Monday, September 29, 2014
The first season of the CBS television series, "DALLAS", aired during the month of April 1978. This premiere season only featured five episode and is regarded by some as a complete miniseries, instead of a season. I regard these five episodes as an entire season and below is my ranking of those seasons:
"DALLAS" Season One (1978): Episodes Ranking
(1.05) "Barbecue" - A rehash of the Ewing-Barnes feud, an announcement regarding the Ewing dynasty and a tragedy all combine in this first-rate episode about the Ewings' barbecue for family, neighbors and friends.
(1.03) "Spy in the House" - Oldest Ewing sibling J.R. suspects Pamela Barnes' marriage to younger brother Bobby as a ruse, when information regarding a political/business colleague finds itself into the hands of his rival, Cliff Barnes.
(1.01) "Digger's Daughter" - In this well-made pilot episode, the Ewings are surprised by the marriage of Bobby to Pamela, the only daughter of Jock Ewing's old rival, Digger Barnes.
(1.04) "Winds of Vengeance" - In this tense-filled episode, a hurricane threatens Southfork, when two men arrive and take the Ewing women, J.R. and foreman Ray Krebbs hostage in retribution for the latter two's affairs with the women in their lives.
(1.02) "The Lesson" - In this somewhat interesting episode, Pam attempts to win acceptance at Southfork by intervening in Lucy's life; when she discovers that the Ewings' only grandchild has been skipping school and having an affair with Ray.
Saturday, September 27, 2014
Below is a gallery featuring photos from the 2004 version of William Makepeace Thackeray's epic novel, "VANITY FAIR". Directed by Mira Nair, the movie stars Reese Witherspoon and James Purefoy:
"VANITY FAIR" (2004) Photo Gallery
Friday, September 26, 2014
"BREATH OF THE UNDEAD"
Darryl stared at the two other officers inside his office. "Chi . . . what? What's it called?"
Both Scott and Olivia exchanged glances before the former said, "Chiang shi. It's a . . . uh, a vampire. Chinese vampire."
"Oh shit," Darryl murmured. He then heaved a long sigh. "I should have known it would turn out to be something like this. So, what are you saying? That this Bernard Remar is going to be a vampire within a few days or less? And how do you know that a vampire . . .?"
Scott interrupted. "I saw the clues, Darryl. The slash marks and puncture wounds made by someone with a four-pronged claw. According to Debbie Liu, he died of crushed lungs. And then there's the green moss, which clearly makes the killer a chiang shi. My grandfather Po has told me about his own encounter with a chiang shi."
Olivia added, "And Master Chan had told me and my brothers about it." Darryl's eyes widened questioningly. "My dad's friend, who happens to be a Taoist monk? Remember? You've met him a couple of times at our Sunday brunches and at my wedding."
"Yeah. Right." Darryl shook his head. "So, this chi . . . uh, chiang shi killed the guy? Man, McPherson is not going to like this. How do I explain this to him?"
With a shrug of her shoulders, Olivia suggested, "How about the truth?" Her two colleagues stared at her in disbelief. Darryl wondered if she had lost her mind. "What? Listen, the more we insist upon telling McPherson the truth, the more he will be inclined to suppress it. I suspect that he'll believe us in the end. But I'll bet anything that the Department will move heaven and earth to ensure that the public doesn't find out."
Disbelief rang in Darryl's voice. "Are you crazy?"
Olivia sighed. "What? It's just like that short story by Edgar Allan Poe. You know, 'The Purloined Letter'. In order to hide a private letter he had stolen from the Queen of France, some minister places in plain view and everyone ignores it, except for the protagonist."
"Forget it!" Darryl retorted. "I'm not giving McPherson a reason to dump me into the nearest psych ward. Nor do I want to attract more attention from Liz Sheridan."
Someone knocked on the door. Then it swung open, before Carlotta popped her head inside. "Hey guys! Another body has been found. Same M.O."
Darryl stood up. "Where is it?"
"At some warehouse for the Green Dragon Import/Export Company."
"Great!" Darryl grabbed his coat, while Olivia and Scott started toward his door. "Just what we need." Then he followed the other two out of his office.
"Hi." Paige greeted her sister, as she descended P3's staircase. "I thought you would be home, today."
A sigh left Piper's mouth. "God, how I wish that were true! But I had booked TWISTED KNIGHTS for tonight and tomorrow night. Which means that I'm expecting the club to be crowded. I hope."
A long silence followed before Paige made her way over toward the bar. "So, where's Wyatt?"
"Sleeping in my office." Piper closed her appointment book. "I couldn't reach Leo or Chris." She turned to one of her employees. "Gene, could you turn on the TV?" Gene did as she had asked. Piper added, "It's a little quiet in here." And better that they had the television to distract them rather than discuss this morning's conversation. But Paige kept such thoughts to herself.
The television screen revealed on of San Francisco's late afternoon anchormen announcing the news of a local murder. ". . . discovered the body of 29 year-old Kenneth Jai, an employee of a local import/export company called the Green Dragon. According to the police, a fellow employee, 25 year-old Edward Zhing, discovered Jai's body . . ." The two sisters and the bartender watched, as the anchorman introduced a field reporter. She revealed that the victim's body had been found lodged between two crates inside the import company's warehouse. The police found slash marks on the victim's chest.
The reporter then introduced Darryl Morris, whom she identified as the lead police investigator. Darryl added that Mr. Jai had been dead for at least 40 hours - nearly two days. "However, a second victim was discovered earlier this morning in an alley off of Mason. We have identified the body as one Bernard Remar, an assistant bank manager from the Richmond District. Like Mr. Jai, Mr. Remar had slash marks on his chest. He had been dead for at least 8 hours."
Paige mumbled, "Oh great! Now the city has to deal with some serial killer. Who knows how long we'll be looking over our shoulders for some guy who slashes at people?"
Piper shot a quick glance at Gene, whose attention seemed to be focused upon the TV screen. "So far, the killer seems to be after men. Maybe 'we' won't have to worry."
On the television screen, Darryl began to turn away from the reporter. She cried after him, "One last question, Lieutenant. Can you say that the slash marks sustained by both Kenneth Jai and Bernard Remar are similar?"
"Yes," Darryl warily answered. "In fact, there is a strong chance that both sets of wounds were inflicted by the same person."
The reporter asked, "Is there a chance that the killer might be some kind of animal?"
For a brief second, Paige thought she had seen Darryl's eyes flicker. The detective inhaled sharply. "As far as we're concerned, the perpetrator is not an animal."
"But the slash marks . . . there is a rumor that they had been made by claws," the reporter continued. "If this is true . . ."
"I assure you that no animal had killed Mr. Jai or Mr. Remar," Darryl insisted in a firm voice. "No wild animal is roaming the streets of San Francisco, no animal has escaped from the zoo and the Green Dragon Import/Export Company does not import animals of any kind."
An elderly Asian man appeared before the camera, his face contorted in fear. "Not animal!" he cried in a thick accent. "Not human! Vampire! Chiang shi! It's chiang shi!" A uniformed cop gently dragged the man away from Darryl and the reporter.
"Uh . . ." the reporter began, "did that man just say . . .?"
In a firm voice, Darryl interrupted. "As far as we know, Bernard Remar and Kenneth Jai had been killed with a perpetrator with a knife. The San Francisco Police will make further inquiries into their deaths. Thank you." He nodded quickly and turned away from the camera.
While the reporter concluded her report, Piper picked up the remote and turned off the television. "Enough of that," she declared firmly. Then the oldest Charmed One said to her employee, "Uh Gene, could you finish stocking the bar? I want to check on Wyatt."
The bartender headed toward the bar, while Piper grabbed Paige's arm and dragged the latter toward her office. There, they found Wyatt fast asleep in a bassinet. "Chiang shi?" Piper declared in incredulous tone. "What the hell is that?"
"Like the old man had said," Paige replied with a shrug of her shoulders, "a vampire. Maybe."
Piper sighed. "Oh God! Vampires again."
A grumbling Paige shot back, "I don't see why you're complaining. You're not the one who nearly became a bloodsucker."
"I guess we better ask Chris to look into this matter. Or maybe Darryl."
Oh God, Paige thought bitterly. Once more into the breach . . . whether she liked it or not. And she did not like it. Unable to keep her thoughts to herself, Paige's next question took her sister by surprise. "Why?"
"Excuse me?" Piper stared at the younger woman.
Paige continued, "Why should we even bother going after this . . . vampire, if there is one? Darryl doesn't need our help. He has Olivia and Scott."
"Who are limited by their positions as cops," Piper shot back. "May I remind you that we're supposed to be protectors of the innocent?"
Paige retorted, "Well, I didn't ask to be one!"
Hostility flared between the two sisters. Paige defiantly faced her older sister, who glared at her. "Yes you did, Paige," Piper replied coldly. "When you had convinced Phoebe and me not to accept the Angel of Destiny's offer. Remember?" She turned away and marched out of the office.
Paige found herself fuming silently. She remembered, all right. And now she bitterly regretted ever changing her sisters' minds.
Later that evening, Olivia entered the penthouse and removed her overcoat. She tossed both that and her purse on the nearby sofa. "I'm home!" she cried to an empty room. The aroma of food filled her nostrils. Olivia realized that she would find her husband inside the kitchen. Sure enough, she found Cole there, hovering over a stove. "I thought I had smelled something cooking." She sniffed the air. "Seafood?"
"Scallops," Cole replied. He turned around and planted a light kiss on Olivia's mouth. "Scallops with shrimp and lobster."
Again, Olivia inhaled. She peered at the wide frying pan filled with seafood. Next to it stood a saucepan bubbling with a white sauce. "Mornay?" she asked.
Cole smiled. "Good guess. I'm making Risotti with Seafood in Mornay Sauce." He peered at Olivia's face. "You look tired. Busy day?"
Olivia sighed. "If you call finding two dead bodies, busy. One was found in an alley off Mason and the other inside some warehouse in Chinatown."
Cole turned off the flames underneath the frying pan. "Serial killer?"
"Worse," Olivia grumbled. "Supernatural killer." Cole frowned, as she continued. "Scott thinks that both had been victims of a vampire."
Blue eyes widened in surprise. "Vampires? They're back?"
"Right now, it looks like one." Olivia sat down in one of the kitchen chairs. "Only this one might not be of European origin."
Cole sat down in another chair. His frown deepened. "Chiang shi?"
Her husband's comment took Olivia by surprise. "You've heard of the chiang shi?"
Sighing, Cole explained that back in the late 1950s', he and his former colleague, Tarkin, had a close encounter with one in Macau. "You've heard of how some European vampires have the power of thrall?" Olivia nodded. "Well, the chiang shi has the same power. Only, they're telepathically a lot stronger."
"I recall Uncle Chan telling Bruce and me that even the most powerful being - aside from any god - could find him or herself under a chiang shi's thrall." Olivia sighed. "I am not looking forward to this."
Cole stood up and walked over to where Olivia sat. He leaned over and lightly kissed the side of her neck. "Need any help?"
"Hmmm! Definitely," Olivia murmured.
"Okay. Then after dinner, we can call Scott and Darryl and track down this vampire." Cole gave Olivia's shoulder a quick squeeze and returned to the stove.
A tall, blond man with Nordic features and piercing blue eyes sat behind the wheel of a silver Lexus parked in front of a two-story Victorian manor. He waited patiently for a certain Ronald Wong to return home from work.
Keir Larson had originally belonged to a powerful witch coven located in Sausalito. But after placing a curse on an ex-girlfriend for dumping him nearly thirteen years ago, Keir found himself ousted by his fellow witches. His murder of the coven's high priestess not only labeled him as a warlock, it led him toward the profession of a supernatural assassin.
The warlock glanced at his watch. It read seven-eighteen in the evening. He sighed. Never again would he accept another quick assignment. The only reason he had accepted this one was that his client - a high-level daemon - had offered him a sum that would allow him to enjoy a year-long vaca . . .
Headlights appeared in the Lexus' rear-view mirror, cutting off Larson's thoughts. When a maroon BMW turned into the manor's driveway, the warlock realized that his target had finally arrived.
Wong climbed out of the BMW after a five-minute wait. He then reached inside the car to retrieve his briefcase. The moment Wong shut the door, Larson climbed out of his Lexus. As he jogged toward the other man, he mentally reminded himself that the daemon wanted no magic involved in Wong's death.
"Pardon me, sir," Larson cried out. Wong whirled around to stare at him. "Excuse me, but I'm trying to find Eighth Avenue and Geary Boulevard." The warlock reached inside his coat pocket and surreptiously removed his stiletto hilt.
Wong's body relaxed. "You're lost?"
"I'm afraid so." Larson took two steps closer toward the other man. "Could you help?"
The attorney nodded politely. "Well, Eighth Avenue is about two blocks east of here. And we're in the 1700 block." While Larson continued to listen, he pushed a button on the hilt and a corkscrew blade snapped out. "So, I would suggest that you head south to reach . . ."
Before Wong could finish, the warlock struck swiftly. He thrust the blade into the younger man's chest, burying it deep. The moment Larson removed the blade, Wong grabbed hold of his shoulders and held on in a tight grip. Then Larson struck again - this time, directly into the heart. The younger man gave a final gasp before sinking to the ground. Larson glanced around for any unwelcome witnesses. Satisfied that no one saw him, the warlock return to his Lexus, climbed inside and drove away.
The chiang shi observed the murder form the rooftop of one of the houses that lined the street below. The moment the fair-haired mortal disappeared, the vampire leapt from the rooftop and landed on the sprawling green lawn below him.
Curious over the young man's fate, the vampire sprung toward the figure sprawled on the ground, across the street. The moment he reached the young man, it did not take the vampire very long to realize that the former was now dead. But his po - his smaller soul - remained strong and vibrant. The vampire smiled. If only . . . He glanced up at the sky. The full moon shone brightly. Unfortunately, its light failed to reach the fallen body.
Determined to have a companion, the chiang shi grabbed hold of the man's feet and dragged the body toward a spot that enabled the moon to shine upon. He closed his eyes and waited. He waited what seemed like nearly an hour. Finally, the vampire heard a loud gust of breath. He saw the young man spring into a sitting position. Fear and confusion gleamed from the latter's dark eyes.
"Come." The vampire helped the other to his feet.
At that moment, a man appeared on the sidewalk and halted before the pair. "What the . . .?" He stared at the two vampires. "What the hell? Ronald? Is that you?"
The senior chiang shi quickly dug his claws into the man's chest. The latter let out a small cry and a gurgle. Then the vampire turned to his younger companion. "He is all yours."
Grabbing the man by forearms, the younger vampire jerked the former off of the older chiang shi's claws. Then he opened his own mouth, pressed it against he man's mouth . . . and inhaled. Within seconds, he had drained the man's breath from his body.
The younger vampire dumped the man onto the ground and turned to his older companion. The latter nodded before both vampires leapt into the air . . . and away from the driveway.
END OF CHAPTER FIVE
Thursday, September 25, 2014
"THIRD GIRL" (2008) Review
Looking back on her career, I suspect that Agatha Christie was not at the top of her game as a novelist during the last decade-and-a-half of her life. There were a handful of novels during the period of 1960-1976 that I found unique. However, her 1966 novel, "Third Girl" was not one of them.
I take that back. I did find "Third Girl" rather unique . . . to a certain extent. I thought Christie did a pretty good job in re-capturing the Swinging Sixties atmosphere in her novel. Unfortunately, her streak of conservatism and a too complex plot made it difficult for me to truly savor this story. Forty-two years after the novel's initial release, ITV network adapted the novel as a television movie for"AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT". Since the series is usually set in 1930s, screenwriter Peter Flannery changed the novel's mid-1960s setting in accordance with the rest of the series. I was slightly disappointed by this change in setting, because I was slightly impressed by Christie's portrayal of mid-Sixties London. But . . . I pushed my aside my disappointment and decided to see how Flannery and director Dan Reed adapted Christie's story.
"THIRD GIRL" begins with a slightly high-strung heiress seeking Belgian-born detective Hercule Poirot's help in regard to a murder she believes she may have committed. However, she takes one look at Poirot and decides he may be too old to help her before leaving. Since his friend, novelist Ariadne Oliver, had been the one to recommend him to the girl, Poirot seeks information on the latter's identity from the novelist. According to Mrs. Oliver, the name of Poirot's visitor is Norma Restarick, who happens to be the"third girl" in a trio of young women sharing an apartment (flat). Mrs. Oliver happens to be a neighbor and met all three roommates at a party in the building. Norma's other two roommates are Claudia Reece-Holland, who is the secretary to Norma's father, Andrew Restarick; and Frances Cary, an actress and acquaintance of Norma's love interest, artist David Baker. Both Poirot and Mrs. Oliver discover that Norma believes she had murdered her former nanny, Lavinia Seagram, who had also lived in the building. Poirot also discovers a good deal about Norma's family background. Her estranged father, Andrew, had abandoned his family for South Africa, twenty years ago; and his now estranged with his daughter. Norma also has an elderly great-uncle, Sir Roderick Horsfield, who is romancing his secretary and is near blind. Sir Roderick is also staying at the family estate on Norma's largess. Poirot begins to suspect that Norma might be innocent of Lavinia Seagram's murder. More importantly, she might be the target of the real murderer's machinations.
With the change in the story's setting and the various changes made to Christie's story, I was prepared to dislike "THIRD GIRL". In fact, I had failed to warm up to the movie when I first saw it. One, I did not care for the change in the story's setting from the mid-1960s to the late 1930s. Two, Flannery and director Dan Reed changed the number of murderers in the story. And I did not care for that. I thought this latest change unnecessarily complicated the story. Three, Reed and Flannery decreased the number of murder victims and gave the Norma Restarick character a new love interest. I did not like that. Four, I noticed that drugs DID NOT play a role in Norma's victimization. And five, I also noticed that Flannery had changed the name of the murder victim. Then I re-read Christie's novel . . . and realized that Reed and Flannery had actually improved the story. My latest reading of the novel made me realize that Christie's plot was even more unnecessarily complicated that Flannery's screenplay. I also realized that once again, Christie had fallen back on her conservative outlook by giving Norma a very safe and conformist love interest . . . one who did not really pay a major role in the story. I realized that I did not mind the changes regarding the victim(s), the lack of drugs and Norma's love interest. However, I still wish that "THIRD GIRL" had been set in the 1960s.
Despite my disappointment in the movie's setting, I actually managed to enjoy "THIRD GIRL" during my latest viewing. I do not consider it to be one of the best movie adaptations from the series. But it struck me as a hell of a lot better than the novel. And despite the movie being set in the 1930s, I must admit to being impressed by Jeff Tessler's production designs, which did a pretty good job in re-creating the late 1930s. I also have to say the same about Andrea Galer's tasteful costume designs, along with Miranda Cull and Nic Pallace's art designs. And cinematographer Paul Bond beautifully captured their work in glorious color photography. I have only two quibbles . . . namely the makeup created by Alison Elliott and her team, and the hairstyles designed for cast members Clemency Burton-Hill, Matilda Sturridge and Tom Mison. I have only word to describe them . . . UGH!
I will give credit to Reed's direction for the excellent performances featured in "THIRD GIRL". David Suchet as Hercule Poirot was excellent, as usual. I can also say the same for Zoë Wanamaker's entertaining portrayal of the colorful novelist Ariadne Oliver. More importantly, both Suchet and Wanamaker created the same electrifying screen chemistry that was obvious in their previous work together. Jemima Rooper gave an emotional and satifying performance as the seemingly neurotic Norma Restarick, without resorting to histronics worthy of an amateur. I was also impressed by James Wilby's cool and subtle portrayal of Norma's estranged father, Andrew Restarick. And Peter Bowles, whom I first remembered from the television series "TO THE MANOR BORN", gave the most entertaining performance as Norma's blunt and outgoing great-uncle, Sir Roderick Horsfield. The movie also featured fine performances from the likes Clemency Burton-Hill, Matilda Sturridge, Tom Mison, Lucy Liemann and John Warnaby.
"THIRD GIRL" is not perfect. Nor do I consider it to be one of the better Poirot adaptations I have seen. However, my initial impression of the movie has changed following two more viewings. One, it is a handsome-looking production. It also featured excellent performances from a cast led by David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. More importantly, after a recent reading of Christie's 1966 novel, I now realize that the changes featured in director Dan Reed and Peter Flannery's adaptation, actually improved Christie's story.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One of Marvel's "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.". Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen; the series stars Clark Gregg.:
TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D." SEASON ONE (2013-2014)
1. (1.17) "Turn, Turn, Turn" - All hell breaks loose when the events of "CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER" leads to the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the exposure of HYDRA moles within their ranks.
2. (1.20) "Nothing Personal" - Former S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill helps Coulson and his team track down fellow agent Skye, who has been snatched by HYDRA and former ally, Mike Peterson aka Deathlok.
3. (1.13) "T.R.A.C.K.S." - The team's search for the head of the Centipede organization, the Clairvoyant, takes a troubling turn when they board a train in Italy on which a Cybertek employee is shipping a package to Ian Quinn, a wealthy follower of the Clairvoyant.
4. (1.10) "The Bridge" - Coulson recruits Mike, who has become a new S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, to help him and the team track down fugitive Edison Po and the Centipede organization, which is a part of HYDRA. Unfortunately, trouble ensues when Centipede manages to kidnap Mike's son.
5. (1.15) "Yes Men" - The team helps Asgardian Lady Sif hunt down enchantress Lorelei, who has plans to create an army with the help of Human males. Unfortunately, the team and Sif encounter trouble when Agent Grant Ward falls under her spell.
Honorable Mention: (1.22) "Beginning of the End" - In the first season's finale, Coulson and his team raid the Cybertek facility controlled by HYDRA agents and receive much needed help from former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury.