“JOHN ADAMS” (2008) Review

Nearly four years have passed since HBO aired the last episode of its seven-part miniseries, “JOHN ADAMS” . . . and I have yet to post any comment about it. I realized that I might as well post my views on the series, while my memories of it remains fresh. 


“JOHN ADAMS” (2008) Review

In a nutshell . . . “JOHN ADAMS” is an adaption of David McCullough’s bestselling, Pulitzer-Prize winning biography on the country’s second president, John Adams. Instead of beginning the story during Adams’ childhood or early adulthood, the miniseries began in the late winter/early spring of 1770, when he defended seven British soldiers and one officer accused of murder during the ‘Boston Massacre’ crisis. It ended with the episode that covered the last fifteen years of Adams’ life as a former President. And despite some historical discrepancies and a rather bland fourth episode, “JOHN ADAMS” ended as another glorious notch in HBO’s history.

The performances were superb, especially Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney as John and Abigail Adams. On screen, they were as well matched as the second President and First Lady were, over two hundred years ago. If either of them is passed over for either an Emmy or Golden Globe award, a great travesty will end up occurring. Especially Giamatti. He is the first actor I have seen make the role of John Adams his own, since William Daniels in “1776”. Another performance that left me dazzled was British actor Stephen Dillane’s subtle and brilliant performance as one of the most enigmatic Presidents in U.S. history – Thomas Jefferson. I had heard a rumor that he preferred acting on the stage above performing in front of a camera. If it is true, I think it is a damn shame. There is nothing wrong with the theater. But quite frankly, I feel that Dillane’s style of acting is more suited for the movies or television. These three fine actors are backed up with excellent performances from the likes of David Morse as George Washington, a brooding Sam Adams portrayed by Danny Huston and Tom Wilkinson portraying a roguish and very witty Benjamin Franklin.

I found most of the miniseries’ episodes very enjoyable to watch and very informative. Not only did “JOHN ADAMS” gave its viewers a detailed look into the United States and Europe during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, rarely seen on the silver or television screen. One particular scene comes to mind occurred in Part 1 –“Join or Die”, when Adams witnessed the tar-and-feathering of a Boston Tory by members of the Sons of Liberty. The entire incident played out with grusome detail. Another scene that caught my attention occurred in Part 6 –“Unecessary War”, when the Adamses had their first view of the recently built White House, located in the still undeveloped Washington D.C. I am so used to Washington looking somewhat civilized that its early, ramshackle appearance came as quite a surprise. And instead of allowing the actors and scenery resemble something out of a painting or art museum, everything looked real. One might as well be stepping into the late eighteenth century, absorbing the sights, sounds and smells . . . if one could achieve the latter via a television set. Speaking of sounds, I have to comment on the opening scene score written by Rob Lane. It is very rare find a miniseries theme song this catchy and stirring. Especially in recent years.

If I could choose one particular episode that left me wanting, it had to be Part Four – “Reunion”. This episode covered John and Abigail Adams’ years in Paris during the Treaty of Paris negotiations and as the first U.S. Minister to the British Court of St. James in London. It also covered his return to Massachusetts and election as the first Vice President. I enjoyed the development of the Adams’ friendship with Jefferson in this episode. Unfortunately that is all I had enjoyed. I wish that the episode had expanded more on the troubles surrounding the Treaty of Paris and especially the Adams’ stay in London. The most that was shown in the latter situation was Adams’ meeting with King George III (Tom Hollander) and Abigail’s desire to return home. On the whole, I found this episode rushed and slightly wanting.

But there were three others that I found fascinating. One turned out to be Part 3 – “Don’t Tread on Me”. This episode featured his subsequent Embassy duties with Benjamin Franklin to the Court of Louis XVI, and his trip to the Dutch Republic to obtain monetary support for the Revolution. I would not exactly view this episode as one of the miniseries’ best, but it did feature an excellent performance by Paul Giamatti, who expressed Adams’ frustration with the opulent Court of Louis XVI and Benjamin Franklin, rakishly portrayed by Tom Wilkinson. Watching Adams attempt to win the friendship of the French aristocrats and fail was fascinating to watch.

One of the episodes that really stood out for me was Part 6 – “Unnecessary War”. This episode covered Adams’ term as the second President of the United States and the growing development of a two-party system in the form of the Federalists led by Alexander Hamilton (Rufus Sewell) and the Jefferson-led Democratic-Republicans. This episode featured standout performances from not only Giamatti, but from Linney, Dillane and Sewell as a rather manipulative and power hungry Hamilton. The episode also featured a detailed history lessons on the beginning of political partisanship in the U.S. and the country’s (or should I say Adams’) efforts to keep the U.S. neutral from the war between Great Britain and France. It also focused upon a personal matter for both John and Abigail, as they dealt with the decline of their alcoholic second son, Charles. An excellent episode all around.

My favorite episode – and I suspect that it might be the case with many fans – is Part 2 – “Independence”. This episode focused upon the early years of the Revolution in which Adams and his fellow congressmen of the Continental Congress consider the option of independence from Great Britain and the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. It also focused upon Abigail’s struggles with the Adams’ farm and a smallpox outbreak in the Massachusetts colony. Personally, I consider this the best episode of the entire series. I especially enjoyed the verbal conflict between pro-independence Adams and delegate John Dickinson of Pennsylvania (superbly portrayed by actor Željko Ivanek), who favored reconciliation with the Crown. But one scene I found particularly humorous featured Adams and especially Franklin “editing” Jefferson’s final draft of the Declaration of Independence. All three actors – Giamatti, Wilkinson and Dillane were hilarious in a scene filled with subtle humor.

Despite being based upon a historical biography, “JOHN ADAMS” is not historically accurate. Which is not surprising. It is first and foremost a Hollywood production. Some of the best historical dramas ever shown on television or on the movie screen were never historically correct. Whether or not “JOHN ADAMS” is 100% historically correct, it is one of the best dramas I have seen on television in the past three years. Now that it has been released on DVD, I plan to buy and watch it all over again.

“Obssessions” [PG-13] – Chapter 5


Chapter 5

Cole examined the contract in his hands. A tall, pale man in his early forties paced back and forth in front of his desk. Once Cole finished reading the document, he leaned back against his leather chair and sighed. “From what I’ve read, Wolfie, you should have no problems leaving your job.” 

Tugging nervously at his dark and luxuriant mustache, DeWolfe Mann demanded, “Are you sure? I don’t want to find myself with a lawsuit on my hands.”

“Trust me. You have nothing to worry about. This contract gives you the right to leave the BAY-MIRROR under certain conditions.” Cole flicked the document. “And you have fulfilled them. How long have you maintained your column? Three years, now? And you can’t be forced to finish the last two years of the contract.” The half-daemon stood up and strolled toward the liquor cabinet. “So, why do you want to leave the BAY-MIRROR? Your column has become very popular.”

Shaking his head, Mann grumbled, “It’s that damn Jason Dean! Ever since he took over the paper, it’s been absolute hell! He’s the new owner, who thinks he’s also the new editor-in-chief. The man has no experience in journalism, and yet he treats the staff as if we’re part of some high school newspaper! I swear Cole, if I hang around that place any longer . . .”

“I understand.” Cole poured a glass of bourbon. “I’ll contact the newspaper’s attorney and inform them of your plans to resign.” He handed the bourbon to the columnist.

Who took a hefty swig, before he continued. “Not now. Not until I finish this last piece I plan to do. You know, the Golden Horn piece. The one you had suggested.”

“Oh, so the paper has given you the go-ahead on that?” Cole asked. He prepared himself a glass of bourbon and soda water, before returning to his chair.

DeWolfe grimaced. “Just barely. My editor, O’Keefe, did. But Dean . . .” a small growl emitted at the mention of the publisher’s name, “almost pulled the plug on it. If it wasn’t for your ex-wife, there would have been no story.”

The glass of bourbon and water paused in front of Cole’s lips. “Phoebe, huh? Well, that was nice of her.”

“She’s a very nice person.”

Cole grunted and continued drinking his bourbon.

DeWolfe continued, “Although, I now understand why your marriage to her didn’t work.” He drained the last of his drink.

“What?” Cole stared at his client.

Without even flinching, DeWolfe added, “Like I said, Phoebe is a lovely young woman. And very pleasant to be around. But every time I’m with her, I get this feeling I’m speaking to some young twenty-something just fresh out of college.”

Cole allowed himself a small smile. “She is a twenty-something just fresh out of college. In fact, she had graduated, two years ago.”

“Yeah, I know,” DeWolfe said with a nod. “But I also happened to know that she’s on the wrong side of twenty-five. Nearly thirty, as a matter of fact. Yet, she dresses like a college student, sometimes. Look, all I’m saying is that I understand why you two didn’t last. She simply seems . . . I don’t know, too young for you. No, that’s the wrong phrase. Look, I like Phoebe, but may I be honest? You never struck me as someone who went for women with the mentality of a child bride.”

Cole merely remained quiet, his eyes fixed on the large bay window and the view, beyond. As much as he wanted to deny it, the columnist had a point.

DeWolfe continued, “Jason Dean, on the other hand, seems perfect for her. Personally, I think he’s a boy in a man’s body. You know, he became rich by getting involved with computers and the Internet.” The columnist grunted. “Typical. Another one of those who got rich too quick and too young, if you ask me.”

Snapping out of his thoughts, Cole offered DeWolfe another glass of bourbon. But the columnist declined the offer, stating that he needed a clear head to prepare for his story. Cole added, “You know, I realize that you don’t like Dean that much, but don’t you think you’re a little hard on the guy? You can’t deny that he’s successful. Even the BAY-MIRROR is doing better than ever.”

“The BAY-MIRROR’s business has been increasing before Dean’s arrival,” DeWolfe retorted. “And granted, the boy is successful. Now, if only he can learn how to be an editor.” The embittered columnist placed his empty glass on the liquor cabinet. “Anyway, thanks for the information and the drink. I’ll probably get in touch with you, next week.” He started toward the door and then, paused. “Say, what about that female cop you once introduced me to at my sister’s birthday party, two months ago? You know, the gorgeous one with the red hair? Are you two, uh . . .?”

Cole interrupted curtly, “No. We’re just friends.” And nothing else, Cole silently added. Judging from Olivia’s newfound interest in Paul Margolin.

* * * *

Phoebe closed the door to her office and heaved a sigh. She had just survived another private session with her immediate supervisor, Elise. To be honest, the visit to the editor’s office had turned out to be far from nerve-wrecking. Quite pleasant, in fact. The two women even managed to squeeze in a little private “girl talk” during the meeting. Phoebe wondered if Elise was becoming mellow in recent months.

Before she could set her mind to finishing her column for the week, the office’s door swung open. A familiar figure stepped inside – DeWolfe Mann. “Wolfie!” Phoebe greeted. “We missed you at the staff meeting, earlier this afternoon.”

“I doubt that Mr. Dean missed my presence,” DeWolfe said, rolling his eyes with his usual sardonic manner. “And he was there – right?”

Phoebe bit back a retort. “Yes, Jason was there. After all, he is the paper’s owner.”

“He’s the paper’s owner, Phoebe,” DeWolfe shot back, “not an editor. He should be having meetings with his editors, not with his writers and columnists.” The columnist sat down in one of the empty chairs facing Phoebe’s desk. “Besides, I doubt that he missed my presence. I certainly did not miss his.”

The Charmed One shook her head. “God, Wolfie! What is it with you and Jason? Why can’t you two get along? I mean, he did allow you to write that story on the McNeills’ restaurant. You could at least be grateful.”

“I am grateful, sweetie.” DeWolfe leaned back into his chair. “To you. For convincing that overgrown Boy Wonder to go ahead with the story. Which is why I’m here.” He tossed a small, expensively-wrapped package on Phoebe’s desk. “To thank you and give you a little token of my appreciation.”

“And Jason?”

DeWolfe’s dark eyes stared at his fellow columnist. “I stayed away from the meeting, didn’t I? What more could your precious Jason ask?”

A sigh left Phoebe’s mouth. Aside from the “controversy” surrounding her relationship with Jason, the feud between the BAY-MIRROR’s owner and its famous food columnist had become the talk of the office. “He’s not my ‘precious’ Jason. We’re just . . . I mean, I know that most people don’t like . . .”

“What are you worried about? Most of the staff isn’t concerned about your relationship with the young Ball and Chain. Why are you always worried about what others think of you?” DeWolfe asked, catching Phoebe offguard. “Especially when it comes to your private life?”

Phoebe hesitated before she replied, “I don’t worry about . . .” She glanced away, embarrassed. “I mean . . . Okay, so maybe I do.” She paused. “Why are we talking about me?”

“Because you obviously seem worried about how the staff feels about you and Dean,” DeWolfe replied. “And after meeting your ex-husband earlier this afternoon, I found myself thinking about you.”

A frown appeared on Phoebe’s face. “You saw Cole?” she demanded. “Why?”

“He’s my attorney. I had some business with him, today.” The older man peered suspiciously at her. “Why? Does that bother you?”

It bothered Phoebe very much. The idea that her ex-husband had another connection to her, aside from Paige, disturbed her. It seemed as if he might never be out of her life. And Phoebe wanted nothing to do with Cole. Especially if it meant bringing up bad memories.

Instead of expressing how she felt, Phoebe asked, “Exactly how did Cole become your lawyer?”

“My previous attorney had passed away from a heart attack, last fall. Just before I met Cole. I had met him during one of his visits to the office before you two finally divorced.” DeWolfe leaned forward. “You know, you still haven’t answered my question.”

Phoebe inhaled deeply. “The answer is no. It doesn’t bother me that you saw him, today. Or that he’s your lawyer. In fact, it’s no concern of mine.”

Chuckling, the food columnist said, “Now, why do I get the feeling that you’re lying?” When Phoebe failed to answer, he sighed. “Never mind. Anyway, I hope that you like the present.” He stood up and walked toward the door. “And again, thanks for running interference on that story. See you.” He left the office.

Once the door closed behind DeWolfe, Phoebe exhaled. She shook her head, mumbling to herself. There was nothing like the subject of one Cole Turner to put her in a state of tension. One day, she would have to learn not to allow him, the topic of him, or even the image of him, get to her like this.

Phoebe glanced at her watch. Five twenty-four. Almost time to go home. She saved the material on her laptop computerand closed the lid shut. After dumping a few items into her purse – including DeWolfe’s present, she gathered both her purse and laptop, and left the office.

* * * *

Forty minutes later, Phoebe entered the Halliwell manor and cried out, “Piper? Paige! I’m home!” Silence greeted her ears. “Hello? Is anyone home?”

Paige’s figure appeared on the staircase. The two sisters greeted each other before Phoebe added, “Isn’t Piper home?”

“Nah, she left a message,” Paige answered. “She’s at P3. Had to take Wyatt with her.”

Phoebe blinked. “A baby at a nightclub?”

The younger woman shrugged. “I just got home, myself. And Leo isn’t here. I guess she had no choice.”

“Oh God!” Phoebe heaved a sigh and dumped her purse and laptop on the sofa, followed by her own body. “God, what a day!” You wouldn’t believe what I had found out.”

Paige strode toward the kitchen. “Piper has fixed dinner for us. Why don’t you tell little sister all about it, while we eat.” Phoebe followed. Nearly an hour later, the two sisters finished the last bites of their pot roast dinner. Paige sat back in her chair and sighed. “You know, you still haven’t told me what was bothering you,” she added. “In fact, you’ve barely said a word during the entire dinner. “What gives?”

After a moment’s pause, Phoebe made her announcement. “Cole. He’s Wolfie’s lawyer.”


“Paige! Don’t you get it?” Phoebe cried in frustration, “Cole is Wolfie’s lawyer!”

Staring at Phoebe, as if the latter had lost her mind, Paige demanded, “Who in the hell is Wolfie?”

Patience, Phoebe told herself. She took a deep breath. “Wolfie is DeWolfe Mann. The BAY-MIRROR’s top food columnist. He’s the one . . .”

“Oh! The one who’ll be doing the story on the Golden Horn!” Paige cried out. She paused. Frowned. “So what’s the problem?”

The drama queen within Phoebe burst forth. “The PROBLEM? It’s bad enough that both you and Cole are friends. But now I find out that he’s the attorney of one of my co-workers. I mean, am I ever going to get him out of my life?”

A large sigh left Paige’s mouth. She stood up and headed for the kitchen’s island. “Oh God, Phoebe! You’ve got to be kidding me! I mean, who cares if Cole is this Wolfie’s lawyer? What do you think he’s trying to do? Use your friend to get to you?”

Phoebe squirmed with embarrassment. “No, I . . . Never mind.” Paige reached for the cake holder and placed it on the table. Phoebe lifted the top, revealing a three-layer coconut cake. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I am making a big deal out of nothing.”

“Or maybe you need to make some kind of closure with Cole.” Paige’s remark drew a dark look from Phoebe. Then she added quietly, “Or maybe not.”

Phoebe said, “Speaking of Wolfie, he gave me a present, today. A little appreciation for convincing Jason to approve the Golden Horn story. I think I left it . . .” she stood up, “. . . in my purse. Wait, I’ll be back.” She rushed out of the kitchen, fetched her purse from the sofa, and fished the small package from inside. Then she returned to the kitchen. “Here it is. Isn’t it nice?” Phoebe carefully unwrapped a package, revealing a small box. After opening it, she removed what looked like an antique perfume bottle. And at that moment, the vision struck.

She saw DeWolfe Mann inside an expensive apartment, facing his personal computer. She saw him stand up and head for the front door. The next flash revealed a man’s hand reaching for DeWolfe. A knife appeared, its blade gleaming in the light. That same blade slashed across the columnist’s throat, slitting it open. Blood gushed forth. The last thing Phoebe saw was DeWolfe’s lifeless body, falling dead.

A gasp escaped her mouth. Dizziness overwhelmed the Charmed One and Phoebe’s torso fell forward across the kitchen table. “Phoebe?” she heard Paige cry. “Phoebe!” She saw her younger sister’s face hovering above her, before everything faded to black.

* * * *

“Phoebe?” Paige hovered over her sister’s inert form and lightly patted the latter’s cheek. “Phoebe, wake up!”

The older woman sat up with a gasp on her lips. “Wha . . .? What happened?”

“You went zombie on me, all of a sudden and then, passed out.” Paige frowned. “That must have been one hell of a premonition.”

“Oh God! Wolfie! I saw him get his throat cut!”

Paige peered closely at her sister. “By whom?”

Phoebe shook her head. “I didn’t see. I only saw someone’s hand holding a knife and slitting Wolfie’s throat.” She finally stood up. “We better get Piper.”

“Why? Do we need the Power of Three on this?” Paige asked.

After a moment’s pause, Phoebe shook her head. “I guess not. But we’ll need Darryl.” She started out of the kitchen.

The youngest Charmed One followed. “Wait a minute, Phoebe!” she cried out. “Do you even know where this Wolfie guy lives? How can Darryl meet us . . .?”

“Oh God!” Phoebe’s shoulders sagged with defeat. “I don’t know where Wolfie lives. And the paper’s Personnel office should be closed by now.”

Impatient, Paige suggested that they orb to DeWolfe Mann’s apartment. “Orb there, save him and turn the guy trying to kill him, over to the police. Okay?”

“Yeah, but do you know where to . . .?”

Paige grabbed her older sister’s arm. “Phoebe! I don’t need to know where his address is! All I have to do is zoom in on his location. C’mon!” The two sisters immediately orbed out of the manor.







Comic novel writer Alan Moore must have a legion of fans to rival or maybe even surpass Marvel Comics icon, Stan Lee. I have noticed that whenever one of his comic creations is adapted as a motion picture, many of these fans seemed to crawl out of the woodworks to express their judgment on the finished film. This certainly proved to be the case for 2003’s “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN”

Based upon Moore’s comic series, “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” followed the adventures of famous 19th century literary characters that became part of a league to stop a madman named the Fantom from starting and profiting from a major world war, during the summer of 1899. Among the members of the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are:

*Allan Quartermain, British big game hunter and explorer
*Captain Nemo, the Indian pirate/captain of the Nautilus and inventor
*The Invisible Man aka Rodney Skinner, invisible thief
*Mina Harker, British chemist/widow of Jonathan Harker and vampire
*Dorian Gray, British gentleman and immortal
*Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Edward Hyde, British scientist/evil alter ego
*Tom Sawyer, American Secret Service agent

The story begins in the spring of 1899 with an attack upon the Bank of England by men dressed in German Army uniforms, using explosives and automated weapons. A month later, men dressed in British Army uniforms, attack a Zeppelin factory, using the same or similar weapons. Both the British and German Empires seemed to be on the verge of war. A British government emissary arrives in British East Africa to recruit the famous big game hunter and explorer Allan Quartermain to investigate. Quatermain expresses disinterest in the mission, until some armed men attack a gentleman’s club in order to assassinate him. Upon his arrival in London, Quartermain learns from his new boss, a mysterious government official named “M”, the latter’s plans to form a new version of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in order to thwart the war mongering plans of the Fantom. According to “M”, the Fantom plans to start a war and profit from it by blowing up Venice, Italy during its Festival.

While recruiting the immortal Dorian Gray at his home, the League is attacked by the Fantom and his men. During the attack, the League acquires a new member, an American Secret Service agent named Tom Sawyer. As the League sets out to recruit Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Hyde in Paris and later for Venice aboard the Nautilus, Nemo’s submarine; they remain unaware that the Fantom’s plans to start a world war involves more than just blowing up a major city. His plans also involve acquiring and selling the League’s collective skills as weapons of war.

I have never read Alan Moore’s comic series. Nor do I have plans to read it. In fact, I have not laid eyes upon a comic book or novel since the age of nine. For me, comparing Moore’s story to the movie adaptation seemed irrelevant to me. But I can give an opinion of the movie. What did I think of it? Well, I had enjoyed it when I first saw it, eight years ago. And I still continue to enjoy it, whenever I view my DVD copy.

Mind you, “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” was not perfect. One, I never understood the reasoning behind the Fantom’s attack upon the League members at Dorian Gray’s home . . . especially since he proved to be so interested in acquiring or stealing their skills/talents. My second problem concerned a certain invention created by Captain Nemo – namely an automobile. I realize that the movie was set in an alternate 1899. I also understand that Nemo’s character was supposed to be the creator of various inventions a’la Jules Verne. What I did not understand was how Tom Sawyer knew how to drive Nemo’s car throughout the streets of Venice at top speed, without any previous experience behind the wheel. Three, I found Quartermain’s description of American shooting (“buckaroo” that shoots too fast without any real accuracy) not only ludicrous, but false. Who on earth came up with this opinion in the first place? My father, who had been an expert shot in the military, immediately dismissed Quartermain’s description of American gunmanship, claiming that he had been taught to utilize patience for long distance shooting. My final beef has to do with Dan Laustsen’s photography for the movie’s exterior shots. Quite frankly, I found it unnecessarily dark. The only exterior scenes or shots that featured any bright light were the sequences set in British East Africa and aboard Captain Nemo’s submarine, the Nautilus, while above surface. All other exterior shots were either at night, in the rain or overcast. I have the deepest suspicion that all of this was done to save money on the exterior scenes.

However, despite my complaints or those by the fans were disappointed with the movie’s adaptation, I enjoyed“THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” very much. Hell, I saw it twice when it first reached the movie theaters, eight years ago. And the moment it was released on DVD, I immediately bought it. It may not have been the perfect adaptation of Alan Moore’s comic series, but I thought that it had a pretty damn good story, thanks to screenwriter James Dale Robinson.

One, I like stories about friends or colleagues that form a team to achieve a goal that involves a great deal of action. For me, “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” is like a 19th century forerunner ofThe Justice League of America or The Avengers. And I have to give credit to Moore for coming up with the idea of using 19th century literary characters as members of the team and the story’s main villain. I found it very innovative. Many fans and critics had complained that with Sean Connery in the role of Allan Quartermain, the latter seemed to dominate the film. I agree that Connery’s Quartermain turned out to be the movie’s main character. But I do not agree that he dominated the movie. The other supporting characters were given a good number of chances to strut their stuff . . . so to speak. If anything, the movie seemed to have a strong, ensemble feel to it. This was especially apparent by the time the Nautilus reached Venice.

Speaking of Venice, the movie seemed to reach a turning point by the time the League reached it. During Nautilus’ voyage between Paris and Venice, the story showcased the numerous conflicts and jealousies that the team seemed to engage, as they became more acquainted with one another. But when forced to work together to foil the Fantom’s plans to destroy Venice, all conflicts were thrown aside and the League worked together as a very effective team. Venice also represented a major plot twist in the story. It is in Venice, when the League discovered a traitor within its midst . . . and the fact that they had been betrayed on a major scale by the Fantom. Personally, I found it to be one of the most satisfying aspects of the movie.

I read an article that Stephen Norrington had a great deal of trouble with Sean Connery and vowed to give up directing. Needless to say that despite the conflict between director and star, the latter gave one of his more poignant performances as the aging hunter who has become disenchanted with the British Empire, after his service to it has caused him so much loss. I was also impressed by Naseeruddin Shah’s portrayal of the intrepid Captain Nemo. He seemed to be the only member of the cast who seemed as commanding as Connery. I also enjoyed Peta Wilson’s performance as the sexy and intelligent vampire, Nina Harker. One of my favorite scenes featured her character’s surprising revelation that she was a vampire. Most people seemed to dismiss Shane West’s portrayal ofTom Sawyer, but I rather enjoyed it. He managed to create a strong chemistry with Connery, and I also found his quiet wit rather endearing. Tony Curran was a blast as Rodney Skinner, gentleman thief and the Invisible Man. He gave a hilarious performance and projected a lot of style for a character that was barely seen. Stuart Townsend seemed to be the epitome of degenerate style and sexuality as the immortal, Dorian Gray. He also had the good luck to spout some of the best lines in the movie. Richard Roxburgh gave an effectively quiet and intense performance as the man who created the League, the mysterious “M”. But as far as I am concerned Jason Flemyng had the best role in the movie as the morally conflicted Dr. Henry Jekyll and his alter ego, the ferocious, misshapen giant, Mr. Edward Hyde. I really enjoyed how he managed to slip back and forth between the two personalities. More importantly, Flemyng did an excellent job in incorporating Hyde’s darkness into Jekyll and the latter’s decency into Hyde with great ease. Well done.

Despite my complaints about Laustsen’s photography of the movie’s exterior shots, I must admit that he did a pretty good job in shooting the film. And Paul Rubell did a first-rate job with his editing – especially in the sequence that featured the League’s attack upon the Fantom’s lair at the Asiatic Artic. I also thought that Jason Barnett and his team did an excellent job in handling the makeup – especially for the Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde characters. One last aspect of the movie that truly impressed me was Carol Spier’s production designs that nicely captured an alternate or Jules Verne-style take on the late Victorian Age. This was especially apparent in the interior designs for Nemo’s submarine, the Nautilus.

I could recommend that others keep an open mind in watching “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN”. Although it does not bear a close resemblance to Alan Moore’s comic series and I am not particularly fond of its dark exterior shots, I must admit that I was impressed by James Dale Robinson’s screenplay, the ensemble cast and some of the production designs. Considering what he had to work with – especially an allegedly difficult leading man – I think that director Stephen Norrington did a solid job in bringing it all together for what I believe to be a very entertaining movie.

Conflicting Views on the “NORTH AND SOUTH” Trilogy

I wrote the following article about many fans of the “NORTH AND SOUTH” trilogy:


I have been a fan of John Jakes’ ”NORTH AND SOUTH” trilogy, ever since I read the first novel – ”North and South” when I was in my twenties. After reading both the first and the second novel – ”Love and War”, I became a fan of the miniseries, upon which the miniseries are based. Because of my love of Jakes’ saga, I began perusing many websites created by fans of the saga and joined a few Yahoo discussion groups. And what I had discovered about the saga’s fandom has left me feeling not only shocked, but wondering if these fans had any idea what Jakes was trying to convey in his story. 

Reading some of the ”NORTH AND SOUTH” websites and the Yahoo groups has led me to wonder if the majority of this particular fandom tend to place the saga into the same category as ”THE BIRTH OF A NATION” or ”GONE WITH THE WIND”. In other words, many of these fans tend to view Jakes’ saga with a conservative eye. Either they seemed mistaken by Jakes’ (and producer David Wolper’s) theme behind the saga . . . or they may have decided to ignore it. I suspect the latter.

Now, some might be wondering why I had even bothered to write this article. Frankly, so am I. I doubt that this article will ever change these fans’ perspective on the ”NORTH AND SOUTH” trilogy. So why do I bother? To be honest, this article is not about changing their perspective. It is about me expressing my frustration over the fact that I cannot find one fan of the saga who does NOT view it along the same lines as Margaret Mitchell’s famous novel (and David Selznick’s famous screen adaptation). I have yet to encounter a ”NORTH AND SOUTH” fan who does not view the story as some kind of ode to the Old South. Judging from Jakes’ three novels and Wolper’s miniseries adaptations, I certainly do not view it as such.

This conservative attitude has never been more apparent than in my clash with other fans over the role of the slaves owned by the family of one of the saga’s main characters – Orry Main. Aside from the character of Cuffey (portrayed by Oscar winner, Forest Whitaker), these fans try to view the slaves in a sympathetic light by labeling them as loyal to the Main family. This is especially true of the two characters – Semiramis (Erica Gimpel) and Ezra (Beau Billingslea). While perusing a ”NORTH AND SOUTH” website created by a European-born fan (the site has since disappeared ), I noticed that he had described both characters as ”loyal”, due to their decision to remain at Mont Royal (the Mains’ South Carolina plantation) after the other slaves had left in the second miniseries, set during the Civil War. What many fans failed to realize that Semiramis or Ezra had not remained at Mont Royal due to any loyalty to the Main family.

”NORTH AND SOUTH: Book 2” had started with a recently married Brett Main Hazard (Genie Francis) in Washington D.C. at the beginning of the war, and Semiramis acting as her personal servant. Hours before the Battle of Bull Run commenced, Brett received a message from South Carolina that her mother, Clarissa Main (Jean Simmons) had been injured in a barn fire. Brett made the sudden decision to make her way through battle lines in order to return back into Confederate territory and South Carolina. Semiramis accompanied her. The pair eventually reached Mont Royal in the middle of Episode 2. In the following episode, both Cuffey and Ezra separately questioned Semiramis’ decision to remain with Brett. Although the maid refused to acknowledge Cuffey’s question, she gave Ezra a vague answer about wanting to stick by Brett’s side. However, both men seemed to know the true answer. Charles Main. Semiramis had fallen in love with Orry Main’s younger cousin in the previous miniseries, ”Book 1”. And both men seemed appalled that she would harbor such feelings for a man who was related to their owner. But whereas Cuffey left Mont Royal (stealing Clarissa Main’s jewels along the way), Ezra remained behind, considering her treatment at the hands of the Mains’ former overseer, Salem Jones (Tony Frank). Even when the Main women – Clarissa, Madeline (Lesley Ann Down) and Brett – had permitted the other slaves to leave. And what was Ezra’s reason for remaining at Mont Royal? He wanted a chance to woo and win Semiramis’ heart. And Semiramis’ reason for remaining behind? She wanted a chance to see Charles Main again . . . on the chance he might return to the family’s plantation. Any loyalty toward the Main family had nothing to do with either slave’s decision to remain. However, many ”NORTH AND SOUTH” fans refused to acknowledge this. They simply wanted to believe that the two slaves had remained at Mont Royal, due to some kind of loyalty to the Main family. They especially seemed enamored of the idea of Semiramis remaining loyal to Brett. Judging from their remarks, the idea of a loyal servant . . . especially a black slave . . . seemed very appealing to them.

Another aspect about many of these fans of the trilogy seemed to be their belief that the Mains’ slaves should have been satisfied with their lot as the family’s servants and property . . . as long as they were well treated. In one of the Yahoo groups, one particular fan questioned this belief, expressing doubt that a slave would automatically love his or her master because of well treatment, pointing out that the master (or even mistress) was still robbing that slave of any kind of freedom. And another member responded in the following fashion:


Whoever had posted this response was obviously ignorant of his or her American history. If Southern slaves were unaware of the idea of freedom, why did so many of them escaped or attempted to escape from bondage? And that included famous fugitives such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, William and Ellen Craft, Henry Box Brown, Robert Smalls, Thomas Sims and Anthony Burns. Even the ”NORTH AND SOUTH” trilogy featured two fugitive slaves – Semiramis’ older brother Priam (David Harris), and Grady (Georg Sanford Brown) – James Huntoon’s slave and Virgilia Hazard’s husband. Although both former slaves had encountered a great deal of bigotry and hardship in the North, neither of them had any inclination to return to their masters and slavery. Instead, both participated in John Brown’s failed raid on the U.S. Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Another one of the Mains’ slave – an elderly gentleman named Joseph (Harry Caesar) – seemed to be on friendly terms with Clarissa Main. He even seemed concerned for her well-being. Despite the lack of hostility between slave and mistress, Joseph did not hesitate to leave Mont Royal during the summer of 1863, when given the opportunity. Despite the Mains’ decent treatment of their slaves, one of them – a man named Caleb – reminded Orry that Mont Royal had never been their home.

If there is one character in the ”NORTH AND SOUTH” trilogy that personified some of these fans’ more conservative view of the saga, it is abolitionist Virgilia Hazard. Virgilia was not the only abolitionist in the story. Her older brother, George and his wife, Constance (James Read and Wendy Kilbourne) were also abolitionists. And Charles Main seemed to have a more liberal view of African-Americans than the others in his family. Judging from his comments to Semiramis, he never seemed to have a high or matter-of-fact opinion of slavery. But Virgilia, portrayed by the wonderful Kirstie Alley, managed to take her views against slavery to great heights. One might as well describe her as a fanatic. She had no tolerance toward all Southerners – especially slave owners. And she was very passionate in her views toward abolition and women’s rights. Many fans hate her . . . even to this day.

One can understand an initial dislike of Virgilia. She was bigoted toward all Southerners and harbored a fanatical view of her political and social beliefs. On the other hand, it is easy to admire her more liberal view toward African-Americans – especially in the mid 19th century – and abolition. This tolerance led her to fall in love and marry Grady. In ”Book I”, George had accused her of marrying the fugitive slave for political reasons. But Constance insisted that she had loved him. Virgilia’s reaction to his death seemed to support Constance’s views. And unlike other unpopular characters like Ashton Main (Terri Garber), James Huntoon (Jim Metzler), Isabel Truscott Hazard (Wendy Fulton, Mary Crosby and Deborah Rush), Harry Venable (Keith Szarabajka) and Elkhanah Bent (Philip Casnoff); Virgilia was able to face and acknowledge her flaws before her death by a hangman’s noose in Episode 6 of ”Book II”. Not only did her opinions of Southerners ease – personified by her sympathy toward a wounded Confederate officer – she also managed to make her peace with both George (whom she had accused of being a sympathizer toward Southern slave owners) and more importantly, Orry. But many fans have refused to acknowledge this character development in Virgilia. And they continue to blind themselves from her virtues. Because of this, I cannot help but wonder if their dislike of Virgilia had more to do with her liberal views than her personal flaws.

I find it ironic that the only fans of the ”NORTH AND SOUTH” trilogy I have come across, seemed to view the saga with a conservative bent. This is especially ironic, considering that John Jakes take on history in the antebellum United States seemed to be a lot more liberal – especially in his criticism of our country’s slave system. Even producer David Wolper managed to capture this view of Jakes’ saga in his three miniseries that aired between 1985 and 1994. Yet, I rarely come across any fan who seemed to view the trilogy in the same manner – especially in regard to their views on the Mains’ slaves and criticism of the Virgilia Hazard character. It almost seemed as if they would prefer to place Jakes’ trilogy in the same political category as Margaret Mitchell’s saga, ”Gone With the Wind”. And I do not know whether to find this sad . . . or ironic.

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: On Stranger Tides” (2011) Review



When the Disney Studios and producer Jerry Bruckheimer had first released news of their intention to make sequels to their 2003 hit movie, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Curse of the Black Pearl”, I reacted to the news with a greatdeal of wariness. In fact, I was against the idea. But after seeing 2006’s “Dead Man’s Chest” and 2007’s “At World’s End”, my opinion had changed. I ended up enjoying the two movies just as much as I had enjoyed “Curse of the Black Pearl” . . . especially the second film. 

About two years after “At World’s End” hit the theaters, the Disney people and Bruckheimer had released news of their intention to make a fourth film. Again, I expressed wariness at the idea. I thought the three movies released between 2003and 2007 made a neat little trilogy. There was no need for a fourth movie. But Disney and Bruckheimer went ahead with their plans and a fourth movie was recently released. But unlike “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End”, I found it difficult to enjoy “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: On Stranger Tides”.

I cannot say that I disliked the film. There were aspects of it that I genuinely enjoyed. Both Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush were in top form as Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Hector Barbossa. But I noticed something odd about their characters in this movie. For once, Jack did not have a particular goal to attain in this film. In “Curse of the Black Pearl”, he was after the Black Pearl. He was after the chest that contained Davy Jones’ heart in “Dead Man’s Chest” to be used to avoid a debt that he owned. And in “At World’s End”, he was still after Jones’ heart in order to gain the opportunity to become master of the Flying Dutchman and immortality. In this fourth movie, Jack seemed to have become swept up in Blackbeard and the British Crown’s agendas. And Barbossa seemed out of place as a privateer for His Majesty King George II and the Royal Navy. There was a scene that featured him eating slices of fruit arranged on a plate. He seemed to be doing his best to project the image of an officer and a gentleman . . . only he looked rather odd. However, both actors gave top notch performances and I could find nothing to complain about.

I could also say the same about the performances of Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane and Stephen Graham as Angelica, Edward “Blackbeard” Teach and a sailor named Scrum, respectively. All three were perfectly cast in their respective roles. Cruz did an excellent job in portraying the complex Angelica, who happened to be the daughter of Blackbeard. Although it is obvious that she is attracted to Jack – a former lover, she seemed to have this . . . need for her father’s love that made her into some kind of twisted Daddy’s girl wannabe. Unfortunately, McShane’s Blackbeard seemed like poor father material. There were times when he conveyed the image of a concerned and loving father. And yet, he proved to be nothing more than an emotional vampire who would easily kill his daughter if she got in the way of his goal – the Fountain of Youth. And I must admit that not only did McShane made a witty and terrifying Blackbeard, he handled his character’s twisted relationship with Angelica beautifully. Graham’s Scrum almost struck me as a younger version of Jack’s old friend, Joshamee Gibbs. And considering that the latter’s appearance in this film seemed somewhat limited, it seemed just as well that Graham received more screen time.

There were other aspects of “On Stranger Tides” that I enjoyed. Or should I say, scenes? The mermaids’ attacks upon Blackbeard’s men and upon the H.M.S. Providence were among the most terrifying scenes I have seen in the franchise since the Kracken’s attacks in “Dead Man’s Chest”. I also enjoyed the scene that featured Jack’s mutinous meeting with members of Blackbeard’s crew. Personally, I found it very funny and it brought back memories of former characters such as Pintel, Ragetti, Marty and Cotton. Jack’s meeting with King George II proved to be somewhat entertaining. And it led to an equally entertaining chase sequence through the streets of mid-18th century London. But my favorite scene featured Jack marooning Angelica on a deserted island, following the death of Blackbeard. The humor not only permeated strongly in their verbal exchange, but also in director Rob Marshall’s visual style. And I must admit that I also enjoyed the photography featured in the London scenes and the “island” where the Fountain of Youth was located. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski did justice to the lush Hawaii jungle that served as one of the movie’s settings.

So, if I had so much to enjoy about “On Stranger Tides”, why did it fail to resonate within me in the end? What went wrong? At least for me? My main problem with the movie is that I felt it tried to repeat many aspects of the first film,“Curse of the Black Pearl”. This is odd, considering that “On Stranger Tides” was allegedly inspired by Tim Powers’ 1987 novel, “On Stranger Tides”. The fourth film did not come off as a remake or anything of such. But there were too many aspects of the first film that seemed to be repeated in “On Stranger Tides”. One, Jack’s reunion with Angelica in a London tavern almost seemed like a remake of his first meeting with Will Turner in “Curse of the Black Pearl”. Scrum almost seemed like a remake of Joshamee Gibbs. This is not surprising, since he had more scenes with Jack that Gibbs and the latter (along with actor Kevin McNally) seemed wasted in the movie. Two of Blackbeard’s crew turned out to be zombies (if you can call them that). And they seemed like remakes (physical and otherwise) of Barbossa’s first mate from the first film, Bo’sun. More importantly, the romance between missionary Philip Swift and the mermaid Syrena almost seemed like a remake of the Will Turner/Elizabeth Swann romance . . . but without the character developments. If I must be honest, Philip and Syrena’s romance nearly put me to sleep on several occasions. I feel sorry for actors Sam Claflin and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey. They seemed like two decent actors forced to work with a pair of boring and undeveloped characters.

There were other problems I had with “On Stranger Tides”. The movie saw the return of Royal Navy officers Theodore Groves (from the first and third film) and Gillette (from the first film). What on earth did Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot did to their roles? Both characters almost seemed lobotomized. Well, Gillette did. Groves seemed to have lost his sense of humor. I recalled that he was a big fan boy of Jack in the first and third films. Yet, when he finally met Jack . . . nothing happened. He was too busy being a rather boring and stiff character. What happened to Jack and Barbossa’s own quests for the Fountain of Youth, which was first introduced in “At World’s End”? After a few years of failure, the audience is led to believe that Jack simply lost interest. And Barbossa’s earlier encounter with Blackbeard and the latter’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, led to the loss of one leg and the Black Pearl. And how did Barbossa managed to survive the loss of his leg. Apparently, Barbossa had to cut off his leg to free from Blackbeard’s enchanted ship lines. So, how did he manage to keep himself from bleeding to death in the ocean? How did he manage to swim to safety with one leg?

And then we come to the mermaids. How did the mermaids manage to destroy Barbossa’s ship, the H.M.S. Providence? It was one thing to lure men from small boats or smash said boats. It was another to do the same to a large frigate. I have never heard of such a thing in the mermaid mythology. One last major problem I had with the movie dealt with the presence of the Spanish. Like the British, they were after the Fountain of Youth. Only their leader, known as the Spaniard (portrayed by Óscar Jaenada), called himself destroying the Fountain in the name of his king and the Catholic Church, as some kind of stance against paganism. Worse, he possessed the very chalices that needed to be used to drink the Fountain’s water. Yet, he did not bother to smash them, until he was at the Fountain’s location. Why? And what in the hell were Elliot and Rossio thinking? Why include such a storyline that proved to be irrelevant, epsecially since Jack was able to use the Fountain’s water after its so-called destruction?

I hear that Disney Studios and Bruckheimer are planning a fifth movie. I can understand this decision, considering that“On Stranger Tides” raked up a great deal of profit at the box office. Frankly, I wish they would change their minds. I honestly do not care how much money the movie had made. After watching it, I realized that a fourth movie should not have been made . . . at least from an artistic point of view. It featured too much sloppy writing and characterizations for me to truly enjoy. “On Stranger Tides” might prove to be the first PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie that I cannot consider as a favorite.

“HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER” and the Not-So-Great Robin/Barney Love Fest


I am tired of the Robin Scherbatsky/Barney Stinson (Cobie Smulders/Neil Patrick Harris) saga. I really am. They have practically dominated Season Seven of CBS’s “HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER” with a romance that seemed to be force-fed by the series’ creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays, in order to satisfy the certain shippers. 

What can I say? Everything about the Robin/Barney love story has seemed forced to me. As far back as Seasons Four and Five. When the pair first became a couple back in Season Five, Thomas and Bays managed to screw that relationship by breaking them up in (5.07) “The Rough Patch”. And they used one of the most contrived reasons I have come across in television history. After dating each other for a while, the two decided to break up, because their relationship led them –“two awesomes” – to “cancel each other out”, making them less than they want to be. Their relationship led Robin to become a sloppy dresser and Barney to gain weight. It was one of the most ridiculous episodes I had ever seen.

But what happened between Robin and Barney seemed nothing in compare to the love saga that awaited viewers in Seasons Six and Seven. Robin introduced Barney to a work colleague of hers named Nora (Nazanin Boniadi) in the Season Six episode, (6.16) “Desperation Day. After Barney struggled with his feelings for Nora throughout late Season Six, he finally realized that he was interested in her in the season finale, (6.24) “Challenge Accepted”. In the following season, Barney told Nora about his sexual past in (7.02) “The Naked Truth”. She nearly dumped him, until she realized how serious he was about her . . . and decided to give him a chance. During this initial courtship between Barney and Nora, Robin decided that she still have feelings for him. Gee . . . how convenient. Instead of telling Barney about her feelings, she eventually began dating her psychiatrist, Kevin (portrayed by Kai Penn).

I was willing to give the possibility of a second Barney/Robin hook-up another chance. But Thomas and Bays managed to fuck it all up. At least for me. One, the producers had decided to portray poor Nora as a one-dimensional paragon of perfection. During the nine episodes Nora appeared in the series, the writers never developed her beyond her penchant for Valentine’s Day, kids and ideal romance. She was a female Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor), but without any flaws or complexity whatsoever. Hell, Ted’s past girlfriends were portrayed with more complexity than Nora, especially the much maligned Zoey Pierson.   And I am not just talking about Robin. Even the latter’s new boyfriend, Kevin, seemed more complex and interesting as Nora. The only time I ever came close to really liking Nora was in (7.07) “Noretta”, in which she suffered a series of mishaps during a date that was supposed to culminate in sex for the first time with Barney. But Thomas and Bays never allowed Nora’s character to develop beyond the mishaps she had suffered in that particular episode. They seemed determined to manipulate the viewers into disliking her and cheering for a Barney/Robin hookup.

In the end, Thomas and Bays got rid of Nora in (7.10) “Tick, Tick, Tick . . .”. And how do they achieve this? They allowed Barney and Robin to cheat on both her and Kevin by having sex sometime between (7.09) “Disaster Averted” and “Tick, Tick, Tick . . .”. In the latter episode, Barney eventually told Nora that he had “slept with another woman”. He failed to inform her that the woman in question was her colleague and the woman who had introduced them . . . namely Robin. Then he dumped Nora. What the fuck? This unpleasant task was followed with a scene in which Robin silently conveyed to Barney that she decided to keep their night of illicit sex as a secret from Kevin. Barney ended up crying in his milk, because Robin decided to stay with Kevin. And how did I feel? I realized that I could not give a shit . . . about either Barney or Robin.

Wait. It got worse. At the end of (7.11) “The Rebound Girl”, Robin informed Barney that she might be pregnant. Even worse, he might be the father, since she has yet to have sex with Kevin. This bit of information had me rolling my eyes with disbelief. In (7.12) “Symphony of Illumination”, Robin discovered that she was not pregnant. Her celebration was short-lived, when her doctor informed that she could never have children. This last plot twist disgusted me to no end.

Why? Why in the hell did Thomas and Bays use to plot line for Robin in the first damn place? For what purpose? They revealed in a few interviews that Robin’s discovery about her inability to conceive would drive her to become more career-oriented. Really? How lame! They could have simply continued to use Robin’s dislike of motherhood to explain why she never had kids. Why in the hell did they bother to use this “inability to have kids” plot line, straight out of a Ross Hunter production from the late 1950s and early 60s? It is so Lana Turner. Did they honestly believe that the only way for Robin to remain sympathetic was for her to be physically denied the chance to get pregnant, instead of simply disliking the idea of being a mother? Or was this simply another addition to the Robin/Barney soap opera, leading to their eventual marriage?

What makes Robin and Barney’s romance even harder to swallow is the fact that I do not find their romantic chemistry all that exciting. In fact, I find it rather dull. Both Harris and Smulders had great chemistry when portraying their characters as close friends, or whenever Robin repelled one of Barney’s cheap come-ons. But when it came to portraying serious romance between the two, I found the chemistry between Harris and Smulders as exciting as a piece of wood. Smulders had better chemistry with Radnor during Robin’s romance with Ted. In the Season Two episode, (2.05) “The World’s Greatest Couple”, Lily had moved into Barney’s apartment to help him stave off persistent one-night stands. Harris and Hannigan had more chemistry in that one episode than he ever did with Smulders. He even had better chemistry with Boniadi, when her Nora character was at its most one-dimensional.

The Barney/Robin soap opera seemed to have affected the characters of Ted, Marshall Eriksen (Jason Segel) and Lily Aldrin (Alyson Hannigan). I realize that “HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER” is not solely about Ted’s search for his future wife. Six seasons of the series have proven this. But Ted, Marshall and Lily have been treated as supporting characters in compare to Barney and Robin. They have been given silly “B” plots in most of the season’s episodes, despite the fact that Marshall and Lily are expecting their first child and Ted is supposed to be the series’ leading character. while viewers (at least those who, like myself, are not Barney/Robin shippers) have been forced to swallow the barely digestible Barney/Robin love fest of Season Seven. The balance between all five characters have been off ever since the producers had decided to engage in Barney and Robin’s “love story” this past year.

Will the great Robin/Barney love fest abate at least a little by the second half of Season Seven? I hope so, but I have doubts. Barney is scheduled for his own wedding sometime in the near future, thanks to a flash forward seen in the season premiere, (7.01) “The Best Man”. Like many viewers, I suspect that the bride in question is likely to be Robin. When the series’ first two seasons led toward Marshall and Lily’s wedding in (2.21) “Something Borrowed”, their characters did not overshadow the other three with dominant appearances throughout the first two seasons. Yet, Thomas and Bays have bombarded viewers with episodes centering around Robin and Barney during this past year. Why? I suspect to satisfy the growing number of Barney/Robin shippers that seemed to have materialize over the past few seasons.

Now, is it really two much to ask for the producers to get over their Barney/Robin obsession and return the balance for all five characters? Is it? Many fans of the show had complained about the quality of Season Six. Mind you, the last season did not feature “HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER” at its best. But I managed to enjoy it a hell of a lot better than Season Seven. If this Robin/Barney love fest get any worse, Craig Thomas and Carter Bays is going to lose a fan . . . namely me.

“Obssessions” [PG-13] – Chapter 4


Chapter 4

Less than a minute before Cole had spotted them, Phoebe and Jason stood at the entrance of Morgan’s dining room. “Thanks for joining me for lunch,” the BAY-MIRROR’s owner said. “Although I wish you had chosen another restaurant.” 

“Jason,” Phoebe gently chided. “Just because this restaurant is owned by Olivia’s family . . .”

Nodding, Jason admitted, “I know, I know! I’m letting her get to me, again.” He sighed. “Besides, the reason I had invited you to lunch was because I wanted to tell you about her . . . and me. And I thought it would be best to do so away from the office.”

“I understand.” Phoebe gave her boyfriend’s arm a reassuring squeeze. “And I’m glad that you finally wanted to talk.” She and Jason followed the casually dressed maitre’d across the dining room. They were halfway to their destination, when a familiar voice cried out Phoebe’s name.

“Phoebe!” She glanced to her left and spotted Darryl Morris waving at her. He sat inside a booth with Paul Margolin, Olivia and . . . Phoebe’s heart fluttered out of control . . . and Cole. “Hey Phoebe,” Darryl greeted as she and Jason approached the inspector’s table. “How are you?” The other three stared at her.

Stifling the need to take flight, Phoebe responded with a wan smile, “I’m fine.” She turned her attention to Darryl’s lunch companions. “Paul, it’s good to see you. Again. Olivia.” And in an even less enthusiastic voice, she added, “Cole. Wha . . . what are you four doing here?”

The red-haired woman and Phoebe’s ex gave her stiff nods. Paul Margolin merely stared at her – like she was a specimen under a microscope. Weird. Only Darryl responded with any kind of friendliness. “Celebrating!” he said. “I’ve been promoted to lieutenant.”

“Hey! Congratulations!” Phoebe’s smile became more genuine. Then she remembered her companion. “Oh, you all remember Jason Dean, right? Jason, I guess you already know Olivia and Cole. And this big handsome man over there,” she said, pointing at Darryl, “is Darryl Morris – Olivia’s partner. He’s also an old friend of the family.” Then she nodded at Paul. “And this is Paul Margolin. He’s an . . . old friend of Leo’s. And he’s also an ADA.”

Jason greeted both Darryl and Paul with friendly nods, deliberately ignoring Olivia and Cole. But his former girlfriend spoke up, anyway. “Jason, it’s good to see you.” A small smile appeared on Olivia’s face. “Although, I am surprised to see you, here. I didn’t think you would ever step foot inside a McNeill restaurant again, after we broke up.”

The BAY-MIRROR‘s publisher grew red in the face. Phoebe gave his arm a reassuring squeeze. “I’ve decided to let bygones be bygones,” he said with a stiff smile. Then, “Uh, well don’t let Phoebe and me interrupt the celebration. We need to get going. Nice meeting all of you.” He tugged at Phoebe’s arm.

Ignoring the smirk on Olivia’s lips, Phoebe said her final good-byes and with Jason, walked over to the table, where the maitre’d waited. Once the couple was seated, Phoebe shot a glance at Darryl’s table. The new ADA seemed to be in a state of shock over something. Olivia seemed to be hovering over him with concern, while Cole regarded the whole scene with a mixture of annoyance and jealousy. Phoebe’s chest grew heavy. Jealousy? Cole?

” . . . wasn’t so bad,” Jason said. “Seeing her again.”

Realizing that her boyfriend was talking, Phoebe blinked. “Huh?”

“Olivia. Seeing her again wasn’t so bad,” Jason repeated. “Despite her little comment.” He sighed. Heavily. “At least I didn’t have some unpleasant little flashback. Like the last time.”

Phoebe devoted her full attention to Jason. “I didn’t realize that seeing her again would be so difficult for you. You really must have loved her.”

Jason paused. “Love?” He shook his head. “It wasn’t so much . . . I mean, I don’t think I was ever in love with Olivia. Or she with me. Maybe I was infatuated with her. Olivia was . . . well, an exciting woman.” He stared into nothingness. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like her.”

“Oh?” Jealousy crept into Phoebe’s voice.

Smiling, Jason continued, “Don’t worry. I can easily say the same about you. In fact,” he leaned closer, “I’m glad that you’re nothing like her. One Olivia was enough to last a lifetime, thank you.”

Phoebe leaned forward and covered one of Jason’s hands with hers. “I hope this isn’t your idea of a pick-up line.” The pair shared a private laugh, before leaning back into their chairs. Phoebe glanced to her side, wondering if Darryl and the others had noticed her little private moment with Jason. She could see that Darryl had. Olivia and Paul seemed deep in conversation. And Cole . . . shot unhappy looks in their direction. Phoebe could not decide whether to be relieved about the latter. Or disappointed.

“About Olivia,” she continued, “was being with her that difficult?”

Jason heaved another heavy sigh. “What can I say? She was exciting, smart, temperamental, amusing, cruel and perverse. All at once. I think she only saw me as a part time guy. And Olivia had a . . . well, she still has it, I think.”

“Her what?” Phoebe asked.

“A talent for making me feel very small. Or an idiot.” Jason paused. “You heard the comment she made to me about coming here. Like I said, she can be cruel.”

Recalling Olivia’s rant against the Halliwells over Cole last fall, Phoebe understood. Perfectly. That little conversation at one of the McNeills’ Sunday brunches had left her feeling worse than an idiot. Almost criminal. And Paige’s discovery about Cole and the Source had not helped.

Jason continued, “After two months of dating, I just couldn’t deal with her crap any longer. And Olivia had grown tired of me. So, we mutually decided to break up.”

“Hmm, I wish my marriage had ended like that,” Phoebe muttered.

Sympathy gleamed in Jason’s eyes. “Was it really that bad?”

Phoebe nodded. “Let me tell you about the horror that was Phoebe and Cole.” Leaving out any references to the supernatural world, Phoebe spilled out her official version of the failed Halliwell-Turner union.

* * * *

Upon his return to his apartment, Nick commenced upon his plans to get rid of Bruce McNeill. First, he concocted an elixir made from the Angelica Root he had purchased at Ostera. Next, he formed a circle on the floor, using a white chord. Then he placed three black candles next to the circle, in equal distance. He created a circle outside the white chord, using more crushed protection herbs.

Nick lit the black candles, before stepping away from the circle. After taking several deep breaths to calm himself, he placed a smudge of the elixir mixture on his forehead. He finally placed his body on the floor, in a pentagram position – arms straight out and legs apart. Then he summoned the succubus in Italian.

For a few seconds, nothing happened. Nick recited the chant again. The air grew heavy. Gray smoke materialized in the middle of the circle, until it finally formed into a bi-pedal, demonic-looking creature with horns, a tail and . . . breasts. Breasts? Nick let out a gasp and sprung to his feet.

The succubus frowned. A very frightening sight for Nick. “Did you just summoned me?” she demanded in Italian. “Who are you?”

After a moment’s hesitation, Nick stammered in English, “Uh, I’m . . . my name is N-Nick.” He cleared his throat nervously. “Nicholas Marcano. I had sum . . . summoned you. But not for me,” he quickly added. He peered harder at the daemon. “Um, is that how you always look?”

The demonic form magically transformed into a beautiful, statuesque woman with long, curly black hair, soft sherry-brown eyes and a creamy complexion. “Is this better?” Now she spoke English, with an Italian accent.

Nick’s eyes drank in the beautiful face and the curvaceous nude body. “Much better,” he replied in a breathless tone. “What’s . . . uh, what’s your name?”

“Portia. Portia Della Scalla.” She stepped forward. “So, are you ready to make love?”

Nick opened his mouth to say yes. Until he remembered what he was facing. Thank goodness for the protection herb on his forehead and on the floor. “No! I mean, I didn’t summon you to have sex. I mean . . .” He shook his head, feeling slightly confused. “I did summon you to have sex. But not with me. With someone else, so that you can steal his soul.”

“His?” A delicate brow formed an arch. “You want me to seduce someone else?”

“Yes.” Nick sighed with relief. “His name is Bruce McNeill. And he’s a witch. One of those Wiccans.”

Portia tried to step out of the circle and encountered a force field. She pointed at the circle of herbs. “Do you mind? I do not want to stand here forever.”

“Oh.” Nick scrambled to sweep away the crushed herbs.

Portia made a second attempt to leave the circle. Succeeding, she walked over to the sofa and sat down. “Bruce McNeill,” she murmured. “Why does that name sound familiar?” She looked at Nick. “If you want this Signor McNeill dead, I will require something in return.”

“Huh?” Mindful of the intense pair of eyes upon him, the realization of the succubus’ question struck Nick. “Oh. Yeah. Compensation.” He paused. “Have you, um, ever heard of a Soma plant?”

Portia’s eyes lit up. “Of course! A Hindu shrub. Cures diseases of all kinds. And grants the owner, immortality. Even a daemon such as myself will be immune from being vanquished. Where is this Soma plant?”

Nick shook his head. “Not so fast. First, you help me kill Bruce McNeill. Then I’ll tell you were you can find the plant. I’ll even help you find it.”

A long pause followed. Nick tried to ignore the sherry-brown eyes contemplating him with such intensity. Don’t look at her. Don’t look . . .

“All right! I will seduce and kill this Bruce McNeill for you,” Portia said with a huff. “Where can I find him?”

Nick rushed over to his desk and scribbled an address on his notepad. He ripped the top sheet from the pad and handed it over to Portia. “Uh, do you read English?”

An impatient sigh left Portia’s mouth. “You mean to say that you have not figured that out, by now?” She snatched the piece of paper from Bruce. “Of course I read and write English! And by the way, I am familiar with San Francisco.”

“Ah. Well. Then you should have no troubles.” Nick hesitated, as he stole a surreptious glance at the succubus. “Uh, by the way, do you think you could find some clothes?”

* * * *

“A demon!” Paul’s voice rang throughout the Halliwells’ first floor. “I sat and had lunch with a demon, today! A demon who had married into your family, Leo! I can’t believe that you had allowed a demon to spend time with your charges, let alone marry one of them!”

Leo took a deep breath and reached out for his charge. “Paul, calm down. Getting excited won’t help. Phoebe told me that you had met Cole, today. I just didn’t . . .”

“Did the Elders’ Council know about him?” Paul demanded.

In one of those increasingly rare moments, Leo had found himself at home with his family, when Paul Margolin dropped by to pay a visit. It was nearly nine o’clock. Leo, Phoebe and Paige had just finished dinner. Baby Wyatt was upstairs, asleep. And Piper was at P3, supervising the club for tonight. No sooner had he stepped inside the manor, Paul demanded that Leo tell him everything about Cole.

“Yes, the Elders knew about him,” Leo calmly replied. “How did you . . . how did you find out that Cole was . . .?”

Paul interrupted. ” . . . a demon? The infamous Belthazor? Or the fact that my whitelighter had once worked with this guy? And said nothing when this demon married another charge? Who happened to be one of the Charmed Ones? My God, Leo! A demon? And now he’s with another one of your charges!”

“Look, Olivia hasn’t been one of Leo charges in years. And she and Cole aren’t romantically involved,” Paige added. Leo glared at her. “But I am keeping my fingers crossed.” This time, Phoebe glared.

Paul merely regarded the youngest Charmed One with disbelief. “This doesn’t bother you? Being associated with a notorious demon? I mean, this guy . . . I’ve heard about him! Belthazor was one of the Source’s most notorious killers for nearly a century!”

Smiling, Paige replied, “If you had asked me this four months ago, I would have said yes. Yeah, I was once bothered being associated with Cole. But not anymore.”

“He ended up becoming the Source! The Source of All Evil!”

Paige calmly continued, “And we killed him. Only we didn’t realize at the time that Cole had been possessed by the Source’s essence.”

“Po . . .” Paul shook his head. “Possessed? What do you mean?”

“Why are we answering your questions?” Paige demanded. “You don’t know Cole. You don’t even know us!”

Leo admonished his sister-in-law. “Paige! There’s no need . . .”

“Look, I’m sorry if I come across as rude, but . . . you seemed to assume a lot without knowing what really happened,” Paige said to Paul. “And to be honest, I see no reason why we have to explain ourselves to you.”

An embarrassing silence filled the living room. Leo glanced at Paige, who seemed cool and slightly resentful toward the male witch. Who looked absolutely deflated by Paige’s words. And poor Phoebe looked as if she wanted to crawl away somewhere and die. Leo began, “Maybe Paul was just concerned . . .”

“Concerned about what?” Paige demanded. “That his whitelighter might be under the influence of a demon? Or consorting with one? Or has this all to do with someone else?” She glared at Paul.

Every now and then, Leo would find himself wishing that Cole Turner had never entered their lives. Tonight was one of those moments. Taking a deep breath, he said, “Listen, I think we’re all getting a little ahead of ourselves. All this over a half-demon, who is no longer involved with us.”

A nervous laugh escaped Phoebe’s mouth. “Thank goodness for that.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that.” Paige gave Paul a pointed stare. “Cole is still in Olivia’s life.” Then she gave both Leo and Phoebe a defiant stare. “And in mine.” She turned on her heels and marched upstairs.

Feeling embarrassed over the outburst, Leo shrugged his shoulders. Judging from Paul’s outraged expression, the damage had been done.

* * * *

Portia Della Scalla materialized on the McNeills’ front lawn. She gazed approvingly at the Colonial Spanish villa. Bellissima, she thought. And very tasteful. Unlike most American homes. Portia harbored an opinion that the majority of Americans, including the very wealthy, were vulgarians.

Unbeknownst to Nick Marcano, Portia had heard of Bruce McNeill. She had also heard of Gweneth McNeill, as well. One world-renowned chef, and the other, an up-and-coming talent – and both came from a wealthy San Francisco family. During her previous visits to San Francisco, Portia had visited the famous Golden Horn restaurant on several occasions. She had no idea, however, that both mother and son were witches. Or that the illustrious McNeill family had anything to do with the supernatural world.

Closing her eyes, she could detect the presence of four men inside the house. Four. Portia heaved a frustrated sigh.Wonderful! How was she supposed to figure out where her intended victim slept? Thankfully, the Streghone had provided a photograph of this Bruce McNeill. Glancing at it, Portia could not help but admire the subject’s face. Very handsome. And the perfect man to act as progenitor to a powerful adamitici, if the Streghone was correct about Signor McNeill being a powerful witch. She pressed one hand against her belly and sighed with content. This would be the perfect time for her to breed.

Portia transformed herself into gray smoke and wafted toward the villa. A second later, she found her solid body being flung back on the lawn. Damn them! The McNeills must have cast some kind of protection spell around the house. Damn! Now how was she supposed to get to the witch?

* * * *

“Is he dead?” Nick asked, after Portia returned to his apartment. “Have you done it?”

The dark-haired succubus rolled her eyes, contemptuously. “And I thought you knew something about us. We have to mate with our victims several times before we can take their souls completely.”

A hopeful Nick asked, “Well, have you begun? Have you, uh . . .?”

“Mated with him? Had sex?” Portia sunk onto the sofa, pouting. “No. Someone cast a protection spell on the house. I could not enter.”

“Damn!” Nick began to suspect that this whole scheme to get rid of Bruce might be a big mistake. Maybe he should give up. Or consider another way to stop the upcoming McNeill-Bowen nuptials.

Portia’s bell-like voice cut into his thoughts. “You are not changing your mind, are you?

Nick stared at her. “Huh? Uh, no. No, I . . .”

“Because I do not relish the thought that I had been summoned for nothing.” Her brown eyes flashed with intimidation. Then they softened. “Of course, I do not have to seduce Signor McNeill in his bedroom. I can always lure him here. Or to some other place.”

Some other place. The words reverberated inside Nick’s mind. Of course. All it took was to find a way for Portia to get close to Bruce.

The succubus continued, “Why did you not tell me that you wanted Bruce McNeill dead? The Bruce McNeill from the Golden Horn restaurant?”

“You’ve heard of him?”

Nodding, Portia continued, “Of course. I may be a succubus, but I have moved about in the mortal world for a long time. Why, I remember when the Golden Horn first opened.” She heaved a heartfelt sigh. “Ah, bellisima! The food was exquisite!”

“So, you don’t mind that I want him dead?”

With a shrug, Portia added, “Why should I? He is just another potential victim to me. And there are other five-star restaurants. The culinary world will not suffer from his death.”

Nick glanced shrewdly at her. “Say, do you know much about the . . . uh, culinary world? Or anything about professional cooking? Maybe we can find a way to get you a job . . .”

“I do not cook!” The succubus stated most adamantly. “I dine.”

Okay. “Well, what have you done, besides fucked a lot of men?”

Searing him with a dark glare, Portia replied angrily, “I have worked in the mortal world, before!” Her delicate nose rose an inch higher. “I once worked as a secretary at a trading firm in Marsailles, forty years ago. I ended up seducing the owner. And back in the late 1880s, I was married to a Bavarian count. I also worked for an Italian fashion magazine in the 1970s. As a writer, I might add. And while working as a reporter for a Quebec newspaper, I had seduced a newspaper magnate. And I . . .”

Reporter? “Wait! Did you say . . . writer?” Nick asked. “You can write?”

Portia’s eyes radiated with pride. “Of course. Writing happens to be one of my natural talents . . . aside from seduction. Why, back in the 1980s, I wrote a series of bestselling novels. Romantic fiction. They were very popular. Even with the demonic world. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? There was . . .”

“You’re a writer!”

“That is what I said!” The succubus stared at Nick, as if he had grown a second head. “Haven’t you been listening to me?”

The Streghone shook his head. “No, you don’t understand. You’re a writer. And I’ve heard that Bruce McNeill will be interviewed by some food columnist from the BAY-MIRROR.”

Portia frowned. “The BAY-MIRROR. Is this some kind of newspaper?”

Nick nodded. “Yes. And since you’re a writer, maybe we can find a way for you to hold the interview, instead.”

Comprehension dawned in Portia’s sherry-brown eyes. “Ah yes! I understand! But first, we must get rid of this columnist. Do you know his or her name?”

Nick pondered on the question for a moment, recalling Paige Matthews’ words. “Wolf, something. Wait! DeWolfe. DeWolfe Mann!”


“THOR” (2011) Review


“THOR” (2011) Review

My knowledge of European-based mythology is very sketchy. I am familiar with some figures of both the Greek and Roman mythologies. But my knowledge of Norse mythology is even less. As for the many characters from Marvel Comics, I barely knew about any of them – aside from “SPIDER-MAN”, until the past decade. One can only imagine my surprise when I learned that one of Marvel’s more successful super heroes was the Norse god, Thor. 

Based upon the Norse mythology and the Marvel Comics character, “THOR” is an origin tale about the God of Thunder (and several other things), and how he ends up on Earth and becomes affiliated with S.H.I.E.L.D. The story begins in New Mexico, when scientist Jane Foster, her assistant Darcy Lewis and mentor Dr. Erik Selvig stumble across a figure that has tumbled from a wormhole in the sky. That figure turns out to be Thor, the Norse god that was exiled by his father, Odin, king of Asgard.

Earlier, Thor had been preparing to ascend to the throne of Asgard, but his ceremony was interrupted when Frost Giants attempted to retrieve the source of their power, the Casket of Ancient Winters, which had been taken by Odin in an earlier war. Against Odin’s order, Thor traveled to Jotunheim, the Frost Giants’ realm, to confront their leader Laufey; accompanied by his brother Loki, childhood friend Sif and the Warriors Three – Volstagg, Fandral and Hogun. A battle ensued until Odin intervened to save the Asgardians, which destroyed the fragile truce between the two races. For Thor’s arrogance, Odin stripped his son of godly power and exiled the latter to Earth, accompanied by Thor’s hammer Mjolnir — the source of his power, now protected by a spell to allow only the worthy to wield it.

No one was more surprised than me upon learning that actor/director Kenneth Branaugh had manned the helm for“THOR”. Pop culture movie franchises were nothing new to him. After all, he had appeared in 2002’s “HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS”. But directing an adaptation of a comic book series? Mind you, “Thor” is a different kettle of fish in compare to . . . say “Spider-Man”“The Fantastic Four” or “Iron Man”. After all, Thor originated as a figure in Norse mythology. However, I must admit that I found it difficult to wrap my mind around the idea of a known Shakespearean actor directing a comic book hero movie.

In the end, I believe that Branaugh did a pretty good job. “THOR” turned out to be a solid tale filled with mythology, some first-rate acting, family drama, comedy and action. The best aspect of “THOR” was to me – hands down – the family drama surrounding the main hero and his relationships with his father Odin and his younger brother, Loki. This family drama originated in Thor’s arrogant nature and brother Loki’s discovery that he was an orphan that Odin had discovered in the Frost Giants realm. Despite his discovery that he was a Frost Giant instead of an Asgardian, Loki viewed Thor as an unsuitable heir to the Asgard throne and used Thor’s exile to muscle his way to the throne . . . and, uh Odin’s heart.

Another aspect of “THOR” I found interesting was the story line about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s investigation into the wormhole that delivered Thor to Earth and his hammer Mjolnir, which is stuck in the middle of the New Mexican desert like Excalibur. The first encounter between the forces of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Thor during a rainy evening also provided some interesting action. This sequence not only featured a brutal fight to the now mortal Thor and a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and a cameo appearance by future Avenger member, Clint Barton aka Hawkeye.

The New Mexico sequences provided most of the comedy featured in “THOR”. The former Norse god’s interactions with Jane Foster, Erik Selvig, Darcy Lewis and the locals of the New Mexico town where they resided. Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne’s screenplay not only provided a good deal of slapstick humor and witty one-liners for the Darcy Lewis character, but also a variation on the “fish out of water” theme.

And If there is one thing that the movie did shine was its production designs and cinematography. Bo Welch did a excellent job in recapturing the rugged setting of the small New Mexican town and the Frost Giants’ realm of Jotunheim, featured in the film. But he did a superb job in his design of Asgard, the realm of the Norse gods. Asgard possessed a sleek, colorful and over-the-top quality that reminded me of what the Art Deco style would look in the hands of Hollywood craftsmen in the 1930s and 40s. And Haris Zambarloukos’ photography did great justice to both settings, especially Welch’s designs for Asgard. Even though I found the movie’s theme somewhat conflicting, I must admit that I found Paul Rubell’s editing rather smooth and well done in both the action sequences and the jumps between Asgard and New Mexico.

However, I have yet to encounter a movie that I would consider perfect. And “THOR” was far from perfect. The film’s main problem was that it seemed to have a conflicting quality about it. Because the movie’s setting constantly moved from Asgard to New Mexico and back, it ended up striking me as a mixture of “CLASH OF THE TITANS” and“STARMAN”. And this conflicting style did not seem to balance very well. I could have settled for “THOR” beginning its story in Asgard and remaining in New Mexico until the last scene. Unfortunately, most of the movie’s more important action occurred in Asgard, leaving the New Mexico sequences to bear the brunt of most of the comedy. By the time the movie’s last scene ended, I could not tell whether this was a movie about mythological gods or a comic book hero.“THOR” was a pretty good movie, but it did not exactly rock my boat. I found the story a bit mediocre and conventional. And the problem, if I must be honest, rested with Marvel Comics’ decision to create a comic series about a well-established mythological figure, instead of a new and original character.

Also, there were a few performances that failed to impress me. I realize that the three actors and one actress that portrayed Thor’s Asgardian friends – Sif and the Warriors Three – were very popular with moviegoers. Unfortunately, not only did they fail to impress me, I found them rather uninteresting. Poor Rene Russo. Within a decade she went from leading lady to a minor character actress, stuck in the thankless and nothing role of Thor’s stepmother, Frigga. Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye was really wasted in this film. In fact, he did nothing at all, except pose with a bow and arrow. I realize that he will appear as one of the Avengers in the upcoming 2012 film, but he was never allowed to strut his stuff like Scarlett Johanssen in “IRON MAN 2”.

Aside from the performances I had earlier mentioned, “THOR” seemed blessed with a first-rate cast. I was surprised to learn that Chris Hemsworth had portrayed James T. Kirk’s doomed father in the 2009 movie, “STAR TREK”. His George Kirk had been so dull. Fortunately, portraying Thor gave him the opportunity to shine in a complex role that developed from an arrogant and over-privileged prince with an aggressive sense of self to a more compassionate and wiser man who had fallen in love. For an actor with only eight or nine years of acting experience – most of them on television – Hemsworth more than held his own against the likes of Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins. And those scenes that featured Thor’s encounters with Jane’s van conveyed Hemsworth’s talent for physical slapstick humor. As an on-screen fighter, he struck me as a bit crude, but I am certain that he will improve with time. Natalie Portman gave a charming and humorous portrayal of Dr. Jane Foster, the astrophysicist who is not only obsessed with her work, but eventually finds love with Thor. Mind you, I did not find her character particularly exceptional. But I am glad to say that Portman tried all she could to make Jane an interesting personality. But one of the two best performances came from Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki, Thor’s resentful and conniving younger brother. Loki was definitely the movie’s main villain. The joke he had played (luring three Frost Giants to the chamber that held the Casket of Ancient Winters) on Thor’s ascension ceremony not only led him to the discovery that he was an abandoned Frost Giant infant taken by Odin, but also gave him the opportunity to discredit Thor and take the latter’s position as Odin’s more cherished son. Mind you, I cannot say that Hiddleston conveyed Loki’s mischievous sense of humor effectively. But he did handle Loki’s conniving nature, jealousy toward Thor and outrage over the story behind his true nature with great skill and subtlety.

Other outstanding performances came from Idris Elba, who portrayed Asgard’s gatekeeper, Hemidall; Kat Dennings as Jane’s sardonic assistant Darcy Lewis; Clark Gregg as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson; and Colm Feore as Laufey, King of the Frost Giants (and Loki’s real father). I was amazed at how Elba managed to convey all of Hemidall’s emotions and intelligence with very limited movement. No wonder he became very popular with many of the film’s characters. And Colm Feore managed to do something quite similar. He conveyed all of Laufey’s malice and secrecy behind a ton of body makeup. Aside from Hemsworth’s foray into slapstick, the New Mexico sequences featured a deliciously sly and humorous performance by Kat Dennings, who portrayed Darcy. And it was great to see Clark Gregg reprise the role of Phil Coulson for the third time (he made two earlier performances in the two IRON MAN movies). Thankfully, the movie’s script allowed him to be more complex and increasingly sardonic, allowing Gregg to really show his acting chops. Finally, the movie benefited from solid performances by Anthony Hopkins’ majestic portrayal of Odin, Thor’s father, Stellan Skarsgård as Jane’s dependable and practical mentor, Dr. Eric Selvig and Samuel L. Jackson as S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury in the movie’s post-credits sequence.

In conclusion, “THOR” proved to be an entertaining movie and another step toward “THE AVENGERS”, the big Marvel Comics saga for 2012. The movie provided solid direction from Kenneth Branaugh and excellent performances from most of the cast. But the movie’s conflicting genre(s) and somewhat mediocre story led me to realize that I would never consider it to be one of the outstanding releases from Marvel Studios.

“MILDRED PIERCE” (1945) Review

“MILDRED PIERCE” (1945) Review

I have been a fan of the 1945 movie, “MILDRED PIERCE” for years. Ever since the age of twelve. But many years have passed since I felt the urge to watch it. When I learned about the recent HBO version of the story, I decided to re-visit the past and watch the movie again. 

Based upon James M. Cain’s 1941 novel, “MILDRED PIERCE” is about a middle-class woman who struggle to make a new life for herself and her daughters and maintain their social position, following the break-up of her marriage during the last years of the Great Depression. After a difficult search Mildred finds a job as a waitress, but she worries that it is beneath her middle-class station. More than that, she worries that her ambitious and increasingly pretentious elder daughter, Veda, will view her new job as demeaning. Mildred encounters both success and failure as she opens a chain of successful restaurants, operates a pie-selling business and copes with the death of her younger daughter, Kay. Veda enjoys her mother’s newfound financial success but turns increasingly ungrateful and demanding, while openly condemning Mildred for becoming a working woman.

Anyone familiar with Cain’s novel would immediately realize that screenwriters Ranald MacDougall, William Faulkner and Catherine Turney took a great deal of liberties with the plot. One, the movie only spanned at least four to five years, in compare to the nine years featured in the novel. Any references to the Great Depression were eliminated altogether. However, the movie did feature one scene in which Mildred wrote the year 1939 on some document. In the novel, Mildred’s younger daughter was named Ray, not Kay. Nor did she die in the bedroom of the house owned by her father’s mistress, Mrs. Biederhof, as shown in the film. And Mildred’s friend, Lucy Gessler and co-worker Ida Corwin were combined into the wise-cracking Ida, who started out as Mildred’s boss and ended up as her partner (or manager – I am still not certain). References to Veda’s training as a pianist and later success as an opera singer, were tossed. The movie only made brief mention of her training as a singer. More importantly, Mildred’s second husband, Monty Beragon, was never killed. In fact, there was no murder mystery at all in Cain’s novel. Monty’s murder was invented by the filmmakers, because the old Production Code required that evildoers – namely the selfish and pretentious Veda and Monty, who were caught necking by Mildred – be punished for their misdeeds.

Even after so many years, “MILDRED PIERCE” remained a very entertaining and energetic film. Somewhat. The movie had one or two problems. One, why on earth did the screenwriters allow Ray (pardon me) Kay to die at the home of Bert Pierce’s mistress? How tacky is that? Why did he not have the good sense to take his younger daughter to the hospital? When I first saw the movie years ago, I had no problems with the murder mystery that had been included in the plot. But when I watched the movie recently, it finally occurred to me that the focus upon Monty’s murder in the first fifteen or twenty minutes nearly bogged down the movie’s pacing. I found myself longing to reach for my DVD remote and push the Fast Forward button. But a part of me argued that I had to watch every moment of the film to fully appreciate it. Fortunately, the movie eventually delved into Mildred’s back story, which included the breakup of her marriage, the job hunt, Ray’s (pardon me) Kay’s death, her first meeting with Monty, the launch of her first restaurant and most importantly, her relationship with Veda. As the unfolding of Mildred’s life weaved its magic spell, the script occasionally broke away from this very entertaining melodrama and forced us to contemplate the identity of Monty’s murderer. And every time this happened, the movie nearly grounded to a halt. I used to derive a great deal of pleasure when the very evil Veda was revealed as Monty’s murderer. Unfortunately, the pleasure of that moment failed to grasp me, the last time I saw “MILDRED PIERCE”. I finally remembered that when I first saw the movie, I knew that Veda was the killer. And her reason for killing Monty? After Mildred had interrupted Veda and Monty’s passionate embrace, the latter made it clear to his spoiled stepdaughter that he would always love Mildred. Go figure. When I first saw the movie, I cheered when Veda was being led away by the police. But after my last viewing, I realized that transforming Veda into a murderer did not solve the main problem – namely Mildred’s unhealthy love for her daughter. As Veda was being led away by the police, the look on Mildred’s face expressed her continuing obsession over the former. Nothing had really changed – at least not the relationship between Mildred and Veda. In the end, attaching the murder mystery did not solve a damn thing.

But despite these flaws, “MILDRED PIERCE” is still a first-rate movie after sixty-six years. The screenwriters and director Michael Curtiz handled the meat of the story – Mildred’s tormented relationship with Veda – with great skill and drama. I was happy to notice that the best aspects of Cain’s plot remained intact. My favorite sequences include Mildred’s lessons on the restaurant business as a waitress, the introduction of Monty’s character, the showdown between Mildred and Veda over the former’s waitress uniform, and Veda’s attempt to blackmail the wealthy Forresters with a fake pregnancy. I also have to commend Curtiz for providing the movie with his usual brisk pacing. I realize that I had earlier complained of the pacing featured in the movie’s first 15 to 20 minutes. And although the movie threatened to bog down in the scenes that featured the murder mystery, I thought that Curtiz handled the other aspects of Mildred’s life with his usual competent and artistic manner.

Fans of Cain’s novel have complained that this adaptation have skimmed one or two strong aspects of Mildred’s personality – namely her narcissist obsession toward Veda. I cannot say that I fully agree with this criticism. Mind you, I do believe that the movie failed to delve deeply into the aspect of Mildred’s personality that led her to indulge in Veda’s desires at nearly every opportunity. But MacDougall, Faulkner and Turney’s screenplay did not ignore it altogether. In the argument scene that featured the Pierces’ breakup, Bert pointed out Mildred’s penchant for indulging Veda’s whims . . . almost to the point of ignoring younger daughter Kay. Mind you, Bert is not completely blameless, considering his lack of interest in Veda and his failure to provide for his family. And in another scene, Mildred’s snobbery and class aspirations – something in which she had passed on to Veda – is apparent in her insistence that Kay continue with her dance lessons, despite the latter’s tomboyish nature and disinterest in any kind of social aspirations.

What can I say about the cast of “MILDRED PIERCE”? To be honest, I cannot find fault in the performances featured in the movie. Many have criticized Bruce Bennett for giving a dull performance as Bert Pierce, Mildred’s first husband, who leaves the family in a financial lurch. Mind you, his portrayal of Bert did not exactly rock my boat. But I did not find it dull – especially in two scenes that featured a heated argument between his character and Mildred. Butterfly McQueen gave an entertaining performance as Mildred’s maid, Lottie. Even more importantly, her character was not the wince inducing cliché that she portrayed in 1939’s “GONE WITH THE WIND”. Jo Ann Marlowe was charming as Mildred’s earthy and tomboyish younger daughter, Kay. I especially enjoyed her little spoof of Carmen Miranda. Both Jack Carson and Eve Arden gave deliciously sarcastic performances as Bert’s ex-partner Wally Fay (Burgan in the novel) and Mildred’s boss-turned-partner Ida Corwin. In fact, both were given some of the best lines in the movie. I cannot help but wonder if this line – “Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young.” – had led to Arden’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.

Zachary Scott has portrayed a good number of heels throughout his movie career. But none of them had been as interesting as his performance as Monty Beragon, the Pasadena socialite who becomes Mildred’s second husband. Instead of portraying Monty as a one-note villain or sleaze, Scott portrayed the character as a complex personality that seems to convey both some of the good and a good deal of the bad in humanity, and who became a tool in Mildred’s campaign to win back her daughter . . . and grew to resent her for it and his willingness to become her gigolo. Ann Blyth earned a well deserved Best Supporting Actress nomination for her portrayal of Veda Pierce, Mildred’s snobbish, selfish and ungrateful older daughter. And I must say that she did a superb job. What impressed me about Blyth’s performance was that not only did she convey all of the venality of Veda’s personality without going over the top, she also managed to hold her own against the powerhouse of Joan Crawford. Speaking of the latter actress, the role of Mildred Pierce must have seemed like a godsend to her career. After eighteen years with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Crawford found herself shoved aside for new starlets to fill the studio’s roster. Warner Brothers saved her career with a new contract and the Mildred Pierce role. And Crawford gave it everything she got. Some have accused the Hollywood icon of being obvious in a pursuit for Oscar gold. Personally, I simply saw a first-rate performance. She did an excellent job of conveying Mildred’s determination to become a successful businesswoman and obsession toward winning Veda’s love. Most importantly, I do not believe that she was “over melodramatic” as some critics have claimed. If I have to be honest, I consider Mildred Pierce to be one of her best roles.

After reading this review, one would suspect that my opinion of “MILDRED PIERCE” is not be as positive as it used to be. And that person would be right. My latest viewing of the film detected some flaws that I had failed to notice in the past. The biggest flaw seemed to be the screenwriters’ attempt to combine aspects of film noir and melodrama. It simply did not work for me, because the movie’s noir aspects dragged the pacing. But despite any flaws, I feel that the movie still manages to hold up very well after sixty-six years. And this is all due to Michael Curtiz’s excellent direction, Ernest Haller’s photography, some very sharp dialogue and characterization, and a first-rate cast. Even after all of these years, “MILDRED PIERCE” is still entertaining to watch.

“MURDER ON THE LINKS” (1996) Review

“MURDER ON THE LINKS” (1996) Review

I have never read Agatha Christie’s 1923 novel called “Murder on the Links”. But I have seen the 1996 television adaptation that starred David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. On several occasions. 

While on holiday in Deauville, France with his close friend, Captain Arthur Hastings, Hercule Poirot is approached by a wealthy businessman for help. Paul Renauld, whose assets include several South American business interests and the hotel where Poirot and Hastings are staying, claimed that someone – probably from South America – has made threats against his life. He asks Poirot to visit his home for consultation on the following morning. When Poirot meets the appointment, he discovers that Renauld has been kidnapped and Madame Renauld, left tied and gagged in their bedroom. The kidnapping case transforms into murder, when Hastings and his fellow golfers stumble across Renauld’s body on a golf course. Poirot also makes the acquaintance of Monsieur Girand of the Surete, an arrogant police official that views himself as the better detective. This clash of egos leads to a bet between the pair over who would solve the Renauld case first.

The case involves a bevy of suspects that include:

*Madame Eloise Renauld, the victim’s wife
*Jack Renauld, the victim’s stepson, who disliked him
*Marthe Daubreuil, Jack’s fiancée, who was frustrated by the victim’s opposition to the engagement
*Madame Bernadette Daubreuil, Marthe’s mother and the former lover/possible partner-in-crime of the victim
*Bella Duveen, Jack’s former lover, who may have mistaken the victim for him
*Mr. Stonor, the victim’s private secretary, who is in love with Madame Renauld

I would never consider “MURDER ON THE LINKS” as one of the best Christie adaptations I have seen. The movie’s prologue – set ten years earlier – almost made it easy to figure out the murderer’s identity. Second, the plot seemed hampered by one too many red herrings that involved mistaken identities and mistaken assumptions. And these red herrings nearly made the plot rather convoluted. I suspect that screenwriter Anthony Horowitz feared that the movie’s prologue nearly gave away the murderer’s identity and inserted these red herrings to confuse the viewers. Then again . . . I never read the 1923 novel and it is possible that Horowitz was simply following Christie’s original plot. Yet, the red herrings were nothing in compare to the line of reasoning that led Poirot to solve the case. The clues that he followed struck me as vague and slightly contrived.

But despite these flaws, I still manage to enjoy “MURDER ON THE LINKS” whenever I watch it, thanks to Andrew Grieves’ direction. One, I actually enjoyed the movie’s atmosphere and setting in Deauville. It gave the movie a touch of elegance without the series’ hallmark Art Deco style that had become a bit heavy-handed after this movie first aired. Production designer Rob Harris and cinematographer Chris O’Dell managed to capture the elegant mood of mid-1930s France without being too obvious about it. Andrea Galer’s costumes also struck me as near perfect. I especially enjoyed those costumes worn by the female cast members. The production’s pièce de résistance for me was the bicycle race featured two-thirds into the story. It struck me as a perfect blending of Grieves’ direction, editing, photography, production design, costumes and performances – especially by the extras.

Aside from one or two complaints, I thought the cast’s performances were first-rate. David Suchet gave his usual competent performance as the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. But I was especially impressed by Hugh Fraser’s portrayal of Arthur Hastings, Poirot’s close friend. “MURDER ON THE LINKS” provided a strong opportunity for him to shine as a man who falls in love with one of the suspects. Damien Thomas was excellent as the desperate and very complex Paul Renauld. In fact, his character seemed to be the lynch pin of the entire movie – even after his character was killed off twenty minutes into the film. Diane Fletcher seemed remarkably subtle and charming as Renauld’s beloved wife, Eloise. Portraying someone as ambiguous as Jack Renauld must have been a bit tricky, but Ben Pullen did a good job in capturing the character’s amiable, but callow and self-involved personality. Sophie Linfield was solid as Jack’s current love and fiancée, Marthe Daubreuil. However, she did not exactly rock my boat. Neither did Terence Beesley and Bernard Latham, who portrayed Renauld’s private secretary Stonor and Lucien Bex of the police, respectively. I also have to comment on Jacinta Mulcahy’s portrayal of Hasting’s love interest – the beautiful songstress, Bella Duveen. Mulcahy portrayed Bella as an effective minor femme fatale as Jack Renauld’s rejected lover. And she and Fraser made a surprisingly effective romantic pair.

The two performances that left me scratching my head came from Katherine Fahey and Bill Moody. I wish I could say that Fahey’s portrayal of Bernadette Daubreuil – Renauld’s former lover and Marthe’s mother – made an effective femme fatale. But I cannot. I cannot accuse her of hammy acting, but I thought she tried a bit too hard to project the image of a mysterious femme fatale who was blackmailing her former lover and possible partner-in-crime. But the one performance that really disappointed me came from Bill Moody’s portrayal of Monsieur Giraud of the Paris Sûreté and Poirot’s professional rival. I understood that he was supposed to be a boorish and arrogant man. However, I still had a problem with Moody’s performance. His portrayal of a French police detective seemed to border on parody. It was like watching a caricature of the John Bull persona tried to pass off as a Frenchman. It simply rang false to me.

“MURDER ON THE LINKS” was not perfect. Although I found the murder mystery intriguing, Poirot’s solution to the crime and the clues that led him to that solution struck me as slightly vague and improbable. I also had a problem with the performances of two cast members. But Arthur Hasting’s romance with one of the suspects, the elegant setting of Deauville and the performances of David Suchet, Hugh Fraser and Damien Thomas made “MURDER ON THE LINKS” worth watching.