“THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN” (2016) Review

“THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN” (2016) Review

When I first learned that there was to be another remake of the 1954 movie, “SEVEN SAMAURAI”, I nearly groaned with displeasure. Worse, the movie would not only be a remake of the Japanese film, but an even closer remake of the 1960 film that had re-staged the story as a Western. I have always been leery of remakes, even if some proved to be pretty damn good. But I was more than leery of this particular film. 

The reason behind my leeriness is that I am not a fan of the 1960 film. I tried to be. Honest I did. But there was something about it – the performances of the lead, if I must be honest – that I found somewhat off putting. I also feared that I would face the same in this latest adaptation, but with even less success.

“THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN” – or this version – begins in 1879 when a corrupt industrialist named Bartholomew Bogue and his men besiege the mining town of Rose Creek, California and slaughters a group of locals led by Matthew Cullen, when they attempt to stand up to him and his attempt to coerce them into selling their land to him. Matthew’s wife, Emma Cullen, and her friend Teddy Q ride to the nearest town in search of someone who can help them. They come upon Union Army veteran and warrant officer Sam Chisholm, who initially declines their proposal, until he learns of Bogue’s involvement. Chisholm sets out to recruit a group of gunslingers who can help him battle the powerful businessman:

*Joshua Faraday – a gambler and explosives man who takes on the job to rid himself of debt

*Goodnight Robicheaux – a Confederate veteran and sharpshooter who is haunted by his past

*Billy Rocks – an East Asian immigrant assassin with a talent for knives and Goodnight’s close companion

*Vasquez – a Mexican outlaw who is also a wanted fugitive

*Jack Horne, a religious mountain man/tracker

*Red Harvest – an exiled Comanche warrior and youngest of the group

Chisholm and his colleagues manage to rid Rose Creek of Bogue’s men. But knowing that the businessman would be determine to strike back with a bigger force, the seven riders set out to prepare the town’s citizens for what might prove to be an ugly, minor war.

I never really had any intention of seeing this new “THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN” in the movie theaters, considering my views of the 1960 film. But a relative of mine convinced me to give it a chance. And I did. There were some aspects of the movie that I found questionable. Well . . . two, if I must be honest. I wonder why screenwriters Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk had portrayed the Red Harvest character as a Comanche. The latter lived along the Southern Plains that stretched between Nebraska and Northern Texas. Why not portray Red Harvest from a region a bit closer to the movie’s setting – like the Paitue, the Ute or the Pomo? I also had a problem with some of Merissa Lombardo’s costume designs. Some . . . not all of them. I found her costumes for the main male characters to be spot on. Lombardo’s costumes for each male character not only clicked with the time period – late 1870s – but also with each character. But her costumes for the Emma Cullen character, proved to be a problem for me. They struck me as unnecessarily revealing for the wife-later-widow of a respected man from the late 19th century. Emma Cullen is not a 19th century prostitute. Why on earth did Lombardo come close to dressing her as one, as shown in the images below?

3664B90D00000578-3696356-Seeking_justice_After_her_husband_is_shot_dead_by_Sarsgaard_Hale-a-80_1468877390826 The-Magnificent-Seven-2016-Film-Haley-Bennett

Despite these quibbles, I enjoyed “THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN”. Very much. The movie was not an exact replica of “SEVEN SAMURAI” or the 1960 film, “THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN”. And that is a good thing. I would have preferred to watch director Antoine Fuqua’s personal version, instead of a carbon copy of either the original 1954 film or the 1960 Western. More importantly, I simply preferred his version over the other two films. Yes, I have seen both the 1954 and 1960 films. I am certain that many film goers and critics loved them. Unfortunately, my memories of the 1954 film is vague and I am simply not a fan of the 1960 remake. Fuqua and screenwriters Pizzolatto and Wenk managed to maintain my interest in the story, thanks to the former’s energetic direction and a screenplay that struck me as well paced. I noticed that this version did not include the seven gunmen being chased out of town by the villain before returning for a final showdown. Instead, Pizzolatto and Wenk further explored the seven protagonists’ efforts to help Rose Creek’s citizens prepare for Bogue’s retaliation.

The movie also featured some outstanding action sequences, thanks to Fuqua’s tight direction. Considering his past work in movies like “TRAINING DAY”“SHOOTER” and “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”, I should not be surprised. There were a few actions sequences that I had enjoyed, including Rose Creek citizens’ tragic encounter with Bartholomew Bogue’s men, which set off the plot; Sam Chisholm’s brief, yet violent encounter with a handful of fugitives early in the movie; and the seven mercenaries’ first conflict with some of Bogue’s men. But for me, the movie’s pièce de résistance proved to be the final battle in Rose Creek. It was well shot action sequence as far as I am concerned. What am I saying? Well shot? Hell, I found it exciting, tense, tragic, euphoric and . . . yes, well shot. I found it very impressive and dramatically satisfying.

When I learned that the movie was shot in both Arizona and New Mexico, I was not surprised. It seemed apparent to me that a good deal of “THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN” was shot in both the northern and central regions of both states. What took me by surprise was the fact that the movie was also shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. When? Which scenes were shot in Baton Rouge? For the likes of me, I just do not know. Which only tells me that production designer Derek R. Hill really did his job of converting the Baton Rouge location to 19th century California. I also felt that Mauro Fiore’s cinematography gave support to Hill’s work and made the film look sharp and very colorful.

Now some are probably wondering how can I like this movie so much, yet harbor such lukewarm feelings toward the 1960 version. For me, the huge difference between the two movies proved to be the cast. Yes, I am aware that the 1960 version featured the likes of Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen and others who were just becoming famous. But the main reason why I always had a problem with this version is that most of the leads – with the exception of one or two – spent most of the film standing around or posing, trying to look “cool” or “iconic”. I found myself wondering if most of them were preparing for an audition for the role of James Bond. I found this most annoying. Thankfully, the cast of this version came off as a lot more earthy. Natural. Instead of “icons of cool”, the leads seemed more human.

The one actor whose performance seemed to closely resemble those from the 1960 cast was Denzel Washington, who portrayed the lead, Sam Chisholm. I suppose it would be natural, considering that he was not only the lead, but the oldest in the bunch. But even Washington’s performance had a paternal air that I never saw in Yul Brenner’s performance. More importantly, his character’s arc had a major twist that I should have seen coming after he was first introduced. Chris Pratt portrayed the group’s trickster – a gambler/womanizer named Josh Farady. I must admit that when I first learned that Pratt would be in this film, I just could not imagine it. Not by a long shot. But it did not take long for me to not only accept Pratt’s presence in the film, but end up being very impressed by the way he mixed both comedy and drama in his performance. Ethan Hawke also combined both comedy and drama in his portrayal of former Confederate sharpshooter, Goodnight Robicheaux. But his character had a bit more pathos, due to being haunted by his experiences during the Civil War. And this gave Hawke the opportunity to give one of the movie’s best performances.

Vincent D’Onofrio gave a very colorful and entertaining performance as the former religious trapper Jack Horne, who interestingly enough, was the only one of the seven men who came close to having a love interest. I was very impressed Lee Byung-hun’s sardonic portrayal of Robicheaux’s companion, the knife-throwing Billy Rocks. After seeing Haley Bennett’s intense portrayal of the revenge seeking widow, Emma Cullen, I could see why the actress has been recently making a name for herself with critics. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo proved to be just as colorful and entertaining as D’Onofrio as the wanted outlaw, Vasquez. Martin Sensmeier gave an intense, yet cool performance as the group’s youngest member, a Comanche warrior named Red Harvest. Matt Bomer gave a solid performance in the film’s first fifteen minutes or so as Rose Creek citizen, Matthew Cullen, whose death helped set the plot in motion. And the role of Bartholomew Bogue (my God, that name!) became another of Peter Sarsgaard’s gallery of interesting characters. Mind you, his intense portrayal of the villainous businessman was not as humorous as Eli Wallach’s more witty villain from the 1960 film, but it was a lot more off-kilter and just as interesting.

Despite one or two quibbles, I enjoyed “THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN” very much. As I have stated earlier, I found this surprising considering my lukewarm opinion of the 1960 predecessor. Director Antoine Fuqua did a great job of creating his own adaptation of the 1954 movie, “SEVEN SAMAURAI”. And he had ample support from an entertaining screenplay written by Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk, along with an excellent cast led by Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke.

“POLDARK” Series One (2015): Episodes One to Four

image

“POLDARK” SERIES ONE (2015): EPISODES ONE TO FOUR

In the years between 2010 and 2015, I have not been able to stumble across a new British period drama that really impressed me. Five years. That is a hell of a long time for a nation with a sterling reputation for period dramas in both movies and television. Fortunately, the five-year dry spell finally came to an end (at least for me) with the arrival of “POLDARK”, the BBC’s new adaptation of Winston Graham’s literary series. 

I am certain that some people would point out that during this five-year period, the ITV network aired Julian Fellowes’ family drama, “DOWNTON ABBEY”. I must admit that I enjoyed the series’ first season. But Seasons Two to Six merely sunk to a level of mediocrity and questionable writing. I had never warmed to “RIPPER STREET” or “THE HOUR”. And I have yet to see either “PEAKY BLINDERS” or “INDIAN SUMMERS”.

A few years ago, I had tried a stab at the first episode of the 1975-1977 series, “POLDARK”, which starred Robin Ellis. After viewing ten minutes of theatrical acting and dated photography in Episode One on You Tube, I gave up. Last summer, I read all of the hullaballoo surrounding this new adaptation with Aidan Turner in the lead. Utilizing Netflix, I tried my luck again with the 1975 series and ended up enjoying the first four episodes (I have yet to watch any further episodes) and quite enjoyed it. Then I tried the first two episodes of the 2015 series and found it equally enjoyable. I enjoyed both versions so much that I took the trouble to purchase both the entire 1975-77 series and the first series of the new version. In fact, I have decided to watch both versions simultaneously. But I am here to discuss the first four episodes of the 2015 series.

Series One of “POLDARK” . . . well the 2015 version . . . is based upon Winston Graham’s first two novels in the saga – 1945’s “Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787” and 1946’s “Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790”. Episodes One to Four seemed to be an adaptation of the 1945 novel. The series begins with a young Ross Poldark serving with the British Army in 1781 Virginia, during the American Revolution. During an attack by American troops, Ross is struck unconscious in the head by a rifle butt. The episode jumps two years later with Ross returning home to Cornwall by traveling coach. He learns from a fellow coach passenger and later, his Uncle Charles Poldark at the latter’s Trenwith estate that his father had died broke. More bad news follow with Ross’ discovery that his lady love, Elizabeth Chynoweth, became engaged to Charles’ son, his cousin Francis, after receiving news of his “death”. The only possessions Ross has left is his father’s estate, the smaller estate Nampara, which is now in ruins, two copper mines that had been closed for some time and two servants – the drunken Jud and Prudie Paynter – to help him work the estate. Even worse, a family named Warleggan, who had risen from being blacksmiths to bankers, were gaining financial control over the neighborhood. Not long after his decision to remain in Cornwall, Ross rescues a miner’s daughter named Demelza Carne from a mob trying to use her dog Garrick as part of a vicious dogfight. Taking pity on her, he decides to hire her as his new kitchen maid.

There have been a few complaints that this first season for the new “POLDARK” series had moved a bit too fast, in compared to the first one in 1975. After all, the latter spanned sixteen episodes in compare to the eight ones for this new first season. However, what many failed to consider is that the first series from 1975 had adapted four novels ranging from “Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787” to Graham’s fourth novel, 1953’s “Warleggan”. Granted, the Demelza Carne character was first introduced in this version’s first episode, whereas she was introduced in the second episode of the 1975 series. This did not bother me at all . . . in compare to some other viewers.

There were other changes that did not bother me. Many have commented on the warmer nature of Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark, Ross’ former love and cousin-in-law. Frankly, I am glad that showrunner Debbie Horsfield had decided to go this route with Elizabeth. Unlike many, I have never considered Elizabeth’s character to be cold. Considering that Elizabeth was never a cold parent, I found it difficult to conceive her as a cold woman. I have always suspected that she was simply a very internalized character who kept her emotions close to her chest. Although actress Heida Reed portrayed Elizabeth as a reserved personality, the screenplay allowed more of her emotions to be revealed to the audience in compare to Winston Graham’s first four novels. Elizabeth’s erroneous decision to marry Francis and her personality flaws – namely her penchant for clinging to society’s rules – remained intact. But she was not portrayed as some walking icicle in a skirt, even though a good number of fans had a problem with this. I did not. I never saw the need to demand for this icy portrayal of Elizabeth in order to justify Ross’ love for Demelza. Apparently, neither did Horsfield. Some viewers have complained about Elizabeth’s husband, Francis Poldark, as well. He seemed too weak and hostile in compare to Graham’s portrayal of Francis in his novels. First of all, Francis never really struck me as a strong character to begin with. And thanks to the screenplay and Kyle Soller’s performance, Francis began the series as a rather nice young man who seemed genuinely relieved that Elizabeth had decided to continue with their wedding plans, despite Ross’ return from America. But it was easy to see how his character began its downward spiral, starting with the villainous George Warleggan’s poisonous insinuations that Ross and Elizabeth still had feelings for one another. And when you combine that with Charles Poldark’s equally negative comments regarding his nature, it was not difficult to see how Francis allowed his insecurities to eventually get the best of him.

Horsfield certainly stayed true to the story arc regarding the romance between Francis’ sister Verity Poldark and a hot-tempered sea captain named Captain Blamey. I must be honest . . . I have slightly mixed feelings about the whole matter. A part of me recognized Verity’s loneliness and the fact that her family seemed willing to use her spinster state as an excuse to nearly regulate her to the status of a housekeeper. My problem with this story arc is Captain Blamey. Why oh why did Graham made a character who had killed his wife in a fit of alcoholic rage during a domestic quarrel? When I first learned about his background, I could easily see why Charles and Francis Poldark were so against the idea of Verity becoming romantically involved in this guy. Yes, I realize that people need a second chance in life. Yes, I realized that Blamey was honest about his alcoholism and the details surrounding his wife’s death. But he became the first sympathetically portrayed male character who ends up committing an act of violence against a woman. The first of . . . how many? Two? Three? Frankly, I find this rather disturbing coming from a politically liberal writer like Graham, let alone any other writer.

But if there is one aspect of Graham’s saga that I wish Horsfield had not so faithfully adapted, it was the series of circumstances that led to Ross’ wedding to his kitchen maid, Demelza. By the beginning of Episode Three, audiences became aware of Demelza’s unrequited love for Ross. Audiences also became aware of Ross’ growing dependence of her presence in his household. I find this understandable, considering that both Jud and Prudie proved to be questionable servants. However, two things happened. First of all, one of Ross’ field hands, Jim Carter, got arrested for poaching on the property belonging to another landowner named Sir Hugh Bodrugan. Ross tried to prevent Jim from being sent to prison. Unfortunately, his temper got the best of him at Jim’s trial and he ended up in a heated debate with the narrow-minded judge, Reverend Halse. Meanwhile, Demelza received word from her abusive and newly religious father that he wanted her back in his home after hearing rumors that she and Ross were having an affair. So what happened? Demelza decided to spend her last day appreciating the finer household goods at Nampara . . . while wearing a gown that once belonged to Ross’ late mother. A drunken Ross returns home, finds her in his mother’s gown, chastises her before she seduces him into having sex. A day or so later, Ross decides to marry her in a private wedding ceremony with only Jud and Prudie as witnesses.

What on earth was Winston Graham thinking? What was he thinking? I have never come across anything so unrealistic in my life. What led Ross to marry Demelza in the first place? Many fans have tried to put a romantic sheen over the incident, claiming that subconsciously, Ross had already fallen in love with Demelza. Yeah . . . right. I knew better. I knew that Ross did not fall in love with her, until sometime after the wedding. So, why did he marry her? Someone named Tim Vicary posted a theory that Ross, drunk and still angry over Jim Carter being imprisoned, had married Demelza as a way of thumbing his nose at the upper-classes, whom he blamed for Jim’s fate. To me, this sounds like Ross had entered matrimony, while having a suppressed temper tantrum. Hmmm . . . this sounds like him. But despite Mr. Vicary’s theory, I still have a problem with the circumstances surrounding Ross and Demelza’s nuptials. Why? Let me put it this way . . . if I had returned home and found my servant roaming around the house wearing the clothes of my dead parent, I would fire that person. Pronto. The only way this sequence could have worked for me was if Ross had fallen in love with Demelza by Episode Three. Ross may have been fond of his kitchen maid and grown used to her presence. But he was not in love with her . . . not at this stage.

I really do not have many other complaints about these first four episodes. Well . . . I have two other complaints. Minor complaints . . . really. There was a scene in Episode Two in which Ross and a prostitute named Margaret discussed Elizabeth’s marriage to Francis. Margaret cheerfully consoled Ross with the prediction that he would find someone who will make him forget Elizabeth. The next scene shifted to Demelza strolling across Nampara with her dog Garrick closely at her heels. Talk about heavy-handed foreshadowing. And if there is nothing I dislike more it is ham-fisted storytelling . . . especially when it promises to be misleading. My other complaint centered around the Ruth Teague character and her mother. I could understand why Ruth would be interested in marrying Ross. He is young, extremely attractive, a member of the upper-class and the owner of his own estate – no matter how dilapidated. But why on earth would Mrs. Teague support her daughter’s desire to become Mrs. Ross Poldark? Despite Ross’ status as a member of the landed gentry and a landowner, he has no fortune. Thanks to his late father, he found himself financially ruined upon his return to Cornwall. Why would Mrs. Teague want someone impoverished as her future son-in-law? Especially when she seemed to be just as ambitious for her daughter as Mrs. Chynoweth was for Elizabeth?

Despite the circumstances surrounding Ross and Demelza’s wedding and that ham-fisted moment in Episode Two, I enjoyed those first four episodes of “POLDARK”. Enormously. Watching them made me realize that Winston Graham had created a rich and entertaining saga about complex characters in a historical setting. I have to confess. My knowledge of Great Britain during the last two decades of the 18th century barely exists. So, watching “POLDARK” has allowed me to become a little more knowledgeable about this particular era in Britain’s history. One, I never knew that Britain’s conflict with and the loss of the American colonies had an economic impact upon the country . . . a negative one, as a matter of fact. I had heard of the United States and France’s economic struggles during this period, but I had no idea that Britain had struggled, as well. More importantly for Cornwall, the price of tin and copper had fallen during the 1770s and 1780s, thanks to this economic depression. This economic struggle contributed to the slow decline of the aristocracy and the landed gentry for Cornish families like the Poldarks and the Chynoweths. I read somewhere that this period also marked the increased rise of Methodism throughout the country. Although this phenomenon will play a bigger role later in the series, Episode Three revealed the first hint through Demelza’s ne’er do well father, who ended up becoming a fanatic Methodist after remarrying a widow with children.

But the heart and soul of this series is the drama that surrounds Ross Poldark and the other major characters in the saga. When I say all of the major characters, I meant it. I realize that many would regard both Ross and his kitchenmaid-turned-bride Demelza as the heart and soul of this saga. Well . . . yes, they are. But so are the other characters – including Francis, his father Charles, Verity, Jud, Prudie Cary Warleggan, Jim and Jinny Carter, Captain Blamey, Ruth Teague and especially George Warleggan and Elizabeth. I found them all fascinating. I especially enjoyed how their stories enriched Ross’ own personal arc.

More importantly, these first four episodes provided some very interesting moments and scenes that left a strong impression . . even now. I am certain that only a few would forget that moment when Ross experienced both joy and disbelief when he reunited with his family after three years. And at the same time, discovered that his lady love had moved past the reports of his death and became engaged to his cousin Francis. Wow, what a homecoming. Other memorable moments featured the first meeting between Ross and Demelza at the local street market and the first meeting between Verity and Captain Blamey at an assembly dance. Despite my feelings regarding the circumstances surrounding Ross and Demelza’s wedding, I must admit that I found her seduction of him rather sexy. The scene featuring Demelza and Verity’s growing friendship in early Season Four struck me as very charming and entertaining. I also enjoyed the Episode Three montage that conveyed how Ross had grown accustomed to Demelza’s presence in his household and her ability to sense any of his particular needs. Another montage that I managed to enjoy, featured the community’s reaction to the couple’s wedding in early Episode Four, the poignant death of Charles Poldark in the same episode and the numerous conversations between Ross and George Warleggan that featured their growing enmity. But there were certain scenes – especially those that featured social gatherings – that stood out for me. They include:

*The assembly ball in Episode Two in which Verity met Captain Blamey for the first time. This scene also featured that very interesting and rather sexy dance between Ross and Elizabeth, which made it clear that the former lovers still harbored feelings for each . . . especially Ross. And this scene also marked the first time in which Francis became suspicious of those feelings, thanks to George’s poisonous insinuations.

*Charles and Francis’ confrontation with Ross regarding the latter’s support of Verity and Blamey’s courtship at Nampara. I found this scene to be very emotionally charged, due to the violent confrontation between Francis and Blamey that resulted in an ill-fated duel. It was capped by Elizabeth’s appearance at Nampara and her revelation that she was pregnant with Francis’ child.

*Ross tries to help his farm hand Jim Carter to avoid a prison sentence for poaching. This scene not only revealed Ross’ inability to control his temper and self-righteousness, but also featured a delicious confrontation between him and the judge, the Reverend Dr. Halse. And here is a lovely tidbit, the latter was portrayed by none other than Robin Ellis, who had portrayed Ross Poldark in the 1975-77.

*Episode Four also featured that marvelous Christmas at Trenwith sequence in which Ross and Demelza visit Francis and Elizabeth for the holidays. The entire cast involved in this sequence did a great job in infusing the tensions between the characters. I especially enjoyed the scene that featured the actual Christmas dinner.

Speaking of the cast, I have no complaints whatsoever. Everyone else have their favorites. But for me, the entire cast seemed to be giving it their all. Caroline Blakiston proved to be very witty as the elderly Aunt Agatha Poldark, who seemed bent upon making the other members of her family uncomfortable with her blunt comments. Warren Clarke gave a very memorable performance as Ross’ Uncle Charles. Unfortunately, he had passed away after filming his last scene in Episode Four. At least he went out with a first-rate role. Richard Harington made a very intense Captain Blamey and Harriet Ballard made an effectively bitchy Ruth Teague. “POLDARK” marked the first time I have ever really paid attention to Pip Torrens, who portrayed Cary Warleggan, George’s uncle. Which is not surprising, since he did a first-rate job in his portrayal of the greedy and venal banker, who seemed to be dismissive of both the upper and working classes. There were times when I could not decide whether to find Jud and Prudie Paynter funny or beneath contempt. This was due to the complex performances given by Phil Davis and Edney. I have already mentioned Robin Ellis, who was wonderfully intimidating and self-righteous as the bigoted Reverend Dr. Halse. Even after nine years away from the camera, he obviously has not lost his touch.

I first saw Ruby Bentall in the 2008 miniseries, “LOST IN AUSTEN”. But if I must be honest, I had barely noticed her. I certainly noticed her poignant and emotional performance as Verity Poldark, Ross’ “Plain Jane” cousin, who seemed doomed to spending the rest of her life serving her father’s and later, her brother’s household. Physically, Jack Farthing looks nothing like the literary George Warleggan from Graham’s novels. And I do not recall his character being featured so prominently in the first two novels. Personally, I do not care. I am really enjoying Farthing’s complex performance as the social climbing George, who seemed to resent the Poldarks’ upper-class status and especially Ross personally. Despite being as much of a greedy bastard as his uncle, Farthing did a great job in conveying George’s more humane nature. Fans have been so busy complaining that Kyle Soller’s portrayal of Ross’ cousin, Francis Polark, is nothing like the literary character, I feel they have been ignoring his superb performance. Personally, I suspect that Soller has been giving the best performance in the series. I have been really impressed by how he transformed Francis from a likable, yet mild young man to an embittered one filled with resentment and insecurities. I found myself wondering why Soller’s performance seemed familiar to me. Then it finally hit me . . . his portrayal of Francis reminded me of Robert Stack’s performance in the 1956 melodrama, “WRITTEN IN THE WIND”. Only Soller will be given the chance to take Francis’ character on another path before the series’ end.

The character of Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark seemed to produce a curious reaction from fans of Graham’s literary series. From my exploration of the Internet, I have noticed that many fans either tend to ignore the two actresses who have portrayed her – Heida Reed and Jill Townsend in the 1970s series – or criticize their performances. For this particular series, I feel that Reed has been knocking it out of the ballpark in her portrayal of the introverted Elizabeth. Yes, Debbie Horsfield’s production has allowed Reed to express Elizabeth’s inner feelings a bit more prominent to the television audiences. Yet at the same time, the actress managed to perfectly capture the internalized and complex nature of Elizabeth’s character. On the other hand, fans and critics have expressed sheer rapture over Eleanor Tomlinson’s portrayal of Demelza Carne Poldark, the kitchen maid who became Ross’ bride. Well, I certainly believe that Tomlinson is doing a hell of a job portraying the earthy Demelza. What makes me appreciate her performance even more is how she manages to combine Demelza’s feisty personality and the insecurities that lurk underneath.

Before “POLDARK” first aired in Great Britain, many of the country’s media outlets had speculated on whether actor Aidan Turner would be able to live up to Robin Ellis’ portrayal of Ross Poldark from the 1970s. I knew it the moment I had heard he had been cast in the lead of this new series, based upon his previous work in “DESPERATE ROMANTICS” and “THE HOBBIT” film series. And Turner prove me right. He turned out to be the right man for the right role. Turner seems obviously capable of carrying the series on his shoulders. He has a very strong presence and seems quite capable of conveying Ross’ strong will. But more importantly, he is doing a top-notch of portraying not only Ross’ virtues – the will to rebuild his life and especially his compassion for other – but also his personal flaws – namely his temper, his arrogance and self-righteousness (which were on full display during Jim Carter’s trial and his assumption that Demelza would immediately know how to become an upper-class wife), and especially his obsessive nature, which has been directed at Elizabeth ever since his return to Cornwall.

Considering that this article is mainly about the first four episodes of “POLDARK”, I am surprised that I have written such a great deal. To be honest, this series has really impressed me. I have not been this enthused about a story since John Jakes’ “NORTH AND SOUTH” series and its television adaptation. I suspect that it is not as highly regarded by critics, due to it being labeled a bodice ripper or a turgid melodrama. But for me . . . personally . . . “POLDARK” is more than that. Yes, it is a costumed melodrama. But it is also a good history lesson of life in Britain in the late 18th century. And more importantly, the melodrama and the historical drama serve as effective backdrops to a first-rate story filled with interesting and very complex characters – especially one Ross Poldark. I cannot wait to see how Debbie Horsfield handles the second half of this first season.

“SNOWDEN” (2016) Review

“SNOWDEN” (2016) Review

When I heard that director Oliver Stone was about to release a movie about tech whistleblower, Edward Snowden, I did not know what to expect. I still harbored memories of “THE FIFTH ESTATE”, the 2013 movie about Julian Assange. Unlike many others, I did not dislike the film. But I did not find it particularly impressive. But curiosity won in regard to this movie about Snowden and I decided to watch it. 

Structured as a flashback, “SNOWDEN” began three years earlier in Hong Kong, where Snowden had agreed to meet with The Guardian and Washington Post journalists and reveal the details leading to his decision to expose the National Security Agency (N.S.A.)’s illegal cyber-snooping on millions of unsuspecting American citizens. The flashbacks began with Snowden’s departure from the U.S. Army due to a major injury and covered his years with the C.I.A. and as a contractee for Dell, which manages computer systems for multiple government agencies like the N.S.A. The movie also covered Snowden’s profession and growing knowledge of the American government’s illegal use of cybertech affected his tumultuous relationship with girlfriend Lindsay Mills and his health for nearly a decade.

Personally, I thought “SNOWDEN” was a pretty damn good movie. It is not the first biopic or movie with a strong historic background that Oliver Stone had directed. And if I must be brutally honest, it is not his best. I cannot put my finger on why “SNOWDEN” failed to rank up there with the likes of “PLATOON”“BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY” and especially “JFK”. Was it the subject matter? One would think Edward Snowden’s actions would generate plenty of controversy. An N.S.A. contractor exposing the U.S. government for illegally spying on the American public would seems controversial. Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald’s screenplay even went into details behind Snowden’s discoveries – details that left many Americans outraged when news of Snowden’s leaks hit the newspapers and the Internet. The screenplay also detailed the emotional consequences that Snowden had suffered from his years with the C.I.A. and his employment as a N.S.A. contractor.

“SNOWDEN” also featured some pretty top notch performances from the cast. Performers like Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo, Nicholas Cage, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Olyphant, Scott Eastwood, Keith Stanfield, Ben Schnetzer, Logan Marshall-Green and Joely Richardson gave solid, yet colorful performances. I was very impressed by Rhys Ifan, who have a subtle, yet slightly sinister performance as Snowden’s C.I.A. mentor Corbin O’Brian. Shailene Woodley was excellent as Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, who nearly became an emotional victim of his profession. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt gave an outstanding performance as the titled character, Edward Snowden. His performance was subtle, emotional and very skillful . . . worthy of an acting nomination.

So, why did “SNOWDEN” fail to impress me? The performances were top-notch. The topic of illegal government surveillance struck me as not only controversial, but also relevant. Or perhaps the topic had ceased to be relevant with American moviegoers. Society’s taste in entertainment has grown disturbingly conservative over the past several years. It is possible that many moviegoers were more outraged over Snowden’s actions, than the government’s. Or perhaps Stone’s timing for the movie’s production and release was a year or two late.

But if I must be honest, “SNOWDEN” seemed to lack something . . . perhaps some touch of magic or energy that made some of his past films memorable to this day. In fact, the movie reminded me of the 2010 Best Picture winner, “THE KING’S SPEECH”. Many recall that movie was a box office and garnered a great deal of accolades. True. But aside from Colin Firth’s Best Actor win, I never thought it deserved its accolades. Both movies struck me as entertaining, yet unoriginal biopics. I suspect that the 2010 movie benefited from the public’s growing conservative taste in entertainment. And it did not help that “SNOWDEN” ended with an appearance from the actual man himself. I dislike it when a filmmaker does this. For me, it is like tacking on a “behind-the-scenes” featurette at the end of a film, giving the latter a weak ending.

Do not get me wrong. I enjoyed “SNOWDEN”. I found its topic very interesting and relevant. I was also impressed by the cast, which was led by the very talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role. Oliver Stone did a solid job in covering the years that led to Edward Snowden’s whistle blowing. And thanks to him, the movie featured some interesting moments from a cinematic point-of-view. But overall, “SNOWDEN” struck me as a not-so-dazzling effort from Stone. It struck me as a bit too typical for a historical drama and biopic.

“The Power of One” [PG-13] – 12/20

 

“THE POWER OF ONE”

PART XII

Cole appeared at Olivia’s apartment, later that evening, dressed completely in blue. He wore a dark-blue suit, a light-blue shirt and a royal blue tie that matched his eyes. 

“Well, you certainly look handsome, tonight!” Olivia gushed in her usual forthright manner. She gave him a warm kiss. “Almost military. New suit?”

Cole gave her another kiss. “That’s right. And you look very beautiful.” His eyes swept appreciatively over Olivia’s outfit. The redhead wore a light-green, long-sleeved silk blouse that contrasted nicely with her forest-green skirt that reached her calf. She looked beautiful and elegant. Then Cole glanced over her shoulder. “Where’s Cecile? Isn’t she ready?”

“Almost. She should be ready, soon.” Olivia closed the door. “Where’s Andre?”

“He’ll be down in a few minutes.”

Olivia smiled. “Making sure that he has the uh . . . ring on hand?”

Feeling slightly uneasy, Cole tried to dismiss the topic by giving Olivia a blank look. “Huh?”

“For heaven’s sake, Cole! The . . .” Olivia shot a quick glance at the door to Cecile’s bedroom. “. . . engagement ring. Hel-lo? Have you forgotten?”

He wished he had. At the moment, he had no desire to think about his friend making a step that could guarantee future unhappiness. A step that reminded him of a very painful phase in his own life. But Cole dared not say so. “No, I haven’t,” he finally told Olivia. “I guess . . . I guess I have other things on my mind. Like Wyatt’s nanny. Have you heard anything on those prints?”

Olivia shook her head. “Not yet. Forensics seemed to be taking its own sweet time. As usual.” Then she gave Cole a long stare. For a moment, the half-daemon wondered if his girlfriend had read his mind. Until she reached out and took hold of his tie. “You tie is needs to be straightened.” As Olivia proceeded with her task, she added, “By the way, what did you mean when you said it was just as well that Andre didn’t end up marrying Cecile?”

The question took Cole completely off guard. “Huh?” His eyes blinked momentarily. “Uh . . . what . . .?”

“When I mentioned that Andre might not propose to Cecile because he found out that she planned to break up with him,” Olivia continued, “you said it was just as well. Why did you say that?”

Green eyes regarded the half-daemon with an intensity that left him feeling wary. He loved Olivia with every breath in his body, but he deeply suspected that her Machiavellian mind could send the Source and the rest of the demonic realm trembling with fear. For some odd reason, Olivia’s question reminded Cole of those last hours spent with Raynor. Just as he did two-and-a-half years ago, he felt as if he was walking a fine line between safety and danger.

“Cole?” Olivia added. “Did you hear me?”

The redhead’s voice snapped the half-daemon out of his thoughts. “Yeah, I heard. Sorry. Um . . .”

“Um . . . what?”

Shit! “I just . . . um . . .” Cole took a deep breath. “Well, with Cecile determined to break up with him, I didn’t think Andre had a chance in getting her to marry him.”

Olivia said, “But the reason Cecile had planned to break up with him in the first place is because she thinks that he doesn’t want to get married. But he does. So, are you saying that Andre still doesn’t have a chance?”

Of course Andre had a chance in getting Cecile to marry him. Cole simply believed that their chance of a happy marriage did not seem very promising. Only he dared not say this to Olivia. Yet, one glance into her eyes and he saw a glimmer of realization in them. She knew. A sardonic smile curved her lips. “That’s okay. I think I already know the answer to that question,” she added.

“Olivia . . .” Cole began.

Her eyes narrowed. “What? Are you trying to say that I’m wrong? That you don’t believe that Andre and Cecile don’t have a chance at a happy marriage?”

Cole snapped, “I didn’t say that!”

“You didn’t have to,” Olivia retorted coolly. “I could see it in your eyes.” She gave his tie a sharp tug and turned away. “I guess I should have . . . considering the circumstances of your divorce.” Her tone sent a shaft of fear into Cole’s heart.

He tried to talk to Olivia – make her see that she had jumped to the wrong conclusion. Only Cole could not find the words to convince her . . . or himself.

At that moment, Cecile emerged from her bedroom. She wore a peach-colored silk sheath dress with a matching jacket. “Hey! What’s going on?” she asked.

Cole opened his mouth to speak, but Olivia answered first. “Nothing,” she said. “Nothing at all.”

Cecile regarded the couple with suspicious eyes. “If you say so.” She glanced around. “Where’s Andre?”

“He’ll be down in a minute,” Cole murmured. “He had to . . .” The doorbell rang. “Then again, that might be him.” He walked over to the door and peered through the peephole. Sure enough, Andre had arrived. Cole opened the door. “Hey buddy,” he greeted. “You’re just in time.”

Andre strode inside the apartment. “Is everyone ready?”

The others murmured yes and proceeded toward the door. Cole donned his coat and grabbed Olivia’s, as well. Before he could help her put it on, she snatched the coat from his hands and followed Cecile out of the door. Andre shot him a curious glance, as he sighed. With barely a few words, he may have seriously screwed up his future with Olivia.

————-

“Chris!”

The young whitelighter paused in his tracks, as he waited for the Elder to catch up with him. Keeping his emotions in check, Chris coolly demanded, “Yes, . . . Elder Wyatt? How may I help you?”

Leo frowned at the younger man’s sarcasm. “I need to talk to you,” he said. “Now. It’s about Valhalla.”

Chris immediately became alert. “Are we going to discuss this again? I believe the last time we had, you ended up accusing me of killing a Valkryie in order to send you there. And you were going to bring me before the Council. What happened?”

“I got distracted,” Leo retorted, looking slightly annoyed. And embarrassed. “But if what I had claimed isn’t true, why didn’t you volunteer your soul to rescue me, when Phoebe and Paige needed one? You’re their whitelighter.”

His cheek twitching with emotion, Chris shot back, “Like you said, I’m a whitelighter. I don’t fight demons. Remember?” The younger man turned his back on Leo and proceeded to walk away.

Leo’s voice echoed through the Realm’s hallway. “Are you in the habit of turning your back on an Elder?”

Again, Chris paused. With barely controlled anger, he replied, “No . . . Elder Wyatt. I’m not. Nor am I in the habit of killing Valkryies in order to trap you inside Valhalla. So, get that idea out of your head.”

“Really? Because I don’t believe you,” Leo continued with an unrelenting stare.

Sneering, Chris shot back, “Really? Because I don’t care. The other Elders seemed to think I’m doing a good job.” He started to turn away, when Leo grabbed his arm. “Hey!”

“The other Elders might regard you as some kind of savior from the future, but I don’t,” Leo growled. “I think you’re more of a menace. Why did you send me to Valhalla? Did you want me out of the way? Has it something to do with the Halliwells? Because if you harm them . . .”

Unable to control his temper any longer, Chris angrily wrenched his arm from Leo’s grasp. “Who are you to lecture me about my relationship with them? At least I’ve been there when they needed me! I haven’t abandoned a wife and . . . a son.” Leo’s eyes widened and Chris began to fear that he had said too much. “Or my charges,” he quickly added.

“I haven’t . . .” Leo began. He seemed less sure of himself, after Chris’ outburst. “I mean . . . I had no choice! Being an Elder involves great responsibility. Maybe you’ll understand, one day. Besides, I still keep an eye on Piper and Wyatt.”

Chris stared back at the Elder. “Then I guess you know that Wyatt has a new nanny.”

Leo’s eyes expressed shock. “What? When? Who is . . .?” His expression relaxed. “Oh. The elf nanny must have returned.”

“No, she didn’t,” Chris retorted. “Piper had hired a human. A Vodoun priestess named Donna Thompson. She was the one who helped Piper vanquish that demon, a few days ago.”

Shaking his head in disbelief, Leo murmured, “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe that Piper would hire some stranger to take care of Wyatt without my knowledge.”

Chris regarded the other whitelighter with disgust. Leo seemed so caught up in this latest news that he failed to notice that Chris had left.

———–

The two younger Halliwells and Jason arrived at the McNeill house around seven-fifty in the evening, where they found the cocktail party in full swing. Judging from the number of people inside the large drawing-room, Phoebe surmised that she and her companions were among the last to arrive.

Harry McNeill appeared before the trio with a ready smile. “Paige! You finally arrived.”

“Hey there!” Paige stepped forward, as she and Harry exchanged a brief kiss. “Actually, we almost didn’t, thanks to Phoebe.” She shot a dark look at the older sister.

Phoebe protested, “I can’t help it if I had a hard time finding my earrings!”

Paige rolled her eyes. “C’mon Pheebs! Your earrings were inside your jewelry box. I find it hard to believe that you didn’t know that.” The heat of embarrassment crept up Phoebe’s cheeks. Paige continued, “The truth is that she and Piper had an argument over who would take care of Wyatt, tonight. She didn’t want to leave.”

Jason frowned at Phoebe. “Is that why you almost broke our date for tonight? Because of Wyatt?”

“Piper’s working tonight,” Phoebe added. “I only wanted to make sure that Wyatt had someone to take care of him.”

Sighing, Paige retorted, “Phoebe, Wyatt has Donna. His new nanny. Remmeber?”

“Yeah, but . . .”

Harry spoke up, “Listen, why don’t you guys circulate around the room? Or get something to eat? In other words, start enjoying yourselves. I’m sure that you didn’t show up to have a family quarrel.”

Phoebe flashed Harry an embarrassed smile, linked arms with Jason and allowed him to lead her toward the refreshment table. As they began to fill their plates, Jason commented, “You know, you didn’t answer my question.”

“Huh?” Phoebe glanced at her boyfriend, as she dropped a canapé on the table – missing her plate completely. “What question?”

Jason placed a piece of poached salmon on his plate. “The one that involved our date and your nephew. Where you really planning to break our date in order to baby sit Wyatt?”

Phoebe’s mouth hung open. “Well . . . only if Piper hadn’t been able to get a babysitter.”

“I thought that Wyatt had a new nanny?”

“Well . . . yeah.” What else could she say? That she harbored suspicions that Wyatt’s nanny might be a demon who had nefarious designs upon him?

A sigh left Jason’s mouth. “Phoebe . . .”

The Charmed One placed a mushroom button stuffed with ground sausage on her plate. “What? What did I say?”

Again, Jason sighed. “Nothing. Except . . . sometimes I feel as if I’m competing with your family for your affections. It’s like you seem to wrap your whole life around your sisters, and now Wyatt.”

“Ja . . . Where did you . . .?” A nervous laugh escaped from Phoebe’s mouth, despite the shock caused by his words. A sickening feeling that Jason had guessed the truth, gripped her stomach. Then she shook her head. “Never mind.”

Jason continued to stare at her. “What? You won’t admit it, will you?”

Keeping her emotions in check, Phoebe replied, “Admit what? I’ll admit that you’re way off the mark. But that’s okay.” She gave her boyfriend a quick peck on the cheek. “I forgive you.” To her relief, Jason dismissed the matter and continued on another topic.

As they continued to fill their plates, Phoebe noticed Olivia speaking to some guy near the fireplace. And on the opposite side of the room stood Cole, seemingly engrossed in a conversation with Andre and some other man. The couple seemed oblivious to one another, yet Phoebe could sense frustration from Olivia – and fear from Cole. Cole in a state of fear? Phoebe allowed herself another glimpse of her ex-husband and saw him shoot a lovelorn glance at the redhead. There seemed to be trouble in Paradise. Phoebe wondered what had happened between the pair.

————-

Daley carried a blanket outside to the Halliwells’ backyard and spread it over a patch of grass. She glanced up at the quarter moon and allowed herself a shiver. It felt chilly, tonight. Hopefully, the ritual would not keep her outside very long.

Then she returned inside the house to fetch her tote bag. It contained materials that she would need for the ritual. Upon reaching the living room, Daley was stopped short at the sight of blue orbs floating above the floor. Seconds later, a blond-haired man in his mid-twenties appeared before her. Familiar with the sisters’ whitelighter, Daley realized that she was about to meet another. “Excuse me,” the sorceress demanded. “Who are you? And what are you doing here?”

Frowning, the man replied, “I’m Leo Wyatt. Wyatt’s father and Piper’s husband. Or soon-to-be ex-husband,” he added ruefully. “Are you Wyatt’s new nanny?”

Wyatt’s father? Daley cursed inwardly. The last thing she needed at this moment was to deal with her charge’s whitelighter father. Forcing a smile on her lips, the sorceress replied, “Yeah. I’m Donna Thompson.” She held out her hand.

Mr. Wyatt shook it, as his eyes scanned the room. “Um . . . nice to meet you. I just wanted to see if Wyatt was okay. Where is he, by the way?”

“Oh he’s fine,” Daley answered politely. “He’s in the Solarium. In his crib.”

Mr. Wyatt nodded. “Should you . . . uh, be leaving him alone right now? Especially after that last attack?”

“Don’t worry. Wyatt’s safe.” Daley sighed inwardly. “I’ll show you.” She led Leo to the Solarium, where they found the infant sitting in the middle of his crib and chewing on a blue rubber ball. “See? He’s safe. In fact, I had placed a protection ward on his crib.” She pointed to a sprig of mallow that she had tied to one of the crib’s bars. “In case another daemon or someone else tries to take him.”

The whitelighter’s face turned red. “Oh . . . uh . . . I see. Uh, where are Piper and her sisters?”

“Piper is at the nightclub, and the other two are at some business party.” Daley took advantage of his embarrassed state. “So, is there anything else you want to know?”

Mr. Wyatt’s next words took her by surprise. “No, but I guess you can leave for the night.”

“Excuse me?”

He continued, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. It’s just now that I’m here, I can take care of Wyatt, until his mother returns.”

Time to get rid of this dude! As she struggled to remain calm, Daley decided to use Piper’s marital status against the interloper. “Well, normally I would be happy to oblige, but I don’t think that Piper would be happy if I turned Wyatt over to you, without her knowledge.”

Mr. Wyatt opened his mouth, “Well, she didn’t tell me . . .”

Daley continued, “And to be honest, I’m getting paid extra for tonight.” She paused dramatically. “And I could really use the money.”

Fortunately, Wyatt’s whitelighter father crumbled under her pleas. “I . . . uh . . . I understand.” He bent over the crib to plant a light kiss on Wyatt’s head. “I guess you seem to be doing okay.” He glanced around once more. “So, I’ll leave him to you.” He smiled and offered his hand to the sorceress. “Nice meeting you.”

“Same here,” Daley replied, as she shook his hand. Then to her utter relief, Mr. Wyatt orbed out of the room. Daley heaved a relieved sigh. Finally! She then smiled at Wyatt and returned to her task.

END OF PART XII

“BAND OF ANGELS” (1957) Review

Band-of-Angels-1957-2.jpg

“BAND OF ANGELS” (1957) Review

I have been a fan of period dramas for a long time. A very long time. This is only natural, considering that I am also a history buff. One of the topics that I love to explore is the U.S. Civil War. When you combined that topic in a period drama, naturally I am bound to get excited over that particular movie or television production. 

I have seen a good number of television and movie productions about the United States’ Antebellum period and the Civil War. One of those productions is “BAND OF ANGEL”, an adaptation of Robert Warren Penn’s 1955 novel set during the last year of the Antebellum period and the first two years of the Civil War.

The story begins around 1850. The privileged daughter of a Kentucky plantation owner named Amantha Starr overhears one house slave make insinuations about her background to another slave. Before Amantha (or “Manthy”) could learn more details, she discovers that Mr. Starr had the offending slave sold from the family plantation, Starwood. He also enrolls her in a school for privileged girls in Cinncinati. A decade later in 1860, Amantha’s father dies. When she returns to Starwood, Amantha discovers that Mr. Starr had been in debt. Worse, she discovers that her mother had been one of his slaves, making her a slave of mixed blood. Amantha and many other Starwood slaves are collected by a slave trader and conveyed by steamboat to New Orleans for the city’s slave mart.

Upon her arrival in New Orleans, Amantha comes dangerously close to be purchased by a coarse and lecherous buyer. However, she is rescued by a Northern-born planter and slave owner named Hamish Bond, and becomes part of his household as his personal mistress. She also becomes acquainted with Bond’s other house slaves – his right-hand-man named Rau-Ru, his housekeeper and former mistress Michele and Dollie, who serves as her personal maid. Although Amantha initially resents her role as a slave and Bond’s role as her owner, she eventually falls in love with him and he with her. But the outbreak of the Civil War and a long buried secret of Bond’s threaten their future.

Many critics and film fans have compared “BAND OF ANGELS” to the 1939 Oscar winner, “GONE WITH THE WIND”. Frankly, I never understood the comparison. Aside from the setting – late Antebellum period and the Civil War, along with Clark Gable as the leading man, the two films really have nothing in common. “GONE WITH THE WIND” is a near four-hour epic that romanticized a period in time. Although “BAND OF ANGELS” have its moments of romanticism, its portrayal of the Old South and the Civil War is a bit more complicated . . . ambiguous. Also, I would never compare Scarlett O’Hara with Amantha Starr. Both are daughters of Southern plantation owners. But one is obviously a member of the Southern privileged class, while the other is the illegitimate and mixed race daughter of a planter and his slave mistress. Also, Gable’s character in “BAND OF ANGELS” is a Northern-born sea captain, who became a planter; not a semi-disgraced scion of an old Southern family.

Considering the political ambiguity of “BAND OF ANGELS”, I suppose I should be more impressed with it. Thanks to Warren’s novel, Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts’ screenplay and Raoul Walsh’s direction; the movie attempted to provide audiences with a darker view of American slavery and racism. For instance, Amantha’s journey from Kentucky to Louisiana as a slave proved to be a harrowing one, as she deals with a slave trader with plans to rape her, a traumatic experience at the New Orleans slave mart, Bond’s lustful neighbor Charles de Marigny and her attempts to keep her African-American ancestry a secret from a Northern beau later in the film. The film also touches on Rau-ru’s point of view in regard to slavery and racism. Despite being educated and treated well by Hamish Bond; Rau-ru, quite rightly, is resentful of being stuck in the role of what he views as a cosseted pet. Rau-ru also experiences the ugly racism of planters like de Marigny and slave catchers; and Northerners like some of the Union officers and troops that occupied New Orleans and Southern Louisiana in the movie’s last half hour. I also noticed that the movie did not hesitate to expose the ugliness of the slave trade and the system itself, and the fate of a great number of slaves who found themselves being forced by Union forces to continue toiling on the cotton and sugar plantations on behalf of the North.

There are other aspects of the movie that I found admirable. Not all of “BAND OF ANGELS” was shot at the Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank. A good of the movie was shot on location in Louisiana. I have to give credit to cinematographer Lucien Ballard for doing an exceptional job for the film’s sharp and vibrant color, even if the film lacked any real memorable or iconic shot. If I must be honest, I can say the same about Max Steiner’s score. However, I can admit that Steiner’s score blended well with the movie’s narrative. Marjorie Best, who had received Oscar nominations for her work in movies like “ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN”and “GIANT”, served as the movie’s costume designer. I was somewhat impressed by her designs, especially for the male characters, ironically enough. However, I had a problem with her costumes for Yvonne De Carlo. Nearly every dress that the Amantha Starr character possessed featured a low cut neckline that emphasized her cleavage. Even her day dresses. Really?

After reading a few reviews about “BAND OF ANGELS”, I noticed that some movie fans and critics were not that impressed by the film’s performances. I have mixed feelings about them. Clark Gable seemed to be phoning it in most of the film. But there were a few scenes that made it easy to see why he not only became a star, but earned an Academy Award as well. This was apparent in two scene in which the Hamish Bond character recalled the enthusiasm and excitement of his past as a sea captain and in another in which he revealed the “more shameful” aspects of his past. At age 34 or 35, I believe Yvonne De Carlo was too old for the role of Amantha Starr, who was barely into her twenties in the story. Some would say that the role could have benefited being portrayed by a biracial actress and not a white one. Perhaps. But despite the age disparity, I still thought De Carlo gave a very strong performance as the passionate and naive Amantha, who suddenly found her life turned upside down. Ironically, I thought her scenes with Sidney Poitier seemed to generate more chemistry than her ones with Gable. Speaking of Poitier . . . I might as well say it. He gave the best performance in the movie. His Rau-ru bridled with a varying degree of emotions when the scene called for it. And the same time, one could easily see that he was well on his way in becoming the Hollywood icon that Gable already was at the time.

There were other performances in “BAND OF ANGELS”, but very few seemed that memorable. The movie featured solid performances from Rex Reason, who portrayed Amantha’s Northern-born object of her earlier infatuation Seth Parson; Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who not only portrayed Amantha’s later suitor Union officer Lieutenant Ethan Sears, but was already on the road as a television star; Carroll Drake, who portrayed Hamish Bond’s introverted and observant housekeeper Michele; Andrea King, who portrayed Amantha’s hypocritical former schoolmistress Miss Idell; William Schallert, who had a brief, but memorable role as a bigoted Union Army officer; and Torin Thatcher, who portrayed Bond’s fellow sea captain and friend Captain Canavan. Many critics had accused Patric Knowles of bad acting. Frankly, I found his performance as Bond’s neighbor and fellow planter Charles de Marigny effectively slimy . . . in a subtle way. Ray Teal was equally effective as the slimy and voracious slave trader Mr. Calloway, who conveyed Amantha to the slave marts of New Orleans. The only performance that hit a sour note from me came from Tommie Moore, who portrayed one of Bond’s house maids, the loud and verbose Dollie. Every time she opened her mouth I could not help but wince at her over-the-top and if I may say so, cliched performance as Dollie. I think I could have endured two hours in the company of Prissy and Aunt Pittypat Hamilton from “GONE WITH THE WIND” than five minutes in Dollie’s company. I guess I could have blamed the actress herself. But a part of me suspect that the real perputrators were screenwriter and director Raoul Walsh.

I wish that was all I had to say about “BAND OF ANGELS”. I really do. But . . . despite the movie’s portrayal of the ugliness of slavery and racism, it ended up undermining its attempt. Quite frankly, I found “BAND OF ANGELS” to be a very patronizing movie – especially in regard to race. And the figure of this patronizing was centered around the character of Hamish Bond. Someone once complained that although the movie initially seemed to revolve around Amantha Starr, in the end it was all about Bond. I do not know if I could fully agree with this, but I found it disturbing that the character “growths” of both Amantha and Rau-ru revolved around Bond and their opinion of him.

One aspect of “BAND OF ANGELS” that I found particularly bizarre was Amantha’s opinion of Hamish Bond’s connection to slavery. At first, she simply resented him for being her owner. But she eventually fell in love with him and opened herself to being his mistress. Amantha certainly had no problems with that ridiculous scene featuring Bond’s field slaves lined up near the river side to welcome him back to his plantation with choral singing. Really? This was probably the most patronizing scene in the movie. Yet, when Amantha discovered that his past as a sea captain involved his participation in the Atlantic slave trade, she reacted with horror and left him. Let me see if I understand this correctly. Once she was in love with Bond, she had no problems with being his slave mistress or his role as a slave owner. Yet, she found his participation in the slave trade to be so awful that she . . . left him? Slave owner or slave trader, Hamish Bond exploited the bodies of black men and women. Why was being a slave trader worse than being a slave owner? Not only do I find this attitude hypocritical, I also noticed that it permeated in a good deal of other old Hollywood films set in the Antebellum era. Even more disturbing is that after becoming romantic with an Union officer named Ethan Sears, Amantha has a brief reunion with her former object of desire, Seth Parsons. He reveals that knows about her mother’s ancestry and her role as Bond’s mistress; and tries to blackmail her into becoming his. In other words, Seth’s knowledge of her racial background and her history with Bond leads Amantha to run back into the arms of Bond. And quite frankly, this makes no sense to me. Why would Seth’s attempt to blackmail lead Amantha to forgive Bond for his past as a slave trader? The movie never really made this clear.

I found the interactions between Rau-ru and Hamish Bond even more ridiculous and patronizing. Rau-ru is introduced as Bond’s major-domo/private secretary, who also happens to be a slave. Despite receiving education from Bond and a high position within the latter’s household, Rau-ru not only resents Bond, but despises him. And you know what? I can understand why. I noticed that despite all of these advantages given to Rau-ru, Bond refuses to give him his freedom. Worse, Bond treats Rau-ru as a pet. Think I am joking? I still cannot think of the scene in which Bond’s friend, Captain Canavan, visited and demanded that Rau-ru entertain him with a song without any protest from Bond without wincing. This scene was really vomit inducing. What made the situation between Rau-ru and Bond even worse is that the former made an abrupt about face about his former master during the war . . . all because the latter had revealed how he saved Rau-ru’s life during a slave raid in Africa and – get this – some bigoted Union Army officer tried to cheat Rau-ru from a reward for capturing Bond. The former sea captain/planter ended up leaving his estate to Rau-ru in a will. How nice . . . but I suspect he did so after Amantha left him. If not, my mistake. And why did Bond failed to give Rau-ru his freedom before the outbreak of war? Instead, Rau-ru was forced to flee to freedom after saving Amantha from being raped by Charles de Marigny. In Robert Warren’s novel, Rau-ru eventually killed Bond. Pity this did not happen in the movie.

Overall, I see that my feelings for “BAND OF ANGELS” is mixed. There are some aspects of the movie that I found admirable. I might as well admit it. The movie especially benefited from Lucien Ballard’s colorful photography, an interesting first act and an excellent performance by Sidney Poitier. Otherwise, I can honestly say that “BAND OF ANGELS” focused too much on the Hamish Bond character and was a bit too patronizing on the subject of race and slavery for me to truly enjoy it.

Lobster Thermidor

Below is an article about the dish known as Lobster Thermidor: 

LOBSTER THERMIDOR

Has anyone ever heard of the dish known as Lobster Thermidor? What am I saying? Of course people have. I have, yet I have never seen or tasted the dish in my life. 

Before I explain why I had asked that question, I might as well talk about the background and history of Lobster Thermidor. The recipe for Lobster Thermidor was created around 1880 by the famous French chef Auguste Escoffier at a French restaurant called Maison Maire.

The seafood dish consisted of a creamy mixture of cooked lobster meat, egg yolks, and brandy – usually cognac – that is stuffed into a lobster shell. Lobster Thermidor can also be served with an oven-browned cheese crust, usually Gruyère. Once all of this has been prepared, the dish is topped with a sauce made from mustard (usually powdered).

The Maison Maire restaurant, where Escoffier created the dish, was located near a theater called the Comédie-Française. In January 1891, a play written by Victorien Sardou called “Thermidor” opened at the Comédie-Française. It took its name from a summer month in the French Republican Calendar, during which the Thermidorian Reaction occurred, overthrowing Robespierre and ending the Reign of Terror. The owner of the Maison Maire, Monsieur Paillard, renamed Escoffer’s dish “Lobster Thermidor” after Sardou’s play became a hit. However, due to the expensive and extensive preparation involved in Lobster Thermidor, its appearance on restaurant menus have declined over the years and is now usually prepared for special occasions.

Below is a recipe for Lobster Thermidor from the Epicurious website:

Lobster Thermidor

Ingredients

2 (1 1/2-lb) live lobsters
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/4 lb mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons medium-dry Sherry
1 cup heavy cream, scalded
2 large egg yolks

Preparation

Plunge lobsters headfirst into an 8-quart pot of boiling salted water*. Loosely cover pot and cook lobsters over moderately high heat 9 minutes from time they enter water, then transfer with tongs to sink to cool.

When lobsters are cool enough to handle, twist off claws and crack them, then remove meat. Halve lobsters lengthwise with kitchen shears, beginning from tail end, then remove tail meat, reserving shells. Cut all lobster meat into 1/4-inch pieces. Discard any remaining lobster innards, then rinse and dry shells.

Heat butter in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until foam subsides, then cook mushrooms, stirring, until liquid that mushrooms give off is evaporated and they begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add lobster meat, paprika, salt, and pepper and reduce heat to low. Cook, shaking pan gently, 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon Sherry and 1/2 cup hot cream and simmer 5 minutes.

Whisk together yolks and remaining tablespoon Sherry in a small bowl. Slowly pour remaining 1/2 cup hot cream into yolks, whisking constantly, and transfer to a small heavy saucepan. Cook custard over very low heat, whisking constantly, until it is slightly thickened and registers 160°F on an instant-read thermometer. Add custard to lobster mixture, stirring gently.

Preheat broiler.

Arrange lobster shells, cut sides up, in a shallow baking pan and spoon lobster with some of sauce into shells. Broil lobsters 6 inches from heat until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Serve remaining sauce on the side.

When salting water for cooking, use 1 tablespoon salt for every 4 quarts water.

TV Tropes on Grant Ward and Bobbi Morse

 

TV TROPES ON GRANT WARD AND BOBBI MORSE

While reading the “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” TV Tropes site on the Grant Ward character, this is what was written about his encounter with S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Bobbi Morse:

“Has killed the most named protagonists on the show, including Victoria Hand, Eric Koenig, and Rosalind Price. Furthermore, he successfully tortures and comes very close to killing Bobbi, likely the team’s biggest badass (and Hunter as well, for that matter). While he ultimately fails in killing her, he succeeds in heavily injuring her to the point of breaking her morale in her job. It’s unlikely Bobbi has ever faced anything else like that in her career.”

Apparently, the writer of this passage failed to remember that it was Ward who had great difficulty with Bobbi.  TV TROPES also failed to recall that Ward had needed Kara Palamas/Agent 13’s help to defeat a wounded Bobbi in their fight in the Season Two episode, (2.22/2.23) “S.O.S.”.  Aside from Melinda May, Ward probably never met anyone like Bobbi Morse.  And TV Tropes failed to realize this.

The TV Tropes passage must have been written by a man, who was impressed by Ward’s testosterone level.

 

“The Power of One” [PG-13] – 11/20

“THE POWER OF ONE”

PART XI

Daley took a deep breath, as she faced the oval mirror inside her bedroom. Today marked the beginning of the first quarter moon. The day in which she will, hopefully, be the possessor of the most powerful magic in existence. Thanks to a nine month-old baby. Once she possesses Wyatt’s powers, no being in existence – human, daemon or otherwise – would be able to prevent her from achieving her goals.

After another gust of breath escaped from her mouth, Daley turned away from the mirror. She donned her coat, grabbed her purse and tote bag, and left. Several minutes later, she was driving along the streets of San Francisco, contemplating on the turmoil inside the Halliwell household, yesterday. And how close her plans for tonight were nearly stonewalled . . . .

———

Last night at 6:45 pm . . . “I’m sorry, Piper, but I can’t,” the youngest Halliwell declared. “I’ve been invited by Harry to attend his parents’ party, tomorrow night.”

Daley, who had just finished babysitting Wyatt for the day, hovered nearby, as she donned her coat. She realized that Paige had referred to Harry McNeill, the younger brother of that red-haired witch she had met the other day.

A rueful expression appeared on Piper’s face. “Dammit! I guess I’ll have to ask Phoebe if she won’t mind babysitting Wyatt for two days in a row. She doesn’t have anything planned with Jason for tomorrow night, does she?”

“As far as I know, she doesn’t.”

At that moment, Phoebe burst through the front door. “Hi everyone!” She glanced at her two sisters. “What’s the big powwow?”

Reluctantly, Piper replied, “I just found out that Paige is going to a party, tomorrow night. On the same night that I need a babysitter for Wyatt.” She turned to the younger woman with hopeful eyes. “You’ll be free, won’t you?”

Phoebe regarded her older sister with pity. “Oh honey, I’m sorry. But I’m also going to a party, tomorrow night. Jason is taking me to some cocktail party at the McNeills.”

Surprise illuminated Piper’s eyes. “So is Paige. She’s going to the same party.”

Phoebe frowned at the youngest sister. “You are?”

“Of course!” It became Paige’s turn to frown. “I’m surprised that you’re even going. Why would the McNeills invite Jason to one of their parties?”

Resentment flashed in Phoebe’s dark eyes. “What do you mean by that?”

“C’mon Pheebs! This is Jason, we’re talking about! Olivia’s old ex. He’s about as popular with her family, as Cole used to be with ours.”

Phoebe opened her mouth to retort. “You make Jason sound like . . .”

“I’ll help,” Daley interrupted, taking the others by surprise. “I’ll babysit Wyatt, tomorrow night.”

Piper regarded the nanny with grateful eyes. “Oh, would you? I don’t want to interfere with anything you might have planned for tomorrow night.”

“I don’t have . . .”

Phoebe quickly interrupted, “Oh, but Donna won’t have to babysit for tomorrow night. If it’s that important to you, Piper, I’ll stay home and take care of Wyatt.”

Piper frowned. “Well . . . I don’t know. What about Jason?”

To Daley’s dismay, Phoebe dismissed the notion with a wave of her hand. “I can call Jason and tell him to go alone. I’m sure that he won’t mind.”

“Well . . .” Piper began.

Daley realized that her plans for Wyatt were in serious danger. She had originally planned to take a chance and conduct the ritual at the fall of dusk – in the late afternoon. But when she realized that none of the Halliwells would be in the house tomorrow night, Daley saw a chance to conduct the ritual later at night. When the power of the first quarter moon would be complete. And now, Phoebe Halliwell threatened to ruin her plans.

“If you need a babysitter for tomorrow night,” Daley finally said, “I’m available. After all, it’s my job.”

The three sisters stared at the nanny. The latter noticed suspicion brewing in Phoebe’s eyes. Even Piper seemed slightly uneasy. “Well . . . I don’t want to ruin any plans you might have for tomorrow night,” she said.

“What plans?” Daley said with a shrug of her shoulders. “The last time I had any plans was for Halloween. And before that . . .” She paused dramatically. “Let’s just say that I lead a rather quiet life.”

Paige cheerfully added, “Well, that settles everything. Phoebe and I can go to the party.”

Piper continued to regard Daley in a thoughtful manner. “I . . . guess. Would, uh . . .” She paused, and Daley found herself wishing for the ability to read minds. A sigh left Piper’s mouth. “Yeah, I guess everything is settled. Since you’ll be working after hours, would a higher pay rate do?”

Daley struggled not to show her relief. “That would be fine,” she said with a polite smile. “What time do you want me to show up?”

“Around seven would be okay.” As Piper spoke, Daley shot a quick glance at the middle sister. Phoebe did not look at all pleased. Which made Daley feel a whole lot better.

The sorceress gave the oldest Halliwell a bright smile. “Seven o’clock, it is.”

————

Present time . . . Daley inserted her car into a parking space, in front of the Halliwells’ salmon-colored house. She switched off the engine and sighed. Time to begin her last day as Donna Thompson. After tonight, she would no longer have to play the double role of the struggling nanny, using the name of a dead woman.

Memories of the real Donna Thompson assailed Daley’s thoughts. Donna had been an old friend of Marc’s . . . and in her opinion, a real loser.

Upon Donna’s release from prison, Marc had suggested they use her as a runner for Daley’s narcotic operation. Despite the sorceress’ misgivings about the parolee’s drug habit, she had agreed to give the other woman a chance. For a while, Marc’s faith in the real Donna seemed solid. Daley assigned the other woman the job of shipping Methcathinone from her ranch outside of San Rafael to San Francisco. Within a year, Donna had performed well enough to allow the ex-con to transfer to a longer route – from San Francisco to San Diego. It took less than a year for Donna to finally screw up.

Daley and Marc had learned that Donna invited a former cellmate to accompany her on a ‘Cat’ run to San Diego. The former cellmate turned out to be a police informant for the DEA. Even worse, Donna had been sampling some of Daley’s product, when she encountered her old friend.

The DEA had arrested Donna just outside San Francisco. Using a little magic, Daley managed to retrieve her shipment from the DEA’s evidence room. Without any evidence, Donna ended up being acquitted from any charges of drug trafficking. Realizing that her runner’s drug habit might be a risk, Daley ordered Marc to substitute Donna’s ‘Cat’ capsules with drain cleaner. It took the other woman less than one hour to die. And within two months, Daley assumed her identity. When the occasion demanded. Like this latest situation with the Halliwell family.

Soon, Donna’s name would no longer be of any use to Daley. Since she was on the verge of becoming the most powerful sorceress of all time. And hopefully, the biggest drug distributor in the Western Hemisphere . . . if all went well, tonight. Daley opened the door and climbed out of the car. As she made her way toward the Halliwells’ narrow stoop, a satisfied smile curved her mouth.

————

Olivia glanced up from the stack of files on her desk, as Deborah Liu, a Forensics specialist for the Department, strode toward her direction. She noticed the large yellow envelope in the other woman’s hand and asked, “Is that for me?”

Deborah paused and stared at Olivia. “Huh?”

“The envelope in your hand. Is it for me?”

Shaking her head, Deborah replied, “Oh no, it’s for Marcus. Regarding the Benson case.” She continued past Olivia’s desk and delivered the envelope to the redhead’s colleague, Marcus Anderson. The two chatted briefly, before Deborah turned away and retraced her steps.

The moment the Forensics specialist came near Olivia’s desk, the latter demanded, “What about that glass I had given you, yesterday? Any prints?”

Deborah sighed heavily. “For God’s sake, Olivia! Stop worrying! Forensics will deal with it before the end of the day. Or maybe tomorrow.”

“I have to wait that long?”

“Yes, Olivia!” Deborah looked slightly annoyed. “Your glass is going to have to wait. My guys have a lot of stuff to examine.”

Olivia pleaded, “Could you start on my glass, first?”

Now openly annoyed, Deborah replied, “I’d love to, but I have a computer disc to examine for Giamarco and a .44 bullet for Howard. You’ll just have to be . . . patient. Okay?”

Realizing that she had no choice in the matter, Olivia nodded. Reluctantly. “Just let me know about the results of the glass, as soon as possible,” she added.

The Forensics investigator rolled her eyes and muttered something unintelligible – probably uncomplimentary – and moved on. Olivia leaned back into her chair and sighed.

————-

“Have you proposed to Cecile, yet?”

Mrs. McNeill’s question took Andre by surprise. He glanced up from the piece of leather that he held in his hands. “Huh? Oh . . . uh, not yet. I haven’t had a chance to be alone with her, yet. But don’t worry.” He flashed a reassuring smile at the elderly woman. “I plan to ask her, tonight.”

The elderly witch regarded him with thoughtful eyes. “You seem different, today. As if . . . you seem quite certain that Cecile will say yes. What happened?”

“Cole,” Andre simply answered. “He told me the reason why Cecile has been so distant, lately. And why she wants to break up. It seems that she’s ready for marriage. And she thinks that I’m not.”

“Oh! I see.” A smile illuminated Mrs. McNeill’s wrinkled face. “Well, it should work all right in the end. Once you present her with the ring . . .”

Andre sighed. “I only hope that you’re right. Even if Cecile does accept my proposal, there’s her family to deal with.”

“What do you mean? Vivian adores you.”

With a shrug, the houngan added, “Cecile’s mama may feel that way about me, but I wish I could say the same about the rest of the Dubois family. Sometimes, I think they enjoy throwing my past back into my face. I guess I only have myself to blame.”

Mrs. McNeill absent-mindedly removed the piece of leather from Andre’s grasp and began to finger it. “Perhaps you do. But . . . how long will Claude and the others keep bringing up your past? Forever? I mean, how can you have another chance in life, when they won’t allow you to have one?”

A snicker escaped from Andre’s mouth. “You know, that reminds me of something Cecile’s daddy once told me, after we had started dating. He told me about the Law of Spirit. My grandmother also told me about this. It’s basically the moral law in Vodoun – ‘Be truthful; do good.’ And an initiate who adheres to the Law of Spirit will be able to grow and develop spiritually. They also told me that violators of the law are punished severely by the Vodou and the Ancestors in direct proportion to their level of violation. Additionally, initiates are held accountable for their conduct not only in this life, but are also judged after death. You ever heard of ‘The Song of the Divine Judgement’?” Mrs. McNeill shook her head. Andre continued, “‘The world is a place of Trail. At the gates of the land of the dead You will pass before a searching judge, His justice is true and he will examine your feet, He will know how to find every stain, Whether visible or hidden under the skin, If you have fallen on the way he will know. If the judge finds no stains on your feet Open your belly to joy, for you have overcome And your belly is clean.’” He added with a humorless laugh, “Only, I doubt very much that my life is spotless enough for a searching judge to accept me into the land of the dead.”

“Andre,” the elderly witch said with a sigh, “I doubt there is one human being in existence, whose life is spotless. Including me.” She paused. “You know, this ‘Law of Spirit’ reminds me of Ammut, the Egyptian daemon and the Hall of Maat. You know, the statuette we had found, a few days ago?”

Andre chuckled. “Yeah, I remember talking about it just a few days ago with Cecile, Cole and Olivia.”

Mrs. McNeill continued, “As for Cecile, I wouldn’t worry. If what Cole says is true, she still loves you very much. Cecile doesn’t strike me as the type who would cave in to family pressure.”

Silence filled the shop. Andre unexpectedly found himself thinking about Cole’s past relationship with the Halliwells. The houngan hoped and prayed that his relationship with Cecile and her family would not suffer the same fate. He glanced at the leather parchment in the older woman’s hands. “Have you figured out what that is?” he asked.

She turned the leather parchment over, examining it. “Could be some kind of Native American artifact. Perhaps a piece of hide. Judging by these hieroglyphics, it might be an account of someone’s life. I have an old friend who could help me find out.” Then she changed the subject. “Speaking of artifacts, did any of you learn anything more about Caspiel’s amulet?”

“According to Olivia, this Donna Thompson didn’t have it when she and the others had dropped by the Halliwells’ house. Or she could have . . .” His cell phone rang. Andre plucked from his jacket pocket and answered the call. “Hello?”

A familiar voice replied, “Andre? It’s me, Janet. I got that information that you wanted.” The houngan immediately recognized Janet Colbert, a Tulane law student, who also worked as an operative at his detective agency. Although not yet a Vodoun priestess, Janet happened to be an experienced and talented magic practitioner. “From what Bobby found out,” she continued, “there’s a woman named Esmerelda Ross, who happens to live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She might be the person you’re looking for.” She paused. “By the way, isn’t that were we found the body of that daemon, a couple of months, ago?”

“Sounds familiar,” Andre replied. “And thanks, cherie. Tell Bobby that he did a good job.”

Janet replied, “Yeah, I will.” She paused. “Hey, have you asked Cecile, yet?”

“Not yet. Hopefully, tonight.” Andre added, “Now, get back to work. I’ll probably see you in about another week or so.” He finally hung up.

Mrs. McNeill stared at him. “What was that about?”

Taking a deep breath, Andre replied, “A lead. Remember me telling you about some witch who might be connected to that Nairn daemon?” The elderly woman nodded. “Well, I think I know who she might be.”

———–

Daley, accompanied by Marc, strode into the warehouse that she owned near the San Francisco Bay’s docks. She glanced approvingly at the stacks of crates that surrounded them. “Not bad,” she murmured. “Not bad at all. I guess that you managed to package them all in bottles?”

“Yeah. All of the ‘Cat’ has been packaged.” Marc heaved a sigh. “There’s been a lot of overtime this past week, since this shipment is the largest yet. And at such short no . . .”

Daley waved aside his misgivings. “Don’t worry. It’ll all be worth it, in the end.” She walked around, with Marc close at her heels. “Once I have that kid’s powers, I’ll send the crates to the rendezvous points for the others to make the exchange. Tony, Gloria and the others – they are at their locations, are they?”

“Yes ma’am.”

Nodding, Daley added, “Good.”

Her companion added, “What time will you be doing the ritual?”

Daley sighed. “I don’t know. I can’t guarantee what time when Piper and the others will be leaving. It’ll probably be around eight or eight-thirty. When I have Wyatt’s powers, I’ll come back here.” Daley shot a wry smile at her assistant. “Ought to be fun.”

Anticipation and greed gleamed in Marc’s eyes. “And profitable. Hell, I reckon we’ll be richer than ever.” He returned Daley’s smile. “Maybe you’ll end up running the cartel.”

Daley allowed herself one last glance at the crates. “That’s the whole idea.”

END OF PART XI

“POLDARK” Series One (1975): Episodes One to Four

d47df5333d320948b54ae0be829dff5d

“POLDARK” SERIES ONE (1975): EPISODES ONE TO FOUR

A few years ago, I had tried a stab at the first episode of the 1975-1977 series, “POLDARK”, which starred Robin Ellis. After viewing ten minutes of theatrical acting and dated photography in Episode One on You Tube, I gave up. 

Last summer, I read all of the hullaballoo surrounding this new adaptation with Aidan Turner in the lead. Utilizing Netflix, I tried my luck again with the 1975 series and ended up enjoying the first four episodes (I have yet to watch any further episodes) and quite enjoyed it. I enjoyed both versions so much that I took the trouble to purchase both the entire 1975-77 series and the 2015 series. In fact, I have decided to watch both versions simultaneously. But I am here to discuss the first four episodes of the 1975 series.

Series One of “POLDARK”, which aired in 1975, is based upon Winston Graham’s first four novels in the saga – 1945’s “Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787”“Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790” (1946), 1950’s “Jeremy Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1790-1791 and 1953’s “Warleggan (Poldark). Episodes One to Four seemed to be an adaptation of the first novel. The series begins with a young Ross Poldark returning home to Cornwall following military service with the British Army during the American Revolution. Ross spent the last year or two as a prisoner-of-war, unaware that he had been declared dead. He learns from a fellow coach passenger and later, his father’s solicitor that Joshua Poldark had died financially broke. More bad news follow with Ross’ discovery that his Uncle Charles Poldark had promised to sell his estate Nampara to the banking family, the Warleggans. And lady love, Elizabeth Chynoweth, had become engaged to Charles’ son, his cousin Francis, after receiving news of his “death”. The only possessions Ross has left are his father’s estate, Nampara, which is now in ruins, two mines that had been closed for some time and two servants – the drunken Jud and Prudie Paynter – to help him work the estate. Even worse, the Warleggans, who have risen from being blacksmiths to bankers, seemed to be gaining financial control over the neighborhood. In Episode Two, Ross rescues a miner’s daughter named Demelza Carne from a mob trying to use her dog Garrick as part of a vicious dogfight at a local fair. Taking pity on her, he decides to hire her as his new kitchen maid.

When I finally began to embark upon this series, I had no idea of its reputation as one of Britain’s most beloved period dramas. I discovered that “POLDARK” was regarded just as highly in the 1970s, as “DOWNTON ABBEY” had become some thirty-five to forty years later. Mind you, I regard Julian Fellowes’ series as the inferior series. My viewing of the first four episodes of this series made me finally appreciate why it was so highly regarded. It really is first-rate production. However . . . it had its problems. What movie or television production does not?

When it comes to an accurate adaptation of any novel or play, I tend to harbor ambiguous views on the matter. It depends upon how well it serves the story on screen or if it makes sense. Anyone familiar with Graham’s novels know that the 1975 adaptation is not accurate. I had no problems with the production starting with Ross’ stage journey to his home in Cornwall, considering that the novel started with a meeting between Ross’ dying father and his Uncle Charles. I had no problems with Elizabeth’s final reason for marrying Francis – to ensure that Charles Poldark would pay off her father’s debts. This little scenario even included an interesting scene in which Ross had volunteered to use his loan for Wheal Leisure to pay off Mr. Chynoweth’s debts in order to gain Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. Fortunately, she stopped him from committing such a stupid act. But I had a problem with one major change and a few minor ones.

My biggest problem with these first four episodes of “POLDARK” centered on the circumstances that led Ross to marry his kitchen maid, Demelza Carne. Apparently, the series’ producers and screenwriter Jack Pulman must have found Graham’s portrayal of this situation hard to swallow and decided to change the circumstances leading to Ross and Demelza’s marriage. In this version, Ross became drunk following his failure to prevent his former farmhand Jim Carter from being sentenced to prison for poaching. Demelza, who had been harboring a yen for Ross, decided to comfort him with sex. The following morning, Ross decided it would be better if Demelza no longer work at Nampara, so that he would not be tempted to have sex with her again. And what happened? Demelza eventually went to live with her father Tom Carne, now a religious zealot, and his new wife. She also discovered that she was pregnant. To make matter worse, Ross managed to convince his former love, Elizabeth Poldark, to leave his adulterous cousin Francis and live with him.

One, I found it very implausible that a man of Ross’ station and time would marry his kitchen maid. He might sleep with her . . . yes. But marry her? A “responsible” man like Ross would have settled money upon Demelza, find a man of her class willing to accept her as a wife and the baby as his . . . or both. He would not marry her. As for Elizabeth’s willingness to leave Francis for Ross . . . I really found this implausible. Elizabeth is too pragmatic to be willing to sacrifice her respectability to leave her husband for another man. Nor would she be willing to risk losing her son Geoffrey Charles, for Francis would have never allowed her to see the boy again. The only way this whole situation could have worked is if Ross had been in love with Demelza at the time. If he had, he would have never suggested that Elizabeth leave Francis for him.

There were other problems – minor problems – that I found in these first four episodes.h sex. The following morning, Ross decided it would be better if Demelza no longer work at Nampara, so that he would not be tempted to have sex with her again. And what happened? Demelza eventually went to live with her father Tom Carne, now a religious zealot, and his new wife. She also discovered that she was pregnant. To make matter worse, Ross managed to convince his former love, Elizabeth Poldark, to leave his adulterous cousin Francis and live with him.

One, I found it very implausible that a man of Ross’ station and time would marry his kitchen maid. He might sleep with her . . . yes. But marry her? A “responsible” man like Ross would have settled money upon Demelza, find a man of her class willing to accept her as a wife and the baby as his . . . or both. He would not marry her. As for Elizabeth’s willingness to leave Francis for Ross . . . I really found this implausible. Elizabeth is too pragmatic to be willing to sacrifice her respectability to leave her husband for another man. Nor would she be willing to risk losing her son Geoffrey Charles, for Francis would have never allowed her to see the boy again. The only way this whole situation could have worked is if Ross had been in love with Demelza at the time. If he had, he would have never suggested that Elizabeth leave Francis for him.

There were other problems – minor problems – that I found in these first four episodes. One episode featured Francis’ violent encounter with Verity’s wannabee suitor, Captain Blamey and the other, a fight between Ross and his future father-in-law, Tom Carne. And I thought Christopher Barry handled both scenes in a rather clumsy manner. Both situations seemed to be a case of “now you see it, now you don’t”. In Ross’ fight with Carne, the 17 year-old Demelza got into the melee (which did not happen in the novel), allowing her to spout some nonsense about women’s right in one of those “a woman’s travails” speeches that came off as . . . well, clumsy and contrived. It did not help that actress Angharad Rees seemed to be screeching at the top of her voice at the time. In fact, screeching seemed to be the hallmark of Rees’ early portrayal of the adolescent Demelza in an emotional state. Some fans have waxed lyrical over Clive Francis’ portrayal of Francis Poldark. So far, I have yet to see what the big deal was about. Other than three scenes, Francis spent these first four episodes portraying a cold and rather aloof Francis. I found it difficult to get emotionally invested in the character.

Considering all of the problems I had with Episodes One-Four, one would wonder why I enjoyed “POLDARK”. The series may not be perfect, but it was damn entertaining. Some have compared the production to the 1939 film, “GONE WITH THE WIND”. But honestly, it reminds me of the television adaptation of John Jakes’ literary trilogy, “North and South”. Both the Seventies series and the “NORTH AND SOUTH” Trilogy between 1985 and 1994 share so many similarities. Both series featured their own set of flaws, entertaining melodrama, strong characterizations and a historical backdrop. In the case of “POLDARK”, the historical backdrop featured Great Britain – especially Cornwall – after the American Revolution, during the last two decades of the 18th century. It is a period of which I have never been familiar – especially in Britain. I never knew that Britain’s conflict with and the loss of the American colonies had such a negative impact upon the country’s economic state. I had heard of the United States and France’s economic struggles during this period, but I never knew about Britain’s struggles. I also recently learned about the impact of the fallen tin and copper prices on Cornwall, during the 1770s and especially the 1780s. This economic struggle contributed to the slow decline of the aristocracy and the landed gentry for Cornish families like the Poldarks and the Chynoweths.

I thought this economic depression was well-handled by the production team. Not once did the producers, Barry or Pulman rush through Ross’ struggles to establish a new fortune. They also took their time in conveying the struggles of nearly everyone else in the neighborhood – the other members of the Poldark family, the Cynoweths, and especially the working-class. This struggle of the working-class manifested not only Demelza’s story arc, but also that of Jim and Jinny Carter in the first three episodes. This struggled boiled down to a heartbreaking moment in which Jim was caught poaching on a local estate and sentenced to prison – despite Ross’ futile efforts to help him. I noticed that although the Warleggan family loomed menacingly in the background, only one member had made at least two appearances in these first four episodes – Nicholas Warleggan. The most famous member of the family – George Warleggan – had yet to make an appearance.

And despite my complaints about the situation that led to Ross and Demelza’s marriage, I must admit that the emotional journey of Ross and the other leading characters managed to grab my attention. Being familiar with Graham’s novel, I am well aware that Ross’ return, Elizabeth’s decision to marry Francis, Ross’ meeting with Demelza, the marital fallout between Elizabeth and Francis and Ross’ inability to get over losing Elizabeth will have consequences down the road. I have to admit that “POLDARK” did a pretty damn good job in setting up the entire saga . . . despite a few hiccups. I found it interesting that Episode One solely featured Ross’ return and his emotional reaction to Elizabeth’s decision to marry Francis. He did not even meet Demelza until Episode Two.

These first four episodes also set up a conflict between Demelza and Elizabeth. I have mixed feelings about this. Personally, I rather liked how Debbie Horsfield managed to set up a quasi-friendship between the two women in the new adaptation. But since Demelza and Elizabeth were probably doomed not to be friends, I see that screenwriter Jack Pulman decided to immediately go for the jugular and set up hostilities between the pair. In Episode Three, a jealous Demelza had maliciously blamed Elizabeth for Francis’ infidelity, even though she had yet to meet the pair. I found this even more ironic, considering the episode also featured a minor scene in which Elizabeth actually made an attempt to emotionally reach out to Francis. He rejected her due to an assignation with some prostitute. And the whole scenario regarding Ross’ suggestion that Elizabeth leave Francis and Demelza’s pregnancy boiled down to a long scene in which Ross informed Elizabeth of the situation and her angry reaction. Which included calling Demelza a whore. By the end of Episode Four, Pulman and Barry had firmly established hostility between the two women.

Much has been said about the series’ exteriors shot in Cornwall. Yes, they looked beautiful, wild and almost exotic for Great Britain. Not even the faded photography can hide the beauty of the Cornish landscape. I also found John Bloomfield’s costume designs very attractive, but not exactly mind blowing. Also, a few of the costumes for actress Jill Townsend seemed a bit loose – especially in the first two episodes. As for the series’ score written by Kenyon Emrys-Roberts . . . not exactly memorable.

I might as well come to the performances featured in Episodes One to Four. Overall, I found them pretty solid. Although I came away with the feeling that some of the cast members and director Christopher Barry thought “POLDARK” was a stage play. Yes, I found some of the performances a bit theatrical. And I have to include some of the main cast members. I have always liked the Charles Poldark character – not because he was likable. I simply found him rather colorful. And I thought actor Frank Middlemass did an excellent job in conveying this aspect of Mr. Poldark Senior. Jonathan Newth gave a solid, yet intense performance as the barely volatile Captain Blamey. Both Paul Curran and Mary Wimbush gave very colorful performances as Ross’ slothful servants, Jud and Prudie Paynter. And yet, some of that color threatened to become very theatrical. On the other hand, Stuart Doughty gave a solid and subtle performance as Ross’ former servant-turned-miner, Jim Carter. I could also say the same for Jillian Bailey, who portrayed Jim’s wife, Jinny. By the way, fans of the 1983 miniseries, “JANE EYRE” should be able to spot Zelah Clarke (a future Jane Eyre) in a small role as one of the stagecoach passengers in the opening scene of Episode One.

There have been a great deal of praise for Angharad Rees’ portrayal of Demelza Carne, Ross’ kitchen maid and soon-to-be wife. And yes, I believe she earned that praise . . . at least in the second half of Episode Three and all of Episode Four. I found her performance very lively and when the scene demanded it, subtle. I thought she was outstanding in the scene that featured Demelza’s seduction of Ross. However, she was at least thirty or thirty-one when she portrayed Demelza in Series One. And her portrayal of a Demelza in early-to-mid adolescence struck me as loud and over-the-top. Thankfully, the screeching ceased in the second half of Episode Three. Clive Francis’ portrayal of Francis Poldark struck me as somewhat subdued or a bit on the cold side – except in two scenes. One of them featured Francis’ near death inside the Wheal Leisure mine, when he feared Ross would allow him to drown. Another featured his confrontation with Captain Blamey, the sea captain who became romantically interested in Francis’ sister Verity. In both cases, the actor came off as a bit theatrical. But I thought his performance in Episode Four, which featured Elizabeth’s announcement that she would leave Francis, seemed more controlled, yet properly emotional at the same time.

If I have to give awards for the best two performances in these first four episodes, I would give them to Jill Townsend as Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark and Norma Streader as Verity Poldark. It seemed to me they were the only two members of the cast who managed to avoid any theatrical acting in any of their scenes. Even when their characters were in an emotional state. One of Streader’s finest moments occurred in Season Two, when she expressed her feelings about Captain Blamey in a conversation with her cousin Ross. Despite expressing Verity’s emotions in a fervent manner, Streader still managed to maintain control of her performance. For me, Townsend’s finest moments occurred throughout Episode Four. From the moment Ross suggested that Elizabeth leave Francis for good, Townsend conveyed Elizabeth’s emotional journey throughout this episode – from surprise to hopeful to desperation, relief, happiness, disbelief, anger and finally bittersweet disappointment. I may not have approved the producers’ decision to include a scene featuring Demelza’s pregnancy and Elizabeth’s decision to leave Francis. But dammit, Townsend acted her ass off and gave the best performance from the entire cast during this particular sequence. One of her best scenes featured a one-on-one conversation with Streader’s Verity.

I have seen actor Robin Ellis in other movie and television productions, including 1971’s “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” and 1981’s “THE GOOD SOLDIER”. If I were to pick his best roles, I would choose two – the passive aggressive American John Dowell in “THE GOOD SOLDIER” and of course, Ross Poldark. The producers of the series selected the right actor to portray the volatile war veteran-turned-mine owner from Graham’s saga. He is Ross Poldark . . . of the 1970s that is. Granted, Ellis had his moments of theatrical acting. There were times during the first four episodes in which I had to turn down my television volume. But despite this, I thought he did an excellent job in capturing all aspects – both good and bad – of his character’s personality. Two scenes featuring his performance caught my attention. Ellis seemed a bit scary and intense when he expressed Ross’ reaction to being rejected by Elizabeth Chynoweth in Episode One. And I thought he gave a poignant performance in the scene that featured Demelza’s seduction of Ross.

There you have it . . . my impression of the first four episodes from the 1975 series, “POLDARK”. So far, this adaptation of the first novel in Winston Graham’s literary series had its share of flaws. But I feel that its virtues overshadowed the former. In fact, I found myself so captivated by Episodes One to Four that I feel more than ready to continue this saga. Onward to Episode Five!