Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"JERICHO" RETROSPECT: (1.04) "Walls of Jericho"

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"JERICHO" RETROSPECT: (1.04) "Walls of Jericho"

The previous episode of CBS's "JERICHO" - (1.03) "Four Horsemen" - proved to be something of a disappointment for me. I felt certain that I would feel the same about the next episode, (1.04) "Walls of Jericho". Thankfully, my assumptions proved to be wrong. 

I would never regard "Walls of Jericho" as one of my favorite episodes of the series, let alone the first season. But I have to give credit to screenwriter Ellie Herman for creating one of the stronger narratives among the series' first batch of episodes. "Walls of Jericho" not only proved to be a very solid episode with a strong and centered narrative, it also contributed a good deal to the series' overall narrative.

Jake Green and several other citizens of Jericho are at Bailey's Tavern, watching three scenes of a news report regarding the bombings over and over again, when the power dies. With no television to watch and no booze left, Mary Bailey orders everyone to leave. After Jake encounters schoolteacher Heather Lisinski on the street, they discover a man inside the local pharmacy, dying from radiation poisoning. With the help of Eric Green, Stanley Richardson and a few others; carry the man to the town's medical center. With no power for the hospital, Jake's sister-in-law, Dr. April Green reveals that gas is needed for the generator. 

While Jake and his friends scour the community for gasoline, newcomer Robert Hawkins forces his family to rehearse the cover stories he had created for the new identities they have adopted. He is recruited by Deputy Sheriff Jimmy Taylor to help maintain the peace in town. They interrupt a party held by wealthy teenager Skylar Stevens and Robert is unpleasantly surprised to find his daughter Allison there. Jake and the others successfully find enough gas for the hospital. They also discover that the stranger's name is Victor Miller, who had been driving Shep Cale's truck when he arrived in Jericho. Shep had been one of the four men who had left town to discover information from the outside. It is believed he had committed suicide. And unbeknownst to Jake and the other Jericho citizens, Robert knows Victor Miller.

My main beef regarding the previous episode, "Four Horsemen" was its narrative. Although it continued the series' main narrative, it lacked a central plot of its own and the story seemed to be all over the map. I certainly cannot say the same about "Walls of Jericho". Two incidents contributed a great deal to the episode's narrative - the power outage and the discovery of Victor Miller. Both incidents led Jake Green and some of Jericho's other citizens to search for gasoline that could provide power to the local clinic. More importantly, Miller's presence in Jericho both centered the episode's plot, but also provided a major contribution to the series' main narrative - one that will resonate into Season Two. His presence also added another notch to the mystery that surrounded Robert Hawkins. Speaking of the latter, the search for gasoline and Miller's presence led Deputy Sheriff Jimmy Taylor to recruit Robert to temporarily help him maintain law and order in Jericho. And this act not only led Robert to reconnect with his daughter Allison in a very unexpected way, it will resonate later in the first season. See how everything seem to connect with the Victor Miller character and search for gasoline? This is why I feel that screenwriter Martha Mitchell made "Walls of Jericho" is one of the stronger episodes of Season One's first half.

The episode also featured some very memorable scenes that featured strong acting. If I must be frank, I was not that impressed by the Green brothers, Stanley Richmond and Heather Lipsinski's search for gasoline. It seemed like the typical scramble for resources and survival that marked Season One's early episodes. However, I do admire how the screenwriters allowed this search added to one more notch in the decline of Eric and April Green's marriage. I thought it was a very subtle move on their part. "Walls of Jericho" did feature some very powerful scenes. One of them proved to be a minor scene between Robert and his young son, Samuel. It was such a minor moment near the end of the episode, yet it revealed just how damaged Robert's relationship with his family really was. Even more interesting proved to be Robert's interrogation of Victor Miller, once he found himself alone with the latter. I found it interesting due to Robert's discovery that a traitor existed within the mysterious group to whom he belonged. Yet, he later discovers that his son harbors very little trust in him. 

Another powerful moment featured a debate over whether or not to feed the dying Miller a drug to gather more information from him. Jake, Robert and Eric wanted to use the drug to revive Miller's consciousness in order to learn more information - even if this act will cause him pain. As a doctor, April opposed this action on the grounds of compassion. The conflict between pragmatism and compassion resonated strongly in this scene. This same conflict also played a part in a scene in which Jake had to shame Jericho's citizens into helping him search for a group of survivors that also might be dying from radiation poisoning, and in Gracie Leigh's refusal to contribute gasoline for the town's power generators. It is interesting how these three scenes featuring pragmatism vs. compassion ended differently. This conflict will prove to have a major impact on Gracie's story line, later in the season.

I have very few problems with "Walls of Jericho". Actually, I only have two. If it were not for how it affected Eric and April's marriage, I found the gasoline search rather unoriginal and a little sophomoric at times. This episode also marked the showrunners' continuing attempt to create a romance between Jake and Heather - especially in a scene in which she unexpectedly encounters him leaving one of the clinic's showers. And despite the presence of a half-nude Skeet Ulrich, I still failed to sense any romantic spark between the pair. What can I say? Jake and Heather tend to generate a sibling-like vibe.

Thanks to a strong narrative and interesting subplots, "Walls of Jericho" featured some first-rate performances from members of the cast. I was especially impressed by Kenneth Mitchell and Darby Stanchfield as Eric and April Green, Jazz Raycole as Allison Hawkins, Beth Grant as Gracie Leigh, and Candace Bailey as Skylar Stevens. But I believe the best performances came from Skeet Ulrich - especially in the scene in which Jake shamed the town's citizens for their lack of compassion; Adam Donshik, who had to portray the dying Victor Miller; and Lennie James, who added more depth to the mysterious aura of Robert Hawkins. 

Although "Walls of Jericho" featured an uninspiring potential romance and a search for gasoline that failed to grab me, I must say that it proved to be one of the stronger early episodes of "JERICHO". I have to credit fine performances from a cast led by Skeet Ulrich and Lennie James and a very strong narrative written by screenwriter Martha Mitchell for making this episode very fascinating . . . at least for me.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

"ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND" (2013-2014) Photo Gallery

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Below are images from the ABC series, "ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND". Created by Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, Zack Estrin and Jane Espenson; the series starred Sophie Lowe and Michael Socha: 


"ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND" (2013-2014) Photo Gallery

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

"Breath of the Undead" [PG-13] - 12/15




"BREATH OF THE UNDEAD"

Chapter Twelve

Inside the Diamond Club, two young men in their early twenties sat in an isolated booth, far away from the dance floor. The pair was engaged in a conversation so intense that they were unaware of the numerous pairs of eyes observing them.

"This is getting out of control, Curt!" Alonzo Giovanni hissed at his friend. "I mean . . . my God! Your defense attorney is dead?"

Curt Decker's dark eyes shifted uneasily. "Shhh! Not so loud! Everyone will hear you!"

"Everyone knows about you!" Alonzo shot back. "News of the whole mess have been on the front pages of every newspaper in this city!"

Curt heaved a large sigh. "What do you want, Lonnie? Assurances that the Feds won't come knocking on your door? Because they haven't, so far. They don't even know that you're an investor."

"They suspect it!" Alonzo hesitated before he added, "Look, I need money."

"What?" Curt stared at the other man in disbelief. Bitter laughter soon follow. "You've got to be kidding! Dude, I'm the last person who can help you with extra cash. The Feds have frozen my assets."

Frustration welled within Alonzo. "Dammit, Curt! I need . . ." He hesitated. "What about your friends?"

"Who?"

Alonzo snapped, "Your initial investors. The . . . uh, Two-Twenty Investor Group. Can they help me?"

A buxom waitress appeared at the booth. Curt impatiently waved her away. "Dude! Have you forgotten? My attorney is dead! And one of the prosecutors is missing. For all I know, 'my investors' are behind everything. For all I know, I'm next on their hit list. Look, if you need money that badly, why don't you get an advance on your trust fund?"

"I tried!" Alonzo retorted. "The son-of-a-bitch attorney who works for my dad won't help."

Curt asked, "What do you need the money for?"

Alonzo sighed. Long and hard. "Remember when you said that no one probably knows about my investment into your little business? Well, someone does. About a week ago, I had received a message from someone demanding twenty-five thousand dollars to keep the Feds from finding out. I've already managed to collect twenty thousand. I just need another five thousand dollars."

Shaking his head, Curt replied, "I don't know, dude."

"C'mon man! Please?"

After a quick glance around, Curt nodded toward the club's exit. "Let's take this outside. The parking lot." He stood up. So did Alonzo. And the two friends made their way toward the nightclub's exit.

-----------

Several feet away, FBI Special Agents Lee Alvarez and Jay Ruhl eased out of their booths. With their eyes trained upon the two younger men, they followed their targets out of the club.

Neither the two young men nor the FBI agents had any idea that another pair was following them.

--------------

"We've been sitting here for quite some time," Harry complained. "We are we going after our two vampires?"

Master Chan sighed. "And I thought that you had learned to curb your impatience, Harry."

The youngest McNeill sibling protested, "I have! But there's only so much patience I . . ."

"Everyone!" Scott barked. "Check out the roof!"

All eyes glanced out of the SUV's windows. Harry spotted two figures on the roof and both wore red Chinese silk robes. The red-haired witch frowned. "It looks as if they're watching someone. I wonder who?"

Scott climbed out of the SUV. The others did the same. "Who knows? But I suggest that we all keep a close eye. It looks as if they're heading toward the other side of the building." The four people made their way across the street. Scott led them toward the fire escape. "Now, hopefully we'll be able to catch these guys off guard. Piper, Harry . . . do you two have the rice?"

"Yeah," the Charmed One answered. "But I can still try my freezing power."

"We'll use the rice in case that doesn't work," Scott added. He placed a hand on the fire escape ladder and drew it down.

At that moment, Harry heard voices inside his head. Voices that did not belong to any of his three companions. "Uh guys, I don't think we're alone."

A figure emerged from behind a garbage dumpster. It turned out to be a tall, dark-haired man of a slender build. His skin looked unusually pale and he possessed what seemed to be dark-blue eyes. "How very astute of you," he said to Harry. The newcomer spoke with a faint Southern accent. The four humans stared at him. "Good evening."

"Who in the hell are you?" Piper demanded.

Harry knew the answer. "He's a vampire." Images of the stranger biting the necks of past victims filled his mind. "And he wants revenge."

The stranger's dark-blue eyes focused upon Harry. "You must be a mind reader, or something."

Slowly, Scott withdrew his sword. "Revenge for what?"

"You had killed several of our people, two nights ago," the vampire growled. He stared hard at Scott. "You, the woman and a few others. At the Golden Gate Park. We want revenge."

Piper frowned. "We?"

More figures emerged from the shadows. Two of them dropped from another fire escape. Harry counted at least ten of them . . . nearly three times the number of their party. The Southern vampire smiled eerily. "Yes. We."

-------------

Cole had just finished his second glass of Melorian brandy, when Hazika finally returned with her assistant in tow. The latter carried a small stack of files. "I have the information that you had requested, Belthazor." With a wave of her hand, she removed the bottle of brandy and Cole's glasses. Then she instructed Damika to place the files on the table. Hazika resumed her seat opposite the half-daemon, while Damika left the room. "For a family of mortals, the Decker family has quite an interesting history with various demonic factions."

"Like what?"

Hazika handed over one file. While Cole perused it, she continued, "Like Mr. Geoffrey Decker, for one. His family had originally emigrated from Pennsylvania to San Francisco in the late 1860s, when he was seven. On November 15, 1882 - Earth years - he signed a contract with your old order."

The news took Cole by surprise. "The Thorn Brotherhood?"

"That's right." Hazika paused, as if savoring a prize. "And it seemed that your own grandfather had served as the agent for the Brotherhood." Cole's mind reeled from the knowledge. The female daemon handed him another file. "Louis Decker. He signed a contract with the Fornost Order on April 20, 1931."

Fearing that Hazika might end up revealing the entire Decker family history, Cole interrupted. "What about the two men I had asked about? Maximillian and Curt Decker?"

Hazika grabbed two files from the stack and handed them to Cole. "Maximillian Decker had sighed a contract with the Khand Order on December 1, 1987. He had suffered a financial setback and sought their help. His son must have found out about them, because he had signed a contract with them on . . . May 6, 2003."

Cole leaned back into his chair and sighed. Now, he understood everything. He understood why Keir Larson had been hired to murder Ronald Wong. The latter - with John Reyes' authority - could have discovered and exposed the Order's connection to the Decker family. Chances are that the Khand Order had some kind of financial company or operation on Earth. And he also understood why Wong - in vampiric form - had sought Curt Decker's attorney. Wong wanted revenge for his death. Cole suspected that Decker might be Wong's next victim. But did it mean that Alonzo Giovanni might also be on Wong's list?

--------------

Once outside of the Diamond Club, Curt Decker faced the parking lot and whipped out his cell phone. Alonzo watched as the older man dialed a number. Seconds later, Curt greeted, "Sandra, good evening. This is Curt Decker."

Alonzo held his breath, while his friend continued the conversation with someone named Sandra of the Twenty-Two Investor Group. If all went well, not only would he be able to pay off the blackmailer, but find a way to be free of the bastard for good.

". . . that I wasn't supposed to contact you during the trial," Curt continued. "But this isn't about me. This is about a friend." He paused. "His name?" Curt glanced at the younger man. "Alonzo Giovanni." Another pause followed. "Yeah, Mark Giovanni's son. Listen . . . um, he needs a little help. Yes, financial help." Curt nodded. "Yeah, I'll give him your card. Thanks. Bye." He disconnected his cell phone.

Eagerly, Alonzo stared at his friend. "She said yes?"

Curt sighed. "She wants you to give her a call." He reached inside his wallet and pulled out a card. "This is her number."

As Alonzo grabbed hold of the card, a voice cried out, "We'll take that." The nightclub's back door swung open and two men emerged from the building. One of them, a swarthy man with a dark crew cut, flashed his badge. "Special Agent Lee Alvarez of the FBI. And this is my partner, Special Agent Jay Ruhl. We would like that card, Mr. Giovanni."

Both Alonzo and Curt exchanged defeated looks. The former saw his hopes sink into the bay. Special Agent Ruhl barked, "Now, Mr. Giovanni! We don't have time to . . ."

A figure in red jumped upon the agent's back, knocking the latter to the ground. Alonzo recoiled at the sight of an Asian man in Chinese silk robe, long nails and greenish skin. "What the hell?" he cried. Then to his surprise, another figure with a similar appearance, jumped from above.

"Let's get out of here!" Curt cried. Alonzo decided to follow his friend's advice and quickly turned on his heels. The two friends had barely taken three steps when a gust of fetid air knocked them both against the wall.

Feeling slightly dazed, Alonzo watched as Agent Alvarez pumped two bullets into one of the creatures' chest. The latter reached out to grab the agent by the neck and kill him with one snap. The two horrified young men quickly scrambled to their feet. Grateful for his time spent in high school and college track, Alonzo slipped toward the nightclub's front door and quickly slipped inside, barely noticing Curt or anyone else.

-----------

Gunshots echoed into the near empty street. Inside Olivia's BMW, both she and Darryl exchanged anxious looks. "Did I just hear gunshots?" Olivia asked.

"Yeah, and so did I," Darryl shot back. "Let's go." The two police inspectors scrambled out of the car and quickly made their way toward the nightclub.

As they reached the other side of the street, Olivia glanced up and spotted a robed figure fly away from the building. She pointed the figure out to her partner. "Look."

Darryl glanced up. "Well, looks like he got away. The question remains . . . which one?"

Olivia merely responded with a shrug, before she and Darryl rushed toward the building's right side.


END OF CHAPTER TWELVE

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES" (2003) Review




"TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES" (2003) Review

There are times when it seems to me that the third entry in the "TERMINATOR" franchise is regarded as nothing more than an afterthought with the fans. Whereas the first two movies are regarded as masterpieces and the fourth movie is regarded as a showpiece for actor Sam Worthington and the scene for star Christian Bale’s behind-the-camera rant. 

"TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES" is set at least a decade after the events of the 1991 movie. John Connor, now a young man around twenty, has been off the grid for a few years, drifting from one area to another, while taking on the occasional odd job. Because of this, Skynet – the self-aware, artificially intelligent system that became humanity’s enemy – has been unable to locate him during this time period. Instead, Skynet focuses its attention upon John’s future lieutenants, including a young veterinarian assistant named Kate Brewster. Skynet sends a more sophisticated cyborg assassin named T-X back to the early 21st century to kill Kate and John’s other lieutenants. Unbeknownst to Skynet, the Resistance sends back another reprogrammed T-850 Terminator cyborg to the same era to assist John and Katherine . . . and keep them alive.

”TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES” pretty much followed the same formula that dominated the first two films. In all three movies, Skynet sends a cyborg back to the past to prevent John Connor from becoming the Resistance’s future leader. And in the second and third movies, the Resistance sends a reprogrammed cyborg to save John. But there are some minor differences in this third film. One, ”TERMINATOR 3” marked the first time that James Cameron did not participate in the production of one of the franchise’s film. And two, this movie also marked the first time that Sarah Connor was not a major character. Due to Cameron’s lack of participation in the film and because Jonathan Mostow was hired to direct, ”TERMINATOR 3” has not been highly regarded by film critics and moviegoers alike. In fact, this movie did a lot better overseas than it did in the U.S.

I can see how this film had acquired such a lackluster reputation after viewing the movie’s first fifteen to twenty minutes. The movie’s early period seemed filled with scenes that struck me as sophomoric and cheap. John Connor struck me as a melancholic slacker for whom I found difficult to harbor any symphathy, let alone interest. The arrivals of both the T-850 and the T-X came off as rather silly. The T-850 arrived at a stripper bar for women, where he stole some clothes from an effeminate male stripper. And after killing a woman and stealing her clothes and car, the T-X encountered a cop and resorted to inflating her cleavage in order to distract him. Mind you, the scene featuring the T-850 at the stripper bar struck me as mildly amusing. But I was not amused by watching the T-X inflate her bust in order to vamp a cop. It was ridiculous and slightly insulting. After saving Kate from the T-X, the T-850 and John get involved in an over-the-top car chase that featured a loud and aggressive truck driver that struck me as more obnoxious than funny. However, once the car chase ended, Mostow’s direction, along with John Brancato and Michael Ferris’s screenplay, elevated ”TERMINATOR 3” into something truly worthwhile.

The T-850 led both John and Sarah to a cemetery, where they found a cache of weapons that had been stored by Sarah Connor. Audiences also learned that poor Sarah had contracted leukemia before succumbing rather quickly. The T-850 also revealed that Judgment Day – originally thought to commence on August 29, 1997 – was scheduled to begin within a few hours (on July 24, 2004). Apparently, the U.S. Air Force took control of Cyberdyne Systems and the Skynet project, following the events in ”TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY”. And the Skynet project is being headed by Kate's father, Lieutenant General Robert Brewster. Not only did the cast’s performance improved greatly following the movie’s Act I, the movie’s plot acquired a sense of both urgency and pathos, as John, Kate and T-850 raced to prevent Judgment Day. Their efforts led to an exciting, yet horrifying bloodbath initiated by the T-X at Cyberdyne System’s new location, and a few tragic moments that allowed ”TERMINATOR 3” to have the best – in my opinion – ending in the entire franchise.

Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to portray the new T-850 cyborg sent to protect John Connor and Kate Brewster. I was amazed to see that he managed to create a second new twist on the T-850 character. In ”THE TERMINATOR”, his cyborg was nothing more than a relentless killing machine. In the 1991 movie, his T-850 seemed childishly thrilled by the slang and rituals taught to him by a young John Connor. But his T-850 in ”TERMINATOR 3” is not the same being that John knew as a boy. Schwarzenegger’s T-850 is a no-nonsense mentor who is exasperated by John and Kate’s unwillingness to consider the possibility that there are some events in time that one cannot change. I had feared that this new T-850 would be a rehash of the one featured in ”TERMINATOR 2” and was happily surprised that it did not.

As I had stated earlier in this review, I was not impressed by the early portrayal of John Connor in this movie. I could blame actor Nick Stahl, but I now realize that the lackluster quality of the character is not his fault. He was simply doing his job and portraying John as the script demanded. I understand John’s mental ennui, considering his situation. But it bored me. Thankfully, the revelation of a possible new Judgment Day lit a fire under John and Stahl did a superb job in infusing all of the fire and desperation into his character. And by the end of the film, he gave what I believe was possible the finest moment in the entire movie - let alone in the entire franchise - when his character learned a powerful lesson. I am also grateful that Stahl managed to create a strong screen chemistry with Claire Danes. The latter portrayed Kate Brewster, the feisty veterinarian assistant, who finds herself swept up the chaos caused by the two time traveling cyborgs and the threat to humanity’s future. She was very skillful in conveying Kate’s outrage and confusion over the events that threatened to overtake her. At one point in the film, John compared Kate to his late mother. Personally, I never saw the resemblance. Although Kate seemed as strong-willed as Sarah Connor, I got the impression that she was a different character altogether. Although emotional, Danes’ Kate seemed more level-headed . . . and a lot saner.

There were other performances that impressed me. It was nice to see Earl Boen again, who reprised his role as the criminal psychologist, Dr. Peter Silberman, for the second time. He had a rather nice scene in which his Dr. Silberman tried to comfort Kate after she has witnessed the acts of the T-X. And for once, he seemed to consider that what he had witnessed in the past might be real. Dave Andrews gave a solid performance as Lieutenant General Robert Brewster, Kate’s father. Thanks to Andrews’ performance, one could see from whom Kate had inherited her level-headed personality. And he also managed to skillfully convey a sense of horror over the implications of Skynet’s threat to humanity. I have noticed that the more dangerous the cyborg in this franchise, the smaller it seemed to be. The cyborgs have ranged from the tall and hulking body-builder Schwartzenegger, to the slim and athletic looking Robert Patrick in the second film, to the very feminine Kristanna Loken. And thanks to her performance, Loken managed to convey all of the menace and danger of a relentless killer with very few lines, just as effectively as Schwartzenegger and Patrick before her.

I realize that ”TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES” will never overcome its low reputation with many film critics and movie fans. All one has to do is watch the first fifteen to twenty mintues and be tempted to watch another movie . . . or walk out of the movie theater. I know I was tempted to do the latter, when I first saw this film. But once”TERMINATOR 3” got past that silly nonsense; it turned out to be an exciting movie with an ending filled with a level of pathos that the other three movies never reached. In the end, I believe it was worthwhile.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" (1986) - Episode Six "March-April 1865" Commentary

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"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" (1986) - EPISODE SIX "March-April 1865" Commentary

I hate to say this, but whenever I watch "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II", I usually heave a sigh of relief after the last episode fades away. I have never done this with the other two miniseries - "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I" and "HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III". But with the 1986 production, I usually do. There is something about watching this particular production usually ends up as hard work for me. 

Episode Six of "BOOK II" began at least a month after Episode Five ended. This episode began with Orry Main hiring a former Pinkerton detective to find his missing wife, Madeline Fabray LaMotte Main. The latter continues her efforts to feed Charleston's poor by appealing to Union general William Tecumseh Sherman. With nothing else to do, Orry has no choice but to help the Confederacy defend Richmond, Virginia; which is under siege from the Army of the Potomoc under Ulysses S. Grant. The episode eventually leads into the Battle of Fort Stedman, in which Orry, his cousin Charles, George and Billy Hazard all participate. The Union victory at Fort Stedman eventually lead to another military victory for the Army of Potomoc and Confederate General Robert E. Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House. Once the episode puts these series of historical events behind, Episode Six refocuses on the main characters' personal lives. 

Episode Six closes more story arcs that began in Episode One than the previous episode did. The consequences of Charles Main and Augusta Barclay concludes in one stage and begins in another that will continue in 1994's "HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III". The war's end leads to a final romantic reunion for Billy and Brett Hazard. In fact, the Charles/Augusta and Billy/Brett relationships were not the only ones that came to fruition in this episode. Episode Sixalso resolved the romance between Semiramis and Ezra, with the former finally acknowledging her love for the latter. And yes, Orry finally finds Madeline and their son with the help of George and Madeline's attorney, Miles Colbert. With war, there is always the chance for tragedy. While tragedy of one kind marked John Jakes' 1984 novel, another kind of tragedy ends Virgilia Hazard's relationship with Congressman Sam Greene and her character arc, which began in "BOOK I". Tragedy also occurred during the attack upon Mont Royal near the end of the episode. Irony also seemed to be hallmark of this attack, for it was led by an alliance between former Mont Royal slave Cuffey and former overseer Salem Jones. I found it ironic that a black man and a white man, former enemies due to their positions as slave and overseer, should form an alliance against the very family that had controlled their lives in one form or another. Non-elites of two different races uniting against the elite. Talk about a rich man's worst nightmare. 

There was a good deal about Episode Six for me to praise. One of the miniseries’ strengths has always been its battle scenes. And this particular episode featured an exciting interpretation of the Battle at Fort Stedman. As I had earlier noted, this episode also featured a poignant recreation of the Surrender at Appomattox. There were some dramatic scenes that I found very satisfying. One of them included George and Orry's emotional reunion following the Appomattox surrender and Charles' return to Barclay's Farm. A part of me realizes this might be wrong, but I felt a great sense of satisfaction in the way Virgilia dealt with her situation with Congressman Sam Greene. However, her act landed her in serious legal trouble and a very tearful reconciliation with her brother George. Last, but not least was Cuffey and Salem Jones' action-packed assault on Mont Royal.

I have to give credit to several people for the manner in which both the action and dramatic sequences in this episode. One of them is Kevin Connor, who I must admit did a pretty solid job in helming this six-part, 540-minutes juggernaut for television from a script filled with plot holes. I also have to comment upon the work of cinematographer Jacques R. Marquette, whose excellent photography of the miniseries added a great deal of pathos to a story about one of the United States' most traumatic periods in its history. I was especially impressed by how he handled the Fort Stedman sequence. Bill Conti's score contributed a great deal to the production's narrative. And I was also impressed by the work of the six men who served as the miniseries' film editing team, especially for the Fort Stedman and Mont Royal attack sequences. And as usual, Robert Fletcher knocked it out of the ballpark with his costume designs . . . especially for the outfits shown in the images below: 

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Judging from Fletcher's filmography, I suspect that "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" was his best work on screen - movies or television.

"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" also featured some fine performances. Aside from one particular scene that I found particularly hammy, I was satisfied with the performances featured in this episode. For me, the best performances came from Patrick Swayze, Lloyd Bridges, Parker Stevenson, Forest Whitaker, Tony Frank, David Ogden Stiers, Jean Simmons, Inga Swanson, John Nixon. I was especially impressed by James Read and Kirstie Alley's performances in the scene that featured George and Virgilia's emotional reconciliation and discovery of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination. And the poignancy in the Appomattox surrender sequence greatly benefited from Anthony Zerbe and William Schallert's portrayal of Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. On a minor note, if you look carefully during the miniseries' last half hour, you might spot future star Bryan Cranston as a Union officer whom George questions about Orry whereabouts, following the Fort Stedman battle.

Although there seemed to be a good about Episode Six that strikes me as praiseworthy . . . and there is, I found a good deal that I found problematic. Which strikes me as a pity, for the emotional levity featured in this episode could have made Episode Six my favorite in the entire miniseries. Alas . . . I have too much to complain about. Three of my problems centered around the Charles Main character. First of all, two months after he last saw Augusta Barclay inEpisode Five, Charles discovered that he was the father of an infant boy. Apparently Augusta had died while giving birth to their son. Unfortunately . . . Augusta DID NOT look pregnant during her last meeting with Charles. And considering that they had made love in the previous episode, her pregnancy should not have come as a surprise to him. To make matters worse, young Augustus Charles Main looked as if he had been conceived nearly two years ago. Honestly. The kid looked at least one year old. And Charles and Augusta had started their affair eleven months before the end of the war. Unlike Jakes' novel, Charles found his son being cared for by Augusta's South Carolina relatives in Charleston. Really? Was that necessary? I found it ridiculously convee-ee-ee-ient that Augusta had Charleston relatives, who managed to be in Virginia at the time she gave birth to her son. My second problem with Charles is the fact that it took him less than a week to travel from Spotsylvania County, Virginia to Charleston, South Carolina. Less than a week? On horseback? Charles' journey should have taken him longer. This seemed like an extreme reversal of Brett and Semiramis' ludicrous four-month journey from Washington D.C. to Mont Royal. 

Quite frankly, I felt a bit put out that the screenwriters (which include John Jakes) dumped a tragic ending to Virgilia Hazard's story arc. Unlike the miniseries, Virgilia survived her affair with Congressman Greene and ended up marrying another black man - the same man who had befriend George, Constance and Brett in the novel. Apparently, Wolper Productions felt that since Virgilia's five-year marriage had ended in tragedy, it seemed proper to give her a tragic ending, as well. Or perhaps many of the trilogy's fans had found Virgilia's radical politics and marriage to Grady so off-putting that David Wolper and the screenwriters had decided to appease them by giving her a tragic ending. Regardless their reason, I found Virgilia's tragic ending very annoying and clich├ęd. As much as Patrick Swayze's portrayal of Orry Main had impressed me in this episode, there is one scene in which his acting skills failed to impress. I hate to say this, but I cannot hold it back. I refer to the scene in which Orry finds the body of his mother Clarissa Main, following the attack upon Mont Royal and expresses his grief. Can I say . . . OVER-THE-TOP? Seriously. I found it to be one of the hammiest moments in the entire television trilogy.

But the episode's real problems were made obvious during the Fort Stedman battle sequence. Granted, I was impressed by the visual style of this segment. But I noticed the screenwriters went out of their way to ensure that the major four military characters - George, Billy, Orry and Charles - all participated in this battle. In ensuring this, the screenwriters committed a great deal of inconsistencies and bloopers. Orry led a group of infantry troops into battle for the first time, since the Battle of Churubusco, nearly eighteen years earlier. Personally, I never saw the need for him to be put into the field. The Army of Northern Virginia still had enough commanders to lead men into battle. One of the officers under his command proved to be Charles. Charles? Charles, who spent the entire war as a cavalry officer and scout under Wade Hampton III? I am aware that Charles had led infantry troops during the Battle Antietam, during Episode Three. And I had pointed that this was a major blooper. Yet, the screenwriters repeated this same blooper by allowing him to lead infantry troops again during the Battle at Fort Stedman . . . this time, under Orry's command. Also leading infantry troops for the Union was George Hazard. Now, I am baffled. George had command of Artillery troops during the Battle of Gettysburg in Episode Three and when he was captured during Episode Four. Could someone explain why the screenwriters had decided to have him lead Infantry troops in this episode? Among the troops under George's command proved to be his brother Billy, who continued to serve with the Sharpshooters. It was bad enough that the writers had Charles serving under Orry during this battle. But they had Billy serving under George, as well? There is more, folks. Not only did Billy continued to serve with the Sharpshooters, he also seemed to be in command of them. For, I saw no other officers during this scene. I am aware that Hiram Burdan was no longer in command of this regiment by the end of the war. But what happened to the other officers in the regiment? What happened to Rudy Bodford and Stephen Kent? They seemed to have disappeared. And how did Billy end up in this position, considering that he had spent nearly 10 months AWOL between the summer of 1863 and the spring of 1864? What the hell, guys? Come on!

Do not get me wrong. There is still plenty to admire about "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II". Like its predecessor,"NORTH AND SOUTH"; it has its share of good acting, exciting sequences, drama, superb production values, and probably the best costume design in the entire trilogy, thanks to Robert Fletcher’s work. Unfortunately, the 1986 miniseries has its share of major flaws that included clunky dialogue and probably some of the worst writing in the entire trilogy. And when I say the entire trilogy, I am including the much reviled "NORTH AND SOUTH III: HEAVEN AND HELL""NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" might be my least favorite chapter in the television trilogy, thanks to a great deal of plot holes and historical inaccuracies . . . I still managed to enjoyed it anyway.

Friday, March 20, 2015

"BEULAH LAND" (1980) Image Gallery

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Below are images from the 1980 miniseries, "BEULAH LAND". Based upon Lonnie Coleman's novels, "Beulah Land" and "Look Away, Beulah Land", the miniseries starred Lesley Ann Warren, Paul Rudd, Dorian Harewood and Michael Sarrazin:


"BEULAH LAND" (1980) Image Gallery

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