“THE YOUNG VICTORIA” (2009) Review

“THE YOUNG VICTORIA” (2009) Review

About a year or so before his popular television series, “DOWNTON ABBEY” hit the airwaves, Julian Fellowes served as screenwriter to the lavish biopic about the early life and reign of Britain’s Queen Victoria called “THE YOUNG VICTORIA”. The 2009 movie starred Emily Blunt in the title role and Rupert Friend as the Prince Consort, Prince Albert

“THE YOUNG VICTORIA” began during the last years in the reign of King William IV, Victoria’s uncle. Acknowledge as the next ruler of Britain, Victoria became the target of a political tug-of-war between her mother, the Duchess of Kent royal aide Sir John Conroy on one side, and King Leopold I of Belgium on the other. The Duchess of Kent and Sir John want to assume power of the country by having Victoria sign papers declaring a regency. And Leopold I tries to influence the British throne by securing a marriage between Victoria and one of his two nephews – Prince Albrt and Prince Ernst of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Meanwhile, King William eventually dies and Victoria becomes Queen. Once she assumes the throne, Victoria becomes beseiged by her mother and many others to assume some kind control over her.

I was surprised to discover that one of the producers for “THE YOUNG VICTORIA” was Hollywood icon, Martin Scorsese. A biopic about the early reign of Queen Victoria did not seem to be his type of movie. Then I remembered that this is the man who also directed an adaptation of an Edith Wharton novel and a movie about Jesus Christ. But for the likes of me, I never could see his interest in this film. Did he ever read Julian Fellowes’ screenplay before he took on the role as one of the movie’s executive producers? Or was there another reason why he became interested in this project? Perhaps Fellowes’ screenplay seemed more interesting before it was translated to screen. Because if I must be honest, I was not that impressed by it.

You heard me right. I did not like “THE YOUNG VICTORIA”. Perhaps it was the subject matter. Aside from being Britain’s longest reigning monarch, until her great-great granddaughter surpassed her record last year, Victoria never struck me as an interesting subject for a motion picture. I am surprised that both the Hollywood and British film and television industries were able to create a few interesting movie and television productions about her. Unfortunately, “THE YOUNG VICTORIA” did not prove to be one of them.

I am not saying that “THE YOUNG VICTORIA” was a total washout. It had a good number of first-rate performances and other technical details to admire. Emily Blunt did an excellent job in portraying the young Victoria by effectively conveying the character from a naive teenager to an emotional, yet slightly matured young mother in her early twenties. Blunt had a decent screen chemistry with Rupert Friend, whom I thought made a superb Prince Albert. If I must be frank, I feel that Friend was the best on-screen Albert I have seen so far. Miranda Richardson gave her usual uber-competent performance as Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent. Actually, I believe that both she and Friend gave the two best performances in the movie. Paul Bettany gave a very smooth, yet ambiguous performance as one of Victoria’s favorite ministers – William Lamb, Viscount Melbourne. Other members of the cast that included Jim Broadbent (as an emotional William IV), Thomas Kretschmann, Julian Glover, Genevieve O’Reilly, Rachael Stirling, Jesper Christensen, Michael Huisman, Jeanette Hain and David Robb all gave solid performances.

I also thought the movie’s physical appearance was sharp, colorful and elegant thanks to Hagen Bogdanski’s beautiful photography. Patrice Vermette did a first-rate job in re-creating royal Britain of the late 1830s and early 1840s, thanks to her elegant production designs; and the art direction team of Paul Inglis, Chris Lowe and Alexandra Walker, who all received an Academy Award nomination for their work. Of course I cannot mention “THE YOUNG VICTORIA” without mentioning Hollywood legend Sandy Powell’s gorgeous costume designs shown below:

 

Not only were Powell’s costumes gorgeous, they accurately reflected the movie’s setting between 1836 and 1842. It is not surprising that Powell won both the Academy Award and BAFTA for Best Costume Design.

So, why am I not enamored of this movie? Well . . . I found it boring. Let me rephrase that answer. I found most of the movie boring . . . as hell. I will admit that I found Victoria’s emotional struggles with her mother and the latter’s courtier, Sir John Conroy, rather interesting. There seemed to be some kind of quasi-fairy tale quality to that particular conflict. And I will admit to finding Victoria’s relationship with her first Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne slightly fascinating. Otherwise, the movie bored me. Most of the movie centered around Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert. But despite Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend’s sterling performances, I was not able to sustain any interest in that particular relationship. It did not help that Fellowes made a historical faux pas by allowing Albert to attend her coronation in 1838 – something that never happened. The most interesting aspect of the royal pair’s relationship – at least to me – was their shitty relationship with their oldest son, the future King Edward VII. Unfortunately, the movie’s narrative ended before his birth.

There were other aspects of “THE YOUNG VICTORIA” that did not appeal to me. Although I found Victoria’s early struggles against the Duchess of Kent and Sir John Conroy rather interesting, I was not impressed by the movie’s portrayal of the latter. I do not blame actor Mark Strong. He still managed to give a competent performance. But his Sir John came off as a mustache-twirling villain, thanks to Julian Fellowes’ ham fisted writing. And could someone explain why Paul Bettany had been chosen to portray Lord Melbourne in this movie? The Prime Minister was at least 58 years old when Victoria ascended the throne. Bettany was at least 37-38 years old at the time of the film’s production. He was at least two decades too young to be portraying Victoria’s first minister.

The one aspect of “THE YOUNG VICTORIA” that I found particularly repellent was this concept that moviegoers were supposed to cheer over Victoria’s decision to allow Albert to share in her duties as monarch. May I ask why? Why was it so important for the prince consort to co-reign with his wife, the monarch? Granted, Victoria was immature and inexperienced in politics when she ascended the throne. Instead of finding someone to teach her the realities of British politics, the government eventually encouraged her to allow Albert to share in her duties following an assassination attempt. This whole scenario smacks of good old-fashioned sexism to me. In fact, I have encountered a similar attitude in a few history books and one documentary. If Victoria had been Victorand Albert had been Alberta, would Fellowes had ended the movie with Alberta sharing monarchical duties with Victor? I rather doubt it. Even in the early 21st century, the idea that a man was more suited to be a monarch than a woman still pervades.

It is a pity that “THE YOUNG VICTORIA” failed to appeal to me. It is a beautiful looking movie. And it featured fine performances from a cast led by Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend. But the dull approach to the movie’s subject not only bored me, but left me feeling cold, thanks to Julian Fellowes’ ponderous screenplay and Jean-Marc Vallée’s pedestrian direction. How on earth did Martin Scorsese get involved in this production?

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1600s Costumes in Movies and Television

Below are images of 17th century fashion found in movies and television productions over the years:

1600s COSTUMES IN MOVIES AND TELEVISION

“Queen Christina” (1933)

 

 

“Forever Amber” (1947)

 

 

“The Three Musketeers” (1973)

 

 

“The Man in the Iron Mask” (1977)

 

 

“The Crucible” (1996)

 

 

“The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders” (1996)

 

 

“The New World” (2005)

 

 

“The Devil’s Whore” (2008)

 

 

“The Musketeers” (2014-2016)

 

“DOCTOR STRANGE” (2016) Review

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“DOCTOR STRANGE” (2016) Review

Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) scored its first big box office hit of 2016 with the release of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”. Six months later, the organization and producer Kevin Fiege scored another hit with its first adaptation of the Marvel Comics character, Doctor Strange.

Directed by Scott Derrickson and starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the starring role, “DOCTOR STRANGE” told unveiled the origin story of a successful New York City neurosurgeon named Dr. Stephen Strange, whose career ends when he loses the use of both hands in a traumatic car accident. Despite emotional support from his former lover and colleague Dr. Christine Palmer, Stephen vainly pursues one experimental surgery after another in the hopes of mending his hands, so that he can regain his medical career. When all else fails, he learns about a paraplegic who was mysteriously able to walk again named Jonathan Pangborn. The latter directs Stephen to a community in Tibet called Kamar-Taj.

Upon reaching the Tibetan city, Stephen meets a sorcerer named Karl Mordo. The latter recommends Strange as a potential student to his former mentor, a sorceress named The Ancient One. The latter displays her abilities with the mystic arts to Stephen, revealing the astral plane and other dimensions such as the Mirror Dimension. An amazed Strange begs her to teach him her abilities. The Ancient One reluctantly agrees, despite her wariness over his arrogance, which reminds her of a former student named Kaecilius. The latter and his new group of zealots had recently broke into Kamar-Taj secret compound, beheaded the librarian and stolen a secret ritual from a book that belonged to the Ancient One. With this stolen ritual, Kaecilius hopes to learn the means to acquire the power of eternal life. And it is up to The Ancient One, Mordo, the new librarian Wong and Stephen to stop him.

Superficially, “DOCTOR STRANGE” proved to be a different kettle of fish for Marvel. One, due to the abilities of the main protagonist and other supporting characters, this movie marked the MCU’s first foray into magic. Well … not really. The two previous “THOR” more or less stated that at least two of its characters practiced magic. But the subject of magic was never fully explored until “DOCTOR STRANGE”. Also, the movie marked the first time in which the main character practiced magic. Second, the method in which Stephen defeated the main antagonist’s goals did not rely upon violence of any kind. Our magical hero basically resorted to magic and cunning to win the day. To be honest, I cannot recall any other Marvel hero or heroine who did not resort to brute force to defeat any of the main villains in the past thirteen films. And although the MCU movie had its share of unusual visual effects – especially 2015’s “ANT-MAN”, those for “DOCTOR STRANGE” has to be the most visually stunning effects I have ever seen in any Marvel film so far.

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As for the narrative itself … well, it is not bad. Aside from the unorthodox manner in which Stephen defeated the villain(s), “DOCTOR STRANGE” seemed to be your typical, paint-by-the-numbers superhero origin story. And I noticed that the film borrowed a good deal from other movies. Considering Stephen’s arrogant and witty personality, the movie bears a strong resemblance to the 2008 film, “IRON MAN”. In fact, like Tony Stark, Stephen’s arrogance remains intact by the last reel. Also, some of the visual effects reminded me of those found in Christopher Nolan’s 2010 movie, “INCEPTION”. And one of the villains that Stephen has to defeat in the end, Dormammu, reminded me of the villain called Parallax from the 2011 D.C. Comics film, “THE GREEN LANTERN”. Perhaps the originality found in “DOCTOR STRANGE” is limited to the MCU movies.

Although the topic of magic allowed the special effects team to provide moviegoers with some astounding visuals, I must admit that I found the movie’s portryal of magic to be a little … well, limited. Most of the magic presented in “DOCTOR STRANGE” seemed to consist of jumping through portals – either from one spot on the Earth to the next or to another dimension. If the movie’s magic practitioners were not jumping through portals, they were utilzing magical objects like the red Mystical Cloak of Levitation from the New York City sanctum that attached itself to Stephen; and the Eye of Agamotto, a relic containing an Infinity Stone that can manipulate time – which Stephen had used against Dormammu in the final action scene. Only one spell had appeared in the movie – the one that Kaecilius used to summon Dormammu.

The movie’s narrative suffered from one major aspect – characterization. One, the story lacked a strong leading lady. I personally have nothing against Rachel McAdams as an actress. But it seemed obvious that director/screenwriter Scott Derrickson and his fellow writers, Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill did not know what to do with the Christine Palmer character. She was there to simply there to comfort Stephen following his accident and tend to his wounds, later in the film. At least McAdams had more lines than fellow cast member, Michael Stuhlbarg. The latter portrayed fellow surgeon, Nicodemus West, who seemed to exist to receive caustic criticism and needling from Stephen. Otherwise … what on earth was he there for? I realize that Marvel has a history of wasting some of its supporting character, but … good grief! And then we have poor Mads Mikkelsen, who had the bad luck to be cast as one of the most badly written villains in the MCU franchise. The Danish actor portrayed The Ancient One’s former student, Kaecilius, who resented the Ancient One’s method for maintaining a long life and long to do the same … even if it meant threatening the world by summoning Dormammu, the inter-dimensional being responsible for his former mentor’s long life. That is basically Kaecilius’ goal – to extend his life. That is what his attacks on the Ancient One’s sanctums in different parts of the world were about. Quite frankly, I was not impressed and believe that Mikkelsen was wasted in the role. Two actors and an actress wasted in one film. I find this disturbing.

And then … we have Tilda Swinton in the role of “The Ancient One”. In the Marvel comics, the Ancient One was a Tibetan man. In the name of “diversity”, Marvel decided to re-write the character as a Celtic woman … and still have her located in Tibet. Hmmmmm. Mind you, Swinton gave a first-rate performance as the mysterious and somewhat ambiguous spiritual and magical leader. But … “whitewashing!”. Marvel committed a major act of whitewashing. It is not the first time. But this was the most obvious example, considering the arguments that Derrickson and his two co-writers Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill used to excuse their changes. They had claimed that they wanted to avoid the stereotypical portrayal of Asians – namely the “Dr. Fu Manchu”“Dragon Lady” or the “young Asian woman sex fetish” types – by re-writing the Ancient One role as a non-Asian. So, they cast Swinton in the role. Frankly, I did not buy the arguments. The filmmakers did NOT have to re-write the role as a Westerner in order to avoid the Asian stereotypes. Any good actor or actress of Asian descent worth his or her salt could have done wonders with the role without resorting to stereotypes. A good example would be James Hong and Victor Wong’s outstanding performances in the 1986 movie, “BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA”. But if Marvel was that determined for Ms. Swinton to portray “The Ancient One”, they could have re-located the character’s main sanctum somewhere in Scotland, Ireland or Wales.

However, “DOCTOR STRANGE” did feature some interesting performances that I had enjoyed. Benedict Wong, who could have easily been cast in the role of “The Ancient One”, managed to give a subtle and wry performance as the Kamar-Taj Sanctum’s librarian, Wong, despite his minimal screen appearances. Benjamin Bratt gave a brief, but very memorable performance as Jonathan Pangborn, a paraplegic who learned how to heal himself under the tutelege of “The Ancient One”. The movie’s mid-credit sequence also featured an amusing appearance by Chris Hemsworth as Thor. I can only assume that this was Marvel’s way of introducing the next film featuring the “God of Thunder” and the fact that Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange will be appearing in that film.

When “DOCTOR STRANGE” first hit the movie screens, many filmgoers had complained about his American accent. To be honest, Cumberbatch’s accent seemed to lack any traces of his British ancestry. But I thought his accent had a trans-Atlantic vibe that I found rather bland. I could not regard his performance as the imaginative, yet arrogant Dr. Stephen Strange as bland. Like Robert Downey Jr. before him, Cumberbatch managed to create a character that was both infuriating and likable. But I thought that Chiwetel Ejiofor’s portrayal of Karl Mordo, another sorcerer who was trained by the Ancient One, proved to be the most interesting one in the film. Ironically, there was no outcry over the Karl Mordo character being changed from an Eastern European to a person of African descent. Considering the difficulties that many non-white actors and actresses still face in acquiring work in the movie and television industries, I am not surprised. But the best thing about Ejiofor is how he transformed Karl from an amiable sorcerer with a deep faith in the practices taught to him by the Ancient One to a potentially dangerous fanatic who became embittered by the Ancient One and Stephen’s willingness to use magic to defy nature. It is a pity that his performance has not garner much notice, except by the Evening Standard British Film Awards.

Overall, “DOCTOR STRANGE” is a solid entry for the Marvel Cinematic Universe that featured decent direction by Scott Derrickson and solid performances from a cast led by Benedict Cumberbatch. But aside from the movie’s visual effects, I would not consider to be particularly mind-blowing. I also believe that the movie was hampered by some poor characterizations and a misguided casting choice for one particular character. Oh well, Marvel cannot always hit it out of the ballpark.

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“The Power of One” [PG-13] – 17/20

“THE POWER OF ONE”

PART XVII

The four people materialized in the hallway, outside of Olivia’s apartment. “Home sweet home,” the redhead murmured, as she inserted her key into the apartment door’s lock. 

The moment Olivia opened the door, Andre grabbed his girlfriend’s arm. “Hey Cecile, could we talk for a minute? Alone?”

Cecile stared at him. “Sure.”

“Let’s go outside.” As the couple headed for the elevator, Andre glanced over his shoulder and saw Cole beamed out of the hallway. It never occurred to him to question why the half-daemon had not followed Olivia inside her apartment.

The moment they entered the elevator, Cecile turned to Andre. “So, what do you want to talk about?”

“What we were discussing, last night,” Andre replied. “About . . .”  The doors slid open and two people entered the elevator. Unfortunately for Andre, they accompanied the couple all of the way to the ground floor. Once outside the apartment building, Andre led Cecile a few yards down the street.

Cecile said, “Okay, we’re alone. What were you going to tell me?”

Taking a deep breath, Andre faced his girlfriend. “Remember what we were talking about, last night? About you wanting more from our relationship?”

A sigh left Cecile’s mouth. “Yeah, I remember. Look, can you just forget what I had said? I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the past three days, and I realize that I . . . I don’t want to lose you.” Her dark eyes bored into his. “I love you too much, Andre. And to be honest, I didn’t really want to break up with you. But I was afraid that our relationship was going no where.”

Andre contemplated Cecile’s words for a stuck his hands into his jacket pockets and heaved a mournful sigh. “That’s too bad.”

“What do you mean?” Cecile frowned.

“Since you’re okay with the way things are between us, I guess . . .” Andre paused dramatically.

“You guess what?”

Andre paused dramatically. Then he reached for the small velvet box inside his jacket pocket. “I guess I might as well return this . . .” He pulled out the box. “. . . engagement ring to Olivia’s shop.”

Cecile’s eyes grew wide with shock. “Engage . . . Are you asking . . .?”

Andre held up his hand to silence her. “Before you say anything else, let me finish.” He took a deep breath and snapped open the box. Inside sat the silver 17th century ring that he had purchased. “Cecile,” he began, inciting a gasp from the priestess’ mouth, “. . . uh, will you marry me?”

The priestess continued to stare at the ring. “Oh God! I . . . is this because you had found out that I . . .?”

“This has nothing to do with what you were planning to do,” Andre firmly assured her. “I had been planning to propose for practically a month, now. I’ve just been too busy looking for the right ring. And I found it. Inside Olivia’s new shop.”

Cecile continued to stare at the ring with awe. “How long have they known about this? Olivia and Cole, I mean?”

“A few days.” A slight dread crept into Andre’s heart. He realized that Cecile had not answered. “Um, about my proposal . . .”

A wide smile curved Cecile’s lips. “The answer is yes,” she crowed.

“Huh?”

Still smiling, Cecile threw her arms around Andre’s neck and gave him a passionate kiss. “Yes, you big dummy! I’ll marry you. Are you deaf, or what?”

Of course he had heard. But Andre also thought that his imagination had played a trick on him. He slowly allowed himself a wide smile, before returning Cecile’s kiss with one just as passionate. By the time their lips had separated, both were breathing heavily. Then Andre removed the ring from the box and gently slid it upon one of Cecile’s finger. “Don’t worry,” he said in a quiet voice. “I hear just fine.” Despite the dim light from a nearby street light, Andre could see the happiness shining in Cecile’s eyes. Her expression matched exactly how he felt.

———–

“Is Wyatt asleep?” Leo asked his ex-wife.

Piper coolly replied. “Yeah. It took a while, but he finally fell asleep.” She heaved a sigh and sat down in one of the kitchen chairs. “Is there anything else you need?”

“Yes, there is,” Leo shot back. “Why didn’t you tell me that you had hired a nanny for Wyatt?”

The oldest Charmed One gave her former husband a cold stare. “Why should I? You weren’t around, Leo. Remember? You had decided to turn your back on your family, to pursue your . . . destiny. Why should I let you know what was going on? You gave up that right when you had decided to join the Elders Council.”

“For God’s sake, Piper! Not only am I Wyatt’s father, I’m an Elder, too! This . . . what happened to him could have been prevented, if you had informed the Council about this Bakker woman you had hired!”

Rolling her eyes, Piper retorted, “Are you saying that I had to get permission from the Elders before hiring someone to baby sit Wyatt? Whatever happened to free will?”

Leo shouted, “I didn’t mean it . . .” He sighed and lowered his voice. “I didn’t mean to say that only the Council can approve who will be Wyatt’s nanny. But I’m part of the Council, Piper. You could have told me.”

“This argument is going nowhere, Leo.” Piper stood up and headed toward one of the cabinets. “Unless you have something else to say, I suggest you leave.”

“Piper . . .” Leo hesitated. “Look, if you need a babysitter for Wyatt that badly, I’ll do it. Maybe this will give me the opportunity to spend more time with him.”

Although a retort had formed on her lips, Piper decided not to express it. She realized that she could not argue with Leo’s suggestion. Granted, they could no longer share a bed . . . or a life together. At least this situation will not deprive Wyatt of a father. “Okay,” she murmured. “Sounds fair. I’ll probably need a babysitter for next weekend. That is . . . unless Phoebe and Paige are free.” She paused before adding, “You better go.”

“Piper . . .”

“Good-night, Leo.”

The whitelighter-turned-Elder gave her a curt nod, before he orbed out of the kitchen. And out of her life for the umpteenth time. Piper sighed, as she struggled to hold back the tears.

———

Olivia heard the front door close. She walked into the living room and found Cecile grinning happily, while staring at her hand. “You’re back.” She stared at her friend’s uber-happy expression. “What happened to you?”

“Huh?” Cecile glanced up.

“You look as if someone had slipped a happy pill in your drink.” Olivia glanced at Cecile’s hand and noticed a small, silver object gleaming from one finger. “Oh Goddess! Is that . . .?”

Cecile waved her hand in front of Olivia’s face. “An engagement ring! Andre had just asked me to marry him!”

Olivia squealed with delight as she and Cecile enveloped each other into a bear hug. “Ohmigod!” Olivia said. “It’s crazy. I’ve been expecting this ever since Andre first told me that he planned to propose. And yet . . . I don’t know. It’s still feels so unexpected.”

“I can understand,” Cecile commented. “Considering what’s happened in the past two days. With that Bakker woman. We’ve all been distracted.”

With a sigh, Olivia shook her head. “To be honest, I rather envy you.”

“Getting engaged?” Cecile shrugged her shoulders. “Hey, it might happen to you, someday. Come to think of it,” she paused, “it has happened. With Richard.”

A bitter chuckle escaped from Olivia’s mouth. “Yeah, and we all know how that ended. I guess that when it comes to the men in my life, I don’t seem to have much luck. One boyfriend dumps me, one gets killed by my crazy aunt and the third is so traumatized by his divorce that he doesn’t even want to think about another marriage.”

“You don’t know that,” Cecile protested. “I doubt that Cole’s feelings are permanent.”

Again, Olivia sighed. “Look, I’m not eager to rush into marriage or anything like that. On the other hand, I wouldn’t avoid it, either. I just don’t want to go through with . . . that again.”

Cecile demanded, “Go through with what?”

“The frustration of waiting for Cole to be willing to take our relationship another step,” Olivia continued. “It was bad enough wondering if he ever wanted to be more than just friends. I got impatient and ended up flirting with Paul Margolin. With disastrous results.”

“Be patient, cherie. That’s all you can ever do.”

Olivia rolled her eyes and caustically retorted, “Oh, you mean like you were with Andre?”

Cecile shot her a dark glare. “Well then, let me put it another way. At least try to be patient with Cole. Sooner or later, he’ll get over his fears. After all, you did.” Olivia glared at her. “Remember your break-up with Adrian Chambers in college? Took you quite a while to get over him.”

“Please don’t remind me of that bastard.”

As she began to fiddle with her engagement ring, Cecile continued, “All I’m saying is . . . give Cole a chance. Don’t make the same mistake that I nearly made. Okay?”

———

Phoebe glanced at the clock on the wall and sighed. It read one-thirty. In other words, it was time to cut her Saturday working day, short. She reluctantly collected her jacket, purse and briefcase and headed toward the door. As she opened it, she found her boyfriend and employer standing beyond the doorway. “Jason!”

The young billionaire gave her a dim smile. “Phoebe. Heading home? I’m surprised that you’re even here. You usually don’t work on Saturdays.”

“Yeah, I uh . . . had some work to finish. So, I thought I might as well come in today and get it over with.” She paused, desperately trying to avoid Jason’s stare. “So, I haven’t heard from you, since Thursday night.”

Jason glanced away, as if he was too embarrassed to meet Phoebe’s eyes. “Uh, I’ve been busy.” Then he heaved a large sigh and faced the Charmed One. “And I guess I’ve been a little pissed off, as well.”

“Jason, I told you there was a family emergency!”

“Phoebe, there always is a family emergency! Even Elise is beginning to complain about them!”

Oh God! “What do you . . .?” Frustrated, Phoebe broke off, as she tried to gather her senses. “Are you saying that I’m not entitled to family emergencies?”

“Phoebe, you and Paige had disappeared from the party for over two hours,” Jason retorted sharply. “Without saying a word to me! I had to find out about your ‘little emergency’ from Jack McNeill!”

Phoebe protested, “But it was a family emergency! Wyatt . . .”

“. . . who has a babysitter. A babysitter who could have dealt with whatever emergency that popped up!” Jason finished. “Or called Piper.”

Again, Phoebe glanced at the clock. One thirty-six. “Jason, it was a family emergency. I’m sorry that I forgot to tell you beforehand, but we . . . Paige and I were thinking of Wyatt. What else can I say?”

A brief pause followed before Jason hung his head down low and murmured, “You can say that you’ll accompany me to Hong Kong.  And stay with me, for a while.”

“Huh?”

Jason continued, “I’ll be returning to Hong Kong, early next month. I should be back after the New Year. I thought . . . well, that this time you would stay with me.”

The proposal took Phoebe by surprise. Then again, she should have known better. Jason had asked her this very same question about six months ago. Then, she had rejected his offer and ended up enduring a four-month separation from him. And although she hated the idea of being apart from Jason for so long, she had family obligations to deal with. Namely the Power of Three.

“I . . .” Phoebe glanced into Jason’s eyes and realized that she did not have the heart to reject his offer. “I’ll think about it,” she finally said.

Disappointment flickered in his eyes. “In other words – no. Right?”

Phoebe gently cupped Jason’s jaw. “In other words . . . no, for now. But I’m seriously thinking about changing my mind.”

A wry smile twisted Jason’s mouth. “Okay. I guess that’ll have to do. At least for now.” He turned away and paused. “At least let me keep that date we had made for tonight.”

“Could we change it to tomorrow night?” Phoebe planted a light kiss on his cheek. “I think I might catch up on my sleep, tonight.” Jason nodded and walked away.

Then Phoebe took a deep breath, and finally left her office. She headed toward the elevator. When she finally reached the underground parking lot, her eyes scanned the area for any strangers. The only people she saw were two employees from the Sports Department.

Phoebe then proceeded across the parking lot and toward her car. Upon reaching the latter, she unlocked the driver’s door, opened it and dumped her belongings inside. Before she could climb into the driver’s seat, the Charmed One felt a sharp prick on the side of her neck. Phoebe fervently groped her neck and pulled out a small dart. As everything faded to black, it flashed through her mind that Daley Bakker had actually fallen for Andre’s trap.

END OF PART XVII

“JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK” (2016) Review

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“JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK” (2016) Review

Four years after the release of the 2012 hit, “JACK REACHER”, Tom Cruise starred in a second movie featuring the main character in “JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK”. The movie is an adaptation of Lee Childs’ 2013 novel, “Never Go Back”

Directed by Edward Zwick, who worked with Cruise in the 2003 movie “THE LAST SAMURAI”“JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK”begins with former Army officer-turned vigilante drifter setting up a small town law officer to be arrested for human trafficking. It turns out that this latest case was one of several in which he had been assisting an Army officer named Major Susan Turner. When he finally arrives in Washington D.C. to meet her, Reacher discovers from a Colonel Sam Morgan that Turner had been accused of espionage and arrested. Turner’s attorney, Colonel Bob Moorcroft, later reveals that Turner might be involved in the murder of two soldiers in Afghanistan. Reacher believes that Turner has been framed. He also learns from Moorcroft that an old acquaintance named Candice Dayton has filed a paternity suit against him, claiming that he is the father of her 15 year-old daughter Samantha.

When Moorcroft is murdered by an unknown assassin, Reacher is blamed, arrested and transported to the same prison where Turner is being detained. Assassins arrive to kill her, but Reacher rescues Turner and the pair escape and make their way to Morgan’s home upon realizing that he is a part of the conspiracy. Unfortunately, following their meeting with Morgan, the latter is murdered by the assassin. Worse, Reacher and Turner’s enemies become aware of Samantha and try to use her as a means to control the former. Reacher and Turner intervene before the adolescent girl could be snatched. With Samantha in tow, the pair set out to discover the details behind the conspiracy that has framed both of them; and evade an Army unit led by one Captain Anthony Espin, who was under Turner’s command.

After watching this movie in the theaters, I had overheard another theater patron claim that the 2012 movie was better. Apparently, many critics seemed to share the guy’s feelings since the movie had garnered mixed reviews. And yet . . . I personally found it hard to share their views. I would not say that “NEVER GO BACK” was better than “JACK REACHER”. But I do not believe it was inferior to the other film. However, I am not going to waste my time in examining why others believe it was the inferior of the two films. After all, what is the point?

I certainly had no problem with the film’s production values. “JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK” was set in Washington D.C. and New Orleans. As someone who has always enjoyed visiting both cities, I must say that Oliver Wood’s sharp and colorful photography did justice to both cities. I also impressed by Billy Weber’s film editing. I thought his work was especially impressive in the sequence that featured Reacher breaking Turner out of a military jail and the pair’s attempt to save Samantha from the mysterious assassin during a Mardi Gras parade on the streets of New Orleans.

But like the 2012 movie, “JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK” had a well-written plot that I found intriguing. What I found interesting about this story is that the actual crime(s) that kick-started the story had occurred before the movie’s first reel – namely the murder of two U.S. Army soldiers in Afghanistan, who had been investigating a military contractor on her unit’s behalf. Thanks to the script written by Zwick, Richard Wenk and Marshall Herskovitz; I came to the conclusion that the movie had been set up to resemble a cold case. While Reacher and Turner struggle to evade arrest by a pursuing Captain Espin or murder by the mysterious assassin . . . and take care of the young Samantha, they also investigate the two soldiers’ murders. The entire scenario seems to be one balancing act.

If I must be brutally honest, I do have one problem with the story. “NEVER GO BACK” started with Reacher helping Turner arrest a lawman for human trafficking. I never understood why an Army officer would be involved in such a case in the first place. It seemed like one for the F.B.I. More importantly, Reacher and Turner had yet to meet face-to-face. Unless a piece of dialogue had evaded me, the movie never explained how the pair became acquainted with each other in the first place. I understand that they had first became aware of each other in one of Lee Childs’ previous “Jack Reacher” novels. But I wish the movie’s screenplay had been more clear about the matter in this film.

The performances featured in “JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK” struck me as pretty first-rate. Tom Cruise did his usual excellent job in portraying the ex-military vigilante. He was ably supported by Cobie Smulders’ excellent performance as Army officer Major Susan Turner, who seemed outraged by the criminal charges against her. Both Cruise and Smulders had one great scene in which their characters argued over who would remain in their New Orleans hotel to guard Samantha, while the other conduct their investigation. I found their performances rather entertaining to watch.

The movie also featured solid performances from Aldis Hodge, who portrayed the pursuing young and intense Army officer Captain Anthony Espin; Patrick Heusinger as the ruthless and barely stoppable assassin; Holt McCallany as the corrupt Colonel Sam Morgan; Austin Hebert as former soldier-turned-homeless drug addict Daniel Prudhomme; and Robert Catrini as Turner’s attorney, Colonel Bob Moorcroft. There were two performances that really caught my attention, but for different reasons. Robert Knepper, of whom I am usually a fan, seemed a bit over-the-top to me as a military contractor named former General James Harkness. On the other hand, I was very impressed by Danika Yarosh’s performance as the embittered adolescent Samantha Dayton, who may or may not be Reacher’s biological daughter.

Well . . . I cannot dictate the opinions of movie critics or any filmgoers. I can express my own view of “JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK”. And although I feel that the movie’s beginning was a little shaky about Jack Reacher’s acquaintance with Susan Turner, I cannot deny that overall, I was very impressed with the film. And I believe that Edward Zwick’s top-notch direction, along with a pretty solid script and a talented cast led by Tom Cruise, made this movie just as enjoyable as its 2012 predecessor.

“DR. NO” (1962) Review

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“DR. NO” (1962) Review

This 1962 movie marked the cinematic debut of EON Production’s James Bond franchise, created by Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Sean Connery also made his debut in this film as the MI-6 agent, James Bond. Although many critics and fans consider film as one of the more impressive in the franchise, I honestly cannot say that I share their opinion.

Based on Ian Fleming’s 1958 novel, “DR. NO” begins with the murder of MI-6 agent Strangeways and his secretary by a trio of assassins in Jamaica. Fellow MI-6 agent James Bond is ordered by his superior, “M”, to investigate the agent’s death and eventually stumbles upon a plot by Dr. Julius No, an agent of the criminal organization SPECTRE, to disrupt the U.S. space program for the Chinese Republic.

As I had stated earlier, I have never considered “DR. NO” as one of the more impressive entries of the Bond franchise. In fact, it is one of my least favorite Bond movies of all time. The main problem I had with “DR. NO” was the schizophrenic script written by Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, and Berkely Mather that featured an unbalanced mixture of genres. I suppose they had no choice. After all, they simply wrote a close adaptation of Fleming’s novel. And Fleming never struck me as the world’s greatest novelist. The story began as a mystery thriller, as Bond tried to figure out who was behind Strangeways’ death. Unfortunately, the movie transformed into a fantasy-style adventure when Bond and one of his CIA contacts, Quarrel made their way to Dr. No’s Crab Key Island in order to disrupt the villain’s plot. A part of me wish that Young and the screenwriters had made changes in Fleming’s story.

The stilted dialogue peppered throughout the movie only made matters even worse for me. The worst line came out of the mouth of former beauty pageant winner, Marguerite LeWars, who portrayed a photographer working for SPECTRE. It is so bad that I will not even repeat it. Even Connery was guilty of spewing some wooden dialogue. In fact, his performance seemed as uneven as the movie’s story and production style. In many scenes, he seemed to be the epitome of the smooth British agent. And in other scenes – especially with Jack Lord, who was the first actor to portray CIA agent Felix Leiter – he came off as gauche and wooden. Mr. Lord, on the other hand, gave a consistently polished and performance as the sardonic Agent Leiter. Much has been made of Ursula Andress’ performance as “Bond Girl No.1” Honey Ryder – especially her famous first appearance when her character emerges upon a beach. Frankly, I have never been able to sense the magic of that moment. I hate to say this, but I did I find Andress’ presence in the movie particularly impressive. Not only was her character irrelevant to the story, she did not really aid Bond’s attempts to defeat Dr. No.

I first became a fan of Joseph Wiseman ever since I noticed his sly and subtle performance as a 1960s gangster in the Michael Mann TV series, “CRIME STORY”. But I was not that impressed by his Dr. Julius No, a character that simply bored me to tears. I might as well say the same about Anthony Dawson’s performance as SPECTRE agent, Professor Dent. Many fans have been waxing lyrical over a scene featuring his death at Bond’s hand. Personally, I found Bond’s actions unprofessional. The MI-6 could have easily drugged the SPECTRE agent, remove any inconvenient cyanide pills and have the authorities “question” him. Instead, Bond killed him in cold blood . . . and lost any chance to get more information from Dent. Moron. “DR. NO” can boast first-class performances by American-born John Kitzmiller as the exuberant Jamaican CIA contact, Quarrel. And Zena Marshall gave a solid, yet subtle performance as Professor Dent’s Eurasian secretary and SPECTRE agent, Miss Taro. It is only too bad that the producers and Terence Young could not find genuine Eurasians for both the Dr. No and Miss Taro roles. But I guess that would not have been possible in 1962.

“DR. NO” featured some beautiful photography of Jamaica from cinematographer Ted Moore. Monty Norman not only provided a first-rate musical score, he also delivered the original “James Bond” theme. However, some of the movie’s flaws – namely the uneven script and direction by Terence Young, along with the wooden dialogue, makes “DR. NO”vastly overrated in my eyes. But what can I expect from a movie that consistently threatens to put me to sleep two-thirds into the story?

Five Favorite Episodes of “ARROW” Season One (2012-2013)

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season One of the CW series, “ARROW”.  Created by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg; the series stars Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen aka the Arrow:
FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “ARROW” SEASON ONE (2012-2013)
 
 
1.  (1.23) “Sacrifice” – In the season finale, Oliver Queen aka the Arrow and his friends struggle to stop Malcolm Merlyn’s plans to destroy Starling City’s working-class neighborhood, the Glades.
2.  (1.16) “Dead to Rights” – The Queen and Merlyn families become embroiled in Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot’s attempt to kill Malcolm, after Moira Queen had hired the hitman to kill her business partner and prevent his plans for the Glades.
3.  (1.01) “Pilot” – After being regarded dead for five years, Oliver returns to Starling City to begin his vigilante activities as the “Hood” (the Arrow).  He also has to reconnect with his family and face his ex-girlfriend, Laurel Lance, whom he had cheated on before his fateful journey.
4.  (1.17) “The Huntress Returns” – Oliver’s former lover, Helena Bertinelli aka the Huntress, returns to Starling City to continue her vendetta against her mobster father for the death of her fiance.  She tries to exploit Oliver’s friendships with John Diggle and Felicity Smoak to coerce him into helping her.
5.  (1.09) “Year’s End” – Oliver attempts to track down a mysterious copycat vigilante, who is killing people on the list given to the former by his father five years ago.
Honorable Mention:  (1.20) “Home Invasion” – Oliver risks Diggle’s wrath by postponing his offer to help the latter track down Deadshot, in order to help Laurel and boyfriend Tommy Merlyn protect a young boy, who had witnessed the murder of his parents at the hands of a hit man.