“STATE OF PLAY” (2009) Review

Below is my review of the 2009 political thriller, “STATE OF PLAY”, starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck:

“STATE OF PLAY” (2009) Review

Aside from the Liam Neeson thriller, ”TAKEN”, I must admit that I never found the movies released during the first three months of 2009 that impressive. They were not been terrible. But I did harbor this feeling that I had been wallowing in a sea of mediocrity during those months. Thankfully, this feeling ended when I saw the political thriller directed by Kevin Macdonald called, ”STATE OF PLAY”.

Based upon the critically acclaimed 2003 British miniseries of the same name,”STATE OF PLAY” was about a Washington D.C. newspaper’s investigation into the death of a young congressional aide named Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer) and centers around the relationship between leading journalist Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) and his old friend Robert Collins (Ben Affleck), a U.S. congressman on the fast track and Baker’s employer. When Congressman Collins learns of his aide’s death, he asks his old friend, McAffrey to investigate her death when it is labeled as a suicide. McAffrey and a blogger with his newspaper named Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) not only learn that Baker was Congressman Collins’ mistress, but there might be a connection between her death and the private military company that the congressman was investigating.

I have heard a few proclaim that the original British miniseries is superior to this version.  I have seen the miniseries and it is pretty damn good, but I must admit that I found this version of ”STATE OF PLAY” to be just as impressive.  Kevin Macdonald’s solid direction screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, Peter Morgan, and Billy Ray created a tight thriller filled with interesting glimpses into the press and Washington politics.  This film never became critically acclaimed as the British miniseries (even if it deserved to be), but it was an excellent, well-acted movie filled with first-rate performances. And its story – unlike previous movies I have recently watched – did not end on a disappointing note. The movie ended with an unexpected twist that surprised me.

Russell Crowe led the cast, portraying Washington Globe journalist, Cal McAffrey. I would not consider his role as interesting as the Ed Hoffman character from ”BODY OF LIES”, Bud White in ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL”, Jeffrey Wigand in ”THE INSIDER”or his Oscar winning role in ”GLADIATOR” – Maximus Decimus Meridius. His Cal McAffrey is on the surface, an affable, yet slightly jaded reporter who becomes a relentless truth-seeker when pursuing a special story. In the case of Sonia Baker, McAffrey’s relentless investigation seemed rooted in his desire to extract his friend Collins from the gossip slingers over the latter’s affair with the aide and focus upon bringing down the private military company being investigated by Collins. Crowe is at turns relaxed and at the same time, intense and single-minded in his pursuit of journalistic truth.

Several years ago, I had found myself thinking that if there was ever a remake of the 1950 classic, ”SUNSET BOULEVARD”, who could portray the doomed Hollywood screenwriter, Joe Gillis. The first person that immediately came to my mind was Ben Affleck. Actress Nancy Olson once described William Holden at the time that particular movie was filmed as the typical handsome Hollywood leading actor . . . but with a touch of corruption that made his Joe Gillis so memorable. Frankly, I could say the same about Affleck. I saw him display this same trait in movies like ”BOUNCE”and ”HOLLYWOODLAND”. And I could see it in his performance as Congressman Robert Collins. Affleck managed to skillfully project Collins not only as a dedicated crusader who is determined to bring down the private military company with a congressional investigation, but also a flawed man who became sexually attracted to his beautiful aide, while struggling to control his anger at the knowledge of his wife Anne’s (Robin Wright Penn) past affair with McAffrey.

The rest of the cast included Rachel McAdams’ solid portrayal of a popular blogger turned junior political reporter named Della Frye, who finds herself in the midst of the career-making story and mentored by McAffrey. Helen Mirren’s Washington Globeeditor Cameron Lynne is wonderfully splashy and strong, without being over-the-top. I could say the same for Jason Bateman’s performance as a bisexual fetish club promoter named Dominic Foy, who has the information that McAffrey and Frye need. Michael Berresse portrayed a mysterious hitman named Robert Bingham and he does a pretty good job. However, I must admit that I found his performance as a sociopath a little over-the-top . . . especially in his last scene. Although not as memorable as some of the other supporting cast, both Harry Lennix as a Washington D.C. cop and Jeff Daniels as Affleck’s congressional mentor gave solid support to the movie. And there is Robin Wright Penn, who portrayed the congressman’s wife, Anne Collins. Penn gave a complex performance as the politician’s wife who is not only hurt and betrayed by her husband’s infidelity, but wracked with guilt over her own past indiscretion with McAffrey, along with desire for him.

If you are expecting ”STATE OF PLAY” to be the next ”ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” or ”SEVEN DAYS IN MAY”, you are going to be slightly disappointed. I have seen a few political films of slightly better quality.  But I can honestly say that I still found ”STATE OF PLAY” to be a first-rate, entertaining movie filled with intelligence, humor and a strong and steady cast.

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“EMMA” (2009) Review

“EMMA” (2009) Review

After a great deal of delay, I finally sat down to watch ”EMMA”, the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel. First seen on the BBC during the fall of 2009, this four-part miniseries had been adapted by Sandy Welch and directed by Jim O’Hanlon. 

”EMMA” followed the story of Emma Woodhouse, the younger daughter of a wealthy landowner in Regency England. As a dominant figure in the provincial world of fictional Highbury, Emma believed that she was a skilled matchmaker and repeatedly attempted to meddle in the love lives of others. After successfully arranging the recent marriage of her governess, Miss Anne Taylor, to another local landowner named Mr. Weston; Emma set out to make a poor young boarder at a local girls’ school named Harriet Smith her new protégé. Unfortunately, her plans to find a new husband for Harriet ended in disaster.

I have been aware of other adaptations of ”EMMA” for the past decade-and-a-half, including the 1996 Miramax movie that starred Gwyneth Paltrow and the 1996 ITV version, starring Kate Beckinsale. And considering that I quickly became a major fan of the Paltrow version, I found myself curious to see how this recent four-part miniseries would compare. Many fans seemed to believe that the miniseries format allow this version to be superior over the others. After all, the format allowed screenwriter Sandy Welch to follow Austen’s novel with more detail. Other fans still view the Miramax version as the one superior to others. There are fans who viewed the Beckinsale version as the best. And many have a high regard for the modern day version, ”CLUELESS”, which starred Alicia Silverstone. And there are even those who believe that the 1972 miniseries, which starred Doran Godwin as the most faithful, and therefore the best. My opinion? I will admit that I became a fan of this miniseries, just as quickly as I became a fan of the Paltrow movie.

One of the aspects that I love about ”EMMA” was the main character’s backstory featured in the miniseries’ first five to ten minutes. Most fans of Austen’s novel frowned upon this introduction, considering that it was not featured in the novel. Not only did I enjoy it, I believe the sequence provided a possible explanation for Mr. Woodhouse’s agoraphobia and fear of losing his daughters, Emma and the older Isabella. I also enjoyed the miniseries’ photography. First, cinematographer Adam Suschitzky shot the series with rich colors – mainly bold and pastels. Also, both Suschitzky and director Jim O’Hanlon did an excellent job in filming the series with some provocative shots – many of them featuring windows. One of my favorite shots featured moments in Episode Two in which O’Hanlon, Suschitzky and film editor Mark Thornton cleverly conveyed the change of seasons from winter to early spring. Contributing to the miniseries’ colorful look were costumes supervised by Amanda Keable. They perfectly blended with Suschitzky’s photography.

I confess that I have never read ”EMMA”. I hope to do so in the near future. I could say this is the reason why I had no problems with the changes featured in Sandy Welch’s screenplay, whereas a good number of Austen’s fans did. The biggest complaint seemed to be that Welch did not convey much of the author’s language or dialogue. I guess I could not care less, especially after I had learned that Emma Thompson’s screenplay for the 1995 adaptation of ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” had very little of Austen’s dialogue. I believe that Welch did an excellent job in adapting ”EMMA”. She (along with stars Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller) captured the chemistry and wit of Emma and Mr. Knightley with some very funny banter. The screenplay also featured some comic moments that either left me smiling or laughing heartily. Those scenes included Mr. Elton’s attempts to woo Emma, while she drew a picture of Harriet; Mr. Woodhouse’s consistent reluctance to leave Hatfield (most of the time); and Emma’s first meeting with Mr. Elton’s new bride, the obnoxious and less wealthy Augusta Hawkins Elton. But Emma’s hostile soliloquy, following her meeting with Mrs. Elton, left me in stitches. I thought it was one of the funniest moments in the entire miniseries. But ”EMMA”was not all laughs. Welch’s screenplay also featured some poignant and romantic moments between Emma and Mr. Knightley. And this is the only version of the Austen novel that truly conveyed the poignant and warm relationship between Emma and her father.

However, I did have some problems with ”EMMA”. Most viewers seemed to be of the opinion that Episodes One and Two were a bit off or that they barely captured the novel’s spirit. Most of my problems with the miniseries stemmed from Episode Four, the last one. There seemed to be something heavy-handed about the Box Hill sequence and I do not know whether to blame the actors, O’Hanlon’s direction or Welch’s screenplay. This heavy-handedness could have been deliberate, due to the sequence occurring on a hot day. But I am not certain. Some of the dialogue struck me as a bit clunky – especially those moments in which Frank Churchill and Mr. Weston tried to use clever words to praise Emma. Rupert Evans’ portrayal of Frank in this scene struck me as oppressive. And I barely missed Emma’s insult to Miss Bates, due to Romola Garai’s performance. She almost threw away the line. I realize that it was Jane Fairfax who refused to see Emma, following the Box Hill picnic in the novel, instead of Miss Bates. Which is exactly what Welch added in her screenplay. Pity. I think it would have been more dramatic if the screenwriter had not been so faithful to Austen’s novel and allow Miss Bates to reject Emma’s presence following the picnic. Just as writer-director Douglas McGrath did in his adaptation in the 1996 Miramax film. And Welch’s screenplay never allowed viewers to witness Harriet Smith’s reaction to Emma and Mr. Knightley’s engagement . . . or her reconciliation with Robert Martin.

Despite any misgivings I might have about ”EMMA”, I really enjoyed it. And a great deal of my enjoyment came from Romola Garai’s portrayal of the titled character. Despite a few moments of garrulous mannerisms, I found her performance to be a delight. Her Emma Woodhouse did not seem to be that much of a meddler – except in regard to Harriet’s relationship with Robert Martin. But she did inject her performance with an arrogance that usually comes from a privileged youth that believes he or she is always right. And I absolutely adored her hostile rant against the newly arrived Mrs. Elton. Not only did she have a strong chemistry with Rupert Evans (Frank Churchill), but also with Michael Gambon, who portrayed Mr. Woodhouse. In fact, Garai and Gambon effectively conveyed a tender daughter-father relationship. Yet, her chemistry with Jonny Lee Miller surprisingly struck the strongest chord. I really enjoyed the crackling banter between them and their developing romance. Most fans had complained about her penchant for being a bit too expressive with her eyes. That did not bother me one bit. However, I found one moment in her performance to be over-the-top – namely the scene in which Emma expressed dismay at leaving Mr. Woodhouse alone in order to marry Mr. Knightley.

Speaking of the owner of Donwell, many fans of the novel had expressed dismay when Jonny Lee Miller was cast in the role of George Knightley. Despite Miller’s previous experience with Jane Austen in two adaptations of ”MANSFIELD PARK”, most fans believed he could not do justice to the role. Many feared that he was too young for the role. I found this ironic, considering that Miller was around the same age as the literary Mr. Knightley; whereas Jeremy Northam and Mark Strong were both a few years younger than the character. After viewing the first half of Episode One, I could tell that Miller was already putting his own stamp on the role. Thanks to Miller’s performance, I found myself contemplating another possible aspect of Knightley’s character. During his proposal to Emma in Episode Four, he admitted to being highly critical. I could not help but wonder if this trait was a manifestation of some arrogance in his character. This seemed very apparent in a scene in Episode Two in which Knightley made a critical comment about Emma’s character in an insulting manner. He was lucky that she did not respond with anything stronger than a reproachful stare. Another aspect of Miller’s performance that I enjoyed was the dry wit and observant manner that he conveyed in Mr. Knightley’s character. In the end, I found his performance to be very attractive and well done.

Michael Gambon, who happens to be a favorite of mine, gave a hilarious performance as Emma’s father, Mr. Woodhouse. I have read a few complaints that Gambon seemed too robust to be portraying the character. I found this complaint rather strange. For I had no idea that one had to look sickly in order to be a hypochondriac or an agoraphobic. I suspect that Gambon used Welch’s description of Mrs. Woodhouse’s tragic death to convey his character’s agoraphobic tendencies. This gave his character a poignant twist that blended wonderfully with his comic performance. Another performance that mixed comedy with just a touch of tragedy came from Tasmin Grey, who portrayed the impoverished Miss Bates. As from being a spinster and the poor daughter of Highbury’s former vicar, Miss Bates was also a silly and verbose woman. Grey portrayed these aspects of Miss Bates’ personality with perfect comic timing. At the same time, she did a beautiful job in conveying the character’s despair and embarrassment over her poverty. Two other performances really impressed me. One belonged to Christina Cole, who portrayed the meddling and obnoxious Mrs. Augusta Elton. Her performance seemed so deliciously funny and sharp that I believed it rivaled Juliet Stevenson’s portrayal of the same character from Douglas McGrath’s film. Almost just as funny was Blake Ralston, who portrayed Highbury’s current vicar, Mr. Elton. He did a marvelous job of portraying the vicar’s lack of backbone; and a slimy and obsequious manner, while attempting to woo Emma in Episodes One and Two.

Rupert Evans did a solid job in portraying Frank Churchill’s energetic and sometimes cruel personality. Although there were times when he threatened to overdo it. Laura Pyper (Christina Cole’s co-star from the TV series ”HEX”) gave a slightly tense performance as Jane Fairfax, Miss Bates’ accomplished niece that Emma disliked. Pyper did a solid job in portraying the reticent Jane and the tension she suffered from being Frank’s secret fiancée. Louise Dylan made an amiable, yet slightly dimwitted Harriet Martin. Although there were times when her Harriet seemed more intelligent than Emma. I do not know whether or not this was deliberate on O’Hanlon’s part.

If there is one thing I can say about ”EMMA” is that it quickly became one of my favorite Jane Austen adaptations. Yes, it had its flaws. But I believe that its virtues – an excellent adaptation by Sandy Welch, beautiful photography by Adam Suschitzky and a first-rate cast led by Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller – all well directed by Jim O’Hanlon. It seemed a pity that it failed to earn an Emmy nomination for Best Miniseries. And I find it even harder to believe that”RETURN TO CRANFORD” managed to earn one and ”EMMA” did not.

More Thoughts on “INCEPTION”

MORE THOUGHTS ON “INCEPTION”

I just recently saw “INCEPTION” for the third time and a few more thoughts came to me: 

*After Saito had awaken aboard the Kyoto train, I noticed a slight smirk on his face. Earlier, he claimed that Cobb and Arthur’s failed extraction on him had been an audition. Had he been aware of Cobb’s assignment to do an extraction job on him from the beginning?

*Cobb first admitted to Saito and Arthur that he had experience with inception. Yet, he never admitted to whom he had pulled an inception job upon, until later in the movie. And that person turned out to be Mal. Since Mal was the only person upon he had done an inception job, who taught him how to do one? His father-in-law? Or are all those familiar with lucid dreaming and dream incubation, trained to perform an inception?

*While watching Arthur and Eames interact during the planning stages of the inception, I got the instinct feeling that those two were competing for Cobb’s respect and confidence – like two rival siblings competing for “Dad’s” affection.

*I also noticed something else – namely the expression on Ariadne’s face after Arthur had kissed her. Her expression seemed to be a mixture of false outrage, amusement and a little thrilled.

*What exactly is Cobb’s totem? Everyone knows that the spinning top was Mal’s totem. Was Cobb’s totem a wedding ring? I noticed that whenever he was in a dream state, he wore a wedding ring on his left hand. Yet, whenever he was in what was regarded as the real world, he did not wear a wedding ring. Cobb certainly did not wear a wedding ring after he and Saito finally awakened on the Sydney-to-Los Angeles flight.

“EMMA” (1996 TV) Review

 

“EMMA” (1996 TV) Review

Several months after Miramax had released Douglas McGrath’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel, “Emma”, another version aired on the BBC and later, on the A&E Channel in the U.S. This version turned out to be a 107-minute teleplay, adapted by screenwriter Andrew Davies and directed by Diarmuid Lawrence. 

As many Jane Austen fans know, “EMMA” told the story of the younger daughter of an English Regency landowner, with a penchant for meddling in the lives of friends and neighbors. Her meddling in the love life of her new protégé – a young woman named Harriet Smith – ended up having a major impact on the latter’s search for a husband. Emma also becomes involved with Frank Churchill, her former governess’ stepson, and the highly educated granddaughter of her village’s former curate named Jane Fairfax.

This “EMMA” incorporated a heavy emphasis on class structure and conflict, due to Andrew Davies’ adaptation. This emphasis was hinted in scenes that included a conversation between Emma and Harriet regarding the role of the neighborhood’s wealthiest landowner, George Knightley. Greater emphasis was also placed on Jane Fairfax’s possible future as a governess. The movie included moments featuring tenant farmer Robert Martin’s barely concealed resentment toward Emma’s interference in his courtship of Harriet. And the movie concluded with a harvest ball sequence that allowed Mr. Knightley to display his role as Highbury’s wealthiest and most benevolent landowner.

I cannot deny that I enjoyed ”EMMA”. Davies’ script and Lawrence’s direction captured a good deal of the mood from Austen’s novel. The movie also featured scenes that I found particularly appealing – scenes that included Mrs. Cole’s party, where Mr. Knightley becomes aware of Emma’s friendship with Frank Churchill; the comic reaction to Emma’s drawing of Harriet; and the Box Hill incident. Yet, for some reason, my favorite sequence turned out to be Mr. and Mrs. Weston’s Christmas party. One, production designer Don Taylor created a strong holiday atmosphere that seemed distinctly of another era. And two, the sequence featured some of the movie’s funniest moments – John Knightley’s rants about attending a party in bad weather and Mr. Elton’s marriage proposal to Emma.

Of the actors and actresses featured in the cast, I must admit that at least five performances impressed me. Mr. Elton must be one of the novel’s more exceptional characters. I have yet to come across a screen portrayal of Mr. Elton that did not impress me. And Dominic Rowan’s deliciously smarmy take on the role certainly impressed me. I also enjoyed Bernard Hepton’s rather funny portrayal of Emma’s finicky father, Mr. Woodhouse. The man possessed timing that a comic would envy. Samantha Bond gave a warm and deliciously sly portrayal of Emma’s former governess, Mrs. Weston. But my two favorite performances came from Raymond Coulthard and Olivia Williams as Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. From my reading of Austen’s novel and viewing of other screen adaptations, I got the feeling that these two characters were not easy to portray. Frank Churchill never struck me as the typical Austen rogue/villain. Yes, he could be cruel, selfish and deceitful. And yet, he seemed to be the only Austen rogue who seemed to possess the slightest capability of genuine love. Actor Raymond Coulthard has struck me as the only actor who has managed to capture the strange and complex nature of Frank Churchill with more accuracy and less mannerisms than any other actor in the role, so far. And Olivia Williams struck me as the only actress that managed to portray Jane Fairfax’s travails without resorting to extreme mannerisms . . . or by simply being there.

Many have praised Samantha Morton’s performance as Emma’s young companion, Harriet Smith. And I believe that she deserved the praise. I found nothing defective about it. Unfortunately, Davies’ script left the actress with hardly anything to work with. Morton’s Harriet almost came off as self-assured and nearly flawless. Mind you, I do not blame Morton’s performance. I blame Davies’ script. His interpretation of Harriet almost seemed . . . uninteresting to me. Prunella Scales gave a solid performance as the garrulous spinster and aunt of Jane Fairfax, Miss Bates. But I must admit that I found nothing particularly memorable about her portrayal. And Lucy Robinson’s Mrs. Augusta Elton never really impressed me. In fact, I found her performance to be the least memorable one in the entire movie.

How do I describe Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong’s portrayals of the two lead characters – Emma Woodhouse and George Knightley? Superficially, their performances seemed solid. Both knew their lines. And neither gave any wooden performances. But if I must honest, Beckinsale and Strong turned out to be my least favorite screen versions of Emma and Mr. Knightley. Beckinsale’s Emma not only struck me as chilly at times, but downright bitchy. I suspect that her performance in ”COLD COMFORT FARM” may have attracted the attention of this film’s producers. What they failed to realize was that Beckinsale’s role in that particular film had acted as straight man to the rest of the comic characters. And back in the mid 1990s, the actress lacked the comic skills to portray Emma Woodhouse, a character that proved to be one of the funnier ones in this predominately humorous tale. I have been a fan of Mark Strong for several years. But after seeing ”EMMA”, I would never count George Knightley as one of his better roles. I have seen Strong utilize humor in other movies. But his sense of humor seemed to be missing in”EMMA”. Strong’s George Knightley struck me as a humorless and self-righteous prig, with an intensity that seemed scary at times. The best thing I could say about Beckinsale and Strong was that the pair had decent screen chemistry.

Andrew Davies did a solid job of adapting Austen’s novel. Was he completely faithful to it? Obviously not. But I am not particularly concerned about whether he was or not. But . . . I did have one major problem with the script. I believe that Davies’ treatment of class distinctions in Regency England struck me as very heavy-handed. This lack of subtlety seemed very obvious in scenes that included Robert Martin’s silent expressions of resentment toward Emma, her little speech to Harriet about Mr. Knightley’s role as a landowner, Emma’s overtly chilly attitude toward Robert Martin and in the movie’s last sequence, the harvest ball. Which literally made me cringe with discomfort during Mr. Knightley’s speech. No one felt more relieved than I, when it finally ended.

In the end, ”EMMA” seemed like a decent adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. Some of its qualities included first-rate performances from the likes of Raymond Coulthard and Olivia Williams. And there were certain sequences that I enjoyed – like the Westons’ Christmas party and the Crown Inn ball. But I found Davies’ take on class distinctions in the movie about as subtle as a rampaging elephant. And I was not that impressed by Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong in the lead roles. In the end, this”EMMA” proved to be my least favorite adaptation of the 1815 novel.

“Auld Lang Syne” [PG-13] – 1/1

Here is a New Years tale set at least a week-and-a-half after “Revelations”. It’s called “Auld Lang Syne”:


——————————–

“AULD LANG SYNE”

RATING: [PG-13]
SUMMARY: Cole and Olivia bring in the New Year at a swank party and discover more than they had bargained for. Set nine days after “Revelations” – alternate Season 5.
FEEDBACK:  Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: Cole Turner, the Charmed Ones and other characters related to Charmed to Spelling Productions, Brad Kern and Constance Burge. The McNeills are my creation.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Someone once suggested that I write an Xmas story featuring Cole and the McNeills. I couldn’t think of one, and came up with a New Year story, instead. Two months late, I’m sorry to say. Hope you like it.

“AULD LANG SYNE”

“Good afternoon, Mr. Turner,” the voice on the other end of the telephone greeted.

Turner. After nearly two months of acquaintance, Cole had learned that whenever his friend and neighbor, Olivia McNeill, felt nervous, she would call him by his surname. What she had to be nervous about on this gusty Monday, Cole had no idea.

He sighed. “Okay, Olivia, what do you want?”

“Who me?”

“Olivia!”

The other voice inhaled deeply. “All right,” Olivia admitted. “I only wanted to know if you’re free for tomorrow night. You know, New Year’s Eve?”

Now it was Cole’s turn to feel nervous. A date? Why would Olivia be interested in knowing whether he had a date or not? Was she interested in him? Or did she need a convenient companion for the New Year celebration, tomorrow? Cole suspected the latter. He did not mind. Somewhat. After all, the last thing he needed another romance so soon after his divorce. Rebound was not exactly his style. Yet, another part of him could not deny his attraction to the red-haired witch. Should he accept her offer? Or reject Olivia? Cole took a deep breath. “No, I don’t have a date. Are you asking me out on one?”

Silence preceded Olivia’s reply. “Well, I guess you can call it a date. I thought you wouldn’t mind coming to a New Year’s party with me. Warren Mitchell is the host. At the Mark Hopkins Hotel.”

“Sounds like fun,” Cole murmured. “What time should I pick you up?” The two friends proceeded to make arrangements for tomorrow night. Once they agreed upon their plans, the two friends hung up.

* * * *

A firm believer in being prompt, Cole appeared outside Olivia’s apartment at exactly eight o’clock, the following evening. A large tan trenchcoat barely hid an immaculately well-tailored tuxedo. After he rang the doorbell, relief washed over him when Olivia answered the door.

The figure that stood in the doorway, took Cole’s breath away. Literally. Beautiful seemed like an inadequate word to describe Olivia. She looked exquisite in a watered green silk gown with a halter top. A deep green Kashmir shawl barely covered her creamy shoulders. And tiny emerald earrings sparkled from her earlobes. Cole wanted to express how beautiful she looked. But fearful of seeming too appreciative or eager, he greeted his neighbor with, “Hey! You look very nice. But aren’t you going to be a bit cold in that?”

Olivia sighed and rolled her eyes. “So much for making an appearance,” she muttered. “Hold on.” She disappeared for a few seconds and returned with an overcoat covering her gown. “Okay, let’s go.” She and Cole headed toward the elevator. As they reached their destination, Cole wondered if he had just made a big mistake.

* * * *

Twenty minutes later, Olivia and Cole entered the elegant ballroom, where the party was being held. They had just left a smaller room, where the guests left their coats and wraps. Balloons and streamers decorated the Peacock Court. A large silver and red banner that read “HAPPY NEW YEAR 2003” hung from the back wall, behind the bandstand. On the latter, a swing band performed one of many old tunes from the 1930s and 1940s. Olivia recognized “Night and Day” as she and Cole entered the room.

Elegantly dressed partygoers danced. Olivia spotted her parents in the middle of the dance floor, oblivious to the others around them. Her older brother, Bruce, and his fiancée, Barbara Bowen, were sampling food from one of the buffet tables. “Where’s Harry?” Cole asked, referring to the McNeills’ youngest family member.

Olivia replied, “He was invited to a party at P3, by Paige. I guess this might be a little too stodgy for him.”

“Paige and Harry?” The idea seemed to be surprising to Cole. “You mean to say they’re now dating? I had no idea.”

“No, they’re not involved. In fact, Harry took his own date to the club.”

Cole nodded. “Oh.”

Olivia continued, “Paige had also invited Bruce and me, but we had already received Warren Mitchell’s invitation.”

“Oh, I see. P3 isn’t exactly your style,” Cole murmured.

“I didn’t say that.”

Cole shot back, “You didn’t have to. Besides, it was never really my style, either. Paige had also invited me, but I wasn’t comfortable with the idea. I never liked the place and Phoebe might be there.”

Naturally, Olivia thought sourly. She wondered if Cole would ever recover from his bitter divorce. Or his ex-wife. Instinct told her that idea seemed impossible.

Cole continued, “The only reason I had put up with P3 in the past was because of Phoebe and her sisters. I prefer jazz. Especially Latin jazz and swing.”

“Really?” Olivia replied. “I might have preferred P3 some five to ten years ago. Personally, I think today’s rock music is going down the drain.”

A third voice added, “Typical Olivia. You always did have a dark view of the world. A true pessimist.”

The two friends whirled around. Olivia nearly winced at the sight of the tuxedoed man who stood behind them. No one could deny that Cedric Lloyd was a handsome man. At slightly under six feet, he possessed thick chestnut hair styled in expensive haircut, deep gray eyes and chiseled features. Olivia had known him since her years at Stanford University, eleven years ago.

Fixing a too bright smile on her face, Olivia greeted her old classmate. “Cedric! How are you? It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen each other.”

“Ten months, to be exact,” Cedric promptly replied.

A touch of spite crept into Olivia’s smile. “Oh yes. The Stefan Kakov case. How is Mr. Kakov, by the way? Still enjoying prison?” Before Cedric could reply, Olivia continued, “Cedric was the defense attorney for Stefan Kakov. You know, the so-called ‘businessman’ from Prague. It turned out that Mr. Kakov was merely a front for local Russian gangsters.”

Cedric’s demeanor lost a bit of its friendliness. “You should be careful, Olivia. Or else you can end up being sued for slander.”

“Slander?” Disbelief rang in Olivia’s tone. “Cedric, your client was convicted on four counts of racketeering and one count of attempted murder.”

The other man shot back, “It’s only a temporary setback. I plan to file another appeal on his behalf. Just to let you know.”

“I hope you don’t plan to use the same argument you had used in your last appeal,” Olivia retorted. She added to Cole, “I was one of the investigators in charge of the case. And a witness for the prosecution.”

Cole added with a nod, “Oh yeah. I remember that case. Last February, right?”

Gray eyes turned to Cole. Cedric held out his hand. “I believe we haven’t met. I’m Cedric Lloyd.” To Olivia’s surprise, Cole’s brows shot upward. “And you are?”

“Cole Turner.” He took Cedric’s hand and shook it. “I’m with . . .”

Recognition lit up Cedric’s eyes. “Oh yeah, with Jackman, Carter and Kline,” he finished, to Olivia’s surprise. “I’ve heard of you.”

An ironic smile touched Cole’s lips. “Not surprising, since we’re on opposite sides of the Giovanni case. I’m representing Mark Giovanni. I guess we’ll be seeing a lot of each other over the next few years.”

Cedric responded with his own tight smile. “Well, that depends upon Mr. Giovanni. Hopefully, he’ll be convinced to give up his claim on the property in question. Or perhaps his attorney will convince him.” Calculation hardened his gray eyes. “I understand that you’re divorced. And once married to Phoebe Halliwell. You know, from the ‘Ask Phoebe’ column for the BAY-MIRROR. What happened?”

For a moment, Olivia thought Cole would strike the other man dead. Or transform the latter into a ball of fire. The rage disappeared from Cole’s eyes, only to be replaced by spite. “It’s simple,” he replied in his usual snarky tone, “we got divorced. Irreconcilable differences.”

A snide Cedric shot back, “So did any of these irreconcilable differences have anything to do with your disappearance, last summer?”

A pause that seemed to last forever followed. Cole’s eyes bored into Cedric. Long and hard. And the latter had the good sense to look uncomfortable. Then Cole responded with a chilly smile. “The answer to your question is no. My so-called . . . disappearance had nothing to do with my divorce. Anymore than your quiet little weekly ‘lunches’ with a certain Miss Kaye Ling, at the Carnahan Hotel in Room 1005, have anything to do with our case.”

Cedric’s face turned deathly pale behind the tan. An amused smile curved Olivia’s lips. Apparently, Cole had learned a lot about Cedric’s marriage to a certain San Francisco socialite. And his infidelities. “Is there something wrong, Cedric?” she asked. “You look a little . . . well, ill. Where’s your wife, Marta? Is she around?” Olivia glanced around the ballroom.

“I think I . . . uh,” Cedric glanced around nervously, “I better get going.” He flashed the couple an insincere smile. “See you . . . later.” Then he walked away. Quickly.

Both Olivia and Cole immediately broke into gales of laughter. Once it died down, Olivia said, “I’m sorry about what Cedric said to you. About Phoebe and last summer. You have to watch out for him. Cedric loves exploiting other people’s weaknesses to get his way. Even when we knew each other in college. Mind you, I’m not above doing the same, myself.”

Cole smiled and raised his hand. “Guilty as charged.”

Olivia continued, “It’s just that Cedric is one of those slimy little shits that really annoys me. You know what I mean, right?”

“Oh yeah.” Cole’s smile twisted into a grimace. “Troxa. Thankfully, he’s been dead for the past two years.”

Before Olivia could ask for details, the band commenced upon a rendition of an old disco tune called, “Ring My Bell”. Olivia winced. She had never been a fan of the post-1977 Disco era. “Listen, are you hungry? It’s either eat or dance to that piece of crap.”

Cole nodded. “Let’s eat.” The pair headed toward the nearest buffet table. They observed the couples in the middle of the ballroom, dancing . . . or trying to dance to the disco tune. Cole shuddered. “Maybe we should skip the food for now. I don’t know if my food will stay down after watching all that,” he commented. Then he linked his arm with Olivia’s and they continued toward the buffet table. “But I’ll try.”

* * * *

Despite the occasional bad tune, Cole managed to enjoy himself. The food, he had to admit, was superb. Thankfully, the band failed to follow up with another disco tune and returned to their old repertoire. Which gave Cole the opportunity to enjoy several dances with Olivia. As he danced with Olivia’s mother, over an hour-and-a-half later, Cole was unaware that another unpleasant moment loomed ahead.

“Gwen darling! Gwen McNeill!” The screech came from an elegantly-dressed woman in her fifties, who seemed as if she had went on one crash diet too many. The newcomer interrupted the dancing couple, as she threw herself into Gwenneth McNeill’s arms. “Darling! How are you?”

The Welsh-born woman responded to the other woman’s greeting with a polite smile. “Vanessa, darling. How lovely to see you. May I introduce you to a friend of the family? He’s an attorney for Jackman, Carter and Kline. Cole, this is Vanessa Probst. Her husband, Albert, owns, or should I say . . . ‘is’ Sewell Industries. Vanessa dear, this is Cole Turner.”

Bright pale eyes appraised Cole with interest. “Oh my dear, I’ve already met Mr. Turner.”

“You have?” Cole frowned. He did not recall meeting this dark-haired, anorexic-looking woman before.

Mrs. Probst continued, “Oh yes. At Adam Flannery’s ball in late September. He had hired Mr. Turner’s firm to look into purchasing the BAY-MIRROR. However, I hear that Jason Dean is now considering it.”

Adam Flannery’s ball. Cole recalled the handsome millionaire, whom an evil witch had cast a spell over, last fall. Flannery had also been genuinely attracted to Phoebe. In an effort to win his ex-wife’s trust, Cole had encouraged her to date the millionaire. Needless to say, his efforts and Phoebe’s interest in Adam had met a dead end.

Giving Mrs. Probst a polite smile, Cole replied, “Ah yes, now I remember you, Mrs. Probst. You wearing this stunning . . .”

“Silver gown with the halter top,” the socialite finished.

Cole’s smile widened. “Yes.” His eyes swept appreciatively over her figure, causing the older woman to blush. “And you look even lovelier, tonight.”

Mrs. Probst turned to the other woman. “So, Mr. Turner is a friend of the family?” She hungrily eyed Cole, making him feel uncomfortable. “Or Olivia’s friend? I saw them dancing together. Several times.” A knowing smile stretched her thin lips even further.

Cole quietly . . . and politely replied, “We’re just friends. Olivia and I. Neighbors.”

The socialite glanced at Mrs. McNeill. Who confirmed Cole’s words with a nod. “Oh. Well, my mistake. I had thought that Olivia had finally put Richard behind her, after a year.” Mrs. Probst failed to noticed the wince on the other woman’s face. “Mind you, I don’t blame dear Olivia. She and Richard were . . . well, you remember how they were like, together. Right, Gwen darling?”

Looking as if she wanted to sink in the nearest hole and die, Olivia’s mother murmured, “Oh yes.”

“So perfect,” Mrs. Probst continued. “Richard was perfect for Olivia. Rather like some golden couple. I understand he was a reporter for the BAY-MIRROR or some other paper. I don’t know much about his father’s family, but his mother was one of the Marshalls. I even remember the night they had first met . . .”

Mrs. McNeill interrupted in a sharp, yet sweet tone, “Vanessa dear, we’d love to continue this conversation, but Cole and I have a dance to finish. If you please.”

A red flush crept across the socialite’s thin emaciated countenance. “Oh. Yes, of course. I’m so sorry.” Mrs. Probst smiled. “Perhaps I’ll see you later, Mr. Turner?”

Cole opened his mouth, unable to answer. He turned to Mrs. McNeill for help, who promptly replied, “Perhaps dear. Cole still has a few more partners on his dance card, this evening. Including two with me. Excuse us.” To Cole’s relief, Mrs. McNeill steered him away from the socialite, who merely gaped at the departing couple.

“Sorry about that,” Mrs. McNeill quietly continued, “but that’s Vanessa Probst for you. She does tend to ramble on. And sometimes I swear that she considers herself to be San Francisco’s unofficial gossip.”

Cole smiled. “Don’t worry. She didn’t bother me at all.” It was a lie, of course. Although Vanessa Probst had struck him as an irritating woman, her recollections of Olivia and Richard Bannen had ignited a jealousy he had considered non-existent.

Come to think of it, the last time Olivia had mentioned her former fiancé/warlock-lover, Cole felt a jolt of envy. Much to his surprise. It seemed ridiculous, of course. Why should he feel jealous over a man he had never met? Well, that was incorrect. Cole had met Richard Bannen, twice. The first time had happened around the time he was assigned to kill the Charmed Ones. And during the second time, he had been on the run from demonic bounty hunters. And Richard was fleeing vengeful members of the Bannen warlock coven. Both demon and warlock had betrayed their alliances for the love of a witch. The pair met for a brief period to help each other elude their pursuers in another dimension.

Cole had long accepted that he would always love Phoebe, despite their divorce. And that Olivia will never stop mourning Richard, who had been killed by her emotionally disturbed aunt. Yet, Cole found himself experiencing waves of jealousy when Vanessa Probst rambled on about Olivia and Richard. Nor did he understand why. Actually, a small part of his mind knew why, but Cole refused to confront his feelings.

Green eyes that strongly reminded Cole of Olivia, bored into his. “Are you sure?” she asked in response to his comment about Mrs. Probst. “You seemed a little . . . I mean, when Vanessa began talking about Olivia and Richard, you seemed . . . upset.”

Cole gave the red-haired woman a reassuring smile. “Of course. Why would I be upset?”

Gwen McNeill continued to stare at him. “Only you can answer that question, Cole,” she answered cryptically.

Not saying a word, Cole found himself wishing he had never met Vanessa Probst. Or that she had never opened her big, fat mouth.

* * * *

The clock on the east wall read ten twenty-five. Another ninety-five minutes would usher in the New Year – 2003. And Olivia had no one to celebrate with . . . in the traditional fashion.

There was Cole, her escort for tonight. But one did not kiss one’s neighbor and close friend. Especially if one wanted to preserve that friendship. Olivia could only think of one other person with whom she could exchange a New Year’s kiss. If only Cedric Lloyd was not married . . . and repulsive. Otherwise . . .

“Well, well! Look who’s alone at last!” Olivia winced, as none other than Cedric sidled up to her side, near one of the buffet tables. “So, where’s your boon companion, Turner?”

Olivia coolly nodded toward the dance floor. “Over there, with Carol Bessin. Why do you ask?”

“I wanted to make sure that you were alone,” Cedric replied in a voice that seemed to ooze honey. “So that no one would interrupt us.”

Shooting her former classmate a dark look, Olivia added, “When you meant by ‘no one’, did you mean your wife?” She reached for a sliver of quiche.

A too hearty bout of laughter escaped Cedric’s mouth. “You . . . you haven’t changed much, you know that, McNeill?”

“Unfortunately, I can say the same about you.”

Cedric stepped closer, invading Olivia’s personal space. She could feel his hot breath on the back of her neck. “Look, why don’t we take a break from all of this,” he nodded at the partygoers, “and share a private drink, together. Alone.”

Goddess! Olivia heaved a sigh. She dropped a cherry tomato on her plate. “Cedric, please don’t. Just don’t. I wasn’t interested in you, twelve years ago. Nor was I interested in you, ten months ago, and I’m certainly not interested in you, now. One, you’re married. Two, I don’t like you, and three . . .”

A sneer marred Cedric’s handsome face as he finished, “Three, you’re holding out for Cole Turner. Am I right? Unless, you’ve allowed him to sample a bit, already.”

Olivia glared at him. “No, I haven’t,” she shot back, pointedly. “Nor do I intend to. Cole and I are friends and nothing more.”

“Friends, huh?” Cedric’s sneer grew wider. “It’s just as well. I’ve met the former Mrs. Turner at a party, recently. Let’s just say that she would be a hard act to follow.”

The other man’s words proved to be the last straw for Olivia. She fixed Cedric with a glare that would have eviscerated the Source. It certainly convinced the attorney to take a few backward steps. “You know something, Cedric? Your chances of getting into my pants just went from impossible to ground zero,” she said in a deadly voice. “Now, I suggest that you leave me the hell alone.”

Cedric’s face turned dead white. “Hey, Olivia! C’mon! I didn’t mean . . . uh, what I meant to say was . . .”

“I know exactly what you were trying to say.” Olivia’s death glare remained. “And I suggest that you keep your mouth shut before you say anything further.”

“I didn’t mean to upset you. It’s just that a friend of mine from the BAY-MIRROR had heard about . . .”

Olivia interrupted, “If you’re trying to warn me about Cole, don’t bother. In fact, you’re the one who needs a little warning.”

Cedric’s fearful expression disappeared, only to be replaced by one of wariness. “Meaning?” he demanded.

“Meaning, when you and Cole fight it out over this Giovanni case, I would suggest that for once in your life, try to fight fair. If you don’t you’ll only end up burned.”

A derisive snort escaped Cedric’s mouth. “Look who’s talking!” he shot back, his sneer firmly back in place. “If I remembered correctly, you were quite the little manipulator back in college. And now look at you! Little Miss Do Gooder! It’s not your style, McNeill, so why don’t you give it a break!”

“So I’m a hypocrite! So sue me!” Olivia snapped back. “I know I’m not above manipulating someone, but at least I try to realize when the moment calls for a little manipulation. You seemed so determined to get the best of Cole before the case can get into full swing.”

A belligerent Cedric retorted, “I’m merely trying to stay ahead of the game, sweetheart. Something you would have understood if you had decided to become an attorney, instead of a cop. I want to win this case. And as for your precious Mr. Turner, I think I can handle him.”

Olivia rolled her eyes in disgust. She had forgotten how an intelligent man like Cedric could be so damn stupid. “Oh you can? All you’ve done is questioned Cole’s whereabouts from last summer. It’s only been over a week since he was given this case, and already he knows that you’re cheating on Marta with a Miss Kaye Ling, at the Carnahan Hotel. In Room 1005, I may add.” Amazing how she remembered all that. “You do know what Cole was doing, right? He was giving you a fair warning to play it straight. And when it comes to manipulation, Cedric, we’re rank amateurs compare to him. I suggest that you take my advice.”

The stubborn gleam in Cedric’s eyes told Olivia that he had no intention of following her advice. Figures! She heaved another sigh and placed two canapés on her plate. “I’ve had enough of this. See you later, Cedric,” she drawled. “Hopefully we won’t set eyes upon each other for quite a while.” Olivia started to walk away.

“Hey! Where are you going?” Cedric demanded.

Olivia paused. “To find a place to sit and eat.” She turned around to give him one last pointed look. “Alone.” Then she finally walked away, ignoring her companion’s abashed expression.

* * * *

Eleven fifty-four. At least that was the time shown on the ballroom’s clock. Cole’s eyes scanned the room. There seemed to be no sign of Olivia anywhere. He had spotted other members of the McNeill family . . . but no Olivia.

‘Why is it so important to you that you find her?’ The question reverberated inside Cole’s mind, over and over again. He saw other couples forming, staring at the clock and waiting for the moment when they could celebrate the New Year in traditional fashion. Was that the reason why he seemed so determined to find . . .?

“Hey! Ready for the New Year?” A female’s voice filled Cole’s ears. He spun around and found Olivia standing behind him.

Cole managed to keep the relief out of his smile. “Hey, yourself. Enjoying the party?”

One of Olivia’s red brows quirked upward. “Well, other than an unpleasant encounter with Cedric Lloyd and dances with both Connor Maxwell and David Levin – both lousy dancers, by the way – it’s been great. What about you?”

“Great.” Cole paused momentarily. “So, you had an unpleasant encounter with Lloyd?”

Olivia shook her head. “It’s nothing I couldn’t handle. Just another one of Cedric’s dumb come-ons. I’ve been getting them since college.”

Cole’s mouth twisted into a wry smile. “At least you didn’t have an encounter with one Mrs. Vanessa Probst, this evening. Or did you?”

“Oh dear God!” Green eyes widened in mock horror. “You poor man! Vanessa Probst? And you still have your sanity intact?”

“It was pretty damn close. But I managed.” Cole glanced at the clock. “Huh, it’s almost midnight. In less than two minutes.”

Cobalt blue eyes met green ones. The unmistakable air of heat seemed to sizzle between the pair. The feeling took Cole by surprise. Never had he imagined that he would experience such feelings with a woman other than . . . well, Phoebe. It was impossible. After all, he felt no love toward Olivia, other than as a friend . . .

“Ladies and gentlemen!” a voice boomed across the ballroom. It belonged to the party’s host, Warren Mitchell. Cole and Olivia tore their eyes away from each other and stared at Mitchell, who stood on the bandstand. “In less than . . . twenty-five seconds, 2003 will arrive. Time for the countdown!”

All eyes focused upon the clock on the wall. When the second hand struck ten, the countdown began. “TEN . . . NINE . . . EIGHT . . .” Again, Cole began to contemplate his actions once 2003 arrives. Should he kiss Olivia? Shake her hand? “. . . FOUR . . . THREE . . . TWO . . . ONE!” Then everyone shouted, “HAPPY NEW YEAR!”

As the band commenced on “Auld Lang Syne”, couples began to kiss. Both Cole and Olivia faced each other awkwardly. For a moment. Then they stepped forward. Again, doubt overwhelmed Cole. Should he kiss her? Would a peck on the cheek hurt? After a moment’s contemplation, Cole decided that it would not. He leaned forward to kiss Olivia’s cheek.

“. . . never brought to mind. Should auld acquaintance be forgot? And days of Auld Lang Syne!”

A slight moan escaped from Olivia’s mouth, as Cole’s lips left her cheek. He stared at her expression – blissful with eyes closed shut – and his heart turned a somersault. “Oh hell!” he murmured. Olivia’s eyes flew opened in surprise. Before she could say or do anything, Cole gathered her into his arms and kissed her. Long and hard.

“. . . days of Auld Lang Syne. Should auld acquaintance be forgot . . .”

Her lips felt warm, soft and welcoming. It seemed to Cole as if the world around him and Olivia had ceased to exist. He gave her lower lip a slight nip before slipping his tongue into her mouth.

“For Auld Lang Syne, my dear. For Auld Lang Syne!”

While their tongues explored each other’s mouths, every nerve in Cole’s body tingled with passion and delight. ‘This is wrong, Turner. Wrong! She’s your neighbor, for God’s sake! You’re not in love with her.’ Slender fingers slid through Cole’s hair, causing the temperature in his body to rise. Olivia’s soft body pressed against his. That, along with the wet warmth of her mouth, left his body feeling so hard that it ached.

‘End it now, Turner! Now! Remember Phoebe! The love of your life!’ Images of his ex-wife popped into Cole’s head. But it did not help. Olivia’s kiss grew harder and more insistent and Phoebe’s image immediately disappeared.

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and the days of Auld Lang Syne! HAPPY NEW YEAR!” Cheers and whistles filled the ballroom. Cole realized that he should end the kiss now, but he found himself longing for a private hotel room, where he could enjoy a few private hours with Olivia. Enjoy more kisses, strip the gown from her body; explore the latter with his mouth and hands; lower her onto a bed and . . .

‘Goddamit Turner! Stop! Release her, now!’ Aware that the moment for kisses had finally passed, Cole immediately broke the kiss and cried out, “No!” He jerked away from Olivia’s embrace. The two neighbors stared at each other with stunned eyes. At least Cole felt stunned. Horrified, actually. Did he just . . . ? As much as his mind tried to reject it, he knew what he had done. Kissed his neighbor with the full-blown passion of an ardent lover. Christ! What the hell had he been thinking?

“Uh . . . Shit! I didn’t mean . . . uh . . .” In one of those rare moments, Cole found himself speechless. “Olivia, I didn’t mean . . .”

An icy mist glazed over Olivia’s green eyes. “Yeah, I’m sure that you didn’t.” She looked disappointed. Almost angry. “Looks like the bar’s open, again,” she said with a sigh. “Thank God, because I really need a drink.” She started to turn away.

Cole called after her. “Olivia! Maybe we should . . . should talk about what just happened.”

“What is there to talk about?” Olivia retorted. Anger radiated from her eyes. Real, genuine anger. “It’s the New Year and we kissed like everyone else. End of story. Nothing to get excited over.” Another sigh left her mouth. “Now, I really need that drink.” Before she walked away, Olivia added, “By the way, you don’t have to take me home, tonight. I’ll just leave with my family.”

Cole replied, “I don’t mind taking you home.”

A cool smile touched Olivia’s lips. “But I do. I’ll see you later.” She walked away, leaving behind a confused and devastated half-daemon in her wake.

THE END

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Two “Day of Days” Commentary

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Two “Day of Days” Commentary

The last episode, ”Currahee” ended with Easy Company leaving England by air on June 5, 1944 to participate in the Allies’ invasion of Normandy. This second episode, ”Day of Days” re-counts Lieutenant Richard Winters and some members of Easy Company’s experiences during the drop into France on June 5 and during their assault of the German guns at Brécourt Manor on D-Day. 

Although the episode occasionally shifted to different viewpoints, the episode mainly focused upon Bill Guarnere, Donald Malarkey and especially Richard Winters. Winters became Easy Company’s new commander following the death of Lieutenant Thomas Meehan during the flight to Northern France. Before learning of Meehan’s death, Winters had to contend with the chaos and confusion that followed the airborne units’ drop into nighttime Normandy. Winters also had to deal with a hostile Guarnere, who was still angry over his older brother’s death. As for Malarkey, his first 24 hours in France proved to be interesting. He met a German prisoner-of-war who was born and raised nearly a hundred miles from him in Oregon. And he may have witnessed (or heard) the massacre of German prisoners-of-war by one Lieutenant Ronald Spiers of Dog Company. Or not. The following morning on D-Day, Winters assumed command of Easy Company and led a famous assault (which included Guarnere, Malarkey and Spiers with a few members of Dog Company) on the German artillery battery at Brécourt Manor, which was delaying the Allies’ assault upon Utah Beach.

This was a pretty good episode that featured two exciting combat sequences. The longest, of course, featured the assault upon Brécourt Manor. And I must admit that I found it very exciting. The way director Richard Loncraine shot the sequence almost made it feel as if I had been watching it in real time with very little editing. Ironically, the one action sequence that really impressed me was Easy Company’s jump into France the previous night. The sequence, which started the episode, began with the viewpoints of various characters – even Easy Company’s doomed commander, Thomas Meehan. But when the sequence focused upon Winters’ time to jump, the camera followed him from his departure from the plane to his landing on French soil. The photography and special effects used for Winters’ jump was very effective. But I found myself really impressed by those opening moments featuring the German flak that the planes conveying Easy Company to their drop zones. It struck me as exciting and terrifying and it effectively conveyed the dangerous and claustrophobic situation that Easy Company and the planes’ pilots found themselves.

The acting in ”Day of Days” proved to be solid. But I must admit that I cannot recall any exceptional performances. Damian Lewis continued his excellent performance as Easy Company’s premiere commander, Richard D. Winters. He handled both the dramatic and action sequences with ease. Frank John Hughes was just as effective handling William “Wild Bill” Guarnere’s emotional state during those first 24 hours of the D-Day Campaign, which varied from anger and aggression to grudging acceptance of Winters as a leader and a return to his sense of humor. And Scott Grimes was marvelous as Easy Company trooper, Donald Malarkey. Although I must admit that I found his determination to find a Luger for his younger brother a bit silly in one scene. Matthew Settle made his first appearance as Ronald Spiers, the junior officer from Dog Company, who will become Easy Company’s last commander by the end of the series. Although his appearance was minor, he gave a memorable performance as the young officer, whose aggressiveness will prove to be the talk of the 506th regiment. Actors such as Neal McDonough, Donnie Walhberg and Andrew Scott also gave solid support.

I have a few quibbles about ”Day of Days”. One, I thought the episode was a bit too short. I realize that the following episode, ”Carentan”, will also focus on the Normandy invasion. But I think that this episode could have stretched at least another 10 to 15 minutes by focusing a little more on Guarnere and Malarkey’s experiences before they and Carwood Lipton encountered Winters on the night after they dropped into France. And I must admit that I found some of the dialogue rather cheesy. I also feel that screenwriter Loncraine could have left out Winters’ narration in the episode’s last five minutes. I found it unnecessary and a little clichéd. In conclusion, ”Day of Days” turned out to be a pretty solid episode. I would never consider it as one of my favorite episodes of the miniseries. But it did feature two top-notch action sequences and good performances, especially by Damian Lewis.

“THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN” (2005) Review

 

“THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN” (2005) Review

Although considered one of her most famous novels, 1934’s ”Murder on the Orient Express” was not the first of Christie’s novels that featured a famous luxury train as a setting. The year 1928 saw the publication of another novel called ”The Mystery of the Blue Train”, which told the story of a brutal murder aboard the famous Blue Train. 

This story had its origins in Christie’s 1922 novella, ”The Plymouth Express”, which told the story of the murder of an Australian heiress. Christie took that story and expanded it into a full-length novel, ”The Mystery of the Blue Train”. The television series, ”Agatha Christie’s POIROT” aired ”THE PLYMOUTH EXPRESS”, an adaptation of the novella, in 1991. And fourteen years later, the series aired its own version of ”THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE”. Actor David Suchet portrayed Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot in both productions.

The Blue Train referred to in this story was not the luxury train that traveled through Southern Africa. Known as Le Train Bleu or the Calais-Mediterranée Expres, this Blue Train was a luxury French night train that conveyed, wealthy and famous passengers between Calais and the French Riviera from 1922 until 1938, usually during the winter seasons. Unlike Christie’s novella, ”THE PLYMOUTH EXPRESS”, the case featured in ”THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN” centered on the murder of an American heiress named Ruth Van Aldin Kettering, aboard the Blue Train. One of Ruth’s possessions ended up missing, namely a famous ruby called the Heart of Fire that was recently purchased by her father, American millionaire Rufus Van Aldin. The suspects accused of killing her and stealing the Heart of Fire were:

*Katherine Grey – a young Englishwoman who became wealthy through a recent inheritance; and whose father had been financially ruined by Van Aldin

*Derek Kettering – Ruth’s estranged and financially strapped husband, who came from an aristocratic family

*the Comte de la Roche – Ruth’s lover and a fake aristocrat who happened to be a con man and thief

*Ada Mason – Ruth’s maid, who disappeared during the Blue Train’s stop in Paris

* Mirelle Milesi – an exotic French courtesan, who was seen entering Ruth’s compartment aboard the train

*Major Richard Knighton –Van Aldin’s private secretary, who happens to be in love with Katherine

*Lady Tamplin – a financially strapped British aristocrat living on the Riviera with her daughter and young husband; and who is Katherine Grey’s distant cousin

*Lennox Tamplin – Lady Tamplin’s daughter

*’Corky’ Evans – Lady Tamplin’s young husband

*the Maquis – a famous jewel thief

Belgian-born detective, Hercule Poirot, found himself aboard the same train heading toward Nice for a winter vacation. The one passenger he managed to befriend was Katherine Grey, who had switched compartments with Ruth Kettering after meeting the latter. Overwrought by his daughter’s death, Van Aldin hired Poirot to find her killer.

I became a major fan of ”The Mystery of the Blue Train” not long after I first read the 1928 novel, years ago. The mystery struck me as slightly intriguing, the characters colorful and the atmosphere reeking with the glamour of the early 20th century rich in Europe. Imagine my delight when I first learned that a television adaptation of the novel had been made, starring David Suchet as Poirot. When I finally saw the movie, I found myself both disappointed . . . satisfied with it.

”THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN” could have truly been a first-class production. But some of the changes in the story stood in the way. One, Guy Andrews’ script got rid of the love triangle between Katherine Grey, Richard Knighton and Derek Kettering. Pity. I rather enjoyed it. Instead, Katherine only enjoyed a romance with Knighton. She barely shared any scenes with Derek, except for one in which she snapped at him for his childish behavior. And speaking of Derek Kettering, he became a petulant and hard drinking man who remained in love with the spoiled and estranged Ruth. He seemed quite different from the sardonic man in the novel, who had already fallen out of love with his wife long before the story began. Another change that proved to be a major one, involved the character of Mirelle. She remained a Frenchwoman, but one of African descent. And instead of being Derek’s soon-to-be former mistress and a dancer, this cinematic Mirelle turned out to be Rufus Van Aldin’s mistress. As for Lady Tamplin, she and her family also made the journey aboard the Blue Train – which did not happen in the novel. Any other changes? In this version, Katherine Grey revealed to Poirot that Van Aldin had financially ruined her father. Also, someone tried to kill her one hour into the movie.

What did I think of ”THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN”? I did not mind some of the changes from the novel. For example, Lady Tamplin became a more likeable and sexy personality, thanks to Lindsay Duncan’s spirited performance. I found her young husband, Corky (Cubby Evans in the novel) less vacuous and self-absorbed. Mirelle’s personality acquired a welcome change from the character in the novel. Actress Josette Simon portrayed her as a world-weary, yet passionate woman with a great deal of complexities, instead of Christie’s one-dimensional portrait of sex and greed, wrapped in a French accent. I also enjoyed Nicholas Farrell’s quiet, yet charming portrayal of Rufus Van Aldin’s private secretary, Richard Knighton. Jaime Murray did a solid job in portraying Ruth Van Aldin Kettering, the murder victim, whose body was discovered aboard the Blue Train. I must admit that she managed to capture her character’s extroverted, ruthless and somewhat self-absorbed personality, even if her American accent seemed a bit questionable. And thank goodness for the presence of Elliot Gould, whose portrayal of Van Aldin transcended the cliché of the American businessman featured in the novel. Finally, David Suchet continued to give another fine performance as Hercule Poirot, everyone’s favorite Belgian detective – subtle, yet intense as always.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie featured the Blue Train’s departure from Calais during a heavy rainfall. Thanks to director Hettie Macdonald, production designers Jeff Tessler and an uncredited Paul Spriggs, along with cinematographer Alan Almond; this particular scene reeked with atmosphere and mystery. They also did an excellent job in capturing the sunny and exotic glamour of the French Riviera – especially in one scene that featured a house party given by Lady Tamplin at her home, Villa Marguerite. I also liked the fact that the story began in London, paused in Calais and France, and ended in Nice. It did not shift to different locations throughout England and France, as in the novel. More importantly, Poirot revealed the murderer’s identity in front of all the suspects and the police; instead of limiting his audience to two characters.

What did I NOT like about ”THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN”? Unfortunately, a good deal. One, I did not care for the change in Katherine Grey’s personality. I have no complaints about Georgina Rylance’s performance. She did a solid job in the role. But screenwriter Guy Andrews transformed the Katherine Grey character from a cool and smart woman that kept her emotions in check to a naïve woman that wore her emotions on her sleeve. It almost seemed to me that Katherine’s character had been somewhat diminished. One change I did not care for was Andrews’ decision to make Mirelle the mistress of Van Aldin, instead of Derek Kettering’s paramour. Nor did I care for his decision to reveal that Van Aldin’s wife was still alive, slightly mad and living in a convent in Nice. I found this plot twist to be very unnecessary. Speaking of Mr. Kettering, his personality went through a major change. In this adaptation, Derek became a drunken, gambling addict with a habit of sniveling over a wife who no longer loved him. Only James D’Arcy’s complex performance made it possible for me to tolerate the character. The movie’s portrayal of Lennox Tamplin seemed like a letdown from Christie’s novel. Instead of the sardonic young woman who had learned to tolerate her mother’s talent for exploitation and exhibition, this version of Lennox became a bubbly and extroverted personality with an atrocious hairstyle for a story set in the 1930s.

The biggest change occurred in the movie’s revelation scene. Although I had expressed approval of Andrews and director Hettie Macdonald’s decision to allow Poirot to reveal the murderer in Nice, I still had some problems with the scene. One, it began with the detective indulging in a ridiculous tirade about how each suspect could have been the murderer. But after Poirot identified the killer, viewers were treated to a ridiculous and theatrical scene in which the latter attempted to use a hostage to evade the police. I did not know whether to laugh or shake my head in disgust. I believe I ended up doing the latter.

”THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN” will never be a favorite Christie adaptation of mine. There were too many changes that I did not care for – especially with some of the characters and the revelation scene. On the other hand, I found other changes – including the revelation scene – to be an improvement from the novel and a welcome relief. I also enjoyed the movie’s atmosphere, setting, photography and David Suchet’s performance as Poirot. It was not the best Christie adaptation, but I found it tolerable.