“Return With a Vengeance [PG-13] – 16/18

 

 

“RETURN WITH A VENGEANCE”

CHAPTER 16

The sorcerer took a deep breath and opened his eyes. He leaned forward and blew out the candles that made up part of his makeshift altar. After several hours of meditation, he now felt complete. In full control. The mortal, he surmised, should no longer prove to be a problem, when he attacks the witches again. 

After another deep breath, Dako rose to his feet. He walked over to the window of his bedroom, and peered outside. It was almost midday. Time for him to go after the witches. He hesitated, recalling his encounter with the daemon the warlocks called, Belthazor. Dako had encountered daemons before – even killed a few. But he had never gone up against one as powerful as this Belthazor.

And there was another matter to consider. Namely the witch with the powerful baby. Unlike the situation with Belthazor, Dako had already formed a plan to deal with the witch. Namely, steal the child from the witch’s womb. He had done it before. Using a spell, Dako had managed to transform the embryo from a powerful priestess to his own mistress. Unfortunately the latter, who became frightened by the idea of helping him raise the child, betrayed him by running off. Dako had eventually caught up with his mistress and took care of her – permanently. But he never learned the whereabouts of the child, until ‘he’ appeared thirty years later to kill him.

In the case of this Halliwell witch, Dako had no intention of transferring her child to another womb – including the one that belonged to that sharp-tongued warlock. Instead, he planned to simply wrench the baby from the witch’s belly. Without another womb to nourish it, the child should simply die. A cruel smile curled the bokor’s lips.

Feeling alert and sure of himself, Dako headed downstairs to meet with the warlocks. Only he could not find one sign of them. The house seemed to be empty. Where could they be?

A deep suspicion began to form in the bokor’s mind. That the Crozats had known about Belthazor for quite some time. Perhaps they had even intended to steal the daemon’s powers for themselves. Anger surged through Dako. If those warlocks had so much as decided to . . . He paused. If what he now believed to be true, Dako realized that he might not be able to exact revenge upon the warlocks. He had not seen them in several hours and there was the possibility that they might already have Belthazor’s powers. It would be best, he decided, to simply bide his time, work with the warlocks, until he could find a way to steal the demon’s powers and kill them all. Meanwhile, he had a few witches to kill.

* * * *

“Officer, put your gun down,” Olivia coolly ordered the security guard. She then flashed the badge that hung around her neck. “I’m a police officer. Inspector McNeill. San Francisco Police. I need you to call for back-up.”

Bruce McNeill saw the bewilderment that flashed in the guard’s eyes. “I don’t understand,” he cried. “You’re the police? But that’s . . . that’s Mrs. Maxwell over there. And Mr. Crozat.”

Olivia sighed. “Yes, I know. Both of them tried to kill that man over there.” She pointed at a groggy Cole. “Mrs. Maxwell’s attorney. He had stumbled across a smuggling ring operating from this company.” The guard failed to lower his gun, much to Bruce’s consternation. Olivia added in a sharp tone, “Look Mr. Whatever-Your-Name-Is, do you really want to explain why you’re holding a police officer at gunpoint?”

Finally, the security guard lowered his weapon. Much to Bruce’s relief. Olivia strode toward him and began to explain what happened. Bruce turned to Cole and Cecile. “We really need to get this file out of here.” He indicated the thick, brown accordion file in his hands. “Especially if the cops are on their way here.”

“Leave it to me,” Cole murmured in a tired voice. With a little effort, he waved one hand over the file and it disappeared. “Your father should have it, by now.”

Cecile added in a low voice, “What about the urn?”

Before Bruce or Cole could respond, the guard’s eyes spotted the object in question. “Is that one of the pieces you were talking about, Inspector?”

Olivia whirled around and eyed the urn with dismay. “Uh, yeah. I believe it might be the latest piece that was smuggled.”

“And what about Mr. Turner?” The guard pointed at the still haggard Cole. “He don’t look so hot. What happened to him?”

Olivia quickly replied, “He was drugged.”

“Maybe I can help. I’ve been trained . . .”

Cole barked, interrupting the guard, “I’m fine! I just need . . . I need some rest. That’s all.” Bruce knew that would not happen. At least not right now. They still needed to track down Dako. And confront him.

“Oh.” The guard turned to Olivia. “Then is there something . . .?”

“I need you to call the police. And wait outside for their arrival,” Olivia replied. She paused. “Have you called them yet?”

According to the guard, he had summoned the police right after hearing gunshots. Sure enough, the sound of police sirens wailed in the background. Bruce wondered how they would get out of this. Olivia said to the guard, “Don’t you think you better go outside, Mr. uh . . .?”

“Vasquez. Yeah, I guess I better go.” And the guard sprinted out of the office.

Bruce and the others heaved large sighs of relief. Olivia said to them, “Okay, we don’t have much time. This is how it will go down. Cole has been suspicious about Suzanne’s smuggling operation and decided to confront her about it. She and Junior, over here” she pointed at the dead male warlock, “tried to kill him. But we had arrived in time to stop them. Suzanne and I struggled for control of her gun. Bruce, you admit that you and young Crozat got into a fight, while he was trying to stab you.”

“In other words, we were struggling for the knife,” Bruce interjected.

Olivia nodded. “That’s right. I’ll also explain that I have been investigating VENDRUM in connection to Pablo Alvarez and Ben Mallard’s murders.”

“Pablo who?” Bruce asked with a frown.

“Bruce!” His younger sister regarded him with a glare. “Just tell them what I told you and play along.” Olivia rushed over to the female warlock’s body. “Oh and Bruce, you better put Whatshisname’s prints on that knife you killed him with. I only hope we can get out of here, fast and warn the Halliwells that Dako is still on the loose.”

While Olivia momentarily gripped the dead woman’s Glock pistol, Bruce followed his sister’s instructions. Just as brother and sister had finished their tasks, the office door burst open. In marched the security guard, with two uniformed cops in his wake. One of the cops stepped forward, his eyes taking in the sight before him. “Jesus! What the hell happened here?”

* * * *

“Thanks for the information,” Phoebe said for the last time and disconnected the living room telephone. She turned to her sister and brother-in-law, who sat on the living room sofa. “That was the hospital. Looks like Paige will be released, tomorrow morning.”

Piper heaved a relieved sigh. “Thank God. I guess it could have been a lot worse, for her. A lot worse.”

“I guess that Darryl . . . I mean, Dako likes to play with his victims before killing them. He did the same with Harry McNeill.” Phoebe paused, before she added, “I wonder why he didn’t kill the Murillos, when they walked in?”

Leo added, “Just be happy that they didn’t. Hopefully, this all should end pretty soon. Olivia told me that Cecile’s boyfriend might be able to find the spell that will vanquish this Dako.”

“I’d rather use a Power of Three spell, thank you very much,” Piper murmured dryly.

Phoebe reminded her sister that with Paige in the hospital, they did not have the Power of Three. And their last encounter with Dako had proven that even the baby or Cole were not more powerful than the sorcerer.

“Well, maybe we should consider using both the baby’s power and Cole’s,” Leo said. “Together.”

The two sisters stared at Leo, as if he had lost his mind. Especially Phoebe. “Work with Cole? Are you serious?”

“Phoebe, you saw how he managed to knock Dako’s spirit out of Darryl. With all of us working together, we might . . .”

However, Phoebe would have none of it. “Cole could have killed Darryl, Leo! In fact, he didn’t even consider Darryl, when he deflected Dako’s powers.”

A frustrated sigh escaped from Leo’s mouth. However, he did not say anything. It was Piper who finally spoke up. “I hate to say this, Pheebs, but Leo might be right. I didn’t care what he nearly did to Darryl, either. But we might need Cole, after all. This . . . Dako is very dangerous. And very powerful. Plus, we still have the Crozats to worry about.”

Tension filled the Halliwell living room. Phoebe realized that both Leo and Piper were right. But the idea of working with Cole, again . . . There were moments when she feared she would never be free of him. Somehow, he always managed to remain in her life . . . despite her efforts to move on. Phoebe even suspected her ex-husband of using Olivia McNeill to make her jealous. Deep down, she feared that he might be succeeding.

Phoebe sighed. She hated it when any of her sisters were right. “I guess you have a point,” she said. “I’ll call his office and see if he can come by, later.” As she began to dial the number to Cole’s office, a familiar figure materialized in the middle of the living room. It was Dako . . . in Darryl’s body. “Oh my God!” Phoebe exclaimed.

“I do not think ‘He’ can save you,” the sorcerer crowed. He shot a bolt of lightning at Phoebe. Who immediately levitated above the line of fire.

Leo cried, “Piper, the potion!” He tackled the sorcerer to the floor. Leo’s actions gave Piper the opportunity to race to the kitchen for the power-stripping potion. Unfortunately for Leo, he was not able to maintain the advantage. Dako let out an enraged growl and flung the whitelighter off of him and to the other side of the living room. Leo slumped back, unconscious.

“Well, look who is left,” Dako declared. His eyes now rested upon Phoebe. Fear formed a large lump in her throat, as he raised his hand to strike. At that moment, Cole, the McNeills and Cecile appeared in the room.

* * * *

Still slightly groggy from the potion that Suzanne Crozat had given him, Cole looked upon the scene inside the Halliwell living room with dismay. Piper was nowhere to be seen. Leo lay sprawled upon the floor, unconscious. And Dako seemed primed to attack a defenseless Phoebe.

Dako sent a bolt of lightning toward Cole’s ex-wife. Olivia reacted first. She deflected the sorcerer’s attack, using her telekinesis. Although she had managed to succeed in saving Phoebe, she was not strong enough to prevent herself from being injured. The lightning bolt touched Olivia’s arm and she fell back on the floor, cradling her arm and crying in pain. Cecile rushed toward her.

Then Dako used his own telekinesis and sent everyone, including Cole, flying across the room. Cole finally snapped out of his stupor and did the same to Dako. The latter hit the side of the staircase with a sickening thud. After a moment’s pause, Dako quickly rose to his feet and stared at Cole with gleaming hatred. He raised his hand to attack.

So did Bruce, who used his aero kinesis against the sorcerer. The witch’s power had no effect. Dako merely deflected Bruce’s power, sending the latter hard against the wall.

Piper rushed into the living room, carrying a small vial. A power-stripping potion, Cole surmised, as he struggled to stand up. She tossed the vial at Dako. Everyone waited breathlessly for it to take effect. Nothing happened. Dako’s mouth curled with derision, as he focused his attention upon the oldest Halliwell. He extended his arm toward her direction and began to chant. Piper cried out in pain, as she gripped her slightly rounded belly.

“Piper!” Phoebe cried in anguish. “What is he . . .? He’s harming the baby!”

Using his telekinesis, Cole flung the bokor away from Piper. She fell to her knees with a sigh. Then a small vase came from nowhere and struck Piper on the side of her head, leaving her on the floor, unconscious.

Cole barely heard Phoebe’s cries. However, he did see Cecile reach inside her purse for something . . . and react with dismay. “What’s . . . wrong?” he demanded.

“My potion!” the priestess cried. “I must have left it at the apartment!”

Back on his feet, Dako smiled dangerously. “You must be a mamba. Forgot something?” A massive energy ball began to form in his open palm. He stared pointedly at Cecile, Phoebe and a prone Olivia.

Mustering every ounce of strength that he possessed, Cole struggled to fight the drug in his system. Then he dematerialized. And re-materialized directly in front of the three women. Dako threw the energy ball in their direction. Cole grunted, as he used his telekinesis to redirect the ball right back at the bokor.

The energy ball struck Dako squarely in the chest with great force. He let out a cry, as his body slammed against the side of the staircase. Seconds later, the bokor’s spirit burst out of Darryl Morris’ body. “A vanquishing spell would be nice, right about now!” Cole shouted at Cecile.

The Vodoun priestess glared at Dako and began to chant, using the Benin dialect:

“In Legba’s name, I open the gate;

In Nana-Buluku’s name, I summon the twins;

In Liza’s name will your spirit be judged;

And in Mawu’s name I send you to darkness and

Back to Ghede, where you belong!”

A bright light filled the room, along with a strong wind. Then a vortex materialized before Dako’s spirit. While Cecile repeated her chant, he cried out loud. His non-corporeal form finally shot through the center of the vortex, and it closed in an explosion of light. Cole, Phoebe and Cecile reeled backward.

Cole struggled to his feet with great difficulty. He glanced around the room. “Someone better wake up Leo,” he commented. “This place is beginning to resemble a battlefield.” The drug from the Crozats’ potion finally overwhelmed him. And everything went black.

END OF CHAPTER 16

“NATIONAL TREASURE 2: THE BOOK OF SECRETS” (2007) and “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” (2007) Reviews

“NATIONAL TREASURE 2: THE BOOK OF SECRETS” (2007) and “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” (2007)  Reviews

Three years ago, two movies were released in the theaters . . . two movies that could not be anymore different than if they had tried. I am speaking of “NATIONAL TREASURE 2: THE BOOK OF SECRETS” and “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR”. The first movie, starring Nicholas Cage and Jon Voight, is a sequel to the 2004 Disney film, “NATIONAL TREASURE”. The other is a comedy-drama about a Texas congressman from the 1980s who found himself involved in Afghanistan’s attempts to free itself from a Soviet invasion.

“National Treasure 2: The Book of Secrets”

This sequel to the 2004 movie – “National Treasure” – opens with the Gates family – Benjamin and Patrick (Nicholas Cage and Jon Voight) – learning from a black market dealer named Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) that their Civil War ancestor Thomas Gates (Joel Gretsch) may have been the mastermind behind Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Wilkinson’s so-called proof came from assassin John Wilkes Booth’s diary. To prove their ancestor’s innocence and family honor, Ben and Patrick recruit the aid of family friend Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), Ben’s estranged girlfriend Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), Patrick’s ex-wife Emily Appleton (Helen Mirren), FBI Agent Sadusky (Harvey Keitel) and even the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood) to help them find the treasure of gold that would vindicate Thomas Gates and the family’s name.

In a nutshell, this sequel turned out to be just as fun and exciting as the first movie. Ben Gates and company follow clues that lead them from Paris to London to Washington D.C. and finally Mount Rushmore in the Dakota Black Hills. The cast were their usual competent selves and Ed Harris turned out to be just as effective as a villain as Sean Bean had been in the first film. My favorite sequences included Ben, Abigail and Riley’s attempt to gain access to one of the rooms at Buckingham Palace, Ben and Abigail’s minor adventures at the White House and Ben’s kidnapping of the President at Mount Vernon.

I did have a few problems with the movie. My biggest gripe turned out to be the treasure itself. I realize that the Templar treasure found in the first film could not be topped. But I must admit that the City of Gold found beneath Mount Rushmore had failed to impress me at all. And why end the movie at Mount Rushmore? Granted there was a war between American settlers and the Dakota Sioux in 1862, but what did that have to do with the Civil War? I would have been happier if the movie’s setting had remained on the East Coast.

Aside from these minor gripes, “National Treasure 2: The Book of Secrets” turned out to be as entertaining as the first film. I would highly recommend it.

“Charlie Wilson’s War”

This historical drama told the story of recently departed Texas congressman Charles Wilson (Tom Hanks)’s efforts to get the United States to aid the Mujahideen (Afghanistan freedom fighters) in their fight against the military invaders from the Soviet Union during the 1980s. Urged on by his staunchly anti-Communist friend and romantic interest, Texas heiress Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), Wilson became deeply involved to help the Afghans throw the Soviets out of their country without the world knowing about U.S. involvement. The film not only revealed Wilson’s growing disdain for the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, it also gave moviegoers a look into his gregarious social life of women and partying.

Judging from the movie’s Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nomination, one could see that “Charlie Wilson’s War”has become a front-runner for Academy Award nominations. Does it deserve the acclamation? I do not know. Granted, Mike Nichols did a competent job in allowing moviegoers a peek into Washington and international politics, and C.I.A. policies. Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman (as C.I.A. operative Gust Avrakotos) were excellent. But if I must be honest, the movie did not give me a charge. I liked it. I really found it entertaining. But I did not love it. When leaving the theater, I had this feeling that something was missing. It could have been the unsatisfying ending, which I found to be rushed. Or perhaps I thought the story could have required a little more depth.

I cannot say that “Charlie Wilson’s War” was great. But I did find it entertaining. And if you are intrigued by a look into American politics during the 1980s, I would highly recommend it.

“FREQUENCY” (2000) Review

“FREQUENCY” (2000) Review

Directed by Gregory Hoblit and written by Toby Emmerich, ”FREQUENCY” is an entertaining and intriguing time travel story about a New York City firefighter in 1969, who is able to communicate with his adult son in 1999, via a short wave radio. The movie starred Dennis Quaid, Jim Cavielzel, Elizabeth Mitchell, Andre Braugher, screenwriter Emmerich and Shawn Doyle. 

A rare atmospheric phenomenon – the Aurora Borealis – allows a New York City firefighter named Frank Sullivan (Quaid) to communicate with his police detective son, John Sullivan (Cavielzel) 30 years in the future via short-wave radio. John uses this opportunity to warn Frank of his impending death in a warehouse fire, and manages to save the latter’s life. However, what he does not realize is that changing history has triggered a new set of tragic events, including the murder of his mother, Julia Sullivan (Mitchell). Father and son must now work together, 30 years apart, to find the murderer (Doyle) before he strikes so that they can change history – again.

Many have compared the plotlines of ”FREQUENCY” to the 1985 classic, ”BACK TO THE FUTURE”. I never understood why, since many time travel stories have dealt with different generations within a family interacting with each other – including two episodes of the television fantasy, ”CHARMED”. What made ”FREQUENCY” unique . . . at least for me is that neither of the two major characters actually travel through time – whether through the use of magic or a time machine. In fact, not one character does. The two major characters communicate with each other via a short wave radio and the atmospheric phenomenon, the Aurora Borealis. Frank and John Sullivan manage to change time . . . without leaving their respective time period. I have to admit that this was very clever of screenwriter Emmerich.

Another reason why I find the comparisons between ”FREQUENCY” and ”BACK TO THE FUTURE” hard to buy is the fact that ”FREQUENCY” is not only a time travel story, but also a thriller. In another clever plot twist, there is a serial killer loose called the Nightingale” murdering nurses in 1969. The case is re-opened by John and his partner/mentor, an old friend of his father named Satch DeLeon (Braugher), when an old corpse is discovered. As it turned out, the Nightingale killings had stopped after three victims, following Frank’s death in a warehouse fire. But when John warns his father of his impending death, Frank manages to save his life and that of a teenage girl. And his wife Julia, who is a nurse, is at the hospital to save the life of the killer, a cop named Jack Shephard. An act that leads to her violent death at his hands – and the deaths of six other nurses. Realizing the consequences of their actions, Frank and John race to save Julia’s life and the lives of Shephard’s other victims – and expose the cop as a serial murderer.

I must say that I ended up being very impressed by Emmerich’s script. He wrote an emotional and suspenseful story filled with family drama, fantasy and suspense. He took an original approach to time travel by having the two main characters travel through time via an object – namely a shorthand radio – without actually leaving their respective periods in time. The only misstep in Emmerich’s script occurred near the end in which featured Shepard’s attempt to kill members of the Sullivan family in both 1969 and 1999 – two incidents that cut back and forth within one sequence. I understood the killer’s attempt to commit murder in 1969. After all, he probably wanted to get even with Frank for exposing him as a serial killer, by murdering Julia. That episode ended with Frank blowing away Shephard’s hand with a shotgun before the latter escaped. But he came back to the Sullivan house, thirty years later to kill John. That simply did not make any sense to me . . . and it almost ruined the sequence for me. Not even Gregory Hoblit’s first-class direction or the competent editing of David Rosenbloom could elevate the scene.

When Hoblit took on the job as director of ”FREQUENCY”, he had difficulty in casting the two leads. Sylvester Stallone was originally considered for the role of Frank Sullivan. But Stallone pulled out over a dispute regarding his paycheck. In the end, Dennis Quaid won the role. And he turned out to be the perfect Frank – the boisterous and charming firefighter who loved his family and baseball. He managed to create a strong chemistry with the talented and surprisingly dark-haired Elizabeth Mitchell, who gave a charming performance as his wife, Julia. And despite the fact that both actors came from Texas (although Mitchell was born in Los Angeles), Quaid and Mitchell managed to create a convincing Queens accent. Well . . . almost. Andre Braugher gave solid support as Satch, Frank’s close friend and John’s mentor. He also had a delicious moment on screen when he discovered that Frank had been telling the truth about communicating with John through time. Screenwriter Toby Emmerich gave a funny performance as John’s best friend, Gordo Hersch. I also have to give kudos to Shawn Doyle for portraying a convincingly scary killer without any signs of acting histrionics. And of course, there is James Cavielzel, who did an excellent job of portraying Frank and Julia’s brooding and slightly obsessive adult son, John Sullivan. And although Cavielzel comes from the Pacific Northwest, his Queens accent turned out to be slightly better than Quaid and Mitchell’s. Hoblit managed to gather quite a cast and he did an excellent job with them.

Despite my misgivings over the film’s climatic action sequence featuring Shephard’s two attacks upon the Sullivan family, I must admit that I enjoyed ”FREQUENCY” very much. Screenwriter Toby Emmerich created a first-class and original screenplay. And director Gregory Hoblit did an excellent job of conveying Emmerich’s story with a group of talented actors led by Dennis Quaid and James Cavielzel, and a competent crew that included film editor David Rosenbloom. Not only is”FREQUENCY” is a compelling science-fiction story about time travel and the consequences; it is also a suspenseful thriller and heartwarming family drama. I highly recommend it.

“FIVE LITTLE PIGS” (2003) Review

“FIVE LITTLE PIGS” (2003) Review

 

”FIVE LITTLE PIGS”. That is the name of this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1942 novel. Who would have thought that a story with a title straight from a nursery rhyme would lead me to view it as one of the better screen adaptations of a Christie novel I have ever seen? 

I just gave the game away in the last paragraph, did I? I gave my opinion of ”FIVE LITTLE PIGS” right off the bat. My recent viewing of ”FIVE LITTLE PIGS” made me realize two things – a) it is a well-written and melancholy story with tragic overtones; and b) it is one of the finest Christie adaptations I have ever seen. Hmmm . . . I think I may have repeated myself. Well, I cannot help it. I feel that strongly about this movie.

The story began with Hercule Poirot receiving a visitor – a wealthy young woman from Canada named Lucy Lemarchant, who admitted to being the only child of a famous artist named Amyas Crale. According to her, Crale had been murdered fifteen years ago and Lucy’s mother, Caroline, ended up being arrested, convicted and executed for the murder. Years later, Lucy read a letter from Caroline in which the latter claimed her innocence. Despite his doubts, Poirot agreed to investigate Crale’s death. He ended up interviewing five other people who had been at the Crales’ house party fourteen years earlier – five people whom Poirot dubbed ”the Five Little Pigs”:

*Phillip Blake – a stockbroker and old childhood friend of Amyas Crale
*Meredith Blake – a reclusive former amateur herbalist and Philip’s brother
*Elsa Greer (Lady Dittisham) – a spoiled society lady who had once been Crale’s mistress and subject
*Angela Warren – a disfigured archaeologist and Caroline Crale’s younger sister
*Cecilia Williams – Lucy and Angela’s devoted governess

”FIVE LITTLE PIGS” turned out to be one of those rare Agatha Christie stories in which most of the drama occurred in distant past. What started as a cold case involving the murder of a philandering, yet talented artist, ended as a tale of sad regrets and family tragedy. This was emphasized in the movie’s finale with one last flashback featuring Crayle and Caroline enjoying happier times with their daughter before murder and tragedy struck. That last scene made me realize that the murderer – in an act of emotion – had not only killed the artist, but destroyed a family.

Another one of the movie’s major assets turned out to be its cast. David Suchet gave his usual competent portrayal of Belgian-born sleuth, Hercule Poirot. But I must admit that one of his finest moments – not only in the movie, but during the entire series – came when he exposed the murderer. Suchet did an excellent job of revealing Poirot’s emotional outrage toward the murderer, without any histrionics whatsoever.

There were certain cast members that I believe stood out. Toby Stephens gave a surprisingly poignant performance as Philip Blake, Aymas Crale’s boyhood friend, who harbored a secret passion for the painter. Julie Cox portrayed Aymas’ young mistress, Elsa Bell (the future Lady Dittisham) with an interesting mixture of arrogance and innocence. And Aidan Gillen’s portrayal of Aymas Crale as a self-involved, occasionally immature and passionate seemed spot-on for a character that was supposed to be a talented artist. But my favorite performance came from Rachael Stirling, who portrayed Aymas’ long suffering wife, Caroline. The interesting thing about her performance – at least to me – was that she seemed to be at the center of the story. In the end, it was Stirling – along with Suchet – who carried the film. And she managed to do this with a very subtle performance.

I also have to give kudos to cinematographer Christopher Gunning for his lush photography in the 1920s flashbacks. And costume designer Sheena Napier did a solid job of creating costumes for two eras – the mid 1920s and the late 1930s/early 1940s. But the movie’s real gems turned out to be Kevin Elyot’s adaptation of Christie’s sad and tragic tale and Paul Unwin’s direction. Thanks to the both of them, ”FIVE LITTLE PIGS” ended up being one of the best cinematic adaptations of an Agatha Christie novel I have ever seen.

“MAD MEN”: Fan Dislike of Betty Draper

 

After watching the “MAD MEN” Season Three episode, (3.04) “The Arrangement”, and reading several reactions to it; I decided to write the following article on Betty Draper:

“MAD MEN”: Fan Dislike of Betty Draper

I am angry. After watching the latest episode of ”MAD MEN” – (3.04) “The Arrangement” – and reading numerous comments about it, I have become angry over fans’ reaction to the character of Betty Draper.

Ironically, I am not angry at Matt Weiner. But I am angry at many fans for their continuing misreading of Betty Draper’s character. I just read this article on the recent episode and now find myself wondering if the fans of this show have ever understood the character. As of this moment, I am beginning to doubt it very much. Much of the fans’ vitriol toward Betty seemed to stem from her “treatment” of her two children, Sally and Bobby.

Ever since the airing of the Season Two episode, (2.02) “Flight 1”“MAD MEN” fans have been accusing Betty Draper (portrayed by January Jones) of being a poor mother. In this particular episode, they nitpicked over her complaint about Bobby’s (Aaron Hart) lies about a drawing he had submitted in school. He had traced the drawing from another illustration and declared it as his own original work.

Matters became worse in (2.04) “Three Sundays” when Betty had demanded that Don (Jon Hamm) punish Bobby for a series of infractions. After this episode had aired, many fans accused her of being a cold and abusive parent, especially since she had expressed anger at Don for refusing to discipline his son. To this day, I am shocked, not by Betty’s insistence upon disciplining her son, but by the fans’ reactions. Surely they realized that the episode was set in 1962? Before this decade and in the following two, parents had disciplined their children with spankings. Yet, fans had acted as if this was something rare and accused Betty of being an abusive mother.

In a later episode, (2.12) “The Mountain King”, Betty caught her daughter Sally smoking. She punished the girl by locking her in a closet for a few hours. Again, fans accused Betty of being abusive. They completely ignored the fact that Sally (Kiernan Shipka), a young girl under the age of 10, was smoking and focused upon Betty’s punishment. I find myself wondering how my parents would have reacted if they had caught me smoking. I suspect that they would have shown less restraint than Betty. Hell, I suspect I would also show less restraint. Betty eventually let Sally out of the closet and explained – somewhat – the situation between Don and herself (they were separated at the time). But the damage had been done. Betty was now a bad mother.

Finally, Season Three had premiered last month. And if the fans’ reaction to Betty had been hostile during certain episodes of Season Two, it became downright vitrolic during this season. In the season premiere, (3.01) “Out of Town”, fans complained about Betty’s curt dismissal of Bobby (Jared Gilmore), as she and Don were prepared to discipline Sally for breaking into her father’s suitcase. They also complained of Betty’s desire to give birth to a second daughter, citing this as an example of her immaturity. They also accused her of being immature when she insisted that her ailing father, Gene Hofstadt (Ryan Cutrona), remain with the Drapers after his live-in girlfriend abandoned him. They claimed that Betty wanted to prevent her brother William from selling their father’s home and profiting from it. Again, they complained about Betty being curt to Sally, when she ordered the young girl to zip up the dress she wore at Roger Sterling’s garden party in (3.03) “My Old Kentucky Home”. But the fans’ hostility toward Betty hit an all time high, since ”Three Sundays” in this latest episode.

According to many hostile fans, Betty is guilty of the following in ”The Arrangement”:

*Her refusal to discuss with Gene his plans to distribute his late wife’s furs to herself and her sister-in-law, which many saw as a sign of her immaturity.

*A few fans had accused her of closing the door on Sally, after the police officer had arrived with news of Gene’s death. Of course, this was untrue.

*Her dismissal of Sally from the kitchen, after the latter ranted at the adult Drapers and Betty’s brother William, over their “failure” to grieve over Gene’s death.

*Her failure to comfort Sally over Gene’s death.

Betty’s refusal to discuss Gene’s plans to distribute his late wife’s furs upon his death drew a great deal of critical fire. Personally, I do not understand why. Her refusal to discuss such matters seemed reasonable to me. Why would any grown child want to discuss a parent’s impending death, like it was part of a business discussion? That strikes me as morbid and too emotional for anyone to bear. Especially if that particular person was in the last trimester of her pregnancy. In one of his more lucid moments, Gene could have written down his wishes regarding inheritance and other arrangements in a signed letter. Instead, he decided to openly discuss the matter with Betty, who obviously found the subject disturbing. And I have a question. Why on earth did he wait so long to distribute his late wife’s furs? She had been dead for over three years.

Many fans pointed out that Gene’s disappointment in Betty was a clear indication of her shallow and immature nature. His main complaints seemed to center around her failure to become a professional, like her mother used to be (Ruth Hofstadt had been an engineer back in the 1920s); and her marriage to Don. Now, this man knew what kind of parent his wife used to be. There has never been any previous hint in past episodes that Gene and Ruth Hofstadt had encouraged Betty to acquire a profession. When she became a professional model, Mrs. Hofstadt called her a whore. And judging from Gene’s story about his wife’s efforts to reduce Betty’s weight, I suspect that he left his daughter solely in Ruth’s hands. As for Betty’s marriage to Don, had Gene become aware that his son-in-law had stolen someone else’s identity? Or was he simply disappointed that Betty had married a man from a working-class background who did not have any family? If Gene knew that Don was a phony, why has he never exposed the latter? And if Gene’s problem with Don had more to do with the younger man’s social background, then it would only lead me to believe that he may have been just as shallow as his daughter and nearly every other major character in the series.

Some fans have accused Betty of shutting the front door in young Sally’s face after learning about Gene’s death. Well, I have an easy response. The cop who had delivered the news about Gene was the one who had closed the door in Sally’s face, preventing her from following him and Betty into the house. And since I do not recall him locking the door, Sally could have easily went ahead and followed them inside.

We finally come to the one scene that caused a great deal of hostility from the fans – namely Betty’s dismissal of Sally, following the latter’s outbreak over her grandfather’s death. Many fans expressed outrage over Betty’s action, claiming it as another example of her cold attitude toward her children. The interesting thing about their reaction is that they were only willing to view the scene from Sally’s point-of-view. No one was willing to view it from Betty’s point-of-view, or anyone else. Very few seemed unwilling to consider that both Betty and her brother, William, were devastated from their father’s death. As far as I know, one person – anonymous-sibyl – was able to understand both Betty and Sally’s point-of-views, due to her own personal experiences. William tried to hide his own grief through a mild joke and both Betty and Don had laughed. Sally, who had overheard the joke, had jumped to conclusions that none of them cared about Gene’s death. And because of this belief, she ranted against her parents and uncle. Upset and shaken by her daughter’s outburst, Betty ordered Sally to her room . . . before she began to cry. And instead of viewing the scene as another example of family conflict during a special occasion – a death in the family, in this case – many viewers saw this as another example of Betty Draper’s despicable nature. I even came across an article that failed to mention Betty’s grief over her father’s death.

What I cannot understand is why very few viewers failed to comment on Don’s actions. What exactly did he do? He laughed at William’s joke. He looked understandably stunned by Sally’s outburst. He mildly chastised Betty for eating one of the peaches found in Gene’s car, and she ignored him. Speaking of the peaches, many fans saw Betty’s consumption of one of them either as a sign of her immaturity . . . or some kind of malice toward Sally. Following William and Judy’s departure, Don comforted a grieving Betty inside their bedroom. And when she finally went to sleep, he peeked in on Sally. That is it. He hardly did anything to comfort Sally. And yet . . . I have not come across any criticism against him.

I wish I could explain why Betty has received the majority of criticism from the fans. She has become the Bobbie Barrettof Season Three – the female everyone loves to hate. Fans have yet to find this season’s Duck Phillips. But I suspect that it will not take them very long. Are fans so desperate to find a character to vilify every season that they are unwilling to examine the complexities of all characters? Why are they willing to excuse the flaws and mistakes of female characters like Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) and Joan Holloway Harris (Christina Hendricks) and dump all of their ire on the likes of Betty Draper? Is it because Peggy has managed to adhere to their ideals of the new feminist of the 1960s and 70? Or that they admire Joan’s sophistication, style and wit? Whatever.

Look . . . I realize that Betty Draper is not perfect. She is not the world’s greatest mother and at times, she can be rather immature and shallow. But you know what? None of the other characters are perfect. Don strikes me as an even worse parent than Betty. He seems obsessed with maintaining appearance. And he is a fraud. Despite her ambition and talent, Peggy strikes me as an immature woman who assumes facades and personas with more speed than her mentor. I still cannot fathom her reaction to that opening sequence of ”BYE-BYE BIRDIE”. Despite the strides he had gained during late Season Two, Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) has shown that he has yet to overcome his desire for approval . . . and he still acts like a prat when things do not go his way. Paul (Michael Gladis) is another poseur who is ashamed of his past as a middle-class or working-class Jersey man; and of the fact that he had attended Princeton via a scholarship. And Joan . . . I really do not know what to think of her. Why on earth would an intelligent and experienced woman of the world marry a man who had raped her? Why? I have asked this question on several blogs, message boards and forums. And instead of giving me an answer, fans either make excuses for Joan’s choice or gloss over it by expressing their anticipation for the day when she finally leaves her husband.

I realize that I cannot force or coerce fans to even like Betty. But I am finding it difficult to accept or embrace their view. I am beginning to suspect that fans have allowed their emotions and prejudices to get in the way of any possibility of a rational discussion on the series and its characters. And considering that the comments regarding Betty’s role in ”The Arrangement” has managed to anger me, I realize I no longer can conduct a rational discussion, myself.

“THE LOSERS” (2010) Review

“THE LOSERS” (2010) Review

For the umpteenth time, Hollywood took a comic book series and adapted it for the screen. One of the latest comic book movies to appear in the movie theater happened to be an adaptation of a Vertigo Comics series created by Andy Diggle called ”THE LOSERS”

Directed by Sylvain White, ”THE LOSERS” told the story of five members of an elite U.S. Special Forces team that is sent into the Bolivian jungle to search and destroy a notorious drug lord. But when their CIA handler, a wealthy man named Max, betrayed them with an attempt on their lives, the team made plans to even the score. They are joined by a mysterious woman who offered financial aid for an operation to ensure Max’s death and foil his plans to start a new high-tech global war.

”THE LOSERS” is obviously one of the latest in a never ending line of movie adaptations of comic book series and graphic novels. In other words, these adaptations are becoming a dime-a-dozen. But I had no idea that the movie was based upon a comic book series when I saw the trailers. Had I known, would I have avoided the movie? I rather doubt it. The trailer struck me as rather appealing, if I must be honest. Do I regret seeing the movie? Not at all.

I had expected to be mildly entertained by ”THE LOSERS”. Instead, I found it a great deal of fun to watch. Mind you, I had some problems with it. Sylvain White’s use of slow motion action became worrisome at times. The most annoying use of slow motion involved a love scene between the two leads – the leader of the Special Forces team and the mysterious woman. I mean . . . honestly. Slow motion sex? It brought back memories of certain love scenes from television dramas and miniseries in the 1970s and 80s. I was not particularly impressed by John Ottman’s score for the movie. And I never understood the need for a fight scene between the two leads – when the mysterious woman approached the team leader in order to form an alliance against Max.

Quibbles aside, I still enjoyed the movie very much. One, screenwriters Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt created a very entertaining story filled with sharp humor and plenty of exciting action. Even better, Berg and Vanderbilt provided plenty of angst, revenge, mistrust and betrayal that gave extra bites to the movie. The action featured in the movie struck me as pretty first-rate. I was especially impressed with the action sequences in Bolivia and the movie’s final showdown in Los Angeles.

By the way, I have to say that the cast turned out to be the movie’s best asset. Jeffrey Dean Morgan led the cast as Lieutenant Colonel Franklin Clay, leader of the Losers. Morgan’s Clay is as tough and ruthless as they come. Yet, the actor did a great job in balancing his character’s ruthlessness with streaks of idealism and compassion that sometimes proved to be his Achilles heel. Idris Elba portrayed Captain William Roque, the team’s second-in-command. Elba’s subtle portrayal of Roque is a cooler personality with a dangerous and self-serving edge that made him quite unpredictable. And his screen personality proved to be just as strong and dynamic as Morgan’s. Chris Evans proved to be hilarious as ever, portraying the team’s computer expert, Corporal Jake Jensen. Evans also created a funny screen chemistry with Columbus Short, who portrayed Sergeant Linwood ‘Pooch’ Porteous, the team’s transportation expert. I was also impressed by Short, whose performance struck me as wry and very witty. And Óscar Jaenada gave a charismatic performance as Sergeant Carlos ‘Cougar’ Alvarez, the team’s gifted marksman with only a few lines. But the most impressive performance in my book belonged to Zoe Saldaña, who portrayed Aisha, the mysterious woman who recruited the Losers to seek revenge against Max. Her Aisha was not only a skilled arms handler and fighter, she was also intense and extremely complex. However, she certainly had stiff competition from not only Morgan and Elba, but from also Jason Patric. Who, by the way, gave a sardonic, yet off-beat performance as the team’s murderous, yet manipulative CIA handler, Max.

While watching ”THE LOSERS”, it occurred to me that its film style strongly reminded me of another comic adaptation, 2008’s ”WANTED”. Granted, the older movie seemed to have superior production values and bigger stars. But I still found”THE LOSERS” more enjoyable. Why? Aside from the hotel fight scene between Morgan and Saldaña, Sylvain White did not indulge in too much over-the-top action sequences and graphic gore. Also, ”THE LOSERS” definitely possessed a sharper sense of humor and a more solid story, thanks to Berg and Vanderbilt’s script. Those traits, along with a strong cast made ”THE LOSERS” one of my favorite movies of this year’s spring season.

“THE INCREDIBLE HULK” (2008) Review

“THE INCREDIBLE HULK” (2008) Review

When I had first heard that another movie based upon the Marvel Comics character – Bruce Banner/the Hulk – would hit the theaters over two years ago, the word in both Hollywood and on the Internet was that it would be better than the 2003 film directed by Ang Lee, namely ”THE HULK”. Well, I have finally seen ”THE INCREDIBLE HULK”. Below is what I think of the film and whether or not I believe if it has surpassed the 2003 movie. 

The first film that had starred Eric Bana as Bruce Banner ended with the main character in South America, providing medical services to impoverished local citizens. This movie, in which Edward Norton takes up the role, picks up with Bruce in South America – namely Brazil. Only he is working as a day laborer at a soft drink factory in Rio de Janeiro, while at the same time seeking a cure to get rid of the Hulk within him with the help of an internet friend. At the same time, he is being pursued by General Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) and a Russian-born, British Royal Marine on loan to the U.S. Army named Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth).

There are some changes in which director Louis Leterrier, screenwriters Zak Penn and an uncredited Edward Norton made changes. One, aside from Brazil and Mexico, the movie is mainly set on the East Coast – suburban Virginia and New York City; whereas the 2003 version is set in San Francisco, Berkeley and Nevada. The movie’s opening credits showed the origins of the Hulk, which has nothing to do with the 2003 story. In the 2008 version, Bruce and Betty were assisting General Ross in an experiment to create the Perfect Soldier”. Only Bruce became exposed to Gamma radiation during a lab experiment and injured and/or killed a number of people, including Betty. In the 2003 movie, Bruce unwittingly became the subject of his father’s DNA research not long after his birth. His altered DNA is exposed to Gamma radiation during a lab experiment as an adult, and the Hulk is born. And of course, there are different actors in the major roles.

Naturally, Edward Norton did a great job portraying Bruce Banner. He managed to capture all the pathos, desperation and anger of the fugitive scientist/comic book hero. He managed to put his personal stamp on the role just as Bana had done, five years ago. At first I had a hard time accepting Liv Tyler as Betty Ross, Bruce’s love and former colleague. She did not seem as effective as Jennifer Connelly in projecting Betty’s emotional personality. And I found it slightly hard to believe that she was a scientist. But she eventually grew into the role. I must admit that I have to say the same about William Hurt as General Thaddeus Ross. There were times when it seemed that Hurt was trying too hard to portray Ross’ obsessive and hostile personality. To be perfectly frank, he lacked Sam Elliott’s natural intensity. But he eventually did a good job. Tim Roth had no such problems. I thought he was perfect as Emil Blonsky, the Royal Marine determined to take down Bruce/the Hulk in any way. It really came as no surprise when he was willing to become a subject of another one of Ross’ Perfect Soldier. And finally there is Tim Blake Nelson, who portrayed Dr. Samuel Stern, an eccentric scientist and Internet ally of Bruce, who becomes infatuated with the potential power of Gamma radiation, after he witnesses Bruce’s transformation. Although a little over-the-top at times, Nelson does a good job in portraying Sterns’ eccentric nature.

Do I believe that this new version of the Hulk is better than the 2003 version? Honestly? NO. And my family feels the same. I had expected this version to be better and was slightly disappointed that it failed to live up to the hype. At least for me. I wish that Marvel Films and Universal Pictures had allowed this film to simply be a sequel to the 2003 film. Instead, they tried to reboot the saga by changing the story of the Hulk’s origins from what was joined in the previous film. I feel that the story involving Bruce’s father gave the Hulk a special angst factor that the 2008 film lacked. Now, some people have claimed that the 2003 film had too much angst. We are talking about the Incredible Hulk, which is a major character from Marvel Comics. Angst is Marvel’s middle name. And most of its movies – especially those focusing upon Spider-Man, the X-Men and Daredevil – have angst up the yahoo. This movie is a little more action oriented than the 2003 movie. Actually, I feel that it is more action oriented than ”IRON MAN”. But I do not believe that the presence of more action made this movie better than the 2003 movie or ”IRON MAN”.

I really had a problem with the story’s finale. Granted, I was not fond of Bruce’s showdown with his father in the 2003 film. It came off as too vague for me. Although the Hulk/Abomination showdown was less vague in this film, I was not that impressed by it. The fight came off as too crude for my tastes. But the really problem is that the movie ended on a vague note. Perhaps this was Leterrier, Penn and Norton’s way of saying that the saga will continue. I think it could have been written better. The movie made it clear that it only defeated and not killed Abomination, but what later happened to Blonsky? Did he end up as Ross’ prisoner? Does the Army general really believe he can control Abomination? And those familiar with the Hulk comic saga knows that Sterns, who was exposed to Bruce’s blood in a confrontation with Blonsky, will become another one of the Hulk’s nemesis, the Leader. Unfortunately, not everyone would know this and the movie’s script makes this hint rather vague. It is almost as if the writers and the directors were afraid to give the story a more solid ending – like ”IRON MAN” or even ”THE HULK”. Not even the last shot of Bruce with a Norman Bates-style grin on his face or Robert Downey Jr’s cameo appearance as Tony Stark could really stave off my disappointment over the ending.

Despite the ending, ”THE INCREDIBLE HULK” is a damn good movie . . . one that Marvel Films to be proud of. But the vague ending and my initial problems with Tyler and Hurt make it impossible to accept the prevailing view that it is better than 2003’s ”THE HULK”.