“FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM” (2016) Review

“FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM” (2016) Review

After the 2011 movie “HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART II” hit the movie theaters, I had assumed that would be the last film set in J.K. Rowling’s “wizarding world of Harry Potter”. Her 2007 novel, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”was her last one in a series of seven books. But . . . lo and behold, Warner Brothers Studios, who had released the films based upon her novel, found a way to continue the series. The end result was the release of the recent film, “FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM”

“FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM” is based upon a 2001 book written by Rowling. Somewhat. First of all, the book is not a novel, but a “scholarly” book about the magical creatures found in the Harry Potter universe. Second of all, the book was published under the fictional pen name of one Newt Scamander. What Rowlings, who served as the film’s screenwriter, did was used the Newt Scamander pen name and transformed him into the movie’s main character. In the film, British wizard and “magizoologist” Newt Scamander arrives by boat to New York City in the fall of 1926. Newt has arrived in the United States to release a magical creature called the Thunderbird in the Arizona desert. While listening to a sidewalk speech given by a non-magical (No-Maj) fanatic named Mary Lou Barebone, one of his charges – a creature called Nifler escapes from his magically expanded suitcase, which contains other magical creatures. Even worse, he meets No-Maj cannery worker and aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski, and they accidentally swap suitcases. As Newt struggles to regain possession of his suitcase, Nifler and other magical creatures that have managed to escape; he runs afoul of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), thanks to a demoted auror named Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein, eager to regain her position. Between his search for his missing magical creatures, regaining his suitcase from Jacob Kowalski and the MACUSA; Newt has to deal with a creature called the Obscurus, which uses children as host bodies and is causing destruction around Manhattan and not attract the attention of Ms. Barebone and her abused adopted children – including the adolescent Credence Barebone.

When I first saw “FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM”, I was surprised to discover that J.K. Rowling was the movie’s sole screenwriter. I found this especially surprising, considering that one of the movie’s producers happened to be Steve Kloves, who had served as screenwriter for seven of the eight “HARRY POTTER” movies. And I must say that I thought she did a pretty damn good job. At first, I thought Rowling had created a disjointed tale. The movie seemed to possess at least three separate plot lines:

*Newt’s search for the missing creatures in his possession

*The Obscurus’ destruction

*Mary Lou Barebone’s anti-magic campaign

But Tina Goldstein finally exposed Newt’s magical suitcase to MACUSA, Newt’s plot line became connected to the story arc regarding the Obscurus. And both story arcs became connected to Mrs. Barebone’s anti-magic campaign when audiences learned that MACUSA Director of Magical Security Percival Graves had recruited Credence to help him locate the child who might be the Obscurus. Seeing how these individual story arcs formed to become part of one main narrative reminded me of the 2008 World War II Spike Lee drama, “MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA”. Speaking of World War II, I was happily surprised to learn that a major plot twist near the end of “FANTASTIC BEASTS” promises to lead to the featured a major plot twist that will serve as part of this new series’ main narrative about the upcoming Global wizarding war that will play out during the rise of fascism and the war. How clever of Rowling.

What else did I like about the movie? Frankly, the production designs. I was very impressed by Stuart Craig and James Hambidge’s re-creation of 1926 Manhattan. For me, among their best work proved to be their creation of a 1920s magical speakeasy operated by a goblin gangster named Gnarlack. Nor am I surprised that the pair managed to earn an Oscar nomination for their work. I was also impressed by Colleen Atwood’s costume designs for the film. One, she did an excellent job in re-creating the fashion of the mid-1920s. More importantly, Atwood put an interesting fantasy twist for the costumes worn by the magical characters. For some reason, the clothes worn by the American wizarding community of the 1920s seemed to be more tasteful and elegant than those worn by the British wizarding community of the late 20th/early 21st century. And guess what? Ms. Atwood also earned an Oscar nomination for her work. The only problem I had with the movie’s technical effects was Philippe Rousselot’s photography. Mind you, I had no problems with the film’s epic sweep. But I did not particularly care for the photography’s brown tint – a color that I personally found unnecessary and rather disappointing. I realize that the story is set during the middle of autumn. But was it really necessary to photograph the movie with an unflattering brown tint to indicate the time of the year?

I certainly had no problems with the movie’s performances. Eddie Redmayne did a marvelous job in portraying the introverted wizard Newt Scamander, who seemed to have an easier job of interacting with the creatures in his care instead of his fellow humans. I also noticed that in one hilarious scene, which involved Newt’s attempt to recapture an African Erumpent at the city zoo, Redmayne displayed a talent for physical comedy by engaging with a “mating dance” with the animal. Katherine Waterston, whom I last saw in the 2015 drama “STEVE JOBS”, gave a very intense, yet engaging performance as the demoted auror, Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein. I was impressed by how Waterston combined two aspects of Tina’s personality – her driving ambition, which has come close to undermining her strong penchant for decency on a few occasions. Dan Fogler gave a very entertaining and funny performance as the No-Maj cannery worker and wannabe baker, Jacob Kowalski. Not only did I find his performance very funny, he also managed to create a strong screen chemistry with both Eddie Redmayne and Alison Sudol, who portrayed Tina’s sister Quennie Goldstein. Sudol was an absolute delight as the carefree witch, who is not only proficient in Legilimens, but who also falls in love with Jacob.

I never thought I would see Colin Farrell in a “HARRY POTTER” film. To be honest, he never struck me as the type. But he seemed to fit quite well in his excellent portrayal of the ruthless and intense Auror and Director of Magical Security for MACUSA, Percival Graves. I was especially impressed with his performance in scenes that featured Graves’ interactions with Credence Barebone – scenes that seemed to hint some mild form of erotic manipulation. Speaking of Mr. Barebone, Ezra Miller was in fine form as the emotionally repressed Credence. The ironic thing about Miller’s performance is that at first, his character seemed slightly creepy. In fact, one could label his Credence a “young American Severus Snape with a bad haircut and no wit”. Thanks to Rowling’s screenplay and Miller’s performance, I came away with a portrait of a sad and abused young man, who hand channeled his anger at those who exploit him via magic.

“FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM” marked the first time in which I can recall a magical person of color as a major supporting role – namely the MACUSA’s elegant president Seraphina Picquery, portrayed by Carmen Ejogo. Unlike characters such as Dean Thomas or Kingsley Shacklebolt, President Picquery was not simply allowed to speak a few lines before being swept to the sidelines or off screen. Audiences received more than a glimpse of the glamorous Seraphina. I was also happy to discover that President Picquery was not portrayed as some one-dimensional character without any depth. Thanks to Ejogo’s skillful performance, she portrayed the MACUSA as a pragmatic and ruthless woman who could be quite ambiguous in her efforts to maintain order within the American wizarding community. I found myself equally impressed by Samantha Morton’s portrayal of the religious fanatic, Mary Lou Barebone. What really impressed me about Morton’s performance is that she did not resort to excessive dramatics to convey Mrs. Barebone’s fanatical . . . and abusive personality. Morton gave a subtle and intense performance that conveyed a portrait of a rather frightening woman – especially one who was not magical. The movie also featured solid performances from Jon Voight, Ronan Raftery, Josh Cowdery, Faith Wood-Blagrove and Ron Perlman’s voice. The movie also featured a surprise cameo appearance from Johnny Depp, whose character will play an important role in the sequel films that will follow this one.

I find it ironic that when I had first learned about the plans for “FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM”, I was against it. I thought J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers Studio had taken the Harry Potter franchise as far as it could go after seven novels and eight films. And yet . . . after seeing this film, I immediately fell in love with it. The movie had a few flaws. But I ended up enjoying it, thanks to the complex plot written by Rowling, David Yates’ solid direction, the visual effects and the first-rate cast led by Eddie Redmayne. And now . . . I look forward to seeing more films about the different wizarding communities during the early 20th century.

 

1500s Costumes in Movies and Television

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Below are images of 16th century fashion found in movies and television productions over the years:

 

1500s COSTUMES IN MOVIES AND TELEVISION

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“The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex” (1939)

 

 

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“The Sea Hawk” (1940)

 

 

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“The Adventures of Don Juan” (1949)

 

 

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“Elizabeth R” (1971)

 

 

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“The Prince and the Pauper” (1977)

 

 

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“Orlando” (1992)

 

 

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“Shakespeare in Love” (1998)

 

 

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“The Tudors” (2007-2010)

 

 

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“Wolf Hall” (2015)

 

Top Ten Favorite CHRISTMAS Television Episodes

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Below is a list of my favorite television episodes about the Christmas holiday: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE CHRISTMAS TELEVISION EPISODES

1 - Friends - 6.10 The One With the Routine

1. “Friends” – (6.10) “The One With the Routine” – Joey Tribianni’s girlfriend invites him, Monica and Ross Gellar to accompany her to the taping of “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve”. Meanwhile, Chandler Bing, Rachel Green and Phoebe Buffay try to search for the Christmas presents that Monica gave them, so they can give her appropriate presents in return.

 

2 - The West Wing - 2.10 Noël

2. “The West Wing” – (2.10) “Noël” – Christmas bells and music forces Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman to deal with the aftermath of being shot during an assassination attempt earlier in the season.

 

3 - Chuck - 2.11 Chuck vs. Santa Claus

3. “Chuck” – (2.11) “Chuck Versus Santa Claus” – An amateur criminal on the run from the police crashes into the Buy More and takes Chuck Bartowski, his sister Ellie, her fiance Devon and the Buy More employees hostage on Christmas Eve.

 

4 - Seinfeld - 6.10 The Race

4. “Seinfeld” – (6.10) “The Race” – Jerry Seinfeld meets an school old rival, who suspects that he had cheated in a high school race and wishes to re-run it. Elaine Benes finds out her boyfriend is a Communist, who convinces Cosmo Kramer to become one.

 

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5. “Magnum P.I.” – (4.10) “Operation Silent Night” – Christmas Eve holds some unusual surprises for Thomas Magnum, T.C. (Theodore Calvin), Rick Wright and Jonathan Higgins when their helicopter crash on a deserted island via that the a Navy is planning to use for artillery practice.

 

6 - Remington Steele - 4.09 Dancer Prancer Donner and Steele

6. “Remington Steele” – (4.09) “Dancer, Prancer, Donner and Steele” – The Remington Steele Detective Agency’s Christmas party is interrupted by three gun-wielding Santas, who take everyone hostage and threaten to blow up the building.

 

7 - Monk - 4.09 Mr. Monk and the Secret Santa

7. “Monk” – (4.09) “Mr. Monk and the Secret Santa” – Police consultant Adrian Monk investigates the death of a police detective who dies at a S.F.P.D. Christmas party after drinking from a poisoned bottle of port that was delivered to Captain Leland Stottlemeyer.

 

8 - Twilight Zone - 2.11 The Night of the Meek

8. “The Twilight Zone” – (2.11) “The Night of the Meek” – Art Carney starred in this classic episode as a drunken department store Santa Claus, who is fired on Christmas Eve before finding a bag that gives people anything they want.

 

9 - Homicide Life on the Streets - 3.08 All Through the House

9. “Homicide: Life on the Streets” – (3.08) “All Through the House” – When the squad face duty on Christmas Eve, John Munch and Stanley Bolander investigate the death of a streetside Santa Claus. Meanwhile, Meldrick Lewis and Megan Russert try to find a young woman’s killer. And Tim Bayliss tries to hustle his colleagues in cards during a quiet night in the squad room.

 

10 - Scarecrow and Mrs. King - 1.10 The Long Christmas Eve

10. “Scarecrow and Mrs. King” – (1.10) “The Long Christmas Eve” – Agency spies Amanda King and Lee Stetson’s violent encounter with two KGB agents lead to a long night of détente on Christmas Eve inside an isolated cabin.

Top Five Favorite Episodes of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season Three (2015-2016)

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Three of Marvel’s “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen; the series stars Clark Gregg: 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” SEASON THREE (2015-2016)

1 - 3.10 Maveth

1. (3.10) “Maveth” – In this compelling mid-season finale, both S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Phil Coulson and Agent Leo Fitz deal with Grant Ward and a team of HYDRA agents on the same distant planet that Agent Jemma Simmons had earlier found herself trapped on, after using the Monolith to travel there.

2 - 3.17 The Team

2. (3.17) “The Team” – While the agency’s Inhuman team embark upon an inaugural mission in this tense episode, Coulson learn from the captured HYDRA leader Gideon Malick that the Kree being known as Hive has the ability to control all Inhumans. Coulson has to decide whom Hive has assumed control.

3 - 3.14 Watchdogs

3. (3.14) “Watchdogs” – While on leave, Agent Alphonso Mackenzie and his brother have a violent encounter with a group of vigilantes called “the Watchdogs”, who desire to kill all Inhumans.

4 - 3.04 Among Us Hide . . .

4. (3.04) “Among Us Hide . . .” – After S.H.I.E.L.D. psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Garner is found, after being assaulted by HYDRA agents, his ex-wife Agent Melinda May and Agent Lance Hunter increased their search for Ward and his HYDRA cronies. Meanwhile, Coulson believes that ATCU Director Rosalind Price is hiding a secret.

5 - 3.05 4722 Hours

5. (3.05) “4,722 Hours” – This unusual episode chronicled the period that Simmons spent on the Kree planet, after being dragged there by the Monolith in the Season Two finale.

Stargazy Pie

Below is an article about the dish known as Stargazy Pie

STARGAZY PIE

One of the more . . . uh, interesting dishes that has recently attracted my attention is the British dish known as Stargazy Pie. Created in the county of Cornwall, the dish is also known as Starrey Gazey Pie. The dish is a pie made from baked pilchards (sardines), eggs and potatoes and covered with a pastry crust. Other variations of fish have been used for the pie. However, the dish is unique for having fish heads (or tails) protruding through the crust, so that they appear to be gazing skyward. This allows the oils released during cooking to flow back into the pie.

The pie originated from the fishing village of Mousehole in Cornwall to celebrate the bravery of a local fisherman named Tom Bawcock in the 16th century. According to legend, a particularly stormy winter prevented Mousehole’s fishing boats from leaving the harbor. The villagers were on the verge of facing starvation, as Christmas approached, for they depended upon the pilchards as a primary food source. Two days before Christmas, Bawcock had decided to face the stormy weather and head out into the water. Despite the difficult sea, Bawcock managed to catch enough pilchards and six other types of fish to feed the entire village. Some of the fish caught by Bawcock was baked into a pie, with the fish heads poking through to prove that there were fish inside. Ever since then, the Tom Bawcock’s Eve festival has been held on 23 December in Mousehole. During the festival, villagers parade a huge Stargazy Pie during the evening with a procession of handmade lanterns, before eating the pie itself.

However, there have been rumors that the entire festival was a myth created by The Ship Inn’s landlord in the 1950s. However, an author on Cornish language named Morton Nance had recorded the festival in 1927 for a magazine called Old Cornwall. He believed that the festival actually dated by to pre-Christian times, but expressed doubt that Tom Bawcock ever existed.

The original pie included sand eels, horse mackerel, pilchards, herring, dogfish and ling along with a seventh fish. In a traditional pie, the primary ingredient is the pilchard, although mackerel or herring was used as a substitute. Richard Stevenson, chef at The Ship Inn in Mousehole, suggests that any white fish can be used as the filling, with pilchards or herring just added for the presentation.

Below is a recipe for Stargazy Pie from the BBC Food website:

Stargazy Pie

Ingredients

For the Mustard Sauce
9fl oz white chicken stock
4½oz crème fraîche
1oz English mustard
1 pinch salt
½ tsp mustard powder
squeeze lemon juice

For the pie
5oz piece streaky bacon
16 baby onions, peeled
9oz all-butter puff pastry, rolled to 3-4mm thick
1 free-range egg yolk, beaten
4-8 Cornish sardines, filleted, carcasses and heads reserved
1-2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1oz butter
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
16 quails’ eggs

Preparation

For the mustard sauce, bring the stock to the boil in a non-reactive saucepan. Whisk in the crème fraîche, mustard, salt, mustard powder and lemon juice until well combined. Bring back to the simmer. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve into a jug and set aside.

For the pie, cook the bacon in boiling water for 20 minutes. Drain, then allow to cool slightly before chopping into lardons.

Bring another pan of water to the boil and cook the baby onions for 6-7 minutes, or until tender. Drain and refresh in cold water, then slice each onion in half. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400F/Gas 6.

Roll out the puff pastry until 3-4mm thick, then cut into 4 equal-sized squares. Using a small circular pastry cutter the size of a golf ball, cut out 2 holes in each pastry square.

Place each square on a baking tray and brush with the beaten egg yolk. Chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Bake the pastry squares in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until golden-brown and crisp.
Remove from the oven and set aside.

Turn the grill on to high.

Place the sardine fillets, heads and tails on a solid grill tray, brush with the oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill for 2-3 minutes, or until golden-brown and just cooked through (the fish should be opaque all the way through and flake easily).

Heat a frying pan until medium hot, add the butter and bacon lardons and fry gently for 3-4 minutes, or until golden-brown. Add the onions and stir in enough sauce to coat all the ingredients in the pan. Reserve the remaining sauce and keep warm.

Bring a small pan of water to the boil, add the vinegar and a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to a simmer.

Crack the quail’s eggs into a small bowl of iced water, then pour off any excess (there should only be just enough water to cover the eggs). Swirl the simmering water with a wooden spoon to create a whirlpool effect, then gently pour the quails’ eggs into the centre of the whirlpool. Poach for about 1-2 minutes, or until the egg whites have set and the yolk is still runny. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

To serve, divide the onion and bacon mixture between 4 serving plates. Arrange the sardine fillets on top, then place four poached quails’ eggs around the fillet. Using a stick blender, blend the remaining sauce until frothy. Spoon the froth over the top of the sardines and eggs. Top each pile with the puff pastry squares, then place the sardine heads and tails through each hole in the pastry. Serve immediately.

“CALIFORNIA” (1947) Review

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“CALIFORNIA” (1947) Review

I am a history nut. And one of my favorite historical periods that I love to study is the Antebellum Era of the United States. One of my favorite topics from this period is the California Gold Rush. I also love movies. But despite this love, I have been constantly disappointed by Hollywood’s inability to create a first-rate movie about Gold Rush. 

I may have to take back my comment about Hollywood’s inability to produce a first-rate movie or television production about the Gold Rush. There were at least three that managed to impress me. Unfortunately, the latest film about the Gold Rush that I saw was Paramount Pictures’ 1947 film, “CALIFORNIA”. And it did not impress me.

Directed by John Farrow, “CALIFORNIA” told the story of how California became this country’s 31st state. The story, written by Frank Butler and Theodore Strauss, is told from the viewpoints of a handful of characters – a female gambler/singer named Lily Bishop, a former U.S. Army officer-turned-wagon train guide named Jonathan Trumbo, a former slave ship captain and profiteer named Captain Pharaoh Coffin, and a Irish-born farmer named Michael Fabian. The movie starts in 1848 Pawnee Flats, Missouri in which female gambler Lily Bishop is ordered by the town’s female citizens to leave, when someone accuses her of cheating. She manages to join a wagon train bound for California, due to the generosity of a westbound emigrant named Michael Fabian. Unfortunately, the wagon train’s guide, Jonathan Trumbo and a few other emigrants object to Lily’s presence on the train. Lily and Trumbo become attracted to each other, but the latter’s refusal to face his feelings get in the way. Before the wagon train can reach the Sacramento Valley, a traveler reveals the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill to the emigrants. Despite Trumbo’s efforts, the emigrants abandon the train and rush toward the goldfields. Lily departs with another gambler named Booth Pannock, who injured Trumbo with a whip. By the time the latter reaches the Sacramento Valley with Fabian, he discovers that Lily and Pannock are employed by a former sea captain-turned-businessman Captain Pharaoh Coffin at his saloon in Pharaoh City.

Trumbo learns from the former emigrants that Pharaoh not only control the countryside – including the goldfields – that surround Pharaoh City. He also realizes that he is still in love with Lily, despite her growing relationship with Pharaoh. Lily realizes that despite her attempt to view Pharaoh as a man worthy of her love, he is still a ruthless and manipulative tyrant determined to take control of the entire California territory. Even worse, Pharaoh is haunted by his past as a slave ship captain and has a tendency to lapse into psychotic ramblings. Matters between Trumbo and Pharaoh becomes even more heated when the former decides to organize political opposition to Pharaoh by convincing Fabian to run as a delegate for the Monterey convention on statehood. As supporters for California statehood, both Trumbo and Fabian could end Pharaoh’s dreams of a West Coast empire.

One of the descriptions of “CALIFORNIA” described it as an “epic” account of how California became a state. It occurred to me that this could have been the perfect narrative for a two-to-three hour film or a miniseries. But a historical epic crammed into a 97-minute film? It finally hit me that the narrative for “CALIFORNIA” was simply too much and too vague for a 97-minute Western. The movie could have worked well if the story had been about a wagon train trek to California . . . or the Gold Rush experiences of the main characters . . . or simply a political drama about California becoming a state. But to cram all three potential narratives into a movie with the running time of a B-oater was just ridiculous. And if I must be brutally frank, this short running time, combined with so many subplots and an inability to focus on one particular theme really damaged this film. Another aspect about “CALIFORNIA” that really turned me off was the amount of songs featured in it. There were times – especially in the film’s first five to ten minutes – when I wondered if I was watching a Western or a musical. The movie’s opening sequence featured some overblown tune about pioneers with a montage of westbound emigrants on the Oregon and California trails. To make matters worse, not long after the dispersed Fabian-Trumbo wagon train reach California, audiences are subjected to another pretentious musical montage about those same pioneers being caught up in the search for gold.

And it seemed such a pity. “CALIFORNIA” really had a first-rate cast. Barbara Stanwyck, whom I consider to be one of the greatest actresses in Hollywood film history, was perfectly cast as the bad good-woman Lily Bishop. After all, this was a role that she had played to perfection in previous films. A good number of critics felt that the Welsh-born Ray Milland was miscast as Jonathan Trumbo. I would have agreed that he seemed miscast on paper. But . . . watching this movie made me remember that Trumbo was not some frontiersman who had been raised on the Western plains. He was an educated man, probably born and raised on the East Coast, and a former Army officer. And Milland not only pulled it off, he also proved to be a first-rate action man and generated a great deal of heat with Stanwyck, especially in scenes in which their characters engaged in some kind of psuedo-masochistic courtship. I was surprised to see that George Coulouris also had a strong screen chemistry with Stanwyck. He also did a great job in portraying the ruthless, yet slightly psychotic Captain Pharaoh. Although, I feel that the portrayal of his madness went over-the-top in one of the movie’s final scenes. And Barry Fitzgerald was perfect as the compassionate, yet strong-willed farmer, Michael Fabian. His character could have been a one-note good guy, but Fitzgerald infused a good deal of charm and energy into the role, making it one of my favorites in the movie. The movie also featured solid supporting performances from Albert Dekker, Frank Faylen, Gavin Muir and yes . . . even Anthony Quinn. I am reluctant to include Quinn, because of his limited appearance in the movie. He still managed to give an excellent performance.

“CALIFORNIA” had other virtues. One glance at the movie’s opening scenes pretty much told me that this was a beautiful looking movie. And the man responsible for the film’s sharp and colorful look was cinematographer Ray Rennahan, who had already won two Oscars for his work on 1939’s “GONE WITH THE WIND” and 1941’s “BLOOD IN THE SAND”. The artistry that Rennahan poured into his previous work was pretty obvious in the photography for “CALIFORNIA”, as shown in the images below:

california1947-c california1947-d

The movie also featured excellent work from the team responsible for the art direction, Roland Anderson and Hans Dreier; and the two set decorators, Sam Comer and Ray Moyer. I also enjoyed the costumes designed by Edith Head (for Stanwyck and the movie’s other actresses) and Gile Steele (for Milland and the movie’s other actors). Both Head and Steele did a pretty solid job of re-creating the fashions of the late 1840s, even if I did not particularly found them mind blowing. I certainly enjoyed Victor Young’s lively score for the movie. However, I have mixed feelings for the songs written by Earl Robinson and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg. I found the songs written for the movie’s montages – “California” and “The Gold Rush” rather pompous and overblown. But I have to admit that two of their other songs – “I Should ‘A Stood in Massachusetts” and “Lily-I-Lay-De-O” very entertaining.

I have come across reviews of the movie that accused John Farrow of uninspired or flawed direction. Mind you, I found nothing particularly special about his direction. I thought he did a solid job. But I doubt that he or any other director could have risen about the rushed and overstuffed screenplay penned by Frank Butler and Theodore Strauss. If the pair had stuck to one particular theme for this movie, the latter could have been a decent and entertaining piece of work. Instead, audiences were left with an overblown and pretentious story stuffed into a movie with a 97-minute running time. What a shame! What a shame.

“JERICHO” RETROSPECT: (1.08) “Rogue River”

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“JERICHO” RETROSPECT: (1.08) “Rogue River”

Once in a while, a television series would air an episode that proved to have a wide effect upon its remaining storylines. This certainly seemed to be the case for (1.08) “Rogue River”, the Season One episode of the CBS post-apocalypse television series, “JERICHO”

“Rogue River” was not the first episode to have a major impact upon the storylines for “JERICHO”. The series’ first episode, (1.01) “Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours” obviously had an even bigger impact, considering it featured the explosion of a nuclear bomb in nearby Denver and other cities across the county – an event that initiated the series’ premise. “Rogue River”, on the other hand, could have easily been a solitary episode in which the main premise – acquiring needed medication for gravely ill mayor of Jericho – could have been resolved by the end. Instead, the series’ producers and screenwriters Matthew Federman and Stephen Scaia used a minor incident from the episode to echo throughout the remaining Season 1 and most of Season 2.

The end of previous episode, (1.07) “Long Live the Mayor”, left off with Mayor Johnston Green’s collapse, thanks to an infection that had turned deadly due to the lack of proper medication. His daughter-in-law, Dr. April Green, reveals that the mayor needs a more specialized antibiotic – Cipro – to overcome his infection. Since the medical clinic in Jericho is dangerously depleted of needed drugs, the mayor’s sons Jake and Eric Green (April’s husband) need to travel to the nearby town of Rogue River and acquire Cipro from that town’s larger hospital.

“Rogue River” opened with Jake and Eric driving across the Kansas countryside toward Rogue River in the former’s muscle car. The pair spot a woman’s body sprawled across the side of the road. Eric wants to check on the woman’s condition, but Jake insists upon continuing their journey. He had spotted a second set of tire marks and concluded that the woman had been ambushed and murdered for her money and any supplies. Upon their arrival in Rogue River, the two brothers notice that the entire town had been abandoned. And when they reach the town’s hospital, they are fired upon by someone inside. Jake and Eric discover a wounded mercenary from the Ravenwood private security firm named Randy Payton and a doctor named Kenchy Dhuwalia. The two strangers reveal that Ravenwood troops were sent to Rogue River to assist FEMA in evacuating the town’s citizens. The difficulty in evacuating the hospital led one Ravenwood to snap and start shooting some of the patients. His actions led to an all out massacre of many other patients. Before the Green brothers can get their hands on the medicine they need, a large group of Ravenwood gunmen led by a man named Goetz arrive to confiscate the hospital’s remaining supplies.

The episode featured two subplots. One of them centered around the efforts of the Green women, Emily Sullivan and Heather Linsinski to keep the ailing Johnston alive long enough to receive the Cipron. Their efforts led Heather, a science teacher, to create enough ice from chemicals to keep the fever down in Johnston’s body. In “Long Live the Mayor”, businessman Gray Anderson had questioned Eric about the town’s newcomers. He made good on his threat to learn more about them, when he and new sheriff Jimmy Taylor appear at the Hawkins home to question Rob and his family about their decision to move to Jericho.

Earlier, I had pointed out how some of the plot elements in “Rogue River” end up having a major effect on some of the series’ future plotlines. This was especially apparent in Jake and Eric’s confrontation with the Ravenwood gunmen and their leader, Goetz. And this is one reason why I view “Rogue River” as one of the series’ finest episodes. But it occurred to me that even if the episode had merely been a stand alone, my opinion of it would have remained. “Rogue River” is truly a first-rate episode. Although previous episodes like “Long Live the Mayor” and (1.04) “Four Horsemen” hinted the devastating effects of the nuclear bombs that struck the country, “Rogue River” revealed the full force of those effects with scenes that featured the Green brothers’ encounter with a dead woman at the side of the road, and their experiences in Rogue River. Thanks to Federman and Scaia’s screenplay, along with Guy Bee’s direction, “Rogue River” was filled with enough danger and tension to keep any viewer on his or her toes.

But the Rogue River trip was not the only plot that impressed me. I was also impressed by the storyline that featured Gray Anderson and Jimmy Taylor’s interrogation of Robert Hawkins and his family. The interesting thing about this particular subplot is that Gray Anderson, who had no experience as a law officer or politician, seemed smart enough to use interrogation tactics that someone with that particular background would normally use. Gray was no dummy. Unfortunately, he had more than met his match in the mysterious Robert Hawkins and surprisingly, the latter’s very intelligent daughter, Allison. Between the two of them, they played Jimmy and especially Gray, like a fiddler. But as the episode proved, playing Gray did not prove to be an easy task. And I must say that for a subplot that featured no epic scenes or action, it was filled with a great deal of tension, drama and a little comedy as well. Very satisfying.

The subplot featuring the effort to keep Johnston Green alive before Jake and Eric’s return proved to be solid, but not particularly mind blowing. Well, I did learn one thing from this storyline. Heather Lisinski is a warm, vibrant and intelligent woman . . . who also seemed to possess nerves of Jello. It amazed me at how easily she nearly fell apart in her efforts to create ice to cool down Johnston. It was a good thing that Emily Sullivan managed to put her back on track. And if one might think I am exaggerating about Heather’s tendency to lose her cool, she did it again in Season Two.

I could pinpoint the performances that impressed me. But I must be honest, all of the cast members featured in this particular episode did. Skeet Ulrich and Kenneth Mitchell proved they had superb chemistry portraying the two brothers, Jake and Eric Green. I was especially impressed by their scene in which Jake’s past and Eric’s affair with tavern owner Mary Bailey were discussed. Lennie James continued his superb portrayal of the always fascinating intelligence agent, Robert Hawkins. Michael Gaston also impressed me with his portrayal of Gray Anderson’s paranoia. But I was really impressed by Jazz Raycole’s spot-on performance as Robert’s equally intelligent daughter, Allison. Darby Stanchfield gave a poignant performance in a scene in which her character, April Green, reveal to the unconscious Johnston that she was pregnant. The episode also featured outstanding performances from the three guest stars. Theo Rossi gave an appropriate performance as the frantic and remorseful Ravenwood soldier, Randy Payton. Aasif Mandvi gave the first of several outstanding performances as the talented, but alcoholic surgeon, Dr. Kenchy Duwhalia. And D.B. Sweeney proved he could a subtle, yet menacing villain as the leader of the Ravenwood gunmen, Goetz. In fact, Sweeney would eventually return and solidify his position as one of the best villains I have seen on television, hands down.

What can I say about “Rogue River”? Unless I am mistaken, it is considered to be one of the best episodes that aired on “JERICHO”. The episode literally vibrated with suspense and tension in two story lines that featured the Green brothers’ trip to the nearby Rogue River and Gray Anderson’s interrogation of the Hawkins family, thanks to director Guy Bee. The entire episode was well written by Matthew Federman and Stephen Scaia, and featured outstanding performances led by Skeet Ulrich, Kenneth Mitchell and Lennie James. If “Rogue River” is not that highly regarded, then I believe it should be.

“The Power of One” [PG-13] – 16/20

 

“THE POWER OF ONE”

PART XVI

Scott Yi entered the squad room, the following morning, holding a brown folder. “I’ve dug up all the information I could find on Daley Bakker,” he said, before dumping the folder on Olivia’s desk. “It’s not much. But then . . . her record is squeaky clean.”

Olivia opened the folder and read. She learned that Daley Bakker had been born on August 3, 1966; in Oakland as Daley Anwar. Her parents were also native Californians. However, her paternal grandparents came from Alabama in the early 1930s. Anwar earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology and Biochemistry from Calfornia State University in San Marcos in 1988; and a Master’s in Biochemistry in 1990. She worked for the Bloom Pharmeceutical Company as a chemist upon earning her Master’s. After three years, she left the company and opened her own herbal cosmetic company/shop called The Blue Orchid on Telegraph Road.

“Andre was right about her,” Olivia said. “She’s clean. Not one arrest, whatsoever. Not even for speeding.” The red-haired witch continued to read the file. “She married a man some fifteen years her senior in 1990. About three years later, he dropped dead from a heart attack.” Olivia gave her colleague a meaningful glance. “Heart failure at 42 years old. Naturally, Mrs. Bakker collected the insurance.”

“Did her husband . . .?”

Olivia finished, “Orlando Bakker. That was his name. He owned a small pharmacy, here in the city.”

“Hmmmm. And he had a heart condition?” Scott shook his head. “I bet the insurance company must have been taken by surprise.”

Olivia glanced at the folder. “Maybe they were. They had investigated Mrs. Bakker’s claim, stating that her husband did not have a heart condition, when he first bought his policy. But they couldn’t find any traces of foul play. About six months after her husband’s death, she formed The Blue Orchid. Not only does she sell herbal beauty products, she creates her own products, as well. Natural ingredients. Allegedly. Looks like her factory is located somewhere on Bayshore Boulevard.”

Scott murmured, “I’ll check it out.”

“I don’t know, Scott,” Olivia said with a slight frown. “This is a private matter and I don’t want to get you into trouble.”

But Scott refused to deny Olivia any help. “Look, I don’t mind. If this Mrs. or Ms. Bakker has that kid’s powers, she might end up as a threat to a lot of people.” Although a Taoist disciple, Scott also happened to be magic practitioner.

“I don’t know. It’s a good chance that Ms. Bakker has already abandoned her factory.” Olivia paused, as she contemplated another thought. “Then again, she might still be operating. And you could find yourself in serious trouble.”

Scott sat down in the chair next to her desk. “She has to kill the baby, doesn’t she? To make sure that the power transfer is permanent?” Olivia nodded. “Well . . . it looks as if you might have to lure her into a trap. Because that’s the only way I can see you helping Wyatt.”

Olivia nodded. “And to lure her, we’ll have to use Wyatt. But before we can allow her to get near him, we’ll have to find a way to reverse the ritual.”

“Allow?”

“That’s right. Allow.” Then she closed the file and leaned back into her chair with a sigh.

———-

The images flashed in Cecile’s mind, as she recalled the objects she had found inside that blanket, last night. Objects that had formed part of an altar for Daley Bakker’s ritual. Why had she used those particular objects for . . .?

“Cecile?” The elder Mrs. McNeill’s voice had interrupted the young priestess’ thoughts. “Is there something wrong? You seem a bit quiet.”

Cecile sighed. “I was thinking of that blanket I had found at the Halliwells’, last night. “You know, the one with objects for an altar.”

“Oh.” The elderly woman nodded. “Have you recalled something?”

In her quest to identify the ritual used to strip Wyatt of his powers, Cecile had dropped by the McNeills’ house for more information. The family library possessed one of the biggest collections of books and notes on the world’s mythologies . . . and on the supernatural world. So far, she and Mrs. McNeill had failed to find anything on what ritual that Daley Bakker had used. “No, I haven’t. And that’s the problem. I mean . . . I can think of one or two rituals for psychic transference. But they didn’t require an altar like the one I had found. That altar . . . I don’t know. I have the feeling that Don . . . I mean, Ms. Bakker had used a very old ritual.”

“Not surprising,” Mrs. McNeill commented. “Wyatt’s powers are very strong.” She joined Cecile in front of the bookshelf. “If she did use an old ritual, I’m surprised that she would know about it. A lot of old Celtic and Druid spells have been lost, since the early days of Christianity.”

Cecile continued to peruse the bookshelf. “It’s the same in Hoodoo. Many of our old rituals have disappeared in the past century or so. But we still know a good number of them.” She paused, as a book caught her attention. The title read “THE SUPERNATURAL WORLD OF THE IVORY COAST”. “Well, this looks interesting,” Cecile commented, as she pulled the book from the shelf. The publishing date inside read 1911. “Have you ever read this?”

The elderly woman took the book from the young priestess and stared at the cover. “Oh that! I remember Ken’s father – my father-in-law – showing me this book, years ago. He had bought it at a bookstore in London, just a month or two after the war. World War I, by the way.” She flipped through the pages. “Do any of these spells look familiar?” Mrs. McNeill handed the book back to Cecile.

“Let me see.” The Vodoun priestess sat down in the nearest chair and began to pour through the book. After nearly fifteen minutes, she finally came upon what she had been looking for. “This is it!” she cried. “I think I’ve finally found the ritual that Daley Whatshername may have used.”

———–

Later that afternoon, Cecile and Mrs. McNeill met with the others at the Halliwell manor. There, the Vodoun priestess revealed her discovery. “Some British anthropologist had spent several years at this village in present day Togo,” Cecile explained. “He recorded many aspects of the villagers’ lives – including the spiritual and the supernatural. This . . . Sir Jonathan Close had learned all about Vodoun beliefs and African folk magic rituals from a local houngan. Including a ritual that can transfer the essence or psychic abilities from one person to another. I think this is the spell that had been used on Wyatt.”

Piper, who held Wyatt in her arms, frowned. “Essence?”

Cecile looked at the oldest Charmed One. “Well, of course. Our psychic powers and our abilities to perform magic come from our essence. Right?” Before Piper could answer, Cecile finished, “Anyway, the items I had found in that blanket matches those that are to be used in the ritual found in this book. And since this ritual involves psychic abilities, Ms. Bakker must have appealed to Kalfu.”

“Who?”

Andre answered for Cecile, “He’s a loa. A spirit god associated with evil. Like Legba, he controls the crossroads of the spirit world. But for darker purposes. Legba is his opposite.”

“Which is whom I will have to summon to reverse the ritual,” Cecile added.

“Does the book show a way to reverse it?” Phoebe demanded.

Nodding, Cecile answered, “Don’t worry. It does. I just have to get similar items for the ritual. But since I’ll be summoning Legba for help, I won’t have to wait until dark to perform the ritual. However, it has to be performed either by the last day of the moon’s first quarter . . . which is tomorrow. Or we’ll have to wait until the last quarter moon begins.”

“We’re doing it tomorrow,” Piper insisted.

Cecile added, “And we also need to lure Donna or Daley back here. We’ll need a sample of her blood. Or hair.”

Cole snorted. “Good luck on that one,” he murmured.

“Can’t we just get a hair sample from her bedroom?”

Cecile gazed at the youngest Charmed One. “Can you get inside? I know you can teleport, Paige. But for all we know, Ms. Bakker might have a protection ward around her house.”

Olivia sighed. “In other words, we’ll have to lure her to the house, before we can get a blood or hair sample from her. Now that she knows about Cole, that won’t be so easy.”

“She’ll have no choice but to show up,” Andre commented. “Especially if she wants to keep Wyatt’s powers . . . permanently.” A light gleamed in his dark eyes. “However, I do have an idea.” He regarded Cole with thoughtful eyes. “Do you have to be in the same room with someone to use telepathic suggestion?”

Cole stared at his friend for a long moment. “No,” he finally answered. “No, I don’t. I can use it on anyone from a distance. But this Daley Bakker . . . she has Wyatt’s powers. I don’t know if I can . . .”

“Might as well try,” Andre said. “Besides, I have a feeling that your powers might slightly be stronger than Wyatt’s.”

Piper immediately spoke up. “You don’t know that for sure. After all, when Wyatt was born, all magic had ceased . . .”

“Didn’t Cole still have his powers that day? I had heard of a few others who also did.” And before Piper could respond, the houngan turned to the half-daemon. “Now, this is what I want you to do.” Andre then proceeded to reveal what he had in mind.

———

Daley stood before the liquor cabinet, inside her living room. “What do you guys want to drink?” she asked the two men, who sat on the sofa.

Marc replied, “Bourbon.”

“I’ll have a whiskey straight,” the second man answered. Like Marc, Clive Davis happened to be one of Daley’s lieutenants. He usually supervised the manufacturing and packaging of her Methacathinone. “Shouldn’t we be making a run for it, or something like that? Now that the cops probably know about us?” The other two stared at him. “I saw an unmarked police car outside the warehouse, this afternoon.”

Marc added, “I forgot. There was one parked outside your store, as well.”

Daley impatiently dismissed the men’s worries. “We’re not leaving,” she declared in a resolute tone. “Why should we? The only cop who knows about us is that red-haired bitch. And probably a friend or two on the force. She can’t say anything to the Department without bringing up magic. And if the cops do try anything . . . I’ll take care of them.” She allowed a cruel smile to curve her lips. Then her smile disappeared. “However, we do have two problems. Getting rid of Wyatt Halliwell. And that Cole Turner fellow.” She handed Marc a glass of bourbon. “Did your warlock friend know anything about him?”

After taking a sip of his bourbon, Marc sighed. “Oh Daley, I think we may have walked into a world of shit with this dude.”

“Meaning?”

Marc continued, “Have you ever heard of a daemon named Belthazor? From the Brotherhood of the Thorn?”

During her years of criminal activity, Daley had done business with various supernatural beings and organizations outside the Anansi Order. Including business with the Brotherhood of the Thorn. She had also heard of a daemonic assassin named Belthazor, who was said to be one of the best. “Yeah, I’ve heard of him. I also heard that he had been killed by these three witches who . . .” She stared at Marc. “Are you saying that Cole Turner is Belthazor? But, he’s supposed to be dead!”

“Yeah,” Marc said with a nod. “He was killed by the Charmed Ones. Apparently, he had fallen in love with one of them – Phoebe Halliwell.  A year after they had met, he lost his powers, became a mortal for a few months and then ended up being possessed by some dude called the Source, who was supposed to be the leader of some daemonic realm. The sisters killed the Source again, along with Turner. Who came back from the dead a few months later with more powers. In fact, he’s supposed to be more powerful than ever. My friend didn’t know whether he’s more powerful than the Halliwell kid. I mean, you.”

Recalling how the dark-haired man or daemon had easily blocked her electrokinetic attacks, Daley suspected that she might have stolen powers from the wrong person. “You know anything else about him?”

“He’s supposed to be half-daemon/half-mortal,” Marc added. “Turns out he and Phoebe Halliwell had been married for a few months. And he’s now involved with another witch. That red-haired cop, Olivia McNeill.”

Daley sighed. “That’s just great. No wonder I can’t teleport inside the Halliwell house. I bet he must have cast some protection ward over the damn place.”

Marc took another sip of his drink. “One last thing . . . he’s a close friend of Andre Morrell.”

“So, how do you plan to deal with him?” Clive asked.

Another sigh left Daley’s mouth, as poured herself a glass of ginger ale. “One problem at a time. I still need to get near Wyatt Halliwell and kill him. Does anyone . . .” She paused, as an idea came to her.

“Shape shift,” a voice inside her head suggested. “Shape shift into one of the Charmed Ones. Only then you will get inside the house and near the boy.”

Daley cried out, “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that before?”

Marc stared at her. “Of course . . . what?”

“I’ve figured out how to get close to Wyatt.” Excited over her new idea, Daley continued, “Shape shift. All I have to do is glamour. Shape shift into one of the sisters and enter the house. I wouldn’t have to worry about a protection ward.”

“And which sister do you plan to impersonate?” Marc asked. “What if she shows up before you can get rid of the kid?”

Daley stared at her two companions. “Well, Clive is going to make sure that she doesn’t.”

“Huh?” Clive stared at his boss.

“You, Angela and Ramon are going to snatch one of the Halliwells. Tomorrow is Saturday. They’re not going to stay inside that house forever. Grab her in some secluded spot and take her to the old lab on Kearny Street. Drug her, if you have to. Once I kill Wyatt, you can let her go.” Then another idea came to Daley. “Or better yet, kill her. I don’t care.”

Marc and Clive exchanged questioning looks. The latter asked, “Which Halliwell do I grab?”

Clive’s question reverberated within Daley’s mind for a few seconds. Then her inner voice spoke again. She replied, “Phoebe Halliwell. I hear that she sometimes work on Saturdays. She’s not a teleporter, like the youngest. And I’m sure that Piper will be at home with Wyatt. By the way, Phoebe knows martial arts, so be careful.”

“No problem,” Clive said. “I know it, myself. And I don’t think she’ll be in a position to fight back, for what I have in mind for her.” He paused. “Where do you want us to meet you?”

Daley strolled toward an empty chair near the sofa and sat down. “The BAY-MIRROR. I’ll call you first . . . just to make sure that she’ll be there. And if she does show up, make sure that someone is there to keep an eye on her, so that he or she can tell us when she’s leaving.”

Marc asked, “And what if she doesn’t leave the house?”

“Then I’ll use her boyfriend to make sure that he does.” Daley sank into the chair, as she took a sip of her drink. “And once Clive grabs her, I’ll simply take her place.”

END OF PART XVI