Wednesday, June 29, 2011



Nine years after the release of 1998's "ELIZABETH", director Shekhar Kapur returned to direct a sequel called, "ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE" (2007) Review. Like the 1998 movie, it stars Cate Blanchett as England's "Virgin Queen" and Geoffrey Rush as the sovereign's most trusted spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. The movie covers a period during Elizabeth I's reign in which she had faced the double threat of Philip II of Spain (Jordi Mollà) and Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton). The movie also features a romantic triangle for Elizabeth that features Clive Owen as Walter Raleigh, famous poet and explorer (and the Queen's object of desire) and Abbie Cornish as one of Elizabeth's ladies-in-waitng and Raleigh's future wife, Bess Throckmorton.

Despite having the same director and star as the previous film, "ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE" seems like a different kettle of fish from its predecessor. Michael Hirst and new writer, William Nicholson's screenplay seem more somber and less violent than the 1998 film. The most graphic violence shown in the movie is actually heard as Mary Stuart's neck is severed by a sword (or axe). And its sensuality almost seem subdued in compared to the earlier film. The most titillating scene seemed to be Cate Blanchett's backside after she disrobes in one scene.

The movie covers a period in Elizabethan history that has been featured many times in the past - namely Elizabeth Tudor's decision to execute Mary Stuart for plotting treason. It also covers the consequences of this act - namely Spain's decision to send an armada to England. Although I found this mildly interesting, I wish that one day in the future, some filmaker would focus upon a period in Elizabeth's reign that did not cover her early years as queen, Mary Stuart's death or the Spanish Armada. Unfortunately, these incidents seem to define her reign in history. Perhaps that is why I found the story's main conflict anti-climatic. At least the royal triangle between Elizabeth, Raleigh and Throckmorton managed to provide some spark in the story . . . even if this actually played out in the early 1590s, instead of the 1580s as shown in the film.

The performances are basically first-rate - especially by Rush, Owen and Cornish. Although I must confess that I found Owen's presence in the movie to be almost irrevelant. Aside from participating in the defense of England against Spain, he had no serious role in the movie's main story - namely Elizabeth's conflict with Mary and Philip.

I really do not know what to make of Jordi Mollà's portrayal of Philip II. I guess I found it rather odd. I think he had tried to portray the Spanish sovereign as someone more eccentric than he actually was. And quite frankly, screenwriters Hirst and Nicholson did not serve him well by dumping some rather pedantic dialogue upon him that seemed focused around insulting Elizabeth's character. I do not know what he had called English queen more - 'whore', 'bastard' or simply 'darkness'. Quite frankly, he had made a much better villain in "BAD BOYS II".

As for Blanchett, I really enjoyed her performance in the movie's first half. She seemed more self-assured, mature and perhaps manipulative than she was in the 1998 movie. Yet, once when affairs of both the state and the heart began to sour for her, she engaged in more over-the-top mannerisms than Bette Davis did during her entire 17 years at Warner Brothers. Before one starts thinking that I was more impressed by Blanchett's performance in "ELIZABETH", let me assure you that I was not. If anything, her twitchiness in the movie's second half only reminded me of the same mannerisms that I almost found annoying in the first movie. Yet . . . she still managed to turn in an excellent performance.

Like its 1998 predecessor, "ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE" is not perfect. It lacks the previous movie's colorful panache, despite the lavish costumes and sets. In fact, those very traits nearly threaten to overwhelm both the story and its characters. Thankfully, Kapur manages to prevent this from actually happening. And although it is historically incorrect, at least it is not marred by an unforgivable revision of history as was the case with the Elizabeth/Dudley storyline in the first film. Despite its imperfections, I suggest you go see "ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE". Especially if you enjoy lavish costumes in a historical setting.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in WASHINGTON D.C.

Below is a list of my top ten favorite movies set in Washington D.C.:


1. "All the President's Men" (1976) - Alan J. Pakula directed Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in this superb adaptation of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's account of their investigation into the Watergate scandal. Jason Robards won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Washington Post editor, Ben Bradlee.

2. "Breach" (2007) - Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe starred in this excellent true life account of FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who was convicted of spying for the Soviet Union and later Russia for more than two decades; and Eric O'Neill, who worked as his assistant and helped bring about his downfall. Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert, Kathleen Quinlan and Gary Cole co-starred.

3. "My Fellow Americans" (1996) - Jack Lemmon and James Garner starred in this silly, yet hilarious comedy about feuding ex-Presidents who investigate a political scandal involving financial kickbacks. John Heard, Lauren Bacall, Wilford Brimley, Bradley Whitford, Everett McGill, Sela Ward, Esther Rolle and Dan Ackroyd co-starred.

4. "Live Free and Die Hard" (2007) - Bruce Willis returned as New York cop John McClaine in this surprisingly outstanding entry in the DIE HARD franchise, which is an adaptation of the 1997 article "A Farewell to Arms", written for Wired magazine by John Carlin.

5. "The American President" (1995) - Rob Reiner directed Michael Douglas and Annette Benning in this romantic comedy about a widowed U.S. President who woos an attractive lobbyist. Written by Aaron Sorkin, the movie co-starred Martin Sheen, Richard Dreyfuss, Michael J. Fox, Samantha Mathis, Anna Deveare Smith and David Paymer.

6. "State of Play" (2009) - Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck starred in this excellent remake of the 2003 BBC miniseries about a journalist's investigation into the death of a political researcher. Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Jeff Daniels, Jason Bateman and Helen Mirren co-star.

7. "The Distinguished Gentleman" (1993) - Eddie Murphy starred in this funny, yet slightly scary comedy about a Florida con artist, who manages to become elected as a congressman. Lane Smith, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Victoria Rowell, Charles Dutton and James Garner co-starred.

8. "The More the Merrier" (1943) - George Stevens directed this hilarious look into the housing shortage in Washington D.C., during World War II. Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea and Oscar winner Charles Coburn starred.

9. "Murder at 1600" (1997) - Wesley Snipes and Diane Lane starred in this well-made political thriller about a Washington D.C. cop and a Secret Service agent investigating the death of a presidential secretary inside the White House. Alan Alda, Ronny Cox and Daniel Benzali co-starred.

10. "Dick" (1999) - Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams starred in this funny political spoof about two teenage girls, who become embroiled in the Watergate scandal. Dan Heydaya, Will Ferrell, Saul Rubinek, Bruce McCulloch, Dave Foley and Ryan Reynolds co-starred.

Monday, June 27, 2011

"THE MUMMY" (1999) Photo Gallery

Below are photos from the 1999 adventure-horror movie, "THE MUMMY". Directed by Stephen Sommers, the movie starred Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Oded Fehr and Arnold Vosloo:

"THE MUMMY" (1999) Photo Gallery

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"Defense of the Realm" [PG-13] - 5/14



A brown folder fell upon Darryl's desk. The police lieutenant glanced up at the man who had tossed it. "What's this?" he asked.

Marcus Anderson, the slender, sandy-haired man who served as the fifth member of Darryl's team, sat down in the chair next to his boss' desk. "File on a possible suspect in the Kostopulos murder. And maybe the Liederhoff case, as well. Check out the photo inside. Matches the description your Miss Newman gave on the perp she had ID yesterday."

"Her name is Miss Newhan," Darryl retorted. "And she's not mine." He picked up the file and opened it. His eyes scanned the material inside. "Huh. Gerry Gallagher. Name sounds familiar."

The other man said, "Remember the Cesar Aviles case, two years ago?"

Darryl nodded. "Pawnbroker on Franklin who had been robbed and murdered. There was a suspect . . ." He paused. "This dude here? Gallagher?"

"The very one," Marcus replied. "Aviles' thirteen year-old daughter claimed she had spotted Gallagher at the crime scene, but the son-of-a-bitch had an alibi. And Miss Aviles was never really sure it was him. Which means that the Aviles case is still . . ."

". . . unsolved." Darryl sighed. "Why don't you and Scott pick up Miss Newhan? You'll probably find her somewhere around Union Square."

Marcus shot back, "Actually, she's here at the station. Olivia took her to Dave's Café for something to eat."

"And Olivia is back." The two men glanced at the doorway and saw the redhead stride into the squad room. "What's up?"

Darryl tapped the file in front of him. "Marcus may have found the perp who matches Grace . . . uh, Miss Newhan's description of the man who killed Kostopulos. Where is she, by the way?"

"Ladies' room."

The two men groaned. "Jesus, Olivia!" Darryl protested. "Couldn't you have shown some consideration for the other women on this floor?"

"She's using the restroom on the first floor!" Olivia retorted. "Besides, she's managed to clean up a . . ." She broke off, as the person in question entered the squad room.

Olivia had been right about the homeless woman. Darryl could not help but marvel at the lack of odor emitting from Grace. Or the lack of grime on her thin face and clothes. And the latter seemed as if they had been purchased at the nearest Goodwill store.

Darryl stared at Olivia, who shrugged. "I thought that Grace could use some cash and new clothes. And a place to live, where she could wash up and sleep. So, I made a few calls at the local Social Services office, yesterday."

"I'm staying at a hotel on Union Square," Grace added proudly. "And I've got a job."

Darryl frowned. "Within a day?"

"I found Grace a job serving food at a local café," Olivia said. "So . . . um, about this so-called perp?"

Marveling at his partner's generosity, Darryl suggested that Grace sit down in the chair now occupied by Marcus. The sandy-haired detective stood up, allowing the no-longer homeless woman to sit in the chair. "Okay Grace," Darryl continued, as he pulled out a tape recorder.

"What's with the tape recorder?" Olivia asked.

Darryl sighed. "Thanks to your generosity toward Grace," he said, "any defense lawyer could accuse us granting Grace a few favors, in exchange for her testimony."

A sheepish expression appeared on Olivia's face. "Oh. Sorry."

"But I'm not doing this because Inspector McNeill got me a job!" Grace protested.

"Yes Grace, we all know that. But no one else does. And I'm just taking extra precautions. Okay? Now, let's begin." Darryl pushed the REC button. "I'm going to show you a picture, Grace." He handed her a photograph of Gallagher. "You recognize this man?"

Grace stared at the photograph, before she cried out, "Oh my God! That's him! That's the guy who killed Mr. Kostopulos!"

"Are you sure?" Olivia asked.

"Of course I am! Look, I may be . . . I mean, maybe I was homeless at the time, but I'm sure as hell not blind! Then or now!" Darryl and Olivia exchanged triumphant looks. Grace added, "When the guy had raised his arm to shoot Mr. Kostopulos, I saw a tattoo on the outside of his wrist. I don't know what kind of tattoo, but I saw something."

Darryl read the physical description of Gallagher. He smiled. "She's right about the tattoo. Gerry Gallagher has one of a hornet on the outside of his right wrist." He slammed the file shut and said to Olivia, "Send out an APB on Gerald Gallagher. I'm sure McPherson will approve it." The redhead nodded and reached for the telephone on her desk. Darryl returned his attention to their visitor. "And Grace, thanks. You've been a great help."

Grace beamed happily. For the first time, Darryl realized that she was not a bad-looking woman. If one could overlook the missing teeth.


Unbeknownst to passing pedestrians on the Rue Estienne in Paris, several blue lights appeared before they converge into the form of a forty year-old woman with red hair pinned into a chignon and hazel brown eyes. Madeline Pivet glanced around and rang the doorbell.

Two minutes passed before the door opened. An elderly woman with dark, intense eyes opened the door. "Elder Pivet!" Jeanne d'Arcy cried out with pleasure. Speaking in French, she continued, "I was wondering if you would arrive."

Madeline replied, "Yes, well the Council had some last minute business to discuss. But," she beamed happily, "here I am. I could not pass up a chance for my regular visit to my favorite charge."

"Your former charge," Jeanne corrected. "But come in!" The elderly woman swung the door wide open, allowing her former whitelighter to enter the house. The two women exchanged a brief embrace, before they headed for the elderly witch's sitting room. While the Elder sat down on the sofa, Jeanne headed toward an antique sideboard. "I have just finished preparing some of your favorite tea. Cammoline, isn't it?"

The Elder smiled. "Ah, Jeanne! You do know how to warm a whitelighter's heart. Cammiline tea sounds wonderful." A sigh left her mouth. "More than you can imagine. The past week or two has been very trying."

"Trying?" Jeanne set about preparing a cup of tea for her guest. "What do you mean, Madame Pivet? What has been going on?"

Again, Madeline sighed. "Death. New Council members and a lost opportunity."


Madeline's first instinct was to keep all matters pertaining to the Whitelighters Realm a secret - as protocol demanded. But the pressure of the latest crisis led the Elder to reveal everything. She told the elderly witch about the Council's fears surrounding the relationship between the American McNeill witch and Belthazor, the growing number of whitelighters rejecting the Council's authority, Mathilda Everard's failed plot against Belthazor and her subsequent dismissal from the Council. And about the latest deaths in the Realm.

"When the Charmed Ones had finally vanquished the Source and his Council over a year ago, we believed that sooner or later, all evil would eventually vanquish. And the supernatural world would no longer be under the threat of the Underworld's evil." Something akin to a snort left Madeline's mouth. "One of our whitelighters thought otherwise. She had told the Council that the Source's demise would upset the balance of good and evil in our universe."

Jeanne frowned. "But I thought the Charmed Ones had killed the Source, because he was trying to kill them?"

"Oh yes." Madeline allowed herself a small chuckle. "The prophecy." Jeanne handed her a cup of tea. "If you only knew the truth, Jeanne. If you only knew the truth." She took a sip.

Jeanne wiped her hands on her apron. "What truth?" Madeline opened her mouth to speak, when the telephone rang. "Pardon, Madame," and the witch left the room.

Madeline continued to drink her tea. It was not long before she began to feel slightly groggy. In an attempt to remain conscious, she rolled her eyes. It did not help. Not only did she become increasingly groggy, her sight began to fade.

"Jeanne? Jeanne!" Panic-stricken, the Elder cried out for her former charge.

The elderly woman rushed back into the sitting room. "Is there something wrong, Madame?"

Madeline struggled to bring Jeanne's wizened face into focus. "Wha . . . what did you put into this tea?"

"Tea?" Jeanne's dark eyes widened. Or so it seemed to Madeline.

"The tea! Yes! What did you . . .?" Madeline found herself feeling slightly breathless. "Mon dieu! What is happening?" To the Elder's horror, Jeanne suddenly transformed into a familiar dark-haired woman with a sneer stamped on her face. "Belinda? Wha . . . Why are you impersonating as . . . Mon dieu! You're a . . ."

A slow, sinister smile spread across Belinda's face. "I'm a darklighter, Elder Pivet. I've been impersonating a whitelighter for the past four years."

"But . . . how . . .?" Pain suddenly gripped Madeline's chest.

Belinda continued, "That's my little secret. Meanwhile, I should warn you that I had put poison from a darklighter's arrow into your tea." Her smile widened. "I hope you enjoyed it."

Struggling to maintain her breath, Madeline demanded, "Where's . . . Jeanne?"

"Don't worry." Belinda glanced at her wristwatch. "You'll soon be joining her." Madeline gasped. "Oh, and Mathilda sends her regard."

Mathilda? At that moment, a pain-filled Madeline realized that her former colleague had been behind the deaths of the other Elders. "Oh . . . dear God! Oh!" She gasped, as a jolt of pain twisted inside her.

Belinda's smile grew wider. "Oooh! Poor thing. That must hurt." Again, she glanced at her watch. "Hmmm. Time to check out. Oh well. Adieu, Madame Pivet. Can't say that it was nice knowing you." The whitelighter/darklighter disappeared just before Madeline drew her last breath.


The news of Elder Madeline Pivet sent the whitelighter community into a state of shock. In a short space of time, four Elders had been systematically murdered. There were many, including Leo, who wondered if the killings would stop with the Council.

In the end, Leo realized that only the Elders were being targeted. If it had been a matter of wiping out all of the whitelighters, there would have been reports of his colleagues being killed by darklighters on Earth. So far, only poor Elder Pivet had been killed amongst the mortals. Which led Leo to wonder if someone in the Whitelighter Realm was responsible.

Not long after Elder Pivet's death, Leo discovered that the Elders Council had a suspect in the killings. He entered Ludmilla Kremilov's office, bearing several parchments. "Here are the latest candidates for . . ."

"We have a suspect," the pale, and thin-faced Ludmilla announced to her subordinate.

Leo frowned. "I'm sorry?"

"A suspect. The Council now knows . . . or has a good idea on who is behind the murders of our Elders." She regarded the other whiteligher with triumphant eyes. "I must say that I'm not surprised. I knew it was her! Only she would be so bold."


Ludmilla rolled her eyes. "Yes! Of course, she! I mean . . . her! Natalia Stepanova."

The name took Leo by surprise. "Natalia Stepan . . . Not Mathilda?"


"Mathilda Everard," Leo repeated. "The Elder who had been recently dismissed from the Council. She's the reason why I'm working here."

The older whitelighter dismissed Leo's suggestion with a wave of her hand. "Of course not Mathilda! Yes, the Council had originally suspected her, but she has an alibi. Besides, one of the new Elders - Elder Johann Bauer - had discovered that Miss Stepanova was missing from the Realm around the time of Elder Pivet's death." A malicious gleam lit up Ludmilla's eyes. "The Council also discovered that Natalia is behind a movement to depose the current members of the Council. And replace them with new members."

"I . . . I don't believe it!" Leo protested. "Whitelighters against whitelighters? A civil war within the Realm?"

Ludmilla crowed, "A civil war that will soon be nipped in the bud. When Natalia is captured. Hopefully, that will happen in the immediate future.

Leo certainly hoped so.


A lone figure burst into the circular Council chambers of the Order of Gimle. The leader, a 846 year-old daemon named Rannveig glared at the intruder. "Emnick!" she exclaimed. "What is the meaning of this disruption?"

"Pardon Chairman Rannveig," the young daemon said between deep breaths, "but you have a visitor."

"Visitor?" Rannveig, along with Marbus and the other Gimle Council members, stared at Emnick. "Who is he? Or she?"

Emnick's next words took the Council by surprise. "She . . . is a whitelighter. And she's requesting sanctuary."

While the other members burst into surprised chatter, Marbus silently contemplated Emnick's news. A whitelighter asking a demonic order for sanctuary? Who had ever heard of such a thing?

Rannveig ordered, "Send in the whitelighter."

A few minutes later, Emnick returned to the chamber with the refugee in tow. Marbus nearly shot out of his seat at the sight of the familiar figure in a whitelighter's robe. "Bloody hell!" he cried. "Natalia Stepanova?"

"Marbus!" The Russian-born whitelighter rushed toward the Council's semi-circular table. "Marbus, I need your help! Desperately!"

Rannveig frowned. "Emnick told us that you are seeking sanctuary?"

"Yes, I . . . The Elders Council believes that I am responsible for the recent murders of four of their colleagues. Also, they know about the faction led by Barbara DeVilliers and myself."


The whitelighter informed the Gimle Council about her faction's fear that the Elders have lost their way. "For the past four or five centuries, they have become obsessed with destroying the Source's Realm. More so than simply offering spiritual guidance to mortals at large, including some witches. This obsession . . . has led to the creation of a prophecy that a trio of witches would eventually destroy the Source."

"The Charmed Ones," Marbus added.

Natalia nodded. "Precisely. This prophecy had sent the Source into a state of paranoia that finally drove him to go after the Charmed Ones. And to ensure that the witches were prepared to kill him, the Elders developed the Warren line so that the Power of Three would exist."

Most of the members of the Gimle Council reacted with shock from Natalia's revelation. But not Marbus. Ever since his confrontation with Lucia Miller, one of Melinda Warren's descendants, he had been suspicious about the Warren line. A fellow council member named Ladira exclaimed, "Are you saying that the Elders had deliberately interfered with the Warren line in order to create the Power of Three?"

"Yes," Natalia calmly replied. "The Elders had made sure that a middling witch named Charlotte Warren would conceive a powerful offspring with a powerful sorcerer named Philip Lacey. Apparently, they had manipulated a meeting between Charlotte and Lacey somewhere in Colonial Virginia. A few days after Melinda's conception, Lacey had mysteriously disappeared. When Charlotte gave birth to Melinda Warren, the Source's Oracle experienced a vision of his death at the hands of Melinda's descendants.

"Some of us in the Whitelighter Realm had been appalled by this revelation. And when the Elders had decided to reward the Charmed Ones for killing the Source - even at the expense of Belthazor, who had been a victim of demonic possession - we could not condone the Elders' actions any further. Our faction has been growing ever since. We also feared that the destruction of the Source's Council would upset the balance in the supernatural universe. Something that had not really concerned the Elders."

Shaken by the news that his nephew had been a pawn of the whitelighters, Marbus asked in a gruff voice, "And it's because of this faction that you're being considered as the main suspect behind the killings?"


Another Gimle Council member asked, "Who do you believe is behind the attacks on your Council?"

The whitelighter hesitated. "The only person I can think of is Mathilda Everard." Marbus bridled at the mention of the ex-Elder's name. Natalia continued, "She had recently been ousted from the Council for her plot to kill Belthazor without their consent."

"Yes, we've heard about that," Rannveig said, shooting a quick glance at Marbus. The latter remained silent.

"And there is also Gideon Elliot," Natalia continued. "He is the headmaster of our school for young witches. Like Mathilda, he is a fanatic for the . . . cause. Of course, he keeps these views to himself. And he has been pre-occupied with his school. Mathilda, on the other hand . . ."

Rannveig shook her head. "I simply find it difficult that a whitelighter would concoct a scheme to kill others."

"I don't," Marbus coolly replied. "Considering that Everard whitelighter had plotted to have my nephew killed, and what Natalia has told us about the Elders and the Source . . . I have no trouble at all."

The older daemon sighed. "All right. We will grant you sanctuary, Miss Stepanova. But not here. If you can orb here, so can other whitelighters . . . accompanied by witches to attack us. We need to find you a place where the Elders and their charges cannot track you."

A grim Marbus nodded. "Don't worry. I know the very place where she can hide. And the right person to protect her."


Thursday, June 23, 2011

"INFAMOUS" (2006) Review

"INFAMOUS" (2006) Review

I have heard a lot about the two movie biographies based upon Truman Capote’s experiences, while working on his famous non-fiction novel, "In Cold Blood""CAPOTE" (2005) and "INFAMOUS" (2006). I have watched them both, but have decided to discuss the second movie . . . namely "INFAMOUS", which was written and directed by Douglas McGrath. Although I could never compare the two movies, I might as talk about the one that featured British actor Toby Jones, as the diminutive writer.

To be honest, I did not know what to expect of "INFAMOUS". Since it was the second Capote movie to be released, it failed to garner any prestigious critic awards or nominations – aside from a Independent Spirit Best Supporting Actor nod for Daniel Craig, who played one of the murderers involved in the murders of the Clutter family in 1959 Kansas, Perry Smith. After watching the movie, I found myself wondering why Toby Jones had failed to earn his own nomination. The man’s complex portrayal of Capote seemed all at once witty, sharp, manipulative, vulnerable and rather sad. In all, it was a brilliant performance. He seemed to revel in Capote’s legendary flamboyant wit and charm in all its glory. One of Jones’ funniest scenes involved Capote’s snappy repartees to prison inmates shouting lewd propositions at him, during his first visit to the prison. Yet at the same time, Jones also revealed the author’s talent for cold-blooded deception and manipulation, which he used to gain the trust of his New York friends, along with the citizens of Holcomb and the two killers, whose anecdotes he needed to complete his book. This talent for drawing out secrets . . . and disclosing them not only attracted the suspicion of Perry Smith, but also got Capote in hot water with his "swans" in the mid-1970s, thanks to an unpublished manuscript of his book, "Answered Prayers". A few chapters managed to end up in the New York magazine, "Esquire". But what is more interesting about Jones’ performance in the movie is that his experiences in Kansas ended up peeling away Capote’s flamboyant façade, forcing him to face the pain and sorrow created by an unhappy childhood.

Ironically, it was Capote’s encounters with convicted murderer, Perry Smith, which forced the author to face his personal demons. What can I say about Daniel Craig’s performance? Other than the British actor not only deserved his Independent Spirit Award nomination, but like Jones, he also deserved both a Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination. His Perry Smith was a brooding, quiet man who projected vulnerability, intelligence and brutal menace. It was easy to see how Capote and Smith had developed a close relationship. Both shared a taste for intellectual and artistic pursuits that allowed them to hide from unhappy childhoods that included suicidal mothers. Both actors created a dynamic screen chemistry through two contrasting personalities that seemed to share similar childhood experiences. Craig brilliantly projected Smith’s varying personalities in two scenes – one in which he expressed polite distaste at Capote’s gift of pornographic magazines; and in another, his terrifying anger at the "In Cold Blood" title, which led to a threat of rape of the author.

"INFAMOUS" could boast a first-class supporting cast led by Sandra Bullock, who portrayed Capote’s close friend and fellow author, Harper Lee ("To Kill a Mockingbird"). Many critics seemed surprised by Bullock’s excellent portrayal of the warm and wryly amused Alabama author. Apparently, they must have been deluded by some belief that Bullock was only capable of light comedy. The actress was given to showcase her dramatic chops in one "documentary" interview scene in which she expressed Lee’s bitter anger at the public’s demand for an endless supply of entertainment by talented artists. I also enjoyed Jeff Daniels’ wry and sardonic portrayal of the Kansas Bureau Investigations officer in charge of the Clutter case, whose family eventually befriended Capote. His performance was highlighted in a favorite scene of mine that featured the development of Capote and Dewey’s friendship over an arm wrestling match.

Lee Pace portrayed Dick Hickock, Smith’s partner and the alleged brains behind the attempt to rob the Clutters. I found his performance rather humorous and gregarious, yet there were times it threatened to be a touch frantic. Since “INFAMOUS” gave the audience a wide glimpse into Capote’s New York lifestyle, the movie also included his circle of "swans", with whom he developed a close relationship until his disclosure of their secrets in the mid-70s. Those "swans" included Babe Paley (Sigourney Weaver) – the wife of CBS baron Bill Paley; Diana Vreeland (Juliet Stevenson), the fashion magazine editor; Slim Keith (Hope Davis), the woman who was married to Howard Hawks and Leland Hayward; and Marella Agnelli (Isabella Rossellini), Italian-American princess who became a furniture designer and tastemaker. Also included in that group were publisher Bennett Cerf (Peter Bogdanovich), novelist and Capote’s rival Gore Vidal (Michael Panes). I was especially amused by Stevenson’s humorous portrayal of the vivacious Vreeland, who seemed proud of her own eccentric nature and appreciative of Capote’s attitude toward it.

Some reviews have criticized McGrath’s tendency to switch the movie’s setting between Capote’s glittering New York world and the somber atmosphere of Holcomb, Kansas. I understood why he did it. Both settings seemed like metaphors for the writer’s contrasting psyche during those six years he worked on "In Cold Blood". It started out with a glittering night with Capote and Babe Paley at the El Morocco nightclub (with a sultry Gwenyth Paltrow singing "What Is This Thing Called Love?") and ended with Capote unable to keep the dark memories of Kansas out of his mind. In fact, once Capote had finally set eyes upon Smith, Holcomb’s bleak setting slowly threatened to puncture the frivolous façade he had created, whenever he was in New York. The emotional cost from the book and his relationship with Smith resulted in his inability to write his next book – "Answered Prayers", as shown in the movie’s final scene.

The only problems I had with “INFAMOUS” were some of the "documentary" interviews shown during the movie’s first half-hour. Frankly, I believe that the movie could have started out with these interviews, before segueing into the story. And aside from Capote’s tour of the Clutters’ home, I found the sequence featuring his interviews with some of Holcomb’s citizens a little dull and hard to watch. Fortunately, the arrival of Smith and Hickcock quickened the movie's pace and from there, my interest in the movie remained constant until the end.

Whether you are a fan of the Philip Seymour Hoffman film, "CAPOTE", I do recommend that you watch "INFAMOUS" . . . or at least give it a chance. Hopefully, you will discover that in its own way, it is just as fascinating as the 2005 Oscar-winning film.

9/10 stars

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"STAR TREK VOYAGER" RETROSPECTIVE: (3.25) "Worst Case Scenario"

"STAR TREK VOYAGER" RETROSPECTIVE: (3.25) "Worst Case Scenario"

Some time ago, I had posted a list of my top ten favorite episodes of "STAR TREK VOYAGER" (1995-2001). After re-examining my list, I was surprised to discover that the Season Three episode, (3.25) "Worst Case Scenario" was not on it.

In this penultimate episode of Season Three, B'Elanna Torres discovers a Holodeck program in which Commander Chakotay and the former Maquis crewmen stage a mutiny against Captain Janeway and the rest of Voyager's crew. Torres' participation in the program is interrupted by Tom Paris, who reminds her of their lunch date. He eventually becomes interested and participates in the program himself. After his first participation in the program, Paris and Torres discover that other members of the crew have also been enjoying it. But Paris' second participation in the Holodeck program reveals that it had not been completed by its mysterious author. During a meeting, the senior staff discovers that Voyager's Security Chief, Tuvok, had created the program (which he called "Insurrection Alpha")as a training session for the junior members of his Security staff during the ship's first months in the Delta Quadrant. As the Maquis and Starfleet factions of the crew began to merge, Tuvok decided to abandon the program.

Due to the crew's enthusiasm toward "Insurrection Alpha", Paris and Tuvok agree to expand the program into a complete holonovel. As the two officers begin to edit the original program, they suddenly find themselves trapped behind a forcefield in a simulation of the ship's brig. A holographic version of the deceased Seska, a former Cardassian spy, appears and explains that before she had escaped the ship to join the Kazon back in Season One, she rewrote the simulation as a virtual deathtrap for Tuvok. Some of the real Voyager's systems - like the transporter and communication systems, along with the Holodeck's safety protocols) go offline. And Paris and Tuvok are forced to endure one hazardous situation after another as they try to stay alive.

After my recent viewing of both "Worst Case Scenario" and my top ten episode list, I discovered that I could not change the latter. However . . . if I had created a list of my twenty favorite "VOYAGER" episodes, "Worst Case Scenario" would have ranked at #11. Yes, it is that good. The Holodeck proved to be an excellent creation for STAR TREK writers to use for some first rate episodes. "STAR TREK NEXT GENERATION" had episodes like (2.03) "Elementary, Dear Data" and (3.21) "Hollow Pursuits". "STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE" had the delicious (4.10) "Our Man Bashir" and (6.18) "Inquisition". However, in my opinion, "STAR TREK VOYAGER" has aired some of the best Holodeck episodes I have ever come across. And one of those episodes is "Worst Case Scenario".

Kenneth Biller did an excellent job of giving viewers a glimpse of the tenuous situation between the two factions aboard Voyager during its early months in the Delta Quadrant. Even more importantly, the "Insurrection Alpha" could be viewed as an ominous warning of what could have happened if the crew had failed to integrate during those early months. It is ironic that this episode aired over three years before Season Seven's (7.04) "Repression" - which featured an actual Maquis rebellion unwittingly instigated by Tuvok, of all people. Tuvok's program also featured the crew's only Talaxian, Neelix, joining the rebellion. The real Neelix commented that Tuvok had incorrectly read his character during those early days. A reviewer named Jim Wright agreed. However, I have my doubts. I can recall Neelix's numerous complaints about Janeway's tendency to interrupt their journey for an exploration of planet or system. And I can recall one or two occasions in which the Talaxian cook and the Starfleet captain had clashed. I suspect that Tuvok had a pretty good jibe on Neelix's character back in those days.

Normally, I would claim that "Worst Case Scenario" focused on the entire crew. After all, the episode began with Torres discovering the program and ended with Janeway declaring herself as more than a starship captain, but a community leader as well. However, I noticed that the ship's chief pilot, Tom Paris, was featured in more scenes than any one else . . . which is why I tend to view him as the episode's main character. I read somewhere that actor Robert Duncan McNeill considered "Worst Case Scenario" as one of this favorite episodes of the show's first three seasons. And I can see why. Biller had produced a well written script that allowed McNeill to engage in some of his funniest work. I could also say the same for actor Tim Russ, who portrayed the stoic Tuvok. McNeill and Russ also proved that their screen teaming in (3.08-3.09) "Future's End" was no mere fluke. They had a strong chemistry that allowed their characters to create one of the best comedic teams in science-fiction television.

But despite Robbie McNeill and Tim Russ' dominance in this episode, other cast members were given the opportunity to shine. Ethan Phillips gave a charming performance as Neelix, whose enthusiasm for "Insurrection Alpha" almost seemed to bubble. Roxann Dawson provided one of the funniest moments in B'Elanna's caustic reaction to Paris' suggestion of a passionate romance between the ship's chief engineer and chief pilot. Robert Baltran was able to capture both the holographic Chakotay's determination to rebel against his character and the real Chakotay's sly and humorous reaction to his role in Tuvok's story. Bob Picardo was both funny and chilling as the Doctor in the holoprogram. Both Kate Mulgrew and Garrett Wang gave solid support as Captain Janeway and Harry Kim. But Martha Hackett's return as Seska, the former Bajoran Maquis that turned out to be a Cardassian spy, proved to be a real pleasure. She was deliciously villainous as ever, confirming by belief that her Seska might be one of the best television villains around. And her holographic death in this episode proved to be more rewarding that her real death in (3.01) "Basics, Part II".

I realize that "STAR TREK VOYAGER" is much reviled by many TREK fans. And I also realize that many would be very reluctant to accept my belief that the series had aired some of the best Holodeck episodes in the franchise. But whether they would agree with me or not, no one could ever convince me that an original episode like "Worst Case Scenario" was overrated or at best, barely tolerable.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"SUPER 8" (2011) Photo Gallery

Below are images from the new science-fiction movie, "SUPER 8". Written and directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg, the movie stars Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, and Kyle Chandler:

"SUPER 8" (2011) Photo Gallery

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"SOURCE CODE" (2011) Review

"SOURCE CODE" (2011) Review

It is a miracle that I ever got the chance to see the new techno-thriller, "SOURCE CODE". It is a miracle . . . at least to me, because I never saw a movie trailer or read an article about it before the eve of its release. I would have ignored it completely if I had not noticed several billboards advertising the movie throughout the city. And since the movie featured actors I happened to admire, I decided to go see it.

Directed by Duncan Jones and written by Ben Ripley, "SOURCE CODE" is about a decorated army helicopter pilot named Colter Stevens, who finds himself on a mission to locate the maker of a bomb that exploded and destroyed a train headed into downtown Chicago. Stevens is isolated inside a chamber, where he communicates with Air Force Captain Colleen Goodwin. She explains to Stevens via a computer screen that he is inside the Source Code, a program that allows him to take over someone's body in his or her last eight minutes of life. He learns from the program’s creator, Dr. Rutledge that the Source Code is not a simulation, but a visit into the past in the form of an alternative reality. Stevens cannot truly alter the past to save any of the passengers, but that he must gather intelligence that can be used to alter the future and prevent a future attack. In short, Steven’s mission is to locate the bomb on the train, discover who had built it and report back to Goodwin and Dr. Rutledge before the bomber can detonate a second larger bomb, a dirty nuclear device in Chicago.

While watching the movie’s first half hour, I had assumed that the psychic essence of the Colter Stevens’ character was being sent back into the past to change the timeline and prevent the destruction of the train. I thought that this was some kind of cinematic version of the old UPN television series, "SEVEN DAYS" (1998-2001). But Stevens eventually discovered how he got the assignment to identify the bomber. Confused and frustrated, he used the cell phone of a train passenger and discovered that he had supposedly died in the Afghanistan war two months earlier and that his severely injured body was appropriated by the Air Force and used by Dr. Rutledge to enter the Source Code. When that plot twist was revealed, I realized that "SOURCE CODE" might have more in common with both the U.K. and U.S. versions of "LIFE ON MARS".

"SOURCE CODE" was not a hit. Although the movie earned three times the amount of its budget, it really did not earn that much at the box office, despite favorable reviews from critics. Pity. Because I believe that it was a well made film. I also have to give kudos to Don Burgess for his supervision of the movie’s visual effects, including his photography of Montreal and Chicago. I was especially impressed at how he and his crew handled a particular scene in which the Stevens character exchanged romantic glances with one of the train’s passengers, a woman named Christina Warren, while the train was being incinerated by the terrorist’s bomb.

Director Duncan Jones did justice to Ben Ripley’s first-rate script with excellent pacing and action sequences. And using the superb cast led by Jake Gyllenhaal, he handled the dramatic scenes very well. Jones managed to do a great job in balancing both the dramatic and actions sequences. But what really made "SOURCE CODE" very appealing to me was Ben Ripley’s screenplay. I cannot help but admire how he paced each big revelation in the movie’s story without rushing or bringing it to a slow crawl. And as I had watched the movie reached its finale, it occurred to me that "SOURCE CODE" ended on a note that I believe that the U.S. version of "LIFE ON MARS" should have. I found the whole experience very satisfying.

Earlier, I had commented on the superb acting in the "SOURCE CODE". And I still maintain that belief. Although the movie featured solid acting by the supporting cast, it was the four main leads that shined . . . at least in my opinion. Jake Gyllenhaal did a marvelous job in his portrayal of Coulter Stevens, the military helicopter pilot that found himself a part of a government program that he never signed for. Gyllenhaal perfectly conveyed his character’s initial confusion, growing awareness of the Source Code program, his growing affection toward the Christina Warren character. And the actor managed to pull all of these acting chops and remain a very effective action hero. Both Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright as Colleen Goodwin and Dr. Rutledge respectively, took me by surprise. Literally. Farmiga’s Captain Goodwin started out as a cool professional that utilized a brusque manner to ensure the completion of Stevens’ mission. But the actress did an excellent job in conveying her character’s growing attachment and compassion toward the doomed helicopter pilot. Wright’s Dr. Rutledge followed a reverse path. When his character was first introduced, I was left with the impression of a slightly nervous and shy man who was determined to save Chicago. But as the movie progressed, Wright slowly, but effectively pulled back the layers of his character to reveal a man, whose obsession with his creation had eroded a great deal of humanity from his personality. Behind the shy and nervous man was a ruthless being that lacked any compassion whatsoever. Watching Wright perform, it occurred to me that he has become a true chameleon, capable of getting under the skin of any character. Michelle Monaghan’s portrayal of the passenger Christina Warren seemed to lack the complexity of the other three major characters. But I must admit that she did a great job in portraying her character as a warm and vibrant personality. One could not label her character as a "damsel-in-distress". After all, her character had died before the movie’s first reel. But it finally occurred to me that instead of the damsel, Monaghan’s Christina Warren served as Coulter Steven’s emotional center.

Did "SOURCE CODE" have any flaws? Well . . . I realize that I had commented on the supporting cast’s "solid" action. And I stand by my word. However, not all of them were perfect. There were a few characters among the train’s passengers that struck me as a tad over-the-top. If the movie had any other flaws, I did not notice. I was too busy being intrigued and entertained by Ben Ripley’s first-rate story, Duncan Jones’ direction and the superb acting by the movie’s four leads. It is a pity that the movie failed to become a major hit, despite earning a profit. I still believe that it had deserved to become one.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Favorite Movies of the 1960s

Below is a list of my favorite movies released during the 1960s:


1. "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969) - George Lazenby made his only appearance as British agent James Bond in this superb adaptation of Ian Fleming's 1963 novel about the agent's wooing of a mob boss's daughter and his investigation behind Ernst Stravos Blofeld's allergy research in the Swiss Alps. Directed by Peter Hunt, the movie co-starred Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas.

2. "Lover Come Back" (1961) - Doris Day, Rock Hudson and Tony Randall co-starred in this hilarious comedy about rival advertising executives on Madison Avenue and their battle over a product that does not exist. Delbert Mann directed.

3. "Mary Poppins" (1964) - Oscar winner Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and David Tomlinson co-starred in this classic Disney adaptation of P.L. Travers' stories about a magical nanny who upsets the lives of a banker and his family in Edwardian London. Robert Stevenson directed.

4. "From Russia With Love" (1963) - Terence Young directed this excellent adaptation of Ian Fleming's 1957 novel about agent James Bond's efforts to steal a Soviet code detector in Istanbul with the help of an embassy clerk, unaware that both are being used by the criminal organization, SPECTRE. Sean Connery made his second appearance as the British agent. Daniela Bianchi, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw and Pedro Armandariz co-starred.

5. "Support Your Local Sheriff" (1969) - James Garner starred in what I believe to be one of the funniest comedy-westerns of all time about a fast-drawing drifter who becomes sheriff of a lawless mining town for the money. Directed by Burt Kennedy, the movie co-starred Joan Hackett, Jack Elam, Bruce Dern, Harry Morgan and Walter Brennan.

6. "Tom Jones" (1963) - Tony Richardson directed this Oscar winning adaptation of Henry Fielding's 1749 novel about the bawdy misadventures of the illegitimate adopted son of an 18th century English squire. One of the best costume films ever. Albert Finney, Susannah York, and Hugh Griffith co-starred.

7. Hello Dolly!" (1969) - Barbra Streisand, Walter Matthau and Michael Crawford co-starred in this fun-filled adaptation of the Broadway musical about a professional matchmaker in 1890 New York, who brings chaos into the lives of a successful businessman from Yonkers, along with his niece and employees. Gene Kelly directed.

8. "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967) - Arthur Penn directed this wild, Oscar nominated biopic about the infamous Depression-era bank robbers, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway portrayed the titled characters. Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman and Oscar winner Estelle Parsons co-starred.

9. "The Apartment" (1960) - Oscar winner Billy Wilder directed this serio-comic tale about a man who tries to rise in his company by letting its executives use his apartment for illicit trysts, but complications and a romance of his own ensue. Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray co-starred.

10. "The Lion in the Winter" (1968) - Political intrigue ensues in this excellent adaptation of James Goldman's 1966 play about the attempts of King Henry II's three sons to ensure the role of immediate heir to the English throne. Oscar winner Katherine Hepburn, Peter O'Toole, Anthony Hopkins, John Castle, Nigel Terry and Timothy Dalton co-starred.