Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"SOME LIKE IT HOT" (1959) Photo Gallery


Here is a gallery featuring images from "SOME LIKE IT HOT", the 1959 comedy directed by Billy Wilder. The movie starred Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon: 



"SOME LIKE IT HOT" (1959) Photo Gallery




































Monday, July 29, 2013

"GIANT" (1956) Review



"GIANT" (1956) Review

I have always been partial to family sagas. This has been the case since I was in my mid teens. Whether the story manifested in a novel, a television series or miniseries, or even a movie; I would eagerly delve into that particular story if I found it interesting.

One of those family sagas that caught my interest at a young age was "GIANT", the 1956 adaptation of Edna Ferber's 1952 novel about a wealthy Texas family. However, "GIANT" used to be something of an enigma to me. I found it difficult to appreciate the movie's last hour, which was set in the 1940s and 50s. And I also found myself confused over which leading man to cheer for - Rock Hudson's Jordan "Bick" Benedict Jr. or James Dean's Jett Rink. Both characters were portrayed ambiguously. And being a simple-minded teenager, I found this a little difficult to accept. I needed clear cut heroes and villains to understand this story. Because of the ambiguous portrayals of the leading male characters and the story's shift into the post-World War II era, I avoided "GIANT" for years. But recently, curiosity and maturity drove me to watch the movie again.

Produced and directed by George Stevens, "GIANT" began with the wealthy Bick traveling to Maryland to purchase a horse from a local landowner. During his trip, Bick meets and woos the landowner's older daughter, Leslie Lynnton. They marry and head back to Bick's large ranch Reata in Texas, where Leslie is forced to adapt to the semi-arid climate and rough culture of the state's western region. More importantly, both Leslie and Bick are forced to realize that beneath their sexual chemistry and love for each other, they are two people with different social ideals and cultural backgrounds who barely know one another. And they would have to learn to overcome their differences to become a long-lasting couple. One last obstacle to their union turned out to be Jett Rink, a ranch hand who works for Bick's older sister, Luz. The ambitious Jett not only hopes to get rich, but also falls secretly in love with Leslie. His feelings for the Maryland woman produces an unspoken rivalry between Jett and Bink - a rivalry that spills into business, when Jett strikes oil on the land given to him by Luz Benedict.

After my latest viewing of "GIANT", my opinion of the movie had changed. I was finally mature enough to understand the ambiguity of the two leading male characters. I also learned to appreciate the movie's post-World War II period, thanks to the performances of the leads - Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. But not only did I enjoy how "GIANT" gave a bird's eye, though somewhat exaggerated view of Texas, I admired how director George Stevens and screenwriters Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat explored the cultural tensions that manifested throughout the state during the early 20th century - especially tensions between the state's Anglos and those of Mexican descent. "GIANT" also focused on class tensions through the antagonistic relationship between Bick and Rink. This was especially apparent in the movie's exploration of Texas' gradual shift from cattle ranching to oil production as its leading industry. And Leslie became a voice for gender equality when she expressed her displeasure at society's patriarchal order to her husband and his male circle of friends. These tensions served as either character developments or stagnation for our main characters. "GIANT" also explored the gradual change of the state's leading industry from ranching to oil production

Some of my favorite moments in "GIANT" featured these developments and barriers for the main characters. Jett Rink's discovery of oil on his land and his confrontation with Bick Benedict proved to be one of those memorable moments and should have served as a development in his character. Aware of the contempt Bick has conveyed toward him, it was easy to wallow in his triumph when he finally confronted the rancher. But Jett's open leer of Leslie Benedict undermined his moment of triumph and proved to be a sign that newly founded wealth would not improve his character. Leslie's travails as a bride in Texas was never more apparent than in the barbecue sequence that ended for her in a dead faint. But one of my favorite Leslie moments proved to be the famous scene in which she challenged the status quo of women keeping silent during social gatherings at Reata. The tension between the characters in the scene - especially Leslie and Bick - was deliciously obvious. The first half of "GIANT" did an excellent job of conveying Bick's arrogance and self-worth as a member of the Benedict family, especially in his scenes with Bick. But my favorite Bick moments proved to be the Christmas Eve 1941 sequence in which audiences become fully aware that he is aging and not as self-confident as he used to be; and the famous roadside diner scene in which he gets into a fistfight with the diner's bigoted owner and lose.

George Stevens had been wise to film most of the film in Marfa, Texas. Located in the high desert of West Texas, Marfa provided the perfect look for the movie's setting. Cinematographer William C. Mellor, who had worked with Stevens on a few other films, did a first-rate job in utilizing Marfa's flat terrain in giving the film its wide and sprawling look - especially for the Reata Ranch setting. Mellor's photography also served well in certain scenes; including Leslie and Bick's arrival in Texas, Luz's brutal ride astride the Maryland horse purchased by her brother, the funeral of a World War II combatant (which brought tears to my eyes, by the way), and Jett striking oil. "GIANT" also benefited from Boris Leven's production designs and Ralph S. Hurst's set decorations. The work of both men aptly conveyed the changes at Reata, due to Leslie's influence and the passage of time. I wish I could say something profound about Dimitri Tiomkin's score. But the problem is that I have no real memory of it. The best I can say is that Tiomkin's score blended perfectly what was shown on screen. I have only one complaint and that was Tiomkin and Stevens' use of the song "The Yellow Rose of Texas" during the famous diner fight scene and near the end of the movie. I found this use of the song rather bombastic.

If I have one major complaint, it is Marjorie Best's costume designs. Mind you, some of them were colorful to look at, especially those costumes worn by Elizabeth Taylor, Carroll Baker and the movie's other actresses. But yes, I had a problem with Best's costumes. I feel they had failed to reflect the time period in which most of the movie was set - especially those scenes set between the 1920s and 1941. For example, the following images of Elizabeth Taylor are set in the early 1920s:

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And the following two images featured actresses Fran Benedict and Elsa Cárdenas in two sequences set in December 1941:

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The blue dress with white trimming worn by Taylor looked as if it could have been worn in the early-to-mid 1950s. I could say the same about the costumes worn by Benedict and Cárdenas. Whereas the outfit worn by Taylor during the "Arrival at Reata" sequence looked as if it had been designed in the early 1930s. No wonder I that for years, I thought "GIANT" began in the early 1930s. It took the realization that Leslie and Bick's twin children - Jordy and Judy - were in their late teens in the 1941 sequence. Best earned an Academy Award nomination for her work. And while I cannot deny that her costumes looked very attractive and colorful, I feel they were historically inaccurate and perhaps that Oscar nomination was not fully deserved.

What can I say about the acting in "GIANT"? Three of the cast members - Rock Hudson, James Dean and Mercedes McCambridge - earned Academy Award nominations. It seemed a pity that a few others failed to get one. Overall, the actors and actresses did a good job. Those who portrayed the movie's Mexican-American characters did not fare well. Elsa Cárdenas gave a solid performance as Bick and Leslie's daughter-in-law, Juanita Benedict. But Juana proved to be a slightly dull and ideal character with little depth. Actually, I could say the same about all of the Latino characters. I had expected Sal Mineo to be given an opportunity to display his acting skills as Angel Obregón II, a laborer's son. Instead, Mineo barely spoke any lines and simply served as a symbol of young Latino manhood. Both Fran Benedict and Earl Holliman fared slightly better as Judy Benedict and her ranch hand husband, Bob Dave. Other than the pair's desire to start a smaller ranch, the pair was able to overcome minimal characterizations to give solid performances. Only Carroll Baker and Dennis Hopper were blessed with interesting characters as Jordy Benedict and younger sister Luz Benedict II. And both made the best of it. One of Baker's finest moments occurred when Luz becomes silently aware that the man she loved - Jett Rink - was merely using her as some kind of substitution for her mother, whom he had remained in love. And Hopper did an excellent job of developing Jordy from a soft-spoken young man longing to reject his father's overt patriarchal expectations in order to become a doctor, to the still soft-spoken young man with a hot temper and balls of steel.

Those characters who portrayed members of the older generation fared better. Jane Withers had a peach of a role in the character of Leslie's best friend Vashti Snythe. Withers did an excellent job of conveying Vashti's character from a very shy young woman to a bolder one, who became more adept at socializing with others. Chill Wills, whom I have never taken seriously as an actor before, gave a skillful and subtle performance as Bick's uncle, Bawley Benedict. Mercedes McCambridge, on the other hand, was fantastic as Bick's iron-willed sister, Luz Benedict. For the short period she was on screen, McCambridge nearly took my breath away in a performance that could have easily veered into caricature. I found myself wishing she had remained on the screen longer. At least she managed to earn an Oscar nomination.

James Dean also earned a nomination as the movie's most enigmatic character, the laconic and very ambitious Jett Rink. I noticed that most critics have labeled Dean's performance as the best in the movie. I doubt if I would agree. Mind you, he gave a superb performance, especially in the movie's latter half as the older and corrupted Jett. But in the first half, he had this habit of keeping his hands busy, which deflected attention from his co-stars. And I found this annoying. Also, Stevens had a habit of posing him in these iconic shots that struck me as slightly artificial. The last actor to earn a nomination was Rock Hudson, who portrayed the family's patriarch Jordan "Bick" Benedict. Although critics have been willing to compliment his performance, they tend to prefer his comedic roles. They are entitled to their opinion, but I truly believe that Hudson gave one of his best performances of his career in "GIANT". Although I admired his portrayal of the ambiguous Bick, whose likability was marred by his bigotry; I found myself blown away by his portrayal of the middle-aged Bick. There were times when I forgot that he had been 29-30 years old at the time. Elizabeth Taylor was the only one of the three leads who did not receive an Academy nomination. Some have expressed no conflict with this oversight. I cannot agree with them. I feel she deserved a nomination just as much as her two male co-stars. Her Leslie Benedict proved to be the heart and soul of "GIANT". And Taylor did such a superb job of maintaining this sprawling movie on her 23-24 year-old shoulders. She also skillfully conveyed Leslie's journey from a "fish-out-of-water", to a strong matriarch who proved to have a great influence not only on her family, but also her new community.

Looking back, I realized that I had been too young to appreciate "GIANT", when I first saw it. The movie proved to be a lot better than I first believed. Although it was not perfect - what movie is - I now realize that George Stevens did a phenomenon job of translating Edna Ferber's novel into this 201 minutes epic. And the amazing thing is that I was not bored one bit. The movie maintained my interest from start to finish, unlike the 1939 movie "GONE WITH THE WIND", which bored me senseless during its last hour. And I cannot believe that this movie, along with a few others, lost the Best Picture prize to the likes of "AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS".

Friday, July 26, 2013

TIME MACHINE: The New York City Draft Riots

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TIME MACHINE: THE NEW YORK CITY DRAFT RIOTS

The week of July 13-16 marks the 150th anniversary of the infamous New York City Draft Riots. The series of violent disturbances, which occurred during the third year of the U.S. Civil War, not only formed the largest civil insurrection, but also the largest race riot in United States history.


New York City's economy had been tied to the Southern states for decades. In fact, nearly half of its exports were cotton shipments by the 1820s and the State of New York possessed many textiles mills that process cotton. New York City not only possessed many Southern sympathizers, but was also a main destination for immigrants, especially Ireland and Germany. The Democratic Party, which controlled New York's Tammany Hall political organization made great strides in enrolling immigrants as U.S. citizens - especially the Irish. During the country's antebellum period, these same politicians and many of the city's journalists claimed that working-class blacks - especially those who came from the slave-holding states - posed a threat to employment for the white working-class, regardless of whether they were American-born or immigrants. these journalists also published sensational accounts directed at the working class - especially white immigrants - on the "evils of interracial socializing and marriages" and wrote derogatory portrayals of African-Americans. By the beginning of the Civil War, free black men and immigrants competed for low-wage jobs in the city.

The election of Abraham Lincoln as the 16th U.S. President in November 1861 featured the rise of the political power of the new Republican party nationally. It also brought about the secession of Southern states from the Union and the formation of the Confederacy. Due to New York City's economic ties to the South, then Mayor Fernando Wood proposed to the Board of Aldermen in January 1861 that the city should secede from both the State of New York and the United States. Despite the city's strong Southern sympathies, Wood's plans never came to fruition, due to the outbreak of the Civil War, following the surrender of Fort Sumter in April 1861. The first two years of the war proved to be difficult for the Union. In order to produce more troops for the Army, Congress passed a law to establish a draft for the first time. The Confederate government had already established a draft for their army, the previous year. The country's male immigrant citizenry discovered they were expected to register for the draft. However, black men were excluded, because they were not considered citizens. And wealthier white men could pay for substitutes. In New York City and other locations, the new citizens learned that they were expected to register for the draft to fight for their new country. Black men were excluded from the draft as they were not considered citizens, and wealthier white men could pay for substitutes.

The first drawings for the draft occurred on July 11, 1863 with peaceful results. The second drawing was held on July 13, 1863, ten days after the Union victory at Gettysburg. This time, an enraged crowd led by the Black Joke Engine Company 33, attacked the assistant Ninth District Provost Marshal's Office, at Third Avenue and 47th Street; where the drawings for the draft were taking place. Many of the rioters were Irish laborers who feared having to compete with emancipated slaves for jobs. Although the outbreak of violence was originally an expression of anger at the draft, the protests turned into an ugly race riot, with the white rioters, mainly Irish immigrants, attacking or killing blacks of all classes, wherever they could be found. However, they were not the only victims. Mobs also attacked wealthy whites and looted their homes, because they were financially able to avoid the draft; white abolitionists and any other whites who had formed some kind of connection with the city's black population. But the main victims proved to be African-Americans. At least 100 black people were estimated to have been killed. One of the most notorious incidents occurred on July 13. A mob burned down the Colored Orphan Asylum at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue. Fortunately, the orphanage's occupants managed to escape the fire, thanks to the efforts of the New York City Police.

On July 15, the draft was suspended. On the last day of the riot, conditions in the city had became so grave that U.S. Army Major General John E. Wool, commander of the Department of the East, stated that "Martial law ought to be proclaimed, but I have not a sufficient force to enforce it.". At least 800 Union Army troops reached New York City by the beginning of the riot's second day. General Wool also gathered cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. By July 16, there were several thousand Federal troops in the city. A final confrontation between troops and the rioters occurred on July 16, near Gramercy Park. It is believed that at least twelve people died on the last day of the riots in skirmishes between rioters and the police and army. They included one African-American male, two soldiers, a bystander and two women.

As a result of the violence against blacks, hundreds of them left the city, moving to Williamsburg, Brooklyn (which was still a separate city) and New Jersey. The city's white elite organized to provide relief to black riot victims, helping them find new work and homes. The Union League Club and the Committee of Merchants for the Relief of Colored People provided nearly $40,000 to 2500 victims of the riots. By 1865, New York's total black population had dropped to under 10,000, the lowest it had been since 1820. The white working class riots had changed the demographics of the city and exerted their control in the workplace; they became "unequivocally divided" from blacks. The U.S. government re-instated the draft on August 19, 1863. It was completed within 10 days without any violence. New York City's support for theNew York banks eventually financed the Civil War, and the state's industries were more productive than the entire Confederacy.

For more detailed information on the New York City Draft Riots, check out the following book:

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"The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War" by Iver Bernstein

Thursday, July 25, 2013

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

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"BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR"

Chapter Thirteen

Olivia, Nimue and Nathalie found themselves sprawled on the McNeills' front lawn, upon their return from the Anduin Dimension. The demoness muttered something under her breath, while Nathalie cried out, "Goddamit, Livy! You could have at least warned us about the protection spell around the house!"

"Sorry," Olivia mumbled. She struggled to her feet. "I forgot. It shouldn't take us long to reach the front door."

Within minutes, the three women arrived at the manor's front door. Breathing heavily, Nathalie glared at the redhead. "I won't forgive you for this."

"You're actually out of breath from walking across the lawn?" Olivia exclaimed in disbelief.

"It was uphill!"

Nimue sharply interrupted. "Ladies! Please!"

After murmuring a quick apology, Olivia unlocked the door. The three females entered the manor and found the others inside the library. An altar that featured a silver chalice had been set up in the middle of the room. "What's going on?" Olivia demanded.

"Divination altar," her father explained. "To find Cole."

Andre asked, "Did you guys get any information on that stone I had told you about?"

"It's called Evendril's Amulet," Nimue replied. "The sapphire in the center of the amulet is used for telepathic manipulation."

"Now, why does that sound familiar?" Andre murmured. He turned away from the others and headed toward one of the bookshelves.

A very anxious Olivia hugged herself. "Okay, who's doing the spell?"

Mrs. Dubois spoke up. "I will. We've all discovered that I've had more experience in this than anyone else."

"Even more than Cecile?" a dubious-looking Nathalie asked.

The older Vodoun mambo stared at the dark-haired witch. "Believe it or not, yes. Cecile may be a natural-born seer, but I have more experience in this form of divination." She paused. "Uh, did anyone find something of Cole's?"

Nimue sighed. "Why don't you use a drop of my blood?" Everyone, except for Mrs. Dubois, stared at her. "What? I can only assume that there is nothing in this house that belongs to him."

"She has a point," Mrs. Dubois added. She glanced around. "Does anyone have a knife or something?"

Olivia disappeared from the library. A few minutes later, she returned with a dagger in her hand. She handed it to Cecile's mother. "This should do. Don't worry, I've cleaned it."

Mrs. Dubois took hold of Nimue's wrist and pricked a finger. Several drops of blood appeared on the blade's tip. Then she carefully placed the dagger on the altar's table and began to chant in the Fon language. Then she poured water into the chalice and added:

"I call upon Yemaya to reveal Cole Turner's present and future. In your name, Yemaya, I offer this blood to guide me to his whereabouts." Mrs. Dubois picked up the dagger and allowed the blood on its tip to drop into the chalice.

The surface of the chalice's water turned murky from Nimue's blood. Everyone began to lean over the altar, as the water's surface rippled for several seconds. "Hey!" Mrs. Dubois exclaimed. "I can't see!"

The moment Olivia and the others leaned back, images appeared on the water's surface. The redhead saw Cole put on a black, collar-less jacket. The images then transformed into a wedding scene, in which Cole and Idril faced a bearded man in a black robe. Other figures - Idril's minions, Olivia surmised - half surrounded the couple. "Bloody hell!" Nimue hissed. "Beren! I haven't seen him since Raynor and Avara's wedding, over thirty-four years ago."

"Where is that place?" Olivia demanded. She noticed the red boulders that dotted the landscape. "Looks like some kind of rock garden."

Nimue added in a tight voice, "Idril's estate in the Kenotês Dimension. That's where she's from. The others with her must be members of her clan."

Gweneth frowned. "You've been there before?"

"Once," the demoness replied with a sigh. "Not long after Raynor's death. When Klea was head of the Thorn Order. I believe that Idril had wanted Klea's permission for a special operation. All of the Order's sect leaders - myself included - had been invited."

Andre approached the others, holding a book. "I found some information on Evendril's Amulet. It was created eight hundred years ago by a wizard named . . ." He shrugged. "Well, you know, Evendril. The amulet seems to be a sigil, judging by the markings on the surface. And the sapphire in the center is used . . ."

". . . for telepathic manipulation," Olivia finished. She nodded.

Pointing at the images within the chalice, Andre added, "And that guy probably has it. The blond man standing behind Idril."

Olivia and the others peered at chalice's water. "That's Gary Wheeler?"

"Is that his name? He had introduced himself as Gary Whalen to us."

Jack spoke up. "Whatever his name is, someone has to get that amulet from him in order to use it on Cole."

"I'll do both," Cecile said. "After I stop Cole before he has the chance to harm us."

Nimue frowned at the mambo. "Pardon me for asking, but what exactly do you plan to do to my son?"

"Just put him to sleep," Cecile replied lightly. "For a few minutes."

Gweneth turned to the demoness. "Does Idril have any more . . . minions under her?"

Nimue shook her head. "Just those whom were shown in the chalice. And most of them are fellow kinsmen from her clan. I suggest that we allow a few 'companions' of mine to help us." An uneasy expression appeared on the face of Olivia's mother. "Don't worry. These minions are trust . . ."

Jack lifted a hand. "We understand. I think it's time that we left. Olivia, Cecile? And Gwen, of course."

"And me," Andre insisted.

Nana patted Andre's arm. "I don't think so, love. You need to recover from those stab wounds. And the loss of blood."

"I feel fine!" Andre protested.

Olivia's grandmother patted the houngan's side. He grimaced in pain. "Like I said, you need to recover. I don't heal as completely as a whitelighter. A few hours of rest and the pain will disappear."

Andre's shoulders sagged in defeat. Too bad, Olivia thought. Andre's help could have been valuable.

------------ 

Idril allowed herself a brief sigh of relief, as the dark priest, Beren, conducted the marriage ceremony. She shot a quick glace at the groom. Her heart fluttered at the sight of the tall half-daemon. He looked handsome in his all-black outfit. And so damn virile.

The bride hoped that her own gown looked appropriate for the occasion. She wore a long-sleeved, lilac gown that exposed her shoulders. The gown had been purchased at the Anduin Marketplace. At least Belthazor . . . or Cole seemed impressed by it.

Images of her gown and Belthazor's suit on her bedroom floor filled Idril's mind. Along with images of their bodies intertwined on her large bed. Idril could hardly contain herself. Nearly five years had passed since the last time the half-daemon had touched her. And now she could hardly wait.

Beren's droning voice broke through Idril's thoughts. "If there is anyone with just cause who believes this couple should not be joined, speak now or be silenced forever."

A husky female voice cried out, "I HAVE JUST CAUSE!"

The bride, the groom, the priest and the guests whipped their heads around. The demoness gasped at the sight of eight figures standing on the terrace. Including a very furious Olivia McNeill.

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"I SAID I HAVE JUST CAUSE!" Olivia's throaty voice rang clear with anger. Then using her telekinesis, the redhead flung the dark-haired demoness against one of the red boulders that dotted the garden. The so-called bride's body hit the ground with a thud.

Cecile's eyes briefly lingered on the fallen demoness. So that was Idril. The latter's flamboyant looks reminded the Vodoun priestess of a Vegas hustler. Her eyes then focused upon Cole. "Idril!" he cried out in anguish. His blue eyes narrowed dangerously.

Time to act, Cecile thought. She quickly sent a telepathic message to the half-daemon. "Sleep." He immediately crumpled to the ground.

One of Idril's fellow daemons, a lean, dark-haired male with odd pale turquoise eyes cried out, "Kill them!" At his command, the demoness' minions went on the attack.

A daemon flung a fireball in Mr. McNeill's direction. The middle-aged witch quickly stopped it in mid-tracks with his molecular combustion ability. The he used the same power to kill the daemon that had attacked him. Olivia hurled another daemon toward a tree, causing the latter's chest to be impaled by a large branch. One of Nimue's minions killed an attacking daemon with an energy ball. Then Cecile glanced to her left. She saw another Idril minion and the priest teleport out of the garden. Cecile allowed herself a wry smile. Apparently, the two had decided to . . .

A strong arm snaked around the Vodoun priestess' throat, causing her to choke. Before her attacker could cause any further harm, Cecile sent the daemon a telepathic message - "Pain". The daemon immediately released her neck, clutched his head as he cried out in agony. Seconds later, he dropped to the ground - dead.

Cecile heaved a sigh of relief. Then she glanced up in time to see both Mrs. McNeill and Nimue kill two of Idril's minions or cousins with electrokinetic balls. A quick glance to Cecile's left revealed a fair-haired man attempting to unobtrusively leave the battleground. It was Gary Wheeler. "Hey!" Cecile cried. She rushed toward the warlock. He spun around and lifted one hand. Cecile immediately recalled Andre's revelation that Wheeler was a warlock. She quickly raised her own hand and cried out, "Deflect!" in Fon. Wheeler's body flung back onto the ground. Cecile rushed toward him.

Unfortunately, the warlock scrambled to his feet and a fallen dagger zoomed into his hand. He growled in a menacing voice, "Bitch!" and made a swipe at Cecile. She blocked his attack with a few Wing Chun moves, turning the knife on him. The blade's tip sank into the warlock's side. He cried out in pain and fell to the ground. Cecile knelt beside Wheeler's fallen body and reached inside his jacket. She eventually found an amulet with a sapphire gem in its center. Evendril's Amulet.

Before the Voudon priestess had time to relish her triumph, she rushed back to Cole's side. A few yards away, Olivia incinerated one of Idril's minions before joining her. "How is he?" the anxious redhead asked.

Cecile replied, "Still sleeping. I just need to wake him up."

"Huh?"

"I've got the amulet." Cecile held up the object. Then she focused her attention upon the dozing half-daemon and sent him a message. "Wake up."

Cole's eyes snapped open. A gasp escaped from his mouth, as he sprung into a sitting position. "What the . . ." he began. The confusion in his eyes cleared, as he regarded both Cecile and Olivia with hostility. "You!" he growled.

Cecile flashed the amulet in his face. His eyes went blank and she began to chant:

"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."


She continued:

"Your memories of your true self and feelings will return to you. Arnemetia's hold upon you will erase as soon as you awaken."

Cecile snapped her fingers and Cole slipped back into an unconscious state. "Great!" Olivia muttered. "He's asleep again."

"Not for long." For the last time - she hoped - Cecile sent a telepathic message to the half-daemon. "Wake up." She snapped her fingers and blue eyes fluttered open.

Cole regarded the two women with confusion. "Wha . . . what the hell is going on?" he muttered. "Olivia? Cecile?"

The two friends exchanged relieved smiles. "Looks like someone is finally himself, again," Cecile commented.

Slowly, the half-daemon struggled to his feet with the two women's help. "Where the hell am I? And why does this . . .?" His eyes grew wide, as if a horrible thought had struck him. "Wait a minute. I almost became Idril's husband, didn't I? Oh shit!"

"Rather horrible to contemplate, isn't it?" Olivia added.

Noises from near one of the garden's boulders revealed Idril being forced to stand up by Nimue's two minions. "Get up!" one growled.

Her voice filled with terror, Idril protested. "Nimue! Please! You don't understand! It's not like I . . ." She broke off at the sight of Cole glaring at her. "Belthazor!" For the first time, Cecile felt a stirring of pity toward the young demoness. "Belthazor, you have to help me!"

"Just as you had helped me by hiring someone to place a spell on me?" Cecile could barely hear Cole's deadly whisper.

Nimue fixed the younger demoness with a regal glare. "Take her to Altec," she instructed her minions. "He will know what to do with her."

Idril's eyes widened in horror. "Altec? No! No, I won't . . ." Taking one of her captors by surprise, she stepped on his foot. He immediately released her arm. Then Idril jabbed him in the gut, before kicking the other minion away from her. Her eyes turned deep red, as she directed them at Cole's mother.

"No!" Cole cried out. He quickly shook off Olivia's grip and flung an energy ball at Idril. Cries of pain filled the garden as the dark-haired demoness disintegrated into a ball of light and fire.

Olivia released a gust of breath and turned to Cole. "Well! It looks as if you finally got her after all these years."

"No shit," Cecile mumbled. Then she glanced behind her and noticed a disturbing fact. Gary Wheeler had disappeared. "Oh no!" she cried. "He's gone!"

Mrs. McNeill frowned. "Who, dear?"

"The warlock! Wheeler! He's gone!" Cecile shook her head in disbelief. "I don't undertand. How did he get away?"

Mr. McNeill shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe he's a teleporter." He walked over to Cecile and indicated the bauble in her hand. "At least he doesn't have the amulet. So, let's go home."

A groan escaped from Cole's mouth. "God, how many hours do we have left until the first ceremony? With all of the messing about in my brain, I think I'm going to need a long rest."

Nimue stroked her son's cheek. Surprisingly, Cole did not resist her gesture. "Why don't you stay at the Berisa Resort, in the Melora Dimension?" the demoness suggested. "Time moves much faster there than it does here in the mortal world or where the first ceremony will be held. You will be able to acquire a few extra hours of sleep."

"I think that all of us can use a little trip to the Berisa Resort," Mr. McNeill added. "I'm exhausted."

Cecile felt tempted to accept Nimue's suggestion, but decided against it. But after nearly losing Andre, she realized that she would rather keep company with him for the rest of the night.


END OF CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"WHITE HOUSE DOWN" (2013) Photo Gallery

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Below are images from "WHITE HOUSE DOWN", the new action thriller. Directed by Roland Emmerich, the movie stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx:


"WHITE HOUSE DOWN" (2013) Photo Gallery

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Monday, July 22, 2013

"MAN OF STEEL" (2013) Review

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"MAN OF STEEL" (2013) Review

When I first learned that Warner Brothers Studios and D.C. Comics planned to release another Superman movie, I did not greet the news with any enthusiasm. In fact, my first reaction was sheer frustration. The last D.C. Comics movie I wanted to see was another Superman movie. 

There were so many reasons for my negative reaction to the news of a new Superman movie. The last one I saw was 2006's "SUPERMAN RETURNS", which had been directed by Bryan Singer. There had also been two television series about the Man of Steel in the past twenty (20) years - "LOIS AND CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN" (1993-1997) and "SMALLVILLE" (2001-2011). The film subsidiary for Marvel Comics have shown a willingness to release movies featuring a vast array of their comic book characters. On the other hand, D.C. Comics seems to be stuck on either Superman or Batman for television and movie material. There have been minor exceptions to the rule - including the Oliver Queen/Green Arrow character that became a regular on "SMALLVILLE"; the 2011 film, "THE GREEN LANTERN"; and the recent WB television series, "ARROW" (the Green Arrow again). Wonder Woman has not been a subject of a movie or television series in her own right since the Lynda Carter series from the 1970s. An unsuccessful television series about the Flash failed to last one season. And Aquaman merely served as a guest character on"SMALLVILLE" for a few episodes.

I had one other reservation regarding the announcement of a new Superman movie. The producers had chosen Zack Synder to direct the film. And I have never been a fan of his past films, at least the ones I have seen - namely the very successful "300", the critically acclaimed "THE WATCHMEN" and "SUCKER PUNCH". When I learned he had been selected to direct the new Superman film, "MAN OF STEEL", my enthusiasm sunk even further. However, I saw the movie's new trailer last spring and my opposition to the movie began to wane. What can I say? It impressed me. So, I decided to open my mind and give "MAN OF STEEL" a chance.

Thanks to David S. Goyer's screenplay and the story created by him and Christopher Nolan, "MAN OF STEEL" follows the origins of Superman. Well . . . somewhat. The movie begins on the planet of Krypton, where scientist Jor-El assists his wife in the birth of their newborn son, Kal-El. Due to years of exploiting the planet's natural resources by the planet's inhabitants, the planet has an unstable core and faces imminent destruction. Jor-El and Lara plans to send their son to Earth to ensure his survival. They also infuse his cells with a genetic codex of the entire Kryptonian race, something that the planet's military commander, General Zod desires. Zod and his followers commit a military coup. And the general murders Jor-El, after learning what the latter did with the genetic codex. But Zod and his followers are immediately captured and banished to the Phantom Zone. When Krypton finally self-destructs, the explosion frees Zod and his people; setting them on a search for young Kal-El and the genetic codex at other worlds colonized by Kryptonians.

Kal-El eventually lands on Earth and in the middle of the Kansas countryside. A farmer and his wife - Jonathan and Martha Kent - adopts and raises him, renaming him Clark Kent. However, Clark's Kryptonian physiology gives him super abilities on Earth, which raises a lot of social problems for him. Jonathan eventually reveals to Clark that he came from another planet and advises not to use his abilities in public. Following Jonathan's death, a bereaved Clark spends several years roaming the country and working at odd jobs, while he deals with his grief and save people in secret. He eventually infiltrates a scientific discovery of a Kryptonian scout spaceship in the Arctic, which had been discovered by the military. Also there is a reporter from the Daily Planet named Lois Lane. Clark, who is unaware of being followed by Lois, enters the alien ship. It allows him to communicate with the preserved consciousness of Jor-El in the form of a hologram. Jor-El reveals Clark's origins and the extinction of his race, and tells Clark that he was sent to Earth to bring hope to mankind. Meanwhile, General Zod and his crew pick up a Kryptonian distress signal sent from the ship Clark had discovered on Earth. Zod arrives and demands the humans surrender Kal-El, whom he believes has the codex, or else Earth will be destroyed.

So . . . what did I not like about "MAN OF STEEL"? For one, I disliked the shaky cam photography used by Amir Mokri. I disliked its use by Paul Greengrass in some of his movies. I disliked its use in "QUANTUM OF SOLACE". And I certainly did not like its use in this film. It made the final confrontations between Superman and the Kryptonians more confusing. Then again, David Brenner's editing certainly did not help - not in this scene or in the burning oil rig sequence in the movie's first half hour. I have been a fan of Hans Zimmer for years. But I found his score for this movie rather heavy-handed, especially his use of horns. Speaking of Superman and the Kryptonians' final confrontations - I thought it was a bit over-the-top in regard to the destruction inflicted upon Metropolis. It reminded me of final action sequence in "IRON MAN 3", which I also did not care for.

Fortunately, there was a great deal more about "MAN OF STEEL" that I liked. And I find this amazing, considering my past opinion of director Zack Synder. David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan wrote a first-rate origin story for Superman. I noticed that they utilized the same or a similar story structure that they had used in the Dark Knight Trilogy. Instead of allowing Superman to face his most famous adversary in the first film, Goyer and Nolan utilized Superman's Kryptonian origins to play a major role in the film's story. Instead of Lex Luthor, Superman's main nemesis in "MAN OF STEEL" proved to be General Zod. Some fans of the franchise were annoyed by this. I was not. Goyer and Nolan also did a first-rate job in exploring Clark Kent/Superman's emotional growth, the loneliness he had endured during his childhood in flashbacks and those years he wandered before discovering the Kryptonian ship in the Artic, and his wariness toward the human race. I especially do not recall any previous Superman story or television series exploring the latter. How very original of Goyer and Nolan. Some fans have complained about the different twists that Goyer, Nolan and director Zack Synder made to the Superman mythos - especially in his relationship with reporter Lois Lane. I do not understand the complaints, considering the number of twists and changes that have been made to the Superman mythos in movies and especially television during the past twenty years. And honestly? The twist to Clark/Superman's relationship with Lois made the story fresher.

Although I did not particularly care for the over-the-top destruction featured in "MAN OF STEEL", I must admit that the special effects featured in that last scene impressed me very much. I was also impressed by their work in the sequence that featured Superman's fight against Faora-Ul and the other Kryptonian in Smallville. But the one sequence that featured some great special effects happened to be the one on Krypton. I found the effects very beautiful. In fact, there were other aspects of that sequence that really impressed me - namely Alex McDowell's production designs, Anne Kuljian's set decorations, Kim Sinclair and Chris Farmer's art direction and especially James Acheson and Michael Wilkinson's costume designs. Some have complained by the lack of red shorts for Superman's costume. But I did not miss them. More importantly, I liked how Sinclair and Farmer linked Superman's costume with those worn by many of the Kryptonians.

When I first heard that Henry Cavill had been hired to portray Clark Kent/Superman, I must admit that I was somewhat taken aback. Mind you, the idea of a British actor portraying an American comic book character was nothing new, thanks to Christian Bale's portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman and the Anglo-American Andrew Garfield's recent portrayal of Spider-Man. I only felt uncertain if Cavill could portray a Midwesterner with the proper accent. Okay, I am not an expert in Midwestern accents. But Cavill handled the American very well. More importantly, he gave a superb performance as the quiet, yet emotional Clark Kent who had spent a good number of years wallowing in loneliness. I was surprised that Amy Adams had signed on to portray Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane. I did not expect her to appear in a comic book hero movie. But I must admit that I really enjoyed her performance, especially since her Lois proved to be a lot less blind about Superman's secret identity and more willing to track down the truth. Michael Shannon effectively utilized that same intensity that provided for his Nelson Van Alden role in HBO's "BOARDWALK EMPIRE" in his performance as the single-minded Kryptonian General Zod. 

Antje Traue proved to be even more scary than Shannon as Zod's second-in-command, the less verbal Faora-Ul. Laurence Fishburne gave an intense performance as Perry White, the no-nonsense editor of the Daily Planet. Russell Crowe's Jor-El not only proved to be charismatic, but something of a bad ass. Ayelet Zurer provided a great deal of pathos and emotion in her performance as Superman's mother, Lara Lor-Van. Diane Lane proved to be the movie's emotional rock in her down-to-earth performance as Martha Kent, Superman's adopted mother. And Kevin Costner's portrayal of Jonathan Kent proved to be just as charismatic as Crowe's Jor-El and as emotional as Zurer's Lara. The movie also featured some solid performances from the likes of Richard Schiff, Michael Kelly and Christopher Meloni. I was really impressed with Harry Lennix's performance as the commanding, yet paranoid General Swanwick.

"MAN OF STEEL" had a few problems. But I believe that the movie possessed a great deal more virtues, including a first-rate story created by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan and a superb cast led by a talented Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman. But I was very surprised by Zack Synder's direction, especially since he managed to curtail some of his less-than-pleasant excesses in past films and at the same time effectively helm a first-rate movie. For the first time, I found myself being more than pleased by a movie directed by Synder.