“ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE” (1992) Review

 

“ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE” (1992) Review

Nearly twenty years ago, ITV’s “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” aired an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1940 novel. Not only was“One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” considered one of Christie’s darkest novels, due to its political overtones, the 1992 television adaptation acquired the same reputation. 

Directed by Ross Devenish and adapted by Clive Exton, “ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE” centered on Hercule Poirot’s investigation into the death of his dentist, one Dr. Henry Morely, which occurred less than two hours after the former’s last appointment. Poirot’s police colleague, Chief Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard, believes that Dr. Morely had committed suicide, because another one of his clients had died from an overdose of anaesthetic. However, Poirot and Japp eventually discovered that both Dr. Morely and Mr. Amberiotis’ deaths may be tied to possible attempts on the life of a banker named Alistair Blunt, who also happened to be a client of the dentist. Other suspects in the case include a former actress-turned-missionary named Mabelle Sainsbury Seale, who knew Mr. Blunt and his first wife back in India, during the 1920s; a member of the British Blackshirts named Frank Carter, who also happened to be the boyfriend of Dr. Morely’s assistant; Mr. Blunt’s American sister-in-law, Mrs. Julia Olivera; and the latter’s daughter, Jane Olivera.

As I had stated earlier, many fans of Christie’s novel and the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” seemed to harbor a very high regard of this particular story. I must admit there is a good deal about this production that I found impressive. Rob Harris’s re-creation of 1936-37 London was superb. In fact, I would go as far to say that out of the many episodes and television movies that aired on “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”, I would count Harris’ production designs as among the best. Harris’ work was ably supported by Barbara Kronig’s costume designs and Chris O’Dell’s photography. And I also had to compliment Andrew Nelson’s editing, especially in the sequence that featured the details that led to Dr. Morely’s murder. I thought the entire scene was well paced.

The performances also struck me as first-rate. David Suchet was in fine form as Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. He was ably supported by Philip Jackson’s wry performance as Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector Japp. I realize that many may have been a little upset by the lack of Arthur Hastings and Miss Lemon’s presence. But to be honest, I did not really miss them. Suchet and Jackson made a pretty strong screen team, as they have done in a few other productions.

Most of the supporting cast gave solid performances, including Joanna Phillips-Lane, Laurence Harrington, and Carolyn Colquhoun. However, there were times that I found the latter’s performance as Mabelle Sainsbury Seale to be a little ponderous. Peter Blythe did a good job in conveying both the charm and dignity of his character, Alistair Blunt, even if he came off as a bit smug toward Poirot, a man trying to prevent his murder. Helen Horton gave an amusing performance as Blunt’s American sister-in-law, Julia Olivera. And I am relieved that her portrayal as a middle-aged American woman did not collapsed into a cliche, even if Clive Exton’s screenplay gave her nearly every opportunity to do so. But I believe the best performance came from Christopher Eccleston, who portrayed one of the suspects – the boyfriend of Dr. Morely’s assistant and a follower of the British Union of Fascists. Not only was Eccleston’s performance brimmed with energy, he managed to inject sympathy into a character most would regard with disgust.

I wish I could say that “ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE” was one of the best Christie adaptations I have seen. Many seemed to think so. I believe it had the potential to be one of the best. But I also believe that Clive Exton’s script was riddled with a few flaws. One, Clive Exton wrote a convoluted script, which is not surprising since it was based upon a convoluted novel. Two, Exton and director Ross Devenish should have never included that prologue in 1925 India. It literally made it easier to solve the murders. And three, the script never made it clear why Alistair Blunt was needed to maintain some balance within Britain and Europe’s political and economic climates. Why was it so important for Scotland Yard to discover who was trying to kill him? And three, the nursery rhyme chant that permeated the movie really got on my nerves. Why was it that every time ITV aired an Agatha Christie adaptation that featured a title from a nursery rhyme, it had to include an annoying and heavy-handed literary symbol into the production?

Despite a convoluted story and a prologue that made it easier to identify the murderer, I must admit that I still rather like“ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE”. It has a lot of style. I thought it did a great job in re-creating mid-1930s London. And it featured some top-notch performances led by David Suchet, Philip Jackson and a young Christopher Eccleston.

“THE GOOD SHEPHERD” (2006) Review

 

“THE GOOD SHEPHERD” (2006) Review

As far as I know, Academy Award winning actor Robert De Niro has directed at least two movies during his long career. One of them was the 1992 movie, “A BRONX’S TALE”, which I have yet to see. The other was the 2006 espionage epic called “THE GOOD SHEPHERD”

Starring Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie, “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” told the fictionalized story about the birth of the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) and counter-intelligence through the eyes of one man named Edward Wilson. Edward, the product of an East Coast aristocratic family and a C.I.A. official, has received an anonymous package during the spring of 1961. The famous C.I.A operation, the Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba had just failed. Inside the package is a reel-to-reel tape that reveals two unidentifiable people engaged in sex. Suspecting that the tape might reveal leads to the failure behind the Cuban operation, Edward has the tape investigated. The results lead to a possibility that the operation’s failure may have originated very close to home. During Edward’s investigation of the reel tape and the failure behind the Bay of Pigs, the movie reveals the history of his personal life and his career in both the C.I.A. and the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) during World War II.

Many film critics and historians believe that the Edward Wilson character in “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” is loosely based upon the lives and careers of American intelligence officers, James Jesus Angelton and Richard M. Bissell, Jr.. And there might be some truth in this observation. But if I must be frank, I was never really concerned if the movie was a loose biography of anyone associated with the C.I.A. My concerns mainly focused on whether “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” is a good movie. Mind you, I had a few quibbles with it, but in the end I thought it was an above-average movie that gave moviegoers a peek into the operations of the C.I.A. and this country’s history between 1939 and 1961.

It is a pity that “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” was marred by a handful of prominent flaws. It really had the potential to be a well-made and memorable film. One of the problems I had were most of the characters’ emotional repression. Are we really supposed to believe that nearly every member of the upper-class in the country’s Northeast region are incapable of expressing overt emotion? I am not claiming that the performances were bad. Frankly, I was very impress by the performances featured in the movie. But the idea of nearly every major character – especially those born with a silver spoon – barely speaking above an audible whisper, due to his or her priviledged background, strikes me as more of a cliché than interesting and/or original characterization. I never understood what led Edward to finally realize that the man he believed was the genuine KGB defector Valentin Mironov, was actually a double agent. He should have realized this when the real Mironov had arrived several years earlier. The circumstances that led Edward to seek evidence inside one of the fake defector’s struck me as rather vague and far-reaching on screenwriter Eric Roth’s part. My main problem with “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” was its pacing. It was simply TOO DAMN SLOW. The movie has an interesting story, but De Niro’s snail-like pacing made it difficult for me to maintain my interest in one sitting. Thank goodness for DVDs. I feel that the only way to truly appreciate “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” without falling asleep is to watch a DVD copy in installments.

However, thanks to Eric Roth’s screenplay and Robert De Niro’s direction, “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” offered plenty of scenes and moments to enjoy. The moment of seduction at a Skull and Bones gathering that led Edward into a loveless marriage with Margaret ‘Clover’ Russell struck me as fascinating. It was a moment filled with passion and sex. Yet, the circumstances – namely Margaret’s pregnancy – forced Edward to give up a college love and marry a woman he did not truly love. I also enjoyed how De Niro and Roth used flashbacks to reveal the incidents in Edward’s post-college life and C.I.A. career, while he persisted into his investigation of the mysterious tape in the movie’s present day (1961). I was especially impressed by De Niro’s smooth ability to handle the transition from the present, to the past and back without missing a beat.

There were two scenes really stood out for me. One involved the Agency’s interrogation of the real Soviet defector, Valentin Mironov. I found it brutal, somewhat bloody and rather tragic in a perverse way. The other scene featured a loud and emotional quarrel between Edward and Margaret over the latter’s demand that Edward should convince his son not to join the C.I.A. What made this quarrel interesting is that after twenty years of a quiet and repressive marriage, the two finally revealed their true feelings for each other. But the best aspect of “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” was its depiction of how a decent, yet flawed allowed his work in intelligence and his position of power within the intelligence community warp his character. The higher Edward rose within the ranks of the C.I.A., the more he distanced himself from his family with his lies and secrets, and the more he was willing to corrupt himself in the name of national security . . . even to the extent of disrupting his son’s chance for happiness.

“THE GOOD SHEPHERD” must be one of the few large-scale movie productions, whose photography and production designs failed to give the impression of an epic. I found Robert Richardson’s photography rather limited, despite the numerous settings featured in the plot. So much of the movie’s scenes featured an interior setting. Yet, even most of the exterior scenes seemed to reflect a limited view. In the end, it was up to the movie’s 167 minute running time and 22 years time span that gave “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” an epic feel to it.

Robert De Niro and the casting team did a pretty good job in their selection of the cast. The only one I had a problem with was actor Lee Pace, who portrayed a fictionalized version of C.I.A. director Richard Helms named . . . Richard Hayes. I have always viewed Pace as an outstanding actor, but he spent most of his scenes smirking on the sidelines or making slightly insidious comments to the Edward Wilson character. I believe Roth’s screenplay had failed to give substance to his role. But there were plenty of other good supporting performances. I was especially impressed by Oleg Shtefanko’s subtle, yet insidious portryal of Edward’s KGB counterpart, Stas Siyanko aka Ulysses. Director Robert De Niro, John Sessions, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, Billy Crudup, Joe Pesci and Tammy Blanchard all gave solid performances. Eddie Redmayne held his own with both Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie as the Wilsons’ intimidated and resentful son, Edward Wilson, Jr. Michael Gambon was his usual competent self as an MI-6 spymaster named Dr. Fredricks. Gambon was also lucky to give one of the best lines in the movie.

At least three performances impressed me. John Tuturro was very memorable as Edward’s tough and ruthless deputy, Ray Brocco. For once, De Niro’s insistence upon minimilist acting worked very well in Tuturro’s favor. The actor did an excellent job in portraying Brocco’s aggression with a very subtle performance, producing an interesting contrast in the character’s personality. I realize that Angelina Jolie had won her Oscar for “GIRL, INTERRUPTED”, a movie that had been released at least seven years before “THE GOOD SHEPHERD”. But I sincerely believe that her portryal of Edward’s long suffering wife, Margaret, was the first role in which she truly impressed me. She tossed away her usual habits and little tricks in order to give a very mature and subtle performance as a woman slowly sinking under the weight of a loveless and repressive marriage. And I believe that Jolie has not looked back, since. The task of carrying the 167-minute film fell upon the shoulders of Matt Damon and as usual, he was more than up to the job. And while there were times when his performance seemed a bit too subtle, I cannot deny that he did a superb job of developing the Edward Wilson character from a priviledge, yet inexperienced college student to a mature and emotionally repressed man who was willing to live with the negative aspects of his profession.

I do not believe that “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” will ever be considered as a great film. It has a small number of flaws, but those flaws were not as minor as they should have been – especially the slow pacing that threatened to put me to sleep. But I cannot deny it is damn good movie, thanks to Robert De Niro’s direction, Eric Roth’s screenplay and a talented cast led by Matt Damon. Five years have passed since its release. It seems a pity that De Niro has not directed a movie since.

“Obssessions” [PG-13] – Chapter 13

“OBSSESSIONS”

Part 13

Paul glanced around the Golden Horn’s dining room with deep approval. “Very nice,” he commented. “Just as I remembered it from a show featured on the Food Channel. Actually, it’s a lot nicer than I thought.” 

Olivia responded with a pleased smile. “My mother and older brother would thank you. Both of them take great pride in this place. You know that the BAY-MIRROR is doing a piece on the restaurant’s silver anniversary.”

“Oh, that’s right.” Paul paused momentarily. “That’s where Phoebe Halliwell works, isn’t it? The uh, ‘Ask Phoebe’column?”

Olivia shrugged. “For the past year, I believe. In fact, I think she’s now one of the country’s leading advice columnists.”

A wry smile touched Paul’s lips. “Ever thought of writing a letter to her, yourself?”

“No, not really. I have my local high priestess to turn to. Or high priest.”

One of Paul’s brows rose questioningly. “Not your whitelighter?”

Recalling that Leo considered Paul to be one of his prized charges, Olivia hesitated. “Leo hasn’t been my whitelighter in thirteen years. I’ve discovered over the years that my moral code and those of the Elders don’t exactly match. Don’t forget, I’m Wiccan. Contrary to what they seem to believe, I don’t think the Elders can say the same. However, Leo has asked me and my brothers for help, every now and then. And we’ve done the same.” A waiter appeared at the table. Olivia and Paul ordered their drinks – white wine for her and a Manhattan for Paul. When he left, Olivia continued, “I gather it’s different with you.”

Paul nodded. “I don’t have a high priest or priestess as my . . . spiritual guide. Leo is doing just fine. Along with my minister, back home in Buffalo.”

“Back home in Buffalo? You don’t consider San Francisco your home?”

A wide smile illuminated Paul’s handsome face. “Not quite. I haven’t been here for two weeks, yet.”

Olivia nodded. “Really? Has Leo . . .” She paused. “Has he told you about the recent problems in the Whitelighter Realm? About the different factions that have formed since last summer? And the fact that several whitelighters have become darklighters?” The stunned expression on Paul’s face gave Olivia her answer. “Hmmm, I guess not.”

The waiter returned with Olivia’s wine and Paul’s Manhattan. He asked if they were ready for appetizers. Olivia suggested they try the duck pate in sherry aspic. As for the main course, she suggested they try Bruce’s specialty – Sweetbreads Menniere.

Paul had managed to snap out of his state of shock, once the waiter left. He leaned forward and said, “Leo never mentioned a word about trouble in the Whitelighter Realm. How did you . . .?”

“Find out? From my dad’s whitelighter,” Olivia replied. “Or former whitelighter. Dad and Oliver haven’t really been whitelighter and charge for a very long time. But they’re still close friends. Anyway, Oliver told Dad without the Elders’ consent. Leo wasn’t exactly happy when he found out that we knew.”

Paul took a large gulp of his Manhattan. “How did . . . how did this whole mess began, anyway?”

Olivia told her dinner companion about how the Source’s final death led to the destruction of his council and chaos in the Source’s Realm. She added that many of the whitelighters had become alarmed by the Elders’ willingness to reward the Charmed Ones for getting rid of the Source, and unconcern toward the lack of balance between good and evil in the magical world. Others saw the Source’s defeat as a sign that the Elders were becoming increasingly complacent and arrogant about the Realm’s chaos. And blind to the fact that this very chaos has led to increased attacks by warlocks and daemons, scrambling to become the new Source.

“Last fall, a daemon named Barbas had managed to steal Cole’s powers and use them to become the new Source,” Olivia continued. “You’ve heard of Barbas, right? The daemon of fear? Well, he managed to rule as Source for a few hours, but he also wanted revenge against the Halliwells, and in the end that led to his death. A coven of warlocks named Crozat tried the same.”

Paul interrupted, “I’ve encountered one of two of them.”

“Well, around last October and November, they were killing powerful witches to steal enough power to grab control of the Source’s Realm. And in December, five of them tried to steal Cole’s powers. Like Barbas.”

The ADA assumed a cool mask. “Belthazor again? Those new powers of his seemed to be a magnet for trouble.”

“Meaning?” Olivia asked pointedly.

“Well, first Barbas tried to steal his powers, and then these warlocks . . .” Paul’s voice faded under Olivia’s unrelenting stare. He inhaled sharply. “I think I better keep my opinion about Belthazor to myself,” he finally said. “The last time I had opened my mouth, I ended up with a tongue lashing from Paige.” He finished the last of his Manhattan and sighed. “As for this news about the Whitelighter Realm, I can’t understand why Leo didn’t tell me.”

Olivia shook her head. “Poor Leo. Ever since his problems with the Elders over Piper, he’s been increasingly less than willing to break the rules.” And being married to the demanding Halliwell had not helped much, she silently added. “I guess the Elders didn’t want the whitelighters to alarm their charges. Fortunately, Oliver felt otherwise.”

Paul leaned forward, “You know, for a cop, you sure don’t seemed to have any qualms about breaking the rules.” A disarming smile appeared on his lips. “But I guess that’s why I find you . . . so intriguing.”

While Olivia finished her glass of wine, the waiter returned with a duck pate loaf on a tray, along with strips of toasted bread. As the couple began to eat, Paul asked Olivia about the progress of her current case. “Are you and Morris any closer to finding the killer?”

“We have a suspect in mind,” Olivia replied. “DeWolfe Mann’s replacement at the BAY-MIRROR, Portia Della Scalla. I haven’t met her, but I can’t help but feel there’s something odd about the way she was hired. Her credentials weren’t even checked by her editor, and I know damn well that she’s not a well-known food critic. And then there was the manner of how Mann’s body was found. It was Phoebe and Paige who found his body. And according to Phoebe, she heard voices from inside the apartment, before she and Paige orbed inside.

Paul frowned. “You think there’s some magical connection?”

“Cole seemed to think so.” Olivia could not help but notice how Paul winced at the mention of the half-daemon’s name.

“That’s right. I forgot.” Paul spread some pate over a strip of toast. “Then I guess that a demon would recognize a fellow bad guy. Or girl.”

Olivia shot Paul a dark look. “I don’t consider Cole a ‘bad guy’.”

“Oh, of course. I mean . . .” Paul became apologetic. “Look, I’m sorry. I meant that as a half-demon, he would be able to recognize a fellow demon. That is if this Miss Della Scalla is one.”

“Possibly.” Olivia poured herself another glass of wine from the bottle left behind by the waiter. “If the Della Scalla woman is supernaturally evil, why did she kill Mann? For his job? Is there someone at the BAY-MIRROR she want dead?”

Paul asked, “Is there?”

After a moment’s hesitation, Olivia answered, “I don’t think so. From what I’ve gathered, she mainly keeps to herself. She’s managed to stay away from the office during her last two days with the paper. And the only other person she has been in contact with was Bruce.”

“The story on the restaurant.”

Olivia nodded. “Right. Mann was originally supposed to write the story. But now that he’s dead . . .” She stopped in mid-sentence, her mouth hanging wide open. It all came to her. The interview on the Golden Horn. DeWolfe Mann’s murder. The BAY-MIRROR’s quick decision to hire Portia Della Scalla without bothering to check her references. Jason assigning the Golden Horn story to his newest columnist without raising a fuss. “Of course! She’s after Bruce!”

“What? What are you talking about?” a confused Paul asked.

An excited Olivia leaned forward. “Bruce! She’s after Bruce! The Della Scalla woman. The question is why?”

“Like you said, she might be a demon or warlock.”

Olivia shook her head, dismissing the suggestion. “No, no. Daemons and warlocks aren’t in the habit of killing witches for no apparent reason.” She stood up, catching Paul by surprise. “I need to speak with Bruce. Now. I have to warn him.” Olivia strode toward the restaurant’s kitchen.

Inside the Golden Horn’s nerve center, she found her brother on telephone, apparently screaming at his fiancée. “For God’s sake, Barbara! You’ve got to be kidding! I’m in the middle of preparing a meal, and you want to scream at me about Portia?”

Portia? Bruce’s casual mention of the columinst’s name startled Olivia. Judging from Bruce’s next words, Barbara did not particularly care for it. “What?” he continued. “What do mean . . .? What the hell’s wrong with me calling her Portia? It’s her name, isn’t it?” Another pause followed before Bruce finally ended the phone call. “Look, Barbara,” he said in a voice that usually spelled danger for others, “I don’t have time for this shit, right now. I’m busy. If you want to have a fit over some woman I barely know, do it when I’m not working. Other than that, good-night!” And he slammed the telephone on the receiver.

Bruce stalked toward one of the kitchen’s stove and continued preparing what looked like sweetbreads. He shouted to one of the cooks under his supervision. “Ramon, I need that parsley! Now!”

Olivia strode up to her brother. “Bruce, I need to talk to you.”

“Not now, Livy! I’m busy with your sweetbreads and I have another meal to prepare after that. Talk to me, later.” Ramon handed him a bowl filled with fresh parsley.

“Bruce, this is important! It’s about . . .”

Looking extremely harried, Bruce shook his head. “Please Livy! Not now! Later!” He paused momentarily to wipe his hands on his apron. “Look, give me a call, later. Okay? I should be home around 11:30 or midnight.” He returned his attention to the task before him.

A frustrated Olivia had no choice but to leave the kitchen. She decided that a few hours of waiting would not harm anyone. Until then, her mind harbored on Portia Della Scalla. Was the Italian woman really a daemon or warlock? And why would she be after Bruce?

Olivia’s mind had become so fixated on the Della Scalla woman that she failed to remember that she had a dinner companion. It was not until she looked when she realized that she had passed their table.

* * * *

“Belthazor.” A handsome, swarthy man with curly black hair and dark-brown eyes approached Cole. The latter sat next to the bar, inside Vornado, a popular jazz club that had recently opened.

Cole whirled his stool around and gave the approaching man a wry smile. “Riggerio. It’s been a while. I haven’t seen in nearly thirty years.”

“Thirty-six years, to be exact,” Riggerio corrected in a smooth, Italian accent. “Portofino, February 1967. Our congregahad asked the Brotherhood of the Thorn’s help in getting hold of a certain chalice.” He eased onto the stool, next to Cole’s.

“And as I recall, your coven had to hand over your sigil as payment for our services.” Cole’s face hardened. “Of course, one of your people tried to double-cross the Brotherhood. Fortunately,” his face broke into a smile, “all’s well that ended well.”

Riggerio shook his head in mild disgust. “That Ornias! He was always such an impetuous fool! Which is why he is dead, of course.” He immediately changed the subject. “So Belthazor, what brings you here to Vornado’s? Hmmm? You don’t exactly run in our circle.”

“An old friend had informed me where I could find you,” Cole explained. “Imagine my surprise when I found out that you had left Italy for the States. And here in San Francisco, no less.”

The other daemon shrugged. “Portofino became . . . a dangerous place to stay. Italy in general, thanks to the Camelli family. Damn witches! So I came here. Opened this nice little club.”

Nodding, Cole continued, “And the reason I’m here is for some information. I was wondering,” he paused, “if you had ever heard of a witch, a warlock, or possibly a daemon named Portia Della Scalla in the Stregheria world.”

A frown darkened Riggerio’s face. “A daemon named Della Scalla? Sounds like a mortal’s name. Perhaps she is a witch. Or a warlock.”

“Perhaps she is,” Cole added. “But there are daemons who use mortal names, when among humans.” A bartender appeared and asked Cole if he would like a drink. He ordered a martini.

After the bartender stepped away, Riggerio said, “I’m sorry, my friend, but I am not familiar the human persona of every daemon. I do not even know your human name.”

“For which I am thankful,” Cole said with a smirk. He quickly sobered. “Could you do me a favor? Find out all you can about this Portia Della Scalla. I’ve already met her once, and there’s something about her . . . I don’t know. Something seductive. Like a succubus.”

Dark eyes grew suspicious. “Why? So you can kill her?” Cole glanced sharply at the other daemon, who continued, “Do not think I haven’t heard about the mighty Belthazor. That he had fallen in love with a witch. Helped her fight those of his kind.”

Cole’s own eyes became chilly. “Then you would also know that I was briefly the Source before I came back from the Wasteland. Stronger.” He hesitated; a smug smile curved his lips. “And how long has it been since your coven had possessed the Crotona Ring, your sigil? Nearly forty years? I know where I can get my hands on it. Give it to you, as payment.”

Surprise, followed by desire and wariness, flickered in Riggerio’s eyes. “How? Your people no longer have a leader, and your realm is in chaos.”

“You’re right.” Cole paused dramatically. “But the ring was in my possession during my brief tenure as the Source. Before I was . . . killed, I discovered where the previous Source had it hidden.”

Confusion now darkened Riggerio’s eyes. “Killed?”

“Of course. How else did I end up in the Wasteland?” Cole shook his head. “But that’s a long story. Right now, I’m more interested in making a deal. I’m the only one alive who knows the location of the ring.”

The other daemon paused thoughtfully. “All right, Belthazor. You have a deal.” The two shook hands. The bartender briefly returned with Cole’s martini, before moving on to another customer. “By the way, are you still with your witch?”

“My wi. . . Phoebe?” Cole shook his head. “No. Not anymore. My reign as the Source had put an end to our marriage. It was she and her sisters who had killed me. After I came back from the Wasteland, she divorced me.”

Sympathy reflected in Riggerio’s eyes. “I am sorry. Truly. But I am not surprised. I also fell in love with a witch.” Cole shot him a startled look. Riggerio nodded. “Yes, but it did not last very long. A warlock killed her.” He gave Cole’s shoulder a friendly pat. “Enjoy yourself, my friend. I’ll see about finding you a table.”

“Thanks, but I’d rather stay here at the bar.”

Riggerio nodded. “Of course. I’ll send someone, so that you can order your meal. I will see you later.” And he walked away.

Cole returned his attention to his martini. After taking a second sip, a voice cried out cheerfully, “Hey there, stranger!” Cole glanced to his left and found his former sister-in-law standing by his side. Paige.

* * * *

Blue eyes coolly regarded Paige. Who found herself nearly flinching under Cole’s direct stare. Even after nearly a four-month truce, Paige noticed that the half-demon seemed to keep her at an emotional distance. Despite her best efforts to resume their friendship.

“Paige,” Cole greeted in a cool, but pleasant voice. “This is a surprise. What are you doing here?”

Paige replied, “I was about to ask you the same question.”

“Nothing much. Just enjoying an evening out.”

“Alone?”

Again, cool blue eyes stared at her. “Is there a problem with that?” Cole asked. He continued before Paige could answer, “By the way, what are you doing here? I didn’t think jazz clubs were your style.”

“They’re not. I’m with someone.” Paige pointed out a good-looking man, some five years older than her. “My boyfriend, Nate. His birthday was last Saturday, and we’re celebrating tonight.”

Cole gazed at her companion. “What happened to Saturday night?”

“He was out of town,” Paige answered.

“Uh huh.” Cole reached for the martini glass in front of him. “So what is he? A jazz lover?”

Paige replied, “As a matter of fact, Nate happens to like both jazz and rock. Only he wanted to be somewhere other than P3, tonight. So here we are.” Paige waved at Nate, who responded with a slight nod. She returned her attention to Cole. “So you’re here, all alone? Where’s Olivia?”

Something akin to bitterness flickered briefly in Cole’s eyes. “Out on a date, I gather,” he replied coolly. “With the new ADA.”

Paul Margolin. Paige muttered half-heartedly, “I guess she’s really interested in this guy.”

“You don’t sound as if you approve,” Cole observed.

Paige shrugged her shoulders. “He’s . . . okay. But . . .” She sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t think he’s right for Livy.”

“In other words, you don’t like him.”

Who could argue with the truth? “All right, so I don’t,” Paige finally admitted. “He’s a little too narrow-minded for my taste.”

Amusement softened Cole’s expression. “Now that’s ironic, coming from a Halliwell. I bet six months ago, he would have seemed like the perfect man to you.”

“A girl can change,” Paige protested. “Although I sometimes wonder if you ever realize that.”

Cole drained the last of his martini and faced the younger woman. “Meaning?”

Paige hesitated. “You tell me. Whenever we’re together, you seemed to keep me at an arm’s distance. I guess that deep down, you haven’t . . . I don’t know, forgiven me for what happened, last year.” There! She finally said it. Got the issue out in the open.

Jazz music blared from the band on the stage, opposite the bar. Cole signaled the bartender and ordered another martini. Paige declined his offer of a drink. “Well,” he finally said. “Typical Paige. Blunt as ever. And as usual . . . also right.” Cole sighed. “I guess I have been a little distant with you.” Paige felt a surge of triumph. And relief. The half-demon continued, “I guess a small part of me felt . . . a little resentful. And you don’t deserve it. Especially since you’ve made a big effort to put the past behind us.” Cole stuck out his hand. “Pax?”

“Pax.” Paige grabbed Cole’s hand and shook it. Her eyes fell upon the man she had earlier spotted with her former brother-in-law. “So, who’s the guy you were speaking with?”

Cole hesitated, before he answered, “And old acquaintance.”

Old acquaintance? Which could only mean one thing. “He’s a demon?”

“Not from my circle,” Cole answered, nodding. “But a daemon, nonetheless. He . . . uh, frequents this place. He’s a jazz aficionado like myself. I wanted to find out if he had any information on this Della Scalla woman.”

Paige frowned. “What do you mean that he’s not from your circle?”

Cole sighed. “The demonic world is divided by different factions and dimensions, just like witches who practice different religions.” He went on to explain that his faction, ruled by the Source, were basically known to witches and warlocks familiar with Wicca religion, and possibly a few other modern-day Western religions. “Of course, you have Ghede, who is head of the Underworld, according to Vodoun belief. And he does exist, by the way. So do Din and Umbria, who according to Stregheria practioners, lead the underworld.”

Paige’s eyes grew wide at the mention of the word – Stregheria. “Your friend, he’s a Stregheria demon?”

“Uh, if you want to put it that way.” Cole glanced over Paige’s shoulder. The half-witch/whitelighter followed his gaze, which had settled upon a group of women sitting around a table, left of the dance floor. They seemed very interested in the handsome, half-daemon. Especially one woman in particular.

Paige continued, “If this demon friend of yours is Stregheria, does that mean Portia Whatshername is, too?”

“I don’t know,” Cole replied. He returned his gaze to Paige. “Of course, I could be assuming she’s Stregheria, because of her accent.”

“It’s too bad that you didn’t ask Nick about her.”

Cole frowned. “Who?”

“Nick. Nick Marcano? He’s a Stregheria witch.” When Cole failed to respond, Paige added, “C’mon! You’ve met him before. At one of the McNeills’ brunches. His aunt is an old friend of Mrs. McNeill’s. Carla Bianchi. Nick’s the one who has a crush on Barbara.”

A pause followed before Cole shook his head. “Sorry, I don’t remember the guy.”

Paige sighed. “Well, that’s Nick, for you. The next time I see him, I’ll ask about Portia Whatsherface.” A recent memory popped into Paige’s head. “Strange. He was acting odd when she came by the store with Bruce and Barbara.”

“Who?”

“For crying out loud, Cole! I’m talking about Nick! He was acting strange, when that Portia woman . . .” From the corner of her eye, Paige spotted Nate signaling her. “Oh, never mind. I think the birthday boy is getting restless. I better get back to him.” Before she walked away from Cole, she added, “By the way, I think you should get a hold of Nick. He might be able to help you.”

Upon her return to her table, Paige gave her boyfriend a small peck on the cheek. “Sorry about that,” she apologized.

“No biggie,” Nate said. He nodded at Cole. “Who is he, by the way?”

Paige smiled at the hint of jealousy in her boyfriend’s voice. She gave him a reassuring pat on the arm. “No one for you to worry about, sweetie. He’s merely my ex-brother-in-law. He used to be married to my sister, Phoebe. And he’s not my type.”

“Well, he’s obviously someone’s type,” Nate commented. Paige glanced at the bar. She saw a leggy, chestnut-haired woman approach Cole. She recognized the woman from the group of friends who had been staring at Cole. Even more disturbing was the fact that the interest between the woman and her former brother-in-law seemed mutual.

END OF PART 13

“THE IDES OF MARCH” (2011) Review

“THE IDES OF MARCH” (2011) Review

While watching George Clooney’s recent political thriller, “THE IDES OF MARCH”, it occurred to me that two-and-a-half years have passed since I last watched a movie about politicians . . . inside a movie theater. It also led me to wonder if Hollywood has become increasingly reluctant to make movies about politicians. It would be a shame if that were truth. Because I believe the studios need to release more movies about them. 

On the other hand, I am grateful to Clooney for directing, co-producing and co-writing “THE IDES OF MARCH”, an adaptation of co-writer Beau Willimon’s 2008 play called “FARRAGUT NORTH”. The movie is about Stephen Meyers, an idealistic junior campaign manager for Democratic presidential candidate, Governor Mike Morris of Pennsylvania, and his crash course on the brutal realities of politics on the campaign trail in Southern Ohio. His life and role in Governor Morris’ presidential campaign is threatened when Tom Duffy, the senior campaign manager of Governor Morris’ Democratic rival, Arkansas Senator Ted Pullman, offers him a job. Unfortunately for Meyers, his boss, Governor Morris’ senior campaign manager, Paul Zara learns about the job offer. Complicating Meyers’ situation is his romance with one of the campaign interns and daughter of the Democratic National Committee chairman, Molly Stearns, leads him to discover about her one night liaison with Governor Morris and her eventual pregnancy.

On paper, “THE IDES OF MARCH” looks and reads like a lurid melodrama with political overtones. But I believe the movie revealed to be a lot more. This is just a theory, but I believe that “THE IDES OF MARCH” served as a warning for those who tend to look toward politicians as saviors or leaders who can solve the problems of society. At the beginning of “THE IDES OF MARCH”, Stephen Meyers is a sharp and canny political campaigner. He has seen enough of the world to be somewhat jaded. But he is still young enough at age thirty to believe that one man can change his world for the better. And in his mind, that man is Michael Morris. But his own ambitions for a career as a political adviser and the revelation of Morris’ brief affair with Molly Stearns forces Meyers to grow up . . . in a most painful way. Considering the methods that he used in an effort to save his career, one might view Stearns’ loss of idealism with a negative eye. Or one might now. Personally, I believe that loss turned out to be a mixture of good and bad for Stearns.

“THE IDES OF MARCH” received a good deal of positive reviews from many of the media’s critics. Did the movie deserve the positive word-of-mouth? I believe so. I really enjoyed the story. And I believe that Clooney, Willimon and the third co-writer, Grant Heslov, did an excellent job of conveying Stephen Meyers’ final loss of innocence with plenty of melodrama (oh, that word!), tight pacing, political wheeling-dealing and plot twists. What is interesting about this movie is that all of the characters involved in the story are Democrats. There is no Republican or hard line conservative in sight. And I have to hand it to Clooney, Willimon and Heslov for being willing to show that in their own way, Democratic politicians and political wheeler-dealers could be just as dirty and manipulative as their Republican counterparts. Personally, I believe that this is a good lesson to learn that when it comes to the world of politics – and the media, for that matter – you cannot trust anyone, regardless of political suasion.

Clooney managed to gather a fine collection of actors and actresses for his movie. I do have one minor quibble about this . . . and it involves actress Jennifer Ehle, who portrayed Governor Morris’ wife, Cindy Morris. I had no problem with her performance. But aside from a brief scene with Clooney in which the two discussed his future in the White House, she seemed wasted in this film. I almost found myself thinking the same about Jeffrey Wright, who portrayed a North Carolina senator, whose support both Democratic candidates sought. He only had brief scenes in the movie. But he made the most of it portraying Senator Thompson as an egotistical power seeker with great relish. Max Minghella gave a decent performance as Meyers’ assistant who harbored ambitions to achieve the latter’s position. Marisa Tomei gave a witty performance as a snarky New York Times reporter, whose attitude toward Meyers changes drastically by the end of the movie. The year 2011 seemed to be a busy year for Evan Rachel Wood. She returned in her third role this year to portray the young intern Molly Stearns. Wood did an excellent job in portraying the vulnerable and scared young woman behind the sexy temptress. Her description of Morris’ seduction of Molly at an Iowa hotel left my skin crawling.

Both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti gave powerhouse performances as the two rival senior campaign managers, Paul Zara and Tom Duffy. Watching these two manipulate and trip up Meyers was like watching two warhorses showing the world how to give colorful performances. George Clooney’s portrayal of Governor Mike Morris was a lot more restrained than Hoffman and Giamatti, but equally memorable as Democratic candidate, Michael Morris. Superficially, Clooney invested a great deal of subtle charm and idealism into the character. But I liked the way he slowly revealed the ambition and corruption behind the Mr. Smith persona. If anything, Clooney’s Governor Morris reminded me of the numerous so-called ideally liberal politicians, who are revealed to be not only corrupt, but disappointing.

Despite the powerhouse appearances of veterans like Clooney, Giamatti, Hoffman, Wright and Tomei, the real star of“THE IDES OF MARCH” turned out to be Ryan Gosling. The ironic thing is that his portrayal of political campaign manager Stephen Meyers made Clooney’s restrained performance look absolutely subtle. Yet, along with Clooney’s direction, Gosling more or less managed to carry the movie. I am not saying this because Gosling is the star of the movie. In his quiet way, he managed to carry a film featured with more colorful performances from an older cast. More importantly, Gosling did an excellent job in quietly conveying Stephen Meyers from a savy, yet idealistic junior campaign manager to a harder and wiser politico who is willing to embrace corruption in order to save his career. I thought he gave a very impressive performance.

Will “THE IDES OF MARCH” be able to earn an accolades during the movie awards season? It is too early to tell, but I hope so. Thanks to George Clooney’s direction, the script and a talented cast led by Ryan Gosling, I was very impressed by it.

“HALLOWE’EN PARTY” (2010) Review

“HALLOWE’EN PARTY” (2010) Review

Many years have passed since I last read Agatha Christie’s 1969 novel, “Hallowe’en Party”. Although it is not considered one of Christie’s better novels, the story possessed a style that struck me as rich and atmospheric. I never forgot it. So, when I learned about ITV’s 2010 adaptation of the novel, I could not wait to see it. 

Directed by Charles Palmer and adapted by actor Mark Gatiss (who appeared in 2008’s “APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH”),“HALLOWE’EN PARTY” begins with mystery author Adrianne Oliver visiting a friend named Judith Butler in the small village of Woodleigh Common. Because Mrs. Butler has a young daughter named Melinda, the two women accompany her to a children’s Halloween party being held at the home of a widow named Rowena Drake. A young girl named Joyce Reynolds announce that she had once witnessed a murder. Everyone assumes she is lying. A few hours later, Joyce is found drowned in a tub filled with water and bobbing apples. Determined to learn the identity of Joyce’s murder, Mrs. Oliver summons another friend, Belgian-born detective to Woodleigh Commons to solve the murder. During his investigation of Joyce’s murder, Poirot uncovers a series of murders, mysterious deaths and disappearances that the thirteen year-old girl may have witnessed.

I might as well be perfectly frank. I do not consider “HALLOWE’EN PARTY” to be one of the better written Christie adaptations I have seen. Ironically, the fault does not lay with screenwriter Mark Gatiss. I believe he did the best he could with the material given to him. But I believe that Christie’s 1969 novel was not one of her better works. I will be even franker. “HALLOWE’EN PARTY” nearly worked as a mystery. But looking back on it, I realized that it was one of those mysteries that I found easy to solve. Poirot’s investigation into past murders, suspicious deaths and disappearances at Woodleigh Common made the story somewhat easy to solve. Even worse, the murderer was nearly revealed some ten minutes before Poirot revealed his solution to the case. Like 2008’s “APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH”and 2010’s “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”“HALLOWE’EN PARTY” also touched on the subject of religion. Thankfully, Gatiss managed to keep the subject of religion on a subtle level – including the topic of paganism.

“Hallowe’en Party” was published in 1969 and heavily reflected the late 1960s. I cannot deny that this television adaptation looked very handsome, thanks to Jeff Tessler’s production designs, Cinders Forshaw’s photography and Sheena Napier’s costume designs. All three did an exceptional job of transporting viewers to a small English village in the late 1930s and capturing the mysterious atmosphere of Halloween. I only have two complaints about this. Despite the first-rate 1930s setting, I wish that the movie had been given the novel’s original late 1960s setting. I believe this story was more suited for this particular setting. Also, I wish that both Palmer and Gatiss had not included sounds of children chanting “Snap, Snap, Snap”, whenever a lone character seemed to be in a threatening situation. These chants brought back annoying memories of a handful of old “POIROT” movies from the 1990s that featured titles from nursery rhymes.

The saving grace of “HALLOWE’EN PARTY” proved to be the cast. David Suchet was in top form as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. I found his portrayal subtle, humorous and intelligent. Frankly, I consider his performance to be one of his better efforts in the past three or four years. Many “POIROT” fans have bemoaned the lack of Hugh Fraser as Arthur Hastings during the past decade. As much as I had enjoyed Fraser’s portrayal, I did not miss him that much, thanks to Zoë Wanamaker’s portrayal of Adrianne Oliver, a mystery author who became one of Poirot’s closest friends. I have already seen Wanamaker’s previous takes on the Adrianne Oliver character in other “POIROT” episodes. She was marvelous in those episodes and I can say the same about her performance in this one. Also, she and Suchet made a surprisingly effective and humorous screen team.

The supporting cast featured interesting performances from acting veterans. There was Timothy West, whose portrayal of Woodleigh Commons’ vicar, struck me as wonderfully subtle and complex. Eric Sykes, whom I remembered from the“DARING YOUNG MEN” movies of the 1960s, was in fine form as the elderly solicitor Mr. Fullerton. Fenella Woolgar made a poignant Elizabeth Whittaker, a local schoolteacher who continued to mourn the death of a potential lover. Sophie Thompson gave an interesting, yet slightly melodramatic performance as the religious mother of the dead Joyce, Mrs. Reynolds. I must say that I was surprised that Julian Rhind-Tutt managed to keep it together and prevent his portrayal of landscape gardener, Michael Garfield, from becoming hammy. Mind you, Rhind-Tutt has been more than capable of giving a subtle performance in other productions. But Michael Garfield is somewhat of a showy character. The movie also benefitted from solid performances from the likes of Amelia Bullmore, Phyllida Law, Mary Higgins, Ian Hallard and Georgia King. However, I believe that Deborah Findlay gave the best performance in the movie, aside from Suchet and Wanamaker. She was subtle, yet superb as the ladylike, yet pushy widow Rowena Drake, whose home served as the setting for the opening murder.

I would not consider “HALLOWE’EN PARTY” to be one of the better Christie stories. As I had stated earlier, I believe its main flaws originated from the author’s 1969 novel. However, both director Charles Palmer and screenwriter Mark Gatiss did the best they could. Their efforts were not able to overcome Christie’s narrative flaws. But I believe they still managed to provide television audiences with an entertaining and atmospheric story, with the help of a first-rate cast led by David Suchet.

 

“LOST” – (5.11) “Whatever Happened, Happened” (Or . . . The Emergence of Saint Kate)

“LOST” – (5.11) “Whatever Happened, Happened” (Or . . . The Emergence of Saint Kate)

While looking back at some of the articles I have written about“LOST” and its characters, I discovered that I have written several articles that were either about the character, Kate Austen, or in which she featured heavily. One would think that she is such a compelling character. But I do not think so. I suspect that my problem with Kate was that I found her to be one of the most badly written characters on this show and in the history of television . . . and she was the female lead. And I find that disturbing. My past dislike of the character (which I eventually overcame) went up a notch after I had watched the Season 5 Kate-centric episode, (5.11) “Whatever Happened, Happened”.

This episode of “LOST” – “Whatever Happened, Happened” was not well written. It really was. I felt as if I had watched the emergence of a character called “Saint Kate”, instead of an interesting episode about the reasons behind a woman’s choices. But there were no reasons given for Kate’s sudden desire to save Ben’s life. Instead, the episode had her in a state of frantic over Ben’s condition that did not make any sense. Even worse, the episode went too far and had her donate blood to him in a heavily contrived attempt to make her seem selfless and worthy to the fans.

First, I want to focus on the situation regarding young Ben’s shooting. Why did Jack refuse to save Ben? Was his reason the same as Sayid’s? Because Ben will grow up to be a manipulative and murderous man? How did Jack suddenly become anti-Ben, again? I read a piece on this episode on WIKIPEDIA, which claimed that Jack was to blame for creating the monster, Ben Linus. I not only found this hard to accept, but rather ludicrous. It seemed as if they are trying to absolve Sayid of his crime. And that does not work with me.

Speaking of Sayid’s crime, it seems that Ben will no longer have any memories of it, following Richard’s treatment. If this was the case, what in the hell was the point of Sayid shooting Ben in the first place? What were the writers trying to achieve? Was the shooting nothing more than a contrived event to make Kate lovable to the fans again? Was it a plotline to explain how Ben became so murderous? Hell, they could have done that and allowed Ben to retain his memories of the shooting. This whole “erasing Ben’s memories of Sayid’s crime” made no sense to me. What was the purpose of it? To explain how Ben “lost his innocence”? Ben was already on that road by living under an abusive father.

But you know what? Despite Sayid shooting him, Jack’s refusal to save him or Richard’s memory-wiping cure, the one person who was mainly responsible for Ben’s moral downfall . . . was Ben. Other people have come from traumatic backgrounds and managed to make decent lives for themselves. Ben did not have any real excuse. Sayid has to deal with his crime of shooting an innocent boy, himself. Jack had to deal with his refusal to treat that boy. But they were not mainly responsible for Ben’s crimes. Ben was.

When I first heard that Kate might finally confess about the lie surrounding Aaron back in the spring of 2009, I thought she would end up confessing to Sawyer, Juliet and the other castaways. Instead, she confessed to Sawyer’s old girlfriend, Cassidy. That was disappointing. And now, Sawyer still does not know about the lie surrounding Aaron. Nor does he know that Kate had no intention of returning to the island to save his life. And she still has the murder of Wayne Jensen hanging over her head. If we’re supposed to root for them to get together following this episode, I think that the writers have failed. At least with me.

Regarding Kate’s decision to return to the island – she told Cassidy that her intention was to find Claire and get her back home to Aaron. I wondered how she was going to accomplish such a task, especially since she must have realized that there was no way to achieve this after crashing on the island for the second time. She did not know about the runway that Frank Lapidus had used to land Ajira Flight 316. Locke had destroyed the Dharma submarine back in Season 3. And Kate knew about the destruction of the freighter. How had she planning to send Claire back to Aaron? Or was she simply talking out of her ass?

You know, ever since (4.04) “Eggtown”, Kate’s story arc has been badly handled by the writers. It started with that ludicrous attempt by her to get information from Miles about her status as a fugitive. Then it developed into the storyline surrounding her custody of Aaron that went no where. The only thing that the Aaron storyline achieved was a temporary estragement between her and Jack. It was revealed in (5.04) “The Little Prince” that she had decided to claim Aaron as her own, because she was traumatized over losing Sawyer. And yet . . . “Eggtown” made it clear that she was willing to use Aaron to re-start a romance with Jack. If Aaron represented as a substitute for the loss of Sawyer, why did she have a photograph of both Aaron and Jack on her mantlepiece in Los Angeles? Was this a symbol of her continuing desire for both Jack and Sawyer? Or what? And the storyline surrounding her return to the island . . . contrived and badly written. After refusing to return to the island for Sawyer’s sake, she visited his ex-girlfriend, confessed the Aaron kidnapping and vowed to return to the island in order to find Claire Littleton and send the Australian woman back to her son and mother . . . without knowing how to achieve these tasks? The only thing Kate did right was to hand Aaron over to Carole Littleton. And I saw that coming a mile away. Once Kate returned to Los Angeles, she used Jack for comfort sex and later rejected him after boarding Ajira Flight 316.

And in the second half of Season 5, the producers dumped the badly written “Whatever Happened, Happened” episode on the viewers in order to make Kate favorable to the viewers again. They had her acting like a frantic Florence Nightengale over a kid she hardly knew. I would have understood if she had been perturbed over young Ben’s situation, like the others (sans Jack). But the writers . . . took it too far with Kate’s frantic desire to save him, which included her donating blood to him. And they even used this episode to blame Jack for Ben’s slide into darkness.

I guess that the show’s writers and producers’ attempt to redeem Kate in the eyes of the viewers eventually worked. The viewers eagerly lapped up this shit. But Lindehof and Cuse achieved this at a heavy price. In the end, all they did was sacrifice any semblance of artistic achievement for bad characterization and mediocre writing. As for me, another season and a confession to Claire by Kate would finally win me over to the latter.

How sad.

“MILDRED PIERCE” (2011) Review

“MILDRED PIERCE” (2011) Review

When HBO first revealed its plans to air an adaptation of James M. Cain’s 1941 novel, “Mildred Pierce”, many people had reacted in some very interesting ways. Some seemed thrilled by the idea of a new version of Cain’s story. But there were many who were not thrilled by the idea. And I suspect that this negative response had a lot to do with the first adaptation. 

Sixty-six years ago, Warner Brothers Studios had released its own adaptation of the novel. Directed by Michael Curtiz, the movie starred Joan Crawford in the title role and Ann Blyth as her older daughter, Veda. The movie received several Academy Award nominations and a Best Actress statuette for Crawford. Due to the film’s success and lasting popularity, many fans and critics viewed it as a definitive adaptation of one of Cain’s works. So, when they learned about HBO’s plans for a new version, many regarded the news with scorn. After all, how could any remake be just as good or superior to the classic Hollywood film?

Was “MILDRED PIERCE” as a miniseries just as good or better than the 1945 movie? I will give my opinion on that topic later. I will say that I truly enjoyed both versions. The miniseries benefited from Todd Haynes serving as the director, one of the producers and one of the writers. Oscar winning actress, Kate Winslet portrayed the title role. The miniseries also possessed a talented supporting cast that included Guy Pearce, Melissa Leo, Brían F. O’Byrne, Mare Winningham, James Le Gros; along with Evan Rachel Wood (“TRUE BLOOD”) and Morgan Turner. And I cannot deny that I found the miniseries’ production designs first-rate, despite a few quibbles. But I have come across a good number of movies or television productions with everything in its favor that still failed to win me over in the end. Fortunately, “MILDRED PIERCE” did the opposite.

Todd Haynes had pointed out that his new miniseries would be more faithful to Cain’s novel than the 1945 movie. And he was good on his word. The biggest differences between the Michael Curtiz movie and Haynes’ new miniseries were the running times and the lack of a murder mystery in the miniseries. That is correct. Monty Beragon was never murdered in the novel and he certainly was not murdered in the new version. There were no flashbacks on Mildred’s life, following her divorce from her first (and third) husband, Bert Pierce. And I am grateful to Todd Haynes for sparing the viewers that nonsense and sticking closer to Cain’s plot. I believed that the murder plot unnecessarily dragged the Curtiz movie. And Haynes’ miniseries was long enough. Due to the lack of a murder mystery, the miniseries retained Cain’s slightly bleaker ending. Much to the dismay of many fans.

Since Haynes had decided to stick a little closer to the novel, the miniseries covered the story’s entire time span of 1931 to 1940. Which meant that “MILDRED PIERCE” gave viewers a bird’s eye view of the Depression’s impact upon Southern Californians like the Pierce family. Part One began in 1931 with Mildred preparing a pie to sell to one of her neighbors. Husband Bert has joined the ranks of the broke and unemployed, thanks to the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the economic hijinks of his former business partner and friend, Wally Burgan. Bert seemed to spend most of his days engaged with chores like mowing the lawn or in an affair with a neighbor named Maggie Biderhof. Bert’s announcement that he might spend another afternoon and evening with Mrs. Biderhof proves to be the last straw for Mildred. The couple have a heated quarrel that ends with Bert’s departure from the family and eventually, a divorce.

Mildred realizes that she needs a steady income to support their two daughters, Veda and Ray. Unfortunately, Veda lacks any experience for a position outside of customer service. And being enamored of her upper-middle-class status, the idea of being a waitress, maid or housekeeper is abhorrent to Mildred. She also knows that such professions are abhorrent to her pretentious and class-conscious daughter, Veda. After rejecting jobs as housemaid to the future wife of a Hollywood director and waitress at a tea parlor, the realities of the Depression finally leads a desperate Mildred to take a job as waitress at a Hollywood diner. Unfortunately, Veda learns about the new job, which leads mother and daughter to their first major quarrel and Mildred’s decision to make plans to open a restaurant. The quarrel also marked the real beginning of what proved to be the story’s backbone – namely Mildred and Veda’s tumultuous relationship.

As much as I admire “MILDRED PIERCE”, it does have its flaws. I would view some of them as minor. But I consider at least one or two of them as major. One of the small problems proved to be Haynes’ decision to shoot the miniseries in New York, instead of Southern California. Aside from Mildred’s Glendale neighborhood, most of the locations in the miniseries do not scream “Southern California” – including the beach locations. The director claimed that he had chosen the area around New York City, because it was more cost-efficient than shooting around Los Angeles. He also claimed that it would be difficult to find “Old L.A.” within the city today. Speaking as an Angeleno who has spent many weekends driving around the city, I found these excuses hard to swallow. Los Angeles and many other Southern California neighborhoods have plenty of locations that could have been used for the production. And could someone explain how filming around New York was cheaper than Los Angeles?

“MILDRED PIERCE” has received charges of slow pacing and an unnecessarily long running time. I have nothing against“MILDRED PIERCE” being shown in a miniseries format. But I have two quibbles regarding the pacing. One, the sequence featuring Mildred’s job hunt dragged unnecessarily long. Haynes filled this segment with many long and silent shots of a pensive Mildred staring into the distant or dragging her body along the streets of Glendale and Los Angeles. I am aware that Haynes was trying to convey some kind of message with these shots. Unfortunately, I am not intellectually inclined and the sequence merely ignited my impatience. On the other hand, the speed in which Haynes continued Mildred’s story in Episode Three left my head spinning. Aside from the sequence featuring the opening of Mildred’s first restaurant, I felt that the episode moved a bit too fast . . . especially since so much happened to Mildred during the two to three year time span. I would have preferred if Episode Three had a running time of slightly over an hour – like Episodes Four and Five.

Complaints aside, this “MILDRED PIERCE” struck me as truly first-rate. As much as I had enjoyed the 1945 movie, I thank God that Todd Haynes did not add that ludicrous murder mystery into the plot. Cain’s novel was not about Veda getting her comeuppance for being an ungrateful daughter to a hard-working mother. The story was about a resilient woman, who was also plagued by her personal flaws – which she refused to overcome, let alone acknowledge. Some viewers and critics have expressed confusion over Mildred’s continuing obsession over her older daughter. Others have deliberately blinded themselves from Mildred’s flaws and dumped all of the blame for her downfall entirely upon the heads of others – especially Veda. But there have been viewers and critics who managed to understand and appreciate the miniseries’ portrayal of Mildred. I certainly did.

I have never understood the complaints that “MILDRED PIERCE” had failed to explain Mildred’s unwavering obsession over Veda. I thought that Haynes perfectly revealed the reasons behind her obsession. First of all, he revealed those traits that both mother and daughter shared in numerous scenes – aspirations for entry into the upper-class, desire for wealth, snobbery, and a talent for manipulating others. Mildred’s refusal to consider those jobs at a tea parlor and as the pretentious Mrs. Forrester’s maid struck me as signs of her ego blinding her from the precarious state of her family’s financial situation. And when she finally caved in to becoming a waitress at a Hollywood diner, Mildred considered quitting, because her sensibilities (or ego) could not fathom working in such a profession. Her contempt toward others suffering from the Depression after the successful opening of her Glendale restaurant was expressed in a scene with upper-class playboy Monty Beragon. Episode Five revealed her manipulation of Monty into marrying her . . . in order to lure Veda back to her seemed pretty obvious. But one scene not only revealed the core of Mildred’s character, but also the miniseries’ theme. While despairing over her decision to become a waitress at the end of Episode One, Mildred said this to neighbor Lucy Gessler:

“She (Veda) has something in her that I thought I had and now I find I don’t. Pride or nobility or whatever it is. For both my girls, I want them to have all the cake in the world.”

Judging from Mildred’s comments, it was not difficult for me to see that she viewed Veda as an extension of herself and in some degrees, better. I believe that the quote also hinted Mildred’s personal insecurities about living among the upper-class. This insecurity was revealed in a scene from Episode Three in which Mildred appeared at a polo field in Pasadena to pick up Veda, who was bidding her “babysitter” Monty good-bye. So, this argument that Haynes had failed to explain Mildred’s enabling behavior toward Veda simply does not ring true with me.

Despite my complaint about Haynes’ decision to shoot “MILDRED PIERCE” in New York, I must admit that I found myself impressed by Mark Friedberg’s production designs. The miniseries’ setting did not have a Southern California feel to me, but Friedberg certainly did an excellent job of re-creating the 1930s. He was ably supported by Peter Rogness’ art designs and Ellen Christiansen’s set decorations. But aside from Friedberg’s work, the biggest contribution to the miniseries’ Thirties look came from Ann Roth’s costume designs. Not only did she provide the right costumes for the years between 1931 and 1940, she also ensured that the costumes would adhere to the characters’ social positions and personalities. For example, both Roth and Haynes wisely insisted that Kate Winslet wear the same dowdy, brown print dress during Mildred’s job hunt in Episode One. One last person whom I believe contributed to the miniseries’ look and style was cinematographer Edward Lachman. If I must be honest, I was more impressed by Lachman’s photography of various intimate scenes reflecting the characters’ emotions or situations than any panoramic shot he had made. I was especially impressed by Lachman’s work in Episode One’s last scene and the Episode Five sequence featuring Veda’s betrayal of Mildred.

Along with Todd Haynes’ direction, it was the cast led by the uber-talented Kate Winslet that truly made “MILDRED PIERCE” memorable. First of all, the miniseries featured brief appearances from the likes of Richard Easton and Ronald Guttman, who each gave a colorful performance as Veda’s music teachers during different periods in the story. Hope Davis was deliciously haughty as the Los Angeles socialite-turned-movie producer’s wife with whom Mildred has two unpleasant encounters. In the 1945 movie, Eve Arden portrayed the character of Ida Corwin, which was a blend of two characters from Cain’s novel – Mildred’s neighbor Lucy Gessler and her diner co-worker Ida Corwin. The recent miniseries included both characters into the production. Fresh on the heels of her Oscar win, Melissa Leo gave an engaging performance as Mildred’s cheerful and wise friend/neighbor, Lucy Gessler, who provided plenty of advice on the former’s personal life. Aside from a two-episode appearance in the last season of “24”, I have not seen Mare Winningham in quite a while. It was good to see her portray Mildred’s blunt and business-savy friend and colleague, Ida Corwin.

At least three actors portrayed the men in Mildred’s life – James LeGros, Brían F. O’Byrne and Guy Pearce. Although his sense of humor was not as sharp as Jack Carson’s in 1945, I must admit that LeGros managed to provide some memorably humrous moments as Wally Burgan, Mildred’s business adviser and temporary lover. Two of my favorite Wally moments turned out to be his reaction to the news of Mildred’s breakup from her husband and to the revelation of her romance with Monty Beragon. Brían F. O’Byrne earned an Emmy nomination as Mildred’s ex-husband, Bert Pierce. What I admired by O’Byrne’s performance was the gradual ease in which he transformed Bert’s character from a self-involved philanderer to a supportive mate by the end of the series. But the most remarkable performance came from Guy Pearce, who won a well-deserved Emmy for his performance as Monty Beragon, Mildred’s Pasadena playboy lover and later, second husband. Thankfully, Pearce managed to avoid portraying Monty as some one-note villain and instead, captured both the good and the bad of his character’s nuance – Monty’s friendly nature, his condescension toward Mildred’s class status, his seductive skills that kept her satisfied for nearly two years, his occasional bouts of rudeness and the hurt-filled realization that Mildred had used him to win back Veda.

Two remarkable young actresses portrayed Veda Pierce, the heroine’s monstrous and talented older daughter. Morgan Turner portrayed Veda from age eleven to thirteen and I must say that she did a first-rate job. In the first three episodes, Turner convincingly developed Veda from a pretentious, yet still bearable eleven year-old to an ambitious girl in her early teens who has developed a deep contempt toward her mother. My only problem with Turner’s performance were the few moments when her Veda seemed too much like an adult in a child’s body. Evan Rachel Wood benefited from portraying Veda between the ages of 17 and 20. Therefore, her performance never struck me as slightly odd. However, she miss the opportunity to portray the development of Veda’s monstrous personality. But that lost opportunity did not take away Wood’s superb performance. Despite the awfulness of Veda’s character, I must hand it to the young actress for injecting some semblance of ambiguity. Aside from portraying Veda’s monstrous personality, Wood did an excellent job of conveying Veda’s frustration with Mildred’s overbearing love and the end of her own ambitions as a concert pianist.

I have been a fan of Kate Winslet since I first saw her in 1995’s “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”. There have been and still are many talented actors and actresses with the ability to portray multifaceted characters. But I believe that Winselt is one of the few who are able to achieve this with great subtlety. Her portrayal of Glendale housewife-turned-entrepreneur Mildred Pierce is a prize example of her talent for acting in complex and ambiguous roles. Superficially, her Mildred Pierce was a long-suffering and hard-working woman, who overcame a failed marriage to become a successful entrepreneur . . . all for the love of her two daughters. Winslet not only portrayed these aspects of Mildred’s character with great skill, but also conveyed the character’s darker aspects, which I had already listed in this article. She more than earned that Emmy award for Best Actress in a Miniseries.

Although many have expressed admiration for “MILDRED PIERCE”, these same fans and critics seemed to have done so with a good deal of reluctance or complaints. I will be the first to admit that the miniseries has its flaws. But I do not find them excessive. This reluctance to express full admiration for “MILDRED PIERCE” culminated in its loss for the Best Miniseries Emmy to the British import, “DOWNTON ABBEY”. I had objected to this loss on the grounds that the British drama – a television series – was nominated in the wrong category; and that I believe “MILDRED PIERCE” was slightly superior.

Flawed or not, I believe that Todd Haynes did a superb job in adapting James M. Cain’s novel. He wisely adhered to the literary source as close as possible, allowing viewers a more complex and ambiguous look into the Mildred Pierce character. Also, Haynes had a first-rate cast led by the incomparable Kate Winslet. As much as I love the 1945 movie, I must admit that this recent miniseries turned out to be a superior production. My admiration for Todd Haynes as a filmmaker has been solidified.