own Don Draper had to meet with Bobbie to arrange for Jimmy to apologize to the Schillings, the owners of Utz. Don and Bobbie’s meeting eventually resulted in both of them having sex inside somebody’s car. Later, Bobbie tried to get more money from Don (in a hallway of the restaurant they and Schillings are at for the apology) in exchange for the pay-or-play contract of her husband’s. Don manhandled Bobbie and threatened to ruin Jimmy. And Bobbie appeared to enjoy the attention. She later convinced Jimmy to apologize.

Despite this violent encounter, Don and Bobbie’s affair continued in the following episode, (2.04) “Three Sundays”. After meeting at Sardi’s for cocktails in order to celebrate Jimmy’s new television series in (2.05) “The New Girl”, the pair encountered Don’s former mistress, Rachel Mencken, who got married. They eventually left Sardi’s and ended up in a car accident, on their way to the Barretts’ beach house in Stony Brook. The affair finally ended in (2.06) “Maidenform” when Don learned from Bobbie that he had developed a reputation for his sexual prowess amongst Manhattan’s career women . . . before leaving her tied up during another sexual encounter. Bobbie was last seen in (2.07) “The Gold Violin”, during a party held at the Stork Club, celebrating Jimmy’s new show.

I have to ask . . . why was Bobbie hated so much by most of the fans? The owner of one blog continued to call her ”the Odious Bobbie” in reviews for nearly episode in which Bobbie appeared. Others have called her sick, twisted, perverse, a skank, a whore, evil and God knows what else. When Bobbie gave Peggy Olson the ”be a woman” advice in how to deal with Don and other professional colleagues, many fans came to the conclusion that she was advising Peggy to use sex to get ahead professionally. In fact, many assumed that Bobbie also used sex to get ahead as a talent agent. And yet, the series has never hinted that Bobbie actually did this. What crime did Bobbie commit to produce such hatred?

One would point out that Bobbie has engaged in extramarital sex. Her affair with Don lasted at least four episodes – from “The Benefactor” to“Maidenform”. Yet, Bobbie is not the only female on the show guilty of this:

*Peggy Olson – Sterling-Cooper secretary turned copywriter, who had sex with junior executive Pete Campbell after knowing him for less than 24 hours in Season One’s (1.01) “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”. Pete, I might add, had plans to get married the following day and told Peggy before they had sex. Seven episodes later in (1.08) “The Hobo Code”, Peggy and a now married Pete had sex again, inside his office. Peggy gave birth to their son, in the Season One finale, (1.13) “The Wheel”.

*Midge Daniels – an art illustrator who was engaged in an affair with the very married Don Draper between “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and “The Hobo Code”. In fact, Midge and Don’s affair had been going on for five years by Season One. Don finally ended the affair when he realized that Midge was in love with someone else.

*Joan Holloway – Sterling-Cooper’s office manager who was engaged with the very married Roger Sterling, one of the firm’s owners, during Season One. When the affair began, the series has not yet revealed. Their affair was already on-going when revealed in (1.06) “Babylon”.

*Rachel Mencken – the head of a department store, who hired Sterling-Cooper to revamp her store’s image. Although both she and Don became attracted to one another in “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, their affair began in(1.10) “Long Weekend” and ended in (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy”, when Don suggested they run off together for the West Coast and Rachel realized that he did not want to run away with her, he just wanted to run away . . . from some problem. She called him a coward and ended the affair. Later, she married a man named Tilden Katz.

*Hildy – Pete Campbell’s secretary who had a one night stand with married Sterling-Cooper junior executive Harry Crane, during an election night party held at the firm’s offices in “Nixon vs. Kennedy”.

*Jane Siegel – introduced as Don’s new secretary in Season Two’s (2.05) “The New Girl”. After Joan threatened to fire her in “The Gold Violin” for encouraging some of the junior executives to take a peek at owner Betram Cooper’s new painting inside his office, she turned to Roger Sterling to intervene on her behalf. They eventually began an affair and Roger eventually left his wife, Mona, for her.

*Betty Draper – Don Draper’s ex-model wife, who eventually learned of his affair with Bobbie. She kicked him out of the house for a while. But after discovering that she was pregnant, she had a one-night stand with a stranger at a bar before reconciling with Don.

Well, apparently Bobbie was not the only female guilty of extramarital sex. Hell, she is not the only character guilty of extramarital sex. So, what was wrong with her? Some have complained about her aggressive nature. Which struck me as irrelevant, considering that she was not the only aggressive character in the series. Bobbie might be the only aggressive female in the series. So was that it? Men were allowed to be aggressive, but not women?

Bobbie was also a sexually aggressive woman who happens to like kinky sex. She had made that quite clear in the way she wrestled with Don inside his car, and when she failed to be put off by Don’s aggressive manhandling of her in“The Benefactor”. She also revealed to Don that when she learned about his sexual prowess, she set out to seduce him in order to have sex with him.  Was it possible that Bobbie’s sexual aggressiveness turned off most fans? Would they have preferred if Bobbie was sexually submissive . . . allowing men to seduce her or make the first move? Would they have preferred if Bobbie had limited her sexual preferences to the Missionary position or bent over, positions considered submissive for women? Or would they have preferred if Bobbie was a man?

Not only did male fans condemned Bobbie’s characters, but so did a good number of women. The blogger who had nicked named Mrs. Barrett – “Odious Bobbie” was a woman. Even Matt Weiner had joined the act in his interview with critic Alan Sepinwall about Season Two:

“People were upset about Bobbie Barrett, that she wasn’t Rachel Menken, and I’m like, she’s not Rachel Menken, and he’s not in love with her, and he says no. But he should never have slept with that woman.”

I am still a little perplexed by Weiner’s statement. One, he had called Bobbie “that woman” – something I do not recall him naming any of the series’ other female characters. And two, he stated that Don should have never slept with her. On one level, I agree with him. After all, both Don and Bobbie were married to other people. But why did he say this about Bobbie? Why not about the other women with whom Don had cuckolded Betty? Why not say the same about Midge Daniels, Rachel Mencken, Joy or any of the other women Don had sex with during his marriage to Betty? Why Bobbie?

Bobbie Barrett’s reputation with “MAD MEN” has improved since Season Two ended nearly two years ago. Many fans have complimented Melinda McGraw for her superb performance of the memorable Bobbie. There have been fans who have finally understood the meaning behind Bobbie’s advice to Peggy in “The New Girl”. And there have been fans who view both Bobbie and Jimmy Barrett as metaphors used to reveal more of Don’s true nature.

But a good number of Bobbie detractors remained. She was also the only one of Don’s known mistresses who had received such a strong level of hostility. And I can only wonder if any of this negativity might be a sign that despite the fact that we are now in the 21st century, society still demands that women adhere to some its ideal view on feminine behavior – in both real life and fiction?