Thursday, April 29, 2010

"Obssessions" [PG-13] - Chapter 19




"OBSSESSIONS"

Part 19

Nearly two hours later, a very conscious Olivia, along with Darryl, entered one of the precinct's interrogation rooms. Inside sat Nick Marcano, staring morosely at the wall.

"Nick." Olivia stood in front of the Streghone, blocking his view. "So, are you ready to talk?"

Dark eyes filled with hostility, glared at Olivia. "Talk about what?"

"About the whole thing," Darryl added. "Your version of what happened to DeWolfe Mann and Bruce McNeill. You're facing charges of first degree murder, accessory to kidnapping and assault upon an officer of the law. You might as well fill in the blanks."

Trembling with anger and desperation, Nick continued to glare at the two officers. "I have nothing to say to either of you," a sly expression crept into his eyes, "unless you let me go."

"And why should we do that?" Darryl demanded.

Olivia knew exactly what Nick meant. Before he could speak, she glanced at the video camera hanging above on the wall opposite the door. Using her telekinesis, she disconnected one of the cables from the camera.

Nick sat back into his chair, looking smug. Olivia had never seen that expression on his face, before. "Because if you don't let me go, I'll tell the whole world everything about you and the Halliwells."

An angry Darryl shot back, "You're blackmailing us?"

"That's right. Blackmail. I'm sure that the San Francisco Police Department would love to know the truth behind all of those strange cases you've encountered." Nick gave the pair a defiant stare.

Olivia crossed her arms across her chest and coolly stared at the Streghone. "Are you willing to expose your own family, as well?"

"Why not?" Nick retorted. "They've done nothing but treated me like the poor relation! Including Aunt Carla!"

So much for that argument, Olivia thought. It never really occurred to her, until now that Nick was a sad and lonely man. And desperate. No wonder he had latched onto Barbara's friendship like a leech. Following his parents' deaths, he must have spent most of his life treated as an outsider - by his acquaintances and his mother's family. Including Aunt Carla. As much as Olivia sympathized with the Streghone, she could not ignore the fact that he had committed murder for the sole purpose of ensuring the death of another. Or that he was trying to blackmail her and Darryl into releasing him. And that she had to stop him. Fortunately, Olivia had a trick up her sleeve.

"Okay Nick," she said, "if you insist upon going ahead with this threat of yours, we'll have to resort to something else."

Nick sneered. "Like what? Kill me?"

Olivia leaned forward, allowing her eyes to burn into his. "No, something else. Like having your memory altered. Before you can say one word to the captain, I'll summon Cole here. Have him do a little song-and-dance with your memories." Nick's face paled underneath his light tan. "Unless you don't mind having your mind violated."

"I . . ." Nick glanced at the room's video camera. A smile curved his lips, as he returned his gaze to Olivia. "You sure you want to do that? Whether my memories are erased or not, your captain is going to find out, anyway."

"If you're referring to that video camera above," Olivia coolly replied, "I suggest that you take a close look." Both Nick and Darryl stared at the camera. "You will see that the cables are no longer hooked to it." It was now Olivia's turn to smile. "Now, about your plans to reveal all?"

Nick's shoulders sagged in defeat. He seared Olivia with a resentful glare. "Like I said before, I have nothing to say."

* * * *

Olivia and Darryl left the interrogation room, minutes later. "Man, that was a close call," Darryl said, shaking his head. "I'm only surprised that he didn't demand to see Barbara."

"I doubt that she would have given him the pleasure," Olivia replied with a smirk.

Darryl shot Olivia a curious glance. "By the way, were you serious about getting Cole to mess with that man's head, if he had decided to talk?"

A pause followed. Olivia stopped in mid-stride. Gave her partner a cool look. "What do you think?"

"I think . . . I don't want to know the answer to that question." Darryl glanced to his side. His eyes grew wide. Olivia followed his gaze. Paul Margolin happened to be one of the figures striding along the corridor to their left. And he seemed to be heading straight for them.

The ADA paused before the pair. "There you are," he declared. "I wondered what happened to you, when Cole and Barbara had returned to the house with Bruce."

"Didn't Barbara tell you?" Olivia asked, smiling at him. "We had to book Nick here at the station. Bruce and Barbara should be here tomorrow, to make a statement."

Paul nodded. "And Marcano?"

"He's been charged with murder. First degree. Along with accessory to kidnapping and assault upon a police officer."

Darryl added, "He also tried to blackmail us into dropping the charges. Threatened to expose all of you as . . ." He shot a nervous glance around him. "Well, you know."

Anxiety filled Paul's eyes. "Wha . . .? Oh my God! What did he . . .?"

Olivia patted the ADA's arm. "Don't worry. I managed to convince Nick that it would be detrimental to his . . . state of mind."

"Huh?"

Shaking his head, Darryl said, "It's a long story. Meanwhile, I have a report to give the Captain. And a call to make." He walked away.

The two witches remained in the middle of the corridor, facing each other. "So Cole, Barbara, and Bruce made it back okay," Olivia commented.

Paul replied, "Yeah. Although I think both your brother and Beltha . . . uh, Turner looked a little worse for wear. Especially Bruce. I'm only surprised that Turner had been affected by that succubus, considering how powerful he's supposed to be."

The pair resumed their walk toward the squad room. "Cole may be powerful, but he's not invincible. Unfortunately, he is vulnerable to psychic powers like the rest of us. Remember Barbas?"

"Oh." Silence fell between the two before Paul continued, "Listen, about Turner, I don't know if it was wise of him to deal with that Riggerio demon. I mean, I know what a sigil is, but I also know that it is supposed to be a source of power as well. A being's ka. But how do we know that ring was what Bel, uh, Turner claimed . . ."

A sigh left Olivia's mouth. She stopped and gave the other witch a hard stare. "Paul, Cole was telling the truth, okay? The ring was a sigil. In fact, I knew all about the ring. And about the deal. Trust me, the ring did belong to Riggerio's coven. That's all there is to it."

"But doesn't it bother you that Bel . . . Turner is dealing with . . ." Paul halted in mid-sentence, grabbed Olivia's arm and led her inside an empty break room. "Doesn't it bother you that he's seeing other demons, again?"

Oh God! Olivia thought. She really had no patience to deal with this subject, again. Leo's constant nagging had been bad enough. "Paul, this is not the first time Cole has sought information from other daemons and warlocks. Hell, I've done it on numerous occasions. And I've used criminals . . . mortals as sources of information. I believe you have, as well." She paused, as her eyes bored into Paul's. "Are you that bothered by my relationship with Cole?"

"Maybe I am. I'm not exactly used to hobnobbing with demons."

Olivia stared at Paul. She could sense the dislike and suspicion he seemed to harbor toward Cole. And the confusion over her relationship with the half-demon. "Look, if you can't accept my friendship with Cole," she said deliberately, "then we might as well part ways. I've already made it clear to Leo that 'no one' has the right to choose my friends . . . except me."

Paul stiffened slightly under Olivia's hard tone. Then he nodded with seemingly understanding. And resignation. "Sorry. I understand. I, uh . . . hope you understand that this doesn't mean that I'll have to be friends with him." Olivia responded with a silent shrug. Paul heaved a sigh. "Great. Listen, why don't we change the subject? The real reason I came here was to ask if you were available for lunch, tomorrow."

A teasing smile twitched Olivia's lips. "Not dinner?"

"Sorry, but I'll be on a plane to San Diego, by tomorrow evening."

Olivia quickly sobered. "Oh. The DiMatteo case, huh?"

"Yeah. What else? Going my way?" Paul linked his arm with Olivia's and the pair left the room to continue their way along the corridor.

* * * *

Barbara entered her fiancé's bedroom to check on his condition. She found Bruce struggling to fasten his pajama top. "Here, let me." She fastened the buttons for him.

"God, I feel so damn tired," he commented. "I don't think I have any energy left, after today."

The blond woman helped Bruce onto the bed. "Considering that a succubus came close to sucking the life out of you, I'm not that surprised." Barbara paused, before she pulled the blanket over him. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "By the way, did you and that Portia woman . . . you didn't achieve . . . penetration?"

"Huh?" Bruce stared at Barbara with dazed eyes. "Pene . . . are you talking about sex?"

Barbara shrugged. "If you want to put it that way. Yeah."

"No! I mean . . ." Confusion dominated Bruce's expression. "I don't think so." He heaved a frustrated sigh. "Hell, I don't remember! I feel so confused. One minute I was looking at Portia's face and the next minute, yours. I think she must have been a shape shifter."

"Don't worry, honey." Barbara planted a light kiss on her fiancé's forehead. "A long rest and some tea later on will do you some good. I've already called your mom and told her that you won't be available for work, tonight."

Bruce gave her a wan smile. "Thanks." Another sigh left his mouth. "Damn shame about Portia being a succubus."

Her suspicions rising again, Barbara frowned. "What do you mean?"

"The article for the BAY-MIRROR. After this, I doubt that Jason will continue the story about the Golden Horn. He'll probably kill it."

Barbara gave Bruce a second kiss. "Who cares about a silly old newspaper story? I'm just thankful that you're not dead. Speaking of Jason . . . or should I say the Halliwells, the extra wedding invitations that you had ordered, have arrived. Harry and Livy will make sure that Paige's sisters will get them."

"That's nice," Bruce murmured. Then he closed his eyes and fell into a deep sleep.

Barbara allowed herself a small smile and left her fiancé's bedroom. As she walked along the corridor, she recalled Bruce's words about Portia resembling her. If the succubus had to morph into her own form to seduce Bruce, whom did Cole see when the succubus had seduced him inside the hotel room?

* * * *

Deborah Mann stared at Cole with hopeful eyes. "Is it true? That Wolfie's killer has been caught?"

Cole, who had decided to pay the late columnist's sister a visit, nodded. "Yeah. About several hours ago. How did you find out?"

"I had received a call from Lieutenant Morris. He told me that the killer was some accountant named Nick Something."

"Nick Marcano," Cole added. "It seems that Marcano found out that your brother would be interviewing Bruce McNeill and decided to kill him in order to replace Wolfie with this hired killer."

Looking confused, Deborah shook her head. "I don't . . . I don't understand. Why would this Marcano person want Bruce McNeill dead?"

"He uh, . . . he was in love with Bruce's fiancée. Obsessed with her, actually."

Disbelief shone in Deborah's eyes. "You mean to say that Wolfie was killed, because some guy was in love with another man's fiancée?"

Cole's only response was a shrug of his shoulders. After all, what else could he say?

* * * *

"I don't believe it!" Phoebe declared. Nearly six hours had passed since the incidents of the afternoon. She and the other Halliwells had gathered in the living room to welcome their guests - Harry and Olivia McNeill. The red-haired witches had arrived to deliver wedding invitations for her, Piper and Leo.

Paige heaved a long-suffering sigh. "Phoebe, can you please give it a rest? You've been saying the same thing ever since we found out about Nick."

Leo glanced up. "I don't blame her," he said. "I find it hard to believe it myself."

Annoyed, Paige rolled her eyes. "Yeah, well believe it. Fortunately, with Nick behind bars and that Portia woman dead, we have nothing to worry about."

Olivia had opened her mouth to respond, but Piper spoke up, first. "Are you sure?" She held Wyatt in her arms, rocking him up and down. "Didn't that Riggerio demon mention a sister?"

Leo frowned at his wife. "What sister? And who is this Riggerio?"

Olivia replied, "He's a daemon well known among Streghone witches. Cole had went to him for information on Portia. Apparently, she has an older sister."

"Cole got information from a demon?" Leo asked, frowning. "And why would this Riggerio be willing to help?"

Piper handed Wyatt over to Leo. "Apparently, Cole gave him a ring. I forgot the name."

"The Crotona Coven's ring," Harry added. "It's his coven's sigil. Aunt Carla - Nick's aunt - once told us about it. It's nothing to worry about."

"Nothing?" Piper protested. "We don't know what that ring can do. A lot of innocent people can get killed, because of that ring. I wonder if Cole ever stopped to consider that."

A loud and exasperated sigh escaped Olivia's mouth. All eyes turned to her. "Oh for God's sake!" she cried. "Do any of you have the slightest inkling on what a sigil is? I mean, you've been witches for what? Four-and-a-half years? A sigil is a seal. A signet. Or a symbol. Like the one on the cover of your Book of Shadows." She faced Leo. "Have you ever told them anything about sigils?"

Assuming a defensive expression, Leo shot back, "Of course I have!" Then he became less certain. "Well, somewhat. The girls do know about the symbol on their Book of Shadows."

"Oh Goddess!" Olivia rolled her eyes. "Then they should understand what that ring means to Riggerio. It's a sign of his coven's power. It belongs to them. Their coven's ka. Their heirloom. Trust me, they've probably manage to wreck enough havoc without that ring, during the last 36 years. What does keeping it away from them going to accomplish?"

None of the Halliwells or Leo could answer Olivia's question. She sighed and turned to her brother. "By the way Harry, the invitations?"

"Oh, yeah." Harry picked up a pile of envelopes and handed one each to Piper, Phoebe and Leo. "The invitations. When Bruce found out that your old ones were lost in the mail, he had ordered new ones."

Piper gave the McNeills a prim smile. "Thanks. I'm looking forward to the wedding." Both Leo and Phoebe said the same.

A deafening silence filled the kitchen. Then Phoebe spoke up. "About Portia's sister - I don't think we'll have to worry about her seeking revenge. I mean, she's a demon. Evil. Why would she seek revenge in the first place?"

"Um, maybe because Portia was her sister," Harry commented. "And they probably loved each other."

Phoebe insisted, "But they're evil. Evil can't love."

Paige glanced at the McNeills and saw the disbelief on their faces. "Who told you that?" a frowning Olivia asked.

"Cole," Phoebe replied simply. "And Leo."

In true McNeill fashion, Olivia rolled her eyes in disgust. "I suppose Raynor had taught Cole that stupid notion. What an idiot he must have been! Actually Phoebe, daemons can love, despite what they or whitelighters might say. And I wouldn't be surprised if this other succubus came after us for revenge."

Paige added, "Oh yeah! Like Oren. You know . . . that demon who came after us when we had killed his son." Her sisters stared at her, causing Paige to feel self-conscious. "You remember. When we first met Eva."

"Well said," Harry commented. Paige noticed the admiration in his eyes. To her surprise - and embarrassment - she felt a hot flush.

Phoebe commented, "At least Jason is going to be happy that Wolfie's killer has been arrested."

"And Portia?" Leo added. "I mean, there's no body or any remains of her." He said to Olivia, "How did you and Darryl explain her disappearance?"

Olivia shrugged her shoulders. "As a disappearance. She's been declared missing. And a fugitive. We've told the captain that Nick may have killed her, but since we have no body, we can't charge him with her murder."

Phoebe frowned. "I don't know if Jason is going to like that."

The look on Olivia's face told Paige that the redhead could not care less about Jason's feelings.

* * * *

The following morning, Olivia and Darryl received a call from the SAN FRANCISCO BAY-MIRROR. Namely one Jason Dean. "Hello Jace," a wary Olivia greeted, "what can I do for you?" Both she and Darryl were listening on Line 2.

"Olivia. I heard that you guys had caught DeWolfe Mann's murderer, yesterday. Congratulations."

"Thanks. I suppose that Phoebe had told you."

Jason replied, "Actually, it was one of my reporters. Phoebe never said a word. Why didn't you tell me?"

"Tell you what?"

A sigh filled Olivia's ear. "That Mann's killer had been arrested," Jason answered. "Exactly when were you planning to tell me? Two months from now?"

Disgusted, Olivia glanced at Darryl and rolled her eyes. Darryl answered, "I thought you knew, Mr. Dean. Our captain had released the news to the press, yesterday afternoon. I'm sure that when your . . . uh, reporter had found out."

A silent moment passed before the publisher burst out, "Oh really? I thought that since Mann did work for me and that . . ." He hesitated, then another outburst followed. "Dammit Olivia! Even if we had a bad break-up, you could have at least given me a personal message! For old time's sake! And how did Phoebe find out?"

"Why don't you ask her?" Olivia shot back. "Now if you're finished with this conversation, we can . . ."

Jason spoke up. "Wait a minute! What about Portia?"

Darryl calmly replied, "As you may have learned, Mr. Dean, she was hired by Marcano to kill Bruce McNeill. That's why your reporter ended up dead. Unfortunately, Miss Della Scalla has been declared missing. We don't know if she's dead or had skipped out. Marcano isn't talking."

Jason retorted, "Then make him talk! You're supposed to be the police!"

Olivia sighed. Loudly. "We can't do that without violating his constitutional rights, Jason," she retorted sarcastically. "Or haven't you heard?"

After a brief period of stammering, Jason said, "I didn't mean . . . Dammit! There's a woman out there who is implicated in the death of one of my reporters! And the only person who might know where she is, isn't talking. And you're not going to do a thing? No wonder this city's police department is in trouble!"

Remembering why she and Jason broke up in the first place, Olivia struggled to keep her temper in check. "Listen Jason," she hissed, "we're trying our best to find your missing columnist, but at the moment, there's a good chance that she won't be found. So why don't you accept that fact and let us do our job? And then you can hang up and continue being a second-rate version of Charles Foster Kane!"

The telephone line went dead. Darryl shook his head with disbelief. "If we find ourselves unemployed because of that man, don't be surprised."

"Well, I'm sorry Darryl, but he can really get on my nerves!" Olivia retorted. "It was a miracle that our relationship had lasted a month!"

Darryl leaned back against his chair and sighed. "Well, you know what this means."

"No. What?"

"At least we can look forward to an editorial in the BAY-MIRROR on the incompetence of the San Francisco Police."

Olivia reached for her computer's keyboard. "Considering the number of editorials that have been written since the recent police scandal - big deal." She focused her attention on the computer screen before her.


END OF PART 19

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"THE PACIFIC" Episode Seven "Peleliu III" Commentary



I wrote this commentary on the seventh episode of "THE PACIFIC":


"THE PACIFIC" (2010) -  Episode Seven "Peleliu III" Commentary

In Episode Seven, ”THE PACIFIC” finally ended its three-part focus on the Battle of Peleliu. This particular one centered on Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazzello) and his experiences with the 5th Marines regiment in the hills of Peleliu Island in October 1944.

The episode began with a montage featuring Sledge and the 5th Marines battling it out against the Japanese Army for a period of time – a first for the miniseries – until their return to the airfield for a brief respite. There, Sledge has a conversation with his company commander, Captain Andrew “Ack Ack” Haldane (Scott Gibson). As the 5th Marines prepare to head back into the hills, Sledge spotted Colonel Chesty Puller (William Sadler) and the 1st Marines regiment heading back toward the beach. One of that regiment’s wounded turned out to be one Lou "Chuckler" Juergens (Josh Helman), barely conscious, while smoking a cigarette.

As Sledge and the 5th Marines returned to the hills, the episode gave viewers another peek into John Basilone’s (Jon Seda) continuing publicity tour as a war hero. Only this time, the novelty has finally worn off. The war bond drive and celebrity status has driven Basilone into his own personal hell. He also seemed to be haunted by memories of Guadalcanal and the death of Manny Rodriguez (Jon Bernthal). This brief glimpse of Basilone’s dissatisfaction will eventually lead to his decision to request a return to active duty.

But most of the episode featured Sledge and the 5th Marines’ continuing experiences on Peleliu. The horrors that the Mobile native had experienced during the landing and the battle across the airfield almost seemed like child’s play in comparison to his experiences in the Peleliu hills. I say . . . almost. What Sledge and the others had experienced during Episode Five and Episode Six seemed pretty hellish to me. In this episode, Sledge, his fellow Marines and the Japanese soldiers all seemed, at times, to be experiencing the lowest forms of humanity. And Episode Seven provided it all with brutal combat scenes, gruesome deaths and worst of all, mutilation of bodies – dead or alive.

Earlier in the episode, Sledge had looked upon some of his fellow Marines’ mutilation of dead Japanese soldiers with disgust. One particular Marine even tried to remove the gold teeth from a Japanese soldier, who was badly wounded but still alive. Sledge expressed his disgust aloud, demanding that the enemy soldier be put out of his misery. Later in the episode, he sang a different tune after his company suffered major losses in the command structure. First, a wounded Lieutenant Edward “Hillbilly” Jones (Leon Ford) was killed by stray bullets, while being carried from the battlefield by stretcher bearers. Not much time had passed before Corporal R. V. Burgin (Martin McCann) announced Captain Haldane’s death from a sniper to his platoon. Following Haldane’s death, Sledge finally had an urge to engage in a little mutilation of Japanese soldiers on his own. Fortunately, “Snafu” Shelton (Rami Malek) managed to talk him out of committing an act he would have eventually regretted. The episode ended with the 5th Marines returning to Parvuvu. However, Sledge returned as someone different from the inexperienced Marine that had a reunion with his childhood friend, some four months ago. This was especially apparent in his reaction to the sight of nurses greeting returning Marines on Parvuvu. Perhaps in his mind, they seemed like an illusion amidst the realities of war.

Many fans seemed to view Episode Seven as the best in the entire miniseries, so far. Perhaps. Perhaps not. Some also believe that it is the series’ most depressing episode. At the moment, I believe that Episode Four still holds that honor. But I do believe that Episode Seven was the most brutal in the series so far – with both Episode Two and Episode Six tying for second place. Director Tim Van Patten did an exceptional job in conveying the brutality and chaos of war in the Pacific Theater. Two scenes that really drove home the fact to me were the surprising death of Hillbilly Jones, which took me completely by surprise; and the image of “Snafu” Shelton tossing pebbles into the head of a dead Japanese soldier. By the time Sledge and his fellow Marines had returned to Parvuvu, I felt as if I had experienced the combat version of hell and beyond. However, I do have two quibbles about the episode.

In real life, a Navy corpsman named Doc Caswell had been the one to convince Sledge not to mutilate a dead Japanese soldier. In the miniseries, it was “Snafu”. My problem with this particular scene stemmed from another in last week’s episode, in which “Snafu” had supported Sledge’s pragmatic reaction to Hillbilly's order for someone to shut up a wailing Marine with a deadly whack on the head. I found it difficult to view that “Snafu” as the same man who stopped Sledge from mutilating a dead Japanese soldier. And I feel that Captain Haldane’s death lacked any real drama. Do not get me wrong. Haldane was probably an excellent leader and a good Marine. But Scott Gibson’s portrayal of the officer made him seem like a 2.0 version of the Richard Winters character in ”BAND OF BROTHER”. I also found it difficult to experience any surge of emotion over his death, considering that it had occurred off-screen. If screenwriter Bruce McKenna could change history and allow “Snafu” to convince Sledge not to commit any mutilation, then surely he could have allowed the Alabamian to witness Haldane’s death.

The episode did feature some superb performances – especially by Joseph Mazzello and Rami Melek. And while I had a slight problem with the idea of “Snafu” convincing Sledge not to mutilate that Japanese soldier, I must admit that this scene has led me to believe that the two actors had given the best performances in the entire episode. But I also feel that Martin McCann did a fine job in developing Burgin into a top-notch squad leader. When I first saw Gary Sweet’s portrayal of Gunnery Sergeant Elmo Haney back in Season Five, I thought it was a bit too exaggerated and something of a joke. But I must admit that not only did he managed to grow on me, I found his portrayal of Haney’s growing sense of despair over the bloodbath on Peleliu very impressive. But I cannot forget Jon Seda's brief, yet memorable performance as war hero John Basilone. With a minimum of words and a great deal of facial expressions and body language, he did a superb job of conveying Basilone's despair over being trapped into some kind of celebrity hell. He has grown a great deal as an actor.

Episode Seven capped what I believe to be the best part of ”THE PACIFIC” - a three-part glimpse into the brutality of the controversial battle, Peleliu. I suspect that many viewers might find this surprising. Because so many combatants had died on the beaches and in the caves of Peleliu, the island now has a war memorial honoring the dead of both the Americans and the Japanese.

Next week, John Basilone is transferred to the Fifth Marine Division and experiences combat on Iwo Jima.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"ALICE IN WONDERLAND" (2010) Review




”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” (2010) Review

I never understood director Tim Burton’s decision to name his latest film, ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”. I mean . . . why did he do it? His new movie was not another adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, ”Alice's Adventures in Wonderland”. It was a sequel set thirteen years after the original story. So why use the shortened version of the title from Carroll’s original title?

Many of you might be wondering why I had just made a big deal about this new movie’s title. For me, it represented an example of what I consider to be the numerous missteps that prevented me from embracing Burton’s new movie. Before I continue, I should confess that I have never been a Tim Burton fan. Never. I can only recall two of his movie that knocked my socks off – 1994’s ”ED WOOD” and the 2007 Golden Globe nominee, ”SWEENY TODD”. I wish I could include ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” in that category, but I cannot. The movie simply failed to impress me.

As I had stated earlier, ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” was a sequel to Carroll’s original story. Thirteen years after her original adventures in Wonderland, Alice Kingsleigh has become a nineteen year-old young woman on the verge of accepting a wedding proposal from one Hamish Ascot, the son of her late father’s partner, Lord Ascot. Unfortunately, Hamish is a shallow and self-absorbed young man with very little character. Salvation arrived during Hamish’s very public marriage proposal, when Alice spotted a familiar figure – the same White Rabbit who had previously lured her to Wonderland – scampering across Lord Ascot’s estate.

History repeated itself when Alice fell down into the rabbit hole. However, she soon discovered that Wonderland (or Underland) had changed during her thirteen years absence. The Red Queen had managed to wreck havoc and assume control over most of Underland, thanks to her new ”champion” - a dragon known as the Jabberwocky. Only the realm of the Red Queen’s sister, the White Queen, has remained beyond the red-haired monarch’s reach. However, that situation threatened to change if the White Queen fails to acquire her own champion. A scroll called “the Oraculum” predicted that Alice will not only be the White Queen’s champion, but she will also defeat the Jabberwocky and end the Red Queen’s reign of terror. But due to her stubborn belief that Underland was and still is nothing but a dream, Alice was reluctant to take up the mantle of the White Queen’s champion.

Judging by the plot I had just described, ”ALICE OF WONDERLAND” should have been an enjoyable movie for me. Granted, Linda Woolverton’s script seemed like a typical ”slay the dragon” storyline that has been used in numerous fantasies. But it still had enough adventure, intrigue and personal angst for me to find it appealing. So, why did it fail to light my fire? Production designer Robert Stromberg created an interesting mixture of Gothic and animated styles for the film’s visuals in both the England and Wonderland sequences. Anthony Almaraz and his team of costume designers created lush and colorful costumes for the cast. And Dariusz Wolski’s photography brought out the best in the movie’s visual styles.

”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” could also boast some first-rate performances from the cast. Johnny Depp gave a wonderfully complicated performance as the Mad Hatter. His Mad Hatter was an interesting mixture of an extroverted personality and pathos, punctuated by bouts of borderline insanity. The Red Queen might possibly be one of Helena Bonham-Carter’s best roles. She struck me as the epitome of childishness, selfishness and cruelty. Crispin was slick, menacing and subtly funny as the Red Queen’s personal henchman, the Knave of Hearts. Anne Hathaway’s delicious portrayal of the White Queen reminded me of a Disney princess on crack. I really enjoyed it. Both Tim Piggott-Smith and Geraldine James (who were both in the 1985 miniseries, ”JEWEL IN THE CROWN”) gave solid performances as Alice’s potential in-laws - the kindly Lord Ascot and his shrewish and bullying wife, Lady Ascot. And Alan Rickman gave voice to the Blue Caterpillar in a deliciously sardonic performance. Despite my positive opinion of most of the film’s technical aspects and performances, it still failed to impress me. Why?

First of all, the movie rested upon the shoulders of Australian actress, Mia Wasikowska as the lead character, Alice Kingsleigh. I understand that Ms. Wasikowska has recently received critical acclaim for her portrayal of a suicidal teen in HBO’s ”IN TREATMENT”. It seemed a pity that she failed to be just as impressive as Alice in ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”. Some people have labeled her performance as ”subtle”. I would call it ”insipid”. Or perhaps just plain boring. I swear I have never come across such a bland and boring performance in my life. No only did Wasikowska managed to make Alice’s battle against the Jabberwocky seem dull, she still came close to putting me to sleep in her character’s moments of triumph in the movie’s finale.

Tim Burton’s direction of ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” proved to be just as uninspiring to me, as Wasikowska’s performance. Actually, I found myself thinking of the 1992 movie, ”DEATH BECOMES HER”. I was not comparing the visual effects between the two movies. Meryl Streep had uttered a word in the 1992 movie that perfectly described my opinion of Burton’s direction. Flaccid. ”FLA-A-A-A-CI-I-ID!” How did a director with Burton’s reputation managed to take a solid fantasy adventure and make it one of the most boring films in recent Hollywood history is beyond me. His direction lacked any pep. Or spark. I had felt as if I was watching a piece of limp lettuce in action. I even began to wonder if Burton’s dull direction had affected Wasikowska’s performance. Then I remembered that actors like Depp and Bonham-Carter managed to rise above his direction. I might as well dump the blame of Wasikowska’s performance on her shoulders. As for Tim Burton . . . what is there to say? His direction simply disappointed me.

I might as well say something about the movie’s 3-D effects. They were not only disappointing to me, but also a waste of time and the extra cash I had to pay for the movie tickets. I did not care for the 3-D effects in ”AVATARS”, but it was an example of technical wizardry in compare to the 3-D photography shown in ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”. Speaking of ”AVATAR”, I have one last thing to say in regard to 3-D . . . ’Damn you, James Cameron!”. Seriously. I would like to take the man’s head and bash it through a wall for introducing 3-D to the movie going experience. In the two movies I have seen it in, I found it unimpressive. Worse, I had to pay extra movie because movie theaters are more willing to show the 3-D versions of movies like ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”, instead of the 2-D versions.

In short, ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” had all of the hallmarks of a solid and entertaining movie experience for me. It was the continuation of a classic fantasy adventure. Talented actors like Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Crispin Glover and Anne Hathaway gave first-rate performances. And I must admit that the movie’s production designs and photography gave it a unique visual style. But all of that could not save a movie hindered by pedestrian 3-D effects, a dull and insipid performance by Mia Wasikowska and an even more insipid direction by Tim Burton. Frankly, I think it is a miracle that this movie managed to become a box-office hit.

Monday, April 26, 2010

"THE LOSERS" Photo Gallery



Below are photos from the new action movie, "THE LOSERS". Directed by Sylvain White, the movie stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldaña, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Columbus Short, Óscar Jaenada and Jason Patric:


"THE LOSERS" Photo Gallery











































Sunday, April 25, 2010

FRANCHISE RANKING: The "LETHAL WEAPON" Movies



Below is my ranking of the four "LETHAL WEAPON" movies from my favorite to my least favorite. Here they are:


FRANCHISE RANKING: The "LETHAL WEAPON" Movies


1. "Lethal Weapon" (1987) - This first movie featured the meeting of suicidal cop Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and veteran family man Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and their investigation of a drug addict prostitute who happens to be the daughter of an old Vietnam War buddy of Roger's. Their investigation leads to a drug cartel operated by former CIA mercenaries. Not only the first film, but also the best. Along with "DIE HARD" (1988), this set the standard for buddy cop films.





2. "LETHAL WEAPON 4" (1998) - In the franchise's last installment, Riggs and Murtaugh investigate a Chinese slavery/smuggling ring, while dealing with family issues. Riggs and his live-in girlfriend, Internal Affairs cop Lorna Cole (Renee Russo) are expecting their first child. And Murtaugh is about to become a grandfather, unaware that his pregnant daughter is married to a fellow cop named Lee Butters (Chris Rock). Martial arts star Jet Li plays one of their best nemesis, a gangster named Wah Sing Ku.





3. "LETHAL WEAPON 2" (1989) - Riggs and Murtaugh returned in this first sequel in which they have to protect an irritating Federal witness (Joe Pesci), while taking on a gang of South African drug dealers led who are hiding behind diplomatic immunity. Joss Ackland, Patsy Kensit and Derrick O'Connor co-starred in what I consider to be the franchise's darkest film.





4. "LETHAL WEAPON 3" - Riggs and Murtaugh battle a corrupt ex-cop named Jack Travis (Stuart Wilson), while Murtaugh deal with his shooting of a teenage gangbanger and acquaintance of his son. Meanwhile, Riggs meets and falls in love with Internal Affairs cop, Lorna Cole (Renee Russo). Not bad, but lightweight in compare to the other three.

"Obssessions" [PG-13] - Chapter 18




"OBSSESSIONS"

Part 18

Inside one of the Omni Hotel's suites, Nick watched Portia pop two aspirin tablets into her mouth. "I don't believe this!" he declared heatedly. "It's been nearly two hours since you snatched Bruce. When are you going to get on with it?"

Portia shot him a contemptuous look. "Get on with what? Sex? How very vulgar that sounds! And how American. Can you not see that I have a headache, thanks to that telepath?"

Nick rolled his eyes. "Harry? Harry McNeill gave you a headache?"

"He damned well nearly killed me!" Portia protested. "He is a very powerful telepath and it is a miracle that I had managed to escape. And take Bruce with me!"

The Streghore responded with a contemptuous snort. "Yeah, and that's all you've managed to do since I've summoned you! I mean, I'm the one who killed DeWolfe Mann, so you could get close to Bruce! Hell, I might as well kill him myself!"

"Fine," the succubus shot back. "Kill him. But do not think I am simply going to leave without any compensation."

Nick could not believe what he had just heard. "Compen . . . Compensation for what? You haven't done a damn thing!"

Sherry-brown eyes blazed with frightening intensity. "May I remind you that Signor McNeill is right now in the bedroom, in an unconscious state? You would have never been able to get this close in order to kill him, without my help! Or without his family standing in your way!" She stood up and walked slowly toward Nick. "In other words, I want compensation of some kind." Portia paused before him.

Aware of the sinister expression on the succubus' face, Nick warily asked, "What exactly do you want?"

A gust of breath left Portia's mouth. "The Soma plant you had earlier mentioned."

"Are you crazy? It's probably somewhere in the McNeill home. I couldn't possibly get it without your help?"

Portia shot back, "Then we'll get it with my help!"

Nick struggled to remain calm. "What if . . . what if they find out about the protection spell? They must know that it's gone, since you were seen in . . ."

The succbus' eyes became ferocious. "I don't care! I want my compensation! The Soma plant! As soon as Bruce is dead!"

Fear suddenly gripped the Streghone. Not even the elixir smeared on his forehead failed to give him a sense of protection under Portia's unrelenting stare. He finally caved in. "Yeah, yeah, I'll get it for you. Somehow. I just don't know how . . ."

"Find a way!" Then Portia closed her eyes. Took a deep breath. "Ah! I do believe that my headache is going away. It is time to awaken Signor McNeill with a little kiss." She paused to stare at Nick. "Unless you still want to kill him, yourself?"

Intimidated, Nick shook his head. "No, uh, you . . . you go ahead and do what you have to do. I'll . . ."

Portia snatched an empty bucket from a nearby table and tossed it to Nick. "You can fill this up with some ice. Please."

"Yeah. Sure." Nick watched the succubus strode toward the bedroom door. "Anything else, your highness?" he mumbled under his breath. Fortunately, Portia did not hear him.

* * * *

Olivia, Cole, Darryl, and Barbara materialized in an alley, next to the Omni Hotel. Barbara strode ahead, drawing stared from the other three.

"And where in the hell are you going?" Cole demanded.

As she continued out of the alley, Barbara shot back, "To find Bruce. And to save him from that bitch."

Cole grabbed Barbara's arm and stopped her. "Hey, look I understand that you're concerned about him, but let us handle this. Olivia and I can deal with this Portia woman and Darryl will handle Marcano. And if Bruce looks like he might need first aid, you can . . . rush in like gangbusters. Okay?"

"Gangbusters? What is that? Your new outlook on life?" Olivia grumbled.

"Meaning?"

Rolling her eyes, Olivia continued, "Meaning, what's with the grab-and-snatch act? Not only did you grab us before we could do or say anything, you grabbed me, instead of Harry! And he's a lot better equipped to deal with Portia." Cole responded with a blank stare. Olivia sighed. "Hello? We're facing a succubus here! You know, ability to put others to sleep? Better a telepath to face her and not me. Namely, my little brother."

Cole dismissed her argument. "She's not exactly the first succubus I've ever faced. Don't worry. She won't be able to affect me."

"Yeah," Olivia sardonically shot back, "I'm sure you said the same thing about that siren you faced, last fall. And Barbas."

"Those two were high-level . . ."

Barbara cried out, "Hey! We have a witch to save! Argue later!" She again started out of the alley.

Darryl heaved a sigh and followed. "Oh God, this is turning out to be a hell of a day." Both Olivia and Cole stiffened momentarily, before following the other two.

The four people eventually strode inside the Omni's elegant lobby. While Cole and Barbara hung back, the two police officers approached the front desk. A desk clerk warily eyed the pair and greeted with forced cheerfulness, "Good afternoon, may I help you?"

Both Olivia and Darryl flashed their badges. The clerk became more attentive. "I'm Lieutenant Morris of the San Francisco Police Department. And this is Inspector McNeill," he said, nodding at Olivia. "We're searching for a suspect in a homicide. Actually, two suspects. And we have reason to believe that they may have checked into this hotel."

"Oh, that's impossible," the clerk said, shaking her head.

One of Olivia's brows formed an arch. "And why is that?"

Flustered, the clerk continued, "Well . . . because . . . I mean, well, this is an exclusive hotel. One of the city's finest. I doubt that you would find a sus . . ." Her voice drifted into a whisper, underneath the partners' stares. Then she sighed. "What are their names?"

Darryl said, "Nicholas Marcano."

After making a few entries into the computer, the desk clerk responded, "I'm sorry, but no one by that name has checked into this hotel." Relief shone in her eyes.

"What about an Italian woman named Portia Della . . ." Olivia began.

The desk clerk interrupted. "Oh. Her. Miss Portia Della Scalla. Tall, dark-haired woman with brown eyes and an Italian accent?" The two cops nodded. "Oh yes, everyone knows about her. She had checked in with some loser, last Saturday. She had no reservation, yet she managed to get a suite. Weird."

Exercising great patience, Olivia asked, "And the suite number?"

Again, the clerk turned to her computer. "Here we go. Suite 1574. On the 12th floor."

The two partners thanked the clerk and returned to where Cole and Barbara stood. "They're inside Suite 1574, on the 12th floor," Darryl announced. "Let's go." The quartet climbed a wide marble staircase that led to a balstrade above.

After making sure they were alone, Olivia said, "Okay, now that we're here, Cole can take us to the suite. That way, we can surprise them." She faced her future sister-in-law. "Except for you, Barbara. You stay in the lobby." The blond woman opened her mouth to protest, but Olivia added, "It's for your own safety." Then without another word, Cole beamed her and Darryl out of the corridor.

* * * *

The trio materialized inside the living room of a luxurious suite. "Not bad," Darryl murmured. He glanced around. "No one seems to be here. Are you sure that Phoebe is right?"

"Well, according to the clerk, they had checked into this suite." Olivia added, "Unless they're back at Nick's apartment. Or else . . ." She broke off and began to circle about the room.

Cole finished her sentence, "Or else Portia took Bruce to some demonic dimension." He paused and cocked his head to one side.

Olivia stared at him. "What is it?"

"You hear that?"

Darryl frowned. "Hear what?"

Instead of answering, Cole strode toward a closed door. Olivia figured that it led toward one of the suite's bedrooms. "Where are you going?" she asked. "Cole?"

The half-daemon pressed his ear against the door. "Someone is inside." He flung the door open, using his telekinesis. The trio stepped forward and gasped at the sight before them. Namely, Bruce dressed only in boxer shorts, stretched out on the bed, flat on his back. Astride him sat Portia, wearing only white panties and stockings held up by garter belts.

"Jesus!" Darryl cried out.

The succubus glanced up, wearing a surprised expression. "Wha . . .?" she began.

Olivia flung the succubus off her older brother and against one of the walls with her telekinesis. Looking somewhat dazed, Portia transformed into a demonic creature with a tail. "Darryl!" Olivia cried. "Get out of here! Now!"

For once, Darryl did not argue and immediately left the room. Olivia and Cole returned their attention to the daemon, who seemed to have recovered from Olivia's attack. And regained her human form. Electricity crackled at her fingertips and within a blink of an eye, sent a bolt toward Olivia's direction.

"Olivia!" Cole cried out her name. Then he quickly shoved Olivia aside. The electrical bolt struck him squarely in the chest, forcing him back against the wall.

* * * *

Barbara paced back and forth, across the hotel's lobby. Another minute passed before she realized that she had enough. Unable to simply stand by and wait for the others to rescue Bruce, Barbara decided to help. With clear determination, she marched across the lobby one last time and toward the nearest elevator.

* * * *

The electrical bolt failed to inflict harm upon Cole's chest. It had merely stunned him. He recovered quickly enough to send a fireball at the succubus. His aim proved to be perfect. Only, the target failed to remain in place. Portia disappeared in a cloud of smoke and the fireball struck a wall.

The succubus reappeared on the bed, next to Bruce. She reached out for his arm. But before she could disappear with her intended victim, Olivia once more flung her away from the male witch. Portia hit the wall, again. She disappeared. Again. And reappeared behind Olivia. Cole tried to alert the redhead to the succubus' presence. But Portia waved a hand before Olivia's eyes before he could sleep. He watched with horror, as the witch slumped to the floor. Unconscious.

Anger rose within Cole. He shot another fireball at Portia. And once again, she disappeared just in time. Cole glanced around the room in confusion. Where in the hell did she . . .?

"Looking for me?" a voice whispered in the half-daemon's ear. Cole turned to face the voice's owner and instead, a pair of supple lips pressed against his own.

Cole tried to fight off the succubus' seductive assault. Tried and failed spectacularly. "Get . . . off me," he murmured. "Get off . . ." He tried to push her away, but the touch of her lips against his, and the scent of cinnamon sapped his will. Cinnamon? Only one woman he knew smelled of cinnamon. Cole opened his eyes.

He saw the red hair, slightly tanned skin dotted with freckles, the high cheekbones and luminous green eyes. Olivia. Wha . . .? "Love me," she whispered in Olivia's California accent. "Kiss me. Now." And Cole did. Willingly.

* * * *

Still muttering curses under his breath, Nick walked away from the ice machine, carrying the bucket in his hand. He should have called room service for a bucket of ice. Hell, he should have done a lot of things. Like get rid of Portia with a banishing spell. Or kill Bruce himself. Instead, he had allowed the egotistical succubus to intimidate him into becoming her personal servant.

Nick reached a juncture for two corridors and paused. He had sensed a presence before he saw the figure around the corner. Namely one Inspector Darryl Morris of the San Francisco Police Department. And if Morris was here . . . Nick felt a surge of panic. He had to get out of here. Fast. Leave San Francisco. Only, the good inspector stood between and freedom. He would never be able to reach the elevator without being spotted.

If only he possessed a power to use against Morris. If only . . . Nick then remembered the switchblade that he kept inside his trouser pocket. The same blade that he had used to kill DeWolfe Mann. All he had to do was wait for Morris to face the other way.

Nick peeked around the corner. Relief washed over him. Sure enough, Morris' back now faced him. He reached inside his pocket for the knife. The blade clicked out. Nick stepped into the main corridor and surreptiously approached the police officer from behind.

* * * *

The elevator stopped on the 12th floor. The doors slid open and Barbara stepped into the corridor. Ahead, she spotted Darryl Morris pacing back and forth in front of a pair of double doors. Doors that probably led to Bruce.

Barbara continued briskly along the corridor. Just as she opened her mouth to call out Darryl's name, a figure emerged from around the corner. Nick. Shock and surprise overwhelmed her. Along with anger. But when she spotted an object in Nick's right hand, anger became fear. "Oh my God," she murmured. "What? Oh my . . . Darryl! Darryl, look out!"

Her warning came out just in time. Darryl whirled around. His eyes widened at the sight of Nick. Then with lightning reflexes, he blocked Nick's thrust, forcing the latter to drop the switchblade. He followed up with an uppercut to the other man's jaw, knocking the latter to the floor. When Nick made a quick grab for the knife, Darryl whipped out his service pistol. "I wouldn't, if I were you," he growled. "Drop the knife. Now! Unless your wrist is faster than my trigger finger."

Nick dropped the switchblade to the floor. His shoulders sagged with defeat. Darryl sharply ordered him to stand up. As he struggled to his feet, Barbara marched toward him. She saw his eyes light up with hope. "Barbara," he begged. "Barbara, I'm sorry! I know this looks . . ."

His words cut short, as Barbara's open palm slapped his face. Hard. "You son-of-a-bitch!" she growled. "You better hope and pray that Bruce is still alive!"

"Barbara, please!"

Another slap from her silenced Nick. "Shut up!" Barbara fixed him with a contemptuous glare. "Whatever in your sick mind made you believe I would ever love you, Nick?" She turned to Darryl. "What about Cole and Olivia? Have they vanquished Portia?"

Darryl whipped out a pair of handcuffs. "I heard some noise coming from inside the suite. Almost like a battle royal. But then it just stopped. Maybe they finally got her." He snapped the handcuffs around Nick's wrists.

"I'll check on them." Barbara started toward the suite.

"Be careful." Then Barbara overheard Darryl read Nick his Miranda rights. "Nicholas Marcano, you have the right to remain silent . . ."

Upon reaching the suite's double doors, Barbara carefully cracked open one. Seeing that main room was empty, she stepped inside. Silence greeted her ears. Well, except for the sounds of low moaning coming from another room. Barbara frowned. That did not seem right. What was going on? And what happened to Olivia, Cole and Bruce? She strode inside what turned out to be a bedroom.

The first sight that greeted her eyes was Bruce clad only in his boxers, struggling to climb out of bed. Relief flooded Barbara. She started toward her fiancé, when she spotted Olivia sprawled on the floor, unconscious. "Livy!"

"He . . . help her," Bruce stammered. "Hel . . ."

One glance at Olivia's rising chest told Barbara that her friend was still alive. But where was Cole? What happened to him?

A loud moan greeted her ears. Barbara whirled around and let out a gasp. Cole stood against the opposite wall, locked in a passionate embrace with a nearly naked Portia Della Scalla. Barbara noticed that the succubus had managed to remove his jacket and tie and unfasten the buttons to his shirt, leaving his chest exposed. "What the hell?" she cried.

Neither Cole nor Portia seemed aware of her cry. The succubus had apparently found another victim to seduce. Powerful half-daemon or not, it seemed obvious that Cole was also susceptible to Portia's charms. Barbara snatched the nearest object - a white ivory statue of a horse - and rushed toward the kissing couple. "Get off him!" Barbara barked. "Now!" She wrenched Portia away from Cole's embrace and struck the other female on the side of the head. Stunned, the succubus stumbled back. Meanwhile, a dazed Cole slid to the floor.

"You bitch!" Portia snarled angrily at Barbara. "You have interfered for the last time!" She raised one hand threateningly, her fingertips crackling with electricity. Barbara's anger immediately vanished leaving a strong residue of fear. Oh Goddess! If only she could remember a banishing spell.

A voice from the bed cried out, "No! Don't!" Barbara glanced at the bed and saw a horrified Bruce stretch his hand out. A gust of wind filled the room. It eventually caught hold of Portia, lifting her from the floor. Barbara stared in fascination, as the wind tore the succubus' body apart, until it exploded in a burst of light.

Darryl burst into the bedroom, hauling a morose Nick in tow. He stared at the destruction caused by Bruce's aero kinesis, the unconscious Olivia and a rather stunned Cole. "Damn!" he declared out loud. "What the hell happened?"


END OF PART 18

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"THE PACIFIC" (Episode Six) Commentary



I wrote this commentary on the sixth episode of "THE PACIFIC":


”THE PACIFIC” (Episode Six) Commentary

Before the first episode of ”THE PACIFIC” first aired, the producers had pointed out that the miniseries’ centerpiece would focus upon the Battle of Peleliu. Fought between September and November 1944, the battle is considered controversial amongst war historians. Many U.S. Marines had been decimated in a campaign that historians now view as unnecessary, because of the island's questionable strategic value and the very high death toll. In fact, Peleliu had the highest casualty rate of any battle in the Pacific Theater.

Since many Marine veterans have considered Peleliu as an important battle in their personal history, the miniseries’ producers decided to devote three episodes on the infamous battle. Last week, Episode Five featured the First Marines Division’s landing on Peleliu and Eugene Sledge’s (Joseph Mazzello) baptism of fire. By the time the episode ended; Sledge, Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale) and their fellow Marines were ready to storm and capture the airfield on South Peleliu.

The efforts of the First Marines Division to capture the airfield turned out to be a brutal and bloody affair. Before storming the airfield, the Marines had to deal with a lack of water, thanks to the top brass’ poor preparations for the invasion. But the episode’s pièce de résistance focused upon the battle that raged on the airfield. And so much happened. Both Robert Leckie and his remaining close friend, Bud “Runner” Conley (Keith Nobbs), were badly wounded during the assault. Eugene Sledge and his fellow Marines in the 5th regiment made it to the other side of the airfield . . . with a notable casualty in his company – PFC Robert Oswalt (Andrew Lees). He was the Marine who had described to Sledge a childhood trip to the Grand Canyon near the end of the previous episode. While Leckie and Runner found themselves conveyed to a nearby hospital ship, Sledge’s company continued its foray into the hills of Peleliu.

Many fans of the miniseries have waxed lyrical over this particular episode. And I can see why. Director Tony To did a marvelous job in conveying the chaos, insanity and brutality that the First Marines and the Japanese soldiers suffered during the battle for the airfield to the television screen. I have not seen such a brutal combat sequence since . . . well, since the landing in last week’s episode and the Guadalcanal action in which John Basilone (Jon Seda) earned his Medal of Honor in Episode Two. Viewers also got a chance to see other interesting scenes that included Sidney Phillips’ surprise visit to the Sledge family back in Mobile; the death of a Marine in Sledge’s company at the hands of his fellow combatants, due to his constant wailings that threatened to reveal their position in the Peleliu hills; another Marine in Sledge’s company who went off the deep end by counting the number of unseen Japanese soldiers to himself; Leckie’s attempt to find a corpsman (Navy medic) for a wounded Runner; the two friends’ reunion aboard the hospital ship; and the growing friendship between Sledge and the very eccentric SNAFU Shelton.

I have to hand it to both Joseph Mazzello and Rami Malek for doing such a superb job in portraying the two Marines’ growing friendship. And both actors made it so believable, considering they were portraying two characters that barely seemed to have anything in common. My favorite scene featured a moment in which Sledge supported Lieutenant “Hillibilly” Jones’ decision to have someone knock out that wailing Marine. And who was the first to immediately back up Sledge? SNAFU Shelton. This scene also seemed to hint that Sledge was learning to desensitize himself from the horrors of war. Consciously.

Ashton Phillips gave an understated, yet first-rate performance as the returning Sidney Phillips, who paid a visit to Sledge’s family in Mobile. His Phillips seemed bent upon reassuring Sledge’s anxious parents that their son would make it through the war safely. Yet, the oblique expression in his eyes and his slightly intense manner seemed to hint that he is trying to convince himself, as well.

Once more, James Badge Dale delivered a brilliant performance as Robert Leckie. In one scene, Leckie’s platoon leader ordered him to fetch both a corpsman for the wounded Runner and a radio amidst the raging battle in the middle of the airfield. The expression on JBD’s face told volumes about Leckie’s dread of putting himself back into the line of fire. But his performance aboard the hospital ship really impressed me. The actor beautifully conveyed Leckie’s despair at being permanently separated from his three friends. There was a moment that found him staring despondently at a bowl of peaches. And then out of the blue, someone calls his name. It turned out to be the very person who gave him the nickname of “Peaches” on Guadalcanal – a very much alive Runner. What followed was a poignant scene between JBD and Keith Nobbs (“Runner” Conley) in which the latter assured that he knew the former tried his best to find a corpsman.

Well . . . that is it for Episode Six. Next week, Sledge and company fight the Japanese in the hills of Peleliu.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"MANGAL PANDEY: THE RISING" (2005) Review




"MANGAL PANDEY: THE RISING" (2005) Review

I have read several novels about the historic event known as the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857-1858 (aka The Indian Mutiny, or aka the First War of Indian Independence). And the main characters in each novel have been British. I have not seen one movie about the event. And after seeing 2005’s ”MANGAL PANDEY: THE RISING”, I still have not seen one movie about the Sepoy Rebellion. But this is the first movie I have seen that touches upon the subject.

Actually, ”MANGAL PANDEY: THE RISING” is really a prelude to the Sepoy Rebellion itself. Directed by Farrukh Dhondy, it is based upon the life of Mandey Pandey, an Indian sepoy (soldier) of the British East India Company, who served as the catalyst for the 1857-58 rebellion. The movie began with Pandey facing execution for violently protesting against the use of new rifles issued by the East India Company. Pandey, along with his fellow soldiers believe that the rifles’ cartridges have been greased by animal fat – beef, pork or both. Since many Hindus and Muslims view this as an abhorrent, they consider the cartridges an insult to their religious beliefs. Pandey’s conflict with the Company (East India Company) rule also manifests in a few violent clashes with an aggressive and bigoted British officer named Hewson. In the end, not even Pandey’s friendship with his company’s sympathetic commander, Captain William Gordon, can save him from being convicted and executed by the regimental commander. His execution eventually inspired other sepoys to view him as a martyr and continue the major revolt against British rule he has instigated.

I have been aware of ”MANGAL PANDEY: THE RISING” for nearly two years – ever since I read about it on the Wikipedia site. But I never thought I would get a chance to view it, until I discovered that Netflix offered the movie for rent. And if I have to be perfectly honest, it is a pretty damn good film. However, it is not perfect. I suspect that it is not historically accurate. This does not bother me, considering that most historical dramas are not completely accurate. However, I have one minor and one major complaint about the movie. My minor complaint centered on the occasionally melodramatic dialogue of the British characters. Aside from Toby Stephens, who portrayed William Gordon and Coral Beed, who portrayed the daughter of the regimental commander, Emily Kent; I was not that impressed by the British cast. I found them rather hammy at times. However, I had a real problem with the occasional musical numbers that interrupted the story’s flow. The last thing I wanted to see in a costumed epic about a historical figure are three to five minute musical numbers. They seemed out of place in such a film.

But if I have to be honest, there was one musical number that did not interrupt the story’s flow. It featured a dance number in which a group of courtesans – led by a woman named Heera. Heera’s performance attracted the drunken attention of Pandey’s main foe, Lieutenant Hewson. And Pandey found himself in a fight against the British officer to prevent the latter from pawing and sexually assaulting Heera. But that was simply one of many interesting dramatic scenes featured in ”MANGAL PANDEY: THE RISING”. Another featured a tense moment in which Pandey attempts to help Gordon convincing the other sepoys that the cartridges used in the new rifles are not greased with animal fat, by loading the rifle. However, this action backfires when Pandey eventually becomes convinced that he had been wrong. But the cartridges and Pandey’s reaction to them turn out to be the tip of the iceberg in the conflict between the growing resentment of the sepoy and the British rulers.

Although most of the movie centered on the dark aspects of the British Empire, it did touch upon one aspect of Indian culture with a negative note – namely the funeral practice of sati. Pandey and Gordon had saved a young Indian widow from the sati funeral pyre and Gordon spent the rest of the film saving her from being killed by her in-laws. However, the movie is about Mangal Pandey and the negative aspects of British imperial rule by 1850s India. The movie featured the corruption generated by the East India Company’s production of opium in India and its trade in China. The movie also featured the continuation of the slave trade in which Indian women are used as sexual slaves for the Company’s officer corp. This introduced one the movie’s major characters, the courtesan named Heera, who bluntly expressed her view on the Indian male population who willingly sign up to serve the East India Company’s army. When Pandey expressed his contempt toward women like her for selling their bodies, she responded with equal contempt at all of those who ”sold their souls” to the East India Company. All of the resentment over British rule and the distrust regarding the new Enfield rifles and the greased cartridges finally spilled over in an ugly encounter between Pandey and Lieutenant Hewson. Their second encounter became even uglier when Hewson and a group of fellow officers pay Pandey a visit at the regiment’s jail to brutally assault the imprisoned sepoy even further. Violence finally spilled over when Pandey convinced the other sepoys to mutiny. And after he is executed, the mutiny at the Barrackpore will inspire other sepoys throughout many parts of India to rebel against British rule.

I was not exaggerating when I say that most of the performances by the British cast members came off as over-the-top. A prime example was Ben Nealon’s portrayal of Pandey’s main nemesis, Lieutenant Hewson. One could say that Nealon was at a disadvantage from the start. His character was just as one-dimensional as many non-white characters that could be found in old Hollywood movies with a similar setting. However, Coral Beed, who portrayed Emily, the daughter of the Barrackpore commander, fared better. In a way, Emily came off as another cliché from the British Imperial literature of the 20th century – the young, open-minded English girl who is not only sympathetic to the Indians, but also interested in their culture. But Beed managed to portray this cliché without coming off as a second-rate version of the Daphne Manners character from 1984 miniseries, ”THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN”. Fortunately, most of the Indian cast did not engage in hammy acting. However, there was one exception – the actor who portrayed the “Untouchable” sweeper who mocked Pandey for demonstrating the new Enfield rifle. I do not know his name, but gave the hammiest performance in the entire movie. I felt as if I was watching an Indian version of a court jester perform. Perhaps that was director Dhondy’s intent. If it was, it did not work for me. However, I found myself very impressed by Rani Mukherjee’s performance as Pandey’s love interest, the courtesan Heera. Mind you, I found the idea of a devout Hindu like Pandey becoming romantically involved in a prostitute – especially one used to service British officers hard to believe. But I must admit that Mukherjee and actor Aamir Khan (who portrayed Pandey) had a strong screen chemistry. And the actress did give a very charismatic performance.

Finally we come to the movie’s two lead actors – Aamir Khan and Toby Stephens. And both actors gave superb performances. Aamir Khan is considered one of India’s biggest stars. He is at times compared to George Clooney. Well, he deserves the comparison. Not only is he a handsome man, but he also possesses a dynamic screen presence and is a first-rate actor. And he did an excellent job of developing Mangal Pandey’s character from the loyal sepoy who seemed to be satisfied with his life, to the embittered rebel whose actions instigated a major uprising. Khan conveyed this development with great skill and very expressive eyes. Toby Stephens was equally impressive as the British East India officer, Captain William Gordon. One might find his character a little hard to digest, considering that he is portrayed as being very sympathetic to the Indian populace and their culture (save for the sati ritual) with hardly any personal flaws. Fortunately, Stephens is skillful enough as an actor to rise above such one-dimensional characterization and portray Gordon as an emotionally well-rounded individual.

”MANGAL PANDEY: THE RISING” is not perfect. It has its flaws, which include some hammy acting and questionable historic accuracy. But its virtues – an interesting and in-depth study of a man who made such an impact upon both Indian and British history; superb acting - especially by the two leads Aamir Khan and Toby Stephens; and a rich production made it a movie worth watching. It is rare for a Westerner to view or read a story relating to the Sepoy Rebellion from the Indian point-of-view. I am aware that other movies, novels and history books have focused on the topic from a non-British POV. But ”MANGAL PANDEY: THE RISING” was my first experience with this point-of-view and I believe that director Ketan Mehta and screenwriter Farrukh Dhondy did a pretty solid job.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"WASHINGTON SQUARE" (1997) Photo Gallery

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Below are images from "WASHINGTON SQUARE", the 1997 adaptation of Henry James' 1880 novella. Directed by Agnieszka Holland, the movie starred Jennifer Jason Leigh, Albert Finney, Ben Chaplin, and Maggie Smith:


"WASHINGTON SQUARE" (1997) Photo Gallery

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