Sunday, June 30, 2013

"LOST" RETROSPECT: (4.10) "Something Nice Back Home"


Five years ago, (4.10) "Something Nice Back Home", a Season Four episode of "LOST" aired for the first time and I wrote a review of the episode a year later. After a new, recent viewing, I decided to write another article on the episode: 

"LOST" RETROSPECT: (4.10) "Something Nice Back Home"

I am beginning to wonder if (4.10) "Something Nice Back Home", a Season Four episode from "LOST", might be one of the most misunderstood episodes of the series. When I recently viewed it for a third time after four years, I came to a realization that I may have misunderstood it.

"Something Nice Back Home" is basically a Jack Shephard episode that featured three main subplots - two of them about the very intense Dr. Shephard. One of them centered on James "Sawyer" Ford, Claire Littleton and Miles Straume's efforts to reach the Oceanic 815 survivors' beach camp, after surviving the near massacre at the Others' compound by mercenary Martin Keamy and his merry band of killers. The second subplot was about Dr. Juliet Burke's efforts to save Jack's life after he had been struck down by appendicitis. And the final subplot turned out to be a flash forward about Jack's time with fellow castaways Kate Austen and Aaron Littleton in Los Angeles, three years in the future.

During the first subplot, Sawyer, Claire and Miles' jungle trek to the beach camp proved to be a tense little adventure that obviously appealed to many viewers. Ever since Sawyer had rescued Claire during Keamy's attack upon the Others' compound in (4.09) "The Shape of Things to Come", fans began labeling him as the series' "hero". After my second viewing of the two episodes, I found this odd. Aside from his rescue of Claire, I cannot recall Sawyer doing anything worth noticing. Former Others leader Ben Linus had saved the survivors of Keamy's attack and the Smoke Monster by leading them out of the besieged compound in "The Shape of Things to Come". And in "Something Nice Back Home", pilot Frank Lapidus saved Sawyer, Claire, Miles and Aaron with a warning and prevented them from encountering a very angry Keamy and his surviving men. Frank also convinced Keamy to use another jungle trail in order to distract the latter from the castaways' hiding place.

One might view Sawyer's protective attitude toward Claire as an example of his heroism. People are entitled to do so . . . even if I have trouble accepting this. Mind you, I found the exchanges between Sawyer and Miles rather amusing. But when Sawyer caught Miles shooting odd stares at Claire, the former decided to go into a belligerent protective mode and warn Miles to keep his distance. This incident, along with Miles' detection of Danielle Rousseau and Karl's bodies were signs of Miles' psychic ability, but Sawyer was unaware of it. Eventually, Sawyer regretted his warning, when Claire disappeared into the jungle with the Smoke Monster, who was in the form of Christian Shephard - hers and Jack's father. Like I said, this subplot provided plenty of suspense, adventure and snark. But "LOST" never answered some of the questions that it raised. Why did Claire leave with the Man in Black (Smoke Monster)? Why did she leave Aaron behind? What happened to her during those three years before her reunion with her fellow castaways in Season Six? And was Claire's disappearance nothing more than a plot device for Kate's story line featuring those years with baby Aaron?

The second plot line focused on Jack's appendicitis. In fact, this episode began with this subplot, using the trademark shot of Jack's eye opening. Not much came from this particular subplot. While gathering surgical instruments and medical supplies at the Staff Station, both Jin and Sun Kwon discovered that one of the freighter newcomers, Charlotte Lewis, spoke Korean. Jin informed Charlotte that he will harm her fellow freighter passenger, Daniel Faraday, if she did not secure a place for the pregnant Sun aboard the Kahuna freighter. The subplot also revealed Juliet's talent for leadership. She also realized that Jack still loved Kate and that her romantic friendship with him was nothing more than an illusion.

In the end, Charlotte did not ensure Sun's departure from the island. Juliet did in the Season Four finale, (4.12) "There's No Place Like Home, Part I". Knowledge of Charlotte's ability to speak Korean only allowed her to issue a warning to Jin about the dangers of the island before her death in Season Five's (5.05) "This Place is Death". And Juliet's leadership abilities were never explored in future episodes. Adhering to Hollywood's sexist codes, John Locke ended up acting as leader of the castaways left behind during the island's time jumps. Sawyer assumed the role of "leader" following Locke's departure from the island, via the Orchid Station's donkey wheel.

And to this day, "LOST fans have no idea on what led to Jack's attack of appendicitis. Many have speculated, claiming that either it was a sign of the Island's displeasure over Jack's eagerness to leave or a symbol of his subconscious reacting to Jack's desire. Who knows? Fellow castaway Rose Nadler expressed her belief to husband Bernard that Jack's illness was an ominous warning. In her view, everyone "gets better" on the Island. Naturally, she could only speak from her personal experiences and knowledge of what happened to Locke's legs. I have decided not to view Jack's appendicitis from any metaphoric point of view and see it as nothing more than an opportunity for "LOST" writers to end the burgeoning Jack/Juliet romance. When Jack made it clear that he wanted Kate to participate in his operation, Juliet realized that Jack was not in love with her and told Kate. What made this whole mystery surrounding Jack's infirmity ridiculous is that three years and two seasons later, island guru Jacob told Jack and a few others that staying or leaving the island (and accepting the role as island leader) was a matter of choice.

The episode's last episode - the 2007 flash forward featuring Jack and Kate's romance in Los Angeles - seemed to have generated the greatest amount of contempt from the fans and the media. Many fans blamed Jack's personal flaws for his meltdown and break-up with Kate, complaining about his alcohol and drug dependence, his jealousy toward Kate's feelings for Sawyer (who had remained on the island), and his controlling nature. They believed if Jack had kept these flaws in check, he could have enjoyed a happy life with Kate and Aaron. Others believed that Jack's visit to Hurley at the Santa Rosa Mental Health Institute triggered a realization that he needed to return to the Island in order to meet his "destiny".

I have a different views on the subplot featuring Jack's meltdown. One, I believe it was the best subplot in "Something Nice Back Home". It was the only subplot that helped drive the series' main narrative. And unlike the Sawyer/Claire/Miles and the appendicitis subplots, it did not end with unanswered questions. More importantly, the episode raised a question that many fans, including myself, had failed to notice. What really led to Jack's post-Island meltdown and break-up with Kate? In my previous review, I had expressed an opinion that Jack's perfect life with Kate and Aaron was too superficial to last. I never realized the extent of how shallow and false his life was. After viewing"Something Nice Back Home" for the second time, I realized that this question was answered in (4.04) "Eggtown" and in future episodes such as (4.12) "There's No Place Like Home"(5.02) "The Lie"(5.04) "The Little Prince" and (5.11) "Whatever Happened, Happened".

What am I trying to say? Simple. Jack and the other members of the Oceanic Six had created lives filled with unnecessary and/or selfish lies, deceit, illusions and grief. Audiences had already experienced Hugo "Hurley" Reyes' crash and burn in flashbacks featured in the Season Four premiere, (4.01) "The Beginning of the End". In this episode, audiences finally witnessed Jack's future meltdown. In a flash forward from "Eggtown", Jack revealed the Oceanic Six's major lie about the crash of Oceanic Flight 815 during Kate's criminal trial:

DUNCAN: Were you aware that Ms. Austen was a fugitive being transported by a United States marshal on that flight to Los Angeles for trial?

JACK: I did learn that eventually, yes.

DUNCAN: From the U.S. Marshal?

JACK: No, the marshal died in the crash. I never spoke to him. Ms. Austen told me.

DUNCAN: Did you ever ask her if she was guilty?

JACK: No. Never.

DUNCAN: Well, that seems like a reasonable question. Why not?

JACK: I just assumed that there had been some kind of mistake.

DUNCAN: And why would you think that?

JACK: Only eight of us survived the crash. We landed in the water. I was hurt, pretty badly. In fact, if it weren't for her, I would have never made it to the shore. She took care of me. She took care of all of us. She — she gave us first aid, water, found food, made shelter. She tried to save the other two, but they didn't—

As we all know, this is a load of horseshit. But what led Jack to tell all of these lies. The episode (4.14) "There's No Place Like Home" featured a scene in which Locke asked Jack to lie about the Island and their their experiences during the past three months . . . to protect the Island. Jack had announced his intentions to follow Locke's instructions in(5.02) "The Lie". Kate, Sun and Sayid agreed to support his lies. Hurley did not, claiming that they were unnecessary. Eventually, Hurley capitulated to Jack's demands. I never understood why Jack had created such unnecessary lies about the island. It had disappeared after Ben had pushed the Orchid Station's donkey wheel. By the time the Oceanic Six were "rescued", they had traveled many miles away from the island, thanks to Kahuna freighter's helicopter, floating in the ocean for several days and Penny Widmore's yacht, which conveyed them to the Java Trench, where a fake Oceanic 815 airplane was planted by Penny's father, Charles Widmore and near the island of Sumba. The only person who could have found the Island was Widmore. Being a former resident of the Island, he knew how to acquire information on the Island's locations. And once he did, Widmore dispatched Martin Keamy and his thugs there to collect Ben Linus. The authorities would have never found the Island, and the lie did not prevente Widmore from finding it again, as Season Six eventually proved. Leaving behind so many castaways and pretending they were dead did not serve a damn thing.

There was another lie that proved to be even more destructive . . . namely the lie about fugitive Kate Austen being the mother of Aaron Littleton, Claire's son. When "Something Nice Back Home" first aired, many viewers believed that Jack had coerced Kate into pretending to be Aaron's mother in order to protect him from the foster care system or Charles Widmore. In "There's No Place Like Home, Part I", both Jack and Kate learned that Claire's mother, Carole Littleton, was alive and well. Both realized they were keeping Aaron from his grandmother via the lie, but both continued the deception. A flashback in "The Little Prince" revealed that it was Kate who had suggested she pretend to be Aaron's mother, due to her selfish desire to use Aaron as an emotional comfort blanket:

KATE: I've been thinking a lot about him. Did you know that Claire was flying to L.A. to give him up for adoption?

JACK: No. No, I didn't.

KATE: I think we should say he's mine.

JACK: What?

KATE: We could say that I was six months pregnant when I was arrested and that I gave birth to him on the Island. No one would ever know.

JACK: Kate, no. You don't have to... [sighs] There's other ways too this.

KATE: After everyone we've lost--Michael, Jin, Sawyer... I can't lose him, too.

JACK: Sawyer's not dead.

KATE: No. But he's gone. Good night, Jack.

JACK: Kate... If we're gonna be safe, if we're gonna protect the people that we left behind, tomorrow morning, I'm gonna have to convince everyone to lie. If it's just me, they're never gonna go for it. So I'm gonna turn to you first. Are you with me?

KATE: I have always been with you.

Wow. I find it interesting that so many fans have complained about Jack's controlling nature. Yet, it is also easy to see that he can be very susceptible to Kate's manipulations. Yet, very few people have commented on this. By the way, Kate's suggestion was confirmed in a confession that she had made to Cassidy Phillips, Sawyer's ex-girlfriend and fellow grifter, in "Whatever Happened, Happened". And Jack . . . due to his selfish desire to earn or maintain Kate's love, agreed to support her lie. I suspect his encounter with Carole Littleton at his father's funeral service dealt two major blows to Jack's psyche. He learned that Claire Littleton was his half-sister, due to an affair between Christian Shephard and Carole. And two, he had allowed Kate to use his nephew as an emotional blanket, while keeping said nephew from the latter's very healthy grandmother. I suspect that this discovery had led Jack to stay away from Kate for a while. But after seeing her at her trial, he realized he could not stay away and caved in to her demand that he need to accept Aaron as hers in order for them to have a relationship.

But Jack's conversation with Hurley at the mental hospital only proved something that Jack could not face - he was living a life based upon lies about the Island, the survivors of the crash and especially Aaron. And I also suspect that his discovery of Kate's deception about the favor she did for Sawyer made him realized that he was maintaining lies for the love of a woman who was lying to him. No wonder he freaked out in the end with booze, pills and anger. I suspect that Jack's outburst about Kate not being related to Aaron was a hint of her own meltdown and realization, a few months later.

"Something Nice Back Home" was not perfect. The episode featured one entertaining and suspenseful subplot that brought up questions behind Claire Littleton's disappearance - questions that were never really explored after Claire's reappearance in Season Six. It featured another subplot regarding Jack's appendicitis that raised both questions and minor subplots that were never dealt with any satisfaction. The only subplot I believe that had any meat or merit was the flash forward featuring Jack Shephard's meltdown regarding the Island, Kate Austen and his nephew Aaron Littleton. So in the end, all was not lost for "Something Nice Back Home".

Friday, June 28, 2013

"THE THREE MUSKETEERS" (1948) Photo Gallery

Below are images from "THE THREE MUSKETEERS", the 1948 adaptation of Alexandre Dumas, père's 1844 novel. Directed by George Sidney, the movie starred Lana Turner, Gene Kelly, June Allyson and Van Heflin: 

"THE THREE MUSKETEERS" (1948) Photo Gallery

Thursday, June 27, 2013

"IRON MAN 3" (2013) Review

"IRON MAN 3" (2013) Review

One would think after the release of last year's "THE AVENGERS", Marvel Studios would call it quits on its saga about the team of superheroes who foiled an alien invasion in said movie. But the "THE AVENGERS" opened the possibility of a new threat to Earth, paving the way for a new slew of stories for the costumed Avengers. 

The beginning of this new group of films resulted in the release of "IRON MAN 3", the third movie about the sole adventures of billionaire Tony Stark aka Iron Man. The alien invasion from "THE AVENGERS" had left its mark on Tony. He has become even more popular than ever with the public. The U.S. government (including S.H.I.E.L.D.) seemed to be leaving him alone for the moment. And his relationship with Pepper Potts seemed to be going strong. However, Tony also seemed to be in the process of ironing out the kinks for his new method of accessing his Iron Man armor - a method that turned out to be a technological copy of Thor's habit of summoning the Mjölnir hammer. His chauffeur Happy Hogan has been promoted to Head of Security for Stark Industries. But Happy's caustic "Super Friends" indicated the latter's resentment toward Tony's newly forged connections to the other Avengers. Worst of all, Tony has been experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the Avengers' battle against the invading Chitauri aliens. 

But these problems are nothing in compare to the re-emergence of an old acquaintance whom Tony first met at a New Year's Eve party in 1999. Thirteen years earlier, a drunken Tony and his date Dr. Maya Hansen encountered the disabled scientist Aldrich Killian, who offered them positions in his new company, Advanced Idea Mechanics. However, Tony rejects the offer, humiliating Killian in the process. Sometime after this encounter, Killian met Dr. Hansen and used her Extremis virus - an experimental regenerative treatment intended to allow recovery from crippling injuries - to heal his own disabilities. However, Extremis also gives the individual superhuman strength and allows him or her to generate heat. As it turns out, Killian is working for the latest threat to strike into the heart of American intelligence, a terrorist known as Mandarin. The latter has been responsible for a string of bombings that have left the intelligence agencies bewildered by any lack of forensic evidence. But Happy's encounter with Killian's major henchman, a former Army officer named Eric Savrin, in front of the Hollywood Chinese Theater leads him badly injured. And a very angry Tony issues a televised threat to capture the Mandarin. Former paramour Dr. Hansen appears at Stark's Malibu home to warn him about Killian and the Mandarin, but the latter orders Savrin to lead an attack on the house. Tony, Pepper and Dr. Hansen all survive. But the house is destroyed and Tony is forced to disappear to somewhere in Tennessee and discover a way to defeat the Mandarin.

I was surprised to learn that Jon Favreau did not return as director for this third IRON MAN movie. Although "IRON MAN 2" proved to be a box office hit, many critics and moviegoers claimed that it was not as good as the first movie, "IRON MAN". It was not an opinion that I shared, but . . . it was an opinion that led Marvel Studios to ask Favreau to step down as director of "IRON MAN 3". Star Robert Downey Jr. suggested that the studio hire Shane Black to direct this third film. Downey Jr. and Black had first worked with each other in the 2005 comedy, "KISS KISS BANG BANG". Did changing directors help the IRON MAN franchise? I do not think so. I am not saying that "IRON MAN 3" was a bad movie. I thought it was far from bad. But a change in directors did not improve the franchise. It was a change that I believe was unnecessary in the first place. However . . . I still enjoyed this third film very much.

One of the best things I could say about ""IRON MAN 3" is that it presented Tony with a very formidable opponent. The Mandarin proved to be not only scary, but very intelligent. The attack on Tony's Malibu home was mind boggling. But the manner in which the Mandarin managed to track Tony down to a small Tennessee town and steal the War Machine (re-named Iron Patriot) armor by tricking American intelligence and the military regarding his location, and luring James Rhodes (aka War Machine) into a trap struck me as pretty flawless. And in using the Hansen/Killian Extremis virus on disabled military veterans, the Mandarin managed to create a formidable private army. There were other aspects of Black and Drew Pearce's screenplay that I found very appealing. Although I had no problems with the Pepper Potts character in the previous two movies, I enjoyed the fact that Black and Pearce really put her through the wringer in this one - dealing with Tony's panic attacks, surviving the Malibu house attack, and becoming a prisoner. Pepper's ordeals finally paid off when she played a major role in defeating the Mandarin. Although Rhodey had a small presence in the movie's first half, his presence increased tenfold in the second half. And like Pepper, he played a major role in the Mandarin's defeat that I personally found very satisfying.

The movie also featured some top-notch action sequences. For me, the second best of them all was the Mandarin's attack on Tony's Malibu house. But there were other sequences that I found impressive; including Happy's encounter with Eric Savrin and another benefactor of the Extremis virus in Hollywood, Tony's encounter with Savrin and Extremis muscle Ellen Brandt in Tennessee, and the final battle on an oil rig. Mind you, the latter was not perfect, but Pepper and Rhodey's actions in this sequence made it memorable for me. If the Malibu house attack was my second favorite action sequence, my favorite turned out to be Iron Man's encounter with Savrin aboard Air Force One and his rescue of the President's personnel following the plane's destruction. The use of free fall in Iron Man's rescue of the Presidential passengers really blew my mind. 

There were some complaints that Robert Downey Jr. seemed to be going through the motions in his portrayal of Tony Stark in this film. I cannot say that I agree with this opinion. Downey Jr.'s portrayal of Tony seemed more sober or stressed out, due to the character's inability to deal with the aftermath of the events in "THE AVENGERS". Perhaps this is not a Tony Stark that fans and critics wanted to see. But I congratulate both Downey Jr., Black and Pearce for allowing audiences to see how Tony dealt with the aftermath of encountering invading aliens. I had been impressed by Gwyneth Paltrow's portrayal of a stressed out Pepper Potts in "IRON MAN 2". Considering what she had endured in this movie, Paltrow pulled out the stops as she conveyed Pepper's array of emotions from wariness to fear and finally to anger. Frankly, I feel this movie featured her best performance as Pepper. I noticed that Don Cheadle seemed a lot more relaxed in the role of Lieutenant-Colonel James Rhodes aka War Machine (re-named Iron Patriot). As I had earlier stated, his presence in the movie's first half seemed rather minimal. But once the movie shifted toward Tony and the American government going after the Mandarin in Miami, his role became more prominent. Not only did Cheadle displayed his talent for comedy, but his James Rhodes proved to be just as much of a bad ass without his War Machine armor, as he was with it. Denied the director's chair for this movie, the screenwriters gave Jon Favreau's Happy Hogan was allowed a bigger role in the story, when the injuries he suffered at Eric Savrin's hands snapped Tony out of his lethargy to deal with the Mandarin. And Favreau gave a performance that I found both funny and poignant.

In one article I had read, Guy Pearce described his role in "IRON MAN 3" as merely a cameo. Frankly, I think he may have exaggerated a bit. Like Don Cheadle, Pearce's presence in the movie's first half seemed minimal. In fact, his presence as Aldrich Killian did not seem to fully develop until the movie's last forty-five minutes or so. And his character slightly reminded me of the Dr. Curt Conners (the Lizard) character from last year's "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN". But I must admit that Pearce did a great job of conveying the character's development from a pathetic and desperate man eager to use science to heal his disabilities to a charming former acquaintance of Pepper's and finally a truly scary and difficult-to-beat villain. I have never seen James Badge Dale portray a villain. But I have heard that he once portrayed a serial killer on two carryover episodes from "CSI: MIAMI" and "CSI: NEW YORK". I need to see those episodes, but I found Badge Dale's portrayal of henchman Eric Sevrin rather frightening and intimidating. Rebecca Hall portrayed Dr. Maya Hensen, the true creator of the Extremis virus, who found herself regretting her decision to work with Dr. Killian. Hall gave a sharp and witty performance, but I think her presence seemed pretty much wasted. William Sadler gave a solid performance as the President of the United States. Considering his talent, I do wish the script had allowed him to do more. I can say the same about Miguel Ferrer's ambiguous portrayal of the Vice-President. I finally come to Ben Kingsley's portrayal of the Mandarin. Many fans were upset over the changes that Black and Pearce made to the Mandarin character. I was not. I found their portrayal of the super villain amazing and mind boggling. And one has to thank Kingsley for giving what I feel was the most entertaining performance in the movie. In fact, I feel that the scene in which Tony meets the Mandarin for the first time is one of my favorite "hero-meets-villain" scenes of all time from any Marvel film. It is a scene I will always cherish.

I do have a few complaints about "IRON MAN 3". I had already pointed out my slight disappointment at the limited manner in which the Maya Hensen character was utilized. Also, Tony's trip to Tennessee seemed a bit offbeat to em. I did not need to watch his developing friendship with the kid Harley, which struck me as trite. And I also wish that the script had been a little clear on how the Mandarin and Killian tracked Tony down to Tennessee. Although I found some satisfaction in the oil rig sequence - especially in regard to Pepper and Rhodey's action - I must admit that overall, it struck me as somewhat convoluted. It did not help that the entire sequence was shot at night. Between the night setting, Jeffrey Ford and Peter S. Elliot's shaky editing and the numerous Iron Man droids, I almost found the sequence disappointing. Well, let me put it another way . . . I have seen better.

Marvel Studios and Paramount Pictures are promoting this film as the best IRON MAN film ever. I cannot say that I agree. I feel it has a more complex story than the somewhat simplistic tale for "IRON MAN". But it has a set of flaws that makes it difficult for me to declare it as "the best". I guess "IRON MAN 2" is still my favorite. But I do believe that "IRON MAN 3"proved to be a very entertaining and exciting film. In the end, Shane Black did a top-notch job with the help of a decent script and excellent performances from a cast led by Robert Downey Jr.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I" (1985) - Episode Two "1844-1848" Commentary

northandsouth 2.1

"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I" (1985) - EPISODE TWO "1844-1848" Commentary

Unlike Episode One, the second episode of the 1985 miniseries, "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I" covered a slightly longer time span. This episode focused on George Hazard and Orry Main's personal and professional lives for a period of three years and five (or six) months - between the fall of 1844 and the early winter of 1848. This episode not only covered their last two years at the West Point Academy, but also their military experiences during the Mexican-American War

Episode Two opens during the fall of 1844, in which George and Orry have embarked upon their third year at the West Point Academy. Orry has been sleep walking through most of his courses, due to his unhappiness over his love Madeline Fabray's recent marriage to his father's neighbor, Justin La Motte. But Orry's apathy over his personal life disappears when he and George begin to notice upperclassman Elkhannah Bent's continuing abuse toward their fellow classmate, Ned Fisk. The two friends and classmates George Pickett, George McClellan and Thomas Jackson decide to do something about Bent by setting up the latter to get caught with a local prostitute, who happened to be a favorite of one of the Academy's instructors, Lieutenant DeJong. Although their plan succeeds, George and Orry's actions earn them Bent's undying antipathy which will have long lasting consequences upon their families. 

Bent's first chance for revenge occurs during the Battle of Churubusco in August 1847, when he orders the pair to lead their platoons to impossible position that could leave them slaughtered. Bent's orders also results in Orry getting seriously wounded in the leg. While George waits for Orry to recover right after the war's official ending in February 1848, he meets and falls in love with his future wife - Constance Flynn, the daughter of Irish-born Army officer, Major Patrick Flynn. It does not take long for George to propose marriage to her. He also receives word of his father's death and resigns his Army commission to help his family operate Hazard Iron. Due to his wound, Orry also leaves the Army and returns to South Carolina and Mont Royal, a despondent man with a permanently lame leg.

As usual, Episode Two features some changes from John Jakes' 1982 novel. One, George met Constance in Texas, before his and Orry's arrival in Mexico. And Constance's father was an attorney, not a military doctor. The miniseries also dismissed George and Orry's failed efforts to expose Bent as a brutal military leader before the Battle of Churubusco. Unlike the miniseries, Orry lost one of his arms in the novel. And when Orry returned to Mont Royal in the miniseries, his Cousin Charles had yet to make an appearance.

Like Episode OneEpisode Two was a first-rate chapter in the miniseries saga with a few flaws that more or less irritated me. However, I was very impressed at how director Richard T. Heffron and cinematographer Stevan Larner handled some of the episode's major scenes - especially the ones that featured the Mains' barbecue in honor of both Orry and George, the latter's first meeting with future wife Constance Flynn at an Army ball in Mexico City, and especially the Battle of Churubusco. Three major crowd scenes in one 97-minutes episode. Very impressive. I especially enjoyed how he used the camera to take in all of the details of the Mains' barbecue at Mont Royal, using Madeline and Justin LaMotte's arrival to begin the scene. First of all, I would like to touch upon the episode's costumes. Vicki Sánchez's work continued to impress me - especially in two of my favorite costumes worn by both Wendy Kilbourne and Lesley-Anne Down:

northandsouth 2.3 northandsouth 2.4

More importantly, Episode Two featured some first-rate dramatic scene. Two of them - ironically - featured slaves being punished. One of the Mains' slaves, Priam, was punished for drunken behavior at the family's barbecue in one particular scene. Heffron and Larner utilized unusual camera angles and lighting to emphasize the horror of Priam being branded on the cheek by overseer Salem Jones. Along with the above, the scene's horror became even more effective, thanks to David Harris (Priam) and Tony Frank's (Salem Jones) performances. The second scene featured Justin LaMotte's whipping of a slave to discover if any of his slaves had information on Priam's escape from Mont Royal. There were no unusual camera angles or lighting used in this scene, just casual brutality, thanks to Heffron's direction and David Carradine's performance. And a close look at Carradine's costume would reveal flecks of blood on his white shirt.

This episode also featured other first-rate dramatic scenes. One of those scenes featured excellent performances by James Read and Patrick Swayze in an argument between George and Orry following Priam's punishment. The irony of this argument is that Orry's reaction to George's criticism of slavery was a great deal more volatile than George's reaction to his criticism of Northern wage slavery in Episode One. The LaMottes had their own memorable fight, following Madeline's comments about slavery and secession at the Mains' barbecue, thanks to Carradine and Lesley-Anne Down's performances. Philip Casnoff's memorably creepy performance as Elkhannah Bent added a great deal of depth to at least two scenes. One of them featured Bent's personal declaration of war to both George and Orry after they had succeeded to get him kicked out of West Point. The second scene featured Bent seeking help from his illegitimate father - a Northern congressman - to get him a commission in the Army after being forced to leave the Academy. Gene Kelly gave a brief, yet excellent performance as Bent's father and his obvious reluctance to view Bent as his son, along with Casnoff's performance, produced a rare moment in which I actually felt a glimmer of sympathy for Bent.

There were other performances that impressed me. Mitchell Ryan was excellent as the no-nonsense Tillet Main who angrily defended his decision to punish Priam to Orry. Olivia Cole was allowed to display more of her excellent acting skills in an intense scene in which Maum Sally stops Madeline from interrupting LaMotte's whipping of a slave. Robert Mitchum gave a charming performance as the observant and slightly roguish Army doctor, Major Patrick Flynn. Andy Stahl continued his first-rate performance as Ned Fisk in his second and last appearance in the 1985 miniseries. Episode Two also featured the introduction of Wendy Kilbourne as George Hazard's love and future wife, Constance Flynn. Utilizing an Irish accent must have been difficult for her . . . at first. Her accent seemed a bit exaggerated in her first scene in which Constance meets George for the first time at the ball in Mexico City. But Kilbourne quickly adapted to the accent and came out smelling like a rose. More importantly, she infused both a charm and a sardonic wit that has made Constance one of my favorite characters in the saga.

I did have a major problem with Episode Two. Do not get me wrong. I have always thought Patrick Swayze and Lesley-Anne Down had a good, solid screen chemistry. But why oh why did the screenwriters insist upon forcing them to spew so much drippy dialogue? My God! How I grew to hate it! Viewers received a first hint of this at the end of Episode One. InEpisode Two, it simply got worse. Why? The dialogue became hammier and the episode featured two wince-inducing scenes between Orry and Madeline. Let me correct myself. Make that three. One featured a conversation between the two at the barbecue, the second at Salvation Chapel on the day after the barbecue, and the third at the end of the episode, following Orry's permanent return to Mont Royal and Priam's escape. 

As it turned out, I had another problem . . . and it featured a scene between Madeline and Priam. After escaping from Mont Royal, the latter made his way to the slave quarters at Resolute, the LaMotte plantation. One of LaMotte's house slaves summoned Madeline to her cabin, where the plantation mistress tried to convince Priam to return to Mont Royal before agreeing to assist him in his escape. This entire scene featured Priam in tears, while Madeline talked to him. And for the likes of me, I do not understand why he was crying? Why was Priam crying? Was this a reaction to Madeline's initial attempt to convince him to return to Mont Royal? Or were his tears a sentimental reaction to the lose of those years before Salem Jones' arrival at Mont Royal? Judging from his dialogue, his only reason for leaving the Mains' plantation seemed to be their brutal overseer. What the hell? What happened to the literary Priam who not only hated Salem Jones, but also angrily resented the Main family for keeping him in bondage. It seemed as if Priam had lost his balls in his transition from John Jakes' novel to the television screen. Why was it so important for the screenwriters to make Priam less aggressive in his attitude toward the Mains? How gutless.

Despite these flaws, "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I" seemed to march steadily on in this second episode with great dramatic moments and first-rate performances. With George at Mont Royal to get Orry to stand as his best man at his upcoming wedding to Constance, and Priam as a fugitive, Heffron and the screenwriters have given viewers sufficient incentives to look forward to the next episode.

Monday, June 24, 2013

"Bride of Belthazor" [PG-13] - 11/16


Chapter Eleven

Cecile glanced at her watch. It read thirty-five minutes after midnight. She yawned.

"Tired already?" Paige asked. The two women, along with Natalie Gleason and Nimue, sat at one of the tables near the stage. 

The Vodoun priestess glanced around the club. "A little. It's already past midnight. And I need some sleep." She glanced at the remaining guests. Some either looked tired . . . or slightly drunk. "Some of the others barely seem to be in any condition to drive."

Nimue asked, "Where is the bride?"

"In the restroom," Nathalie answered. "With her mom." She turned to the demoness. "Say, is it true that you had known Olivia's great-great grandparents?"

A sigh left Nimue's mouth. "Yes. When I was married to Cole's father." She paused. "And for a few years after Benjamin's death. Cole is the godson of William McNeill."

"Why didn't you say anything before?" Paige demanded. Cecile detected a slight hostile tone in the Charmed One's voice. Judging from her expression so did Nimue.

Coolly, the demoness replied, "Well, I had other matters on my mind - Cole and Olivia's wedding plans, dealing matters concerning the Realm . . . the loss of my son's powers." She shot a meaningful glance at Paige, following her last words. "Surely, you understand."

"I . . ." Paige's face began to turn pink.

Cecile decided to come to the younger woman's rescue. "You know, I personally can't wait to hear about the Turners and the McNeills, back then," she said to the demoness.

A shrug lifted Nimue's shoulders. "Yes, well I only knew the McNeills for only nine years."

"Nine years seem enough. Don't you think?"

At that moment, Phoebe approached the table. "Looks like we're closing down for the night, guys. Everyone is starting to leave." She shot an uneasy glance at Nimue.

"What about the clean-up?" Paige asked. She frowned at her older sister. "Piper doesn't expect us to do it tonight, does she?"

The oldest Charmed One appeared behind Paige's chair. "Of course I do. We had to do it after Barbara's party and we have to do it, tonight."

Paige groaned, as she stood up. "Great! I'll barely have time for sleep, tomorrow," she muttered.

"Why don't you simply use magic to clean up this mess?" Nathalie suggested.

Longing gleamed in Paige's eyes, followed by disappointment when Piper replied, "I don't think so. Personal . . ."

To everyone's surprise, Nimue waved a hand. Within seconds, P3 looked clean as a whistle. The demoness nodded approvingly. So did Nathalie. The Halliwells, on the other hand, took a different view of Nimue's handiwork. "What the hell did you do to my club?" Piper cried out in outrage. Both Paige and Phoebe merely gasped out loud.

"Cleaned it up, of course," Nimue dryly replied. "Is there a problem?"

Piper continued in a shrill voice, "Well yeah! We can't use magic for personal gain!"

Olivia rushed forward, with a few packages in her arms. "Hey, who cleaned the place?" Her two grandmothers and her mother followed closely at her heels.

"I did," Nimue replied.

The younger Mrs. McNeill nodded approvingly. "Good thinking."

"Uh, wait a minute!" Piper exclaimed. "I can't use magic to . . ."

"Darling, why the fuss?" Gweneth asked, interrupting the younger woman. "It's past midnight. By the time you and your sisters finish cleaning this place, you will barely have enough time for sleep. And please remember that you will be busy, tomorrow."

The outrage in Piper's dark eyes slowly dimmed. "Oh. Yeah." She shot an ambiguously grateful look at the demoness. "Thanks," she muttered.

"My pleasure," Nimue replied with a sardonic smile that reminded Cecile of Cole.

Nathalie yawned. "Goddess, I'm tired!"

"Anyone need a lift?" Barbara asked, as she descended the club's staircase. "I have my car ready. And Margaret is already inside."

Both of Olivia's grandmothers and Cecile's own mother headed toward the staircase. As Cecile prepared to do the same, she bumped into Nathalie. As she grasped the other woman's shoulder, she found herself bombarded by disturbing visions - Cole greeting a blond man at the penthouse, the same man flashing a strange stone at the half-daemon, Cole passing out, and Andre fighting both the blond man and a familiar dark-haired woman. The visions ended with an unconscious or dead Andre sprawled on the penthouse floor with another unidentified body. Cecile gasped out loud. "Oh God! Andre!" She jerked away from Nathalie's grasp.

Everyone stared at her. "What's wrong?" Cecile's mother demanded anxiously.

"It's Andre," Cecile murmured. "He's . . . I don't know if he's dead or unconscious. And Cole's in trouble. By some strange guy . . . and that daemon called Idril."

Olivia's expression hardened. So did Nimue's. "Where?" the latter asked in a harsh voice.

"In Cole's penthouse." Cecile turned to Nathalie. "What I don't understand is why . . ." She broke off, as she noticed the dark-haired witch's shaken expression. "What's wrong?"

Clutching her forehead, Nathalie replied, "I . . . uh . . . I think you must have telepathically sent your visions to me." She inhaled sharply. "Goddess! How on earth do you deal with being a seer?"

"Why did Cecile get her visions, when she touched you?" Piper asked Nathalie.

Nathalie closed her eyes and sighed. "Because I've seen her before. The woman in Cecile's vision. I last saw her at the Anduin Marketplace, a few days ago. When I had bought Olivia's present." She nodded at Cecile and Olivia. "We better go, if you want to help both Cole and Andre."

Both Cecile and Olivia took hold of the dark-haired witch's hands. The last thing Cecile saw were the Charmed Ones' shocked expressions, as Nathalie blinked her and Olivia out of the nightclub.


Nearly twenty minutes earlier, Cole opened the refrigerator, inside his penthouse kitchen, and reached for a tub of butter. "Hey Andre," he cried to his friend "do you want anything to eat? I'm about to make an omelet."

Seconds passed before Andre appeared in the kitchen. "C'mon man! You've got to be kidding! It's almost half past midnight."

"I'm hungry."

Andre sighed. "You're just nervous. And you can't sleep. It's only natural, since in about twelve to fourteen hours, you're about to become a married man again. Why don't you just get in a little meditation, so that you can relax? And go to sleep?" He paused. "It's either that or fall asleep on your wedding night. And I don't think Olivia would like that."

"I'm not nervous," Cole protested, lying. "And as a half-daemon, I can go without sleep a lot longer than any mortal."

Rolling his eyes, Andre muttered, "Uh-huh. If you say so. However, as your best man, I know I'm going to need a lot of sleep. So, I'm going to bed." He turned away and left the kitchen.

Cole shrugged his shoulders and resumed preparing his omelet. He removed more items from the refrigerator - a few eggs, butter, onions, along with red and green peppers. Before he could retrieve a pan from one of the cabinets, the doorbell rang. The half-demon glanced at the kitchen clock. It read twelve twenty-one. Who in the hell would be visiting at this time of the morning?

The half-daemon reached the front door and paused. It occurred to him that Idril might be making her move. Apparently, so did Andre, who peered from one of the guest bedrooms. "Need any help, man?"

"I don't know," Cole replied uneasily. He peered through the door's peephole. To his surprise, he found Gary Whalen standing in the hallway. And looking very nervous. Cole rolled his eyes and sighed. "You might as well go back to bed," he said. "It's, uh . . . it's only a client."

Andre frowned. "At nearly twelve-thirty in the morning?"

Cole shook his head in disgust. "It's Gary Whalen. You remember him, don't you? I'm beginning to think this guy has a few bolts loose. He's obsessed over creating a new will and apparently thinks I'm the only one who can help him. He's been getting on Eleanor's nerves for the past few days. I'll take care of him."

While Andre disappeared back into the guest bedroom, Cole opened the door. He smiled coolly at the blond man. "Mr. Whalen, may I ask what you're doing here?"

"I . . ." The blond man cleared his throat, nervously. "Look, I'm sorry to bother you, Mr. Turner, but I've been trying to reach you for the past two days. I . . . May I come in?"

Cole sighed. "Might as well. I can't sleep, anyway." He stepped aside and allowed the other man to step inside. "Mr. Whalen, my assistant has already recommended two of my colleagues . . ."

"I'm sorry Mr. Turner, but . . ." Whalen shook his head. "I can't work with Miss Altman. She's . . . well, I find her rather abrasive. And as for Mr. Weinstock, he won't be available until after Christmas."

"And you can't wait until after Christmas?" Cole demanded. He indicated an empty chair to his visitor.

Whalen sat down. And heaved a large sigh. "You must understand, Mr. Turner, I'm . . . well, I have serious health problems."

The statement took Cole by surprise. The blond man struck him as being very healthy. "I'm sorry to hear that. Um . . . what exactly . . .?"

"It's . . . rather personal," Whalen flatly replied. "If you don't mind."

Cole nearly found himself speechless. "Oh . . . uh, of course." He remembered the food he had left on the kitchen counter. "By the way, Mr. Whalen, would you like something to drink? Coffee, water or something stronger?"

"Club soda would be fine," Whalen replied.

As he headed toward the liquor cabinet, Cole added, "After we finish the will tonight, I'll hand it over to my assistant Eleanor, tomorrow. She'll be at the wedding. I'll ask her to type it up and file it." He poured a glass of club soda for his guest. "She should have it ready by . . ." Cole turned around. A turquoise gem gleamed in his eyes, causing his mind to go blank.


Brion Morgan slipped inside his sister's sitting room. With the McNeill family attending the pre-wedding celebrations, it had been easy for him to search the house for Gweneth's Book of Shadows. So far, his efforts have proved to be fruitless. He glanced at his watch. Everyone should be returning to the house, soon. Which meant that Gwen's sitting room might prove to be his last chance. At least for tonight.

Over thirty years ago, Brion's sister had used a spell to teleport herself, her friend Carla Bianchi and himself to an old Italian villa, where a wizard had a fellow witch as prisoner. As he recall, Gweneth had recorded the same spell into her Book of Shadows. And Brion hoped to use it to teleport himself to Idril's present whereabouts and vanquish her.

After a brief search, Brion finally stumbled across the altar that held his sister's Book of Shadows. He found the spell he had been looking for and copied it on a small notebook. Then he returned the BOS to the altar and left the room. The Welshman then left the house and marched down the driveway. Assured that no one could see him, he took a deep breath and began to memorize the spell.


"With this stone will soon be linked,
Your mind to mine shall finally sync.
Follow my voice and so it will be,
Arnemetia's power be invoked here."

Gary hesitated as he peered at the half-daemon. Assured that the latter was safely in a trance, he continued:

"Idril is your only true love. No one else will matter.
Not your mother, not Phoebe and certainly not Olivia.
The moment you and Idril are together, you will be Joined in marriage. So mote it be."

Gary snapped his fingers. Belthazor slumped to the floor. He stepped over the half-demon's body and opened the door. Idril strode inside. "He's all yours," the warlock announced.

Idril rushed over and knelt beside the half-daemon. "What's wrong with him?" she demanded. "What happened?"

"It's nothing." Gary shrugged his shoulders. "Just a little side effect from the stone, once the spell is completed. The moment he wakes up, he'll remember everything that I've . . ."

A third voice muttered, "What the fuck?"

Gary stared at the sight of a tall figure entering the living room. "Oh shit!"

Idril frowned at him. "What?" Her eyes followed the warlock's gaze, causing her to gasp. "Oh no! Andre Morrell!"


A few minutes earlier, Andre heard the thump, just as he was about to climb into bed. He paused. How on earth could preparing an omelet cause so much noise? And it sure as hell did not sound like a pan dropping.

Slowly, Andre turned away from the bed and headed toward the door. As he approached the living room, a horrifying sight greeted his eyes. He saw Cole's unconscious body sprawled on the floor. Beside him was an old acquaintance - his friend's former daemonic lover. And another familiar person hovered above the pair. Cole's newest client, Gary Whalen. "What the fuck?" Andre muttered aloud.

Whalen cried out, "Oh shit!"

Then Idril's head snapped up. Her eyes widened in shock. "Oh no! Andre Morrell!" She sprang to her feet, as her eyes turned red. Before she could attack, Andre forced both her and Whalen away from Cole's body, using aero kinesis. Both cried in pain, as their bodies struck the nearest wall.

Andre rushed forward and knelt beside his friend's body. "Cole! Damn! Are you all . . .?" Before he could finish, Andre found himself flying across the room. Pain tingled nearly every nerve in his body, as he tumbled over a table. The houngan glanced up and saw Whalen's outstretched hand. A telekinetic. Damn!

Looking very determined, Idril rose to her feet. She marched toward the sprawled Andre, her eyes glowing red. "You interfering son-of-a-bitch!" she cried. "You're not going to stand in my . . ." Andre hurled a fireball at her. It brushed the demoness' shoulder, as she ducked.

Panic struck Andre, when streams of red heat emitted from Idril's eyes. The houngan held out both hands and cried, "Deflect!" in the Fon. Idril's beam bounced back and struck the wall near her.

Without missing a beat, Andre used his aero kinesis to hurl Idril back to Whalen. Then he scrambled to his feet and pointed a finger at the pair, chanting:

"Herviosso, I now call upon,
Protect me now, oh great one.
Keep me safe and harm to none,
With a shield to surround those beyond."

Both Idril and Whalen rushed forward to attack the houngan . . . and bounced against a magical shield that Andre had conjured. He sighed with relief. The spell worked. Then he returned his attention back to Cole. The houngan spied a necklace on the floor. Just as he started to pick it up, a figure burst into the penthouse - Brion Morgan.

Andre frowned. "What the . . .?" Then the Welsh-born witch produced a small vial and hurled it at Andre's two captors. "No!" the Voudoun priest cried.

The vial struck the shield, creating a large burst of light. Once more, Andre found himself being hurled across the room. He struggled to his feet and spotted Morgan's unconscious body sprawled near the door. To his horror, he also realized that the witch's potion had eradicated his magical shield. Idril shot an energy ball at him. Andre destroyed it with a fireball. Then he tossed her against the fireplace. Andre marched over to where the demoness laid sprawled. A fireball materialized above his open palm. Then . . .

A sharp pain stabbed Andre's side. Wide-eyed and surprised, he glanced down and saw a knife protruding from his side. "Goddamn!" he cried. "I've been . . ." A hand removed the knife and shoved it back into his body - this time, between his right ribs. Dizziness overwhelmed the houngan. He grabbed his side for the moment and noticed the sticky red blood on his hands. Andre swayed on his feet for a few seconds, before his knees buckled under him. Then everything faded to black.


Idril sighed with relief, as the Vodoun priest fell to the floor. "In Barmiel's name! I never thought I would be indebted to a warlock." She struggled to her feet. "Good job."

Wheeler removed the knife from Morrell's body. "Happy to oblige. I'm just glad that we won't have to deal with him, again. Thanks to that man, over there." He strode over to the older man's prone body and kicked it. "Must be a witch. What do we do with him?"

"Leave him," Idril sharply ordered. "I'm more interested in Belthazor." She knelt beside the half-daemon and tenderly stroked his forehead. "How long will he be out cold?"

With a shrug, Wheeler replied, "An hour. Maybe two. It depends upon him."

"Okay, let's go. Get Belthazor."

A frown appeared on Wheeler's face. "Are you kidding?" he protested. "That guy must weigh a least a good 180 pounds!"

Idril sighed. Long and hard. Apparently, not even the likes of Gary Wheeler is not immune from the idiocy of minions. "Use your telekinesis and send him out into the damn hall!"

"Why not teleport him?"

"Because I can't!" Idril shot back. "No one can! Belthazor apparently has a protection ward over this place. So, will you please?"

Looking slightly disgruntled, the warlock levitated the half-daemon's body and led it out of the penthouse. Idril followed. Once they were in the hallway, the demoness grabbed one of Belthazor's hands. Wheeler placed a hand on her shoulder. And she teleported them out of the building.