“POLDARK” Series Three (2017) Episodes One to Five

“POLDARK” SERIES THREE (2017) EPISODES ONE TO FIVE

Series Two of “POLDARK” ended on a dark note for me. The last six of its ten episodes featured the adaptation of Winston Graham’s 1953 novel, “Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793”. And if I must be brutally honest, I was not happy with it. Not one bit. Due to my low opinion of Series Two’s second half, I did not look forward to Series Three.

The first five episodes of Series Three focused on showrunner Debbie Horsfield’s adaptation of Graham’s 1973 novel, “The Black Moon: A Novel of Cornwall, 1794-1795”. That is correct. Following the publication of “Warleggan”, Graham waited twenty years to continue his “Poldark” series. Many fans of Graham’s novels consider “The Black Moon” and the two novels that followed as the best in the series. I certainly did. I still do.

Episode One of Series Three picked up after Series Two’s last episode. The episode opened with a very pregnant Elizabeth Warleggan and her husband George Warleggan galloping across the countryside. When it looked as if Elizabeth’s horse might be in danger of running away, up popped a concerned Ross Poldark, the series’ protagonist, to come to her rescue. Only Elizabeth was not in the mood to offer her gratitude. She remained angry over the events of late Series Two. Ross’ feelings for Elizabeth and the fact that she might be carrying his child, has not disappeared. While the War of the First Coalition raged on, Ross arranged for the secret wedding of his close friend, Dr. Dwight Enys to heiress Caroline Penvenen. Before the newlyweds could enjoy their honeymoon, Elizabeth went into labor, forcing Dwight to deliver the new Warleggan offspring, Valentine Warleggan . . . on the night of a “black moon”. And Caroline’s Uncle Ray Penvenen passed away on the same after giving his blessing to the newly married couple.

The first five episodes of Series Three also introduced several new characters. One of them happened to be Morwenna Chynoweth, Elizabeth Warleggan’s younger cousin. She was hired by the Warleggans to serve as governess to Elizabeth’s older son, Geoffrey Charles Poldark. Demelza Carne Poldark’s two brothers, Sam and Drake Carne, were also introduced in Series Three. Following the death of the Carne family’s patriarch, Tom Carne, the pair decided to seek their fortunes in the parish where Ross and Demelza resided. Not long after their introductions, both Morwenna and Drake became acquainted with one another and fell in love . . . fully supported by the young Geoffrey Charles. Other newcomers included the Reverend Osborne Whitworth, a young vicar from an local elite family; Tholly Tregirls, an old roguish friend of Ross’ late father; Sir Francis Basset, a high-born landowner who wants to sponsor Ross as a political candidate; Lord Falmouth, a local aristocrat also interested in finding a political candidate to sponsor; and Hugh Armitage, Dwight Enys’ fellow prisoner of war, a Royal Navy officer and kinsman to Lord Falmouth. However, there seemed to be a missing character in Series Three – namely Ross’ old servant, Jud Paynter. Due to showrunner Debbie Horsfield and the BBC deciding that dear old Jud would be underused, they gave actor Phil Davis the boot.

I noticed that a few story arcs had emerged between Episodes One and Five:

*Dwight Enys’ capture by the French and Ross’ efforts to find and rescue him
*Sam Carne’s efforts to establish a Methodist congregation in the parish
*The growing romance between Morwenna Chynoweth and Drake Carne
*The effect upon Valentine Warleggan’s birth upon the Trenwith household
*George Warleggan’s efforts to acquire political office

I like Dwight Enys. A lot. One of the reasons why I like him so much is that he has been willing to accept responsibility for his actions – namely his affair with Keren Daniels back in Season One. But for some reason, I could not get excited over Ross’ efforts to both find and rescue him from a French military prison. One, I knew he would be eventually rescued. And two, it is possible that I was not that interested in watching Ross Poldark play “Action Jackson in France” – not in Episode Three or Episode Five. One major result from the rescue mission proved to be the death of Captain Henshawe, Ross’ right hand man. Episode Five made a big deal of his death. So did the media and a good number of fans. However, I just could not summon any sense of grief on my part. I barely remember the guy. I am sorry, but I did not. All I remember is Captain Henshawe’s funeral, which Horsfield had transformed into a major production scene, and gave Ross another opportunity to engage in more of his brooding man pain.

And unless I am mistaken, I do not recall Ross’ first trip to France (shown in Episode Two) being that eventful . . . or long. Nor did it help that during Episode Five, Horsfield’s transcript had shifted between scenes of the actual rescue mission in France, and a soirée hosted by Lord Falmouth that the Warleggans, Morwenna, Demelza and Caroline attended. Why Horsfield made this narrative decision, I have no idea. It merely increased my disinterest in the rescue mission. The only aspect of this story arc that I found interesting were Horsfield’s additional scenes featuring Dwight’s struggles as a prisoner of war. I thought these scenes effectively conveyed the urgency for his rescue. But as I had earlier stated, I found it difficult to experience any interest in the actual rescue sequence.

Horsfield made even more additions to this story arc by having both Caroline Penvenen (Dwight’s lady love) and Verity Blamey (Ross’ cousin) discover that their significant others were missing at sea in Episode Three. However, this failed to drum up my interest in this story arc. And why did Horsfield allow Caroline and Dwight to get married in Episode One? The pair did not become man and wife until one of the early chapters of “The Four Swan”. And their wedding was a large one that included George and Elizabeth Warleggan as guests. So . . . what was the point of this secret wedding ceremony? So that Ray Penvenen would have the opportunity to give his blessing to the union before he died? How maudlin.

Then there was Sam Carne’s religious fervor and his desire to establish a Methodist congregation in the local neighborhood. I sympathized with Sam, especially when he tried to find a building for his growing congregation. But I found his earlier efforts to enforce Methodist worshiping practices during an Anglican service struck me as slightly off putting. There were moments when I found myself supporting George Warleggan’s opposition to Sam’s efforts – for a different reason. On the other hand, I found it odd that Ross had originally expressed no interest in helping Sam. He seemed to regard his two brothers-in-law as nuisances and mere extended versions of his father-in-law, Tom Carne. I should not have been surprised by Demelza’s willingness to help one of her younger brothers. But I was. For in Graham’s 1973 novel, she barely made any effort to help Sam find a building for his new congregation. I can only assume this was one of Horsfield’s excuses to push Demelza’s character to the forefront of this adaptation.

As for the younger Carne brother, Drake, an interesting story emerged, featuring his romance with Elizabeth Warleggan’s cousin, Morwenna Chynoweth. From a cold eye, Drake and Morwenna’s relationship seemed to be a remake of William Shakespeare’s play, “ROMEO AND JULIET”. None of the other major characters seemed to be interested in supporting this relationship, due to the ever lasting feud between Ross and George. Ross’ interest in Drake’s feelings for Morwenna seemed to be as non-existent as his interest in helping Sam. At least not until after Drake had accompanied him on the rescue trip to France in Episode Five. Apparently, poor Drake had to prove his manhood in order to attract Ross’ sympathy. George simply wanted to use Morwenna to further his own ambitions. Eager to find an elite sponsor to help him kick start a political career, George pushed Morwenna forward as a possible bride to a widowed vicar named the Reverend Osborne Whitworth. As his wife, Elizabeth naturally was willing to help him in his efforts.

Morwenna and Drake also received no support from Aunt Agatha Poldark and Demelza. Both had pointed out that marriage would difficult or near impossible between two people from different classes. I had expected this from an old snob like Aunt Agatha. Demelza’s opposition to the romance – at least according to Horsfield – proved to be mind-boggling and a little false to me. Especially since she had married a man outside of her class and supported another mixed marriage involving class – Dwight and Caroline. Drake and Morwenna’s only support came from Elizabeth and Francis’ son, Geoffrey Charles. However, the latter seemed more focused on Morwenna’s feelings, instead of Drake’s. Considering that Geoffrey Charles was only nine to ten years old at the time, the young couple’s desire to be together struck me as doomed. It did not surprise me that Morwenna eventually caved in and decided to end her romance with Drake. Her decision to end the romance led him to join Ross’ rescue expedition to France.

One of the aspects of Debbie Horsfield’s adaptation of “Warleggan” that I had despised so much was her handling of the night Ross and Elizabeth conceived their only son, Valentine Warleggan. I still despise it because Horsfield had transformed an act of rape on Ross’ part to barely disguised consented sex in order to save his reputation with the series’ viewers. In doing so, Horsfield managed to rob some of the tragic aspects of Elizabeth’s story – aspects filled with a gender theme. Thanks to Ross’ male ego and rage, Elizabeth found herself trapped in a situation in which she was forced to pass off his son as George’s. At least in the novel. In Horsfield’s version, Elizabeth is not really a victim of Ross’ ego, but merely of her own lust. In other words, Elizabeth brought upon this situation regarding Valentine upon herself. Horsfield managed to literally rob the gender aspect of Graham’s story arc for Elizabeth . . . for the sake of the leading man’s reputation. That a woman would write such a thing struck me as rather disgusting. But what Horsfield did to Elizabeth in regard to the latter’s relationship with Valentine lowered my opinion of the show runner even further. For reasons I cannot explain, Horsfield thought it would be more dramatic if Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan was portrayed as a cold parent, who resented her newly born son for forcing her to constantly lie to her husband George about his paternity. Elizabeth Warleggan . . . a cold parent? What a joke! I certainly do not recall her being a cold parent to either of her sons – not in the novels or in the 1975-77 series. More on this character arc later.

Horsfield also changed Ross’ reaction to Valentine’s birth. Following his rape of Elizabeth and Valentine’s birth in the novel, Ross went out of his way to ignore his second son. He wanted nothing to do with Valentine. Yet, Horsfield had Ross galloping after a pregnant Elizabeth in some effort to save her and make up for ignoring her following the night of Valentine’s conception. What on earth? On the night of Valentine’s birth – the night of the “black moon” – Ross spent most of his time silently brooding not far from Trenwith like some emotionally immature schoolboy. Aunt Agatha’s gloom-filled declaration that young Valentine was cursed, due to being born on the night of a “black moon” added what I believe was one ridiculous element to this story arc. There was another aspect of Ross’ character arc that I disliked and it had a lot to do with his relationship with Francis and Elizabeth’s son, Geoffrey Charles. In “The Black Moon”, young Geoffrey Charles had developed a hero worship of Drake Carne, while Morwenna Chynoweth was serving as his governess. This led him to be the sole supporter of the pair’s romance. However, Horsfield seemed to believe it was necessary to have Geoffrey Charles develop a hero worship of Ross . . . to the point that his attitude toward his stepfather reeked with as much snobbery as Ross and Aunt Agatha’s. And Geoffrey Charles’ relationship with Drake, which remained relevant even in the series’ later novels, seemed to have diminished a bit. Why? Why did Horsfield do this? To make Ross’ role in this adaptation of “The Black Moon” more relevant? To further ease the taint of rapist that clouds his character? Who knows.

Following the birth of his “son”, George Warleggan took the opportunity to kick start his political ambitions. I never understood why Graham had George follow this path. The character was an extremely wealthy man and the owner (or part-owner) of one of the most powerful banks in Cornwall. If anything, George has always struck me as the type who would financially sponsor a politician to serve his needs in Parliament. Instead, George attempted to court the attention of the likes of Lord Falmouth and Sir Francis Basset to finance his candidacy in Parliament. He had already managed to become a magistrate after Ross had rejected the position. George’s new role as a magistrate featured him handing down judgments – including one in which he dismissed rape charges against a scion of a high-born family. When I viewed this scene, I could only shake my head in a mixture of disgust and disbelief. One, I believe this . . . rape trial was never in “The Black Moon”. And two, it struck me as nothing more than a hypocritical attempt by Horsfield to erase the rape or rape-fantasy taint of Ross’ actions against Elizabeth in Series Two. George’s role as a magistrate also struck me as odd, considering that he seemed to be the lead magistrate during the Truro assize. Despite being the youngest . . . and least experienced man on the bench.

After becoming a magistrate, George eventually set his sights upon becoming a Member of Parliament (M.P.). His efforts to do so led to his attempt to push his cousin-in-law into a marriage with the Reverend Whitworth, who has blood connections to the Godolphin family. However, his and Elizabeth’s efforts at matchmaking hit a roadblock, thanks to Morwenna’s romance with Drake Carne and her refusal to regard the widowed vicar as a future husband. Instead, George turns to Lord Falmouth as a possible sponsor and manages to secure invitations for himself, Elizabeth and Morwenna at the peer’s soirée in Episode Five. Needless to say, between George’s clumsy attempts at character assassination of Ross and the news of the latter’s rescue of Dwight and other prisoners of war, his efforts to impress Lord Falmouth failed. Especially since one of those prisoners happened to be one Hugh Armitage, a relative of the peer. Horsfield’s portrayal of George’s embarrassment at Lord Falmouth’s soirée seemed rather heavy-handed to me. And I found it odd that Falmouth was introduced in the story by this point. He was first introduced in “The Four Swans: A Novel of Cornwall, 1796-1797” . . . and Horsfield has yet to finish her adaptation of “The Black Moon”. Very confusing.

Episode Four also featured a ridiculous sequence in which Caroline Penvenen tried to raise money to purchase food for locals starving from a drought and failed crops. In the novel, George and other local landowners donated money and the food was purchased. In this version, George did donate money to the fund. And then . . . oh God, I cannot believe I am writing this. Ross used the money to purchase goods that had to be smuggled on shore. This led to a contrived scenario in which George organized a troop of militia to catch and arrest Ross and the smugglers for free trading. Needless to say, George’s plans failed and he ended up looking like a fool. And I ended up shaking my head in disbelief in this heavy-handed and puerile attempt by Horsfield to villify George even further. Ever since Series Three began, Horsfield seemed hellbent upon transforming George into a one-note moustache-twirling villain. The complex man from Series One and Two seemed seemed to have disappeared. And poor Jack Farthing sometimes looks as if he is drowning in Horsfield’s gradual one-note portrayal of his character.

Some of the characters in the series seemed to have change for the worst in Series Three. Well, in Ross’ case, he had regressed to the Gary Stu hero from Series One and early Series Two. Well . . . not completely. His refusal to serve as a local magistrate (giving George the opportunity to fulfill the position) and unwillingness to help his brothers-in-law may have saved him from being a complete Gary Stu. And yet, I thought that Horsfield had focused a bit too much on Ross’ French adventures – especially in Episode Three. Most people would wonder why I found this unsatisfying. One, I found the portrayal of his first trip to France rather laughable. I do not know. Perhaps I see this regression as some effort by Horsfield to make him heroic and ideal in the viewers’ eyes, following his transgression against Elizabeth in Series Two.

Ross may not have completely regressed into a Gary Stu. But I thought Demelza Poldark had become the epitome of a Mary Sue during these first five episodes of Series Three. Before Series Three had aired in Britain, Horsfield had complained about the limited number of scenes featuring the leading lady in Graham’s 1973 novel. However, I suspect that Horsfield may have overdone it a bit . . . to the point of Demelza emerging as a world-class Mary Sue. The show runner had allowed Demelza become more involved in helping her brother Sam establish a Methodist church than she was in the novel. Instead of Caroline collecting funds to purchase food for the starving locals, Horsfield had Demelza joining her in this endeavor. Demelza also recruited the help of Caroline, her brothers and Sam’s Methodist congregation to divert George and the militia from Ross’ smuggling operation for the starving locals. I also noticed that Demelza seemed rather controlling in these episodes – especially toward Ross. I suppose this was Horsfield’s idea of Demelza paying back Ross for that night with Elizabeth. In fact, Demelza’s whole demeanor in these first five episodes seemed to be that of an early 21st century female, instead of a late 18th century wife and mother. Not only has Demelza become a Mary Sue, but also an anachronism.

For reasons that still astound me, Horsfield had added scenes of Demelza trying to convince Morwenna to end her romance with Drake. I found this mind boggling for two reasons. One, Demelza and Morwenna did not interact with each other until the second half of the 1977 novel, “The Angry Tide”. And two, Horsfield’s efforts to paint Demelza with as much sympathy as possible in these scenes did not work for me. Considering that Morwenna was Elizabeth’s cousin and Demelza remained hostile toward her former cousin-in-law, the series’ leading lady came off as hypocritical to me. Apparently, she believed there was nothing wrong with her, a former miner’s daughter and kitchen maid, to marry a landowner. It was okay for an heiress like Caroline Penvenen to marry an impoverished doctor from a working-class family. But apparently, her working-class brother marrying a young woman from an impoverished, yet upper-class family was a bad idea. If Demelza had simply used the current feud between Ross and George as a reason, I could understand. But she never did. According to Horsfield, Demelza believed Morwenna was too fragile to withstand a marriage to someone from Drake’s class. Many viewers bought this argument. I did not. Demelza did not know Morwenna well enough to make this assumption.

One of the aspects of Horsfield’s adaptation of “The Black Moon” that I found puzzling was her decision to switch back and forth between scenes of the rescue mission in France and Lord Falmouth’s soirée. What was suppose to be the connection between the two scenes? The only connection I could summon was that one of the prisoners rescued by Ross was Lord Falmouth’s kinsman, Lieutenant Hugh Armitage. And George learned about this piece of bad news (for him) from Elizabeth during the soirée. But George, Elizabeth and Morwenna were not the only guests at the soirée. Demelza and Caroline also attended. And from the moment when Demelza first laid eyes upon Elizabeth and George, she made a snide comment, criticizing the couple for attending a party during wartime. I do not believe Demelza could ever be more hypocritical than she was at that moment. Especially since she was also attending the soirée . . . during wartime. But Horsfield needed another moment to make George look bad and Demelza to seem more ideal. What is even worse is that many fans lapped up this shit.

WHAT IN THE HELL DID DEBBIE HORSFIELD DO TO THE CHARACTER OF ELIZABETH WARLEGGAN? Why did Horsfield inflict these extreme changes upon the character? Why? What was the point of portraying Elizabeth in this ugly manner? It was bad enough that Horsfield refused to allow Elizabeth to remain angry at Ross for the rape. Oh I forgot. We are supposed to believe that he did not rape her, despite the fact that he had literally forced himself on her,until the last moment. Instead, Elizabeth is angry at Ross for abandoning her, following that night on May 9, 1793. And here is where I shake my head in disbelief at Horsfield’s failure to remember that this story is set in the late 18th century and not the 20th or 21st centuries. I have already complained about Horsfield portraying Elizabeth as an indifferent and cold parent to her second son. Why did the show runner do this? Someone had tried to explain that Elizabeth was suffering from postnatal depression. For how long? She had remained indifferent to Valentine months after his birth – even when he was diagnosed with rickets. Are we supposed to believe that this negative portrayal of Elizabeth was supposed to make her interesting? I did not find it interesting. I found this portrayal heavy-handed and infantile. Right now, I find myself doubting Debbie Horsfield’s talent as a writer.

I am not stating that Elizabeth was an ideal or perfect person. She was not. Elizabeth was definitely guilty of supporting George’s efforts to convince Morwenna to marry the odious Reverend Osborne Whitworth. In the novel, Elizabeth genuinely thought Whitworth would be a fine match for Morwenna – being unaware of the man’s true nature. She also believed that an arranged marriage for Morwenna would work as well as her marriage of convenience to George had worked for her. And to be honest, I believe that Elizabeth did not want to get into a conflict with George, especially since they had only been married for two years. But this production seemed to hint that Elizabeth’s efforts to play matchmaker for Morwenna and Whitworth stemmed from her resentment and jealousy toward Geoffrey Charles’ regard for her young cousin. Which was never the case in the novel.

But there was one change to Elizabeth’s character that truly irritated me. Horsfield had transformed Elizabeth into an addict who relied upon laudanum and wine to help her endure her marriage to George. Despite her occasional bouts of insecurity, Elizabeth never had to resort to using drugs and alcohol to endure marriage to George or her life in general. Two, Elizabeth may have been insecure at times, but I have always regarded her as a strong-willed person, despite her “fragile” appearance. Three, she never had to “endure” being married to George. Elizabeth realized that George was no picnic and had his flaws in the novel. But she found her second marriage more satisfying than she did being married to Francis. Unfortunately, Debbie Horsfield seemed incapable of understanding this. And apparently, so did many fans. Perhaps Horsfield and the fans could not endure any character preferring marriage to George over Francis . . . or any Poldark.

And I cannot help but wonder if was this addiction story line Horsfield’s way of kowtowing to those fans who wanted Elizabeth punished for marrying the wealthy George Warleggan in the first place? Was it really a crime to marry someone for money . . . especially when that person is aware that he or she has been chosen for their wealth? In the late 18th century, when such a marriage was common? Once more, Horsfield failed to understand that the “POLDARK” series was set in the Georgian Era and not in modern times? Ross did not marry Demelza for love. I believe he had married her as some middle-finger gesture to his upper-class neighbors, following Jim Carter’s conviction for poaching. And he would have never married her back in Series One if Demelza had not seduced him in the first place. Demelza’s reason for her act of seduction had more to do with giving Ross a reason to keep her at Nampara (as a kitchen maid and mistress) and not send her back to the home of her abusive father. Yet, neither Ross or Demelza has ever been condemned for their actions by Winston Graham, the producers from the 1970s series, Debbie Horsfield or the saga’s fans. Personally, I found Elizabeth’s reason to marry George a lot more practically and easier to understand than Ross’ reason for marrying Demelza.

Most of the performances in these first five episodes of Series Three seemed to be solid. I noticed that Robin Ellis made another appearance as the Reverend Doctor Halse in a scene in which he expressed regret at Ray Penvenen’s death. I like Ellis, but I find myself wondering over his continued appearances in this series, considering that Halse is no longer relevant in the saga, by this point. Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson were competent as usual. But there were moments when I found Tomlinson’s portrayal of Demelza rather anachronistic. I do not know whether to blame the actress or Horsfield’s writing. I read somewhere that the BBC and Horsfield had fired Phil Davis, who had portrayed Jud Paynter, because they felt that his character was no longer relevant. I found this assumption rather odd, considering that Jud played a major role in a plot development in “The Four Swans”. Ellise Chappell, Harry Richardson, Harry Marcus, Josh Whitehouse, Tom York and especially veteran James Wilby all made solid debuts in the series. But I found Christian Brassington’s debut as the slimy Reverend Osborne Whitworth rather fascinating. I understood he gained a few pounds for the role. I hope he will be able to lose those pounds, once the series ends. However, I have to give special kudos to Jack Farthing and Heida Reed for their portrayals of George and Elizabeth Warleggan. It must have been difficult for both actors to rise above the shitty material dumped into their laps by Horsfield. They may have struggled at times, but in the end, I believe they may have risen above it.

You know, it is one thing to make occasional changes, while adapting a novel, play, etc. for a movie or television production. With her adaptation of “The Black Moon”, Debbie Horsfield no longer seemed to be making the occasional changes. She seemed to be rewriting Winston Graham’s 1973 novel into this barely recognizable tale reeking with ham-fisted melodrama. And I find myself wondering know how long I can put up with this crap.

“Strange Bedfellows” [R] – Part 2

“STRANGE BEDFELLOWS”

Part 2

PRESENT DAY . . . Inside the Daily Grill restaurant, the waiter delivered the couple’s food. He politely asked, “Will there be anything else?”

Cole shook his head. “Nothing, thanks.” The waiter nodded politely and walked away.

Olivia took a sip of her iced tea. “So, that’s how you and Idril first met.” She paused briefly. “You know, I have this strange feeling that Raynor had wanted you to meet her. Was it a set up?”

“Of course it was,” Cole replied. “Only I didn’t realize it at the time. Not even when I met Idril for the second time.”

“At Raynor’s wedding?”

Cole shook his head. “Oh no. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall seeing her at the wedding.” He snorted derisively. “Now, I know why.”

Olivia asked, “So, when did you two meet again?”

A sigh left Cole’s mouth. “In London. About a week after Raynor’s wedding.”

————-

JUNE 5, 1969; LONDON, ENGLAND . . . Cole and Tarkin passed through a beaded curtain, as they entered a semi-dark nightclub, barely lit by strobe lights and neon signs glaring from the walls. A gaudily dressed disk jockey stood behind a record console that provided music for the numerous patrons who filled the club.

“What did I tell you about this place?” Tarkin shouted above the music. “It’s really happening!”

Cole shouted back, “It’s not bad! Although I would have preferred a jazz club.”

Disbelief shone in the other daemon’s dark eyes. “Are you serious? Would you find ‘that’ at a jazz club?” He pointed at a strawberry blond woman dancing on a platform in the middle of the dance floor. Actually, she seemed to be slithering around a pole that rose from the platform’s middle. She wore white hot pants, knee-high boots, a royal blue knitted vest than enabled anyone to see her full, pink-tipped breasts.

Coolly, the half-daemon observed the semi-topless woman and felt his body grow hard. “Not bad,” he murmured.

“What?”

Heaving a sigh, Cole shouted, “I said, NOT BAD!”

Tarkin retorted, “Are you kidding? She’s magnificent! Have you ever seen a body like that? She’s the reason why I brought you here!”

Cole felt inclined to tell his friend that their trip had been wasted. But as he continued to observe the blond, he had to admit that Tarkin had been right. She did look quite magnificent. He wondered if her performance in bed was as vibrant as she was on the dance floor. But he remained silent and followed Tarkin into the club. The two daemons found seats at the long bar. After they had ordered their drinks, Cole said to his friend, “You’ve been here, before. Haven’t you?”

Nodding, Tarkin said, “Of course. I always come here, when I’m in London.” His gaze returned to the blond dancer. “To see Tina.”

“To see Tina?” Cole smiled slyly at the other daemon. “In love, are we?”

Tarkin lightly punched his friend in the arm. “You really are a bastard, Belthazor! You know that?” The two friends laughed.

The bartender returned with their drinks – a Gibson martini for Cole and absinthe for Tarkin. As the two friends began to sip their drinks, a familiar figure appeared beside Cole. “Hey! Don’t I know you?” Tarkin asked.

The half-daemon turned to stare at the dark-haired female through narrowed eyes. “You do look familiar.”

It was Tarkin who first identified her. “Idril! Now I remember you. From the Brotherhood. You’re with . . .”

“Melkora’s sect,” the demoness finished. She said to Cole, “And I remember you. Coming out of Raynor’s office.”

Cole’s thoughts returned to the day of Raynor’s engagement announcement. And the young female he had bumped into. “Oh course,” he said with a nod. “Now I remember.”

Idril flashed a pretty smile at her two fellow daemons. “So, what brings you here? Business?”

“Pleasure,” Cole immediately replied. “You?”

“The same.”

The music finally stopped. The blond dancer stepped down from the platform and made her way toward the bar. Cole noticed how her skin glistened with perspiration. “Whew!” she exclaimed breathlessly in an English accent. “Bloody hard work this is. Makes me wonder why I even bother in the first place.”

“Because you’re talented.” An admiring Tarkin drew the semi-topless woman into his arms and kissed her. When their lips parted, he introduced her to the others. “Everyone, this is Tina Bloome. Or Christine, if you like. She’s one of the club’s dancers.”

The blond woman . . . or Christine smiled. “How do you do?” Her green eyes lingered briefly upon Cole. He returned the gaze, feeling even more aroused. Then he glanced to his side and saw the annoyed expression on Idril’s face.

Tarkin continued with the introductions. “This is Belthazor, my comrade-in-arms. And over there is Idril. She also belongs to our order, but she’s in a different sect.”

Christine regarded Idril with curious eyes. “Now, I know I’ve seen you somewhere before. I just can’t . . .”

“I used to be in the movies,” Idril explained, with a proud rise of her chin. “I went by the name, Diane Hayward.”

Realization lit up Christine’s eyes. “Oh yeah! Now I remember. From ‘DESERT WEEKEND’ and ‘THE MARAUDERS’. Not bad.”

Idril preened from the other female’s compliment. “Thanks.” Cole rolled his eyes. He had seen ‘THE MARAUDERS’ and considered it complete shit.

Christine turned to Tarkin. “Would you mind waiting a bit, while I change, love? I reckon I can’t leave this club dressed like this.”

“Of course not,” a clearly besotted Tarkin replied. Cole struggled to hide his amusement.

“Good. Then we can all go to my flat. I’ll whip you up a proper meal that you won’t find at any restaurant in this town.” Christine kissed Tarkin’s lips. “I won’t take long.” She walked away from the bar, her rear end swaying provocatively. Or so Cole thought.

Idril asked, “What demonic order does she belong to?”

“She’s not a daemon,” Tarkin answered. “Well, her grandfather’s a daemon. But Tina is a witch.” Both Cole and Idril stared at him. “Not a Wiccan or anything like that,” he added sarcastically. “What do you take me for?”

Idril commented, “If she’s not a daemon, what is she doing here, at a daemon’s club?”

“The Triple Six is not a daemon’s club,” Tarkin shot back. “It’s for all magic practitioners.”

Cole nodded. “Like Riggerio’s club in Venice. Or this place I know in San Francisco.”

A few minutes later, Christine returned, dressed in a short, aquamarine dress with long, flowing sleeves. “Ready to leave?” And the two couples finally left the nightclub.

————–

Christine Bloome had not exaggerated about her culinary skills. After the quartet had arrived at her flat, the blond witch had prepared an excellent meal of Prime Rib and Yorkshire Pudding and Jacket Potatoes. Idril personally felt that the witch could give any professional London chef some stiff competition. Which led her to wonder why Christine had become a nightclub dancer, instead.

“It’s bloody hard becoming a successful chef,” the dancer replied, answering Idril’s question. “Especially for a woman. And I hate working at a restaurant. The work is hard and unless one’s a head chef, the pay isn’t much. And I like dancing at the club.”

“If you like it so much, why not own one?” Tarkin asked. “I’m sure that I’ll be able . . .”

Christine stood up and began collecting the empty dishes. “Thanks, but no thanks,” she said.

“Why not”? her lover demanded.

The witch planted a light kiss on his cheek. “I already own the Triple Six and several other clubs around London and other cities. Haven’t you noticed how posh this flat is?”

Idril glanced around the apartment. She had been amazed by the apartment’s expensive and tasteful furnishings. And its exclusive location near the Thames River.

“I did,” Belthazor commented. Idril also noticed how he regarded the blond witch with admiring eyes. Much to her annoyance.

Christine flashed a quick smile at the half-daemon. Then she finished cleaning the table, while the others heading toward the living room. Ten minutes later, she joined them, carrying a large, silver box. “Now that we’ve finished supper, how about some dessert? I had considered Sherry Trifle, but that would take too long. I thought you might like this.” She placed the box on the coffee table.

A dubious expression appeared on Belthazor’s face, as he stared at the box. “This is dessert?”

Christine opened the box. Idril saw that it was filled with small, handmade cigarettes. “Is this marijuana?” Her nose wrinkled with contempt. “A bit mild for us, don’t you think?”

“Not marijuana, pet,” Christine said rather smugly. Or so Idril thought. “Something a bit stronger. Weed from a plant called Pectoralis. It grows along the Amazon River. Oddly enough, I found this supply in the Beleriand Dimension. Apparently, it’s very popular among other magical beings.” She added with a whisper, “It’s an aphrodisiac.”

Tarkin plucked a cigarette from the box. “Not a bad idea for dessert. All we need is some music.”

“If you say so, love.” With a flick of her wrist, Christine turned on the large stereo on the other side of the room. The song, ‘Grazin in the Grass’ by the American group, Friends of Distinction, filled the room. The others also picked up a cigarette – including Idril.

————–

Three cigarettes and forty-five minutes later, a hazy Idril stood by one of the large windows that overlooked the Thames. ‘Crystal Blue Persuasion’ by Tommy James and the Shondells drifted from the stereo. Idril could see Tarkin and Christine’s dancing figures reflected in the window. Belthazor was no where to be seen.

“Hmmm, I love this song,” Idril overheard Tina commented. “Makes me feel all soft and warm. Does it make you feel warm, love?” Tarkin merely groaned.

Idril glanced over her shoulder and saw one of Christine’s hands slide inside Tarkin’s trousers. “Yeah,” the daemon groaned. “Very warm.”

Instead of feeling disgusted, Idril merely leaned against the wall and regarded the couple with curious eyes. She watched as Christine continued to stroke Tarkin. Meanwhile, one of her own hands unconsciously lifted her skirt, slipped inside her panties and began to stroke the soft flesh between her legs. Idril glanced to her right and noticed Belthazor sitting in a leather chair, smoking his ‘cigarette’ . . . and watching. Everyone.

While swaying to the music, Idril continued to stroke herself. Oddly enough, both she and Tarkin ended up climaxing at the same time. Then Christine removed her hand from inside the daemon’s trousers and walked over to Idril. By this time, another song from Friends of Distinction – ‘Going in Circles’ – blared from the stereo. The witch led Idril to a pile of pillows in a corner and gently forced her to lay against them. Then she knelt before the demoness and removed the demoness’ panties. Idril held her breath, as Christine gently forced her legs apart and thrust two fingers inside her.

Idril closed her eyes and reveled in the witch’s strokes. She then opened them and saw Tarkin remove his trousers, revealing boxer shorts. He lifted Tina’s skirt, slipped down her panties and thrust into her from behind. It did not take long for Idril to become wet and tight from the witch’s ministrations. She eventually fell over the edge with another small orgasm – the second one this evening. But Idril needed more than just a few strokes from herself and Christine. She needed . . .

A strong hand gripped the demoness’ forearm and jerked her to her feet and away from Christine. Idril soon found herself led to the leather chair by Belthazor and into his lap. She glanced over her shoulder. Tarkin’s thrusts into Christine, who was now on all fours, had grown faster and more earnest. But with Belthazor removing her red halter top, all thoughts of the other couple faded from her mind. Warm hands cupped her breasts. Idril arched back and moaned, while Belthazor’s thumbs pressed against her aching nipples.

“My trousers,” the half-daemon growled.

Idril opened her eyes and saw that he seemed to be in a state of frustrated desire. “Huh?”

“My trousers. Unzip it.”

Without hesitation, Idril unzipped his trousers and his member sprang out – erect and ready. Belthazor’s hands slid to her waist. He lifted the demoness slightly, allowing himself to thrust up into her. Idril felt waves of heat and pleasure, as he slid deep inside her. She became so caught up in the moment that she barely heard Tarkin and Christine’s cries filled the room. Instead, her attention remained focused upon the hard, masculine body underneath her – and his thrusts, which became faster and deeper. Waves of heat washed over her, as the half-daemon’s final thrusts triggered a massive orgasm. Idril arched her back even further and cried out in pleasure. Once she finally recovered, sank against Belthazor, feeling too exhausted to move from his lap.

———–

PRESENT DAY . . . Idril shifted uncomfortably in her bed, as memories of that first night in Christine Bloome’s flat rushed back to her. She reached for her glass of brandy on the nightstand and took a sip. A heavy sigh passed her lips.

Following that first bout of sex, Idril and her three companions had partook more cigarettes made from the Pectoralis weed. Eventually, more sex followed. At one point, Tarkin, Christine and Belthazor became engaged in a ménage a troi. Tarkin took Christine from behind – again – while she orally serviced the half-daemon sprawled against those pillows on the floor. Unable to tolerate Belthazor’s blissful expression, Idril had shoved the witch aside, straddled the half-daemon and rode him as hard as she could.

Idril had awoken several hours later, laying on those very same pillows and with a blanket spread over her. Both Belthazor and Tarkin had left and Tina ended up preparing breakfast for the demoness.  Idril returned to the Triple Six, later that night. She encountered both Tarkin and Christine, but Belthazor could not be found.

With brandy, Idril tried to forget the anxiety and disappointment she had felt, but she could not shake her memories. She recalled spending six days searching London for the half-daemon. Eventually, she found him at a small jazz club in Soho. Flirting with some red-haired female. At that moment, realization had struck the demoness that Belthazor saw her as nothing more than a one-night experience.

Fearful that her plans might go awry and startled by her sudden pique of jealousy at Belthazor’s new companion, Idril had turned to Raynor for advice. The Thorn Brotherhood’s leader barely had time to help her with her dilemma, especially since he was in the middle of his honeymoon with Avara. He did managed to give Idril a piece of information – that Belthazor liked to attend horse races. Since the Derby and Epsom races had already passed, Idril had decided to try her luck at the Royal Ascot at Windsor. On the third day, her good luck had returned.

End of Part 2

“MANSFIELD PARK” (2007) Review

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“MANSFIELD PARK” (2007) Review

There have been three screen adaptations of Jane Austen’s 1814 novel, “Mansfield Park”. And I have just finished viewing the most recent one – a ninety (90) minute television movie that first aired on the ITV network in March 2007.

As many Austen fans know, “MANSFIELD PARK” told the story of an English girl sent at the age of 10 to live with her maternal aunt and the latter’s wealthy family at a vast estate called Mansfield Park. Fanny Price is treated as a poor relation of the Bertram family, as a semi-servant for her aunt, Lady Bertram. Only second son, Edmund, treats her with any real kindness. As a result, Fanny finds herself romantically in love with her cousin after eight years at Mansfield Park. Her feelings come to naught when the Bertram family becomes acquainted with a pair of sophisticated siblings named Henry and Mary Crawford. While Henry amuses himself with Fanny’s cousins, Maria and Julia Bertram; Edmund falls in love with Mary, who returns his affections. Jealous over Edmund’s romance with Mary, Fanny is oblivious of Henry’s sudden interest to her. And when he makes it obvious with a proposal of marriage, Fanny finds herself divided between her true feelings about both Edmund and Henry, and her uncle Sir Thomas’ desire to see her married to an eligible man of wealth.

“MANSFIELD PARK” was one of three Jane Austen adaptations aired by the ITV during the spring of 2007. All three movies possessed a running time of at least 90 minutes. Yet, for some reason, the production for “MANSFIELD PARK” seemed like a cheap television production, in compare to “PERSUASION” and “NORTHANGER ABBEY”. It had nothing to do with the changes to Austen story, made by screenwriter Maggie Wadey. However, I do suspect that some of the changes were a result of the movie’s budget. In fact, I am beginning to suspect that the budget had a lot to do with my dissatisfaction with “MANSFIELD PARK”.

Of the three movies aired for ITV’s “The Jane Austen Season”“MANSFIELD PARK” was the only one that was limited to one setting. Although Austen’s novel was mainly set on the Bertram estate, it also included the Rushworth family’s estate, Sotherton, the Mansfield Park parsonage occupied by Dr. and Mrs. Grant, and heroine Fanny Price’s hometown of Portsmouth. Thanks to Wadey’s script, the production did not include the setting of the Mansfield Park parsonage and Portsmouth. Henry and Mary Crawford were never seen at the parsonage. And to prevent shifting the setting to Portsmouth, Wadey’s script allowed Sir Thomas Bertram to isolate Fanny at the estate . . . alone, instead of shipping her back to her immediate family in Portsmouth. This robbed the television viewers of a chance to meet Fanny’s immediate family, aside from brother William. Another change was made by Wadey that seemed to reflect the movie’s limited budget. Instead of a ball, a picnic was held in Fanny’s honor by the Bertrams, following Maria Bertram’s marriage to Mr. Rushworth. A picnic, instead of a ball. How cheap could one get?

Another aspect of “MANSFIELD PARK” that rubbed me the wrong way turned out to be the fast pacing. The television production moved at such a fast pace that I could barely blink before the scene featuring the Rushworths’ wedding appeared. In fact, the entire story from Fanny’s arrival at Mansfield Park to Maria’s marriage to Mr. Rushworth seemed to move at an extremely fast and somewhat unsatisfying pace. If there is one thing about Wadey’s script that did not move me one way or the other was its approach to the topic of slavery. She turned out to be the only screenwriter who adhered to Austen’s novel. The 1999 movie allowed the topic of the Bertram family’s participation in slavery to become a major theme in the movie. The 1983 miniseries completely ignored the subject. However, this version followed Austen’s novel by allowing Fanny to question Sir Thomas about his role as a slave owner, before dropping the subject altogether.

Remember the outrage over Fanny Price’s characterization in Patricia Rozema’s 1999 adaptation of the novel? Well, there were some changes made by Wadey in this movie. Maggie O’Neill’s portrayal of Fanny’s Aunt Norris seemed less comic and broad than any other version I have encountered. Normally, I would applaud such a change. But one of the more entertaining aspects of “MANSFIELD PARK” has always been the use of Aunt Norris as a comic figure. O’Neill’s Aunt Norris struck me as slightly boring. Also, Wadey’s characterization of Mary Crawford struck me as slightly cold . . . darker. Portrayed by the talented Hayley Atwell, this version of Mary seemed to lack a sense of humor or true wit. Atwell’s Mary never really tried to form a friendship with Fanny or display any kindness toward the latter. I got the feeling that Wadey deliberately portrayed Mary in this cold fashion to discourage sympathy or any other kind of positive feelings toward her. Because of this, Atwell was almost forced to portray Mary as a one-note villainess. Almost. Thankfully, the actress manage to somewhat rise the character above such mediocrity. Michelle Ryan made a lovely Maria Bertram. Unfortunately, her character failed to make an impact on the television screen, thanks to Wadey’s limited handling of her character.

But not all of Wadey’s characterizations irritated me. I liked her handling of the Lady Bertram character, portrayed by Jemma Redgrave. Instead of the vague and selfish woman portrayed by both Angela Pleasence and Lindsay Duncan, Redgrave portrayed Lady Bertram as a concerned parent and a woman with a deep interest in her children’s love lives, if not their moral compasses. Douglas Hodge made a first-rate Sir Thomas Bertram, in all of his intimidating glory. He had taken the role as an to his mentor, actor/director Harold Pinter, who portrayed the role in Patricia Rozema’s 1999 adaptation. James D’Arcy made an entertaining Tom Bertram. His sharp bon mots kept me smiling through most of the movie’s first half. Rory Kinnear’s portrayal of Mr. Rushworth seemed spot on. It seemed a pity that Wadey’s script did not allow him the chance for a deeper characterization.

Both Blake Ritson and Joseph Beattie portrayed the two men in Fanny’s life – her cousin Edmund Bertram and other suitor Mary Crawford. Ritson failed to make me like Edmund as a character. But this was no reflection on his skills as an actor. I simply dislike Edmund. But Ritson is the third actor to give an excellent performance in the role. He perfectly conveyed all of Edmund’s traits that I heartily despise. When I first saw “MANSFIELD PARK”, I was a little reluctant to praise Beattie’s performance. I now realize that my judgement of his portrayal had been rushed. At first, he seemed like a womanizing stalker. But once his character began to fall in love in Fanny, Beattie conveyed a great deal of warmth and subtlety into the role.

Even Billie Piper’s performance as Fanny Price seemed a lot different than Sylvestra Le Touzel and Frances O’Connor’s extreme takes on the character. Due to Wadey’s script and Piper’s portrayal was not Le Touzel’s wooden Fanny or O’Connor’s Jane Austen 2.0 characterization. Piper’s Fanny was quiet, but without the passive aggression that I found so exasperating in Austen’s novel. When I first saw “MANSFIELD PARK”, I believed that Piper’s Fanny also lacked the hypocrisy of the previous version. I realize that I had blinded myself from what was obvious on the screen. Although Fanny did not indulge in heavily criticizing Mary Crawford behind the latter’s back, or hid her dislike and jealousy behind a facade of moral outrage; she did express hypocrisy. Like her predecessors, Piper’s Fanny failed to be honest with Henry Crawford about the real reason behind her rejection of his marriage proposal.

Visually, “MANSFIELD PARK” is beautiful to behold. Nick Dance’s photography was sharp and filled with beautifully lush colors. It is a pity that the movie’s budget limited it to one setting. Tim Hutchinson’s production designs contributed to Dance’s lush photography of Newby Hall in Yorkshire, which served as the Bertram estate. And Mike O’Neill’s costume designs were absolutely beautiful – especially those costumes for the Bertram women and Mary Crawford.

What is my final verdict of “MANSFIELD PARK”? Honestly? Of the three movies for ITV’s “Jane Austen’s Season”, it seemed the least impressive. It could boast some first-rate performances, along with great costumes and photography. Unfortunately, the movie’s fast pacing in the first half and its limited budget did not serve it well. In the end, I believe “MANSFIELD PARK” could have benefited from a longer running time and bigger budget.

 

High Point of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)

HIGH POINT OF THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE (MCU)

I have watched the movies and some of the television shows from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) since its inception with 2008′s “IRON MAN”.  I am sure that many of the franchise’s fans have their own favorite movies and shows.

In my case, I have a favorite period of the franchise, which I personally consider its high point.  Which is that period, you may ask?  Well … I think the high point of the MCU had occurred during the spring and summer of 2014.

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For me, it began with the airing of the “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” episode, (1.13) “T.R.A.C.K.S.”.  It continued on for the next three episodes, until (1.16) “End of the Beginning”.  Then came my favorite MCU movie of all time, “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER”, which started the MCU’s best story arc in my opinion, “The Fall of S.H.I.E.L.D.”.  This story continued in the superb “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” episode, (1.17) “Turn, Turn, Turn”.    This story arc finally completed in the series’ Season One finale, (1.22) “Beginning of the End”. 

Two-and-a-half months after Season One of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” ended, along with “The Fall of S.H.I.E.L.D.” story arc, the MCU released my second or third favorite MCU movie of all time, “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”.

I do not think I have truly enjoyed the MCU franchise since that six-month period between February and August of 2014 that not only unveiled the Fall of S.H.I.E.LD., but also introduced the Guardians of the Galaxy to the franchise’s fans.  That whole period of 2014 was so enjoyable and well-written to me.  And I personally feel that the MCU has never been able to recapture that consistent level of excellent again . . . even after five years.

 

 

 

 

 

Five Favorite Episodes of “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” Season One (1993)

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season One of “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE”. Created by Rick Berman and Michael Piller; the series starred Avery Brooks as Commander Benjamin Siesko:

 

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” SEASON ONE (1993)

1. (1.19) “Duet” – Deep Space Nine’s executive officer and former Bajoran freedom fighter, Major Kira Nerys, suspects a visiting Cardassian to be the notorious war criminal Gul Darhe’el, butcher of Gallitep Labor camp.

 

2. (1.01-1.02) “Emissary” – Starfleet officer, Commander Benjamin Sisko arrives at the newly freed Deep Space Nine station to command a joint Federation/Bajoran force. His life is changed when a wormhole is discovered near the station and he is declared the Emissary to the Prophets by a Bajoran priest.

 

3. (1.20) “In the Hands of the Prophets” – In this charged season finale, friction escalates on the station when the Federation and Bajoran inhabitants clash over Federation schoolteacher Keiko O’Brien’s lessons that the aliens in the newly discovered wormhole are aliens – a topic that the Bajorans find blasphemous.

 

4. (1.08) “Dax” – The station’s science officer Lieutenant Jadzia Dax finds herself accused of a murder committed by her symbiont in another lifetime.

 

5. (1.05) “Babel” – A mysterious virus plagues Deep Space Nine, causing speech distortions and death.

 

R.I.P. René Auberjonois (1940-2019)

 

“THE THIN MAN” (1934) Review

“THE THIN MAN” (1934) Review

Between 1934 and 1947, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) released at least six movies based upon the characters created by detective novelist, Dashiell Hammett. The first and one of the two best was 1934’s “THE THIN MAN”, based upon Hammet’s novel that was also released in 1934.

Produced by Hunt Stromberg and directed by W.S. Van Dyke, “THE THIN MAN” is a murder mystery about a former detective named Nick Charles and his wealthy wife, Nora, who investigate the disappearance of an old friend of Nick’s named Clyde Wynant. When the latter’s mistress is found murdered, Wynant becomes the police’s prime suspect. Wynant’s daughter, Dorothy, asks Nick to not only find her missing father, but discover the identity of the real murderer.

William Powell and Myrna Loy first appeared in a movie with Clark Gable called “MANHATTAN MELODRAMA”. Not only did that movie proved to be a hit, it also begat a very famous Hollywood screen couple. Producer Hunt Stromberg liked what he saw and decided to pair the two as Nick and Nora Charles, the witty and sophisticated married couple from Hammet’s mystery novel. Powell and Loy not only portrayed Nick and Nora simply as a loving husband and wife, but also as two friends who clearly enjoyed each other’s company. And more so than in “MANHATTAN MELODRAMA”, Powell and Loy were magic together. The two ended up working on twelve other films together. And even in mediocre fare like the later THIN MAN movies, they sizzled with a wit and charm that made them one of the best Hollywood screen teams in history.

Stromberg also included in the cast, the Irish-born ingénue Maureen O’Sullivan (from the “TARZAN” movies fame) as the missing Clyde Wynant’s daughter, Dorothy; Nat Pendleton in his first of two THIN MAN movies as New York Police detective, Lieutenant Guild; Minna Gombell as Wynant’s greedy ex-wife, Mimi Wynant Jorgensen; future Hollywood legend Cesar Romero as Mimi’s gigolo husband, Chris Jorgenson; Porter Hall as Wynant’s attorney Herbert MacCauley; Natalie Moorhead as Wynant’s mistress, Julia Wolf; Edward Brophy as Julia’s gangster friend, Joe Morelli; as Harold Huber as the stool-pigeon Arthur Nunnheim; and Edward Ellis as the missing Clyde Wynant. As much as I try, I could not spot a bad performance from any of them. I was especially impressed by O’Sullivan’s performance as the seemingly normal Dorothy who seemed stuck in the middle of an eccentric and/or amoral family.

Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, a married couple that also happened to be contract screenwriters at MGM, wrote the screenplay. They also received Academy Award nominations for their adaptation of Hammett’s novel and I have to say that they deserved the nomination. “THE THIN MAN” is a witty and rich story filled with memorable characters and an intriguing mystery that was neither too complicated or insulted the moviegoers’ intelligence. Even more interesting is the fact that ”THE THIN MAN” would prove to be one of the last Pre-Code movies that would be released before the onslaught the Hays Code enforcement on July 31, 1934. “THE THIN MAN” was released in theaters on May 23, 1934. Hackett and Goodrich’s screenplay was filled with risqué dialogue and situations that made it clear that “THE THIN MAN” was a Pre-Code film.

And director W.S. (“Woody”) Van Dyke did justice with not only a talented cast, but also with Hackett and Goodrich’s script. During his tenure as a contract director for MGM, Van Dyke had a nickname – “One Take Woody”. Van Dyke usually shot his scenes in one take, which guaranteed that he would complete his assignment on time. MGM boss, Louis B. Mayer loved him for this. Although Van Dyke was never known as one of Hollywood’s more gifted directors, he had a reputation for coaxing natural performances from his stars. This was very apparent in his direction of “THE THIN MAN”. There is not a bad performance within the entire cast. Even better, he managed to keep the story rolling with a first-rate pacing – something that is very difficult to do for murder mysteries.

Some eight to nine months after its release, “THE THIN MAN” collected Academy Award nominations – Best Director (Van Dyke), Best Actor (Powell), (Best Adapted Screenplay) Hackett and Goodrich, and Best Picture. Unfortunately for MGM, the movie was shut out by Frank Capra’s classic screwball comedy, “IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT”. Well . . . even if the movie had failed to collect one Academy Award, I believe that it is still one of the best movies that was released during the 1930s.

“THE THIN MAN” was such a success that it spawned five sequels. Aside from 1936’s “ANOTHER THIN MAN”, which proved to be just as good; the other four sequels turned out to be a ghost of its original success. If you want to see William Powell and Myrna Loy in action as Nick and Nora Charles, I suggest that you stick with this film and its 1936 sequel.

 

“My Problem With Kylo Ren”

“MY PROBLEM WITH KYLO REN”

Kylo Ren has to be THE MOST overrated character I have ever seen in the Star Wars saga. I am amazed by how so many fans have gone out of their way to put this guy on a pedestal. My personal disgust for this worship has nothing to do with him being portrayed as a villain. There are plenty of other villains – within the saga or not – that I actually find interesting. My problem with Kylo Ren is that I do not find him either interesting or well written.

I will start this article with a question. What was the reason behind Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo embracing evil? What was it? Director J.J. Abrams had hinted in “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS” that either the film’s main villain, Snoke, had influenced or mesmerized him; or his parents, Leia Organa and Han Solo, did not raise him properly. In “STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI”, writer-director Rian Johnson had suggested that Ben’s uncle, Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, had contemplated killing him out of fear that Snoke was influencing him. Has the franchise finally made up its mind regarding the background of Ben’s moral turn? It certainly does not seem like it to me.

However, it does seem as if Lucasfilm under Kathleen Kennedy is trying to go out of its way to find a reason to blame others for Kylo Ren’s descent into evil, instead of blaming the man himself. The Sequel Trilogy’s leading lady, a gifted Force user and former scavenger named Rey, had questioned (a bare chested) Kylo Ren in “THE LAST JEDI” on why he had murdered his father in the previous film. Rian Johnson failed to provide the young villain with a convincing answer. Instead, Ren had responded that he had killed Han to cut out any of his remaining emotional attachment . . . and nothing else. I found this odd, considering that he did not bother to personally kill Leia in “THE LAST JEDI”, when presented with the opportunity. Kylo Ren’s response to Rey’s question had struck me as the biggest piece of bullshit from a Star Wars movie that had ever reached my ears. His response struck me as vague and frustrating. Worse, Johnson had allowed Rey to accept that answer and not bother to question Kylo Ren even further or demand that he clarify his comments. And after she had learned about Ren’s last encounter with his uncle Luke, Rey had never asked him about or mentioned his murders of Luke’s students. Not once. Talk about poor writing.

There are some who claim that Kylo Ren is a better developed character than his grandfather, Anakin Skywalker. Each person is entitled to his or her own opinion about any work of art or entertainment. But every time I read or hear this claim, I find myself rolling my eyes in disgust or laughing. Exactly why is Ben Solo better developed than Anakin? Because he adhered to the “delinquent” moniker more than Anakin ever did? I realize that both J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson tried to infuse some kind of ambiguity into the Kylo Ren character. But honestly . . . he simply struck me as some kind of emotional man child with the maturity of someone half of his age, who engages in a combination of violence and temper tantrums whenever he does not get his way. And Kylo Ren is supposed to be around 30 years old in this trilogy. I realize that Lucasfilm is trying to portray him as a . . . you know what? I have no idea what Lucasfilm is trying to achieve with this character. Not one damn idea.

Kylo Ren had been born in a stable family situation. He certainly was not a slave like Anakin. He was never an enslaved kidnap victim like Rey’s friend, the former stormtrooper Finn. He was never orphaned and forced to work for a tyrannical crime lord like Han Solo. He was never simply orphaned like Resistance figher, Rose Tico. And he was never abandoned and later orphaned like Rey.

Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo was the son of respected politician/military hero Leia Organa (Skywalker) and another military hero, former smuggler Han Solo. He had a privileged upbringing. The first two Sequel Trilogy movies had never made it clear than Leia and Han had ignored him during his upbringing. It was established that the pair had sent a younger Ben Solo to train in the ways of the Force under his uncle Luke when they began to harbor suspicions that he was being drawn under the influence of the First Order’s evil leader, Snoke. Just go with me here.
Apparently, in the eyes of Lucasfilm and Abrams, this was why Leia and Han were neglectful parents.

This is the reason why Abrams and Lucasfilm have labeled Han and Leia as bad parents? This is one of the reasons why Ben had become the evil Force user Kylo Ren? And exactly how did Snoke maanged to gain any influence over young Ben in the first place? What did the First Order leader do? Brainwash him with the Force? I also noticed that Luke’s near attempt to kill Kylo Ren led the latter to kill the former’s other Jedi students, leading him to a path of evil. At least according to Rian Johnson. So . . . Kylo Ren never considered ratting out Luke to his parents, which would have been a very effective way in tearing apart the trio? Between Abrams using Leia, Han and Snoke as Kylo Ren’s scapegoat for his moral fall and Johnson using Luke as the scapegoat . . . all I see are Lucasfilm’s conflicting reasons for the character’s downfall.

To me, Ben Solo aka Kylo Ren is basically a narrow-minded and arrogant man from an over privileged background. He has the mental capacity of a seventeen year-old and like the franchise itself, blames others for whatever misery he experiences and his moral downfall. What makes this even more ridiculous is that his character is roughly around thirty years old in this trilogy . . . at least a decade or two older than his grandfather was in the Prequel Trilogy. And characters like Kylo Ren (without the powers) are a dime a dozen in both the film/television industries and in literature.

And there is the problem of Kylo Ren’s relationship with the trilogy’s leading lady, Rey. This relationship with Rey has proven to be one of the most abhorrently written ones that I have seen on film . . . period. The idea that Rey would be remotely attracted to Kylo Ren JUST A FEW DAYS after being kidnapped, nearly mind raped and nearly killed by him is repellent to my very core. What I find equally repellent is that many fans and critics have viewed this aspect of the relationship as “sexy” or “romantic”. In fact, a critic for “TIME” magazine had regarded Kylo Ren’s attempted torture of Rey in “THE FORCE AWAKENS” as “sexual energy”. In fact, here is the exact quote from the article:

“In one of the movie’s finest moments, Ren—unmasked and intense—engages Rey in a major stare-down, an unholy duel between the light side of the Force and the dark. The sexual energy between them is strange and unsettling, like a theremin sonata only they can hear.”

Either critic Stephanie Zacharek was into the rape fantasy trope or perhaps she might be a racist who saw a potential romance between a young white woman and the white male villain who was trying to torture her via mind rape; instead of the friendship between the woman and the young black man she had befriended. And I cannot help wonder if Ms. Zacharek, along with these other critics and fans would have felt the same if Finn had been portrayed by a white actor, instead of one of African descent. I really do. In the end, many of these fans and critics (many of them white women) who either want Rey to end the trilogy with no romantic interest or with an immature and violent man child, who is portrayed by a white actor.

In the end, Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo strikes me as another over privileged man child who resorts to violence when his sense of entitlement is threatened. As I have pointed out, there have been similar characters in other movie and television productions. And there are people like him who do exist. My problem with this is that I do not find this type of characterization particularly original. Worse, his backstory seemed to be surrounded by a great deal of vague and uneven writing from J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson. Adam Driver, who portrays the character, is a first-rate actor. I have seen him in other movies that featured him in what I believe are better roles. If he ever decides to turn his back on the STAR WARS franchise following the release of the Sequel Trilogy’s third film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”, I would not blame him. Not by a long shot.

“Strange Bedfellows” [R] – Part 1

“STRANGE BEDFELLOWS”

Part 1

MAY 27, 1969; MONTREAL, CANADA . . . Belthazor found his prey emerging from a three-story building that faced the Rue du St. Michel. He recognized the man as another daemon named Balmung. Only this daemon happened to be a member of the Gimle Order – an organization dedicated to protecting all beings from supernatural evil. The half-daemon could tell from Balmung’s furtive manner that the latter had discovered the object of his desire before he could.

The Gimle daemon turned into a nearby alley. Belthazor shimmered away from his spot and re-materialized into the alley – and right behind Balmung. Taking the other daemon by surprise, the half-daemon punched Balmung in the kidneys. The latter cried out in pain, as he sunk to his knees. Then Belthazor jerked the other daemon, wrapped a red hand around the latter’s neck and shoved him against the wall. A dagger appeared in the half-daemon’s free hand.

“Sorry Balmung, but I cannot allow you to live.” The Gimle daemon’s eyes grew wide in fear before the half-daemon plunged the dagger into Balmung’s heart. A gurgle left the other daemon’s mouth, before he sunk to the ground for the second time and died. The dagger disappeared from Belthazor’s grip. He knelt beside the corpse and removed a tan, leather-bound book from inside Balmung’s jacket.

Belthazor glanced briefly through the book. Satisfied of his prize, he transformed back into his human form – that of Cole Turner. He shot the dead daemon one last disparaging glance and murmured, “Adieu, Balmung.” Then he shimmered out of the alley.

He ended up in the wide, yet empty corridor, on the 26th floor of a commercial high-rise in the middle of Manhattan Island. The building served as the East Coast headquarters of Acheron International, the business front for the Thorn Brotherhood, here in the mortal world. Cole walked along the corridor until he came upon a pair of double doors. Beyond was a spacious room filled with elegant, Art Deco-style furnishings and a sprinkling of antiquities. A stocky man of medium height and brown, shoulder-length hair strode toward the half-daemon. “Greetings Brother,” he said, holding out a hand. “How was Canada?”

“Not bad,” Cole murmured. He shook the other demon’s hand. Then he removed a tan book from inside his jacket and waved it in the air. “In fact, very satisfying.”

The other daemon, whose name happened to be Tarkin, smiled. “I believe that the proper word should be successful. Is that . . .?”

“Lambert’s grimoire?” Cole nodded. “A Gimle daemon named Balmung had managed to retrieve it, first. Fortunately,” a cold smile curved his lips, “I got to him, before he could return the grimoire to Lambert’s granddaughter.” For the second time, he peeked inside the book. It had originally belonged to a powerful French wizard named Thierry Lambert. Following the wizard’s death over twenty years ago, the book disappeared, which set off a two-decade search that finally ended in Montreal. The Brotherhood of the Thorn also sought possession of the grimoire. And once the order’s leader had received word of its appearance at a Montreal occult shop, Cole received the assignment to retrieve the grimoire and . . . kill anyone who got his way.

Tarkin snarled, “Damn Gimle daemons! They and others like them are an affront to our kind. Death is too good for them.” He glanced at Cole, who immediately stiffened at his words. Looking slightly contrite, Tarkin added, “Oh. Sorry about that, Belthazor. I had forgotten about your uncle.”

Cole collected himself and responded with a cool shrug. “No need to apologize. Uncle or not, Marbus was a traitor. He got what he had deserved.” He gave his friend a tight smile.

“A very admirable attitude, Belthazor.” A tall, middle-aged looking male approached the two younger daemons. He projected an imposing appearance with his pale and fleshy countenance, pale blue eyes and thinning dark-blond hair. “Raynor was right to assign you to kill Marbus. He knew that you would have never allowed family connections to impede your objective.”

A flash of anxiety jolted Cole. He knew that Marbus – who had turned against the Source over a century ago – remained alive, thanks to him and his mother. And for the past year, the half-daemon has feared that one of his colleagues would eventually learn the truth. Good or evil, blood came first before any other loyalty in Cole’s demonic family. Including the Source. “Thanks, Vornac,” the half-daemon murmured to his sect’s leader. He nodded at the imposing, yet exotic-looking woman who had appeared by Vornac’s side. “Klea.”

The demoness returned his nod. “Belthazor.”

Cole glanced around the room and noticed something odd. “Unless I’m imagining things, the entire order seems to be here. Does anyone know why?”

Vornac took a sip from a glass of yellow liqueur. “It seems that Raynor has an important announcement to make.” A door swung open and a tall, dark-haired and dark-eyed man, dressed in black, emerged from a private office. “Ah, here he is.”

An elegant, chestnut-haired woman accompanied the Thorn Brotherhood’s leader. Tarkin nodded at the pair. “Isn’t that Avara of the Noldor Dimension with Raynor? What . . . what’s going on?”

“You’ll find out within a few mintues.”

Several minutes later, the entire order faced their leader, as he began to address them with a speech. From the corner of his eye, Cole spotted his mother – along with her faithful assistant – looking slightly bored. Nimue glanced away from Raynor and acknowledged her son with a slight nod. Instead of acknowledging her nod, he simply turned away.

Raynor finished off his speech with a grand announcement. “And that is why,” he concluded, “I would like to introduce you to my future wife and the future mistress of the Thorn Brotherhood – my fiancée , Avara of the Noldor Dimension!”

Applause filled the large room. When it finally died down, the order’s members lined up to offer their congratulations to the newly engaged couple. Tarkin whispered to Cole, “This is a surprise. Raynor is getting married? Again? Avara will be his . . . what?”

Cole added, “Third wife. I can only wonder what Avara will contribute to the marriage.” The two friends finally approached their leader and politely offered their congratulations.

“Thank you,” Raynor responded with a smile. “By the way Belthazor, I would like to see you inside my office in another fifteen minutes from now. I would like to discuss Montreal.”

“Of course, Raynor,” Cole said with a smile. He and Tarkin moved on, allowing the next Thorn daemon to greet their leader.

——————–

Fifteen minutes later, Cole knocked on the door to Raynor’s office. Once inside the luxurious room, the older daemon said to the younger one, “Well, Belthazor. I understand from Vornac that your trip to Montreal was a success.”

Cole handed the leather book to Raynor. “Here it is – Thierry Lambert’s grimoire.

Raynor’s dark eyes lit up with excitement. “At last!” He turned the book over in his hands. “Do you have any idea how long I’ve longed to get my hands on this book?”

“Considering Lambert’s age when he died, I can only assume for at least half a century.”

“Longer,” Raynor murmured. “Since you were a child. An adolescent. For over seventy years, as a matter of fact.” He sighed. “Excellent work, Belthazor. I understand that you had to kill a Gimle daemon to acquire this. Good riddance, as far as I’m concerned.” He placed the grimoire on his desk. “Now, on to another matter. In light of your recent work, I believe that you are entitled to a vacation. What do you say?”

Cole smiled. “I say . . . that I have no problem with that idea. I had considered asking Vornac for a vacation. I suppose you’ll be taking one yourself, soon. At least a honeymoon.”

Raynor nodded. “Yes. Avara and I intend to spend our honeymoon in the Melora dimension. We haven’t decided how long.” He paused. “By the way, have you ever considered . . . getting married? How old are you?”

“At least eighty-four,” Cole answered.

A sigh left Raynor’s mouth. “Still young. Yet, old enough to consider matrimony.”

The idea of marriage churned Cole’s stomach. “Uh, to be honest Raynor, I don’t think I’m ready for marriage, yet. In fact, I might not be the marrying kind.”

“Really?” Raynor regarded the half-daemon with an appraising look. “I’ve always believed otherwise. I’m sure that you’ve . . . indulged in the usual flings over the years. But I’ve always thought you were the type who would eventually settle down. Start a dynasty of your own. I’ve been trying since before you were born. Hopefully, I’ll have better luck with Avara.”

Wondering what Raynor was up to, Cole frowned. “Are you . . . ordering me to get married?”

Raynor threw back his head and chuckled. “Of course not, Belthazor! Where did you get such an idea? I could never order you to do such a thing. Even if I wanted to.” He quickly sobered. “Neither could the Source, for that matter. It was merely a suggestion.” Was it? Cole wondered.

On that note, the senior demon finally dismissed the half-daemon. Much to the latter’s relief. Cole felt more than happy to escape his mentor’s presence and any further discussion on his matrimonial prospects. As Cole opened the office door, he nearly collided with a dark-haired beauty with hazel-brown eyes, and a theatrical-looking outfit that emphasized her voluptuous figure. Cole stared at her longer than he had intended. She looked very familiar.

“Do you mind?” the female retorted. “I don’t plan to stand here, all day.”

Cole stepped aside. “Sorry.” He continued to stare. “Pardon me, but do I know you?”

“I don’t think so.” Then the beauty swept by. Cole’s body hardened, as one of her breasts brushed against his arm. Hoping that no one would notice his arousal, the half-daemon quickly headed for the bar.

Tarkin appeared by his side. “How did it go? With Raynor?” he asked.

“Fine,” Cole murmured. He ordered a glass of Scotch whiskey and faced his companion. “Did you see that that woman who had entered Raynor’s office? The one I had bumped into?”

One of Tarkin’s brows rose questioningly. “Woman?” A sly smile curved his lips, as Cole glared at him. “Oh yes. That was Idril. She’s part of Melkora’s sect.”

Cole continued, “For some reason she looked familiar to me. And I don’t know why.”

Tarkin ordered a glass of absinthe. “She should. Idril is a movie star. Well . . . not really. She’s produced and starred in a couple of Hollywood B-movies over the past few years. Really cheap stuff, but she’s managed to make a profit from them. And a little fame as a sex symbol.”

The memory of a rather bad beach movie flashed in Cole’s mind. Along with images of a dark-haired beauty, who happened to be the leading lady. Idril, he realized, seemed a lot like her movies – colorful, yet cheap. On that note, he quickly dismissed the demoness from his mind.

———-

“So that was Belthazor.” An image of the tall, dark-haired daemon lingered in Idril’s mind. “Very handsome. Was there a reason why you wanted me to meet him?”

Raynor closed the office door with a wave of his hand. “As you know, Avara and I will be married within a week.”

Dismay overwhelmed Idril. “So soon?” She had been Raynor’s mistress for nearly a decade.

“I’m afraid so, my dear.” Raynor gathered the demoness into his arms. “Avara insists. Apparently, she’s looking forward to becoming first lady of the Thorn Brotherhood.”

Idril jerked out of her lover’s arms. “And you couldn’t consider me for the position?” she demanded peevishly.

Raynor sighed. “Really, Idril. Must you be childish? Avara is the leader of a small, but very powerful demonic faction. And she can provide a connection to another one from a dimension outside the Source’s Realm. This marriage is purely political.” He paused, as he drew Idril back into his arms. “And as you should recall, I had suggested that you form a marriage of convenience, as well. Remember?”

Of course she remembered. Idril also recalled being appalled by Raynor’s suggestion. The idea of being married to some daemon other than her lover seemed repugnant to her. Then she recalled the half-daemon she had just met. “Is that why you wanted me to meet Belthazor? You want me to . . .?”

“To consider him as a prospective husband,” Raynor finished.

“But he’s only a half-daemon!”

Raynor rolled his eyes in contempt. “My dear Idril! Must you be so close-minded? Despite his human blood, Belthazor is very powerful.”

Idril pouted. “And?”

An impatient sigh escaped from Raynor’s mouth. “And he is also very intelligent. Think . . . Idril. I’m Belthazor’s mentor. With his brains and power, he has a very prominent future ahead of him.” He added surreptiously, “And he’s also very wealthy. In his own right.”

A beautiful and aristocratic demoness with auburn hair appeared in Idril’s thoughts. Nimue. “Human wealth. And isn’t his mother, Nimue? The leader of one of the order’s sects? I’ve met her a few times, and I have a feeling that she doesn’t care for me, very much.”

“She’s irrelevant!” Raynor snapped impatiently. “Belthazor’s relationship with his mother barely exists. They haven’t exchanged a civil word with each other in nearly thirty years. Belthazor hasn’t bothered to touch his father’s money. And he also has quite a fortune within the Source’s Realm, as well. ”

“Oh.” Idril decided that she could deal with that situation.

A smile curved Raynor’s lips. He added, “As Belthazor’s wife, you will be in a position to move through the top echelon within the Source’s Realm. He is very popular with our . . . great leader. Especially since he had killed his traitorous uncle, last year. And . . .” the daemon planted a light kiss on Idril’s exposed neck. She sighed. “. . . you will be in a position to spend time in my company, without arousing Avara’s suspicions.”

Idril slowly slid her arms around Raynor’s neck and smiled. “Hmmm, now that’s very appealing,” she said. “You are a very clever daemon.”

“Thank you.”

Her smile disappeared. “If this works, I only hope that neither Belthazor or Avara will find out about us.”

“Oh, don’t worry, my dear. They won’t. I’ll make sure of that. All you have to do is make sure that Belthazor finds you attractive enough to want to consider matrimony. That’s all. And he would be an idiot if he doesn’t.” Raynor lowered his mouth upon Idril’s and passionately kissed her.

———–

PRESENT DAY . . . Idril sighed, as she shook her head in disbelief. Poor Raynor, she thought. Over-confident, as usual. Her former mentor and lover had never considered that Belthazor had other plans. Recalling the half-daemon’s last words, Idril realized that neither did she, for that matter.

Inside her posh Bel-Air home, the demoness walked over to her living-room bar and poured herself a drink. She needed to drown her memories of that disastrous and humiliating affair with Belthazor. As she climbed the stairs to her bedroom, Idril could only wonder if Belthazor now harbored any memories, as well.

End of Part 1

Top Favorite “THE WEST WING” Season One (1999-2000) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top favorite episodes from Season One of NBC’s “THE WEST WING”. Created by Aaron Sorkin, the series starred Martin Sheen:

 

TOP FAVORITE “THE WEST WING” SEASON ONE (1999-2000) EPISODES

1 - 1.19 Let Bartlett Be Bartlett

1. (1.19) “Let Barlett Be Bartlett” – A leaked memorandum criticizing the Josiah “Jed” Bartlett Administration emphasizes a malaise felt by the staff that they were not getting things done.

 

 

2 - 1.07 State Dinner

2. (1.07) “State Dinner” – A multitude of problems arise while the West Wing staff prepares for a state dinner for the newly-elected president of Indonesia.

 

 

3 - 1.16 20 Hours in L.A.

3. (1.16) “20 Hours in L.A.” – During a 20-hours visit to Los Angeles, President Bartlett meets the new bodyguard of his daughter Zoey. Meanwhile, Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman races to prevent the cancellation of a fund raiser dinner and back in Washington D.C., Chief of Staff Leo McGarry needs Vice-President John Hoynes to break a tie in the U.S. Senate.

 

 

4 - 1.15 Celestial Navigation

4. (1.15) “Celestial Navigation” – During a lecture in Georgetown, Josh recounts a series of small and big incidents, including the arrest of the President’s Supreme Court nominee, a Latino judge named Robert Mendoza, who was targeted for “driving while Hispanic” in a Connecticut town.

 

“THE BEGUILED” (2017) Review

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“THE BEGUILED” (2017) Review

I have never been a diehard fan of Southern Gothic fiction. Not really. But there have been some fictional works in that genre that have appealed to me. In fact, if you ask me, I could come up with a pretty good list of Southern Gothic movie and television productions that I have always enjoyed. 

Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 novel, “The Beguiled” aka “A Painted Devil” first came to my attention when I saw the 1971 movie adaptation of the novel years ago. I became an instant fan of the film and read Cullinan’s novel. Then I became a fan of the novel. So when I heard that director Sofia Coppola planned to direct her own film adaptation, I looked forward to it. One, I liked the story. Two, I am a sucker for a good Civil War film, being an amateur historian and movie nut. And I had also learned Coppola had won the Palme d’Or Best Director award (the second woman to do so) at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival for this film.

Don Siegel’s 1971 adaptation had made a few changes to Cullinan’s novel. One, he and the movie’s screenwriters made the story’s leading man an American of Irish descent, instead of the Irish immigrant portrayed in the novel. The story was set in 1863 Mississippi, during the Vicksburg Campaign. And two of the novels’ characters – the 17 year-old biracial Edwina Morrow and the nearly middle-aged Miss Harriet Farnsworth – were merged into a young white schoolteacher named Edwina Dabney. Sofia Coppola’s movie maintained the novel’s portrayal of leading man as an Irish immigrant and Cullinan’s setting – 1864 Virginia, during the Civil War’s Overland Campaign. However, Coppola’s movie followed Siegel’s example by merging the Edwina Morrow and Harriet Farnsworth characters into a schoolteacher.

“THE BEGUILED” began in the woods, near the Farnsworth Seminary, an all girls’ school in 1864 Virginia. When one of its students, a thirteen year-old girl named Amy is searching the woods for mushrooms to pick, she comes across a wounded Union Army soldier named Corporal John McBurney. He had been wounded in the leg before deserting the battlefield. Amy brings McBurney to the school where he falls unconscious. The school’s headmistress, Miss Martha Farnsworth, decides to heal the corporal’s wounded leg before turning him over to the Confederate Army as a prisoner. But Miss Farnsworth, Amy and the other females inside the school become “charmed” by the Irish-born soldier, as he slowly heals from his wounds. Amy, another student named Alicia and the school’s remaining teacher, Edwina Morrow, become especially captivated by McBurney’s charm. However, McBurney’s presence in the school generate a good deal of jealousy between the young students and the two women before an unexpected incident spirals the entire situation out of control.

Like the 1966 novel and its 1971 adaptation, “THE BEGUILED” took me by surprise in many ways. One of the film’s most noteworthy aspects was Philippe Le Sourd’s cinematography. I have never seen any of his previous film work. But I must admit that his photography did an excellent job in creating this film’s Old South atmosphere:

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Le Sourd’s cinematography definitely helped setting up the film’s atmosphere, especially due to the lack of any solid score. I also have to give points to Stacey Battat for creating costumes designs indicative to the Civil War period – especially for women and girls. Mind you, I thought some of the costumes may have been slightly anachronistic.

I also cannot deny that “THE BEGUILED” featured some strong performances from the cast. Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell and Kirsten Dunst were top-notched, as usual. Kidman did a fine job portraying the no-nonsense and pragmatic headmistress, Martha Farnsworth, who seemed to have little problems with controlling those around her . . . including her only schoolteacher. Despite Martha Farnsworth being her second role as a Southerner (I think), I was surprised that Kidman’s Southern accent wavered a bit. Although Farrell is at least twenty years older than the literary John McBurney, he was free to portray the character as was described in Cullinan’s novel – an Irish immigrant recently recruited into the Union Army upon his arrival in the United States. However, his McBurney’s charm seemed to have more of an edge of desperation, due to his circumstances. And Kirsten Dunst gave a very competent performance as the emotionally repressed Edwina Morrow, a young schoolteacher who finds herself drawn to the handsome McBurney, despite her efforts to ignore him. Dunst also did a competent job in not only conveying Edwina’s growing attraction to McBurney, but also her wariness of being under Miss Farnsworth’s control.

The movie could also boast some surprisingly excellent performances from the younger cast members, who portrayed the school’s students. Elle Fanning gave a decent performance as the adolescent Alicia, whose attraction to McBurney partly stems from her growing awareness of her sexuality. However, there were moments when it seemed she was losing some control of the character. Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, and Emma Howard also gave very competent performances. But I was especially impressed by Addison Riecke’s portrayal of young Marie, an impish student who borrowed Edwina’s earrings for the dinner party with McBurney and managed to manipulatively avoid returning them to the schoolteacher. Excellent performance by the young actress.

Although “THE BEGUILED” possessed some admirable traits, overall I was not that impressed by the film. Frankly, I am at a loss over how Coppola managed to win such a prestigious award at the Cannes Film Festival. Perhaps the voters had no idea that the narrative for this film is basically a Southern Gothic tale? Who knows? Coppola had erased so much from Cullinan’s story.

One aspect of “THE BEGUILED” that came to my attention was the lack of background for most of the characters at the Farnsworth Seminary. Now, unless my memory is failing me, the movie only revealed the fact that Edwina Morrow had a father living in Richmond. I believe the movie also touched upon the wartime fate of Amelia’s brothers. I believe. To be honest, I am not that certain. Coppola deleted Martha Farnsworth’s family history – especially her incestuous relationship with her brother. After all, one of the reasons Miss Farnsworth eventually opened up to McBurney was his resemblance to this “much loved” brother. Although the film revealed the existence of Edwina’s father, the screenplay never touched upon his role as a war profiteer or his lack of concern toward his daughter. The movie revealed nothing about Alicia’s family background – especially her prostitute mother who had abandoned her at the seminary. The movie revealed nothing about the remaining students’ backgrounds. McBurney’s discoveries and knowledge of their personal histories played a role in the events that occurred in the movie’s third act. Without the revelations of the female characters’ backgrounds, Coppola resorted to whitewashing the reasons behind their actions in the film’s third act.

Coppola claimed that she wanted “THE BEGUILED” to give a “voice” to the story’s female characters. Why did she make that claim? Each chapter in Cullinan’s 1966 novel was written from the viewpoints of a major female character and NOT . . . from Corporal McBurney’s point of view. Although the 1971 film featured scenes from McBurney’s point of view, it also did the same for the female characters. Also, McBurney was the only major character who lacked an inner monologue. Since the novel and the 1971 film featured the females’ points of view, what on earth was Coppola’s goal? To portray her female characters as ideal as possible? I noticed that neither anger or jealousy played a role in the violence that marked the film’s third act.

Alicia slept with McBurney because she was an adolescent “exploring her growing sexuality”. Not once did Coppola’s screenplay hint how her past experiences with her prostitute mother may have influenced her behavior with the opposite sex. By removing Martha Farnsworth’s incestuous history with her late brother – the one whom McBurney resembled, Coppola removed any possibility of Miss Farnsworth being driven by anger and jealousy over his tryst with Alicia to amputate his leg. By having McBurney behave like a borderline stalker in one scene following his amputation, Coppola justified the females’ decision to kill him with poisonous mushrooms. It seemed as if Coppola’s idea of feminist sensibilities is to portray her female characters with as little flaws as possible. And this led to her portraying the female characters’ decisions in the film’s last hour to be marred by a lack of moral ambiguity of any kind. This decision on Coppola’s part strikes me as cowardly.

If Coppola’s decision to portray her females characters with as little ambiguity as possible was bad enough, she also eliminated the school’s remaining slave, an African-American woman named Matilda (“Mattie”). Coppola gave a reason for this decision in the following statement:

“I didn’t want to brush over such an important topic in a light way. Young girls watch my films and this was not the depiction of an African-American character I would want to show them.”

What depiction was she referring to? Cullinan’s portrayal of Mattie in the 1966 novel? The only character who saw through McBurney’s charming bullshit and wanted nothing to do with him? Or Hallie (who was renamed) from the 1971 film, who also saw through his charm, despite their occasional bouts of flirting. I had no problems with either Cullinan or Siegel’s depictions of the character. Naturally, some movie reviewers supported Coppola’s decision, including one reviewer from the ALLIANCE OF WOMEN FILM JOURNALIST, who stated:

“The film has been criticized for its lack of comment on the Civil War or slavery. The war is a backdrop, the circumstance that isolated than part of the story. Unlike the 1966 novel and the 1971 movie, there are no African American characters in this film, explained by a single line says they left. Because it is set in the Civil War, it is a valid point but addressing the issue would have taken the focus off the women’s issues that are Coppola’s main point.”

Apparently, Coppola and her supporters do not regard women of color as a part of “women’s issues”. Or perhaps they feel that non-white women are not . . . women. White feminism at its height. If Coppola felt uncomfortable at the idea in exploring a non-white character, why on earth did she adapt Cullinan’s novel in the first place?

The lack of Mattie/Hallie in Coppola’s adaptation raised other problems. One, the slave woman’s presence allowed both Cullinan and Siegel to portray the school’s other occupants with a level of ambiguity that Coppola lacked the guts to face. I wonder if Mattie’s presence would have robbed Coppola the opportunity to explore her fantasies regarding Southern white women. Mattie was one of two characters who knew why Martha Farnsworth was willing to amputate McBurney’s leg in the novel. In Don Siegel’s movie, she was the only one. This knowledge led to an interesting scene between the two women in both the novel and the 1971 film. In both the novel and the Siegel film, Mattie/Hallie was the person who actually prepared the poisoned mushrooms for McBurney . . . and she did it out of her own anger toward the Union soldier. Without the slave woman, who prepared the mushrooms in this film? Edwina Morrow, who had been serving as the establishment’s cook, following the slaves’ departure? At the time, she was busy enjoying lustful relations with McBurney. Miss Farnsworth? Did she know how to cook? The movie never established this.

“BEGUILED” did feature scenes of the students and the two teachers engaged in household and garden duties. First of all, none of them looked as if they knew what they were doing. Second of all, since they were such abysmal housekeepers, how did they managed to keep their clothing looking so pristine? Without the benefit of servants?

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Judging from the costumes worn in the above image, Dunst and her younger co-stars do not look as if they are dressed for household duties. Instead, they seemed to be dressed for Sunday church services in the mid 19th century, an afternoon tea party or a picnic. At least other Civil War movie and television productions have their Southern female characters dressed more realistically . . . even the 1939 movie, “GONE WITH THE WIND”. I find it difficult to believe that Miss Farnsworth and her fellow inhabitants were capable of keeping their daily clothes looking so pristine – with or without a servant. All of the look like figures in some Southern belle fantasy.

For me, there were other problems in Coppola’s adaptation. I had a problem with her characterization of McBurney. Both the novel and the 1971 presented the character as something of a snake-tongued charmer. Farrell’s interpretation seemed to present McBurney more as an obsequious man who resorts to slavish politeness, instead of charm, to win over the school’s inhabitants. Farrell had the skill to convey McBurney’s charm, but it seemed as if Coppola had somehow held him back. Worse, the movie barely touched upon the Civil War, despite the presence of a Union soldier. I also did not understand why Coppola maintained the character of Emily Stevenson, and yet transferred Emily’s “pro-Confederate” personality to a character created for the film. Why did she do that? Why did she film this movie in Louisiana? Coppola retained the setting from the novel – Virginia 1864. Yet, she shot the film in the Deep South – a region that looked nothing like Virginia. Coppola could have changed the setting to the Deep South or shoot the film in the Upper South. She did neither. I also need to rephrase my comments regarding Philippe Le Sourd’s cinematography. Although I admired his exterior shots in the film, I cannot say the same about his interior shots. Quite frankly, I could barely see a damn thing, even when a scene was set during the daytime.

I am still at a loss on how Sofia Coppola thought she could improve both Thomas Cullinan’s novel and Don Siegel’s 1971 adaptation. Granted, the cast – including Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell and Kirsten Dunst – gave competent performances. But Coppola stripped away so much from this story. She stripped away a lot of the characters’ ambiguity. She stripped away an important character who had the misfortune – at least in the director’s eyes – to be an African-American. Which meant that she stripped away the topic of slavery and to a certain extent, even the war itself. In the end, “THE BEGUILED” seemed like a Southern Gothic tale with barely any life. It struck me as a shell of Cullinan’s novel and Siegel’s own adaptation. After watching this film, I found myself asking why Coppola felt she could adapt the 1966 novel in the first place, considering that she seemed incapable of exploring it with any semblance of real honesty.