“LOST” – (5.08) “LaFleur” Review

Below is an article I had written on my opinion and observations of the latest episode of “LOST” – (5.08) “LaFleur”:

 

”LOST” – (5.08) “LaFleur” Review

Many fans of ”LOST” have claimed that its Season Five has been the series’ best since the first season. I have to be honest. I do not think I can agree with that sentiment. At least not for Season Five’s first five episodes. I have mixed feelings for it, just as I had for Seasons Two to Four. But there are elements of the fifth season that I have enjoyed so far. And many of those elements had a lot to do with the story arcs surrounding the island castaways left behind when the Oceanic Six departed the island at the end of Season Four.

”LaFleur”, the eighth episode of Season Five, picked up where (5.05) “This Place Is Death” left off – when John Locke turned the Frozen Donkey Wheel from ”(4.13) “There’s No Place Like Home, Part II” and vanished from the island and into the future. Following Locke’s departure, Sawyer, Juliet, Jin, Miles and Daniel are relieved to discover that they no longer have to endure the constant time jumps that have threatened their existence and ended Charlotte Lewis’ in ”This Place Is Death”. However, they are surprised to discover that the time jumps have stopped in 1974, when the Dharma Initiative has been in existence for at least four years. The five survivors decide to return to the beach and make camp, when they comes across a pair of Dharma Initiative members who have been captured by some of the island’s native inhabitants, known as the Others. Juliet and Sawyer kill the two Others and free Amy (Reiko Aylesworth), but her husband has been killed. The group returns to the Barracks, where Amy resides; however, she tricks them into walking through the sonic fence which surrounds the Barracks, knocking them unconscious. The rest of the episode focused upon how the five survivors ended up joining the Dharma Initiative in 1974 and the state of their lives, three years later in 1977.

Remember when I had stated that I had mixed feelings about the series’ Season Five? Well, some of those reasons had a lot to do with how Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindehof’s writers handled the story arcs surrounding the two groups of characters during this season. Of course, there are the members of the Oceanic Six who made it off the island – Jack Shephard, Kate Austen, Sayid Jarrah, Sun Kwon, Hugo “Hurley” Reyes and the infant Aaron Littleton. And there are the members of those left behind on the island, included James “Sawyer” Ford, Juliet Burke, John Locke, Jin Kwon, Miles Straume, Charlotte Lewis, Daniel Faraday, Bernard Nadler and his wife, Rose Henderson. Quite frankly, I did not care for the episodes that heavily featured the Oceanic Six. One, I never cared for their lie that left the infant Aaron in the hands of fugitive Kate Austen for nearly three years. Two, I simply did not care for their story arc in the first half of Season Five. I found it contrived, trite and a waste of my time. On the other hand, the story arc featuring those survivors left behind turned out to be a different kettle of fish.

I found myself enjoying the segments surrounding the ‘Left Behinders’ in episodes like (5.01) “Because You Left”(5.02) “The Lie” and ”This Place Is Death”. So, it is no surprise that after eight episodes, my favorite Season Five episodes turned out to be both (5.03) “The Jughead” and ”LaFleur”, which heavily featured Sawyer, Juliet and the gang. But . . . I am not here to discuss both episodes. Only ”LaFleur”.

What can I say? I loved the episode. I love it so much that I now consider it to be one of my ten favorite episodes of the entire series. And I never thought I would be saying this about a Sawyer-centric episode. Five days after it first aired, I found myself still thinking about it. I am sitting in front of my computer, trying to think of something meaningful or witty to say about this episode. But the words continue to elude me. I have a deep suspicion that my high opinion of ”LaFleur” had more to do with how this episode had such an emotional impact upon me.

Like the Left Behinders, I felt the relief they must have felt over the end of the time jumps, following Locke’s departure. Or the confusion and they had felt upon stumbling across Amy, her dead husband Paul and the two Others. I felt Daniel’s continuing grief over Charlotte’s death . . . or Amy’s grief over Paul’s death. I felt Richard’s curiosity during his conversation with Sawyer (from now on . . . James) about Locke’s appearance twenty years earlier. I felt Horace’s despair over his suspicions that his new wife, Amy, had yet to get over her grief for her husband now dead for three years. I felt James’ desperation to find help for Amy, who was in labor with Horace’s child . . . and Juliet’s reluctance to deal with another childbirth. I certainly felt James’ relief and happiness over the successful birth of Amy’s child and Juliet’s tearful joy. I felt James’ relief and disbelief in discovering that some of the Oceanic Six – Jack, Kate and Hurley – had made it back to the island. And I especially felt the friendship and love both James and Juliet had for one another.

But the above paragraph strikes me as being too simple a way to describe my enjoyment of ”LaFleur”. Foremost, I have to commend writers Elizabeth Sarnoff and Kyle Pennington for penning a well-written episode that revealed the Left Behinders’ experiences with the Dharma Initiative in two time periods without disintegrating into a big mess. The fact that Sarnoff and Pennington also managed to inject some character development – mainly James and Juliet – into a complicated plot has raised my admiration toward their work. Another thing that I liked about ”LaFleur” is that for some reason, it strongly reminded me of my favorite ”LOST” episode of all time – (2.07) “The Other 48 Days”.

This episode is not an exact replica of the Season Two episode that revealed the backstory of the Tail Section passengers’ first 48 days on the island. But I feel that both “The Other 48 Days” and “LaFleur” allowed viewers to experience the interactions of a small group – in the case of the Season Five episode, the Left Behinders – developing a close relationship through shared experiences. Mind you, most of James, Juliet, Miles, Jin and Daniel’s worst experiences occurred in previous Season Five episodes like “Jughead” and “This Place Is Death”. Still, we got to see how they became part of the Dharma Initiative in 1974. And how they had managed to settle into their new lives in 1977.

Josh Holloway literally owned this episode with a performance that nearly knocked my socks off. His James Ford aka James LaFleur has come a long way that rough-hewed Southern con man who had irritated just about everyone back in Season One. This transformation did not happen overnight. In fact, I suspect that it had its origins during late Season Three, when Hugo Reyes forced him to take the mantle of leadership of the Losties during Jack, Sayid, Kate and Locke’s absence during that period. The Southern accent has remained intact and so did the snarky sense of humor and talent for pulling a con job. Not only did he managed to convince one of the Dharma Initiative leaders – Horace Goodspeed – that he and his fellow castaways were survivors of a wrecked salvage vessel looking for the Black Rock. Within three years, James had become Head of Security for the Initiative and found a new love, namely one Dr. Juliet Burke.

When I had earlier stated that Hollowy had owned this episode, perhaps I should have said almost. After all, Elizabeth Mitchell (who has become one of my favorite actors on this series) was just as good as Juliet Burke. After three years, she has forgone her profession as a fertility doctor by becoming an auto mechanic for the Dharma Initiative. At first, I was surprised that she would choose to become a mechanic, instead of continuing her role as a doctor. But considering her past heartaches in dealing with previously pregnant Others, I eventually understood. But the premature labor of one of the Dharma members, Amy Goodspeed (portrayed by Reiko Aylesworth of “24” fame), led James to convince Juliet to act as midwife for the new Goodspeed baby. The result of Amy’s labor led to one of the most beautifully acted moments in the series’ entire history, when Mitchell and Holloway expressed Juliet and James’ relief and happiness over the baby’s successful delivery. I could go on about the strong screen chemistry between the two actors. But I have been aware of that chemistry ever since the Season Three finale – (3.22) “Through the Looking Glass”. The interesting thing about James and Juliet’s relationship is that the series used their growing friendship in the previous six or seven episodes to show how they eventually became a couple. They seemed to have become the first romantic pairing, whose relationship started out as a mature friendship. Perhaps that is the reason why I find it so appealing.

The other cast members in this episode also did a fine job – especially Jeremy Davies, as the grieving Daniel Farady, Doug Hutchison as the Dharma Initiative mathematician who came off as less self-assured than he did in past episodes, Nestor Campbell as the Others’ ageless second-in-command, Richard Alpert and Reiko Aylesworth’s sly performance as Amy, another Dharma member, whose life James and Juliet save. Daniel Dae Kim had a nice moment when Jin witnessed Juliet’s news about the successful birth of Amy and Horace’s baby.

There were many moments in “LaFleur” that have remained stuck in my mind . . . even after five days. Here are a few that I consider truly memorable:

*James, Juliet, Miles and Jin spot a giant, Egyptian-style statue following Locke’s disappearance.
*The brief look on James’ face after Juliet saves him from being shot by one of the Others.
*Amy tricks the Left Behinders into walking past the sonic fence.
*James mentions Richard’s encounter with Locke and the ‘Jughead’ bomb in 1954 to the very surprised Other.
*James convinces Juliet to remain on the island for a while.
*Juliet and James’ happy reaction to the successful birth of Amy and Horace’s child.
*James’ conversation with Horace about dealing with past loves.
*The sight of James and Juliet in bed, with her body spooning his. She really ‘had his back’ in that scene.
*Jin delivers three of the Oceanic Six members – Jack, Kate and Hurley – to an awaiting James.

Even thought that last scene was memorable, I must admit that I found myself comparing it to the sight of a roach crawling across a white rug. It also made me wonder how the Oceanic Six’s arrival will affect the Left Behinders – now members of the Dharma Initiative. Both Kate and Jack’s presence might prove to be a trial for the James/Juliet romance. Right now, I am beginning to wonder if it will survive. And will the Oceanic Six’s presence threaten the Left Behinders’ standing with the Dharma Initiative? Or will another threat emerge – mainly in the form of the still grieving Daniel Faraday? I guess that in the remaining eight episodes, we will find out.

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“KNIGHT AND DAY” (2010) Review

“KNIGHT AND DAY” (2010) Review

Once more, Tom Cruise had put himself out on a limb by appearing in a movie, recently released last summer. The movie in question turned out to be a romantic comedy thriller called ”KNIGHT AND DAY”. Co-starring Cameron Diaz, the movie was directed by James Mangold. 

Surprisingly, seventy to eighty percent of ”KNIGHT AND DAY” was told from Diaz’s point-of-view. She portrayed an auto mechanic named June Havens who found herself swept into the adventures of an eccentric man claiming to be a former CIA agent named Roy Miller. Miller also claimed that he was trying to prevent a corrupt CIA colleague named Fitzgerald from finding a brilliant young inventor named Simon Feck and his new invention, a perpetual energy battery called the Zephyr, and selling both to a Spanish weapons dealer named Antonio. Unfortunately, his former director believes he is a rogue agent that has gone mentally off the grid.

I might as well be frank. ”KNIGHT AND DAY” did not strike me as an exceptional action film. The movie featured a series of minor scenes in which a drugged and semi-conscious June found herself being moved from one location to another by Miller. And since these scenes were shown from her point-of-view, I suspect this gave Mangold and screenwriter Patrick O’Neill the opportunity to move their characters around without any real detail. Personally, it seemed like a lazy way to progress the plot along. I was also confused over how Peter Sarsgaard’s character, Agent Fitzgerald, managed to arrange for other CIA agents to appear on the Wichita-Boston flight at the beginning of the movie as the entire crew and group of passengers. Nor did I understand why he bothered to keep June on that flight after Miller tried to ensure that she would miss it. Also, Mangold’s direction failed to infuse the movie with any special energy that could have made it memorable. Despite the somewhat eccentric plot, ”KNIGHT AND DAY” moved and felt like a typical action film.

But the movie also had its virtues. It featured some beautiful photography of Boston, Jamaica (which served as the Azores, off the coast of Portugal), Austria and Spain; thanks to cinematographer Phedon Papamichael. The movie also featured one hell of a plane crash, supervised by Chris Brenczewski. O’Neill wrote a solid plot that I could easily understand – something that has been lacking in a good number of action films (comedy or otherwise) recently. ”KNIGHT AND DAY”also provided some first-rate action sequences. My favorites included Miller’s fight against his former CIA colleagues aboard the Wichita-Boston flight; the gunfight on one of Boston’s highways; and Miller’s fight against a young German assassin named Danny, aboard a train bound for Salzburg, Austria. Humor proved to be another one of the movie’s virtues. Not only did cast members such as Cruise, Diaz, Paul Dano and Marc Blucas provide some excellent comic performances, O’Neill’s script provided them with plenty of material to work with. At least two scenes struck me as particularly funny – Miller’s ”with me, you survive” speech; June’s encounter with Feck and Danny, the assassin, aboard the train; and her encounter with the arms dealer, Antonio. But my favorite scene turned out to be the encounter between Miller, June and her ex-boyfriend, Rodney inside a Boston diner. I really found that scene hilarious.

There were no bad performances in ”KNIGHT AND DAY”. But I must admit that not all of them struck me as impressive. Both Viola Davis and Jordi Mollà gave solid, yet humorless performances as the CIA Director and Antonio, the arms dealer. Peter Sarsgaard, who portrayed Agent Fitzgerald, seemed amusing at times. Otherwise, he came off as distant and slightly stiff. But the movie had its share of good performances. Dale Dye and Celia Weston provided plenty of laughs as Miller’s parents, who believed that their son was dead. Paul Dano proved that he also have a talent for comedy in his goofy and funny portrayal of Feck, the brilliant young scientist that created the Zephyr battery. But of the entire supporting cast, my favorite performance came from Marc Blucas, who portrayed June’s ex-boyfriend and a Boston fireman. Thanks to his two-season stint on television’s ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”, I have always been aware of the actor’s talent for off-beat humor. But Mangold’s direction and O’Neill’s script provided him with a role that truly exploited his comedic talents. Blucas portrayed Rodney not only as a compassionate and duty-bound man, but also a self-absorbed and shallow jerk. And he managed to achieve this balance with great subtlety and skill.

But what really made ”KNIGHT AND DAY” work for me were the two leads, Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. They had worked together before in the 2001 movie, ”VANILLA SKY” and it was easy to see that they both had a very good screen chemistry. Once again, Cruise proved his talent for both comedy and action as the slightly eccentric Roy Miller, whose idea of keeping his new companion safe was too keep her in a drugged state, as he carted her around the eastern United States and Europe. The actor also effectively conveyed his character’s self-assured nature without allowing it to be tainted by any signs of cockiness. This would not have been the case with a younger Cruise. What I liked about Cameron Diaz’s portrayal of June Havens was that she did an excellent job of conveying her character’s progression throughout the movie. Her June started as a reserved woman just recovering from the end of a trying relationship, progressed to the confused and frightened innocent caught up in intrigue and betrayal; and finally developed into a more confident woman who was self-assured about her love for Miller and what she needed to do to keep him safe.

”KNIGHT AND DAY” was not the best movie I had seen last summer. It certainly did not knock my socks off. But thanks to James Mangold’s direction, a solid script by Patrick O’Neill and an excellent screen team in the form of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz made it an entertaining movie.  It is not a perfect film, but it is certainly better than I had originally assumed.

“Remembering Virgilia Hazard”

“REMEMBERING VIRGILIA HAZARD”

My recent viewing of my “NORTH AND SOUTH Trilogy” DVD set, led me to the“Special Feaures” section that featured a behind-the-scene look at the television miniseries trilogy. In it, Patrick Swayze (Orry Main), James Read (George Hazard), Lesley Anne-Down (Madeline Fabray) producer David Wolper and the trilogy’s author, John Jakes discussed both the literary and television versions of the saga. I found their recollections of the trilogy’s production very interesting and entertaining. What I found surprising were the actors’ admissions that they found abolitionist Virgilia Hazard to be their favorite character. Even more surprising was my discovery that John Jakes shared similiar feelings.

In the saga, Virgilia Hazard (Kirstie Alley) was the only daughter of iron manufacturer William Hazard (John Anderson) and his wife, Maude (Inga Swenson) in Pennsylvania. She had three brothers – the eldest sibling Stanley (Jonathan Frakes), the youngest Billy (John Stockwell/Parker Stevenson) and middle brother George. Unlike most of her family, Virgilia became a firm devotee of causes for women’s rights, civil rights for free Northern blacks and especially the abolitionist cause in mid-19th century United States. In fact, one could honestly say that Virgilia’s devotion to abolition drifted into fanaticism.

Virgilia ended up being one of the most complex characters that author Jakes had ever created. On one hand, her fanaticism, tactless behavior, self-righteousness and bigotry toward all Southern-born whites made her a very unpleasant person. Just how unpleasant could Virgilia be? She had a tendency to air her beliefs to anyone within hearing range, regardless of whether they wanted to listen to her or not. She became so blind and bigoted in her self-righteousness toward Southern whites – especially those of the planter-class that she failed to notice that despite her brother George’s close friendship with the son of a South Carolina planter, Orry Main, he had also become a devoted abolitionist and civil rights advocate by the eve of the Civil War. If she had been willing to open herself more to the Mains, she would have discovered another potential abolitionist in their midst – namely Orry’s younger Cousin Charles.

Her tactless behavior nearly cost George’s friendship with Orry, when she helped Grady (Georg Sandford Brown), the slave of the Mains’ neighbor, James Huntoon (Jim Metzler), escape from slavery during the Hazards’ visit to South Carolina. That same tactless behavior led her to take part in John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry and expose herself needlessly to the local militia. And because of this, Grady – now her husband – rushed forward to save her ended up dead, instead. One of Virgilia’s worst acts – at least to me – was when she had tossed away her convictions and self-esteem to become Sam Greene’s (David Odgen Stiers) mistress, following her confrontation with a hospital administrator (Olivia DeHavilland) over a Confederate officer’s death. All over a matter of survival. She had no problem with confronting her family and neighbors’ scorn over her devotion to abolition. She had no problem with confronting the Mains in her complicity to help Grady escape. But when she faced a murder investigation, she threw her self-esteem to wind and lowered herself to the level of a prostitue to stay out of prison.

But for all of her faults, Virgilia also possessed a great deal of virtues. Why else would the likes of Swayze and Read declare that she was their favorite character? One cannot help but admire her resilient devotion to the abolitionist cause, which was not very popular with most of her family and fellow Northerners. She was open-minded enough to look past Grady’s skin color and view him as an attractive man, worthy for her hand in marriage. Many, including most of the Hazards, had excused her marriage to Grady as a political statement. One member of the Hazard family knew the truth – George’s Irish-born wife, Constance Flynn Hazard (Wendy Kilbourne).

And while many “NORTH AND SOUTH” fans may have abhorred Virgilia’s habit of speaking her mind, I cannot help but admired it. If I must be honest, I really enjoyed Virgilia’s habit of confronting her family and the Main family about slavery and reminding them of the institution’s horrors. I feel that it took a lot of guts on her part and I admired her for this. Virgilia’s practice of “telling it like it is” seemed very apparent in three scenes:

*Philadelphia Abolitionist Meeting – in which she gave a speech about the practices of slave breeding on Southern plantations. Despite Orry’s outraged reaction to her speech, it turns out that Virgilia had spoken the truth. Due to the United States’ official banning of the Atlantic Slave Trade in 1808, many Southern planters were forced to resort to the deliberate breeding of their female slaves to either maintain the number of slaves in the South or to make a fortune in selling such slaves when the value of their land depleted.

*Opposition to the Mexican-American War – during Orry’s first meeting with the Hazard family, Virgilia made her disgust and opposition to the United States’ threat to wage war against Mexico very clear, claiming that many of the war’s supporters saw it as an opportunity to conquer Mexican territory and use it for the expansion of slavery. I hate to say this, but slavery’s expansion had been a strong reason for those who supported the idea of war.

*Confrontation Over Grady’s Escape – this is without a doubt, my favorite scene in which Virgilia confronted her family and the Mains over her disgust with slavery. Hell, I had practically cheered the woman as she made it clear that not only the South, but the entire country will eventually pay a price for its complicity in the institution of slavery. And she had been right.

It took a brave woman to willingly pursue a cause that many found unpopular . . . and make her convictions to others, quite clear. Hell, I think that she had more balls than all of the men in her family. Even more so, she did not hide her beliefs and convictions behind a personable veneer in order to soothe the sociabilities of her family and their friends.

I had discovered that both Lesley Anne Down (Madeline Fabray) and David Carridine (Justin LaMotte) had both received Golden Globe nominations for their performances in the first miniseries. Frankly, I find this appalling for I believe that Kirstie had deserved a nomination, as well. Probably even more so, considering that she had a more difficult role. I wonder if both Swayze and Read had felt the same.

“Revelations” [PG-13] – 1/4

 

 

“REVELATIONS”

SERIES: CHA
RATING: [PG-13]
SUMMARY: Paige discovers what had really happened between Cole and the Source during late Season 4. Sequel to “Return With Vengeance”. Set in alternate Season 5.
FEEDBACK: deerush76@yahoo.com – Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: Cole Turner, the Charmed Ones, other characters from CHARMED and the transcripts featured in this story are the property of Spelling Productions, Brad Kern and Constance Burge. Olivia McNeill and Cecile Dubois are my creations.

*AUTHOR’S NOTES: All flashback scenes are from actual CHARMED Season 4 scripts that I had found on the CHARMED SCRIPTS site – http://www.charmedscripts.tv/*

————

“REVELATIONS”

PART 1

The inhabitants of the Halliwell manor seemed to be in some emotional quandary, these days. Or so it seemed to one Paige Matthews – half-whitelighter/half-witch.

She remembered when it had first began. During a visit to one of the McNeills’ Sunday brunches, over a week ago. That visit had resulted in a few startling revelations. The Halliwell family learned that several whitelighters, guardians of good witches, had defected to the Underworld with detailed information on their own charges, the Charmed Ones, the powerful McNeill clan, and Paige’s former brother-in-law, the half-demon Cole Turner. Piper, Paige’s oldest sister, had seemed particularly upset that her husband, also the family’s whitelighter, had known about the defections.

An even bigger revelation had rocked the Halliwell household. In an outburst of anger toward middle sister Phoebe’s attempt to warn Olivia McNeill about Cole, the red-haired McNeill witch accused the Charmed Ones of vanquishing Cole in a moment of haste and fear, when he was leader of the Underworld. The Halliwells had harbored the suspicion that Cole, unable to deal with the loss of his demonic powers, embraced evil once more by becoming the Source. The McNeills, Olivia included, had hinted that the Halliwells never really bothered to learn how Cole became the Source. Or consider that he had been a victim of possession.

Piper had dismissed Olivia’s words to Phoebe as nonsense spouted by a woman who had transferred her dislike of the late Prue Halliwell to the rest of the family. Leo came forth with a theory that Cole may have manipulated the McNeills’ minds with a lie. Phoebe, Cole’s ex-wife, seemed inclined to believe Leo. Her stint as the Source’s Queen of the Underworld, and Cole’s reluctance to grant a divorce following his resurrection had left her burned out and emotionally drained.

In all honesty, Paige did not know what to believe. She wanted to believe either Leo or Piper. It would be much so easier to accept the family credo that Cole could not be trusted. And that he deserved to have his “evil ass” vanquished. Unfortunately, the McNeills’ argument, especially Olivia’s, seemed to make sense to the youngest Charmed One. When she finally dug up information on the Hollow, she realized that they might be right. Apparently, the Hollow only gave Cole the opportunity to absorb the Source’s powers, not make him the Source.

But several questions remained unanswered. How did Cole become the Source in the first place? And had he deliberately chosen to become the Source? Or did it happen against his will, as the McNeills had suggested?

Paige sat on the bed, inside her bedroom. She stared at the painting she had begun, last week. If only she had the power of telepathy, like Harry and Elise McNeill. Or summon up images of the future . . . and the past. Like Phoebe. The closest thing to psychic powers that she possessed was the ability to sense evil. Today was one of those days when Paige envied Phoebe and two of the McNeills.

A wild idea suddenly came to Paige. Perhaps she could convince Phoebe to use her power to summon the past. Learn what happened to Cole, last spring. Wondering if Cole had left any belongings behind, Paige glanced at the clock on her nightstand. It was three-fifty in the afternoon. Phoebe should be leaving work in a little over an hour. All Paige had to do was ask Phoebe to . . .

The moment the idea popped into her head, Paige rejected it. She knew that any mention of Cole would send Phoebe into a fit. Despite the middle Halliwell’s declaration that she wanted nothing to do with her ex-husband, she seemed obsessed with him. Obsessed by a fear that he would give in to evil and kill all of them. Not even Phoebe’s doomed romance with the late Miles and attempts to ignore Cole could not squelch this obsession. And it had grown worse, thanks to Cole’s friendship with Olivia McNeill.

Since asking Phoebe seemed out of the question, Paige realized that she needed another solution. Search Phoebe’s bedroom for any of Cole’s old possessions left behind, and seek help from someone else with psychic abilities similar to her older sister. If only she knew such a person.

* * * *

“Good grief, Cecile! How much stuff did you buy, today?” Olivia McNeill grumbled. She and her best friend, Cecile Dubois, stumbled out of her building’s elevator. Each woman carried a large shopping bag loaded with purchases. Cecile’s purchases. The New Orleans-born woman had spent most of the day raiding many of San Francisco’s department stores for Christmas presents.

Huffing, as she lugged her bag along the hallway, Cecile protested, “I didn’t buy that much! These are mainly presents for your family. Besides, I wanted to do most of my shopping before I return home. So I can save on postal fees.”

“Cecile, you’ve been here for how long? Almost two weeks? If these presents are for us, what the hell took you so long?” Olivia paused to take a deep breath. The two friends stopped in front of her apartment door.

A third voice added, “I’d like to know, myself.” The two friends turned around and found a tall, handsome man standing behind them. Cole Turner regarded the pair with amused eyes. “What did you do, Cecile? Clean out Macy’s?”

Olivia sighed with relief. “Finally! Some help. Could you please help us carry these bags inside?”

A slight smirk curved Cole’s lips. “Looks like you’ve managed to carry your bags, this far. Do you really need my help, now?”

“Do you want me to tell Cecile what the name Cole is short for?” Olivia sweetly threatened.

Seconds later, Cecile, Olivia, Cole and the two shopping bags disappeared from the corridor. Cecile thanked the half-daemon. Who leaned forward and murmured into Olivia’s ear, “I’ll get you for that.”

“I can hardly wait,” Olivia murmured back.

Cole followed the two women toward Olivia’s apartment. “You’ll find them inside your bedroom,” he said to Cecile. “I am curious about one thing. What did you give me?”

The Vodoun priestess grinned. “You’ll have to wait another week to find out.”

An overdramatic groan escaped from Cole’s mouth, as the trio paused outside Olivia’s door. “Oh well. I have another question. Are you two free, tonight? I’ve just received a bonus for closing a very important case. And I’d like to celebrate.”

The two women nodded. “Sure,” Olivia said. “Where do you plan to take us?”

Cole opened his mouth. A second later, familiar blue lights appeared in the corridor. They converged into the form of Leo Wyatt, Olivia’s whitelighter. And Cole’s former brother-in-law.

“Hey, Olivia,” Leo greeted. He spotted Cecile and smiled politely. “Cecile.” His smile disappeared the moment his eyes lit upon the half-demon staring at him. “Oh. I didn’t . . . uh, I didn’t realize you had company.”

The redhead sighed. “Hi Leo. Is there a problem?”

Again, the whitelighter shot a dark look toward Cole’s direction. “Somewhat. Do you mind if I speak to you? Alone?”

Cole smiled nastily. “I see that I’m about to become the topic of conversation, again. Looks like it’s time for me to leave.”

“No!” Olivia’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “No. Leo, if you’re here to talk about Cole, don’t do it behind his back.” She stared at him with determination stamped on her face.

Leo stared back. His charge noticed that for once, Cole did not wear a smirk in the whitelighter’s presence. With a sigh, Leo continued, “All right. If you insist.” Once all four were inside Olivia’s apartment, Leo continued, “It’s about that conversation you had with Phoebe, over a week ago. At that last Sunday brunch we were at.”

“You mean the one after Cecile had vanquished Dako?” Olivia asked. She sighed. “Oh God! She must have told you. Look, I’m sorry if I came off as negative, but she really annoyed me with her little warning about Cole.”

Cecile frowned. A surprised expression appeared on Cole’s face. “What was that?” he demanded.

Olivia faced her neighbor. “Phoebe tried to warn me that you might betray my family. For a moment, I thought she had some kind of premonition. But it turned out that she thought she was just being . . . helpful. I guess I should have told you, but I didn’t think you wanted to know.”

Cole heaved what sounded like a frustrated sigh. “I’m glad that you didn’t tell me. Christ! I’m getting sick of her paranoia!”

“Can you blame her?” Leo retorted. “You had put Phoebe and the rest of us through a lot of hell!”

Cole angrily shot back, “Hey, I went through my own brand of hell! How would you like it if you lost your powers, became possessed by the Source, got vanquished by your wife and her sisters, spent four months in the Wasteland, and saw your marriage go down the drain within a month-and-a-half? I sure as hell didn’t!”

“And you expect us to believe that? That you were possessed by the Source? And what’s your excuse regarding Ed Miller?”

The half-demon’s eyes became cold and deadly. Olivia shivered. No wonder Cole had a reputation for ruthlessness. At the moment, he reminded her of Andre Morrell . . . or her own father at their worst.

“You know, I’m getting damn sick and tired of you throwing my past back into my face!” Cole hissed. “Maybe you should concern yourself with your own sins – like risking the Halliwells’ lives, so you could marry Piper behind the Elders’ back! And quite frankly, I’ve had enough of the ‘Halliwell Code of Ethnics’ and your damn preoccupation with personal gain!”

The whitelighter’s face now matched the color of beets. At least it seemed so to Olivia. She watched Leo, as he struggled not to retaliate against Cole’s remarks. Instead, he turned to Olivia and in a low voice, said, “Olivia, I’m only going to say this once. This man . . . if you can call him one, will be the death of you, if you’re not careful. Even the Elders are worried about your relationship with him.”

“I’d say that the Elders have more important things to worry about,” Olivia quietly replied. “Like the four whitelighters who had recently defected to the Underworld. Or that detailed file on all of us that ended up in the Crozats’ hands.”

Leo heaved a sigh. “Olivia . . .”

“For crying out loud, Leo! Now, I’m only going to say this . . . for the last time.” Olivia fixed her whitelighter with a hard glare. “As far as I’m concerned, Cole is a friend. A close friend. I do not turn my back on friends in fear of what they ‘might’ do to me. That’s call playing it safe, not friendship. And I find it repellent. If I do end up dead because of Cole, you can stand over my grave and shout ‘I told you so,’ until the cows come home. In the meantime, back off! And if you can’t handle my friendship with Cole, I suggest that we end our friendship, right now. Understand?”

A long stretch of silence followed. Olivia found herself regretting her outburst to Leo. One glance at him and she could see that the poor man looked as if he could not decide whether to die from sheer embarrassment or angrily lash out at her and Cole. Especially Cole. Instead, Leo’s cheek twitched, as he replied in a cool voice, “Fine. I’ll back off. I guess I better leave. It’s obvious that I’m not wanted.”

“Leo!” Olivia cried. But it was too late. The whitelighter disappeared before she could utter another word. She let out a gust of breath. “Great! I guess I can kiss that friendship, good-bye.” Olivia plopped down on the sofa.

Cecile sat next to her friend. “I’m still surprised that you and Leon had remained friends. Especially since you had ended your witch/whitelighter relationship, years ago.”

“It’s Leo,” Olivia retorted. “And we are friends.” She added soberly, “I hope. Leo came to me a lot, when he was having trouble with Piper, three years ago. And as for that other matter . . . Okay, it was difficult dealing with his obssession with the Charmed Ones. But I understood. He’s there whitelighter. And there’s Piper.” She glanced at Cole. “Do you really think he’ll learn to accept that we’re friends?”

Cole snorted. “Leo?” Olivia shot him a quick glare. “Sorry. Look, I doubt that Leo would want to end his friendship with you, because of me. He’s just upset, right now. He’ll get over it.”

“I hope you’re right,” Olivia said with a sigh. “About that dinner . . . where are you taking us?”

A dark eyebrow formed an arch. “Taking you? I’ve made reservations at the Top of the Mark, at the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Seven-thirty tonight.

The two women exchanged surprised looks. “You’ve already made reservations?” a frowning Cecile asked. “What if we had said no?”

“If I had considered that possibility, I would have never made the reservations,” Cole responded with a knowing smile. “See you in two-and-a-half hours.”

Olivia glared at him. “Cocky bastard!” Cole’s smile widened and he disappeared.

Cecile shook her head. “Honey, you really have a talent for making friends with some odd people.”

* * * *

Making sure that she was alone in the manor, Paige orbed inside Phoebe’s bedroom. Minutes ticked by, while she searched for any of Cole’s remaining possessions, inside the closet. Unfortunately, Paige ended up empty-handed. She sighed with frustration. Perhaps she should try Phoebe’s desk or dresser bureau.

Several minutes later, more failure greeted Paige. A growing suspicion began to form in her mind that Phoebe had rid the bedroom of Cole’s possessions. Or anything that might relate to the half-demon. Paige also wondered if Phoebe had performed some kind of exorcism, using a spell from the Book of Shadows.

Then another idea came to Paige. The Book of Shadows! Of course! There was an entry on both Cole, and his demonic half – Belthazor inside the book. Maybe if she tore it out . . . Paige raced out of the bedroom and headed upstairs to the attic. She barely heard the front door close, downstairs. Upon reaching the attic, she strode toward the stand that held the family’s reference on the supernatural.

A quick flip through the Book of Shadows brought the youngest Halliwell to the page that featured Belthazor. Paige frowned. Something seemed wrong. Where was . . .? What happened to the page that featured Cole’s human side? The entry that Phoebe had added just before Prue’s death?

“Hey sis!”

Paige glanced up. Speak of the devil. The middle Charmed One stood inside the attic’s doorway. Smiling. It was the first smile that Paige had seen on Phoebe’s face since Miles, over a month ago.

The older sister marched inside the attic. “Guess what!” she crowed. “I have a date!”

So that was the reason behind the smile. Paige felt happy for her sister. “No kidding! Who’s the lucky guy?”

“His name is Jake,” Phoebe continued. She halted in front of the podium. “Jake Landers. He’s a sports writer for the BAY-MIRROR. A 49ers fan. We met inside the building’s cafeteria. Very high on the cute factor, if you know what I mean. We got to talking and the next thing I knew, he . . . uh, asked me out for a date. Tomorrow night.”

Paige smiled. “That’s great, Phoebe!”

“Yeah, and he’s got this friend . . .”

Oh no! Double date! Paige’s luck with boyfriends had not been that promising during the past two months. Her last relationship had ended on a dull note. In fact, she had not heard from her old friend, Glenn, in quite a while. The last thing she needed or wanted was a mercy date. “Listen Phoebe,” Paige began, “I’ve just broke up with Simon, and I’m not ready for another boyfriend. Especially a blind date.”

“It’s only one date,” Phoebe protested. “Jake and I decided that if all goes well tomorrow night, we thought that a double date on Saturday would . . .” Her eyes fell upon the opened Book of Shadows. She stiffened.

Paige’s eyes followed her sister’s. The book lay open on the page that featured Belthazor. Trouble.

“Why are you suddenly interested in Belthazor?” Phoebe coolly demanded. Her good mood had obviously vanished.

Should she tell Phoebe the truth? Paige seriously considered it, but that would mean admitting that she had been inside the latter’s bedroom without permission. So Paige lied. “Actually, I was searching the book for a glamour spell. I only got this far.” She paused. Although she hated to ruin Phoebe’s mood, Paige could not avoid the subject. “Phoebe, I noticed that one page in the book is missing. The one with information about Cole’s human side.” After a pause, she continued, “You didn’t . . . I mean, you didn’t tear it out of the book, did you?”

An exasperated sigh escaped Phoebe’s mouth. Paige recognized that sigh. It meant that her older sister would rather avoid the subject being discussed. “Yes Paige. I tore it out. So what? Cole is no longer in my . . . a part of our lives.”

“And yet, Belthazor is still in the Book of Shadows?”

Now, Phoebe looked annoyed. “What is this all leading to?”

“Belthazor is gone, Phoebe. He’s been gone for over a year. And yet, Cole is still among the living. With new powers. Don’t you think we should have listed his new po . . .?”

Phoebe glanced away. “I don’t need this, Paige. Not now,” she said in a hard voice. “I don’t want to talk about Cole or see his face anymore. Not after that crap I had to endure from Olivia McNeill. Don’t you understand? I’m trying to move on.”

Paige could not fathom her sudden desire to play devil’s advocate. Even a month ago, she would have perfectly understood Phoebe’s feelings. And support her sister’s actions. Then again over a month ago, she did not harbor doubts over how the Source debacle had been handled.

“How can you move on?” Paige asked. “When you refuse to face or discuss what happened in the first place?” Aware of her sister’s increasingly hostile expression, Paige continued. “I mean, both of us and Leo had forced Piper to face her feelings over Prue’s death. And all of you forced me to deal with my step-parents.” She paused. “Maybe it’s time for you to face what happened between you and Cole, last spring. Talk about it before you move on.”

Dark eyes coldly stared back at Paige. “You know what, Paige? Forget about the double date. Just . . . forget it.” Phoebe turned away and headed for the doorway.

“Phoebe!” Paige called after her older sister. But the latter had already disappeared. Paige sighed. It looked as if she was in for a chilly evening.

END OF PART 1

“QUANTUM OF SOLACE” (2008) Review

“QUANTUM OF SOLACE” (2008) Review

I am going to be perfectly frank. When I first saw the 2008 James Bond movie, “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”, I  had hesitated to write a review.  Why? Because it had left me in a daze. Four days after I saw the movie I continued to experience slight feelings of confusion about it.  It was not until my second viewing of the film that I finally developed solid opinions of the film.

”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” was a direct sequel of the 21st film in the Bond franchise, ”CASINO ROYALE”. The previous movie ended with James Bond’s (Daniel Craig) discovery that the woman he loved – an accountant for the British government named Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) – had betrayed him during his dealings with a banker for terrorist named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). Before she committed suicide during his fight against some thugs hired by the organization behind Le Chiffre in Venice, Vesper left Bond a name and telephone number that linked to a Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), a business middleman with connections to an organization that finances terrorism. By the end of”CASINO ROYALE”, Bond managed to capture Mr. White with a well placed shot to the latter’s kneecap. ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” picked up with Bond being chased by Mr. White’s associates on a road to Sienna, Italy. After eluding the thugs in a deadly road chase, Bond delivered a wounded Mr. White to a MI-6 safe house in the Italian city.

Due to Mr. White’s capture and unsuccessful interrogation, Bond and ‘M’ (Judi Dench) learned that the organization behind the prisoner – Quantum – has many spies planted throughout top-level government agencies around the world. One of those spies turned out to be ‘M’’s bodyguard, who allowed Mr. White to escape via an attack on ‘M’. Bond managed to track down and kill the traitorous Mitchell before he could question the man. However, a few banknotes found in the latter’s pockets allowed MI-6 to track down one of Mitchell’s contacts – a man named Slate in Haiti. This encounter with Slate led Bond to a revenge-bent Bolivian Secret Service agent named Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) and her connections to Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) and Quantum. The rest of the movie focused upon Bond resorting to almost any means possible to learn more about Quantum, foil their plans to control the water supply in Bolivia, and help Camille deal with her desire for revenge against General Medrano (Joaquin Cosío), a Bolivian general responsible for her family’s death and who has a business/political arrangement with Greene and Quantum.

I have to admit that I found ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE”to be a well written film. I believe the screenwriters did a first-rate job in creating a sequel to ”CASINO ROYALE”. Not only did they bring back characters like Mr. White, Rene Mathis and Felix Leiter from the last film, the script even continued the issue of Bond’s relationship with Vesper Lynd and his reaction to her death. Several scenes touched upon this continuation:

*Mr. White’s mention of Vesper’s death in Venice
*’M’ and Bond’s discussion at MI-6 Headquarters of Vesper’s French-Algerian boyfriend
*Rene Mathis and Bond’s discussion of Vesper during their flight to Bolivia
*Mathis’ insistence that Bond forgive Vesper for her betrayal and himself for being fooled before the former’s death
*Bond’s reaction to Camille’s revelation about her own desire for vengeance against General Medrano
*Bond’s encounter with Yusef, Vesper’s French-Algerian boyfriend and member of Quantum, who was hired to compromise her, at the end of the film
*Shots of Vesper and Yusef in a photograph
*A shot of Le Chiffre on a computer screen.

When I had first learned of rumors that Quantum, the organization behind Le Chiffre, Mr. White and Dominic Greene, would be on the same level as S.P.E.C.T.R.E. from the 1960s films, I nearly had a negative reaction to the idea. The last thing I wanted was for EON Productions to attempt to turn back the clock and rehash old storylines. Fortunately, Quantum seemed more representative of the present-day practice of socio-economy by multinational corporations than a criminal organization that S.P.E.C.T.R.E. represented. Yet, like many of these corporations, Quantum does not seem above using violence to achieve some of their means. One of my favorite scenes about Quantum featured Bond’s discovery of certain members of the organization holding a clandestine meeting during an opera in Bregenz, Austria. Another favorite featured a meeting about Bond’s actions between ‘M’ and the Foreign Minister (Tim Pigott-Smith), in which the Minister reminded ‘M’ that they live in times in which governments for countries like the U.S. and Great Britain have a need to cooperate with organizations like Quantum for declining natural resources.

Like ”CASINO ROYALE”, this latest Bond film is blessed with a first-rate cast. Cast members like Judi Dench, Jesper Christiansen, Jeffrey Wright and Giancarlo Giannini repeated their excellent performances. Not only did Dench get a chance to repeat her electrifying chemistry with leading man Daniel Craig, she and Pigott-Smith gave excellent performances in the scene featuring the tense meeting between ‘M’ and the Foreign Secretary. Jesper Christiansen returned in his role as the mysterious Mr. White. Only in this film, he is not as reserved as he had been in “CASINO ROYALE”. Still, I could tell that Christiansen seemed to be enjoying himself. The character of Mr. White managed to escape MI-6’s clutches after Mitchell’s attack upon ‘M’ and a few other agents. How he managed to achieve this with a busted kneecap is beyond my comprehension.

Not only was I pleased to see Jeffrey Wright reprise his role as Felix Leiter, I was especially pleased that Wright was given a chance to expand on his work from the previous movie. In ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE”, Leiter and a fellow CIA agent named Gregg Beam (David Harbour) are offering U.S. support to Quantum’s plans to help General Medrano stage a coup in Bolivia for oil leases. This situation allowed Wright to masterfully display Felix’s torn loyalties to what he seemed to consider as a distasteful duty and his newly established friendship with Bond. And it was great to see Giannini return as the wise and always witty Rene Mathis. After his arrest in ”CASINO ROYALE”, MI-6 realized they had been wrong and compensated him with a villa on a small island near Italy. Bond and Mathis make their peace before the former convinces the latter to help him deal with Greene and General Medrano. In one of the movie’s best scenes, Giannini and Craig gave beautiful performances in a scene featuring a heart-to-heart discussion between Mathis and Bond about Vesper aboard a Virgin Airline flight to Bolivia. Giannini had never been better.

Most of the supporting characters in ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” turned out to be a mixed bag for me. I was impressed by Joaquin Cosio’s portrayal of the greedy and ruthless General Medrano, the Bolivian strongman who had murdered Camille’s family and wants Quantum and the CIA’s help to regain power in the country. Instead of indulging in the usual clichés of the archtypical Latin American dictator, Cosio portrayed Medrano with more restraint and some intelligence. David Harbour was effective as the smug CIA agent, Gregg Beam, who viewed Bond’s activities as nothing more than a threat to his agency’s plans to acquire Bolivian oil leases. On the other hand, I was not impressed by Anatole Taubman’s role as Elvis, Dominic Greene’s cousin and henchman. I had no problem with Taubman’s performance. The problem seemed to be that . . . his presence in the movie was useless. It added nothing to the story. I could almost say the same about Gemma Arterton’s role as MI-6 agent, Strawberry Fields. In fact, I could honestly say that I wish she had never been included in the story in the first place. Her presence in the film was a waste of time. One, she was an unpleasant reminder – at least to me – of those past Bond girls with the ridiculous names and who did nothing more than serve as Bond’s bed warmers. This is exactly how Arterton’s character served the movie. Even worse, the discovery of her body covered in oil brought about an unpleasant reminder of the 1964 movie, ”GOLDFINGER”. It was bad enough that the movie’s screenwriters felt they had to pay homage to a past Bond film. But that the movie in question turned out to be one that I more or less despise was a bit too much for me.

Fortunately, ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” also featured an impressive Olga Kurychenko as the Bond leading lady, Camille Montes. The Ukrainian-born actress had to adopt a South American accent for the role as the feisty Russian-Bolivian woman who joined her country’s secret service to avenge the deaths of her family by killing General Medrano. I had first saw Kurychenko in ”HITMAN” with Timothy Olyphant. Although I found the movie rather mediocre, I was more than impressed by her acting skills and her energy, which she effectively infused in her portrayal of Camille. Camille must be the only Bond leading female who has not shared a love scene with the MI-6 agent. Mind you, Camille is not exactly the most impressive Bond girl I have come across. Her personality struck me as a little too impatient and not very skilled as a killer. But Kurychenko did an effective job of conveying this part of Camille’s nature. Ironically, this served the movie rather well considering that both characters were too obsessed in their goals to even consider romance with each other.

The prevailing view of Mathieu Amalric’s role as Dominic Greene, the film’s main villain, seemed to be divided amongst Bond fans. Some view the character as weak and others seemed very impressed. Count me amongst the latter. I had first been impressed by Amalric’s performance in the Steven Spielberg film, ”MUNICH” (in which Daniel Craig also co-starred). My positive view on the actor’s talent continued in ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE”. I realize that many Bond fans seemed to be more impressed by over-the-top villains. My tastes in villainy seemed to swerve in the opposite direction and I felt more than pleased that Amalric’s Greene strongly reminded me of more subtle villains like Georgi Koskov, Le Chiffre and Ari Kristatos. Amalric gave a skillful performance of a complex man whose witty persona hid a ruthless and cold-blooded nature.

Finally, we come to the man of the hour – namely Daniel Craig in his second outing as MI-6 agent James Bond. His performance in ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” was just as superb and breathtaking as his debut performance. I have spent several days trying to find something wrong with Craig’s acting skills in this film. Honestly. So far, I have yet to find fault with his work. Craig effectively managed to continue Bond’s story by conveying the agent’s reactions to the events of ”CASINO ROYALE”. Burned by Vesper’s betrayal, Bond has become an angry man who is also grieving over the death of a woman he had loved very much. Although he tries to keep his anger in check and simply do his job in investigating and exposing Quantum, there are times when his emotions threatened to spiral out of control. And Craig did a superb job in projecting this stage in Bond’s emotional state. Once again, the actor gave a performance that certainly deserved recognition by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And I am quite certain that for the second time, he will be ignored by them.

As I had stated earlier, ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” had a good, solid story that could have effectively served as a follow-up to ”CASINO ROYALE” thanks to screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis and uncredited writer Joshua Zetumer (uncredited). Remember when I had stated that the movie had left me in a daze? The following is the reason why. Despite the solid screenplay scripted by the four writers, director Marc Forster nearly ruined the story’s effectiveness with what I can only describe as a rush job with the help of editors Matt Chesse and Rick Pearson. There seemed to be a lot going in the movie’s plot. But Forster failed to unfold that story with a slower pace that would have served the movie in a more effective manner. Instead, the director filled the movie’s first half with a countless array of action sequences that almost left me as dizzy as the last two movies from the ”BOURNE”franchise. It almost seemed as if Forster had channeled Paul Greengrass’ worst directorial traits. This was especially true in the movie’s first two sequences – a mind altering car chase from Mr. White’s villa to Sienna and Bond’s pursuit of the traitorous MI-6 agent Mitchell through the streets of Sienna, Italy. By the time the movie shifted to Bond’s appearance at Mathis’ Italian villa, I was finally able to catch a breath and enjoy the movie without any accompanying dizzy spells. Another victim of Forster’s fast pacing was the story itself. The plot had nearly fallen victim to Forster’s attempt to be stylish and unique with his fast pace and editing.

Thankfully, not all seemed lost for the film’s action sequences. There were three of them that I found impressive. I enjoyed Bond’s deadly fight with Slate inside the latter’s hotel room in Haiti. I also enjoyed the finale sequence in which Bond dueled against Dominic Greene, while Camille struggled in her attempt to kill General Medrano. But the most effective action sequence – at least for me – turned out to be the aerial dogfight between Bond in a Douglas DC-3 propeller plane and Quantum pilots in both an Aermacchi SF-260 fighter and a Bell UH-1 helicopter. As far as I am concerned, Chesse and Pearson did their best work in this scene. And they were ably assisted by Roberto Schaefer’s excellent photography.

James Bond traveled to many locations in this film – Sienna, Italy; Haiti; Bregenz, Austria; back to Italy and Bolivia. Despite this dizzying array of locations, I must admit that I found most of them rather uninspiring aside from Haiti (filmed in Panama) and the Italian location that served as the backdrop for Mathis’ villa. ”CASINO ROYALE” had surprised the world with a very memorable gun barrel sequence, following its pre-title sequence. ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” did the same with a gun barrel sequence near the end of the film. Unfortunately, the latter sequence was not only very ineffective, but rushed . . . just like the movie’s pacing. One major controversy had arisen from the film. Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson had decided to bypass Amy Winehouse as the performer for the film’s theme song and selected Jack White and Alicia Keys. White provided the song, ”Another Way to Die”, and Keys the vocals. Granted, the song is not that memorable to me. It was tolerable, but not memorable. And it is certainly not the worst Bond song I have ever heard. The song, ”Goldeneye”, still holds that honor in my eyes. And quite frankly, I preferred listening to ”Another Way to Die” over watching the horrendous main title designs created by a company called MK12. From what I understand, Marc Forster had been the one who wanted the company hired for the job, instead of Daniel Kleinman. That man has a lot to answer for.

In the end, ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” was a memorable follow up to Daniel Craig’s first outing as James Bond, ”CASINO ROYALE” Was it just as good or better than the 2006 film? No. If EON Productions had hired a director more suited for action, remove characters like Strawberry Fields and Elvis from the cast and slowed down the movie’s pace, it could have been just as good. Instead, ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” turned out to be a movie that I would rank as ”Very Good”, instead of ”Excellent”.

“THE PACIFIC” (Episode Ten) Commentary

I wrote this commentary on the tenth and final episode of “THE PACIFIC”

“THE PACIFIC” (Episode Ten) Commentary

Well. After ten episodes, ”THE PACIFIC” ended. Finally. I could discuss the entire miniseries, but this is about Episode Ten. The full review will have to wait for another article.

Episode Ten focused upon our three main characters – Robert Leckie, Eugene Sledge and John Basilone – returning home after the war in the Pacific Theater. Or perhaps I should say two characters, considering that Basilone was killed on Iwo Jima in Episode Eight. This allowed his story to be shown from the viewpoint of his widow, Sergeant Lena Riggi Basilone. It is through her eyes that viewers got to peek at the Basilone family for the third and final time. The episode also focused upon Sledge’s attempts to put the horrors of the war behind him, and Leckie’s reunions with his family and Vera Keller.

Lena Basilone’s visit to her in-laws in New Jersey turned out to be a strange and uncomfortable affair. Perhaps this sense of discomfort came from the family’s reaction to her presence. Mr. Basilone Senior commented politely on Lena’s good looks. Brother-in-law was just as polite, but slightly warmer. Mrs. Basilone, on the other hand, seemed to regard Lena with a wary eye. This wariness finally broke down when Lena handed over John’s medal to her. Considering that Lena’s ties with the Basilones eventually dissipated into the wind, one might as view this moment in the Basilone family history as very rare moment.

Following the Japanese surrender to the Allied forces in August 1945, Eugene Sledge and fellow combatants such as ‘Snafu’ Shelton and R.V. Burgin remained in Asia – specifically China – for several months, before finally returning home in 1946. The eastbound train journey included a humorous moment in which ‘Snafu’ tried to pick up a young woman and earned a slap for his troubles. The three Marines surmised that they would have been luckier with women if they had returned home back in 1945. In two poignant moments, Sledge and Shelton bid Burgin good-bye, after the train arrived at the Texan’s hometown. Upon the train’s arrival in New Orleans, Shelton decided to leave the train without saying good-bye to the sleeping Sledge. And the Alabama native eventually returned home and was warmly greeted by his old friend, Sid Phillips and his parents. But despite this warm and emotional homecoming, adjusting to civilian proved to be difficult for Sledge. Nightmares of the war plagued his sleep. He seemed more inclined to stay at home at hang around, instead of continuing his education or getting a job. It all came to a head during a hunting trip with his father, in which he burst into tears over his bad memories.

Robert Leckie learned of the Japanese surrender, while staying a Navy hospital. Considering that he had been wounded at Peleliu in late September 1944, I was surprised to learn that he was still being hospitalized some ten to eleven months later. He was eventually discharged from the hospital and the Marines and returned home to New Jersey by the fall of 1945. It did not take him long to regain his old job as a sportswriter for the local paper. Courting Vera Keller proved to be another matter. It seemed she had never received any of the letters he had written to her for nearly three years and a recent West Point graduate-turned Army officer was courting her. But with a great deal of chutzpah and charm, he finally managed to win her over. Leckie’s greatest challenge centered on his reunion with his family. When he had revealed his pre-war life to his former Australian girlfriend Stella in Episode Three, I had no idea that the relationship between him and the rest of his family was that chilly. Now I know.

I never expected Episode Ten to be any great shakes, in compare to the other episodes. I still recall how the last episode of ”BAND OF BROTHERS” seemed rather . . . mellow. Mind you, this last episode did not feature any accidental deaths. But it did provide a glimpse of how returning war veterans dealt with civilian life. Sledge’s difficulty in adjusting to civilian life did not strike me as surprising. I have been aware of his difficulties for quite a while. Although I must admit that I found his emotional breakdown during a hunting trip with his father rather poignant and sad. Joseph Mazzello did an excellent job of conveying Sledge’s unexpected emotional outburst. And actress Annie Paarisse also gave a first-rate performance portraying the now saddened Lena Basilone, who seemed slightly intimidated by her in-laws’ coolness. James Badge Dale seemed to be enjoying himself in the scenes featuring Leckie’s return to his sportswriters job and his courtship of Vera Keller. But if there is one scene that really took me by surprise was the chilly reception that the former Marine received from his family. I was very impressed by the subtle hostility that both Badge Dale and actress Betty Buckley (who portrayed Marion Leckie) conveyed between the two characters. I also have to say a word for Rami Malek, who did an excellent job in portraying ‘Snafu’ Shelton’s regret and determination not to bid Sledge good-bye upon the train’s arrival in New Orleans. It was a subtle cap to a very flamboyant performance.

I did have a few problems with Episode Ten. I wish it could have revealed how Lena Basilone became estranged from her in-laws. But I suppose that Bruce C. McKenna and Robert Schenkkan were unable to collect any material on the matter, considering that she had passed away in 1999 and the Basilone family might be reluctant to discuss their relationship with her. And I also could have enjoyed a post-war reunion between Leckie and his three friends – ‘Chuckler’, ‘Hoosier’, and ‘Runner’. Perhaps he did not reunite with them until after 1946. Pity. It would have a great emotional cap to a very charismatic friendship.

Despite the above-mentioned problems, Episode Ten was not a bad episode. I never expected it to be. And the only way it could have knocked my socks off was if it became part of a sequel in which Spielberg, Hanks and Goetzman explored the post-war lives of Leckie, Sledge and Lena Basilone. Their own version of ”THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES”. But it still proved to be a nice little epilogue to an outstanding miniseries.