Top Five Favorite “MAD MEN” Season One (2007) Episodes

Below is a list of my top five favorite Season One episodes of AMC’s “MAD MEN”:

 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE “MAD MEN” SEASON ONE (2007) Episodes

1 - 1.12 Nixon vs. Kennedy

1. (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy” – In this superb episode, Sterling-Cooper’s employees have an all-night party to watch the results of the 1960 Presidential Election. Also, Pete Campbell discovers that Don Draper’s real name is Dick Whitman, who had been officially declared dead during the Korean War.

2 - 1.10 The Long Weekend

2. (1.10) “The Long Weekend” – During the Labor Day weekend, Roger Sterling decides to cheer up Don over the loss of a client by arranging a double date with twins. During the date, he suffers a heart attack. Meanwhile, Joan Holloway has a double date with her roommate and two out-of-town businessmen.

3 - 1.05 5G

3. (1.05) “5G” – In this poignant episode, Don receives an unwelcome visitor in the form of his half-brother, Adam Whitman, whom he had not seen since the Korean War. And when Ken Cosgrove gets his short story published in a magazine, a jealous Pete asks wife Trudy to convince an old boyfriend to publish his story.

4 - 1.01 Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

4. (1.01) “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” – The series’ pilot episode introduces Manhattan advertisement executive Don Draper and his co-workers at the Sterling-Cooper agency, as he struggles to maintain Lucky Strike as a client for the agency.

5 - 1.09 Shoot

5. (1.09) “Shoot” – A larger ad agency tries to lure Don from Sterling-Cooper by hiring wife Betty Draper for a modeling job. Meanwhile, Pete devises a strategy to help the Nixon campaign.

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The Celebration of Mediocrity and Unoriginality in “STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS”

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“THE CELEBRATION OF MEDIOCRITY AND UNORIGINALITY IN “STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS”

Look … I liked the new “STAR WARS” movie, “THE FORCE AWAKENS”.  I honestly do.  Heck, I feel it is better than J.J. Abrams’ two “STAR TREK” films.  But I am astounded that this film has garnered so much acclaim.  It has won the AFI Award for Best Picture.  It has been nominated by the Critics Choice Award for Best Picture.

“THE FORCE AWAKENS”???  Really?  It did not take long for certain fans to point out that the movie’s plot bore a strong resemblance to the first “STAR WARS” movie, “A NEW HOPE”.  In fact, I am beginning to suspect that J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan had more or less plagiarized the 1977 film, along with aspects from other movies in the franchise.  Worse, it has some plot holes that Abrams has managed to ineffectively explain to the media.  In other words, his explanations seemed like shit in the wind and the plot holes remained obvious.

Then I found myself thinking about “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.”, Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of the 1964-1968 television series.  I will not deny that the movie had some flaws.  Just about every movie I have seen throughout my life had some flaws.  But instead of attempting a carbon copy of the television series, Ritchie put his own, original spin of the show for his movie.  And personally, I had left the movie theater feeling impressed.  And entertained.  It is not that Ritchie had created a perfect movie.  But he did managed to create an original one, based upon an old source.  Now that was impressive.

But instead of having his movie appreciated, a good deal of the public stayed away in droves.  Warner Brothers barely publicized the film.  Worse, the studio released in August, the summer movie season’s graveyard.  And for those who did see the movie, the complained that it was not like the television show.  Ritchie had made changes for his film.  In other words, Ritchie was criticized for being original with a movie based upon an old television series.

This is incredibly pathetic.  One director is criticized giving an original spin to his movie adaptation.  Another director is hailed as the savior of a movie franchise for committing outright plagiarism.  This is what Western culture has devolved into, ladies and gentlemen.  We now live in a world in which the only movies that are box office hits are those that form part of a franchise.  We live in a society in which glossy and mediocre shows like “DOWNTON ABBEY” are celebrated.  We live in a world in which a crowd pleasing, yet standard movie biopic like “THE KING’S SPEECH”can receive more acclaim than an original film like “INCEPTION”.

In regard to culture or even pop culture, this society is rushing toward conformity, familiarity and mediocrity.  God help us.

“WUTHERING HEIGHTS” (2009) Review

 

“WUTHERING HEIGHTS” (2009) Review

I have no idea how many times Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Wuthering Heights” was adapted for the movie or television screens. I do know that I have seen at least three versions of the novel. Although the 2009 television adaptation is not the latest to have been made, it is the most recent I have seen.

The beginning of “WUTHERING HEIGHTS” veers away from Brontë’s novel in two ways. One, the television production is set forty years later than the novel. Instead of beginning at the turn of the 19th century, this movie or miniseries begins in the early 1840s before it jumps back thirty years. And two, the character of Mr. Lockwood, who appeared in both Brontë’s novel and William Wyler’s 1939 version, did not make an appearance in this production. The novel and the 1939 film used Earnshaw housekeeper Nelly Dean’s recollections to Lockwood as a flashback device. This production also uses Nelly as a flashback device, only she ends up revealing her memories to Cathy Linton, the daughter of Edgar Linton and Catherine Earnshaw . . . and Heathcliff’s new daughter-in-law.

Do not get me wrong. I personally had no problems with these changes. With or without the Lockwood character, Nelly Dean is used as a flashback. There were other changes from the novel. Heathcliff left Wuthering Heights and Yorkshire and returned three-and-a-half years later, six months after Catherine’s marriage to Edgar. In the 2009 production, Heathcliff returned on the very day of their wedding. Well . . . I could deal with that. What I found interesting is that screenwriter Don Bowker seemed dismissive of the 1939 film adaptation, claiming that the movie’s screenwriter succeeded because “with classic Hollywood ruthlessness they filleted out the Cathy/Heathcliff story and ditched the rest of the plot. It’s a great film but it does the novel a disservice.” I realize that many fans of Brontë’s novel would probably agree with him. I do not. Wyler’s film may not have been as faithful as this production, but I do not accept Bowker’s view that it “filleted out” the Catherine/Heathcliff story or did the novel any disservice. This version included the second generation story arc and to be quite honest, I was not that impressed.

There were some problems I had with this production. I also found myself slightly confused by the passage of time between Heathcliff’s departure and his return. I also felt equally confused by the passage of time between young Cathy’s first meeting with Heathcliff and her marriage to the latter’s son, Linton. The Nelly Dean character barely seemed to age. And once the miniseries or movie refocused upon the second generation, the story seemed to rush toward the end. Both Bowker and director Coky Giedroyc seemed reluctant to fully explore Heathcliff’s relationships with his son Linton, his daughter-in-law Cathy and his ward Hareton. I could probably say the same about the friendship and developing romance between the younger Cathy and Hareton.

“WUTHERING HEIGHTS” is a visually charming production. But I can honestly say that it did not blow my mind. There was nothing particularly eye-catching or memorable about the production staff’s work, whether it was Ulf Brantås’ photography, Grenville Horner’s production designs or Fleur Whitlock’s art direction. If one were to ask my opinion on the miniseries’ score, I could not give an answer, simply because I did not find it memorable. The most noteworthy aspect of“WUTHERING HEIGHTS”, aside from its writing, direction and the cast is Fleur Whitlock’s costume designs. I admire the way she made every effort to adhere to early 19th fashion from the Regency decade to the beginning of the Victorian era.

I had very little problems with the cast. Tom Hardy – more or less- gave a fine performance as the brooding Heathcliff. He certainly did an excellent job of carrying the production. My only complaint is that once his Heathcliff returned to Wuthering Heights as a wealthy man, there were times when he seemed to portray his character as a comic book super villain. His later performance as Heathcliff brought back negative reminders of his performance as Bane in the most recent Batman movie, “THE DARK KNIGHT”. I was also impressed by Charlotte Riley’s portrayal of Catherine Earnshaw, the emotional and vibrant young woman who attracted the love of both Heathcliff and Edgar Linton. Riley gave a very skillful and intelligent performance. I only wish that she had not rushed into exposing Catherine’s jealousy of Heathcliff’s romance with her sister-in-law, Isabella Linton. Another remarkable aspect of Riley’s performance is that she managed to generate chemistry with both Hardy and her other leading man, Andrew Lincoln. Speaking of Lincoln, I felt he gave the best performance in this production. There were no signs of hamminess or badly-timed pacing. More importantly, he did an excellent job of balancing Edgar’s passionate nature and rigid adherence to proper behavior.

I have no complaints regarding the supporting cast. Sarah Lancashire was first-rate as the Earnshaws’ housekeeper, Nelly Dean. I wish she had a stronger presence in the production, but I am more inclined to blame the director and screenwriter. Burn Gorman did an excellent job of balancing Hindley Earnshaw’s jealous behavior and fervent desire for his father’s love and attention. Rosalind Halstead gave a steady performance as Edgar’s sister and Heathcliff’s wife, Isabella Linton. However, I must admit that I was particularly impressed by one scene in which her character discovers the true nature of Heathcliff’s feelings for her. As for the rest of the cast – all gave solid and competent performances, especially Kevin R. McNally as Mr. Earnshaw and Rebecca Night as Cathy Linton.

Overall, I enjoyed “WUTHERING HEIGHTS”. Mind you, I believe it had its flaws. And I could never regard it superior to the 1939 movie, despite being slightly more faithful. But I would certainly have no troubles re-watching for years to come, thanks to director Coky Giedroyc and a cast led by Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley.

Favorite Films Set in the 1900s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1900s decade:

 

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1900s

1 - Howards End

1. “Howard’s End” (1992) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this exquisite adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel. The movie starred Oscar winner Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham-Carter, Samuel West and Oscar nominee Vanessa Redgrave.

2 - The Assassination Bureau

2. “The Assassination Bureau” (1969) – Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas starred in this delicious adaptation of Jack London’s unfinished novel about a woman journalist who uncovers an organization for professional assassins. Basil Dearden directed.

3 - A Room With a View

3. “A Room With a View” (1985-86) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this excellent adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel. The movie starred Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis and Oscar nominees Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliot.

4 - Gigi

4. “Gigi” (1958) – Oscar winner Vincente Minelli directed this superb adaptation of Collette’s 1944 novella about a young Parisian girl being groomed to become a courtesan. Leslie Caron and Louis Jordan starred.

5 - The Illusionist

5. “The Illusionist” (2006) – Neil Burger directed this first-rate adaptation of Steven Millhauser’s short story, “Eisenheim the Illusionist”. The movie starred Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell.

6 - The Great Race

6. “The Great Race” (1965) – Blake Edwards directed this hilarious comedy about a long-distance road race between two rival daredevils. The movie starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood.

7 - Flame Over India aka North West Frontier

7. “Flame Over India aka North West Frontier” (1959) – Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall starred in this Imperial adventure about a British Army officer who serves as escort to a young Hindu prince being targeted by Muslim rebels. J. Lee Thompson directed.

8 - Meet Me in St. Louis

8. “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) – Judy Garland starred in this very entertaining adaptation of Sally Benson’s short stories about a St. Louis family around the time of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair in 1904. Vincente Minelli directed.

9 - The Golden Bowl

9. “The Golden Bowl” (2000) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this interesting adaptation of Henry James’ 1904 novel about an adulterous affair in Edwardian England. The movie starred Uma Thurman, Nick Nolte, Kate Beckinsale and Jeremy Northam.

10 - North to Alaska

10. “North to Alaska” (1960) – John Wayne, Stewart Granger and Capucine starred in this surprisingly fun Western about how a mail-to-order bride nearly came between two partners during the Nome Gold Rush. Henry Hathaway directed.

“THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” (2015) Review

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“THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” (2015) Review

The Marvel Cinematic Universe, which first began back in 2008, edged closer to the completion of its second phase with the release of “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”. This second film featured the return of the team of superheroes that saved Earth from an alien invasion in the 2012 film, “THE AVENGERS”.

In reality, the movie began with the “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season Two episode, (2.19) “The Dirty Half Dozen”, in which Phil Coulson and his team managed to infiltrate a HYDRA base led by one Doctor List and discover the location of the secret base of the evil organization in the fictional country of Sokovia. “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”opened with the Avengers in Slovakia, attacking the HYDRA base. Despite Clint Barton aka Hawkeye’s injury and the team’s encounter with HYDRA’s new superhumans, Sokovia natives Pietro and Wanda Maximoff aka Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch; the Avengers prevail by arresting HYDRA leader Baron Wolfgang von Strucker and obtaining the Chitauri Scepter used by Loki in the 2012 movie. However, Tony Stark aka Iron Man has an encounter with the telepathic Wanda Maximoff that leaves him with visions of the entire Avengers team dead (except him).

Upon the team’s return to Tony’s Manhattan penthouse, which is being used as their headquarters; he asks fellow Avenger Thor Odinson if he could examine the scepter before the latter can deliver it to Asgard. Thor acquiesces and both Tony and Bruce Banner aka the Hulk discover one of the Infinity stones (Mind Stone) within the scepter. They also discover that the stone has an artificial intelligence. Tony decides to use the stone complete his idea of an “ULTRON” global defense program – an artificial intelligence that controls robotic armor to protect Earth from future danger. Unfortunately the ULTRON program becomes sentient. He believes that he must eradicate humanity in order to save Earth. So ULTRON eliminates Stark’s A.I., J.A.R.V.I.S., and attacks the Avengers at their headquarters. ULTRON escapes with the scepter and uses the resources at Strucker’s Sokovia base to upgrade his rudimentary body and build an army of robot drones. After killing Strucker, ULTRON recruits the Maximoffs, who hold Stark responsible for their parents’ deaths by his weapons. Once the Avengers learn what Tony and Bruce had created, they set off to track down ULTRON and prevent the latter from carrying out his agenda for the destruction of humanity.

I might as well put my cards on the table. “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” is not as good as its 201 predecessor. I fear that writer-director Joss Whedon may have gotten a little sloppy with the execution of his story. The first problem I had with the movie is its use of the HYDRA organization. Since 2014’s “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER revealed that HYDRA leader Baron von Stucker was in possession of the Chitauri scepter, it is obvious that Whedon used HYDRA for the Avengers – especially Tony Stark – to get their hands on it and the Mind Stone. More importantly, he wanted to use the Mind Stone for the creation of both ULTRON and the newest Avenger team member, Vision. But after the movie’s opening action sequence, Stucker was captured and later killed by ULTRON, making his appearance in the film a complete waste of time. In fact, it seems as if the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been hellbent upon the misuse of HYDRA since Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. Personally, I wish that producer Kevin Fiege had allowed the HYDRA/Chitauri scepter plot line to be used for the third Captain America film and allowed both ULTRON and Vision to be created without the Mind stone. And why on earth did Whedon allowed the Mind stone to contain artificial intelligence? Was this an attempt by him to remove a possible supernatural or spiritual aspect of the Infinity Stones, due to some lack of religious beliefs?

What other problems I had with the movie? Honestly, I found the action sequences in the movie rather over-the-top. I was not that impressed by sequence featuring the Avengers’ attack upon the HYDRA Sokovia base and their final showdown against ULTRON in the same location. And if I must be brutally honest, I was especially put off by the fight between Iron Man and an enraged Hulk (courtesy of Scarlet Witch’s mind games) in the fictional country of Wakanda (home of the Black Panther). Speaking of the movie’s final action sequence, I was not particularly fond it. I hated the methods ULTRON used to finally destroy humanity. What did he do? ULTRON used vibranium from the old HYDRA base to build a machine that would lift a large part of Sokovia’s capital city skyward and crash it into the ground in order to cause global extinction. And I had to sit inside that movie theater and watch the Avengers battle robots and ULTRON in a city that was rising in the air. There was a point in which I found the whole thing simply fucking ridiculous. Speaking of robots . . . the sight of ULTRON’s killer droids brought back memories of the Sentinels from 2014’s “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”, a movie that is not high on my list of favorite Marvel flicks. And there was the vision that Thor had received from the Scarlet Witch. One, how on earth did a human managed to force an image upon an Asgardian? Especially one as powerful as Thor? Two, was this vision supposed to be of Wanda’s creation . . . or a genuine vision of the future? I do not recall the Scarlet Witch possessing the talent of precognition. And why was Thor’s dream or vision edited in such a choppy manner? It is a miracle that I managed to understand it in the end.

The movie also featured the death of a major character in the film. Whedon claimed he wanted to reveal the emotional impact of war. Personally, I think he wanted to rectify his decision to resurrect the Phil Coulson character for “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, who had originally been killed off in “THE AVENGERS”. And frankly, I found it unnecessary. The MCU could have saved a character death for the third “AVENGERS” film. Speaking of characterizations, I was not particularly thrilled by Whedon’s handling of some of the minor characters. As I had earlier pointed out, I thought he had mishandled the HYDRA story line that began in “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. Which meant he also mishandled both the Baron von Stucker and Dr. List characters and wasted the time of actors Thomas Kretschmann and Henry Goodman. I was really looking forward to watching Kretschman’s portrayal of the HYDRA leader. And what the hell did Whedon to do the James Rhodes aka War Machine character? Poor Don Cheadle! Whedon turned his character into a one-note joke, as Rhodey continuously recalled the time he saved the President’s life in “IRON MAN 3”. Even though he helped the Avengers save Sokovia’s citizens in the final battle, Whedon still decided to make Rhodey a “machismo” joke. Only Cheadle’s skillful comic acting skill made Anthony Mackie made two brief appearances as Sam Wilson aka the Falcon – during the victory party at Stark Towers and in the final scene in which he had joined the Avengers at their new headquarters in upstate New York. That is all. Perhaps he was filming another movie at the time. Who knows? But Whedon really wasted his role in this film. Another wasted performance came from Cobie Smulders, whose appearance and relevance as Maria Hill in the Marvel Cinematic Universe seemed to be shrinking with each film. As for Stellan Skarsgård’s performance as Dr. Erik Selvig, it appearance seemed to be a case of “now you see him . . . now you don’t”. At least Idris Elba’s Hemidall managed to have a stronger impact on the story, due to his appearance in Thor’s vision. And Hayley Atwell’s appearance as Peggy Carter in Steve Roger’s vision had a strong impact on his psyche.

It is a good thing that I actually managed to enjoy “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” very much . . . despite its flaws. Fortunately, the movie possessed a lot more flaws than virtues. The ensemble created for the film seemed strong as ever . . . especially in the sequence featuring the Avengers’ victory party at Stark Towers. Although I was not that enamored of the ULTRON storyline idea, I must admit that overall, Joss Whedon managed to make it work. Whedon did an excellent job of connecting the dots between the HYDRA base attack, one of the Infinity stones and the creations of both ULTRON and Vision. And the two characters that served as the connections to these different aspects of the plot were Tony Stark and Thor. I never understood why Nick Fury sent the Avengers after Baron von Strucker and HYDRA. There were plenty of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents still around who could have done the job. But it made sense that Thor would want to retrieve the Chitauri scepter, since it contained one of the Infinity stones. And knowing Tony’s penchant for curiosity, it made sense that he would want to examine the scepter. Whedon even managed to create connections between Tony and the Maximoff twins – Wanda and Pietro. Missiles created by Stark Industries were responsible for their parents’ deaths.

It was a relief to see that Whedon did not shortchange the major characters. Although previous MCU movies have shown some of Tony Stark’s more unpleasant traits, he really came close to being very unlikable in this film. This was especially obvious in the scene in which Tony refused to acknowledge his mistake in creating ULTRON. Robert Downey Jr. did a great job in conveying Tony’s ugly side and at the same time, still maintain the character’s “hero” status. I feel that “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” also conveyed a good deal of Bruce Banner’s ugly nature as well . . . and I am referring to those scenes in which he did not morph into Hulk mode. Mark Ruffalo gave a sweet performance as a Bruce who seemed to be developing feelings for former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow. But there were moments when Bruce did not seem that likable. Some have cited that one moment in which he threatened to harm Wanda Maximoff. I can think of two other moments. He seemed incapable of understanding Natasha’s own personal demons during one conversation between them . . . to the point that he eventually ran off, making their potential romance all about him. “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” finally verified that Natasha had been trained in the Soviets’ Red Room Academy, the same organization that Leviathan agent “Dottie Underwood” had been trained in the ABC series, “AGENT CARTER”. Natasha’s visions, along with her conversation with Bruce, made it clear that her training had left scars on her psyche. Scarlett Johansson performance certainly made this clear . . . especially in the scene in which she revealed Natasha’s demons in a conversation with Bruce. It was a truly superb moment in an otherwise first-rate performance by Johansson.

Jeremy Renner had more ample time to shine as former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and expert marksman, Clint Barton aka Hawkeye. Not only did we see Renner interact with the cast a lot more, but audiences were allowed an in-depth look into his personal life as a happily married man and father. In many ways, Renner’s down-to-earth performance as Barton served as the film’s emotional backbone. One would think that role should have belonged to Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers aka Captain America. However, I got the feeling that Steve was still reeling from the aftermath of the events from “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” and his continuing grief over the loss of Peggy Carter, as shown in Steve’s heartbreaking vision of a possible date with Peggy at a 1940s nightclub. It is amazing how much Evans has made the Captain America role his own after three films. Hell, he made it his own back in the 2011 film. Chris Hemsworth’s role as Thor did not strike me as “major” in compare to the other members of the Avengers team. Without the presence of Thor’s half-brother Loki, I got the feeling that Whedon did not really know what to do with him . . . other than help create Vision. But Hemsworth’s performance was my favorite in the film. That man has such a superb comic timing. And he providing some of the film’s funniest moments, including that hair-raising moment in which Steve nearly lifted his hammer, Mjolnir. Samuel L. Jackson gave a very interesting performance as former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury. He seemed rather introspective . . . almost weary. At first, I wondered if Jackson had become tired of the role. But he had made clear his desire to continue portraying Fury beyond his current contract. I suspect that Jackson was conveying the toll of Fury’s worldwide search for HYDRA bases and agents and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s downfall.

James Spader gave one hell of a performance as the voice for the artificial intelligence being, ULTRON. Spader gave one of those memorable voice performances that I believe I will never forget. Since ULTRON is Tony Stark’s creation, it seemed as if Spader was portraying Stark’s personality . . . but with his own particular twist. It was an interesting and brilliant performance to watch . . . or hear. “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” proved to be the first role in which I have seen actor Aaron Johnson-Taylor portrayed an extroverted character – namely Pietro Maximoff aka Quicksilver. And being the first-rate actor I have always believed he was, Johnson-Taylor did an excellent job in conveying Pietro’s impulsive nature, protectiveness toward his twin sister and cockiness – especially in his interactions with Clint Barton. In fact, his ability as a speedster seemed to correlate well with his personality. And who portrayed his twin sister? None other than Elizabeth Olsen, who portrayed his wife in the 2014 blockbuster, “GODZILLA”. Man, the irony! And she gave an equally superb performance as the more serious, yet emotional Wanda Maximoff, who possessed the talents of telepathy and telekinesis. Paul Bettany, who had served as the voice of Tony Stark’s artificial intelligence program, J.A.R.V.I.S., acquired a new role in the MCU. He is now portraying Vision, an organic-based android who eventually became a member of the Avengers. Bettany gave a very skillful, yet ethereal performance. His Vision struck me as a quiet, naive being, with a surprising penchant for wise and occasionally sardonic barbs. The movie also featured solid supporting performances from Linda Cardellini, Claudia Kim, Idris Elba, Andy Serkis and Julie Delpy.

What else can I say about “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”? Well, nothing really. The movie’s special effects and musical score by Hans Zimmer did not exactly blow my mind. Come to think of it, Ben Davis’ cinematography failed to impress me, as well . . . even if I found his work competent. But I thought it lacked the sharp and colorful beauty of the 2012 movie. In fact, I would go as far to say that “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” is not as good as “THE AVENGERS”. But . . . it did continue the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s main narrative. And this continuation was marked by Josh Brolin’s appearance as Thanos in the movie’s first post-credit scene. “AGE OF ULTRON” may not have been perfect or even near perfect. But I thought it was still a first-rate film.

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“Defense of the Realm” [PG-13] – 7/14

“DEFENSE OF THE REALM”

CHAPTER 7

Cole stared at his selection of ties in an effort to decide which one to wear. After five minutes of contemplation, he realized that not only was he unable to make a choice, he simply did not care. Not a proper attitude to harbor for an upcoming date, but he could not control his feelings.

He had planned to take Phoebe to the theater, followed by dinner at one of her old stomping grounds – Quake. Unfortunately, he could not drum up any enthusiasm. Not with Olivia still on his mind. And there was the new houseguest that Marbus planned to dump on him. Cole sighed. Life had been so much easier, over a month ago. Now once again, it has gone to hell.

Realizing that he was better off without a tie, Cole returned the garments to his dresser drawer. He grabbed his jacket and headed for the living room. At that moment, two figures materialized – Marbus and a handsome, dark-haired woman, whom Cole assumed to be the fugitive whitelighter.

“Belthazor,” Marbus announced, “I would like you to meet Natalia Stepanova. Natalia, this is my nephew . . .”

The whitelighter held out her hand. “Yes, I have heard of Belthazor,” she said in a Russian accent. “A great deal.”

“And I’ve heard a few things about you,” Cole said, shaking her offered hand. As with all whitelighters, Natalia left a white film on his hand after contact. “You were the one who had warned Marbus about the Elders’ plans to kill me. I wish I had paid closer attention.”

Natalia continued, “Actually, it was Mathilda who was after you, not the Council. And Barbara and I had no idea that she and Leo would use Miss McNeill to kill you.”

Cole nodded. “I understand. Anyway, I hope that you will enjoy your stay, here. You can use the guest bedroom on the left. I usually have breakfast around seven in the morning and dinner around eight. If I’m not around, feel free to fix your own meals.” He hesitated. “Uh, that is if you know how . . .”

“I happen to be an excellent cook, Belthazor.”

“Cole.”

One of Natalia’s brows formed an arch. “Pardon?”

“You can call me Cole. If you like.”

Natalia smiled. “Of course.”

“Okay.” Cole glanced at the clock on the fireplace mantle and heaved a sigh. “Uh, I have a date tonight . . .”

Natalia frowned. “A what?”

Cole patiently explained, “I will be taking a young lady to the theater this evening. And later, we’ll be dining at a restaurant.”

“Oh.” Natalia responded with an understanding smile. “How charming. Who is the lucky young lady?”

Before Cole could answer, Marbus said, “He’s taking his former wife. Frances.”

Cole shot a quick glare at his uncle. “Her name is Phoebe. Why is it that after nearly two months, you still can’t get her name right?”

“Sorry lad, but Phoebe is not a name I find easy to remember.”

Natalia added, “Oh! One of the Charmed Ones! The seer! Your former wife.” A frown creased her forehead. “What happened to Miss McNeill?”

A silent pause filled the room. Cole smiled patiently at the whitelighter. “We’re just friends.”

“Oh. So, you’re dating one of Leo’s sisters-in-law.” Natalia paused. “And the third sister is Samuel Wilder’s daughter. Right?” Then she added, “Do you plan to . . .?”

“Tell Phoebe about you?” Cole finished. “Do you want me to?”

The whitelighter quickly shook her head. “Please . . . no. It is not that I do not trust her . . . I am simply afraid of how Leo would react if he knew of my whereabouts.”

Cole nodded. “I understand. Besides, Phoebe was never great at keeping secrets.” Then he sighed. “Okay, the place is yours for the evening. I’ll see . . .” He hesitated at the sound of Marbus’ cough. “What?”

“Do I have to remind you, lad?” Marbus replied. “Natalia has already been tracked to the Gimle dimension and here on earth. I think you should provide some kind of protection, just in case the Elders have managed to track her here.”

Cole sighed. He seemed to be doing that a lot, lately. “Right.” As he began to prepare a protection spell to shield the penthouse from the Elders’ radar, he wondered if he had made a mistake in offering refuge to the fugitive whitelighter. He could image how Phoebe would react if she ever found out.

——–

Paige appeared in the doorway of Phoebe’s bedroom. “Cole’s here,” she announced.

Phoebe let out a squeak and continued to finish getting ready. A quick glance at her watch told her that she was running slightly behind schedule. As she checked her appearance in the long, oval mirror, she asked, “How’s Cole doing? Is he alone?”

“Aside from Piper giving him the cold shoulder,” Paige murmured, “yeah. Leo hasn’t returned from the store, yet.”

“Oh God.” Phoebe turned away from the mirror. “How do I look?”

Paige shrugged. “Nice.”

“That’s it?”

Heaving an impatient sigh, Paige added, “Phoebe, you look great! Okay?”

“Okay.” Phoebe grabbed her purse. “I’m ready.”

Paige blocked Phoebe’s path in the doorway. “Two more things, Miss Halliwell. One, you got a phone call.”

“So, didn’t you take a message?” Phoebe tried to bypass her younger sister.

After a brief hesitation, Paige answered, “Yeah. I did. I told Jason that you would call him back. He left a number.”

“Oh.” Shit! “Yeah. Okay, I’ll get back to him.” Again, she tried to bypass Paige.

“Phoebe!”

The older woman gave the younger one an exasperated stare. “What?”

“You mean to say that you haven’t broke up with Jason, yet?”

Oh God! Phoebe wished that Paige would mind her own business. “I’ll get around to it. Soon.”

“Uh huh.” Shaking her head, Paige continued, “Also, I think a jacket goes with that outfit. Doesn’t it?”

“Oh yeah. Thanks.” Grateful to dismiss Jason from her thoughts, Phoebe snatched up her jacket, ducked under Paige’s outstretched arm and raced down the hall. Paige followed closely behind. They found Cole sitting on the sofa, looking very tense. Fortunately, neither Piper nor Leo was in sight. This did not look good. Phoebe pasted a too-bright smile on her face and warmly greeted her ex-husband. “Hey sweetie!” She leaned down and gave him a swift peck on the cheek. “Everything’s okay?”

To Phoebe’s surprise, Cole blinked. “Huh?”

“Cole, are you okay? Ready to leave?”

Before the half-demon could answer, blue lights appeared and Chris materialized before the others. Ignoring Cole, he turned to the two sisters. “Where’s Piper?” he asked.

Piper burst into the living room, with Leo at her heels. “I’m right here,” she said. “What’s wrong?”

“I need your help,” Chris replied. “In fact, the Elders’ Council is seeking the help of all witches.”

Paige added sarcastically, “Are they asking? Or ordering us?”

Chris sighed. “The Elders need your help in tracking down a fugitive. A whitelighter named Natalia Stepanova. They believe that she is somewhere here on Earth. Which is why they want our charges to help find her.”

“This Stepanova person,” Paige continued, “is she behind the deaths of those Elders?”

Chris nodded. “The Elders found out that . . .” He hesitated, as his eyes rested upon Cole. “Oh. Uh . . . Aren’t you . . .?”

Phoebe quickly made the introductions. “Uh, Chris – this is Cole Turner, my ex-husband.”

Piper added, “The demon formally known as Belthazor.”

Cole shot the eldest Charmed One a dark look, while Chris stared at him. Like a scientist examining a specimen. “Oh, um . . . nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot . . . about you.”

“You’ve heard?” Cole frowned.

Smiling nervously, Phoebe interrupted. “Cole honey, this is Chris Perry, our new whitelighter.”

Cole offered his hand to the young whitelighter. Chris briefly hesitated, before shaking the offered hand. “So, you’re the new whitelighter. I only hope that you do a better job than your predecessor.”

“Hey!” Piper protested.

Chris laughed nervously. “I just hope that I can do a good job.”

One of Cole’s brows formed an arch. “Good. So uh, why are the Elders after this whitelighter, again?”

“I . . . um . . .”

Leo sharply interrupted, “Sorry Cole, but this is a private matter. In other words, it’s none of your business.”

A cold smile curved Cole’s lips as he faced Leo. Anxiety flared within Phoebe’s breast. “Then I guess you shouldn’t be here, as well.”

“Just because you and Phoebe are now dating, doesn’t mean you have every right to know what’s going on in this house!”

Piper placed a hand on Leo’s arm. “Honey . . . don’t. He’s just trying to bait you.”

Cole continued, “You know, this Stepanova whitelighter sounds familiar. Didn’t a witch named Keith McNeill used to be one of her charges?”

Another outburst left Leo’s mouth. “Why are you still here? Why don’t you just leave?”

“Well, you’ve already tried to get rid of me, Leo. When you and Margolin had set up Olivia to kill me.” Cole’s smile grew even more deadly. “But, as usual, you failed to achieve your goal.”

“That’s it! I’ve had enough . . .”

Cole took a threatening step forward. “And what exactly are you going to do? Bore me to death with more threats?” His face became a cold mask – an expression that Phoebe had always found frightening. “Or find another witch to do your dirty work for you? You better pray, for your sake that he or she doesn’t get caught.”

Piper stepped between the two former brothers-in-law. “Okay! That’s it!” She glared at the half-demon. “Cole, we want you out of here! Now! We have family matters to discuss.”

His eyes now cold with rage, Cole sprung to his feet. “Don’t worry Piper. I’m more than happy to oblige.” And he beamed out of the living room, much to Phoebe’s distress.

She turned on her eldest sister in a fit of anger. “Piper! How could you?”

“Hey! He started it with his threats to Leo!” Piper shot back.

“Actually, it was Leo who started it!” Then Phoebe glared at her brother-in-law. “You just had to open your mouth, didn’t you, Leo? You had to say something to Cole!”

Looking stunned by Phoebe’s accusation, Leo protested, “Phoebe, I’m sorry, but had no right being here! You girls have a matter to attend to. As witches.”

“Matters that we’re supposed to discuss with our whitelighter . . . who happens to be Chris! As I recall, you’re no longer our whitelighter! Are you?”

Piper sprang to her husband’s defense. “Uh, wait a minute Pheobe! There’s no need to jump down Leo’s throat! He’s only trying to help!”

“And I’m trying to get out of here, so I can go on a date!” Phoebe raised her head and called out her ex-husband’s name. “Cole? Cole!”

Chris spoke up. “Look, we have a whitelighter to find. One who might be a killer.”

Regarding the young whitelighter with suspicious eyes, Paige demanded, “And why are ‘we’ searching for Whatshername, anyway? Why don’t the Elders simply clip her wings or snatch her?”

A shrug lifted Chris’ shoulders. “I don’t know. I guess she’s managed to elude them, after she was detected on Earth. The Elders had also briefly detected her in some demonic dimension. She’s got to be hiding, somewhere.”

Paige’s dark eyes continued to bore into the young whitelighter’s. “And you don’t know where she is?”

“How would I know?”

Rolling her eyes, Paige continued, “Because you’re the one from the future.”

A pause followed before Chris finally answered, “Well . . . yeah. But I’m just a lowly whitelighter. I don’t have knowledge of everything that happened in this time period. Besides, I only knew about the Titans destroying the Elders. The whitelighters were disorganized after that.”

Paige shot back, “Yet, surely your memories of the future have changed, after the Elders had dealt with the Titans. Right? So, you must know about Natalia Stepanova. Where she’s hiding and if she’s guilty.”

“I tell you, I don’t know every . . .”

Phoebe held up her hand. “Look, we understand. It’s okay. But I really don’t understand how the Elders expect us to track down a missing whitelighter. And since other witches might be looking for her, there’s a little matter about my date, tonight. Your missing whitelighter will have to wait. Cole!”

Frowning, Chris protested, “Phoebe, this isn’t the time . . .”

“What lead do you have on this Natalia Whatshername?” Paige demanded. “Why come to us? Why not the McNeills, who have some past connections to her? And what makes the Elders think she’s the right culprit?”

“Hey! I don’t know!” Chris protested angrily. “I’m just the messenger!”

Phoebe added, “Well until you do know, I’m going on my . . .”

Cole reappeared, looking slightly abashed. “I just remembered,” he mumbled. “Reservations at Quake are hard to get by, lately. I went through a lot of trouble, tonight, and I left my car outside.” He glanced at Phoebe. “Still interested for tonight?”

Phoebe eagerly linked her arm with her ex-husband’s. “More than interested.” She ignored Piper’s look of disgust, as she and Cole walked toward the front door.

———-

Despite the ten months he had spent as a whitelighter and Elder, Kevin James missed the mortal world. Which surprised him very much, considering his previously unhappy life. When he had eagerly agreed to replace one of the retiring Elders, Kevin had no idea that he would spend the rest of his existence in such . . . surroundings.

To deal with his bouts of boredom, Kevin made occasional visits to the mortal realm to indulge in his favorite pastimes. He would either visit the Halliwells – whom he had first met before becoming an Elder – or head for the place that usually appealed to his adolescent nature. Namely the various Disney theme parks throughout the world, the shopping mall, the beach and the movies. Tonight, Kevin had decided to settle upon the latter.

He had overheard two whitelighters discussing a movie called “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”. And since the topic combined two of his favorite things – movies and Disney amusement parks, he decided to check out this new movie at a theater in Sausalito.

Three hours later, Kevin emerged from the theater, a very happy whitelighter. The movie had more than lived up to his expectations. Quite simply, he loved it and planned to see it as much as possible before it disappeared from the theaters altogether. Humming the movie’s jaunty score under his breath, Kevin made his way to a nearby alley, where he could orb out of sight. Upon reaching his destination, he glanced around to make sure that he was alone. And at that moment, he felt a sharp pain between his shoulder blades.

Kevin gasped aloud and reached behind to investigate the source of his pain. When he felt a shaft protruding from his back, he realized that he had been struck by a darklighter’s arrow. Kevin fell into a state of panic, as he tried to remove the arrow.

A figure appeared before. A dark-haired woman dressed in black. Kevin immediately recognized her as Belinda Lucas, one of the Realm’s whitelighters. “Yo . . . you . . .” the young Elder stammered.

“That’s right, Junior,” Belinda replied with a cold smile. She held a bow in her hands. “I shot you.”

“Wha . . . what did . . .” Kevin gasped, as more pain shot through every nerve in his body. “What did . . . she promised . . . you. Na . . .”

Belinda sneered. “If you’re speaking of Natalia Stepanova, you guessed wrong. She’s innocent. Besides, why should you care? You’ll be dead within a minute or so.”

Kevin fell upon his knees. “Wha . . . how can you kill . . . a fellow whitelight . . .?”

Shifting the bow into one hand, Belinda reached from inside her blouse and pulled out what looked like a medallion hanging from a leather strap. “Who said that I was a whitelighter?” She let the medallion hang down, loaded the bow with another arrow, and aimed the weapon at the young Elder. “I bet you now wish that you had never accepted that offer from the Council. Don’t you?”

Kevin blinked, as the darklighter arrow spun straight toward his heart.

END OF CHAPTER 7

“SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” (1971) Review

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“SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” (1971) Review

For some reason, I still find it hard to believe that until recently, very few people were aware that the first adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel, “Sense and Sensibility”, dated as far back as 1971. After all, people have been aware of other Austen adaptations during this same period or earlier. Even the Wikipedia site fails to mention it, except in connection with one of the cast members. What was about this four-part miniseries that eluded so many Austen fans?

In “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”, a wealthy landowner named Mr. Dashwood dies, leaving his two daughters and second wife at the mercy of his son by his first marriage, thanks to the rules of inheritance. When the son fails to financially help his sisters and stepmother, the trio are forced to live at a meager cottage, thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Dashwood’s cousin. The miniseries follows the love lives of the sisters, while they deal with their new penniless status.

I could have went into greater detail about Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. But what would have been the point? Austen’s novel and the other adaptations have made both their story and characters well known to fans. Everyone knows that the Dashwood sisters’ penniless state have made them undesirable as potential mates among the English upper-class. And many know that Elinor Dashwood is the older and more sensible sister, who kept her emotions suppressed behind a facade of stoic behavior. They also know that Marianne is the younger sisters, whose romantic enthusiasm led to emotional excesses and irrational behavior. Was there something unique about this adaptation of Austen’s novel? Hmmm. Other than it was probably the first version of the 1811 novel and the first of four versions to exclude the character of the youngest Dashwood sister, Margaret.

Overall, I believe that “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” turned out to be an entertaining and well-paced television miniseries. But it was not perfect. One, I felt that screenwriter Denis Constanduros made a few missteps in his adaptation. I wish that Constanduros had included a scene featuring John Dashwood’s last conversation with his dying father. I felt that his eventually betrayal of his promise, due to his wife’s capriciousness would have possessed more bite. I also felt that Constanduros could have included more scenes featuring Marianne and John Willoughy’s courtship. The period between their first meeting and Willoughby’s decision to end their romance seemed to go by in a flash. It happened too soon for me to understand Marianne’s grief over his rejection of her. Although there were a good deal of exterior shots of the English countryside, I wish there had been more exterior shots of early 19th century London, during the sisters’ trip. The London sequences made the miniseries feel more like a filmed play. And why on earth did Constanduros allowed Elinor to pay a visit to Edward Ferrars’ London rooms alone? What was he thinking? He should have allowed Elinor to summon Edward to Mrs. Jennings’ home in order to deliver Colonel Brandon’s news about a new job. I have one last major problem. Why on earth did costume designer had Elinor and Marianne wearing identical traveling outfits? They were not twin sisters. And no siblings from an upper-class family – especially of the female gender – would be caught dead in this manner:

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What was costumer designer Charles Knode thinking?

I also had some problems with the casting and performances. I had a real problem with actress Ciaran Madden’s performance as Marianne Dashwood. How can I put it? It was over-the-top. I realize that she was at least 25 years old at the time this production was filmed. But did she and director David Giles really thought an exaggerated performance was necessary to portray the emotional 17 year-old Marianne? Was that their idea of portraying an emotional adolescent? And why would actor Michael Alderidge use a strong, regional accent for his portrayal of Sir John Middleton? I realize that his mother-in-law and wife came from a middle-class background. But Sir John and his cousin Mrs. Dashwood, did not. Both actresses who portrayed the Steele sisters – Frances Cuka and Maggie Jones – seemed at least a decade-and-a-half too old for their roles. And Kay Gallie’s Fanny Dashwood seemed like such a major disappointment. Her Fanny struck me as too passive-aggressive and nervous in compare to the other actresses who portrayed the role.

But despite some disappointments, I must admit that “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” turned out to be a pretty good production. Hell, I like it a lot more than I do the 1981 television version. Thanks to Constanduros’s script and Giles’ direction, the four-part miniseries struck me as well paced – aside from Marianne and Willoughby’s courtship. Aside from the traveling outfits, I must admit that I found Knode’s costume designs both colorful and elegant. And like the 1995 movie, I was happy to see that the screenplay allowed Marianne to become aware of Colonel Brandon before her meeting with Willoughby . . . allowing the pair’s eventual romance in the last episode very credible.

There were also some very good performances in “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”. I found myself surprisingly impressed by Richard Owens’ performance as Colonel Brandon. At first, I barely paid attention to him. But I must admit that his performance actually grew on me and I thought he did a credible job of slowly revealing Brandon’s passion for Marianne. Despite his strong regional accent, I must admit that Michael Aldridge was perfectly cast as Mrs. Dashwood’s gregarious cousin, Sir John Middleton. And despite her age, Frances Cuka did a very good of conveying Lucy Steele’s manipulations regarding Edward, Elinor and the Ferrars family . . . even if I found it a bit obvious. I was very impressed by Milton Johns’ performance as Elinor and Marianne’s spineless older half-brother John Dashwood. In fact, I feel that he gave one of the better performances in the miniseries. Robin Ellis gave a solid performance as Edward Ferrars. However, I must admit that I was not that impressed by his screen chemistry with Joanna David’s Elinor. In an ARTICLE I had written about Jane Austen’s rogues, I stated that I found Clive Francis’ portrayal of the caddish John Willoughby unmemorable. I take it back. On a second viewing, I found myself surprisingly impressed by his performance. I think I may have been distracted by the so-called Regency wig he was wearing . . . or the speed of the Marianne-Willoughby courtship. But I thought he gave a very complex performance.

But there were two performances in “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” that I found outstanding. One of them belonged to Joanna David, who was perfect – well . . . almost – as Elinor Dashwood. She was one of the few performers who managed to restrain from “playing to the second balcony” as many other stage-trained actors tend to do. Mind you, there were moments when she seemed incapable of projecting Elinor’s passionate nature behind the sensible facade. But more than any other person in the cast, she did a superb job in carrying the miniseries on her shoulders. The other outstanding performance turned out to be Patricia Rutledge’s portrayal of the vivacious Mrs. Jennings, Sir John’s mother-in-law. She was in her early 40s at the time and technically, too young for the role. But I cannot deny that Rutledge seemed like the very personification of the verbose and interfering, yet warm-hearted widow. Of the four Mrs. Jennings I have seen, only Elizabeth Spriggs from the 1995 movie seemed her equal.

“SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” is not the best adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel, despite being the first. And it possessed certain aspects in both the script and casting that I found questionable. But thanks to David Giles’ direction, Denis Constanduros’ screenplay, and superb performances especially from Joanna David and Patricia Rutledge; I feel that it turned out to be a pretty damn good adaptation in the end. I would highly recommend it.