Monday, January 31, 2011

"BAND OF BROTHERS" (2001) - Episode Seven "The Breaking Point" Commentary




"BAND OF BROTHERS" (2001) - Episode Seven "The Breaking Point" Commentary

Easy Company continues its experiences in Belgium in ”The Breaking Point”, Episode Seven of HBO’s ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. Following the Bastogne campaign, the paratroopers find themselves in the Bois Jacques Forest just outside of Foy, Belgium. There, they to prepare for an assault on the town, while dealing with the competency of their commander, Lieutenant Norman Dike.

”The Breaking Point” proved to be just as much of an epic episode as ”Bastogne” and ”Carentan”. Narrated by First Sergeant Carwood Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg), the episode depicted Easy Company’s experiences in the Bois Jacques Forest, just outside of Foy. The episode began with Corporal Don Hoobler’s (Peter McCabe) killing of a German soldier and his acquisition of a Luger. However, this minor incident proves to foreshadow a series of rather depressing incidents for Easy Company to endure. While displaying his new treasure trove to some of his fellow troopers, Hoobler accidentally shot himself in the leg and severed a major artery. He died on the way to the nearest aid station. The rest of the episode’s first half focused around the company’s discussion of Hoobler’s death, the need for a new company commander to replace the incompetent Norman Dike, Babe and Guarnere’s discussion of platoon leader “Buck” Compton’s increasingly odd behavior and more rumors about Dog Company’s Lieutenant Ronald Spiers.

Unfortunately for Easy Company, matters grow worse when German artillery in Foy begin shelling the 101st Airborne’s lines in the Bois Jacques Forest. One series of shelling results in Sergeant Joe Toye losing part of his leg. When Bill Guarnerne tries to come to his rescue, another series of shelling commences and “Wild Bill” meets with the same fate. Worse, both Lipton and Sergeant George Luz witness a moment of cowardice from Lieutenant Dike. The injuries suffered by the two sergeants leads Compton – who is still recovering from his wound in Holland and a stint in an Army hospital – to have a nervous breakdown. He is relieved of duty and Easy Company finds itself short of one of its more competent officers. Easy Company has a short respite before another round of shelling by the Germans. Poor Luz finds himself crawling through the forest, searching for a foxhole for refuge. Before he could reach Warren “Skip” Muck and Alex Penkala’s foxhole, a German shell completely obliterated it . . . and them. Lipton tries to warn battalion XO Winters that Dike might prove to be a disaster for Easy Company’s assault upon Foy. But Winters can do nothing without any cause, due to Dike’s connections. But when Dike panics in the middle of the assault, causing the needless deaths of many men, Winters finally has an excuse to get rid of him and replaces him with Ronald Spiers. His choice proves to be the correct one, as Spiers manages to extract Easy Company from disaster and lead them toward victory.

”The Breaking Point” proved to be on such an epic scale that it could have easily been stretched into a 90 minute movie on its own. It had everything – drama, humor, action, and suspense. Screenwriter Graham Yost did a magnificent job in re-creating Easy Company’s experiences in the Bois Jacques and during the assault on Foy. I did have one quibble about this episode. I found myself slightly confused over the consequences of Don Hoobler’s death. The reaction of the men around the paratrooper seemed to indicate that he had died, while “Doc” Roe tried to revive him. Yet, according to Lipton, Hoobler had died on the way to an aid station. Despite this, the episode had some outstanding sequences. Some of the best featured “Skip” Muck’s recount of the wounds suffered by some of Easy Company’s men during their six-to-seven months in France, Holland and Belgium; Lipton’s attempt to warn Winters of Dike’s inadequacies as a company commander; and Spiers assuming command of Easy Company. I cannot decide whether the episode’s pièce de résistance were the shelling sequences that led to Toye and Guarnere’s injuries and the deaths of Muck and Penkala, or Easy Company actual assault upon Foy. Perhaps ”The Breaking Point” might prove to be that one episode with two exceptional sequences.

Director David Frankel not only put it all together with some exceptional action sequences, but also with his guidance of the cast. It did help that this episode featured some first-class performances. I found myself especially impressed by Frank John Hughes, who made his last appearances in the miniseries as the memorable William “Wild Bill” Guarnere; Peter O'Meara as the incompetent Norman Dike; Scott Grimes, who gave a poignant performance as Donald Marlarkey; Matthew Settle as the formidable Ronald Spiers, who proved to be a lot more human than Easy Company had earlier surmised; Neal McDonough, who brilliantly conveyed the strain Buck Compton suffered upon his return from an Army hospital and his eventual breakdown; and Rick Gomez, who proved to be both funny and dramatic as the company’s own comic, George Luz. Damian Lewis, Ron Livingston Richard Speight Jr. and Peter McCabe also gave solid support. But the best performance came from Donnie Walhberg in his portrayal of Easy’s dependable first sergeant, Carwood Lipton. Walhberg not only gave a subtle performance as the soft-spoken Lipton, but also had the screen presence to hold this epic episode together. He also captured Lipton’s style of speech in his narration of the episode.

In earlier articles, I had already indicated that there were at least three ”BAND OF BROTHERS” that I held above the others in terms of quality. Two of them were ”Bastogne” and ”Carentan”. The third episode turned out to be ”The Breaking Point”. In fact, I would go as far to say that David Frankel’s direction, Graham Yost’s script and Donnie Walhberg’s performance made it the best in the entire series.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

"THE GREEN HORNET" (2011) Photo Gallery



Below are images from "THE GREEN HORNET", the recent adaptation of the American pulp hero and masked vigilante created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker in 1936. Directed by Michel Gondry, the movie stars Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz and Cameron Diaz:


"THE GREEN HORNET" (2011) Photo Gallery





































Saturday, January 29, 2011

"A Family Affair" [PG-13] - 5/8




"A FAMILY AFFAIR"

CHAPTER FIVE

Jack McNeill summoned his assistant. "Sophie, I need you to reach Chan Wei Ku for me, please. And transfer the call to me."

"Yes, Mr. McNeill," Sophia replied. A minute later, she added, "Mr. Chan is on Line 11."

After thanking his assistant, Jack picked up the line. "Hello? Wei? How are you? It's Jack McNeill."

"Jack! It's good to hear from you." Chan Wei Ku happened to be the owner of an herbal shop in Chinatown. Jack had received occasional help from him in the past. Wei's family had emigrated from Canton to San Francisco, when the Communists took over China in 1949. His Chinese-born friend had been five years old at the time. He and Jack first met at Stanford University during the mid-1960s, when both discovered that the other was a magick practitioner . . . and took martial arts lessons from the same teacher. Unlike Jack, who became a Wiccan witch, Wei became a Taoist priest.

After a brief period of small talk, the two friends began to discuss business. "I had received a message from you," Jack said. "About the Soma plant. You have some good news for me?"

"I don't know if this is good news, or not," Wei replied. "After your trip to that temple in London, I've been racking my brains. There is this Hindu archakar I had met in Singapore, three years ago. A priest. His name Sri Amal Sharma and he's part of this order located in Sri Lanka. Perhaps I can contact him and tell him about your situation."

Jack replied, "I would greatly appreciate it. One last thing Wei. You remember my daughter's friend, don't you? Cole Turner?"

A pause followed before Wei replied, "Oh yes. Belthazor. I remember him. He was most helpful with getting my cousin a job at his firm. Hmmm, I never thought I would be grateful to a daemon."

"Well, this daemon has an uncle." Jack paused. "Remember Marbus, from thirty-six years ago?"

A gasp left Wei's mouth. "He-ya! The daemon that was nearly killed by witches? The one who was framed? He's Beltha . . . uh, Mr. Turner's uncle?"

Jack added, "On Cole's maternal side. Anyway, Cole's client is Mark Giovanni, who is trying to maintain possession of this property in Oakville. And Marbus is helping him." Jack went on to explain the situation between Cole's client and Magan Corporation. "I wouldn't have brought this up, except that a demonic assassin tried to kill Giovanni, yesterday. And one of Marbus' associates from his order had been killed, while trying to protect the man."

"Why send a daemon to kill this Giovanni?" Wei asked. "Why not send a mortal?"

"Good question. My guess is that whoever sent this assassin, knew that Cole was a daemon. And wanted to make sure that she kill Giovanni and escape as quickly as possible. And that means . . ."

Wei finished, ". . . the head of this Magan Corporation is also a daemon. Or someone within the company. Or perhaps the entire corporation is a front for a daemon." He sighed. "Too many possibilities."

Jack said, "And that's why I'm asking you to look into this matter. And to start with Arthur Winslow, the corporation's CEO."

"Hmmm, sounds interesting," Wei replied. "I'll see what I can find."

"One last thing, Wei. Please be careful. Like I said, one of Marbus' associates has already been killed." Jack paused. "I don't want the same to happen to you or anyone you know."

"Don't worry. I"ll be careful. And I'll get back to you, as soon as I have some information. See you later, Jack."

The witch replied, "Bye Wei. Take care."

And the two friends hung up.

--------

Harry eased his silver Mazda sports car into an empty parking space not far from the Halliwell manor. He switched off the engine, climbed out of the car and made his way to the salmon-colored house. As he paused in front of the door, he glanced up at the sky and inhaled. The heavy, damp air promised rain - either by tonight, or tomorrow. Then he rang the doorbell.

Nearly two minutes passed before someone opened the door. It was Leo. "Harry," he declared, looking surprised. "What are you doing here?"

Harry replied, "I came to pick up Paige. Is she ready?"

Leo hesitated. "Pick her up. Are you two . . . dating?"

Suppressing an annoyed sigh, Harry shot back, "No, I'm here to pick her up for a little shopping trip. Is she ready?"

"Uh . . . just a minute." Leo stepped back and allowed Harry to enter the manor. The witch headed straight for one of the chairs inside the living room. "So," Leo continued, "what will you two be shopping for?"

"A few things. Uh, do you mind letting her know I'm here?"

The whitelighter's face turned red from Harry's quiet rebuke. "Yeah. Sure." Then Leo turned to face the staircase. "Paige! You have a visitor!" He then smiled at Harry, whose own smile was also strained.

The twenty-six year-old witch and the sixty year-old whitelighter never had an easy relationship. From the moment Harry began practicing witchcraft, some nine years ago, he has rejected Leo's attempts to form a whitelighter-witch relationship. Harry resented the whitelighters' assumption that they had every right maintain vigil over witches and enforce their rules and moral code. Unlike Bruce and Olivia - who had eventually rejected whitelighter authority - Harry had never formed a friendship with Leo. The latter found the young witch's personality too abrasive and slightly ambiguous. And Harry found Leo too self-righteous for his own tastes.

Finally, the youngest Charmed One appeared on the staircase. She shot a quick glance at Harry and quickly made her way downstairs. Her two older sisters materialized from the kitchen. "Harry! Sorry I'm late. I'm running a little behind schedule."

"That's okay," Harry said with a smile. "The store doesn't close until eleven, anyway."

Piper frowned. "What store?"

"It's a store that sells tools and equipment for magick practitioners," Harry replied. "Great bargain prices."

A nervous cough left Piper's throat. "Oh. Uh, Paige? Is it really wise to go there? I mean, what if you meet witches or other people who practice magick? And what if they find out that you're a Charmed One?"

"C'mon Piper! We're not exactly a secret anymore," Paige exclaimed. "Harry's family knew about us, long before we did. So did a lot of warlocks and demons - including Cole. I mean . . . what's the big deal?" Harry smiled, while her sisters failed to answer. He could not have said it better, himself. Paige faced him. "Let me get my purse and then we can . . ."

A gasp left Phoebe's mouth, before her body went stiff. Before Harry could comment, he also gasped. Thanks to his telepathy, he had picked up on Phoebe's premonition. He saw Marbus and Giovanni inside the latter's library. And he saw the daemon kill the wine grower with a fireball. Once the vision ended, Harry shook his head. Had he imagined things, or had he also sensed a third presence?

"Oh my God!" Phoebe cried. "It's Cole's uncle!"

Piper frowned. "What about him?"

Phoebe continued, "I saw him kill Mark Giovanni! He's been lying to us, all along!"

"What?" Paige demanded. "Are you sure?"

Recalling the third presence, Harry tried to put matters into perspective. "Wait a minute!" he cried. "There's something wrong here."

"What are you talking about?" Phoebe shot back, bristling. "I know what I saw!"

Harry sighed. "Look Phoebe, I saw the same thing. My telepathy had picked up on your vision. But I . . ."

"Then we all know what we have to do," Piper added grimly. "Vanquish this Marbus. Paige, get the Book of Shadows."

The youngest Charmed One hesitated. Harry could have kissed her. "Wait a minute," she said in an uneasy voice. "Is it possible that Phoebe might be mistaken? I mean . . . she didn't even have to touch anything."

"Of course I'm not mistaken!" Phoebe protested. "I know what I saw. Besides, my powers might be developing. Look Paige, this isn't the time to hesitate. A man's life is in danger and it's our duty to save him."

"But if Harry thinks . . ."

Leo spoke up. "Paige, I'm sorry, but if Phoebe saw . . . Marbus kill an innocent, she must have done so for a good reason. This isn't a time to raise questions."

Harry shot back, "I think it is! When I saw . . ."

"Excuse me." Piper gave Harry a cool look. "Harry, if you want to help us, fine. Be my guest. Otherwise, you're welcomed to leave. We have work to do." She walked over to the door.

Harry knew a "get out" message, when he heard one. An oath left his mouth, as he stood up. "Look, I think you're making a big mistake. I felt an . . ."

"Good night, Harry." Piper opened the door. Realizing that he had no choice but to leave, Harry stomped out of the house without uttering a word.

Once outside, he quickly rushed to his car and retrieved his cell phone from his jacket. Then Harry dialed the number to Cole's office. No answer. Apparently, the half-daemon had left. Then he tried Cole's penthouse. Again, no answer. A frustrated sigh left Harry's mouth. Where in the hell was Cole? The young witch climbed into his car and quickly drove away.

---------

"This is interesting," Piper commented, as she perused the Book of Shadows. "The vanquishing method for Marbus is similar to Belthazor's. Gee, I wonder why."

A dismayed looking Leo asked, "You mean you have to go through the whole preparation, again? The potion and getting a piece of Marbus' flesh?"

Phoebe spoke up. "Not exactly. Why don't we use some of the potion we had prepared for Cole? I know it's been nearly three years, but I think there's still some left."

Leo frowned. "Would it work?"

"Why not? Don't forget I had used some on a member of the Thorn Brotherhood. I mean if it had worked on a 'blood brother' of Cole's, it's bound to work on his uncle, who's an actual blood relative."

"Are you sure?" It was now Piper's turn to look dubious. "I thought it had all been used, after Leo and I . . ." She stopped and immediately closed her mouth.

Paige, who had been observing her family with dismay, stared at Piper. "When you and Leo had . . . what?"

"Never mind. Phoebe, why don't you check the fridge?"

Phoebe left the attic and raced downstairs. Paige, Piper and Leo immediately followed. By the time they had caught up with the middle Halliwell inside the kitchen, Phoebe was waving a small bottle of liquid in triumph. "Eureka! Here's one. There are two bottles left."

"Okay," Piper said, "let's go."

Paige hesitated. "Wait a minute! Are you sure? I mean . . . what if Phoebe's premonition is wrong? She didn't touch anything, when she got it. And what was Harry trying to tell us?"

A frustrated sigh escaped from Piper's mouth. "Paige, this has got to stop. You have to decide . . . right now, on whether you're with us or not."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Piper shot back, "It means . . . that we haven't felt like the Power of Three, lately. You're so wrapped up in the McNeills that you tend to hang on to everything they say. Especially Olivia. And I'm beginning to wonder if you realize which family you actually belong to."

Phoebe added in a warning voice, "Piper . . ."

"Oh, c'mon Pheebs! Why deny it? You feel the same as I do! In fact, you've been complaining about it, for the past several months."

Resentment and anger surged within Paige. She hated her sisters' demand that she follow every move they made. And she resented that they seemed incapable of accepting her as a competent witch - even after two years. How could she not help but prefer the McNeills' more steadfast support of her growth as a witch? At least they did not treat her as an amateur. However, Paige did not want to endanger what she had spent the past two years doing - namely becoming a member of her family. So, she heaved a morose sigh and murmured, "Yeah, okay. Let's get on with this."

"Good." Piper took Paige's hand. "Phoebe?" The middle sister took Paige's other hand. "Leo, don't forget to keep an eye on Wyatt. Okay, let's go." And Paige orbed them out of the house . . . with great reluctance.

-----------

Upon reaching an intersection, Harry reached inside his glove compartment for a slim leather book. His address and phone. He turned the page, until he came upon the information on one Cole Turner. At the bottom of the page was the half-daemon's cell phone number. The witch sighed with relief and dialed the number.

A few rings followed until Cole's voice answered, "Hello?"

Harry cried, "Cole? Where are you?"

"I'm on my way home. I had to do a little shopping," the half-daemon answered. "What's wrong?"

"I need you to get over to Mark Giovanni's home right away!" Harry replied. "And stop them!"

Cole hesitated. "Stop who?"

"Paige and the others! Phoebe got a vision of your uncle killing Giovanni. Because I'm telepathic, I was able to accidentally see her vision, also!"

Cole practically shouted, "Wait a minute! Marbus is going to kill my client?"

"No!" Harry took a deep breath. "No, you misunderstand me. When I had read Phoebe's vision, I felt the presence of someone else. As if someone had deliberately planted the vision in her mind!"

"Shit!" Cole paused, before he added. "All right. Look, I'm almost at my building. I'll park my car and get over to Giovanni's home. Go on ahead to Olivia's apartment and tell her everything. I'll see you soon."

"Right." As he hung up, Harry hoped like hell that Cole would be able to reach his uncle in time.

----------

The Charmed Ones orbed into the middle of Mark Giovanni's foyer. Hearing footsteps, they immediately rushed into the nearest empty room - namely the library. Phoebe glanced around. "I think this is the room where I saw Marbus kill Giovanni," she whispered.

Seconds later, the footsteps grew nearer. The sisters hid behind a large sofa, as two men entered. They were Mark Giovanni, and Cole's uncle, Marbus. ". . . you like to have a drink?" Giovanni was saying. "After an hour or two in my wife's company, I'm sure that you need one."

Marbus responded with an embarrassed chuckle. "Yes, uh, a shot of whiskey would be fine."

As Giovanni turned his back on the demon, Phoebe hissed, "Now Piper!" The oldest Charmed One shot up from behind the sofa and with her hands, froze the mortal.

"What the hell?" Marbus demanded.

Phoebe and Paige joined Piper. "Excuse us," the latter said in a cold voice, before she raised her arm to throw the potion at the demon. Before she could, Cole suddenly appeared. "What the hell?"

The half-daemon telekinetically snatched the bottle of potion from Piper's hand, causing the latter to gasp. The bottle then disappeared in a ball of flames. "Cole!" Phoebe cried. "What are you doing?" He then waved a hand and the three sisters found themselves back inside their living room.

"Son-of-a-bitch!" Piper growled. "Harry must have told him. Paige! Take us back!"

"Huh?" The youngest Charmed One seemed frozen in a state of confusion.

Piper cried, "Paige! Now!"

"Wait a minute!" Phoebe demanded. "We need another bottle!" She rushed toward the kitchen, and within a minute returned. "Okay."

Paige stared at her. "Okay what? I think we've lost the momentum!"

Glaring at the younger woman, Piper demanded, "Paige, will you please send us back?"

"But . . ."

"I thought you said that you were with us?"

Sighing, Paige took hold of her sisters' hands. They orbed out of the manor. Instead of returning to Giovanni's home, they ended up on the sidewalk, outside the three-story mansion - on their rear ends.

"Shit!" Piper cried once more. "He's blocked us from orbing into that house!"

Phoebe struggled to her feet. "What do we do now?"

"How about we return home?" Paige suggested. Piper glared at her.

Ruefully, Phoebe agreed with her younger sister. "Looks like we have no choice, Piper." The Charmed Ones linked hands and Paige orbed them back to the manor.

Upon their arrival, they found Leo rushing downstairs. "What happened? I thought I heard your voices." When the sisters failed to answer, he added, "Did you get him?"

"No!" Piper replied sharply. "Cole got there in time to save Marbus. And now, Paige can't orb us back into Giovanni's house.

Anxiety flitted across Leo's face. "My god! Do you think that Giovanni is still alive?"

Paige sighed. "Of course he is. Cole's there."

"Speaking of Mr. Turner," Piper coldly added, "he has a lot explaining to do. Both him and Harry." She glared at Paige once more. Phoebe watched, as the youngest sister looked away.

-------

"What the bloody hell just happened?" Marbus demanded. Uncle and nephew faced each other, inside Giovanni's library.

Cole sighed. "Phoebe and her sisters. Apparently, she had a premonition of you killing Mark."

"Wha . . . a premonition?" Marbus' eyes widened with disbelief. "And why would I want to kill your client?"

"I don't know. You got me. But Harry, who had warned me about their attack, told me that when Phoebe's vision appeared, he had felt another presence." Cole paused. "Harry's a telepath."

Marbus' mouth formed a grim line. "Hmmm, sounds like another telepath has been messing with your wife's . . ."

"Ex-wife," Cole corrected.

". . . messing with her mind." The older daemon sighed. "Now what are we going to do? I have three powerful witches after me, and we can't leave your frozen client unprotected."

Cole replied grimly, "Don't worry about Phoebe and her sisters. I'll take care of them. I've already placed a shield around the house, making it impossible for them to return."

Marbus frowned. "You're not going to harm them, are you?"

"I'll try not to." And Cole disappeared.


END OF CHAPTER 5

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"TRUE GRIT" (2010) Review




”TRUE GRIT” (2010) Review

I have never read Charles Portis’ 1968 novel called ”TRUE GRIT”. And my only glimpse of Henry Hathaway’s 1969 film adaptation was of John Wayne charging horseback toward a band of outlaws, while armed with a weapon in both hands. So it was with great curiosity that I went to see Joel and Ethan Coen’s recent film adaptation of the novel.

”TRUE GRIT” told the story of 14 year-old Mattie Ross’s efforts to seek justice and retribution for the murder of her father in post-Civil War western Arkansas. Due to the local law’s failure to arrest her father’s killer, Tom Chaney, Mattie travels to Fort Smith and recruits a U.S. Marshal named Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn to hunt down and arrest Chaney in the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma). Unbeknownst to Mattie, Cogburn teams up with a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf, who seeks Chaney for the murder of a state senator and his dog. The two men depart Fort Smith and cross into Indian Territory without Mattie. However, she refuses to be left behind and quickly catches up with the two men.

I must admit that I had no idea how I would accept ”TRUE GRIT”. First of all, it was a remake of a successful that led to an Academy Award for its star. Many remakes tend to be inferior to the original movie. However, there have been remakes that are just as good as the original – like James Mangold’s ”3:10 TO YUMA”. There have also been remakes that turned out to be superior to the original – like 1941’s ”THE MALTESE FALCON” and 1988’s ”DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS”. Since I have never seen the 1969 version of ”TRUE GRIT” in its entirety, I do not see how I could compare it to this new version. I will admit that it turned out to be a very entertaining and intelligent adaptation of Portis’ novel.

In short, I enjoyed ”TRUE GRIT” very much. Thanks to Joel and Ethan Coen’s writing and direction, the movie struck me as a well-balanced combination of a character study, action film and coming-of-age tale. The movie’s first half, which featured Mattie Ross’s attempts to settle her father’s affairs and recruit Cogburn or anyone else willing to hunt down Chaney. A good deal of the movie’s midway point featured interactions between the three protagonists – Mattie, Cogburn and LaBoeuf – during their journey through the Indian Territory. But once Mattie and Cogburn come across outlaws associated with a fugitive gang leader named “Lucky” Ned Pepper, the movie’s action kicks into high gear. More importantly, the movie’s shift into action did not impede its strong characterizations and drama one bit. Another aspect of ”TRUE GRIT” that I had enjoyed was the dark humor – a trademark of the Coens’ work – that permeated the movie. It certainly befitted the movie’s dark coming-of-age tale and its characters.

I also have to give kudos to the movie’s production designer, Jess Goncher. He did a superb job in re-creating Fort Smith, Arkansas and the Indian Territory during the late 1860s. One of the best things he ever did was choose or suggest the production film the movie in New Mexico and Texas – states that bordered Oklahoma (formerly the Indian Territory). In doing so, he allowed the movie’s setting to adhere closer to Portis’ setting in the novel. Goncher was ably assisted by costume designer Mary Zophres, whose costumes perfectly captured the movie’s setting and character; and cinematographer Roger Deakins, whose photography strongly reminded me of the old daguerreotype images of the mid-to-late 19th century.

Matt Damon found himself following in the footsteps of singer Glen Campbell, in his portrayal of Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. I have seen some of the 1969 film and I must admit that Campbell gave a pretty solid performance. But Damon’s portrayal of the character struck me as more detailed and skillful. In fact, the actor did an excellent job in portraying the competent, yet egotistical lawman. Not only did Damon made me forget that he had very little experience with Westerns, he is one of two actors I have ever seen convey the correct method (breathing included) in long distance shooting. Josh Brolin had more experience with Westerns – including a co-starring role in the ABC series, ”THE YOUNG RIDERS” and the Coens’ award-winning film, ”NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN”. He portrayed the heroes’ main target, hired hand/outlaw Tom Chaney. The actor did not appear in many scenes of ”TRUE GRIT”, but his character permeated the movie’s first half like a malevolent spirit. Once he made his appearance, Brolin’s Chaney seemed insignificant and dimwitted. Yet, as the movie continued on, Brolin revealed more of Chaney’s cunning and stealth with great skill and subtlety. The movie also benefitted from a solid performance by supporting actor Barry Pepper, who portrayed “Lucky” Ned Pepper, an outlaw leader who is sought by Cogburn. The actor’s Ned Pepper struck me as a curious mixture of ruthlessness, pragmatism and honor. He seemed to have no qualms in killing the 14 year-old Mattie over her evasions regarding Cogburn’s whereabouts. And yet, after she honestly answered his questions, his character seemed very willing to keep his word about sparing her life. I have always been an admirer of Pepper’s talents. This role certainly confirmed my opinion.

When I had discovered that Jeff Bridges would end up reprising the role that led to an Academy Award for John Wayne, I almost felt sorry for him. Almost. I eventually realized that my sympathy would be wasted on him. Bridges was talented and charismatic enough to put his own stamp on the role of Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn. Sure enough, Bridges did exactly just that. His portrayal as Cogburn seemed so thorough that I found it difficult to see the actor within the character. His darker portrayal of the character also made me forget about Wayne’s friendlier spin on the role. The main character of ”TRUE GRIT”, in my opinion, turned out to be one Mattie Ross, the 14 year-old daughter of the murdered man. Her desire and determination to seek retribution for her father’s death turned out to be story’s catalyst. Hailee Steinfeld beautifully captured every aspect of Mattie’s complex nature. In fact, there were times I had felt as if I was watching a strong-willed and ruthless woman inside an adolescent’s body. However, Steinfeld’s performance also reminded me that behind the strong will and ruthlessness lurked an innocent and inexperienced young girl. Steinfeld’s chemistry with her co-stars seemed so strong that I found myself wondering how Cogburn, LeBouef or both would regard Mattie if she had been an adult. I have heard speculations of a possible Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Steinfeld. In my opinion, she deserved a nomination for Best Actress. After all, she was not only the leading female character, but the story’s main character.

It just recently occurred to me that ”TRUE GRIT” failed to earn any Golden Globe nominations – major or minor, last month. Frankly, I considered this a joke. Not only did I enjoy it very much, I consider it to be one of the best movies I have seen this year. It is a rare occurrence to find a remake that is just as good or perhaps even slightly better than the original. Fortunately, the movie has just earned 10 Academy Award nominations. And thanks to Ethan and Joel Coen, ”TRUE GRIT turned out to be one of those rare gems. If it fails to earn any Academy Awards, I believe my feelings toward awards in the entertainment business will reach an all time low.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kathryn Janeway and Starfleet Principles in “STAR TREK VOYAGER” (2.14) "Alliances"




Kathryn Janeway and Starfleet Principles - “STAR TREK VOYAGER” (2.14) "Alliances"

Many ”STAR TREK” fans have claimed that the lead character of ”STAR TREK VOYAGER” lead character, Captain Kathryn Janeway, barely developed as a character during the series’ seven (7) season run. After watching the Season Two episode, (2.14) "Alliances”, I am can see that I would never agree with those critics of Janeway’s character. The Season Two Kathryn Janeway featured in this episode struck me as a far cry from the Janeway that finally returned to Earth in the series finale, (7.25-7.26) “Endgame”.

But this article is not simply about Kathryn Janeway. It is mainly about the good captain and the major role she played in ”Alliance”. The episode began with a Kazon attack upon Voyager, which resulted in damages to the starship, several wounded and the death of another Voyager crewman - the popular ex-Maquis and close friend of Commander Chakotay named Kurt Bendera. After Chakotay delivered the eulogy after the funeral, Crewmen Hogan and Michael Jonas voiced their opinion to Captain Janeway that Voyager should operate in a manner similar to the Maquis and consider making a deal with the Kazon for safe passage. Naturally, Janeway refused to consider the idea of trading technology with Kazon, which is something they have proposed in the past. But her resistance to the idea of an alliance eventually faded when Chakotay and Lieutenant Tuvok both proposed that she consider an alliance with one or two Kazon factions to secure peace. Not to trade technology, but to offer protection from attacking forces and emergency supplies. As I had pointed out, the Captain was reluctant to accept Chakotay’s idea, but eventually accepted. Ensign Harry Kim seemed horrified by the idea, claiming that the Federation would never consider forming alliances with the likes of the Kazon. Apparently, the young ensign forgot about the treaty that the Federation had signed with the Klingon Empire in the late 23rd century (something that Tuvok had reminded the Captain about) and one with Cardassia a few years earlier. Fortunately, Janeway ignored Kim’s protests.

During the series’ first two seasons, Janeway had been a rigid practitioner of Starfleet's principles, unwilling to be flexible about her command style. She also had a bad habit of ignoring advice that required her to be a little more flexible . . . unless it suited her. Obviously, Chakotay's suggestion of mixing a little Starfleet principles with Maquis methods never really appealed to Janeway. And I got the feeling that she was determined to prove him wrong. Bear with me. There was nothing wrong in Janeway’s policies about following Starfleet principles - when the situation demanded it. After all, if Janeway had not maintained discipline on her ship, Voyager could have easily become another U.S.S. Equinox. However, there was a time for adhering to Starfleet . . . and a time for using other methods.

Chakotay's idea of forming an alliance with the Kazon seemed sound. Even Tuvok thought it was a good idea. Yet, Janeway decided to sabotage Chakotay’s idea by accepting Torres and Paris’ not-so-bright suggestion of forming an alliance with Seska and Maj Cullah of the Kazon Nistrim sect. Why on earth would she agree to sign a treaty with the very Kazon sect that the crew of Voyager had been in conflict with since Season One’s (1.11 “State of Flux”)? And why did she not simply consider contacting other Kazon sects, as Chakotay and Tuvok had suggested. Then Janeway added more fuel to the fire when she disregarded Tuvok's advice against forming an alliance with the Trabe, the Kazons' blood enemy. The Trabe used to be a major power in the Delta Quadrant that were also brutal slave masters ruling over the Kazon race. The Kazon eventually revolted and stole all of the Trabe technology, spacecraft and even their home world. The Trabe had been reduced to wanderers that were constantly pursued by Kazon fleets and unable to settle on any permanent planet for fear of being exterminated by the former slaves. In the end, Tuvok’s objections against an alliance with the Trabe proved to be sound. The effort to form an alliance with the Kazon ended up being undermined by the Trabe’s attempt to assassinate the Kazon majes (leaders).

As I had earlier stated, one of Janeway's major flaws had been her inability to be flexible in the face of Voyager’s extraordinary situation in the Delta Quadrant. During Seasons One and Two, she seemed obsessed with maintaining Starfleet principles. In the end, this strict adherence to these principles did not prevent Voyager's capture by Seska, Maje Cullah and the Kazon in the Season Two finale, (2.26) “Basics, Part I”. Following this last incident with Seska and the Kazon, Janeway switched tactics and adhered more closely with utilizing Maquis methods. I would have cheered her for this . . . except she went from one extreme to another. Her determination to use any means possible to get home nearly led to Voyager's destruction in the early Season Three episode, (3.04)"The Swarm”, when she decided to trespass into a hostile alien space after being warned away. Another form of this kind of extremism occurred when she decided to form an alliance with the Borg in order to avoid what she believed was certain destruction at the hands of Species 8472 in (3.26-4.01) “Scorpion”. This alliance led to Species 8472’s defeat and many home worlds opened to conquest and assimilation by the Borg. After Voyager's encounter with the U.S.S. Equinox in (5.26-6.01) “Equinox”, Janeway finally learned to become flexible by striking a balance between maintaining Starfleet principles and being a little creative when the occasion demanded.

As for "Alliances”, it had the potential to be an excellent episode. Unfortunately, too much had occurred during the episode’s 45 minutes running time. ”Alliance” could have . . . should have been a two-part episode. But writer/producer Jeri Taylor decided to stuff this very eventful story into one episode. Worse, the story ended on a sour note with Janeway's speech reaffirming Starfleet principles. Her strident speech not only made me wince, it also made me wonder if she was feeling a little smug at proving both Chakotay and Tuvok wrong. The ending did not strike me as one of her finest hours.

Monday, January 24, 2011

"BULLITT" (1968) Photo Gallery



Below are some photos from the 1968 classic crime melodrama, "BULLITT". Directed by Peter Yates, it starred Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Jacqueline Bisset and James Hagan:


"BULLITT" (1968) Photo Gallery























































Saturday, January 22, 2011

"A Family Affair" [PG-13] - 4/8




"A FAMILY AFFAIR"

CHAPTER FOUR

Two days following her meeting with Artemus, Nina Kriegler paid a visit to an old colleague from her days as a whitelighter. Harold Vernoff was a former witch who had crossed over to becoming the very thing he used to fight against. In Vernoff's case - a warlock. A strong telepath, the warlock possessed chestnut-brown hair that fell over his forehead, wide brown eyes and smooth pale skin. Instead of the thirty-six year-old man that he happened to be, he resembled a college student.

The darklighter and the warlock greeted each other with a hug. Then Nina went about explaining the reason behind her visit. When she finished, Venoff's mouth hung opened in shock. "You . . . you want me to do what?"

"Send a vision to a seer," Nina patiently explained. "She's a witch named Phoebe Halliwell. Have you . . .?"

"Ever heard of her?" the warlock finished. "Yeah! She's a Charmed One, Nina! And very powerful!"

Nina sighed. "Yes Harold, she is a powerful witch. But she doesn't possess a telepathic ability." A wicked smile stretched her lips. "And you're strong enough to mess with her mind."

Vernoff continued to stare at his former whitelighter. "Okay, say that I can do it." He paused. "What kind of images will I be sending to her?"

Realizing that the warlock had risen to the bait, Nina pulled out a yellow envelope from her large handbag. "Inside, you'll find photos of those involved in the vision." The darklighter tossed a photograph of a dark-haired man around forty, on Vernoff's coffee table. "He's a mortal named Mark Giovanni. You'll send the witch an image of him being killed by this person . . ." Nina removed a recently snapped photograph of a female in a guard's uniform. "Have her kill the mortal, using energy balls."

"Energy balls?" Vernoff frowned. "What exactly is she?"

Nina replied, "A daemon by the name of Andrea. She's a member of the Gimle Order."

"What the hell is the Gimle Order, and why do you want to have witches go after this . . .?"

Nina brusquely interrupted, "I'll explain later, Harold. Meanwhile, can you do as I ask? There's a great deal of money involved for you."

Nodding, Vernoff replied, "Yeah, I'll do it. How soon?"

"Tomorrow evening."

-------

Phoebe entered the Halliwell manor and slammed the door shut. "I'm home!" she cried and walked into the empty living room. "Hello? Piper? Paige? Is anyone home?"

A voice cried from the kitchen, "I'm in here!" Piper.

After dumping her purse on the sofa, Phoebe headed for the kitchen, where she found her older sister preparing dinner. "Hey! Aren't you home, early?" Piper glanced at the clock. "It's only four forty-five. You're usually home by five-thirty."

Phoebe sighed, as she eased into an empty chair. "I managed to finish most of my work, early, so I left. I didn't feel like hanging around any longer than it was necessary."

"You're not thinking of Cole, are you?"

Piper's question threw Phoebe into a loop. "Huh?" She frowned at the older woman. "What makes you . . .?" Realization struck Phoebe. "Oh, I get it. You've been thinking of Cole. Or should I say, his uncle?"

"No, I haven't." Piper's petulant reply came a little too quick.

"Piper . . ."

The oldest Charmed One finally capitulated. "Okay, maybe I have. I just . . . I don't know, Phoebe. A demon protecting the innocent? Doesn't that sound a little odd to you? And how come we've never encountered one, before?" Phoebe opened her mouth to respond. "Oh, I know," Piper continued. "There was Cole. But he had only done it for you. And now, for Olivia. It's not the same."

Keeping her emotions in check over the mention of her ex-husband and his girlfriend, Phoebe replied, "The McNeills don't seem to find the idea unbelievable. In fact, they've had experiences with demons like Marbus, before. And I've been reading more detailed books on Wicca, lately. It seems Olivia and her family had been right about how Wiccans don't believe in inherently evil beings like demons and such. And after our experiences with Cole, that demon Riggerio, and Cole's uncle . . . maybe they're right."

Piper sighed. "Look Phoebe, can we talk about this, later? It was bad enough finding out that after five years as witches, our knowledge of witchcraft is at best, minimal; and that we haven't really been initiated as witches. Now Cole's uncle shows up and . . . I don't know. Everything seems to be getting more confusing. I just don't want . . ."

A cheerful voice cried from the living room, "Hey! I'm home! Where is everybody?"

"In the kitchen!" Phoebe shouted back.

A minute later, Paige stomped into the kitchen, grinning from ear-to-ear. "Good evening, family!" she greeted happily.

Phoebe stared at her half-sister through narrowed eyes. "What did you do? Take a happy pill?"

"Actually, I've got some good news!" Paige hesitated for a moment. "Your little sister just got a raise, today. After working at Ostera's for six months."

Piper looked surprised. "So soon?"

Paige added, "Well, considering that I had to managed the shop for three weeks, while Barbara and Bruce were on their honeymoon . . ."

"I thought the trip to Europe was your reward?"

Frowning at her oldest sister, Paige complained, "Gee Piper, why can't you just congratulate me? Why did you have to make a fuss over what seems to me, good news?"

"I'm not . . ." Piper turned to the middle sister. "Phoebe, am I fussing?"

Before Phoebe could answer, Paige continued, "Yes Piper, you are. And I think I have a pretty good idea, why. You're jealous."

"I beg your pardon?"

Paige added, "You're jealous of my friendship with Barbara and Olivia. In fact, you had acted the same way, when I told you about the trip to Europe."

Piper snorted with derision. "Please! Why would I be jealous over Barbara? She's your boss." Once again, she turned to Phoebe. "Do I seem like I'm jealous?"

Phoebe began, "Well . . ." A vision struck her before she could continue her reply. She saw a uniformed female approach Mark Giovanni, as he walked across his lawn. The female's eyes flashed red before she killed the wine grower with an energy ball. And just like that, the vision ended.

A gasp left Phoebe's mouth, as she grabbed the table's edge. "Oh my God," she murmured. "Ohmigod! We've got to stop her."

"Pheebs, are you okay?" Piper asked, looking concerned. "What happened? A premonition?"

Breathing heavily, Phoebe replied, "It's Mark . . . Mark Giovanni. I saw him being attacked by a demon. At his house."

"Then, let's go," Piper said, as she ceased chopping vegetables.

Phoebe protested, "Wait a minute, Piper! The attack doesn't happen until dusk. And how are we going to explain ourselves to Mr. Giovanni?"

A sigh left Piper's mouth. "And I need a babysitter for Wyatt."

"Why don't we just tell Cole to take care of this demon?" Paige suggested. "After all, this is his client, we're talking about."

Piper rolled her eyes. "Listen, we don't need Cole's permission to save his client. All we need to do is simply vanquish the demon before he . . ."

"She," Phoebe corrected.

". . . before she can kill this Giovanni person." Piper removed her apron. "First, let's call Leo." She called out her husband's name several times, before he finally appeared.

The blond-haired whitelighter appeared in a sparkle of blue lights. "Is dinner ready?" he asked. When the sisters failed to reply, he added, "Something wrong?"

"We need you to take care of Wyatt, until we get back," Piper replied. "We have a demon to vanquish."

Paige spoke up. "Before we do, shouldn't we check the Book of Shadows to see what we'll be up against?" Phoebe and Piper agreed and Paige teleported the Book of Shadows into her hands. She opened it. "Pheebs, if you see the demon from your premonition, just holler."

Phoebe poured through the Book, page by page. To her consternation, not one demon in it matched the description of the one she had envisioned. "Great!" she finally cried out in frustration. "She's not in the Book and we don't know how to vanquish her."

"Yeah, and it's almost dark," Paige added.

Piper sighed. "Okay, why don't we just go and take care of this demon. If my power doesn't work, we'll use the old 'Power of Three' chant." The other two nodded. "Leo, keep an eye on Wyatt. We should be back, soon." All three sisters joined hands, as Paige orbed them out of the house.

---------

Andrea felt bored. She tried not to be. She tried to remember what Marbus had told her about the mortal she now protected. That the latter was in danger of being attacked by an assassin. Also, she tried to remember that said mortal also happened to be a client of Marbus' nephew - Belthazor. But patrolling the mortal's estate, while wearing this ridiculous outfit, was slowly boring Andrea to tears.

It had not taken much effort for her to win a position as bodyguard on Giovanni's estate. All Andrea had to do was show up and beg for a job. The mortal took one look at her - pretty face, long dark hair, wide brown eyes and curves that would stop traffic - and hired her on the spot.

During the two days since she had joined the Giovanni household, no other daemon had bothered to attack the mortal. Instead, Andrea found herself fending off Giovanni's attempts to flirt with her. The daemon wondered how his wife could endure such a man. Until she came upon the blond, horse-faced woman making advances at the pool cleaner. Andrea sighed. She felt more like a cast member of a daily soap opera, than bodyguard of a prominent San Francisco businessman.

She glanced up from her musings and saw a dark-haired man approaching her with a drink. It was Mark Giovanni. Andrea's body tensed, as she anticipated another advance. "Good evening, Mr. Giovanni," she politely greeted.

A smarmy grin curved the mortal's lips. "And good evening to you, Ms. Duscany. Would you like a drink? It's a glass of one of my finest Chardonnays." He held out the glass of wine.

Andrea responded with a polite smile. "Thank you for the offer, sir. But I'm on duty."

"Oh come on. Just one drink."

Shaking her head, the daemon repeated her answer. "Really sir, thank you, but no. I don't . . ."

Three women materialized behind Giovanni, taking Andrea off guard. Here it is, she thought. A demonic attack.

The oldest woman immediately threw her hands up. For a brief moment, it seemed as if time had frozen. For Mr. Giovanni, it certainly had. Then Andrea broke the spell by moving. She allowed a fireball to form in her palm. "Whoever you are, leave! Now!"

"Oh my God!" cried another woman. "Piper, freeze her!"

The first woman replied, "I can't. My freezing power doesn't work on her! The Power of Three chant!"

The Power of Three? Andrea frowned. The only people she knew who were called that were . . .

The three women began to chant, "The Power of Three will set us free! The Power of Three will set us free!"

At that moment, Andrea realized that she was facing the Charmed Ones. They must think that she was after Giovanni. "Wait a minute!" she cried. "You've got it all wrong! I'm not . . ." Andrea's words fell upon deaf ears, as the witches continued their chant.

"The Power of Three will set us . . ."

Smoke and flames began to touch Andrea's skin. She screamed in pain. So this is how it ends. Killed, while being mistaken for evil. The smoke and flames had now engulfed her. She screamed one last time, before everything faded to black.

---------

"What do you mean she's missing?" Cole demanded over the telephone. "Who are you . . .?" He paused, while he listened to Giovanni's agitated conversation. "Whoa! Slow down, Mark! No, I can't explain how she had disappeared like that. When did you . . . ?"

Giovanni continued his babbling. He had called ten minutes ago with disturbing news. One of his bodyguards had mysteriously disappeared. A guard named Andrea Duscany. A deep suspicion gnawed at the back of Cole's mind. Had this Duscany woman been a member of the Gimle Order? Had Marbus went ahead and assigned someone to guard his client? After this incident, Cole decided he would place a protection spell around Giovanni's house. Especially, now that Marbus' daemon had disappeared. But thank goodness the wine grower managed to survive.

"Look Mark," Cole finally said, "I suggest that you say nothing about this incident. Not to the police, to your staff or even your family. The moment you do, you'll be placed inside the nearest mental ward." He sighed. "Just chalk it up to a mysterious disappearance and leave it at that." Cole paused, while his client continued to ramble. "Yeah, yeah I remember you telling me about the woman who had disappeared from the Mortons', last Saturday." Again, Giovanni spoke. "Yes, I agree Mark. This is all beginning to sound a little odd. Like I said . . . keep it to yourself. Oh, and I would hire another bodyguard, if I were you. Good-night, Mark." Cole hung up and heaved a large sigh.

Seconds later, Marbus appeared at his penthouse. "We have trouble," he declared anxiously.

"Are you referring to the disappearance of a Ms. Andrea Duscany?" Cole's uncle stared at him. "Yeah, I just received a call from Mark Giovanni. He's in a state of panic, right now."

Frowning, Marbus said, "So, you know about Andrea's death?"

"She's dead?"

Marbus nodded. "Definitely. But I don't understand. How was Andrea killed? I thought you had placed a protection spell around Giovanni? How did a daemon or a warlock managed to slip by and kill her? And why spare your client?"

"I don't know why Mark was spared," Cole growled. "And I haven't placed the protection spell around Mark's home, yet. As for you Andrea, perhaps her assassin had slipped through by entering the house, physically. That's how Claudia Della Scalla and her cronies managed to get past the McNeills' protection spell, on Bruce's wedding day."

Marbus hesitated. "Claudia Della Scalla? The succubus? I had heard that her entire coven was destroyed. You?"

Cole shrugged. "Only a handful. Olivia's grandmother, Harry, Paige and a Stregheria witch had done most of the damage." He sighed. "As for Mark . . . well, now I have to find him a new bodyguard. Someone who can get close to him."

"I'll do it," Marbus volunteered.

"What?"

The older daemon repeated his words. "I'll do it. I can't sacrifice another member of the Order, without him or her knowing what's going on."

Cole shook his head. "I can't pass you off as a bodyguard. Besides, aside from morphing into your demonic self, you can't shape shift. I can do it for . . ."

"Don't you bother, lad. Your Mr. Giovanni and I had met, last Saturday. It turns out that he's a fan of my novels. By the time I'm finished with him, we'll be chums."

Why not? Cole felt certain that his uncle would be more than capable of protecting Giovanni. "Okay," he said. "Sounds like a good idea. By the way, why didn't you tell me that you had assigned someone from your order to guard Mark?"

Confusion whirled in Marbus' blue eyes. "Didn't you tell me to go ahead and do it?"

"No, I said I would think about it." Cole sighed. "Never mind. What's done is done. I only hope you would have better luck than poor Andrea."

----------

The bell hanging over Ostera's door rang, announcing a new visitor to the shop. Paige glanced up and saw Harry McNeill enter the shop. "Hi!" she greeted. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm here to buy some dill weed." Harry paused. "It's for dinner, tonight."

The words came out of Paige's mouth, before she could stop herself. "Have a date with Dana Morton, tonight?" Oh God! Why did she sound like a jealous shrew?

Harry stared at her for a brief moment. "No, I don't. It's for Mom. Besides, if I had a date with Dana, I would have taken her to a restaurant. Why did you ask?"

Paige shook her head. "It's nothing. I'll see if I can find a package for you." She walked around the counter and headed for the far corner of the store.

"Hey, wait a minute!" Harry cried. Paige paused in her tracks. "I found a store where you can buy your magick tools at a bargain price. It's on Ashbury. I'll take you there, myself. Perhaps this evening. I could use a little extra shopping."

Dana Morton forgotten, Paige smiled. "Sounds like a great idea. Why don't you pick me up around seven-thirty?"

"Okay."

"Meanwhile, let me get your dill weed for you." Paige continued toward the back of the store for Harry's request. After a long search, she finally found the herb, and returned to the front counter. There, she found Barbara in deep conversation with Harry.

". . . very anxious over that plant," Barbara was saying. "And I don't blame him."

Harry cried, "You mean to say that Dad hasn't found a way to get rid of that plant, yet? It's been over four months, now."

Barbara sighed. "Your dad thinks he might have to take the plant back to India."

"India?" Harry shook his head. "During the summer? That's like going to Florida. Or New Orleans. Just thinking of all that excessive heat makes me want to sweat."

"Well, your mother certainly wants it out of the house," Barbara said. "And so do I. If Osbourne wasn't already dead, I would strangle him for dumping that plant on . . . oh Paige! You got Harry's purchase?"

Smiling, Paige placed the bag of dill weed on the countertop. "Right here. Are you guys talking about that Soma plant?"

Harry replied, "Yeah, it seems that Dad's latest attempt to get rid of it, has failed. I guess no one wants to deal with a plant that gives immortality. Looks like he's going to India."

"Wow! India during the summer," she said in a sardonic voice. "Sounds like fun." Recalling yesterday evening's excitement, she added, "Hey, guess what happened to us, last night. Well, more like yesterday evening. Piper, Phoebe and I had vanquished a demon. Pretty tough one, too. We couldn't find her in the Book of Shadows."

Barbara asked, "Who was the daemon after? Or what?"

The telephone rang. Since Paige stood closer to it, she answered the call. "Good afternoon. Ostera's Herbal Shop. How may I help you?" When the caller proved to be a potential customer, Paige put him on hold. "Sorry guys, this is going to take a while." She then returned her attention to the telephone call, while Barbara rang up Harry's purchases. By the time the call ended, she glanced up and realized that both McNeills had vanished.

-------

The following morning, two visitors appeared at the Giovanni Winery office on Montgomery Street. Cole and Marbus stood before Mark Giovanni's secretary, Kelson, while Cole announced their presence. A minute later, the two daemons were ushered inside the wine grower's office. Giovanni offered his hand to the younger daemon. "Cole, what brings you here?"

Smiling, Cole answered, "Just checking up on your well-being. Have you hired a new guard, yet?"

Giovanni sighed. "One of my assistants, Kelson, should be handling that little matter, today." He glanced at Marbus. "I see that you've brought your uncle along." He shook the older daemon's hand.

"Yes, uh Miles wanted to see you, today." Cole hesitated. "As you know, he's a writer . . ."

Giovanni smiled. "Who doesn't?" He faced Marbus. "Like I told you, last Saturday, I'm a big fan. What can I do for you?"

Marbus replied, "Well, I'm writing a new novel . . . and part of it takes place in the California wine country. And I was wondering . . ."

"Oh! You want a little background information!" Giovanni nodded. "I would be more than happy to help. "Uh, how about lunch, today? Cole?"

A polite smile appeared on Cole's lips. "Sorry Mark, but I have an important luncheon to attend, today. But I'm sure that Miles would be more than happy to join you." He added, "Who knows? You two just might become friends."

---------

Nina Kriegler strolled nonchalantly into Magan Corporation's executive office and greeted its demonic CEO. Next to Artemus stood his main lackey - Prax. "Well, don't you look like the cat that's swallowed the canary," she commented drolly. "May I assume you were satisfied with Vernoff's job?"

"More than satisfied," Artemus replied. "Your little scheme worked." He turned to his assistant. "Prax, get the lady a drink. Malt Scotch whiskey, I believe?"

Nina smiled. "Excellent memory." As she eased herself into an empty chair, she asked, "So, when do we go after Marbus?"

"Soon," Artemus replied. Prax handed Nina a glass of Scotch. "Perhaps tonight. Prax has delivered some interesting news. According to my spy, Mr. Giovanni had lunch with Marbus, today. Even more interesting, he has invited our favorite daemon to his home for dinner. They've become quite chummy."

After taking a sip of Scotch, Nina murmured, "How nice. Why hasn't this spy of yours finished off Giovanni, himself?"

"Because although he's a warlock, he is also a mortal with no active powers." Artemus leaned back into his chair. "Kelson is not what you would call a skillful killer. The police would be on to him, within a minute. He's a better spy than assassin."

"I see."

The daemon continued, "And thanks to Kelson, I've learned that my former comrade has taken steps to ingratiate himself to his nephew's client." Artemus' smile widened. "It's perfect."

Nina took another sip. "Perfect?"

"Why yes. Your Mr. Vernoff can send a vision of Marbus killing the mortal to the witch. It should be quite interesting to see how the Charmed Ones react, when they believe that Belthazor's uncle is after Giovanni."

The darklighter added, "And when the witch receives this latest vision, she and her sisters will go after him in an instant." She paused. "Are you sure you don't want to wait until tomorrow? What if the witches find out that they have killed the wrong person?"

A sigh left Artemus' mouth. "My dear Ms. Kriegler, that is why I want Marbus dead as soon as possible. Besides, with Marbus having dinner with Giovanni tonight, it would be the perfect opportunity."

Nina finished the rest of her Scotch and handed Prax the empty glass. "As you wish." She gave the daemon a quick nod and teleported out of the office.


END OF CHAPTER 4

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"1930s Hollywood Glamor"



Below is a video clip featuring Hollywood glamor at the famous Ambassador Hotel, during the 1930s:


1930s HOLLYWOOD GLAMOR

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"BAND OF BROTHERS" (2001) - Episode Six “Bastogne” Commentary




"BAND OF BROTHERS" (2001) - Episode Six "Bastogne" Commentary

This sixth episode of ”BAND OF BROTHERS” featured the experiences of Easy Company during the Battle of the Bulge and their participation in the Allies’ efforts to hold the ground near Bastogne, Belgium; while low on ammunition and supplies. The episode focused on Easy Company medic, Eugene "Doc" Roe, as he tended his fellow soldiers where he can, while also scrounging for medical supplies.

”Bastogne” turned out to be the first of two episodes centered on Easy Company’s experiences in Belgium. Shown from Eugene Roe’s point-of-view; the audience saw Easy Company deal with many difficulties and traumas during this campaign. Aside from ammunition and supplies, Roe and the company had to deal with freezing temperatures, low morale, the encircling German Army and worst of all, an ineffectual company commander by the name of Norman Dike. The episode featured a good deal of combat sequences. But since they were shown through “Doc” Roe’s eyes, the audience’s views of these sequences were at best minimal.

One sequence had First Platoon on a reconnaissance patrol in order to probe for the German line. The patrol led to several wounded troopers and the death of a replacement trooper named Private Julian. Supporting characters like Lieutenant Harry Welsh and Wayne "Skinny" Sisk suffered serious leg wounds from occasional German artillery shelling. And Walter “Smokey” Gordon was wounded and paralyzed during a German tank assault. During this time, Roe struck up a fictionalized friendship and potential romance with a Belgian nurse named Renée LeMaire. Their relationship ended in tragedy, when Renée was killed during the German bombing of Bastogne on Christmas Eve. Replacement trooper Edward “Babe” Heffron also figured heavily in ”Bastogne”. Although the episode was mainly told from Roe’s point-of-view, it allowed one sequence told from Babe’s point-of-view. In it, Babe and another medic named Ralph Spina had a humorous encounter with German troops in a foxhole, while searching for medical supplies for Easy Company.

There are three episodes of ”BAND OF BROTHERS” that I consider to be personal favorites of mine. And one of them is ”Bastogne”. In my reviews of episodes like "Day of Days" and "Replacements", I had complained of the lack of epic scope in episodes that featured important and historic battles. In ”Bastogne”, director David Leland and screenwriter Bruce C. McKenna gave the episode that epic scope needed for an episode about the famous siege of Bastogne. And the fact that they told the episode through the eyes of medic Eugene Roe made their efforts all the more amazing. Was this particular episode filmed inside a soundstage? It is possible. If it was, I am impressed. I wish I knew the name of the production designer for this particular episode, because he or she did a magnificent job in re-creating the Ardennes Forest during the winter. I also found the photography very impressive, especially in the scene that featured the Army Air Corps’ attempt to re-supply the division by air and the German bombing of Bastogne near the end of the episode. Once again, ”BAND OF BROTHERS” allowed viewers to get a peek into the personal interactions between the troopers of Easy Company. Most of these interactions occurred during Christmas Eve . . . right before Harry Welsh was wounded by German artillery. However, I also enjoyed the two major interactions between Roe and Heffron – especially one scene in which both Roe and Spina tried to comfort Heffron, who was distraught over Private Julian’s death.

”Bastogne” featured some excellent performances from certain members of the cast. Neal McDonough gave a subtle and convincing performance as platoon leader Lieutenant Lynn “Buck” Compton , whose emotional stability seemed to be in danger of spiraling out of control after getting shot in Holland. Another memorable performance came from actress Lucie Jeanne, who portrayed Renée Lemaire, the Belgian nurse in Bastogne that Roe befriended. Robin Laing got a chance to shine as Edward “Babe” Heffron, the replacement trooper that hailed from Bill Guarnere’s Philadelphia neighborhood. He was especially effectively poignant in a scene in which Heffron grieved over Private Julian’s death. But the star of this particular episode was Irish-born actor Shane Taylor. Recalling my complaint about the questionable American accents of some of the British cast members, I can happily say that Taylor was not one of them. He did an excellent job in recapturing the Louisiana-born Roe’s native accent. More importantly, he gave a subtle, yet superb performance as the quiet and efficient medic, struggling to perform his duty and prevent himself from getting affected by the suffering around him. In the end, Taylor not only gave one of the miniseries’ best performances, but also managed to carry a very important episode on his shoulders.

”Bastogne” is not completely perfect. Despite the strong chemistry between Taylor and Jeanne, there were moments when I found the nuance of their relationship – especially the silent exchange of glances – a bit heavy-handed. And I am somewhat confused about the fate of the wounded men that Roe escorted to one of the hospitals in Bastogne. Earlier in the episode, he had escorted Sisk and Gordon to the hospital where Renée worked. He was about to deliver Welsh to the same hospital, when he witnessed its destruction from German bombers. The episode made it clear that Bastogne had remained encircled by German forces, until the arrival of elements from General George C. Patton’s Third Army on December 26, 1944. So . . . what happened to Sisk and Gordon? They did not meet Renée’s fate. Both men survived the war. How did they get out of that hospital and Bastogne before the December 24 bombing?

Perfect or not, ”Bastogne” is one of my personal favorite episodes in ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. And thanks to director David Leland, screenwriter Bruce C. McKenna and actor Shane Taylor, the episode conveyed an epic point-of-view of the siege of Bastogne that made it one of the best (at least in my opinion) episodes in the entire miniseries.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"THE KING'S SPEECH" (2010) Photo Gallery


Below are images from the 2010 historical drama called "THE KING'S SPEECH". Directed by Tom Hooper, the movie stars Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter:


"THE KING'S SPEECH" (2010) Photo Gallery