“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode Six “The Longhorns” Commentary

“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode Six “The Longhorns” Commentary

After the bleak narrative of “The Massacre”, the fifth episode of “CENTENNIAL”, the following episode is almost a joy to watch. I can state with absolute certainty that “The Longhorns” is one of my favorite episodes of the series.

“The Massascre” ended with Englishman Oliver Seccombe’s return to the West and his declaration to start a ranch in Northern Colorado on behalf of a major British investor, one Earl Venneford of Wye. Upon Levi Zendt’s recommendation, Seccombe hires John Zimmerhorn, the son of the disgraced militia colonel, to acquire Longhorn cattle in Texas and drive them back to Colorado. Upon his arrival in Texas, John meets a Latino cook by the name of Ignacio “Nacho” Gomez, who recommends that he hired an experienced trail boss named R.J. Poteet to lead the cattle drive to Colorado. Poteet hires a few experienced hands such as ex-slave Nate Pearson, Mule Canby and an ex-thief named Mike Lassiter to serve as cowboys for the drive. He also hires a handful of inexperienced young hands that includes a sharpshooter named Amos Calendar and a former Confederate soldier from South Carolina named Bufe Coker. To avoid any encounters with Commanche raiders and ex-Confederate bandits from Kansas, Poteet suggests to John that they travel through a trail established by Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving that would take them through the Llano Estacado (Staked Plains) and New Mexico. Before leaving Texas, Poteet hires one last cowboy – one Jim Lloyd, who happens to be the 14 year-old son of his best friend who was killed during the Civil War.

One of things that I like about “The Longhorns” is that it is filled with characters trying to make a new start in life, following the chaos of war. Most, if not all, are outsiders. For example:

*Jim Lloyd is the only cowhand on the drive who is under the age of 16.

*John Skimmerhorn has to deal with the reverberations of his father’s murderous actions in the last episode.

*”Nacho” Gomez is the only Latino and has to constantly deal with comments about his use of beans in his cooking.

*Nate Pearson is the only African-American on the drive and a former slave.

*Mike Lassiter is a former thief who uses the drive to clear his name and start a new life of respectability.

*Bufe Coker is the only Easterner (from South Carolina) with very little experiences in dealing with the West.

The ironic thing about “The Longhorns” is that instead of constant conflict between the cowboys, all of them managed to form a strong bond during the long drive between Texas and the Colorado Territory. This strong bond is formed through a series of shared experiences – battling the environment, Native American raiders and Kansas bandits; along with humorous stories around a campfire and sensible wisdom from the experienced hands. One of the episode’s long-running joke are Lassiter and Canby’s recollections of an eccentric named O.D. Cleaver. The drive not only introduced one of the miniseries’ major characters, Jim Lloyd; but also the strong bond formed by the cowboys that would end up having consequences in future episodes.

If viewers are expecting “The Longhorns” to be a 90-minute version of the 1989 CBS miniseries, “LONESOME DOVE”, they will be in for a disappointment. “The Longhorns” is basically a contribution to the narrative and history of “CENTENNIAL”, not a major storyline. The relationships formed in the episode does have consequences on the story . . . but that is about it. I certainly did not expect it to be another “CENTENNIAL”. In fact, I was too busy enjoying the episode to really care.

When I said that I enjoyed “The Longhorns”, I was not joking. One, it featured one of my favorite themes in any story – long distance traveling. Two, I enjoyed watching the characters – major and minor – develop a strong camaraderie within the episode’s 97-minute running time. And thanks to screenwriter John Wilder and director Virgil W. Vogel, the miniseries featured some strong characterizations, allowing many of the actors to shine. I wish I could pinpoint which performance really impressed me. This episode was filled with some strong performances. But if I had to be honest, the performances that really impressed me came from Dennis Weaver as the tough and pragmatic trail boss, R.J. Poteet; Michael St. Clair as the young Jim Lloyd who in a poignant scene, eventually realizes that he will never see Texas and his family again; Cliff De Young, who continued his solid performance as the very steady John Skimmerhorn; Glynn Turman as the warm, yet competent Nate Pearson; Greg Mullavey as the gregarious Mule Canby; Rafael Campos as the tough, yet friendly “Nacho” Campos; Les Lannom as the slightly caustic Bufe Coker who is also desperate to start a new life in the post-war West; Jesse Vint as soft-spoken, yet slightly intimidating Amos Calendar; Dennis Frimple as the enthusiastic, but odor-challenged Buck; and Scott Hylands, who gave a very entertaining performance as the verbose teller of tall tales, Mike Lassiter.

For an episode that is considered part of a miniseries called “CENTENNIAL”, I found it interesting that it featured the setting in question in only two minor scenes. One of them featured the cowboys arrival in the vicinity of Centennial. The other and more important scene featured the continued feud between Seccombe and immigrant farmer Hans Brumbaugh. Both Timothy Dalton and Alex Karras played the hell out of this brief scene, reminding viewers that the hostility between the two is destined to spill over in a very ugly way.

What more can I say about “The Longhorns”? I loved it. I loved it when I first saw it and I still do. It featured long-distance traveling, strong characterizations and a strong, yet steady narrative. Both Virgil Vogel and John Wilder, along with the cast made this episode one of the most memorable in the entire miniseries.

“STATE OF PLAY” (2003) Review

“STATE OF PLAY” (2003) Review

Three years ago, a political thriller starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck was released in the movie theaters. The movie turned out to be based upon a six-part BBC miniseries of the same name – “STATE OF PLAY”.

Created by Paul Abbott and directed by David Yates, “STATE OF PLAY told the story of a London newspaper’s investigation into the death of a young woman named Sonia Baker, who worked as a researcher for a Member of Parliament named Stephen Collins. The miniseries also focused on the relationship between Collins and the newspaper’s leading journalist, Cal McCaffrey, who used to be his former campaign manager.

“STATE OF PLAY” was so well received that it garnered a Best Actor BAFTA award for Bill Nighy, for his role as McCaffrey’s editor, Cameron Foster. The miniseries also earned BAFTAs for Best Sound and Best Editing (Fiction/Entertainment); and it won awards major awards from the Royal Television Society, Banff Television Festival, Broadcasting Press Guild, Cologne Conference, Directors Guild of Great Britain, Edgar Awards, and the Monte Carlo TV Festival. When the 2009 movie was released, critics generally gave it positive reviews, but claimed that it failed to surpass or be as equally good as the miniseries. After seeing the latter . . . well, I will eventually get to that.

The miniseries began with the murder of a young man named Kelvin Stagg in what seemed to be a drug-related killing, along with the coincidental death of Collins’ researcher, Sonia Baker. When Cal McCaffrey and his colleagues at The Herald – Foster, his son Dan, Della Smith and others, they discover that the deaths were connected via Collins’ parliamentary investigation of links between an American oil company and corrupt high-ranking British ministers. Cal and his fellow journalists also have to deal with finding a publicist associate of Sonia’s named Dominic Foy, who may have a great deal of information on how she became Collins’ researcher in the first place. And another subplot dealt with Cal renewing his interest in Collins’ recently estranged wife, Anne.

I cannot deny that “STATE OF PLAY” is a first-rate miniseries. Paul Abbott created an excellent thriller filled with murder, romance, infidelity, witty dialogue and political intrigue. One of the best aspects of Abbott’s screenplay was how the varied subplots managed to connect with the main narrative. Even Cal’s romance with Anne Collins proved to have strong connections to his search for the truth regarding Sonia’s death – especially in Episode Three. The romance provided Another aspect of “STATE OF PLAY” that I admired was the pacing established by director David Yates. Another interesting relationship that materialized from the investigation was the friendship between The Herald reporter Della Smith and Scotland Yard’s DCI William Bell. Regardless of the number of episodes in the production, Yates and Abbott’s screenplay made certain that the viewer remained fixated to the screen. Like the 2009, the miniseries did an excellent job of delving into the British journalism and political scene. More importantly, it featured first-rate action sequences. For me, the best one proved to be Scotland Yard’s attempt to capture Kelvin Scaggs and Sonia Baker’s killer in the third episode.

As much as I enjoyed “STATE OF PLAY”, I cannot deny that I found it somewhat flawed. Which is why I cannot accept the prevailing view that it was superior to its 2009 remake. Despite Yates’ pacing of the story, I feel that “STATE OF PLAY” could have been shown in at least four episodes. There were some subplots that could have used some trimming. One of them, at least for me, turned out to be the search for Dominic Foy. Actually, it took Cal, Della, Dan and the others very little time to find Dominic. But every time they found him, they lost him. This happened at least three or four times. By the time they managed to get Foy inside a hotel room for a little confession, I sighed with relief. The subplot threatened to become . . . annoying. Another subplot that threatened to become irrelevant was Cal’s dealings with Kelvin Skaggs’ older brother and mother, Sonny and Mrs. Skaggs. Johann Myers gave an intense performance as the volatile Sonny Skaggs. But the constant temper tantrums over how the press portrayed Kelvin eventually became boring. There were other sequences and subplots I could have done without – especially a road encounter between one of the reporters’ informants and oil company thugs in the last episode. And why have Stephen Collins investigate an American oil company, when it could have been easier to use a British or British-based oil company? After all, there are several oil companies operating in the United Kingdom, including the infamous BP. Although I admire Yates’ direction of the sequence featuring the capture of Sonia’s killer, Robert Bingham, I wish it had happened in the last episode. Otherwise, his death occurred too soon in my opinion.

John Simm did an excellent job in leading a first-rate cast for “STATE OF PLAY”. Despite working with the likes of Bill Nighy, David Morrissey, Polly Walker; he not only held his own. He carried the miniseries. Period. However, he was ably supported by superb performances from his co-stars. Morrissey was also commanding, yet complex as MP Stephen Collins. Although there were a few moments when his performance seemed a bit too . . . theatrical for my tastes. Nighy’s award-winning performance as Cal’s editor also seemed a little theatrical. However, he got away with it, because I feel he is a lot better with injecting a little theatricality into his acting.

Although Kelly MacDonald had made a name for herself before portraying Della Smith, she gave an excellent, yet emotional performance that resonated just right. Kelly MacDonald also managed to create a surprisingly balanced chemistry with Philip Glenister, who did an excellent job in portraying the intimidating Scotland Yard inspector. Unlike MacDonald, James McAvoy was not quite well-known when he portrayed freelance journalist, Dan Foster. But he certainly displayed the very qualities that would eventually make him a star in his sly and cheeky performance. Polly Walker did an excellent job in portraying the woman who nearly came between Cal and Stephen, the latter’s estranged wife, Anne Collins. However, Marc Warren gave one of the best performances in the miniseries as Dominic Foy, the sleazy and paranoid publicist with ties to Sonia Baker. Watching him veer between paranoia, cowardice and opportunism was really a joy to watch. “STATE OF PLAY” also benefited from fine supporting performances from the likes of Geraldine James, Benedict Wong, Deborah Findlay, Tom Burke, Johann Myers, James Laurenson and Amelia Bullmore.

I cannot deny that “STATE OF PLAY” is a first-rate miniseries filled with intrigue, thanks to Paul Abbott’s screenplay and energy, due to David Yates’ direction. It also benefited from superb acting, thanks to a cast led by John Simm and David Morrissey. But it also possessed flaws that perhaps made its acclaim just a bit overrated. I read somewhere that Abbott planned to write a sequel of some kind, featuring Simms. I hope so. Despite its flaws, “STATE OF PLAY” certainly deserved a follow-up of some kind.

“Whatever You Desire” [R] – 3/5



Loud voices and laughter mingled with the music coming from the CD player. Cole continued to nibble his food, as he watched the guests enjoy themselves. A couple walked past him, sank into a pair of nearby chairs and began to kiss each other. He glanced at the others guests and noticed that they all seemed to enjoying themselves . . . a lot.

Cole picked up a slice of cucumber and popped it into his mouth. As he chewed, he spotted Bruce and Barbara dancing together in the middle of the room. If one could call what they were doing . . . dancing. Their movements seemed more like stimulated sex. Moans came from the couple next to Cole. He glanced to his right and nearly choked on the cucumber. The couple was no longer merely kissing. They had progressed to outright grappling. And the man seemed intent upon opening his partner’s blouse. What in the hell was going on?

“Hello.” A lithe figure appeared before Cole. She plopped down upon the chair to his right. She was an attractive woman in her late twenties, with blonde hair and hazel brown eyes. She smiled at him. “My name is Winifred. What’s yours?”

The half-daemon shot back a friendly smile. “Cole. My name is Cole.”

“Hmmm. Nice.” Hazel-brown eyes swept appreciatively over Cole’s face. “It suits you.” Winifred’s smile widened in a laviscious manner that made him feel uneasy. “So, how long have you known Nathalie?”

Still uneasy over Winifred’s suggestive scrutiny, Cole replied, “Uh, not that long. I had just met her, last fall. Before she left for . . .”

Winifred leaned forward, her face barely an inch away from Cole’s. “Wanna fuck?”

The question took Cole by surprise. He blinked momentarily. “Uh . . . what did you say?”

“I asked if you want to fuck. That is . . . fuck me.” Winifred’s pink tongue flickered between her lips. “We can go upstairs, together. Find ourselves an empty room and . . .”

A third voice interrupted the intimate moment. “Well, well, well! If it isn’t Winifred McKenna. Finally showing your true nature, aren’t you Winnie?” Olivia loomed before the pair, hands on hips. “Chasing after anything in trousers.” Her green eyes shone hard with malice. And jealousy.

Winifred tore away from Cole and glared at the redhead. “What do you want, Olivia?” she demanded.

“At the moment, to stop you from getting inside Cole’s pants,” Olivia shot back. “And to spare him from any future trauma.”

Hazel-brown eyes narrowed dangerously. A malicious sneer curled Winifred’s lips. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear that you were interested in him, yourself.”

Olivia’s next words practically stunned Cole. “So what if I am? Besides, he would probably be better off with a ten-dollar whore than any time spent in your company. Then again,” her eyes swept over the other witch in a contemptuous manner, “I don’t really see that much difference.”

Winifred shot out of her chair, with eyes blazing. “Listen, you conceited bitch! I’ve had enough of your insults and your petty comments. I’ve had to put up with them for years! If you want to make more trouble, I’m more than ready to take you on!”

“You couldn’t take on a living soul, unless sex was involved!”

The blond witch started toward Olivia, her hands balled into fists. Before a potential fight could blossom, Cole stepped between the two women. “Uh ladies,” he began, “maybe it’s time for you to take a breath and part ways. Before you end up hurting each other.”

“I certainly wouldn’t mind hurting her,” Winifred snarled.

At that moment, Phoebe appeared before the group, causing Cole to heave an inward sigh. “What’s going on?” she demanded. “Why is everyone fighting?” She cast a suspicious look at her ex-husband. “Did you say or doing anything to them?”

Annoyed . . . no, angered by Phoebe’s accusation, Cole snapped back, “No! I didn’t! I was simply minding my own business when . . .”

“The question you should ask yourself, Phoebe, is why are you here?” Olivia snidely interrupted. “This is between Cole, Winifred and myself. We didn’t ask for your . . . help.”

Resentment darkened Phoebe’s eyes even further. “Look, I’m only here because I thought I had spotted some trouble!”

“Trouble caused by Cole, right?” Olivia accused.

Cole watched Phoebe squirm with discomfort. “Well, it wouldn’t exactly be the first time.” Her words cut the half-daemon to the quick. And made him wonder if Phoebe would ever let go of the past – real and imagined slights.

Olivia – on the other hand – had another question on her mind. “Excuse me Phoebe, but what exactly brought you to this ridiculous conclusion? Or were you simply making another conclusion in true Halliwell fashion?”

Phoebe’s body bridled with anger. “And just what in the hell did you mean by that?”

“What do you think?” Olivia retorted. “From what I know about your family – especially Prue – you practically have a history of jumping to conclusions.”

In a dangerously low voice, Phoebe growled, “Don’t you dare even mention my family. Especially Prue.”

“Or what?” Olivia challenged. “You’ll kick my ass?”

Before Phoebe could react, Paul Margolin materialized. Cole rolled his eyes in disgust and sighed. “Olivia! There you are!” the ADA declared breathlessly. “Why did you disappear on me, like that?”

Looking slightly annoyed, Olivia replied, “To have a good time.”


“How can you treat him like that?” Phoebe demanded in an outraged voice. “Paul is probably the best thing that will ever happen to you!”

A sardonic smirk curved Olivia’s lips. “Is that what you saw in a premonition? Or are you simply assuming again?”

At the same time, Winifred leaned toward Cole and whispered in his ear. “Hey! About my offer – are you still interested?”

Cole stared at her. “What?”

“Do you wanna go upstairs and fuck?”

“No!” he shot back, sounding more annoyed than he had intended.

A grimace marred Winifred’s pretty face. “What’s your damage, pal?” She turned to Paul. “Hey handsome! You wanna fuck?”

Margolin’s eyes grew wide. “What the hell?”

“I believe that she had asked if you wanted to . . .” Cole began.

“I heard what she had said!” Paul cried. “And the answer is no!”

Disappointment flicked in Winifred’s eyes. “Fine! See if I care!” She walked away, muttering, “Bunch of goddamn prudes.”

Meanwhile, Olivia and Phoebe’s quarrel had grown to mammoth proportions. “I think that I know enough about romance to figure out that you’re making a mistake with Paul!” Phoebe was declaring out loud. “I am an advice columnist, you know!”

“How did someone whose idea of romance is at the level of a fairy tale for children, ever become an advice columnist?” Olivia retorted. “And I don’t recall ever asking for your advice!”

Phoebe shot back, “I happen to give great advice! And I don’t see how you can ever consider Cole as a friend or a boyfriend, especially after all you had put up with that warlock you were engaged to!”

Green eyes became stunned. “What? Are you talking about Richard?”

Phoebe continued, “Of course I am! Leo told us all about him. How you two were engaged and how he had ended up killing your aunt.”

Cole wondered if Leo really knew the true story behind Richard Bannen’s death. Judging from Olivia’s reaction, apparently not. “Sounds like Leo has been telling another one of his whitelighter fantasies!” Olivia retorted. “He doesn’t know what really happened. He wasn’t there and he didn’t want to find out! Your brother-in-law was too busy being relieved over Richard’s death to bother! As to how I can bear having Cole in my life? Well, that’s simple! Because I love him! I’m in love with him!”

Olivia’s words brought about a stunned silence within the room. Strains of ‘I Will Survive’ filled the air. Cole stared at the red-haired witch, wondering if he had heard right. So did Phoebe and Margolin.

“You’re . . . you’re in love . . . with him?” Margolin demanded. “With Cole? I don’t . . . why him? Why are you with me?”

Phoebe recovered from the moment and replied spitefully, “Because she knows that Cole is still in love with me. Right Cole?” Dark eyes sought out Cole for confirmation.

Cole barely heard Phoebe. Olivia’s confession continued to reverberate in his mind. “I . . . uh . . .”

“What?” Phoebe demanded. “You still love me. Why don’t you say it?”

Aware of the pairs of eyes upon him, Cole felt a surge of embarrassment. And a stab of pity toward his ex-wife. Six months ago, he could have easily replied with a resounding ‘yes’. Now . . .

“Hmmm, something tells me that Cole can’t answer your question the way you want, Phoebe,” Olivia said with a sneer.

“Cole!” Phoebe’s eyes grew wide with outrage. “Say something!”

Cole looked away and focused his attention on the refreshment table. “God! I’m hungry. I hope there’s still some more food left.”

“Why won’t you tell Olivia that you still love me?” Phoebe’s voice rang loud and clear in Cole’s ears.

Very reluctantly, Cole faced his ex-wife. He struggled to keep the pity away from his expression. “Uh, Phoebe . . . I, uh . . .” He cleared his throat, nervously. “Of course I still love you, Phoebe.” The Charmed One’s lips curved into a triumphant smile. Cole continued, “But not in the way you think. I’m not . . .” Shit! He took a deep breath. “I’m just not in love with you. Anymore.”


Cole continued, “Look Phoebe, I can’t help how I feel. I . . . it’s just not the same.” He paused. “Sorry.”

Outrage and disbelief replaced the triumph in Phoebe’s eyes. “What do you mean that you’re . . . I don’t believe you! When did this happen?”

“Perhaps when you had decided to push him away, instead of dealing with your marriage problems,” Olivia taunted. “Pretty typical of you, isn’t it? ‘Run For Your Life’ Halliwell. She would rather run to the bosom of her family than deal with any problems in her relationships. That’s about right, isn’t it?”

Phoebe’s eyes slit with pure dislike and anger. “Okay! That’s it!” she retorted. “I’ve had enough of your shit!” One of her fists snaked out to punch Olivia, followed by the other. Unfortunately for Phoebe, the older woman possessed quicker reflexes. Olivia managed to easily block both punches, grab one of Phoebe’s arms and flip her onto the floor.

Seconds later, Paige appeared by Margolin’s side. She glanced down at the sprawling Phoebe, whose eyes were wide with shock. A frown appeared on her face, as she declared, “Oh God! What the hell is going on?”

* * * *

“What the hell is going on?” Nathalie demanded, repeating Paige’s question without realizing it. She stared down at Phoebe. “What the . . . why is Whatshername . . .?”

Paige interjected, “Phoebe.” She began to help her sister stand up.

“Yeah. Why was she on the floor?”

Both Cole and Olivia’s other friend began to talk at the same time. At least Cole tried to explain. The other man – Nathalie recalled that Olivia called him Paul – seemed bent upon blaming the half-demon for the whole fiasco.

“Ask Belthazor!” Paul accused angrily. “He started this whole mess by setting Olivia and Phoebe against each other! I wouldn’t be surprised if he had planned it all!”

Cole stared at the witch, as if the latter had lost his mind. “What the . . . How in the hell did you drum up this delusion?”

“I’m not delusional!” Paul retorted. “You know damn well that you had started the whole thing by cozying up to that slut!”

Nathalie blinked. “Slut? Who are you talking about?”

“He’s talking about Winifred McKenna. She was . . .” Olivia rolled her eyes. “. . . making a play for Cole. And I stopped her.” A smug smile tugged the corners of her lips.

Nathalie wondered if she had heard right. “Winifred? Are you talking about Tight-Ass McKenna, who once raised a fuss over a male stripper at a bridal shower?”

Olivia snorted with derision. “Oh please! That little prim attitude of hers is just an act! Winifred would jump into a guy’s pants at the crook of a finger.”

Not even Nathalie could deny Olivia’s words. She was well aware of Winifred McKenna’s true nature, behind the high moral act. Apparently, Winifred had finally decided to show her true colors. Only Nathalie could not understand why.

“And this all started because of this Winifred person?” Paige asked. “So how did her hitting on Cole lead to Phoebe laying on the floor?” A pair of arms wrapped around her waist. Nathalie saw Harry McNeill’s head appear on Paige’s shoulder. She let out a squeal. “Hey! What the . . .? Harry?”

The youngest McNeill grinned. “What’s going on?” His arms remained fastened around Paige’s waist.

“Harry, do you mind letting go of me?” Paige demanded.

“Not until we finish our kiss.”

All eyes fell upon Paige and Harry. “Kiss?” Phoebe said, frowning. “You two were kissing?”

“We weren’t . . .” Paige said with a sigh. “Okay, he did kiss me.”

Olivia’s green eyes grew wide. “He kissed you? Harry?”

Suspicion tingled at the back of Nathalie’s neck. “Okay, what in the hell is going on?” she demanded. “Harry kissing Paige? Winifred openly hitting on men? What the hell is this?”

“That is what I would like to know,” Cole added in a voice tinged with suspicion. “And the sooner we find out, the better. That means . . .” With a wave of his hand, Olivia, Phoebe, Harry and Paul all disappeared. “. . . we find out with less trouble, as possible.”

Paige cried out, “What did you do with them?”

“I sent them upstairs,” Cole explained. “To separate rooms. Now,” he faced Nathalie with a stern expression, “what is going on?”

Feeling slightly intimidated by the half-daemon’s questioning, Nathalie protested, “How the hell should I know? Why are you asking me?”

“Because nearly everyone at this damn party is acting strange,” Cole shot back. “They’re all acting so . . .”

Paige added, “Emotional?”

Blue eyes widened in realization. “Yeah,” Cole replied in a distant voice. “That’s it. Not only emotional, but very open. It’s like everyone is being open about their feelings.” His eyes focused upon Nathalie, once more. “What was it that you said about Winifred?”

Nathalie shrugged. “That she’s known as Tight-Ass McKenna? And that she had once raised a fuss about male strippers?”

“Yeah, but she wasn’t acting like a tight ass, tonight. In fact, she was all over me.” Cole glanced to his side. Nathalie’s gaze followed his. She saw a couple engaged in the act of tearing off each other’s clothes. “Like them. Why would someone like Winifred start acting so promiscuously? ”

Paige shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. Booze?”

“Hold on there!” Nathalie protested. “Are you talking about my punch?”

“Well, I haven’t drank any.”

Cole added, “Neither have I.”

“And me,” Nathalie said. “But if you’re talking about my raspberry cordial, you’re mistaken. The amount of alcohol in it was very little.”

Cole pointed at the couple. “Then how do you explain them? Or Olivia and the others? I mean, there must have been something wrong with the punch. What about that boysenberry that Olivia had detected?”

“That was simply boysenberry cordial,” Nathalie explained. “I’ll show you.” She marched toward the kitchen, with Cole and Paige close at her heels. Once inside, Nathalie opened one of the cabinets and reached for her bottle of boysenberry cordial. She handed the bottle to Cole. “That is what I had accidentally put into the punch.”

“Are you sure?” Cole thrust the bottle back into Nathalie’s hand. “This bottle looks as if it hasn’t been opened.”

Nathalie stared at the bottle. “What?” Sure enough, not only did it looked filled, the top seemed screwed on tight. As if it had not been opened. “I don’t understand,” she said with a frown. “This is the only bottle of boysenberry cordial in the . . .” Then she remembered. Her plans for her upcoming book. The potion she had planned to use. “Oh Goddess!”

“What?” Paige demanded.

“The potion.”

Cole’s eyes narrowed. “What potion?”

Reaching inside the cabinet, Nathalie retrieved another bottle. It matched the bottle of boysenberry cordial in size and color. She took a deep breath and continued, “Uh, remember that book I had told you about? The one I plan to write on mythology and the Western psyche?”

Paige nodded. “Yeah, I remember.”

Nathalie hesitated before she continued, “Well, I had also planned to conduct an experiment, involving a potion I had created.” She paused dramatically. “A potion made from boysenberries for flavor. And bluebells.”

“Oh shit!” Cole murmured. He obviously knew for what bluebells were used. Paige stared at him questioningly. “Bluebells are used to free a person’s inhibitions. Allow them to be truthful about their emotions and desires.”

Realization lit up Paige’s eyes. “Oh shit!” She reached for the bottle of potion. “Oh my God! Nathalie, you must have put some of this in the punch by mistake. No wonder Harry was all over me.” Her eyes widened even further. “Wait a minute! Harry has a thing for me?”

“This also explains Olivia and Phoebe’s little bitch fest,” Cole grimly added. Again, his eyes bored into Nathalie’s. “Is there something you can make to counter this potion?”

The force of Cole’s stare caused Nathalie to take a step backward. “Uh . . . well, no.” Noticing the vexed expressions on both Cole and Paige’s faces, she continued, “But I do know a herb that can cleanse the potion out of their systems. I can make a tea or another kind of drink from it.”

“Then I suggest that you start preparing whatever you have in mind,” Cole coolly added. “Now.”

Intimidated by the half-daemon’s displeasure, Nathalie responded with a wan smile. “Right.” She returned to the cabinet. “Now, all I have to do is find my herbs.”


“SHANGHAI EXPRESS” (1932) Review

“SHANGHAI EXPRESS” (1932) Review

Many years have passed since I last saw the 1932 movie, “SHANGHAI EXPRESS”. Many years. In fact, the last time I saw it was on late night television back in the early 1990s. But I had such difficulty in finding it on VHS and later, on DVD that I never thought I would see it again . . . until I recently viewed it online.

“SHANGHAI EXPRESS” marked the fourth out of seven collaborations between director Josef von Sternberg and actress Marlene Dietrich. Filmed and set in 1931, the movie featured a train journey in civil war-torn China from Beiping (now known as Beijing) and Shanghai. Among the passengers are missionary Mr. Carmichael, an inveterate gambler named Sam Salt, opium dealer Eric Baum, a boarding house keeper named Mrs. Haggerty, French officer Major Lenard, and mysterious Eurasian, Henry Chang.

Also among the passengers are a British Army doctor named Captain Donald “Doc” Harvey and two high-priced “coasters” (prostitutes) – Hui Fei and the notorious coaster, “Shanghai Lily”. The train journey marked the reunion between “Doc” Harvey and “Shanghai Lily”, who had been lovers five years ago, when he knew her as a woman named Magdalen. Back then, Magdalen had played a trick on Harvey to test his love for her, but it backfired and he left her. Upset over the loss of Harvey, Magdalen became a courtesan, And according to her, “It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily.” Lily informs Harvey that she still loves him and it becomes apparent that his feelings for her have not changed.

When government troops stop the train to search and arrest an enemy agent, the mysterious Henry Chang is revealed to be a powerful warlord, who is the agent’s commanding officer. He sends a telegram and hours later, rebel troops loyal to him stop the train and take the first-class passengers hostage. Chang intends to find the right passenger he can use as barter to get back his spy. And he finds that passenger in Captain Harvey, who is on his way to perform brain surgery on a British official in Shanghai.

“SHANGHAI EXPRESS” managed to earn three Academy Award nominations – Best Picture, Best Director for Sternberg and Best Cinematography for Lee Garmes. Only Garmes won a statuette. And it was a well deserved win. The movie’s look has gained a reputation for its lush and atmospheric photography, especially in the way he shot the movie’s star, Marlene Dietrich. A famous example of the movie’s photography could be found in the shot below:

There were other memorable moments that made the movie’s photography so memorable. Moments that include the passengers boarding the train, the takeover of the train by Chang’s men, and the two leads’ arrival in Shanghai. But the moment that really impressed me featured the train’s departure from Beiping. Not only did I find the photography in that scene impressive, but also Hans Dreier’s art direction.

As for its Best Picture and Best Director nominations . . . well, I am not so certain about that. According to Dietrich, von Sternberg was more responsible for the atmospheric photography than Garmes or an uncredited James Wong Howe. That is grand. However, that little tidbit only convinced me that Sternberg should have taken home the Best Cinematography statuette, not Garmes. But I must admit that I found the nominations for Best Picture and Best Director rather questionable. “SHANGHAI EXPRESS” is an entertaining film and an interesting example of the Pre-Code era of the early 1930s. I simply found the Best Picture and Best Director nominations a little hard to swallow.

“SHANGHAI EXPRESS” struck me as the type of story that would have made a perfect summer blockbuster, if given a bigger budget and a little more action. But Jules Furthman’s story did not exactly knock my socks off. And von Sternberg’s slightly turgid direction could not exactly light a fire under it. Also, there were certain aspects of the story that I found questionable. Considering the circumstances behind Magdalen’s breakup from Donald Harvey, I found it hard to swallow that this would drive her to become a high-priced prostitute in China for five years. I simply found that ludicrous. And Chang decided to take the train passengers hostage “before” discovering which one could be used to get his spy back. I could not help thinking it would have been more prudent to search for that valuable hostage first, before capturing the entire train.

For a movie that featured sex, travel, romance and intrigue; there was very little action in this film. I realize this movie was made and released in 1931-32, and not in 2011-12. But even for an early 30s movie, it had very little action, considering its story line. Also, good old-fashioned early 20th century racism reared its ugly head in Chang’s dealings with Magdalen and her fellow prostitute Hui Fei. The Eurasian warlord wanted both women, but was only willing to rape Hui Fei. In 1931-32 Hollywood movies, a non-white man could not soil the depths of a white woman, even if she was a whore.

The cast seemed pretty solid. But if I must honest, I could not find an exceptional performance within the cast. Marlene Dietrich gave a solid performance as the soiled Shanghai Lily. And that is the best I can say about her. She was not exactly at the top of her form as an actress in the early 30s. Garmes . . . or should I say von Sternberg’s photography contributed to her status as a film icon after a year or two in Hollywood, not her acting skills.

Dietrich was supported by the likes of Clive Brook, Anna May Wong, and Warner Oland. Of the three performers, the Swedish-born Oland ended up looking the best. Despite portraying the villainous Chang, he managed to give a relaxed, yet commanding performance without resorting to any hammy acting or posing. Anna May Wong also managed to restrain from any histronics. And her character’s actions near the end of the film saved the lives of the other passengers. But she barely had twenty lines, let alone ten lines in the movie; and spent the first two-thirds of the movie looking iconic . . . and playing cards. Why on earth did von Sternberg cast British actor Clive Brook as Dietrich’s love interest, British Army Captain Donald “Doc” Harvey? Why? He was so wrong for the role. Brook was perfect as the patriarch of the Marryot family in Noel Coward’s 1933 sentimental family saga, “CAVALCADE”. But as the dashing, yet bitter Captain Harvey, he seemed out of his depth. And his chemistry with Dietrich struck me as rather flat. I hate to say this, but he was no Gary Cooper. Thankfully, other supporting players such as Eugene Pallette, Louise Classer Hale and Lawrence Grant provided plenty of comic relief and color as some of the other train passengers.

I realize that “SHANGHAI EXPRESS” is one of those highly regarded films from the Pre-Code Era. But after watching it, I could not help but feel that it might be slightly overrated. Yet, I could not deny that despite its flaws, it is a beautiful and exotic-looking film with an entertaining story. More importantly, it is an example of Josef von Sternberg’s work and Marlene Dietrich’s beauty at their heights.

“STAR TREK VOYAGER” RETROSPECT: (4.08-4.09) “The Year of Hell”

“STAR TREK VOYAGER” RETROSPECT: (4.08-4.09) “The Year of Hell”

While reading some of the TREK forums and message boards over the years, I have noticed that many fans seemed to harbor mixed views of the “STAR TREK VOYAGER” Season Four two-part episode called (4.08-4.09) “The Year of Hell”.

“The Year of Hell” began with the U.S.S. Voyager entering Krenim space, the same region of space that the former Ocampan crewman, Kes, had warned about in the Season Three episode called (3.21) “Before and After”. Only Kes’ description of Krenim space was set in an alternate timeline in which a very powerful race came dangerously close to destroying Voyager within a year. The Krenim space encountered by the Federation starship at the beginning of this episode seemed a lot more benign . . . until something or someone alters the timeline.

Unbeknownst to Voyager’s crew, a Krenim military scientist named Annorax had developed a weapon ship designed to create temporal incursions. He used the to supervise the complete genocide of the Zahl, an enemy race that had ended the Krenim’s status as a dominant power in their region of the Delta Quadrant. But the erasure of the Zahl nearly caused the destruction of the Krenim. Annorax’s attempt to undo his actions led to the erasure of other worlds . . . and his wife from existence. And for two centuries, he has been creating one causality paradox after another in an attempt to get his wife back. However, one of Annorax’s actions allowed a formerly harmless Krenim ship that Voyager had encountered at the beginning of the episode to develop into a powerful starship and inflict heavy damage upon the Federation ship. In this new timeline, Janeway and the rest of Voyager’s crew are forced to endure a “year of hell”, as they struggle to survive.

Screenwriters Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky created a fascinating and complex tale of what could have befallen Voyager if some of Kes’ experiences in “Before and After” had occurred in their regular timeline. There have been occasions in which Voyager’s crew had encountered more powerful alien vessels and societies. The starship was also captured by alien forces on two or more occasions. “The Year of Hell” featured the second time that Kathryn Janeway and her crew were forced to survive for a period of time in a damaged starship. But “The Year of Hell” took place during a period of nearly an entire year. Watching Voyager’ become an increasingly uninhabitable vessel struck me as both fascinating and depressing. By the time Voyager was left with its senior staff (sans the kidnapped First Officer and Chief Pilot) after Janeway sent the rest of crew away in life pods, it had become a desolate place to be.

Braga and Menosky provided the episode with plenty of complex drama and characterizations. Kate Mulgrew gave an outstanding performance as a besieged Kathryn Janeway, determined to keep her crew alive and ship together by any means possible. Even if it meant sacrificing her health and sanity. The other outstanding performance came from guest star Kurtwood Smith, who portrayed the Krenim scientist, Annorax. Like Mulgrew, Smith portrayed his character as a leader determined to save or protect those he held dear – his species, his homeworld and especially his family. Unlike Janeway, Annorax’s determination led to a more tragic conclusion. Both Janeway and Annorax – on a larger scale – reminded me a great deal of the Captain Nemo character from Jules Verne’s 1870 novel, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”.

The supporting cast were given plenty of opportunities to shine. The best performances came from Tim Russ (Lieutenant-Commander Tuvok), Robert Beltran (Commander Chakotay), Robert Duncan McNeill (Lieutenant Paris) and Robert Picardo (the Doctor). Both Chakotay and Paris found themselves as prisoners aboard Annorax’s time ship in Part II of the episode. This situation gave Beltran an opportunity to convey Chakotay’s dismay at Annorax’s abuse of temporal mechanics and his desire to help the Krenim scientist restore the damaged timeline. McNeill was excellent in portraying Paris’ dismay at Chakotay’s cooperation and impatient desire to stop Annorax and find Voyager. Russ gave a poignant performance as the uber-efficient Tuovk, who is forced to depend upon Seven-of-Nine as his guide after he lost his sight in an explosion. Picardo had two juicy scenes in which he gave it his all, involving the Doctor’s moral dilemma in sacrificing several crewman in order to save a few and himself from the destruction of one of the ship’s decks; and the Doctor’s confrontation with Janeway over her careless attitude toward her health. Roxann Dawson, Garrett Wang and Jeri Ryan provided a bit of fun in a comedic scene in which Ensign Harry Kim, an injured Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres and Seven-of-Nine recalled a bit of Federation history from the 1996 movie, “STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT”. And second guest star John Loprieno was excellent in his portrayal of Obrist, Annorax’s first officer who becomes increasingly dismayed by the scientist’s abuse of the time ship.

Unfortunately for “The Year of Hell”, it has accumulated a good deal of negative comments about its ending. The mixed opinions of the entire episode stemmed from an ending that many fans viewed as a cop out. When Seven-of-Nine discovered a chroniton torpedo in one of the ship’s Jeffries tubes, the crew realized they had been the victims of temporal manipulations. Seven used a devise on the torpedo to successfully shield Voyager against Annorax’s time ship and any future temporal changes. However in Part II, Captain Janeway made an alliance with two species to attack the Krenim timeship. The remaining crew members move to the allied ships, while Janeway remained behind alone on Voyager to pilot the heavily damaged ship herself. After learning that the Krenim ship’s temporal core had been placed offline and theorizing that the true timeline will be restored if the Krenim ship is destroyed, Janeway ordered the fleet to drop their temporal shields before ramming Voyager into the time ship. Her actions destroyed Voyager, caused the time ship to destabilize and erase from history . . . and reset the timeline to the day Voyager first encountered the temporal waves.

Many TREK fans accused the episode’s writers of using the “reset button” to restore Voyager to its original timeline and erase the one featuring the year of hell. They also criticized Braga and Menosky for this act. Braga also did not want to use the “reset button” device. He wanted Voyager to remain wrecked for the rest of Season Four. But he failed to get his way, thanks to Paramount and producer Rick Berman. I do recall a fan fiction – a coda to the Season Seven episode (7.11) “Shattered” – that left Chakotay lost in time and both Janeway and Tuvok dead. As the new captain, Tom Paris was forced to land Voyager on an “M” class and order repairs on the ship that lasted for a year or more.

Recalling the state of Voyager in the alternate timeline, I saw no other fate for the ship if Janeway had not reset time. “Before and After” saw Voyager still traveling through Krenim space, despite its condition after nearly a year. But it did not look as damaged as it did right before the time reset in “The Year of Hell”. The idea of a wrecked Voyager still traveling through space after nearly a year . . . strikes me as illogical. And how did Braga plan to deal with Annorax and the time ship? Did he have plans for the Krenim scientist to remain the series’ main adversary for the rest of Season Four? Did he have plans for a series of plotlines featuring the adventures of the Voyager crew on an “M” class planet, while they repair the ship?

I am not saying that I am against the idea of time NOT being reset. But I still have bad memories of the early Season Three episodes of “BATTLESTAR GALACTICA”, in which some of the colonists ended up as prisoners of the Cylons on some planet. And combining that with the knowledge of the “reset button” being used on many occasions, I find it difficult to get upset over the ending for “The Year of Hell”. More importantly, I find it difficult to understand the fans and critics’ reactions to the use of the “reset button”. I guess I still find it so ridiculously strident, especially since such use of the plot device had been used so many times.

As far as I am concerned, “The Year of Hell” was a pretty damn good episode that featured an interesting twist on the Captain Nemo character and the alternate timeline subplot. It also featured superb performances from Kate Mulgrew and Kurtwood Smith, and some excellent acting from the rest of the cast. I am not surprised that it has remained one of my favorite episodes from the series’ Season Four.

“THE ISLAND” (2005) Review

“THE ISLAND” (2005) Review

The summer of 2005 saw the release of a science-fiction thriller called “THE ISLAND”. Directed by Michael Bay, the movie proved to be a box office failure in the U.S., but a hit with overseas moviegoers.

Many have described “THE ISLAND” as a a pastiche of “escape-from-dystopia” science fiction films of the 1960s and 1970s like “FAHRENHEIT 451”“THX 1138” and “LOGAN’S RUN”. The movie begins with a young man named Lincoln Echo Six, who lives in an isolated compound which strictly regulates its inhabitants’ lives. The Overseers control every aspect of the lives of Lincoln, his friend Jordan Two Delta and the other residents from diet and free time activities, to social relationships. The inhabitants hope to win a lottery to go to “the Island”, the only place on Earth not contaminated by a deadly pathogen.

Already dissatisfied with his life, Lincoln illicitly visits a power-plant basement where his friend, technician James McCord, works. There, he discovers a live moth in the ventilation shaft, leading him to realize that the outside world might not be contaminated. When Lincoln releases the mother, he follows it to another section, where he witnesses the murders of two lottery winners – one after childbirth, and the other in the process of having his liver harvested. When Jordan becomes the next lottery winner, Lincoln rescues her from a similar fate and the two make their escape from the facility. While the facility’s medical official, Dr. Merrick, hires mercenary Albert Laurent and his men to find Lincoln and Jordan, the pair learns from McCord the truth about their existence – they are clones of wealthy sponsors, who intend to use them for spare parts or surrogate motherhood.

“THE ISLAND” received mixed reviews from critics. Some complained that the movie seemed to be an uneasy mixture of a science-fiction thriller and an action film. Others complain that the movie did not handled the ethical issue of cloning very well. I might as well be honest. I like “THE ISLAND” very much. In fact, it is one of four Michael Bay movies that I consider favorites of mine. And I am not a big Michael Bay fan. Unlike many critics, I thought the movie did an excellent job of mixing science-fiction creepiness and high octane action. Well . . . most of the time. Now, I would not consider“THE ISLAND” to be perfect. But my complaints about the movie are different from those made by other critics. Well . . . not really.

A good number of critics had a problem with the movie’s action sequences. They felt it was too over-the-top. I was fine with most of the action sequences. But there were two that failed to entertain me. Lincoln and Jordan’s arrival in downtown Los Angeles led to a high octane chase that involved the pair, the Los Angeles Police and Laurent and his team. It was too much and too damn confusing. I found some of the stunts – especially those that involved the two clones hanging from high-rise building to improbable to swallow. It was just too over-the-top for my tastes. I also had a problem with Lincoln’s fight with Dr. Merrick in the finale. It involved wires, glass and some rather confusing photography from Mauro Fiore. I have one last complaint. What in the hell happened to the clones at the end of the movie? I realize that they managed to escape the facility. But what happened to them following their escape? Like Lincoln and Jordan, they were adults with the mentality of adolescents or younger. Unlike Lincoln and Jordan, they had no experiences of life outside of the facility. What happened to them?

But for me, the good outweighed the bad in “THE ISLAND”. There were a good number of action sequences that I actually enjoyed. And they include Laurent’s confrontation with Lincoln and his sponsor, the real Tom Lincoln; and Lincoln and Jordan’s encounter with Laurent’s team at the Yucca train station in Arizona. But the best sequence for me proved to be Lincoln and Jordan’s escape from the facility. I found it absolutely thrilling and well shot by Bay and Fiore. The action sequences also benefited from Nigel Phelps’ colorful production designs and especially from the movie’s special effects team.

The above action sequences were not the only aspects of “THE ISLAND” that I enjoyed. The movie also featured some rather interesting scenes that I found either creepy, very dramatic or rather funny. Screenwriters Caspian Tredwell-Owen, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci did an excellent job in setting up what I believe is one of the film’s best moments – namely the two murders that he witnessed and his discovery of the truth behind the facility. And the latter sequence was truly frightening, but in a subtle way. The most jarring moment proved to be Starkweather Two Delta’s attempt to evade the facility’s guards and have his organs harvested. That scene really had me on edge. Another wonderful scene proved to be one between Laurent and Dr. Merrick, in which the former begins to harbor doubt about the activities of his client’s cloning facility. Lead actor was allowed to strut his stuff in a scene that featured Lincoln and Jordan’s meeting with the former’s sponsor, billionaire boat designer Tom Lincoln. I found it creepy, yet rather funny. However, the best scene – at least for me – proved to be James McCord’s revelation that Lincoln and Jordan were clones. This scene was so well acted and so funny that not only is it my favorite one in the film, but . . . it is just a favorite of mine, period. If I had to list my ten favorite movie scenes of all time, it would be on the list.

I thought the cast was impeccable. Instead of using an American accent, Ewan McGregor used a Canadian accent for his role as Lincoln Six Echo. And it worked. If I must be honest, I have never been a fan of his American accents. And for his performance as Tom Lincoln, the actor used his own Scottish accent. Whether he was the clone Lincoln or the billionaire Tom Lincoln, McGregor was brilliant. I believe that his performance in this movie is among his best work ever. “THE ISLAND” turned out to be the first time I ever became aware of Scarlett Johansson. And she not only impressed me with her performance as the surprisingly strong-willed Jordan, but also made me realized what a strong screen presence she possessed. What I liked about her performance is that beneath Jordan’s projected facade of delicacy and charm, laid a tough young woman who also proved to be rather observant of other people. And Johansson did a great job with her role.

The movie’s supporting cast included Sean Bean, who portrayed Dr. Merrick, the cloning facility’s administrator. One of the best things I can say about Bean is that he is an actor who strikes me as being a persistently first-rate chameleon. He can play hero, villain or otherwise at the drop of the hat. And while his Merrick is obviously a bad guy, he is a very subtle and at times, an emotional one. Djimon Hounsou portrayed the Afro-French mercenary, Albert Laurent. And like Bean, he also gave a first-rate and very subtle performance. In fact, Hounsou’s Laurent seemed like an enigma to me. Thanks to his performance, he deliberately made it hard for the audience to surmise whether he was a true villain or someone who might prove to be an ally for the two protagonists.

“THE ISLAND” also provided comic relief from first-rate actors such as Ethan Phillips, Kim Coates, and Brian Stepanek. Michael Clarke Duncan gave a brief, yet very effective performance as Starkweather Two Delta, the doomed clone whose elation at being chosen to live on “the island” became despair over discovering that he was being operated on for his organs. It was a great moment for the Oscar-nominated actor. But my favorite performance came from Steve Buscemi, who portrayed Lincoln’s friend, engineer James McCord. Remember my rhapsody over the scene featuring McCord, Lincoln and Jordan? Well, he was mainly responsible for making it so memorable for me. Mind you, both McGregor and Johansson also contributed to the scene with some excellent acting. But Buscemi made it for me. I believe it was one of his finest moments on screen – big and small.

I will not claim that “THE ISLAND” is a perfect film. It had a few action scenes that seemed over-the-top for me. And I believe it could have been more clearer about the fates of the clones at the end of the movie. But I cannot deny that it was an entertaining film with an intriguing plot. And for me, it worked, due to Michael Bay’s energetic direction and a superb cast led by Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson.

“Whatever You Desire” [R] – 2/5



The two sisters climbed the curved stoop that led to a large, Victorian townhouse on McAllister. “Nice place,” Paige commented. Her eyes swept appreciatively over the three-story house. “I didn’t realize it would be a lot bigger than our place.”

Once the pair reached the front door, Phoebe rang the doorbell. “What do you expect? The woman is a best-selling writer. She can afford a place of this size.”

“So can you,” Paige added. Phoebe shot her a dark look.

Seconds later, the front door opened, revealing the townhouse’s owner. Strains of ‘Lady Marmalade’ blasted from inside the house. The tall, dark-haired witch greeted the newcomers with a smile. “Paige! Right?” Nathalie and Paige shook hands. Then the former glanced at the older sister. “And this must be your sister . . . uh . . .”

“Phoebe,” the middle Charmed One said with a brief smile. “Phoebe Halliwell.” She paused, wondering if their hostess would recognize her name. When the older woman failed to respond, Phoebe added uneasily, “I . . . uh, nice to meet you. I’ve read some of your books.”

A wide smile appeared on Miss Gleason’s face. “Thanks. Nice to meet a fan. Now, c’mon in, you two. And enjoy the party.” She flung the door wide open, allowing the two sisters to step inside. They followed her through the foyer and into a wide drawing-room, decorated with balloons and streamers. Phoebe’s eyes took in the number of guests who were forming little cliques, sampling food and drinks from the refreshment tables or dancing in the middle of the room.

The song ended and another immediately followed. “Now that’s new,” Paige commented. “What is that song? Sounds like some disco song that was around before I was born.”

Nathalie answered, “It probably was. It’s one of my dad’s favorite songs – ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ by Thelma Houston.” She faced the two sisters. “As for you two, why don’t you go enjoy yourselves? While you’re at it, try the punch. It’s an old recipe from my grandmother. Raspberry Sunset.”

Paige asked warily, “Does it have any alcohol?”

Nathalie’s eyes widened. “Yeah. Raspberry cordial. Why?”

A deep flush colored Paige’s cheeks. “I’m a . . . recovering alcoholic. Sorry.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry about, honey. I understand. If you’re thirsty, I have soda and bottled water, as well. Now, go enjoy yourselves, you two.” Nathalie walked away to greet another guest.

Phoebe longingly glanced at the refreshment table. “I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry. Let’s get something to eat.”

“You go on ahead,” Paige replied. “I just saw Barbara and Bruce and want to say hello. I’ll see you later.” The youngest Charmed One walked away, while Phoebe went in the opposite direction.

Her stomach rumbled slightly, as she reached the refreshment table. Judging from the array of food on display, Phoebe found it difficult to make a selection. She finally settled upon an open-faced salmon and scrambled egg sandwich, marinated artichoke hearts and mushrooms and some Turkish bean salad.

“Try the Pepper-Herb cheese,” a man’s voice suggested.

Phoebe glanced up. Her heart did a back over flip at the sight of her ex-husband standing next to her. He was impeccably dressed as usual – a dark-blue suit with a royal-blue shirt opened at the throat. “What are you doing here?” Phoebe demanded.

One of Cole’s dark brows quirked upward. “Attending a party?”

“I mean . . .” Phoebe flushed with embarrassment, recognizing the accusatory tone in her voice. “I mean, do you know Nathalie Gleason?”

Cole nodded. “Yeah. Olivia had introduced us, last fall.” He dipped a spoon into a bowl of caviar, sprinkled with chopped boiled egg. “Hmmm, caviar. Nice touch.” He spread the contents on a strip of toast.

Phoebe commented, “Yeah, I guess she can afford it.” She paused. “So. You were invited. Right?”

Blue eyes bored into Phoebe’s, causing her body to shiver. Damn. “To be honest, I managed to convince Nathalie to invite me. I plan to cast a spell over all of the witches here. Create my own following, so I can take control of the Source’s Realm, again.” His voice tinged with sarcasm.

“Never mind. Sorry I asked.” Phoebe glanced away, feeling foolish. An awkward moment passed before she continued, “Did you say that the Pepper-Herb Cheese is good?”

Cole replied, “Yeah. You should give it a shot.”

Taking up Cole’s suggestion, Phoebe reached for a sliver of cheese. “What about the punch?” she asked. “Raspberry something. Have you tried it?”

“No, I hav . . .” Cole broke off. His attention seemed focused elsewhere. Phoebe turned around and saw who had caught her ex-husband’s attention. Namely one Olivia McNeill, arriving with Paul Margolin. The jealousy stamped on Cole’s face ignited a similar emotion within Phoebe’s breast. She tried to remind herself that she was over Cole, and should feel grateful that he had learned to move on. Unfortunately for her, she only felt pain that he seemed more interested in another woman.

Maintaining a cool façade, Phoebe nudged Cole’s arm. “You what? Tried the punch? Haven’t?”

Cole’s eyes snapped back to Phoebe. “What?”

“The punch. Did you try it?” Phoebe struggled to keep her irritation in check.

“No. Uh . . . I don’t like raspberries very much.”

Phoebe grabbed a handful of crackers and tossed them on her plate. “I think I’ll try a cup of punch.”

“That’s nice,” Cole murmured. His gaze returned to Olivia and Paul.

Realizing that her ex-husband’s attention was not focused upon her, Phoebe heaved a frustrated sigh. And moved toward the large crystal punch bowl.

* * * *

“Olivia!” Nathalie greeted the red-haired witch. “Oh sweetie, it’s good to see you, again! How are you?”

The two friends hugged. Olivia answered, “I’m fine. Welcome back!”

“Oh, it’s good to be back.” Nathalie turned her attention toward Olivia’s companion. “And who is this?”

Olivia replied, “This . . . is Paul Margolin, a friend of mine.” She noticed how Nathalie’s gaze swept appreciatively over the good-looking ADA. “And he’s also that witch I had told you about. He and I share the same whitelighter. Well used to, since I no longer have one.”

“Really?” Nathalie offered her hand to Paul. “Nathalie Gleason. Nice to meet you.”

Paul took the offered hand and shook it. “Nice to meet you. I’ve . . . uh, I’ve read one of your books, by the way. ‘THE NATURE OF MAGIC’.”

“And how did you like?”

Paul hesitated. “Uh, very well written. And very unorthodox. You seemed to have a more . . . ambiguous view of magic.”

Nathalie’s eyes widened. “Ambiguous?”

Olivia nudged Paul with her elbow, before he gave the dark-haired witch a disarming smile. “Sorry. What I meant was that you seemed to view magic in an interesting way. As neutral. It’s not . . . exactly how I’ve always viewed it.”

One dark brow formed an arch. “Oh.”

Realizing it was time to jump into the conversation, Olivia added, “Paul doesn’t view witchcraft in the same way we do. He’s not Wiccan.”

“I’m a Methodist,” he added. “Although there are certain aspects of Wiccan beliefs that I do practice.”

Nathalie smiled. “Hmmm, a flexible man. I like that.”

Sensing her friend’s interest in her date, Olivia spoke up. “Down girl! You’re starting to drool.”

“Don’t be silly, Livy! I’m not drooling over Mr. Margolin, here.” Nathalie turned appealingly wide eyes upon the ADA. “Am I?”

A red flush colored Paul’s face. “No . . . um, no you’re not. In fact, you look perfectly lovely.”

Nathalie threw her head back and laughed, attracting the attention of others. “Good grief, Livy! Your taste in men is absolutely delicious! And speaking of delicious men, your old buddy Mr. Turner has arrived.” A sly expression flitted across Nathalie’s face. “Or is he still your Mr. Turner?”

Olivia immediately sobered. “Cole? He’s here?” She noticed the scowl on Paul’s face.

“He had arrived about forty minutes ago,” Nathalie said. “I’m surprised that he didn’t arrive with you two, considering that he’s your neighbor.”

“Where is he?”

Nathalie pointed to a large table, at the opposite end of the room. “Over there. At the refreshment table. Looks like he’s with Paige’s sister. What’s her name? Phoebe?”

Olivia glanced across the room. Sure enough, there stood Cole and Phoebe – side by side. Cole’s eyes met Olivia’s. She glanced away. An arch smile formed on Olivia’s lips. “Yeah, that’s Phoebe all right. Did they arrive together?”

According to Nathalie, Cole had arrived alone, and Phoebe with Paige. Barbara, Bruce and Harry had arrived together. Olivia barely heard a word coming from her friend’s mouth. She was too busy observing the divorced pair that stood next to the long table. Fighting the jealousy that threatened to arise within her. “That’s nice,” Olivia murmured, her thoughts still on Cole and Phoebe.

Nathalie added, “By the way, I’ve made my famous Raspberry Sunset punch. Your favorite. I suggest you sample a cup before it’s all gone.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” Olivia said. She strode toward the refreshment table, with Paul and Nathalie close at her heels. First stop – the punch bowl. There, she found Phoebe sampling a cup of Raspberry Sunset. “So, how is it?” she asked the Charmed One.

Phoebe’s eyes widened at the sight of the red-haired witch. She removed the cup from her lips. “Hi . . . uh, Olivia. The punch is great.” She squirmed with discomfort. “You should try it.”

Olivia turned to face Cole and noticed that he also held a plastic cup. Only it contained something different. Nathalie also noticed. “No punch for you?” the dark-haired witch asked. She reached for a cup and filled it with punch.

Before the half-daemon could answer, Olivia said, “Cole doesn’t like raspberries.” Again, her eyes met Cole’s. “Raspberries and Coconut cake. Isn’t that right?”

A frown appeared on Phoebe’s face, as she glanced sharply at Cole. “Coconut cake? That’s one of Piper’s specialties. And Grams’. You never said that you didn’t like . . .”

Nathalie thrust the cup of punch into Olivia’s hand. “Here, Livy. Take a sip.”

Olivia did as her friend ordered. The punch, as usual, tasted delicious. However, Olivia detected a flavor other than raspberry. “Say Nat, did you add something else into the punch? Like boysenberries?”

A sigh left Nathalie’s mouth. “You noticed it, too? So did Bruce and Barbara. I had accidentally added some of my boysenberry cordial into the punch. I was on the phone, at the time.”

“More cordial?” Cole said with a smirk. “You’re a regular little moonshiner, aren’t you?” Nathalie merely smirked back.

Then Paul asked his hostess for a cup of punch. Nathalie filled another cup and handed it to him. Paul took a sip. “Hmmm, delicious. You sure you don’t want to try a sip?” he said to Cole. “Or maybe you would prefer some Coconut cake?” This time, he offered a smirk.

Olivia had to refrain from rolling her eyes at Paul’s lame joke. Cole, on the other hand, merely responded with a cool smile. Then he turned to Nathalie. “By the way, I had noticed some old acquaintances of mine. I didn’t realize you were familiar with any daemons.”

“Demons?” Phoebe’s eyes grew wide with alarm. “You have demons, here?” She scanned the room.

Nathalie shrugged. “Only a few. Along with one or two warlocks. I got to know them, while researching for my last book. They had provided me with some interesting stuff.”

Olivia glanced around. She spotted a familiar face among the crowd. It was Riggerio, talking with a pretty young woman. “Well, look who’s here,” she said, nodding at the daemon.

Paul frowned. “Isn’t that . . . what’s his name . . . Riggerio?” He gave Nathalie a sharp look. “You really do have demons here, other than Turner!”

“Well, yeah.” Nathalie’s mouth stretched into a dreamy smile, as she regarded the Italian speaking daemon. “As for Riggerio, he’s such a sweetheart. He gave me a lot of information on daemons known in the Stregheria world. Charming man.”

Olivia smirked. “You’re not the only one who thinks so.” Her comment drew stares from both Cole and Paul. She ignored them.

Paul, on the other hand, seemed disturbed by the presence of daemons at the party. “I can’t believe that you . . . I mean . . . aren’t you disturbed by the idea of having demons here?” He shot Cole a baleful look.

“It depends upon the daemon,” Nathalie replied shortly. Before Paul could respond, the doorbell rang. “What do you know, more guests.” She smiled at the three witches and half-daemon. “Why don’t you guys help yourselves to more punch and some food? It’s time for me to play hostess, again. Catch you later.” She immediately walked away.

Cole heaved a sigh and gathered his plate of food. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m going to have some fun. I have a few friends to get reacquainted with.” He flashed Olivia a quick smile that seemed to bother both Paul and Phoebe.

As Paul watched the half-daemon walk away with hostile eyes, he grumbled, “What the hell kind of party is this, anyway? Witches and demons mixing together?”

“Don’t forget warlocks,” Olivia added. She reached for a canapé. “But that’s Nathalie for you. Always the equal opportunity hostess.”

* * * *

The Doobie Brothers singing ‘What a Fool Believes’ blasted from the nearby CD player. Paige sat in one of the empty chairs against the far wall, eating lamb kabobs and watching some of the guests dance in the middle of the room. She could not help but wondered if Nathalie Gleason had some kind of fixation for music from the 1970s. Or if any of the guests were aware how badly they danced.

At least two of the dancers did not seem lacking in talent. Paige focused on one particular pair – Barbara and Bruce. Not only were they dancing in rhythm, they seemed . . . Paige’s eyes narrowed. If her eyes were not deceiving her, she could have sworn that Barbara and Bruce were grinding their bodies against each other. In a very suggestive manner. How odd.

Paige caught sight of another couple . . . locked in a sexual embrace. They seemed to be literally devouring each other’s lips. Then she caught sight of a familiar figure – Riggerio. Paige frowned. What was ‘he’ doing here, and why was he crying? Before Paige could satisfy her curiosity, she saw Phoebe shooting wary glances at Cole, who was engaged in a conversation with a female witch. Poor Phoebe. The older Charmed One seemed torn between fear, wariness and desire. Weird. Then again, perhaps Phoebe’s attitude was normal. Unlike a good number of other guests.

It took Paige a moment to allow that last thought to sink in. She realized that many of the guests – save a handful – have been acting very strangely over the past half hour. Emotions seemed to be running high. Exposed. Then Paige spotted Olivia re-enter the drawing-room, wearing a determined expression. And heading straight for Cole.

Paige dumped her plate on the empty chair next to her and stood up. She strode toward Cole and Olivia. Trouble seemed to be brewing in the air and she had to stop it. Stop it before Olivia caused a . . .

“There you are.” A pair of hands caught hold of Paige’s waist and drew her back against a man’s body. What the hell? “What do you know? I’ve finally been able to catch you alone. Are you trying to stay away from me?”

Huh? Paige frowned. The voice sounded familiar. As if it belonged to . . . She whirled around and found herself facing a tall man in his mid-twenties. A tall man with red hair, green eyes and a light sprinkle of freckles on a handsome face. “Harry?”

The youngest McNeill grinned broadly. “The one and only. Miss me?” Hands still on Paige’s waist, drew her closer to Harry.

“Harry, what the hell are you doing?” Paige cried. “Let go.” She struggled to wrestle out of his grip.

“I’m facing the truth, for once.” One hand began to travel up from Paige’s waist. Slowly. “About us.”

“What are you talking about? There’s no . . .”

“Oh come on! Stop pretending! I admit I’m attracted to you. Have been for a long time.” Soft lips planted a light kiss on Paige’s neck, sending an unexpected thrill throughout her body. “And I know you’ve been attracted me.”

Paige fought down her desire. What the hell made Harry attempt something like this? And how did he know about her . . . ? “Where did you get this delusional idea that I was interested in you?” she cried out.

“I’m a telepath,” Harry replied smugly. “Remember?” And before Paige could protest any further, the other witch’s lips crushed against hers.

Her first instinct was to escape from Harry’s embrace. Push him away. Unfortunately, Paige found herself unable to resist the warm lips that pressed against hers. Or the surge of passion that suddenly sprang within her, as his tongue slipped into her mouth. Caught up in Harry’s kiss, Paige was unaware of her arms sliding around his neck. As their lips parted momentarily for air, Paige heard herself murmur, “Oh . . . oh God! What am I doing?”

“Kissing me,” Harry murmured back. Then he pressed his lips against hers, once more.

The kiss would have lasted longer, but the sound of voices penetrated Paige’s mind. She gently broke away from Harry’s embrace. “Wha . . . what’s going on?” she asked.

Harry replied breathlessly, “Nothing. Just us.” He tried to kiss Paige again, but she pushed him away. “Paige, why are you pushing me away?” Desperation tinged his voice.

“I thought I heard voices,” she replied. “My sister.” Paige glanced over Harry’s shoulder. Her eyes fell upon a disturbing scene of her sister flying over the shoulder of one Olivia McNeill. Holy shit! “Oh God! Something has gone wrong between Phoebe and Olivia. I have to stop them.” She quickly walked away, her mind no longer focused upon Harry and his tantalizing lips.


“EVIL UNDER THE SUN” (2001) Review

“EVIL UNDER THE SUN” (2001) Review

There have been four adaptations of Agatha Christie’s 1941 novel, “Evil Under the Sun”. One version was a radio play that broadcast in 1999. The Adventure Company released its own adaptation in 2007. John Bradbourne and Richard Goodwin released a movie version in 1982. However, the adaptation that has recently caught my attention is the 2001 television movie that aired on ITV’s “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”.

While dining at his friend Captain Arthur Hasting’s new Argentine restaurant, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot suffers a sudden collapse. His doctor reveals that Poirot need to lose weight or risk a heart condition. Both the doctor and the detective’s secretary, Miss Lemon, book Poirot at a health resort on the coast of Devon called Sandy Cove. Miss Lemon also insists that Captain Hastings accompany him.

At the Sandy Cove Resort, both Poirot and Hastings come across the usual assortment of guests. Among them was a well-known stage actress named Arlena Stuart Marshall. Many of the guests disliked Arlena, including her new husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall and her 17 year-old stepson, Lionel. Another guest, Mrs. Christina Redfern harbored jealousy over Arlena’s indiscreet affair with hubby Patrick. Well-known dressmaker Rosamund Darnley, was an old flame of Captain Marshall’s, and also harbored jealousy toward Arlena. A fanatical vicar named the Reverend Stephen Lane viewed Arlena as the embodiment of evil. An athletic spinster named Emily Brewster harbored resentment toward Arlena for bailing out on a play she had invested. The only guests who seemed to harbor no feelings regarding Arlena were a Major Barry and a Mr. Horace Blatt. But both seemed to be involved in some mysterious activities around the resort’s island – including the location where Arlena had been waiting to meet for a clandestine lover. When Arlena’s body is discovered strangled to death, Poirot and Hastings work with Scotland Yard inspector Japp to investigate the crime.

When I was younger, I had read Christie’s novel on a few occasions. I tried to enjoy the novel. I really did. I understood that it was a favorite among Christie fans. But I never managed to rouse any enthusiasm for the story. There was something about it that struck me as rather flat. This 2001 television adaptation seemed to be an improvement over the novel. Perhaps a visual representation on the television screen made it easier for me to appreciate the story. I certainly cannot deny that Rob Hinds’ production designs struck me as colorful and sleek – a perfect continuation of the Art Deco style that had dominated the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” since the beginning. I was also impressed by Charlotte Holdich’s sleek costume designs for the cast – especially the female characters. Overall, “EVIL UNDER THE SUN” proved to be eye-candy for those who usually enjoy television and movie productions with a 1930s setting.

The subplot involving Poirot’s health certainly made it easier for me to understand why he would vacation at a not-so-interesting hotel resort. To be honest, I could not see someone like the flashy Arlena Marshall being a guest at such a low-key location. Screenwriter Anthony Horowitz made a wise choice in transforming Arlena’s 16 year-old stepdaughter Linda Marshall, who studied magic; into a 17 year-old boy, studying poisons. Arlena had been strangled. And Scotland Yard made it clear that large hands had been responsible for the crime. The idea of a 16 year-old girl with man-size hands struck me as slightly improbable. After all, if Christie wanted Linda to be considered as a serious suspect, she should have changed the character’s gender, which Horowitz did; or find another method to bump off Arlena Stuart.

The above mentioned changes in Christie’s story – Poirot’s health problems and the transformations of the Linda/Lionel Marshall character – seemed like improvements over the original story. However, other changes made it impossible for me to love this adaptation. I understand why the series’ producers and Horowitz had decided to include Hastings, Japp and Lemon into the story. After all, the Eighth Series, which aired in 2000 and 2001, proved to be the last that featured these three characters. But none of them had appeared in the 1941 novel. Hastings’ presence only gave Poirot a pretext for vacationing at Sandy Cove in the first place. Unfortunately, the running joke about Poirot’s distaste toward the resort’s health-conscious menu for its guests became tiresome within one-third of the movie. Other than the Argentine restaurant sequence, Horowitz failed to make Hastings’ presence relevant to the story. And why on earth was Chief Inspector Japp investigating a murder in Devon? He was outside of Scotland Yard’s jurisdiction, which was limited to Greater London and the home counties of Essex and Hertfordshire in the East of England; along with Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey and Kent in South East England. In other words . . . what in the hell was Japp doing there in Devon? Miss Lemon proved to be the only veteran recurring cast member that proved to be relevant to the story. She helped Poirot investigate another murder case with connections to Arlena Stuart’s murderer.

The cast gave solid performances. But I could not recall any memorable performances among them. The four main cast members – David Suchet, Hugh Fraser, Philip Jackson and Pauline Moran – were competent as usual. I was also impressed by Michael Higgs (Patrick Redfern), Carolyn Pickles (Emily Brewster), Ian Thompson (Major Barry), Tamzin Malleson (Christine Redfern) and especially Russell Tovey (Lionel Marshall). But there were performances that failed to rock my boat. David Mallinson’s portrayal of Kenneth Marshall struck me as . . . meh. He was not terrible, but simply not that interesting. Marsha Fitzalan’s performance as Rosamund Darnley seemed a bit off. Her portrayal of the dressmaker struck me as gossipy and callow. She seemed like an early 20th century version of her old role, Caroline Bingley; instead of the warm and strong-willed Rosamund. Both Tim Meats and David Timson’s performances seemed slightly hammy and rather off for such a low-key production. But the real worm in the apple proved to be Louise Delamere’s portrayal of victim Arlena Marshall. I realize that Delamere was given a role that seemed the least interesting in Christie’s novel. But Horowitz’s script and Delamere’s performance failed to improve upon it. Delamere ended up projecting a fourth-rate version of Diana Rigg’s performance in the 1982 film.

Overall, “EVIL UNDER THE SUN” proved to be a mixed bag. Production wise, it looked sleek and colorful. The script provided a few improvements over Christie’s novel. And there were some first-rate performances that included David Suchet. But in the end, I felt the movie was slightly undermined by other changes that I found unnecessary and some not-so impressive performances.

“MANSFIELD PARK” (2007) Review

“MANSFIELD PARK” (2007) Review

There have been three screen adaptations of Jane Austen’s 1814 novel, “Mansfield Park”. And I have just finished viewing the most recent one – a ninety (90) minute television movie that first aired on the ITV network in March 2007. 

As many Austen fans know, “MANSFIELD PARK” told the story of an English girl sent at the age of 10 to live with her maternal aunt and the latter’s wealthy family at a vast estate called Mansfield Park. Fanny Price is treated as a poor relation of the Bertram family, as a semi-servant for her aunt, Lady Bertram. Only second son, Edmund, treats her with any real kindness. As a result, Fanny finds herself romantically in love with her cousin after eight years at Mansfield Park. Her feelings come to naught when the Bertram family becomes acquainted with a pair of sophisticated siblings named Henry and Mary Crawford. While Henry amuses himself with Fanny’s cousins, Maria and Julia Bertram; Edmund falls in love with Mary, who returns his affections. Jealous over Edmund’s romance with Mary, Fanny is oblivious of Henry’s sudden interest to her. And when he makes it obvious with a proposal of marriage, Fanny finds herself divided between her true feelings about both Edmund and Henry, and her uncle Sir Thomas’ desire to see her married to an eligible man of wealth.

“MANSFIELD PARK” was one of three Jane Austen adaptations aired by the ITV during the spring of 2007. All three movies possessed a running time of at least 90 minutes. Yet, for some reason, the production for “MANSFIELD PARK”seemed like a cheap television production, in compare to “PERSUASION” and “NORTHANGER ABBEY”. It had nothing to do with the changes to Austen story, made by screenwriter Maggie Wadey. However, I do suspect that some of the changes were a result of the movie’s budget. In fact, I am beginning to suspect that the budget had a lot to do with my dissatisfaction with “MANSFIELD PARK”.

Of the three movies aired for ITV’s “The Jane Austen Season”“MANSFIELD PARK” was the only one that was limited to one setting. Although Austen’s novel was mainly set on the Bertram estate, it also included the Rushworth family’s estate, Sotherton, the Mansfield Park parsonage occupied by Dr. and Mrs. Grant, and heroine Fanny Price’s hometown of Portsmouth. Thanks to Wadey’s script, the production did not include the setting of the Mansfield Park parsonage and Portsmouth. Henry and Mary Crawford were never seen at the parsonage. And to prevent shifting the setting to Portsmouth, Wadey’s script allowed Sir Thomas Bertram to isolate Fanny at the estate . . . alone, instead of shipping her back to her immediate family in Portsmouth. This robbed the television viewers of a chance to meet Fanny’s immediate family, aside from brother William. Another change was made by Wadey that seemed to reflect the movie’s limited budget. Instead of a ball, a picnic was held in Fanny’s honor by the Bertrams, following Maria Bertram’s marriage to Mr. Rushworth. A picnic, instead of a ball. How cheap could one get?

Another aspect of “MANSFIELD PARK” that rubbed me the wrong way turned out to be the fast pacing. The television production moved at such a fast pace that I could barely blink before the scene featuring the Rushworths’ wedding appeared. In fact, the entire story from Fanny’s arrival at Mansfield Park to Maria’s marriage to Mr. Rushworth seemed to move at an extremely fast and somewhat unsatisfying pace. If there is one thing about Wadey’s script that did not move me one way or the other was its approach to the topic of slavery. She turned out to be the only screenwriter who adhered to Austen’s novel. The 1999 movie allowed the topic of the Bertram family’s participation in slavery to become a major theme in the movie. The 1983 miniseries completely ignored the subject. However, this version followed Austen’s novel by allowing Fanny to question Sir Thomas about his role as a slave owner, before dropping the subject altogether.

Remember the outrage over Fanny Price’s characterization in Patricia Rozema’s 1999 adaptation of the novel? Well, there were some changes made by Wadey in this movie. Maggie O’Neill’s portrayal of Fanny’s Aunt Norris seemed less comic and broad than any other version I have encountered. Normally, I would applaud such a change. But one of the more entertaining aspects of “MANSFIELD PARK” has always been the use of Aunt Norris as a comic figure. O’Neill’s Aunt Norris struck me as slightly boring. Also, Wadey’s characterization of Mary Crawford struck me as slightly cold . . . darker. Portrayed by the talented Hayley Atwell, this version of Mary seemed to lack a sense of humor or true wit. Atwell’s Mary never really tried to form a friendship with Fanny or display any kindness toward the latter. I got the feeling that Wadey deliberately portrayed Mary in this cold fashion to discourage sympathy or any other kind of positive feelings toward her. Because of this, Atwell was almost forced to portray Mary as a one-note villainess. Almost. Thankfully, the actress manage to somewhat rise the character above such mediocrity. Michelle Ryan made a lovely Maria Bertram. Unfortunately, her character failed to make an impact on the television screen, thanks to Wadey’s limited handling of her character.

But not all of Wadey’s characterizations irritated me. I liked her handling of the Lady Bertram character, portrayed by Jemma Redgrave. Instead of the vague and selfish woman portrayed by both Angela Pleasence and Lindsay Duncan, Redgrave portrayed Lady Bertram as a concerned parent and a woman with a deep interest in her children’s love lives, if not their moral compasses. Douglas Hodge made a first-rate Sir Thomas Bertram, in all of his intimidating glory. He had taken the role as an to his mentor, actor/director Harold Pinter, who portrayed the role in Patricia Rozema’s 1999 adaptation. James D’Arcy made an entertaining Tom Bertram. His sharp bon mots kept me smiling through most of the movie’s first half. Rory Kinnear’s portrayal of Mr. Rushworth seemed spot on. It seemed a pity that Wadey’s script did not allow him the chance for a deeper characterization.

Both Blake Ritson and Joseph Beattie portrayed the two men in Fanny’s life – her cousin Edmund Bertram and other suitor Mary Crawford. Ritson failed to make me like Edmund as a character. But this was no reflection on his skills as an actor. I simply dislike Edmund. But Ritson is the third actor to give an excellent performance in the role. He perfectly conveyed all of Edmund’s traits that I heartily despise. When I first saw “MANSFIELD PARK”, I was a little reluctant to praise Beattie’s performance. I now realize that my judgement of his portrayal had been rushed. At first, he seemed like a womanizing stalker. But once his character began to fall in love in Fanny, Beattie conveyed a great deal of warmth and subtlety into the role.

Even Billie Piper’s performance as Fanny Price seemed a lot different than Sylvestra Le Touzel and Frances O’Connor’s extreme takes on the character. Due to Wadey’s script and Piper’s portrayal was not Le Touzel’s wooden Fanny or O’Connor’s Jane Austen 2.0 characterization. Piper’s Fanny was quiet, but without the passive aggression that I found so exasperating in Austen’s novel. When I first saw “MANSFIELD PARK”, I believed that Piper’s Fanny also lacked the hypocrisy of the previous version. I realize that I had blinded myself from what was obvious on the screen. Although Fanny did not indulge in heavily criticizing Mary Crawford behind the latter’s back, or hid her dislike and jealousy behind a facade of moral outrage; she did express hypocrisy. Like her predecessors, Piper’s Fanny failed to be honest with Henry Crawford about the real reason behind her rejection of his marriage proposal.

Visually, “MANSFIELD PARK” is beautiful to behold. Nick Dance’s photography was sharp and filled with beautifully lush colors. It is a pity that the movie’s budget limited it to one setting. Tim Hutchinson’s production designs contributed to Dance’s lush photography of Newby Hall in Yorkshire, which served as the Bertram estate. And Mike O’Neill’s costume designs were absolutely beautiful – especially those costumes for the Bertram women and Mary Crawford.

What is my final verdict of “MANSFIELD PARK”? Honestly? Of the three movies for ITV’s “Jane Austen’s Season”, it seemed the least impressive. It could boast some first-rate performances, along with great costumes and photography. Unfortunately, the movie’s fast pacing in the first half and its limited budget did not serve it well. In the end, I believe“MANSFIELD PARK” could have benefited from a longer running time and bigger budget.

“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode Five “The Massacre” Commentary

“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode Five “The Massacre” Commentary

The fifth episode of “CENTENNIAL”“The Massacre”, proved to be a difficult episode for me to watch. In fact, many other fans of the 1978-79 miniseries seemed to harbor the same feeling. This episode marked the culmination of many conflicts between the Native Americans featured in James Michner’s saga and the growing number of whites that make their appearances in the story. It is a culmination that ends in tragedy and frustration. 

I am a little confused over exactly when the “The Massacre” begins. I can only assume that it begins days or even hours after the last episode, “For as Long as the River Flows”. The episode picks up with German-Russian immigrant Hans Brumbaugh successfully panning for gold, when he is accosted by his former comrade, the gold-obsessed Larkin. The story eventually moves into the meat of the story – the outbreak of violence between white settlers, the military and Native Americans resisting the encroachment of the whites upon their lands, culminating in the arrival of a former Minnesota settler named Frank Skimmerhorn and the massacre he ordered against a peaceful village of Arapaho and Northern Cheyenne, led by one Lost Eagle from the previous two episodes.

Personally, I consider “The Massacre” to be one of the miniseries’ finer episodes. One of the reasons why I consider it among the best of “CENTENNIAL” was due to its graphic and unsentimental look at how the American government and settlers either drove away or nearly exterminated the Native American inhabitants in the Colorado region. Along with screenwriters John Wilder and Charles Larson, director Paul Krasny pulled no punches in depicting the violence and manipulation used to finally defeat the Arapaho and especially Jacques and Marcel Pasquinnel. Frankly, I found the whole episode rather depressing to watch.

Most viewers would pinpoint Frank Skimmerhorn, the former Minnesota settler-turned militia commander as the villain of the piece. And it would be easy to do so. Using his political connections, he managed to usurp the authority of U.S. Army General Asher; declare Major Maxwell Mercy as a traitor for the latter’s futile attempts to maintain peace; order the death of poor Clay Basket, who tried to sneak away from her son-in-law’s trading post in order to warn her sons of future danger; and place Levi Zendt’s trading post off limits to military personnel. And he did all of this before committing the episode’s centerpiece – namely the massacre of Lost Eagle’s peaceful village.

The massacre was a fascinating, yet horrifying event to watch. More disgusting is the fact that it was based upon an actual event that occurred in Colorado in November 1864 – the Sand Creek Massacre. Not only was the massacre featured in this episode based upon an actual event, the Frank Skimmerhorn character was based upon a real person – John Chivington, who led the Sand Creek massacre. Unlike Chivington, Skimmerhorn was a survivor of the 1862 Dakota Sioux War in Minnesota, who had witnessed the near slaughter of his family. This family tragedy is what triggered Skimmerhorn’s obsessive hatred toward Native Americans. Mark Harmon returned in this episode as Captain John McIntosh, the regular Army officer who found himself under Skimmerhorn’s command. Like Captain Silas Soule and Lieutenant Joseph Crame at Sand Creek, McIntosh refused to lead his men into the attack and allowed several unarmed Arapaho women, children and old men to escape. The one scene that really nauseated me featured the murder of two Arapaho children by militia troopers.

Another aspects of this episode that both horrified and fascinated me was the American citizens’ reaction to Skimmerhorn’s “victory”. It made me realize that despite Skimmerhorn’s crimes and obsession with exterminating the Arapaho in the region, these citizens, the military and the government wholeheartedly supported his actions . . . when they were useful to them. But it took one incident – Skimmerhorn’s murder of the surrendering Marcel Pasquinnel – to express horror and turn their collective backs on him. And the odd thing is that Skimmerhorn was never legally prosecuted for shooting Marcel in the back, just ostracized.

In retaliation for the massacre of Lost Eagle’s village, Jacques and Marcel Pasquinnel went on the rampage, attacking American emigrants and military personnel with Cheyenne leader, Broken Thumb. But their retaliation did not last long against the overwhelming odds against them. Jacques ended up lynched by the Colorado militia and U.S. Army. Michel was shot in the back and murdered by Skimmerhorn. Some have argued that the Pasquinnels – especially the hot-tempered Jacques – paid the price for their violence against American settlers. Personally, I suspect they would have been doomed, regardless of any path they had chosen. They could have followed Lost Eagle’s path and capitulate to the U.S. government’s terms. But Lost Eagle’s choice only led to most of his followers being decimated by Skimmerhorn and his militia. I believe the Arapaho and Cheyenne were simply in a no-win situation.

Despite my high opinion of “The Massacre”, I realized that it was not perfect. As I had hinted earlier, the time factor in the episode’s first half hour struck me as a bit wonky. The episode obviously began in 1860, with Brumbaugh’s final encounter with Larkin. Yet, it is not long before Frank Skimmerhorn makes his first appearance. If Skimmerhorn was supposed to be a fictionalized version of John Chivington, screenwriters John Wilder and Charles Larson failed to realize that the real life militia leader did not make his appearance in the Colorado Territory until 1863 or 1864. To this day, I am confused about the year in which Skimmerhorn arrived in the Colorado Territory. And I also had trouble with a scene featuring a duel between Maxwell Mercy and Frank Skimmerhorn, following Michel Pasquinnel’s death. I can understand that as a West Point graduate, Mercy would be an experienced swordsman. But how on earth did Skimmerhorn, a farmer/minister-turned militia commander would know anything about sword fighting? Because of this, I found the duel between the two men rather ludicrous. I also noticed that Barbara Carrera’s character, Clay Basket, seemed to have become forgotten not long after her character’s death. Characters such as Pasquinnel, Alexander McKeag and even Elly Zendt (who was mentioned in this episode) seemed to resonate long after their deaths. But not poor Clay Basket.

Because of the first-rate nature of the episode, “The Massacre” featured some excellent performances. Gregory Harrison and Christina Raines gave solid performances as Levi and Lucinda Zendt, as they tried keep their lives together, while Skimmerhorn wreaked havoc on their worlds. Both Stephen McHattie and Kario Salem were both passionate and poignant as the doomed Pasquinnel brothers. And Mark Harmon had his moment in the sun in a scene that featured his character Captain McIntosh’s dignified refusal to participate in Skimmerhorn’s massacre. Cliff De Young gave a subtle performance as Skimmerhorn’s only surviving family member, John, who becomes increasingly repelled by his father’s murderous and maniacal behavior. Alex Karras continued his excellent performance as German-Russian immigrant Hans Brumbaugh. But the performances that really impressed me came from Chad Everett, Nick Ramus and Richard Crenna. Chad Everett gave one of his best performances as the well-meaning Maxwell Mercy, forced to witness the destruction of his hopes of peace between the Americans and the Arapaho. Nick Ramus was beautifully poignant as the peaceful Lost Eagle, who witnessed the massacre of the people he had led for so long. And Richard Crenna was both terrifying and pitiful as the malignant Skimmerhorn, who allowed a family tragedy to send him along a dark path toward victory, adulation and eventually rejection.

The episode’s epilogue picked up three years following Skimmerhorn’s departure from the Colorado Territory. The new town of Centennial is being built and Oliver Seccombe (Timothy Dalton), the Englishman whom Levi had first befriended back in “The Wagon and the Elephant”, makes his reappearance in the story. Only this time, Seccombe will make a bigger impact, as he reveals his plans to create a cattle ranch for a British investor named Lord Venneford. And judging from Brumbaugh’s reaction to Olivier’s news, the epilogue sets up a new conflict that will have an impact upon the new Centennial community for at least two decades.