“Daniel Craig and the Future of JAMES BOND”

“DANIEL CRAIG AND THE FUTURE OF JAMES BOND”

There have been a great deal of talk about how EON Productions will take the James Bond character in future movies. Many have also speculated on how Daniel Craig will approach the character – especially in the upcoming BOND 23. I have no idea how the Bond character will be treated in future movies, but I do a few things to say about Daniel Craig as Bond. 

First of all, I do not believe that “CASINO ROYALE” and “QUANTUM OF SOLACE” were unique in being the only Bond films that seemed like a slightly realistic spy thriller. Before Craig’s two movies, there was “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”“ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”“FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” and “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”. We also had movies like “THUNDERBALL”and “OCTOPUSSY” with plots that seemed very probable in the real world (nuclear threats in the name of extortion or/and political manipulation). And there was “LICENSE TO KILL” that was gritty, but seemed more like a revenge story than a spy thriller. But I do believe that “CASINO ROYALE” was one of the best movies in the franchise. I also believe that “QUANTUM OF SOLACE” was an exciting and gritty thriller, although not as well done as “CASINO ROYALE” In fact, I feel that both movies were well-written thrillers with complex and three-dimensional characters.

As for Daniel Craig, many have criticized his Bond for acting like a professional and experienced agent at the beginning of“CASINO ROYALE”, despite being a novice. I have to point out that in this version of “CASINO ROYALE”, Bond WAS NOT a novice spy at the beginning of the story. He already had experience as an intelligence operative for the Royal Navy and as an agent for MI-6. At the beginning of the movie, he had simply been promoted to the “00 Section”. He had already been serving with MI6 for some time.

Although I have enjoyed the performances of all six (or should I say eight?) actors who have portrayed Bond, Daniel Craig’s performance has appealed to me a lot stronger than the others. I am not saying that I believe that his Bond is the best. I simply prefer his Bond a lot stronger than I do the others. So far, Craig’s Bond has not been tinged by Connery’s lack of humanity, Lazenby’s inexperienced background, Moore’s cheeky humor, Dalton’s heavy angst factor or Brosnan’s mediocre scripts. This latest manifestation of Bond is a ruthless and athletic man with a sardonic sense of humor, a taste for good living, a penchant for taking chances and allowing his ego to go uncheck. But knowing EON Productions’ reputation for sometimes screwing up a good thing, who knows what will happen?

I have heard comments that Craig’s Bond had fully become the iconic figure of the last 44 or 45 years by the end of “CASINO ROYALE”. But others have pointed out that the character who had shot Mr. White at the end of the movie had become the same man who had chased Mollaka in Madagascar. I am more inclined to believe the latter. As his next film, “QUANTUM OF SOLACE” seemed to have attest, I believe that Bond’s character had slightly regressed, due to the heartache he had suffered over Vesper’s betrayal and death. Somewhat. After all, Bond did manage to bring down Mr. White without allowing his emotions, ego or trigger finger to get the best of him. He barely managed to keep his thirst for revenge in check. Although his refusal to face his feelings for Vesper formed a cloud over him. Hopefully, EON Productions will allow the audience to see Bond develop beyond the cold-blooded and brutal man that used women to avoid emotional attachments. I hope that by the time Craig shoots his last Bond film, his character will develop into a somewhat mature man who has learned to balance any emotional attachments he may have formed with the ruthless agent he has to be in order to do his job.

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Three “Carentan” Commentary

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Three “Carentan” Commentary

This third episode, ”Carentan” picked up one day after where ”Day of Days” left off – Easy Company in Northern France for the Normandy invasion. ”Carentan” mainly centered around the experiences of Private Albert Blithe, portrayed by actor Marc Warren during Easy Company’s attempt take the town of Carentan. 

Easy Company’s nighttime jump into Normandy seemed to have left Private Blithe in semi-shock. He barely acknowledged the comments of his fellow paratroopers. During the company’s assault upon Carentan, he suffered from temporary blindness. Conversations with officers like Easy’s Harry Welch and Dog Company’s Ronald Spiers failed to help Blithe ease his anxiety regarding the horrors of combat. Winters is finally able to spur Blithe into action, during a German counterattack, a day or two later. But Blithe’s triumph is short-lived when he is wounded by an enemy sniper after volunteering to lead a scout patrol. Also during this episode, the legend of Ronald Spiers continues when Donald Malarkey and his friends – Warren “Skip” Muck, Alex Pankala and Alton More – discuss Spiers’ alleged connection to the deaths of a group of German prisoners-of-war and a sergeant in Dog Company. Winters endured a mild wound and Sergeant Carwood Lipton endures a more serious one during the battle for Carentan.

”Carentan” became the second episode in ”BAND OF BROTHERS” with a running time longer than one hour. ”Currahee” was the first. But I must admit that I enjoyed ”Carentan” a lot more. The longer running time and broadening effects from the horrors of war gave the series’ portrayal of the Normandy campaign more of an epic feel than ”Day of Days’. It featured two harrowing combat sequences – Easy Company’s attack upon Carentan and the Germans’ counterattack that nearly left the company in a vulnerable state. And it is the first episode that featured an aspect of ”BAND OF BROTHERS” that I truly enjoy – namely casual conversation between the men of Easy between combat situations. Conversations such as the one about Spiers between Marlarkey, More, Muck and Penkala turned out to be bright spots that prevented the miniseries from sinking into the cliché of a typical World War II combat drama.

The main storyline for ”Carentan” happened to be about Albert Blithe’s anxieties in dealing with combat for the first time. Writer E. Max Frye did a solid job regarding the Blithe character and his troubles with hysterical blindness. But I do have a few problems with his work. One, his take on the whole ”soldier traumatized by combat” did not strike me as original. Watching Blithe’s travails on the screen left me with a feeling that I have seen numerous war dramas with similar storylines. And two, Frye got a good deal of his information wrong about Blithe. The end of the episode revealed that Blithe never recovered from his wound in the neck and died four years later in 1948. As it turned out, Blithe did recover from the wound . . . eventually. He remained in the Army, served in the 82nd Airborne during the Korean War and died in 1967. Either Fyre made this mistake intentionally . . . or had made a major blooper. There was another mistake regarding Blithe, but I will reveal it later.

One last complaint I had was the episode’s last fifteen or twenty minutes, which featured Easy Company’s return to England. Aside from the ham-fisted scene in which Malarkey found himself picking up the laundry of some of those who had been killed or wounded in Normandy, most of those scenes should have been featured in the beginning of the following episode. And they should have deleted the scene in which Lipton announced that they would be returning to France. One, he had not been announced as Easy Company’s new First Sergeant and two, they never did return to France.

The performances in ”Carentan” were solid, but a few did stand out for me. Matthew Settle continued his excellent introduction of Lieutenant Ronald Spiers in a very memorable and slightly tense scene in which he tries to give Blithe some advice on how to mentally deal with combat. Another first-rate performance came from Rick Warden, who portrayed one of Easy Company’s platoon leader and close friend of Richard Winters and Lewis Nixon – Harry Welch. I rather enjoyed Warden’s charming take on the easy-going and sardonic Welch. And finally, there was Marc Warren, whose portrayal of Blithe pretty much carried this episode. He did a very good job of conveying Blithe’s journey from a shell-shocked trooper to the more confident warrior, whose experience with Easy Company ended with a wound in the neck. My only complaint with Warren’s performance is that he portrayed Blithe with a generic Southern accent. And the real Blithe was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Why Spielberg, Hanks and director Mikael Salomon had him used a Southern accent for the character is beyond me.

”Carentan” is not my favorite episode of ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. I found the on the whole ”soldier traumatized by combat”storyline for the Albert Blithe character to be slightly unoriginal. The character also spoke with the wrong regional accent and the information about his post-Easy Company years was historically inaccurate. And I could have done without the scenes with Easy Company back in England near the end of the episode. On the other hand, I do consider ”Carentan” to be one of the miniseries’ better episodes. Easy Company’s experiences in taking Carentan and enduring a German counterattack gave the episode more of an epic feel than the events featured in the last episode, ”Day of Days”. And despite portraying Blithe with the wrong accent, Marc Warren did give an exceptionally good performance.

“BOTTLE SHOCK” (2008) Review

”BOTTLE SHOCK” (2008) Review

If someone had suggested I go see a movie about California wines and its impact upon the business in the mid-1970s, I would have smiled politely and ignored that person. As it turned out, no one had told me about the 2008 comedy-drama,”BOTTLE SHOCK”. Two years would pass before I found myself intrigued by it, while watching the movie on cable television.

Directed and co-written by Randall Miller, ”BOTTLE SHOCK” told the story of Jim and Bo Barrett and how their Chardonnay became the first American-grown vintage to win a famous blind wine tasting contest now known as ”the Judgment of Paris”. The contest was sponsored by a British wine connoisseur named Steven Spurrier and held in France. Spurrier wanted to use the contest as a means to be accepted by the French wine connoisseur community. The movie also chronicled the Barretts’ difficulties in maintaining their vineyard, the Chateau Montelena, in the face of mounting debts, Jim Barrett’s reluctance to participate in Spurrier’s contest, and the efforts of a Barrett employee named Gustavo Bambini and his father to start their own vineyard. The desires of the Barretts, Bambini and Spurrier centered on the latter’s blind wine testing competition that made history for the Barretts and California wines.

While reading about ”BOTTLE SHOCK”, I discovered that the movie had received a standing ovation following its screening at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Personally, I believe that Miller and fellow screenwriters Jody Savin and Ross Schwartz did an excellent job in creating a heartwarming movie filled with sharp humor, adversity, human drama, some romance and a good deal of warmth and whimsy. More importantly, Miller, Savin and Schwartz, along with the cast, gave the movie such energy and drive that I found myself developing interest in the topic of wine growing – something that would usually bore me to tears. There have been complaints about some of the historical accuracy in the movie. Why bother?”BOTTLE SHOCK” is a movie, not a documentary. I have yet to come across a movie or play with a historical backdrop that was completely accurate.

Cinematographer Michael J. Ozier did a marvelous job in capturing the warmth and natural beauty of Napa Valley, with its rolling hills and vast vineyards. With different lightning, he captured the cool elegance of Paris and the French countryside. And costume designer Jillian Kreiner had the more difficult job of capturing the basic styles of the mid-1970s. This was at a time when fashion was in a transition from the wild, Age of Aquarius styles of the early 1970s, to the more ersatz elegance of the latter part of the decade and the 1980s. By the way, one should keep an eye on Dennis Farina’s loud, leisure suits that seemed to symbolize the entire decade . . . at least for me.

I had felt a bit confused over the identity of the film’s leading man. I could not decide whether it was Alan Rickman, Chris Pine or Bill Pullman. In the end, I decided to view all three as the film’s leads. And they led a very fine cast that included Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodriguez, Dennis Farina, Miguel Sandoval and Eliza Dushku. I had a ball watching Rickman’s portrayal of the sharp-tongued wine connoisseur, Steven Spurrier, who found himself dealing with a new culture in California wine country and the possibility that European countries like Italy, Germany and especially France were not the only places to produce fine wines. At first, Chris Pine’s portrayal of the young Bo Barrett reminded me of a possible dress rehearsal for his performance as a loutish James Kirk in 2009’s ”STAR TREK”. Thankfully, his performance as the younger Barrett proved to possess more nuance, as Pine revealed him to be a vulnerable young man that seemed unsure about whether he was ready to embrace his father’s passion for winemaking, as his own. My only problem with Pine was the blond wig that he wore. I found it atrocious and wished that he had been allowed to portray the character with his natural hair. I personally believe that Bill Pullman gave one of the movie’s two best performances as the complex Jim Barrett – the man who originally injected new life into the Chateau Montelena during the 1970s. His Barrett was a proud and stubborn man that was passionate about his vineyard and who masked his insecurities with a great deal of pig-headed behavior.

Also providing top notch performances were Dennis Farina (of the loud leisure suits), who provided a great deal of amusement and wit as Spurrier’s fictional American friend in Paris and fellow wine connoisseur, Maurice Cantavale; Rachael Taylor as Sam Fulton, the free-spirited intern at Chateau Montelena and Bo’s object of desire; Miguel Sandoval, who was deliciously sardonic as Mr. Garcia, another worker at Chateau Montelena; and Eliza Dushku, who gave an amusingly edgy performance as a local bar owner named Jo. At last, I come to Freddy Rodriguez, who portrayed the Barretts’ ambitious employee, Gustovo Bambini. He gave the movie’s other best performance, conveying not only his character’s ambition and wit, but also a raging passion for wintry and a short temper.

What else can I say about ”BOTTLE SHOCK”? I laughed, I cried and I managed to enjoy both the story and the performances, thanks to Randall Miller and the script he co-wrote with Jody Savin and Ross Schwartz . But more importantly, I found myself surprisingly interested in a topic that I would not have usually wasted time even discussing. On that point alone, I would heartily recommend this film.

“BOARDWALK EMPIRE”: Top Five Favorite Season One Episodes

 

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In September 2010, a new series based upon Nelson Johnson’s book about the famous New Jersey coastal city during the Prohibition Era, “Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City”, premiered on HBO. Created by Terence Winter and produced by him, Mark Walhberg, and Martin Scorcese; “BOARDWALK EMPIRE” starred Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Pitt and Michael Shannon. Below is a list of my top five (5) favorite episodes from the series’ first season: 

 

“BOARDWALK EMPIRE”: TOP FIVE FAVORITE SEASON ONE EPISODES

1. (1.09) “Belle Femme” – This episode about Enoch “Nucky” Johnson’s efforts to deal with the threat of a Democratic mayoral candidate screaming corruption and the D’Alessio gang; his mistress Margaret Schroeder promises to help a former employer; and Jimmy Darmody’s return from Chicago proved to be my favorite episode this season.

 

2. (1.10) “The Emerald City” – Nucky asks for Margaret’s assistance in backing his mayoral candidate with the passage of women’s right to vote, leaving her conflicted about her role as his mistress. He, along with Chalky White and Jimmy confront Meyer Lansky and two of the D’Alessio brothers. Jimmy’s common-law wife, Angela Darmody, witnesses his violent side against her photographer friend, and Federal agent Nelson Van Alden grapples with his emotions and has forceful encounters with both Margaret and Lucy.

 

3. (1.01) “Boardwalk Empire” – The ninety (90) minute series’ premiere episode introduced Atlantic City treasurer, Enoch “Nucky” Johnson at the dawn of Prohibition in January, 1920; and his plans to make himself and his associates very rich from the bootlegging business.

 

4. (1.04) “Anastasia” – Michael Kenneth Williams has a field day in this episode in which his character, Chalky White extracts vengeance from a local Ku Klux Klan leader for lynching one of his men. And in Chicago, Jimmy and Al Capone expand their business operations by taking over territories from a local Irish gangster, resulting in vicious consequences for a prostitute that Jimmy was fond of.

 

5. (1.11) “Paris Green” – This episode featured many shake-ups in the relationships of Nucky and Margaret; Van Alden and his assistant, Agent Sebso; Jimmy and his relationships with his real father, the Commodore, Nucky, and Angela.

“Second Power” [PG-13] – 6/8

“SECOND POWER”

PART SIX

Jack McNeill strode inside the TWA terminal, at the San Francisco International Airport. Judging from the clock above the airline’s desk, the McNeill matriarch’s flight from Edinburgh had just arrived. Jack strode inside the Lounge and spotted his elderly mother walking toward the end of the arrival ramp.

Mother and son greeted each other with warm hugs. The latter grabbed his mother’s carry-on luggage and the pair strode toward the lounge’s exit. After Elise McNeill described her brief time in Scotland and trip home, Jack asked a question. “So, how did the family take the news?”

“The news?” Elise repeated. “About Olivia’s new power?” She paused dramatically. “They were flabbergasted.”

Jack chuckled. “I’m not surprised. Considering that no witch from our branch of the family hasn’t been a potential Keeper of Aingeal in nearly 70 years.” He sighed. “I haven’t told Olivia about the staff, yet.”

Elise frowned. “Oh? Why not?”

“She’s been in a bit of an emotional state, lately. Ever since the New Year. And her emotions were affecting her new powers. Gwen and I thought it would be best if she learned to maintain some control of it, first.”

The pair headed for the Baggage Area. There, Jack hired a porter to collect his mother’s remaining luggage. All three then headed for terminal’s exit, where the McNeill limousine awaited them. Along with Davies. “Miss Elise,” the Welshman greeted, “it’s good to have you home.”

Elise smiled at the manservant. “I’m glad to be home, Davies. Thank you.” Once the luggage was placed inside the limousine’s trunk, Jack tipped the porter and the McNeills and Davies headed back toward the city’s limits. “You said something about Olivia being in some kind of emotional state?” the older woman continued.

Jack sighed. “Well, she’s been a little tense, lately.” He paused momentarily. “Something happened between her and Cole at Warren Mitchell’s New Year party.”

“Oh. What happened?”

“Don’t worry, it’s nothing horrific,” Jack reassured his mother. “Bruce and Barbara saw them kiss . . .”

“Oh!”

Jack continued, “. . . kissing. Then Cole went into some kind of panic and pushed Olivia away.”

Elise shook her head. “Oh God!”

“Yeah. Fortunately, all is not lost. Harry managed to convince Cole to break the silence between him and Livy, and teach her how to control her power.”

Elise continued, “So, Olivia and Cole have . . .”

“Well, not quite,” Jack answered. “They’re at cease fire at the moment. But, who knows what the future will bring?” He paused before revealing one last piece of news. “By the way, Leo knows.”

Elise stared at her son. “About Livy’s firepower?”

“About the Staff of Aingeal,” Jack continued. “James, my old whitelighter, told me this morning. Apparently, Leo found out from Cousin Keith’s old whitelighter.”

A gust of breath left Elise’s mouth. “Well! The Elders are not going to like this. Not at all! The Keeper of Aingeal acquainted with Belthazor? Oh Goddess! They definitely will not like it. Mind you, I don’t give a rat’s ass. It’s not really their business.”

“I agree.” Jack paused. “It’s just . . . I don’t know. I only hope that the Elders don’t try to interfere.” He glanced at his mother. The expression on her face told him that interference from the Elders was something they should expect.

* * * *

You’re telling me now?” Paige said over the telephone. “This is awfully short notice, isn’t it?”

Harry McNeill’s voice replied, “I thought you already knew. Didn’t you guys celebrate last year?”

A sigh left Paige’s mouth. “Yeah, right. I forgot. How did you guys find out? Did Cole tell you?”

“Most reluctantly, I might add. About a month ago.”

Paige continued, “I suppose that Olivia is planning all of this.”

Slight regret inflicted Harry’s voice. “Uh, not quite. I think she’s still a little pissed at him. It was Mom’s idea. But Livy knows about it. Do you plan to bring anything?”

“Yeah, I guess.” A frustrated sigh left Paige’s mouth. “Looks like I have some last minute shopping to do. I wish you guys had told me before today. I hate these Saturday shopping crowds.”

Harry added, “By the way, will your family be here, tomorrow? I know they don’t usually bother with the Sunday brunches . . .” Paige felt a twinge of embarrassment, “. . . but since tomorrow is a special day . . .”

“To be honest, I don’t if they’ll come,” Paige murmured. “But I’ll tell them they’re invited.”

Harry’s voice now radiated cheer. “Great! I’ll see you tomorrow. And don’t forget the gift.”

“I won’t,” Paige replied with false cheer. “Buy.” She hung the telephone and muttered an oath. “Shit!”

“Is there a problem?” Phoebe asked. She, Piper and Leo strolled into the Sun Room.

Paige replied with a sigh, “No. It’s just . . . well, Harry just told me that the McNeills will be doing something extra for their Sunday brunch, tomorrow. A little birthday bash for Cole. And now I have some last minute shopping to do.”

Shock, followed by realization, lit up Phoebe’s dark eyes. “Oh God! I forgot! Tomorrow is his birthday, isn’t it?”

Something resembling a grunt left Piper’s mouth. “You’re going to buy Cole a birthday present?” Then she rolled her eyes. “Of course! I forgot. You two are buddies now.”

It became Paige’s turn to roll her eyes. “Please Piper! We’re not going to start another bitch fest over Cole or Olivia, are we?” She paused. “Besides, Cole and I aren’t that close.”

Piper’s eyebrow rose another inch. “Oh? Finding it difficult to bond with a murderous half-demon?”

“Piper!” Phoebe glared at the oldest Halliwell. Who shrugged.

Paige continued in a sharp voice, “Actually, I think Cole has difficult bonding with a witch who had unnecessarily killed him, eight months ago.” Her sisters responded with tight expressions. Paige’s voice softened. “Besides, I hope this might be an opportunity for Cole and me to be closer. I miss being friends with him.”

“Oh God!” Piper shook her head in disbelief. “Well, don’t expect me to show up. I can certainly do without his company.”

Paige hesitated. “Well, the McNeills did invite all of us.”

“I’m not interested. And neither is Phoebe.” Piper turned to the middle sister. “Right Pheebs?”

Phoebe opened her mouth to respond, but Leo spoke up, instead. “I am,” he replied in a firm voice. Everyone stared at him. “What? This has nothing to do with Cole’s birthday.”

Phoebe frowned. “Is this about Cole helping Olivia with her new power? Is something wrong?”

Leo nodded. “One, I don’t like the idea of him helping her. Especially in another dimension.”

“I told you that Cole isn’t training Olivia in some demonic dimension!” Paige retorted.

Blue eyes stared knowingly at the youngest woman. “I know what you said. And I even told the Elders that they had nothing to worry about. But still, I can’t help but wonder . . .” Leo paused and took a deep breath. “Besides, who knows what Cole is teaching her. And there’s another problem.”

Piper asked, “Like what?”

Shaking his head, Leo replied, “I can’t say. It’s a private matter. Whitelighter/witch business.”

“Really?” an obviously resentful Piper retorted. “That didn’t stop you from telling Olivia all about us. But you can’t tell us anything about her?”

“Piper!”

Paige suppressed a sigh. Another Piper and Leo spat. Frequent since the beginning of Piper’s pregnancy, their fights have acquired a bitter tone since the disastrous McNeill brunch, when the Halliwells and the McNeills learned about the trouble brewing in the Whitelighter realm.

Interrupting the quarreling couple, Paige said, “Listen, uh . . . I’ll just leave you guys to your little . . . talk. I have some shopping to do.” Paige left her family and headed upstairs to retrieve her purse and car keys. When she returned downstairs, she discovered that Piper and Leo were now fighting in the living room. Along with Phoebe, acting as the peacekeeper. Paige murmured a quick “See ya,” and immediately left the house. Unaware that her family had not heard her.

* * * *

Olivia sat on the thick grass, her legs tucked under her body. Her arms were stretched out on either side, while a column of fire hovered above each opened palm. Cole looked on, approvingly.

Saturday meant that Cole and Olivia would have continued her exercises for her new power on the McNeills’ back lawn. However, Cole had one last exercise planned for today and what he had in mind could be considered dangerous to practice at the McNeills’ home. Which was why they were back in the Tuatha Dé Dannandimension.

“How long do I have to do this?” Olivia complained in a slightly irritated voice. “I think my arms are getting tired.”

A sly smile creased Cole’s lips. “Well, I had planned to let you stop,” he answered. “Until you had opened your mouth. Now, you can continued this exercise for another ten minutes.”

Olivia’s arms wavered slightly. And so did the twin towers of flames. “Cole, you . . .”

“Keep it up and I’ll make it another fifteen minutes.”

Sounds of grumbling escaped Olivia’s mouth, but she managed to keep her retorts in check. The exercise continued. After another ten minutes, Cole finally decided to end it, much to Olivia’s obvious relief. She let out a gust of breath, lowered her arms and stood up. “What’s this last exercise you wanted me to do?” she asked. “Has it . . .” She frowned, as Cole backed away. “Where are you going?”

Three daemons appeared out of nowhere. Cole stood by and watched them attack Olivia. Using considerable skill, the red-haired witch sent one reptilian-looking creature flying several feet away with a kick to the chest. She dispatched another by flinging its body into an exposed tree branch, using telekinesis. The demon died instantly. Olivia found herself engaged in a martial arts bout with the third, until she finally killed it by breaking its neck. The first demon rose from the ground, looking slightly disoriented. Olivia cried to Cole, “Hey! I could use a little help!”

Cole coolly replied, “You seemed to be doing just fine on your own.” Three more beings materialized. Unlike the previous trio, they were in human form – two men and a woman. “Why don’t you use your pyrokinesis, this time?”

“Huh?” The reptilian demon took a swing at Olivia. She ducked. Unfortunately, the former responded with a low kick to her legs, sending her reeling on the ground, rear end first.

“Your power, Olivia! Use it!”

Still prone on the ground, Olivia stretched forth her hand toward the demon. Who immediately became engulfed in flames. Cole smiled. The other three attacked. One by one, they met the same fate. Olivia struggled to her feet. She strolled toward Cole.

“Very good!” the half-daemon declared. “You’re really learning how to control and use your new power. Who knows how long before you . . .” He was interrupted by a small fist striking his jaw. Cole fell to the ground, bleeding from the corner of his mouth. “What the hell?”

Green eyes blazed with anger, as Olivia towered above her companion. “You did this on purpose, didn’t you? You summoned those daemons to attack me!”

The bruise at the side of Cole’s mouth disappeared. Along with the blood. He stood up with great difficulty. “Yeah, I summoned them. I wanted to see how effective your power was in a surprise attack.”

“You insane bastard! I could have been killed! What the hell were you thinking?”

Cole rolled his eyes in annoyance. “They weren’t real. Sure, they were able to knock you around, but they weren’t able to kill you. I made sure of that. See?” A new daemon appeared beside Olivia. She gasped, as the creature shoved a knife into her side. Instead of reeling from the wound, Olivia incinerated the demon with her pyrokinesis. Another smile touched Cole’s lips. “I see that you’re really getting into the habit of using that new power of yours.”

“You sadistic son-of-a- . . .”

Raising his hand, Cole interrupted. “Look, I’m sorry. All right? But I couldn’t tell you what I had planned. Like I said, I wanted to see how you would use your power in a surprise attack.”

Olivia merely responded with a dark glare. “Kiss my ass, Cole!”

He heaved a sigh and shook his head. “I see that you haven’t forgiven me, yet. Have you?”

“You’re damn right, I haven’t!” Olivia retorted. “You went too . . .”

“I’m talking about what happened at that New Year’s Eve party,” Cole quietly added. “That’s why you’re so unforgiving right now.”

Olivia immediately glanced away. Her face turned bright pink. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she muttered. “And quite frankly, I’m not in the mood to . . .”

“Well, I am!” Cole grabbed Olivia’s shoulders, forcing her to face him. “Look, I’m . . . I’m sorry for what I did. Pushing you away like that was a big mistake, and again, I’m sorry. Can’t you understand that?”

A quiet moment passed, before Olivia heaved a sigh. “Can’t you understand how humiliating that night was for me?” she replied in a soft, intense voice. Her green eyes now bore into Cole’s. “I felt as if I was being rejected. And I’ve had enough of that to last a lifetime, thank you very much.”

“Olivia . . .”

But the witch would not – could not stop. “It was humiliating, Cole. I realize that you’re not in love with me.” She glanced away. “And I know that I’m . . . well, not in . . .”

“I know,” Cole quickly interjected, before she could finish. For some reason, he could not bear hearing Olivia telling him that she did not love him. “I know how we both feel. It’s just . . .” He sighed. Shifted nervously from one foot to the other. “Look, about that kiss . . . I enjoyed it. I mean, really enjoyed it.” Olivia’s face grew even pinker. “And that was the problem, you see. I mean, you’re one of my closest friends. In fact, you’re the first true friend I’ve had in a long time. And here I was, kissing you and enjoying it. You see, I’m not ready to get seriously involved with anyone, right now.”

Olivia nodded. “You mean, so soon after your divorce. I understand.”

“Yeah. Well, I guess I just panicked. Especially since I had enjoyed the kiss so much.”

Again, the pair fell silent. Cole’s eyes roamed about in an effort to avoid Olivia’s gaze. Then he heard her ask in a light voice, “So, you think I’m a good kisser?” He finally met her eyes. To his relief, they danced with mischief.

A smile tugged Cole’s lips. “Well, maybe I had exaggerated. You’re not that bad.”

“Bastard!” Olivia slapped his arm, playfully. The two friends laughed. Once their laughter died down, Olivia added, “By the way, will you be dropping by for Sunday brunch? I’ve . . . missed you.”

Cole’s eyes drank in the redhead’s presence. Olivia practically glowed from an inner light. God, she looked beautiful! “Yeah, I missed you, too,” Cole mumbled. “And I’ll be there.” Olivia responded with a bright smile. Cole felt as if he had finally arrived home after a long trip.

END OF PART SIX

“THE TOURIST” (2010) Review

“THE TOURIST” (2010) Review

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck directed this remake of the 2005 French film, ”ANTHONY ZIMMER” about an American schoolteacher on vacation in Europe, who is mistaken for a British accountant who had embezzled a great deal of funds from a gangster. The movie stars Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie and Paul Bettany. 

Jolie portrayed a British woman named Elise Clifton-Ward, who was being trailed in Paris by a number of men who work for Scotland Yard. At a cafe, she received a letter from Alexander Pearce, a former lover who is wanted by various police forces in Europe and a ruthless gangster. The letter provided explicit directions from Pearce to board a train to Venice, pick out a man who resembles him and make the police believe that this man is him. After Elise burned the letter, she boarded a train for Venice and took a seat besides an American tourist named Frank Tupelo, who became instant attracted to her. And the police, led by a Scotland Yard investigator named John Acheson, instantly began to believe that Frank is the mysterious Alexander Pearce.

One would think that a romantic thriller starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie and set in the romantic cities of Paris and Venice would be a bona fide winner . . . at least with me. And God knows I tried to like this movie. I really did. But in the end, ”THE TOURIST” failed to win my favor. It turned out to be one of the most disappointing movies I have ever seen in the past five years. Mind you, the screenplay adaptation written by director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie and Julian Fellowes was not terrible. The plot seemed a bit implausible, but it ended with a surprisingly well-written twist. And good direction and good acting could have overcome it. Unfortunately, von Donnersmarck’s direction hampered the movie a great deal. I found it rather dull and uninspiring. Especially the action sequences, which featured a very dull chase throughout some of Venice’s canals. And I found the pedantic dialogue – especially that spoken by the two leads, Depp and Jolie – rather hard to bear.

Speaking of the leads, both Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie received Golden Globe nominations for their performance. How on earth did that happen? I am not questioning their talent. Both have given superb performances in past movies. But neither could overcome von Donnersmarck’s tepid direction and the God awful dialogue in the script. And having both actors spend a good amount of time staring into space or at each other, while posing in an iconic manner did not help their performances. Paul Bettany fared a better as the relentless and ruthless Scotland Yard inspector, John Acheson, who is bent upon arresting the real Alexander Pearce or acquiring the money the latter had stolen. He probably gave the most energetic performance in the movie. The movie also featured an intense performance by Steven Berkhoff as Reginald Shaw, the ruthless gangster who also sought out Pearce. His character’s villainy seemed a lot more subtle than his role in the James Bond movie, ”OCTOPUSSY”. Speaking of James Bond, I must admit that former Bond actor Timothy Dalton made an effective head of Scotland Yard. It seemed a pity that his role was not as large as it could have been.

Aside from Bettany, Dalton and Berkhoff’s performances, there were other aspects of “THE TOURIST” I enjoyed. One, I was impressed by the lush costumes designed by Colleen Atwood; and worn by Depp, Berkhoff and Jolie. I never knew that Steven Berkhoff looked so impressive in a turtleneck sweater. And cinematographer John Seale took advantage of the Paris and Venice settings and provided beautiful photography for the movie. Those aspects of “THE TOURIST” are the best things I can say about this film.

I tried very hard to like ”THE TOURIST”. I really did. It had the potential to be an entertaining film. But Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s flaccid direction, Depp and Jolie’s dull performances and the tepid dialogue and action sequences featured in the movie prevented this from happening. And looking back, I now find the movie’s three Golden Globe nominations something of a joke.

“JANE EYRE” (1997) Review

“JANE EYRE” (1997) Review

There have been many adaptations of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”. And I do not exaggerate. If I must be honest, I really have no idea of the number of adaptations made. I have seen at least six of them – including his 1997 television movie that aired on the A&E Channel in the U.S. and on ITV in Great Britain. 

Directed by Robert Young, and starring Samantha Morton as the titled character and Ciarán Hinds as Edward Rochester;“JANE EYRE” told the story of a young and impoverished English woman forced to become a teacher at a girls’ school in early Victorian England. Bored and dissatisfied with working at Lowood – the very school where she had also spent six years as a student, Jane Eyre places an advertisement that offers herself as a governess in a private household. A Mrs. Fairfax of Thornfield Hall responds to the advertisement and hires Jane. Upon her arrival, Jane discovers that Mrs. Fairfax is Thornfield Hall’s housekeeper and that her new student is Adèle Varens, the French-born ward of the estate’s owner, Edward Rochester. It is not long before Jane finds herself falling in love with Mr. Rochester and being drawn to a mystery surrounding him and a maleficent presence at Thornfield Hall.

Judging from the movie’s 108 minute running time, one could easily see that Richard Hawley’s screenplay had cut a great deal from Brontë’s original novel. Jane’s time at Lowood seemed rushed. Her disappointing reunion with the Reeds was completely cut out. And her time spent with St. John and Diana Rivers was censored heavily. The screenplay even failed to point out Jane’s family connections with the Rivers family and her small financial inheritance. Most of the cuts were made to fit the movie’s short running time and emphasize Jane’s relationship with Rochester. Did it work? That is a good question.

I did have some problems with this production. One hundred and eight minutes struck me as a rather short running time for an adaptation of a literary classic. Hollywood could have gotten away with such a running time during its Golden Age, but I am not so certain that it would have been able to do so, today. The movie’s limited running time was certainly apparent in its failure to depict adult Jane’s reunion with her Reed cousins. Her negative childhood in the family’s household had played an important part in Jane’s formative years. I found it ironic that Hawley’s script was willing to convey Jane’s unhappy childhood with the Reeds, but not follow up with her return to their home in the wake of a family tragedy.

This version also excluded Rochester’s barely veiled contempt toward young Adele, his ward and the daughter of his former mistress. Considering Rochester’s paternalistic attitudes and occasional sexism – conveyed in his penchant for blaming Adele for her mother’s perfidy – by ignoring his hostile attitude toward his ward, Hawley seemed to have robbed some of the landowner’s original character in order to make him more palatable. I could also say the same for Hawley and director Young’s decision to remove the incident involving Jane’s encounter with Rochester disguised as a gypsy woman. And a great deal of Jane’s stay with St. John and Diana Rivers was also deleted from this version. One, it robbed the production of an interesting peek into the St. John Rivers character. Although not a favorite of mine, I have always found him interesting. The brief focus on the Rivers sequence made the movie’s pacing within the last half hour seem rather rushed.

But Hawley’s script and Young’s direction more than made up for these shortcomings in the movie’s portrayal of Jane and Rochester’s relationship. I must admit that I found the development of their relationship fascinating to watch. I especially enjoyed how Jane managed to hold her own against Rochester’s persistent attempts to inflict his will upon her . . . earning his love and respect in the process. And in turn, Rochester manages to earn Jane’s respect and love with his intelligence, wit and gradual recognition of her virtues.

The most fascinating sequence in the entire movie was not, surprising, Rochester’s revelation of his insane wife, Bertha. Mind you, I did find that particular scene rather interesting. For me, the most fascinating scene turned out to be Rochester’s attempt to prevent Jane from leaving Thornfield Hall. He used every emotional response possible – passionate pleadings, contempt, desperation, anger and declarations of love – to get her to stay. He even suggested that she become his mistress and travel to the Continent with him in order for them to stay together. What I found amazing about his actions was his lack of remorse or regret for attempting to draw Jane into a bigamous marriage or make her his mistress. But what I found equally amazing was the fact that Jane’s love for him did not die, despite his words and actions. More importantly, she showed amazing strength by resisting him and his promises of an illicit relationship.

Aside from the movie’s writing and direction, the performances of Samantha Morton and Ciarán Hinds really drove the above mentioned scene. They were simply superb. To be honest, they gave first-rate performances throughout the entire movie. I have yet to see Ruth Wilson’s performance as Jane Eyre. But I must admit that I believe Samantha Morton gave one of the two best portrayals of the character – the other came from Zeulah Clarke in the 1983 adaptation. Morton was barely 19 or 20 when she made this film. And yet, she infused a great deal of subtle strength, warmth and passion into the role. Not only did she managed to create a strong chemistry with her leading man, but also hold her own against him, considering that he happened to be at least 24 years older than her. As for Ciarán Hinds, he also gave a first-rate performance. Mind you, there were moments when Hinds chewed the scenery . . . excessively. Perhaps that came from a theatrical style he had failed to shed for motion pictures around that time. But he did capture all aspects of Edward Rochester’s emotional make-up – both good and bad. I would not go as far to say that Ciarán Hinds was my favorite Edward Rochester. But I must admit that I found him to be a memorable one.

This movie also had the good luck to possess a solid supporting cast. However, I only found myself impressed by only a few. One of those few happened to be Timia Bertome, who portrayed young Adele. She did a very good job in not only capturing her character’s self-absorbed nature, but also Adele’s sunny disposition. Rupert Penry-Jones turned out to be a very interesting St. John Rivers. In fact, I would not hesitate to add that Penry-Jones effectively gave a new twist on the character by portraying him as a superficially friendly soul, but one who still remained arrogant, sanctimonious and pushy. It seemed a pity that the actor was never given a chance to delve even further into St. John’s character. Elizabeth Garvie, who portrayed his sister Diana, had a great deal less to do. Screenwriter Richard Hawley gave a subtle, yet effective performance as Rochester’s brother-in-law, Richard Mason. And Sophie Reissner is the first actress to make me sympathize over the plight of Rochester’s mad West Indian wife, Bertha Mason Rochester. Abigail Cruttenden not only effectively portrayed the beautiful, yet vain Blanche Ingram; but also managed to inject some intelligence into the role. But my favorite supporting performance came from Gemma Jones, who portrayed Thornfield Hall’s housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. Superficially, she portrayed the housekeeper as a cheerful soul that kept the Rochester household running efficiently. Yet, she also conveyed Mrs. Fairfax’s anxiety and doubt over Jane’s blooming romance with Mr. Rochester and the presence in the manor’s attic with great subtlety. Jones gave the third best performance in them movie, following Morton and Hinds.

For a movie with such a short running time, I must admit that I found its production values very admirable. Cinematographer John McGlashan did an excellent job in injecting a great deal of atmosphere into his shots without allowing the movie to look too gloomy. However, I did have a problem with that slow-motion shot that featured Edward Rochester’s introduction. It seemed out of place and a bit ridiculous. Also, production designer Stephen Fineren and art director John Hill managed to maintain the movie’s atmosphere and setting. I found Susannah Buxton’s costumes surprisingly enjoyable. The costumes perfectly captured the 1830s in the film’s sequences featuring Jane’s childhood with the Reeds and at Lowood School and also the 1840s in which the rest of the movie was set. I especially have to congratulate Buxton for limiting the Jane Eyre character to only a few costumes, which seemed fitting for the character’s social and economic situation.

This version of ”JANE EYRE” was not perfect. I found its 108 minute running time too short for its story. And because of its limited running time, Richard Hawley’s script deleted or shortened certain scenes that I believe were essential to the story and the leading character. But I must admit that despite these shortcomings, I found this adaptation to be first-rate thanks to the focus upon the Jane Eyre/Edward Rochester relationship; a production design that reeked of early Victorian England and an excellent cast led by the superb Samantha Morton and Ciarán Hinds.

“PLATINUM BLONDE” (1931) Review

“PLATINUM BLONDE” (1931) Review

For over seven decades, many movie fans and critics have ignored the 1931 comedy, “PLATINUM BLONDE”. They have dismissed it as some mediocre, obscure film from the early talkies period deemed unworthy of any real film criticism. But due to recent interest in that particular era, the film’s reputation has grown over the past several years.Directed by Frank Capra and written by Jo Swerling, “PLATINUM BLONDE” is a romantic comedy about a newspaper reporter named Stew Smith, who becomes romantically involved with Ann Schuyler, a wealthy young socialite, after writing an expose about one of her brother’s romances. Unaware of the romantic feelings of a female colleague named Gallagher for him, the reporter marries the socialite. However, both Stew and Ann ending up assuming that the other is the one whose lifestyle must change.

Personally, I believe that “PLATINUM BLONDE” is a decent effort by Frank Capra during the early period of sound. Swerling’s script provided an interesting and comic portrayal of a marriage doomed by the couple’s class differences and their own arrogance. Surprisingly, I suspect that many moviegoers in 1931 saw the Ann Schuyler character as the cause behind the marriage’s failure. After all, she was a woman and from a wealthy background. Many probably felt that she should have been the one to change her lifestyle for the sake of her marriage. The movie did portray Stew giving in to her demands on two counts – living with her family and changing his wardrobe. But he did so, protesting rather loudly and still believing that Ann should surrender to his demands. Instead of condemning both Stew and Ann for their joint failure to compromise for the sake of their marriage, Capra and Swerling decided to portray Ann as the “villain”. Even worse, the script provided Stew with a potentially perfect mate in Gallagher, after his marriage ended before the film’s last reel. Watching a professional journalist like Gallagher portray the little housewife, fetching and cooking for the now free Stew did not exactly leave a glowing feeling within me.

Many of the early talkies had a reputation for being nothing more than a filmed play. Most of ”PLATINUM BLONDE” managed to avoid getting bogged down with a slow pace. I found most of the movie surprisingly fast-paced. This is a miracle, considering that most movies during that period were bogged down in pacing, due to the studios’ inexperience and insecurities on how to deal with sound technology for films. Although most of ”PLATINUM BLONDE” managed to move at a brisk pace, the scene featuring Stew’s first meeting with Ann and the rest of the Schuyler family did not. Only during this sequence, did the movie threatened to bog down into a filmed play. Not even Swerling’s sharp dialogue or actor Robert Williams’ frenetic acting could prevent this.

I have heard that the movie was supposed to be a vehicle for Loretta Young and the movie’s original title was “GALLAGHER”. I also heard that “PLATINUM BLONDE” was supposed to be a showcase the 20 year-old Jean Harlow and the color of her hair (which was one of several aspects that made her a star), hence the name of the movie’s title. Yet, Loretta Young ended up receiving top billing. Frankly, I found this confusing. It seemed obvious to me that Robert Williams was the real star of this particular movie, given his exuberant performance. It is a mystery to me why Columbia Pictures’ boss, Harry Cohn, could not see this. Sure, I could see why they pushed Harlow’s role, considering that she was fast becoming a sex symbol. But Young’s role seemed a lot smaller than both Williams and Harlow’s roles. Why give Williams second billing? He deserved first billing. Another aspect of “PLATINUM BLONDE” that took me by surprise was that it did not seem much of a Pre-Code film to me. Despite Jean Harlow’s presence, the movie seemed too much like a Frank Capra film, with its emphasis on class warfare. Despite the main male character involved with one woman and another woman desperately in love with him, there is very little hint of sex or sexual innuendo in this film. The sexiest scene I could recall featured Harlow and Williams’ horseplay on a sofa that struck me more as adolescent than something worthy of a Pre-Code film or anything Post-Code.

Many critics and fans have claimed that Harlow had been miscast as an heiress. Apparently, many seemed to have the notion that Harlow was incapable of portraying a role that did not call for her to be a spunky member of the working-class. First of all, Harlow did not come from such a background. She came from an upper middle-class or upper-class Kansas City family and was indulged as a child. Which made her, in my opinion, capable of portraying an heiress. And she did a pretty damn good job, as far as I am concerned. Loretta Young was sweet and spunky as the love-sick Gallagher. However, her role did not struck me as strong enough to warrant her top billing. I have heard about Robert Williams in the past and comments about his road to stardom being cut off by sudden death from peritonitis three days after the film’s release. After seeing his exciting performance in “PLATINUM BLONDE”, I believe that he had what it took to become a star in 1930s Hollywood. He was generally good-looking, talented, adjusted to talking pictures like a duck to water, and possessed a strong screen presence. Alas . . . fate had something else in store for him.

And as much as I liked “PLATINUM BLONDE”, I find it difficult to get over my distaste toward the movie’s portrayal of the Stew Smith-Ann Schuyler marriage. I did not care for Capra and Swerling’s decision to make Ann the “villain” of the marriage, considering that both she and Stew were determined to be the one who controlled the marriage. I found the scene featuring Stew’s introduction to the Schuyler family rather long and slow-paced. And I believe that Loretta Young’s top billing undeserved. But aside from one scene, Capra directed a fast-pasted and entertaining movie filled with sharp dialogue written by Jo Swerling. And audiences were given a brief glimpse of the potential stardom that actor Robert Williams could have enjoyed, if fate had not stepped in.

“Second Power” [PG-13] – 5/8

“SECOND POWER”

PART FIVE

The words reverberated inside Olivia’s mind.

“O eternal Goddess, Maiden, Mother and Crone, I am made from your flesh and you know me better than I know myself.” 

Her eyes firmly shut, Olivia become attuned to the forces surrounding her. Forces that radiated from her body.

“You understand depression, frustration, and anxiety. Please help me to control these emotions, and help me to convert these powerful feelings into love.”

Now other forces captured her attention. They seemed to have originated from another dimension. Filled with magic and wonder.

“O eternal God, King of infinite wisdom and goodness, I am created from your essence, and I thank you for the gift of life.”

A long tunnel appeared before Olivia. At the end, a bright light illuminated. She slowly made her way toward the light, while the chant continued filling her mind.

“Please teach me to be patient and humble, tolerant and gentle, especially when life’s problems become heavy and difficult to bear. So Mote It Be.”

Finally, she reached the end of the tunnel and stepped forward. Olivia emerged into the bright light and found herself in a whole new world. One that seemed filled with wonders and enchantment.

* * * *

Leo and Piper appeared in the hallway, outside Olivia’s apartment. Both heaved sighs of relief. The whitelighter raised his hand and rang the doorbell. Seconds passed and no one answered. Keeping his frustration in check, Leo knocked, this time.

“Maybe Paige was wrong and she’s not home,” Piper commented. She looked eager to leave.

Shaking his head, Leo replied, “No, she’s home. I thought I heard something.”

“Then why doesn’t she . . .?”

Ignoring his wife, Leo knocked once more. When Olivia failed to answer, he and Piper exchanged worried glances. Then the whitelighter closed his eyes in another attempt to sense some kind of presence inside the apartment. “Oh my God,” he murmured.

Piper frowned. “What?”

“Something’s going on in there. I don’t know what. Hold on. I’m going to orb us inside.”

After Piper grabbed Leo’s hand, he orbed out of the hallway. The moment he and Piper appeared inside Olivia’s living room, they were met with a shocking surprise. The couple found everything hovering inches off the floor. Including Olivia, who squatted in Yoga position. Within seconds, both Leo and Piper were also hovering.

“Oh my God!” Piper cried out. “Le-eee-eo-ooo!” While her bulky figure hovered in the air, she waved her arms about. “How in the hell do we get down?”

Unfortunately, Leo was in no position to help his wife. Not while he was floating ten inches off the floor. Even worse, he could not orb. Olivia. He must get through to Olivia. Leo called out his friend’s name. To no avail. The red-haired witch remained in a trance. He tried once more. “Olivia! O-liiv-vee-ah!

* * * *

Something that faintly resembled a voice, echoed in Olivia’s subconscious. It was only a glimmer, but loud enough to interrupt this new spiritual exploration. After a silent pause, Olivia happily resumed her meditation. Then the voice returned. “Olivia.”Was someone calling her? And why was someone trying to pull her from this alternate dimension? Because quite frankly, she had no desire to leave. “Olivia! OLIVIA!” Finally, she recognized the voice’s owner. Leo. Olivia finally snapped out of her trance and returned to her old world.

She slowly opened her eyes and found everything inside her apartment living room, floating in mid-air. Including Leo, Piper and herself. Olivia let out a gasp. Objects started falling toward the floor. And the couple screamed. Using her telekinesis, Olivia again levitated both the objects and the bodies, before slowly lowering them to the floor. She tried to be as gentle as possible with Piper. Once the pair reached the floor, Olivia cast them anxious looks. “God, I’m sorry! Are you guys, okay?”

Leo let out a gust of breath. “Yeah, I’m . . .” He frowned. “I’m fine. What happened? Has your telekinesis developed?” The whitelighter helped his wife to her feet. Then he helped Olivia. “I don’t recall you ever doing that before.”

Olivia shrugged. “It was probably the meditation. Remember, Harry once read one of Phoebe’s premonitions while he was meditating. And they both were miles apart, at the time.”

“Try it again.”

Before Olivia could make the attempt, Piper interrupted. “Uh, before you do, would you mind if I step outside?”

A small smile tugged Olivia’s lips. “Perhaps I should try it another time. So,” her smile disappeared, “what do I owe the pleasure of your company? And what are you doing inside my apartment? Without my permission?”

“Uh, Leo?” Piper shot her husband an uneasy glance. “I think you should answer this.”

The whitelighter squirmed under Olivia’s direct stare. “Uh . . . well, it’s like this. You didn’t answer, when I rang the doorbell.”

“So?”

“C’mon Olivia! I thought something was happening to you!” Leo protested. “I could sense your presence inside and you didn’t answer. So . . . we . . .” He glanced at Piper, “I thought it was best to orb in right away. Just in case.”

Nodding, Olivia said. “Okay. I guess you had every right. Next question. Why are the Elders so interested in my relationship with Cole? Has this something to do with my new power?”

This time, the whitelighter hesitated. “Well, as a matter of fact . . .”

A long dry sigh escaped Olivia’s mouth. “Awwww, I knew it! Good grief! I should have known they wouldn’t be able to keep their damn noses out of my business!”

“Olivia! They’re very concerned, and quite frankly, I don’t blame them! You now have a strong firepower. And a powerful – almost invincible – demon is helping you control it. That’s a pretty dangerous combination!”

Olivia rolled her eyes. “Really? And what exactly do you think Cole is going to do? Lure me to the demonic world? Into evil? Hell, I don’t need his help to do that! And neither would anyone else!”

“I don’t know about that,” Piper commented coolly. “My sisters and I aren’t exactly inclined toward . . . the dark side.”

Shooting a contemptuous look at the Charmed One, Olivia coolly retorted, “I wouldn’t sell myself short if I were you, honey.” Piper’s face turned red.

“Look Olivia,” Leo continued, “I realize that you consider Cole . . .” He paused, as another frown flitted across his face. “Wait a minute! Why are you letting Cole train you in the first place? Paige told us that you two were not spea . . .”

The doorbell rang, interrupting Leo. Olivia strode toward the door. A quick glance through the peephole revealed Cole standing in the hallway. Speak of the devil. She opened the door and drawled, “Well, look who’s here. Cole.”

The half-daemon greeted her coolly. “Olivia. Are you ready for . . .?” His eyes fell upon the two visitors inside the apartment. Cole paused. “Oh. Leo. Piper. What are you two doing here?”

“Actually, we should be asking you that question,” Leo shot back, hostility brimming in his voice. “Since Olivia is my charge and I’m her whitelighter, I couldn’t help but wonder why ‘you’ are helping her with this new power.”

The combination of a sneer and a smirk marred Cole’s handsome face. “One, she’s your former charge. And if you had been around more often, instead of meeting every half hour with your masters, maybe you would have found the time to help Olivia.”

Leo’s face turned red with anger. Even Piper seemed upset by Cole’s remark. “Hey!” she protested. “Leo is only doing his job!”

“And what exactly is that?”

The whitelighter made a threatening step toward the half-daemon, before either Olivia or Piper could stop him. “And what are you doing here?” Leo accused. “Last I heard, Olivia had been avoiding you for nearly two weeks! And now you decided to pop back into her life, the moment her second power manifested!”

Olivia began uneasily, “Uh, Leo . . .”

“What?” Leo rounded on his former charge. “Are you telling me that you never found it odd that Cole suddenly became interested in helping you with your new power, after you two spent two weeks not speaking to each? And what happened to the witch who was supposed to help you?”

The uneasy memory of Margot Palmer’s flight, flashed in Olivia’s mind. “Well, about Margot . . .”

“What about her? What happened to her? Did Cole frightened her away? Suddenly offered to help you in her place? I wonder why?” Leo glared at Cole. “Maybe the Elders have a right to be . . .”

Cole waved his hand at Leo. Who immediately transformed into a mini tape recorder. The half-daemon picked it – Leo – from the floor and pushed the STOP button.

“What the hell?” Piper cried out.

Olivia shot her neighbor a warning glance. “Cole . . .”

“He wouldn’t stop talking,” Cole protested with a shrug. “I had to shut him up some way.”

Piper demanded angrily, “TURN HIM BACK! NOW!!”

“I will,” Cole replied casually. “If you promise to keep him quiet.”

The Charmed One raised her hands in a threatening manner. “Turn him back now, Cole! Or I will . . .”

“You’ll do what?”

Dark eyes slitted dangerously, Piper hissed through clenched teetch, “I’ll make you wish you had never returned from the Wasteland! Don’t forget that I’m carrying a very powerful baby!”

“Powerful enough to hurt me?” Cole’s blue eyes flashed in a challenging manner. “Wanna give it a shot?”

Piper made a threatening move forward. At that moment, Olivia decided to step between the two hostiles. “That’s enough!” she bellowed. “I’m not in the mood for a supernatural smackdown! Not in my place!” She faced Cole. “Will you please do as Piper asked and transform Leo back to his normal self?”

Cole let out a sigh. Then he dropped the recorder on the floor with a casual thud, garnering a cold glare from said recorder’s wife. With a wave of his hand, he transformed Leo back into the latter’s original form. The whitelighter opened his mouth to speak and the rest were greeted with silence.

Olivia glared at the half-daemon. “Cole! His voice!”

“Oh. Right.” Cole waved his hand once more and restored Leo’s voice.

The angry-looking whitelighter opened his mouth, but Olivia spoke first. “Leo, don’t. You’re back to normal. And I suggest you accept that and move on. As for Cole training me – well, he did offer his help. But only after Harry had talked him into it. Besides, Margot wasn’t really doing much for me.”

“But Olivia! You could have summoned me,” Leo protested. “I am your whitelighter . . . okay, your former whitelighter! And a close friend.”

Olivia sighed. “Oh Leo! Cole came to me before I could summon you. And let’s face it, you’re rather hard to get hold of.” She glanced away. “You always have – especially during the last four years or so. Just be glad that Cole has been very helpful.”

“Yeah, I’m really glad,” Leo muttered darkly.

“Leo . .”

But the whitelighter would not be appeased. He grabbed Piper’s hand and added, “I’ll see you later, Olivia. Both Leo and Piper shot one last glare at Cole, before they orbed out of the apartment.

An uneasy silence settled between the remaining couple. Cole opened his mouth to speak. “Don’t say anything, Cole,” Olivia retorted first. “Don’t say another damn word!”

“What? Look, I’m sorry,” the half-daemon began. “I just . . .”

“I understand perfectly what was going through your mind,” was Olivia’s acid reply. “I realize that you’re still pissed at what the Halliwells did to you nearly a year ago, Cole. But you really need to get over it. You can’t bear a grudge forever.”

Cole’s mouth formed a moue. “What do you want me to do? Apologize to Leo?”

“I’d say it’s a bit late for that. At least now.”

A frustrated sigh left Cole’s mouth. “Oh well. Even if I had offered an apology, I doubt that Leo would have accepted it.”

“Hmmph,” Olivia grunted. “Can’t say that I blame him.”

Again, Cole sighed. “Oh God! Olivia, if this is about what happened at that New Year’s party . . .”

“I really don’t want to talk about it, Cole,” Olivia shot back, interrupting him. Vivid blue eyes pleaded with her. She glanced away. “Not now.”

Cole responded with a nervous cough. “Of course. Um, ready for more training?”

Olivia nodded. She allowed Cole to gently take her arm and the pair disappeared.

* * * *

The entire Elders Council stared at Leo with disbelief. Shock. Elder Sylvester leaned forward. “Do you mean to say that you’ve allowed Belthazor to . . . you allowed that demon to train the witch on her new firepower?”

Leo stifled a frustrated sigh. Barely maintaining his composure, he corrected the elder. “I didn’t . . . I never suggested that Cole help Olivia control her power. In fact, I’ve been trying to get hold of her all week. Only . . .”

“Only what?” Sylvester demanded in a chilly voice.

“It was Harry McNeill who talked Cole into helping Olivia,” Leo continued. “Before I found out about it. And I’ve been in Boston, helping another charge.” The whitelighter paused momentarily, as he considered his next words. “I’ve also discovered that Cole has been taking Olivia to another dimension. Which one, I don’t know.”

Elder MacKenzie’s face turned red. “WHAT???”

“I don’t think it was a demonic dimension,” Leo assured the council members.

Her eyes expressing despair, Elder Mathilda muttered, “Oh no.”

Leo quickly added, “I don’t think that Cole would chance taking Olivia to a demonic dimension. And Beltha . . . uh, Cole seems to be doing a good job in hel . . .”

Elder Sylvester’s face hardened. “This is not good, Leo. It’s bad enough that witches like the McNeills are willing to consort with warlocks and demons like Belthazor. But to have him train a powerful witch like the middle child, control her firepower . . .” He sighed heavily. “Clean up this mess, Leo. Now! The two of them together might prove to be a dangerous threat to us all.”

“But why?” Leo demanded. “How? Olivia hasn’t been my charge in years! I can understand Cole being a threat. But he and Olivia – together? Why?”

All of the Elders gave him a stern look. MacKenzie added pointedly, “You have your orders, Leo. I suggest that you carry them out.”

* * * *

Seconds later, Leo shuffled out of the Elders’ chamber, his mind in a daze. How on earth did they expect him to break up Olivia and Cole’s relationship? Order her to stay away from the half-demon? Olivia would only laugh in his face. Or sneer.

Leo recalled Paige’s words about some estrangement between the couple. Something to do with a New Year’s party. His last encounter with Olivia and Cole had not hinted any estrangement. Well, there had been a touch of coolness between the two. Leo wondered if they had reconciled their differences. Or merely putting it aside in face of Olivia’s current crisis. If it was the latter . . .

“Ah! Leo! There you are!” A voice cried out, interrupting Leo’s thoughts. He immediately recognized one of his fellow whitelighters, a Russian woman named Natalia Stepanova. Born into a wealthy St. Petersburg family in the 19th century, she had been killed during one of those revolutionary outbreaks that had plagued Russian cities during the latter half of that century.

The Russian-born whitelighter appeared at Leo’s side, grabbing one of his arms. “Natalia! What are you . . .?”

“I heard about your friend,” Natalia continued, “and her new power.”

Leo rolled his eyes. “Good grief! I bet that the entire realm knows! ‘There goes Leo! Not only does one of his former charges have a firepower, but she’s also cavorting with a demon. The same demon who had once been his brother-in-law!’

“Ah, yes. Olivia McNeill.” The dark-haired whitelighter nodded. “I am familiar with her distant cousin.” She added sadly, “Or should I say, I was familiar with him.”

Leo frowned. “Was?”

Natalia continued, “Keith McNeill. The Laird of Dunleith. He died about a week or two ago, of pneumonia. Like your Olivia, he was a powerful fire witch.” She sighed wistfully. “I miss him already. Did you know that he had introduced me to Scotch malt whiskey. Such a charming man!”

“Wait, he was a fire witch?”

The Russian-born woman nodded. “Yes, very powerful. He was not exactly on friendly terms with most of the whitelighters. Too much of a non-conformist. And he believed that we did not have the right to have authority over witches.”

Leo muttered, “Sounds like a true McNeill.”

“Oh yes. Keith did not share the Elders’ view on good, evil, daemons and such,” Natalia added. “It was one of the reasons the Elders considered him a threat.”

The young whitelighter’s eyes grew wide with shock. “They considered him a threat?”

“Yes. For that reason. And . . .” Natalia glanced around surreptiously. “Have you ever heard of the Staff of Aingeal?”

Leo frowned. “The what? What are you talking about?”

Natalia began, “It is the . . .”

“Natalia!” A third whitelighter strode toward the pair. “You are wanted in the chamber.”

Sighing, the Russian whitelighter waved at her other colleague. “I am coming.” She turned to Leo. “I think you better ask the McNeills about it.” She patted his arm. “They could probably tell you everything.” Then she walked away.

END OF CHAPTER FIVE

“ANGEL” RETROSPECTIVE: (5.15) “A Hole in the World”

Below is a look into (5.15) “A Hole in the World”, a Season Five episode from “ANGEL” 

“ANGEL” RETROSPECTIVE: (5.15) “A Hole in the World”

Written and directed by Joss Whedon, the Season Five episode, (5.15) “A Hole in the World”, centered on the death of one of the series’ regulars, Winifred “Fred” Burkle. The slow road to her death began when a Wolfram and Hart employee named Knox accepts the delivery of a sarcophagus. When Fred touches one of the crystals that cover the lid, a puff of dusty air is released, making her cough. Later, she eventually starts coughing up blood before collapsing.

It turns out that by touching one of the sarcophagus’ crystals, Fred becomes infected by the spirit of an ancient demon named Illyria. The entire crew searches for a cure, but give up hope when Spike and Angel discover that the only way to save Fred’s life would kill thousands of people. Wesley Wyndham-Pryce tries to comfort Fred as she dies and eventually witnesses the emergence of Illyria.

”A Hole in the World” was a very interesting episode that replayed the same issue from various ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” episodes like (3.19)”Choices” and 5.22)”The Gift” and ”ANGEL” episodes like (3.16)”Sleep Tight” – namely the task of making a choice for the need of the few or the many. And the choice that Angel had to make was whether to save Fred from death and the growing influences of a demon that had infected her body, or to ensure that the world would remain safe. Angel chose the world over his friend. And judging from the reactions on the forums when the episode first aired, not many agreed with his choice. I did not condemn Angel’s choice. I believe that he had made the right one . . . just as Buffy had made the right choice for her in ”The Gift”. It did not really matter if the needs of the many were more important than the needs of the few, or vice versa. What mattered was that each person had to make the choice that was more important to his or her heart. For Buffy, Dawn was more important to her; and for Angel, sparing the world from destruction. Or perhaps being a champion was more important to Angel. However, if the choice had been between . . . say . . . Connor and the world; I suspect that Angel would have chosen Connor.

Angel’s decision proved to be some of an irony for Wesley. His reaction to Fred’s death in the following episode, (5.16) “Shells” certainly proved this. After all, I am talking about the ”King of Tough Choices”. This was the same man who felt it was more important to prevent Mayor Wilkins from getting his hands on the Book of Ascension than saving Willow’s life in the”BUFFY” episode, ”Choices”. He was also willing to risk the lives of rebellious Pyleans for a successful revolution in the”ANGEL” episode (2.22) “There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb”. And in ”Sleep Tight”, he risked his friendship with Angel and the others in order to prevent said vampire from killing his infant son, because of a prophecy. Considering his past history, one can only ponder over his reactions to the circumstances that led to Fred’s death.

And speaking of Fred, what about her choices? One has to admit that many of her choices have led her to this point – a slow death and demonic possession. Fred chose to leave her home in San Antonio in order to attend college in Southern California. This decision put her in the path of Professor Siedel. And her curiosity caused her to open a book that led to five years of bondage in Pylea. After being rescued by Angel Investigations, she made the decision not to follow her parents back to Texas. Instead, she bound her fate with the souled vampire and his companions. This, in turn, led to her employment with Wolfram and Hart . . . and her death by the end of this episode. I have one question – why did Fred open the sarcophagus without first doing any research on it? I must have missed the scene. If so, this only proves to me that Fred never really had a healthy respect for the spiritual and the supernatural, despite her five years in Pylea and three years with Angel Investigations. She has always had a tendency to treat anything supernatural as a science experiment. And in doing so, she may have paid the price for her attitude. It is not surprising that Wesley angrily cursed her curiosity.

I also wanted to touch upon a few other points about this episode:

*While Eve was trying to hide from the Senior Partners, I bet she must have been wondering what kind of situation her love for Lindsey had brought her.

*I could not help but wonder if Fred upchucking blood over Wes was a metaphor or sign of the tragic death that overtook Wesley in the series finale.

*Angel and Spike were quickly becoming quite the screen team by this episode. I enjoyed watching our favorite vamps’ relationship progress from polite antagonism to mutual grief over Angel’s decision. I also enjoyed Spike’s “hole-in-the-world” speech. Very poignant.

*There is an old saying that if you do not have anything nice to say about something or someone, say nothing at all. Considering my opinionated nature, I could not hold back my opinion on the Wesley/Fred romance of Season Five. Watching them share a kiss following their victory over a demon around the beginning of this episode, reminded me of the early stages of Buffy and Riley’s romance in the middle of Season 4 for ”BUFFY”. Wesley and Fred led me to conclude that watching a 30-something man and a 20-something woman act like teenagers in love seemed a little sad . . . and very saccharine.

Does anyone remember the Season Four episode, (4.16) “Players” and the conversation between Wesley and Fred in that episode? I do. In it, Fred had expressed her disgust over the Connor/Cordelia affair. When Wesley tried to make her to understand what would lead those two to have an affair, the conversation eventually drifted toward Wesley’s affair with Wolfram and Hart attorney, Lilah Morgan. Not only did Fred failed to understand Wesley’s lack of disgust over Connor and Cordelia, she could not understand how he could have become involved with Lilah in the first place. And that is how the conversation (and scene) ended . . . with Fred at a loss over Wesley’s attitude. I cannot say what was going through Wes’ head at the time. But judging from the look on his face and his eventual silence, I got the impression that he realized Fred would never really understand “the real him”. Considering that this conversation began with the topic of Cordelia and Connor, I could not help but wonder if Wesley and Fred had lost their memories of this discussion, due to the erasure of their memories of Connor, at the end of Season Four. Also, Wesley’s kidnapping of Connor proved to be one of the catalysts for his relationship with Lilah in Season Four.

I also cannot help but wonder if they would have ever gotten involved in the first place, due to the mindwipe. I realize that many Jossverse fans tend to view Wesley and Fred’s romance as idealized, I never could accept that prevailing view. I simply found their relationship boring and somewhat infantile. It had an uneasy mixture of a high school romance and incest, due to Wesley’s habit of treating Fred as part-lover and part-daughter. It was not surprising to me that a dying Fred had expressed confusion at the reasons behind Wesley’s feelings for her.

*Fred’s Death Scene was one of the most unbearable I have ever experienced on television. In fact, I found it so excruciating . . . and slow that I was unable to experience any compassion or sadness over her death. I simply felt relieved when she finally died.

I must admit that A Hole in the World” was never a favorite episode of mine. In fact, I have never been that fond of the second half of Season Five. But I must admit that Whedon had written a first-rate episode. Yes, I found the Wesley/Fred romance a bit nauseating to endure. And Fred’s death seemed to go on forever. But Whedon’s handling of theme regarding hard choices and the introduction of the Illryia character made this one of the more memorable episodes of the series.