Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"GREEN LANTERN" (2011) Review

"GREEN LANTERN" (2011) Review

Green seemed to be the dominate colors regarding costumed crime fighters this year. The year 2011 marked the end of the television series, "SMALLVILLE", which featured Superman's colleague, the Green Arrow. Last January saw the release of "THE GREEN HORNET", starring Seth Rogen and Jay Chou. And just recently, Warner Brothers Studios released their adaptation on the DC Comics superhero, the Green Lantern.

Directed by Martin Campbell, "THE GREEN LANTERN" told the story of a hotshot test pilot for Ferris Aircraft named Hal Jordan, who becomes the Green Lantern . . . or one of them. Before Earth was formed, a group of beings called the Guardians of the Universe used the green essence of willpower to create an intergalactic police force called the Green Lantern Corps. One such Green Lantern, Abin Sur defeated a fear-essence being Parallax and imprisoned him in the Lost Sector on the ruined planet Ryut. However, Parallax eventually escapes from his prison, kills four Green Lanterns and destroys two planets. After Parallax mortally wounds Abin Sur. Dying, the latter crashes on Earth and commands his Green Lantern ring to find a worthy successor.

Hal Jordan is chosen by the ring and transported to the crash site, where Abin Sur appoints him a Green Lantern, by telling him to take the lantern and speak the oath. At home he says the oath of the Green Lanterns while under trance from the glow of the lantern. Hal is whisked away to the Green Lantern Corps home planet of Oa, where he meets and trains with Tomar-Re and Kilowog. He encounters Corps leader Sinestro, who is not pleased that a human, which is primitive compared to other species, has become a Green Lantern. Meanwhile, scientist Hector Hammond is summoned by his father, Senator Robert Hammond to a secret government facility to perform an autopsy on Abin Sur's body. A piece of Parallax from inside the corpse inserts itself inside Hector, mutating the latter and giving him telepathic and telekinetic abilities . . . at the cost of his sanity. Throughout the movie, Hal not only has to deal with his private insecurities and fears about being a Green Lantern; the uneasy state of his relationship with his boss/ex-girlfriend, Carol Ferris; and most importantly, the increasingly dangerous Hector and Parallax, who is slowly making its way toward Earth.

Unfortunately for "GREEN LANTERN", it flopped at the box office. Because of its $200 million budget, it is considered one of the biggest failures of the summer and a major embarrassment for Warner Brothers. The critics tore the film apart before it even reached the movie theaters. And a good number of moviegoers stayed away in droves. In fact, its failure reminded me of what happened to "SPEED RACER" back in 2008, another Warner Brothers release. Pity. Because I enjoyed "GREEN LANTERN" and thought it was a pretty solid adaptation of the famous comic book hero.

Now "GREEN LANTERN" was not the best superhero movie that I have ever seen. The movie's plot struck me as one of those typical superhero origins tale that every fan of this type of movie genre has to . . . well, endure. Some of these origins have managed to knock my socks off. "GREEN LANTERN" failed to do so. And I do have a major complaint about the screenplay written by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg. I thought it had failed to form a stronger connection . . . or relationship between the infected Hector Hammond and Parallax. The two characters only shared one scene and seemed over pretty damn quick.

But I do believe that the critics' enmity was undeserved. "GREEN LANTERN" provided plenty of drama, laughs, action and special effects. The screenwriters did a great job in developing Hal Jordan's character, allowing actor Ryan Reynolds plenty of dramatic meat to show off his acting skills. The screenplay also provided some strongly written supporting characters - especially Carol Ferris, Sinestro, and Hector Hammond, who was provided a strong subplot involving his relationship with his father. And aside from my disappointment over the Hector-Parallax connection, I thought the screenwriters did an excellent job in providing a strong connection between Hal's personal demons, his introduction to the Green Lantern Corps and the dangers of Parallax.

The behind-the-scenes production for "GREEN LANTERN" struck me as outstanding. I was very impressed. Felicity Browning lead a team that provided first rate makeup for some of the cast. I was especially impressed by their work on Mark Strong, Peter Sarsgaard, and even Ryan Reynolds' eyes, while in his Green Lantern garb. But Grant Major's production designs for both the planet of Oa really blew me away. I believe the visual effects supervised by Jim Berney and special effects by John S. Baker probably helped. Not only was I impressed by the designs and effects featured in the Oa sequences, but also the design of Parallax, which freaked me out a bit.

As I had earlier pointed out, the movie's screenwriters did a solid job in their characterization of Hal, making him a complex and interesting character. But it would have never worked without Ryan Reynolds, who not only provided his trademark wit to his performance, but also provided Hal with a great deal of pathos and complexity. Reynolds also created great chemistry with his co-star Blake Lively. I had been very impressed by her performance in last year's movie, "THE TOWN". And her performance as Hal's ex-girlfriend, boss and fellow test pilot, Carol Ferris; only proved that my original opinion of her acting talents was not a fluke. She still managed to be very impressive.

Ever since I saw him in "JARHEAD", I have been a fan of Peter Sarsgaard. His portrayal of Hector Hammond, the insecure senator's son and scientist, has made me into an even bigger fan. I think it was a testament to Sarsgaard's acting talent that he allowed Hector to remain a sympathetic character, despite his transformation into a villain from the Parallax infection. And it has been a while since I have seen Mark Strong portray a good guy - three years to be exact. For me, his portrayal of fellow Green Lantern Sinestro, was spot on . . . and a breath of fresh air. Both Angela Bassett and Tim Robbins provided solid support as government scientist Dr. Waller and Hector's father, Senator Robert Hammond. Mind you, I found nothing remarkable about Bassett's role, which is not surprising, thanks to the screenwriters. But it was interesting to see Robbins portray a somewhat smarmy personality, who seemed more interested in his son's ambitions (or lack of) than in his son.

Look, "GREEN LANTERN" may not be the one of the best comic book hero movies ever made. And it did not strike me as one of the most original I have ever seen. But I do not believe it deserved the harsh words that many movie critics dumped on it. Thanks to the behind-the-scenes production, Martin Campbell's direction and the cast led by Ryan Reynolds, I thought that "GREEN LANTERN" turned out to be a solid and entertaining film.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"CHARMED" RETROSPECT: (1.12) "The Wendigo"

"CHARMED" RETROSPECT: (1.12) "The Wendigo"

I really do not know what to say about the ”CHARMED” Season One episode, (1.12) “The Wendigo”. You know what? Of course I do. After all, it is one of my favorite episodes from that first season. In fact, it is one of my top twenty (20) ”CHARMED” episodes of all time.

”The Wendigo” began with one Piper Halliwell stranded at a local San Francisco park, thanks to a flat tire. The episode immediately kicked into high gear when a supernatural beast attacked her. The beast managed to inflict a deep scratch on her arm before a savior arrived in the form of a young man, who used a flare gun to scare off the beast. While being treated at the hospital for her scratch, Piper and her two sisters – Prue and Phoebe – learned that Prue’s old flame, Inspector Andy Trudeau of the San Francisco Police Department, had been in contact with an FBI agent named Ashley Fallon, due to previous attacks by the beast in the city. The three sisters also discovered that Piper’s savior, Billy Waters, had a previous encounter with the beast that left his fiancée dead, in Chicago. Ever since his fiancée’s death, Billy and FBI Agent Fallon have been tracking the beast. It was Piper who learned from the family’s Book of Shadows that the beast is called a Wendigo, a werewolf/Sasquatch hybrid that hunts victims during the three days of the full moon in order to eat their hearts. Because of her scratch, Piper ended up in danger of also becoming a Wendigo.

Written by Edithe Swensen and directed by James Conway, ”The Wendigo” had its flaws, despite my feelings about it. The majority of those flaws stemmed from moments of bad acting and a problem with the script. The only problem I had with the script centered on FBI Agent Fallon’s failure to work with agents from the local FBI office in San Francisco. I realize that the local law enforcement would have been drawn into the case, once the attacks in San Francisco began. But it never made sense to me that Fallon, an agent from another regional office, would be the only one from her agency working on the case in San Francisco and not an agent from the local FBI office.

"The Wendigo" also featured a subplot in which Phoebe manages to wangle a job at Bucklands as Prue's assistant. While handling a bracelet to be sold at auction, Phoebe has flashes of a car accident. She discovered that the car in her vision had belonged to a private detective who was conveying a five year-old girl that had been kidnapped by her father. The subplot ended with Phoebe and Prue delivering the now eleven or twelve year-old girl to her mother. The subplot struck me as short, emotional and yet somewhat meaningless. Mere fodder to pad the episode.

As for the acting, there are three moments I found . . . questionable. One involved Piper’s gradual transformation into the Wendigo. Perhaps Holly Marie Combs had been instructed by director James Conway to portray this as a comedy scene. Unfortunately, Combs did not come off as funny to me. Her timing seemed off. Nor did she seem ominous. Just awkward. Another moment featured Jocelyn Seagrave’s performance in a scene in which her Special Agent Fallon had described a past heartbreak over being rejected by a former love. No offense to Miss Seagrave, but she did come off as slightly theatrical. The last scene featured Prue and Phoebe confronting the original Wendigo and Piper, who had finally transformed into the beast. After Phoebe fired a flare gun at Wendigo Piper, the latter froze the flare and the original Wendigo. While Prue and Piper debated over who was the real Wendigo, the actor or actress (it could have been Holly Marie Combs) inside the Wendigo Piper suit stood in one spot with hands in attack position, stood in one spot and wore an idiotic expression that seemed to say ”what do I do next?”. It was a rather stupid moment.

But despite these minor quibbles, I genuinely enjoyed ”The Wendigo”. It was an entertaining monster-of-the-week episode that featured a first-rate performance by Holly Marie Combs as the anxiety-ridden Piper who feared she was turning into a monster. Although both Shannen Doherty and Alyssa Milano gave fine support, I was especially impressed by T.W. King, whose Andy Trudeau seemed suitably torn over his broken romance with Prue and his attraction to Special Agent Fallon. Despite my complaint over Jocelyn Seagrave’s reading over one particular scene, I must admit that she did a stand-out job of portraying a credible Federal agent and had a strong screen chemistry with King. I also have to commend actor Billy Jayne for giving a strong and charismatic performance as Piper’s savior, Billy Waters.

Thanks to director James L. Conway, ”The Wendigo” was not only entertaining, but well-paced. And despite the missing presence of local FBI agents in San Francisco and the subplot, I have to admit that Edithe Swensen wrote a lively and solid episode with plenty of horror and suspense. Swensen was also sensible enough not to reveal the human identity of the Wendigo, until two-thirds into the episode.

Watching ”The Wendigo” reminded me of how entertaining ”CHARMED” could be during its early seasons. Before the writing in the series began to decline at a serious rate. Before the dark times. With the entire series now on DVD and airing as reruns on TNT, fans have a constant reminder of its glory days . . . including episodes like ”The Wendigo”.

Monday, August 29, 2011

"COWBOYS AND ALIENS" (2011) Photo Gallery

Below are images from the new science-fiction/western movie called "COWBOYS AND ALIENS". Based upon the 2006 graphic novel created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, the movie was directed by Jon Favreau:

"COWBOYS AND ALIENS" (2011) Photo Gallery

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Defense of the Realm" [PG-13] - 12/14



Once the five chosen whitelighters were initiated into the positions of Elders, the newly completed Council decided to proceed to their first topic - namely filling the position of Head Elder. Not surprisingly, Gideon was the first to make a suggestion. "I nominate," he declared, "Elder Mathilda Everard."

Johann allowed himself an amused smile, as Serafina shot up from her seat. "I mean no disrespect to Elder . . . Everard, but this is becoming absurd. Not long ago, the old Council had dismissed her for flagrantly disregarding the rules. Then most of the old Elders are brutally murdered. Elder Davis then suggests that we reinstate her back on the Council and once we accomplish that, he nominates her as the Council's new leader." The Costa Rican regarded the veteran Elder with narrowed eyes. "I do not know about the rest of you, but this is all becoming very suspicious."

"Exactly what are you insinuating, Serafina?" Mathilda coolly demanded.

Serafina's dark eyes blazed with righteousness. "I am saying . . . no, I am accusing you of manipulating the entire situation. Of being complicit in the murders of the Elders."

An unpleasant smile curled Mathilda's lips. Johann could not help but feel a surge of admiration for the old warhorse. "May I remind you that I'm a whitelighter? And an Elder? I have served the forces of good for nearly four hundred years. How dare you suggest that I would take a life? Especially that of a fellow whitelighter!"

"Of course not!" Serafina retorted. "However, you are in the habit of getting others to do your dirty work. Your dealings with Leo Wyatt, for instance! Did you not used him to get a witch to . . ."

Mathilda shot to her feet. "Enough! I do not have to listen to such nonsense! Frankly Serafina, I find it distasteful that you would resort to wild accusations in order to maneuver your way into position of Head Elder!"

"I am not interested in that position!" Serafina shot back. "However, I do find it suspicious that not long after you were dismissed from the Council . . ."

"Oh yes! I see that we have to endure that little spiel, again!"

Johann watched the entire confrontation between the two alpha females with repressed glee. So much for the angelic reputation of whitelighters. Apparently, they could be just as petty and temperamental as humans, darklighters, daemons and other so-called lesser beings. Artemus had been right. The Austrian also realized that it was time to end the pissing contest that now raged.

"Pardon frauleins," he said. When the two continued to argue, he shouted, "Ladies!" Both Mathilda and Serafina fell silent and stared at him. So did the other Council members. "Thank you. Now, before we all decide upon the new Head Elder, I have my own candidate to nominate."

Gideon stared at him. "And who might that be?"

Johann smiled. "Me." The others, with the exception of Belinda, regarded him with shock and surprise. Especially Mathilda.

"Johann, what are you . . .?" the latter demanded.

The Austrian continued, "What am I doing? Deviating from our plan, of course."

"What do you mean by that?" Serafina demanded. "And why should we nominate you?"

Still smiling, Johann stood up and walked around the Council's table, until he ended up facing his fellow Elders. "Oh, you won't be the ones to choose me," he said. "They will." He pointed at seven robed figures that had entered the Council chambers. Gasps escaped from the others' mouths, as the strangers threw back their hoods and pointed bow-and-arrows - darklighter weapons - at the Council members.


"What in the hell is going on?" Cole demanded for the second time. He did not know whether to be surprised, angry or happy at the sight of Olivia. Or worried by the bruises on her face. He decided to settle for surprise and anger. "Natalia," he said to the Russian-born whitelighter, "when I had given you refuge, I didn't mean for you to invite others without my permission."

Natalia stood up. "Forgive me, Cole. I had encountered Miss McNeill and Mr. Morris in the garage, downstairs. We had a . . . near miss. I thought they were agents for the Council and orbed up here. Miss McNeill and Mr. Morris had followed me. And since she is a relation of one of my former charges, I had invited them inside. You do not mind, do you?" Her dark eyes widened with innocence. Then she frowned. "Forgive me, but why are you here?"

Before Cole could answer, Chris spoke up. "Hi. We haven't formally met. My name is Chris Perry. I'm . . ."

"Yes, I know who you are. I've seen you in the Realm. The whitelighter from the future." Natalia coolly nodded. "I assume you are here to take me back to the Elders." She shot an accusing glance at Cole.

Leo replied, "It's not what you think, Natalia. We . . . I mean, Phoebe had a vision of who was behind the Elders' deaths."

"It's Mathilda," Phoebe added.

Natalia did not look particularly fazed by the news. She snorted with derision. "Huh, why am I not surprised?"

Olivia added, "Wait a minute! You mean the Elder who had arranged the whole thing between me, Cole and Paul, is also behind the murders in the Whitelighter Realm?"

"Yes," Chris replied.

The Russian said to him and Leo, "Have you informed the Council?"

Leo glanced uneasily at Chris. "We . . . uh . . ."

"I was about to, but the Council chambers are off-limits to other whitelighters. I believe they might be forming a new Council. I ran into Leo and told him."

"When we found out that you were here," Leo continued.

Chris finished, "We decided to let you inform them."

A sigh left Natalia's mouth. "I see." She paused. "By the way, we have another problem."

Cole noticed the book in Olivia's lap. "Uh, what's going on? What are you doing with my book?"

Olivia and Darryl told the others about a murder/robbery case they were investigating. And their encounters with Gerry Gallagher and Lin Bryant. "Is that why your face looks like that?" Piper asked.

"Unfortunately yes. I know it looks pretty bad," Olivia said. "Personally, I feel like I had just went ten rounds with Michelle Yeoh." She sighed. Cole wanted to reach out and stroke her face.

Piper added, "Maybe you should ask Leo to heal those bruises."

Olivia shook her head. "No. We had left . . . or maybe I should say that I had left Ms. Bryant on the floor, dead. These bruises are proof that I had a good reason for kicking her ass." She added, "Anyway, our case had led to this." She pointed at the book on her lap. Cole recognized it as a book on inter-dimensional mythology. "Someone from the Magan Corporation had hired Lin Bryant to find the Erebor medallions, in order to reach the Whitelighter Realm."

"Yeah," Darryl added. "According to one of Ms. Bryant's men, someone named Johann Bauer."

"Who?" Chris demanded.

Both Natalia and Leo's faces turned pale. "Oh my God!" the latter cried.

Cole grunted. "Now there's a name I haven't heard in years."

Leo stared at the half-daemon. "What do mean? Where have you met Johann, before?" Then he turned to Olivia and Darryl. "And why would a whitelighter be involved with a company that might be demonic?"

"This Johann Whatshismane," Piper began, "he's a whitelighter?"

"Yes!" Both Leo and Natalia answered at the same time.

Cole replied coolly, "No, he's not. He's a darklighter."

"That's impossible!" Leo declared. "No darklighter or any other entity can access the Whitelighter Realm, without being accompanied by a whitelighter."

"Leo, I've had dealings with this guy, before. He has connections with the Khorne Order."

Darryl frowned. "The what?"

With a sigh, Cole explained that the Brotherhood of the Khorne was among the many demonic orders in the old Source's realm. An upper-level daemon named Artemus used to be its leader. "But the Source had banished him to the Stygian Abyss in the 1970s, after he had failed to destroy the Gimle Order."

"What's this Stygian Abyss?" Piper asked.

Olivia indicated the book in her lap. "It's a supernatural maximum-security prison to where many beings of magical abilities are banished. My family has sent a good number of daemons there. The thing about the Stygian Abyss is that no one can escape from it. It's like Alcatraz. Well, maybe worse. As for this Johann Bauer, if he is a darklighter . . ."

"He's been a whitelighter for the past five or six years!" Natalia exclaimed.

Nodding, Olivia said, "Interesting. He became one around the same time Lin Bryant had began her search for the Erebor medallions. Perhaps this Mr. Bauer was among the first to use one . . . if what Cole says about him is true."

"Oh great!" Piper retorted. "And this guy is now an Elder?"

Anxiety whirled in Leo's eyes. "We have to stop him!" he insisted. "Expose him to the Council, before he kills again."

"Wait a minute!" Chris demanded. "If two of these medallions have fallen into Johann Bauer's hands, and he's probably wearing a third; what about the other six? Do the darklighters now have all nine of them?"

Phoebe commented, "If they do, they can get rid of the entire Whitelighter Council. And after that . . ."

A sigh left Olivia's mouth. "Oh God! This means that all of us will have to go to the Whitelighter Realm." Darryl coughed slightly. "Well, except for Darryl."

"And Cole," Piper added. "Considering he's a demon."

The redhead's green eyes swept over the half-daemon in a manner that left him feeling slightly aroused. "Oh, I don't know. Considering that Cole had managed to return from the dead on his own, he might be able to teleport to the Realm. After all, we're going to need his help. Especially if Bauer is an Elder, as Leo claimed."

Cole stared back at Olivia. "Thanks for the vote of confidence," he murmured.

"My pleasure." Olivia smiled.

"And what about Paige?" Phoebe asked. She seemed slightly uneasy by Cole's exchange with Olivia. "We might need the Power of Three."

Olivia added, "All we have to do is make sure that we remove the medallions from the darklighters, before we attack them. So, are we all ready?"

Chris frowned at the redhead. "Are you always this bossy?"

She smiled at him. "Yes. Considering that you're from the future, you should know that." Then Olivia stood up and turned to the Russian whitelighter. "Natalia? Ready for that lift." The whitelighter stood up - much to Cole's disappointment. The two females joined hands and disappeared in a swirl of blue lights.

Leo heaved an exasperated sigh and orbed with Piper. Chris turned to Phoebe. "Maybe you should come with me. In case Cole can't reach . . . uh, up there." Phoebe stared at Cole, who shrugged. She pecked his cheek, and grabbed Chris' hand before disappearing.

Cole sighed. He glanced at Darryl, who regarded him with sympathetic eyes. "You mind locking up, before you leave?"

"I don't mind," the detective replied.

Then Cole gave a small nod, as he beamed out of his living room.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

"THE MUMMY" (1999) Review

"THE MUMMY" (1999) Review

As a rule, I dislike horror movies or thrillers very much. Not only do I dislike today’s slasher films, I am NOT a fan of the old horror classics that feature actors like Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Lon Chaney Jr., and Boris Karloff. In other words, the slasher films disgust me and the old horror classics tend to creep me out.

One of those old horror classics happened to be the 1932 movie, "THE MUMMY", starring Karloff. It told the story of an ancient Egyptian priest named Imhotep that became a mummy and ended up terrorizing Cairo. Seventy-six years later, director Stephen Sommers remade the old classic into a half-horror/half-adventure tale in the style of Indiana Jones about how members of a treasure-seeking expedition in 1920s Egypt, revived Imhotep, who wrecked havoc upon the expedition camp and Cairo. I had been prepared to ignore this remake, until a relative informed me that this version had been filmed in the style of an Indiana Jones movie. Being a fan of the Lucas/Spielberg movies, I lowered my guard and saw the movie.

Looking back at my decision, eleven years later, I am glad that I had seen "THE MUMMY". My relative had been right. The movie felt more like an action-adventure film, with a touch of horror. Well, more than a touch. After all, this was a tale about an Egyptian mummy that came back to life. But I loved every minute of the film. Well . . . almost. But I believe that it was a perfect blend of action, the supernatural, adventure, comedy and romance. My two favorite sequences featured the Medjai (descendants of Pharaoh Seti I’s palace guards) attacking the Nile River steamboat conveying the heroes from Cairo to Hamunaptra, site of the treasure they sought and Imohtep’s remains; and Imohtep’s reign of terror in Cairo, as he sought the three Americans and the Egyptologist who possessed the canopic jars that held the mummy’s preserved organs. I especially enjoyed this last sequence, because I feel that it managed to evoke the surreal and mysterious atmosphere of the old 30s horror films more than any other sequence in the movie.

Another one of the movie’s major virtues turned out to be its cast. Brendan Fraser did a great job in portraying the aggressive soldier-of-fortune, Rick O’Connell. He must have been at least 30 years old around the time he shot "THE MUMMY". And I must say that he also managed to project a strong and masculine screen presence, with a touch of sly humor. Creating screen chemistry with Fraser was Rachel Weisz, who portrayed the inexperienced yet enthusiastic archeologist, Dr. Evelyn Carnahan. I really enjoyed how she injected a mixture of charm and spirit into the very ladylike Evelyn. And John Hannah rounded out the golden trio as Jonathan Carnahan, Evelyn’s humorous yet slightly decadent older brother. Hannah was very funny as Evelyn’s self-serving brother, who seemed more interested in making a quick buck, instead of doing hard work.

Kevin J. O’Connor, a favorite of Sommers, gave a sly and hilarious performance as the Hungarian born Beni Gabor, Rick’s amoral former Foreign Legion comrade that becomes Imohtep’s willing minion. O’Connor was especially hilarious in a scene that featured Beni’s attempts to save himself from Imohtep’s wrath by invoking God’s help in different languages. Actor Oded Fehr provided a great deal of dash and intensity as Ardeth Bay, the leader of Medjai. Actors Stephen Dunham, Corey Johnson, and Tuc Watkins provided plenty of their own comic relief as the three American adventurers seeking treasure from Hamunaptra. Jonathan Hyde provided a stable contrast to their lunacy as the Egyptian archeologist who serves as their expedition’s Egyptology specialist. Patricia Velásquez gave a brief, but very memorable performance as Anck-Su-Namun, the ancient Egyptian courtesan that happened to be the love of Imohtep’s life. Speaking of Imohtep, Arnold Vosloo literally made a name for himself as the imposing and ruthless high priest and future mummy, who becomes obsessed with reuniting with his love through any means possible.

Despite its vast array of virtues, "THE MUMMY" had its share of flaws. One, some of the humor and so-called wit struck me as rather silly and sophomoric. I also found it annoying that the Rick O’Connell character seemed inclined to constantly use a gun for every situation – especially when they worked fruitlessly against supernatural beings like mummies. Costume designer John Bloomfield did a piss poor job with Rachel Weisz’s costumes. I realize that Westerners in the far reaches of the British Empire tend to dress more conservatively than their fellow citizens in Great Britain. But that was no excuse for why Evelyn wore an outfit and hairstyle dated a decade older than the movie’s 1920s setting:

However, my biggest problem with the movie happened to be the final showdown between the heroes and Imohtep inside the temple at Hamunaptra. How can I put this? Director Stephen Sommers added new meaning to the phrase "over-the-top". Not only did the action and special effects struck me as excessive, but it almost seemed to go on with no end in sight.

Despite my misgivings of "THE MUMMY", I still enjoyed the movie very much. It is a fun movie filled with memorable characters, humor, suspense and some genuine fright. For me, it turned out to be one of the better summer blockbusters of the late 1990s.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mary and Henry Crawford in "MANSFIELD PARK"


Every time I read an article or review about Jane Austen's 1814 novel, "MANSFIELD PARK", the authors of these articles always comment on the unpopularity of the novel's leading character, Fanny Price. I could say the same about most articles and reviews on the novel's television and movie adaptations. Time and again, both critics and others claim that most Austen fans have a low opinion of Fanny Price. At the same time, these same commentators like to point out the popularity of the novel's antagonists, Henry and Mary Crawford.

The first time I had come across such a statement about Fanny Price and the Crawfords, I decided to search for further articles that verified these claims. In all honesty, I have come across at least less than a half-a-dozen articles or blogs that either criticized Fanny or praised the Crawfords to the sky - especially Mary Crawford - or did both. But most of the articles and reviews I have discovered usually followed this structure:

1. Fanny Price is very unpopular with Austen fans.

2. The Crawfords - especially Mary - is very popular with Austen fans.

3. The authors claim that they harbor the same opinions, until recently.

4. The authors eventually state that they believe Fanny Price is a misunderstood character and praise her character to the sky as a paragon of virtue and courage.

5. Or the authors would point out Fanny's personality flaws and claim that Austen used as some kind of metaphor for eighteenth century morality play, or etc.

6. Bring up the Crawfords and reveal how degenerate they really were, despite any virtues they may possess. Both characters have been called the worse names in an effort to make Fanny look good.

I like to call the above structure or formula - "The Defense of Fanny Price Campaign". And most articles I have read about "MANSFIELD PARK" usually follow this formula. In fact, I have come across so many articles of this nature that I now have doubts that most Austen fans really dislike Fanny or even like the Crawfords.

I am well aware that Mary and Henry Crawford were flawed. And I believe that Austen did an excellent job of making their flaws rather obvious. On the other hand, I believe that she did a pretty good job in portraying their virtues, as well. Fanny Price was no different, in my opinion. Mind you, I found her rather dull at times. But I have never dismissed her on those grounds. Fanny did have her virtues. But I believe that she also possesed flaws. And like the Crawfords, she never overcame hers by the end of the novel. But whereas Austen literally ignored Fanny's flaws by the end of novel . . . and gave her a wide berth, she castigated the Crawfords for failing to overcome their flaws. Many critics and fans who have posted articles in the very fashion I brought up, also did the same. And so did the movie and television adaptations.

This is the main problem I have about "MANSFIELD PARK". If Austen had been willing to acknowledge Fanny's flaws (let alone those of her cousin, Edmund Bertram), I would have never found it difficult to enjoy the story. I suspect that "MANSFIELD PARK" could have easily been one of those novels that explored the complex nature of all of its major characters without labeling one or two of them as "villains". Or . . . if she really wanted to villify the Crawfords that badly, she would have been better off portraying them as superficial, one-note characters.

But what I find really frustrating is this so-called "Defense of Fanny Price" campaign that seemed to have swamped the Internet for the past four-to-five years. By utilizing the structure that I had earlier pointed out, these critics and fans seem willing to turn a blind eye to Fanny's flaws; at the same time, castigate Mary and Henry Crawfords as villains on the same level as George Wickham of "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE". Of all the articles I have come across about the characters featured in the 1814 novel, only one has seemed willing to view them all as morally complex and ambiguous. If there are other "MANSFIELD PARK" articles of similar nature, I can only hope that someone would inform me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"BODY OF LIES" (2008) Photo Gallery

Below is a gallery featuring photos from the new Ridley Scott political thriller, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe:

"BODY OF LIES" (2008) Photo Gallery

Monday, August 22, 2011

"Defense of the Realm" [PG-13] - 11/14



"As the sisters' whitelighter, it's my job to inform the Elders about what they had discovered!" Chris shouted at Leo. "Not yours!"

Upon their return from Sausalito, Chris had orbed to the Whitelighter Realm to inform the Council about Mathilda Everard's part in the Elders' murders. Only Chris never received the chance, due to the Council being in closed session. Instead, Chris encountered Leo. The latter tried to get inside the Council, but like Chris before him - failed. The two whitelighters returned to the Halliwell manor, arguing over who should approach the remaining Elders.

His face red with anger, Leo shot back, "This isn't the time to be arguing over who has jurisdiction, Chris! We have important news for the Elders. And since they are probably more inclined to listen . . ."

The doorbell rang, interrupting the whitelighters' quarrel. "Who's that?" Piper asked.

Paige marched to the front door and opened it. Cole stood on the stoop, outside. "Hey," he greeted. "Is Phoebe here?"


Phoebe joined her younger sister at the door. "Cole! What are you doing here?"

"I had called your office for a lunch date," the half-demon replied. "But you weren't there. In fact," he glanced at his watch, "weren't you due back nearly a half-hour ago?" Paige allowed him inside the house.

A gasp left Phoebe's mouth. "Oh my God! I forgot!" She rushed toward the telephone. "I better call in sick."

Paige shrugged. "I don't think that argument is going to get me anywhere. I better get back to work. I hope Barbara isn't pissed."

"Surely she would understand what's going on?" Piper added.

"Maybe. But it's been very busy at the store, lately. Inventory."

Cole glanced at the others. "What's going on?"

"Nothing," Leo immediately replied.

Paige said at the same time, "We found out who's been killing the Elders."

"Paige!" The blond whitelighter looked upset.

The youngest Charmed One stared at her brother-in-law. "What? Cole knows about the murders!" She turned to the half-demon. "It's Mathilda."

Cole's blue eyes expressed surprise. "Really? The Elder who had tried to get me killed?"

"That's the one. Blood thirsty lady, isn't she? Chris and Leo have been arguing over who gets to tell the Whitelighter Council."

Now it was Piper's turn to protest. "Paige! Don't you have to get back to work?"

"So, Natalia is no longer the main suspect?" Cole asked. Everyone, including Phoebe who had hung up, stared at him.

Leo's eyes narrowed. "Why are you so concerned about Natalia?"

Cole hesitated. Then he sighed. "Since you've discovered the real culprit, I might as well tell you. Natalia Stepanova is at my place. She has been, since yesterday evening."

"What?" Leo cried.

Phoebe exclaimed at the same time, "Cole! Why didn't you tell me? Tell us?"

"I should have known," Piper added sarcastically.

The half-demon held up his hand to silence the others. "If you must know, Natalia had asked the Gimle Order to give her sanctuary from your Council. Marbus brought her to me. He figured that I would be powerful enough to protect her from your Elders. But since you found out that my old buddy, Mathilda is responsible, I might as well tell her."

"We . . . might as well tell her," Chris added. "We're going with you."

Cole seared the younger whitelighter with a cold glare. "I don't recall inviting you to my apartment. And what makes you think I'll allow you inside?"

Chris nearly wilted under the half-demon's intimidating stare. Paige came to his rescue. "Because it would mean a big favor for us," she added in a conciliatory tone. "Please?"

"All right," Cole said with a nod. "Let's go."

Paige grabbed her purse. "I'd like to join you, but I've got to get going. See you guys later." And she orbed out of the manor.


Serafina Villabos reacted with shock at Gideon's suggestion for a new Council member. "Are you serious? Mathilda?" she cried. "Our predecessors had removed her for a reason!"

"For trying to get rid of Belthazor?" Gideon retorted. "At least she tried. Which is more than I can say for the rest of my former colleagues."

The Costa Rica-born Elder shot back, "She had gone behind the Council's back! Furthermore, she had convinced a whitelighter to coerce a witch into committing the deed!"

"Certain situations called for difficult . . . acts! I say that we invite Mathilda to the Council." When William and Serafina failed to respond, Gideon added, "The Realm's leadership is in dire straits! Mathilda happens to be one of our oldest and more experienced whitelighters now surviving. Both Johann and I believe it would be a grave error not to invite her back on the Council."

Johann spoke up. "Gideon is right."

A sigh left William's mouth. "All right. I'm convinced."

Serafina let out a small huff. "I suppose that we can give her another chance," she said morosely.

"Good!" Gideon smiled brightly, much to Johann's amusement. "Why don't we summon the candidates? Now?"

The four Elders closed their eyes. Seconds later, five whitelighters materialized before the Council. Among them, Mathilda Everard and Johann's fellow darklighter, Belinda. Gideon explained the circumstances surrounding their summons. Johann noted that while the other candidates seemed surprised, a smug smile appeared on Belinda's lips. As for Mathilda . . . she literally radiated with triumphant.


Just before Cole's arrival at the Halliwell manor, Darryl's sedan entered the underground parking lot, below Olivia's apartment building. "Are you sure it's okay to park here?" he asked his partner.

"Don't worry, Darryl. You can use my space," Olivia reassured him. She pointed at the aforementioned spot. "Right over there."

After Darryl parked the car, the two police officers climbed out. They had left Scott Yi behind to deal with the cleanup at the Bryant auction house. As they approached the elevator, Olivia spotted a woman struggling to dump a large plastic bag into one of the building's garbage cans. The latter turned away from garbage can and started toward the elevator. Olivia's eyes narrowed. At five-feet-five and dark-haired, the woman looked very familiar.

"Good evening," Olivia greeted politely. "Have we met before?"

The woman, who now stood before the other two, let out a gasp. Then she began to disappear before a cluster of blue lights. Olivia grabbed Darryl's hand, much to the latter's surprise, before grabbing hold of the woman's arm. All three ended up in front of Cole's penthouse.

"What are you . . . what are you doing?" the woman cried. She spoke in a thick Russian accent. "Let go of me!"

Olivia stared at the double doors leading to Cole's penthouse. "What is a whitelighter doing here?" she asked.

"I . . ." Again, the woman's body began to break into a cluster of blue lights. She cried, "Get me inside that penthouse! Quick!"

Olivia forced the doors open, using her telekinesis. Then she forced both the woman and Darryl inside, before following them. Once she closed the doors, she frowned at the woman. "I know you, don't I?" Then she took in the high cheekbones, the oval-shaped face and dark brown eyes. "Wait a minute! You're Cousin Keith's whitelighter! Or you used to be!"

Darryl tapped Olivia's shoulder. "What the hell is going on?"

"That's what I like to know." Olivia continued to stare at the woman. "Well?"

The woman blinked. "You're a McNeill?"

"Olivia McNeill." The redhead held out her hand. "One of the American cousins."

"And I'm Natalia Stepanova. Of course you must know that, by now." The whitelighter stared at Darryl. "And you are . . .?"

The police lieutenant answered, "Darryl Morris. Olivia's partner on the police force." He offered his hand to the whitelighter, who shook it.

Natalia nodded. "Of course! I have heard of you. A friend of Leo's and the Charmed Ones. No?"

"Uh . . . yeah. By the way, what the hell was that about?"

Olivia added, "I'd like to know."

Confusion lit up Natalia's dark eyes. "Have you not heard what is going on in the Whitelighter Realm? The Elders are being murdered, one by one."

"What?" Both Olivia and Darryl stared at the whitelighter. The former added, "What are you talking about? What does this have to do with Cole?"

After the two partners sat down on the sofa, they listened to Natalia's tale of death and evasion. When she finished, Darryl said, "So, Cole is giving you refuge?"

The whitelighter replied, "Yes."

"Then why are you . . .?"

Looking slightly embarrassed, Natalia answered, "Uh . . . the garbage. Bel-, I mean, Cole forgot to remove it, this morning. I became worried about the odor and decided to remove it myself. When you two approached me, I panicked and orbed here. Obviously, the Council or someone in the Realm must have detected me when I used my power." She paused. "Would you two like a drink? Some tea, perhaps? I just prepared some."

Darryl shrugged. "Sounds great to me." Olivia glared at him. "What?"

Olivia sighed. Ever since stepping foot inside the penthouse, she had been feeling slightly uncomfortable. "We really need to get going. Darryl and I have some research to do."

"Oh, you mean the medallions?"

Natalia frowned. "What medallions?"

Darryl told the whitelighter about their present case - the deaths of the shop owner and the art dealer and their connection to a petty thief and auction house in the city."

"Perhaps there is something about them in one of Cole's books." Natalia pointed at the bookshelf opposite the fireplace. "Why don't you look, while I prepare your tea?" She headed toward the kitchen.

Olivia glanced at Darryl, who nodded. Then she stood up and walked over to the bookcase. As she perused each shelf, a book on the third shelf attracted her attention - "HISTORY OF INTERDIMENSIONAL LEGENDS AND LORE" by Aubrey deMariposa. "This looks interesting," she murmured. "Never seen a copy of it, before." She removed the book from the shelf and opened it. The copyright date read 1911 - 73rd edition. "Goddess! How old is this book?"

"What did you find?" Darryl asked.

Olivia joined him on the sofa. "A book that I've never heard of, before." She opened the book. One page featured a familiar item. "Well, well. If it isn't the Staff of Aingeal."

"Isn't that the staff you had brought back from Scotland, last summer?" Darryl commented.

"It certainly is."

Natalia returned with a tray containing a teapot, three cups, a small jug of milk and a bowl of sugar. She placed it on the coffee table, before sitting next to Olivia, and glanced at the book. "Ah! Keith's staff. The last time I saw it was four years ago, when he helped my charge and I deal with a powerful wizard. Unpleasant fellow. I understand that you now have it, Miss McNeill. Congratulations."

"Thanks," Olivia murmured, not knowing how to take the compliment. The witch continued her examination of the book. She finally came upon a page that featured a drawing of . . .

"The medallion!" Darryl cried. Natalia handed him a cup of tea. "Or maybe I should say, medallions? There seemed to be nine of them."

Olivia read from the book. "The medallions of Erebor. Two thousand years ago, a powerful daemon named Kiro had asked a deity or a dominion named Erebor to create nine medallions for him and his order. Erebor was willing to create the medallions, in exchange for services from Kiro's order. It doesn't really go into details in what deeds Kiro and his followers had to commit for Erebor. But the medallions were forged and given to the daemon. Before he and his order could use it, a wizard named Caedmon had snatched the medallions and hid them throughout Europe, Asia and Northern Africa."

"What did this Kiro plan to do with the medallions?" Natalia asked.

After further reading, Olivia gasped aloud. "Oh my God," she murmured. "Those medallions would allow anyone who is not a whitelighter into their Realm - without the assistance of said whitelighter."

"So, one of these medallions could get me into the Whitelighter Realm without Leo or Paige?" Darryl asked.

Olivia nodded. "Not only that, but each medallion would also give the bearer whitelighter powers.

Anxiety filled Natalia's eyes. "My God! And two of those medallions have already been found!"

"Who knows how many of those medallions have been found or are in use?" Olivia added. "Don't forget . . . according to one of Lin Bryant's men, she had been hired by the Magan Corporation to search for them, some five or six years ago. She may have . . ."

At that moment, five people materialized in the middle of the living room, causing Olivia to break off. She gawked at the newcomers. Her heart twisted at the sight of Cole . . . and of Phoebe clutching his arm.

Cole regarded the whitelighter and two police officers with a mixture of surprise and a little hostility. "What the hell is going on?" he demanded in an angry voice.


"SUPER 8" (2011) Review

"SUPER 8" (2011) Review

When I first saw the trailer for J.J. Abrams' new movie, "SUPER 8", I had a very difficult time generating any interest in the film. I would have easily ignored it if it were not for the fact that two or three of my favorite actors were featured in the film and that it was produced by Steven Spielberg.

My feelings toward J.J. Abrams' previous work are rather mixed. Yes, I realize that he was one of the creators of such television series as "ALIAS" and "LOST". But Abrams ended up distancing himself from both shows before they eventually suffered from a decline in writing quality. I enjoyed his work on "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III". But his "STAR TREK" reboot left me wondering about his talent as a writer and director. But after watching "SUPER 8" this summer, my faith in his talent has been fully restored.

Set in 1979, "SUPER 8" told the story of a group of young friends in their early teens filming their own Super 8 movie for a film festival for amateurs, when a train derails, releasing a dangerous presence into their town of Lillian, Ohio. The story began 13 year-old Joe Lamb dealing with the death of his mother in a factory accident. A neighbor named Louis Dainard appears at the wake, but Joe's father a deputy sheriff named Jackson Lamb, leads him away in handcuffs. Jackson blames Louis for his wife's death because he was absent during his shift and she had to fill in for him.

Four months later, Joe's friend, Charles Kaznyk, makes plans to film a zombie movie on Super 8 mm film for an amateur film festival. Along with Joe, he hires Dainard's daughter Alice to be part of the cast. After stealing her father's car, Alice takes Joe, Charles, Preston, Martin, and Cary to an old train depot; where the group plans to film a scene. During the shoot, Joe watches a pick-up truck drive onto the tracks and place itself in the path of an oncoming train, causing a massive derailment. In the aftermath of the accident, the kids find the wreck littered with strange white cubes. They approach the truck and discover Dr. Woodward, their biology teacher, behind the wheel of the truck. He instructs them to never talk about what they saw; otherwise they and their parents will be killed. Moments afterwards, the U.S. Air Force, led by one Colonel Nelec, arrives to secure the crash site. The kids flee the scene. Over the next couple of days, a number of strange phenomena occur throughout the Lillian neighborhood. A good number of the town's dogs run away. And kitchen appliances, car engines, and power lines vanish. Also, many people begin to disappear, among them the town's sheriff. Joe, Alice and their friends start investigating the strange phenomenons around Lillian, as they continue to shoot Charles' movie.

Not only has "SUPER 8" restored my faith in J.J. Abrams as a Hollywood talent, I believe it is one of the best movies I have seen this year. I really enjoyed. Abrams created a story that not featured mysterious happenings and an alien, but it also had plenty of human drama centering around Joe's relationships with his recently widowed father and Alice Dainard; along with a delightful story arc featuring the group of friends' attempt to film a movie. The interesting thing about "SUPER 8" is that all of the different story arcs in the movie - the personal dramas, the mystery surrounding the alien and Charles' zombie movie - managed to connect seamlessly to form a first-rate movie. But more importantly, "SUPER 8" brought me back to the days of my childhood of the late 1970s - a time when many of my generation were first becoming fans of filmmakers like Spielberg and George Lucas.

Not only does "SUPER 8" has a first-rate story written by Abrams, it also featured a superb cast. I was surprised to discover that "SUPER 8" featured 15 year-old Joel Courtney's film debut. Either Abrams has a talent for working with children, Courtney is a natural born film actor . . . or both. All I know is that his performance really knocked my socks off. I was especially impressed that he managed to hold his own with the likes of Kyle Chandler, who portrayed his father. Allie Fanning, who has more experience than Courtney, proved that acting talent obviously ran in her family (she is Dakota Fanning's younger sister). She was very impressive as Alice Dainard, the daughter of the very man whom Joel's dad hold responsible for his wife's death. There were two scenes that really impressed me - her confession to Joe about the circumstances that led to his mother's death; and her confrontation with her drunken father.

I have been fans of both Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard for a very long time. Chandler, who seemed to have a natural talent for portraying complex characters, displayed this talent again in his portrayal of Jackson Lamb, the deputy sheriff who finds himself as the leading law enforcement official following the disappearance of the sheriff. Chandler not only portrayed Jackson's growing concern over the town's strange incidents and disappearances with his usual skill, but also conveyed his character's difficulties in dealing with the death of his wife and growing estrangement from his son. Eldard's portrayal of Alice's father, Louis Dainard, proved to be equally complex. He did an excellent job of conveying the character's alcoholism, guilt over the death of Joe's mother and his growing estrangement from daughter Alice. He and Fanning were absolutely superb in the scene that featured the explosive confrontation between father and daughter.

"SUPER 8" also featured first-rate supporting performances from another favorite of mine, Glynn Thurman, who portrayed the kids' biology teacher and the man responsible for releasing the alien from the U.S. Air Force train; and Noah Emmerich, who portrayed the controlling U.S. Air Force colonel, Nelec. But the best performances came from the group of kids who portrayed Joe and Alice's friends and fellow film fans - Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso and Remy Thorne. They were absolutely terrific. And more importantly, their performances were not tainted with any "cutesy" quirks that have made some previous child actors rather unbearable. Nor did they act like adults in children's bodies - a phenomenon of which I have become increasingly intolerant.

The look of "SUPER 8" really brought back memories of past Spielberg films such as "CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND" and "E.T.". And considering that the movie is produced by Spielberg, I hardly find that surprising. A small part of me suspects that "SUPER 8" is a homage to those particular works. Many critics and moviegoers have compared it to Spielberg's films. The odd thing is that the storyline for "SUPER 8" reminded me more of the "STAR TREK VOYAGER" episode called (4.16) "Prey". Although not alike, the storyline for both the movie and the television episode struck me as surprisingly similar.

Whatever people might say about "SUPER 8", there is no doubt that I really enjoyed it. And once it leaves the movie theaters, I will have a hard time generating the patience to wait for its DVD release. Congratulations, Mr. Abrams. For once, you have really impressed me.

Friday, August 19, 2011

"FLASHMAN" (1969) Book Review

"FLASHMAN" (1969) Book Review

Forty-two years ago, an old literary character was re-introduced to many readers, thanks to a former Scottish journalist named George MacDonald Fraser. The author took a character from a famous Victorian novel and created a series of novels that placed said character in a series of historical events throughout the middle and second half of the 19th century.

The 1857 novel, ”TOM BROWN’S SCHOOLDAYS”, told the story of a young English boy named Tom Brown and his experiences at the famous school, Rugby, during the 1830s. One of Tom’s travails focused on his abuse at the hands of an older student – a bully – named Flashman. However, Flashman got drunk at a local tavern and in the following morning was expelled by Rugby’s famous headmaster, Dr. Thomas Arnold. Fraser took the Flashman character, gave him a first name – Harry – and continued his story following the expulsion from Rugby in the 1969 novel, ”FLASHMAN”.

The beginning of the novel saw the seventeen year-old Harry Flashman trying to find a new profession following his expulsion from Rugby. Due to his father’s wealth and his maternal Uncle Bindley Paget’s social connections, Flashman found a position as a junior officer in one of Britain’s most elite Army regiments, the 11th Hussars aka the Cherrypickers. And thanks to his talent for toadying and projecting a sense of style (inherited from his aristocratic late mother), Flashman managed to win the support and favor of the regimental commander, the haughty James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan. Unfortunately, Flashman’s ideal life as a leisurely Army officer came to an end. His involvement with the French mistress of a fellow officer kicked off a series of events that led to Flashman being swept into the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842). One of those events included seducing one Elspeth Morrison, the sixteen year-old daughter of a wealthy Scottish merchant. After being forced to marry her by her relations, Flashman was kicked out of the 11th Hussars and sent to India by Lord Cardigan, who regarded the marriage as a step down the social ladder for the usually favored young Army officer.

It was in Afghanistan that Flashman earned the nickname, “Bloody Lance” by taking credit for his servant’s killing of four Afghan attackers. There, he also met one Ilderim Khan, the son of a pro-British Afghan nobleman and became the latter’s lifelong friend and blood brother. This friendship would end up saving Flashman’s life during the Sepoy Rebellion in ”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME”. Flashman also managed to earn two deadly enemies – an Afghan warlord named Gul Shah and his mistress (later wife), a dancer named Narreeman. The source of the pair’s enmity toward Flashman originated with his rape of Narreeman.

More importantly, ”FLASHMAN” allowed readers to view many important events of the First Anglo-Afghan War. Not only did Flashman meet many historical figues such as Lord Cardigan, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, the Duke of Wellington, but also Alexander Burnes, Akbar Khan, William Macnaghten, Thomas Arnold, and the incompetent commander of the British Army in Afghanistan, General William Elphinstone.

I must admit that my opinion of the novel has changed a great deal over the years. Originally, I held a low opinion of ”FLASHMAN” for years, comparing it to the more epic-like sagas such as ”FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE” (1973), ”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME” (1975), ”FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” (1982) and ”FLASHMAN AND THE DRAGON” (1985). I still regard these four novels in a higher regard than ”FLASHMAN”. But I must admit that perhaps I had been a little unfair in my regard for the 1969 novel. It is actually a solid adventure story filled with historical interest, witty humor, sharp action and excellent pacing. Some fans of The Flashman Papers have expressed disgust or disenchantment with the Harry Flashman character portrayed in this novel. I suspect that a great deal of these negative opinions may have stemmed from Flashman’s rape of Narreeman. And I understand. However, many of these fans also complained about the young British officer’s crass style and manner – especially toward his father’s mistress, Judy. One has to remember that Harry Flashman aged from 17 to 20 years old in this story. He did convey some semblance of the style, common sense and instinct that would fool many people and serve him for years. But as an adolescent on the threshold of twenty, he had yet to learn some of the hard facts of life. As for his rough treatment and negative opinion of Judy, I suspect that his ego suffered a massive blow, when she rejected him, following a one-time bout under the sheets. A blow that he obviously had failed to recover from after six decades, while ”writing” his memoirs.

”FLASHMAN” also had its share of interesting fictional characters. I have already mentioned the villainous Gul Shah and his mistress (later wife) Narreeman. I have also mentioned the young Afghan who became a close friend of Flashy’s, Ilderim Khan. But he had an even larger role in ”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME”. And as I had mentioned, Elspeth also appeared in the novel. However, her presence in the novel would not be truly felt, until the last chapter that featured Harry’s homecoming. Fraser barely explored her personality in the novel, but he did allow a peek into her promiscuous and self-absorbed nature in that last chapter. One particular character, Sergeant Hudson, proved to be a reliable source of defense for Flashman during the retreat from Kabul. During this event, Flashman experienced one of the most bizarre moments of his life, while being rejected by the young wife of an Army officer named Mrs. Betty Parker, whom he was trying to seduce:

"'What the devil' says I. 'What’s the matter?'

'Oh, you brute!' she hissed - for she had the sense to keep her voice down – 'you filthy, beastly brute! Get out of my tent at once! At once, d’you her?'

I could make nothing of this, and said so. 'What have I done? I was only being friendly. What are you acting so damned missish for?'

'Oh base!' says she. 'You . . . you . . .'

'Oh, come now,' says I. 'You’re in very high ropes, to be sure. You weren’t so proper when I squeezed you the other night.'

'Squeezed me?' says she, as though I had uttered some unmentionable word.

'Aye, squeezed. Like this.' And I reached over and, with a quick fumble in the dark, caught one of her breasts. To my amazement, she didn’t seem to mind.

'Oh, that!' she says. 'What an evil creature you are! You know that is nothing; all gentlemen do that, in affection. But you, you monstrous beast, presume on my friendship to try to . . . Oh, oh, I could die of shame!'

If I had not heard her I shouldn’t have believed it. God knows I have learned enough since of the inadequacies of education given to young Englishwomen, but this was incredible."

This last encounter with Mrs. Betty Parker struck me as a hilarious metaphor for the blindingly naïve morality that had began to encroach early Victorian society.

”FLASHMAN” also provided some interesting historical vignettes from the First Anglo-Afghan War. And young Flashman managed to witness or participate in a good number of them. The novel allowed him to be the sole surviving British witness to the murder of political officer, Sir Alexander Burnes and his younger brother, Charles. He also witnessed the murder of another political officer named Sir William Macnaghten, along with Last Stand at Gandamak and the Siege of Jalalabad. But Fraser’s pièce de résistance in ”FLASHMAN” proved to be the disasterous Kabul retreat in which the British contingent under General Elphinstone were forced to march from Afghanistan to India in cold weather and dire circumstances:

"From other accounts of that frightful march that I have read – mostly Mackenzie’s and Lawrence’s and Lady Sale’s – I can fit a few of my recollections into their chronicle, but in the main it is just a terrible, bloody nightmare even now, more than sixty years after. Ice and blood and groans and death and despair, and the shrieks of dying men and women and the howling of the Ghazis and Gilzais. They rushed and struck, and rushed and struck again, mostly at the camp-followers, until it seemed there was a slashed brown body every yard of the way. The only place of safety was in the heart of Shelton’s main body, where the sepoys still kept some sort of order; I suggested to Elphy when we set off that I and my lancers should ride guard on the womenfolk, and he agreed at once. It was a wise move on my part, for the attacks on the flanks were now so frequent that the work we had been doing yesterday was become fatally dangerous. Mackenzie’s jezzailchis were cut to ribbons stemming the sorties."

Reading the above passage made me wonder about the wisdom of the current Western presence in Afghanistan. And there is nothing like a British military disaster to bring out the best of Fraser’s writing skulls. It proved to be the first of such passages in novels like ”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME” and ”FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS”.

In the end, Fraser did a solid job in initiating what would proved to be The Flashman Papers in his first novel, ”FLASHMAN”. Granted, the novel’s first part set in England struck me as slightly rushed. And the Harry Flashman character seemed a bit crude in compare to his characterizations in the novels that followed. Like many other readers, I found his rape of the Narreeman character hard to stomach. But Fraser did an excellent job in re-creating early Victorian Britain, British India, Afghanistan and the First Anglo-Afghan War. In short, ”FLASHMAN” turned out to be a solid start to an excellent series of historical novels.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Below are images from the new Marvel Entertainment movie, "CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER". Directed by Joe Johnston, the movie stars Chris Evans as Steve Rogers aka Captain America: