“COPPER”: Top Five Favorite Season One (2012) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One of the BBC America series “COPPER”. Created by Tom Fontana and Will Rokos, the series stars Tom Weston-Jones, Kyle Schmid and Ato Essandoh:

“COPPER”: TOP FIVE FAVORITE SEASON ONE (2012) Episodes

1-1.02 Husbands and Fathers

1. (1.02) “Husbands and Fathers” – In this brutal episode, New York City detective Kevin “Corky” Corcoran set about rescuing child prostitute/abused wife Annie Sullivan from a Manhattan brothel and her perverse customer, a wealthy businessman named Winifred Haverford.

2-1.09 A Day to Give Thanks

2. (1.09) “A Day to Give Thanks” – Following the reappearance of his missing wife Ellen in an asylum, Corky tracks down her former lover in order to learn what really happened to their dead daughter, while he was in the Army. Meanwhile, Confederate agents blackmail Robert Morehouse’s wealthy father into helping their plot to set New York City on fire, following the re-election of Abraham Lincoln.

3-1.06 Arsenic and Old Cake

3. (1.06) “Arsenic and Old Cake” – Corky investigate the death of the dentist of one of his men, who died by arsenic poisoning. Widow Elizabeth Haverford tries to discipline an unruly Annie and return the latter to her abusive husband, a Mr. Reilly. An exhibition boxing match between a young African-American and an Irish-American local politician end with racial tension.

4-1.03 In the Hands of an Angry God

4. (1.03) “In the Hands of an Angry God” – Corky investigates the death of a notoriously racist Irish immigrant and clashes with his African-American friend, Dr. Matthew Freeman when a local black minister becomes the prime suspect.

5-1.07 The Hudson River School

5. (1.07) “The Hudson River School” – Annie struggles with escape from the abusive Mr. Reilly. Elizabeth turns to Robert, when Corky reacts violently to the news that she had turned Annie over to Mr. Reilly.

“KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” (2015) Review

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“KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” (2015) Review

Matthew Vaughn must be a major comic book fan. This is the second . . . no, third time in his career in which he has directed a film adaptation of a comic book series or story. This time, he directed an adaptation of Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar’s 2012 comic book series, “The Secret Service”.

“KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” told the story of a young man named Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, who becomes a recruit for a secret service organization called Kingsman. The story begins in 1997 when a team of Kingsman agents led by Harry Hart lead a raid to interrogate a terrorist in the Middle East. When their prisoner reveals an unpinned grenade, one of the Kingsman agents – who turns out to be Eggsy’s father – sacrifices himself to save the others. Harry leaves a medal with a coded message to young Eggsy, in case the latter needs help. Seventeen years later, Eggsy, now a young unemployed adult living with his mother, an infant half-sister and an abusive stepfather; runs afoul of the police after he and his friends steal a car that belongs to one of his stepfather’s personal thugs. When Eggsy contacts Harry, using the medal, the latter arranges his release and encourages the younger man to apply for a position at the Kingsman agency.

Meanwhile, one Professor James Arnold is kidnapped by henchmen who work for Internet billionaire Richmond Valentine. A Kingsman agent known as “Lancelot”, tries to rescue Professor Arnold, but failes when Richmond’s henchwoman, Gazelle, kills him. Valentine manages to convince Arnold, along with various heads of state and VIPs, to participate in a scheme that he hopes will save the planet Earth from humanity. While Harry keeps an eye on Eggsy’s training, he also investigates Lancelot’s death and its connection to Valentine.

Okay, I might as well say it. I enjoyed “KINGSMAN” THE SECRET SERVICE” very much. Hell, I loved it. Now, I cannot say that it is an original tale, considering that it is based upon a comic novel. But it is one of the most enjoyable comic book adaptations I have seen since . . . well, since last year’s “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” and“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” Okay, it is simply a damn good movie. And I am amazed that 20th Century Fox did not release it for the summer season. It is worthy of a major summer release. But since the summer of 2015 might prove to be very competitive, I can understand why the studio decided to give it an early release.

I would not say that the plot for “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” is not particularly original. Then again, it might be. Yes, Richmond Valentine’s plot to improve Earth for mankind proved to be very similar to plots I have recently encountered in two ABC series – “ONCE UPON A TIME” and “AGENT CARTER”. But it was originally used in Millar and Gibbons’ 2012 comic book series. So, one can accuse the show runners for the two ABC of plagiarism. In some ways, the plot for “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” reminded me of the plot for the 2014 movie, “DIVERGENT”. Both movies started out featuring hardcore training sessions for the protagonists and ended with the characters of Eggsy Unwin and Tris Prior engaged in some serious action sequences. Yet Vaughn and co-screenwriter Jane Goldman did a better job of balancing Eggsy’s training and his participation in the movie’s final action sequence. This is due to the presence of Harry Hart, who served as this movie’s other major protagonist. While audiences were allowed to watch full details of Eggsy’s Kingsman training, they also got to see Harry’s detailed investigation of Richmond Valentine before the former was included. Using both Harry and Eggsy as the protagonists, while they engaged in their own agenda throughout most of the film allowed Vaughn and Goldman to maintain a balance in the story.

Despite “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” being an action comedy scene, it not only featured excellent acting, but also some interesting dramatic and comedic moments. Among my favorites included Eggsy’s introduction to the Kingsman organization, his conflicts with his abusive stepfather, Harry and Kingsman leader Chester King’s conflict over the idea recruiting potential agents from the middle and lower classes, Valentine’s recruitment of the world’s elite into his plan and his first meeting with Harry over a McDonald’s meal.

I talked a good deal about the movie’s plot. But remember . . . “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” is also an action film based upon a comic book series. And this movie featured a good deal of memorable action scenes. My favorites included Lancelot’s attempt to rescue Professor Arnold, two of the Kingsman training sessions featuring a water-filled room and a parachute jump, and Harry’s encounter with thugs working for Eggsy’s stepfather. My favorite sequence – and it is a long one – featured the remaining Kingsman operatives’ attempt to stop Valentine’s plot regarding the world’s human population. Most final sequences in action movies these days tend to be ridiculously long and filled with mindless violence and explosions. Yes, the final action sequence for “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” has its share of violence and explosions. But I thought it was well shot and did not leave me feeling disoriented and slightly deaf. This sequence also featured one of the funniest character death scenes I have seen on film.

Now . . . “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” is not perfect. I believe it has its flaws. First of all, there is one action sequence that I did not find particularly thrilling to watch. I am referring to the massacre at the Kentucky hate group headquarters in which Harry Hart participated against his will. My problem with this scene? It seemed to go on forever . . . as if Vaughn wanted to savor every moment of the violent conflict inside that Kentucky church just struck me as a bit too much. I also had a problem with the movie’s use of the Lancelot character, portrayed by Jack Davenport. I had no problem with the latter’s performance. But . . . I wish he had lasted a bit longer than he did. Davenport’s time span in the movie reminded me of his limited screen appearance in the 2007 movie, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END”. Which left me feeling dissatisfied. I wanted to see more of the actor . . . in this film and in the previous one.

The performances featured in “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” proved to be first-rate. Hell, they were better than first-rate. The supporting cast – including Samantha Womack, Geoff Bell, Corey Johnson and Hanna Alström – provided some real, solid performances. But I was really impressed by Edward Holcroft’s portrayal of Charlie, Eggsy’s aristocratic main rival in the training program; Sophie Cookson as another one of Eggsy’s fellow trainees, the winsome, yet tough-minded Roxy; and Jack Davenport’s portrayal of Agent “Lancelot”, which struck me as a cheeky take on the James Bond character. Mark Hamill also gave a brief, yet entertaining appearance as a British academic named James Arnold, whom Valentine manages to recruit into his scheme. I was surprised by Hamill’s first-rate British accent. Michael Caine added a touch of class as the Kingsman agents’ aristocratic leader, Chester King aka “Arthur”. And Sofia Boutella was very impressive as Valentine’s cool and very deadly henchwoman, Gazelle. I swear . . . Boutella’s Gazelle could put any Bond henchman or woman to shame.

Mark Strong, a veteran of past Vaughn films, did a great job of portraying “Merlin”, a senior Kingsman agent who serves as the agency’s trainer and senior tech expert. I was especially impressed by how Strong managed to project a mixture of authority and cheeky sense of humor in his performance. One of the best things about “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” was Vaughn’s choice to portray the Kingsman trainee, Gary “Eggsy” Unwin. Taron Egerton gave a star making performance as the energetic and intelligent Eggsy, who is hampered by his working-class background and impatience. I never thought a twenty-something actor with very little experience could hold his own with the likes of Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Michael Caine and Samuel L. Jackson. But he did. Perfectly.

Colin Firth proved to be a surprisingly first-rate hero as Harry Hart, the veteran Kingsman agent who not only saw promise in Eggsy, but also the latter’s father some seventeen years earlier. Firth is cool, witty, and authoritative. More importantly, he proved for the first time in his career that he could be a superb action hero . . . even in his early fifties. All the film historians in the world could argue over who might be the best Bond villain. As far as I am concerned, the winner of that little contest could never be as good as Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal of billionaire Richmond Valentine. He trounced them all. Not only was he one of the best (and scariest) on-screen villains I have seen in years, he was also very entertaining. Utilizing a lisp and projecting his character’s aversion to violence and blood, Jackson gave what I believe was the best performance in the movie.

It is rare to find a first-rate action film that was not released during the usual summer season. It is rare, but not unknown. I do not know how “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” would have held up against the movies released for the summer of 2015. But regardless of its release date, it might prove to be one of my favorite movies of the year. Matthew Vaughn did a superb job as director of this adaptation of the 2012 comic series. And he was ably supported by Jane Goldman as co-screenwriter and a superb cast led by Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson and Taron Egerton.

“ONCE UPON A TIME: Making Excuses”

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“ONCE UPON A TIME: MAKING EXCUSES”

For those of you who believe that Emma Swan did the right thing by killing Cruella de Vil in the “ONCE UPON A TIME” Season Four episode, (4.18) “Sympathy For the de Vil” . . . I could not disagree with you more.

Emma could have used another way to save her son, Henry Mills, from Cruella. She could have teleported him from Cruella’s grasp. She could have teleported Cruella’s gun. Someone on FANFORUM.COM had pointed out that Emma could have saved Henry . . . and not kill Cruella. After all, she managed to stop Zelena aka the Wicked Witch of the West from killing Henry in (3.19) “A Curious Thing”. Yet, she could not have done the same with Cruella in (4.18) “Sympathy For the de Vil”? What made Emma’s action even more problematic is that she did not even warn Henry that she was about to attack Cruella. She just did killed the latter . . . magically shoved her over a cliff. If Henry had not ducked, there is a good chance he would have been dead, as well.

I have written a good number of articles criticizing Emma and other members of the Charming family. And there is a reason why. Many fans like are ALWAYS making excuses for their more questionable actions. The only reason these same fans are now being critical about Snow and David’s actions toward Maleficent’s baby, revealed in (4.16) “Best Laid Plans”, is they had lied to Emma about what they had done. They revealed that they were not as “noble” as Emma – and many fans – originally believed they were.

A lot of fans like to pretend that Emma and Snow did nothing wrong, when the latter tried to kill Mulan in (2.08)“Into the Deep”. So do show runners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis. They have made sure that both Snow and Emma have never paid the consequences for their actions . . . or lack of action in that episode. Many fans have claimed that Snow only attacked Mulan during their fight, after the latter was prevented from stealing away with a magical compass that would have taken them from the Enchanted Forest and back to Storybrooke. What happened was the following . . . Snow and Mulan fought. Snow won and held down Mulan. Mulan told Snow and Emma that she took the locket to save Aurora. Snow lost her temper and decided to kill or maim Mulan anyway. Aurora stopped Snow. Emma did nothing but looked on. She never lifted a finger or raised her voice to stop Snow from a murder attempt.

Many fans still make countless excuses for Snow’s murder of Cora in (2.16) “The Miller’s Daughter”. In fact, they still react the same way as Emma did, when she tried to make excuses for Snow by using Cora’s murderous actions. Snow was not concerned about saving Storybrooke. She wanted revenge against Cora for the murder of her mother, Queen Eva. And she used a cruel way to get her revenge. That is why David was upset at what she had done. He had even offered to kill Cora himself . . . to save Snow’s moral compass and the town. Snow rejected his offer and proceeded to get her revenge anyway. And Emma could not handle the truth when Snow told her why she had killed Cora. These same fans still cannot handle the truth.

Many fans still make excuses for Emma’s possession of the yellow Volkswagen. Neal had first stolen the car. Then Emma tried to steal the car from him. Both ended up using the car together, when they became a couple. When I pointed out that Emma was still driving a stolen car in previous articles and forums, many fans either ignored the topic or responded with some drivel about Emma not being guilty of murder, or the fact that Neal had arranged the car’s registration to reflect her as the true owner. As if that was supposed to excuse Emma knowingly being in possession of a stolen car.

Many fans still make excuses about Emma’s decision to change the timeline and save “Maid Marian” in (3.22) “There’s No Place Like Home”. These same fans continue to claim that saving a life is more important than maintaining the storyline. No, it is not. Especially not for someone who had died in the past. I realize this is a harsh thing to say, but changing the timeline for any reason is a very . . . dangerous . . . thing to do. Both Hook and Rumpelstiltskin had warned Emma not to change the timeline for any reason. But she refused to listen. And what happened? As it turned out, Emma’s decision to change the timeline gave Zelena the opportunity to return to Storybrooke in Marian’s place. I am quite certain that Kitsis and Horowitz will never mention or criticize Emma’s bad decision in a future episode. If they do, I will be happily surprised.

What is it about these fans who seem incapable of dealing with Emma or the other Charmings actually being guilty of a crime or a serious mistake? Is it really that important that the Charming family be portrayed in some idealized manner? Do these same fans really need idealized fictional protagonists who are incapable of a bad deed or mistake in order to deal with this crazy old world of ours? Do they need to cling to some kind of illusion about humanity that only the world of fiction can maintain with any real thoroughness? What is it?

Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz used to be part of the writing staff for “LOST”, a television show in which most or nearly all of the characters were guilty of serious mistakes or crimes. The cast of characters could have been easily nicknamed “Murder, Inc.”. Apparently, the show runners for “ONCE UPON A TIME” seem bent upon portraying nearly all of their major characters in a similar light . . . including “the Savior” herself. Is this so hard for many fans to accept? Or are they among those types who can only deal with characters with a one-dimensional moral compass? If the latter, I hope that none of them ever become writers.

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“Defense of the Realm” [PG-13] – 3/14

 

“DEFENSE OF THE REALM”

CHAPTER 3

Olivia glanced at the sketching made by a fellow officer, Marcus Anderson, of the assailant who had murdered Stefan Kostopulos and robbed the store newly two weeks ago. “Grace,” she said to the homeless woman who had provided the description, “are you sure this is the man that you saw?”

Grace nodded. “That’s him, all right. He had taken off his hood, while leaving through the back door. Actually, it was a stocking.” Her eyes fell longingly upon the white container of food on Darryl’s desk. “Say, uh . . . is that it? My lunch?”

“In a minute,” Darryl said. He turned to Marcus. “Check the drawing against the perps we have on file.”

“Sure Darryl.” Marcus gave a quick nod, took the drawing and left the squad room.

Darryl handed the plastic container to Grace. “Here you go. Knock yourself out.” Grace eagerly took the tray and began to open it. “Uh . . . why don’t you eat your lunch inside the breakroom? It’s down the hall.”

“Sure.” Still clutching the container, Grace stood up. She hesitated and said to the two partners, “Hey, if you ever need any help from me, I’ll be glad to be a snitch for you.”

Olivia and Darryl exchanged looks. The former realized this was the homeless woman’s way of acquiring another source of free meals. Darryl sighed, while Olivia smiled at the other woman. “Sure thing Grace,” she said. “In fact, why don’t you drop by around here, every day around one? To check and see if we have an assignment for you.”

“Great!” Grace flashed a grateful smile, revealing two missing teeth. Then she scurried out of the squad room, clutching her lunch.

Darryl turned to Olivia and wryly commented, “Whaddaya know? Our own personal snitch. I wonder how many free lunches we’ll be investing in over the next several months. Or years.”

Olivia snorted. “Probably half or less-than-half the amount we usually pay on a weekly basis for lunch. I only hope that Grace . . .” She broke off, when Scott Yi and Carlotta Trujillo approached Darryl’s desk. “Hey guys. Where have you been?”

“Going over Kostopulos’ inventory,” Scott wearily replied. “And matching it to what we’ve found inside the store. God, that man had a lot of stuff!” He was a young man of Chinese descent, with a narrow, handsome face and high cheekbones. Scott, a six-year veteran of the city’s police force, happened to be two years younger than Olivia.

Darryl frowned. “Olivia and I were at the store, this morning. Where were you two?”

Carlotta Trujillo, a tall and attractive woman, whose parents had immigrated from Costa Rica over thirty years ago, dropped into the empty chair next to Olivia’s desk. “Having an early lunch. Being inside that store was driving us crazy.”

“Find anything missing?” Darryl asked.

“Oh, wait a minute.” Carlotta sat up straight. “We found one or two items missing.”

“Like what?”

Carlotta removed a folded spreadsheet from her purse. “Item 215,” she said, as she handed the sheet to Olivia.

“Item 215?” Olivia glanced at the sheet. “And that happens to be . . . a medallion? Made from gold.” She stared at Carlotta and Scott. “So, this medallion is missing?”

Scott nodded. “It’s certainly not there.”

“How do you know?” Darryl asked.

Carlotta handed him a small photo. “There’s a picture of every item in the store. You should see the boxes where Kostopulos kept them. The medallion in that photo is missing.”

Olivia shook her head in disbelief. “What do you know? He managed to keep all that stuff organized in some way.” Darryl handed her the photograph. She stared at the medallion with the strange inscriptions. “This looks as if it belongs in a museum, instead of a store.”

“Scott thinks it may have been some kind of antiquity,” Carlotta added. “Maybe even a religious piece.”

Darryl stared at the other man. “Really? I didn’t realize you were some kind of art historian, Scott.”

A pink flush colored Scott’s face. “I, uh . . . I dabbled a little in the subject, while in college. I’m no expert or anything.” He sighed. “I don’t know. I guess it looks like something out of Indiana Jones. And I can’t image what that inscription meant.”

“I know this museum curator,” Carlotta added. “I used to date him, a few years ago. Maybe he can help. Want us to question him?”

Darryl shrugged. “Go ahead. And when you finish, I want you and Scott to look more into the Liederhoff case. Ask Liederhoff’s assistant if anything similar to this medallion is missing.” He returned the photo to Scott.

“Okay.” Carlotta patted Scott’s arm. “Let’s go, partner.” As she headed toward the door, Scott remained rooted to the spot, staring at the photo in his hand with a frown. Carlotta paused to call for him. “Scott?”

“Yeah, I hear you.” And Scott followed his partner out of the room.

Meanwhile, both Olivia and Darryl exchanged knowing looks. “Did you see the inscription on that medallion?” the latter asked. “Looked similar to what was on that box I had nearly opened.”

“The language on that medallion looked a hell of a lot older,” Olivia commented. She paused momentarily. “Didn’t Liederhoff’s assistant tell us that a rare medallion that Liederhoff owned was also missing? Strange, isn’t it? If these two missing medallions have anything to do with the occult, it looks like we have more than a simple double murder-robbery on our hands.”

Darryl heaved a long sigh. “I was afraid you were going to say to say that.”

———–

Later that evening, Phoebe and Paige stared at the two whitelighters with disbelieving eyes. “Say that again?” the middle sister demanded.

Leo took a deep breath. “You girls have a new whitelighter. This is Chris. Chris Perry.”

Paige shook her head. “I don’t understand. Your wings got clipped again?”

“No. The . . . uh, the Elders had decided to let me keep my wings,” Leo morosely added. “I just won’t have any charges for the next six months. I’ll, uh . . . I’ll be assisting the Mad Queen . . . I mean, Ludmilla Kamilova in the Sorting Department.”

Phoebe asked, “The Sorting what?”

Leo explained that the Sorting Department assigned whitelighters to their new charges. A fellow whitelighter named Ludmilla Kamilov ran the department. He sighed. “She can be . . . pretty difficult.”

“How long will you be working in this . . . Sorting Department?” Everyone turned to Piper, who had asked the question.

Leo hemmed and hawed. “Six hours a day,” he answered. “That’s about eight or nine hours a day, here on Earth.”

“So, you’ll be working regular hours, every day? Including weekends?”

According to Leo, he would be forced to work four Earth hours in the Whitelighter Realm on Saturdays. Nearly beside herself, Piper silently relished over Leo’s new assignment. One glance at her younger sisters told her that they did not share her opinion. Especially Phoebe.

“So, you’ll be stuck in some bureaucratic division, while this guy,” Phoebe pointed at Chris, “will be acting as our new whitelighter? How is he supposed to handle both his charges and yours at the same time?”

Both Leo and Chris exchanged glances, before the former replied, “Chris doesn’t have any charges, at the moment. I mean, he didn’t before he was assigned to mine. At least not in this time period.”

“Time period?” Piper wondered if she had heard right. “Uh, Leo . . .?”

The other whitelighter added, “I’m from the future. About twenty-three years in the future. I . . .”

“He had come to the past to warn the Elders about the Titans,” Leo quickly finished. “Before they could attack. Unfortunately, Chris lost his only means back to the future. He’s stuck here.”

Paige murmured, “Too bad.”

Chris’ face turned red.

“I’m sure that he’ll do a good job,” Piper added, coming to Chris’ defense. The others stared at her. “What?”

Resentment flaring in her dark eyes, Phoebe murmured, “Nothing. I guess you have nothing to be upset about.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Piper demanded. But Phoebe remained silent. Which suited Piper just fine. In fact, Leo being forced to work eight hours a day like any working man suited her just fine. For the first time since Leo had lost his wings, they had a chance of having a normal relationship.

“Well, I have to introduce Chris to the rest of my old charges,” Leo said, breaking the silence.

Piper gave her husband an affectionate peck on the cheek. “I’ll see you later.” Leo and Chris orbed away.

The moment the two whitelighter had disappeared, Phoebe rounded on the older sister. “How could you stand there and say nothing, Piper? Aren’t you pissed off that the Elders have dumped some green whitelighter on us?”

“No Phoebe, I’m not,” Piper coolly replied. “And you want to know why?”

Paige added sardonically, “Oh, I think we have a pretty good idea. You finally get to have more of Leo for the next six months.”

“What? Is that a problem? I don’t see why you two are upset. Both of you were pissed at Leo for his little plot against Cole and Olivia. Aren’t you satisfied that he’s now being punished?”

Both Phoebe and Paige opened their mouths to retort and ended up, looking speechless. A scowl appeared on Phoebe’s face, as she snatched her purse from the sofa. She marched toward the door and opened it. “I’m going to see Cole.” She left the house and slammed the door with great force.

Piper turned to Paige, who sighed. “I guess I’ll watch some TV.” The youngest Charmed One started toward the Solarium. Piper allowed herself a small smile and headed for the nursery.

——-

Blue lights appeared inside the office above the Golden Horn restaurant. Bruce and Harry glanced up from the book on the former’s desk, and watched Leo materialize with a dark-haired stranger.

“Leo,” Bruce said, frowning at his former whitelighter. “What the hell are you doing here?”

The blond whitelighter winced at Bruce’s hostile greeting. “Hey, Bruce. Harry.” He sighed. “Uh, I’d like you to meet Chris.” He nodded at the stranger.

Harry coolly nodded at Leo’s companion. “Nice to meet you. Chris who?”

Chris stepped forward, much to Leo’s obvious discomfort. “Chris Perry. I’m your new whitelighter.”

Bruce stared at Leo, while his brother snorted with derision. Noticing the frown on Chris’ face, Bruce explained, “I guess Leo never told you. We don’t have a whitelighter.”

“Maybe that was true after Leo had received his suspension,” Chris replied. “But the Elders Council . . .”

Rolling his eyes, Harry retorted, “Look, I don’t wish to bust your bubble, Chris, but maybe my brother hasn’t made it clear. Leo hasn’t been Bruce and Olivia’s whitelighter for years. Over a decade, as a matter of fact. And I’ve never accepted him as mine. Nor do we accept the Elders Council’s authority. It’s like a family tradition.”

“But . . . all witches have a whitelighter.”

“Actually, that’s not true,” Bruce replied firmly. He frowned, recalling something Chris had said. “Did you say that Leo has been suspended? What the hell is going on?”

Leo sighed, while Chris’ glance fell to the floor. “I’ve been suspended from my duties,” Leo explained. “I won’t be acting as whitelighter to my charges for the next six months.”

Harry frowned. “You lost your wings, again?”

“No, I . . .”

Chris interrupted. “The Elders have reassigned him to another duty in the Realm.”

In other words, the Elders have punished Leo for the debacle surrounding Olivia’s attempt to kill Cole. Bruce could hardly believe it. Whether they were punishing Leo for an unauthorized action or for the plan’s failure, he could only guess.

Harry managed. “So, the Elders are making you pay for that mess regarding Livy and Cole, huh?” he said to the older whitelighter. “What about the Elder who had planned the whole thing? What’s her name? Mathilda?”

Leo glanced away, while Chris answered, “She has been removed from the Council. She’s no longer an Elder. As for me not being your whitelighter . . .”

“That’s right partner,” Harry added. “You’re not.”

“But . . .”

Bruce turned to his former whitelighter. “Leo, I think you better explain to your friend that he’s wasting his breath.”

A sigh left Leo’s mouth. He jerked Chris’ arm. “Let’s go. We’re through here.” He orbed out of the office. A confused expression stamped on his face, Chris quickly followed.

Harry turned to Bruce. “Well, that was interesting.”

———-

Elder Sylvester Monroe stifled a yawn, as he marched along the corridor toward his quarters. Another difficult day in the Whitelighter Realm. News had arrived of three whitelighters joining a faction headed by the rebellious Natalia Stepanova.

If he had to be honest with himself, Sylvester could say that the Whitelighter Realm was sliding into chaos. Slowly. This had been the case, ever since the Source’s final death over a year ago. Whitelighters were either abandoning the cause of good in favor of evil and becoming darklighters, or were clinging to that upstart Stepanova’s idiotic notion that whitelighters should encourage their charges to focus more on spiritual matters and less on fighting evil. After four hundred and six years as a whitelighter, Sylvester wondered if his world was falling apart.

At the next meeting, perhaps he should . . . Sylvester gasped out loud, when a sharp pain pierced his chest. He glanced down and discovered that someone had shot him with an arrow. The pain spread throughout his chest. When shortness of breath followed, Sylvester realized with horror that he had been struck by a darklighter’s arrow.

Struggling to maintain his breath, Sylvester tried to make his way to the nearest chamber. But the arrow’s poison had quickly spread. He had not taken ten steps, before he finally fell to the ground and slipped into darkness . . . and death.

END OF CHAPTER 3

“HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY” (2008) Review

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“HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY” (2008) Review

Based upon the Dark Horse Comics character, “HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY” is the 2008 sequel to “HELLBOY”, the 2004 hit about a red-skinned demon that works for a paranormal agency of the U.S. government. The sequel is about Hellboy’s conflict with Prince Nuada, son of the King of Elves, who wants to use a clockwork group of soldiers called the Golden Army to exterminate humanity in revenge for the latter’s past hostilities against mythical creatures.

Okay, so what did I think about the movie? About the same as I had felt about the original 2004 film – I though it was simply a good, old-fashioned adventure-fantasy movie, filled with solid entertainment. I never saw anything really exceptional about “HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY”. Well, I take that back. There were aspects of the movie that I really enjoyed.

For example, I was happy to see that director Guillermo del Toro managed to bring back most of the original cast from the first movie. I had read somewhere that the studio executives for the original film wanted someone like Vin Diesel in the leading role of Hellboy. Fortunately, del Toro had insisted upon casting Ron Perlman, with whom he had worked before. And all I can say is thank goodness. Just as Robert Downey Jr. made the role of Tony Stark/Ironman as his own, Perlman did the same with Hellboy not only in the first film, but in this second one, as well. Ron Perlman is Hellboy. Granted, Vin Diesel has become a good actor over the years, I really cannot see him portray the snarky and slightly aggressive demon with a mixture of gruffness, sarcasm and heartfelt tenderness toward his lady love.

Selma Blair reprised her role as Hellboy’s pyrokinetic love, Liz Sherman. And as in the first film, her subtle, yet sardonic take on Liz balanced beautifully with Perlman’s gruff Hellboy. Doug Jones’ portrayal of the fluidic Abe Sapien rose to the level of delicious charm and pathos, especially when his character falls in love with Prince Nuada’s sister, Princess Nuala. Jones also portrayed the androgynous and enigmatic Angel of Death with equal ease. Jeffrey Tambor was just as snarky as ever as director of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, Tom Manning.

Additions to the cast included Anna Walton, in a sweet and effervescent portrayal of Princess Nuala. Actor and singer Luke Goss portrayed the yang to Nuala’s yin, Prince Nuada. Although the villain of the story, Goss’ Nuada is a complex and fascinating character who desire for the destruction of humanity is not driven by sheer evil. He wants revenge for humanity’s betrayal against the supernatural world and views them – or us – as a potent threat to the future. And I must say that Goss as Nuada wielded a mean sword with moves that would impress (perhaps mildly) the likes of Jet Li. Replacing FBI Special Agent John Myers (Rupert Evans) in the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense was Johann Krauss, a German psychic who became an ectoplasmic being contained in a suit after a botched séance. And actor/writer Seth MacFarlane did a hilarious job in capturing the exacting and anal Krauss with a delicious German accent.

Screenwriters del Toro (the director) and Mike Mignola (also creator of Hellboy) created a solid and entertaining tale that centered around Hellboy and the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense’s attempts to meet the threat of Prince Nuada’s plan to use the Golden Army against the humanity. The movie also focused upon the demon’s continuing problems in his relationship with Liz (who is pregnant) and his new immediate supervisor, Strauss. Speaking of the latter, there is a hilarious sequence in which the ectoplasmic being uses locker doors to prove how dangerous he can be.

And what is a HELLBOY movie (or should I say Guillermo del Toro movie) without visual effects? Once again, del Toro enlisted the help of Spectral Motion to create some stunning visual effects. Amongst the most memorable for me were the collection of demons featured in the Troll Market sequence and especially the multi-optical demon voiced by Doug Jones – the Angel of Death. Usually, I tend to be turned off by over-the-top visual effects. Especially when they are pushed into your face by filmmakers eager to show the unusual aspects of their film. In “HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY”, del Toro and Spectral Motion managed to refrain themselves by revealing the visuals when the story truly required them.

I am not going to pretend that “HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY” was at the same level as the Marvel Cinematic Universe films,“SPEED RACER” or “THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY”. But I must admit that it was damn entertaining, thanks to a first-rate cast led by Ron Perlman, a solid story and weird and stunning visual effects. I highly recommend it.

Ranking of Movies Seen During Summer 2015

Usually I would list my ten favorite summer movies of any particular year. However, I only watched ten new releases during the summer of 2015. Due to the limited number, I decided to rank the films that I saw:

 

 

RANKING OF MOVIES SEEN DURING SUMMER 2015

1. “Jurassic World” – In the fourth movie for the JURASSIC PARK franchise, a new dinosaur created for the Jurassic World theme park goes amok and creates havoc. Directed by Colin Trevorrow, the movie starred Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard.

 

 

2. “Ant-Man” – Convicted thief Scott Lang is recruited to become Ant-Man for a heist in this new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Directed by Peyton Reed, Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily and Michael Douglas starred.

 

 

3. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” – Guy Ritchie directed this adaptation of the 1964-1968 television series about agents for the C.I.A. and KGB working together to fight neo-Nazis in the early 1960s. Armie Hammer, Henry Cavill and Alicia Vikander starred.

 

 

4. “Tomorrowland” – Brad Bird directed this imaginative tale about a a former boy-genius inventor and a scientifically inclined adolescent girl’s search for a special realm where ingenuity is encouraged. George Clooney, Britt Robertson and Hugh Laurie starred.

 

 

5. “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are forced to prevent an artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner from destroying mankind. Joss Whedon wrote and directed this second AVENGERS film.

 

 

6. “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” – Tom Cruise starred in this fifth entry in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” film franchise about Ethan Hunt’s efforts to find and destroy a rogue intelligence organization engaged in terrorist activities.

 

 

7. “Mr. Holmes” – Ian McKellen starred in this adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel about the aging Sherlock Holmes’ efforts to recall his last case. Directed by Bill Condon, Laura Linney and Milo Parker co-starred.

 

 

8. “Fantastic Four” – Josh Trank directed this reboot of the Marvel comics series about four young people whose physical form is altered after they teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe. Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell starred.

 

 

9. “Entourage” – Doug Ellin wrote and directed this fluffy continuation of the 2004-2011 HBO series about a movie star and his group of friends dealing with a new project. Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara and Jeremy Piven starred.

 

 

10. “Terminator: Genisys” – Alan Taylor directed this fifth movie in the TERMINATOR franchise, an unexpected turn of events creates a fractured timeline when Resistance fighter Kyle Reese goes back to 1984 in order to prevent the death of leader John Connor’s mother. Arnold Schwartzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney and Jason Clarke starred.

“SHENANDOAH” (1965) Review

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“SHENANDOAH” (1965) Review

During my recent viewing of the 1965 movie, “SHENANDOAH”, I came to the surprising conclusion that it proved to be entirely different than what I had assumed it would be. But it is not surprising that it would take several years for the movie to be appreciated by today’s audiences than it was back in 1965.

Like I said, “SHENANDOAH” is an unusual film. Set in 1864, during the U.S. Civil War, the movie is about the efforts of a sardonic Virginia farmer and widower named Charlie Anderson to prevent his sons from fighting in the war. Although, he is sympathetic toward the travails his neighbors face from the Union Army’s presence in the Shenandoah Valley, he feels no obligation to fight on behalf of a state he believes had never help him maintain his farm. Nor does he support the Confederacy’s pro-slavery stance. His neighbors seem willing to tolerate his pacifist stance, although a few like Pastor Bjoerling occasionally make barbed comments.

Not long after his only daughter’s wedding to neighbor and Confederate Army officer Sam and the birth of his first grandchild, Charlie’s family fortunes take a turn for the worse. His youngest son, 16 year-old Boy, is captured by Union soldiers, while playing with his close friend Gabriel, a neighbor’s slave. Boy had been wearing a Confederate Army kepi cap he had earlier found. When Gabriel informs the Anderson family of the news; Charlie, most of his sons and daughter Jennie leave to look for Boy. They leave James and his wife Ann at the farm with their young baby.

While watching the first twenty to thirty minutes of “SHENANDOAH”, one gets the impression of watching a warm family comedy-drama with a Civil War setting. I almost felt as if I were watching “THE WALTONS” in a 19th century setting. There are very few characters in uniform. The movie featured the Anderson family at home, at work and a mildly amusing scene of them arriving late at church during the beginning of the sermon. And when the war did infringe upon their lives, the family usually responded in humorous ways – namely their boisterous fight with a state official and soldiers trying to acquire horses for the army, and a stand-off between Anderson’s sons and a group of army recruiters. By the time Charlie and his family set out to find the missing Boy, I felt certain that their adventures would be exciting, topped by a happy ending. Charlie and the rest of the Andersons got their happy ending. . . but at great costs, thanks to the Union Army, the Confederate Army and a group of deserters. The movie’s growing dark tones and anti-war sentiments really took me by surprise, considering its earlier tone. But what really took me by surprise is that the movie’s changing tone had been gradual, thanks to director Andrew V. McLaglen and screenwriter James Lee Barrett.

There were scenes in “SHENANDOAH” that really impressed me. I enjoyed those scenes with Charlie’s conversations with his future son-in-law, Sam, and his daughter-in-law Ann; due to their heartwarming nature, Charlie’s outlooks on both his family dynamics and dealing with marriage, and fine performances from James Stewart, Doug McClure and Katherine Ross. However, his conversation with Union Army officer Colonel Fairchild really impressed me, thanks to Stewart and George Kennedy’s performances, and the way the two men managed to emotionally connect on the horrors of war and fear of losing their sons. Boy’s escape with a group of Confederate soldiers from a riverboat struck me as rather exciting. In one of the movie’s earlier scene, Jennie Anderson had encouraged Gabriel to run away from his master. Not only did Gabriel run, he eventually joined the Union Army. This is probably why I found Gabriel’s reunion on the battlefield with a wounded Boy emotionally satisfying. The friendship and warmth the two boys felt for each other had not wavered, despite finding themselves within the ranks of the opposite armies. And I was amazed at how both Philip Alford and Eugene Jackson Jr. managed to convey the close friendship of the two characters with hardly any words. However, I feel that the movie’s two best scenes were featured in the Andersons’ local church. The first church scene proved to be a very funny affair, thanks to actor Denver Pyle’s skillful conveyance of Pastor Bjoerling’s irritated reaction to the Andersons’ late arrival in the middle of his sermon. The second church scene, which ended the film, was a beautifully acted and emotional that surprisingly left me in tears. It had the perfect mixture of relief, happiness and a little pathos that followed the emotionally draining aspects of the movie’s second half. Even after nearly five decades, many people still talk about it.

Despite my satisfaction with “SHENANDOAH”, there were some aspects of it that I found troubling. Most of my dissatisfaction came from the movie’s historical portrait of its setting. One of the Union soldiers that captured Boy proved to be black. The Union Army was not integrated in 1864. In fact, I do not believe it was ever integrated during the four years of the Civil War. And for the likes of me, I could not see how all of Charlie’s six sons could have avoided military service during the war’s first three years. His sons, especially Jacob, seemed to have minds of their own. I figured if they really wanted to fight in the war – whether for the Confederacy or the Union – they would have left the farm and join the military. I could not understand how someone as strong-willed as Jacob (who was the oldest) could have allowed his father to prevent him from joining the Confederate Army. And even if all the boys had wanted to remain on the farm, they would have been subjected to the military draft. The Confederacy had enacted the military draft about a year before the Union. And the Andersons were not rich or owned any slaves. I have one last complaint – a minor one at that. Some of the acting by the supporting characters in minor roles sucked. Period. I found their performances rather wooden and could not understand how they managed to get roles in an “A” production like “SHENANDOAH”.

Flaws or not, I can honestly say that “SHENANDOAH” is one of the better Civil War movies I have ever seen. Instead of telling the story of the war from one side or the other, it told the story about a family that desperately tried to avoid being dragged into the chaos and tragedy of war . . . and failed. Thanks to a well-written script written by James Lee Bennett and a talented cast led by the even more talented James Stewart, director Andrew V. McLaglen crafted an excellent story about the Civil War that proved to be more emotional and surprising than I could ever imagine.

“Defense of the Realm” [PG-13] – 2/14

“DEFENSE OF THE REALM”

CHAPTER 2

Within the Whitelighters’ Realm, Leo Wyatt stood before the Elders’ Council for the umpteenth time. Although he outwardly presented a calm appearance, inwardly he quaked with anxiety.

Leo had learned how the Elders punished Mathilda for the Olivia/Cole/Paul fiasco. Now, it was his turn to face the Council. Elder MacKenzie stared coldly at the younger whitelighter. “Leo Wyatt, you have been found guilty of withholding valuable information regarding the notorious Belthazor. Furthermore, you have conspired with former Elder Mathilda Everard to vanquish said demon without this council’s consent. The failure of your actions have resulted in the death of the loyal and valuable witch, Paul Margolin; and Olivia McNeill’s rejection of this council’s authority.”

Olivia’s rejection of the Council’s authority? Leo nearly snorted with derision. Whatever happened to free will? And whom were they kidding? Olivia had ceased to acknowledge the Council’s authority some thirteen years ago.

Elder McKenzie continued, “It is the judgment of this Council that you be suspended from your duties as whitelighter to your charges for six months, as measured on Earth.” Dread overwhelmed Leo. He knew what that meant. His wings would be clipped. Again. However, Elder MacKenzie dispelled Leo’s fears with the following words. “Instead, you will assist Ludmilla Kamilov in the Sorting Department for six hours everyday, as measured in this realm.”

Leo wished that he could feel relief over the Council’s final sentence. Unfortunately, the feeling failed to materialize. He realized that the Elders had enacted an appropriate punishment – forcing him to assist the notoriously brusque Ludmilla Kamilov to distribute assignments to new whitelighters for six months. Only God knew how long those six hours would measure on Earth. It was a task that he did not look forward to. Oh well. At least he would keep his wings.

The Elders added, “Do you have anything to say, Mr. Wyatt?”

Oh yes. Leo had forgotten. “Uh, who will be responsible for my charges?” he asked.

A young man in his early twenties strode into the chamber and stopped beside Leo. Handsome in a boyish, yet intense manner; he possessed dark brown hair and wide blue eyes. He also struck a familiar chord within Leo. “You remember Mr. Christopher Perry, don’t you Leo?” Elder Sylvester commented. “He had helped us in that matter regarding the Titans, last spring.”

Now Leo remembered. The time traveler. “Oh. Yeah, uh . . . why isn’t . . .?” He faced the whitelighter standing next to him. “Aren’t you supposed to be back in the future, or something?”

“I’m afraid that Christopher is trapped here in the past at the moment,” Sylvester continued. “He was unable to return to his own time. At least permanently. There are several whitelighters working on the matter.”

Leo continued to stare at his replacement. “Oh. Um . . .”

“Yes?”

After a brief hesitation, Leo continued, “Isn’t . . . isn’t Chris a little young to act as whitelighter to my charges? Especially the Charmed Ones? Let alone, unexperienced?” He added to Chris, “No offense.”

A touch of frost glazed over Chris’ blue eyes. “None taken. Don’t worry. I’ve had experience in the future.”

Elder Madeline Pivet smiled placidly. “There. You see? You have nothing to worry about, Leo. Christopher will do an admirable job with your charges. And do not forget – there were those who had believed you were not experienced enough to deal with the Charmed Ones, considering you had been a whitelighter for fifty odd years at the time.”

“Oh. Of course.” Leo struggled to prevent his resentment from overwhelming him. “Whatever you say.” He glanced at Chris and noticed that the latter’s eyes also flashed with resentment. Interesting.

———

Marbus stepped out of the elevator and strode down the corridor of Jackman, Carter and Kline Law Offices’ tenth floor. He entered one of the offices and halted in front of the desk that belonged to his nephew’s assistant. “Good afternoon . . . Miss Read, isn’t it?”

The handsome-looking woman responded with a strained smile. “Mr. Farrell. Good morn . . . I mean, good afternoon. Uh, I’ll inform Mr. Turner that you’re here.” Her smile disappeared, while the strained expression remained.

Realizing that something was amiss, Marbus frowned. “Miss Read? Is there a problem? You look a bit peaked.”

“Huh? Uh . . . it’s no . . .” Miss Read hesitated. Then she gave her head a quick shake. “It’s nothing.”

“Is it Bel . . . uh, Mr. Turner?”

Again, the legal assistant hesitated. She sighed. “I’m sorry to say this, but he’s been a big . . . I mean, rather difficult, lately. I don’t know. It seems as if he’s had some burr up his ass for the past week-and-a-half.”

“Hmmm.”

Another sigh left Miss Read’s mouth. “I’ll announce you.” She picked up the telephone and dialed an extension. “Mr. Turner, your uncle is here to see you.” After a brief pause, she hung up and glanced at Marbus. “You may go in.”

Marbus gave her a reassuring smile. “Thank you, Miss Read. Take care.” He strode into his nephew’s office and found the younger daemon barking at someone on the telephone.

“I don’t give a rat’s ass about the hours of Hudson Enterprises, Greg!” Cole shouted into the receiver. “I want a copy of that file within 24 hours!” He slammed the receiver down and faced his uncle. A polite smile replaced the scowl on his face. “Marbus. What brings you here?”

The older daemon warily eyed his nephew. “I meant to treat you to lunch, today. At a place called Vornado’s. You’ll never believe who owns it.”

“Riggerio,” Cole sharply replied. “But I thought his place was a jazz club.”

Ignoring Cole’s curt attitude, Marbus added, “Apparently, he has decided to open the place for lunch, as well.”

“How nice.” Cole began to sort through a pile of files on his desk.

Marbus decided that he had enough of his nephew’s churlish behavior. “All right, boyo! Is there a reason why you’re acting like a complete bastard?”

“It’s nothing,” Cole murmured.

“Oh I see. So, this has nothing to do with Fran? Or Olivia?”

Cole stared at him with intense blue eyes. “Her name is Phoebe, okay? Phoebe, not Fran!” he snapped. “And what exactly are you getting at?”

“Don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes, boy,” Marbus coolly replied. “I’m not the only one who has noticed your foul mood, lately. What’s wrong?”

A heavy sigh left Cole’s mouth, as he leaned back against his chair. “Nothing. It’s . . . aw shit! I think I may have made a big mistake.”

“Oh?”

Looking morose, Cole continued, “I . . . when Olivia was still under that spell, Phoebe had suggested we get back together.”

Marbus nodded. “I understand. And you said yes.”

“Yeah. I was pretty upset over Olivia dumping me.” Cole shrugged his shoulders before sighing. “Only I didn’t know at the time she was under Margolin’s spell. And after the whole thing ended, Phoebe showed up to help me recover. Two days later . . . Olivia dropped by. Only Phoebe was there.”

“Bloody hell!” Marbus exclaimed.

Cole added wryly, “Precisely. You should have seen what happened. Olivia looked as if someone had stunned her with a cattle prod. Phoebe practically claimed me for herself – making sure that Olivia knew that we were a couple. And I couldn’t say a goddamn word.”

Poor bastard, Marbus thought. What a bloody mess. He felt sorry for his nephew – being torn between two women. “How odd,” he commented. “Nearly a year ago, you were determined to win back Fran . . . uh, Phoebe. And now you seemed to have her back . . . against your will. I guess love sometimes die.”

“I never said that I no longer love Phoebe!” Cole protested.

Giving his nephew a shrewd look, Marbus countered, “Aye, but you’re no longer ‘in love’ with her. Are you?”

“Look Marbus . . .” Cole began.

The older daemon interrupted, “Bloody hell, boy! Answer the question! Am I right? Aren’t you really in love with Olivia?”

Cole’s mouth tightened, as he glared at his uncle. “This conversation is over,” he snapped.

Exasperated by his nephew’s stubbornness and repressive nature, Marbus sighed. “If you insist. By the way, are you still available for lunch?”

“Yeah. Sure,” Cole mumbled. “But I thought you would be having lunch with the likes of Mark Giovanni.”

Marbus rolled his eyes at the mention of the wine grower’s name. “Good grief! Do me a favor, lad. Try not to mention that man’s name during the next hour or so. After spending two weeks with that family, I’m about to go out of me bloody mind. In my humble opinion, the entire family needs a good psycho analyst.”

Cole chuckled – a sound Marbus had wondered if he would ever hear again. “God Marbus! Who on this earth doesn’t need a psychiatrist?”

“Besides,” Marbus added, ignoring the other daemon’s sardonic comment, “there hasn’t been an attack on Mark since that incident with the darklighter and her warlock.”

Cole grunted. “Don’t worry. I’m sure that the Magan Corporation is thinking of another way to get its hands on Mark’s Oakville property. Which is why I would be grateful if you can remain ‘friends’ with him.”

“All right,” Marbus protested. “But I need a break from him. At least today. If you don’t mind.” He opened the door. “Ready to go?”

“Ready.” Cole grabbed his jacket and brushed past his uncle. Marbus quickly followed.

———

An upper-level daemon named Prax entered the plush office of the Magan Corporation’s CEO. Many employees found it odd that Mr. Arthur Winslow’s office was located on the building’s fourteenth floor, instead of the top floor. Prax knew the reason behind the location of Mr. Winslow’s office. He also knew that Winslow happened to be Artemus, another upper-level daemon and present head of the Khorne Order. And that Artemus wished to keep his presence a secret, in case someone had linked him to the no-longer-existing Arthur Winslow.

“Pardon me Artemus,” Prax said to the distinguished-looking man who sat behind a large desk.

Artemus glanced up from his work. Slightly annoyed by his assistant’s interruption, he growled, “What is it, Prax?”

“You have a visitor, sir.” Prax paused. “The . . . uh, the new darklighter that . . .”

The older daemon’s skin tingled with anticipation. “Show him in, Prax,” he ordered. “And please bring him a cup of his usual coffee.”

The minion responded with an obedient nod and ushered in the visitor. After Prax had disappeared, the darklighter eased into a chair opposite Artemus. “So,” the latter continued, “how is life in the Whitelighters’ Realm?”

Johann Bauer heaved a long-suffering sigh. “Intense. The Council is still shaken over Elder Everard’s plot to kill Belthazor.”

“The witch wasn’t able to kill him?” Artemus asked.

“She nearly accomplished the task . . .” Johann began.

Artemus’ brows rose questioningly. “Nearly?”

“Yes, but her brothers and the youngest Charmed One were able to stop her in time.” Johann heaved another sigh. “Mathilda had hoped that the McNeill witch would reveal her spell to vanquish Belthazor to the others, but . . . she has refused.”

Artemus shrugged. “Not surprising, since she’s in love with him. I will deal with Miss McNeill, later. However, we have a more pressing matter to discuss.” He allowed his eyes to bore into the darklighter’s. “Like the Elders’ Council.”

“I have informed Fraulein Everhard of your plan – as you had suggested. Although she was reluctant at first, she seemed eager to use it.” Johann’s voice expressed surprise in his last sentence.

“Surprised?”

The darklighter nodded. “Well . . . yes. I never thought a whitelighter would, uh . . .”

“Would what?” Artemus demanded. “Resort to violence to achieve a means? Why would you find that surprising? The whitelighters have been encouraging witches to kill all daemons on sight. With extreme prejudice. Many of them have never bothered to distinguish between daemons such as myself, and those who help other beings, like the Gimle daemons. As far as whitelighters like Mathilda are concerned, the only good daemon is a dead daemon. Please remember, Herr Bauer, that whitelighters used to be humans. When they became whitelighters, they failed to evolve beyond the usual human emotions – both positive and negative. Besides, I’ve heard of Mathilda Everard. A ruthless bitch, if all accounts of her are true. And very self-righteous. She’s one of those creatures who would resort to any means to further her cause. Even if it meant committing a few rotten deeds.”

Johann hesitated. “Does that include harming her fellow whitelighters?”

Allowing himself a wry smile, Artemus replied, “Of course. Look how she had plotted behind the Council’s back to manipulate the McNeill witch into killing Belthazor. Like I said – very ruthless. However,” Artemus’ smile hardened, “poor Miss Everhard is in for a very nasty surprise. A very nasty one, indeed.”

END OF CHAPTER 2

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986) – Episode One “June-July 1861” Commentary

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“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986) – EPISODE ONE “JUNE-JULY 1861” Commentary

Judging from past articles I have written about the “NORTH AND SOUTH” Trilogy, one would surmise that of the three miniseries that have aired in the past decades (two in the 1980s and one in the 1990s) that I seemed to have the most problem with the second miniseries in the trilogy, namely “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II”. And if I have to be honest, one would be right.

It is odd that I would choose the second miniseries as the most problematic of the three. “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II”is set during the four years of the Civil War – a historical conflict that has heavily attracted my attention for so many years that I cannot measure how long. “HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III”, which had aired at least seven-and-a-half years after the second miniseries, was set during the early years of Reconstruction and has a reputation among the “NORTH AND SOUTH” fans as being inferior to the other two. But for some reason, I have had more of a problem with “BOOK II”. So I have decided to examine each of the six episodes of the 1986 miniseries to determine why this chapter in the “NORTH AND SOUTH” trilogy is such a problem for me.

Without a doubt, Episode One of “BOOK II” is my favorite in the entire miniseries. It re-introduced the main characters from the first miniseries in the story. It also set the stage for the main characters’ experiences during the war, for the rest of the miniseries. It featured an excellent opening shot on the streets of Washington D.C. that introduced both Brett Main Hazard, and the slave Semiramis. It also featured a well shot sequence that centered around a colorful ball at the Spotswood Hotel in Richmond, attended by Ashton and James Huntoon, and Elkhannah Bent. Most importantly, it featured one of my favorite battle scenes – namely the Battle of Bull Run that was fought near Manassas, Virginia on July 18, 1861. If I have to be frank, this interpretation of Bull Run remains my favorite. Director Kevin Connors filmed the entire sequence with great style and skill and composer Bill Conti injected it with a brash, yet haunting score that still give me goose bumps whenever I watch it. Even better, the sequence ended with actress Wendy Kilbourne uttering one of the best lines in the entire trilogy.

I certainly have no problems with the miniseries’ production values. Jacques R. Marquette’s photography struck me as rather beautiful and colorful. This was especially apparent in the opening Washington D.C., the Spotswood Hotel ball and Bull Run sequences. If I have one complaint, I wish the photography had been a little sharper. Joseph R. Jennings and his production designs team did an excellent job in re-creating the United States during the Civil War era. Bill Conti continued his excellent work as composer for the saga’s production. But if there is one aspect of the miniseries’ production values that really blew my mind were the costumes designed by Robert Fletcher. I was especially impressed by the following costumes:

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I do have a few quibbles about Episode One. First of all, it introduced Charles Main’s role as a cavalry scout for the Confederate Army. Considering that he started out as a Captain in this miniseries, it made no sense to me that he and another officer – a first lieutenant – would be participating scout duties without the assistance of enlisted men. I guess one could call it as an example of the story being historically inaccurate. And I wish someone would explain why the Mains’ neighbors (or slaves) sent word to Brett Main Hazard in Washington D.C., of the injuries her mother, Clarissa Main, had suffered when Mont Royal’s barn was set on fire by Justin La Motte. Would it have been a lot easier (and quicker) to send word to Orry Main, who was on duty in Richmond, Virginia?

I find the idea of both George Hazard and Orry Main serving as military aides to their respective political leaders – Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis – very improbable. Following their graduation from West Point in 1846, the two friends had only served at least 18 months in the U.S. Army before resigning for personal reasons. Yet, after the outbreak of a civil war, thirteen years, the audience is supposed to believe that both were able to secure such high positions within their respective armies? Especially when one considers the fact that neither were politically active between 1848 and 1861? I find this very illogical . . . even for a work of fiction.

My last major quibble featured the character of Elkhannah Bent. What was he doing with the portrait of Madeline Fabray LaMotte’s mother? The audience knew that he had procured it from an expensive whorehouse in New Orleans. But Bent had no idea that Madeline was romantically involved with one of his nemesis, Orry Main, until after Ashton Main Huntoon informed him. So, why did he bother to get his hands on the painting at a time when he was ignorant of the romantic and emotional connection between Orry and Madeline?

I certainly had no problems with the episode’s performances. The cast, more or less, gave solid performances. But I was especially impressed by a handful. Two of the better performances came from Parker Stevenson and Genie Francis, who portrayed the recently married Billy and Brett Hazard. I was especially impressed by one scene in which the two nearly quarreled over Billy’s decision to transfer from the Corps of Engineers to Hiram Berdan’s Sharpshooters Regiment. Terri Garber and Philip Casnoff literally burned the screen in their portrayal of the early stages of Ashton Main Huntoon and Elkhannah Bent’s affair. This episode featured another quarrel . . . one between George Hazard and his sister, Virgilia, who had arrived in Washington D.C. to become a nurse. Both James Read and Kirstie Alley were superb in that scene. And finally, I have to single out Forest Whitaker, who did a superb job in expressing the resentful anger that his character, Cuffey, felt toward his situation as a slave and toward his owners, the Mains.

Although Episode One featured some stumbling blocks that I have already mentioned, I must say that it turned out rather well. For me, it is probably the best episode in the entire 1986 miniseries. Not only did it featured some excellent performances, it was capped with a superb sequence featuring the Battle of Bull Run, directed with skill by Kevin Connor.

“ONCE UPON A TIME”: Tolerating Ambiguity

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“ONCE UPON A TIME”: TOLERATING AMBIGUITY

A good number of the “ONCE UPON A TIME” fandom seemed to be divided over what was revealed in the series’ latest episode called (4.16) “Best Laid Plans”. This division seems to be especially apparent in the episode’s flashbacks and the moral implications hinted from those sequences.

Since the second half of the series’ Season Four began, there have been rumors and hints on the Internet that two of the series’ leads – Snow White aka Mary-Margaret Blanchard and Prince Charming aka David Nolan – may have done something questionable or even terrible in their past in the Enchanted Forest. The first hint appeared in the episode,(4.12) “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, when the couple had protested against allowing villainesses Ursula the Sea Witch and Cruella DeVille to enter their Maine community, Storyrbooke. Later in the episode, both Snow and Charming warned the villainous pair not to say a word about their past to anyone, especially their daughter Emma Swan.

The episode, (4.13) “Unforgiven” gave further hints of the royal pair’s ominous deed. The Storybrooke sequences featured Snow and Charming’s failed efforts to prevent Ursula and Cruella (with Rumpelstiltskin’s help) from resurrecting their former comrade, Maleficent. The latter had been trapped in dragon form by Regina Mills aka the Evil Queen in a cavern underneath Storybrooke during those 28 years of the first curse, until Emma killed her in the Season One episode, (1.22) “A Land Without Magic”. But the flashbacks for “Unforgiven” revealed that the Charmings had briefly formed an alliance with Maleficent, Ursula and Cruella to find a way to prevent Regina from casting the first curse. The alliance fell apart after Maleficent killed a pair of guards who blocked their way to a magical tree that could give them advice. Snow and Charming eventually learned – ironically from Maleficent – that the former was pregnant with Emma. They also learned that their unborn child would not only have the potential for good, but also for great evil. To anyone with common sense, this would be an apt description of any sentient being. Yet, the idea of their future child – who became dubbed as “the Savior” – possessing a potential for evil frightened the Charmings . . . especially Snow White.

So, what actually happened between the Charmings and the “Queens of Darkness” in the Enchanted Forest? “Best Laid Plans” provided the answer. The episode revealed that the royal couple had stopped to help a roadside peddler, who warned them that Maleficent had torched a village after becoming a dragon and laying an egg. He also advised them to seek advice from a “man in a cottage”. The latter turned out to be the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the same elderly man who had directed Queen Ingrid aka the Snow Queen to our world and whom Rumpelstiltskin (with Hook’s reluctant help) had entrapped inside the Sorcerer’s Hat. It was the Apprentice who told the Charmings that their child would grow up with the potential for both good and evil . . . like everyone else. He also added that if they wanted to ensure Emma would remain good, they would have to find another sentient being to serve as a vessel to absorb their unborn child’s potential for evil. In the end, the Charmings kidnapped Maleficent’s egg, which carried an unborn child to use as a vessel for Emma’s inner evil. And the Apprentice, who cast a spell that sent Emma’s inner evil into Maleficent’s unborn child, took the royal pair by surprise by declaring that such evil should not reside in the Enchanted Forest. He sent Maleficent’s child to “the Land Without Magic”, sucking Ursula and Cruella into the portal, as well.

The reaction to the Charmings’ actions in the Enchanted Forest and their subsequent lies in present-day Storybrooke proved to be very emotional and mixed within the “ONCE UPON A TIME” fandom. Many fans accepted what the Charmings did and recognized what they had done was wrong. However, other fan reactions to the Charmings’ actions and “Best Laid Plans” has been . . . well, interesting. Some fans have accused show runners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis of retconning Snow White and Charming’s characterizations . . . and bad writing altogether. Others have made excuses for the Charmings, claiming they could understand the couple’s need to save Emma from a life of evil. Others have used the peddler, who turned out to be the Author that many have been seeking, as an excuse for the Charmings’ terrible act. The episode revealed that instead of recording the going-ons in the Enchanted Forest, the peddler had been occasionally manipulating the actions of the inhabitants to “make a better story”. And since the episode revealed that the peddler/Author had manipulated the Apprentice into sending Maleficent’s unborn child to “the Land Without Magic”, he must have manipulated the Charmings into kidnapping the child in the first place. Ironically, the charges of bad writing and excuses reminded me of the reactions to Snow’s murder of Cora Mills aka the Queen of Hearts in Season Two’s (2.16) “The Miller’s Daughter”. For some reason, a certain portion of the series’ fandom find it difficult to accept any signs of moral ambiguity from either Snow White, Prince Charming or their daughter, Emma Swan. And there are those fans who have raked the Charmings over hot coals for their deed. I get the feeling these particular fans are angry at the couple (or at Horowitz and Kitsis) for shattering their ideal image of innate goodness.

Personally, I had sighed with relief over the revelation of the Charmings’ past misdeed. No one was more happier than me when Snow and David proved how low they could sink. Some might view my comment as crowing over the couple’s downfall. Trust me, I am not. I am happy that Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis has finally resumed portraying the couple’s moral ambiguity after . . . how many seasons? I believe the last time audiences really saw any signs of questionable morality from either Snow or David was in Season Two’s (2.16) “The Miller’s Daughter”, when Snow murdered Cora Mills aka the Queen of Hearts by cursing the latter’s heart and emotionally manipulating Regina into placing that heart back into Cora’s body. Many fans – to this day – have used Cora’s own moral compass and goal to become the new “Dark One” as an excuse for her murder. These same fans continue to claim that Snow’s intent was to save Storybrooke from Cora’s machinations. But Snow White’s declared intent to murder Cora in revenge for her mother’s death in (2.15) “The Queen Is Dead” makes it clear that Snow White’s only intent was to exact revenge.

There have been other signs throughout the series of Snow’s moral ambiguity. Flashbacks revealed in episodes that she was a kind, yet spoiled and slightly bratty child. I have always wondered about her attempts to redeemed Regina on her own terms, instead of allowing the latter to make the choice to seek redemption, herself. Was this some effort on Snow White’s part to regain the affection of the young woman who first saved her when they met? Or to be the “loving” stepmother and mother substitute she had assumed Regina was before King Leopold’s death? Who knows. I also recalled Snow White’s attempt to murder Regina in the flashbacks featured in Season One’s (1.16) “Heart of Darkness”. Many fans had attributed Snow’s murderous intent to the potion given to her by Rumpelstiltskin, which stripped away her memories of Charming. Those fans seemed to forget that the potion merely erased her memories of Charming. It did not make her murderous. I suspect that the stress of being a fugitive, along with anger and resentment over Regina’s part in Leopold’s death had finally got the best of Snow and she decided to resolve her situation with an act of murder. Thankfully, Charming managed to stop her.

And for quite some time, I have brought up Snow’s action against Mulan in Season Two’s (2.08) “Into the Darkness”, in which she and Emma were trying to leave the Enchanted Forest and return home to Storybrooke. As many know, Mulan had snatched a magical compass that mother and daughter were planning to use to return home. But Mulan wanted to exchange the compass for Princess Aurora, who had been kidnapped by Cora. Snow and Emma managed to catch up in time, before the former engaged in a tussle with Mulan that led to an implausible victory for her. Angry over Mulan’s theft, Snow demanded to know the reason behind it. Even though Mulan admitted that she stole the compass to save Aurora’s life, Snow gave into her anger and tried to kill the former. Fortunately for Mulan, Aurora (who had been freed by Killian Jones aka Captain Hook) stopped Snow from committing murder. Emma, on the other hand, had done nothing to stop her mother. Wow. Snow managed to commit two murder attempts before finally achieving one, when she arranged Cora’s death. Now, her body count is a far, far cry from the likes of Rumpelstiltskin, Regina, Cora, Zelena and other villains. But for someone with a reputation for innate goodness, her penchant for murder (whether successful or not) is at least worth contemplating.

As for David, one of his major character flaws has always been his penchant for judging others with extreme prejudice. Not only has this trait been apparent in his attitude toward Regina – even when she finally managed to achieve some form of full redemption – but also toward others whom he would view as different. This is a trait that Snow White also shares. How else could someone explain the couple’s willingness to use Maleficent’s child as a vessel for Emma’s inner evil? As far as they were concerned, the baby was nothing more than a replica of her mother – a personification of evil. Transferring Emma’s inner evil to her would cause no harm . . . or so they would believe. David was also willing to destroy the book’s page that contained the entrapped Author – an act that could have killed the latter and robbed anyone else of a future “happy ending”. He wanted to destroy that page to hide his and Snow’s theft of Maleficent’s child from everyone . . . especially Emma. His willingness to destroy the page struck me as a stark example of his own personal cowardice that has manifested itself, time and again.

In the Season Two episode, (2.02) “We Are Both”, he told the citizens of Storybrooke that the cursed David Nolan who was too cowardly to be truthful about his adulterous affair with the cursed Mary Margaret Blanchard; and the heroic Prince Charming were one and the same. In Season Three’s (3.14) “The Tower”, he resorted to hiding from others for a few nips of booze in order to hide from his guilt over Emma’s upbringing away from the family and a fear that he might prove to be an ineffective father to his son, Neal, with whom Snow was pregnant at the time. In “Unforgiven”, Snow woke up in the middle of the night following a nightmare about Maleficent, and found David drinking on the staircase to hide his worries over Ursula and Cruella’s arrival in Storybrooke. I am beginning to suspect that he might be a secret lush. Oh dear. And most addicts, if not all, tend to resort to this behavior because they are afraid to face the complete truth about themselves – especially their less than admirable traits. Charming has always struck me as the type willing to face external dangers like evil magic practitioners, dragons, a dangerous water temptress and his malevolent adopted father. Facing his flaws, personal mistakes and demons has always been a problem for him.

Why is it so difficult for some fans to view the Charming family – Snow White, David, Emma and Henry – as morally ambiguous? I never understood this attitude. “ONCE UPON A TIME” is not a television series solely for children. If it was, ABC/Disney would have aired the show on Saturday mornings, instead of during the usual prime time hours. This is the same series in which other heroes and villains have been portrayed in an ambiguous light. Why should the Charmings be exempt from such ambiguity? Because they are among the show’s main protagonists? Some would point out that Emma is a morally ambiguous character, due to her past as a thief and ex-convict. But Emma has committed some questionable acts since the series began – destruction of property, breaking and entering, accessory to her mother’s attempt to kill Mulan in “Into the Deep”, changing the timeline and lying to Henry. In fact, she is still driving the same yellow Volkswagen that she and Neal Cassidy (Baefire) had stolen when they first met. However, many fans tend to brush aside these acts – including the stolen Volkswagen. With the exception of her lies to Henry, which they saw as a threat to the Charming family’s reunion, many fans were willing to brush aside Emma’s questionable acts as long as she was not guilty of murder. Personally, I find this viewpoint rather hypocritical and an example of certain fans’ insistence upon viewing protagonists like the Charmings as morally ideal.

I personally do not care for morally ideal characters. I find them rather boring and unrealistic. I remember reading in a few Agatha Christie novels in which the main character – usually Miss Jane Marple – tend to express the view that just about anyone is capable of murder, given a specific situation. I agree with this assessment. I sometimes feel that human beings like to regard themselves as better than we really are. Perhaps this is why they love the idea of fictional characters – especially those dubbed “the protagonist” or “hero/heroine” – as being morally ideal. Mind you, this is merely an opinion of mine. I tend to find morally ambiguous characters more interesting. Such characters are very entertaining and really do make a story bridle with energy. Characters of one-dimensional morality do not. Even one-dimensional villains. Both Regina and Rumpelstiltskin had struck me as a pair of uninteresting villains in Season One, until episodes like (1.08) “Desperate Souls” and (1.18) “The Stable Boy” revealed just how ambiguous and interesting they truly were.

After Season Two, both Snow White and Charming seemed in danger of becoming a pair of rather dull characters. Between (2.17) “Welcome to Storybrooke” (in which Snow tried to me avert the emotional impact of Cora’s death) and“Darkness on the Edge of Town”, they were not that interesting to me. Well . . . there was the (4.11) “Shattered Sight”episode, in which Queen Ingrid of Arendelle aka the Snow Queen’s spell in which the couple exposed their . . . um, inner resentments and anger toward each other. But for me, that was not the same as deliberately indulging in or utilizing one’s unpleasant traits. After all, they and other Storybrooke’s citizens were under a spell. However, this story arc featuring Maleficent’s stolen child is an entirely different matter. Yes, Snow and Charming’s crime happened in the past. But they were not under a spell.

But there is one potential problem. Earlier, I had revealed that in “Best Laid Plans”, audiences learned the true identity of “the Author” – a peddler who had been commissioned by the Sorcerer and his apprentice to record the happenings in the Enchanted Forest and other “fictional” realms. After the Apprentice had sent Maleficent’s child to “the Land Without Magic”, he confronted the Author and accused the latter of manipulating him into banishing the unborn (or unhatched) child to our world. He also accused the Author of manipulating past events in the “fictional” realms. Certain fans jumped on this narrative turn-of-events and claimed that the Author had manipulated Snow and Charming into stealing Maleficent’s child. Yes, it is possible that the royal pair had been manipulated by the Author. Then again, the Apprentice never accused the Author of that particular act. So, the audience will never learn the truth, until Horowitz and Kitsis decide to reveal it. If they reveal that the Charmings’ act of kidnapping had been manipulated by the Author, then I will be sadly disappointed.

But you know what? Even if the show runners decide to include that Snow and Charming had been manipulated into kidnapping Maleficent’s child, the royal pair still managed to commit some morally questionable acts since the Apprentice had entrapped the Author in that book. And because both of them, along with other characters in “ONCE UPON A TIME”, have shown they are capable of both decent and very questionable acts, I can never regard them as innately good. Frankly, I see that as a good thing. Because in my eyes, there is nothing more boring or damaging to a good story than a morally one-dimensional character.