Notes and Observations on “STAR WARS: Episode IV – A New Hope”

The following is a list of minor notes and observations that came to me, during my recent viewing of “Episode IV: A New Hope”. I hope that you enjoy them: 

 

Notes and Observations on “STAR WARS: Episode IV – A New Hope”

*According to the movie’s opening scrawl, Leia possessed the Death Star plans that could “provide freedom to the galaxy”. Is that what happened at the end of the movie?

*Wow! R2-D2 really looks worn and old aboard the Organas’ ship, the Tantive IV. It is easy to imagine that he has been around for over three decades.

*Are the troops firing upon the stormtroopers, Alderaanian troops? If so, does that mean Leia had contradicted herself when she told Tarkin and Vader that Alderaan was a peaceful planet?

*When Vader made his entrance, the first thing that popped into my mind was Anakin leading the clone troopers to the Jedi Temple in ROTS.

*Father and daughter meet. At last.

*I hate to say this, but I have always found C3-P0 and R2’s adventures on Tatooine before meeting Luke to be slightly boring. Okay. I did find it boring.

*The technology inside the Jawa’s ship looked very outdated.

*It is interesting how Owen had to ask Threepio if he spoke Bocce for the moisture vaporators. Which tells me that he did not immediately know Threepio’s identity. But then, Threepio had not introduced himself.

*“But I was going into Toshi Station to pick up some power converters!” – Ah yes! The infamous Skywalker whining at work. I really don’t understand why many fans complained of Anakin’s whining in AOTC. Luke had to have inherited his whining from someone.

*C3-P0 finally introduces himself and R2-D2 when they are alone with Luke, inside the Lars’ garage.

*So, Threepio and Artoo were not personally in Leia’s service aboard the Tantive IV, as I had first imagined. I had forgotten that they had become the property of Captain Antilles.

*I did not realize that Luke knew where Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi lived.

*The moment Luke had mentioned R2 and 3P0 might belong to Obi-Wan, Owen ordered their memories to be wiped. Interesting.

*For some bizarre reason, I found myself seeing Padme comfort Luke and telling him not to grow up too fast.

*Artoo seemed to have set a lot in motion. Leia hid the Death Star plans in his system. Artoo was the one who set out to find Obi-Wan, bringing about the old Jedi Master and the future Jedi Master’s first meeting. And because Luke was forced to search for R2, he managed to avoid Owen and Beru’s fate.

*I also noticed that Vader did not bother to join the search for R2 and 3P0 on Tatooine.

*It is a good thing that those Tusken Raiders did not know that Luke was the son of the Jedi who had wiped out a tribe of their kind.

*Did Obi-Wan immediately recognize the two droids?

*”He was the best star-pilot in the galaxy, and a cunning warrior.” – It is nice to know that’s how Obi-Wan remembered Anakin. But then these next words, as he handed over Anakin s lightsaber to Luke rather spoiled the moment – “I have something here for you. Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn’t allow it.” – especially in light of how Obi-Wan really managed to acquire the lightsaber. Obi-Wan’s description of how Vader had “murdered” Anakin spoiled the moment even further.

*If the Emperor had dissolved the Imperial Senate as stated by Tarkin in the movie, then it is obvious that Lucas had abandoned the earlier idea of Palpatine being a pawn or puppet of other politicians, as indicated in the 1976 edition of The Journal of the Whills.

*”Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.” – Was this an example of Vader’s past Jedi training coming to the fore? Or was this an example of his Sith background? Or his 30 odd years as a Force user?

*Some people have stated that Luke’s upbringing had prepared him to face Owen and Beru’s deaths a lot better than Anakin had dealt with Shmi’s death. But considering Luke’s reaction to Obi-Wan’s death, along with Han and Leia’s endangerment in both ESB and ROTJ, I would say that Luke did not feel as emotionally close to the Lars as he did to the other three.

*”Mos Eisley Spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.” – Famous words to live by. I wonder if Obi-Wan had ever visited Mos Espa.

*I love how the special effects recently added to the film, has enhanced the details of Mos Eisley during Luke and Obi-Wan’s arrival.

*I was surprised to notice the small number of human customers and inhabitants inside the cantina in Mos Eisley.

*For one crazy moment, Sir Alec Guiness sounded like Ewan McGregor in the scene where Obi-Wan and Luke meet Han Solo for the first time.

*”That’s okay. I’m never coming back to this planet, again.” – Careful Luke. Never make promises that one cannot keep.

*Does anyone know the name of the creature that followed Luke and Obi-Wan to the Millennium Falcon’s hangar?

*I had no idea that Boba Fett had been working for Jabba the Hutt before the incidents of ESB.

*I don’t think that even the massacre at the Jedi Temple in ROTS could ever exceed the horror of Alderaan’s destruction. Tarkin made Vader look like an amateur.

*Did I detect a slight British accent coming out of Carrie Fisher’s mouth?

*While watching Obi-Wan begin Luke’s training in the Jedi skills, I realized that this is the first time I’ve seen a 19 year-old Jedi youngling.

*”That’s good. You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.” – A rather apt description of one’s introduction into the Force.

*”I sense something. A presence I have not felt since . . .” – I find it odd that Vader was able to immediately sense Obi-Wan, yet Obi-Wan did not sense Vader until the latter nearly found him?

*“Bring em’ on! I prefer a straight fight to all of this sneaking around!” – I found Han’s comment rather odd, considering that he was a smuggler.

*”Better her than me!” – I found Han’s refusal to save Leia rather cold, considering that she would end up being his future love.

*Leia was imprisoned in cell block 1138. Hmmm . . . do you suppose that Robert Duvall is with her?

*Han gave the worst impression of an Imperial trooper I have ever seen. Classic moment.

*”Hi! I’m Luke Skywalker. I’m here to rescue you.” – Brother and sister meet for the first time since their births.

*”Will someone please get this big, walking carpet out of my way?” – Ah! Leia is still Daddy’s girl.

*Watching Luke and Leia swing to safety reminded me of Anakin and Padme’s failure to do the same in AOTC.

*Anakin (Vader) vs. Obi-Wan: Part II – in retrospect, is not as exciting or thrilling as their first duel on Mustafar.

*Vader’s dialogue seemed rather wooden during his duel with Obi-Wan.

*”Not this ship, sister.”/”It is for me, sister.” – Without a doubt, these are the two worst lines ever uttered in a STAR WARS movie. And both lines had been spoken by Harrison Ford.

*For a guy that had been traumatized by Obi-Wan’s death, Luke seemed to have recovered from his grief rather fast. Even to the point that he ended up contemplating a romance with Leia before the Falcon could reach Yavin IV.

*Despite the Battle of Yavin sequence, the movie never recaptured or continued its drive, following the Falcon’s escape from the Death Star.

*Why did Han and Chewbacca attend the pilot’s briefing on their mission to destroy the Death Star? Especially since the two never had plans to hang around any longer or join the Rebel Alliance.

*Typical of Vader/Anakin in that he had decided to join the Imperial fighters in the battle, instead of remaining with the generals.

*What do you know? Uncle Dennis . . . oop! I mean, Wedge to the rescue!

*It seemed as if Lucas had incorporated nearly every World War II aviator cliché into the Battle of Yavin sequence.

*Someone in my family had pointed out that the Rebels never really had any kind of strategy to destroy the Death Star. Instead, the Alliance military leaders merely had an objective and a method to destroy the station.

*When Obi-Wan had urged Luke to use the Force, had he foreseen that Vader would sense it?

*When I first saw ANH, I had wondered why Vader did not die in the end. From a 29 year perspective, I know understand why.

*The medal ceremony featured a good number of pilots in the audience. So, where had they been during the Battle of Yavin?

*Someone had described the medal ceremony near the end of the film as a pyhrric victory for the Rebel Alliance. When one contemplates on what laid ahead for Luke, Leia, Han and the others . . . that person may have been right.

*I would describe ANH as the most fun of all the STAR WARS movies. A straight out adventure flick with heroes, villains, damsels and wizards. Which would explain why many fans consider it to be the best of the saga. However . . . as much fun ANH was, it harbored very few meaningful metaphors and complexities in compare to the five other films that followed. It’s a lot of fun, but somewhat a little shallow to me.

“THE FAMILY” (2013) Review

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“THE FAMILY” (2013) Review

Has Luc Besson ever directed a comedy before? The reason I raised this question is that I have always associated him with action drama and was surprised to learn that he had recently directed one. Mind you, I am not a major fan of Besson’s work. But I have enjoyed a few of his movies and decided to see what this latest one was about. 

Based upon Tonino Benacquista’s novel, “Malavita”“THE FAMILY” told the story of a Mafia underboss and his family living in France under the Witness Protection Program. Six years earlier, Giovanni Maznoni had displeased his boss, Mafia kingpin Don Luchese, in Brooklyn. After a failed attempt on his life at a family barbecue, Giovanni snitched on his boss, which led to him and his family entering a witness protection program under the supervision of FBI Special Agent Stansfield. The Maznoni family lived in the South of France for a while, until Giovanni’s disgruntled action against a local tradesman attracted the attention of Don Luchese to their location. The movie began with the family forced to move to a small town near Normandy.

“THE FAMILY” follows the Maznonis’ activities as they attempt to adjust to French small town life. Giovanni informs neighbors that he is a historian, writing a book about the Normandy invasion during World War II. Actually, he is writing his personal memoirs against Special Agent Stansfield’s advice. He also becomes obsessed with the local authorities’ lack of concern over the brown water coming from the plumbing. Wife Maggie’s unpleasant encounter with an anti-American grocer leads to the destruction of his store. Guilt leads her to the local church for confession and friendship with the priest. His daughter Belle falls in love with a substitute Math teacher, who also happens to be a college student. And his son Warren organizes his own intelligence clique at school, after being beaten up by a group of bullies. The Maznonis family’s storylines conclude when Don Luchese finally stumbles across their whereabouts and send a team of hit men to kill them.

And how did Luc Besson fare with comedy? Honestly, his handling of the story and the cast struck me as pretty effective. His direction of the cast and his handling of the screenplay he wrote with Michael Caleo certainly did not strike me as awkward or unfunny. Since the story began with Maznonis being veterans of the Witness Protection Program, I was relieved that Besson and Caleo’s screenplay allowed for a flashback to explain how they ended in that situation in the first place. I found the separate story lines regarding the Maznonis family’s experiences in Normandy rather amusing. I did not exactly find myself on the floor, rolling with laughter . . . well, except for one scene. But I cannot deny that I found the movie somewhat funny. My favorite moments included Maggie’s destruction of the bigoted grocer’s store, the Maznonis family’s barbecue for their French neighbors, Belle’s brutal handling of three fellow schoolmates who tried to seduce her into a ride into the countryside and a sex-filled picnic, Warren’s revenge against some school thugs and especially Giovanni’s violent handling of the brown water problem. As for that one scene that actually had me rolling in the aisle with laughter? Giovanni’s lies about being a historian led the head of a local film festival to invite him to comment on a historical film being shown. When the film turned out to be Scorsese’s 1991 film, “GOODFELLAS” . . . well, you can imagine my reaction.

As much as I enjoyed the film, I cannot honestly say that it was one of the best comedies I had ever seen. I found it more amusing than funny. I was also a little disappointed at how Don Luchese finally stumbled across the Maznonis’ location. I found it . . . well, irrelevant. This little plot point had nothing to do with the main story lines featuring the Maznonis family. It seemed to come out of no where. Despite the flashback featuring Don Luchese’s first attempt to kill Giovanni, Besson and Caleo’s screenplay never revealed the reason behind the Don’s first attempt. The screenplay never revealed what Giovanni had done to originally earn the Don’s ire.

“THE FAMILY” featured some first-rate performances from the cast. Robert De Niro gave a very funny performance as the stir-crazy former gangster who seemed to have difficulty adjusting to a less violent life after six years away from the Mob. Michelle Pfieffer was equally hilarious as his sardonic wife, who seemed to be exasperated by her husband’s antics. Besson made some excellent casting choices for the roles of Belle and Warren Maznonis. Not only do Dianna Agron (from FOX’s “GLEE”) and John D’Leo look as if they could be the children of De Niro and Pfieffer, the pair did a great job in holding their own with the two veterans. Tommy Lee Jones gave a nice, subtle performance as the family’s contact man – FBI Special Agent Stansfield. But aside from one major scene – the film festival – I did not find him particularly funny.

As much as I enjoyed “THE FAMILY”, I could honestly say that I would highly recommend anyone to see it at the theaters as soon as possible. Yes, it was funny. And yes, it featured some first-rate performances from the likes of Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfieffer. I found Luc Besson’s direction solid and well-paced. Also, the script he wrote with Michael Caleo struck me diverting. But as I had hinted earlier, “THE FAMILY” never struck me as a comedic classic.

“THE GREAT GATSBY” (2000) Review

 

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“THE GREAT GATSBY” (2000) Review

I am amazed at how long I have ignored F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 opus, “The Great Gatsby”. I saw the 1974 movie adaptation of the novel years ago, but I found it difficult to appreciate the story. It was not until I saw Baz Luhrmann’s recent adaptation that my full interest in the story was finally ignited. After watching that particular film, I came across this adaptation that aired on the A&E Channel in 2000. 

Directed by Robert Markowitz and adapted by John J. McLaughlin, “THE GREAT GATSBY” is a 90 minute teleplay set in the early years of the Jazz Age. The movie told the story of a mysterious young millionaire named Jay Gatsby, who settles in a large house on the West Egg side (for the newly rich) on prosperous Long Island. Narrated by Gatsby’s neighbor; the well-born, yet impoverished Nick Carraway; audiences become aware of the millionaire’s desire to woo and win back the heart of Daisy Fay Buchanan, an old love he had first met during World War I, who also happens to be Nick’s cousin. However, standing in Gatsby’s way is Daisy’s wealthy and boorish husband and Nick’s former Yale schoolmate, Tom Buchanan; Daisy’s own uncertainty about a serious relationship with the lovesick Gatsby and the latter’s questionable origin of his fortune. This clash between class and romantic aspirations leads to an emotional clash in a New York City hotel suite and later, tragedy and death.

There are some aspects of “THE GREAT GATSBY” that I found admirable. The best aspect of this television movie proved to be the showdown between Jay Gatsby and Tom Buchanan for the love of one Daisy Fay Buchanan. I thought it was well-acted – especially by Mira Sorvino and Martin Donovan as the Buchanans. And director Robert Markowitz injected with a good deal of intensity. I was also impressed by Markowitz’s handling of the tragic hit-and-run of Myrtle Wison, Tom’s working-class mistress, near her husband’s Valley of Ashes gas station. This is the only version in which a distraught Daisy is briefly distracted by the infamous “Eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg” billboard before she avoids an oncoming car and kills Myrtle, while driving Gatsby’s white convertible. I suspect this was an addition created for this movie, not featured in the novel. By allowing the billboard to indirectly lead to Myrtle’s death struck me as inspired writing on McLaughlin’s part, or inspired direction from Markowitz. Who knows? And it seemed a pity that no one else – Fitzgerald included – never considered it. The Nick Carraway-Jordan Baker romance had never seemed as sexy as it did in this movie. In fact, this is the only adaptation in which their relationship seemed to radiate with any real sexuality.

But despite these virtues, “THE GREAT GATSBY” seemed marred by a great deal of flaws. Perhaps too many flaws. There is so much about this movie that seemed off. One could tell at first glance that this production was lacking in serious cash. I realize that “THE GREAT GATSBY” is supposed to be a television production. But I find it odd that a production financed by both the A&E Cable Network in the United States, and Granada Productions in Great Britain; could look like a poor man’s version of Fitzgerald’s novel. The costumes designed by Nicoletta Massone left me shaking my head in disbelief. The clothes worn by wealthy characters such as Gatsby, the Buchanans and Jordan Baker seemed more appropriate for middle-class characters of the same era – the early 1920s. In one scene, Tom Buchanan made a snarky comment about Gatsby’s wardrobe. Mind you, the latter was not wearing the infamous pink suit (much to my disappointment). But the cream-colored suit with the dark tie, white socks and dark shoes even made wince. Since the Nick Carraway character wore a similar outfit in the same scene, I found myself wondering why Tom did not extend his contempt to his cousin-in-law’s wardrobe. Although elegant, the Buchanans’ home struck me as more quaint than opulent. The exteriors of Gatsby’s home seemed more opulent, but it had an elegant quality that seemed beyond Gatsby’s tastes. And the interiors struck me as somewhat drab and middle-class. So much for the ostentation – and somewhat tasteless – mansion owned by the mysterious millionaire. I really enjoyed Carl Davis’ score for this movie. But it seemed more appropriate for a neo-noir movie like “L.A. CONFIDENTIAL” or “MULHOLLAND FALLS”, instead of a period drama like “THE GREAT GATSBY”.

Although I had complimented Markowitz’s direction in two sequences, I found most of his direction rather flaccid and uninspiring. There were moments I felt that he was simply going through the motions. And both he and McLaughlin did not do the audience any favors by including flashbacks of Gatsby and Daisy’s World War I courtship. Those scenes were not only shot in soft focus, but also nearly put me to sleep. My God, they were boring! The parties held by Gatsby disappointed me, as well. Most of it – with the exception of the party attended by the Buchanans – struck me as mediocre and a ghost of those parties featured in Fitzgerald’s novel and the other movie adaptations. And why on earth did McLaughlin’s screenplay begin with Gatsby’s murder? Was he and Markowitz trying to be different? Unique? It is bad enough that Fitzgerald’s prose, in the form of Nick’s narration, hinted that Gatsby was no longer around. Why wipe away the mystery altogether by starting the movie with Gatsby’s murder? But if there is one thing that nearly tripped up“THE GREAT GATSBY”, it had to be its casting.

Due to Granada Productions being a co-producer of the film, it was inevitable that a British actor or actress would be cast. That person turned out to be Toby Stephens, who was given the leading role of Jay Gatsby. Before I continue, I want to say that I have been a fan of Stephens for years, thanks to his outstanding work. Unfortunately, I cannot view Jay Gatsby as one of his best performances. He simply seemed so wrong for the role. Not only did he portray Gatsby with a stiff and unconvincing American accent, but also with a grin that threatened to form a smirk. Aside from a few emotional . . . or semi-emotional moments, I found his portrayal of Gatsby rather cocky. Paul Rudd could have made a decent Nick Carraway, if it were not for the bored expression on his face that occasionally marred his performance. I realize that Nick harbored some contempt toward Gatsby when they first met. But that contempt had disappeared by the time he arranged Gatsby and Daisy’s afternoon reunion. Unfortunately, Rudd’s Nick maintained that same contempt even throughout the reunion and did not really disappear until the blow up at the Plaza Hotel. What the hell? I wish I could simply blame Rudd, but I cannot. As the director, Markowitz should have realized what was going on and put a stop to it. He failed to do so. Martin Donovan gave an excellent performance as the brutish Tom Buchanan. However, he still proved to be the wrong actor for the role. Donovan’s Tom never struck me as an egotistical ex-jock . . . merely an ill-tempered Moaning Minnie with too much money on his hands. Not only did I also have great difficulty in viewing him as a ladies’ man, but also Nick’s classmate at Yale. Martin Donovan and Paul Rudd are a good deal twelve years apart. And it shows. Jerry Grayson’s brief portrayal of gambler/gangster Meyer Wolfsheim did not strike me as memorable. On the other hand, I will never forget William Camp’s portrayal of Myrtle’s loser husband, George Wilson. I found it incredible bad.

The three actresses in “THE GREAT GATSBY” fared better. Somewhat. I enjoyed Mira Sorvino’s performance as the very feminine and flaky Daisy Buchanan. She did an excellent job of recapturing Daisy’s warm, flirtatious personality and shallowness. My only problem with Sorvino is that she utilized a Northeastern accent to portray Daisy. And the latter came from the Upper South – Louisville, Kentucky. Thankfully, Francie Swift, who hails from Texas, used a soft Southern accent in her portrayal of Daisy’s Louisville friend, golfer Jordan Baker. Mind you, Swift’s Jordan did not strike me as a female athlete. But she gave a sly and sexy performance that I found satisfying. In fact, she might be the best Jordan Baker I have seen on screen – despite the Dutch Boy haircut and dull wardrobe. Heather Goldenhersh did a pretty good job of portraying the vulgar and ambitious Myrtle Wilson. I said good . . . not great. The actress portrayed a high, light voice that I would not associate with a character like Myrtle. And I did not find her desperation to escape from a life with the dull George Wilson particularly convincing. But I was impressed by Goldenhersh’s one scene in which she conveyed Mrytle’s account of her first meeting with Tom.

“THE GREAT GATSBY” had a few virtues – including some well done performances from the movie’s three leading ladies and two exceptional sequences. But the flaws overwhelmed the virtues – including lackluster direction from Robert Markowitz and the producers’ miscasting of Toby Stephens in the leading role. I have seen at least three versions of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel. I hate to say it, but this 2000 television movie has to be the least impressive I have seen.

“Lessons in Witchcraft” [PG] – 8/9

 

“LESSONS IN WITCHCRAFT”

Chapter 8

Leo Wyatt returned home that Saturday evening with one of his charges, Paul Margolin, by his side. The whitelighter and the witch had spent the last two days in San Jose, tracking a darklighter bent upon killing a future whitelighter. Following the success of their mission, Leo invited Paul over for dinner with him, his wife and her sisters. They found the Halliwell household in an uproar upon their arrival. 

The main source of the fracas came from Leo’s wife, presently the oldest Charmed One. Piper seemed to be in the middle of some rant against the supernatural world. Which left Leo wondering what brought on this rant. “So you’re finally back,” Piper said in a voice tinged with acid. “Have a good time?”

Leo stared at his wife. Warily. “Not exactly,” he slowly replied. “This darklighter proved to be difficult to vanquish.”

“Especially since he proved to be a former whitelighter,” Paul added. “That was a bit of a surprise.”

A prim smile touched Piper’s lips. “Really? I don’t see why, considering it’s become increasingly difficult to notice the difference between the good guys and the bad ones.” She paused dramatically. “Even among demons.”

The last comment ignited Leo’s suspicions. He frowned at his wife. “Piper, what in the hell are you tal . . .?”

Phoebe interrupted. “Olivia and Cole were here, today.”

A long silence filled the living room before Leo retorted, “Cole? What the hell was he doing . . .?”

“Witchcraft lessons,” Phoebe continued. “Lessons on magical beings. Including demons.”

Leo took a deep breath and calmed down. “Oh yeah. I forgot. Um . . . what happened? I mean, did Cole say something that . . .?”

This time, Piper interrupted. “Oh, Cole told us a lot of interesting things, today. So did Olivia.” She glared at her husband. “Tell me Leo, did you know that warlocks were mortals? Or that they weren’t the only ones that blinked when teleporting?”

“What?” Leo demanded, stunned by the revelation. “I’ve never heard . . .”

Again, Piper interrupted. “Well, according to Olivia, her friend Nathalie Gleason is a teleporter that blinks. And the same is true about a friend of her parents’. And both are witches.”

Leo shook his head in disbelief. “Piper, I don’t . . .”

“Remember Jeremy?” Piper continued. “The warlock I had dated before we became witches? It turned out that he wasn’t a warlock after all. According to Cole, he was a half-demon. A half-demon, Leo! I was dating a demon!”

Leo stared at both Phoebe and Paige, who shrugged. He added, “Okay, so he was a demon. Why are . . .?”

“Oh that’s not all!” Piper retorted.

“Can I please finish one sentence?” Leo cried out in frustration. Piper stared at him with hard eyes. With a sigh, he added, “Never mind.”

Piper continued, “As I was about to say, has any of you ever heard of the Order of Gimle?”

The name brought up memories of a demonic order once mentioned by fellow whitelighters and one or two Elders. “Vaguely,” Leo answered. “It’s a demonic order. Why?”

Paige said, “According to Cole, the demons from this order are good guys. They defend innocents from evil. Like us.”

“He’s lying!” Paul exclaimed, his obvious distrust of the half-demon stamped on his face.

The youngest Charmed One stared at the New York-born witch. “He wasn’t lying.”

“How do you know?”

Rolling her eyes in contempt, Paige shot back, “Because Olivia has also heard of them! Her dad had even saved one member from being killed by some witches who thought he had killed one of their own.”

Leo’s emotions matched the disbelief and confusion that whirled in Paul’s eyes. “Olivia’s dad had once helped a demon?” the witch demanded.

“Wait a minute!” Leo demanded, shaking his head. “Are you saying that Cole was telling the truth?”

Hands on her hips, Piper retorted, “What we’re trying to say is that at least one-third of our Book of Shadows might be wrong! Wrong, Leo! And you know why?” Speechless, the whitelighter shook his head. “Because some of our ancestors were probably dumb enough to listen to their whitelighters!” Piper’s eyes blazed with anger. “I mean, we did learn a lot of our stuff from whitelighers, didn’t we? Do you have any idea how humiliating it was to find out how wrong we were about a lot of stuff . . . after five years?”

Unable to respond, Leo turned to Paul for reassurance. But the male witch seemed just as speechless. After a long, silent moment, the whitelighter found his voice. “I . . . I don’t know what to say. I mean . . . are you sure that Olivia and Cole were right? Maybe they’re mistaken.”

“Or maybe not!” Paige shot back. “Why don’t you ask them, Leo? We’re supposed to be meeting Olivia and her mother at the McNeill home, next Sunday? We would have done so tomorrow, but Phoebe will be in Chicago in a few days.”

The whitelighter frowned. “Sunday? You mean for brunch?”

Paige shook her head. “Not exactly. Harry and the others are supposed to be attending some wedding in Palo Alto that day. Olivia and Mrs. McNeill is supposed to be joining them for the reception, later.”

At that moment, Leo decided to accept the offer and accompany the sisters to the McNeill home, next week. Paul volunteered to join them . . . much to Paige’s obvious displeasure. Not that Leo minded the extra company. He figured that Paul, like himself, was curious to learn what kind of lessons that the McNeills have been giving.

—————- 

Mother and daughter stated at the two unexpected guests with surprise. “Leo? Paul?” Olivia said. “What are you two doing here?”

Gweneth McNeill added, “Are you two interested in lessons in witchcraft, as well?”

Leo shook his head. “Not quite. Uh . . . Piper and the others told us about that last lesson that Olivia and Cole had . . .”

“Oh, I see,” Olivia said, interrupting. “If you’re interested in knowing what we had discussed, the topic was daemons.”

Realizing that a major argument threatened to erupt, Gweneth suggested they all sit down in the chairs arranged in the garden. Leo and Paul had to wait for Davies, the family’s manservant to provide them with extra chairs. Once everyone had settled in their wicker chairs, Gweneth turned to her daughter’s former whitelighter. “Now, why are you so interested in the last lesson?”

Olivia replied, instead of Leo. “I suspect that this has something to do what Cole and I had told the Halliwells about the Gimle Order, Mom.”

“What about them?”

Paul frowned. “You’ve heard of this Gimle Order?”

“Well, of course!” Gweneth stared at the male witch. “Who hasn’t? The Gimle Order has been around for thousands of years. Probably millions. Despite the Source’s best efforts to destroy it.”

Leo demanded, “Then why haven’t they tried to take over the Underworld, now that it is no longer ruled by the Source?”

With an inward sigh, Gweneth wondered how Leo had survived this long as a whitelighter. “Dearest Leo,” she began in a tone usually reserved for a child, “I believe I should inform you on a few facts of life. One, the Source has never ruled the Underworld. Only the spirit of Death. Or Angel of Death, as many preferred to call it.” Leo opened his mouth to protest, but Gweneth continued, “And two, why on earth would any member of the Gimle Order be interested in becoming the new Source? They are not interested in becoming one of the dark nasties, just protecting others from them. Do you understand?” Leo looked slightly abashed, but nodded. “Good. Now that I have cleared matters regarding the Gimle Order, we might as well continue with the lessons.” She turned to her daughter. “What have they learned so far?”

Olivia took a deep breath. “Well, we’ve talked about the altar, magic circles, color magic, the pentagram, and magical tools. Bruce and Barbara taught them about herbal craft, and Gran talked to Paige about the role of a witch, the Wiccan Rede, elements and the Book of Shadows.”

“Nothing on mediation?” Gweneth asked.

“I touched on it, last week,” Olivia added.

Nodding, Gweneth continued, “Good. Now, what about protection magick?”

“No, not yet.”

“Right.” The middle-aged witch faced the Charmed Ones. “Let us discuss protection magick.”

Paige asked, “Is this for defending ourselves against evil?”

Olivia shook her head. “If you’re simply talking about protection from any supernatural bad guy, no.”

“Well, there are protection spells that can be used against them,” Gweneth added. “But I am referring to other kinds of protection magick . . . the kind that is used while working with spells and rituals.”

Phoebe blinked. “Huh?”

With a sigh, Olivia said, “What Mom is trying to say is that in dealing with magic, one might end up opening or facing . . . certain things many do not experience in the non-magical world. We use protection magick to protect ourselves from possible side effects while casting a spell or ritual.”

Gweneth added, “We also used it to shield ourselves from other dangers – especially from what we like to call psychic vampires. You know, people leaves us feeling tired or spent for no apparent reason, when we’re around them. They have the ability to feed off from our life force or energy. They are like the psychic versions of the incubus and succubus, or an actual vampire. And some of these beings are basically ordinary mortals, believe it or not. My personal names for them are psychic deadbeats or spongers.”

Piper chuckled. “That’s pretty good. And I’ve actually known a few.”

With a smile, the older witch added, “So have I. Of course, one of the safest forms of magick for such a danger is a protective white bubble. You can use a spell to form one, but meditation is just as good.”

“What about our powers?” Phoebe asked.

Gweneth’s eyes rested upon the middle Charmed One. “What about them?”

“How would you describe our powers? What kind of magic would you call them?”

The older witch gave her daughter a questioning stare. “Livy, I thought you had discussed psychic abilities?”

“She mentioned it,” Paige said. “But it was Andre Morrell who had talked about it, once.”

Piper frowned. “To be honest, I find it hard to believe that our powers aren’t really magic.”

“Why?” Gweneth demanded.

“Well, look at us. We’re all witches and we all have these . . . psychic powers. Isn’t that saying something?”

Gweneth shook her head. ‘Not really. Barbara lacks a psychic ability. And I can say the same about her father. My maternal grandfather was the same. Yet, Barbara and her father are talented witches. And so was my grandfather.”

“Besides,” Olivia added, “I’ve met people with strong psychic abilities.”

Paul added, “So have I.”

Olivia continued, “And so have you three. Leo told me about the seer who was on trial for murder, two years ago. Phoebe, didn’t you serve on the jury for that one?”

The middle Charmed One briefly glared at her whitelighter, who had the grace to look embarrassed. “Yeah. The defendant received premonitions . . . like me.”

“And there was that guy who was able to enter the consciousness of others, while asleep,” Piper said. “I think he was psychic. And he nearly killed Prue.”

Gweneth smiled. “There, you see. A psychic ability is not magic.”

“Would we need to use protection magick for our powers?” Paige asked.

“No, dear. Not for that.” Gweneth sighed. “But the next time you prepare a spell or potion, I suggest that you use protection magick. Or when you suspect that someone might be . . .”

“A magical deadbeat,” Piper finished with a slight smirk.

The middle aged witch added, “One more thing. About protection spells. Why don’t you have one around your house? Considering the number of times certain beings keep popping into your home, don’t you think you should consider creating one?”

The three sisters looked at one another. “Well . . . we . . . uh, we never bothered,” Piper finally said. “We’ve never thought about it.”

Phoebe added, “Besides, they backfire all the time.”

Gweneth stared at the witches with disbelief. Then she stared at Paul. “Do you believe this, as well?”

The New Yorker adopted a wary expression. “Uh . . . well . . . I haven’t had much luck with protection spells.”

“Good God! Are you all serious?” Gweneth then turned to the whitelighter. “Leo, surely you must have encouraged your own charges to learn how to prepare more effective protection spells?” Leo’s mouth opened, but not a word came from his mouth. “Never mind. Olivia or I will lend you a protection spell that you all can use. If it does not work, we’ll help you develop a proper one.”

Piper spoke up. “That’s okay, Mrs. McNeill. We’ve been able to manage without a protection spell.”

“I’d like learn a few,” Paige said. Her sisters glared at her. Gweneth smiled.

END OF CHAPTER 8

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” (1992) Review

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“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” (1992) Review

Many critics tend to look upon Agatha Christie’s later novels with less favor. Among those novels viewed with less than any real enthusiasm was her 1962 novel, “The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side”. I find this interesting, despite the fact that one movie and two television adaptations have been made from this story. 

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” delved into the world of Hollywood movies through the new tenants of Gossington Hall, the former home of Colonel Arthur and Dolly Bantry. After the death of Colonel Bantry, Mrs. Bantry sold the manor to Hollywood movie star Marina Gregg and her husband, director Jason Rudd. Marina and Jason host a fête for the citizens of St. Mary Mead. Miss Jane Marple is one of the guests. Another is Heather Badcock, an annoying housewife and St. John Ambulance helper with a penchant for being self involved. During the reception inside the manor, Heather dies after drinking a poisoned cocktail. When the local police and Scotland Yard investigate Heather’s death, they realize that the cocktail had been meant for Marina Gregg. And they have plenty of suspects:

*Jason Rudd

*Dr. Gilchrist – Marina’s personal doctor

*Ella Zeilinsky – Jason’s lovesick secretary

*Lola Brewster – Hollywood starlet and Marina’s rival

*Ardwyck Fenn – Hollywood producer and Lola’s husband

*Margot Bence – Professional photographer and Marina’s former adopted daughter

*Arthur Badcock – Heather’s milequoast husband, who might had a reason to kill her

It is quite obvious that T.R. Bowen’s screenplay for “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” remained faithful to Christie’s 1962 novel. However, I did notice a few differences. The main police investigator, Dermot Craddock, turned out to be Miss Marple’s nephew, as he was in the 1980 adaptation with Angela Landsbury. And Marina and Jason’s Italian butler, Giuseppe Murano, had been murdered in the novel. In this movie, he was regulated to a minor supporting character and survived. Most fans would view the movie’s close similarity to Christie’s novel as a sign of its superiority as an adaptation. Faithfulness to the source material is not a sign of superior adaptation for me. I will admit that “THE MIRROR CRACK’D”is a pretty damn good adaptation. But I feel it had a few problems.

One of my problems with “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” is the casting of Judy Cornwell as Heather Badcock. Upon reading Christie’s novel, I had the impression that Heather must have been at least in her mid-30s or early 40s when she was killed, and in her 20s when she first met Marina Gregg during World War II. However, Judy Cornwell was in her early 50s when this movie was made and looked it. And since “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” took place in the 1950s – at least a little over a decade before Heather and Marina’s first meeting – I found it hard to accept Cornwell as the clueless Heather. I was also not that enamored of the scene featuring the revelation of the murderer very unsatisfying. But if I must be honest, the killer revelation scenes have never impressed me in most of the Miss Marple movies that starred Joan Hickson. They tend to be rather badly written. And what made revelation in this movie unsatisfying was T.R. Bowen and director Norman Stone’s decision to have Miss Marple reveal the killer’s identity to a cab driver, who was driving her to Gossington Hall. What on earth were they thinking? Talk about ruining a pretty good movie with a bad ending.

My biggest problem with “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” turned out to be Detective Inspector Dermot Craddock’s character background. As I had stated earlier, Bowen’s screenplay revealed Craddock as one of Miss Marple’s nephew, repeating the 1980 film’s characterization of him. If this had been John Castle’s first appearance as Detective-Inspector Craddock, I would not be making this complaint. But the actor first portrayed the character in 1985’s “A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED”, which also starred Joan Hickson as the elderly sleuth. And in that movie, Miss Marple and Craddock were strangers who had met for the first time, not blood relations. This was truly sloppy writing on Bowen’s part.

Fortunately, I still managed to enjoy “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” very much. I have to attribute this to Norman Stone’s lively direction. Most of the Jane Marple adaptations that starred Hickson had a tendency to drag in many parts. Aside from a few productions, I usually have difficulty staying alert, while watching them. I can thankfully say that I had no such problems with “THE MIRROR CRACK’D”. Not only did the movie benefited from Stone’s pacing, but also Bowen’s screenplay, and the cast. But I suspect that the movie’s subject matter – Hollywood in Britain – really helped to make“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” a lively affair. Not only did the story delved into the world of small town life in mid-20th century Britain, but also the Hollywood movie system during the same era. The movie featured some humorous interactions between the citizens of St. Mary Mead and its Hollywood visitors, along with a tension-filled dinner party featuring Marina, Jason, the latter’s secretary Ella Zeilinsky, producer Ardwyck Fenn and rival starlet Lola Brewster. Mind you, the movie lacked the entertaining bitch fest from the 1980 film, the script still managed to provide a few moments of bitchery from Marina, Ella and Lola. “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” also featured an amusing subplot featuring a companion hired by Miss Marple’s other nephew to take care of her. It seems the companion Miss Knight possessed a condescending manner that irritates the elderly woman.

I have to say that I found the movie’s production values very impressive. Merle Downie and Alan Spalding did an excellent job of re-creating 1950s Britain through their production designs. I suspect they had to add a bit of glamour to the movie, due to the story’s subject matter. The costumes for Hickson’s Miss Marple movies have always been first-rate. And Judy Pepperdine did a marvelous job in not only creating costumes for the St. Mary Mead citizens, but also the Hollywood characters. Cinematographer John Walker contributed to the movie’s sleek look with his colorful, yet sharp photography.

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” featured Joan Hickson’s last performance as Jane Marple. Needless to say, she proved to provide her usual above-average performance. I was especially impressed by her comedic skills in the scenes featuring Miss Marple’s exasperation with the condescending Miss Knight. Claire Bloom gave a complicated and very skillful performance as the talented, yet high-strung Marina Gregg. I did not find this surprising. Only a first-rate actress like Bloom could portray a high-maintenance character like Marina, without resorting to hamminess. I was equally impressed by Barry Newman, who was marvelous as Marina’s husband, Jason Rudd. He did an excellent job of portraying an emotional and passionate character with great subtlety. Despite my annoyance at Dermot Craddock being written as one of Miss Marple’s nephews, I must admit that I was happy to see John Castle back in the role. I really enjoyed his performance as the intelligent and cool Craddock in “A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED”. When he failed to appear in 1987’s“4.50 TO PADDINGTON”, I must admit that I felt very disappointed. Thankfully, my disappointment was eradicated by his appearance and performance in this film.

Aside from the 1980 miniseries, “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” and one or two other films, I have rarely seen Elizabeth Garvie in other film or movie productions. I certainly enjoyed her portrayal of Ella Zeilinsky, Jason Rudd’s sarcastic, yet love struck secretary. I may have had issues with Judy Cornwell being cast as Heather Badcock, but I have to admit that she did a pretty damn good job in portraying the self-involved woman. David Horovitch returned as Superintendent Slack. I found his appearance in the movie unnecessary, since he was not in the novel, but I must admit that Horovitch gave a rather funny performance. Margaret Courtenay was even funnier as the condescending companion, Miss Knight, who treated Miss Marple like a brainless child. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Glynis Barber, Ian Brimble, Norman Rodway and Gwen Watford. However, I found Constantine Gregory’s portrayal of Hollywood producer Ardwyck Fenn to be ridiculously over-the-top. One, he seemed to think that all Hollywood producers sounded and acted like gangsters from an old Warner Brothers film. And two, his American accent sucked. It is a pity that he did not study the American-born Newman, when he had the chance.

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” had its flaws. But they were only a few. Overall, I found it entertaining and well-paced, thanks to Norman Stone’s direction and the movie’s production values. In the end, it proved to be a well made epilogue to Joan Hickson’s tenure as the cinematic Jane Marple.

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“STAR TREK VOYAGER” RETROSPECT: (5.24) “Relativity”

 

“STAR TREK VOYAGER” RETROSPECT: (5.24) “Relativity”

I am sure that many of you remember the late Season 5 episode – (5.24) “Relativity”. In it, Seven-of-Nine was “recruited” by 29th century Federation time cops to prevent the destruction of Voyager by an illegal time traveler. 

In this episode, Seven is recruited by Captain Braxton and Lieutenant Ducane of the 29th century timeship, Relativity, to stop a time traveling sabateur from placing a temporal weapon on Voyager to destroy it. Seven eventually discovers that a future Braxton is the sabateur. Suffering from temporal psychosis, the older Braxton wants to destroy Voyager in order to prevent Janeway and her crew from committing three temporal inversions that he had to fix . . . events that led to his illness.

As much as I found this episode mildly entertaining, there are two about “Relativity” that I found questionable. The first thing I found questionable had to do with Braxton’s memories. He should not have had memories of Voyager’s trip to late 20th century Earth in “Future’s End”. By stopping Henry Starling (guest star Ed Begley Jr.) from accidentally destroying Earth, Janeway and Voyager’s crew managed to change the timeline. When Braxton appeared to take them back to the 24th century Delta Quadrant, he had NO memories of his 29 years on Earth. And the Braxton of ”Relativity” should NOT have had those memories. And yet, he mentioned his time on Earth in this episode.

What really irritated me about this episode was the fate of the Captain Braxton who commanded the ship. To understand what I am talking about, read the following scenes:

BRAXTON [OC]: Seven of Nine, report.
SEVEN: I have located the saboteur.
BRAXTON [OC]: Who is it?
SEVEN: It’s you,
[Relativity]
SEVEN [OC]: Captain Braxton.
BRAXTON: Me?
[2372 Jefferies tube]
BRAXTON: More accurately, a future you.

Once everyone realized that a future Braxton was responsible for trying to sabotage Voyager, the following occurred:

[Relativity]
BRAXTON: Can you get a lock on him?
DUCANE: Negative. He’s activated a dispersal node. I should say, you’ve activated a dispersal node.
BRAXTON: Don’t be absurd. I have no wish to sabotage Voyager.
DUCANE: Not yet.
BRAXTON: Remodulate the transporters. Find a way to cut through the interference. I gave you an order, Lieutenant.
DUCANE: I’m sorry, sir. I’m taking command of this vessel, and I’m relieving you of duty for crimes you’re going to commit.
BRAXTON: I haven’t done anything.

For some reason, Captain Braxton’s first officer, Lieutenant Ducane (Jay Karnes) thought it was necessary to arrest him and assume command of the timeship. Why? What was his purpose? Braxton was right. He had done nothing wrong. Ducane should have been more concerned with the future Braxton, not the younger one. The first officer had no excuse to arrest someone who had done nothing wrong. What on earth were screenwriters Bryan Fuller, Nick Sagan and Michael Taylor thinking? As much as I liked this episode, this is sloppy writing of the first kind.

”Relativity” started out well. But once the older Braxton was revealed to be the saboteur attempting to destroy Voyager, the story went downhill. As I had pointed out earlier, Braxton should have never had memories of his 29 years on Earth. Even worse, the first officer of the timeship Relativity really had no excuse to arrest the younger Captain Braxton, who was not guilty of anything. What a waste of a potentially good story.

“KICK ASS 2” (2013) Review

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“KICK ASS 2” (2013) Review

The 2010 superhero action-comedy movie, “KICK ASS” barely profited at the box office, three years ago. Although it was well received by the critics, it barely made a dent into public opinion, until it was eventually released on DVD and became a cult favorite. 

Due to the increasing popularity of “KICK ASS” over the next two to three years, Universal Pictures decided to finance a sequel. The 2010 film was based upon the 2008-2010 comic book series created by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. The pair created two sequels to their creation – “Kick Ass 2” and “Hit Girl”, which this new movie sequel is based upon.

Following his retirement from being costume hero Kick Ass, Dave Lizewski discovers that life of a normal citizen does not suit him. He seeks Mindy Macready aka Hit Girl to train him in becoming a more proper hero. Because Mindy has promised her guardian Marcus Williams not to engage in vigilante activities, she secretly trains Dave in hand-to-hand combat. Meanwhile, the now fatherless Chris D’Amico accidentally kills his mother with a tanning bed, when they argue over her apathy towards his father’s death. Now in control of his family’s money, Chris decides to re-invent himself as a super villain known as “The Motherfucker”, and swears to get revenge on Kick-Ass for the death of his mobster father, Frank D’Amico. Dave’s training with Mindy ends when Marcus discovers that she has been leaving the house as Hit Girl and hanging around with Dave. With Mindy no longer at his side, Dave joins a band of costume vigilantes called “Justice Forever”, led by a former Mob henchman named Sal Bertolinni aka Colonel Stars and Stripes. And Chris recruits his own band of followers, with the help of one of his father’s former henchmen named Javier.

Writer-director Matthew Vaughn, who wrote and directed the 2010 film, did not return as one of the screenwriters and director for“KICK ASS 2”. Instead, he, along with Brad Pitt, served as one of the movie’s producers. Jeff Wadlow was chosen to write the screenplay and direct “KICK ASS 2”. Mind you, I believe he did a pretty good job. But a part of me ended up longing that Vaughn had co-written and directed the film. Like many sequels, “KICK ASS 2” failed to be better or just as good as the original film. But it was not the disaster that some people claimed it was.

If I have to be brutally honest, Wadlow lacked Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman’s wicked and slightly off-kilter sense of humor. Even worse, Wadlow borrowed one of Vaughn and Goldman’s jokes from the first movie- involving bullets and flak jackets – that simply came off as tired, instead of funny and fresh. But “KICK ASS 2” did include some funny moments. My favorites included Dave’s first solo fight against a group of thugs, Javier’s constant chiding of Chris’ habit of giving some of his henchmen politically incorrect names, and Dave’s first meetings with fellow costume vigilantes Doctor Gravity and Colonel Stars and Stripes and other members of “Justice Forever”. I must admit that I found Mindy’s attempt to be a “normal” girl in order to placate Marcus’ anxieties rather amusing, but not exactly a highlight of the movie. But There is one particular scene I DID NOT find funny at all – namely Chris’ attempted rape of Miranda Swedlow aka Night-Bitch. Perhaps I should be grateful that Wadlow did not repeat Millar and Romita’s comic book sequence featuring the gang rape of Dave’s old girlfriend, Katie Deauxma. But I did not appreciate the humor featured in Chris’ failed rape attempt . . . or the fact that this scene segued into Miranda suffering a major beating by one of his minions.

Even before Chris and his followers appeared at Miranda’s home, the movie had already taken a darker turn with the bad guys’ brutal murder of Colonel Stars and Stripes. And during Miranda’s beating, another one of Chris’ minions, a muscular ex-KGB agent and convict named Mother Russia, murdered ten cops that appeared on the scene. This led to a crackdown on all costumed vigilantes by the police. And when Dave’s father confessed to being Kick Ass, the movie became even darker. Ironically, I found this dark plot turn beneficial to the movie. I believe it improved the movie – story wise. In fact, Dave’s reaction to his father’s death proved to be more realistic and satisfying than his reaction to his mother’s death in “KICK ASS”.

Although “KICK ASS 2” featured some pretty damn good performances, there were a few that stood out for me. One of them came from Aaron Johnson-Taylor, whom I believe gave an excellent performance as Dave Lizewski. Mind you, I had not been impressed by his performance in “ANNA KARENNIA”. I suspect that the critics’ negative reaction to that performance had spilled over to his performance in this movie. And I do not believe he deserved such unfair criticism. Chloë Grace Moretz was marvelous, as always, as the butt-kicking Mindy Macready aka Hit Girl. Despite my lukewarm reaction to her “MEAN GIRLS” story arc, I thought she conveyed a good deal of complexity and vulnerability in her portrayal of Mindy’s attempts to become popular and in the latter’s complicated relationship with godfather Marcus Williams.

Speaking of the latter, I really enjoyed Morris Chestnut’s performance as Mindy’s well-meaning godfather. Thanks to his portrayal, one could tell that Marcus meant well and had a great deal of concern toward his goddaughter. But at the same time, anyone could see that his feelings were ruled by fear. I suspect that many people had expected Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Colonel Stars and Stripes to be a copycat of Nicholas Cage’s performance as Mindy’s late father, Damon Macready aka Big Daddy. Fortunately, Carrey’s character proved to be a different kettle of fish, a charismatic leader who seemed to have better social skills and an intolerance for profanity. And the actor-comedian did a hell of a great job with the role. Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s continuing portrayal of Chris D’Amico proved to be a great surprise in this movie. Mind you, I had been very impressed by his comic timing in“KICK ASS”. I read somewhere that he had been uneasy over whether he could transform Chris into a darker character. Well, you know what? Not only did Mintz-Plasse managed to explore Chris’ darker traits, his character proved to be just as scary as Frank D’Amico in the first film. More importantly, the actor maintained Chris’ goofier persona at the same time.

“KICK ASS 2” also featured some supporting performances that I found impressive. Donald Faison struck me as exceptionally funny as the enthusiastic Doctor Gravity. John Leguizamo gave a warm and funny performance as Frank D’Amico’s former henchman and Chris’ present bodyguard, Javier. Ukrainian body-builder Olga Kurkulina proved to be surprisingly and effectively scary as Chris’ top henchman, Mother Russia. Garrett M. Brown had some wonderful and poignant moments with Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the very concerned Mr. Lizewski. And Lindsay Booth proved to be equally poignant as Miranda Swedlow aka Night Bitch, a victim of Chris D’Amico’s vengeance, who rallied at the end to support Dave and Mindy in the final showdown.

One would think I really loved “KICK ASS 2”, considering the amount of positive things I had to say about it. I did not love it or embraced it as I did the first film. It had some flaws I could not swallow, especially the attempted rape scene. But I feel that it was good enough for me to enjoy, thanks to Jeff Wadlow’s writing and direction, along with some fine performances from a cast led by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

“Lessons in Witchcraft” [PG] – 7/9

 

“LESSONS IN WITCHCRAFT”

Chapter 7

Lunch turned out to be a simple affair – chicken salad sandwiches with homemade potato chips and iced tea. Once the meal ended, the Halliwells, Olivia and the half-daemon returned to the living room. Piper also carried a sleeping Wyatt in her arms. He had awakened during lunch, in order to be fed. 

While she rocked the infant in her arms, Piper said to Olivia, “You know, you never did answer my first question, regarding demons.”

“First question?” Olivia frowned.

“About demons being naturally evil. What is the Wiccan view on that?”

Olivia leaned back into the sofa, with a sigh. “Oh yeah. That question. Well, the Wiccan view is . . . they’re not naturally evil.” Her answer drew stares from the three sisters. “What? Did I say something wrong?”

“Uh . . . yeah!” Piper shot back. “What do you mean that demons aren’t evil?”

Cole spoke up. “I think what Olivia is trying to say is that Wiccans don’t believe that any being is inherently good or evil.”

“We believe that all beings have an equal potential for both,” Olivia continued. “And that whatever actions we take, we have to accept responsibility for the consequences. Of course, there are some religions that take a . . . uh, more black-and-white view on the matter. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are just to name a few.”

“So, what you’re saying is that you don’t believe demons are inherently evil,” Paige commented.

Olivia replied, “I’ll take it even further. There are many Wiccans that don’t believe in the existence of demons, period. They especially don’t believe in such beings as Satan or Lucifer. Now many Vodouns believe that demons are not corporeal beings, but purely evil spirits. Unless they have actual experience with daemons like Cecile and Andre. That’s also a view shared by some Christians, and so forth.”

Paige frowned. “I don’t get it. If demons are spirits, what the hell have we been fighting all of these years?”

“Daemons.”

The Halliwells stared at Olivia with confused eyes. “Huh?” Phoebe shook her head. “What are you talking about? It sounds like the same thing.”

Cole explained, “Olivia is talking about daemons. D-A-E-M-O-N-S. They, or I should say . . . we are minor divinities that rank between gods and mortals. We age like mortals, but at a much slower pace. Our age span is a lot longer. But technically, we’re not true immortals. Not really. Now there are some ‘daemons’ that never age. Like vampires. Or whitelighters. That’s because they were originally mortals who transformed into daemons, while on the verge of death. When they became a daemon, their physical growth was arrested.”

“Are you saying that my Leo and Paige’s dad . . . are daemons?” Piper demanded.

The half-daemon nodded. “That’s right. Along with darklighters.”

Comprehension dawned in Paige’s eyes. “Is that why that succubus, Claudia Della Scalla, wanted Barbara’s Soma plant? So she could become an immortal? A goddess?”

Olivia replied, “Yep.”

“But, demons . . . or daemons, or whatever you call ’em, are still evil,” Phoebe insisted. She paused. “And that also means that Leo and Paige’s dad can’t be daemons.”

Talk about stubborn, Olivia retorted silently. She sighed and said to Phoebe, “If that’s what you want to believe, it’s your choice. Many Wiccans, however, believe differently. We believe that in the end, it all depends upon the individual – not the race or the species.”

“What you’re saying is that you don’t believe in Satan,” Piper challenged. “But you believe that my husband is a . . . daemon.”

Olivia gave the oldest Halliwell a tart smile. “That’s right.”

Cole added, “You know, there are Christians who believe that Satan was originally one of God’s angels. A fallen angel.”

“Like a darklighter,” Paige clarified.

Cole hesitated, before he answered, “Uh . . . okay. If you say so. Also, there are those who believe that Satan was never a fallen angel, but one of God’s more ruthless agents.”

Phoebe shook her head. “Now, I find that hard to believe. And even if demons aren’t automatically evil, at least humans have a bigger potential for good. Right?”

Oh God, Olivia thought sardonically, another advocate of the ‘Gene Roddenberry School of Humanity’. She heaved a large sigh and said aloud, “You know, it truly amazes me – the human capacity to pat itself on the back. Why are we like that? Do you ever wonder?”

Looking somewhat offended by Olivia’s response, Phoebe bridled. “What do you mean by that?” she demanded.

Again, Olivia sighed. “Phoebe, I think you’ve been watching too many “STAR TREK” episodes. They really take that whole‘humanity on a pedestal’ thing a bit too far. Humanity’s potential for good and . . . evil, is just about the same as other beings. Trust me. I speak from long experience.”

“Cole doesn’t think so,” Phoebe shot back, glancing at her ex-husband. “Right Cole? Didn’t you once tell Leo and Darryl that very few humans have the same capacity for evil, as demons?”

Olivia stared at her boyfriend, who looked very embarrassed. And deservedly so, as far as she was concerned. He also squirmed with discomfort, under Olivia’s close scrutiny. “Uh . . . well, it was Raynor who told me,” Cole finally mumbled. A derisive snort escaped from Olivia’s mouth. The half-daemon glared at her. “What?”

“Look, I’m sure that Raynor was an intelligent and powerful being . . .” Olivia began.

Cole frowned. “But?”

Olivia continued, “Let me put it this way – I think that your old mentor had not spent enough time among humans. At least not long enough to really know them. I’ve been a cop for nearly nine years, Cole. Trust me, I’ve met plenty of humans who have committed acts just as heinous or even worse than those committed by your most notorious daemon or warlock. The only difference is that nearly all of the latter possess the ability to practice magic. Well, as far as I know.”

Silence enveloped the Halliwell living room. The Charmed Ones and Cole stared at Olivia. Then Piper said, “You really don’t like humans very much, do you?”

“My feelings about humans are the same about everyone else – at best, ambiguous. I’m more interested in individuals. Besides, this isn’t about whether I like humans or not. I’m only telling you what I believe. And what I’ve experienced over the years.” Olivia paused. When no one bothered to respond, she added, “Gee, I hope I didn’t ruin everyone’s mood.”

Wearing a wan smile, Paige piped up, “Well, you may have shaken my world view a bit. Otherwise, I’m fine.”

A quick glance at Paige’s two older sisters told Olivia that they did not share the younger woman’s feelings. On the other hand, Cole looked as if he had experienced an epiphany. Olivia managed a smile. “So . . . does anyone have any questions or comments? About demons, or should I say, daemons?”

Once more, silence reigned free, until Piper broke it. “Well, with no Source ruling the Underworld, along with the Triad and Cole’s old buddies – the Brotherhood of the Whatever, gone . . .”

“Brotherhood of the Thorn,” Cole corrected.

“What?”

The half-daemon repeated, “My old order is called the Brotherhood of the Thorn. And it still exists, by the way.”

A distraught expression appeared on Phoebe’s face. “Oh my God! Is that true? I thought the Brotherhood had been destroyed after you killed Whatshisname, Raynor?”

“Where did you get that idea?” Cole shot back. “A new leader had simply assumed Raynor’s old position. That’s all. Who, I haven’t the foggiest idea.”

Piper regarded her ex-brother-in-law with confusion. “You mean to say that you know that Brotherhood still exists, but you have no idea who is the new leader?”

Cole rolled his eyes in contempt. “Please don’t tell me that you find that hard to believe,” he replied sardonically. “Because that phrase is in danger of becoming redundant.”

“Well, why didn’t you tell us that the Brotherhood still existed?” Piper retorted. “Why did you have us believe that it had been destroyed?”

Confusion marred Cole’s handsome face. “What the hell are you talking about? I never said anything about the Brotherhood being destroyed! I merely told Phoebe that I had killed Raynor. He wasn’t exactly the first daemon to lead the order!”

“Oh.” Piper looked contrite. And disturbed by Cole’s revelation. “Then if your old brotherhood is still around, why hasn’t a new Source emerged?”

Cole shrugged his shoulders. “How the hell would I know? The last I heard, some daemon was trying to gather supporters for his claim as the new Source, but no one seems to know his or her name.”

The news of a possible new Source seemed to have disturbed the Charmed Ones. Olivia, on the other hand, felt rather calmed by the news. She and her family had long realized that the emergence of a new Source was bound to happen.

“A new Source?” Piper heaved a long-suffering sigh. “I guess we have to find out who this new demon is and stop him. Or her.”

Olivia stared at the oldest sister. “Why?” she asked. “Why would you go through all that trouble?”

“To stop a new Source from taking over the Underworld, of course!” Piper replied in a tone that Olivia found patronizing.

Keeping her patience in check, Olivia shot back, “And why do you think that’s necessary?”

Phoebe regarded the redhead with disbelief. “Are you saying that you want a new Source?”

Olivia sighed. “No, I’m not. But I’m trying to understand why you feel it’s necessary to go chasing after any new candidate for the Source’s throne.”

“Hel-lo? Past experience?” Phoebe retorted. “Sometimes, I really don’t understand you, Olivia. If there’s a new Source, he or she will re-organize the Underworld. And probably go after us.”

It was all Olivia could do from openly rolling her eyes in contempt. “And what makes you think that the next Source would be interested in coming after you? Or any of us? Because the last one was?”

“Well . . . I’d give that answer a big yes,” Piper shot back.

“Phoebe, the only reason why the old Source went after you,” Olivia continued, ignoring Piper’s caustic remark, “is because someone . . .”

Cole added, “Either the Oracle or the Seer . . .”

“. . . had foreseen the Charmed Ones – namely you – killing him,” the redhead finished. “And the dumb bastard became so paranoid and obsessed over that vision that he ended up destroying himself . . . twice.”

Phoebe replied, “Still, with no Source, the demonic realm will remain in chaos. And witches all over will be safer . . .”

“Safer? Says who?” Olivia demanded. “Leo?” She snorted with derision. “Sometimes, I think that whitelighters have their noses so far up their asses that they don’t really know what the hell is going on. Just because some demonic realm is in chaos, doesn’t mean that we’re all safer. Look at what has happened to all of us in the past year or so.” Olivia paused. “By the way, which demonic realm are you referring to?”

Piper frowned. “What do you mean by ‘which demonic realm’? There’s more than one?”

Olivia regarded the other woman as a mentally challenged child. Penelope Halliwell had certainly done a piss-poor job of preparing her granddaughters for the world of the supernatural. The redhead looked at her boyfriend. “Cole, how many demonic realms are there?”

“I haven’t the foggiest idea,” the half-daemon replied laconically. “Hell, there’s a whole lot of ’em, and the Source had only ruled a handful.”

Piper looked flabbergasted. “Oh my God!” she cried. “I can’t . . . I just can’t believe this!”

Cole rolled his eyes. “What can I say, Piper? Mind you, I’m only familiar with the demonic realms under the Source’s rule and several others.”

“Of course!” Paige exclaimed, startling Olivia. “I remember you saying something similar when we first met Riggerio.”

Olivia added, “As for you going after this new candidate for the Source’s throne, I suggest that you refrain from doing it. It’s irreverent. Unless he or she decides to come after you.”

“But with a new Source gone . . .” Phoebe began.

Olivia stared at her. “Yes?”

Phoebe’s voice dropped to a near whisper. “Well, evil . . .” She paused. “Never mind.”

“What were you about to say?” Olivia asked. “That evil will no longer flourish? Of course it will. It will always exist. You can’t destroy real evil. None of us can. It’s not even corporeal. It’s like a . . . well, a spirit. The spirit of evil that exists within all of us. Some of us give in to it right away . . .”

Piper added, “Like demons and warlocks.”

“And witches,” Olivia said, with a dark look. “Witches and other humans.” Piper rolled her eyes. Olivia continued, “So, you can’t destroy real evil. And despite his title, the Source was never the epitome of real evil. As much as he had probably wished.”

Once more, an uncomfortable silence filled the room. Olivia had lost count on how many times she had managed to shock the sisters into silence. She noticed, however, that it was becoming a habit. Finally, Paige came to the rescue – once more. “By the way,” the younger woman asked, “what’s the difference between a warlock and a de . . . I mean, a daemon? Isn’t the first supposed to be . . . what? An evil witch or a low-level demon?”

Cole explained that warlocks were simply magick practitioners who had perverted witchcraft for dark purposes. “Like the Crozats,” he added. “Warlock is a Scottish word that means ‘oath breaker’.”

“Warlocks also steal witches’ powers,” Piper said. “And they blink when teleporting.”

Olivia stared at the eldest Halliwell. “Actually Piper, any good magick practitioner can steal someone else’s power,” she corrected. “And a warlock’s goal isn’t to steal a witch’s power.”

Phoebe said, “What about the Crozats? They had killed a lot of witches for new powers.”

“They were consolidating power to take over the Source’s Realm,” Olivia explained. “And didn’t they try to steal Cole’s powers, as well? Come to think of it, didn’t you guys once encounter some warlocks trying to do the same to other daemons?”

Cole added, “I remember that. It happened not long after I had lost my powers. When we were trying to help that muse.”

Olivia continued, “Also, warlocks aren’t the only ones who can blink. So can a witch or any other being with that teleportation ability. My mother’s Cousin Anwen can blink. So can Nathalie Green.”

Looking flabbergasted, Phoebe exclaimed, “She can? But how . . . When Prue’s marriage to that warlock had turned all of us into one, we could blink.

Olivia shrugged. “It’s possible that particular ‘wedding ceremony’ had passed the warlock’s teleportation ability to all three of you. From what Leo had told me, the ceremony was rather unusual.”

Paige stared at Phoebe with confusion. “Prue had married a warlock?”

“Long story,” her older sister interjected. “Prue had married him, while under a spell. Besides, even Piper had dated a warlock.”

The oldest Halliwell shuddered slightly. “Oh my God! Jeremy! He was another warlock who was killing witches for their powers around the time we first got our powers. It turned out that I didn’t know he was a warlock, until we had been dating for several months.”

“How did you find out?” Paige asked.

“It happened inside the freight elevator of some old building. When Jeremy went into game face.”

Both Olivia and Cole exchanged startled looks. “Game face?” The half-daemon expressed doubt. “A warlock? This Jeremy sounds more like a vampire.”

“He wasn’t a vampire,” Piper retorted with a touch of asperity. “And yes, he did go into game face.”

A frowning Olivia shook her head. “That’s not possible. Warlocks can’t go into game face. They’re mortals. Like witches.”

“But they can’t be!” Phoebe protested. “A friend of mine once shot a warlock at close range. The warlock didn’t even flinch, let alone drop dead. You all remember Eric, don’t you, Piper? And the two warlocks that were after the Akashic Records?”

Piper nodded. “I remember.”

Heaving an exasperated sigh, Olivia tried to explain. “Let me repeat myself. Warlocks are mortals. I should know. I’ve encountered them before. Including Suzanne Crozat, who had dropped dead from two bullets, thanks to me.”

“So, what are you saying?” Phoebe demanded. “That Jeremy and those two . . . guys were . . .?”

“. . . probably daemons,” Cole finished in a dry tone. He paused, as the others stared at him. “Are they in your Book of Shadows?”

“Uh . . . yeah, I think . . .” Piper turned to her sisters.

Paige immediately went into action and orbed the Halliwells’ Book of Shadows into her hands. She placed it on the coffee table, before her.

Piper leaned down and turned the pages. She stopped at one that featured a drawing of a good-looking man with light brown hair. “Hmmm, color pencils,” Olivia commented. “Nice drawing. Prue?”

“Yeah,” Piper replied. “I guess she was a pretty good artist. Not exactly in Paige’s class, but pretty good.” A pleased expression flitted across the youngest Charmed One’s face. Piper added, “Oh, that’s Jeremy, by the way.”

Cole gazed at the drawing. “Jeremiah,” he corrected.

Piper stared at him. “Huh?”

“His name was Jeremiah,” the half-daemon continued. “A low-level, half-daemon. His mother was a warlock – and not a very good one, at that. I had met him once, nearly ten years ago. His mother had given him a Biblical name. As some kind of joke.”

Horror filled Piper’s dark eyes. “Wait a minute! Are you saying that I had once dated a demon? Had sex with one?” she cried.

Cole’s mouth curled with sardonic amusement. “I wouldn’t worry, Piper. Your little romance happened a few years ago. And at least you and Phoebe are in good company.” The two older Halliwells glared at him.

Then Phoebe sat next to Paige, on the sofa. Olivia watched, as she turned a few pages, before stopping at one that featured two middle-aged men. Both possessed forefingers that resembled pointed sticks. “What about them?” she asked Cole.

The half-daemon glanced down at the page. He nodded. “Yeah, I recognized them. The Collectors. They’re daemons that have the ability to drain information from the minds of others. Like the Seekers. Only the Collectors tend to leave their victims, feeble-minded.” A frown creased Cole’s brow. “Why does the Book have them listed as warlocks?”

“Because they had a blinking . . .” Phoebe broke off with a sigh. “I guess that whoever had added them to the Book, made a mistake.”

“No kidding.” Cole’s remark earned him another glare from his ex-wife.

Olivia, who sat on the other side of Paige, reached out and turned a few pages. She came upon a faint drawing of a female daemon listed as Hecate. She frowned. “This is Hecate? You’ve encountered her, before?”

Piper nodded. “Oh yeah. She was a demon who had tried to marry a mortal – some guy from one of San Francisco’s top families. The Spencers. She wanted to conceive a powerful half-demonic child.”

“Hecate?” Olivia’s voice rang with doubt. “You make her sound like a succubus. And I’ve never known Hecate to be described as one.” She paused. “Are you sure this daemon was Hecate? The real Hecate doesn’t have a reputation for evil.”

“Well, this Hecate was definitely evil,” Piper insisted.

Olivia shook her head. “I’m beginning to suspect that this was not the real Hecate.”

“She’s not,” Cole added.

“What do you know about her?” Paige asked.

Cole explained that the real Hecate was a Titan – a deity that possessed three heads – a lion’s, a dog’s and a mare’s. Hecate was the only Titan who had managed to keep her powers, after Zeus had defeated her father, Cronus. The latter had led a rebellion against the leading god.

“She’s also known as a spirit,” Olivia added. “And her name is usually invoked by other ghosts . . . and witches.”

The news seemed to stun the Halliwells, especially Piper and Phoebe. “But that doesn’t sound like the Hecate we had met,” Phoebe protested. “So, who was the demon we had vanquished, five years ago?”

No one – not even Cole – had an answer to Phoebe’s question. Olivia’s mouth became parched. She needed a drink. Badly. She glanced at the manor’s grandfather clock, when it struck three o’clock. “Why don’t we call it a day?” she suggested. “I think that we’ve covered all we could.”

“Um, could we hold off on the lessons for a while?” Phoebe asked. The others looked at her. “I’m going to be out of town for a week. In Chicago.”

Olivia nodded. “Sure.” She glanced at Cole, who seemed to be frowning at the Book of Shadows. “Cole, is there something wrong?”

At that moment, Cole grabbed the Book, generating gasps from the Charmed Ones. “How did you . . .?” Piper began, looking shocked.

“What?” Cole glanced at the book in his hands. He began flipping back through the pages. “Oh. Relax. I won’t . . . infect your book,” he added sardonically. “Besides, I’ve handled Olivia’s Book of Shadows, a number of times. And my intent is sincere.”

Piper retorted caustically, “Oh, that makes me feel a whole lot better.”

“I’m sure that it’s a feeling that won’t last,” Cole shot back.

“Meaning?”

He pointed at a page featured opposite the Collector demons. “I found another mistake in your Book. The Order of Gimle. It says here that it’s a demonic order. For evil.”

Phoebe eyed Cole warily. “Well, isn’t it?”

Closing the Book, Cole sighed. “It’s a demonic order, all right.” He paused. “Only, the Gimle daemons don’t serve evil. They’re usually on the other side of the fence.” He smiled and handed the Book of Shadows back to a stunned Piper.

END OF CHAPTER 7

“THE EUROPEANS” (1979) Review

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“THE EUROPEANS” (1979) Review

Merchant-Ivory Productions first began as a production company in 1961. Formed by Ishmail Merchant and James Ivory, the film company produced and released a series of movies, usually written by German-born screenwriter,
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. A few years before Merchant-Ivory entered its artistic heyday of the 1980s and 90s, it released “THE EUROPEANS”, an adaptation of Henry James’ 1878 short novel, “The Europeans: A Sketch”

Set in antebellum Massachusetts in either 1849 or 1850, “THE EUROPEANS” begins with the arrival of an European visitor named Felix Young, who is in the United States to visit his American cousins, the Wentworths. The first member of the family he meets is Gertrude Wentworth, who is shirking attendance at church. Felix eventually meets the rest of the family – patriarch Mr. Wentworth, Charlotte and the youngest member, Clifford. He also meets Mr. Brand, the local minister who hopes to marry Gertrude. Felix’s sister, Eugenia Munster, arrives the next day. Not only does she meet the Wentworths and Mr. Brand; but also Robert and Lizzie Acton, a brother and sister who happen to be neighbors of the Wentworths.

It is apparent that Gertrude has not only become enamored of her European cousins’ lifestyle, but especially Felix. Meanwhile, Eugenia and Robert have grown increasingly attracted to one another. However, Eugenia is reluctant to sign the divorce papers that would signal the end of her morganatic marriage to Prince Adolf of Silberstadt-Schreckenstein, whose family wants the marriage to end for political reasons. Despite Eugenia’s marriage and her obvious dislike of her cousins’ Unitarian society, she managed to become attracted to Robert . . . much to his sister Lizzie’s distaste. As for Felix, he and Gertrude become romantically involved. Unfortunately, the Wentworths are not thrilled by this new development between the distant cousins. All of them expect Gertrude to marry Mr. Brand – including Charlotte, who happens to be in love with the minister. The story ends up as a clash between 19th century European and American sensibilities and culture; and also a series of love stories or subplots that feature family disapproval, procrastination and bad communication.

I might as well say it. “THE EUROPEANS” is not exactly an example of the Merchant Ivory team at its cinematic best. Mind you, the movie is visually lovely. And thanks to Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s screenplay, it does featuring some amusing wit. But there is something archaic, almost static about this film. I get the feeling that Ishmail Merchant and James Ivory were either overwhelmed by the film’s period setting. Or else they, along with Prawer Jhabvala, were determined to indulged in some cliched view of stoic 19th century New England. There were times when “THE EUROPEANS” struck me as a bit too slow, almost bloodless. This pristine, yet chilly style even permeated the movie’s production designs managed by Joyce Herlihy.

But there were plenty of aspects of “THE EUROPEANS” that I enjoyed. Cinematographer Larry Pizer beautifully captured the New England locations of the film. Although Henry James’ story was set during the spring, Merchant, Ivory and their production team were so dazzled by the region’s beauty during the fall season that they decided to change the story’s period. I was also very impressed by Judy Moorcroft’s costume designs. Not only did I find her costumes beautiful, but I was also impressed by Moorcroft’s successful attempt to make her costumes a near re-creation of 1849-1850 fashions in Western countries. A good example is the following outfit worn by Lee Remick:

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Despite my complaints about the movie’s staid adaptation of James’ novel, I must admit that I still managed to enjoy the story. What I found surprising about the movie’s plot is that the so-called battle between the cultures did not result in any real winners. Did American or European culture win? My answer is “neither”. But individuals won, especially three particular characters – Felix Young and the two Wentworth sisters, Gertrude and Charlotte. The romance . . . or flirtation between Eugenia Munster and Robert Acton proved to be a bit more complicated. Despite their flirtations and battles of will, I came away with the particular feeling that neither really triumphed in the end. Yet at the same time, I found it equally hard to believe that either of them had suffered a sound defeat. The Eugenia-Robert romance proved to be one of the most complex literary relationships I have ever encountered. Most of the performances in “THE EUROPEANS” proved to be solid, especially those from Tim Woodward, Lisa Eichhorn, Robert Addy and Norman Snow. But the two performances that really impressed me came from Lee Remick and Robin Ellis, who did a marvelous job in conveying the complicated Eugenia-Robert romance.

As I had stated earlier, I would never consider “THE EUROPEANS” as one of the best movies produced by the Merchant-Ivory team. I found it a bit slow and at times, bloodless. It lacked the earthy humor and drama of some of the production company’s bigger successes in the 1980s and 90s. On the other hand, I must admit that it looked beautiful and still featured some complex characterizations, thanks to a solid cast led by Lee Remick and Robin Ellis. With patience, one could overlook the movie’s flaws and still manage to enjoy Henry James’ tale.

“LOST” RETROSPECT: (1.17) “. . . In Translation”

 

“LOST” RETROSPECT: (1.17) “. . . In Translation”

Before I commence upon this article, I should reveal that the “LOST” Season One episode, (1.17) “. . . In Translation” is one of my all time favorites from the series. I will try to be as biased as possible regarding the episode, but do not expect me to succeed. 

To understand “. . . In Translation”, one has to watch the previous episode, (1.06) “The House of the Rising Sun”. The flashbacks in that episode revealed the backstory of the marriage between Jin-Soo Kwon and Sun-Hwa Kwon (née Paik) before they had ended up stranded on the island via Oceanic Flight 815. Told from Sun’s point of view, the flashbacks revealed that Jin had to take a job working for Mr. Paik, Sun’s father, for her hand in marriage. The couple became increasingly estranged, as Jin began spending more time doing his father-in-law’s bidding than with his wife. One night, after they are married, Jin returned home covered in someone else’s blood. Fearing that her husband might be a dangerous killer, Sun secretly plotted to leave Jin (hence the secret English lessons); but changed her mind while on route to Los Angeles, via Sydney. “The House of the Rising Sun” also revealed the growing animosity between Jin and fellow castaway Michael Dawson, when the former attacked the latter for wearing Sun’s father’s watch – something that Michael had discovered on the beach.

“. . . In Translation” continued the revelation of the Kwon marriage, only from Jin’s point-of-view. The flashbacks revealed the circumstances behind Jin asking Sun’s father her hand in marriage, the bargain he made to work for the older man, Jin’s growing awareness of Sun’s frustration with his duties and more importantly the real circumstances surrounding the infamous blood on his hands that Sun had spotted. Sun saw a man who may have committed a brutal murder. What really happened is that Jin prevented a government official – who had refused to re-open one of Mr. Paik’s factories – from being murdered by one of his father-in-law’s henchmen by convincing the man to cooperate with a severe beating. Realizing that he was in danger of losing Sun, Jin decided to take his fisherman father’s advice to use a business trip to leave South Korea and stay in the U.S. for good. Only the crash of Oceanic Flight 815 intervened. Following the events of (1.14) “Special”, Michael Dawson decided to build a raft in order to get his ten year-old son away from the dangers of the island. The hostility between Michael and Jin finally come to a head when someone mysteriously set fire to the raft. Believing that Jin had set the fire, Michael attacked the former. Sun’s desperate cries for Michael to stop revealed her knowledge of English to Jin and the other castaways. The revelation not only led to a rift between the South Korean couple, but also to the beginning of a friendship between Jin and Michael, as they proceeded to rebuild the raft.

This episode was aptly named “. . . In Translation”, a take on Sofia Coppola’s 2003 movie. If anything, it focused upon the main problem that surrounded the Kwon marriage – namely the bad communication that existed between the couple before and after the crash of Oceanic 815. For some time, Sun believed that Jin might be a murderer on her father’s behalf, due to the blood she had spotted on his hand. This would explain why she had continuously declared to people like Michael and fellow castaway Kate Austen about Jin’s dangerous nature and how “he was capable of anything”. And this would explain why she took the trouble to learn English and not tell Jin. However, Jin was also guilty of keeping secrets from Sun. He never told Sun the details behind the blood on his hands, believing that it was not her place to know. More importantly, he lied about his father, Mr. Kwon, telling both Sun and her father that the latter was dead. Which is ironic, considering he left Sun after learning that she spoke English. Even more ironic is the fact that Sun knows that his father is alive . . . but never bothered to reveal this to Jin. Some viewers translated that last shot of Sun revealing her bikini without Jin hovering about, as a sign of her “freedom”. Whatever ”=”bondage”that Sun found during her marriage, had been created by bad communication between her and Jin. For me, Sun’s removal of her wrap struck me as a hollow and irrelevant gesture. Her “freedom” came at the cost of losing – at least for a while – the very man that she would always love more than anyone else.

On a minor level, a lack of communications also continued to exist between Michael and Walt. Most fans tend to blame Michael for this by accusing him of being a poor parent. Although there were moments when Michael became forgetful of Walt. And there were other times when Michael’s jealousy of Walt’s friendship with castaway John Locke got in the way. However, many of these fans failed to recall that Walt was just as responsible as Michael, due to his residual resentment toward the major changes in his life – losing his mother and gaining a long lost father. Because of this resentment, Walt had a bad habit of disobeying his father when he should have done the opposite. As far as these fans are concerned, Locke would have made a better parent than Michael. Personally, I disagree. Locke was adept at being a friend to Walt. Being a friend did not necessarily mean one is a good parent. The latter has to be an effective disciplinarian, as well. Unfortunately, being a disciplinarian does not jibe with the early 21st ideal of parenthood.

A third storyline centered on the triangle that existed between Shannon Rutherford, Sayid Jarrah and Shannon’s stepbrother, Boone Carlyle. But I barely paid attention. In a nutshell, Sayid declared his intentions to court Shannon to Boone. The latter decided to stir up trouble by hinting to Sayid that Shannon likes to use older men for her own benefit. Needless to say, Shannon set things to right and resumed her romance with Sayid after receiving sound advice from Locke.

Screenwriters Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Leonard Dick really did a great job in continuing the revelations behind the Kwon marriage in this very emotional episode. The island incidents balanced very well against Jin’s flashbacks regarding his marriage. And this episode really worked, due to the outstanding performances from Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim. Also Harold Perrineau (Michael Dawson), Bryan Chung (Mr. Paik), and John Shin (Mr. Kwon) gave excellent support.

Some of my favorite scenes in the episode included Jin’s successful attempts to save the life of the South Korean government official, his marriage proposal to Mr. Paik and especially the poignant conversation he has with his father, Mr. Kwon, about his marriage. I also enjoyed the scenes that featured Michael’s two attempts to bond with ten year-old Walt – the second being more successful. I also enjoyed Locke’s revelation that Walt was responsible for burning the raft. But my favorite scene featured the moment when Jin discovered that Sun spoke English. Director Tucker Gates did an excellent job in conveying Jin’s confusion with spinning camera work and muffled babble, as the the South Korean castaway tried to understand the English words that swirled around him. The only dark spot in this episode was Sawyer’s attempt to form a lynch mob for Jin, after the raft caught on fire. It was an unpleasant reminder that Mr. Ford’s penchant for resorting to violent retribution remained with him until the last season
.
Some time ago, I had created a LIST of my ten favorite episodes from “LOST”“. . . In Translation” ranked at number six on my list. After my recent viewing of the episode, that ranking still stands.