“Return With a Vengeance” [PG-13] – 17/18

 

 

“RETURN WITH VENGEANCE”

CHAPTER 17

Blue eyes fluttered open and Olivia sighed with relief. She sat on the edge of Cole’s bed and gave him a warm smile. “You’re finally awake,” she declared, keeping her tumultuous emotions in check. “How do you feel?” 

“Fine,” Cole croaked. “How long I have been out?”

After a brief hesitation, Olivia answered, “A little over eight hours. It’s almost eight-thirty. The potion that Suzanne Maxwell had given you must have been very potent.”

Cole sighed. “No kidding.” He struggled to sit up. “Wha . . . what happened after Cecile had vanquished Dako?”

Olivia helped Cole sit up. “Oh, Phoebe got Leo to heal Darryl, Bruce, Piper and myself. And Leo helped us get you home. He and Bruce undressed you and put you in bed. Poor Leo, he was . . . well, a little uneasy about orbing a half-daemon.”

“He’d done it before. When I was the Source.” Cole sighed. “What about the police? Did they buy your story?”

With a shrug of her shoulders, Olivia replied, “Well, Captain McPherson did. By the way, you’ll have to go by the precinct tomorrow, to file a statement.” She paused momentarily. “But before you do, we have a little . . . file manipulation to take care of.”

“Like what?”

Olivia continued, “Well, I had went by your office to inform them about your encounter with Suzanne. And I learned that Mr. Jackman was the one who had recommended you to her. He recalled first meeting her at a party, only he doesn’t remember exactly when. Probably after the Tower Bay warehouse incident, which was a little over a month ago.” Olivia noticed that Cole seemed to be wavering. “Are you okay?”

He took a deep breath. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. Listen, about that . . . I’ve got this idea, regarding Suzanne.”

“Are you about to bring up that police report you had filed back in late October?” Olivia’s question drew a frown from Cole. “I came across it, some time ago. About how someone had slipped a drug in your drink, at a party. I’ve always wondered how you managed to keep your job, after nearly strangling your secretary.”

Cole rubbed one hand over his bewhiskered chin. “Well, it was either that or tell Jackman, Carter and Kline that the Daemon of Fear was manipulating my mind at the time.”

“And they believed you?”

Wariness crept into Cole’s eyes. “They did after the police confirmed my story.”

“So, are you telling me that the police actually found traces of a hallucinogenic drug in your bloodstream?” Olivia gave Cole a shrewd look.

Cole returned her stare. “I’m sure you have a pretty good idea how I had convinced the police.” He glanced away and sighed. “All right. So I had used the old Jedi mind trick on the cops, and on my bosses. And I had also conjured up evidence to back my story. I had lost my job, thanks to Barbas’ tricks. So, I had to do the same to get my job back.” His eyes returned to Olivia. Wary. “Disappointed?”

Was she? Olivia could honestly say no. Hell, she would have done the same, faced with a similar situation. And if she could look past Cole’s actions in the death of that slimeball Ed Miller, she should have no problem with this. “Do I look disappointed?” she shot back, with a smile.

Cole responded with a warm smile of his own.

Olivia added, “Besides, Mrs. Maxwell should fit perfectly with your story. Murderous widow tries to kill attorney after he rejects her. And confronts her with criminal action.”

“How did you know about . . .?”

“When I was at your office, your secretary gave me that private detective’s report. I was surprised to find out that Maxwell was her real married name. And that she was married to a murdered man named Anton Maxwell.” Olivia paused. “Did you know that he wasn’t the first? That Suzanne was married, twice before, and ‘widowed’? She had built up quite a fortune in the past five years or so. Also, our young warlock was identified by the police as one Rudolf Crozat. According to the Vancouver police, he was last seen with Anton Maxwell, before the latter’s death. And dear Suzanne disappeared from Canada, six days later . . . after dissolving most of her husband’s assets.”

Cole murmured, “More profits for the MALEHEX Corporation. What about the urn that Bruce had found? What happened to it?”

“The police has the urn,” a third voice added. Cecile entered the room, carrying a steaming mug. “Or maybe Customs have it by now. Olivia told us that many of the artifacts found in that office may have been smuggled into the country, illegally.” She walked over to Cole and handed him the mug. “Boy, you really looked wasted. This should help. It’s tea. Help you cleanse the last of that potion out of you.” Cole sniffed at the hot liquid. “Don’t worry. It won’t kill you.”

Dark brows cocked upward. “Are you sure?” Cole took a sip of the tea. “Hmmm, not bad. Actually, it’s pretty good.”

“Naturally,” Cecile retorted good-naturedly.

Olivia added, “After you finish your tea, you should get some more rest. I think battling Dako and nearly getting your powers stolen may have taken a lot out of you.”

“I’m fine.”

“Uh, huh. You’re lucky that you’re still alive,” Olivia shot back.

Cole gave her a curious look. “Do I detect a rebuke coming?” He drained the rest of his tea and handed the mug back to Cecile.

Hands on hips, Olivia faced the half-demon squarely. “That’s right. I’m a little pissed at you.”

“For what?”

“For not bothering to tell me that you had a meeting with Suzanne Maxwell. If Cecile hadn’t received a premonition, you would have been dead. And probably the rest of us, as well.”

Cole rolled his eyes and sighed. “Look, I thought I could handle her.”

“Cole, did you ever stop to wonder why she was so interested in you? Hell, it’s been preying on my mind all week! And all powerful or not, you’re not invulnerable. Barbas had proven that when he managed to manipulate your mind, over a month ago. And even Paige managed to come up with a potion to strip your powers. She didn’t need the Power of Three!”

Cecile added, “She’s right. That was pretty stupid.” She left the room.

“Thanks a lot,” Cole grumbled. Then to Olivia’s satisfaction, he expressed regret. “Okay, I’m sorry. It was pretty stupid of me. First of all, I couldn’t reach you.” He paused, his eyes focusing on his sheet-covered lap. “And I had forgot to call you, again. I’m sorry.”

Olivia allowed a small smile on her lips. “Apology accepted. Just don’t do it again,” she said, softly.

As Cole stood up, the sheet slid off his lower torso. He glanced down, realizing that he wore underwear and nothing else. Olivia struggled to contain her amusement, as he jumped back on the bed and covered himself with the sheet. He glanced at her and frowned. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing. I just realized that you have answered the age-old question of boxers or briefs. Considering how tight those things are, you might as well be al fresco.”

Cole’s face turned red. But his embarrassment did not last long. “Well, I’ve also discovered something,” he said.

“What?”

A wicked grin curved his lips. “That you give new meaning to the phrase ‘French kiss’. All I can say, Livy, is that the man who marries you is going to be one lucky bastard.” His grin now became downright lecherous.

Embarrassment washed over Olivia, followed by a wave of heat. She picked up a pillow lying on the floor and threw it at Cole’s face. Then she fixed him with a fierce glare. “Get some sleep, Turner.”

* * * *

The black SUV pulled into the Halliwell driveway and stopped. Paige, who sat in the back seat, let out a sigh. “Boy, am I glad to be home. I hate hospital food.”

The two older Halliwells exchanged brief smiles and climbed out of the vehicle. Phoebe opened the back seat’s door and helped Paige climb out. “Watch your step, honey. We don’t want you to trip and get hurt, again.”

“That’s all I need, another trip to the hospital. At least I can’t blame some Voodoo witch doctor.”

The words immediately tumbled out of Phoebe’s mouth. “Vodoun sorcerer. A bokor. Not witch doctor.” Paige stared at her. “At least that’s what Cecile keeps telling us.”

Paige opened her mouth to speak, but closed it immediately when two figures approached the sisters. Their next door neighbors, the Murillos. “Miss Halliwell, I see that you’re back,” Mrs. Murillo greeted.

“Matthews,” the youngest sister grumbled.

Oblivious, Mrs. Murillo continued, “I’m relieved that you’re okay. Both Antonio and me. Right, querido?”

The elderly man nodded and mumbled, “Good to see that you’re okay.”

“Did the police ever catch the man who attacked your sister?” Mrs. Murillo asked Piper and Phoebe.

Piper shook her head. “I’m afraid not. But I don’t think he’ll come back.”

“But if Miss Halliwell saw her attacker, surely he will come back to make sure that she doesn’t . . .”

Phoebe cut in. “He won’t be back. According to the police, he was last seen in . . . I mean, down south in Oxnard.”

“Oh.” The elderly woman nodded. “You know, for a moment I thought that thief or whatever he was, looked a lot like your friend. The police inspector.”

Time to nip this suspicion in the bud, Paige decided. “It wasn’t him,” she said abruptly. “The guy who attacked me only looked like Darryl. But it wasn’t him.”

The Murillos smiled with relief. “That’s good to hear,” Mrs. Murillo said. “Well, we better get going. It’s time for Antonio’s lunch. Good day.” The elderly pair started back toward their house.

Paige shook her head in disbelief. “How on earth did you two ever deal with that woman as a neighbor and be witches at the same time?”

“We usually tried to ignore her,” Piper caustically replied. “It’s not easy when living next door to a real live Gladys Kravitz.”

Phoebe grabbed Paige’s arm and escorted her inside the house. “I wouldn’t be too hard on Mrs. Murillo. She and her husband did save your life, Paige.”

“That’s what I don’t understand,” Paige shot back. “Why didn’t Whatshisname simply kill the Murillos?”

Piper closed the front door behind her. “I don’t know, honey. Maybe some part of Darryl managed to stop Dako from killing them.”

“Like . . .” Paige stopped herself. During the last two days, she had time to reflect about Elise and Jack McNeills’ comments about Cole. That perhaps her former brother-in-law may have been the victim of the Source. She remembered her close calls with death, last spring – during Phoebe and Cole’s wedding, her encounter with the power brokers and her brief period as a vampire. Each time, it had been Cole (as the Source) who ended up saving her. If Darryl, while under possession by that sorcerer, had managed to save the Murillos, why couldn’t Cole do the same?

Snapping out of her reverie, Paige realized that both Phoebe and Piper were staring at her. “Like who?” her middle sister asked.

Paige thought quickly. “Like you,” she said to Phoebe. “When you were . . . you know, Queen of the Underworld. A part of you was still trying to save an innocent.” A faraway look clouded Phoebe’s eyes. Paige wished she had not opened her big mouth in the first place. “Phoebe, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean . . .”

“No, it’s okay,” Phoebe replied, giving Paige a dim smile. “I understand what you were trying to say. That a small part of Darryl had fought to save you and the Murillos. Like a small part of me tried to save Greg Conroy.”

Or a small part of Cole may have tried to save all of us on numerous occasions. Paige kept the thought to herself. She knew that Phoebe and Piper were not ready to deal with that possibility. She also realized that one day they would all have to face it.

“By the way,” Piper said, breaking the somber mood, “I received a call from Mrs. McNeill. Gwen McNeill. She invited us to another one of the family’s Sunday brunches, tomorrow. I told her we would think about it.”

Paige immediately spoke up. “I want to go.” Her sisters stared at her. “I want to see Olivia’s friend. Ask her a few questions about this Voodoo, or whatever you call it.”

“Thinking of converting?”

Paige gave her sister a teasing smile. “Maybe.” To her delight, both sisters responded with shock. Nice to know that life was back to normal, again.

* * * *

“I want to thank you, Mr. Turner, for coming down here, today,” Captain McPherson said. The burly police captain sat behind his desk, opposite Cole and Olivia. “Inspector McNeill tells me that you’ve gone through a traumatic experience.”

Cole merely shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Not too traumatic. Suz . . . uh, Mrs. Maxwell only managed to drug me. That’s all.” Can’t talk about his experiences with Dako. “I’m only glad that Olivia had showed up before Mrs. Maxwell’s boyfriend could kill me.”

“He was her cousin, not boyfriend,” Olivia explained. Cole gave her a quick glance. Their little script for today’s trip to the police precinct seemed to be progressing well. Cole and his neighbor had spent the early morning, visiting the police offices of both Vancouver and Seattle, making adjustments to Suzanne Crozat’s record. He had been surprised to learn that the late warlock had already accumulated quite a criminal record during her 32 years on Earth. Drug use, theft and assault.

Captain McPherson grunted. “Nonetheless, you had a very narrow escape. The next time you have any suspicions about a client or a potential client, Mr. Turner, we would appreciate it if you inform us. Or your employers.” He gave Cole a pointed stare.

The half-daemon squirmed with discomfort. Which became annoyance, when he saw the amused smile on Olivia’s lips. God, he is never going to live yesterday, down!

“I’m sure that Mr. Turner will be more cooperative in the future, Captain. Right Cole?” Olivia looked at him with innocent eyes. She smiled.

Cole responded with a lukewarm smile. “Yeah.”

Olivia added, “By the way, I had spoken with one of your senior partners. A Mr. Jackman.” Cole perked up. Time to resume their script. “It seems that he was the one who recommended you to Mrs. Maxwell. At a party, over a month ago. The very one at which you claimed you had been drugged.”

Knowing what was expected of him, Cole sat up. “Really?” he said with false interest. “You mean to say that she . . .?”

“There is a good chance, Cole. In fact, I’m only surprised that she didn’t approach you sooner.” Olivia paused dramatically. “She had a history of drug use.”

Still in his role of outraged citizen, Cole continued, “But why would she do that to me? Slip a drug in my drink?”

Olivia shook her head. “I have no idea. Personally, I think she was a disturbed woman. Maybe she had some kind of fixation on you. At least you proved to be a threat.” She turned to Captain McPherson. “You know, I’m beginning to wonder if Mrs. Maxwell and this Mr. Crozat were responsible for the disappearance of the staff at the Tower Bay warehouse. It was owned by the Crozat family.”

To Cole’s relief, a knowing smile touched the captain’s lips. “Yes, I’ve considered that possibility. I understand that Mrs. Maxwell and Mr. Crozat were the last remaining members of MALEHEX’s board of directors. Looks like a case of theft and murder. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had been plotting to get their hands on the company for themselves.”

Cole added, “But the MALEHEX Corporation had been liquidated. It’s in the report I had received on Mrs. Maxwell.”

“Yes, we know,” McPherson replied. “The Department has decided to consider that case close.”

Olivia protested, “But that doesn’t explain how the entire staff had dis . . .”

“The case is closed, Inspector.” McPherson gave Olivia a hard stare. Cole managed not to smile. Then the captain closed the open file on his desk. “By the way, how is Morris? Is he still sick?”

Nodding, Olivia replied, “He’s getting better. His wife thinks he should be back at work on Monday morning.”

* * * *

“I should be back to work on Monday,” Darryl was saying to the Halliwells. “Fortunately, my captain thinks I’m sick, so I shouldn’t be in trouble.” Just several minutes ago, the three sisters had dropped by to pay Darryl a visit. Leo was busy elsewhere, attending to ‘heavenly’ duties.

Piper smiled at him. “That’s good. I’m glad that you’re okay, Darryl.”

“How about you?” Darryl asked. “I understand that Dako, or whatever his name is, tried to take your ba . . .”

A frown darkened Piper’s countenance. “Fortunately, he failed.” Her smile returned. “And the baby’s fine.”

“Yeah, thanks to Cole.” The moment Darryl had mentioned the half-demon’s name, the three sisters stiffened. He silently bit his tongue. “Uh, sorry about that. I didn’t mean . . .”

Phoebe added, “Well, I guess we can’t deny that he did save the baby.”

“Oh. Yeah.” Darryl found himself wishing that this visit would end. Of all the stupid things to do – open his mouth and mention Cole Turner. It felt bad enough remembering what he – or Dako had done to Paige. Since her arrival, the youngest Halliwell had barely said a word to him. He wondered if . . .

Sheila burst into the Morrises’ recreation room. “Hey honey! You have three new visitors. Do you mind?”

Darryl sighed. “Yeah, sure. Show them in.”

Piper added, “We better go. This house is getting crowded already . . .”

“No, no! Stay.” Darryl signaled to his wife. “Send them in.”

Sheila disappeared. Seconds later, three people entered the bedroom. “Hey Darryl!” Olivia greeted gaily. She spotted the Halliwells and her gaiety dampened. “Ladies. I didn’t realize you were here.” Cecile Dubois and Cole, whom Darryl had never expected to see inside his house, tramped into the room. “So,” Olivia plopped down on the sofa, next to Darryl, “how are you feeling?”

Darryl grunted. “Okay. Despite being possessed by some Voodoo spirit for nearly two days.”

“Vodoun,” Cecile corrected. “Don’t forget.”

To his dismay, Darryl saw Piper roll her eyes. He suppressed a sigh. “Whatever. I’m just glad to be free of it.” He paused. “Exactly what was it?”

Cecile replied, “The spirit of an 18th century bokor named Dako.”

“Bokor. That’s like an evil sorcerer, right? One who practices black magic?”

Paige spoke up. “I think that’s what Phoebe said.”

From the corner of his eye, Darryl spotted the other two Halliwells stiffened with discomfort. Phoebe shot a wary glance at Cole, who seemed bent upon ignoring his ex-wife.

Olivia said, “I’m surprised that you knew, Darryl. Been doing some research?” She pointed at the computer laptop on the table, next to Darryl.

Darryl’s face grew hot with embarrassment. “I was just . . . I mean . . .” He saw the smirk on Cole’s face and growled, “Never mind!”

“No, it’s great!” Cecile declared. “It’s great that you’re showing interest in Vodoun. After all, it’s part of your heritage.”

Memories of his church-going parents popped into Darryl’s mind. “I don’t know if my parents would agree.” His eyes rested upon a large black pot that Cecile held. “What’s that?” he asked.

“Jambalaya,” Cecile answered. “My mama’s recipe. A little gift for you. I better give this to your wife.” She faced the Halliwells. “Would any of you like to sample a bite? If Darryl doesn’t mind.”

Paige opened her mouth to speak, but Piper beat her to the punch. “Thanks, but we were about to leave,” she said with a polite smile. “Maybe another time.” She waved at Darryl. “See you later, Darryl. I hope you get better.”

“Thanks.”

Before the Halliwells left, Olivia cried out, “I understand that my mom invited you over for brunch. Will you be there?”

“Yeah!” Paige shot back before her sisters could answer. “See you!” She left the room, followed by Piper and Phoebe. The latter shot an impassive Cole another glance, before leaving the room.

Olivia said to Darryl, “Well, at least you’ll have a chance to sample Cecile’s jambalaya. It’s great. Mom tried to get the recipe.”

“But I wouldn’t give it to her,” Cecile added. “Family recipe. I’ll be in the kitchen.” She left.

Darryl shifted the conversation back to Dako. “By the way, what happened to those warlocks? Phoebe told me . . .” Darryl noticed the uncomfortable expression that flitted across Cole’s face. “She told me that you had killed them.”

Cole replied, “It was Olivia, Bruce and Cecile. They saved me from getting my powers stolen. And killed.”

“Huh.”

Olivia added, “They were the ones responsible for Dako possessing you. It seems someone in Singapore named William Dagbani had sent them an urn with Dako’s spirit inside. I’ve asked the Singapore police about him. Apparently, he’s left the country.”

“Great,” Darryl replied. “At least he doesn’t have Dako.”

Cole said, “There’s a good chance this Dagbani is a bokor. Which means he probably knows how to summon Dako from the Underworld. He’s done it once. He can do it again.”

Olivia started toward the door. “Time for some jambalaya.” She left the room.

Darryl turned to Cole. “Mind if I ask you a question?” he said.

Regarding the other man with a wary eye, Cole asked, “What is it?”

“Olivia told me that you were possessed during the time you were the Source,” Darryl continued. “Is it true?”

Cole gave Darryl a long, cool look. “You believe her?”

Darryl shrugged. “As long as I’ve known her, Olivia has always been pretty sharp. She could spot a lie or that something wrong better than anyone I’ve ever known. Including Prue.”

A pause followed before Cole finally answered, “Yeah, it’s true. I was possessed.”

“So why didn’t you tell Phoebe and the others, when you came back?”

Cole glanced away. “She didn’t want to hear the truth. Or speak to me. And I was so obsessed in getting Phoebe back, I figured that if I accept responsibility, she would see that I was remorseful and could change. In a way, I was responsible. I had allowed the Seer to trick me into using the Hollow. Giving the Source the opportunity to possess me.”

An uncomfortable silence followed. Darryl recalled that moment inside Cole’s penthouse, when he had convinced the latter to let Phoebe go. And Cole seemed prepared to do just that when Paige stopped him. “If that’s all,” Cole added, “I’ll leave you to your resea. . .”

“I have another question,” Darryl said, interrupting. “What was it like . . . being possessed?”

Cole sighed. “Frustrating. Scary. Like being trapped in a dark box. You can’t do anything, while some bastard uses your body to commit all sorts of acts.”

Darryl nodded. “Yeah, that’s exactly how I felt. There were brief moments of freedom, though.”

“When you prevented Dako from killing Paige and the Murillos?” Cole nodded. “Yeah, I’ve been there, myself.”

The two men fell silent again. Then Darryl said, “Look, I uh, I want to apologize. For believing the worst about you. I didn’t realize until now, how much hell you had went through. I guess . . .”

“Once evil, always evil?”

“Yeah.” Darryl paused momentarily. “As a cop, I guess I should have known better. A lot ex-cons tend to go back to their old ways, simply because everyone else judges them by their past. And never give them the chance to redeem themselves. I guess I forgot that.”

Cole smiled. “Well, you’re forgiven, if it makes you feel better.”

Cecile popped her head into the doorway. “You two better get a move on, or else the ‘Red-Headed Creature That Ate Frisco’is gonna to finish this jambalaya.” Her head disappeared.

The two men exchanged smiles and followed the woman out of the room.

END OF CHAPTER 17

A/N: Damn! I should just finish it right here and now. But I’ve got one more thread to tie.

Advertisements

“THE FOUR FEATHERS” (2002) Review

Below is my review of “THE FOUR FEATHERS”, Shekhar Kapur’s adaptation of A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 novel:

“THE FOUR FEATHERS” (2002) Review

To my knowledge, there have been seven cinematic versions of A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 adventure story, ”THE FOUR FEATHERS”. The first version was released in 1915 as a black-and-white silent film. The most famous and highly revered version was produced by legendary producer Alexander Korda in 1939. And the latest version – the focus of this review – was released in 2002. Heath Ledger, Kate Hudson and Wes Bentley starred in the film. And it was directed by Shekhar Kapur.

”THE FOUR FEATHERS” began with Harry Faversham (Heath Ledger), a young British officer of the Royal Cumbrians infantry regiment and the son of a stern British general, celebrating his recent engagement to the beautiful young Ethne (Kate Hudson) in a lavish ball with his fellow officers and his father in attendance. When the regimental colonel announced that the regiment is being dispatched to Egyptian-ruled Sudan to rescue the British general Charles “Chinese” Gordon (who was being besieged in Khartoum by Islamic rebels of The Mahdi), young Faversham became nervous and resigned his commission. After resigning his commission, Harry’s charmed life began to fall apart. Despite his claims that his decision to in order to stay in England with new fiancée because he would never “go to war for anyone or anything”, three of his fellow officers – Tom Willoughby (Rupert Penry-Jones), Edward Castleton (Kris Marshall) and William Trench (Michael Sheen) censured Harry by delivery three white feathers (signs of cowardice). Ethne ended their engagement and presented him with a fourth feather. And both Harry’s best friend, Jack Durrance (Wes Bentley) and his father, General Faversham (Tim Piggott-Smith) disavowed him. With his former comrades already en route to the conflict, the young Faversham questioned his own true motives, and resolved to redeem himself through combat in Sudan. Disguised as an Arab laborer, he accompanied a French slave trader to take him deep into the Sudanese desert. Faversham is left alone in the vast sands when the slave trader is killed by his own Sudanese slaves. Eventually a lone black Sudanese warrior named Abou Fatma (Djimon Hounsou), who is against the Mahdists’ rebellion, came to Harry’s aid and helped the latter redeem himself through combat against the Mahdists.

In the beginning, ”THE FOUR FEATHERS” bore a strong resemblance to the 1902 novel it is based upon and the 1939 movie. Granted, in this version, General Faversham is a living and somewhat stern parent, and not some dead military hero in whose shadow Harry is forced to live. And Ethne’s father is dead. The most important aspect of this version of the story is the fact that the British presence in the Sudan is not portrayed in a sympathetic light. Following Colonel Hamilton’s (Alex Jennings) announcement of the Royal Cumbrians being deployed to the Sudan, Harry made this comment to Jack:

“What does a godforsaken desert, in the middle of nowhere, have to do with Her Majesty the Queen?”

Mind you, I did not take Harry’s question as a commentary against British Imperialism. I suspect that Harry’s question had more to do with him dreading the idea of going to war than any anti-Imperialist sympathies. But once the story shifted toward the Sudan, the anti-British Imperialism messages came across in the following scenes:

*The Royal Cumbrians’ encounter with a Sudanese sniper
*Harry’s travels with the French slave trader and the latter’s “merchandise”
*Abou Fatma’s attempt to warn the Royal Cumbrians of an impending attack and his treatment at their hands
*Ethne’s regret over her rejection of Harry
*Harry and Abou’s conversations about the differences between Eastern and Western culture

Surprisingly, the European characters are not the only ones shown to be capable of bigotry. Abou Fatma has to deal with the Sudanese Arab soldiers who seemed offended by his presence, due to his kinship with the tribe that had served as slaves for the soldiers’ families and ancestors. Also, both Harry and Trench, along with other British and anti-Mahdist prisoners have to deal with the malevolent commander of the prison camp at Omdurman, Idris-Es-Saier, whose hatred toward them stemmed from the death of his family by British artillery.

As I had stated earlier, the 1939 version (which starred John Clements, June Duprez and Ralph Richardson) is considered to be the best version of Mason’s novel. I have seen the 1939 version and I must admit that I found it pretty damn enjoyable. As much as I found the 1939 version entertaining, I must admit that this latest version – directed by Shekhar Kapur – happens to be my favorite. Like the other versions of this tale, it is filled with exciting action and does an excellent job of recapturing both British and the Sudanese societies in the late nineteenth century, thanks to Allan Cameron’s production design, Ahmed Abounouom and Zack Grobler’s art direction and Robert Richardson’s photography. But for me, the movie proved to be more than simply a costumed adventure film. Thanks to the ”political correctness”slant provided by screenwriters Michael Schiffer and Hossein Amini and especially Shekhar Kapur’s direction; this version of ”THE FOUR FEATHERS” seemed to have more emotional depth and ambiguity than other versions. Not only did Kapur and the two writers challenge the positive view on the British Empire, but also Western views on masculinity and Islamic cultures.

One of the biggest criticisms directed at this version of ”THE FOUR FEATHERS” centered around the movie’s major action sequence – namely the Battle of Abu Klea. During the actual historical battle, which had been fought between January 16-18, 1885, the famous British square had been briefly broken by the Mahdists before it closed, forcing the latter to retreat. In the movie, the square formed by the Royal Cumbrians was permanently broken, resulting in the regiment’s retreat, Castleton’s death and Trench’s capture by Mahdists. In other words, the movie received criticism for not being historically accurate. The charge of historical inaccuracy does have validity. But I do find the critics’ accusations rather hypocritical, considering that hardly no one paid attention to the historical inaccuracy of another Kapur movie, namely the 1998 Academy Award nominated film, ”ELIZABETH”. I can only assume that it is easier to criticize a film that challenged Western culture for historical inaccuracy and ignore the same flaw in a film that celebrated a famous Western monarch.

Before I end this review, I want to say something about the performances.”THE FOUR FEATHERS” possessed an excellent supporting cast that featured an entertaining Michael Sheen as the witty and extroverted William Trench, a competent Rupert Penry-Jones as the regiment’s finicky and slightly narrow-minded Tom Willoughby, and an excellent Deobia Oparei who portrayed the intimidating Idris-Es-Saier. Kris Marshall’s performance as the religious Edward “Vicar” Willoughby seemed pretty solid, but there were moments when I found it slightly overwrought. Wes Bentley portrayed Jack Durrance, Harry’s reserved best friend who was also in love with Ethne. I must admit that I found myself very impressed by Bentley’s performance. He did an excellent job of portraying a very intense character whose emotions were conveyed through his eyes and expressions. And as far as I am concerned, Djimon Hounsou could do no wrong in this movie. His portrayal of the enigmatic Abou Fatma was spot on. His performance could have easily become another example of one of those ”Magical Negro” roles in which a non-white character dispensed wisdom and comfort to the main white character. Yes, Fatma offered some advice and assistance to Harry Faversham. But thanks to Schiffer and Amini’s script and Hounson’s performance, Fatma became a more complicated character that ended up undergoing his own journey in becoming acquainted with someone from another culture.

Kate Hudson did an excellent job in portraying the spirited Ethne, Harry’s fiancée and the object of Jack’s desire. Hudson’s portrayal of Ethne was interesting and a little unexpected. I had expected her to react with anger over Harry’s lies about his resignation from the Army and fear over the opinions of society. I had expected her to form a closer friendship with Jack – a friendship that eventually led to their engagement. What I had not expected was for Ethne to express regret over her rejection of Harry. In this movie, Harry did not have to earn back her love through heroic acts in the Sudan. Interestingly, Ethne felt both guilt and self-disgust for worrying about how the rest of society would view Harry’s resignation and her association with him. I realize this is another example of the ”political correctness” found in the movie’s script. Frankly, I welcomed it. This slant made Ethne’s character a lot more interesting to me. And Hudson did a hell of a job with what was given to her.

We finally come to Heath Ledger’s performance as Harry Faversham, the disgraced Army officer who tried to find redemption in the Sudanese desert. The interesting thing about Harry’s character was that he truly was guilty of cowardice. Some of his cowardice centered on his lie to Ethne about his reason for leaving the Army. But for me, Harry’s worst act of cowardice occurred before the movie began. He buckled under pressure from society and especially his father, General Faversham, and joined the Royal Cumbrians as an officer. He allowed society, Ethne and his father to pressure him into assuming a life filled with lies. I suspect that Harry believed that as long as his regiment remained in England, he would have no problems maintaining the lie. But he could no longer maintain the lie when Colonel Hamilton announced the regiment’s deployment to the Sudan. The most interesting aspect about Harry’s journey was that he did not reach the nadir of his emotional journey until late into the film. The nadir did not happen when he received the white feathers from his friends and Ethne. Nor did it happened when he found himself stranded in the desert with nothing but a camel, when he discovered via Jack’s letters that the latter and Ethne had formed a deeper bond, or when he found himself in the Omdurman prison camp with Trench. No, Harry’s nadir finally arrived when he stripped away any civil façade of himself and he killed Idris-Es-Saier. At that moment, Harry’s true animal self – something that all human beings possessed – was finally revealed.

I must admit that I am curious over Ledger’s reputation as an actor before he did ”BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN” (2005). I would be very surprised if it took his role as Ennis de Mar for critics to take his skills as an actor seriously. Quite frankly, I was very impressed by his performance as Harry Faversham. Both the script and Kapur’s direction gave Ledger the opportunity to reveal the full length of his character’s journey – from the self-satisfied, yet cowardly Army officer to the private gentleman who is not only more sure of himself, but more honest as well.

I wish I could say that Kapur’s version of ”THE FOUR FEATHERS” is for everyone. I suspect that it is not. If I must be brutally honest, I suspect that a good number of fans of the Mason’s story would be put off by the so-called”revisionist” take on the story. They would probably prefer a version in which Harry Faversham learns to find his capacity for physical or military courage. Or a version in which the British victory over the Mahdist rebels are celebrated and the Empire appreciated. But as much as I like this version of Mason’s story – especially embodied in the 1939 film – I must admit that I much prefer this latest version directed by Shekhar Kapur. Not only did I find myself impressed by the cast’s performances, I found the movie more emotionally deep and complex. More importantly, it questioned the ideals and beliefs that had been the bulwark of 19th century and still harbor some influence upon many societies today.

“THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” (1965) Review

 

”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” (1965) Review

Many comedies featuring a long running time and a cast of celebrities were very prevalent in Hollywood and Europe during the 1960s. One of the more famous of these films happened to be the epic 1965 comedy titled ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES, Or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes. Directed and co-written by Ken Annakin, this two hour and eighteen minutes film depicted an comedic air race between London and Paris in 1910. 

Director Annakin first came up with the idea of a pre-World War I air race while co-directing Darryl Zanuck’s World War II epic,”THE LONGEST DAY” (1962). He pitched the idea to the producer and the latter agreed to bankroll the film. Zanuck also came up with the movie’s title, after Elmo Williams, managing director of 20th Century Fox in Europe, told the producer that his wife had written an opening lyric to the movie’s song:

Those magnificent men in their flying machines,
They go up diddley up-up, they go down diddley down-down!

Annakin complained would eventually “seal the fate of the movie”. However, after being put to music by composer Ron Goodwin, the ”Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines” song would become the “irresistible” jingle-style theme music for the film and go on to have a “life of its own”, even released in singles and on the soundtrack record. I can relate. To this day, I still consider the tune one of the best theme songs in movie history.

Annakin, along with Jack Davies, wrote a story that opened with a brief, comic introductory segment on the history of flight, narrated by James Robertson Justice and featuring American comedian Red Skelton (in a cameo appearance) that depicted a recurring character whose aerial adventures span the centuries, in a series of silent blackout vignettes that incorporate actual stock footage of unsuccessful attempts at early aircraft. As the story unfolded, Lord Rawnsley (Robert Morley), a newspaper magnate whose favorite to win his race is his daughter’s ( fiancé, Richard Mays (James Fox). Lord Rawnsley summed up the expectation that a Britisher should win the competition: “The trouble with these international affairs is they attract foreigners.” An international cast plays the array of contestants, most of whom live up to their national stereotypes, including the fanatically by-the-book, monocle-wearing Prussian officer (Gert Fröbe), the impetuous Count Emilio Ponticelli (Alberto Sordi), an amorous Frenchman (Jean-Pierre Cassel) , and the rugged American cowboy Orville Newton (Stuart Whitman), who falls for Lord Rawnsley’s daughter, Patricia (Sarah Miles).

The main entertainment came from the amusing dialogue and characterizations and the daring aerial stunts, with a dash of heroism and gentlemanly conduct thrown in for good measure. Terry-Thomas portrayed the cheating Sir Percival Ware-Armitage, an aristocratic rogue who “never leaves anything to chance”. With the help of his bullied servant Courtney (Eric Sykes), he sabotaged other aircraft or drugs their pilots – only to get his comeuppance in the end. The film is also notable for its use of specially constructed reproductions of 1910-era aircraft, including a triplane, as well as monoplanes and biplanes. Air Commodore Wheeler insisted on using the authentic materials of the originals, but with modern engines and modifications (where necessary) to ensure safety.

In the end, ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” became one of the most successful ”epic comedies” to emerge from the 1960s. Not only did it score top notches at the box office, it was also nominated and received various movie awards in both the U.S. and Great Britain. The original screenplay written by Ken Annakin and Jack Davies was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing Directly for the Screen (1966). The film was also nominated in the category of Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written. At the 1966 Golden Globes, the film won Best Motion Picture Actor – Musical/Comedy for Alberto Sordi, as well as being nominated in Best Motion Picture – Musical/Comedy and Most Promising Newcomer – Male for James Fox.

I can say with true honesty that ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” has become one of my favorite movies from the 1960s. Ken Annakin and his production crew had created a stylish and funny movie. The movie was filled with memorable characters like Terry-Thomas’ dastardly Sir Percival Ware-Armitage, Alberto Sordi’s eager aviator Count Emilio Ponticelli and Gert Fröbe’s by-the-book Prussian Colonel Manfred von Holstein. One very witty moment featured the arrival of the Japanese pilot, Yamamoto (Yujiro Ishihara), whose description of his journey from Japan to Great Britain turned out to be less exciting than a reporter had assumed.

Thomas N. Morahan’s production design and Osbert Lancaster’s costumes managed to evoke the bygone era of Europe and especially Great Britain during the last years before the outbreak of World War II. Christopher Challis’ photography and the Special Effects department led by Ron Ballinger did a great job in re-creating the actual air race shown during the last third of the film. Two of my favorite scenes featured the contestants leaving Dover to cross the English Channel and the race’s exciting finale in Paris. I also enjoyed the pre-race interlude at Dover in which the contestants and their families/companions spend a few hours frolicking in the sea and sipping champagne.

Not all seemed perfect with ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES. One tiresome aspect of the film included the running joke featuring Pierre Dubois’ encounters with six women of different nationalities that all look alike and are portrayed by Irina Demick. I found it slightly amusing when Dubois encountered two of the women. By the time of Dubois’ encounter with the fifth Irina Demick, I found myself screaming for the joke to end. Romance did not fare very well in the movie. Granted, James Fox’s Mays and Sarah Miles’ Patricia made a quaint couple. But Whitman’s arrival as Orville Newton, Mays’ rival in the race and for Patricia’s hand, did not improve matters. The problem was that Whitman and Miles made a poor screen team. According to Annakin, the two actors had a falling out after Whitman attempted to romantically pursue Miles and the two ended up disliking each other so much, they had trouble portraying a romance between Orville and Patricia. Mind you, Whitman and Miles had a few scenes that did generate chemistry. I suspect those scenes had been filmed before the fallout.

I must admit that ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” can boast some hilarious moments and dry wit. But most of the humor seemed focused upon the Keystone Cops antics of the aviators during the days leading up to the race and the race itself. Most of the film’s humor featured bizarre plane crashes, hackneyed stunts and cliché portrayals of the various nationalities featured in the film. I rather liked the comedian Benny Hill . . . but not in this movie. In ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN”, he portrayed a fire chief, whose job was to keep an eye out for aviation accidents. And whenever a crash occurred, it gave Hill and his cronies the opportunity to engage in an extreme form of slapstick humor that forced me to press the Fast Forward button of my DVD player . . . every damn time. But if there is one aspect of the movie I find frustrating, it is the fact that ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINE” is a two hour and eighteen minute film about an air race . . . that does not occur on screen until the last 45-47 minutes. The movie’s first fifteen or twenty minutes focused upon the characters’ introduction. But most of the movie’s action does not focus upon the race. Instead, it focused upon the few days before the race in which one has to endure practice flights that include countless crashes and slapstick humor. And every time I watch this film, I find this aspect so . . . damn . . . FRUSTRATING.

Technically, ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” is a first-rate film. Although I found some of the dry humor to be rather sharp and entertaining, the slapstick humor that dominated the film became very hard for me to bear. I am also not thrilled that only one-third of the film had focused upon the actual race. But I have to give the movie points for the creation of interesting characters like Sir Percy Ware-Armitage and Count Emilio Ponticelli, along with a memorable and catchy theme song. And I must give Annakin and his production crew credit for re-creating a charming look at the elegance of pre-World War I Europe. Overall, ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” has remained a fun and entertaining look at the early days of aviation that moviegoers today might still enjoy.

“IRON MAN 2” (2010)

Below is my review of “IRON MAN 2”, the sequel to 2008’s “IRON MAN”:

“IRON MAN 2” (2010) Review

I must say that I am grateful to the filmmakers of ”IRON MAN 2”, sequel to the 2008 blockbuster, ”IRON MAN”. I am grateful that they only waited two years to make this movie, instead of three years or more. But even if they had made the movie more than two years after the original film, I believe the movie proved to be worth any wait.

Some IRON MAN fans and film critics have expressed the opinion that ”IRON MAN 2” was inferior to the original 2008 movie. I certainly feel differently. I believe that this movie was superior to ”IRON MAN”. Mind you, this new film had a few flaws. One, I was baffled by Tony Stark’s reluctance to join S.H.I.E.L.D. I had assumed after the appearance of the organization’s leader, Nick Fury, in the original film’s Easter egg sequence that he was eager to join. Even Tony’s appearance in 2008’s ”THE INCREDIBLE HULK” seemed to hint this. So what happened? Is it possible that screenwriter Justin Theroux failed to see the last ”HULK” film? One would think so. However, I realized that “IRON MAN 2” was set six months after the 2008 film . . . and before “THE INCREDIBLE HULK”.  As much as I was impressed by Matthew Libatique’s cinematography, I must admit that I did not find it as impressive as his photography in the 2008 film. But I discuss this subject in greater detail, later.

”IRON MAN 2” may not have been perfect; but as I had stated earlier, I believe that it is superior to the first film. Do not get me wrong. I loved ”IRON MAN”. I still do. But in an article I had written some time ago about the Summer 2008 movies, its plot struck me as simple and a little unoriginal. I cannot say the same about its sequel. Thanks to Theroux and director Jon Farveau, ”IRON MAN 2” focused upon the consequences of Tony Stark becoming and admitting to being Iron Man in the last film. During the six months since the end of the last film, Iron Man’s actions as a superhero has allowed him to maintain world peace. His actions have also attracted the attention of a U.S. Senate committee, led by Senator Stern, who demanded that Tony release the Iron Man technology for military application. Stark refused, claiming his competitors are years away from successfully recreating the technology. But more trouble seemed to plague Tony. The palladium core inside the miniaturized arc reactor that he had created to power his Iron Man armor and prevent the shrapnel from a disastrous Afghanistan trip in the last film from reaching his heart . . . was slowly poisoning his blood system. Foreknowledge of a possible early death led Tony to acts of excessive and dangerous behavior – including re-instituting the Stark Expo first initiated by his father back in the 1970s, appointing his personal assistant Pepper Potts as the new CEO of Stark Industries, in and participating in the Monaco Grand Prix, at the Circuit de Monaco.

It is in Monaco where Tony has his first encounter with Ivan Vanko, a Bratva member and Russian physicist who happened to be the son of another physicist and former Stark Industries employee, Anton Vanko, who was fired by Howard Stark and deported back to the Soviet Union. Anton Vanko had also worked on the original plans of the arc reactor with Stark Sr., but the plans remained in the hands of Stark Enterprises. Vanko Sr.’s death at the beginning of the movie sent Ivan into a spiral of grief, leading him to create his own suit containing an arc reactor. Vanko used his new suit to attack Tony at Monaco. The attack attracted the attention of another weapons industrialist named Justin Hammer, an arch-rival of Tony’s. Hammer arranged Vanko’s escape from jail and recruited the Russian physicist to design drones similar to the Iron Man armor for the Stark Expo.

Tony also has to deal with the return of S.H.I.E.L.D. in his life. Unbeknownst to him, the organization’s leader, Nick Fury had assigned one of his agents to infiltrate Stark Enterprises to assess Tony as a possible agent. His spy turned out to be Tony and Pepper’s new assistant, Natalie Rushman aka Natasha Romanoff. Although Fury has become reluctant to recruit Tony for membership in S.H.I.E.L.D., he managed to provide vital materials to the industrialist to allow him to develop a safe element for his arc reactor implant that also provides superior power.

One would begin to wonder if the screenwriters had dumped one too many plotlines in the movie’s script. Some critics have complained that the movie possessed one too many villains. I would disagree. ”IRON MAN 2” simply had a complex plot that did not – in my opinion – struck me as difficult to follow. In fact, I believe that the plot’s complexity allowed the movie to be superior to the 2008 film. As for the number of villains, there were two – Ivan Vanko and Justin Hammer. ”IRON MAN” also had two villains.

Robert Downey Jr. reprised his role as Tony Stark aka Iron Man. I am trying to think of something to say about his performance. But what is there to say? He was magnificent as always by skillfully portraying every aspect of Tony’s personality – both the good and the bad. Yes, Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark was a charming, caring, brilliant and strong-willed man. But he was also narcissist, egotistical, and somewhat self-centered. This is a man who used his Iron Man technology to bring about world peace, instead of using it for personal gain and who had enough trust in his personal assistant to name her as the new CEO of his company. Yet, this same man resorts to alcohol to escape from his demons and is thoughtless enough to give his new CEO strawberries as a gift – completely forgetting that she is allergic to the fruit. Downey Jr.’s performance as Stark seemed to be among the best comic book hero portrayals I have ever seen on the silver screen.

In one of the last scenes in ”IRON MAN”, Tony said the following to his personal assistant, Virginia “Pepper” Potts:

”You know, if I were Iron Man, I’d have this girlfriend who knew my true identity. She’d be a wreck, ’cause she’d always be worrying that I was going to die, yet so proud of the man I’d become. She’d be wildly conflicted, which would only make her more crazy about me.”

In ”IRON MAN 2” Pepper certainly discovered how stressful her life could be as the object of affection (or desire) of a celebrated costumed hero. Gwyneth Paltrow returned to the role of Pepper Potts, Tony Stark’s personal assistant-turned-new CEO of Stark Industries. And I have to say that the actress did a skillful job of conveying the stress and anxiety that threatened to overwhelm her character. One of my favorite scenes featured a moment when Pepper’s emotions finally overwhelmed her, as she tendered her resignation in an angry tirade.

As everyone knows, Marvel Entertainment had decided to replace Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle for the role of Tony’s best friend, Lieutenant-Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes U.S.A.F. I will not discuss the circumstances that led Cheadle to replace Howard. I will say that Cheadle gave a top notch performance as Rhodey. Do I consider him to be a better choice than Howard? No. I would say that the quality of both actors’ performances struck me as equal. Not that I find that surprising. Both Cheadle and Howard are excellent actors with a strong screen presence. I did notice that Cheadle’s sense of humor never had the opportunity to flourish, until the movie’s final scenes. And his screen chemistry with Downey Jr. did not seem as strong as the Downey Jr./Howard pairing. But he certainly did not disappoint.

I must confess that I have only seen Mickey Rourke in three other movies, besides ”IRON MAN 2”. Aside from his award winning performance in ”THE WRESTLER”, I was never that impressed by him. When I had learned that he would be cast as the main villain, Ivan Vanko, I had qualms about Jon Farveau and Marvel’s decision. In the end, I found myself very impressed by his performance. He managed to portray a menacing, yet emotional personality in a suitably low-key manner. However, I could barely understand some of his lines through the thick Russian accent. Sam Rockwell was as volatile as Rourke was low key. And surprisingly, his volatile performance perfectly suited his character, Tony Stark’s fellow defense contractor – Justin Hammer. What I especially enjoyed about Rockwell’s performance was his ability to inject a raging inferiority complex underneath the gregarious personality.

Scarlett Johanssen had the opportunity to strut her stuff as Natalie Rushman aka Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow, Pepper’s new assistant and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. I must admit there were times I wondered if Johanssen’s character had a personality. It finally dawned on me that she simply possessed a no-nonsense persona that could kick ass. Director Jon Farveau returned as Tony’s bodyguard and chauffeur, Happy Hogan. Thankfully, he got to do a lot more in ”IRON MAN 2”, which included coming to Tony’s rescue with the Iron Man suit during Vanko’s attack during the Monaco Grand Prix, and assisting (somewhat) Natasha during the latter’s breach at Hammer Industries. Samuel L. Jackson’s role as head of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury, was increased in this second film. And all I can say is . . . thank goodness! I really enjoyed his strong screen presence and lively conversations with Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. I got the feeling that the two actors really enjoyed working with one another (unless I happened to be wrong).

Clark Gregg returned in the role of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson. Not only was he his usual quiet and assuming self, but also deliciously snarky. John Sterling of ”MAD MEN” made an appearance as Tony’s father, the late Howard Stark, in old film clips viewed by Tony. Slattery’s Howard Stark struck me as lively and witty as Downey Jr.’s Tony. His performance made it easy for me to see the genesis of Tony’s own personality. And Gary Shandling tossed aside his usual comic persona to convincingly portray U.S. Senator Stern, a determined politician who wants the Iron Man armor in government hands. However, he was allowed a rather snarky and very subtle joke in the film’s last scene.

As I had stated earlier, I was not that impressed by Matthew Libatique’s cinematography in ”IRON MAN 2”. Mind you, I did not find it terrible or a travesty to the art of motion pictures. But I cannot recall viewing any fantastic airborne sequences that were featured in ”IRON MAN”. Aside from Rhodey’s arrival at the Edwards Air Force Base in the War Machine armor, the movie did not feature any daytime aerial scenes, just slightly confusing night time sequences near the beginning and the end of the film. But, as I will point out later, there was one exception. However, I found most of the film’s action sequences very exciting – especially Vanko’s attack upon Tony in Monaco; the birthday brawl between Tony and Rhodey in the Iron Man and War Machine suits; Natasha’s fight against Hammer’s security guards; and the aerial chase sequence over the Stark Expo between Iron Man and the Vanko-controlled War Machine.

I could end the article with a recommendation to see ”IRON MAN 2”. But what would be the point? The movie has already earned over four times its budget, during the past month. However, in case you have not seen it, I recommend that you do. So far, it is the best movie of this summer. And quite frankly, I consider it better than the 2008 film.

“The Paradox of Jinx Johnson”

 

“THE PARADOX OF JINX JOHNSON”

When I had first posted comments about the 2002 James Bond movie ”DIE ANOTHER DAY” on message boards and forums, I found myself face to face with a surprise. Apparently, many fans found Halle Berry’s performance as NSA Agent Giacinta “Jinx” Johnson unsatisfactory. And after perusing more of the James Bond message boards, I also learned that Berry is regarded by many Bond fans as ”the worst Bond girl” in the franchise’s history. 

After recovering from this shocker, I began to read some of the reasons why Berry is now so reviled by the Bond fandom. Quite frankly, many have accused her of a bad performance in ”DIE ANOTHER DAY”. Others have accused screenwriters Purvis and Wade of creating a badly written character. After recently viewing the movie myself, I am completely stumped by this assessment. Time and again, I have asked myself – ”How could anyone come to this conclusion about Berry’s performance?”

Frankly, I do not consider Jinx Johnson to be the best Bond girl ever created. I once ranked all of the Bond girls (the leading ladies) on one of the Bond forums. Jinx ranked seventh on my list. As I had stated in my review of ”DIE ANOTHER DAY”, I enjoyed Berry’s sly and humorous portrayal of the NSA agent. I also admired the way she handled the action. And one could tell that Berry was simply enjoying herself. Which is great. But when I had learned from the Bond forum, MI-6 Forums that Berry was one of the most unpopular leading ladies from the franchise, I was simply shocked. What had she done to earn the enmity of so many Bond fans?

Right now, I have the unpleasant suspicion that much of the hostility toward Berry had to do with either three things:

*Many fans hate the idea of Bond’s leading lady being a highly trained intelligence agent. This makes her an “equal” to Bond in the eyes of many and they cannot stomach this. I call this theory – ”SEXISM”.

*The actress is one of the few Bond girls who is a major Hollywood star and many resent her co-starring in a Bond film. I call this theory – ”JEALOUSY”.

*Many fans have taken umbrage over her bad dialogue. And considering most of the major characters in ”DIE ANOTHER DAY” were also saddled with bad dialogue, I would call this theory – ”HYPOCRICY”.

*Many fans are uneasy over the idea of Bond’s leading lady being an African-American (in other words, non-white) actress. Of course, Berry is only half African-American. Her mother is white and British. Although other actresses of African descent have appeared in Bond films – namely Gloria Hendry, Grace Jones, Trina Parks, etc., Berry is the first to be the leading lady. Either fans are uneasy about this or they simply cannot stomach the idea of Bond’s leading lady being either non-white (non-European ancestry) or of some African descent. I call this theory – ”RACISM”.

Before I go any further, I will try to recall some of the complaints regarding Berry’s performance in ”DIE ANOTHER DAY”:

*Jinx ended up captured twice in the film, which went against her role as an action woman. – Not only have many male Bond fans have issued this complaint, but a good number of female fans have complained about the same. In the movie, Jinx was captured, while searching for one of the movie’s minor villains – a North Korean agent named Zao. Not long after Bond had rescued her (at the same time, she managed to save his life during his fight with a character named Mr. Kil), he advised her to hook up with his MI-6 colleague, Miranda Frost, not realizing that the latter was a double agent for the main villain. And Jinx ended up caught in a booby trap, set up by Frost in the latter’s room. Now I find this particular complaint extremely hypocritical, especially when you consider the number of times Bond had been captured in many of the movies throughout the years:

-“FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” – captured twice
-“GOLDFINGER” – spent the second half of the movie as the villain’s prisoner
-“YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE” – captured twice
-“DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER” – knocked unconscious once and captured twice
-“LIVE AND LET DIE” – captured three times
-“MOONRAKER” – captured twice
-“FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” – captured twice
-“A VIEW TO A KILL” – captured twice
-“LICENSE TO KILL” – captured twice (first time by a fellow MI-6 agent and the Hong Kong police)
-“GOLDENEYE” – captured three times (once by the Russian military)
-“TOMORROW NEVER DIES” – captured twice
-“THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” – captured twice
-“DIE ANOTHER DAY” – captured twice

Not only did Bond end up captured twice in ”DIE ANOTHER DAY”, he also spent 14 months as a prisoner of the North Koreans following his first capture. Yet, many fans are willing to excuse his numerous captures because he is James Bond – the main protagonist . . . and a man. There seemed to be no problem for Bond to be captured by the villains no matter how many times. Yet, Bond fans are unwilling to tolerate the capture of a Bond girl, especially if she is an action character. Apparently, a woman who is an action character like Bond is not allowed to be captured in a story. It seems that in the eyes of many, her capture repudiates her believability as someone capable of fighting alongside Bond. Not only do I find such an attitude hypocritical, I also find it rather sexist. And this brand of sexism seemed to be prevalent amongst both genders.

*Halle Berry’s fame had threatened to upstage Pierce Brosnan’s role in the movie. – Apparently, many fans seemed threatened by the idea of the very famous Miss Berry upstaging Brosnan in ”DIE ANOTHER DAY”. In other words, they found her too famous to even be considered as a Bond girl. Granted, Berry turned out to be the most famous of all the Bond girls, during the franchise’s 45-year history. But she was not the first. Both Honor Blackman (”GOLDFINGER”) and Diana Rigg (”ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”) had achieved fame for co-starring alongside Patrick Macnee in the 60s cult favorite television series, ”THE AVENGERS” when they appeared in their respective Bond movies. But they were never as famous as Berry. Britt Ekland (”THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN”), Jill St. John (”DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER”), Tanya Roberts (”A VIEW TO A KILL”), Michelle Yeoh (”TOMORROW NEVER DIES”), Sophie Marceau and Denise Richards (”THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH”) were somewhat well-known when they became Bond girls. And actresses like Ursula Andress (”DR. NO”), Jane Seymour (”LIVE AND LET DIE”), Maud Adams (”THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN”/”OCTOPUSSY”) and Carey Lowell (”LICENSE TO KILL”) became well-known following their stints as Bond girls. But none of these actresses had ever achieved Berry’s stature as an actress. Berry’s stardom never bothered me. Despite her fame, the movie made it quite obvious that the real star in ”DIE ANOTHER DAY” was Pierce Brosnan. How this managed to elude many Bond fans still astounds me. Frankly, I find Berry’s stardom as an excuse for her unsuitability as a Bond girl rather shallow. Especially, since she had only appeared in at least two-thirds of the movie.

Speaking of other famous Bond girls, many seemed to have accepted the prevalent view of Ursula Andress (Honey Ryder) as the ”best Bond girl” within the franchise’s history. Why? Because of her screen entrance in ”DR. NO” – in which she appeared on the beach, wet and wearing a bikini? As I recall, Halle Berry had re-created this scene in ”DIE ANOTHER DAY”. But most fans seem to dismiss it. Personally, I found neither versions – Andress or Berry’s – anything to get excited over. But at least Berry’s character had provided a significant addition to the story. I cannot say the same about Andress in ”DR. NO”. I have developed a little theory on how Bond girls are relevant to the story in which they appear. In order to be relevant, the leading lady requires any of the following:

*The Bond girl should have an emotional tie to the leading villain.
*The Bond girl should have an emotional tie to Bond.
*The Bond girl assists in helping Bond foil the villain’s plans.

Berry’s character, Jinx Johnson, did not adhere to the first two points. She had no emotional connection to the leading villain. Nor did she or Bond ever show any signs of being deeply attracted to one another (lust and professionalism seemed to be the hallmark of their relationship). However, Jinx did assist Bond in foiling Colonel Moon/Gustave Graves’ plans, while serving the interests of her own agency and country. The character of Honey Ryder, on the other hand, failed to meet any of the above requirements. She never had an emotional tie to either the main villain or Bond. Nor did she help Bond foil the villain’s plans. In the end, Honey proved to be irrelevant to the story of ”DR. NO”. The character’s claim to fame seemed to be centered around some cheesecake moment in a wet bikini. And personally, I find that rather shallow.

*Many attribute her bad dialogue in the movie to what they perceived as a bad performance.: Yes, Berry was unlucky to be saddled with some bad dialogue. So were Pierce Brosnan, Toby Stephens, Madonna and Pike. Yet, many fans tend to accuse Berry of being unable to handle it. Personally, I suspect that all of the actors had trouble handling Purvis and Wade’s bad dialogue. I do not care how skillful an actor or actress is, I have yet to see one performer deal effectively with bad dialogue.

*Speaking of dialogue – “Yo mama!”: Many Bond fans had complained about Berry’s use of this slice of African-American slang. Despite the fact that Berry is part African-American, these fans apparently believe that such a phrase has no place in a Bond film. Racism seemed to have reared its ugly head in this topic. If African-American slang is such a problem with many Bond fans, why are they willing to excuse the slang found in 1973’s ”LIVE AND LET DIE”? Perhaps they are willing to excuse it, due to the number of African-Americans in that particular movie and its settings in New York’s Harlem and New Orleans. Since Berry was portraying the only character of African-American descent in a movie not partially set in the United States, her use of ”Yo Mama!” was apparently not tolerated. I guess being surrounded by whites or non-African-Americans, Berry should have sounded white. Hypocrisy much?

Actually, on the MI-6 Forums, I have actually come across a few racist and sexist insults regarding Berry. And I have encountered several posts that wax lyrical over ”DIE ANOTHER DAY”’s other female star – Rosamund Pike. Most of the compliments surrounding Pike seemed to be centered on her British ancestry and race. Because of this and a recent high demand for white European women as Bond girls, I can only conclude that a good number of the hostility toward Berry has a lot to do with racism and nationalism.

I realize that I cannot order someone to like Halle Berry’s role as Jinx Johnson in ”DIE ANOTHER DAY”. Nor can I order them to change any negative perceptions they may have of her as a Bond leading leady. However, as a member of several Bond forums, I do have the right to offer my own opinion of Berry’s performance. Just as I have the right to either agree or criticize those members’ opinions. Although I found Berry’s watery entrance in the movie unimpressive, I have yet to come across any argument that would convince me that she was an ineffective Bond girl, let alone the worst Bond girl in the franchise’s history.