“PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” (1980) Review

“PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” (1980) Review

As many fans of Jane Austen must know, there have been several screen and television adaptations of the author’s most celebrated novel, “Pride and Prejudice”, published in 1813. I usually come across at least five of those versions – including the five-part BBC adaptation that aired in the U.S. in 1980. The miniseries was adapted by Fay Weldon and directed by Cyril Coke. 

Only someone unfamiliar with Austen’s story would not know that “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” told the story of Elizabeth Bennet, the second-born daughter of an English gentleman and landowner in Regency England. The story focused on the efforts of her volatile mother to find eligible husbands for Elizabeth and her four sisters. It is also a love story about Elizabeth’s tumultuous relationship with a wealthy and haughty gentleman named Fitzwilliam Darcy. Through five episodes, the miniseries explored Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s emotions, as their relationship went from mild hostility, misunderstandings and prejudice, to love, respect and marriage. Many Austen fans consider Weldon’s adaptation to be the most faithful to the 1813 novel. After my recent viewing of the miniseries, I realized that I could never agree with that opinion.

I am not saying that ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” strongly differed from Austen’s novel. But I can honestly say that it was no more faithful than the 1995 version. Only screenwriter Fay Weldon’s variations differ from Andrew Davies’. In fact, most these differences were especially obvious in the segment that featured Elizabeth’s visit to Hunsford, the Collins’ home in Kent. But these differences did not lessen my enjoyment of the production. However, there were some aspects of the miniseries that did.

One aspect of ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” that annoyed me was its occasionally slow pacing. There were moments when I found myself wondering if I was watching a filmed play. Most fans would dismiss this complaint on the grounds that many BBC miniseries productions had been shot in this static style. True, but I have seen a few of these old productions that managed to maintain a brisk pacing. Another aspect of the miniseries that annoyed me was the internal monologues that expressed Elizabeth’s thoughts. This was especially apparent in scenes that reflected Elizabeth’s opinion of the letter she had received from Mr. Darcy following his disastrous marriage proposal; and in the sequences that featured her thoughts on her sister Lydia’s elopement with George Wickham and her parents’ marriage. Frankly, I found the use of this film device simply a cheap way to reflect Elizabeth’s opinions on the subjects. And these monologues nearly bogged the series’ pacing to a standstill.

But the real disappointment proved to be the miniseries’ portrayal of the Netherfield Ball. The ball given by Mr. Darcy’s close friend, Charles Bingley, was one of the novel’s centerpieces in nearly every adaptation of ”Pride and Prejudice”. The ball was replaced with a garden fête in the 1940 version. But it still turned out to be one of the movie’s centerpieces. So, why did Fay Weldon dropped the ball with this particular sequence? In this version, the Netherfield Ball segment lasted a little over six minutes. Elizabeth expressed her displeasure over Mr. Wickham’s non-appearance and the prospect of dancing with Mr. Darcy. She danced with both Mr. Darcy and her cousin, William Collins. She traded barbs with Caroline Bingley. And Elizabeth also witnessed her mother’s embarrassing boasts about elder sister Jane’s romance with Mr. Bingley. By deleting Mr. Collins brief discussion with Mr. Darcy and the embarrassing behavior of the other members of the Bennet family, Weldon’s screenplay seemed to have rendered the sequence half done. Worse, Cyril Coke shot the sequence at an incredibly fast pace. Between Weldon’s deletions and Coke’s pacing, the Netherfield Ball sequence seemed like such a disappointing affair.

When I first saw ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”, I became immediately enamored of the miniseries. As an adolescent, I thought it was one of the best things to come from British television. After my last viewing of the series, my opinion of it has somewhat diminished. But I still consider it to be very entertaining. Austen’s wit remained intact. Well . . . somewhat. Some of the jokes – like Elizabeth’s comment about Darcy’s and her penchant for “amazing” statements – failed to make any impact, due to Elizabeth Garvie’s delivery of the line. And many of Mr. Bennet’s witticisms seemed angry, instead of funny. But plenty of humor remained in the miniseries. Elizabeth’s first meeting with Lady Catherine de Bourgh and a reunion with Mr. Darcy struck me as one of the miniseries’ funniest scenes. Just about every scene with Mrs. Bennet or Mr. Collins provided plenty of laughs. The romances featured in ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” remained strong as ever, especially between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.

I would not consider Paul Wheeler’s photography for ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” to be that colorful. In fact, it looked slightly faded. One could attribute this to the fact that the miniseries has been aging for the past thirty years. Yet, I have seen other television productions made around the same time or earlier that looked more colorful. But I must admit that I enjoyed Joan Ellacott’s costume designs. They were certainly colorful and properly reflected the characters’ social status.

Any adaptation of ”Pride and Prejudice” would be nothing without strong leads to portray the two main characters, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. The 1980 miniseries certainly benefitted from strong performances provided by Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul. Garvie proved to be a very soft-spoken Elizabeth Bennet, reminding me of Greer Garson’s performance in the same role in the 1940 adaptation. Yet, beneath the soft tones, Garvie provided plenty of wit and steel. I found her performance very enjoyable. And David Rintoul definitely projected Mr. Darcy’s haughty demeanor. Some consider his performance to be the epitome portrayal of Austen’s famous character. Perhaps. Perhaps not. There were moments when Rintoul’s Mr. Darcy seemed a bit too haughty – especially when the character was supposed to be falling in love with Elizabeth. But I believe he still gave a first-rate performance. And he provided one of the miniseries’ funniest moments in a scene featuring Elizabeth and the Collins’ first visit to Rosings Park.

The rest of the cast seemed solid. But I can only think of a few exceptional performances. One came from Priscilla Morgan, whose portrayal of Mrs. Bennet managed to be extremely irritating without her resorting to caricature. I was also impressed by Marsha Fitzalan, who proved that Caroline Bingley could be both subtle and spiteful at the same time. Tessa Peake-Jones gave an entertaining performance as the bookish and pompous Mary Bennet. Her portrayal seemed more subtle than other actresses who have portrayed the character. Peter Settlelen also gave a solid performance as George Wickham, but he came off as too hale and hearty for me to consider him as an effective villain. And Peter Howell was certainly hilarious as the boorish and obsequious Mr. William Collins, Elizabeth’s cousin and Mr. Bennet’s heir. However, there were moments when he seemed a bit over-the-top.

And then there were the performances that I found questionable. I must admit that I was not impressed by Natalie Ogle’s portrayal of the childish Lydia Bennet. I found her acting skills somewhat amateurish. The actress who portrayed Kitty Bennet seemed a little too old for the role. And there were times when her Kitty seemed more mature (in a negative way) than the other four sisters. And Kitty is supposed to be the second youngest sibling in the family. Actor Moray Watson gave a sharp and entertaining performance as the Bennets’ patriarch. But I found his wit a bit too harsh and angry at times.

”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” has its share of flaws, which I have pointed out in this review. But its virtues outweighed the flaws – the biggest ones being the first-rate performances of the two leads, Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul. Screenwriter Fay Weldon and director Cyril Coke did an above-average job in adapting Jane Austen’s most famous novel.

“Lover Man” [R] – 1/3

“LOVER MAN”

CODE: Paris, Torres, P/f, and (P/T)
RATING: [R] For scenes of a sexual nature and adult language.
SUMMARY: A curious B’Elanna Torres stumbles upon an illicit love affair that involves Voyager’s Chief Helmsman. Set during mid-Season 1. A bit dark and angsty.
FEEDBACK:  Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: Tom, B’Elanna and all other characters related to Star Trek Voyager belong to Paramount, Viacom and the usual Trek Powers to Be.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: A lot of fan fiction have portrayed Tom’s womanizing as something not to be taken seriously. More reputation than fact. In this story, the rumors of his rampant womanizing prove to be true.
ANOTHER NOTE: Although TPTB never gave Hogan a first name, I decided to name him Simon – after the actor who portrayed him in the series, Simon Billig.
 

—————–

PART ONE

An eager Tom Paris strolled along Deck Nine’s corridor, mindful of the curious stares from passing crewmen. He was on his way to the quarters of one Ensign Telac Mara, a delectable Bajoran officer who worked in Exobiology. Tom planned to spend several hours in her quarters, entertaining her the best way he knew how – food, talk and plenty of sex. If he was lucky. His anticipation must show on his face. How else could he explain the smirks and expressions of disgust on the others’ faces.

Nearly two months had passed since Voyager found itself catapulted into the Delta Quadrant. Nine weeks since Captain Kathryn Janeway gave a former Starfleet brat, turned convict a second chance to make something of his life. And although Tom felt obliged to show his gratitude by becoming an exemplary officer, he realized that he also had a private life to maintain. For Thomas Eugene Paris, that meant the pursuit of the opposite sex.

As Tom round a corner, he nearly collided with two members of the Engineering staff – Joe Carey and Simon Hogan. Starfleet and Maquis. It seemed that Captain Janeway’s desire to assimilate the two factions into one crew might come into fruition after all. Tom flashed a smile at the two men. “Hey Joe! Simon! What are you two doing here?”

Carey, forever the proper Starfleeter, gave Tom a muted smile. “Paris. We’re here on business. Why?”

“Yeah, why?” Hogan added sneeringly. “What business is it of yours?” Being Maquis, Simon Hogan was less subtle in expressing his dislike of the Chief Conn Officer. “You plan to run back to Janeway and send a report?”

Tom took a deep breath and mentally began to count to ten. “Look, Hogan, I was merely curious, that’s all. Especially since neither of you have quarters on this deck.”

Suspicion glimmered in the former Maquis’s eyes. “How do you know that?”

For a long moment, the former colleagues stared at each other. Tom eventually realized that Hogan’s suspicions were ridiculous. “For crying out . . . Never mind!” He shook his head in disgust and continued along the corridor, ignoring the other man’s dark mumblings.

Pushing the encounter with the two engineers to the back of his mind, Tom continued to scan the cabin numbers for Mara’s quarters. Nine-f, nine-g, nine-h, nine . . . A slender hand shot out of an opened doorway and grabbed Tom’s wrist. “What the hell?” he began. Then he found himself being dragged into an empty cabin before he could protest any further. That same hand, along with another, slammed him against the wall. Tom stared into a pair of familiar eyes. “What the hell are you doing?” he demanded in an annoyed voice.

She purred, “I saw you talking with Hogan and Carey in the corridor. And I thought I would surprise you.” She pressed her body against Tom’s. “You know, renew old times.” A pink tongue darted from her mouth and flickered across the edge of Tom’s jaw.

“I’m not interested in renewing old times,” Tom retorted. His mind desperately tried to ignore the wet tongue on his jaw. “And I have plans to spend my evening with someone else. Someone I actually like.”

“You mean Telac Mara?” She sniffed. “I thought you had better taste than that.” Her tongue reached the edge of his mouth and began to make circular motions. Tom managed to hold back a groan through sheer effort.

Breathlessly, the pilot responded, “Look, why don’t you go seduce someone else? I’m not in the mood and we barely like each other. We never have.”

“That didn’t stop you from spending a little time with me, before.” Her tongue flickered back and forth across Tom’s upper lip.

“I was drunk, . . . oh God . . . desperate for sex and didn’t know any better.” Tom paused to control his breathing. “Besides, you’re only doing this . . . because your old lover . . . is no longer interested in you.”

The tongue disappeared from Tom’s mouth. Much to his surprise – and disappointment. Eyes slitted dangerously. “Did anyone ever tell you that you have a big mouth, Paris?”

“A lot of people,” he replied in a weary voice. “Including you.”

She unzipped her Starfleet-issued jacket and removed it. “Well, maybe you should . . .” A gray turtleneck blouse followed, along with an undershirt of the same color. “. . . use your mouth for something more substantial.” In a swift motion, she removed her bra. “Like these.”

Tom’s eyes riveted upon a pair of pale, round breasts. “Huh,” he grunted. His mouth grew dry. “I must say. The offer is tempting.”

One of her eyebrows formed an arch. “Tempting?” She smiled, took Tom’s hands and placed them on her breasts. “As I recall, you were never been able to resist them.” Her breath fanned his cheeks.

‘Goddamit!’ Tom thought. He hated this. She never failed to get him into this state. Breathless. And hard. In an attempt to resist her, he immediately withdrew his hands.

“And if my memory serves me right,” she continued, “you really enjoyed this.” Before Tom knew what happened, he felt her slender hands unfasten his trousers. “Let’s see.” She slipped one hand inside and firmly grasped the flesh between his legs. “Ah yes!” His member immediately swelled from her touch. “Now I remember.”

Tom gasped out loud. She pulled and stroked every inch of his flesh, while she pressed her body against his, and her tongue continued to form wet traces near the edge of his mouth. Any resistance that may have lingered within him, immediately shattered. “The hell with this!” Tom grabbed her shoulders and shoved her against the wall. “You want to relive old times, huh?” he growled in a husky voice. “Okay, I’ll show you old times!” He covered one plump breast with his mouth and began to suckle upon the hardened tip. She threw her head back, and emitted a deep, low moan, as the couple began to relive old times.

* * * *

Inside the Chief Engineer’s quarters, B’Elanna Torres began to remove the last vestiges of her uniform. She would have moved a lot faster, but her aching body made it impossible.

B’Elanna and her Engineering staff had just spent the entire day trying to reconfigure the Warp Plasma conduit, which had suddenly drained at least 35% of the ship’s energy source. The latter had been an ongoing problem for Voyager ever since its encounter with that event horizon, nearly a month ago. Just before B’Elanna had been given the position of Chief Engineer.

Some of the ship’s energy source managed to be preserved, thanks to Neelix’s conversion of the Captain’s dining room into a galley. And the use of the replicator had been rationed, using credit chips. Yet, despite all of these precautions, Voyager’s energy drain continued. If the crew did not find any dilithium soon, the ship might end up dead in space. Or Janeway might be forced to consider colonization.

To find a solution to Voyager’s problem, B’Elanna had gathered her top engineers for a brainstorming session in her quarters. After three hours or so, they managed to come up with a minor solution. Use the impulse engines, unless the situation made it necessary for Voyager to go to warp. Carey had also suggested sending both the holodecks and replicators off-line, as well.

After so many hours of working on the warp conduits, crawling through Jeffries tubes and meetings, B’Elanna felt exhausted. In fact, she had to struggle into her red pajamas. Once her head rested on her pillow, her eyes closed and B’Elanna slipped into a deep sleep.

* * * *

THUMP!!

The noise roused B’Elanna out of her sleep. Her eyes blinked open. CRASH! What the . . .? A loud moan followed. The noise made B’Elanna spring into a sitting position. She glanced at the chronometer on the table, next to her bed. It read 22:07 hours. Kahless! She had only been asleep for twelve minutes! Who in the hell was making so much noise?

“Wha . . . Oh gods!” a male voice cried out. One that struck a familiar chord. “God! Don’t . . . don’t stop!”

More thumps followed. It seemed as if someone was banging his or her fist on the wall. Another crash. A few more thumps and then, a long, loud groan. One that came, B’Elanna surmised, from a female. “Oh . . . oh! Don’t stop!” the woman continued. “Don’t . . . ye-ee-ess-ss! Yes!”

The woman’s cries mingled with more thumps. B’Elanna found herself growing uncomfortably aroused. She had witnessed her share of erotic vids in her time, but never had she been this close to the action. Aside from a few sexual encounters of her own. Then it came. One final cry that emitted from both parties. “Yes! Yes! Ooooh! Spirits! Ye-ee-esss-ss!”

Silence followed. To B’Elanna’s embarrassment, she felt a warm rush between her legs. She pressed them together and sighed. Well, she no longer felt exhausted. Just tense and aroused. Which meant that she definitely will have trouble sleeping tonight.

* * * *

Barely able to keep her eyes opened, B’Elanna reached for her cup of coffee. And grabbed only air, instead. She muttered a curse under her breath.

“Here you go.” Someone placed the cup in her hand. B’Elanna recognized his voice. Harry. “Hey Maquis, you really look tired. Rough night?” Sympathy shone in his black eyes, as he sat in the chair opposite her.

B’Elanna heaved a long, dry sigh. “Rough day, period. Between those damn warp plasma conduits, meetings with my staff and a loud neighbor, I’ve barely had a chance to sleep.”

“A noisy neighbor?” Harry’s face expressed interest. “And who might that be?”

“I haven’t the foggiest idea.”

Harry frowned. “After two months in the Delta Quadrant, you don’t know your own neighbors?”

B’Elanna groaned and took a sip of coffee. “Look Starfleet, I’m not exactly the most sociable person. And I’ve been spending the last month trying to keep this ship together after our encounter with that event horizon.”

“And the noisy neighbor?” Harry asked. “Has he or she been giving you trouble all this time?”

“Just last night. When it comes to sex, he or she is pretty damn noisy.”

A red flush crept up Harry’s face. “Oh. One of those.”

B’Elanna stared at her friend’s embarrassed expression and giggled. “Oh, Harry! If only you could see your face at this moment.”

“I see it and think it looks quite delicious,” a third voice added. It belonged to Seska, a Bajoran ex-Maquis, who worked under B’Elanna in Engineering. She and another former Maquis, stood next to the table, holding their trays. “Good morning, B’Elanna.” She smiled at Harry. “Ensign Kim.”

Poor Harry now looked even more embarrassed. He mumbled, “Morning, Ensign uh, Seska.” His face, now resembling the color of a beet, Harry immediately began to dig into his food. Seska’s smile stretched wider and she sat in an empty chair next to him.

The other ex-Maquis sat next to B’Elanna. Her name was Mariah Henley and the red-and-black uniform she wore indicated that she served in the Conn Division as a pilot. She glanced at the food in her tray and sighed. “How lovely,” she commented in her usual sardonic manner, “another one of Neelix’s ‘delectable’ meals.” Her eyes shifted to Seska, who was busily eating. “How can you eat this stuff?”

“This ‘stuff’ is the only thing that keeps us on our feet,” Seska retorted. “At least until the replicators return on-line. So I suggest you eat up.” Henley mumbled an insult. But that did not stop her from following Seska’s advice.

The four companions continued eating their breakfast – only raktijino and a roll for B’Elanna. They chatted about the ship’s ongoing energy crisis, and the planet recently detected by the long-range sensors. The Mess Hall’s doors slid open. B’Elanna glanced in that direction and frowned at the two newcomers – Ensign Telac and Lieutenant Paris.

Another sneer crept into Henley’s expression. “Look who’s here! Voyager’s own little playboy with his latest bed warmer at his side.” B’Elanna noticed that the pilot spoke with intense vehemence. She was well aware of Tom Paris’s unpopularity aboard ship. The Starfleet faction condemned him for killing three other ‘Fleet officers in a shuttle accident on Caldik Prime and lying about it. Voyager’s former Maquis detested him for betraying their cause when he had agreed to help Janeway hunt them down in the Badlands. Only a handful of people genuinely liked Paris. B’Elanna did not count herself among the latter.

Harry quietly added, “That’s Telac Mara with Tom. He’s been dating her for over a week, now.”

“I bet Megan Delaney must be thrilled.” Henley’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “I wonder when she found out about those two. Before or after Paris dumped her?”

Annoyance darkened Harry’s countenance. “Don’t you have anything better to do than complain about Tom? Why are you always so hard on him? What did he ever do to you?”

Henley’s mouth formed a hard line. “Nothing,” she hissed. “I’m in a bad mood. And I need someone to bitch about. Paris fits the bill.”

“Bad mood? Sounds more like green-eye jealousy,” Seska teased. “Are you jealous, Mariah?”

Three pairs of eyes riveted upon Henley. The pilot’s face turned red with embarrassment. “What are you talking about, Seska? What do I have to be jealous about?” The ire in her voice, somehow, did not ring true.

“I don’t know. Because Ensign Telac is enjoying breakfast with Tom Paris and you’re not?” A spiteful smile curved Seska’s lips. “I remember how you used to stare at him adoringly back in the Maquis. And how you were the only one to come to his defense. Until we all ended up in the Delta Quadrant.”

B’Elanna stared at her former comrade in disbelief. “Kahless, Mariah! Don’t tell me that you were once attracted to Tom Paris?”

“Of course not!” Henley retorted. “Seska’s just exaggerating! Why would you believe such . . .” She broke off when the subject in question approached their table.

The Chief Helmsman flashed his usual megawatt smile, irking B’Elanna to no end. She disliked people who used such shallow methods to get by in life.

“Hey everyone!” Paris greeted, before turning to his best friend. “Say Harry, I need your help with those new navigation specs we had talked about. Will you be available later, today?”

Harry nodded. “Sure. How about this evening? Around 2100?”

A gust of breath escaped Paris’s mouth. “A little too late for me. I have . . .” He glanced at Telac, who smiled at him. “I have other plans, tonight. How about 1730? After our shift ends?”

Harry glanced uneasily at B’Elanna. She knew the reason for his unease. They had planned to go over ideas regarding the warp conduits. “Sorry Tom. B’Elanna and I . . .”

“We have other plans after the Alpha shift,” B’Elanna bluntly finished for her friend. “Make some other plans.”

Cool blue eyes fixed upon B’Elanna’s face. “Other plans, huh? Hmmm. Lucky Harry.” A knowing smirk touched the pilot’s lips.

It took all of B’Elanna’s control not to wipe that smirk off Paris’s face. Violently. Bridling with anger, she retorted, “It’s not what you think, moron! Get your mind out of the gutter! If you can.”

“Take it easy, Torres! I’m just kidding! Even Harry knows about my sense of humor. Right buddy?”

Harry nodded wearily. “Don’t mind Tom, B’Elanna. He can’t help it if he has a peculiar sense of humor.” Tom chuckled at his joke.

“Well he better learn to curb it!” B’Elanna growled. “Before he uses it on the wrong person.”

Paris rolled his eyes and looked away. B’Elanna, to her annoyance, realized he had just dismissed her. The pilot focused on his subordinate. “By the way, Henley. Don’t forget that you’ll be taking Culhane’s place during Beta shift, tonight. I suggest you get some rest this afternoon.”

Henley did not look pleased by the news. “Again?” she whined. “This is the second time I’ve had to cover for Culhane. Assign someone else!”

“You need the flight time!” Paris snapped back. “And the last time you had covered Culhane, happened a month ago.”

“What if I don’t bother to show up?”

Silence surrounded the table. B’Elanna, along with her companions, stared at Paris, wondering how he would deal with this challenge to his authority. To her reluctant admiration – the Chief Pilot handled it well. “It’s quite simple,” Paris continued with a cold smile. “I’ll either have you assigned to Beta shift for the next three months. Or you can spend those same months in the brig. Take your choice.” His eyes penetrated Henley’s. Whose face grew even redder.

Paris turned to Harry with a more genuine smile. “Look Harry, we can get together over those specs another time. I’ll see you later.” And he returned to Ensign Telac.

Seska faced Henley, her eyes wide open with feign compassion. “Still have that crush on Paris, Mariah?”

The latter growled, “Shut up, Seska!” And she focused once more on her breakfast.

* * * *

Later that night, B’Elanna laid in bed, wide awake. Her eyes were fully alert, anticipating and dreading a repeat performance of last night’s disturbances.

Five minutes passed. Only silence greeted B’Elanna’s ears. Another fifteen minutes later, more silence. By the time ten more minutes went by, B’Elanna felt herself growing sleepy. She also realized that whatever she had witnessed last night, was not bound to occur again.

Secure that she would finally get some rest, the half-Klingon closed her eyes and fell into a deep sleep. She would have been happy to learn that no sexual activity of any kind occurred in the cabin next door.

End of PART ONE

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Five “Crossroads” Commentary”

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Five “Crossroads” Commentary

The last episode, ”Replacements” saw Easy Company reeling from the Allies’ disastrous defeat during the Operation Market Garden campaign in Holland. Directed by Tom Hanks, this latest episode depicted Richard Winters’ last combat engagement as the company’s commander, Operation Pegasus, and the company’s departure for Belguim as they prepare to participate in the Bastogne campaign. 

At the beginning of the aptly named ”Crossroads”; Winters, now the executive officer of the 2nd Battalion of 506th regiment, recounts his last combat mission as commander of Easy Company in a report for regimental headquarters that took place at a crossroads, near a dike in Holland. In the aftermath of the battle, Winters is informed that he has been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel Strayer’s executive officer, leaving Easy without a commander. However, a new man – Frederick Theodore “Moose” Heyliger – becomes Easy’s new commander and leads them in Operation Pegasus, a military mission to escort a large number of British paratroopers trapped behind enemy lines, following the failure of Market Garden. Unfortunately, about a week later, Lieutenant Heyliger is seriously wounded by an American sentry and Easy ends up with a new commander named Norman Dike. Unlike Winters and Heyliger, Easy Company has no respect for their new leader and nicknames him ”Foxhole Norman”.

Not long after Dike becomes Easy’s new commander, a reluctant Winters is ordered to spend a few days of furlough in Paris. During his furlough, Winters is haunted by a moment when he killed a teenaged German soldier during the crossroads battle. Not long after his return to the regiment, the 101st Airborne learns about the German counterattack near Bastogne and is sent to Belgium to repel it. The episode ends with Easy company marching into the Belgian forest in the middle of the night, with minimum supplies and inadequate clothing.

I have always liked ”Crossroads” . . . despite itself. I cannot put my finger on it. Perhaps my feelings about the episode have to do with how Hanks directed the battle fought at the crossroads. He injected a great deal of style into that very moment that featured Winters leading a charge against S.S. troops at the crossroads. I also enjoyed Damian Lewis’ performance during the Paris furlough scenes. And I enjoyed the sequence featuring the interaction of some of the company’s men, while watching a Marlene Dietrich film. However, my favorite sequence featured Easy Company’s brief journey to another crossroad – one near the town of Bastogne, Belgium. Screenwriter Erik Jendresen certainly did his best to ensure that the episode’s title adhere to its theme. A good deal seemed to be at a crossroads in this episode – including the location of a Dutch dike, where Winters led Easy Company into combat for the last time; and the crossroads near Bastogne, where the company was sent to halt the German counterattack. Winters’ Army career was at a crossroads, as he went from company commander to battalion executive officer. And Easy Company endured a crisis of leadership following Winters’ promotion to battalion.

Yet, despite my positive feelings for ”Crossroads”, I cannot deny that it was one of the miniseries’ weaker episodes. For such a short episode, so much had occurred. Winters led Easy Company into combat for the last time. The company participated in Operations Pegasus. It lost “Moose” Heyliger as its commander after he was accidentally shot and gained Norman Dike as the new commander – a man for whom no one seemed to have much respect. This episode should have been longer than 50 minutes. More importantly, watching both ”Replacements” and ”Crossroads” made me realize that Spielberg and Hanks had limited the company’s experiences in Holland to two engagements. The miniseries could have explored a lot more, judging from what I have read in Stephen Ambrose’s book.

It seemed a pity that Spielberg and Hanks had failed to take the opportunity to explore more of Easy Company’s Holland experiences. Instead, the second half of this episode focused on Winters’ furlough in Paris and the company’s preparations for the Belgium campaign. And because of this ”Crossroads” seemed unfulfilled . . . and lacking. But it did provide an excellent performance from Damian Lewis as Richard Winters. And it featured a first-rate combat sequence and some personal interactions between the men that I found interesting. It was not a complete waste of time.

“THE KING’S SPEECH” (2010) Review

“THE KING’S SPEECH” (2010) Review

Inspirational movies have been the hallmark of Hollywood films over the decades. They especially became popular between the mid-1970s and the early 1990s. After the mid-90s, I never thought they would become popular again. But the recent release of the historical drama, ”THE KING’S SPEECH” proved me wrong. 

Directed by Tom Hooper and written by David Seidler, ”THE KING’S SPEECH” told the story of Great Britain’s King George VI’s difficulties with a speech impediment and his relationship with Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, who helped him overcome his stutter. The movie opened with George VI (then Prince Albert, Duke of York) at the closing of the 1925 Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium, with his wife Elizabeth by his side. There he gives a stammering speech that visibly unsettles the thousands of listeners in the audience. After nine years of unsuccessfully finding a speech therapist that can help him, Elizabeth recruits Australian-born Lionel Logue to meet him. The two men eventually bond and Logue helps the Duke of York overcome the latter’s stammer during a series of crises that include the death of George V; his brother, King Edward VIII’s romance with American divorcee, Wallis Simpson; the abdication of Edward; the Duke of York’s ascension to the throne as George VI; his coronation and the start of World War II. Also during this period, both king and speech therapist become close friends.

What can I say about ”THE KING’S SPEECH”? I cannot deny that it was a heartwarming tale about the growing friendship of two men from disparate backgrounds. Seidler’s script was filled with wit, charm, warmth and pathos that filled the heart. The cast, lead by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, did great credit to the script. There have been complaints about the film’s historical accuracy from both the media and historians. And there is a good deal of the story that is historically inaccurate. George VI and Lionel Logue’s collaboration began as far back as 1926, not 1934. And the king was also pro-appeasement in the late 1930s. In fact, the majority of Britons during that period were pro-appeasement. What historians fail to realize is that appeasement was popular due to a lack of desire for another war against Germany. World War I had traumatized a generation that included George VI. One also has to remember that ”THE KING’S SPEECH” is a drama based upon historical fact, not a documentary. One would know by now that complete historical accuracy in a work of fiction is rare. It has been rare for as long as there have been fictional work based upon history. And to be honest, I do not believe that the movie’s fiddling with historical fact has not harmed the story.

One would think that I consider ”THE KING’S SPEECH” to be one of the best movies this year. Frankly, I find labeling what is ”the best” rather subjective. I did enjoy the movie and it made the list of my Top Ten Favorite Movies of 2010. However, I must admit that I do not consider it to be a particularly original film. One, it is one of those inspirational films that moviegoers tend to love – movies like ”SEABISCUIT””CINDERELLA MAN” and the 1976 Oscar winner, ”ROCKY”. And if I must be brutally honest, there was nothing original about ”THE KING’S SPEECH” – even for an inspirational film. I already have a nickname for it – ’ROCKY in the Palace’. Another problem I have with the movie is that I was not that impressed by its visual style. I found Danny Cohen’s photography rather pedestrian. And Eve Stewart’s production designs and Judy Farr’s set decorations were very disappointing. Only the movie’s exterior shots prevented ”THE KING’S SPEECH” from becoming another filmed stage play. And the actual sets struck me as very dull. My hopes of a rich look at London and the rest of Great Britain during the 1920s and 30s fell short. I suppose I should not have been surprised by the movie’s uninspiring visual style. It only had a budget of $15 million dollars. I suspect the producers had very little money to work with.

With a few exceptions, the cast turned out to be first-rate. Colin Firth gave a superb and complex performance as the insecure sovereign with the speech impediment. I am not that surprised that he managed to earn nominations and win a good number of acting awards. Geoffrey Rush, who portrayed Lionel Logue, gave a first-rate performance filled with a great deal of sly humor. Also, he and Firth generated a strong screen chemistry. Helena Bonham-Carter was a charming and witty Duchess of York/Queen Elizabeth. However, I would have never considered her performance worth of any acting award nomination. She was simply portraying the “loyal wife” schtick. I was surprised to find Guy Pierce portraying the love obsessed and selfish Edward VIII. And I must he was very subtle and effective in revealing the man’s less admirable traits. The movie also benefitted solid performances from the likes of Michael Gambon as King George V, Claire Bloom as Queen Mary, and Anthony Andrews, who was surprisingly effective as Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.

However, there were some performances that I found unsatisfying. Being a fan of Jennifer Ehle, I was disappointed in the limitations of her role as Logue’s wife, Myrtle. She hardly had a chance to do anything, except murmur a few words of encouragement to Logue. Her only great moment occurred in a scene that featured Myrtle Logue’s realization that the King of England was one of her husband’s clients. Seeing Ehle and Firth in the same scene together brought back memories of the 1995 adaptation of ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”. I also had a problem with Eve Best’s portrayal of American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. Her Wallis came off as more extroverted than the divorcee in real life. And I hate to say this, but Timothy Spall’s interpretation of Winston Churchill seemed more like a parody than a serious portrayal. Every time he was on the screen, I could not help but wince.

In conclusion, I enjoyed ”THE KING’S SPEECH” very much. Despite its lack of originality, I found it heartwarming, humorous, and dramatic; thanks to Tom Hooper’s direction and Seidler’s writing. And aside from a few performances, I was impressed by the cast, especially leading men Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. I would never consider it artistically worthy of an Oscar for Best Picture. But I cannot deny that it was entertaining.

—————–

As an extra treat, below is a video clip featuring a speech given by King George VI at the an Empire Exhibition at Ibrox Park, Glasgow, Scotland; 1938.

“SKYLINE” (2010) Review

“SKYLINE” (2010) Review

In the wake of James Cameron’s blockbuster, ”AVATAR”, Hollywood has begun its own spurt of alien invasion movies and television series. One of the first movies to reach the theaters is a story directed and produced by the Brothers Strause called”SKYLINE”

The movie began with strange lights appearing over the city of Los Angeles. These lights drew people like moths to a flame, allowing an extraterrestrial force to swallow as many members of the entire human population as possible, off the face of the Earth. Among the people affected by the appearance of this alien invasion force is a couple from New York City named Jarrod and Elaine, who are in town to visit Jarrod’s friend, a wealthy man named Terry who is celebrating his birthday at his Marina del Rey high rise. During the party, Elaine revealed that she was pregnant. And it turned out that Terry was having an affair with his assistant, behind his wife’s back.

The following morning, bright blue lights descended from the sky, entrancing anyone who looks at them. The light turned their victims’ eyes milky white and inflamed their blood vessels, so that they stand up on the skin. Held captive by the light, humans are immobilized and engulfed by the aliens. Jarrod nearly suffered this fate, until Terry tackled him to the ground. Jarrod returned to normal shortly after. He and Terry investigated the light from the roof of the high rise, where they saw several alien ships descend over the blue lights and vacuum up thousands of entranced humans.

I must admit that I had no real desire to see ”SKYLINE”, when I first saw the trailer. It struck me as the typical science-fiction story that featured the alien invasion of Earth for minimal reasons. In the case of the aliens in ”SKYLINE”, their reasons for attempting to destroy the human population by using their brains to insert into alien husks and increase their own population. I had assumed that Hollywood would be more open to the idea of Humans invading alien worlds, after the success of ”AVATAR”, but ”SKYLINE”seemed to indicate that this will not happen in the near future. Despite my disappointment of the movie’s theme, my family and I went to see the movie. Did we enjoyed it? No. Not one bit.

Some critic by the name of Matthew Sorrento complimented the movie for re-fashioning the modern alien invasion motif as the hopeless siege that it should be, allowing humanity to be overwhelmed and defeated. I must admit that this was the only original aspect of Joshua Cordes and and Liam O’Donnell’s plot. Otherwise, ”SKYLINE” failed on so many levels. Before I castigate”SKYLINE” to the great beyond, I must admit that on a technical level, I found Michael Watson’s cinematography impressive. The skyline of Santa Monica and Marina del Rey never looked better. It seemed a pity that the movie failed to go beyond the rooftop of the Marina del Rey high-rise condominium where one of the directors, Greg Strause, lived (located on Lincoln Boulevard). And I was also impressed by the special effects that featured the aliens and their ships, created by visual effects house Hydraulx (owned by the movie’s directors, the Brothers Strause). However, that achievement is tainted by allegations by Sony Pictures and the producers of the upcoming ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” that the Strause brothers used their knowledge from working on the latter film, for their own film – ”SKYLINE”. I have no idea how this conflict will resolve. I can only hope and pray that ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” will prove to be a better film.

Overall, ”SKYLINE” was not a good film. It sucked, if I must be brutally honest. One, the epic scope of the story was limited to a high rise in Marina del Rey, a neighborhood southwest of the Los Angeles city limits. Because of this limited setting, moviegoers never learned that other parts of the Earth had also been invaded, until the very end of the movie. I wonder if the Brothers Strause and the two screenwriters wanted to use this as a surprising plot twist. If they did, it failed. Only a dummy would have assumed that the alien invasion was limited to Southern California. Another problem that the movie suffered was lack of character development. I will hand it to screenwriters Cordes and O’Donnell for setting up possible character conflicts. One of those conflicts arose between Jarrod and Elaine over her pregnancy. He was reluctant to face fatherhood and she felt resentment toward his reluctance. Elaine also expressed fear over the possibility of Jarrod accepting a job offer from his friend, Terry and relocating to Los Angeles. And Terry’s relationship with his girlfriend Candice seemed to be on the rocks, due to an affair with his assistant Denise. But none of these conflicts were ever explored with any depth, due to them being shoved aside for the sake of the main story – the alien invasion. And the movie never revealed the professions of the main characters. If it did, it escaped my notice.

The acting in ”SKYLINE” seemed solid, but not spectacular. Eric Balfour did a solid job as the movie’s main protagonist. I could say the same about Brittany Daniel as Terry’s girlfriend, Candice and Crystal Reed as Denise. However, I must admit that I was very unimpressed by David Zayas’s portrayal of the building’s concierge, Oliver. I found his performance reeking with over-the-top machismo – especially in the movie’s last half hour. The only two performances that almost impressed me came from Scottie Thompson, who portrayed Elaine; and Donald Faison, who portrayed Terry. I especially felt that Faison’s talents were wasted in this film.

What else can I say about ”SKYLINE”? The cinematography and special effects were impressive. Most of the acting seemed solid, yet unspectacular. But the movie suffered from a setting limited to a Southern California high-rise. It also suffered from a badly written movie with a vague ending and undeveloped characters and plotlines. In the end, “SKYLINE” proved to be a major disappointment for me.

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Four “Replacements” Commentary

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Four “Replacements” Commentary

In the last episode, ”Carentan”, yet-to-be-announced First Sergeant Carwood Lipton announced to Normandy veterans Easy Company that they would be returning to France. Instead, a conversation between Sergeant Bill Guarnere and a group of replacements reveal that Easy Company never did. Eventually Easy Company did return to the Continent when they were deployed to the Netherlands to participate in the doomed Operation Market Garden campaign. 

”Replacements” centered on Sergeant Denver “Bull” Randleman and his experiences during Operation Market Garden and with the replacements in his platoon. One of them included Edward “Babe” Heffron, who hailed from the same Philadelphia neighborhood as Guarnere (this was established at the end of Carentan”). The other three include Antonio Garcia, James Miller and Lester “Leo” Hashey. Through both his and their eyes, viewers get to experience Easy Company’s trouble-free jump into Holland, the Dutch citizens’ joyous reaction to their presence in Eindhoven and their disastrous encounter with battle-hardened S.S. troops – one of many encounters that led to the failure of Operation Market Garden. Following Easy Company’s retreat from Eindhoven, a wounded “Bull” Randleman finds himself trapped in the German-occupied town and is forced to find his way back to Easy Company and the American lines.

”Replacements” turned out to be a decent episode, but it was one that did not knock my socks off. It featured a terrifying battle in which Easy Company was forced to retreat in defeat. And it also gave viewers an interesting view in the mindsets of replacement troops like Garcia, Miller and Hashey; who seemed to regard Randleman and the other Toccoa trained men with awe. In scenes that featured Easy Company’s brief liberation of Eindhoven, the episode revealed the cruel fates inflicted by the Dutch citizens upon local women who had collaborated (had sex) with some of the occupying German troops. And viewers got to enjoy more scenes featuring some of the men engaging in small talk that revealed more of their personalities. The episode also had interesting scenes that featured Lewis Nixon’s brief brush with death (a bullet in his helmet) and Winters’ reaction, Easy Company’s brief reunion with Herbert Sobel, who had become a supply officer; and David Webster, Don Hoobler and Robert Van Klinken’s humorous encounter with a Dutch farmer and his son. However, ”Replacements” belonged to one particular character, namely Denver “Bull” Randleman. Screenwriters Graham Yost and Bruce C. McKenna did a solid job in both his characterization and the Holland experiences of the Arkansas-born sergeant. One of the episode’s more harrowing scenes featured a violent encounter between a wounded Randleman and a German soldier inside a barn, while the owner – a Dutch farmer – and his daughter look on.

But Randleman’s experiences during Operation Market Garden would have never been that effective without Michael Cudlitz’s subtle performance as the quiet and imposing Randleman. With very little dialogue, Cudlitz conveyed the veteran’s battle experiences and emotions through body language, facial expressions and the use of his eyes. He made it easy for me to see why the troopers of First Platoon and even the company’s officers held with such high regard. Cutdliz was ably supported by the likes of Dexter Fletcher’s sardonic portrayal of First Platoon’s other NCO, John Martin; Frank John Hughes’ amusing performance as the verbose Bill Guarnere; and Peter McCabe, who turned out to be one of the few British actors who perfectly captured the accent and speech patterns of an American combatant in his portrayal of the aggressive Donald Hoobler. Also, it was nice to see David Schwimmer again as Easy Company’s much reviled former commander, Herbert Sobel in a more subtle performance. Portraying the inexperienced replacement troops were James McAvoy (James Miller), Douglas Spain (Antonio C. Garcia) and Mark Huberman (Lester “Leo” Hashey). And each actor did a solid job in portraying their characters’ inexperience, awe of the veteran Toccoa men and their determination to prove themselves in combat.

However, ”Replacements” had its problems. One, the opening scene at the English pub featured Walter Gordon revealing Carwood Lipton as the company’s new first sergeant. And this moment really seemed out of place, considering that Lipton was already acting like the new first sergeant at the end of ”Carentan”. Aside from the battle scene, I must admit that this was not an exciting episode. Like ”Day of Days”, it featured a major historical event – in this case, Operation Market Garden – that had exciting moments, but lacked an epic quality that would have suited such a topic. Allowing the episode a longer running time would have been a step in the right direction. And if I must be honest, I got the feeling that not much really happened in this episode, in compare to ”Day of Days”.

But, ”Replacements” turned out to be a decent episode. Although it lacked an epic quality for a story about Easy Company’s experiences during Operation Market Garden, it did feature an exciting battle that resulted in defeat for them. And Michael Cutdliz gave a subtle and first-class performance as the episode’s central character, “Bull” Randleman.

“TRUE GRIT” (2010) Review

“TRUE GRIT” (2010) Review

I have never read Charles Portis’ 1968 novel called ”TRUE GRIT”. And my only glimpse of Henry Hathaway’s 1969 film adaptation was of John Wayne charging horseback toward a band of outlaws, while armed with a weapon in both hands. So it was with great curiosity that I went to see Joel and Ethan Coen’s recent film adaptation of the novel. 

”TRUE GRIT” told the story of 14 year-old Mattie Ross’s efforts to seek justice and retribution for the murder of her father in post-Civil War western Arkansas. Due to the local law’s failure to arrest her father’s killer, Tom Chaney, Mattie travels to Fort Smith and recruits a U.S. Marshal named Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn to hunt down and arrest Chaney in the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma). Unbeknownst to Mattie, Cogburn teams up with a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf, who seeks Chaney for the murder of a state senator and his dog. The two men depart Fort Smith and cross into Indian Territory without Mattie. However, she refuses to be left behind and quickly catches up with the two men.

I must admit that I had no idea how I would accept ”TRUE GRIT”. First of all, it was a remake of a successful that led to an Academy Award for its star. Many remakes tend to be inferior to the original movie. However, there have been remakes that are just as good as the original – like James Mangold’s ”3:10 TO YUMA”. There have also been remakes that turned out to be superior to the original – like 1941’s ”THE MALTESE FALCON” and 1988’s ”DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS”. Since I have never seen the 1969 version of ”TRUE GRIT” in its entirety, I do not see how I could compare it to this new version. I will admit that it turned out to be a very entertaining and intelligent adaptation of Portis’ novel.

In short, I enjoyed ”TRUE GRIT” very much. Thanks to Joel and Ethan Coen’s writing and direction, the movie struck me as a well-balanced combination of a character study, action film and coming-of-age tale. The movie’s first half, which featured Mattie Ross’s attempts to settle her father’s affairs and recruit Cogburn or anyone else willing to hunt down Chaney. A good deal of the movie’s midway point featured interactions between the three protagonists – Mattie, Cogburn and LaBoeuf – during their journey through the Indian Territory. But once Mattie and Cogburn come across outlaws associated with a fugitive gang leader named “Lucky” Ned Pepper, the movie’s action kicks into high gear. More importantly, the movie’s shift into action did not impede its strong characterizations and drama one bit. Another aspect of ”TRUE GRIT” that I had enjoyed was the dark humor – a trademark of the Coens’ work – that permeated the movie. It certainly befitted the movie’s dark coming-of-age tale and its characters.

I also have to give kudos to the movie’s production designer, Jess Goncher. He did a superb job in re-creating Fort Smith, Arkansas and the Indian Territory during the late 1860s. One of the best things he ever did was choose or suggest the production film the movie in New Mexico and Texas – states that bordered Oklahoma (formerly the Indian Territory). In doing so, he allowed the movie’s setting to adhere closer to Portis’ setting in the novel. Goncher was ably assisted by costume designer Mary Zophres, whose costumes perfectly captured the movie’s setting and character; and cinematographer Roger Deakins, whose photography strongly reminded me of the old daguerreotype images of the mid-to-late 19th century.

Matt Damon found himself following in the footsteps of singer Glen Campbell, in his portrayal of Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. I have seen some of the 1969 film and I must admit that Campbell gave a pretty solid performance. But Damon’s portrayal of the character struck me as more detailed and skillful. In fact, the actor did an excellent job in portraying the competent, yet egotistical lawman. Not only did Damon made me forget that he had very little experience with Westerns, he is one of two actors I have ever seen convey the correct method (breathing included) in long distance shooting. Josh Brolin had more experience with Westerns – including a co-starring role in the ABC series, ”THE YOUNG RIDERS” and the Coens’ award-winning film, ”NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN”. He portrayed the heroes’ main target, hired hand/outlaw Tom Chaney. The actor did not appear in many scenes of ”TRUE GRIT”, but his character permeated the movie’s first half like a malevolent spirit. Once he made his appearance, Brolin’s Chaney seemed insignificant and dimwitted. Yet, as the movie continued on, Brolin revealed more of Chaney’s cunning and stealth with great skill and subtlety. The movie also benefitted from a solid performance by supporting actor Barry Pepper, who portrayed “Lucky” Ned Pepper, an outlaw leader who is sought by Cogburn. The actor’s Ned Pepper struck me as a curious mixture of ruthlessness, pragmatism and honor. He seemed to have no qualms in killing the 14 year-old Mattie over her evasions regarding Cogburn’s whereabouts. And yet, after she honestly answered his questions, his character seemed very willing to keep his word about sparing her life. I have always been an admirer of Pepper’s talents. This role certainly confirmed my opinion.

When I had discovered that Jeff Bridges would end up reprising the role that led to an Academy Award for John Wayne, I almost felt sorry for him. Almost. I eventually realized that my sympathy would be wasted on him. Bridges was talented and charismatic enough to put his own stamp on the role of Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn. Sure enough, Bridges did exactly just that. His portrayal as Cogburn seemed so thorough that I found it difficult to see the actor within the character. His darker portrayal of the character also made me forget about Wayne’s friendlier spin on the role. The main character of ”TRUE GRIT”, in my opinion, turned out to be one Mattie Ross, the 14 year-old daughter of the murdered man. Her desire and determination to seek retribution for her father’s death turned out to be story’s catalyst. Hailee Steinfeld beautifully captured every aspect of Mattie’s complex nature. In fact, there were times I had felt as if I was watching a strong-willed and ruthless woman inside an adolescent’s body. However, Steinfeld’s performance also reminded me that behind the strong will and ruthlessness lurked an innocent and inexperienced young girl. Steinfeld’s chemistry with her co-stars seemed so strong that I found myself wondering how Cogburn, LeBouef or both would regard Mattie if she had been an adult. I have heard speculations of a possible Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Steinfeld. In my opinion, she deserved a nomination for Best Actress. After all, she was not only the leading female character, but the story’s main character.

It just recently occurred to me that ”TRUE GRIT” failed to earn any Golden Globe nominations – major or minor. Frankly, I consider this a joke. Not only did I enjoy it very much, I consider it to be one of the best movies I have seen this year. It is a rare occurrence to find a remake that is just as good or perhaps even slightly better than the original. Thanks to Ethan and Joel Coen, ”TRUE GRITturned out to be one of those rare gems. If it fails to earn any Academy Awards, I believe my feelings toward awards in the entertainment business will reach an all time low.

“Second Power” [PG-13] – 8/8

“SECOND POWER”

PART EIGHT

Later that afternoon, the Charmed Ones sat around the manor’s Solarium, discussing the day’s events. Not long after their return, Leo had orbed to the Whitelighter’s Realm to report on what happened.

“I can’t believe it!” Piper declared. “All this time, the Elders had someone else to vanquish the Source and they used us!”

Paige commented, “I don’t think they really had much of a choice. After all, the Source did come after us. I wonder why he didn’t bother going after Olivia’s cousin.”

“Maybe he thought we would be an easier target,” Phoebe added. “Being more inexperienced as witches than the McNeills. Even Olivia and her brothers are more experienced than us.”

Piper rolled her eyes. “Honey, experience doesn’t mean anything. Not really. There is such a thing as talent. Or power.”

“Geez Piper!” Paige retorted. “I think we’ve already discovered how powerful Olivia and her brothers are. Especially Olivia. And none of us can’t deny that they are talented witches.”

The oldest Halliwell glared at the youngest. Phoebe realized that Piper found the idea of Olivia McNeill being just as powerful as the Charmed Ones, unpleasant. She had to be honest that deep down, she also found the idea a little disturbing. It made the Power of Three seem less . . .special. But what really bothered Phoebe was that someone as allegedly powerful as Olivia would associate herself with Cole.

The image of that circle of fire surrounding Cole and Olivia replayed in Phoebe’s mind. Psychic connection? Familiars? Was it possible? Why not? She had once formed a psychic connection with a Native American in some Old West town, stuck in another dimension. Phoebe had always believed she and Cole possessed a connection that made them soul mates. But the events of the past year seemed to have perverted that believe. Or had it been her fears and later rejection of Cole?

“By the way,” Piper added, “that was the last time I will attend a birthday party at that house. From now on, Paige, you’re on your own.”

Paige shot back, “It wasn’t that bad. Cole even liked your present.” She added under her breath. “If you can call it one.”

Piper protested, “Cole didn’t mind! Why should you?”

“C’mon Piper! A cookbook? THE JOY OF COOKING, both volumes? What on earth is he going to do with that? He can’t cook!”

Squirming in her seat, Piper muttered, “I’m sure that Olivia can help him. Or maybe her mother, or Sheila. Or maybe he’ll learn how. What are you worried about? You gave him a nice present. A watercolor painting of Golden Gate Park and the Bridge. Painted by you.”

“Well, at least I had taken the time to give him a present that he would enjoy! You know how he likes Golden Gate Park.”

Piper rolled her eyes. “Paige! Oh please! You painted that picture, three months ago!”

While her sisters continued to squabble, Phoebe’s mind returned to a scene at the birthday party. Just before the cake had been served, Darryl’s wife, Sheila, asked the half-demon his age. For a moment, panic seemed to have enveloped the McNeill drawing room . . . until Cole, of all people, saved the day. He told Sheila that he had been born on January 19, 1969 – making him 34 years old, instead of 118 years.

Following that little scene, the McNeills’ manservant had brought out the birthday cake and everyone began to sing, “Happy Birthday”. Phoebe had never seen her ex-husband look so . . . happy. Not since the day she had announced being preg . . .

Phoebe shook her head. The last thing she wanted to think about was that dark period in her life. That period in which Cole had been the Source of All Evil, and she, his queen. It still hurt, after eight long months, just thinking about it. Phoebe then recalled Paige’s revelation that Cole had been possessed by the Source’s essence during those three months. At first she refused to believe her sister. To do so would mean facing the possibility that the Charmed Ones had killed an innocent, instead of bothering to save him. Deliberately.

Although Phoebe has finally decided to consider the possibility that Paige might be right – one would have difficulty arguing with a powerful Voodoo priestess’ vision – she still could not consider any reconciliation with Cole. Innocent or not, he represented one of the worst moments in her life. Phoebe could not help but wonder if she had vanquished Cole when she first learned he was Belthazor, she would have spared herself and her sisters, great heartache. And being Queen of the Underworld. Besides, staying away from Cole would be better, in the end. Better for her and her family. Especially in regard to Cole’s new powers and Ed Miller. Unlike the McNeills, Phoebe could not overlook those two matters.

“The Bearer of Aingeal Staff,” Piper muttered, with a shake of her head. “I just can’t believe it! The Bearer of Aingeal Staff and Belthazor. I bet the Elders will have a field day with that!”

Again, the image of Cole and Olivia popped into Phoebe’s head. She tried to tell herself that she felt no jealousy. Not really. After all, the events from last spring had only convinced her that she and Cole were never meant to be. So why did the idea of those two forming a psychic bond bothered her?

Piper continued, “Don’t any of you find it strange that Leo has never heard of this Aingeal staff, before?”

Heaving a sigh, Paige answered, “Maybe the Elders never thought Olivia would become the next Bearer of the Aingeal Staff. Then again, who knows? If they did know, I can tell you one thing – I don’t know if I can ever completely trust them again.”

* * * *

“Why didn’t you tell me about the Staff of Aingeal?” Leo demanded angrily. He stood before the Elders’ Council, trembling with righteous anger.

Elder MacKenzie regarded the sixty year-old whitelighter with supercilious eyes. “Are you asking a question, Leo? Or questioning our decision?”

Leo faltered. “I didn’t mean . . .” He paused, as frustration welled inside of him. “What I meant was . . .” Oh to hell with it! “Yes! Yes, I am questioning your decision. I’m Olivia’s friend, for heaven’s sake! And her former whitelighter! Surely you could have warned me that she would become the next Bearer of the Aingeal Staff! I didn’t even know what that was, until this morning!”

“Please, Leo. Calm down. We had never considered the possibility that she would become the staff’s bearer,” Mathilda calmly replied. “Until her fire power manifested. Even then, we believed there was a chance for another McNeill witch to claim the title. However, no other candidate has materialized.”

Leo paused, wondering if the Elders knew about this morning’s incident. He opened his mouth to speak. Then closed it before he could.

Elder Sylvester added, “Jack McNeill must have told you about the Staff.” He sighed. “How I wish that damnable staff had never ended up with a powerful family of witches! Especially that particular family!”

“Don’t forget Sylvester,” Mathilda quietly reminded her colleague, “the McNeills are descended from Niallghas, who was a very powerful wizard. Which is why we had to pin our hopes on the Charmed Ones. Because of their . . . bloodline, the McNeills would have proven to be undependable. The Bearr of the Aingeal Staff have always been reluctant about going after the Source. And I suspect that your friend, Olivia, is no different.”

MacKenzie sniffed derisively. “Hmmph, tainted blood from a wizard.” He peered at Leo, who had barely been listening. “Leo, is there a problem? You seemed unusually quiet.”

How to tell them? Leo took a deep breath. “Uh, I guess you all know that Cole is still helping Olivia with her new power.”

Sylvester’s lips formed a grim line. “Yes. Apparently, you had failed to convince the witch that training with an all-powerful demon is a mistake. Considering that you were dealing with a McNeill, your failure is understandable.”

Profanity hovered on Leo’s lips, but he managed to keep himself in check. Instead, he decided to drop the bombshell. “When my family went to visit the McNeills this morning, we found Olivia and Cole in a state of meditation.”

“And?” MacKenzie demanded.

Leo frowned. “You really don’t know, do you? You didn’t sense it?” He shook his head. “Of course not.”

Heaving an impatient sigh, MacKenzie continued, “Sense what?”

“While meditating, Olivia and Cole . . .” Leo hesitated. “. . . managed to form some kind of psychic bond. It’s believe that they have become each other’s familiar.”

The news struck the Elders’ Council with the force of a whirlwind. Once again, anxious voices filled the chamber. “WHAT???” Sylvester roared. “Familiars? A psychic bond between a witch and a demon??”

“How could you allow this to happen?” MacKenzie demanded angrily.

Leo immediately became defensive. “I couldn’t do anything about it! By the time we had arrived at the McNeills’ home, they had already began to form a bond. And I’m no longer her whitelighter. Remember?”

Anxiety of every form were expressed by the Elders. Leo felt like a failure, as he stood before his superiors. And yet . . . a small spark of resentment simmered within his breast. Resentment created by anger at the demands made upon him and the Elders’ failure to warn him about his former charge’s new role in the supernatural world. Leo began to wonder if both his wife’s family and the McNeills had been right about the Elders. And if his bosses’ methods and narrow attitudes have been responsible for the growing chaos in the Whitelighters’ Realm.

* * * *

The couple slowly made their way down the corridor, until they reached the front of Olivia’s apartment. Cole remained silent, while Olivia dug into her purse for the key. She inserted the latter into the door’s lock and opened it. Slowly facing Cole, she asked, “Why don’t you come inside for a cup of coffee? Or the usual late Sunday afternoon martini?”

Cole wanted to accept Olivia’s offer. Wanted to discuss what had passed between them, this morning. But a part of him held back, fearful of the impact such a discussion might have on his already shaky relationship with Olivia.

“Uh, I don’t know,” he said. “I have some work to catch up on.” Cole inwardly winced at disappointed expression on Olivia’s face. And changed his mind. “Well, maybe I can come in. I’m sure that my work can wait.”

Olivia smiled. “Good, because I have your present, inside.” She and Cole walked inside the apartment. “Have a seat. I’ll make you a birthday drink.” She glanced at his hands. “Say, where are your presents?”

“I sent them to the penthouse,” Cole replied. “As for my martini, don’t forget the onion.” He sat down on the sofa. While Olivia began preparation of the martinis, he added, “By the way, how do you feel? About the possibility of being the new Bearer of the Aingeal Staff?”

Olivia shrugged. “How should I feel? I don’t have it, yet. There is a chance that a few other McNeill cousins might become pyrokinetics. I can think of at least three who are around my age. Gran told me that our Scottish cousins will be arranging some kind of ceremony to determine who will be the staff’s new owner, this June. Some kind of coronation, I guess.”

“Sounds ceremonial,” Cole murmured. He paused momentarily before continuing, “Listen, Olivia, about what happened this morning . . .”

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it, myself. I must say that I found it very interesting. What about you?”

Cole sighed. “Yeah, I did. Almost . . .” What could he say? Frightening? He never thought that anyone would learn so much about him, in such a short space of time.

Olivia walked over to the sofa, holding two martinis – with onions. “Almost what? Scary?” She handed one martini glass to Cole, before sitting next to him. “It was scary for me. I guess . . . well, you’re probably the first person who has ever discovered so much about me,” she added, repeating his thoughts. Her green eyes pierced his. “What about you?”

“Yeah,” Cole managed to say. He took a sip of his martini. “The first.” He sighed. “Look, about what you saw of my past . . .”

A long, dry sigh escaped Olivia’s mouth. “You mean your past as Belthazor? I know what you’re capable of, Cole. I saw it when you saved me from that Crozat warlock. And I saw it when we were at that warehouse. You’re a killer. In fact, you’re a very good killer. But then . . . so am I. I haven’t survived nearly nine years of being a cop and dealing with other kinds of evil, for nothing. Perhaps the only thing you should worry about is not choosing that old life you had as Belthazor, again.” Olivia’s eyes grew more penetrating. “You know what I mean?”

Cole returned her stare. Electricity crackled between them. Cole could feel it. He could also feel growing warmth that seemed to be spreading all over his chest. The same warmth he had experienced that night at the New Year’s party – just seconds before he had kissed Olivia. Panic struck him. He managed to control it with a few deep breaths. Olivia’s eyes expressed concern. “Cole, are you alright? Your face look slightly red.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” he lied. Then Cole took a gulp of his martini. “Just feeling a little flushed. You know, big day for me. Birthday.” Then he glanced up at Olivia. “Speaking of birthdays, don’t you have a present for me?”

* * * *

Two hours later, Cole left Olivia’s apartment. His first instinct was to return to his penthouse. But there was someone he wanted to speak with, first. Cole beamed out of the hallway and reappeared in front of a three-story townhouse, in the middle of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Cole walked over to the door and rang the bell.

A familiar figure opened the door, over a minute later. It was Andre. The latter broke into a wide smile. “Hey, hey! It’s the birthday boy! Happy Birthday, man!” The two friends exchanged hugs.

Cole allowed himself a small smile. “Thanks, Andre.”

The other man glanced at Cole’s wrist. “What’s this?” he asked.

“My birthday present,” Cole said, lifting his wrist to display the new watch that adorned it. “From Olivia.”

Andre nodded. “Very nice. I guess you’re here for your present. It’s too bad that Cecile isn’t here. She went to see her grandmother, over near Metairie. Come on it.” The two men entered the house. Andre led Cole to the spartanly furnished living room. “So, Olivia gave you a new watch. You two are talking, now?”

“Yeah. We . . . uh, we made our peace. And I’m still helping her with her new power.” Cole sighed.

Black eyes stared pointedly at Cole. “Okay, I know that sigh, anywhere,” the Vodoun priest continued. “What’s the problem now? Why are you really here?”

Another sigh left Cole’s mouth. He lowered his head into his open palms. “Andre, I think I’m in a world of shit.”

“Oh? What kind of shit are you talking about?” Andre asked.

Cole hesitated. “I think . . . God! I think I’m in love. And it’s not with my ex-wife.”

THE END

**NOTE: As of this story, the Halliwells are unaware that Cole can cook. However, I have already established in “Return With Vengeance” that he does know how to cook – he had prepared dinner for the now dead warlock, Suzanne Crozat.

“APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH” (2008) Review

“APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH” (2008) Review

Looking back on the number of Agatha Christie movie adaptations I have seen, I find it surprising that only a handful of Christie titles have been adapted for the movies or television more than once. One of those titles happened to be the author’s 1938 novel called “Appointment With Death”

The most well known adaptation before the 2008 one had been produced and directed by Michael Winner some twenty years earlier. Released in 1988, the movie starred Peter Ustinov in his last appearance as the Belgian-born sleuth, Hercule Poirot; and is not considered among the best of Christie adaptations before the premiere of“Agatha Christie’s POIROT” around 1989. The production values of the 1988 version of “APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH” almost had a cheap, B-movie quality about it. Nevertheless, I feel that it is a masterpiece in compare to this recent version that starred David Suchet as Poirot.

“APOINTMENT WITH DEATH” told the story of Hercule Poirot’s investigation into the murder of a wealthy, middle-aged American woman named Lady Boynton (Mrs. Boynton in the novel). But screenwriter Guy Andrews made so many changes from Christie’s original tale that it would seem pointless for me to recap the plot. One, the victim is not a widow. Instead, she is in the middle of a second marriage to a British peer and archeologist named Lord Boynton. Only Lennox Boynton is her stepson by marriage . . . and his name has become Leonard. The others – Carol, Raymond and Ginerva (Jinny) – had been adopted before her marriage to Lord Boynton. And yes, Jinny is no longer her child by blood. Lady Boynton never spent time as a warden for a women’s prison. Instead, she was an astute businesswoman. The character of Nadine, Lennox’s wife, did not appear in this adaptation. Jefferson Hope was transformed from the Boynton family’s attorney, into an American traveler with business ties to Lady Boynton. Dr. Gerard’s nationality and profession had been changed from French psychologist to British medical doctor. The American-born Member of Parliament, Lady Westholme, became British-born world traveler Dame Celia Westholme. And former nursery governess Miss Amabel Pierce, became known as “Nanny”; Lady Boynton’s nervous and very reluctant henchwoman in the abuse of the murder victim’s many adopted children. Andrews also added a new character – a Polish-born nun, who had befriended Jinny, named Sister Agnieszka. However, Dr. Sarah King remained intact – in both characterization and profession. The story’s setting is changed from Petra to Syria. The novel featured a single killer. This movie featured two killers . . . and a different motive. These changes allowed Andrews to give the murderers a fate straight from the finale of 1937’s “Death on the Nile”.

I have to make one thing clear regarding the changes made by Guy Andrews. I have nothing against a writer making changes from a literary source to accommodate a screen adaptation. There are some things that do not translate well to the screen. But I feel that most of the changes made by Andrews did NOT serve the movie’s plot very well. In fact, I would say that the opposite happened. Despite its B-movie atmosphere; the 1988 movie seemed like an elegant affair in comparison to this 2008 version. Mind you, the latter had some virtues. David Suchet gave a subtle performance as Hercule Poirot. Peter Greenhalgh’s photography struck me as beautiful and rich in colors. Even Sheena Napier’s costume designs managed to capture the mid-to-late 1930s quite well. Elizabeth McGovern’s portrayal of a British or Irish female seemed surprisingly competent, despite her being American-born. Both Tim Curry (as Lord Boynton) and John Hannah (as Dr. Gerard) gave entertaining performances. And I also felt impressed by Christina Cole (Dr. Sarah King) and Mark Gatiss (Leonard) performances as well. So, why do I have such a low opinion of this movie?

My main beef with “APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH” was the changes made to the story. I simply found them unnecessary. The change in the story’s setting from Petra to Syria, created a small confusion. In the 1930s, part of Syria was under British control and the other half was under French control. Yet, the movie featured a very British Colonel Carbury (portrayed by Paul Freeman), who had French troops under his command. Confusing. And was it really necessary to include characters like Lord Boynton and Sister Agnieszka, who did not exist in the novel? No. Lord Boynton was nothing more than a red herring created to distract viewers of the teleplay. And Sister Agnieszka was used to include a subplot that was never in the novel and had nothing to do with the main narrative. Was it necessary to change the number of murderers from one to two? Again . . . no. By changing the number of murderers, Andrews changed the motive behind the victim’s murder from preserving a secret to an act of revenge. Worse, by changing the number of murderers and motive, Andrews complicated the plot to such a ridiculous level that by the end of the story, I found myself shaking my head in disbelief. Even more ridiculous was the convoluted method used by the killers to bump off Lady Boynton. Was it necessary to include a subplot about the sex slave trade, which had nothing to do with Lady Boynton’s murder? I would say no. Especially since the subplot was never included in Christie’s novel.

In the novel, Mrs. Boynton inflicted a great deal of psychological abuse upon her step-children and her daughter, Jinny. This movie had Lady Boynton bullying a hired nanny – Nanny Taylor – into inflicting physical abuse upon the many children she had adopted over the years – including Raymond, Carol . . . and Jinny. Was the change necessary? I certainly do not believe it was. Both the novel and the 1988 film made it painfully obvious how harmful Mrs. Boynton’s psychological abuse was upon her stepchildren. Apparently, Andrews, director Ashley Pierce and the producers thought it was not dramatic enough and decided to be more drastic by including physical abuse. To emphasize the horror of Lady Boynton’s domestic situation, they allowed Nanny Taylor to fall into a catatonic state following her employer’s death out of guilt. I found these changes unnecessary. I found the idea of Nanny Taylor remaining with the family after the children became adults irrelevant. And if I must be brutally honest, I was not that impressed by Angela Pleasance’s slightly hammy performance as the tormented nanny.

In a review of “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, the 2010 version of Christie’s 1934 novel, I had complained about the religious themes that permeated that movie. Apparently, “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” was not the first movie in the series to emphasize religion. The same happened two years earlier in“APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH”. As I had stated earlier, one of the new characters turned out to be a Polish-born Catholic nun. I had to endure a sanctimonious conversation between her and Ginerva. Lord Boynton’s archeological quest turned out to be a search for John the Baptist’s head. I had never heard of anything so ridiculous. How was anyone supposed to figure out whether the head of John the Baptist or some citizen of the region had been found? And to make matters worse, once Lord Boynton thought he had found the object of his quest, he had Sister Agnieszka lead the rest of the party into a prayer over said skull. The scene struck me as too ludicrous to believe. The over-the-top choral music that permeated Stephen McKeon’s score did not help matters.

When it comes to adapting a novel or play for the screen, I have no problems with screenwriters making changes to the story or any of the characters . . . if those changes manage to serve the film. After all, some aspects of a novel or play do not translate well into film. But the changes I found in “APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH”struck me as unnecessary. They not only failed to serve the movie’s plot, I found them convoluted and over-the-top. The addition of a religious theme simply made matters worse. The movie had a few virtues – including a solid performance from David Suchet. But not even he could save the amount of damage inflicted upon this movie.

“HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” (2010) Review

“HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” (2010) Review

I have been a major fan of J.K. Rowling’s ”HARRY POTTER” novels as much as the next person. But I would have never become a fan if it had not been for the movie adaptations of the novels. Mind you, I have not harbored a high opinion of all the movie adaptations. It has been a mixed bag for me over the past nine years. Of the seven movies that were made, I have a high opinion of at least four of them. And the most recent movie – ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” – happened to be one of them. 

I never thought I would think highly of ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I”. When I had heard that Warner Brothers planned to split Rowling’s seventh novel into two movies, I did not think it was a good idea. And I felt it was an attempt by the studio to get as much profit from Rowling’s saga as much as possible. Being a steady fan of the franchise, I went ahead and saw . . . and thanked my lucky stars that the movie had not been shot in the 3-D process. Not only did I develop a high opinion of ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I”, I fell in love with it. Considering the number of complaints I have heard about the movie, I suspect that many would be surprised by my opinion. But I did. I fell in love with that movie. And considering the detailed nature of Rowling’s novel, the decision to make two movies from it may have done justice to Steve Kloves’ screenplay.

Directed by David Yates, ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” told the story of Harry Potter and his two close friends – Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger – and their efforts to elude Lord Voldemort and his Deatheasters throughout Britain, after the latter assumed control of the wizarding world following Albus Dumbledore’s death in ”HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”. Not only did Harry, Ron and Hermione do their best to elude Voldemort and the Deatheaters; they had to find and destroy the remaining horcruxes – objects or receptacles in which Voldemort had hidden parts of his soul for the purposes of attaining immortality. Harry had destroyed Voldemort’s school diary in ”CHAMBER OF SECRETS”. And before the start of ”HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”, Professor Dumbledore had destroyed another – Marvolo Gaunt’s ring. There remained five horcruxes for the trio to find and destroy. But as fugitives within Britain’s wizarding world, their task proved to be difficult.

As I had stated earlier, I ended up falling in love with ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I”. But this feeling did not blind me to its flaws. And it had a few. One, what happened to Dean Thomas? For the first time in the saga’s history, he had a bigger role. At least in the novel. He failed to make an appearance in this adaptation. Mind you, his lack of presence did not harm the story. But it would have been nice for Harry, Ron and Hermione to encounter at least one fellow Hogswarts student (other than Luna) during their adventures. And poor Dean Thomas had been sadly underused since the first movie. Two, I wish that director David Yates and editor Mark Day had chopped some of the scenes featuring the Trio’s ”Winter of Discontent”. I could understand that the three friends would endure a great deal of despair over their situation and the state of the wizarding world. However . . . was it really that necessary to endure so many shots of Harry, Ron and Hermione staring into space, looking depressed? These scenes nearly bogged down the movie’s middle section. The Dursleys barely made a presence in this movie. Worse, Kloves had decided to delete Harry and Dudley’s goodwill good-bye. Who became the new owner of Sirius Black’s home, Number 12 Grimmauld Place, following his death? Since ”THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE” movie failed to clear the issue, I had hoped this movie would. It never did. I had also hoped that ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” would clear reveal the identities of the two other horcruxes that were revealed in the sixth novel – Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup and Rowena Ravenclaw’s Diadem. The only thing that Kloves’ script did was mention that the Trio did not know about the cup, the diadem and two other horcruxes.

Despite these annoyances, I still love ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I”. The only HARRY POTTER movie that I love more is 2004’s ”HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN”. There had been complaints of the movie’s dark tone. Personally, this did not bother me one bit. In fact, I reveled in the story’s darkness. Other HARRY POTTER have ended on a dark note. But the story’s dark tone was not only well handled in Rowling’s novel, but also in Kloves’ script. Why? Because it suited the story. Aside from the ”Winter of Discontent” sequence, the rest of the pacing for ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” was well handled by Yates and Kloves. The movie also featured some outstanding sequences. Among my favorite were the following:

*Lord Voldemort’s murder of Charity Burbage at the Malfoy Manor.

*The Order of the Phoenix escort Harry to the Weasleys’ home, the Burrows.

*Harry, Ron and Hermione’s escape from Bill and Fleur’s wedding at the Burrows to London.

*The attack upon the Trio by two Death Eaters at a London café.

*The Trio steal Salazar Slytherin’s locket from Dolores Umbridge at the Ministry of Magic.

*Ron’s departure from Harry and Hermione, following a vicious quarrel between him and Harry.

*Harry and Hermione’s narrow escape from Godric’s Hollow.

*Ron’s reunion with Harry and Hermione and his destruction of Salazar Slytherin’s locket (a horcrux).

*Xenophilius Lovegood’s (and Hermione’s) narration of Peverell brothers and the Deathly Hallows.

*Dobby’s rescue of the Trio, Luna Lovegood and Mr. Ollivander from the Malfoy Manor.

Of the above scenes, at least three of them stood out for me. One of those scenes was the quarrel that broke out between Harry and Ron during the ”Winter of Discontent”. I found it ugly, brutal and emotional, thanks to the performances of the three leads. They really made this scene worked and for the first time; it occurred to me that Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson had really grown in their skills as actors. Hell, in this scene, they gave the best performances in the movie. Another scene that really stood out was Xenophilius Lovegood’s narration of the bleak tale regarding the Peverell brothers and the three Deathly Hallows (the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone and the Cloak of Invisibility). What made this sequence unique was that it was shown via some visually stunning animations designed and directed by Ben Hibon. But the one scene that really impressed me was the Ministry of Magic sequence that featured the Trio’s retrieval of Salazar Slytherin’s locket from the odious Dolores Umbridge (now head of the Muggle-Born Registration Commission). From the moment that Harry, Ron and Hermione used Polyjuice Potion to transform into three workers from the Ministry of Magic (Sophie Thompson, David O’Hara and Steffan Rhodri), until their escape via apparition; the entire scene was a fabulous ride filled with tension, humor, chaos and adventure. I would rate it as one of the best sequences in the entire saga.

I had already commented on the marvel of the three leads’ performances. For once, Radcliffe, Grint and Watson were the ones to give the most outstanding performances; instead of a supporting cast member. But there were other excellent performances. One came from Tom Felton, who continued his ambiguous portrayal of Hogswarts student Draco Malfoy that began in ”THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE”. Another came from Ralph Fiennes, who gave a better performance as Lord Voldemort – especially in the opening sequence at Malfoy Manor – than he did in both ”THE GOBLET OF FIRE” and”THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX”. In fact, I could say the same about Helena Bonham-Carter, who seemed less over-the-top and a lot scarier than she was in her previous appearances. Rhys Ifan was deliciously entertaining as Luna Lovegood’s equally eccentric father, Xenophilius. And I have to give kudos to Sophie Thompson, David O’Hara and Steffan Rhodri did a great job in conveying their adolescent characters (Hermione, Harry and Ron) through body language – especially since the three leads added their voices. And in his few scenes, Alan Rickman was his usual superb self as the enigmatic Severus Snape. A good example of how ambiguous he could be can be seen in the sequence featuring the death of an old friend of Snape’s – Charity Burbage. All you have to do is look at Rickman’s eyes and face.

Considering that this tale has no choice but to end happily in ”THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part II”, I could assume that”Part I” might prove to be the darkest movie in the HARRY POTTER. On the other hand, Yates and Kloves might prove me wrong. But despite a few flaws, I believe that ”HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – Part I” is one of the best movies in the franchise. I have not truly enjoyed a HARRY POTTER this much since ”THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN”. And I can thank director David Yates, screenwriter Steve Kloves; and the three leads – Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. Excellent job, guys. Excellent job.