Friday, August 29, 2008

"LOUISIANA" (1984) Review


"LOUISIANA" (1984) Review

Thirty-two years ago, HBO had aired a three-part miniseries about the life and travails of a nineteenth century Southern belle named Virginia Tregan. The miniseries was called "LOUISIANA" and it starred Margot Kidder and Ian Charleson. 

Directed by the late Philippe de Broca, "LOUISIANA" was based upon the "Fausse-Riviere" Trilogy, written by Maurice Denuzière, one of the screenwriters. It told the story of Virginia's ruthless devotion to her first husband's Louisiana cotton plantation called Bagatelle . . . and her love for the plantation's overseer, an Englishman named Clarence Dandridge. The story begins in 1836 in which she returns to her home in Louisiana after spending several years at school in Paris. Unfortunately, Virginia discovers that the Tregan family plantation and most of its holdings have been sold to pay off her father’s debts. Only the manor house remains. Determined to recoup her personal fortune, Virginia manipulates the breakup of the affair between her wealthy godfather, Adrien Damvillier and his mistress, Anne McGregor in order to marry him and become mistress of Bagatelle. Virginia also becomes frustrated in her relationship with Clarence Dandridge, who refuses to embark upon a sexual relationship with her.

During their ten-year marriage, Virginia and Adrien conceive three children – Adrien II, Pierre and Julie. Not long after Julie’s birth, Adrien dies during a yellow fever epidemic. Virginia hints to Clarence that she would like to engage in a serious relationship with him. But when he informs her that they would be unable to consummate their relationship due to an injury he had sustained during a duel, Virginia travels to Paris for a year-long separation. There, she meets her second husband, a French aristocrat named Charles de Vigors. They return to Louisiana and Virginia gives birth to her fourth and final child – Fabian de Vigors. Virginia and Charles eventually divorce due to his jealousy of his wife’s feelings for Clarence and his affairs. Fabian, who feels left out of the Damvillier family circle, accompanies his father back to France. During the next ten to fifteen years, Virginia experiences the death of her three children by Adrien, the Civil War and Reconstruction. The story ended in either the late 1860s or early 1870s with Virginia using a trick up her sleeves to save Bagatelle from a Yankee mercenary, whom she had first encountered on a riverboat over twenty years ago.

If I must be frank, "LOUISIANA" is not exactly "GONE WITH THE WIND" or the "NORTH AND SOUTH" Trilogy. But the 1984 production does bear some resemblance to both the 1939 movie and the 1985-1994 miniseries trilogy. I noticed that the character of Virginia Tregan Damvillier de Vigors strongly reminded me of Margaret Mitchell's famous leading lady from "GONE WITH THE WIND", Scarlett O’Hara. Both characters are strong-willed, ruthless, charming, manipulative, passionate and Southern-born. Both had married at least two or three times. Well, Scarlett had acquired three husbands by the end of Mitchell’s tale. In "LOUISIANA", Virginia married twice and became engaged once to some mercenary who wanted Bagatelle after the war. Both women had fallen in love with a man who was forbidden to them. Unlike Scarlett, Virginia eventually ended up with the man she loved, despite losing three of her children. Apparently, the saga’s original author felt that Virginia had to pay a high price for manipulating her way into her first marriage to Adrien Damvillier.

"LOUISIANA" also shared a few aspects with another famous Civil War-era saga - namely John Jakes' "NORTH AND SOUTH" Trilogy. Both sagas were based upon a trilogy of novels that spanned the middle decades of the 19th century - covering the antebellum period, the Civil War and Reconstruction. Mind you, "LOUISIANA" lacked the epic-style storytelling of the television adaptation of Jakes’ trilogy. Not even Virginia’s journey to France and her experiences during the outbreak of the Revolution of 1848, along with another journey to France during the first year of the Civil War could really give "LOUISIANA" the epic sprawl that made the "NORTH AND SOUTH" Trilogy so memorable. However, the miniseries, like "NORTH AND SOUTH", did depicted the darker side of the Old South’s plantation system. It did so through the eyes of four characters – Clarence Dandridge; one Bagatell slave named Brent; another Bagatelle slave named Ivy, and Virginia's French-born servant/companion, Mignette. 

Like both "NORTH AND SOUTH" and "GONE WITH THE WIND""LOUISIANA" suffered from some historical inaccuracies. I found it interesting that Bagatelle did not suffer the consequences from the Panic and Depression of 1837, which lasted until the mid-1840s. Especially since it was a cotton plantation. This particular economic crisis had not only led to a major recession throughout the United States, it also dealt a severe blow to the nation’s Cotton Belt, thanks to a decline in cotton prices. Unlike the 1980 miniseries, "BEULAH LAND""LOUISIANA" never dealt with this issue, considering that the story began in 1836. I also found the miniseries’ handling of the Revolution of 1848 in France and the California Gold Rush rather questionable, as well. Gold was first discovered by James Marshall in California, in January 1848. But news of the discovery did not reach the East Coast until August-September 1848, via an article in the New York Herald; and France became the first country to fully experience the Revolution of 1848 on February 23, 1848. Yet, according to the screenplay for "LOUISIANA", Charles de Vigors first learned about the California gold discovery in a newspaper article in mid-June 1848 . . . sometime before France experienced the first wave of the Revolutions of 1848. Which is impossible . . . historically.

If there is one aspect of "LOUISIANA" that reigned supreme over both "NORTH AND SOUTH" and "GONE WITH THE WIND" are the costumes designed by John Jay. The costumes lacked the theatrical styles of the John Jakes miniseries trilogy and the 1939 Oscar winner. But they did project a more realistic image of the clothes worn during the period between 1830s and 1860s. And fans of "NORTH AND SOUTH" would immediately recognize the plantation and house that served as Bagatelle in "LOUISIANA". In real life, it is Greenwood Plantation, located in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana. Aside from serving as Bagatelle, it also stood in as Resolute, the home of the venal Justin LaMotte in the first two miniseries of the "NORTH AND SOUTH" Trilogy.

The story for "LOUISIANA" seemed pretty solid. It seemed like a Louisiana version of "GONE WITH THE WIND", but with an attempt to match the epic sprawl of "NORTH AND SOUTH". But only in length . . . not in style. Margot Kidder, Ian Charleson, Andréa Ferréol, Len Cariou, Lloyd Bochner, Victor Lanoux, and Hilly Hicks all gave pretty good performances. Kidder and Charleson, surprisingly managed to create a strong screen chemistry. The miniseries indulged in some of the romance of the Old South. But as I had earlier pointed out, the miniseries also exposed its darker aspects - especially slavery. When the story first began with Virginia’s arrival in Louisiana with her maid, Mignette; the entire production seemed like a reflection of the"moonlight and magnolias" myth of the Old South, until the story shifted to the cotton harvest fête held at Bagatelle. In this scene, slavery finally reared its ugly head when the plantation’s housekeeper becomes suddenly ill, while serving a guest. Slavery and racism continued to be explored not only when Virginia’s conservative beliefs over slavery clash with Clarence’s more liberal ideals; but also with scenes featuring encounters between Bagatelle slave Brent and a racist neighbor named Percy Templeton, Mignette’s Underground Railroad activities, and a doomed romance between one of Virginia’s sons and a slave named Ivy. Yet, despite Virginia’s conservative views regarding slavery, the miniseries allowed audiences to sympathize with her through her romantic travails, the tragic deaths of her children and her post-war efforts to save Bagatelle from a slimy con artist-turned-carpetbagger named Oswald. 

If you are expecting another "GONE WITH THE WIND" or "NORTH AND SOUTH" Trilogy, you will be disappointed. But thanks to Maurice Denuzière’s novels and the screenplay written by Dominique Fabre, Charles E. Israel and Etienne Périer; "LOUISIANA" ended up as an entertaining saga about a woman’s connections with a Louisiana plantation during the early and mid 19th century. For anyone interested in watching "LOUISIANA", you might find it extremely difficult in finding the entire miniseries (six hours) either on VHS or DVD. And it might be slightly difficult in finding an edited version as well. The last time I had seen "LOUISIANA", it aired on CINEMAX in the mid-1990s and had been edited to at least three hours. If you find a copy of the entire miniseries or the edited version, you have my congratulations.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Power, Duty and Choice"


“With great power comes great responsibility.” – Ben Parker (“SPIDER-MAN”)

“You should know that I personally consider any form of military conscription to be a violation of basic human rights, no matter whether the cause is a “righteous” one or not – it’s still coercion. The intended cannot freely choose to serve. Buffy has already been drafted against her will, when she was “called”.“BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” Fan (All Things Philosophical About ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ Site)

* * * *

What is it about humans that they demand that heroes - fictional or otherwise - sacrifice themselves so unwillingly for the sake of society? Humans especially seem enamored of fictional characters with special abilities – whether they are comic book heroes or those with a supernatural slant – coming to the rescue of society, especially humans, at the expense of their own personal lives. Is the idea of someone more powerful or special coming to our rescue all the time more appealing . . . instead of learning how to help ourselves?

This belief or idea seemed to originate from the world of comic book heroes. And no quote has ever personify this belief than the famous one from the ”SPIDER-MAN” comic book franchise. Before his untimely death at the hands of a robber/thief, Ben Parker spoke these words to his radio-active nephew, Peter Parker - ”With great power comes great responsibility”. Not only did these words lead Peter down a path as comic book hero, Spider-Man. But this idea that great powers is a precedent as a protector/savior of the public at large has become even more apparent in two past successful television series - ”CHARMED” and ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”.


”Charmed” (1998-2006)

When I had first watched ”CHARMED”, I found the series about a trio of magical sisters battling supernatural evil on a weekly basis rather appealing. I had never questioned the series’ premise about the Halliwell sisters (Prue, Piper and Phoebe) having no choice but to face supernatural evil in order to protect the ”innocents”. Like many other viewers, I had felt it was their duty. But over the years, my views changed. I still managed to enjoy the series’ early seasons, because I like the chemistry between the three leads, some of the stories and actor T.W. King as Prue’s love interest, Andy Trudeau. But I had hoped that the show would evolve beyond the simply morality of that first season. Unfortunately, my hope failed to materialize in the series’ following seven seasons.

I realized that one of the series’ problems for me was the concept that the Halliwell sisters had been born as witches. Thinking about it years later, it struck me that this concept smacked of the old 1964-72 sitcom, ”BEWITCHED”, starring Elizabeth Montgomery. If Constance Burge, the creator of ”CHARMED”, had been that serious about showing the Wicca aspects of being a witch on the series, why did she even bother to include the ludicrous idea that one is born as a witch? Wiccans do not believe in one being born as a witch. The Season 4 episode, ”Lost and Bound” went out of its way to express contempt at the old Elizabeth Montgomery series. If that was how Brad Kern (who had replaced Burge as the series’ main producer) felt about it, why continue the belief that witches are born, due to possessing magical and psychic abilities? Why did Burge add that aspect to the series in the first place? Then it occurred to me. Burge, Kern and their writers used this concept as an excuse for the Halliwells to be obligated to "fight evil and protect innocents" – regardless of whether they wanted to or not.

Not only did Burge, and later Kern, used the idea of bloodline as an excuse for the Halliwells being fated to act as supernatural protectors, but also the family’s Book of Shadows. This object not only contained spells, potions and lists of supernatural beings within it, the Book also included an entry that instructed the Halliwells’ duties as witches. Because of this, I realized that nothing could be done about the whole concept of the Halliwells being born witches by Season 4. But I had hoped that the series would grow more complex and that the sisters would realize that they were not obligated to fight demons, warlocks, etc., beyond that point. In other words, I hoped the Halliwells woud not continue to be obligated to act like a bunch of glorified demon hunters. Unfortunately, the show had failed to evolve beyond that mindset.

Frankly, I believe that no one should be "obligated" to get involved in such a dangerous lifestyle in the first place. Even police officers are not obligated. The reason cops have this "duty" to protect innocents, (etc.) is because they had MADE THE CHOICE to pursue that profession. They were not obligated to do so, because they were born with special powers or whatever. And even if they had been born with special powers, I still believe that fighting crime or confronting some form of dangerous evil should be A CHOICE on their part, not an obligation. Unfortunately Burge, Kern and their writers never considered this.

For example, I and many other fans used to complain about Phoebe Halliwell or Piper Halliwell’s occasional to put their personal desires over their duties as witches. Now that my philosophy on the matter has changed, I no longer see anything wrong with Phoebe or Piper putting their desires above their so-called duties as Charmed Ones. None of the sisters should have NEVER been duty-bound to being a witch in the first place. The whitelighters, who act as the ”guardian angels” of all witches, seemed to have this mentality that they have every right to coerce witches to act as their personal foot soldiers against supernatural evil. Quite frankly, I found that tasteless. In the Season 4 finale, ” Witch Way Now?”, the Angel of Destiny offered the sisters (which include half-sister Paige Matthews, who had replaced the dead Prue) the chance to give up their magical powers and lives as supernatural crime fighters as a reward for vanquishing the top demon – the Source. Frankly, I do not believe that the sisters had to wait for the Angel of Destiny to make that offer to them. They could have made that choice on their own. As far as I am concerned, they should have made that choice. It is one thing to "fight evil" for self-defense or someone they cared about was in trouble. It is another to do so because it is supposed to be a duty.

As I had stated earlier, ”CHARMED” could be entertaining. But the more I contemplate about its concept, characters and stories, the more I dislike the idea of people being "born" as witches. And I hate the idea that a witch is DUTY BOUND to hunt down demons, warlocks for the sake of society and at the detriment of one’s own life. Constance Burge and Brad Kern might as well have claimed that they do not believe in free will. Because it seemed quite obvious that they did not . . . judging by this series.


”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1997-2003)

It took me a while to become interested in ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. I had seen the 1992 movie upon which it was based. As much as I found it enjoyable, I had doubts that it would ever hold my interest. Needless to say, I gave the series a chance and became a diehard fan.

In many ways, I found ”BUFFY” much superior to ”CHARMED”. Both the series’ acting and writing was much superior to the latter. Even better, the series’ characters – especially Buffy Summers – managed to develop a more ambiguous outlook on morality over the years, in compare to the older Halliwell sisters. But if there is one major flaw that ”BUFFY” shared with ”CHARMED” - at least in my eyes – is this ridiculous viewpoint that the series’ main heroine was duty bound to protect the public from the supernatural evil, due to her special powers.

How did Buffy Summers become a vampire (and demon) slayer? Apparently, she had been born with the supernatural strength of a Slayer, due to a spell cast by three African shamans. These three men decided they needed a hero/heroine - a weapon that would slay vampires and other demons for them and their community. And to ensure control over this weapon, they picked a young female and cast a spell upon her, infusing her with demonic essence. In other words, he Slayer line was nothing more than a method of coercion to force young girls and woman to fight supernatural evil for them . . . and later, the Watcher's Council. They also figured that being young and female would guarantee that they will always have control of the Slayer line.

Many would point out that Buffy has learned to attain some sense of individuality and freedom from her previous authority figures. They would point out Buffy’s estrangement from the Watcher’s Council in mid-Season 3 and her rejection of Rupert Giles as her personal Watcher in late Season 7 as examples. Granted, these fans would have a point. But I can also think of one or two examples of how Buffy had allowed her belief that she had no choice but to be the Slayer rule her life.

A prime example occurred in the Season 3 episode, ”Choices”, when she had received a notice of acceptance from Northwestern University in the Chicago area. Buffy and her friends came to the conclusion that she had no choice but to turn down the offer and continue her education in Sunnydale. Why? As the Slayer, she had to remain in Sunnydale in order to protect its citizens from the effects of the Hellmouth. Joss Whedon might be a first-class television writer and producer. But his reasoning for forcing Buffy to reject the Northwestern offer and remain in Sunnydale struck me as one of the biggest pile of horseshit I have ever come across in television. This explanation made no sense to me. Of course Buffy had a choice. There was no rule that she had to remain in Sunnydale to continue her Slayer duties. Demons and vampires did not exist only in Sunnydale. Hell, Buffy had become a Slayer in another city - namely Los Angeles. Fans might point out the numerous apocalypses that have sprung up over the years in Sunnydale. Again, this struck me as another example of contrived writing on Whedon’s part. Were the viewers really expected to believe that apocalypses only appeared in Sunnydale, California? Especially since the series had established that there were Hellmouths in other locations around the world – including Cleveland, Ohio? I think that the only reason Buffy had decided to remain a Slayer in Sunnydale was her belief that she had no choice, due to her Slayer powers. She wasn't really making choices. She was allowing her belief that she had no choice but to remain guiding her decisions. And to me, it seems that her reasoning for remaining a Slayer is tainted by her view of "duty". It comes off as cold to me.

In the Season 7 finale, Buffy came up with a scheme that she believed would help defeat the efforts of the First Evil. She convinced Willow to cast a spell – using a magical Slayer Scythe that she had managed to acquire in a previous episode – to change the Slayer line originally set by the African shamans. Instead of one Slayer manifesting one at a time, the spell allowed all of the Potentials – adolescent girls and young women within the Slayer line – to become Slayers at the same time. Why did Buffy simply allow Willow to use the scythe to end the Slayer line once and for all? All of those young females would have been spared the violent and potentially short life of a Slayer. Because she had set this plan in motion, Buffy became the global leader of the Slayers. Despite her dislike of being a Slayer, she remained trapped in this lifestyle.

Personally, I believe that Buffy was an idiot for remaining in a profession that she obviously disliked. Second, I believe that was a bigger idiot for allowing Merrick and later, Giles, to talk her into assuming Slayer duties in the first place. If she did not want to become a Slayer, she should have refrained from accepting the role. Three, even when she detached herself from the Watchers Council, she continued acting as Slayer because she rather stupidly believed that she had no choice in the matter. I found it amazing that although no longer in her life, the Watchers Council still managed to exert a strong influence over her.

The idea of a person with super or magical abilities acting as the protector/savior of the public seemed to have its origins in comic book superheroes. As much as I find these stories entertaining, I realize that I am fast developing a deep contempt for them. It is one thing to choose to become involved in a lifestyle that turns you into some kind of cop with special powers. It is another to allow someone to coerce you into that situation, because you have special powers. The idea that someone is duty-bound to act like some supernatural cop just because he or she possesses special powers is RIDICULOUS. Even worse, it seems like coercing someone into a dangerous lifestyle or profession against his or her will. For me, it compatible with the military draft. How can anyone in their right mind support such an idea?

Sunday, August 24, 2008



Below is a gallery of photos featuring promotion shots and "behind the scenes" looks at the production of the 1969 James Bond film, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service":

Friday, August 22, 2008

"Neighbors" [PG] - 6/11


Part 6

Cole guided his Porsche into the parking space assigned to him and stopped. He switched off the engine. A minute passed while he remained in the driver's seat, staring at the view beyond the car's windshield. At the gray wall of his building's underground parking lot. Another minute passed. And another.

The drive up the coast had done nothing to allay Cole's dark mood. In fact, the whole trip seemed to have been a complete waste of time. Perhaps he would have been better off accepting the McNeills' invitation to brunch. Then again, maybe not. Cole doubted that he could have survived an afternoon of dealing with the Halliwells' hostility.

He sighed and opened the car's door. Just as Cole was about to climb out, he heard a voice cry out his name. "Mr. Turner? Hel-lo! Mr. Turner!" Dammit! Cole recognized the voice. It belonged to one of his neighbors, a tenant named Geraldine Boone. Cole could not stand her.

"Mr. Turner! Thank goodness I ran into you!" A forty-something woman with dyed blond hair, jogged up to Cole's side, breathing heavily. He tried to ignore the tight dress that seemed totally unsuited for her. Especially since it accentuated some very unflattering curves.

Cole's mouth stretched into an insincere smile. He said in a polite voice, "Mrs. Boone, how may I help you?" He climbed out of the Porsche and shut the door.

The middle-aged woman tittered. "Why don't you call me Gerry? And I'll call you Cole?"

Fighting the urge to fireball the woman or transform her into an innate object, Cole's smile remained frozen. "So . . . Mrs. Boone, how may I help you?"

Discomfort flickered in her pale eyes. "I . . . uh, I wanted to speak with you about building matters," Mrs. Boone continued. Then her flirtatious attitude returned with a vengeance. "Why don't we return to the building, together, while I tell you all about it." She linked her arm with Cole's and led him toward the parking lot's elevator.

As the elevator rose, Cole thought he would go out of his mind. The urge to use one of his powers on Mrs. Boone, became harder to resist, as she babbled on about the building's superintendent and other matters. Before he could act upon his frustrations, the elevator reached the lobby. The doors slid open and relief appeared in the form of Olivia McNeill. She seemed to be struggling with what looked like aluminum trays in her arms.

"Olivia!" Cole immediately abandoned the older woman and rushed forward to help the red-haired witch. He grabbed one of the trays. "Here, I'll take this."

The younger woman flashed a grateful smile at Cole. "Thanks! I'm afraid that Mom's idea of leftovers is two weeks' worth of food." She spotted a frowning Mrs. Boone in the elevator and stepped inside. "Oh, hi Mrs. Boone! How are you?"

Looking somewhat less than pleased by Olivia's appearance, the older woman murmured curtly, "Fine. I . . ."

"Mrs. Boone was discussing the tenants' problems with maintenance," Cole explained. "She feels we need a new maintenance supervisor."

An auburn brow quirked upward. "Really? I don't recall any maintenance problems. Nor any complaints." Olivia faced Mrs. Boone. "Are you sure you're not exaggerating?"

The older woman's mouth hung open, making her resemble a peroxide fish. Much to Cole's amusement. He wondered if he should give in and transform Mrs. Boone into one.

The elevator stopped at the fifth floor. The doors slid open. "The fifth floor," Cole gaily announced. "I believe this is your stop, Mrs. Boone."

Geraldine Boone - very reluctantly - stumbled out of the elevator. She whirled around and opened her mouth to say something to Cole. But the elevator doors closed shut before she could utter a peep.

Both Cole and Olivia burst into laughter the moment the doors closed. By the time the elevator reached Olivia's floor, their laughter had subsided. Cole, carrying the larger tray, followed his companion out of the elevator and toward her apartment. Once inside, the pair headed straight for the kitchen, where they delivered the trays on the table.

"Thanks for helping me," Olivia said with a smile. "That's the second time today you've come to my rescue."

Cole returned her smile with his own. "Glad to help. Besides, you came to my rescue just a few minutes ago. Consider us even," he drawled. Then his smile disappeared. Did he just flirt with his neighbor?

Then Cole noticed the frown on Olivia's face. "What? Did I say something wrong?"

Olivia replied, "I was about to ask you the same thing. You looked a bit . . . odd there, for a moment."

"It's nothing. I was just . . ."

"Has it something to do with your ex-wife?" Olivia asked. Her green eyes reflected concern.

Cole immediately shook his head. "No. Uh, no it doesn't." He returned to the living room and sat down in one of the chairs.

"Liar." Olivia shot him a look that mixed reproach and sympathy. "I saw your reaction at my parents' house, this morning."

Embarrassment washed over Cole. "Yeah, well, it was . . . it was a shock seeing Phoebe and her sisters. But I guess you were all bound to meet one day. Especially since Leo is also your whitelighter. By the way, how was the brunch?"

Olivia turned up her nose, surprising Cole. "A bit of a disaster, I'm afraid," she replied.

"Oh. Sorry. I guess I shouldn't have . . ."

"Are you always in the habit of taking the blame for everything? Look, you didn't know they were going to be there," Olivia retorted. "And neither did I. Besides, it wasn't all about you. The Charmed Ones had accepted my grandmother's invitation at the last moment."

Cole shrugged. "I see."

"No, not quite." Olivia sighed. "It seemed they had accepted the invitation under false pretenses." Cole stared at her. "Gran thought they wanted to talk about Mrs. Halliwell. We found out that they simply wanted to talk about warlocks."

Now Cole understood. If it were not for his present mood, he would laugh at the idea of the Charmed Ones committing such a faux pas. "Warlocks? You mean the one who had attacked you the other night?"

Nodding, Olivia continued, "And the one whom the Charmed Ones had killed last Wednesday in Lafayette Park." She opened her liquor cabinet and retrieved two martini glasses. "Martini?"

"Thanks," Cole replied.

Olivia then reached for three bottles. "Gin, vodka or vermouth?"

Cole added, "Gin and vermouth. With an onion. I'm a Gibson fan."

A smile touched Olivia's mouth. "Really? So am I." She returned the vodka inside the cabinet and then reached for a martini pitcher. "I recognized the warlock that the Halliwells had killed," she continued. "He was part of the Crozat Coven. And so was the one you had killed." She began preparing the martinis. "The body of a dead witch was found in Candlestick Park, yesterday morning. I had planned to ask you about the Crozats."

Cole frowned. "The Crozat Coven. Sounds familiar." He recalled a trip to Seattle he had made some five years ago. "From Seattle? I think I've heard of them."

Olivia stirred the contents of the pitcher with a long spoon, before pouring it into the two martini glasses. "You've heard of the Crozat Coven?"

Cole explained that the Crozat Coven had business dealings with his former order, in the past. "The Brotherhood of the Thorn. Ever heard of them?"

"Of course!" Excitement lit up Olivia's eyes. She dumped an onion in each of the martini glasses. "Organization of upper level daemons, right? You were one of them?"

Cole nodded. "For over a half-century. Until I betrayed the Source," he added with a bitter smile. His smile disappeared. "I, uh . . . I helped Phoebe and her sisters thwart one of their business schemes."

Holding the two glasses of martini, Olivia walked over to Cole. She handed over one glass. "And the Brotherhood also had dealings with the Crozat Coven?" She took a sip of her martini. So did Cole. He found it delicious.

"Yeah," he continued. "The coven conducted their business under . . ." Cole paused, as he searched his memory. "I believe they used some corporation as a front for their activities. It's called . . . Malehex. And it's based in Seattle."

Olivia plopped down on the sofa. A frown creased her lovely face. Lovely? Cole gave his head a slight shake. This was no time to be thinking about someone else's looks.

"I wonder if they have any holdings in San Francisco," Olivia commented, breaking Cole's thoughts.

He shook his head. "I wouldn't know. I had to go to Seattle to deal with them. And it has been five years." He paused. "Maybe you can check the internet for Malehex Corporation."

Without a moment's hesitation, Olivia placed her martini glass on the table. She stood up and headed for the desk that held her computer laptop. Cole followed. "Let's see," she murmured, sliding into the chair in front of her desk. Then Olivia typed in the words - MALEHEX CORPORATION. The search proved fruitless. The only information given was the corporation's name and Seattle address.

"Damn!" Olivia muttered with frustration.

Cole added, "I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I doubt that a corporation owned by warlocks would reveal so much on the Internet."

"But the police computer might have some information," Olivia replied, the excitement on her face growing again. "Or better yet, the Seattle Police. I know a fellow cop . . . who happens to be a witch, up there. I'll send him a message."

While Olivia returned her attention to the computer, Cole took the opportunity to examine her apartment. It seemed small, compared to the penthouse. But it still looked pretty spacious in his eyes. The apartment boasted a large bedroom, a smaller one that obviously served as a guest bedroom, two bathrooms and several closets. Cole also noticed that Olivia had decorated her apartment with tasteful, yet expensive furnishings. Many of them, he suspected, may have come from antique shops. He noticed several family photographs on a Midland cabinet. One particular photograph of a handsome, chestnut-haired man with hazel brown eyes, caught his attention. The man looked very familiar.

"Okay," Olivia said, as she rose from her desk. "I just sent my friend . . ."

Cole held up the photograph of the handsome stranger. "This man looks familiar. Do you know . . .?" He paused at the sight of Olivia's expression. Surprise, followed by deep sadness permeated her green eyes. She practically looked grief-stricken. "Uh, did I say something wrong?"

"No, I . . ." Olivia's mouth trembled slightly. She took a deep breath. "That's my fiancé, Richard. My late fiancé."

Cole murmured a few words of sympathy. "I'm sorry. How did he . . .? Never mind." He placed the photograph back on the cabinet's shelf.

"How did he die? Is that what you were about to ask?" Olivia inhaled once more. "He was killed."

"By a demon? A warlock?"

Olivia quietly replied, "No, by my aunt. My mother's sister, Aunt Rhiannon."

Her answer took Cole's breath away. "Your . . .aunt? Why would she . . .?"

Another gust of breath left Olivia's mouth. She walked over to the sofa and sat down. Then she picked up her martini glass and took a large gulp. Cole sat next to her. "Richard was a warlock," Olivia finally said.

Realization hit Cole like a wet rag. "Of course! I thought he looked familiar. He's from the Bannen Coven! But I heard they had been vanquished nearly two years ago."

"Thanks to Richard." Olivia explained that she had become acquainted with the warlock, Richard Bannen, after meeting him at a exclusive charity party, here in San Francisco. Richard had introduced himself with the full intention to become acquainted with Olivia, romance her and kill her and the McNeill family, in order to steal their powers. "It didn't take me very long to realize he was a warlock, but I kept up a charade of innocence to learn the whereabouts of his coven." She sighed. "Only both of us ended up falling in love. Would you believe it? My family didn't believe it at first, and wanted Richard vanquished. But Harry and Gran learned that Richard's feelings were sincere."

The McNeills eventually accepted Richard as part of the family. Except for one person - Olivia's aunt, Rhiannon Morgan Davies. Gweneth McNeill's sister had endured the death of her husband at the hands of another Bannen warlock. "She never really got over Uncle Antony's death," Olivia continued. And Aunt Rhiannon . . . well, she tended to be a little too self-righteous. She never liked Dad. She considered him morally ambiguous and not good enough for Mom. But after Uncle Tony's death, she literally became a one-woman vigilante. You know, obsessed with hunting demons and warlocks - especially if their name was Bannen." Olivia's voice seemed heavy with sadness.

"How did Richard fit into all this?" Cole asked. Olivia's description of her aunt reminded him of Prue. And of Piper, after Prue's death.

Olivia paused. Her face assumed a haunted expression. "Following Uncle Tony's death, several other witches were killed by some of Richard's cousins. As far as Aunt Rhiannon was concerned, Richard was among those responsible. She tried to hunt down the entire coven, herself. She did kill a few, but she also harmed a few innocents, in the process, when she mistook them for warlocks. Both Mom and I tried to reason with her. But . . ." Olivia sighed. Heavily. "Aunt Rhiannon . . . well, she snapped and began accusing us of embracing evil." She finished the last of her martini, while Cole waited. "Then she attacked us. She . . . uh, knocked me unconscious and was about to kill Mom, when Richard appeared. Aunt Rhiannon had electrokinesis, like Mom. When she used it against Mom, Richard got into the line of fire and got hurt, instead. Aunt Rhiannon was about to attack Mom again, when Richard struck back and killed her." Her voice choking, Olivia concluded, "And Richard died a few minutes later from his wounds. Right after I had regained consciousness." Tears fell from her eyes.

Cole immediately handed his handkerchief to Olivia. Who used it to wipe her eyes. Her story had been truly horrible. And sad. Granted, being possessed by the Source, and later vanquished by one's wife and sisters-in-law seemed worse. But Olivia's story did strike Cole as pretty damn depressing. "I'm sorry," he said quietly.

Shaking her head, Olivia wiped away more tears. "Yeah, so am I. It's been about ten months since it happened." She paused. "And it still hurts." Olivia handed the handkerchief back to Cole.

"Something like that . . ." Cole hesitated. "Well, it's hard to get over." He sighed. "I know from past experience."

Personal grief slowly gave way to sympathy in Olivia's eyes. And curiosity. She said quietly, "Are you talking about you being the Source? How exactly did that happened?"

Cole's lips formed a bitter smirk. "Didn't Leo tell you?"

"Well, all I heard was that you had become the Source, betrayed Phoebe and she and her sisters ended up vanquishing you. Leo left out a lot of details." Olivia shook her head. "And I got the feeling that he didn't know all the details. It just seemed too simple . . . especially after all you went through to win their trust. I mean, how did you become the Source in the first place, when you were a human?"

Cole sighed and placed his martini glass on the nearby coffee table. "It's a long story. And I'm hungry. Why don't we discuss this over dinner?"

Olivia responded, "Okay. How about dinner at the Golden Horn restaurant? I'm not really in the mood to cook dinner. And it's my treat."

"Your treat? The Golden Horn is pretty expensive."

A smile - the first one Cole has seen in a while - touched Olivia's lips. "Not for a McNeill. Mom owns the restaurant."

"No wonder it's your treat," Cole murmured sarcastically. He stood up. "Okay. I'll meet you in . . . an hour?"

"An hour's fine. I'll see you then." Olivia's smile broadened. It was the last thing Cole saw before he disappeared from her apartment.


Thursday, August 21, 2008


Below is a gallery featuring stills and posters of old movies during the period dubbed "THE GOLDEN AGE OF HOLLYWOOD", circa 1935-65:


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"JOHN ADAMS" (2008) Review

"JOHN ADAMS" (2008) Review

Nearly four months have passed since HBO aired the last episode of its seven-part miniseries, ”JOHN ADAMS” . . . and I have yet to post any comment about it. I realized that I might as well post my views on the series, while my memories of it remains fresh.

In a nutshell . . . "JOHN ADAMS" is an adaption of David McCullough’s bestselling, Pulitzer-Prize winning biography on the country’s second president, John Adams. Instead of beginning the story during Adams’ childhood or early adulthood, the miniseries began in the late winter/early spring of 1770, when he defended seven British soldiers and one officer accused of murder during the ‘Boston Massacre’ crisis. It ended with the episode that covered the last fifteen years of Adams’ life as a former President. And despite some historical discrepancies and a rather bland fourth episode, "JOHN ADAMS" ended as another glorious notch in HBO’s history.

The performances were superb, especially Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney as John and Abigail Adams. On screen, they were as well matched as the second President and First Lady were, over two hundred years ago. If either of them is passed over for either an Emmy or Golden Globe award, a great travesty will end up occurring. Especially Giamatti. He is the first actor I have seen make the role of John Adams his own, since William Daniels in "1776". Another performance that left me dazzled was British actor Stephen Dillane’s subtle and brilliant performance as one of the most enigmatic Presidents in U.S. history – Thomas Jefferson. I had heard a rumor that he preferred acting on the stage above performing in front of a camera. If it is true, I think it is a damn shame. There is nothing wrong with the theater. But quite frankly, I feel that Dillane’s style of acting is more suited for the movies or television. These three fine actors are backed up with excellent performances from the likes of David Morse as George Washington, a brooding Sam Adams portrayed by Danny Huston and Tom Wilkinson portraying a roguish and very witty Benjamin Franklin.

I found most of the miniseries’ episodes very enjoyable to watch and very informative. Not only did "JOHN ADAMS" gave its viewers a detailed look into the United States and Europe during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, rarely seen on the silver or television screen. One particular scene comes to mind occurred in Part 1 - "Join or Die", when Adams witnessed the tar-and-feathering of a Boston Tory by members of the Sons of Liberty. The entire incident played out with grusome detail. Another scene that caught my attention occurred in Part 6 - "Unecessary War", when the Adamses had their first view of the recently built White House, located in the still undeveloped Washington D.C. I am so used to Washington looking somewhat civilized that its early, ramshackle appearance came as quite a surprise. And instead of allowing the actors and scenery resemble something out of a painting or art museum, everything looked real. One might as well be stepping into the late eighteenth century, absorbing the sights, sounds and smells . . . if one could achieve the latter via a television set. Speaking of sounds, I have to comment on the opening scene score written by Rob Lane. It is very rare find a miniseries theme song this catchy and stirring. Especially in recent years.

If I could choose one particular episode that left me wanting, it had to be Part Four - "Reunion". This episode covered John and Abigail Adams’ years in Paris during the Treaty of Paris negotiations and as the first U.S. Minister to the British Court of St. James in London. It also covered his return to Massachusetts and election as the first Vice President. I enjoyed the development of the Adams’ friendship with Jefferson in this episode. Unfortunately that is all I had enjoyed. I wish that the episode had expanded more on the troubles surrounding the Treaty of Paris and especially the Adams’ stay in London. The most that was shown in the latter situation was Adams’ meeting with King George III (Tom Hollander) and Abigail’s desire to return home. On the whole, I found this episode rushed and slightly wanting.

But there were three others that I found fascinating. One turned out to be Part 3 - "Don't Tread on Me". This episode featured his subsequent Embassy with Benjamin Franklin to the Court of Louis XVI, and his trip to the Dutch Republic to obtain monetary support for the Revolution. I would not exactly view this episode as one of the miniseries’ best, but it did feature an excellent performance by Paul Giamatti, who expressed Adams’ frustration with the opulent Court of Louis XVI and the rakish Benjamin Franklin, rakishly portrayed by Tom Wilkinson. Watching Adams attempt to win the friendship of the French aristocrats and fail was fascinating to watch.

One of the episodes that really stood out for me was Part 6 - "Unnecessary War". This episode covered Adams’ term as the second President of the United States and the growing development of a two-party system in the form of the Federalists led by Alexander Hamilton (Rufus Sewell) and the Jefferson-led Democratic-Republicans. This episode featured standout performances from not only Giamatti, but from Linney, Dillane and Sewell as a rather manipulative and power hungry Hamilton. The episode also featured a detailed history lessons on the beginning of political partisanship in the U.S. and the country’s (or should I say Adams’) efforts to keep the U.S. neutral from the war between Great Britain and France. It also focused upon a personal matter for both John and Abigail, as they dealt with the decline of their alcoholic second son, Charles. An excellent episode all around.

My favorite episode – and I suspect that it might be the case with many fans - is Part 2 - "Independence". This episode focused upon the early years of the Revolution in which Adams and his fellow congressmen of the Continental Congress consider the option of independence from Great Britain and the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. It also focused upon Abigail’s struggles with the Adams’ farm and a smallpox outbreak in the Massachusetts colony. Personally, I consider this the best episode of the entire series. I especially enjoyed the verbal conflict between pro-independence Adams and delegate John Dickinson of Pennsylvania (superbly portrayed by actor Željko Ivanek), who favored reconciliation with the Crown. But one scene I found particularly humorous featured Adams and especially Franklin "editing" Jefferson’s final draft of the Declaration of Independence. All three actors – Giamatti, Wilkinson and Dillane were hilarious in a scene filled with subtle humor.

Despite being based upon a historical biography, "JOHN ADAMS" is not historically accurate. Which is not surprising. It is first and foremost a Hollywood production. Some of the best historical dramas ever shown on television or on the movie screen were never historically correct. Whether or not "JOHN ADAMS" is 100% historically correct, it is one of the best dramas I have seen on television in the past three years. Now that it has been released on DVD, I plan to buy and watch it all over again.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Favorite Film Noir Movies"


Below is a list of my favorite "Film Noir" movies of all times. Not all of them are liked by the critics. And some films that are highly regarded did not make my list. This list is about what I like . . . not what are allegedly the best in this genre:

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997) – Based upon James Ellroy novel, this Oscar winner told the story about three police officers in 1953 Los Angeles and their involvement in what seemed like a simply robbery-murder . . . and cascaded into something more complex and sinister. It starred Kevin Spacey, Guy Pierce, Russell Crowe, James Cromwell and Oscar winner Kim Basinger. This is my favorite noir film.

SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) – Billy Wilder’s classic about a down-on-his-luck Hollywood screenwriter who becomes ensnared in the clutches of a fading and slightly insane screen actress. One of the remarkable aspects of this film is that the story is told from the screenwriter’s point-of-view . . . after he had been killed. William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim and Nancy Olson were the stars. My second favorite noir film.

CHINATOWN (1974) – Directed by Roman Polanski and written by Oscar winner Robert Towne, this tale of greed and corruption in 1937 Los Angeles centered around a successful private investigator discovering a scandal involving the city’s water supply and a major real estate scam that would reverberate in the city’s history. It starred Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston and Perry Lopez. Third favorite.

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) – Another Billy Wilder classic that is based upon James Cain’s pulp novel. It is basically about a murder plot hatched by an insurance salesman and a femme fatale to kill her husband. It is filled with the usual snappy dialogue, sex, violence and backstabbing. A real gem. Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson starred.

DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS (1995) – Based upon Walter Mosley’s novel, the movie centers around a World War II veteran who finds himself out of a job. To earn extra money, he agrees to find a missing woman for a local politician running for mayor and finds himself ensnared in murder and corruption. Denzel Washington, Jennifer Beals, Tom Siezmore, Don Cheadle, Mel Winkler, Terry Kinney and Maury Chaykin.

THE BLACK DAHLIA (2006) – Although not a favorite with critics, I became a big fan of this murder mystery written by James Ellroy and centered around two L.A.P.D. detectives’ investigation of the real-life gruesome death of Hollywood wannabe Elizabeth Short. It starred Josh Harnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hillary Swank and Fiona Shaw.

AFTER THE THIN MAN (1936) – Centered around characters created by Dashiell Hammett, William Powell and Myrna Loy played Nick and Nora Charles for the second time, as they investigate the death of Nora’s cousin-in-law. The movie also starred Elissa Landi, Sam Levene, Jessie Ralph, James Stewart, Penny Singleton, Joseph Calleia and Alan Marshal.

WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?(1988) – Robert Zemeckis directed this Disney noir spoof about a cartoon rabbit in 1947 Hollywood, framed for the murder of a local real estate mogul who happened to be owner of a piece of property called “Toon Town”. A Disney gem that starred Bob Hoskins, Joanna Cassidy, Christopher Lloyd, Stubby Kaye; and the voices of Charles Fleischer and Kathleen Turner.

HEAT (1995) – Michael Mann directed this saga about two men – an L.A.P.D. detective and the man he is trying to bring down, a successful and ruthless thief. Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Diane Verona, Ashley Judd, Tom Siezemore, Jon Voight, Mykelti Williamson, Natalie Portman, Wes Studi, Dennis Haysbert, Ted Levine, and Amy Brenneman.

THE THIN MAN (1934) – Based upon Dashiell Hammett’s novel, this is the first film featuring the sleuthing couple – Nick and Nora Charles. They investigate three deaths linked to a missing industrialist. Starred William Powell, Myrna Loy, Nat Pendleton, Maureen O’Sullivan, Minna Gombell and Porter Hall.

THE BIG HEAT (1953) – Directed by Fritz Lang, this movie is about a cop who takes on the crime syndicate that controls his city after the brutal murder of his beloved wife. It starred Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahamme, Lee Marvin, Jocelyn Brando, Jeanette Nolan and Alexander Scourby.

THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) – John Huston directed this third and best version of Dashiell Hammett’s novel about a San Francisco private eye hired to search for an artifact that his murdered partner had been searching. Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Lee Patrick, Elisha Cook and Jerome Cowan starred.

COLLATERAL (2004) – Here is another film directed by Michael Mann about two men. Set during the space of a few hours, it is about a Los Angeles cab driver who discovers that he is acting as chauffer to a professional hit man who arrives in the city to carry out his assignment – a half dozen murders on behalf of a drug lord. The movie starred Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Mark Ruffalo and Jada Pinkett.

MURDER MY SWEET (1944) – Based upon the Raymond Chandler novel, “Farewell My Lovely”, this is the first movie to feature private-eye Philip Marlowe. In it, he is hired by a recent ex-convict to find his missing sweetheart. Dick Powell played the famous detective and is supported by Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Otto Kruger and Mike Mazurki. Robert Mitchum remade it in 1975 with the original title.

THE LONG GOODBYE (1973) – This is Robert Altman’s version of Raymond Chandler’s novel about detective Philip Marlowe’s investigation into the charges of a friend who is suspected of murder and later, suicide by the cops. Altman seemed to go out of his way to avoid the usual film noir clichés, making the movie an unusual entry of the genre. It starred Elliot Gould, Nina Van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Henry Gibson, Jim Bouton and Mark Rydell.