“THE THREE MUSKETEERS” (2011) Review

“THE THREE MUSKETEERS” (2011) Review

Recently, I became aware of the BBC series called “THE MUSKETEERS” and became an instant fan. Due to my renewed interest in Alexandre Dumas père’s work, I decided to focus my attention on 2011’s “THE THREE MUSKETEERS”, the most recent adaptation of the author’s 1845 novel.

Produced and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, this cinematic version of Dumas père’s novel, proved to be a different kettle of fish. Yes, screenwriters Andrew Davies and Alex Litvak managed to adhere to some aspects of the 1845 novel. The movie closely followed d’Artagnan’s first meeting with his future three friends – Athos, Aramis and Porthos – along with Captain Comte de Rochefort and Milady de Winter. The rivalry between the Musketeers and Cardinal Richelieu’s guard – led by Rochefort – remains intact. “THE THREE MUSKETEERS” also included a conspiracy created by Richelieu that centered around Queen Anne, Britain’s Duke of Buckingham and the former’s diamond necklace given to her by King Louis XIII.

But Davies and Litvak created changes to Dumas’ story. One, Milady de Winter begins the story working with the three musketeers to steal airship blueprints created by Leonardo da Vinci. In this scenario, Milady and Athos are long time lovers and not a married couple. Their antipathy begins when Milady betray her compatriots and gives the plans to Britain’s Duke of Buckingham. Her betrayal leads to the disbandment of the Musketeers. So, when d’Artagnan arrives in Paris to join the military unit, he is a year too late. Also, the Duke of Buckingham is portrayed more as a villain, since he is not The Constance Bonacieux is not only single in this story, but also one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting; instead of married and a royal seamstress. Also, there is no real affair between Queen Anne and Buckingham. But Cardinal Richelieu decides to create false rumors using the Queen’s diamond necklace and false love letters in order to discredit her. This would lead to Anne’s execution, a war against Britain and a demand by the people that a more experienced leader – namely Richelieu himself – would rule France. Alas, thanks to Constance, d’Artagnan and the Musketeers step up to save the Queen’s reputation and ruin Richelieu’s plans.

It would be difficult for me to deny that “THE THREE MUSKETEERS” is a beautiful looking film. Germany served as 17th century France and Great Britain in this film and Glen MacPherson really did justice to the shooting locations, thanks to his beautifully sharp and colorful photography. MacPherson’s photography also did justice to Paul D. Austerberry’s production designs, whose re-creations of 17th century France and England struck me as spot on. Both MacPherson and Austerberry’s work benefited from Philippe Turlure’s set decorations and the art direction team of Nigel Churcher, Hucky Hornberger and David Scheunemann. But what really dazzled me about “THE THREE MUSKETEERS” were Pierre-Yves Gayraud’s s costume designs. Personally, I found them worthy of an Oscar nomination. Below are three images just to prove my point:

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There are aspects of “THE THREE MUSKETEERS” that did not exactly impress me. First of all, the chemistry between the four leads seemed a bit off. One might blame Logan Lerman, who was the only American in the team. But I had no problems with his chemistry with both Matthew MacFadyen and Ray Stevenson. And Luke Evans had a nice chemistry with both MacFadyen and Stevenson, despite his subdued take on his role. And I cannot blame MacFadyen, who seemed to be the odd man out as a screen swashbuckler. I am not saying that all four men – Lerman, MacFadyen, Evans and Stevenson – had no chemistry whatsoever. There was some inclination of a screen chemistry. But . . . their chemistry as the four musketeers never struck me as dynamic than in other versions I have seen.

Another major problem I had with the movie proved to be Davies and Litvak’s re-writing of the Milady de Winter character. I had no problem with Milady starting the movie as colleague of Athos, Aramis and Porthos. I had no problem with her being Athos’ lover, instead of his estranged spouse. I did have a problem with Milady being written as some kind of action woman. Many of her scenes featured actress Milla Jovovich engaged in some acrobatic stunt at a great height. I understand why. Both Jovovich and Anderson (who are married, by the way) are known for the “RESIDENT EVIL” movies, in which the actress had starred as the main protagonist. For some reason, the couple and the two screenwriters seemed to believe it was necessary to transform Milady into a female action figure. In doing so, all four robbed the Milady of the subtle villainy that made her such a memorable character in the novel and in other adaptations. I almost got the impression that Anderson and the screenwriters did not believe Jovovich lacked the ability to portray a seductive and manipulative villainess. Yet, one scene between Jovovich and actor Christoph Waltz (who portrayed Cardinal Richelieu) made it clear to me that the actress could have been a very effective Milady de Winter without resorting to countless number of stunts and other action scenes. Hmmm . . . pity.

Despite these misgivings, I must admit that I enjoyed “THE THREE MUSKETEERS”. Much to my utter surprise. When I first saw the film, I was ready to reject it after the Venice sequence. The idea of Milady working with Athos, Aramis and Porthos on a mission in Venice was not how I recall previous adaptations of Dumas’ novel. But I gave it a chance and decided to finish the film. And I enjoyed it. Actually, there were aspects of the movie that made it enjoyable for me. Aside from the movie’s visual style and costumes, I enjoyed how Davies and and Litvak put a different spin on Dumas’ story arc about Queen Anne’s diamond necklace. I was also both surprised and impressed at how they utilized the heist movie trope in two major sequences – the opening scene in Venice and the Musketeers’ attempt to get their hands on the diamonds, which were stolen by Milady and planted inside London’s Tower of London.

Davies and Litvak’s screenplay displayed a nice sense of humor. This was apparent in the personalities of three major characters – Porthos (who has been the comic relief of nearly all versions of Dumas’ tale), King Louis XIII and surprisingly, the Duke of Buckingham, along with d’Artagnan’s first meetings with his future three friends. The movie also featured some excellent action sequences. My favorite include the Musketeers and d’Artagnan’s fight against Rochefort and the Cardinal’s guards, the four friends’ heist of the diamond necklace from the Tower of London, and their final showdown against Rochefort and his men upon their return to Paris. This last sequence featured an outstanding duel between d’Artagnan and Rochefort that in my opinion, rivaled the duel between the two characters in 1974’s “THE FOUR MUSKETEERS”.

I still stand by my belief that the chemistry between the four actors who portrayed the Musketeers and d’Artagnan was not as strong as it had been in other productions. But the movie did featured some solid performances from the four actors. Ray Stevenson displayed his usual talent for comedy in his performance as Porthos. Honestly, I think his comic skills are highly underrated. Luke Evans gave a decent performance as Aramis. However, I do wish he could have displayed a little more élan in his portrayal of the usually dashing womanizer. Matthew Macfadyen did a skillful job in portraying Athos’ brooding nature and role as the group’s leader. But I got the feeling that he was not the type of actor I would cast in a swashbuckling film. Of the four actors, he never struck me as the swashbuckling type. It is odd that I would say this about Macfadyen and not Logan Lerman, who portrayed d’Artagnan. But the thing about Lerman is although his looks strike me as mediocre and he seems to be the shortest of the four leads. Yet, once he opens his mouth and move, he becomes a bundle of energy with a good deal of style and panache. Curious.

Despite my complaints by Anderson and the screenwriters’ attempt to turn Milady de Winter into an action queen, I must say that I still managed to enjoy Milla Jovovich’s performance. She is the only actress I know who conveyed the spy’s seduction skills with a good deal of sly humor. Christoph Waltz did a solid job as the villainous Cardinal Richilieu. But I must admit, I did not find his performance particularly memorable or energetic. I can also say the same about Gabriella Wilde, who portrayed Constance Bonacieux. I hate to say this, but I found her performance somewhat wooden. On the other hand, Juno Temple gave a very charming performance as Queen Anne (formerly of Austria). Not only did she give a charming performance, she also conveyed a good deal of the Queen’s strength of character.

I really enjoyed Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayal of Captain Rochefort. The Danish actor did an excellent job of conveying Rochefort’s subtle menace and talent for intimidation. Orlando Bloom proved to be quite a surprise as the villainous Duke of Buckingham. He was very funny in a sly, yet theatrical way. James Corden also gave a funny performance as Planchet, the Musketeers’ long suffering manservant. But the funniest performance came from Freddie Fox, who portrayed the rather young King Louis XIII. What can I say? He was hilarious in his portrayal of the King’s insecure nature and lack of experience as a leader. In fact, I believe he gave the best performance in the movie.

What else can I say about “THE THREE MUSKETEERS”? It is not particularly faithful to Alexandre Dumas père’s novel. But to be honest, I do not really care. In my opinion, the movie’s lack of adherence to the novel was not a weak point. The worst I can say about the movie is that the chemistry between the four actors portraying the Musketeers was not particularly strong. I did not care for the use of 17th century airships in this story. And I was not that impressed by the movie’s tendency to portray Milady de Winter as an action figure. On the other hand, I still managed to enjoy the screenplay written by Andrew Davies and Alex Litvak, along with Paul W.S. Anderson’s direction. And the movie also featured some strong performances – especially from Logan Lerman, Juno Temple, Orlando Bloom and Freddie Fox. In the end, I still enjoyed the film, despite my initial reservations.

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“ANT-MAN” (2015) Review

 

“ANT-MAN” (2015) Review

When Marvel Studios first announced that its new movie about the comic book hero, Ant-Man would be the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) second stage, I found myself scratching my head. Why would a solo effort like “ANT-MAN served as the end of Stage Two? Why not the epic “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”, which had been released two-and-a-half weeks earlier?

Needless to say, I had no idea what was going through the mind of MCU show runner, Kevin Fiege. So, I sat back and watched how he and the filmmakers for “ANT-MAN” would handle this. And I must say . . . I found myself more than pleasantly surprised. This surprise, along with the actual movie also taught me another lesson about making assumptions. One day, this lesson will remain with me and I will stop making assumptions for good. Hopefully.

As for “ANT-MAN”, the movie created a small controversy when the Marvel and Disney Studio bosses decided to fire British filmmaker Edgar Wright and replace him with Peyton Reed as director. They also dismissed the screenplay that Wright co-wrote with collaborator Joe Cornish and allowed the film’s star Paul Rudd and Adam McKay to re-write the script. A good number of critics and moviegoers believe this move may have harmed “ANT-MAN”. Others are contemplating on how the movie would have turned out if Wright had remained the film’s director. After seeing “ANT-MAN” and recalling that 2007’s “HOT FUZZ” was the only Wright film I have ever truly liked, I realized in the end that I could not care less about how Wright and Cornish would have done the film. Yes, I enjoyed “ANT-MAN” that much.

The movie begins in 1989 when the recently widowed Dr. Hank Pym resigns from S.H.I.E.L.D., after discovering their attempt to replicate his Ant-Man shrinking technology. Believing the technology is dangerous, Dr. Pym refuses to release the technology to S.H.I.E.L.D. or anyone else. The story jumps twenty-six years later. Pym’s estranged daughter, Hope van Dyne, and former protégé, Darren Cross, have forced him out of his own company. Cross is close to perfecting a shrinking suit of his own, the Yellowjacket, which horrifies Pym. Fortunately, Hope realizes the danger that Cross’ new invention poses and decides to help her father destroy it.

At the same time, convicted burglar Scott Lang is finally released from moves in with his old cellmate, Luis and the latter’s two friends – Dave and Kurt. After making a surprise visit to his daughter Cassie’s birthday party, Scott is dismissed by his ex-wife Maggie and her police-detective fiancé, Paxton, for not providing child support. Unable to hold a job because of his criminal record, Scott agrees to a burglary job that Lang agrees to a burglary job that Luis has discovered – one that involves breaking into an expensive Victorian manor. Only the house belongs to Hank Pym and the only thing Scott was able to find inside Dr. Pym’s safe is the Ant-Man suit. Scott tries on the suit and accidentally shrinks himself. Terrified by his experience, he tries to return it to the Pym manor and is arrested by the police. However, Dr. Pym pays the jailed Scott a visit and helps the latter break out of jail, using the suit. Then he recruits Scott to help him and Hope pull a heist on Darren Cross’ new Yellowjacket suit before his former protégé can sell the technology to dangerous people.

Following the over-the-top action fest of “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”, “ANT-MAN” proved to be something of a respite for me. Not only did the movie proved to be a respite, but also quite enjoyable. But before I go into why I enjoyed the film, I have to point out its shortcomings. The worst thing I can say about “ANT-MAN” is its pacing. There are a few moments in the film in which director Peyton Reed nearly rushed the film. This was especially apparent in the montages that conveyed Scott Lang’s training as Ant-Man at the hands of Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne. And I cannot help but wonder why Hope had snitched on Scott to the police . . . a day after he had broke into Dr. Pym’s home and taken the Ant-Man suit. Unless she was unaware of the actual date that Scott had planned to make the original heist. The movie also suffered from two abrupt endings. One ending featured Luis’ revelation that Sam Wilson aka the Falcon was searching for Scott. The other abrupt ending was scene in the movie’s second post-credit scene in which Sam revealed his discovery of the missing Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier to Steve Rogers aka Captain America.

“ANT-MAN” had its usual set of flaws, but I cannot deny that I found it very entertaining. More importantly, I found it to be one of the more unconventional entries in the MCU. On one level, the movie is an origin tale about the comic book figure, Ant-Man. On another level, the movie began with the Ant-Man character already established. This is due to the fact that the movie’s main character, Scott Lang, is the second person to become Ant Man. The superhero’s first origin happened back in the 1970s or 1980s, when Hank Pym assumed the role and his wife, Janet van Dyne became the Wasp. There has never been a Marvel film before in which a second person assumed the role of a particular superhero or superheroine. If one really looked at the movie from a certain perspective, the role of Ant-Man revolved around three people – Scott Lang, Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne. “ANT-MAN” told how Scott became the superhero. In the case of Hank and Hope; the movie told how the “hero” affected the lives of both father and daughter. Hank’s role as Ant-Man had eventually led to the death of Janet van Dyne, which affected their relationship. And Scott becoming the new Ant-Man eventually not only led to their emotional reconciliation, but also helped him reconciled with his ex-wife and her fiancé, which allowed him to spend more time with his daughter. Even the villain, Darren Cross, seemed to have some kind of emotional tie to Hank. The latter had not only considered the former as a protégé, but also a son. Yet, Cross’ growing obsession with the Pym Particle and Hank’s refusal to tell him about it, led to resentment on Cross’ part and coldness on Hank’s. I have never come across a Marvel film with that scenario. Come to think of it, I have never come across a Marvel film in which family ties had such a strong impact . . . with the exception of 2003’s “THE HULK” and 2010’s “IRON MAN 2”.

As I had earlier pointed out, “ANT-MAN” is not the usual “superhero/heroine” origin tale, due to the lead character being the second person to assume the role of Ant-Man. The movie is also unusual, due to the fact that it is basically a heist film. Remember that following the death of his wife back in 1987, Hank had concluded that the Pym Particles, which powered the Ant-Man and Wasp suits, was too dangerous to be used . . . by anyone. This is why he had resigned from S.H.I.E.L.D. in the first place . . . to ensure that the government agency would not develop something similar. Unfortunately for Hank, Cross finally managed to create his own shrinking technology (called Yellowjacket). And this forced Hank to recruit Scott to become the new Ant-Man and steal Darren’s technology. Scott’s past as a professional thief and Master’s Degree in Engineering proved to be two of the main reasons why Hank recruited him in the first place. One last aspect of “ANT-MAN” that made it so unusual for me was the offbeat humor that surrounded the characters of Scott, Luis, Dave and Kurt; along with the film’s bizarre action sequence in the last twenty minutes.

The technical aspects for “ANT-MAN” seemed pretty solid. But there are two aspects of the film that I found very impressive. One aspect focused on the movie’s visual effects created the team led by Allison Gainza. Not only was I impressed by their work in scenes featuring Scott’s interactions with many insects, but also how they shrink and inflate both the Ant-Man and Yellow Jacket characters at will. This was especially apparent in scenes featuring Scott’s encounter with the Falcon at the Avengers facility and his fight against Cross in the film’s final action sequence. Ironically, the visual effects were enhanced by the editing from Dan Lebental and Colby Parker Jr. that made that fight scene so memorable for me. I had never seen such a bizarre action sequence in a Marvel film, since 2013’s “THOR: THE DARK WORLD”.

When “ANT-MAN” was first in the development stage, the producers had two actors up for the role of Scott Lang aka Ant-Man – Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Paul Rudd. However, Gordon-Levitt dismissed the matter as a rumor and Rudd became the frontrunner. To be perfectly honest, I would have been satisfied with either actor in the role. But I have to give kudos to Rudd to making Scott Lang a plausible professional thief, but also providing the film’s emotional backbone. More importantly, Rudd did a superb job of combining both his sardonic style of humor with the emotional desperation that drove his character’s actions. I used to believe that the character of Tauriel from “THE HOBBIT” films was actress Evangeline Lilly’s best role. Then I saw her portrayal of Hope van Dyne and completely changed my mind. She was exceptional as Hank Pym’s embittered daughter, who finds herself willing to work with her father and prevent Darren Cross’ plans to sell the Yellowjacket technology. I had read somewhere that Edgar Wright had plans to make Hope a femme fatale character. And while that may have been interesting, I found this new version of Hope equally interesting. Lilly did an exceptional job of expressing Hope’s resentment and anger toward her father, while keeping her feelings barely under control. Rounding off this trio is Michael Douglas, who was excellent as the very complicated Dr. Hank Pym. What I enjoyed about Douglas’ performance is that not only did he manage to effectively portray the role of mentor, but also revealed certain negative traits in Pym’s personality that made him so difficult for both Hope and Cross to deal with.

What can I say about Michael Peña’s portrayal of Scott’s closest friend, Luis? Some have complained that his character is basically a comic stereotype of the Latino-American male. I would agree . . . superficially. However, between the screenplay and Peña’s energetic performance, Luis turned out to be quite an exceptional character who not seemed to be very verbose; but also a lover of fine wine, abstract art and video games. He also proved to be very proficient with his fists. And thanks to Peña’s performance, he nearly stole the show. Come to think of it, Corey Stoll was equally effective as the film’s main villain, Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket. Of all of the wealthy industrialist/scientists (good or bad) that permeate the Marvel Universe, Cross was one of the most interesting and scariest I have seen. And I have to give kudos to Stoll for making Cross both scary and a bit vulnerable at the same time.

The movie also featured first-rate performances from T.I. “Tip” Harris and David Dastmalchian as Scott and Luis’ fellow crew members, Dave and Kurt, who somehow managed to form quite the little screen team by the end of the film. Their discussion of the 1997 movie, “TITANIC” had me rolling on the floor with laughter. “ANT-MAN also featured fine performances from Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, a very funny Wood Harris, and a very charming Abby Ryder Fortson, who portrayed Scott’s daughter Cassie. Rounding out this cast was Martin Donovan, who portrayed a former S.H.I.E.L.D. top official/HYDRA mole Mitchell Carson. Although his appearance in the movie was not as long as the others, Donovan did a great job in setting up the malevolent Carson as a future threat in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. By the way, Donovan had worked with Paul Rudd in the 2000 movie, “THE GREAT GATSBY”; and with Michael Douglas in the 2006 political thriller, “THE SENTINEL”. To ensure the movie’s tie-in with the MCU, “ANT-MAN” featured cameos from Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), John Slattery (older Howard Stark) in the prologue; and Chris Evans (Steve Rogers) and Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes). But for me, the real thrill came in the form of Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson aka the Falcon. His surprise appearance, along with that crazy fight scene between his character and the lead proved to be one of the movie’s highlights for me.

“ANT-MAN” is not the type of Marvel film that would strike anyone as mind blowing or epic. And there are those fans who are still castigating it for not being written and directed by Edgar Wright. I personally do not care. I enjoyed the movie very much. Thanks to Peyton Reed’s direction, a great cast led by Paul Rudd and a very unusual screenplay written by Rudd and Adam McKay that featured a strong, offbeat humor; I enjoyed the movie very much. In fact, I would go far as to say that “ANT-MAN” was one of the most unusual Marvel productions I have seen. Probably the most unusual. And that makes it unique for me.

“The Half-Blood Demon” [PG-13] – 1/7

THE HALF-BLOOD DEMON

RATING: PG-13 Mild violence and adult language.
SUMMARY: The Halliwells, Olivia McNeill and others react to Cole’s decision to get rid of his powers. Set between AU S5 and S6
FEEDBACK: – Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: The Charmed Ones, Leo Wyatt, Darryl Morris and Cole Turner belong to Constance Burge, Brad Kern and Spelling Productions. The McNeills, Marbus and Nimue are thankfully, my creations.

NOTE: The story picks up right after “Defense of the Realm”.

———-

“THE HALF-BLOOD DEMON”

PART 1

Paige continued to stare at Cole with disbelief. “Why on earth would you want to get rid of your powers?”

Cole opened his mouth to speak, but Phoebe replied instead, “Because his powers have been a source of trouble for him, Paige. Since he came back from the Wasteland. You should know that.”

“Are you talking about the same powers that had just saved your ass in the Whitelighter Realm?” the youngest Charmed One shot back.

Paige referred to an upheaval within the Whitelighter Realm that had ended when Phoebe and Piper – along with Olivia McNeill and Cole – managed to foil a plot by darklighters to take over the Elders Council. But the three witches and the half-demon failed to save most of the Elders recently initiated into the Council. Only two out of nine survived. Once more, the Council found itself forced to recruit new members. Leo turned out to be among the new recruits and Piper had not reacted well to this new turn of event. In an effort to bring peace within the household, Phoebe surprised everyone with news of Cole’s intention to strip away his active powers.

Phoebe rolled her eyes. “Since Cole is now this all-powerful demon, he has to deal with other demons and warlocks trying to steal his powers. Like Barbas and the Crozats. Getting rid of those powers, will end the danger for all of us.”

Paige retorted, “Well, isn’t that peachy! And what happens if someone manages to steal our powers Phoebe? Or Wyatt’s? We may not be as powerful as Cole, but we’re powerful enough to attract a lot of evil.”

“Yes, I know Paige,” Phoebe said through clenched teeth. She shot an uneasy glance at the half-demon, who tried to ignore her. “But Cole . . . well, there’s the matter of his temper. He does have a temper, you know. Right baby?”

Cole managed a dim smile and muttered, “Right.”

Phoebe added, “And what if he ends up misusing his powers because of some . . . I don’t know . . . temper tantrum?”

“Like we do all the time?” Paige retorted. Before Phoebe could respond, the younger woman turned to Cole. “Is this what you really want?”

Again, Cole opened his mouth. And again, Phoebe beat him to the punch. “Of course he does!” the middle Charmed One protested. “Haven’t you been listening?”

“Gee Phoebe! I’ve been listening to you! But Cole has barely been able to utter a sound. Well, except for one word.”

Cole felt his face grow warm, when he finally spoke. “Don’t worry, Paige. It’s what I want. Really. I think this is the best decision for both of us.” Phoebe’s body sagged with relief. From the corner of his eyes, he noticed the shocked expressions on Piper and Leo’s faces.

So did Paige. “Well,” she said to her sister and brother-in-law. “What do you think?”

Phoebe began to protest. “Paige! It’s not their decision to . . .” Cole squeezed her arm, signaling her to be quiet. He was interested in Piper and Leo’s reactions.

The couple exchanged wary looks, before Leo said, “Well, I don’t know about Piper, but this sounds like a good idea to me. And at least we’ll now have the opportunity to control the circumstances of how to remove his powers.”

“We?” Piper shot her husband an acidic look. “Why should Paige ask for your opinion? Considering you’ve decided to turn your back on this family and become an Elder.”

“Piper!”

The oldest Halliwell turned her back on her husband and faced the others. “I’m sorry Phoebe, but I’m going to have to agree with Paige. I don’t know if this is a good idea.”

Now Phoebe cried out, “Piper!”

“I’m sorry honey, but every time Cole loses his powers, disaster happens. First, he ended up getting possessed by the Source.”

Phoebe shot back, “Well, it’s nice to see that you’ve finally accepted the truth about what happened!”

A sigh left Piper’s mouth. “Yes Phoebe, I do. But this doesn’t change my opinion about this power-stripping idea. The first time, Cole ended up possessed. And the second time, Barbas ended up stealing his powers. I just don’t . . . maybe you two should seriously consider this.”

“How do you know that disaster will happen again?” Phoebe demanded. Then she turned to Chris Perry, their new whitelighter. “What about you? What do you think?”

Chris blinked. “Huh?”

An impatient Phoebe shook her head. “Never mind,” she said contemptuously. She returned her attention to her sisters. “Paige, Piper? Our minds are made up. Okay? Now will you help us with the spell or not?”

Piper heaved a sigh. “All right. If you insist. Only I don’t know if the usual power stripping potion will work.”

Cole’s heart sank, while a smile illuminated Phoebe’s face. “What about the spell that Paige had used on Cole, last year?” She turned to her younger sister. “Didn’t you make some changes with the power stripping potion in order for it to work on Cole?”

“Yeah, I did,” Paige replied coolly. “Only I’m not going tell you what I did.”

“Paige!”

The youngest Charmed One continued, “I’m sorry Pheebs, but I simply refuse to help you in what I think is a serious mistake. You’re going to have to do it on your own.”

Phoebe’s face grew hard. “Fine! I’ll just check the Book of Shadows.” She headed for the staircase.

“I took out the recipe for the new potion,” Paige called after her older sister. “I did it last January. I didn’t think he would want it in there. So . . .” Paige brushed past Phoebe and began her descent up the staircase, “. . . like I said, you’ll have to find another way to make that potion.” And she continued on toward the second floor.

Cole heaved an inward sigh of relief. The thing he dreaded most had been delayed.

——–

“Are you certain about this?” Artemus asked his assistant. “About Belthazor’s powers?” The daemon had recovered long enough from Prax’s revelation . . . one that foresaw Belthazor removing his powers – and Artemus acquiring them.

Prax, Artemus’ more-than-competent assistant, nodded. “Yes sir. This seer named Kyra had revealed the vision to me, through her chalice.”

Artemus leaned back against his favorite leather chair, inside the study of his Pacific Heights townhouse. He sighed. “Can you imagine, Prax? If I had Belthazor’s powers for myself? Can you imagine what I could do? I would be more powerful than the McNeills, the Charmed Ones, the Elders and the various demonic orders, combined. I wouldn’t need a Grimoire to rule as the next Source.”

“What about the Halliwell infant?” Prax inquired. “On the day of his birth, all magic had stopped. None of us could use our powers.”

A smug smile creased Artemus’ lips. “But Belthazor could.” Prax stared at him. “Kelson had actually seen him teleport from Mark Giovanni’s home that day. When he thought no one was watching him.”

Frowning, Prax asked, “Does this mean he and the child are equally powerful?”

The older daemon shook his head. “I suspect that Belthazor might be slightly more powerful. But I’m not certain. I wish there was a way I could find out. But not now.” With a wave of his hand, he turned off his CD player. “Right now, we should focus upon Belthazor. Does this seer Kyra know when he plans to remove his powers?”

Prax shook his head. “I’m afraid not.”

“Hmmm.” Artemus placed his glass of port on the liquor cabinet. “Then we will have to find out. Find a chameleon daemon for me. Have him . . . or her report to me as soon as possible.”

With an obsequious bow, Prax replied, As you wish, Artemus.” Then he strode out of the study.

———

Inside the living room of Nathalie Green’s townhouse, Olivia allowed the ice to swirl in her tea. The two witches had just finished a delicious meal that featured grilled lamb chops. A song from Nathalie’s CD player began to play a familiar tune. Olivia frowned. “Geez Nat! What is it about you and the 70s? ‘Boogie Nights’?”

Nathalie, a tall, dark-haired woman with a long, equinine face and pale skin, shot Olivia a sardonic glare. “I wouldn’t sneer if I were you, Miss McNeill. I happen to know that ‘Boogie Nights’ is your favorite song from that decade.”

“Right group, wrong song. Heatwave’s other song, ‘Groove Line’ is a favorite of mine. But my entire music collection doesn’t comprise of ‘the Greatest Hits of the Seventies’.”

Nathalie returned her attention to her laptop computer screen and typed a few strokes. “You know, I didn’t invite you over for dinner just to insult my musical tastes.”

Olivia stared at the other woman. “Why did you invite me?”

“To talk to you.” Nathalie closed her laptop. “About Cole.”

Oh no. A sigh left Olivia’s mouth. “You’ve got to be kidding!”

Nathalie shot back, “No, I’m not. I heard what happened. From Barbara and Bruce.” She paused. “So, you’re just going to leave it like that?”

“Like what?”

Sighing, Nathalie continued, “You’re just going to allow Phoebe Whatshername take Cole without a fight?”

Olivia snorted with derision. “As I recall, Cole had deliberately returned to Phoebe.”

“Only because you had dumped him, while you were under that spell!”

Keeping her patience in check, Olivia declared, “Don’t you understand, Nat? Cole ran right back to Phoebe, after he thought we were through. And I don’t recall him making any effort at reconciliation, after he found out about Paul’s spell. Now what does that tell you?”

“It tells me that Cole must have rebounded with Phoebe!” Nathalie retorted. “Which means they’re simply wasting their time, because their new little romance won’t work.”

Olivia frowned. “Why not?”

“Didn’t you hear what I had said? Cole is using Whatshername . . .”

“Phoebe.”

Nathalie continued, “Yeah, well he’s obviously using her for rebound. Frankly, I don’t think he’s very happy at the moment.”

Olivia took a sip of her tea . . . and tried to ignore the glimmer of hope within her breast. “Meaning?”

“Hey, I was at Quake, a few nights ago,” Nathalie said. “With Igor Petrov. I saw Cole and Phoebe. He didn’t look very happy, and both seemed to be a little uncomfortable in each other’s company. If you’re still in love with Cole, tell him. Do something before you lose him for good.”

A silent Olivia finished her tea, while she contemplated Nathalie’s words. Do something, her friend had advised. But do what? Beg Cole to leave Phoebe and take her back? What if he did not want her back? What if any action on her part would accomplish nothing? Believing the futility of any action on her part, Olivia shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know if there’s anything I can . . .” She broke off. “Never mind.” Then she changed the subject. “By the way, what were you typing?”

Nathalie snapped open her laptop. “Nothing much. Just a few notes for my new book. You know, the one I had told you about, last spring.”

“Oh yeah. Something about the shadow self. Are you using only mortals as subjects?”

Typing a few strokes on the computer’s keyboard, Nathalie replied, “A few daemons as well. In fact, anyone who’s willing to become a subject.”

Olivia hesitated. “What about whitelighters?”

Nathalie snorted. “Knowing them, they probably wouldn’t acknowledge that they have a dark side. Besides, I haven’t had a whitelighter since I was seventeen. And that relationship didn’t last very long. Two years, at the most.”

“I know an Elder who might cooperate. Her name is similar to yours. Natalia Stepanova.”

Nathalie blinked. “Wait a minute. Why does that name sound familiar?”

Olivia replied, “Because you had met her six years ago, in Scotland. She used to be Cousin Keith’s whitelighter for a few years. Then they became friends.”

“And she’s an Elder now?”

“Yep! It happened a few days ago, as a matter of fact. There was an . . . altercation in the Whitelighter Realm.” Olivia told Nathalie about the destruction of the old Elders Council, the culprits responsible, the Eregor medallions and the new Elders. “Before I came here, Natalia showed up at my apartment. She told me that Leo is now an Elder.”

Nathalie frowned. “Huh. What about Gideon? Is he still alive?”

Her hostess’ question took Olivia by surprise. “Yeah, he’s still alive.  You know Gideon?”

“Remember that magic school that Harry had attended for about two months?” Nathalie asked. “The one operated by the whitelighters?”

Olivia hesitated. “Yeah. Harry hated that place. He ended up getting expelled. I think he had deliberately made sure it would happen.” Olivia snorted. “Gideon sure remembered him.”

Nathalie added, “Yeah, well I remembered Gideon from the year I had spent there. And I also hated it. Hell, I’ve learned more about witchcraft and magic in general from my grandmother and my coven, than I did at that school.”

“Hmmm.” Olivia drained the last of her tea. “As for Natalia Stepanova, I’ll see if I can summon her. Ask if she’ll talk to you. Or maybe I can get Dad’s former whitelighter. They’re still friends.”

In a low voice, Nathalie said, “May I assume one cannot say the same about you and Leo?”

“You may assume,” Olivia retorted.

Nathalie shook her head. “Wow Livy! Cole and Leo. Two close relationships down the drain in such a short space of time. How do you do it?”

Olivia decided to ignore her friend’s last remark.

END OF PART 1

The Meaning of Colors

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THE MEANING OF COLORS

Several years ago, I came across an old website about Wiccan practices and meanings. I was surprised to discover that even before the advent of Wicca in the early 20th century, Pagan worshipers associated colors with certain meanings. And those meanings turned out to be quite different than many people would today assume.

Unlike today’s societies – especially in the Western world – white or light did not automatically mean something good, pure or noble. In fact, even the white wedding dress has nothing to do with the lack of sexual experience or innocence of the bride. The white wedding dress started out as a fashion trend . . . and remains one to this day. This fashion trend was created by Britain’s Queen Victoria when she married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg in 1840. The young queen wanted to show that she was just a “simple” woman getting married, so she wore a white dress. She also wanted to incorporate some lace into her dress. Queen Mary of Scots wore a white wedding gown when she married Francis, Dauphin of France. Why? Because white was her favorite color. Before Victoria, women usually wore their best outfit for their wedding.

But there are the exceptions in which white is used as a negative form of symbolism in Western culture. One of the major villains in C.S. Lewis’ “THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA” literary series is Jadis, the White Witch of Narnia. There is nothing dark about this character’s physical appearance and wardrobe. She is all white. Another example of a villainous character who wore a white costume is Thomas Arashikage aka Storm Shadow from the “G.I. JOE” movie franchise. Ironically, Storm Shadow is a Japanese character portrayed by South Korean actor Lee Byung-hun. And white is usually associated with negative traits and death in Asian cultures.

Albinism is also associated with the color white and negative traits in various forms of popular culture . Albino characters can be found in movies like “COLD MOUNTAIN”, “THE DA VINCI CODE”, “THE MATRIX RELOADED”; and in novels like “The Invisible Man” and “Blood Meridian”. And all of these characters are either portrayed villains or those with negative traits. However, these are rare forms of white used as negative symbols and stereotypes.

So, what was the color white associated with . . . at least in Pagan circles? Simple. The color was associated with psychic pursuits, psychology, dreams, astral projection, imagination and reincarnation. Apparently moral goodness or purity has nothing to do with the color white. At least in old Pagan terms. Which leads me to this question . . . why do today’s Western societies insist that white has anything to do with moral compass of any form.

Finally, we come to the color black. As many people should know, modern Western societies tend to associate black or anything dark as something evil or negative. There are probably other societies that do the same. Fictional characters associated with evil in many science-fiction/fantasy stories are usually associated with black. Sorcery that has a negative effect upon someone is either called “black magic” or “the Dark Arts” (at least with the “HARRY POTTER” and Buffyverse franchises. And in the “POTTER” series, wizards and witches who have given in to evil are labeled as “dark”. The “STAR WARS” franchise usually refer to evil as “the Dark Side of the Force”.

In the “ONCE UPON A TIME” television series, the Rumpelstiltskin character was also called “the Dark One”. Why? As it turned out, some entity called “the Darkness” had entered his body after he had stabbed the former holder of “the Dark One” title. Apparently, show runners Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz could not find a name for the entity and called it “The Darkness” – automatically associating its black coloring with evil. Now it seems that the series’ main character, Emma Swan, has been given the name, due to the entity entering her body. The ironic thing is that Emma’s physical appearance – her skin, her eyes and hair – have become pale or white. Yet, she dresses in black and is called “the Dark One” or “the Dark Swan”. I am still shaking my head over this contrast. As for magic, sorcery, or even psychic abilities in many of these movies and television shows, it is clear that their creators/show runners associate dark or black with evil and light or white with goodness. The only fictional character I can recall that go against this grain is Snake Eyes from the “G.I. JOE” movie franchise. Not only is he villain Storm Shadow’s main adversary and one of the main heroes of the G.I. Joe team, he also wears a black costume.

Ironically, long time Pagans associated the color black with the following – binding, protection, neutralization, karma, death manifestation and will power. Someone might say – “A ha! Death manifestation! This is a term can be regarded as something negative or evil.” But can it? Why is death constantly regarded as something negative? Because people are incapable of truly facing the idea of death. It is a natural part of our life span and yet, many people cannot accept it. And because of this negative attitude toward death, society associates death with . . . you guess it . . . the color black. Apparently the Pagans believed differently and did not associate black with anything evil or negative. I was surprised to discover that Chinese culture regard black as a symbol of water, one of the five fundamental elements believed to compose all things. The Chinese also associated black with winter, cold, and the direction North, usually symbolized by a black tortoise. Black is also associated with disorder – including the positive disorder which leads to change and new life.

I have one last statement to make. I have noticed a growing trend on Internet message boards and forums for television shows and movies that deal with science-fiction and fantasy. This trend features a tendency by many of these fans to automatically associate white/light with goodness and black/dark with evil. The fans on these message boards no longer use the words “good” and “evil” anymore. Honestly. I am deadly serious. These fans either use the words light (lightness) or white; or . . . dark (darkness) or black. Why? And why do the creators of these television shows and movie franchises resort to the same behavior? I have to wonder. By associating anything black or dark with evil, are they associating anything or anyone with dark or black skin with evil? I suspect that many would say “of course not”. Considering the notorious reputation of science-fiction/fantasy fans (or geeks) of being racist, I have to wonder.

 

Rumple

“MAN OF STEEL” (2013) Review

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“MAN OF STEEL” (2013) Review

When I first learned that Warner Brothers Studios and D.C. Comics planned to release another Superman movie, I did not greet the news with any enthusiasm. In fact, my first reaction was sheer frustration. The last D.C. Comics movie I wanted to see was another Superman movie.

There were so many reasons for my negative reaction to the news of a new Superman movie. The last one I saw was 2006’s “SUPERMAN RETURNS”, which had been directed by Bryan Singer. There had also been two television series about the Man of Steel in the past twenty (20) years – “LOIS AND CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN” (1993-1997) and “SMALLVILLE” (2001-2011). The film subsidiary for Marvel Comics have shown a willingness to release movies featuring a vast array of their comic book characters. On the other hand, D.C. Comics seems to be stuck on either Superman or Batman for television and movie material. There have been minor exceptions to the rule – including the Oliver Queen/Green Arrow character that became a regular on “SMALLVILLE”; the 2011 film, “THE GREEN LANTERN”; and the recent WB television series, “ARROW” (the Green Arrow again). Wonder Woman has not been a subject of a movie or television series in her own right since the Lynda Carter series from the 1970s. An unsuccessful television series about the Flash failed to last one season. And Aquaman merely served as a guest character on“SMALLVILLE” for a few episodes.

I had one other reservation regarding the announcement of a new Superman movie. The producers had chosen Zack Synder to direct the film. And I have never been a fan of his past films, at least the ones I have seen – namely the very successful “300”, the critically acclaimed “THE WATCHMEN” and “SUCKER PUNCH”. When I learned he had been selected to direct the new Superman film, “MAN OF STEEL”, my enthusiasm sunk even further. However, I saw the movie’s new trailer last spring and my opposition to the movie began to wane. What can I say? It impressed me. So, I decided to open my mind and give “MAN OF STEEL” a chance.

Thanks to David S. Goyer’s screenplay and the story created by him and Christopher Nolan, “MAN OF STEEL” follows the origins of Superman. Well . . . somewhat. The movie begins on the planet of Krypton, where scientist Jor-El assists his wife in the birth of their newborn son, Kal-El. Due to years of exploiting the planet’s natural resources by the planet’s inhabitants, the planet has an unstable core and faces imminent destruction. Jor-El and Lara plans to send their son to Earth to ensure his survival. They also infuse his cells with a genetic codex of the entire Kryptonian race, something that the planet’s military commander, General Zod desires. Zod and his followers commit a military coup. And the general murders Jor-El, after learning what the latter did with the genetic codex. But Zod and his followers are immediately captured and banished to the Phantom Zone. When Krypton finally self-destructs, the explosion frees Zod and his people; setting them on a search for young Kal-El and the genetic codex at other worlds colonized by Kryptonians.

Kal-El eventually lands on Earth and in the middle of the Kansas countryside. A farmer and his wife – Jonathan and Martha Kent – adopts and raises him, renaming him Clark Kent. However, Clark’s Kryptonian physiology gives him super abilities on Earth, which raises a lot of social problems for him. Jonathan eventually reveals to Clark that he came from another planet and advises not to use his abilities in public. Following Jonathan’s death, a bereaved Clark spends several years roaming the country and working at odd jobs, while he deals with his grief and save people in secret. He eventually infiltrates a scientific discovery of a Kryptonian scout spaceship in the Arctic, which had been discovered by the military. Also there is a reporter from the Daily Planet named Lois Lane. Clark, who is unaware of being followed by Lois, enters the alien ship. It allows him to communicate with the preserved consciousness of Jor-El in the form of a hologram. Jor-El reveals Clark’s origins and the extinction of his race, and tells Clark that he was sent to Earth to bring hope to mankind. Meanwhile, General Zod and his crew pick up a Kryptonian distress signal sent from the ship Clark had discovered on Earth. Zod arrives and demands the humans surrender Kal-El, whom he believes has the codex, or else Earth will be destroyed.

So . . . what did I not like about “MAN OF STEEL”? For one, I disliked the shaky cam photography used by Amir Mokri. I disliked its use by Paul Greengrass in some of his movies. I disliked its use in “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”. And I certainly did not like its use in this film. It made the final confrontations between Superman and the Kryptonians more confusing. Then again, David Brenner’s editing certainly did not help – not in this scene or in the burning oil rig sequence in the movie’s first half hour. I have been a fan of Hans Zimmer for years. But I found his score for this movie rather heavy-handed, especially his use of horns. Speaking of Superman and the Kryptonians’ final confrontations – I thought it was a bit over-the-top in regard to the destruction inflicted upon Metropolis. It reminded me of final action sequence in “IRON MAN 3”, which I also did not care for.

Fortunately, there was a great deal more about “MAN OF STEEL” that I liked. And I find this amazing, considering my past opinion of director Zack Synder. David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan wrote a first-rate origin story for Superman. I noticed that they utilized the same or a similar story structure that they had used in the Dark Knight Trilogy. Instead of allowing Superman to face his most famous adversary in the first film, Goyer and Nolan utilized Superman’s Kryptonian origins to play a major role in the film’s story. Instead of Lex Luthor, Superman’s main nemesis in “MAN OF STEEL” proved to be General Zod. Some fans of the franchise were annoyed by this. I was not. Goyer and Nolan also did a first-rate job in exploring Clark Kent/Superman’s emotional growth, the loneliness he had endured during his childhood in flashbacks and those years he wandered before discovering the Kryptonian ship in the Artic, and his wariness toward the human race. I especially do not recall any previous Superman story or television series exploring the latter. How very original of Goyer and Nolan. Some fans have complained about the different twists that Goyer, Nolan and director Zack Synder made to the Superman mythos – especially in his relationship with reporter Lois Lane. I do not understand the complaints, considering the number of twists and changes that have been made to the Superman mythos in movies and especially television during the past twenty years. And honestly? The twist to Clark/Superman’s relationship with Lois made the story fresher.

Although I did not particularly care for the over-the-top destruction featured in “MAN OF STEEL”, I must admit that the special effects featured in that last scene impressed me very much. I was also impressed by their work in the sequence that featured Superman’s fight against Faora-Ul and the other Kryptonian in Smallville. But the one sequence that featured some great special effects happened to be the one on Krypton. I found the effects very beautiful. In fact, there were other aspects of that sequence that really impressed me – namely Alex McDowell’s production designs, Anne Kuljian’s set decorations, Kim Sinclair and Chris Farmer’s art direction and especially James Acheson and Michael Wilkinson’s costume designs. Some have complained by the lack of red shorts for Superman’s costume. But I did not miss them. More importantly, I liked how Sinclair and Farmer linked Superman’s costume with those worn by many of the Kryptonians.

When I first heard that Henry Cavill had been hired to portray Clark Kent/Superman, I must admit that I was somewhat taken aback. Mind you, the idea of a British actor portraying an American comic book character was nothing new, thanks to Christian Bale’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman and the Anglo-American Andrew Garfield’s recent portrayal of Spider-Man. I only felt uncertain if Cavill could portray a Midwesterner with the proper accent. Okay, I am not an expert in Midwestern accents. But Cavill handled the American accent rather well. More importantly, he gave a superb performance as the quiet, yet emotional Clark Kent who had spent a good number of years wallowing in loneliness. I was surprised that Amy Adams had signed on to portray Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane. I did not expect her to appear in a comic book hero movie. But I must admit that I really enjoyed her performance, especially since her Lois proved to be a lot less blind about Superman’s secret identity and more willing to track down the truth. Michael Shannon effectively utilized that same intensity that provided for his Nelson Van Alden role in HBO’s “BOARDWALK EMPIRE” in his performance as the single-minded Kryptonian General Zod.

Antje Traue proved to be even more scary than Shannon as Zod’s second-in-command, the less verbal Faora-Ul. Laurence Fishburne gave an intense performance as Perry White, the no-nonsense editor of theDaily Planet. Russell Crowe’s Jor-El not only proved to be charismatic, but something of a bad ass. Ayelet Zurer provided a great deal of pathos and emotion in her performance as Superman’s mother, Lara Lor-Van. Diane Lane proved to be the movie’s emotional rock in her down-to-earth performance as Martha Kent, Superman’s adopted mother. And Kevin Costner’s portrayal of Jonathan Kent proved to be just as charismatic as Crowe’s Jor-El and as emotional as Zurer’s Lara. The movie also featured some solid performances from the likes of Richard Schiff, Michael Kelly and Christopher Meloni. I was really impressed with Harry Lennix’s performance as the commanding, yet paranoid General Swanwick.

“MAN OF STEEL” had a few problems. But I believe that the movie possessed a great deal more virtues, including a first-rate story created by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan and a superb cast led by a talented Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman. But I was very surprised by Zack Synder’s direction, especially since he managed to curtail some of his less-than-pleasant excesses in past films and at the same time effectively helm a first-rate movie. For the first time, I found myself being more than pleased by a movie directed by Synder.

“4.50 FROM PADDINGTON” (2004) Review

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“4.50 FROM PADDINGTON” (2004) Review

I have been a major fan of Agatha Christie’s 1957 novel, “4.50 From Paddington”, ever since I was in my teens. In fact, I consider it one of my top ten favorite Christie novels of all time. So, it is not surprising that I would approach any movie or television adaptation of this story with great anticipation.

As far as I know, there have been at least two adaptations of Christie’s 1957 novel. Both were television movies that starred Joan Hickson as Jane Marple in 1987 and Geraldine McEwan in 2004. Just recently, I watched the McEwan version and all I can say is . . . hmmmmm. “4.50 FROM PADDINGTON” (also known as “WHAT MRS. McGILLICUDDY SAW”) begins with Mrs. Elspeth McGillicuddy leaving London by train, following a Christmas shopping trip. She is on her way to St. Mary Mead to visit her old friend, Miss Jane Marple in St. Mary Mead. Sometime during the journey, Mrs. McGillicuddy looks out of her window and spots a man with his back to her strangling a woman in a train traveling parallel to hers. Upon reaching St. Mary Mead, Mrs. McGillicuddy reports the murder to Miss Marple, before the pair reports it to an unbelieving railway official.

While Mrs. McGillicuddy travels on to visit relatives in Ceylon for the holidays, Miss Marple takes matters into her own hands. She comes to the conclusion that the murderer had dumped the body off the train before it could be discovered at an estate owned by the Crackenthorpe family called Rutherford Hall, near Brackhampton. Miss Marple recruits a professional housekeeper named Lucy Eylesbarrow to hire herself out to the Crackenthorpes with the pretense that she wants to be near her “aunt” – namely Miss Marple – and hunt for the missing body. Eventually, Lucy does find the body . . . and more mayhem ensues.

I was not particularly fond of the 1987 Joan Hickson adaptation. And if I must be brutally honest, I do not have a high opinion of this 2004 version. Both versions seemed to be marred by two major problems – too many changes and the love triangle involving the Lucy Eylesbarrow character. And if I must be honest, Lucy proved to be a problem all on her own. Stephen Churchett made changes that I found particularly unnecessary. The movie began with a World War II flashback that featured the death of the Crackenthorpe family matriarch, which seemed to have an impact on the family patriarch, Luther Crackenthorpe. Although poignant, this scene struck me as a complete waste of time that did not seem to have anything to do with the main narrative. And once again, this version ended with a resolution to the love triangle that surrounded Lucy Eylesbarrow. Apparently, no one seemed to care how Christie deliberately left the matter opened in regard to Lucy’s choice. I have always regarded the Lucy Eylesbarow character as something of a “Mary Sue”. The 1987 version of the character was transformed into a humorless prig. Although the 2004 version of the character managed to regain some wit, she also came off as an even bigger “Mary Sue” than the literary version. The television movie introduced Lucy singing with Noel Coward (of all people) to his guests at a dinner party. She was dressed to the nines . . . and still serving as a housekeeper. What the hell? When I saw this, I could not believe my eyes. And why on earth did Churchett and director Andy Wilson allowed Miss Marple to reveal the murderer to an audience . . . aboard a moving train? This struck me as incredibly contrived and rather uncomfortable.

The movie also featured some severe character changes. Harold Crackenthorpe was transformed into a serial rapist, who has targeted Lucy as his latest victim. Alfred Crackenthorpe remained a minor crook, who seemed to be constantly weeping over a former girlfriend who had dumped him. Instead of being the oldest living brother, Cedric Crackenthorpe became the youngest sibling in the family and a failed painter. Why? I have not the foggiest idea. And Churchett completely jettisoned him from the love triangle concerning Lucy Eylesbarrow. This version featured a love triangle between Lucy, Bryan Eastley (Luther’s son-in-law), and Inspector Tom Campbell, the investigating detective for the case. Yes, that is correct. Once again, the Dermot Craddock character (who was the investigating detective in the novel) was eliminated from another adaptation. In his place was another detective with close ties to Miss Marple. Which is ironic, considering that he had appeared in the 2004 version of “A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED”. Speaking of Bryan Eastley, he was transformed into an American war veteran. Only the Luther Crackenthorpe, Emma Crackenthorpe and Dr. Quimper characters remained intact.

However, “4.50 FROM PADDINGTON” did have its share of virtues. I have to give kudos to Jeff Tessler for his excellent production designs. His work made it very easy for television audiences to find themselves transported back to 1951. Also adding to the movie’s setting were Pilar Foy’s art direction and Phoebe De Gaye’s costume designs. I also enjoyed the production’s cinematography, thanks to Martin Fuhrer’s sharp and colorful work. And Jeremy Gibbs’s editing greatly enhanced the sequence in which Elspeth McGillicuddy first witnessed the murder. Despite my dissatisfaction with the overall adaptation of Christie’s 1957 novel, I must admit that Andy Wilson did a solid job as director. This was evident in the movie’s pacing and performances.

Speaking of performances, I tried to think of one or two performance that seemed out of step to me. But if I must be honest, I could not find one. “4.50 FROM PADDINGTON” provided some pretty good, solid performances. Geraldine McEwan was in fine form, as usual, as Miss Jane Marple. And she clicked very well with three particular cast members – Pam Ferris, who did an excellent job in portraying the pragmatic Elspeth McGillicuddy; John Hannah, who gave a nice performance as the rather quiet and intelligent Tom Campbell; and Amanda Holden, who seemed to be a bundle of charm as the talented and dependable Lucy Eylesbarrow. Jenny Agutter gave a very poignant performance in her brief appearance as the dying Agnes Crackenthorpe. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Niamh Cusack, Griff Rhys Jones, Charlie Creed-Miles, Kurtis O’Brien, Ciarán McMenamin, and Celia Imrie, who was rather funny as a Russian dancing mistress being interviewed by Tom Campbell and Miss Marple.

But there were four performances that proved to be my favorite. One came from Rose Keegan, who was even more funny as Lady Alice Crackenthorpe, Harold’s aristocratic wife. My second favorite performance came from David Warner was at times, poignant, rather funny and very sardonic (depending on the scene) as family patriarch Luther Crackenthorpe. Ben Daniels was equally funny and sardonic as the despairing Alfred Crackenthorpe, who seemed to have more regard for the woman who had dumped him, than his family. And perhaps I should be grateful that screenwriter Stephen Churchett transformed the Bryan Eastley character to an American. This gave American-born Michael Landes a chance to make the character more than bearable. Landes did something that Christie’s writing and actor David Beames failed to do in the 1987 version . . . make Bryan Eastley sexy and charismatic.

I will not deny that “4.50 FROM PADDINGTON” had its virtues. The movie can boast fine performances from a cast led by Geraldine McEwan. I really had no problem with Andy Wilson’s direction. And the movie’s 1951 was beautiful to look at, thanks to the production staff. But I still had problems with the movie’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1957 novel. There were too many unnecessary changes to a story that had become one of my favorites penned by the author. Pity.

“Dear Orry” [G] – 1/1

“DEAR ORRY”

Here is a small fanfic from the “NORTH AND SOUTH” miniseries that aired in 1985. This story is about the westward journey of newly commissioned Army officer, Charles Main and his westward journey to his new post in Texas, revealed in a letter to his cousin in South Carolina:

“DEAR ORRY”

RATING: [G]
SUMMARY: A view of Charles Main’s journey to Texas, via a series of letters written to his Cousin Orry.
FEEDBACK: deerush76@yahoo.com – Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: Charles Main, Orry Main and all other characters related to the North and South trilogy belong to Wolper Productions, Warner Brothers Television and John Jakes.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Here’s a little story I wrote in letter form. Newly commissioned Army officer, Charles Main, writes a letter to his cousin, Orry Main. The story is a combination of canon from both the miniseries and John Jakes’ 1982 novel.

——–

October 10, 1856
Camp Cooper, Texas

Dear Cousin Orry,

After a month long journey that started in Charleston, I have finally, I have arrived at my new Army assignment. Camp Cooper. It is located in South Texas, on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. Texas turned out to be more than a pleasant surprise. But I will talk about it, later.

My journey went off smoothly, despite the long distance. The steamer that conveyed me from Charleston, had arrived in New Orleans, six days later. I believe that Madeline LaMotte is from New Orleans. Right? I must say that it was a fine-looking city. Very exotic. I have not encountered so many different types of people since my four years at West Point.

Upon my arrival, I checked into the Saint Charles Hotel, which is popular with many American guests. You will be pleased to know that I did not waste my two days in New Orleans, visiting saloons and sporting houses. Instead, I explored the Old French Quarter, took a ride on the trolley that led from the Quarter to the Garden District – a residential area for many of the city’s well-to-do Americans, and took a brief train ride to Lake Ponchatrain. I also paid a visit to a local fencing hall on my second day, where many of the city’s gentlemen practice the sport. I managed to get into a match with Creole peacock named Emile Lacroix. Needless to say that my fencing had not improved since leaving the Academy. Mister Lacroix later invited me to join his family for supper at a restaurant called Antoine’s, where we ate a delicious meal. By the way, would you please ask Mrs. LaMotte if she has ever heard of the Lacroix family? My two days in New Orleans ended on a pleasant note. The visit was so splendid that I hated to leave. But, Texas awaited me.

Another steamer took me through the Gulf of Mexico, where I finally arrived in Indianola, Texas, a few days later. No one felt more happier to leave that steamer than me. All I had to do was mention I was from South Carolina and the conversation on board turned to Preston Brooks. You know, one of our congressmen who thrashed that Yankee senator in the Senate, last spring. In fact, he offered the others in the saloon a free drink. I realize that as a Southerner, I should be more sympathetic toward Congressman Brooks, but the idea of drinking to celebrate a man’s beating seemed distasteful to me. My reluctance to drink made me a little less popular.

As I had stated at the beginning of this letter, Texas appealed to me the moment I first arrived. The land looked nothing like I had ever seen before. Instead of our dank low country or the Hudson Highlands near West Point, Texas has low rolling hills that make me feel open and free. Not long after my arrival in Indianola, I boarded a stagecoach for San Antonio. Now that was an interesting little city. In a way, it reminded me of New Orleans, but not as grand. The homes seemed to be a mixture of American brick houses, German one-story buildings made of limestone and Spanish-style adobes. I also saw the Alamo, where Congressman Crockett, Jim Bowie and the other Texas freedom fighters took their stand against General Santa Ana. It is hard to believe you ended up fighting against the same man, eleven years later. The people here in San Antonio seemed very friendly. Especially the lovely senoritas. Do not worry, Cousin. You will be relieved to know that I had behaved like a Carolina gentleman.

Not long after my arrival, I reported to Regimental Headquarters, where I met Colonel Robert Lee. He was the Academy’s superintendent during my first two years there. It seems strange that an Army engineer would end up as a calvary regimental commander. I am happy to report that he still remembered me from the Academy. Or at least my riding prowess. Did you or George Hazard ever meet him when you were fighting in Mexico? Colonel Lee’s nephew, Fitz Lee, happens to be an old Academy friend of mine and Billy’s. I understand that he is now serving at Fort Mason.

Both Colonel Lee and Major George Thomas had invited me to supper at the Plaza Hotel in San Antonio. Major Thomas also happens to be a Virginian and Academy graduate – class of 1840. Both seemed to hold Academy graduates in high regard, in compare to the army officers that rose through the ranks. From them I learned that I had been assigned as Company “K”‘s second officer. The following morning, I accompanied the Department of Texas’ paymaster, as he left San Antonio to deliver the pay for various Army forts and camps throughout the region. I had a brief reunion with Fitz Lee at Fort Mason. From him, I learned that many of the Army officers assigned to the Second Calvary are Southern-born. No wonder so many Yankees are complaining.

The final leg of my journey took me from Fort Mason to Camp Cooper, where Company “K” was stationed. Along the way, our party encountered a brief rainstorm. Strange weather in this state. One minute it is hot and the next, it is pouring down buckets. The weather only endured me more to Texas. The only Indians I have encountered so far were a poor bunch who had formed several villages not far from Camp Cooper. I find it hard to believe that these people may be related to the Commanches and other tribes who are causing mayhem along the frontier.

My company commander seemed like a pleasant fellow. His name is Baldwin Wayne and he is an Ohioan who had graduated from the Academy two years before you did – in 1844. Do you remember him? What was he like back then? Captain Wayne informed me that he will not be “K” Company’s commander very long. He will be reassigned next spring. I can only hope that his replacement will prove to be just as easy to serve under. The company’s first officer is another Yankee from Ohio and his name is Lieutenant Lafayette O’Dell. Unlike Captain Wayne and myself, Lieutenant O’Dell started out as an enlisted man, some twenty-five years ago. He was fourteen at the time. Captain Wayne seemed to hold the lieutenant in high regard, despite the latter’s lack of Academy training. In fact, the entire company seems to like O’Dell. I guess I will have to work hard to earn the same kind of respect from the men. It looks I will have my work cut out for me, considering that I seemed to be the only Southerner in the company. Everyone else is either from Ohio, or had emigrated from Europe.

Please give my love to Aunt Clarissa and Cousin Brett. You can even say hello to Ashton for me. Speaking of my ‘dear’ cousin, has she married James Huntoon yet? Was their wedding supposed to be held this fall or next spring? I have forgotten. It is a shame that I will miss it. Honestly. One last thing I want to say, Orry. Thinking of my new situation has reminded me of how much I owe you. You gave a young and resentful boy a second chance to make something of his life. Namely me. Instead of ending up dead in a ditch with a broken neck, or killed in a tavern brawl, I am a West Point graduate and Army officer, serving my country on the Texas frontier. All of this happened to me, because of you. I will never forget your kindness and love and will forever be grateful.

Sincerely your beloved cousin,

2nd Lieutenant Charles Main, U.S.A

THE END