Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Ten (10) Favorite Movies of 2009



Below is a countdown list of my favorite movies of 2009. Mind you, this is not a list of movies that I believe are the best. Such a list would only be subjective anyway. So without further ado, here are my favorite movies of 2009:


TOP TEN (10) FAVORITE MOVIES OF 2009:




10. "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" - Gavin Hood directed and Hugh Jackman starred in this well-made origin tale about X-Men Wolverine aka James Logan. Liev Schrieber and Danny Huston co-starred. Better than I had originally thought.






9. "State of Play" - Kevin MacDonald directed this surprisingly entertaining adaptation of the acclaimed British miniseries about a journalist's probe into the death of a congressman's mistress. Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Helen Mirren starred.






8. "The Informant!" - Matt Damon earned a well-deserved Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of industrial whistle blower Mark Whitacre, who also happened to be a chronic liar, an embezzler and all around bizarre individual. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the movie co-starred Scott Bakula, Melanie Lynskey and Joel McHale.






7. "The Young Victoria" - Jean-Marc Vallée directed this colorful account of Queen Victoria's accession to the British throne and her early years as queen. Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend shine as Victoria and Albert.






6. "2012" - Roland Emmerich directed this exciting disaster tale centered around the Mayan myth about a worldwide apocalypse during the year 2012. John Cusak, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton and Oliver Platt starred.






5. "Avatar" - James Cameron produced, wrote and directed this visually stunning science-fiction tale about a paraplegic ex-marine who becomes part of a unique science program on the moon of another planet and becomes torn between his employers' agenda and the world he has fallen in love with. Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang and Sigourney Weaver star.






4. "Sherlock Holmes" - Guy Ritchie directed this entertaining and thrilling adaptation of Doyle's character about Holmes' conflict against a nefarious aristocratic with plans to assume political control of the British Empire. Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams and Mark Strong star.






3. "Inglourious Basterds" - Quentin Tarantino struck gold at the box office in this fascinating and well written tale about two attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944 Nazi-occupied Paris. Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger, Michael Fassbender and Mélanie Laurent co-starred.






2. "Terminator Salvation" - Director McG's entry in the TERMINATOR franchise became a surprise hit for me this summer. Christian Bale and Sam Worthington co-starred in this tale about a group of survivors led by John Connor who struggle to keep the machines from destroying humanity.






1. Public Enemies - Once again, Michael Mann proved why he has become one of my favorite directors with his direction of this exciting and well-made biopic about Depression era bank robber, John Dillinger. Johnny Depp, Christian Bale and Marion Cotillard co-starred.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"LOST": The Death of Nathan


(2.07) ”The Other 48 Hours” is the 31st episode of ”LOST” that aired on November 16, 2005. This episode featured the Tail Section passengers of Oceanic Air Flight 815 and the story of their first forty-eight (48) days on the island. A controversy popped out from nowhere in this episode and it featured a fellow survivor named Nathan, whose death led to a barrage of criticism aimed at another character – Ana-Lucia Cortez, portrayed by Michelle Rodriguez.


”LOST”: The Death of Nathan

The previous episode, (2.06) ”Abandoned” ended with the kidnapping of one of the Tail Section survivors, stewardess Cindy Chandler (Kimberly Joseph) and Ana-Lucia’s accidental shooting of one of the regular Fuselage survivors, Shannon Rutherford (Maggie Grace). ”The Other 48 Days” unfolded the events experienced by the Tailies that led Ana-Lucia to pull the trigger in such haste. And one of those events included the death of a Canadian-born passenger named Nathan (Josh Randall) at the hands of the Others’ spy, Goodwin Stanhope (Brett Cullen), The ironic thing about Nathan’s death is that when this episode had first aired, many of the series’ fans blamed Ana-Lucia for the Canadian’s fate.

When Flight 815 of Oceanic Airlines had first crashed on September 22, 2004, the plane broke into several pieces. One of those pieces included the tail section, which landed in the water, somewhere opposite of the Fuselage passengers’ camp. Not long after the survivors swam ashore, some of them – Ana-Lucia Cortez, Mr. Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Libby (Cynthia Watros) and Others spy Goodwin included – helped the others. But after Tail Sections passengers (aka the Tailies) settled down for the night, the Others snatched three adult males and Eko managed to kill two of them with a rock when they try to take him. It was Nathan who pointed out the disappearance of the three male survivors. Several injured survivors die in the passing days before the Others attacked again on the twelfth night and snatched nine more survivors – including two children named Emma and Zack. Ana-Lucia managed to kill one of the Others. The remaining survivors – Ana-Lucia, Mr. Eko, Libby, Cindy, Nathan and Bernard Nadler (Sam Anderson) – and Goodwin head into the jungle to evade the Others.

During their trek into the jungle, Nathan peevishly insisted that they break for rest and water. Although against the idea, Ana-Lucia obliged due to the arguments from the other survivors. She eventually dug a pit – on her own – and converted it into a cage. For Nathan. Apparently, Ana-Lucia had developed a suspicion toward the Canadian-born survivor since the Others’ second attack. Along with Cindy, he wanted to stay on the beach, following the Others’ first attack on Day One. Nathan also lengthy trips into the jungle, supposedly to take a bathroom break. He also seemed rebellious toward Ana-Lucia. Nathan spent four days in the pit without food, despite protests from Bernard and Goodwin. He also had to endure unrelenting questioning by Ana-Lucia. When she indicated her intention to torture him, Goodwin helped Nathan out of the pit. Then he killed the Canadian by snapping the latter’s neck.

Ever since Nathan’s death, many fans – but not all – have dumped most of the blame on Ana-Lucia’s shoulders. In the recap for ”The Other 48 Days”, someone named Daniel had this to say:

”She kneels by a stream, and starts to break down. Who says Michelle Rodriguez can't act? She stops herself when she sees Eko standing there watching her. She barks at him, for no one must see her cry. He tells her that everything's going to be okay, and he crouches beside her. "What, you're talking now?" he says. "It's been forty days," he says simply. "You waited forty days to talk?" she says. "You waited forty days to cry," he says, and that totally sets her off, and she collapses, sobbing in his arms. I'm going to hope that the tears aren't strictly of the "even a girlfighter needs to let it out once in a while" variety, and that some of these tears are being shed for Nathan, whose death Ana-Lucia bears some of the responsibility for, whether you like her or not."

He was right to claim that Ana-Lucia bore some of the responsibility for Nathan’s death. I only wished he had included the others who were also responsible in the above passage. Even one of the series’ screenwriters got into the act. Both Elizabeth Sarnoff and Christina M. Kim, who wrote (2.16) ”The Whole Truth” had Ana-Lucia assume all of the blame for what happened to Nathan:

GALE: I don't mean to be ungrateful, but why are you going to help me get out of here?
ANA: On the other side of the Island there was this guy with us. I was 100 percent convinced that he wasn't on the plane. So I dug a whole and I threw him in it.
GALE: And what happened?
ANA: I was wrong. And now he's dead. But good news for you Henry -- I don't make the same mistake twice. So how about you tell me your story?


Well, it is all peachy keen that Ana-Lucia was able to accept responsibility for Nathan’s death. But it would have been sweeter for me if the other Tailies had accepted responsibility on screen, as well. Yes, I am saying that the other Tailies – along with Goodwin – were responsible. Let us exam how each individual in that group was responsible:



*Nathan – You read it right. I believe that Nathan was partially responsible for his own death. I realize that he had spoken the truth that intestinal problems led him to disappear from the Tailies’ camp every few hours. But Nathan had been the one who first noticed that the Others had kidnapped three survivors on that first night. He should have realized that disappearing into the jungle by himself for several hours – for whatever the reason – was a stupid move. The Others’ attack on the first night would have convinced me to overcome any embarrassment and insist upon company so that I could groan and fart for two hours with some semblance of safety. And there was the problem of Nathan’s personality. Not only did he have an ornery personality that irritated Ana-Lucia and the other Tailies, he also had a secretive nature that aroused many suspicions amongst his companions.





*Ana-Lucia Cortez – As I had stated earlier, Ana-Lucia was partially responsible for Nathan’s death. She was the one who had dug the pit. She was the one who dumped Nathan into the pit, starved him and questioned him constantly. She also threatened to torture him. And although Nathan’s behavior failed to help his cause, I suspect that Ana-Lucia’s own dislike of him allowed her to easily believe that he was a spy for the Others.




*Bernard Nadler – Although Bernard had protested against Nathan being dumped and kept in that pit, he did nothing to help the latter escape. Despite knowing that Ana-Lucia was attempting to starve Nathan into confessing.




*Libby – Like Ana-Lucia, she disliked Nathan’s behavior. And she had expressed her distrust of Nathan before Ana-Lucia had finished digging the pit:

LIBBY [entering]: Hey.
ANA: Hey.
LIBBY: Back at the beach -- the night they came back -- you said that Nathan was gone for 2 hours? That he was missing? Creeps me out, Ana. Do you really think it's possible that one of us is one of them?


Later, she responded to Goodwin’s protest:

GOODWIN: You're not all serious.
LIBBY: He never talks about himself, Nathan. Every time I ask him anything, he just dodges.


You know what really irritated me about Libby in the end? She dumped all of the blame for Nathan’s death on Ana-Lucia in (2.08) ”Collision”:

ANA [to Libby]: What about you?
LIBBY: I just don't think you're the best judge of character. I was with you when you put Nathan in the pit.


That is correct. Not only was she there when Ana-Lucia dumped Nathan’s ass into that pit, she was one of those who had supported the act. Her hypocrisy toward Ana-Lucia really annoyed me.





* Cindy Chandler – Like Libby, Cindy expressed distrust of Nathan. She also claimed that she had never seen him on board Flight 815 before the crash – despite her gift for knowing faces:

ANA: We were in the air for 2 hours -- I didn't see him once -- not once.
GOODWIN: It's a big plane, Ana, just because you didn't...
CINDY: No, I didn't see him either. I'm pretty good with faces, you know, with the passengers, and I did not see him.


I believe that Cindy may have overestimated her talent for faces. Apparently, she had failed to spot Nathan before spent time in one of the plane’s restrooms, dealing with his “problem”. And she failed to realize that Goodwin had never been a passenger on Flight 815.




*Mr. Eko – He was kind enough to feed a banana to Nathan, while the latter was being deliberately starved by Ana-Lucia. And yet . . . he did not bother to free Nathan from the pit. One could argue that Mr. Eko had feared incurring Ana-Lucia’s wrath. But we all know that he was the last person on that island who could ever be intimidated by her. Like most of his companions, Mr. Eko probably harbored suspicions about Nathan.





*Goodwin Stanhope - Naturally, he is the main person to blame for Nathan’s death. After all, he snapped the other man’s neck. Goodwin had helped Nathan escape from the pit. He realized that if Ana-Lucia had tortured the other man, she would have realized that Nathan had been speaking the truth. As a spy for the Others, he could not afford for her to continue any suspicions. But . . . there had been no need for Goodwin to commit murder. He could have simply allowed Nathan to maintain his distance from the other Tailies. But he chose murder instead.

From the above statements, it is easy to see that I have managed to place the blame for Nathan’s death on just about every member of the group that had left the beach, following the Others’ second attack. Yet, because Ana-Lucia happened to be so unpopular with many fans of ”LOST”, she has received most of the blame. I hope this will finally set the record straight.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"THE ILLUSIONIST" (2006) Review



Below is a review I had written on the 2006 romantic drama, "THE ILLUSIONIST". Written and directed by Neil Burger, the movie starred Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell:


”THE ILLUSIONIST” (2006) Review

Neil Burger wrote and directed this loose adaptation of Steven Millhauser's story called "Eisenheim the Illusionist”. This story about a magician in turn-of-the-century Vienna starred Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell.

The movie’s plot focused upon the romance that had first formed between the magician Eisenheim (Norton) and his childhood friend, the socially superior Sophie, Duchess von Teschen (Biel) – a romance that ends up threatening the political plans of Crown Prince Leopold of Austria-Hungary (Sewell) and Chief Inspector Uhl’s position with the Vienna police and his role as the Crown Prince’s henchman. ”THE ILLUSIONIST” began in the middle of the story – with Chief Inspector Uhl revealing Eisenheim ‘s background and childhood friendship with Sophie. The movie continued with the events that led to the Crown Prince’s interest in the magician – Eisenheim’s arrival in Vienna, his reunion with Sophie during a performance and a special performance by the magician for the Crown Prince and his entourage, in which Eisenheim embarrasses the prince for a brief moment. Sophie appears at Eisenheim’s quarters to warn him about his actions at the royal palace. The two end up declaring their feelings for one another by making love. After Sophie reveals Crown Prince’s Leopold’s reasons for proposing marriage – he needs her Hungarian family connections to build a power base strong enough to usurp his father from the Imperial throne – both come to the conclusion that Leopold would never let her go. Even if they decide to make a run for it, the prince would hunt them down and kill them. Realizing this, Eisenheim decides to unfold plans that would allow Sophie to escape from Leopold’s clutches and guarantee the couple’s future safety and happiness.

I have never read Millhauser’s story about Eisenheim. But I must admit that I became enamored of Burger’s cinematic adaptation since the first time I saw it. The story possessed many elements that made it entertaining and unique for me. One, it had plenty of romance, due to the romance between Eisenheim and Sophie; along with the love triangle between the two and Crown Prince Leopold. It had intrigue from the plot centered around the Crown Prince’s efforts to rid Eisenheim as a rival for not only Sophie’s affections, but those of the Austrian people. It had mystery thanks to Eisenheim’s mind-blowing magic, Chief Inspector Uhl’s attempts to expose it, and the tragic events that dominate the film’s latter half. And Crown Prince Leopold’s plans to dethrone his father, along with his competition with Eisenheim for the Viennese public’s affections gave the movie a political tone. It simply had everything and Burger managed to combine it all with a superb script.

The cast in ”THE ILLUSIONIST” contributed to the movie’s superior quality, as well. Edward Norton was superb as the magician Eisenheim. Despite being the movie’s main character, he did a great job in conveying the character’s many personality facets – including his love for Sophie (which makes this role one of Norton’s most romantic), and his contempt toward both Crown Prince Leopold and Chief Inspector Ulh Even more importantly, Norton managed to convey some of these emotional aspects of Eisenheim’s personality, while retaining the man’s enigmatic nature. Jessica Biel literally glowed as Sophie, Duchess von Teschen. Frankly, I believe the character might be one of her best roles. Biel had portrayed Sophie more than just an elegant and charming woman from the Austro-Hungarian ruling class. She revealed Sophie’s inner sadness from her earlier disrupted relationship with Eisenheim and fear of facing a lifetime with the odious Crown Prince. Speaking of which . . . kudos to Rufus Sewell for portraying one of the most complex screen villains in recent years. Sewell’s Leopold was not simply a one-note villain who sneered at everyone he deemed inferior to himself. The actor portrayed the prince as an ambitious and emotional man who desired respect and even love from the public and those close to him. Yet, despite this desire, he seemed capable of returning such feelings to others, especially Sophie, due to his arrogance and vindictive nature. But if you had asked me which performance in ”THE ILLUSIONIST” really impressed me, I would have to say Paul Giamatti as Chief Inspector Walter Uhl. Giamatti either had the bad or good luck – it depends upon one’s point of view – to portray the most complex character in the movie. This is a man torn between his curiosity over Einheim’s talent as a magician, his ambition to be more than just a policeman, and his sense of justice and outrage toward the tragic event revealed in the second half. Giamatti’s Chief Inspector Ulh is a man literally torn apart over toward whom he should direct his loyalty. And the actor did a superb job in portraying every nuance in the character. In my opinion, he managed to dominate the film without being its main star.

I really do not have much to say about the film’s production values. Granted, production designer Ondrej Nekvasil; along with costume designer Ngila Dickson, and art directors Stefan Kovacik and Vlasta Svoboda, did an admirable job of re-creating turn-of-the-century Vienna on the screen. And yet . . . aside from Dickson’s elegant costumes, I found the movie’s Viennese setting to be slightly colorless. And empty. The setting lacked the color of that particular period shown in other movies like 1969’s ”THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU, LTD” and 1976’s ”THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION”.

Despite my complaint against the film’s colorless production designs, I have to give kudos to Neil Burger for writing a rich adaptation of Millhauser’s story. He also did an excellent job of conveying his vision of the story through his direction of the crew and a cast of talented actors that included Norton, Biel, Sewell and Giamatti. ”THE ILLUSIONST” is a beautiful and mysterious love story filled with magic and political intrigue. After three years, I still find it enjoyable to watch.

Monday, December 28, 2009

"SHERLOCK HOLMES" (2009) Photo Gallery



Below is a gallery featuring photos from Guy Ritchie's movie about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous literary detective called "SHERLOCK HOLMES". The movie stars Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams and Mark Strong:


"SHERLOCK HOLMES" (2009) Photo Gallery




















































Sunday, December 27, 2009

"Obssession" [PG-13] - Chapter 1




"OBSSESSIONS"

PART 1

Ignoring the stares of a few co-workers, Phoebe Halliwell left her office and strode across the main newsroom of the SAN FRANCISCO BAY-MIRROR. Her destination? The elevator, and eventually the office of the BAY-MIRROR's new owner and her new boyfriend, Jason Dean. Her purpose? To learn about his alleged past with one Olivia McNeill.

Phoebe still recalled that night when Jason had appeared at the manor to take her to the Lowe-Choiset party. Everything seemed perfect. Until Olivia and Cole dropped by. The redheaded witch wanted to retrieve a package she had left at Ostera's - the herbal shop where Paige worked. It had been bad enough seeing Cole looking handsome as ever, in Olivia's company. But when the latter and Jason expressed shock at seeing each other, Phoebe immediately knew they were old acquaintances. Even worse, Cole came the same conclusion and seemed rather upset. Phoebe eventually demanded an explanation, which Jason only responded with reluctant silence. In the end, it was Paige who informed her that Jason and Olivia used to date.

But she needed to learn more. She needed to hear from Jason's lips, everything about his past relationship with Olivia. The elevator reached the fourteenth floor. Once she reached the reception area outside Jason's office, Phoebe strode past his secretary, ignoring the other woman's protests. And strode inside Jason's private office.

Jason Dean was a tall man. Like her ex-husband. Only Cole stood at least an inch or two taller and possessed broader shoulders. Yet, Jason still possessed a commanding presence with his handsome features, dark-blue eyes and shock of dirty-blond hair. He also had a boyish enthusiasm, mingled with moral righteousness that Phoebe found refreshing after Cole's own moral turpitude. Jason seemed like the epitome of light, in compare to Cole's darkness. Upright. Honest. Forthright. At least until three days ago.

Phoebe slammed the door shut and faced her boyfriend, hands on hips. Jason glanced up with wary eyes. "Phoebe, uh what are you . . .? Is there a problem?"

"Yes, there is," she stated quietly. "Olivia McNeill."

Jason heaved a long suffering sigh. "Oh God! Are you going to bombard me with questions again? Because I'm getting tired of this."

"Too bad!" Phoebe shot back. Hands on hips, she marched around Jason's desk, until she stood next to him. "You know, you could have at least told me that you and Olivia had dated a few years ago. Would that have been so hard? Why the silence, Jason? Something more happened between you two?"

The young newspaper publisher dropped his head in defeat. "All right! Yes, we dated three years ago. We dated for a month or two and then we broke up. End of story."

End of story? The memory of Jason's reaction to Olivia flashed in Phoebe's mind. Not likely. Instinct told her that Jason had been strongly affected by his romance with Olivia. "End of story, huh?" Phoebe said. "So, why do I feel that . . .?"

"Why am I getting the third degree, here?" Jason protested. His eyes flashed with anger. "So, Olivia and I once dated. So what? She's only an ex-girlfriend. Cole Turner was a hell of a lot more to you!"

Phoebe's eyes widened from Jason's outburst. He rose from his chair and brushed past her. "Why is it that you've never talked about your marriage?" he demanded. "Was it that traumatic? Did you have problems seeing him with Olivia that ni . . .?"

The intercom on his desk buzzed. "Mr. Dean," his secretary's voice announced, "DeWolfe Mann is demanding to see you. He has an urgent matter to discuss."

Phoebe recognized the name. DeWolfe Mann happened to be one of the BAY-MIRROR's featured food columnists and one of San Francisco's top restaurant critics. Phoebe saw this interruption from her fellow columnist as an opportunity to beat a hasty retreat, following Jason's outburst. "I better go," she said quietly, before starting for the door.

Before she could leave, Jason stopped her. "Wait! This shouldn't take long." Then he ordered his secretary to usher in the new visitor.

Seconds later, a portly man of medium height walked into the office. With thick dark hair that reached slightly past the nape of his neck, a mustache and goatee, he was not someone a person would easily forget. His dark eyes spotted Phoebe, before he greeted her with a nod. Some of Phoebe's colleagues viewed her office romance with a tolerant eye. DeWolfe, miraculously, happened to be among that group - considering his virulent dislike of Jason.

"Mr. Mann," Jason coolly greeted. "How may I help you?"

Again, DeWolfe glanced at Phoebe. Who immediately resumed her intention to leave. "You don't have to go, Phoebe," the food columnist assured her. "I won't take long." He turned his attention to Jason. "I just spoke to my editor, Milo O'Keefe. He tells me that you've scotched the Golden Horn restaurant story that I had suggested. And Milo had approved." Phoebe nearly winced at the mention of Gweneth McNeill's restaurant. "Why?"

"The Golden Horn has been around for nearly twenty-five years," Jason shot back. "In other words, it's old news. I'm sure that other local papers and news organizations will be doing a story about it, since it will be celebrating its Silver anniversary. I don't think that the BAY-MIRROR should join the crowd."

DeWolfe retorted, "First of all, no other paper is writing a story about it. I've checked. Second of all, this Silver anniversary is the perfect time to write about it and . . ."

"I'm not interested." Jason sounded adamant.

Without thinking, Phoebe spoke up. "Why? I think Wolfie's idea is great."

Jason's dark blue eyes coolly pinpointed hers. "I feel otherwise. And since when were you ever interested in the paper's Food section?"

"Well pardon me, but I can't help but wonder why you're not interested in Wolfie's idea," Phoebe retorted. "Especially since he's just confirmed that no other paper will be doing a story on the restaurant's anniversary. Or is there another reason why you don't want to do this story? Like the fact that the restaurant is owned by a certain family?"

Strained silence filled the office. Jason glared at Phoebe. She glared back. DeWolfe Mann merely observed the pair, obviously trying to appear inconspicuous. To Phoebe's relief, defeat glimmered in Jason's eyes. "All right," he said with a sigh. "You win." He faced the food critic. "I'll tell O'Keefe that you can go ahead with the story."

DeWolfe flashed a grateful smile and left. Phoebe started for the door. Jason called out her name. She stopped in her tracks and faced him. "Yeah?"

The newspaper publisher gave her a grave stare. "I have very strong feelings for you, Phoebe. I care for you very much. But that doesn't give you the right to tell me how to do my job. As your boss, I have that right, not you. Understand?"

Resentment flashed through Phoebe's mind. "Yeah, Jason. I understand. But at least I know how to separate my feelings from my job," she retorted. "I think that's a lesson you need to learn. I know why you didn't want Wolfie to do that story. It's just a shame that you can't admit it out loud." She seared him with a hard look, before turning away. "See you later."

* * * *

Blue lights appeared in the middle of a half-furnished living room of a large apartment. Seconds later, Leo Wyatt materialized. He glanced around, expecting to find a familiar figure. "Hello?" he cried out. "Paul? Are you here?"

A good-looking man of medium height, chestnut hair and mesmerizing brown eyes strode into the living room. "Hey Leo!" The man broke into a smile. "My first visitor!"

The whitelighter shook hands with his host. "Just wanted to welcome you to San Francisco. And that it's a relief I don't have to orb all the way, across country, just to see one of my most reliable charges."

"That's right," Paul added with a shrewd look. "Most of your charges are here in Frisco. This was your hometown, right?"

Leo nodded. "It's also my wife's hometown. And her sisters'. And we call it San Francisco, not Frisco."

"Ah yes! The famous Charmed Ones! Lucky you!" Paul Margolin's smile broadened into a grin. A native of Buffalo, New York, he had moved to San Francisco after obtaining a position as Assistant District Attorney, at the city's D.A. Office. Not only was Paul a talented witch, but also a promising prosecutor with a ruthless reputation for pursuing justice.

Smiling, Leo added, "Yeah, lucky me, all right. Especially now that Piper and I have a son. Wyatt will be two months old, soon."

"I'd like to meet him," Paul said."

"That's why I'm here. To invite you over for dinner, tonight. Piper and I thought it would be a great chance for all of my other charges here in the city, to meet you."

One of Paul's eyebrows formed an arch. "All? How many charges are we talking about?"

"Well, there's you and the girls. That makes four. And there are the McNeills . . ." Leo hesitated. "Actually, Bruce and Olivia used to be my charges. As for Harry, well he had never accepted me as his whitelighter. But they do work with Piper and her sisters, every now and then."

Paul let out a low whistle. "I didn't realize you had so many of them in this city, alone. And what do you mean that they used to be your charges? What happened?"

Leo sighed. "About thirteen years ago, Olivia and Bruce had ended our whitelighter/witch relationship. You know, all charges have the right to do so. But I'm still a close friend of theirs." He continued, "And I also had a charge named Amelia Theissen. But she was killed by a warlock, two years ago. Three months after Amelia's death, Prue - my wife's older sister - was killed by a demonic hit man named Shax."

"Oh yeah," a sombered Paul added, "I remember hearing about that. It's too bad that I've never met Prue and Amelia. Now about these McNeills, their name sounds familiar. Who are they?"

Jack and Gwen McNeill's offspring flashed through Leo's mind. "Two brothers and a sister. They're also very talented witches . . . although a little unorthodox. Actually, they're probably more unorthodox than the Charmed Ones. Hopefully, you'll get to meet them as well. The sister is a cop."

Again, Paul smiled. "Hmmm, she sounds very interesting."

"You have no idea how much."

* * * *

The man and the woman stood side by side, inside Ostera's stockroom, examining the merchandise on the shelves. The woman, who also happened to be the shop's owner, sighed. "This is going to take forever," she moaned.

Nick glanced at Barbara and felt a rush of love. She was so beautiful! The most beautiful creature on the face of this earth. When he had stopped by Ostera's during his lunch break, he had no idea that he would be spending such precious moments with Barbara - alone.

"Maybe we should just forget . . ." Nick began, hoping that Barbara would dismiss his words. Sure enough . . .

Blonde hair fluttered like a flag, as Barbara shook her head. "No! No, I'm sure that I have a bottle of Shepherd's Purse somewhere. All we have to do is look . . . ah! I found it!" Barbara reached for the desired bottle.

Nick felt a surge of disappointment. He had hoped it would have taken Barbara a little longer to find the Shepherd's Purse. But alas . . .

The returned to the store's showroom, where more disappointment awaited Nick. He and Barbara found Paige Matthews, Barbara's assistant, in deep conversation with Bruce McNeill. ". . . excited to finally get my wedding invitation," Paige was saying. A frown appeared on her face. "But the others didn't get theirs. What happened?"

Barbara replied, "Perhaps their invitations haven't arrived in the mail, yet." She threw her fiancé a suspicious look. "Bruce mailed 'all' of them, last Saturday." Then she lightly kissed his cheek, causing Nick's heart to lurch.

Nodding, Bruce added, "Don't worry. They'll get them. And if they don't . . . they're still invited." He rolled his eyes, while Paige became distracted by a new customer. Then he spotted Nick. "Hey, look who's here! Again!" Giving Nick a curious stare, he added, "If I didn't know any better, Nick, I'd swear that you're practically becoming a daily visitor here. Soon, you'll be camping out in front of the store."

Nick nervously said, "I'm . . . I'm uh, working. On a project to create a new spell."

"Oh." Bruce turned away and focused his attention on Barbara. Who ignored Nick, all together. His heart sank. Anger and despair threatened to flare within the Streghone. But he kept his emotions in check and bid the distracted couple good-bye.

* * * *

"Inspector McNeill, San Francisco PD. May I help you?"

The voice on the other end of the phone line replied, "Olivia? It's me, Leo."

"Leo?" A call from her whitelighter took Olivia by surprise. "What can I do for you?"

The whitelighter continued, "Um, Piper and I are having a dinner, tonight. For one of my charges. He's just moved here from Buffalo and I would like him to meet my other charges . . . and friends in the area. Are you available tonight?"

Olivia hesitated. "Just me?"

"Uh . . . well, yes. Bruce has already said yes, and I'll be calling Harry, next."

In other words, Olivia surmised, Cole was not invited. Her first instinct was to say no. But curiosity overcame her. "Okay," she said. "What time should I be there?"

* * * *

It had been the last straw for Nick. Seeing Barbara with Bruce, this afternoon. When he had made the private vow to win Barbara's affections, he had imagined using friendship and love. But seeing them discuss the upcoming wedding, together had made him realize that he would have to go ahead with his plans to use drastic measures.

Four hours later, Nick left work and made his way to the city library's central branch. After nearly searching the Theology Department for nearly a half-hour, he found an old book on Demonology, dated 1932. The book listed nearly every daemon known in the world's religions. Not only did it provide information and statistics on each daemon, but methods on how to vanquish them. Even more important, the book also provided spells to summon each daemon.

Ignoring the librarian's curious stare, Nick checked out the book. He decided that the only way to win Barbara Bowen was to get rid of the competition. Namely Bruce McNeill. And since he had no desire to end up in prison for murder, he would resort to summoning a daemon to get rid of the man.

* * * *

Olivia eased her dark-green BMW convertible into her assigned parking space and stopped. The red-haired witch switched off the car's engine and glanced at her watch. Five forty-three. Goddess! She had less than two hours to get ready for Leo's little dinner party.

Grabbing her suitcase, Olivia climbed out of the convertible. As she made her way across the underground parking lot, a familiar black Porshe entered. Cole. Olivia continued striding toward the elevator. There she waited for her neighbor to join her. When he did, the pair greeted each other with quiet hellos.

"So, how was your day?" Cole Turner asked, as they entered the elevator.

A sigh left Olivia's mouth. "Not bad. Darryl and I must have spent the better part of the day preparing our report for the DiMatteo case. Hell, we've been working on that damn case since last November."

Smiling, Cole gave her arm a reassuring pat. "Well, at least the end is near."

"Until the trial." Olivia paused. "Mike Velo from the DA's Office was suppose to prosecute, but we've heard that he has resigned to join some law firm in L.A."

Cole nodded. "I remember Mike. Well, barely. Who's been given the case?"

"We don't know yet."

The elevator continued its climb up. Two more passengers boarded and deposited them on the eighth floor. Then Cole turned to Olivia, "Say, why don't you join me for dinner, tonight? I can prepare one of my best dishes - Broiled Lemon Chicken."

"Oh." Leo's invitation came to Olivia's mind.

Cole frowned. "What? Not feeling well?"

"No, it's just . . ." Olivia hesitated. "Uh, I had received a dinner invitation, today."

Jealousy briefly flicked in Cole's blue eyes. "Oh? From whom?"

"Leo." Now Cole looked surprised. Olivia continued, "One of his charges had just moved out here, recently. And Leo . . . has invited us to meet him. Bruce, Harry and me. Along with the Halliwells, of course."

"Of course." Silence enveloped the pair, as the elevator reached Olivia's floor. Both stepped out, as Cole added, "I guess that invitation didn't extend to me, huh?"

Oh God! Olivia thought despairingly. "He didn't . . . Leo didn't mention you."

A wan smile touched Cole's lips. "Hmmm, not surprised. "Oh well." He tried to broaden his smile. And failed. "Hope you enjoy yourself." He turned away and pushed the elevator button.

"Oh, hey!" Olivia cried. "Can I take a rain check on that Lemon Chicken?"

Cole nodded. "Yeah. Sure." He flashed another wan smile and disappeared into the elevator's closing doors.

Olivia sighed. Heavily. This damn dinner party better be worth the disappointment, she thought.


END OF PART 1

Thursday, December 24, 2009

FRANCHISE RANKING: The "LORD OF THE RINGS" Movies



Below is my ranking of the three "LORD OF THE RINGS" movies from my favorite to my least favorite. Here they are:


FRANCHISE RANKING: The "LORD OF THE RINGS" Movies



1. "The Fellowship of the Ring" (2001) - This adaptation of J.R. Tolkien's novel is, without a doubt, my favorite in the trilogy. Hell, it is among my top ten favorite movies of this past decade. Although the saga is basically about a war in the fictional land of Middle Earth, this story sets the saga in motion with a journey for the main characters (who form a fellowship) to return the evil Lord Sauron's dreaded ring to the fires of Mount Doom. And if there is nothing I love more, it is a road picture. This particular film also featured some of my favorite battles in the entire trilogy, including the superb battle within the Mines of Moria. This chapter of the story ends with the deaths of two major characters and the parting of ways for the Fellowship. Pity that it failed to win the Best Picture Oscar for 2001.






2. "The Two Towers" (2002) - In this adaptation of Tolkien's second novel in the trilogy, the saga begins to fray at the edges. Mind you, there were a few plot inconsistencies in the first film, they pop up with more consistency in this second movie. And then there was Gollum. I am about to commit a sacriledge with "LORD OF THE RINGS" fans, but he was never a favorite of mine. I could barely stand his soliloquies, let alone the character itself. I understood his presence in the saga . . . but not a fan. The film was still enjoyable to watch . . . somewhat. But once some of the main characters reached Helm's Deep, it became something of a struggle to enjoy the rest of the film. Only the Ents' attack at Isengard save the movie's last hour for me.






3. "The Return of the King" (2003) - This is the one movie in the trilogy that snagged the Best Picture Oscar. And I wish to God it never had. I realize that Oscar was for all three movies . . . but I feel the Academy could have simply given director Peter Jackson a special award for his efforts, instead of naming this film as Best Picture. I do not hate this film. It had moments that I found entertaining and it featured the budding romance of two of my favorite characters - namely Faramir and Éowyn. And the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was enjoyable to watch. Unfortunately, the trilogy's list of plot inconsistencies began to really build in the movie's first hour. Watching Frodo and Sam's struggles to reach the fires of Mount Doom became an exercise in torture. And if I must be honest, I have to say the same about the "ending that would not end".

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"THE SACKETTS" (1979) Review



Below is my review of the 1979 miniseries called "THE SACKETTS":


"THE SACKETTS" (1979) Review

Thirty years ago, CBS aired a two-part miniseries (or television movie) based upon two novels written by the late Louis L’Amour. Directed by Robert Totten, "THE SACKETTS" starred Sam Elliot, Tom Selleck and Jeff Osterhage as the three Sackett brothers.

”THE SACKETTS” told the story of Tell (Elliot), Orrin (Selleck) and Tyrel (Osterhage) Sackett and their efforts to make new lives for themselves in the post-Civil War West. Screenwriter Jim Byrnes took two novels about the Sackett brothers - "The Daybreakers" (1960) and "Sackett" (1961) - and weaved them into one story. "The Daybreakers" mainly focused upon Tyrel and Orrin’s efforts to settle out West following the tragic circumstances of a family feud in East Tennessee. The two brothers eventually become involved in a between an elderly New Mexican rancher (Gilbert Roland) and a bigoted American businessman (John Vernon) in Santa Fe. At the same time, Tyrel struggles to keep the peace between a former New Orleans attorney named Tom Sunday (Glenn Ford), whom the two brothers had befriended during a cattle drive and Orrin. "Sackett", on the other hand, focused upon the oldest Sackett brother and former Civil War veteran, Tell. Tell’s story centered around his search for gold in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and his problems with a family of outlaws who want revenge for Tell’s killing of their brother, a crooked gambler.

To Totten and Byrnes’ credit, they did an admirable job of fusing the two novels by adding two reunions between the brothers near the ends of Parts 1 and 2. They also allowed the supporting character of Cap Roundtree (Ben Johnson), a grizzled former mountain man whom Tyrel and Orrin also meet on the cattle drive; to break away from the two younger brothers and join Tell’s hunt for gold following the three brothers’ reunion at the end of Part 1. "THE SACKETTS" is also an entertaining and solid Western with two interesting tales that involve land feuds, romance, brotherly love, political change, vengeance and plenty of action.

One of the best aspects of the miniseries focused upon the developing hostility between the middle Sackett brother Orrin, and the brothers’ friend, Tom Sunday in Part 2. It was an interesting tale on how a solid friendship could easily sour over a difference of opinion regarding moral compass. After Cap had hooked up with Tell; Tyrel, Orrin and Sunday encountered the smoking remains of an emigrant family that had been killed by Ute warriors. Sunday wanted to split the money between the three of them. Orrin, upon discovering a letter written to the family by a relative, wanted to send the money back to said relative. Orrin got his way. And Tom’s resentment toward Orrin ignited. That same resentment exacerbated when he lost the election of Santa Fe’s new sheriff to the middle Sackett.

Politics also played a major role in the miniseries. The topic focused upon a feud between an aging New Mexican rancher Don Luis Alvarado (Gilbert Roland) and American businessman Jonathan Pritts (John Vernon). The feud was mainly the old Anglos vs. Mexican conflict that still dominates the Southwest to this day. The Sacketts became dragged into it, due to Orrin’s courtship of Pritts’ daughter (Marcy Hanson) and Tyrel’s romance with Don Luis’ granddaughter, Drusilla (Ana Alicia). In the end, the Sacketts and even Sunday sided with the New Mexicans. One has to applaud L’Amour for introducing this topic into the story, and for screenwriter Byrnes for maintaining it. But if I must be honest, I thought the execution of Don Luis’ feud with Pritts came off as heavy-handed and preachy.

One would think that Tell Sackett’s hunt for gold would dominate his storyline. Amazingly, it did not. Well, Tell did meet and fall in love with a woman named Ange Kerry (Wendy Rastattar), who had been stranded in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains for several years. But his story mainly focused upon his problems with the brothers (Jack Elam, Slim Pickens and Gene Evans) of crooked gambler named Bigelow (James Gammon), whom he had killed early in Part 1. This reminded me of a line from the 1984 adventure-comedy, "ROMANCING THE STONE" - "But if there was one law of the West, bastards had brothers . . . who seemed to ride forever." And both Tell and Cap eventually discovered that the Bigelows had brothers and allies everywhere. One ally turned out to be an insecure gunfighter named Kid Newton (Paul Kelso), who had an unfortunate and humiliating encounter with Tell and Cap at a local saloon. Tell’s problems with the Bigelows culminated in a tense situation in the Sangre de Cristo foothills and a violent showdown in a nearby town.

Most of the performances featured in "THE SACKETTS" struck me as pretty solid. To the cast’s credit, they managed to use mid-to-late 19th century dialogue without being sloppy or indulging in what I considered the cliché 'Frontier' speech pattern that seemed popular in the Westerns of the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, I found at least four performances that really impressed me. One of them belonged to Sam Elliot, who portrayed the oldest brother, Tell. I might as well be frank. He has always been a favorite actor of mine for a long time. With his grizzled, deep voice and demeanor, the man looked as if he had stepped out of a 19th century daguerreotype. He also did an effective job of conveying Tell Sackett’s loner personality, making it easy for viewers to accept the idea that this is a man who would wait years before contacting any members of his family.

Another performance that impressed me belonged to Jeff Osterhage as the tense, yet pragmatic youngest Sackett, Tyrel. To this day, I am amazed that Osterhage never became a big star in television or movies. He seemed to have possessed both the looks and screen presence to become one. And I was certainly impressed by his ability to portray Tyrel’s pragmatic, yet intimidating nature. Traits that led him to be the best shot in the family.

I also enjoyed Wendy Rastattar’s performance as Ange Kerry, the young woman that Tell and Cap had discovered in the mountains. Rastattar did a first-rate job in portraying a tough, yet passionate young woman, who ended up falling in love with Tell. But the best performance came from Hollywood icon, Glenn Ford as the enigmatic friend of the Sacketts, Tom Sunday. In Ford’s hands, Sunday became one of a gallery of complex characters he had portrayed during his career. For me, it was sad to watch Sunday regress from Orrin and Tyrel’s wise mentor to Orrin’s drunken and embittered foe. And Ford did an excellent job in exploring Sunday’s many nuances, including those flaws that led to his downfall.

One might noticed that I had failed to include Tom Selleck’s performance as one of the more impressive ones, considering that both Elliott and Osterhage made the list. I found nothing wrong with Selleck’s performance. Unfortunately, he had the bad luck to portray Orrin, the least interesting member of the Sackett family. Orrin was an affable, yet solid character that lacked any nuances, which could have made him as interesting as his brothers. A great deal happened to Orrin in this story. He lost his bride in a family feud, fell briefly in love with the villains’ daughter and pissed off Tom Sunday. Yet, he was not very interesting character. Which left the talented Selleck with very little to work with.

The movie’s production values struck me as very impressive. Production designer Johannes Larson, costume designers Carole Brown-James and Barton Kent James, and cinematographer Jack Whitman did an excellent job in capturing the ambiance of the Old West circa 1869-1870. Along with the director Totten, they managed to create a West during a period before it truly threatened to become settled. They managed to capture the ruggedness and beauty of the West without overcompensating themselves, like many other Westerns released after the 1960s tend to do.

Many years have passed since I have read "The Daybreakers" and "Sackett". Which is my way of saying that I cannot tell whether the miniseries was a completely faithful adaptation of the two novels. If I must be honest, I really do not care whether it is faithful or not. The television version of the two novels – namely "THE SACKETTS" - is a first-rate and entertaining saga. I am certain that many fans of Louis L’Amour will continue to enjoy it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

"AVATAR" (2009) Photo Gallery



Below is a gallery featuring images from James Cameron's new fantasy epic called "AVATAR". The movie stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Wes Studi and CCH Pounder:


"AVATAR" (2009) Photo Gallery