“SAFE HOUSE” (2012) Review

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“SAFE HOUSE” (2012) Review

One of the first hits of the year 2012 turned out to be a neat little political thriller called “SAFE HOUSE” that was directed by Daniel Espinosa. 

Penned by David Guggenheim, “SAFE HOUSE” is about a young and ambitious C.I.A. agent named Matt Weston, whose present assignment is the “housekeeper” of an Agency safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. When ex-C.I.A. agent-turned-international criminal Tobin Frost turns himself in to a nearby U.S. consulate, Weston is informed by his superiors at Langley that Tobin will be brought to the safe house by an Agency torturer named Daniel Kiefer and his men. Weston watches the torture, until the process is interrupted by mercenaries led by a man named Vargas. He has been after Frost for some information that the latter acquired from an MI-6. Kiefer and the other C.I.A. agents are killed by Vargas and his men. And Weston escapes the safe house with Frost as his captive.

As I had stated earlier, “SAFE HOUSE” is a neat little political thriller filled with exciting chase sequences and nail-biting fight scenes. All of this was filmed in and around Cape Town, Africa; which struck me as a refreshingly original setting for a spy thriller. More importantly, screenwriter Guggenheim allowed all of the action to revolve around the computer file that the Tobin Frost character had acquired. The file contained information on the illegal activities of various intelligence officials throughout the world – including those from the C.I.A. The Vargas character had been recruited to get his hands on the file and kill Frost in the process. Due to this subplot, Guggenheim managed to introduce the element of a “mole” within the C.I.A. And the mole in question might either be Weston’s mentor, David Barlow, or the latter’s colleague, Catherine Linklater.

I cannot deny that “SAFE HOUSE” is an entertaining thriller and I could easily see why it did so well at the box office. It possessed a tight plot concerning betrayal. The movie also questioned Weston’s determination to maintain his C.I.A. career by allowing Frost to recount his own intelligence career and the circumstances that led him to turn rogue. However . . . it was not a perfect movie. It has its share of flaws that will never allow it to be considered one of the best spy thrillers to come out of Hollywood.

I have complained in past reviews about the new style of cinematography and editing that has prevailed in action-adventures since the BOURNE movies directed by Paul Greengrass. Yep . . . the same type of cinematography, direction and pacing is also prevalent in “SAFE HOUSE”, thanks to director Daniel Espinoza, cinematographer Oliver Wood and editor Rick Pearson. Oh well. I suppose one has to endure some unpleasant aspects for the sake of a decent story. Speaking of the story . . . well, how can I say this? I enjoyed it. But I must admit that I found it rather predictable. It did not take me very long to figure out the “mole” who had sent Vargas to kill Frost. And I managed to figure out Weston and Frost’s fates at least a half hour before the movie ended.

Thankfully, “SAFE HOUSE” provided plenty of first-rate performances that allowed me to . . . somewhat overlook the movie’s flaws. Some of my favorite Denzel Washington roles have always been those that reeked of moral ambiguity. And Tobin Frost proved to be one of his most ambiguous roles to date. I must admit that I was a bit surprised by his character’s goal by the film’s last twenty minutes. I had assumed that his position as a rogue agent was a means to bring justice to the “mole” within the C.I.A. or in protest of some operation that threatened innocents. I was wrong. His actions had been purely motivated by greed. Yet, I could not help cheering him on, as he managed to evade his pursuers throughout the movie. Ryan Reynolds portrayed a less ambiguous role – namely the inexperienced C.I.A. agent Matt Weston, who has ambitions to rise within the Agency. Reynolds is already in his mid-30s, yet he did a first-rate job in capturing the naivety and ambitions of someone who could be at least a decade younger. This allowed Reynolds convey Weston’s gradual maturity with great skill. By the end of the movie, his Weston almost seemed like a completely different from the young man at the beginning of the film.

“SAFE HOUSE” also boasted some solid performances from Sam Shephard, who portrayed the garrulous C.I.A. Director Harlan Whitford; Vera Farmiga as C.I.A. operative Catherine Linklater, who seems determined to believe that Weston is a fellow conspirator of Frost’s; Liam Cunningham as the MI-6 agent who provided Frost with the files; Rubén Blades as a former contact of Frost’s, whose help he seeks in a local Cape Town township; Robert Patrick, who gave his character – C.I.A. torturer Daniel Kiefer – a sharp air of professionalism; and Nora Arnezeder, as Whitford’s French girlfriend, who left confused by his sudden determination to distance himself from her. My favorite supporting performance came from Brendan Gleeson, whose portrayal of Weston’s mentor, David Barlow, seemed to rival Washington’s when in regard to moral ambiguity. Gleeson injected enough mystery into the character to make a viewer wonder if he is the mole or not. At the same, it is quite apparent that he cares about Weston’s career and safety.

“SAFE HOUSE” may not be the best spy thriller to come along in quite a while. I found the plot rather predictable and I was not that impressed by the Greengrass-style photography and editing. But I cannot deny that Daniel Espinoza directed an entertaining thriller, thanks to a solid script written by David Guggenheim and an excellent cast led by Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds.

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“LEAP YEAR” (2009/10) Review

“LEAP YEAR” (2009/10) Review

Every four years, the date February 29 appears, leading the West’s Georgian calendar to name the year it occurs as Leap Year. Although Leap Year occurred this year, Hollywood had decided to release a romantic comedy on the subject, some two years ago.

Directed by Anand Tucker, “LEAP YEAR” is a romantic comedy about a woman who learns from her father that Irish tradition holds that men cannot refuse a woman’s proposal for marriage on Leap Year. Upon learning this little Celtic tradition, an Irish-American woman named Anna Brady decides to head for Ireland, where her boyfriend is attending a medical conference, in order to force her boyfriend to accept her wedding proposal. Unfortunately, difficulties nearly disrupt Anna’s plans when a storm forces her plane to land in Wales. Determined to reach her boyfriend in Dublin by Leap Year, she risks a ferry over to Ireland and ends up at a small village on the Dingle Peninsula. There, she hires a surly Irish innkeeper, Declan O’Callaghan, to drive her across the country to Dublin in order to pull off the proposal in time. However, Anna begins to question her feelings about Jeremy, when she finds herself becoming attracted to Declan.

While watching “LEAP YEAR”, it occurred to me that it reminded me of a good number of other romantic road trip movies like the 1934 Oscar winning movie, “IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT” and 1985’s “THE SURE THING”. Unfortunately for “LEAP YEAR”, it was not as original . . . or fresh. Even worse, it is not the funniest or fascinating romantic comedy I have ever seen. Hmmm. I see that I have to be brutally honest. I might as well state that thanks to Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan’s script, “LEAP YEAR” struck me as a trite and barely funny movie. Perhaps I had exaggerated a bit. There was a good deal about Elfont and Kaplan’s script – along with Tucker’s direction – that prevented “LEAP YEAR” from being funny as it could have been. Fortunately, it possessed a few elements that prevented the movie from becoming a complete waste.

One aspect of “LEAP YEAR” that I truly enjoyed was the movie’s Ireland locations. Newton Thomas Sigel’s photography took advantage of the Emerald Isle’s magic. Even in a torrential rainstorm. Another aspect of the movie that made it more than bearable for me, were the interesting array of eccentric Irish characters that Anna and Declan encounter during their journey to Dublin. My favorite sequences featured the couple’s encounter with a group of luggage thieves; an overnight stay at a bed-and-breakfast, while waiting for a Dublin-bound train; and a wild wedding party, where Anna eventually makes a fool of herself.

But the main aspect of “LEAP YEAR” that made it more than bearable for me were the two leads – Amy Adams and Matthew Goode. The screenwriters created two characters that struck me as a little extreme. Anna Brady is such a straitlaced and humorless character that she almost seemed out of place in a romantic comedy. By some magic of the cinema, Amy Adams managed to transcend the heavy-handed character, giving her a vulnerability and touch of humor that made her likable. While watching this movie, it occurred to me that in the hands of a lesser actor, the Declan O’Callaghan character could have ended up as a bitter man, with a heavy-handed sense of humor. But Matthew Goode’s performance did something to the role. I believe the actor may have injected the character with some whimsical humor and romance that made it easier for me to accept the idea of Anna’s view of Declan changing from dislike to love.

Although “LEAP YEAR” managed to earn as twice as its budget, it really did not earn very much at the box office. In some ways, I could see why. Anand Tucker’s direction, along with a script written by Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan failed to do this movie any real justice. There is no way I would spend money to see this film at my local movie theater. However, I cannot complete dismiss “LEAP YEAR”. Thanks to Newton Thomas Sigel’s photography, an entertaining array of Irish supporting characters and especially the performances of Amy Adams and Matthew Goode, I ended up enjoying the movie . . . despite itself.

“THIS MEANS WAR” (2012) Review

“THIS MEANS WAR” (2012) Review

The story idea of two male friends battling for the affections of one woman has not been new to Hollywood. One of the earliest examples of this kind of plot proved to Ernst Lubitsch’s 1933 adaptation of Noel Coward’s play. The latest film to play out this scenario was McG’s movie, “THIS MEANS WAR”.

Written by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg, “THIS MEANS WAR” began two C.I.A. agents and best friends FDR Foster and Tuck Henson being deployed to Hong Kong to prevent international criminals/brothers Heinrich and Jonas from acquiring a weapon of mass destruction. Unfortunately, the assignment goes awry, resulting in the death of Jonas and Heinrich swearing revenge against FDR and Tuck. For the two agents’ protection, their boss, Collins, assigns them to desk duty upon returning to the U.S.

While both are busy investigating the whereabouts of Heinrich, the divorced Tuck decides to find a new girlfriend via online dating. He eventually meets a product testing executive named Lauren Scott and falls for her. Not long after the two first met, womanizer FDR meets Lauren at a video store and unsuccessfully hits on her. But when FDR helps her fool an ex-boyfriend into believing she had a boyfriend, the pair eventually become attracted to one another. Lauren feels guilty about dating two men, but her girlfriend Trish convinces her to give it a try to see whom she likes best. Meanwhile, FDR and Tuck discover they are both dating Lauren and eventually begin to compete for her hand. While the two agents continue to compete for Lauren’s love, Heinrich sets about investigating their whereabouts in order to seek revenge.

Although “THIS MEANS WAR” was not a big box office hit, it did manage to earn over twice its budget, which made it a minimal success. I really did not expect much from the film, but I must admit that the movie’s plot did intrigue me. How did I feel about it? In some ways, “THIS MEANS WAR” reminds me of the 2005 action comedy, “MR. AND MRS. SMITH”. In other words, the movie’s romance and comedy overshadowed its plot line. And if I must be honest, this did not bother me one bit. The movie’s action did not attract my attention in the first place.

However, at least the action in “MR. AND MRS. SMITH” struck me as more substantial and played a major role in the romance and comedy between the two major characters. I cannot say the same for “THIS MEANS WAR”. The movie’s action nearly struck me as irrelevant and the characters of FDR and Tuck could have easily had other professions. And I do have one complaint about the movie’s love triangle. A part of me wished that it could have ended on the same note as “DESIGN FOR LIVING”. Instead, it ended with Lauren choosing one man over the other. And I found this resolution lacking a little bite or originality.

Aside from Lauren eventually choosing one man over the other, I cannot deny that I found the movie’s romantic plot very satisfying. More importantly, it was surprisingly funny. “THIS MEANS WAR” could boast some hilarious scenes and dialogue that had me shaking with laughter. Among my favorite moments include Lauren and Tuck’s afternoon at a paintball field, and FDR’s efforts to impress Lauren at a dog pound. Thanks to Dowling and Kinberg’s script and McG’s direction, the movie featured some hilarious conversations in the movie. My favorite scene included a conversation between Lauren and Trish overheard by the two men, in which she compared both their virtues and shortcomings. But even the movie’s final action scene included a hilarious moment that featured Trish during a high speed chase.

“THIS MEANS WAR” had a solid cast that included pleasant performances from Rosemary Harris, who portrayed FDR’s grandmother; Warren Christie as Lauren’s too perfect boyfriend; John Paul Rittan as Tuck’s son Joe; and Abigail Spencer as his ex-wife, Katie. Both Angela Bassett and Til Schweiger were appropriately intimidating as FDR and Tuck’s C.I.A. supervisor, and master criminal Heinrich. However, there were moments when I found Bassett’s performance to be a little over-the-top and Schweiger seemed a bit wasted in his all too brief appearances. The one supporting performance that really impressed me came from comedienne Chelsea Handler. One could accuse Handler of taking her stand-up routine and utilizing it in her role as Lauren’s best friend, Trish. Fortunately, Handler proved to be a first-rate comic actress who also handled her more poignant moments featuring the character’s marriage very well.

But the three performances that made this movie truly enjoyable came from Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy. I was surprised by the high level of chemistry between the three performers. Not only did Witherspoon possessed great chemistry with the two actors individually, but both Pine and Hardy managed to create a first-rate “bromance” between them. It seemed a shame that Witherspoon’s character ended up choosing one over the other. Also, Witherspoon was charming and witty as the beleaguered Lauren. Pine made a first-rate ladies’ man and still managed to convey his character’s feelings for the leading lady as very believable. And Hardy expertly walked a fine line as an introverted romantic and aggressive intelligence agent.

“THIS MEANS WAR” was not perfect. The action subplot was not as strong as I thought it could be. Which lead me to believe that the professions of the two male protagonists could have easily been something other than C.I.A. agents. But I cannot deny that McG directed a very funny movie, which was blessed with three talented performers in the lead. To my surprise, I ended up enjoying “THIS MEANS WAR” very much.

“Whatever You Desire” [R] – 4/5

“WHATEVER YOU DESIRE”

PART 4

(NOTE: This chapter is rated R and features sexual situations. Which is why it took me so damn long.)

Steam rose above the sherry brown liquid inside the punchbowl. Paige stared at it. “What is this?” she asked, wrinkling her nose.

“Glogg,” Nathalie answered. “It’s a Scandinavian punch. Very delicious. It’s usually served around the Winter holidays. However, I don’t think you should drink any of it. There’s whiskey in it. And I had added a touch of Valerian in it to put everyone to sleep. At least for an hour or two. And I had also added some cloves and Cedar Wood to help cleanse out the potion.” She filled four plastic cups with Glogg. “Okay, there’s a cup for each of our prisoners, upstairs. And I’ll deliver the rest of the punch to the other guests.”

Both Paige and Cole grabbed two cups each, and disappeared from the kitchen. They reappeared in the middle of the second-floor corridor. “Okay,” Cole said, “how do you want to handle this?”

“I’ll give Phoebe and Paul their punch,” Paige replied. “And you can provide the same service for the McNeills.”

Anxiety flared in Cole’s blue eyes. “Uh . . . maybe you should deal with Olivia.”

A knowing smile curved Paige’s mouth. “Why?” she asked in an innocent voice. She stared at the half-daemon.

“Because . . .” Much to Paige’s delight, Cole squirmed with discomfort. Then, “Never mind. I’ll deal with her, myself.” Paige allowed herself a smile. Which disappeared after Cole’s next words. “Oh, by the way, I noticed that you left me to deal with a certain young Harrison McNeill.” Paige glanced up and saw the cryptic smile on Cole’s lips.

She frowned. “And what’s that supposed to mean? Are you saying that I’m trying to avoid Harry? Because I’m not.” Cole’s smile remained fixed. Paige added, “And did you just call him Harrison?”

“Yes. Harrison. Like in Harrison Ford,” Cole said. “And I never said anything about you avoiding him. You did.” He opened one of the doors and peaked inside. “Speak of the devil, he’s in here. Are you sure you don’t want to deliver his punch?” Paige glared at him. Cole’s smile widened. “I guess the answer is no.” He entered the room.

Paige walked over to the next room. She peeked inside and found Paul Margolin pacing back and forth. She entered and greeted the Assistant District Attorney with a cheerful, “Hey! How are you doing?”

Paul faced her, his expression marred by a scowl. “What the hell am I doing here?” he demanded angrily. “And why can’t I get out?”

After a brief hesitation, Paige answered, “Uh . . . I think Cole may have cast some kind of spell to keep you from leaving. Sorry about that. Here.” She handed Paul one of the cups of punch.

He glanced down at it. “What’s this?”

“Glogg. Nathalie made some more punch. Only it’s a hot punch. Some kind of Scandinavian drink. It’s very good.”

The male witch glanced at the punch for a second time and dismissed it. “I’m not thirsty. What I am is pissed off for being stuck in here. And finding out what Belthazor is up to.”

“Paul, he’s not up to anything,” Paige assured him. “And his name is also Cole. As for the punch,” she held out the cup, once more, “try it. Before it gets cold.”

Paul ignored the offer. “You know, when Leo first told me about the job opening at the DA’s Office, I had wondered why he seemed so eager for me to move to the West Coast. Now, I know why.”

Paige frowned at Paul’s words. “Did you just say . . .? Leo had told you about the job opening?”

“Well, yeah,” Paul continued. “I didn’t understand it myself, until I met Olivia. And Belthazor. I’m beginning to see that Leo needed me . . . to save Olivia from ‘him’.”

For a second, Paige wondered if the ADA had lost his mind. “Wait a minute,” she demanded, “are you saying that Leo wanted you out here . . . to save Olivia from Cole?”

“Of course!” Paul retorted. “Don’t you see?” He resumed his pacing. “Or understand? Olivia . . . she . . . God! I don’t know how to begin to describe her. On the surface, she seems completely wrong for me. She’s too independent. She doesn’t respect the relationship between a whitelighter and a witch. She breaks the rules, all of the time. She’s sarcastic and perverse. And worst of all, she’s just a little too tolerant of the wrong kind of people. People – if you can put him in this category – like Belthazor. And yet,” Paul’s expression softened, “I love her so much. God help me, but I do. There’s no one like her.”

Paige stared uneasily at the other witch. “Yeah. Well, you’ve described Olivia to a T. Um, you still want some punch?”

Paul’s next outburst nearly caused Paige to jump out of her skin. “I have to save her! I have to save Olivia. If Belthazor ever get the best of her . . .” He shook his head in despair. “It’ll just be a repeat of what you and your sisters went through.”

The mention of Cole and Phoebe’s relationship sparked a brief flare of anger within Paige. Along with a touch of guilt over her own contributions to the couple’s breakup. Paige took a deep breath and reminded herself on why she was here. Sporting a false smile, she held out the cup of punch, once more. “Well, while you’re thinking of ways to save Olivia, why don’t you have a drink?”

To Paige’s relief, Paul took the cup.

* * * *

As Cole entered the bedroom, he found Harry sitting in a nearby chair, staring out of the window. The redhead glanced at the half-daemon, at the sound of the door closing. He stood up. “Finally! Someone! Why in the hell can’t I get out of here?”

“After I had sent you here, I cast a spell to keep you inside and give you a chance to cool off. By the way,” Cole held out the one cup of punch, “Nathalie made some more punch. Something called Glogg. Want to try it?”

Harry seemed more interested in a certain witch than punch. “Where’s Paige?” he demanded. “Why didn’t she come to see me?”

A sigh left Cole’s mouth. “She’s . . . uh, she’s somewhere else. Look, why don’t you try the punch?”

“Somewhere else?” Harry frowned. “She’s with someone, isn’t she? Who?”

“Harry . . .”

The youngest McNeill continued, “Oh God! I know! Paige doesn’t want to see me, does she? I bet I came on too strong.”

Cole stared at the witch. He noticed the lipstick smear on the younger man’s mouth. Lipstick that happened to be Paige’s particular shade of red. “God, you two really did kiss, didn’t you? Or did you force . . .?”

“No! Nothing like that!” Harry protested. “It was nothing. Just a little kiss between the two of us.” His face almost matched the coloring of his hair.

An amused smile quirked Cole’s lips. “Well. That must have been some little kiss,” he murmured. “I didn’t realize that you were interested in Paige.”

Looking outraged, Harry retorted, “Who said I was interested?” A pause followed before he continued, “Okay, so I am interested in her. But I don’t have a chance, now that she’s dating that Sonny Crockett look-a-like. What’s his name? Ned.”

“Nate,” Cole corrected, still feeling amused.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Whatever. What does she see in this guy, in first place? Do you think this thing with Crockett Junior will last?”

“Why don’t we cross our fingers and hope for the best? Meanwhile,” Cole handed the cup of Glogg to Harry, “why don’t you try this punch?”

Heaving a disappointed sigh, Harry took the cup and lifted it in the air. “Thanks. Here’s hoping that Paige and Ned . . .”

“Nate.”

“Yeah. Nate. Here’s hoping that it won’t last.” Then to Cole’s relief, Harry took a swig of Glogg.

* * * *

A disconcerted grumble reached Paige’s ears, as she entered the second bedroom. “Well, it’s about time!” Phoebe cried. “Where have you been?”

Paige glanced around the room. Judging by its size and furnishing, she suspected that it belonged to the mistress of the house. She smiled at her older sister. “Hey Pheebs! How is it going?”

“Why can’t I get out of here?” Good old Pheebs. Always to the point.

“I don’t know,” Paige replied. “I think that Cole must have added some barrier spell or shield to keep you from leaving. I mean, you guys were acting pretty weird.”

Outrage poured out of Phoebe’s mouth, as she denied any kind of strange behavior on her part. “It’s not my fault! Olivia was the one acting like a bitch! You should have seen the way she had tore into that Winifred woman. And me!”

“Uh, Pheebs? May I remind you that you tried to punch Olivia? You’re lucky that all she did was toss you on the floor.”

Phoebe huffily retorted, “I was holding back!”

“Yeah. Sure Phoebe.” Paige held back a sigh. Poor Phoebe. Delusional, as always. “Anyway, here. Try this.” She held out the cup of punch.

Phoebe demanded, “What’s that?”

“Glogg.” Paige explained that after Nathalie had ran out of cordial for her Raspberry Sunset, she decided to make something different. “It’s one of those Scandinavian hot punches. Although I think your cup is only warm by now. Try it.”

Phoebe took the cup and murmured, “Thanks.” She took a sip. “Hmmm, not bad.”

“Really?” The moment she uttered the word, Paige realized that she had made a mistake. The older stared at her with suspicious eyes. Paige quickly added, “I didn’t get to try it. Whiskey. But Paul thought it was great.”

Nodding, Phoebe took another sip. “Speaking of Paul, is he in another room?”

Paige cheerfully replied, “How did you know?” Phoebe gave her another sharp glance. The younger sister added, “He was acting a little hostile toward Cole. And I think he was getting on Olivia’s nerves.”

“She really doesn’t appreciate him,” Phoebe commented. “I think he’s too good for her.” She sipped once more.

“Who? Paul?”

Phoebe nodded. “Yeah. Did you see how she treated him? Like annoying pest. He’s ten times the witch she is. And he’s a hell of a better prospect than someone like Cole.”

“Then why don’t you date him?” The sarcastic remark came out of Paige’s mouth before she could stop herself.

“What?”

Paige quickly added, “I’m just saying that I think Olivia is better off without the noble ADA. The guy’s weird, Phoebe.”

“Are you saying that Olivia should be with Cole?” an incredulous Phoebe demanded. “Have you forgotten what I had to go through, because of him? What we all had to go through?”

Paige sighed. Heavily. “God, Phoebe! Do we have to go through this, again?”

“Cole is dangerous, Paige! Look at the mess he had caused, downstairs.”

Rolling her eyes, Paige replied, “Cole didn’t cause that mess, Pheebs! It was that Winifred Whatshername. She tried to hit on Cole. She even tried with Paul. And it was Olivia who came down on her in a jealous fit. And don’t forget that not only did you try to interfere; you even tried to get Cole to admit that he still loves you. And what’s up with that?”

“Well, it’s the truth!” Phoebe angrily insisted. “Cole still loves me! In a sick, twisted way, of course. He’s only hanging around Olivia to make me jealous.”

Paige regarded her sister with sad eyes. “Oh Phoebe.”

“What? Why are you looking at me, like that?” Anxiety filled Phoebe’s dark eyes. “Are you saying that I still love Cole?” She finished the rest of her Glogg.

Reluctantly, Paige opened her mouth. “Well . . .”

“Well, forget it!” Phoebe retorted. Then she paused, as guilt crept into her expression. “All right. Maybe I am. But there can never be anything between us. Don’t you understand, Paige? Cole is dangerous for me. He’s too dangerous for Olivia. And you.”

What the hell? Paige stared at her sister, as if the latter had lost her mind. “What are you talking about, Phoebe? I’m not in love with Cole!”

“But you’re his friend.” Phoebe approached the younger woman with concerned eyes. “Paige, try to understand. Cole is not a safe person to be around. Maybe you should . . . you . . .” She began to weave back and forth. Then she gave Paige another suspicious stare. “What . . . what was in . . . this punch?” The empty cup slipped out of her hand, before she fell forward – onto the bed.

Paige sighed and picked up the cup. She stared at the sprawled figure on the bed. Poor Phoebe, she thought. Mixed up and unhappy, as always. It did not surprise Paige that her sister remained in love with Cole. But she wondered if by rejecting him, Phoebe had made a colossal mistake. Paige also wondered if Olivia was doomed to follow in her sister’s footsteps.

* * * *

Cole allowed himself one last glance at the slumbering Harry, before he closed the bedroom door behind him. He found Paige leaving another room. “So, how is our favorite ADA?” he asked the half-witch/whitelighter.

“Fast asleep,” Paige answered. “And so is Phoebe.”

“Phoebe?” Cole frowned. “You were coming from her room?”

Paige nodded. “Well, yeah. You’re finished with both Harry and Olivia, right?”

Cole explained that he had only seen Harry. It had taken quite a while for the portion to affect the youngest McNeill. As Paige started toward the staircase, Cole added, “Where are you going?”

“Hel-lo? Back downstairs?” the Charmed One replied. “To help Nathalie with the others guests. Why?”

After a brief hesitation, Cole continued, “Well, I . . . I was wondering if you could . . .” He noticed the amused glimmer in Paige’s dark eyes and realized that she knew . . . that he wanted her to give the last cup of punch to Olivia.

A smile now tugged Paige’s lips. “If I could do what?” she asked.

Cole took in the smirk and Paige’s amused expression. He heaved a sigh. “Nothing. Never mind. I’ll . . . see you later.” Paige turned away and resumed her walk toward the staircase. Another sigh left Cole’s mouth. He squared his shoulders and entered the remaining bedroom.

The moment he entered, Olivia bounced from the large bed and rushed toward the half-daemon. “Cole!” he cried. Relief throbbed in her voice. “Thank goodness you’re here! I can’t seem to leave this room!” She threw herself into his arms.

Gently, Cole kept Olivia at arms’ length. “I had cast a barrier spell to keep you guys inside. You were . . . acting pretty strange.”

“What do you mean we were acting strange?” a frowning Olivia asked. “How?”

Cole opened his mouth to speak, but he found himself unable to bring up her fight with Phoebe. Or the confession that had taken everyone by surprise – especially him. He shook his head. “It’s nothing. You and Phoebe were about to get into it.”

“You mean that I was about to kick her ass.” A bright smile lit up her beautiful face. “Right?” She moved closer to Cole. “But let’s not talk about Phoebe. I’d rather talk about us.” Olivia now stood less than an inch away from Cole.

Desperate to ignore the warmth radiating from the redhead’s body – and his own growing desire – Cole held out the last cup of punch. “Before we do, how about a nice cup of Glogg? Nathalie had decided to make something new.”

Olivia touched the side of the cup. “Isn’t this supposed to be a hot drink?”

“Wait a minute.” Cole waved one hand over the drink. A stream of fire briefly touched the surface. When he finally handed the cup to Olivia, steam rose from it. “Here you go.”

“Where’s your cup?” Olivia asked.

Cole’s eyes widened in surprise. “Huh?” He glanced down at his hands. “Oh. Uh, just a minute.” A second later, he held another plastic cup. Only it was not filled with Glogg. Cole raised the cup to his lips. “Well, cheers.” He quickly drained the Seven-Up, inside.

Olivia blinked. “Wow! You really must be thirsty. Oh well.” She took a drink of her Glogg. “Hmmm,” she said between sips, “not bad. And I even like the bits of almond.” Then she drank the rest of her punch and placed the empty cup on the small table, next to the bed.

Cole observed her closely. “How do you feel?” he asked.

A sultry smile curved Olivia’s lips. She closed the space between them and slipped her arms around Cole’s neck. “Ask me in another half-hour from now.”

“Uh . . . Olivia, what are you . . .?”

“Doing?” she finished. The redhead planted a light kiss on Cole’s nose. “What do you think?”

Cole felt himself grow tight, between his legs. He gulped. “Olivia, I don’t think this is a good ide . . .” Slim fingers began to unfasten his shirt buttons. After she had unfastened three, Olivia leaned forward and lightly kissed the patch of flesh, just below his throat. Cole felt himself grow even tighter. “Olivia . . .”

“Shhhh. Relax,” she murmured. “What do you think I’m going to do? Hurt you?” She kissed him again.

“Olivia . . .” Cole paused, as Olivia’s mouth captured his lower lip and tugged. “Olivia, this is not a good idea. Not now.”

She slowly forced Cole to step back, until he found himself falling on the bed. He let out a grunt, as Olivia’s body landed upon his. “What’s not a good idea?” she murmured. “This?” After unfastening more of his buttons, she pushed back his shirt, exposing his chest. Then she flicked her tongue across the tip of one of Cole’s nipple. He shivered.

“Oh God!” he moaned.

Her mouth hovering over his nipple, Olivia murmured, “Hmmmm, you don’t say.” Then she covered said appendage with her lips and tugged and suckled it, simultaneously. Her ministrations drove the heat of Cole’s desire several degrees higher. Olivia’s lips then traveled down the center of his chest, until they reached the edge of his waistline. Just as she began to unfasten his belt, all reason left Cole, as he grabbed her waist and flipped her onto her back.

“Well, this is unexpected,” Olivia said in a surprised tone.

Cole murmured, “Shut up.” Then he stared briefly into green eyes that matched the desire he felt, before lowering his mouth upon hers. Cole kissed her with as much passion, as he could possible mustered. And judging from Olivia’s response, it seemed to be a lot. Her mouth parted slightly and he slid his tongue inside, allowing it to touch hers. While they explored each other’s mouth, Cole slowly unbuttoned Olivia’s blouse. She moaned slightly, as his hand gently cupped a lace-covered breast. Cole’s lips disengaged from Olivia’s momentarily. He glanced at her lacy bra and noticed something different. “Oh, a clasp in the front.” Breathing heavily, he released the clasp and pushed back the bra, revealing a pair of fleshy globes that quivered before his eyes.

While he marveled at Olivia’s breasts, he noted that they were perfectly shaped. Not to big and not too small. A perfect size 38. “What are you staring at?” she growled seductively. “Come here.” Olivia grabbed the back of Cole’s head and guided him toward her lips for a deep and passionate kiss. Then Cole removed his lips from hers, stared deeply into her glittering eyes, and took one protruding, coral-colored nipple into his mouth and gently began to suckle. Olivia arched her back and moaned out loud. As he continued to form wet circles around the tips of Olivia’s breasts, one of her hands strayed back to his belt and began to unfasten it. Then she unzipped his pants and slipped the said hand inside. Cole’s body nearly bucked upward, as he felt her fingers wrap around his member. She gently squeezed him several times, and Cole felt his body growing hotter and hotter. Then he decided that two could play at this game. He slipped his own hand underneath Olivia’s skirt. She moaned again, while he caressed a smooth thigh. Reveling in the warm flesh, Cole allowed his hand to slide upward, until he reached Olivia’s panties. He slid his hand inside the garment that was now damp and Olivia’s moans grew louder. Just as he was about to slip two fingers inside her, Cole’s eyes fell upon the empty plastic cup on the night table. And remembered why he was here.

Cole took a deep breath – barely impossible, with her hand still around his member, and removed his own hand from between her legs. “Olivia,” he murmured in a low, harsh voice. He removed Olivia’s hand from inside his trousers. “We have to . . . stop.”

“Wha . . .?” Confusion and disappointment whirled in Olivia’s green eyes. “Why did you stop?” she demanded breathlessly.

Staring into those eyes, Cole found himself unable to speak. When he finally regained his voice, he said, “Look . . . I . . . don’t think . . .” A sigh left his mouth and he tore his gaze away from Olivia.

“Cole? Is there something wrong?” Olivia clutched at his arm. “You’re not going to walk away from me again, are you?”

Memories of that New Year kiss flashed in Cole’s mind. He did not want a repeat of that little debacle – the kiss, his flight and Olivia’s anger, which had lasted for nearly three weeks. But that cup on the night table reminded him that Olivia was under the influence of Nathalie’s potion and not in her right mind. He almost came close to taking advantage of her. And it was the last thing he wanted to do.

Taking another breath, Cole reached down to push Olivia’s red curls away from her forehead. “Look, Olivia. I want to be with you. More than you can possibly know. It’s just . . . well, now is simply not the right time.”

“Why the hell not?” Olivia demanded.

“Olivia . . .”

Before Cole could say another word, Olivia captured his mouth with her own. Lips and tongues soon danced together, to form another passionate kiss. As his reluctance dissipated, Cole again allowed one of his hands to slide up Olivia’s thigh. Before he could do anything further, he felt her body relax. Olivia flopped back on the bed and drifted into a deep sleep.

Cole removed his hand from her thigh. He slowly scrambled off the bed and began to fasten his shirt buttons. His eyes took note of Olivia’s face and her half-naked state. With a wave of his hand, she was fully clothed again. Then he heaved a regretful sigh and left the room.

END OF PART 4

“THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” (2007) Review

“THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” (2007) Review

“THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” marked the adaptation of author Robert Ludlum’s last novel about the amnesiac CIA agent/assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). Considering that the first two movies – “THE BOURNE IDENTITY” (2002) and “THE BOURNE SUPREMACY” (2004) – barely resembled the novels from which they were adapted. one can honestly say the same about “ULTIMATUM”. Most diehard fans of the novels would obviously be upset over these loose adaptations. But since I am not a big fan, it did not really bother me. But this last movie did continue the saga that began in the first movie. And in a surprising way.

Before I saw the movie, I had heard rumors that production on it began at least six months after the events of “SUPREMACY”. The rumor turned out to be slightly false. The majority of the movie was set six weeks after the 2004 film.  The first scene, which began in Moscow, occurred after Bourne had killed Marie Kreutz’s murderer Krill during a high speed chase and apologized to Irena Neski for murdering her parents. Then the story jumped another six weeks. But screenwriters Tony Gilroy and Scott Z. Burns managed to plant a surprise within three-quarters into the film that has strong connections to“SUPREMACY”‘s final scene in New York City.

As for the rest of the movie, it turned out to be high-octane action thriller and mystery. Upon his arrival in Paris by train, Bourne reads an article that revealed his past – including his relationship with Marie – and his connections to Treadstone. The article also exposured a new CIA assassination program called “Blackbriar”. Realizing that the reporter Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) of THE GUARDIAN might have a source within the C.I.A., Bourne heads for London and attempts to help the reporter evade capture and possible death at the hands of a Blackbriar assassin named Paz (Edgar Ramirez). Bourne fails to save Ross and he spends the rest of the film tracking down the journalist’s source – a CIA section chief named Neal Daniels (Colin Stinton). He also has to deal with a paronoid C.I.A. Deputy Director official named Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), who wants Daniels dead for treason. Vosen also wants Bourne dead, because of the latter’s suppresssed knowledge of the Treadstone program and the Blackbriar programs. Along the way, Bourne acquires the help of former Treadstone handler, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) and C.I.A. Deputy Director, Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), who finds herself working with Vosen to track him down.

There were three sequences that I found well-written and very exciting:

*Bourne’s attempts to keep Ross alive in London.

*Bourne and Nicky’s adventures in Tangiers, while dealing with Blackbriar assasin Desh (Joey Ansah).

*Bourne’s memories of his true self’s [David Webb] decision to become a Treadstone assassin.

I found a good deal of Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi’s screenplay rather excellent. And I have to take my hat off to the writers for creating an exciting script. But . . . I have to point out a few flaws. One – what happened to C.I.A. Director Marshall (Tomas Arana) from the previous film? According to the 2007 movie, C.I.A. Director Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn) had approved of the new Blackbriar program. But the Blackbriar program was first introduced by Ward Abbott (Brian Cox) in the first film. Only Marshall could have approved to jump start the program, not Kramer. Two, Nicky Parsons had claimed that she and Bourne had shared a past . . . in Paris. I found this claim rather startling, considering that the previous movies had never hinted of any romance between the two. The only past that Nicky and Bourne could have shared was one between handler and assassin in Paris, along with his interrogation of her in Berlin.  The action in the movie’s first 45 minutes occurred a little too fast for my tastes and with very little breaks. I think Greengrass and Gilroy seemed bent upon speeding up the movie’s pacing just a little too unnecessarily. And three, the final scene featured fugitive Nicky Parsons learning about the exposure of the Blackbriar and Treadstone assassin programs on the news . . . and the arrests of Vosen, Kramer and psychologist Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney). Frankly, I found this conclusion unrealistic. Yes, one can consider it a crowd pleaser, but there is no way on earth the C.I.A. would allow its dirty secrets (at least recent ones) to be aired on any national news program. And I doubt that Landy would have sent Vosen’s secret files to the media – not if she wants to maintain her career at the agency. Chances are the C.I.A. would have suppressed news of the black-ops programs and killed Vosen, Hirsch and Kramer discreetly.

As for the acting – well it was top notch as usual. In what turned out to be his last “BOURNE” film (so far), Damon made the Jason Bourne [David Webb] role as his own. Julia Stiles continued to prove, as she had done in “SUPREMACY” that she and Damon have great screen chemistry . . . despite the discomfort and awkwardness between the two characters. This awkwardness came about Bourne’s revelation of his distaste of his role as an assassin and a scene in which Nicky changed her appearance, dredging up memories of Marie doing the same in the first film. Joan Allen’s portrayal of Pamela Landy was marvelous as usual. In fact, I believe that her performance in this movie was a minor improvement over the second film. Edgar Ramirez gave an intriguing performance as Blackbriar assassin Paz. Paddy Considine was effectively paranoid as the doomed reporter Simon Ross. And both David Strathairn and Albert Finney proved to be remarkably creepy and unpleasant. Although I believe that Strathairn was as good as Brian Cox, I found him to be an improvement over the slightly over-the-top Chris Cooper (as Alexander Conklin).  Somewhat.  He had his moments of being overly dramatic.

Paul Greengrass’ direction seemed top notch. But I have one major complaint. I had barely tolerated Greengrass’ handheld photography in “SUPREMACY”. In “ULTIMATUM”, my toleration nearly went down with the Titanic. I almost had a headache dealing with the shaky camera work. My other complaint deals with this movie’s rendition of Moby’s song, “Extreme Ways”. Quite frankly, I hated it. I hated Moby’s new updated version of it and wish that the producers had stuck with the old one.

Despite some of these changes, the hand held photography and what I believe were flaws in the script, “ULTIMATUM” proved to be just as exciting as the first two movies. And together, Damon, Greengrass, Kilroy, along with Doug Liman and Universal Pictures created a first-rate movie trilogy and franchise.

“STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE” (1999) Review

 

“STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE” (1999) Review

Sixteen years after the 1983 movie, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI” hit the movie screens, producer-director George Lucas returned to the world of STAR WARS for a new trilogy that depicted the years before the 1977-1983 movies, starting with the 1999 film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”.

“THE PHANTOM MENACE” was received very poorly by critics and veteran STAR WARS fans when it was first released in 1999. Many believed that it failed to capture the spirit of Lucas’ saga first established in the first three films. Despite the negative opinions, the movie proved to be a blockbuster champion at the box office. But public opinion of the movie in the following thirteen years remained negative. In fact, public opinion has not been that kind to the two movies that followed. When Lucas announced his intentions to re-release “THE PHANTOM MENACE” in 3D, many either wondered why he would bother or accused the producer of trying to milk the STAR WARS cash cow even further. As for me, I received the news with mixed feelings. When the movie was first released in 1999, I must admit that I enjoyed it very much, even though I would never view it as one of my top favorite STAR WARS movies. On the other hand, I despise the 3D process. I despised the use of it in movies like 2009’s“AVATAR” and my feelings for it had not changed when I last saw it used for “THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER”. But my love for STAR WARS overcame my distaste for 3D and I went to see the movie.

Like other STAR WARS, this one began in a galaxy, far, far away . . . thirty-two years before the events of the 1977 movie. Instead of an empire, this story is set during the Old Republic in which knights and masters of the religious Jedi Order serve as “the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy” on behalf of the Republic Senate. A Jedi Master named Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice (or padawan) have been dispatched by the Senate’s Chancellor Finis Valorum to negotiate a peace between the planet Naboo and the Trade Federation, an organization who has decided to establish a blockade of battleships in response to a taxation on trade routes. The Federation has made this move on the “advice” of their partner, a Sith Lord (and enemy of the Jedi) named Darth Sidious. Unfortunately for Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, the Trade Federation attempt to kill them on the order of Darth Sidious. Both Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan escape from the Trade Federation battleship and make their way to Naboo’s surface, during the former’s invasion of the planet. The pair enlists the help of Jar-Jar Binks and his fellow Gungans (Naboo’s underwater inhabitants) to reach Queen Padme Amidala, the planet’s 14 year-old ruler. They save her and her entourage, before making their escape from Naboo. Due to a failing power converter, the entire party make an emergency landing on the remote Tatooine in order to find the parts to fix the ship. In one of Tatooine’s major cities, Mos Espa; Qui-Gon, Padme (who is disguised as a royal handmaiden), and Jar-Jar meet a young slave boy named Anakin Skywalker. It is not long before Qui-Gon Their meeting will prove to not only have major consequences on the outcome between Naboo and the Trade Federation, but also upon the galaxy.

My recent viewing of “THE PHANTOM MENACE” made me realize that after 13 years, I still love the movie. Nothing has changed my view of the movie, including the addition of the 3D effects. However, I cannot deny that “THE PHANTOM MENACE” is perfect. I have my complaints. My major complaint was Lucas’ addition of the 3D effects. They were not impressive. I had expected them to be, considering the outstanding 3D effects of the updated STAR WARS attractions at the Disney amusement parks. But the movie’s effects proved to be a poor comparison and a not-so-surprising disappointment. My second complaint centered around the use of Tatooine as a setting. In fact, the saga’s use of Tatooine has proven to be a major disappointment since the first movie, 1977’s “A NEW HOPE”. Aside from a few sequences, Tatooine proved to be a major bore. After Qui-Gon and Padme’s first meeting with Anakin, I had to struggle to stay awake before the podrace sequence. Lucas’ slow pacing and John Williams’ less-than-stellar score nearly put me to sleep. The only movie in which Tatooine proved to be interesting from start to finish was 2002’s“ATTACK OF THE CLONES”. I realize that many STAR WARS fans dislike the Gungans and specifically, one Jar-Jar Binks. There are times that I feel I could write a detailed essay on the fans’ dislike of Jar-Jar, but this is not the time or place for such an article. Although I harbor no dislike of Jar-Jar, there were a few times when I had some difficulty understanding his and the other Gungans’ dialogue.

It may not be perfect, but I cannot deny that I found “THE PHANTOM MENACE” enjoyable as ever. George Lucas wrote a complex, yet comprehensive tale that set in motion the downfall of the Galactic Republic, the Jedi Order and most of the major characters.“THE PHANTOM MENACE” offered a great deal for all ages and tastes. It provided a complex political tale that culminated in an exciting military battle that freed Naboo from the clutches of the Trade Federation. It provided an exciting duel between the two Jedi – Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan – and Sith Lord Darth Sidious’ apprentice, Darth Maul. The movie provided characters such as a nine year-old Anakin Skywalker, his Tatooine friends and Jar-Jar Binks for children. But the one thing that really impressed me was the exciting Boonta Eve Podrace that Anakin participated in order to win parts for Qui-Gon, Padme and their ship. In fact, if I had to choose my favorite sequence in the entire STAR WARS movie saga, it had to be the one featuring the podrace. This sequence began with the Skywalkers, Qui-Gon, Padme and Jar-Jar arriving at the Mos Espa arena and ended aboard the Nabooan starship when Qui-Gon introduced Anakin to Obi-Wan, following his brief duel with Darth Maul.

“THE PHANTOM MENACE” provided some solid acting, despite George Lucas’ cheesy dialogue. This is no surprise, considering that a combination of solid acting and cheesy dialogue has been the hallmark of STAR WARS movies since the first one in 1977. Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson, Ahmed Best, Hugh Quarshie, Terence Stamp, Andrew Secombe and Ray Parks all did solid work. It was nice to hear vocals from STAR WARS veterans Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker. The movie also featured brief moments for British stars such as Keira Knightley, Oliver Ford-Davies, Celia Imrie, Brian Blessed, and Richard Armitage. But there were a few performances that stood out. One came from Ian McDiarmid, who returned to portray Senator Palpatine of Naboo aka Darth Sidious for the second time in his career. Unlike his portrayal of Palpatine in 1983’s“RETURN OF THE JEDI”, his performance was a great deal more subtle and layered with much charm. Jake Lloyd may not have been the best child actor in existence, but I cannot deny that his Anakin Skywalker was like a ball of solar energy that charmed the pants off of me. The good-bye scene between Anakin and his mother, Shmi was one of the most poignant in the saga. Both Lloyd and Pernilla August did such a superb job that their performances brought tears to my eyes. And aside from a few wooden moments, I thought he handled the role rather well. But if I had to choose the best performance in the movie, I would select Liam Neeson as Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. First of all, he did a great job in conveying Qui-Gon’s warmth and appeal. He made it easy for many to see why both Anakin and Obi-Wan viewed him as a father figure.

Since this is a STAR WARS movie, one might as well discuss the technical aspects of “THE PHANTOM MENACE”. Without a doubt, it is a beautiful looking movie. It was so beautiful that I did not know who to single out. But I can think of a few. First of all cinematographer David Tattersall did a beautiful job in photographing the movie’s locations of England, Tunisia and especially Italy. Thanks to Ben Burtt and Paul Martin Smith’s editing, the podrace and the Battle of Naboo proved to be two of the best sequences in the movie. And what can I say about Trisha Biggar’s dazzling costume designs? Just how beautiful are they? Take a look:

 

It seems a crime that Biggar’s work was never acknowledged by the Academy Arts of Motion Pictures and Sciences or the Golden Globes. At least she won a Saturn Award for the costumes in this movie.

However, it was George Lucas who put it altogether in the end. Twenty-two years had passed between the time he directed “A NEW HOPE” and “THE PHANTOM MENACE”. Personally, I thought he did a pretty damn good job. The 1999 movie was not perfect. And if I must be perfectly frank, I was not impressed by the movie’s 3D effects. But I am glad that I went to see “THE PHANTOM MENACE” in the movie theaters again. It reminded me that the STAR WARS saga had not lost its magic on the big screen.