“STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” RETROSPECT: (5.04) “Nor the Battle to the Strong”

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“STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” RETROSPECT: (5.04) “Nor the Battle to the Strong”

It has been a long time since I have watched an episode of “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE”. A long time. I have several DVD box sets for “STAR TREK VOYAGER” and the Syfi Channel now airs “STAR TREK NEXT GENERATION” episodes on a daily basis. So when I had decided to re-aquaint myself with the 1993-99 series, I chose the Season Five episode, (5.04) “Nor the Battle to the Strong”.

To understand the background for “Nor the Battle to the Strong”, I had to recall the series’ political background that sometimes came off as slightly chaotic. Between the series’ late Season Four and early-to-mid Season Five, the Federation had been embroiled in a war against the Klingon Empire. Captain Benjamin Sisko, his senior staff and the Federation learned that the Founders – the Changeling leaders of the Dominion in the Gamma Quadrant – had planted another Changeling to impersonate the Klingons’ head of state, Gowron in the Season Five premire, (5.01) “Apocalypse Rising”. Despite this discovery, the Second Federation-Klingon War continued to rage. The war eventually ended, but not before the airing of “Nor the Battle to the Strong”.

In a nutshell, “Nor the Battle to the Strong” began with Dr. Julian Bashir and Jake Sisko traveling back to the Deep Space Nine space station after attending a medical conference. Jake had accompanied the Starfleet doctor to write a story about the latter, who had given a lecture. The pair receive a distress call a Federation colony on Ajilon Prime. Despite the recent cease fire after the events of “Apocalypse Rising”, the Klingons have resumed their war with the Federation. The Ajilon Prime colony is under attack by the Klingons has requested assistance. Bashir is reluctant to bring Jake along, but the latter convinces the doctor to respond to the distress call. Jake suspects that situation on Ajilon Prime might prove to be a better story than Bashir’s conference lecture.

Once the pair arrive at Ajilon Prime, Jake realizes that he has landed into a situation beyond his control and understanding. The colony endures repeated attacks by the Klingons, while Bashir and the base’s Federation personnel (medical or otherwise) deal not only with the warfare raging outside the field hospital. At first, Jake lends his assistance as an orderly. But the bloodshed, the cries of the wounded, the bombardment and the varied reactions of the Federation personnel prove too much for him. And in the end, he has to resort to desperate and non-heroic actions in order to survive.

“Nor the Battle to the Strong” has become one of the most highly regarded episodes of “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” by fans and critics alike. And I can see why. Writers René Echevarria and Brice R. Parker, director Kim Friedman and production designer Herman F. Zimmerman did a top-notch job of creating a somewhat realistic vision of war in the STAR TREK universe. I noticed there seemed to be very little technobabble in this episode . . . for which I utterly am grateful. I suspect that the writers wanted to emphasize the grittier aspect of war and focus less on the science aspect. One example of the episode’s gritty style proved to be dialogue spoken by the medical and military personnel at the Federation base. For some reason, the dialogue reminded me of that found in war movies . . . especially those set during the Vietnam War. There were other aspects in “Nor the Battle to the Strong” that practically reeked “combat” – Jake’s encounters with a young Starfleet combatant who claimed that his foot had been shot by a Klingon disruptor, a badly wounded Starfleet soldier outside of the base, and a dead Klingon; and the Klingons’ final attack upon the base. What made episode’s gritty atmosphere really effective was the writers’ decision to make Jake Sisko the main character. Jake was an eighteen year-old with ambitions to be a writer and not follow in his father’s footsteps as a Starfleet officer. So it only seemed natural that his character would react to the conditions that he and Dr. Bashir had encountered at Ajilon Prime; which included reacting with horror to the violence and blood he had witnessed, running away to avoid further scenes and defending himself from attacking Klingon troops.

The episode also benefitted from first-rate performances. The supporting cast did a solid job in conveying Federation troops and medical personnel under siege. This was especially apparent in the performances of Andrew Kavovit as the orderly named Kirby, Karen Austin as Dr. Kalandra, and Danny Goldring, who strongly impressed me as the dying Starfleet soldier, Chief Burke. Alexander Siddig gave a nuanced performance as Dr. Julian Bashir, who became guilt-stricken for bringing Jake with him to the Ajilon Prime battlefront. But for me, the best performance came from Cirroc Lofton, who gave a superb performance as Jake Sisko. Lofton did a skillful job of conveying Jake’s emotional journey in this episode – from the cocky adolescent who wanted to prove his journalistic skills with an exciting story to the guilt-ridden young man, traumatized by his experiences in combat.

Although I was impressed by most of the cast, there was one performance that failed to impress me. It came from an actor named Jeb Brown, who portrayed the Starfleet ensign who claimed he had been wounded by the Klingon. Try as he may, Brown simply failed to convince me of a young man expressing guilt over and attempting to hide what may have been an act of cowardice. I simply found his performance a bit heavy-handed. In fact, it was Brown’s performance that led me to take a closer look at the episode. There was something about “Nor the Battle to the Strong” that prevented me from fully embracing it. I could not put my finger upon it, until I asked my sister. She believed that “they” hard tried too hard. By “they”, she meant the episode’s production staff. She thought they had tried to hard to convey the atmosphere of a gritty war drama. And I agree.

Starting with the wounded Starfleet ensign, it seemed as if the writers, Friedman and the producers tried to utilize every war drama cliché to create an effective combat episode. Even worse, there were plenty of moments when their efforts struck me as heavy-handed. If it were not for the setting, the props and the Federation/Starfleet costumes, and those scenes at Deep Space Nine and aboard the Defiant, I would have sworn I was watching a war movie, instead of TREK episode. Some might see this as a good sign – a TREK venturing beyond the usual franchise’s umbrella. I cannot agree with that opinion. I see no reason to do so in the first place. Why? Because the TREK franchise managed to produce plenty of dark and gritty episodes that were not only first-rate, but managed to maintain its science-fiction style. The ironic thing is that two years later, the production staff for “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” made another attempt to present an episode about the grittiness of combat. Only(7.08) “The Siege of AR-558” was set during the Dominion War.

I have to admit that my original opinion of “Nor the Battle to the Strong” is not as positive as it used to be. It has its virtues – namely a solid narrative and some excellent performances by the cast – especially from Cirroc Lofton. But for me, the episode possesses a heavy-handedness that I found a little off-putting. After all, this is supposed to be “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE”, not “PLATOON”.

“Spells, Lies and Remorse” [R] – 6/9

“SPELLS, LIES AND REMORSE”

CHAPTER SIX

The waiter handed Cole and Phoebe, each a menu. “Here you go,” he said. “Would you like to order now?”

Cole glanced at Phoebe, who shook her head. He said to the waiter. “Give us a few minutes.” The other man nodded, and walked away. A giggle escaped from Phoebe’s mouth. Cole stared at her. “What is it?”

“Nothing.” Phoebe paused. “Well, this. This is nice. I mean, when was the last time we were here, at the Crab House?”

Cole sighed and allowed the memories to return. “Two years, five months and two weeks ago. Well, to be exact, one week. Right after Piper and Leo’s wedding.”

Phoebe smiled. “I remember. That was the night we had those pictures taken in a photo booth, here at the Pier.”

“Hmmm.” Cole took a sip of his water.

Voices from other diners inside the Crab House filled the silence that developed between the couple. Cole took a few more sips of water and averted his gaze to the view of the Golden Gate Bridge, beyond the window. Phoebe finally broke the silence. “It’s funny,” she said. “I had pasted one of those pictures in the Book of Shadows.” Cole glanced at his former wife. “To describe your human half. I had added it after . . .” She paused. “I mean, just before . . . you know, before I became a banshee.”

Cole blinked. He knew what Phoebe had meant to say. She had added information about his human side just after Raynor had forced him to kill that witch. “Oh. Is it still there? The picture?” When Phoebe hesitated, Cole quickly guessed the answer to his question. “Well, I hope that you’ve managed to save the other pictures,” he added with a mirthless chuckle. “I’d hate to think that my four dollar investment had turned out to be a waste.”

“I’m sorry Cole.” Phoebe’s head hung low.

A slight frown creased Cole’s forehead. “Sorry about what?”

Phoebe sighed. “Everything. For over a year, we had wasted a second chance to be together, because I had allowed my fears to come between us.”

“Phoebe . . .”

The middle Charmed One shook her head. “No! Cole . . . don’t. I’m tired of running away from the truth. I was so afraid of being evil that I . . . well, I guess I had projected my fears upon you.”

“I guess those classes in Psychology have finally paid off,” Cole said with another chuckle.

“Cole . . .”

“Look Phoebe, there’s an old saying that Elise McNeill once told me. It takes two to break up a marriage. Maybe you and your sisters could have given me the benefit of the doubt. But I should have never made that deal with the Seer. I had suspected that she would trying something . . .” He broke off and stared at the Bridge for the second time. A sigh left his mouth. “I guess that I was afraid of losing you . . . to the Source. Especially after he had used the Hollow to steal Piper and Paige’s powers. And when I came back from the Wasteland, I shouldn’t have tried so hard to win you back. Perhaps give you some room to breath.”

Phoebe absent-mindedly began to play with the sugar bowl. “I guess we both had screwed up.”

“Yeah,” Cole murmured. “But at least we’re friends again.” He paused, as if he had received an epiphany. “Or perhaps that was our real problem.”

“What do you mean?”

Cole sighed. “Were we ever friends? Even when we loved each other?”

Phoebe opened her mouth to speak. No sound came from her mouth. Instead, she shook her head in a helpless manner.

“I mean, think about it,” Cole continued. “The first two months we were together, both of us were lying to each other. We barely knew each other before we first had sex. And after we had started over again before Piper’s wedding, we simply jumped back into the romance. We were always doing that.”

“People have been known to begin successful relationships without knowing each other very long,” Phoebe shot back. Almost resentfully.

Nodding, Cole said, “Perhaps. But did you ever stop to think that . . . well that neither of us were mature or experienced enough to deal with falling in love so fast?”

A pause followed before Phoebe added, “Well, we’re friends now.”

Cole stared into her dark eyes. Eyes that radiated hope and desire. “Oh.”

“Maybe you’re right about us moving too fast in our relationship,” Phoebe continued. “But . . .” She hesitated. “But can’t we start all over again? Just take it a little slow, this time?”

Nine, perhaps ten months ago, Cole would have jumped at Phoebe’s offer. But now, he had someone else to consider. Olivia.

Phoebe added, “I realize that you might not want to hear this, Cole. But it seems to me that it’s over between you and Olivia. She doesn’t seem to want to have anything to do with you. I’m not . . .” Despite the restaurant’s low lighting, Cole could see red spots on Phoebe’s cheeks. She took a deep breath. “I’m not asking you to jump right into bed with me. But could you think about it? About us being together, again?”

Cole responded in the only manner he could – with a wide-eyed stare.

———–

“Hey.” Paige greeted the oldest Charmed One, as she entered the kitchen the following morning. Piper glanced over her shoulder and coolly returned the younger woman’s greeting. Paige winced. She could clearly see that Piper had not forgotten their confrontation over Phoebe’s vision. In an attempt to erase the hostility that hung thick inside the kitchen, Paige cheerfully added, “So, where’s Wyatt?”

“Upstairs. Fast asleep. I’ve already fed him.” Piper placed several bacon strips into the frying pan. “So is Phoebe. I think. I didn’t hear her come in, last night.”

Paige said, “I did. She came in about twenty minutes after I did.”

“Well, that’s a relief.”

It did not take a genius to figure out the meaning behind Piper’s words. Phoebe arriving home on time could only mean that she did not spend the night with Cole. Paige sighed and sat down in one of the kitchen chairs.

The sizzle of frying bacon filled the air. Piper opened the refrigerator and removed some eggs. “So . . . how did your date go, last night?”

“It wasn’t bad . . . at the beginning,” Paige replied. After Harry’s attempt to read Paul Margolin’s thoughts, the mood between the two young witches had sobered. Paige squirmed, while Piper stared at her. “We, uh . . . Harry and I had ran into an unpleasant surprise at the Golden Horn.”

With a sneer Piper said, “One of Harry’s old girlfriends? Like Dana Morton?” Paige glared at the older woman. Who looked immediately contrite. “Sorry.”

“No, it wasn’t an old girlfriend,” Paige coldly replied. Her anger immediately vanished. “It was Olivia. And Paul Margolin.”

“Oh.” Piper cracked an egg into a porcelain bowl. “What’s so unpleasant about that?”

Paige watched her sister crack more eggs into the bowl. “I don’t know, Piper. Maybe it’s the idea of Olivia dating a man whom she once described as being dull.”

Piper heaved a sigh. Then she turned to face the other woman. “Paige, has it ever occurred to you that Olivia simply had enough of Cole and decided to consider greener pastures?”

“Gee Piper, if Olivia wanted greener pastures that badly, she would have accepted Paul’s offer to take things seriously, last April. Don’t you think?” Piper rolled her eyes, while Paige continued. “Besides, now that Olivia is giving Cole the cold shoulder, he’s running back to Phoebe. Who’s welcoming him with open arms.”

Piper returned her attention to the eggs. “It won’t last,” she growled. “Phoebe will soon come to her senses.”

“Really? You better hope and pray that both Olivia and Cole does, as well.”

“Paige . . .”

But the youngest Charmed One was not finished. “By the way, where’s Leo?”

Piper cracked another egg into the bowl. “I don’t know. He had left last night to answer a summons from one of his charges. Why?”

“What’s the name of this charge?”

Once more, Piper whirled around to stare at Paige. “What are you getting at?”

Paige told her about last night. “After we had spotted Olivia and Paul together, I talked Harry into reading their minds.”

“Paige! Are you crazy?”

The younger woman ignored her sister. “I know it was the wrong thing to do. And Harry didn’t want to do it – especially read Olivia’s mind. He figured that she would detect him. But he did managed to read a little from Paul’s mind.”

Piper turned away. “I’m not listening to this.”

Paige continued. “He heard these words in Paul’s thoughts – ‘I can’t believe it. It really worked. Leo will be . . .’ And then a waiter had interrupted.” She paused. “I don’t know about you, Piper, but I can’t help but wonder what Leo has to do with all of this.”

———–

“And I heard this in Paul’s mind,” Harry said to his family. “‘I can’t believe it. It really worked. Leo will be . . .’ And then he was interrupted.” Harry paused, while the other McNeills stared at him in horror. He sighed. “Okay, I realized that you’re all disappointed that I had used my telepathy on Paul. I know I am. Hell, I’ve been beating myself about it, all night.”

Gweneth McNeill sighed. “By the way, how did your date with Paige go?”

“It was nice. At first.” Harry paused. “Until we saw Olivia and Paul at the Golden Horn.” He shook his head in disbelief. “I never realized that underneath all that intelligence and wit was a paranoid and obsessive woman.”

A smirk curved Gwenth’s mouth. “Well, you must really be attracted to her.” Harry shot a dark look at his mother.

Jack McNeill frowned. “What on earth does Leo have to do with Olivia and Paul?”

Harry shrugged his shoulders. “I have no idea. But if Olivia has been acting strange lately . . .”

“You mean her sudden interest in Paul?” Bruce added.

Jack eyed his son suspiciously. “What are you saying? That magic was involved . . . on Leo’s part?”

“Leo and Paul.”

Barbara shook her head in disbelief. “A whitelighter casting a spell on one of his charges?”

“Actually, Leo hasn’t been Olivia’s official whitelighter for years,” Gweneth reminded her family. “You know how he feels about Cole. And if Paul is involved, then he would be the one to cast a spell upon Olivia.”

“Paul Margolin casting a spell on a fellow witch?” The McNeills’ elderly matriarch exclaimed. “The Wiccan Boy Scout?” The others stared at her. “Well, isn’t that Cole’s nickname for him?”

Gweneth rolled her eyes. “Please! Just because Paul believes himself to be the epitome of goodness, it doesn’t mean that he is. We all know how he feels about Olivia. And Cole. If his feelings are that strong, it is possible that he would cast such a spell.”

Jack asked, “But where does Leo fit into all of this?”

Good question, Harry thought. Hopefully, Paige will eventually find out.

———–

Cole reached for the digital clock on his nightstand and stared at it. The clock read 8:27 in the morning. He sighed and realized that he had been awake for the past five hours.

After delivering Phoebe to the Prescott Street manor, Cole had stopped by Vorando’s for a few drinks. He had hoped to discuss his problems with Riggerio, the daemon who owned the nightclub. But Riggerio was out of town on a business trip. And Marbus had matters to attend with the Gimle Order. After drowning his troubles with a few martinis, he went home and fell asleep for a few hours. A bad dream featuring Olivia and Phoebe had awaken him from his brief slumber.

Following his interrupted sleep, Cole spent the next five hours contemplating Phoebe’s suggestion. Start over again? The two of them? Cole considered it, but he realized that his desire to win back Phoebe’s hand had faded since meeting Olivia. Granted, he did not allow his life to revolve around the redhead. Olivia would not have tolerated a possessive or clinging lover. And Cole’s experiences with Phoebe had ended any desire on his part to repeat his past mistakes. But Olivia had opened new horizons for him. She had allowed him . . . No. She had encouraged him to be his own man. Not the notorious demonic killer that the Source and Raynor wanted, or the perfect man/supernatural vigilante that Phoebe had tried to create. Olivia had wanted to be with Cole Turner aka Belthazor – both the good and the bad.

However, Olivia no longer seemed satisfied with him. She apparently wanted someone like the Wiccan Boy Scout. And it looked as if she finally got what she wanted. Had the last two months spent on the DiMatteo case finally led the two witches to become close, again? It was the only explanation that Cole could consider.

The half-daemon sat up and threw the sheets off him. He donned a pair of black trousers and a gray T-shirt. He decided to give Olivia one last chance to explain what had gone wrong between them. Because he sure as hell had no idea.

Seconds later, Cole beamed out of his bedroom and into the corridor, outside Olivia’s apartment. After a brief hesitation, he rang the doorbell. A minute passed before a voice murmured, “Who is it?”

“It’s Cole. I want to speak with you.”

Two minutes passed before Cole rang the doorbell for the second time. Finally, the door opened and he found himself facing the beautiful redhead. She regarded him with baleful eyes. “What do you want, Cole?”

The half-demon’s mouth hung open for a second. Then, “I, uh . . .” He took a deep breath. “Look Olivia, I just want to know . . . What have I done to piss you off?”

Green eyes expressed contempt. “You really are one arrogant bastard, aren’t you?”

“What?” Now, what in the hell has he done?

Olivia continued, “You seemed to believe that this is all about you. That my life has to revolve around you. Well, it doesn’t . . .Belthazor!” Contempt oozed from her voice, as she uttered his demonic name. Cole winced. “You know, there are other people in my life. People who haven’t spent a least a century leaving behind dead innocents like a trail of blown roses.”

Now Cole felt confused. “Since when have you ever been bothered by my past?”

“I don’t know, Cole. I guess since you had failed to tell us about your uncle,” Olivia shot back. “Or the fact that your mother now heads the Thorn Brotherhood.”

An exasperated Cole protested, “I didn’t know about my mother, until three hours before you did! As for Marbus . . .” He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. I just never got around to mentioning him.”

But Olivia was not listening. Instead, she continued to rant over Cole’s habit of harboring secrets. Pretty soon, her rants became accusations. “Or maybe there was another reason why you never mentioned your family.” Her green eyes resembled polished stones, as she sneered at him with contempt. “After all, once a daemon, always a daemon. Right Belthazor?”

“Olivia?” Cole shook his head in disbelief. It seemed as if the ghost of Prue Halliwell had taken possession of the redhead.

“I’m sorry Cole, but I don’t think our relationship is going to work.” Olivia’s expression became distant. Cold. “It’s over between us.” She slammed the door in Cole’s face, leaving him stunned . . . and heartbroken.

———–

Bruce was in a fix. His watch read four thirty-seven and he was already running late. Two days ago, a local historical society had reserved one of the Golden Horn’s private rooms for a dinner party. A dinner that was scheduled to begin in over six hours from now. Although he and his kitchen staff had just began to preparation of the food, Bruce discovered that one of his assistants had failed to order several cases of wine for the dinner.

“Shit!” he murmured to himself. He drove his Jaguar into the parking lot of the Wine Cellar, an exclusive liquor store in the Castro District. Since Bruce happened to be a regular customer, he decided to drop by and hope the store’s owner could provide an emergency supply of the wine he needed.

After easing his car into a parking space, Bruce climbed out and entered the store. Instead of searching the shelves for the wine, he headed straight for the store’s owner. “Emilio! Good afternoon!”

“Bruce!” Emilio Rinaldi, owner of the Wine Cellar, gave the chef a cheerful wave. Then he stared at Bruce with shrewd eyes. “Don’t tell me. Let me guess. You have an emergency?”

Bruce hung his head in desperation. “I need a case of wine. Badly. It’s for a private dinner party at the Golden Horn.”

Emilio asked, “What are the main courses?”

“Beef Wellington and Eggs en Gelee. Along with Peas in Lettuce, Calliflower Polonaise and Tomato Vinaigrette.”

Nodding, the storeowner said, “Hmm, this sounds like you’ll need several bottles of Cabernet Saivignon.”

“Precisely!”

Emilio added, “I’ll check my stock. He disappeared through a door that led to the store’s cellar. Meanwhile, Bruce stood before the counter. Waiting.

Several minutes passed before a new customer entered the store. Bruce glanced at the front door and was surprised to see Cole. He called out the half-daemon’s name.

Cole seemed surprised . . . and a little wary at the sight of the witch. “Bruce,” he greeted politely. “Doing a little shopping?”

“It’s an emergency,” Bruce replied. “For a private dinner I’m preparing at the restaurant.” He paused and noted Cole’s unhappy demeanor. “So, uh . . . how are you doing?”

A wan smile appeared on Cole’s face. “Fine. I’m . . . doing okay. Excuse me.” He turned away.

“Hey! Wait a minute! Cole!” The other man paused. Bruce hurried toward him. “Hey, what’s going on? You look as if your favorite pet had just died.”

A heavy, dry sigh escaped from Cole’s mouth. “It’s over between us. Olivia and me.”

“Look, just because Livy has been acting odd lately . . .”

Cole interrupted. “I just got the official word from her, this morning. As far as she’s concerned, we’re through.”

“Oh.” Bruce did not know what to say. He felt tempted to convey his family’s suspicions about Leo and Paul. But knowing Cole’s bull-by-the-horn nature, Bruce feared that the half-daemon would go after the pair and ruin any chances of them learning the truth behind Olivia’s sudden aversion to her now former boyfriend. “I . . . uh, . . . Hey man, I’m sorry to hear that.” Bruce paused. “Did she explain why?”

With a shrug, Cole replied, “She had mentioned something about me not telling her about Marbus. And not trusting me.” He reached for a bottle of Chardonnay, glanced at it and placed it back on the shelf. “To hell with it,” he growled. “I’m not in the mood to waste fifty bucks so I can drown my sorrows in booze. I’ll see you later.” He turned away and walked out of the store.

————

Phoebe’s cell phone rang. She retrieved it from her purse and answered it. “Hello?”

“Phoebe? It’s Cole.”

“Cole!” The witch perked up at the sound of her ex-husband’s voice. “Uh, what are you . . . is there something you want?”

A silent pause followed before Cole answered, “Yeah. Are you free for dinner, tomorrow night?”

Phoebe nearly had a heart attack over Cole’s question. “Did you . . .? I mean, yeah! Yes, I’d love to have dinner with you.”

“Good. I’ll be preparing dinner at my place,” Cole continued. “You’ll really love it. Can you be here around seven?”

In a voice that rang with happiness, Phoebe replied, “Yeah, sure. I’ll be ready. I’ll see you tomorrow night?”

“Tomorrow night it is. Good-bye, Phoebe.”

“Bye!” Phoebe hung up the telephone. Thrilled over Cole’s invitation, she had failed to recognize the melancholy in his voice.

END OF CHAPTER 6

“TOPSY-TURVY” (1999) Review

“TOPSY-TURVY” (1999) Review

I have very limited past experience with the world of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. I have never seen a stage production of any of their works. And I am vaguely familiar with one of the tunes featured in their most famous play, “The Mikado”, thanks to the 1978 comedy thriller, “FOUL PLAY”. Pathetic is it not?

I never saw “TOPSY-TURVY”, Mike Leigh’s dramatization of the duo’s creation of “The Mikado”, when it first hit the theaters back in 1999. Considering my penchant for costume dramas, I find it surprising that it took me so long to see this film. It spanned the 14-month period that began with the premiere of Gilbert and Sullivan’s play, “Princess Ida” in January 1884 and ended with the premiere of the “The Mikado” in March 1885. During this period, the summer heat discouraged theatergoers from attending more shows of “Princess Ida” and ticket sales decline. Producer Richard D’Oyly Carte called on Sullivan and Gilbert to create a new musical play for the Savoy Theater. The duo encountered creative impasse after impasse, until a visit to the Japanese Village Exhibit in Knightsbridge by Gilbert and his wife Kitty, inspired the dramatist write a liberetto set in Japan – an idea that Sullivan agreed to write the music for.

The rest of “TOPSY-TURVY” focused upon Gilbert, Sullivan, the cast and the stage crew working to make “The Mikado” a success. Leigh allowed audiences glimpses into the lives of the cast and crew members that include scenes of them negotiating their salaries with Carte, costume fittings in which both Durward Lely and Jessie Bond express their concerns over C. Wilhelm‘s designs, the women’s chorus learn to walk like Japanese women, Sullivan’s rehearsals with both the orchestra and the cast, and Gilbert’s rehearsals with the cast over lines. The movie also depicts the world of late Victorian England through the characters’ private lives with scenes that include George Grossmith‘s morphine addiction, three actors’ discussion of the Charles Gordon’s defeat at Khartoum, Leonora Braham‘s alcoholism and lesbianism, and Sullivan’s visit to a French brothel, Gillbert’s family circumstances and encounter with a beggar. And throughout the movie’s second half, director Mike Leigh interjected scenes of Gilbert and Sullivan’s preparation of the operetta with actual performances from the production by the cast.

“TOPSY-TURVY” received four Academy Award nominations and won two. But none of the nominations were in the Best Picture, Best Director or any of the acting nominations. I found this a bit disappointing. Mind you, the movie was not perfect. With a running time of 160 minutes, the movie struck me as too long. Someone once complained that the movie featured too many vignettes of late Victorian life . . . scenes that had nothing to do with the creation of The Mikado. To a certain extent, I agree with this complaint. I had no problems with the film starting off with the opening night for “Princess Ida” and the conversations between Carte, Gilbert and Sullivan about the creative pair’s partnership. There was one particular vignette of Victorian life that I found entertaining – namelyRutland Barrington, Lely and Grossmith’s conversation about Gordon’s defeat at Khartoum and their upcoming appointments with Carte. But there was a great deal in the movie I could have done without. I really did not need to view an extended scene from one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s earlier works, “The Sorcerer”. I did not need extended views of Sullivan’s visit to a Parisian brothel or Gilbert’s private life – especially his relationship with this father. In fact, Leigh’s portrayal of Gilbert’s wife, Lucy “Kitty” Gilbert as this meek and mild woman constantly longing for children proved to be inaccurate. The only time “TOPSY-TURVY” provided an accurate portrayal of the dramatist’s wife was the scene in which she dragged him to the Knightsbridge Japanese Village Exhibit. In fact, by the time the movie shifted to the Gilberts’ visit to the exhibit, which inspired the dramatist to write “The Mikado”, at least 50 to 60 minutes of the film had passed.

But despite these flaws, I still believe that “TOPSY-TURVY” should have received Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. At least. Flawed or not, it is a superb movie that not only explored late Victorian England, Gilbert and Sullivan’s collaboration, but more importantly, the world of creating a work of art. As a lover of movies, theater and books, watching the creation of “The Mikado” through Gilbert becoming inspired, costume fittings and various rehearsals sent a thrill through my veins. Someone with the Motion Pictures Academy must have agreed. Leigh received an Oscar nomination for his original screenplay. I especially enjoyed those scenes in which both Jessie Bond and Durward Lely griped about their costumes, Gilbert and choreographer John D’Auban argued over the stage directions for the “Three Little Maids From School” number, and especially the hullabaloo over Gilbert’s initial decision to cut the A More Humane Mikado”, which was eventually performed by Richard Temple.

The film’s Victorian vision would not have been possible by the work of production designer Eve Stewart. She did such an exceptional job of recapturing London of the mid-1880s that I did not realize that the movie featured very few exterior shots until my last viewing. Helen Scott’s Oscar nominated art direction added to Stewart’s re-creation of Victorian London, along with the set decorations she created with John Bush. As for Lindy Hemming, she won a most deserved Academy Award for the brilliant costumes she had designed for the film, as shown below:

Aside from Leigh’s exploration of how “The Mikado” was created, the movie also benefited from strong performances, thanks to its talented cast. Jim Broadbent was the first cast member selected for the movie and he did a superb job as the blunt-speaking, sardonic and artistic William S. Gilbert. Allan Courduner was equally superb as the more extroverted Arthur Sullivan, who seriously considered breaking up the partnership in order to embark on a career as a “more serious” composer. There were supporting performances that left a strong impression with me. They include Lesley Manville as “Kitty” Gilbert. Her characterization may have been off, thanks to Leight, but Manville gave a brilliant performance. Ron Cook gave one of the most subtle and satisfying performances as Savoy Theater owner, Richard D’Oyly Carte. I especially enjoyed Timothy Spall, Shirley Henderson, Kevin McKidd and Martin Savage as Richard Temple, Leonora Braham, Durward Lely and George Grossmith, respectively.

No movie is perfect. And that includes “TOPSY-TURVY”. My main problem is that it required more editing than it actually received. It really needed a shorter running time. But the movie’s flaws were overshadowed by its virtues – an in-depth look into the world of Victorian theater and the creation of “The Mikado”, a beautiful production design that came very close to reflecting life in the late Victorian era, a first-rate cast led by Jim Broadbent and Allan Courduner, and excellent direction and writing from Mike Leigh, himself. It was not perfect, but I believe it could have received Oscar nods for both Best Picture and Best Director.

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”: (2.01) “Shadows” Commentary

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I first wrote this article after the airing of the Season Two “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” episode, (2.01) “Shadows” in the fall of 2014:

 

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” (2.01) “Shadows” Commentary

Ohmigod! Did “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” lose its sense of humor? I realize that the show is supposed to take a darker turn, but they seemed to be overdoing it.

After an hour of viewing, I realized that the only flash of real humor came from Antoine “Trip” Triplett. The episode revealed that Jemma Simmons left the agency during hiatus. And we do not know the circumstances that led her to finally leave. This is a scenario that should have happened either in the Season One finale, (1.22) “Beginning of the End” or in this episode. Instead, it happened off screen. And what was up with that speech from new S.H.I.E.L.D. Director, Phil Coulson near the end of the episode? He sounded as if he had a burr up his ass.

The scene between Skye and Ward was simply wince inducing. Were they trying to make Ward seductive? How can I be brutally frank? I never really cared about Ward. In fact, what was he doing there in the first place? I doubt that he knows everything about HYDRA. I even doubt that he knows everything that Garrett knew. His presence with Coulson and the others make NO SENSE to me whatsoever. As for Skye, she has more or less lost her sense of humor, let alone personality. Now, she is bland.

Why would the U.S. Army give Glenn Talbot a promotion for losing Coulson and his crew in the last season? What were the circumstances that led Lucy Lawless and her crew of mercenaries to join the new S.H.I.E.L.D.? As for Nick Blood – the so-called “sexy” British mercenary and television cliché – could Whedon and Company be more unoriginal? And what was up with that ridiculous slow motion scene near the end of the episode? Was this episode directed by John Woo or something?

Well, it happened . . . just as I had feared. The producers caved in to the public’s inability to deal with the serial drama format . . . and they ended up forcing the action for this season – to the extreme – down our throats. In fact, everything about the writing in“Shadows” was rushed – including the introduction of new characters and situation. Whedon and Co. dumped its usual style of storytelling and rushed the story in order to satisfy the critics, the viewers and the Disney corporate suits who had complained about Season One’s slow development of the story line. Apparently these critics know nothing about story development in a serial drama format. And I guess Whedon and Co. lost that knowledge as well.

The only interesting aspect about this episode was the 1940s flashback featuring Peggy Carter, “Dum Dum” Dugan, Jim Morita and the new Big Bad, Daniel Whitehall. The rest of it was a rushed job filled with over-the-top action, along with grim and humorless characterization. If this new episode had been the first episode of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” I had seen, I would have given up on this series with the drop of a hat.

“RUSH HOUR 3” (2007) Review

“RUSH HOUR 3” (2007) Review

Chris Tucker, Jackie Chan and director Brett Ratner reunite after six years to film the third installment in the “RUSH HOUR”. In the end, the trio produce a silly, occasionally flawed yet very funny sequel.

I did not harbor any expectations about this comedy. Why should I? It’s a “RUSH HOUR” movie. Like its two predecessors, it was another comedic adventure featuring Hong Kong detective Chief Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) and Los Angeles Police Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker). However, this movie starts with the assassination attempt of Lee’s former mentor, now Ambassador Han (Tzi Ma) from the first film, in Los Angeles. It seems that Han and the World Criminal Court have concerned themselves with the growing threat of the Chinese Triads. Han announces that he has knowledge of the leadership behind the Triads. But before he can say anything further, he is shot by an assasin who turns out to be Lee’s godbrother, Kenji (Hiroyuki Sanada). The latter manages to get away before Lee and Carter can capture him. The pair eventually learns from the Kung Fu master of Ambassador Han’s now grown-up daughter – Soo Yung (Zhang Jingchu) that she, the Ambassador and French Ambassador Reynard (Max von Sydow)have all been targeted by the Triads. Their investigations also lead them to a Triad hideout disguised as a gambling club in Paris. With the help of an overeager Parisian cab driver named George (Yvan Attal) and a beautiful nightclub entertainer named Genevieve (Noémie Lenoir), Carter and Lee foil the plans of the Traids to keep their identities safe.

Like its two predecessors, “RUSH HOUR 3” is not perfect. The movie’s beginning – which featured the assasination attempt and Carter’s encounter with two L.A. socialites – seemed a bit lame in the humor department. In fact, the movie does not really pick up pace until the two partners find themselves at Soo Yung’s kung fu academy, where they encounter a rather “tall” adversary and Carter engages in a hilarious rendition of the old Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?”routine. One last aspect of the movie bothered me . . . namely the Parisian cab driver, George. At first, I found Attal’s performance very entertaining, as he conveyed the character’s distaste for Americans. But after Carter managed to convince him to embrace all things American – including Seattle’s finest coffee that he labeled “shit” – he became annoying. A bore. Not even his last minute rescue of Carter and Lee could change my mind about him.

But “RUSH HOUR 3” still possessed enough attributes that made it an entertaining movie. The fight sequences – especially the sword fight between Chan and Sanada – were excellent. Even Tucker managed to hold his own a lot more than he usually did. While Chan and Sanada were busy with their showdown, his character was engaged in fighting off four Triad minions. Many might consider this unrealistic, considering that Carter had barely been able to defend himself in the first movie. But the second movie conveyed that Carter had learned a few moves. And by the third movie, he had become an effective martial arts fighter. Aside from the movie’s first ten to fifteen minutes, the humor seemed just as snappy and hilarious as it had been in the first two movies. And as usual, it was the gregarious Tucker who provided most of the laughs. But what I really enjoyed about “RUSH HOUR 3” was the colorful Parisian setting. No one felt more happy than I when the movie shifted from Los Angeles to Paris.

If you are seeking a comedy that provides a sharp and witty look at our society’s ills, “RUSH HOUR 3” is not your movie. If you simply want a hilarious, yet silly movie with beautiful locations, I suggest you rush to the nearest theater that features this movie, turn off your brain and enjoy yourself. Trust me, you will.

“Spells, Lies and Remorse” [R] – 5/9

“SPELLS, LIES AND REMORSE”

CHAPTER FIVE

Around six in the evening, the McNeills, sans Olivia and Harry, gathered inside the family’s dining room for supper. It was at this time when Bruce told the others what he had witnessed between Olivia and Cole.

Jack McNeill stared at his son in disbelief. “That doesn’t sound like Olivia,” he declared. “Had Cole done something to piss her off?”

“That’s what I had wondered. But when I asked Livy, she . . .” Bruce paused, recalling his reaction to Olivia’s answer. “Well, she said no. And later, during lunch, she seemed unable to give me an answer. Like she really didn’t have one. Instead, she kept telling me how she was tired of Cole being a part of her life. Weird.”

Shaking his head, Jack added, “Maybe your sister is having some kind of psychotic episode.”

“Jack!” Gweneth McNeill chided. “This is your daughter we’re talking about.”

“I don’t know, Mom,” Bruce said. “I’m inclined to believe Dad. Just before Cole showed up, she was on the phone with Paul Margolin. And they have a date for tonight.”

Elise McNeill’s voice rang with disbelief. “Olivia? And Paul Margolin? But she . . . she’s always found him so boring!”

Bruce shrugged. “Not anymore.”

“I guess none of you know.” Barbara reached for her glass of wine. “Paige told me that while searching for something in her closet, Phoebe had come across one of Cole’s old sweaters. She ended up with a vision of what he had went through with the old Source.”

The news took the McNeills by surprise. “No wonder,” Jack exclaimed. “After Phoebe had discovered the truth, she must have reconciled with Cole.”

“Possibly,” Barbara said with a shrug. “And you know how Olivia feels about Phoebe. She’s always feared that Cole and Phoebe would reconcile.” She paused. “Maybe they have.”

Bruce protested, “But they haven’t!” The others stared at him. “I mean . . . maybe they’ve made their peace, but as far as Cole is concerned, he’s still with Olivia. At least that was the impression I got, earlier today.”

The family fell silent and continued eating. Then Gweneth suggested, “Perhaps there’s a chance that Olivia is under some kind of spell. I mean, bloody hell! Paul Margolin?”

“You have got to be kidding!” Jack shot back. “Are you suggesting that Margolin would put Livy under a spell? The Poster Boy of Witchcraft? Hell Gwen, he would rather tear off his right arm than pull a stunt like that! Unless he had a good reason.”

Gweneth glared at her husband. “Has it ever occurred to you, John Collins McNeill, that even ‘Poster Boys’ aren’t above pulling a stunt like that? And besides, Paul has had a motive ever since Olivia and Cole started dating last spring.”

Her mother-in-law shook her head. “No, I believe that Barbara might be right. I believe that Cole’s reconciliation with Phoebe may have frightened her. And now, she’s giving in to her fear.”

Sighing, Gweneth added, “Well, if you are right, someone needs to have a serious talk with that girl.” Bruce heartily agreed.

————

At the same time, Cole finally arrived at the Halliwell manor and experienced a sense of déjà vu. It suddenly occurred to him that a long time had passed since he had last paid a visit to this house. Alone. He took a deep breath and rang the doorbell.

“Just a minute!” a voice answered. Seconds later, the door opened and in the doorway stood Piper, looking shocked by his appearance. “Cole! What the . . . what are you doing here?”

“I’m taking Phoebe to dinner,” he quietly replied. Cole noticed the stunned expression on his former sister-in-law’s face. “Didn’t Phoebe tell you?”

Piper’s expression hardened. “No, she didn’t. Phoebe!” Her voice rang in Cole’s ears, causing him to wince.

Footsteps on the staircase followed. Seconds later, Paige appeared in the doorway. She wore a deep yellow dress with spaghetti straps and a matching jacket with flowing sleeves. “Cole?” A frown appeared on her face.

“Hey! Nice outfit, Paige,” Cole responded with deep admiration. “You have a date?”

“Yeah.” Paige gave her head a slight shake. “What are you doing here?”

Cole smiled. “I have a date. With Phoebe.” He realized that Piper had not allowed him inside the house. “Uh, mind if I come inside?”

Before Piper could answer, Paige said, “Yeah. Sure.” She stepped aside and jerked Piper out of the way, allowing Cole to enter.

Piper’s brows rose questioningly. “I’ll tell Phoebe that you’re here. Excuse me.” She shot Cole one last glance, heaved a long-suffering sigh and headed upstairs.

Once Piper had disappeared, Paige led Cole to the living room. “What the hell are you doing here?” she exclaimed, once they were seated. “A date with Phoebe?”

“She asked me out,” Cole explained in a calm voice. “And considering the recently non-hostile nature of our relationship, I thought it was a good opportunity to catch up on old times.”

“What about Olivia?”

Cole hesitated. “We’re . . . on a break.”

“What?” Paige nearly shouted. “Cole, this is a bad idea. Phoebe had told us that you and Olivia were having problems, but using her as rebound . . .” She shook her head. “This is not good. Trust me, I know. This family has redefined the phrase ‘rebound date’ and it usually doesn’t end well.”

Cole rolled his eyes. “This isn’t a ‘rebound’ date, Paige. Phoebe and I . . . well, we just need to talk a little. Put some closure on our past problems.”

“Closure, huh?” Paige regarded the half-daemon with doubtful eyes. “Whatever.”

Piper returned downstairs with Phoebe in her wake. The latter wore a deep red halter-top, blue jeans, high heeled boots and a corduroy jacket. She flashed her ex-husband a brilliant smile and greeted breathlessly, “Cole! Hi!”

Cole stood up and smiled. “Phoebe. You look lovely.”

“Thanks,” Phoebe replied nervously. “Ready?”

Piper rolled her eyes in disgust. “Oh God! I better see to Wyatt.” Before she could leave, the doorbell rang. “Now, who is it?”

“Probably my date.” Paige shot up from her chair and rushed toward the door. Seconds later, she returned to the living room. With none other than Harry McNeill.

The red-haired witch greeted the others with a cheerful, “Good evening, everyone!” Then his green eyes fell upon the half-daemon with surprise. “Cole?”

The half-daemon stared back. “Harry?”

“Well,” Piper said, regarding the two stunned men with muted delight, “at least this evening isn’t a total waste.”

———

Paul glanced at the menu in his hands. “Hmm. Too bad Bruce or your mother isn’t working here, tonight,” he commented. “I was looking forward to their specialties.”

“Tonight’s not a complete waste,” Olivia said. “Maria Leighton is the sous chef and she’s in charge, tonight. Her Pork Roast with Piquante Sauce is superb. Maybe we should try it.”

Smiling, Paul placed his menu on the table. “Maybe we should. You order.” When the waiter appeared, Olivia did just that. Once the waiter left, Paul continued, “You can’t imagine what a relief it is to me that the DiMatteo case is over. I had the oddest feeling that my job was on the line. Especially if that bastard had been exonerated.”

Olivia dismissed his ‘fears’ with a wave of her hand. “You have nothing to worry about. The case against DiMatteo was airtight. Trust me. You wouldn’t have needed a seer to figure out that he would be found guilty.”

“I guess you’re right.” Paul fell silent. His mind had been racking with ways to breach the subject of Belthazor without rousing any suspicions. Olivia’s “seer” comment seemed like the perfect opportunity. Clearing his throat, he added, “Speaking of seers, I hate to bring this up, but . . .” He took a deep breath.

Olivia frowned. “What’s wrong?”

Paul hesitated. Then, “There’s this witch that Leo and I had met in San Jose. She’s a seer, like Phoebe. Only her visions manifest in dreams. She, uh . . . had this vision of a powerful demon becoming the new Source.”

Green eyes stared at him. “This daemon . . . was your friend able to identify him? Or her?”

Deliberately, Paul let out a sigh. “Look, I realize that you may not believe this, but it’s Turner.”

“What?” Olivia’s eyes grew wide with shock.

Paul nodded. “Yeah, I know it’s hard to believe. After all, he has been this all-powerful demon for nearly a year. But it seems, he might finally decide to become . . .”

Her eyes gleaming intensely, Olivia leaned forward. “How does this witch know that Cole is the ‘all-powerful daemon’ in her dream? Has she met him before?”

“No,” Paul answered. “But when she described the demon, both Leo and I thought it seemed strange that he resembled Bel . . . Turner. So, Leo and I had returned to San Jose recently, and showed her a newspaper clipping of him.” When Olivia failed to answer, Paul’s discomfort became genuine. “I realize that you may not believe me, but if you want to know the witch’s name . . .”

Olivia abruptly cut in. “No! No, I believe you.” She sighed. “I knew there was a reason not to trust Cole. I’ve been receiving bad vibes about him, lately. Ever since we had returned from Scotland. I wonder if his little reunion with his uncle might have anything to do with him becoming the new Source?”

Paul frowned. “You believe me?”

“Why not? It all fits perfectly.” Olivia told him that the San Jose witch was not the only one who had visions of Belthazor becoming the Source. “So did a whitelighter. Cole’s uncle had found out and told him that the Whitelighter Council fears that Cole will be responsible for the emergence of a new Source.” Olivia paused. “By the way, did you know that Cole’s mother is the new leader of the Brotherhood of the Thorn?”

Actually, Paul had learned the disturbing news from Leo. But he did not reveal this to Olivia. “My God! We really are in trouble, aren’t we?” He fell silent and took a sip of his wine. “It’s like some demonic dynasty is taking over. I guess . . . well, I guess there’s nothing we can really do, if Turner does become the Source.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, how can we stop him? He’s too powerful.”

Olivia snorted with derision. “No one is invincible, Paul. Not even Cole. After all, Paige had once stripped him of his powers . . . and without the benefit of the Power of Three. The Crozat warlocks nearly did the same, over a month later.”

Paul deliberately opened his mouth. And closed it. He picked up his wine glass and drank from it.

“What?” Olivia demanded.

A sigh left Paul’s mouth. “I don’t know. I was thinking of your friend. The one from New Orleans.”

“You mean Cecile?”

Paul nodded. “Leo once told me that she had a premonition of you . . . well, vanquishing Cole.”

Realization lit up Olivia’s eyes, turning them into a deeper shade of green. “Of course! Cecile’s premonition! If it does come true, it means that I will be able to stop him from becoming the Source!” She frowned. “But how?”

The New Yorker’s first instinct was to remind Olivia about the theory she and Bruce had about vanquishing the Source. But he did not want to unnecessarily push the matter. Or make Olivia suspicious. Instead, he remained silent, hoping that she would remember. And she did.

“I got it!” she cried, startling a nearby diner. She glanced at the woman and murmured a quick, “Sorry.”

Paul leaned forward. “Do you have something in mind?”

A calculated expression appeared on Olivia’s face. It reminded Paul of her reputation for ruthlessness. “Oh yes. I was thinking of an old theory Bruce and I had. About vanquishing the Source. Perhaps I can apply it to Cole.”

“Do you think it would work?” Paul tried to keep his hope in check.

Olivia smiled brightly. “Why not? According to Cecile, it will.”

For once, Paul expressed genuine emotion, as he allowed a broad smile to stretch across his face.

———–

“What are they thinking about?” Paige demanded.

Harry glanced away from the couple sitting several yards away, to stare at his dinner companion. “Huh?”

Paige heaved an impatient sigh. “Olivia and Whathisname!”

“Paul.”

“Whatever,” Paige retorted. “What are they thinking about?”

Harry continued to stare at her. “Are you suggesting that I read their minds?”

“Well . . . duh! You’re a telepath!”

“Well . . . duh! I’m also not in the habit of invading another person’s mind without his or her permission!” Harry snapped back. “Or didn’t you learn anything from those witchcraft lessons?”

Her eyes gleaming with intensity, Paige let out a frustrated sigh. “C’mon Harry! Aren’t you the least bit curious about why Olivia is having an intimate dinner with Paul Margolin?”

“Perhaps they’re discussing the DiMatteo case,” Harry suggested. He knew that his idea sounded lame the moment it left his mouth.

Paige rolled her eyes. “Oh please! That case is over. They only need to sentence the bastard.”

“Look . . . Paige. The answer is no.” Harry took a sip of his water. “I am not going to read their minds. And that’s final.” He took another sip. What in the hell ever happened to his plans for a romantic evening? After months of fighting his growing attraction to the youngest Charmed One, Harry had finally succumbed and asked her for a date. He had not counted on encountering Olivia with Paul Margolin dining at the same restaurant. Or Paige’s obsessive suspicions.

Disappointment gleamed in her dark eyes. Paige sat back into the booth and reached for her glass of water. She took a sip. “Okay,” she finally said. “I understand.”

Harry noticed her disgruntled expression and sighed. “Yeah,” he replied sarcastically, “I can tell by the ‘compassionate’look on your face. Why are you so interested in what Olivia and Paul are thinking, anyway?”

A sneer marred Paige’s beautiful face. “C’mon Harry! Don’t you find it odd that Olivia is having dinner with a guy she finds boring?”

“What makes you think that Livy finds Margolin boring?” Harry challenged.

Disgust glimmered in Paige’s dark eyes. “Because I could tell. And Olivia had eventually admitted it, herself.”

“Okay.” Shit! Now, he had run out of arguments. The look on Paige’s face told Harry that she seemed well aware of his intent.

Paige continued, “Doesn’t it seem strange that Olivia is having a private dinner with a guy she considers downright dull?”

Harry let out a long-suffering sigh. “I suppose this is where you tell me that there is now a good reason for me to use my telepathy.”

“I didn’t say that.” Paige glanced away. “Besides . . . maybe you’re right. About using . . .”

“Oh God! I’ll do it!” Harry brusquely exclaimed. Paige regarded him with a mingle of surprise and gratitude. He sighed. “I only hope that Gran or my parents never find out.”

“Thanks Harry,” Paige said with a grateful smile.

The male witch took a deep breath and focused his attention to the other couple across the dining room. Harry directed his mind toward Paul Margolin’s. Olivia would have detected any telepathic activity used on her. He allowed his mind to brush against Margolin’s thoughts. Lightly. Then he made a second attempt, and achieved penetration.

‘I can’t believe it,’ Margolin’s mind projected. ‘It really worked. Leo will be . . .’ The ADA’s thoughts broke off without any warning. Harry took a deep breath and blinked several times.

Paige frowned. “What’s wrong?”

Harry nodded at the uniformed figure hovering next to Olivia and Paul’s table. “A distraction got in the way. The waiter.”

“Are you going to try, again?” Paige asked.

Shaking his head, Harry replied breathlessly, “No. I don’t think so. Besides, it isn’t necessary.”

“What do you mean?”

Harry paused and shot a glance at the older couple. “The next time you see Leo, do me a favor. Ask him if . . . if he knows anything about Olivia and Paul.” Paige’s eyes grew wide with shock, as a waiter approached their table, with two menus.

END OF CHAPTER 5

A Letter to Matthew Weiner

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A LETTER TO MATTHEW WEINER

Dear Matthew Weiner,

I just watched the latest episode of “MAD MEN”, (7.13) “The Milk and Honey Route”, and discovered that Betty Francis was doomed for a quickie death from lung cancer. And all I can say is . . .

FUCK YOU.

Fuck you for this piece of contrived writing that came out of the blue, due to your neverending desire to surprise the viewers. It’s bad enough that you wasted Betty’s nearly decade-long character development with impending death. But you decided to kill her off in the same manner as Don’s former mistress, Rachel Katz. How unoriginal can you be?

This whole story arc disgusted me, because it seemed as if you had pulled it out of his ass and dumped it on the viewers without warning. I guess a quick death by lung cancer was your idea of Betty “developing” into a mature character. I should have known better, considering you are a man who found it realistic that a 21 year-old secretary with no college education can be promoted to a junior copywriter afterEIGHT MONTHS of work experience, but found the idea of a black copywriter or accounts exec in the 1960s unrealistic . . . despite the fact that such people actually existed. This was a supreme example of your inability to create complex minority characters. And your idea of a FBI background investigation (in Season Four) was so ridiculous that I am still shaking my head in disgust.

After the contrived writing that surrounded Peggy Olson’s original job promotion in(1.13) “The Wheel”, the dumb ass FBI “investigation” of Don Draper in Season Four and your inability to create and write complex minority characters, I realized that I had enough. So again . . .

FUCK YOU.

“LOST” RETROSPECT: (2.11) “The Hunting Party”

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“LOST” RETROSPECT: (2.11) “The Hunting Party”

I may be a bit picky about my tastes in television viewing. But I must admit there have been a few television episodes either dismissed or lambasted by critics and fans alike, but which I have come to like. One of those episodes is the Season Two episode of“LOST” called (2.11) “The Hunting Party”.

This eleventh episode from the series’ second season picks up not long after the previous episode, (2.10) “The 23rd Psalms” left off. In the previous episode, Michael Dawson believed he had managed to contact his kidnapped son Walt Lloyd, while using the twenty year-old computer inside the DHARMA Swan Station. He also recruited the help of fellow castaway, John Locke, to teach him how to use a rifle. When “The Hunting Party” began, Dr. Jack Shephard found an unconscious Locke on the floor of the station’s armory. Before he could do anything, Michael appeared with a gun trained on Jack and in a desperate tone, revealed his intentions to find Walt. Michael forced Jack to remain by Locke’s side, before locking both of them inside the armory. When other castaways Kate Austen and James “Sawyer” Ford go to the station to have the latter’s bandages changed, they free both Jack and Locke. Jack immediately reaches for a rifle and state his intentions to find Michael and bring him back. Both Locke and Sawyer volunteer to join him. Kate also volunteers, but Jack curtly orders her to remain behind and be ready to punch in the numbers for the station’s computer. The three men leave without her. Despite Jack’s refusal of her help, Kate recruits Hugo “Hurley” Reyes and Charlie Pace to monitor the station’s computer for her, while she heads out into the jungle to join the hunting party.

The episode’s flashbacks start with Jack and his father, Dr. Christian Shephard, diagnose a middle-aged Italian man with a spinal tumor named Angelo Busconi. The two Shephard surgeons inform Signor Busconi and his daughter, Gabriela that his tumor is too far gone and that he is not eligible for surgery. However, Signor Busconi and Gabriela insist that they are interested in recruiting Jack’s help. They had learned of the miracle he had achieved after performing surgery on his wife, Sarah Shephard, before their marriage. Much to Christian’s dismay, Jack agrees to perform the surgery on Signor Busconi. The older surgeon also notices the attraction between Jack and Gabriela. And Jack also continues spending more time at the hospital, either ignoring or evading Sarah’s company at home.

Despite the opinions of other “LOST” fans and critics, I have always liked “The Hunting Party”. I found the plot regarding the Losties’ hunt for Michael very interesting. And believe it or not, I rather enjoyed the flashbacks regarding Jack’s attempt to save Angelo Busconi and his troubling marriage to Sarah. But for the likes of me, I have always had difficulty making the connection between the on-island plot and the flashbacks. Exactly what is the connection? Was Jack’s difficulties in his relationship with Kate and her attraction to Sawyer a reminder of Sarah’s infidelity and the end of his marriage? Was his decision to embark upon a near impossible task – finding Michael and bringing him back – similar to his decision to accept Signor Busconi as a patient? Did I hit the mark regarding the episode’s main plot . . . or what? After eight years, I am still confused.

But I still like “The Hunting Party” . . . very much. It is one of my favorite Jack-centric episodes. The hunt for Michael showcased an aspect of Jack’s personality that has been problematic – his inability to let go. The problem with Jack was he lacked a real instinct on whether to give up on an impossible task, or to continue it. On one hand, he never realized that Locke was right about letting Michael go. The choice to leave the Losties’ camp and go after Walt was up to Michael, not Jack or any of the other castaways. I think Jack took his “live together, die alone” mantra a bit too far in his determination to get Michael back. However, it seemed a pity that he and the other Losties never extended that mantra to Walt. In the case of the flashbacks, I suspect that the Busconis’ stroking of Jack’s ego led him to accept Angelo Busconi as a patient. Even though the Italian father and daughter were grateful toward Jack’s willingness to take a chance on the former, I cannot help but wonder if that was a chance Jack should have ignored.

Both the on-island plot and the flashbacks also featured Jack’s problematic relationships with the two women in his life. Two episodes ago in (2.09) “What Kate Did”, Sawyer unconsciously expressed his love for Kate, while Jack was tending him. This bedside confession conjured feelings of jealousy within Jack, who must have recalled the kiss that Sawyer and Kate had exchanged in the Season One episode, (1.08) “Confidence Man”. In “What Kate Did”, Kate kissed Jack in a confusing moment and ran off into the jungle in tears. Between her action and Sawyer’s confession, I suspect Jack found himself wondering if Kate ever loved him. This so-called “love triangle” must have reminded him of his previous marriage. The problems in Jack’s relationship with Sarah proved to be more straightforward. Flashbacks in an earlier Season Two episode called (2.01) “Man of Faith, Man of Science” revealed how Jack and Sarah first met – she was a victim of a car accident that eventually killed Shannon Rutherford’s father, and Jack was the surgeon that prevented her from becoming physically disabled. In the Season One episode, (1.20) “Do No Harm”, flashbacks revealed that some time after Jack’s successful surgery on Sarah, they got married. I never understood why those two had married. Was it gratitude on Sarah’s part? Had Jack been caught up in the emotional relief over saving her? Who knows. But the flashbacks in this episode revealed that their marriage had slowly deteriorated to the point that it led to Jack spending most of his time at the hospital . . . and Sarah committing adultery and later, leaving him. Some fans had complained about the quiet manner in which their marriage had ended, despite the erotic moment between Jack and Gabriela Busconi. Actually, I found it very realistic . . . and very common among relationships.

There were other aspects of the episode I found interesting. Locke revealed to Sawyer and television viewers, the latter’s real name – James Ford. This revelation proved to be a mild shock, considering that viewers had already learned back in Season One that Sawyer was an alias. This episode also saw the return of the “Bearded Man” aka Tom Friendly, who had kidnapped Walt in (1.24-1.25) “Exodus”. Tom and his fellow Others had trapped the hunting party before convincing them (actually through coercion) to return to their camp. Not only did the Losties’ encounter with Tom provided another bump in the road for Jack and Kate’s relationship; it also reminded viewers that Sawyer blamed Tom for shooting him (one of the members of Tom’s party had shot him, when he reached for his gun). For the first time, Sawyer declared his intentions to seek revenge for what happened to him, proving that of all the series’ characters, he was a master at combining revenge with murder in order to alleviate his pain. There was one aspect of this episode that I found . . . perplexing. Throughout most of the episode, Locke questioned Jack’s decision to go after Michael, spouting free will as an excuse. And yet . . . he had decided to accompany Jack on this expedition, anyway. Locke was also not above enforcing his own will upon others. So, why did he join this hunting party in the first place? Even the state of the Kwons’ marriage ended up affected by Jack’s hunting party. When Jin learned about Michael’s flight into the jungle, he considered joining the hunting party, until Sun stopped him. For the first time, Sun truly got her way since the beginning of the series. In a marvelous scene, she put her foot down and revealed her opposition to Jin’s intentions. She also revealed how she had felt about his past controlling behavior toward her. The Kwons’ marriage took a new step above the resentments, anger and lies that marred their relationship in the past.

“The Hunting Party” featured some solid performances from cast members such as Terry O’Quinn, Josh Holloway, Evangeline Lilly and Naveen Andrews; and guest stars that included Julie Bowen, Ronald Guttman, Monica Dean and M.C. Gainey. But in my opinion, the best performances came from guest star John Terry, Harold Perrineau, and especially, Matthew Fox. It seemed a pity that Perrineau never received any nominations for his outstanding work. And I find it laughable that Fox had to wait another four seasons before the Hollywood community was even willing to nominate him for his work on “LOST”. But if many of us are truly honest with ourselves, acting and production awards are usually based upon popularity contests, not upon any worthy endeavors.

I wish I could say that I consider “The Hunting Party” to be one of the best episodes that aired on “LOST”. The narrative written by Elizabeth Saranoff and Christina M. Kim allowed for strong characterizations and some interesting subplots. Unfortunately, I found the connection between the on-island plot and the flashbacks rather weak. Even worse, the episode ended with Jack proposing Tail Section survivor Ana-Lucia Cortez that they create an army to deal with the Others. And this potential subplot never went anywhere, in the end.

Five Favorite Episodes of “ONCE UPON A TIME” – Season Three (2013-2014)

Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Three of “ONCE UPON A TIME”. The series was created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “ONCE UPON A TIME” – Season Three (2013-2014)

1 - 3.11 Going Home

1. (3.11) “Going Home” – In order to stop Peter Pan aka Malcolm’s plans to cast a new curse upon Storybrooke and create a new Neverland, both Rumpelstiltskin aka Mr. Gold and the Evil Queen aka Regina Mills are forced to make big sacrifices.

2. (3.09) “Saving Henry” – Emma Swan, Snow White and Regina struggle to prevent Pan from absorbing a dying Henry Mills’ heart into his body. Flashbacks reveal how Regina ended up adopting Henry.

3 - 3.16 Its Not Easy Being Green

3. (3.16) “It’s Not Easy Being Green” – When Zelena is revealed as the Wicked Witch of the West, she challenges her younger half-sister, Regina, to a duel in Storybrooke’s town square. Flashbacks reveal Zelena’s search for a place in the world, following her adopted mother’s death and her acquaintance with Rumpelstiltskin.

4 - 3.08 Think Lovely Thoughts

4. (3.08) “Think Lovely Thoughts” – The travelers from Storybrooke learn from Wendy Darling about Pan’s true objective – acquire Henry’s heart and achieve immortal youth. Flashbacks reveal how grifter Rumpelstiltskin’s father, Malcolm became Peter Pan and an inhabitant of Neverland.

5 - 3.15 Quiet Minds

5. (3.15) “Quiet Minds” – During the missing year in the Enchanted Forest, Neal Cassidy (Rumpelstiltskin’s son) and Belle seek to find a way to bring Rumpelstiltskin back to life. Neal’s appearance in Storybrooke reveals the consequences of their search.

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Honorable Mention – (3.12) “New York Serenade” – Captain Hook interrupts Emma and Henry’s one-year idyllic life in New York with news that the citizens of Storybrooke need her help. Flashbacks reveal how Snow White, Charming, Regina and the others try to rebuild their homes in the Enchanted Forest and discover that the Wicked Witch of the West poses a serious threat.

“THE GREAT GATSBY” (2013) Review

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“THE GREAT GATSBY” (2013) Review

Before the release of Baz Luhrmann’s recent adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, “The Great Gatsby”, there have been three previous movie adaptations and a television movie version. None of these versions have been well received by the critics. Even this latest adaptation has been receiving mixed reviews. I must admit that I had been reluctant to see the movie, myself. But dazzled by the movie’s MTV-style trailer, I decided to see it for the sake of the visual effects.

Many who have read Fitzgerald’s novel or seen any of the previous adaptations, know the story. “THE GREAT GATSBY” told the story of a mysterious young millionaire named Jay Gatsby who settles in a large house in the fictional town of West Egg (for thenoveau riche), on prosperous Long Island, during the summer of 1922 – the early years of the Jazz Age. 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 and Nick’s cousin. Unfortunately for Gatsby, Daisy is married to one of Nick’s former Yale classmates, Tom Buchanan, who comes from old Chicago money. Tom is engaged in an extramarital affair with one Myrtle Wilson, who is the wife of a gas station owner located in the Valley of Ashes – a stretch of road between Long Island and Manhattan. Gatsby invites Nick to one of his nightly lavish parties, given to impress Daisy, who lives across Oyster Bay at East Egg, a neighborhood for those from old money. Nick learns from Jordan Baker, an old Louisville friend of Daisy’s, that Gatsby would like him to arrange a meeting with his former love over afternoon tea. The two former lovers reunite on a rainy afternoon and re-ignite their love affair that eventually ends in tragedy.

If critics were hoping that Baz Luhrmann would produce and direct a flawless or near flawless adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novel, they were bound to be disappointed. “THE GREAT GATSBY” is not flawless. There were times when I found the movie a bit too melodramatic – especially during the party sequences. And I never saw the need to open the film with Nick Carraway being treated for alcoholism in a sanatorium. Luhrmann and the movie’s other screenwriter, Craig Pearce, apparently included the sanatorium additions to transform Nick’s character into some F. Scott Fitzgerald clone. The movie even ended with Nick’s written recollections being given the title of Fitzgerald’s novel. Frankly, I found this dumb and unnecessary. I also found the party sequence held by Tom and his married lover Myrtle Wilson at a New York apartment rather frantic. I realize that Nick became drunk at this party. But this scene proved to be one in which Luhrmann’s colorful style nearly got the best of him.

I suspect that many expect me to complain about some of the music featured in “THE GREAT GATSBY” – namely the director’s use of hip hop music. However . . . I have no complaints about Luhrmann using modern day music in a film set in 1922. For some reason I cannot explain, I believe Luhrmann and composer Craig Armstrong did a pretty bang-up job in blending their occasional use of modern-day music with some of the movie’s scenes. There were also complaints that Catherine Martin’s costumes were not a complete accurate projection of 1920s fashion. I did notice that although the movie was set in 1922, the clothes seemed to be a reflection of the mid or late period of that decade. Then I saw images like the following:

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Or images like the following for the male characters:

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I had wept with exultation and joy at my first sight of Martin’s costumes. Her costumes for this film are some of the most gorgeous I have seen in a period drama in quite a while. Absolutely . . . bloody . . . gorgeous. The moment I set eyes on those costumes, I realized that I could not care less whether her work was an accurate reflection of 1922 fashion or not. Martin also served as the movie’s production designer. If there was any justice, this would earn double Academy Award nominations for both her costumes and the movie’s production designs. Baz Luhrmann filmed “THE GREAT GATSBY” in Australia, which means that he and his crew had to re-create 1922 Long Island and Manhattan from scratch. Martin was basically responsible for the movie’s early Art Deco look – especially for scenes set in Gatsby’s East Egg manor, his Manhattan speakeasy, the Manhattan restaurant where Nick and Jordan met, the Buchanans’ East Egg home and especially the bleak-looking Valley of Ashes, the location of George Wilson’s garage and the infamous Dr. T. J. Eckleburg billboard. Needless to say, I was more than impressed. I was dazzled.

I have been so busy discussing the movie’s technical aspects that I failed to say anything about Luhrmann and Pearce’s adaptation of Fitzgerald’s film. I have already expressed my displeasure at their attempt to transform Nick Carraway into some kind of Fitzgerald clone at the movie’s beginning and end. But aside from this faux paus, I feel that the two did a pretty damn good job. Were they completely faithful to the novel? No. Did this spell disaster? For some moviegoers and fans of Fitzgerald’s novel, it did. But I do not share their feelings. I do not demand that a movie or television production re-create a novel or play in exact details. That road leads to insanity and sometimes, disaster. Aside from what was done to Nick’s character at the beginning and end, the movie featured a few other changes. In this movie, a grieving George Wilson learned from Tom Buchanan that Jay Gatsby owned the yellow car that killed Myrtle at the former’s gas station. Unless I am mistaken, Tom had conveyed this news to George, when the latter paid a visit to his East Egg mansion in the novel. The movie featured flashbacks of Gatsby’s life in North Dakota and his years spent with a millionaire named Dan Cody. But Gatsby’s father did not make an appearance near the end of the movie (for which I am utterly grateful). Did these changes bother me? Nope, they did not. I was too busy admiring the energy that Luhrmann injected into Fitzgerald’s tale. This was especially apparent in the pivotal scene featuring Gatsby and Tom’s showdown over Daisy’s affections in a Plaza Hotel suite. The scene crackled with emotions and an energy that seemed to be either lacking or at best, muted, in other adaptations. More importantly, Luhrmann and Pearce’s screenplay finally lifted a fog and allowed me to fully understand and appreciate Fitzgerald’s tale for the first time. I am afraid that the previous two adaptations (1974 and 2000) had bored me to the point that the emotions and theme behind the story had failed to elude me in the past. And that is the best part of Luhrmann’s adaptation. For the first time, I finally understood the pathetic nature of the Jay Gatsby/Daisy Buchanan love story. And I am being complimentary.

A movie review would not be complete with a discussion on the performances. Leonardo DiCaprio became the fifth actor to portray Jay Gatsby aka James Gatz. And as usual, he was magnificent. In fact, I believe his Gatsby was the best I have ever seen on screen. He managed to maintain the character’s mystery in the movie’s first half without eliminating any of the character’s strong emotions. Despite the attempt to transform Nick Carraway into a Fitzgerald clone, I had no problems with Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of the character. In fact, he did an excellent job of conveying both Nick’s observant nature and emotional attachment to Gatsby, while injecting a bit of warm humor and slight goofiness in the role. I realize that Maguire and DiCaprio had been friends for over two decades. I suspect that friendship made it easy for the pair to convey the growing friendship between Nick and Gatsby.

Carey Mulligan gave an exquisite performance as the quixotic Daisy Buchanan. Mulligan made it easy for viewers to understand how Gatsby fell so hard for her. She perfectly conveyed Daisy’s superficial idealism and warmth. But Mulligan also skillfully allowed Daisy’s more unpleasant side – her selfishness, mild snobbery and lack of courage – to ooze between the cracks in the character’s facade. Joel Edgerton really impressed me in his portrayal of the brutish Tom Buchanan. In the actor’s first scene, I felt as if he was laying it a bit thick in conveying the character’s unpleasant nature. But Edgerton quickly grew into the role and portrayed Tom’s brutality with more subtlety. He also did a great job in portraying the character’s surprising talent for manipulation and genuine feelings for the doomed Myrtle.

For the role of Daisy’s Louisville friend and golfer Jordan Baker, Luhrmann chose Australian-born stage-trained actress named Elizabeth Debicki for the role. And she did a pretty damn good job. In fact, I thought Debicki did a solid job of conveying Jordan’s fast-living and cynical personality with great skill. Isla Fisher knocked it out of the ballpark as the fun-loving Myrtle Fisher. Not only did she gave a first-rate portrayal of Myrtle’s garishness and warmth, but also the character’s grasping ambition and desperation to escape from her stagnant and dull marriage to gas station owner George. Myrtle is not highly regarded by many Fitzgerald fans. But Fisher made it easy for me to feel some sparks of pity toward the latter’s situation regarding her marriage to George. Speaking of the latter, “THE GREAT GATSBY” marked the third period drama in which I have seen Jason Clarke. His role as the pathetic George Wilson is a bit smaller, but Clarke made the best of it, especially in two scenes. One scene featured Clarke perfectly conveying George’s clumsy attempt to toady Tom for a business transaction regarding the latter’s car. And in another, he did a beautiful job in portraying George’s pathetic grief over a woman who had stopped loving him a long time ago. This movie also marked a reunion for Clarke and Edgerton. Both had appeared in “ZERO DARK THIRTY”. I also want to point out Amitabh Bachchan’s much talked about portrayal of Gatsby’s gambling friend, Meyer Wolfshiem – a fictionalized take on gambler/gangsterArnold Rothstein. No only did the actor looked unusual, he gave a lively, yet brief performance that I found quite captivating. And Jack Thompson gave a quiet (almost speechless) and subtle performance as Nick’s psychiatrist Dr. Walter Perkins. STAR WARSfans should take note that eleven years ago, Thompson portrayed Cliegg Lars – father to Edgerton’s Owen Lars – in “STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES”.

I am the last person who will ever claim that this latest “THE GREAT GATSBY” is perfect. Trust me, it is not. But it is a very entertaining film that I believe captured the emotions and theme behind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel better than any previous adaptation. More importantly, director Baz Luhrmann injected style and energy not only into the story itself, but also its visual look and the first-rate performances from a cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. I would have no qualms about watching this movie over and over again.