“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 2/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Two

The five people teleported into the middle of the McNeills’ foyer. “Damn, that was a new experience!” The words came out of Claude Dubois’ mouth, after Cole Turner had delivered him, his wife and daughter, and his future son-in-law to the McNeill manor, two thousand miles west of his hometown, New Orleans. Cecile’s father struck Cole as being in pretty good shape for a man of about fifty-nine years. The latter’s five-foot-ten frame displayed very little fat and well toned muscles. He also possessed rich brown skin and wide hazel-brown eyes that peered from a narrow, intense countenance.

Vivian Dubois, who happened to an older image of her petite daughter, smiled at her husband. “What did I tell you, Claude?”

At that moment, Cole spotted Olivia and Gweneth descending the winding staircase. The McNeills’ manservant, Davies, followed from behind. “You’re here!” Gweneth declared breathlessly. “Darlings, it’s so good to see you!” She enveloped Vivian into a bear hug.

“Well, it hasn’t been that long,” Vivian protested. “Just seven months ago.”

After Olivia and her mother had greeted all of the New Orleans visitors, Gweneth ordered Davies to escort them to their rooms. “Except for me,” Andre said. “I’m staying with Cole.”

Everyone faced the half-daemon. “I thought that Livy had moved in with you,” Cecile asked.

Olivia replied, “I did. But with the wedding coming up in a few days, I decided to stay here until the day of the ceremony.”

“Now that we’ve got that out of the way,” Cole said as he glanced at his watch, “I’ll be dropping Andre off at my place. Then we can change and get ready for dinner, tonight. With you two ladies, of course.” He nodded at Olivia and Cecile.

Vivian’s mouth formed a mock pout. “Aren’t we old folks invited?”

“Since I’m the oldest person in this room, the ‘old folks’ will be there.” Cole smiled at Vivian, before he teleported himself, Andre and the latter’s luggage to his penthouse.

————

The New Orleans man sighed with relief and plopped down on the sofa. “Alone at last!”

“I didn’t realize that my company was that desired,” Cole said. He teleported Andre’s luggage into one of the guest bedrooms.

The other man chuckled mirthlessly. “Man, you have no idea how lucky you are! You won’t have to deal with having Claude Dubois as part of your family for God knows how long. I’m almost tempted to ask Olivia to marry me. That way, I’ll only have to deal with Jack McNeill.”

Cole walked over to the liquor cabinet. “Before you start envying me, may I remind you that I have Olivia’s family to deal with. Mainly her mother’s Welsh family. And I’m not really looking forward to meeting any of them – aside from her grandmother, an uncle and a few cousins. Hell, I’m just thankful that I’ve never met her aunt Rhiannon.”

“The one who had killed Richard Bannen?” Andre quietly asked. “I think I had met her once.” He shuddered. “Cold woman.”

With a nod, Cole continued, “And if the Morgans aren’t bad enough, we have my mother to deal with.”

“What are you talking about?” Andre demanded. “What’s wrong with her?” Cole stared at, as if he had grown a second head. “What? I’ve met her a few times, myself. You know, for a powerful and evil daemon, she’s pretty . . .”

The doorbell rang. Cole turned away from the liquor cabinet and headed for the penthouse’s front door. “If you were about to say ‘cool’, please don’t. It’s bad enough that Olivia likes her.” He peered through the peephole . . . and groaned. “Oh God! Speak of the devil.”

“Huh?”

“My mother and my uncle.” Cole opened the door and smiled coolly at his new visitors. “Good afternoon, Mother. Knocking? That’s a bit new for you. Isn’t it?” His smile grew warmer, as he greeted his uncle. “Marbus.”

The elegant, auburn-haired demoness swept into the penthouse. She kissed Cole’s cheek. “Belthazor.”

“And here’s the groom!” Marbus gave his nephew a bear hug. “Look at you, lad. Never seen anyone so happy in my life. Being engaged agrees with you.”

Cole’s smile widened. “I hope I can say the same about marriage. Of course, the last time I was engaged, I was only able to enjoy the moment for less than a day. Before the old Source had interfered.” He gestured toward his third guest. “By the way, I’m sure that you both remember Andre Morrell.”

Marbus glanced at the Vodoun priest and smiled. “Of course! Andre! Good to see, again.” He and Andre shook hands.

“Same here, Marbus,” Andre replied. “How’s your family?”

Smiling, the older replied, “Very well, thank you.”

The Vodoun priest and the demon briefly discussed the latter’s family, until a slight cough from Cole’s mother interrupted. Andre turned his attention to her and politely greeted, “Nimue. It’s good to see you, as well. How long has it been?”

Nimue seemed pleased that Andre remembered her. “Six years, I believe. Something to do with a business deal that had involved both the Thorn and Anasi Orders. It’s a shame that you’re no longer with them.”

Andre smiled at the demoness. “Well, I had decided it was time to make a change in my life. Although I must say that I do miss doing business with you.”

Cole rolled his eyes at his friend’s overt and successful attempt at flattery. “I hate to interrupt all this mutual admiration nonsense, but what are you doing here, Mother?”

Nimue gazed at her son. “Marbus and I have found a priest to conduct your wedding. The daemonic ceremony.”

Surprise lit up Andre’s eyes. “So, you’re really going through with it?”

With a sigh, Cole said, “Olivia did point out that since we’ll be having a mixed marriage, we might as well have a double ceremony.”

“I wouldn’t worry, Andre,” Marbus added. “The priest will be from the Gimle Order.” Nimue wrinkled her nose. “In fact, Risen had conducted my wedding to Mauve.”

Nimue commented, “With members from our two orders at the ceremony, I only hope that we won’t have a repeat of poor Adrianne Evans’ death at the Melora engagement party.”

“Speaking of the party, Mother,” Cole said, “have you or Lohdon ever find out who had killed that warlock?”

A frown appeared on Nimue’s face. “Unfortunately, no. Although, I do have a few suspects.”

“Like Idril?” Cole eyed his mother, closely.

Nimue’s mouth formed a chilly smile. “She is first on my list. But,” her smile disappeared, “no one has been able to connect her with that warlock. More’s the pity.”

Cole returned to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a drink. “As much as I dislike Idril, I don’t see any reason why she would want to kill Olivia. Other than the fact that Olivia is a witch.”

“In Caspiel’s name, Belthazor! Must you be so anal?”

Cole stared at his mother. “Excuse me?”

Her eyes flashing with annoyance, Idril continued, “Idril’s in love with you. She has been for a long time. Ever since that ill-fated romance of yours, back in ’69.”

The half-daemon retorted, “Mother, I had nearly killed Idril, after she had set those assassins upon me.”

“But you did date her for a while, a few years ago,” Andre added. This time, Cole stared at his friend. “Don’t you remember? Bermuda in ’99?”

“That was nothing but a brief fling!” Cole protested. “Nothing else. Idril and I had put Christine Broome, behind us.”

Andre sighed. “But I remember her, Cole. I was there. And she had looked like a woman in love, to me.”

“Oh for God’s . . .” Cole heaved an exasperated sigh. “Are you trying to tell me that moments after meeting Olivia for the first time, Idril had plotted with some warlock to kill her?” When the others had failed to answer, he nodded in triumph. “I thought so.”

Marbus asked, “If Idril didn’t try to kill Olivia, who did? And why?”

Unfortunately, no one had an answer.

———–

Paige and Harry sat inside the British Airways lounge, at the airport. The latter’s maternal grandmother and uncle were expected to arrive on an incoming flight from London. And Harry had been recruited to greet them.

“Harry, is there something wrong?” Paige asked, frowning at her boyfriend. “Your jaw seemed to be frozen in one position. And are you grinding your teeth?”

The red-haired witch sighed. Long and hard. “It’s nothing,” he muttered. “I’ve been thinking about a problem at work.”

“Uh-huh.” The Charmed One continued to stare at her grim-faced boyfriend. “It must be something pretty bad.”

Now it became Harry’s turn to stare. “You’re going to keep bugging me, until I tell you. Aren’t you?”

“Of course not. You can tell me when you’re ready. Or if you want to.”

Another five minutes passed before Harry spoke again. “If you must know, it has nothing to do with work.”

Paige nodded. “Okay.”

Again, Harry sighed. “I’m always like this, whenever we have to deal with the Morgans. Mom’s marriage to Dad isn’t . . . wasn’t popular with them. It still isn’t, after thirty-five years.”

His comment surprised Paige. “Why would they be against your dad, in the first place?”

“I don’t know,” Harry said with a shrug. “I think it has something to do with Cole’s Uncle Marbus. According to Dad, some daemons had framed Marbus for murder. And because of his past reputation as an assassin, some witch coven thought he was guilty and went after him. Dad thought otherwise and set out to exonerate him. That’s how they met.”

Paige murmured, “Sounds like something you or Olivia would do.”

Harry continued, “Yeah, well some of the more conservative covens didn’t approve of Dad’s actions. Including some members of Mom’s family. Like Grandfather Morgan.”

“I don’t understand,” a confused Paige said. “Wasn’t Marbus with the Gimle Order, at the time?”

Harry nodded. “Sure, but he was hiding from zoltars, at the time. Very few witches knew that he had turned his back on the Source.” He paused. “And then there’s the matter regarding Aunt Rhiannon and Olivia’s old fiancé. Richard.”

“You mean, when they had killed each other?” Paige shook her head. “I remember Leo mentioning that Richard had tried to kill Olivia and your mom . . . and that your aunt had saved them. But Olivia claimed that Leo had got it all wrong. Only she never went into details.”

“Leo did get it wrong,” Harry said. “You should ask her or Mom about it. They were there. I do know that Aunt Rhiannon had went a little crazy after one of Richard’s cousins had killed her husband.”

A voice over the terminal’s P.A. system declared, “Attention please. We would like to announce the arrival of British Airways, Flight 531 from London. All passengers will arrive through Gate 7B.”

Harry stood up. “Here they come.” He took a deep breath.

A stream of passengers poured out of an opened doorway. Among them were a silver-haired woman and a tall, middle-aged man. Both headed straight toward the young couple.

“Harry! Darling! It’s so good to see you!” The elderly woman pecked Harry’s cheek, before enveloping him in a bear hug. Paige immediately recognized Harry’s maternal grandmother. The Charmed One had first met the elderly witch at Bruce and Barbara’s wedding, last spring. But since she had not been dating Harry at the time, she barely got to know Bronwyn Llewellyn Morgan. “Look at you,” Mrs. Morgan continued in a soft Welsh accent, reminiscent of Gweneth McNeill. “Just as handsome as ever. In fact, you look like your grandfather.” Although she was in her early eighties, Mrs. Morgan possessed an energy that belied her age. Her dark eyes and lightly swarthy skin tone suggested that she might have been a brunette in her younger years.

A light blush tinged Harry’s cheeks, much to Paige’s amusement. “C’mon Nana! You said this eight months ago.”

“And so what if I had? You are handsome. Right . . .” Mrs. Morgan turned to Paige. A slight frown appeared on her face. “Oh dear! I’m afraid that I’ve for . . . You’re one of the Charmed Ones. Right? Paige, I believe?”

Paige smiled. “That’s right. Paige Matthews. It’s good to see you again, Mrs. Morgan.” She glanced at the middle-aged man, who slightly resembled Harry. Same aquiline features, freckled skin and tall, wiry frame. Only the stranger was a little heavier in pounds. He also lacked Harry’s broad shoulders and possessed strands of gray in his red hair. “Um, you are . . .?” Paige asked him.

“Brion Morgan.” The man held out his hand. “I’m Harry’s uncle. One of Gweneth’s younger brothers.”

Paige shook his hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“It’s a pleasure.” Like Mrs. Morgan, he spoke with a soft Welsh accent. “And an honor to meet one of the Charmed Ones.” He shifted his traveling bag to his other shoulder, while Harry rolled his eyes. “I reckon it’s time we pick up our luggage.” He sighed. “And deal with Customs.”

Harry nodded. “Okay.” After the Morgans had retrieved their luggage, the red-haired witch led Paige and his relatives to the Customs station. There, the two young Californians waited, while Customs agents examined the Morgans’ luggage.

Once the Customs agents completed their search, the Welsh visitors returned to Paige and Harry. “Well, it went off better than I had expected,” Mrs. Morgan commented. “I thought, for sure, they would examine my bum for drugs.”

Paige chuckled. “I think that happens a lot on the East Coast. Of course, I could be wrong about . . .”

“Paige?” A familiar voice caught the Charmed One’s attention. She turned around and felt surprised to find Phoebe and Jason Dean standing behind her. “What are you doing here, at the airport?” her older sister continued.

“What are you doing here, back in the States?” Paige countered. “We never thought that you would be coming home.”

Phoebe shot a meaningful glance at Jason and mumbled, “Neither did I.”

END OF CHAPTER TWO

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Transformations in “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”


During my viewing of ABC’s “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, I noticed that between Seasons One and Three, certain characters underwent a transformation or acquired powers through certain circumstances.   Of the four characters mentioned below, three of them were transformed, thanks to a mist from a crystal called Terrigen.  This led them to become Inhumans.  The fourth character had been transformed via science experiments conducted by the terrorist agency called HYDRA.  I also noticed that at least three characters also endured a serious physical transformation.  Here they are:

TRANSFORMATIONS IN “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”

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Mike Peterson – A civilian who had experienced a severe back injury on the job.  A group called the Centipede Project (which was controlled by HYDRA) recruited him to use their Centipede serum.  The latter acquired new superpowers, but it formula also affected his psyche.  The team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents led by Phil Coulson, saved Petersen, when HYDRA turned on him.  After serving as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent for a while, Peterson was captured by a team of HYDRA agents led by S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent John Garrett, who was betraying the latter.  Garrett and HYDRA transformed Peterson into the Cyborg known as Deathlok.

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Raina – A scientist who believed there were people in the world with the potential for special powers.  She also believed that she might be special, herself.  Due to this belief and her search, Raina was willing to work with HYDRA  Raina was eventually exposed to the Terrigen mist inside an abandoned Kree settlement discovered by Coulson, and transformed into an Inhuman.

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Dr. Andrew Garner – He was a neurologist and forensic psychologist who worked for S.H.I.E.L.D.  He was also married to S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Melinda May, until a traumatic event that she had experienced, led to their divorce.  Dr. Garner and May eventually reconciled and embarked upon a vacation together.  Upon their return, Coulson asked him to examine a book on the history of Inhumans, written by former Inhuman leader, Jiaying.  The book turned out to be a trap for any human, who was exposed by the Terrigen mist from a Terrigen crystal hidden inside it.  Instead of dying, Dr. Garner’s latent  transformed into an Inhuman eventually named Lash.

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Daisy Johnson aka Skye – She was a talented hackvist who was born to future Inhuman leader Jiaying and American medical practitioner named Dr. Calvin Johnson in a Chinese village.  Not long after her birth, HYDRA agents raided the village and kidnapped her mother and a few village elders.  Dr. Johnson left baby Daisy in the hands of trusted villagers in order to find his wife.  S.H.I.E.L.D. agents investigating the massacre found Daisy and brought her back to the U.S.  After living in an orphanage and a series of foster homes, Daisy, who called herself Skye, became a hackvist who exposed the secrets of the U.S. government.  Phil Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D. team eventually caught her and recruited her into the agency.  Over a year later, Daisy found herself inside the remnants of the Kree City with Raina.  She was exposed to the same Terrigen mist as Raina, and acquired new powers.  She eventually acquired the nickname, Quake.

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Of the four characters mentioned above, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Daisy Johnson is the only one who did not endure a complete physical transformation. She is also the only character who is not portrayed by an actor/actress of African descent.

There is another major supporting character who was an Inhuman (or enhanced being) on the show named Gordon. He was the right hand man of Daisy’s mother, Jiaying. Gordon did undergo physical transformation after becoming an Inhuman:


However, Gordon’s physical transformation was not as extensive or extreme as the transformations for Raina, Andrew Garner and Mike Peterson. So, could someone explain why three characters portrayed by actors/actresses of African descent had to undergo such drastic physical changes when they became enhanced beings? Or why the transformation for a fourth character, portrayed by a white actor, was not as extreme? Or why the fifth character – another person who was NOT of African descent, only underwent a name change and haircut when she became an enhanced being?

“THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” (2004) Review

“THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” (2004) Review

I have seen only four movies directed by Roland Emmerich. All of them were disaster films of some kind, whether they centered on an alien invasion or a natural catastrophe. Of the four movies, only one of them I had failed to see in the movie theaters. That movie happened to be Emmerich’s 2004 movie, “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW”.

The movie depicted the catastrophic effects of global warming in a series of extreme weather events that ushers in global cooling which leads to a new ice age. “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” began with a paleoclimatologist named Jack Hall on an expedition in Antarctica with his two colleagues, Frank and Jason. While drilling for ice core samples on an ice shelf for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Jack almost falls to his death, when the shelf breaks off. Later, Jack presents his findings on global warming at a United Nations conference in New Dehli. Unfortunately, many diplomats and Vice President of the United States Raymond Becker remain unconvinced by Jack’s findings. But Professor Terry Rapson of the Hedland Climate Research Centre in Scotland believes Jack’s theories. Two buoys in the North Atlantic simultaneously show a massive drop in the ocean temperature and Rapson concludes that melting polar ice is disrupting the North Atlantic current. He contacts Jack, whose paleoclimatological weather model shows how climate changes caused the first Ice Age, and can predict what will happen. Jack believes the events will take hundreds or thousands of years. But his team and NASA’s meteorologist Janet Tokada build a forecast model with their combined data.

Across the world, violent weather causes mass destruction, including a massive snowstorm in New Delhi, a hailstorm destroying Tokyo, and a series of devastating tornadoes in Los Angeles. President Blake authorizes the FAA to suspend all air traffic due to severe turbulence. Meanwhile, Jack’s son, Sam is in New York City for an academic competition with his friends Brian Parks (Arjay Smith) and Laura Chapman (Emmy Rossum). There, they befriend a student named J.D. (Austin Nichols). During the competition, birds migrating south suddenly fill the sky and the weather becomes increasingly violent with intense winds and rains. Sam calls his father, promising to be on the next train home. Unfortunately, the storm worsens, forcing the closure of the subways and Grand Central Terminal. As the storm worsens a massive tidal wave hits Manhattan, causing major flooding. Sam and his friends seek shelter in the New York Public Library.

When I first saw Emmerich’s 2009 film, “2012”, I came to a conclusion that the director likes to follow a pattern regarding his disaster films. One, most these films usually feature a dysfunctional family or divorced couple, a new romance, cheesy dialogue (especially from minor characters), questionable science, an annoying government official, a head of state – friendly or otherwise, a friendly foreign-born colleague and a noble scientist in one of the leads. Well, “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” certainly featured every one of those traits. Which goes to show that the movie is not exactly an epitome of originality. I also have one more complaint. In my recap of the movie’s first forty minutes, I failed to point out that Dr. Lucy Hall, Jack’s ex-wife and Sam’s mother, remained behind at a Washington D.C. to care for a very ill young patient, while the city’s remaining citizens are evacuated to Mexico with the rest of the country’s southern citizens. Northern citizens, along with Sam and his friends in New York, are forced to remain behind and wait for rescue. The movie made such a big deal about Lucy’s willingness to sacrifice her safety for the sake of her patient. Yet, very little time passed before an ambulance appeared to evacuate both doctor and patient to the south. Talk about a wasted storyline.

Despite my quibbles about the movie’s lack of originality and the Lucy Hall story line, I must admit that “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” has become one of my favorite disaster movies of all time. I really enjoyed it. I was surprised to discover that screenwriters Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff may have used the historic 1993 Storm of the Century as an inspiration for the film. The screenwriters also did an able job of setting up the story with a series of natural disasters – the breaking of the ice shelf in Antarctica, the hailstorm in Tokyo and the series of tornadoes in Los Angeles. Emmerich and Nachmanoff also did an admirable job in setting up the movie’s centerpiece – the tidal wave that hits New York City – with a series of events that began with Terry Rapson and his colleagues detecting the drop in oceanic temperatures and ended with a heavy rainstorm that threatened Manhattan. With the exception of the Lucy Hall storyline in Washington D.C., I feel that this movie was well-paced not only by the screenwriters, but also by Emmerich’s direction.

However, I cannot talk about “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” without discussing the film’s special and visual effects. And I must be honest that I found them mind blowing. The special effects teams supervised by the likes of Louis Craig, John Palmer and Christian Rivest did a superb job in depicting the film’s natural disasters. I also found Greg and Colin Strause, Greg Anderson, Remo Balcells and Eric Brevig’s visual effects featured in the movie equally stunning. And with the assistance of cinematographer Ueli Steiger, these two teams made the Manhattan tidal wave and Ice Age sequences two of the most memorable I have ever seen in a disaster film. I have not been a fan of the musical scores featured in Emmerich’s films such as 1996’s “INDEPENDENCE DAY” and 1998’s “GODZILLA”. But I was surprised to find myself impressed by Harald Kloser and Thomas Wanker’s score for this film. It had a haunting and smooth quality that seemed lacking in some of Emmerich’s other films.

Despite my love for this film, I must admit that I found it almost difficult to endure some of the cheesy dialogue and acting by many of the minor characters. In fact, one could find some of the worst acting by minor characters in the sequence featuring the New York City tidal wave. Thankfully, “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” featured a solid cast that proved to be more talented than many of the minor supporting actors. I think that Dr. Jack Hall might prove to be one of my favorite Dennis Quaid roles. I realize that the actor is more known for portraying sexy, roguish types in movies like “THE BIG EASY” and “THE RIGHT STUFF”. But I must admit that I found it refreshing to see him portray a no-nonsense and intense type like Jack Hall. He was ably supported by Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of the character’s son, Sam Hall. Gyllenhaal must have been at least 22 or 23 years old at the time, but he skillfully projected a sardonic weariness, tinged with a little offspring resentment that strongly impressed me.

I also enjoyed the performances of Ian Holm as the intelligent and warm-hearted Terry Raspon; Sela Ward as Jack’s nearly frantic ex-wife Dr. Lucy Hall; and Emmy Russum as Laura, Sam’s tender-hearted, yet ambitious love interest. Perry King’s President of the United States may have come off as a little too noble, but he still gave a solid performance. Austin Nichols was also solid as the Washington D.C. visitors’ new friend, J.D. I was especially amused by Arjay Smith’s portrayal of Sam’s sardonic friend Brian; Glenn Plummer as the blunt, yet hilarious homeless man who decides to remain at the public library with Jack and his friends in order to survive; and Nestor Serrano as Jack’s no-nonsense boss at the NOAA. But the one performance that surprisingly impressed me came from Kenneth Walsh as the irritable Vice-President. The actor ably developed his character from a snide and bureaucratic politician to a man who had the grace and wisdom to realize that he had been wrong to doubt Jack.

I realize that “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” had received mixed reviews upon its release nearly seven years ago. Many critics had complained about the questionable science behind Roland Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s story and some of the film’s other flaws. I could care less about the questionable science, since the movie is basically science-fiction. But I believe that its virtues – a solid cast led by Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal, stunning special and visual effects, a well-paced script and solid direction Emmerich – outweighed the flaws. And this is why “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” has remained a personal favorite of mine after so many years.

Five Favorite Episodes of “DAREDEVIL” Season Two (2016)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season Two of “DAREDEVIL”, the Marvel Netflix adaptation of the Marvel Comics hero, Daredevil. Created by Drew Goddard, the series starred Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock aka Daredevil:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “DAREDEVIL” SEASON TWO (2016)

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1. (2.06) “Regrets Only” – When Matt Murdock aka Daredevil and former girlfriend Elektra Natchios face the Yakuza during a gala held by the corporation Roxxon, they come across evidence conveying the return of a lethal former. Meanwhile, Matt and his law partner Franklin “Foggy” Nelson risk their firm to ensure justice for the vigilante Frank Castle aka the Punisher. Their assistant Karen Page sees a different side of the latter.

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2. (2.04) “Penny and Dime” – Karen uncovers shocking facts about the Punisher’s identity. Meanwhile, the latter finds himself hunted by a powerful Irish mobster in Hell’s Kitchen, who wants revenge for his family’s deaths.

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3. (2.11) “.380” – Karen starts working with Frank to bring down the mysterious heroin dealer, Blacksmith. Claire Temple quits her job as nurse, when the hospital’s administration tries to keep her silent regarding the Hand’s attack. Matt visits Madame Gao, the Hand crime lord, in order to get information on Blacksmith. Stick learns that his attempt on Elektra’s life had failed and prepares to face his former protégé.

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4. (2.09) “Seven Minutes in Heaven” – In Ryker’s Island Prison, crime lord Wilson Fisk offers Frank a chance at Dutton, the prison’s “kingpin”, whom Fisk believes had organised the deal-gone-wrong that lead to the deaths of Castle’s family; in order to become the prison’s new “kingpin”.

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5. (2.08) “Guilty as Sin” – Frank’s trial spins out of control for Matt and Foggy. After being attacked by an assassin for the Hand, Matt learns from his former mentor, Stick, hocking revelations about the future of Hell’s Kitchen and his role as Elektra’s mentor.

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“DRAGONWYCK” (1946) Review

“DRAGONWYCK” (1946) Review

Being an aficionado of old Hollywood period dramas, I noticed that it was rare to find movies set in the antebellum North. Very rare. I have tried to think of how many of these films I have come across. And to be honest, I can only think of four or five so far, in compare to the numerous films set in the antebellum South. One of those Northern antebellum tales proved to be the 1946 movie, “DRAGONWYCK”

Based upon Anya Seton’s 1944 novel, adapted by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and directed by him; “DRAGONWYCK” began in 1844 Greenwich, Connecticut; when Miranda Wells, the daughter of a religious farm couple, receives a letter from distant cousin Nicholas Van Ryn. Nicholas, the autocratic and charming owner (Patroon) of a Hudson River Valley estate called Dragonwyck, asks if one of Ephraim and Abigail’s daughters could act as governess for his eight year-old daughter, Katrine. Miranda, who daydreams about a more romantic and luxurious lifestyle, manages to convince her doubting parents to let her go. 

Upon her arrival at Dragonwyck, Miranda meets the young Katrine and Nicholas’ wife, a gluttonous, yet slightly high-strong woman named Johanna. She also meets the handsome local doctor, Dr. Jeff Turner, at the “kermess” – a ceremony where landowner Nicholas receives the rents of his tenants. Not only does Miranda become aware of the strange atmosphere at Dragonwyck and the tense relationship between Nicholas and his tenants; she also finds herself falling in love with her cousin and employer . . . and he with her. This budding relationship between the pair proves to be quite disastrous for all concerned.

After my second viewing of “DRAGONWYCK”, I realized that I could never regard it as a personal favorite. The writing for some of the film’s supporting characters struck me as theatrical and one-dimensional. Unfortunately, I have to include the Ephraim Wells character, who came off as a clichéd version of the 19th century religious American male and Peggy, the young maid loyal to Miranda. During the film’s third act, the narrative revealed that Nicholas Van Ryn’s lack of religious belief. Was this supposed to cap his position as an immoral and villainous man? Because honestly . . . I realized that I could not care less about his lack of belief. And I found it ridiculous that his status as a non-believer was supposed to be a sign of his villainy. I understand. Perhaps the majority of moviegoers felt differently in 1946. Needless to say, this aspect of Nicholas’ character did not age well over the past 72 to 73 years. I was not that impressed by the film’s finale in which Nicholas had a showdown with his discontented tenants. Although it featured an excellent performance by Vincent Price, I found the actual sequence a bit anti-climatic. I noticed that the film’s ending was different from the one written by Anya Seton. However, I found Seton’s ending in the novel more dramatic, but somewhat ludicrous. I could see why Mankiewicz had changed the ending.

Although I could never regard “DRAGONWYCK” as a personal favorite of mine, I must admit that I found it to be a rather first-rate film. The movie – the story itself – struck me as a prime example of American Gothic literature. In fact, I would go as far to claim that the narrative almost reminds me of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”, but with a darker twist. Unlike Brontë’s tale, “DRAGONWYCK” included the specter of murder and class conflict. The latter included the historical conflict known as the Anti-Rent War, in which tenants in upstate New York revolted and declared their independence from the manor system operated by patroons, by resisting tax collectors and successfully demanding land reform between 1839 and 1845.

One would think that the Miranda Wells character would be the narrative’s center or force. A part of me feels sad that I cannot make that claim. For the most interesting aspect of “DRAGONWYCK” proved to be the Nicholas Van Ryn character. Was he supposed to be a mere villain? If a person viewed him from how he had ended his marriage to the voracious Johanna, he or she could regard him as such. On the other hand, I found it difficult to regard his refusal to embrace his wife’s new-founded religious fervor as monstrous. Which meant that in the end, Nicholas became something of a repellent, yet fascinating character to me. A true force of nature. I wish I could have said the same about Miranda. I found her charming and extroverted, but after her marriage to Nicholas turned sour, she became something of an annoyance. Being the offspring of religious parents, I was not surprised that she eventually turned to religion. But I found it annoying that religious fervor was the only literary device used to develop her character and nothing else. Nicholas, on the other hand, proved to be a lot more complex.

A part of me wishes that “DRAGONWYCK” had been filmed in Technicolor. It would have been interesting to view Twentieth Century-Fox’s version of antebellum New York State in color. Especially the Hudson River Valley. I am not begrudging Arthur C. Miller’s cinematography. His work for the film’s interior shots, especially those for the Dragonwyck manor had provided a great deal of atmosphere, adding to the film’s Gothic narrative. But I was not that impressed by the exterior shots. I must admit that I have no memories of the film’s score by Alfred Newman. I thought Lyle R. Wheeler and J. Russell Spencer’s art direction, along with Thomas Little’s set decorations were excellent . . . especially for the Dragonwyck manor and New York City hotel’s interiors. However, I truly enjoyed René Hubert’s beautiful costume designs for the movie. Were they accurate examples of mid-1840s fashion? I have my doubts. But as the images below reveal, they were gorgeous:

I might as well focus on the movie’s actual performances. Were there any bad performances? No. “DRAGONWYCK” can honestly boast some solid or excellent performances. The supporting cast featured some solid performances from the likes of Harry Morgan as one of Nicholas’ angry tenants, Connie Marshall as Nicholas’ daughter Katrine, and Trudy Marshall as neighbor Elizabeth Van Borden. Future Oscar winner Jessica Tandy’s portrayal of Miranda’s Irish-born maid Peggy O’Malley struck me as a bit theatrical. I could also say the same about another future Oscar winner Walter Huston, who portrayed Miranda’s religious father Ephraim Wells. Anne Revere’s portrayal of Miranda’s mother Abigail Wells seemed a lot more subtle . . . and skillful. Spring Byington portrayed the Van Ryns’ manipulative and slightly creepy maid Magda. A part of me wondered if it was Mankiewicz or Seton’s intention to create a more benign version of the Mrs. Danvers character from “REBECCA”. Vivienne Osborne, on the other hand, gave a very skillful performance as Nicholas’ first wife, the gluttonous and insecure Johanna Van Ryn. I did not know whether to share Nicholas’ disgust for her or feel any sympathy toward her for being married to a creep.

I was prepared to dismiss Glenn Langan’s performance as the handsome local physician, Dr. Jeff Turner, who befriends Miranda. I had assumed that he would be another one of those bland leading men that the Hollywood system tried to transform into a movie star. After my recent viewing of “DRAGONWYCK”, I realized that Langan gave an interesting performance by skillfully conveying Jeff’s barely concealed anger toward Nicholas’ arrogance. However, my vote for the best performance would go to Vincent Price’s portrayal of Nicholas Van Ryn. I thought he gave a brilliant and dynamic performance as the arrogant, yet charismatic Nicholas, whose villainy proved to be rather enigmatic. Gene Tierney did an excellent job in carrying the film as the lead Miranda Wells. I was very impressed by her portrayal of the more ebullient and naive Miranda during the first two-thirds of the film. But once Miranda’s marriage to Nicholas began to fail, Tierney’s portrayal of the character fell flat. I do not blame her. I blame the manner in which the character had become one-dimensional, thanks to Anya Seton’s novel and Joseph Mankiewicz’s screenplay.

Overall, I rather enjoyed “DRAGONWYCK”. It was not perfect. No film is. But I was a little put off by some theatrical acting in the film, the decline of the Miranda Wells character and the writing overall during the movie’s final fifteen to twenty minutes. But I must admit I enjoyed most of the film’s narrative. Many would dismiss it as costume melodrama. Personally, I see no reason to dismiss melodrama. It can be appreciated, if written well like other forms of fiction. Thanks to Joseph Mankiewicz’s screenplay and direction, along with a competent cast led by Gene Tierney and Vincent Price; “DRAGONWYCK” proved to be more entertaining than I had previously surmised.

“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 1/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

RATING: PG-13 – Mild adult language and violence.
SUMMARY: Cole’s former demonic lover threatens to wreck havoc on his and Olivia McNeill’s wedding day.
FEEDBACK: – Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: Cole Turner, the Charmed Ones and other characters related to Charmed belong to Spelling Productions, Brad Kern and Constance Burge. Olivia McNeill, Cecile Dubois, Andre Morrell, the McNeill family and Idril are my creations.
NOTE: Takes place about a few days after “Strange Bedfellows” (Alternate Universe Season 6).

—————-

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter One

Olivia McNeill glanced down at the long, cream-colored gown and sighed. “It’s beautiful,” she declared. The tall woman, who stood beside her, smiled. “Really Laura, I love it. Very elegant, yet simple.”

“I must agree,” her mother, Gweneth McNeill added. “It is quite lovely.” She examined the dress with its halter top and pearl embroidered bodice. “But doesn’t that come with a shawl?”

Laura Harper let out a small squeak. “Oh yes. I forgot.” She strode toward Olivia’s bed and gently gathered a cream-colored silk shawl into her arms. Then she draped it around Olivia’s shoulders. “There you are.”

Olivia examined herself through the long, oval mirror inside her old bedroom. With her wedding just less than a week away, she had temporarily moved back to her parents’ home. Meanwhile, her fiancé, Cole Turner, had prepared one of the penthouse’s guest bedrooms for the best man’s arrival. “Perfect. Laura, you have outdone yourself.”

“Thanks,” the dress designer replied with a pleased smile. Then she returned to the bed and opened another large box. “By the way, here’s the other gown that you had requested.” She removed a long, red satin gown with yellow patterns of the sun embroidered around the hem from the box. The gown also possessed a square neckline and bell-shaped sleeves. “Designed just as you wanted it.” Laura frowned. “What is it for, again?”

Recognizing her second wedding gown – for the demonic ceremony – Olivia hastily replied, “Oh, nothing special. I simply wanted a new evening gown for my honeymoon.”

“Hmmm.” The designer closely examined the red gown. “It has a very medieval look about it, doesn’t it? But I think it suits you.”

“Thanks.”

Gweneth made a show of glancing at her watch. “Oh dear! Look at the time. Laura dear, didn’t you say something about an appointment around two-thirty? It’s almost two, right now.”

“Oh!” Laura returned the red gown to the box. “I almost forgot about the appointment with Pamela Giovanni. She and her family will be leaving next Friday for Fiji. They’re staying there for the holidays.”

Recognizing the wife of one of Cole’s clients, Olivia winced. “Poor Fiji,” she murmured. She ignored her mother’s pointed glance.

The designer picked up her check from Olivia. “Well, I better get going. Call me if any extra work is needed on the gowns. I’ll see you on Saturday.” The McNeill women bid her good-bye, as she rushed out of the bedroom.

“Help me out of this, will you Mom?” Olivia asked the older redhead.

While Gweneth assisted her daughter in removing the cream-colored gown, the latter continued, “So, Mark and Pamela Giovanni will be out of town. Talk about good luck! It’s a good thing we didn’t invite them to the reception.”

“Livy . . .”

“Oh c’mon, Mom!” Olivia protested. “Granted, Mark Giovanni can be a tolerable person . . . when he’s not trying to seduce every female in the room. But you know what Pam . . .” She broke off, as she stepped out of the gown. “. . . what Pamela is like. No one likes her! I know that you, Dad and Gran don’t. And Cole despises her. I think we should count ourselves lucky.”

Gweneth sighed. “If you insist. By the way, your Grandmother Morgan will be arriving within two days for the wedding.”

“And not Grandfather?” Olivia challenged. She twisted her mouth into a smirk. “I guess he still hasn’t forgiven me for what happened to Aunt Rhiannon . . . and Richard.”

Again, the older woman sighed. Olivia immediately understood. The Morgans – at least a good number of them – had never really approved of her parents’ marriage. Jack and Gweneth’s marriage had strained relations between the Welsh-born witch and her father. It had taken nearly twenty-five years for Rhys Morgan to accept his daughter’s marriage to the wealthy San Franciscan witch. The reconciliation between the American McNeills and the Morgans eventually unraveled following the debacle that surrounded the deaths of Olivia’s aunt, Rhiannon Morgan Vaughan and Olivia’s former fiancé, Richard Bannen.

“Livy, you must understand . . .” Gweneth paused. “What am I saying? Sometimes I think that Dad hasn’t forgiven me. Rhiannon had always been his favorite.”

With a sniff, Olivia replied, “Well, of course she was. She didn’t resemble the family’s bogeywoman – dear Great-great-great-whatever-grandmama Briana Morgan. Let’s face it, Mom. Both of us resemble her stronger than anyone else in the family.”

“Well, she was a powerful warlock, Livy. She has cast a long shadow over the family for over two centuries. And at least Mother will be at the wedding.”

Silence fell between mother and daughter. Gweneth draped the wedding gown across the bed, as Olivia asked, “So, is Grandmother the only Morgan will be the only one coming?”

Gweneth paused. Which made Olivia feel uneasy. “Your uncle Brion will be joining her.”

“Are you serious?” Olivia winced at the memories of her mother’s younger brother. “Not Uncle Oliver?”

“I’m afraid not, pet,” Gweneth added ruefully. “Oliver is somewhere in Finland, at the moment.” Both women seemed mournful that the outgoing Oliver Morgan – Olivia’s uncle and godfather – would not be able to attend the wedding. “Perhaps you should be thankful that neither Evan or Dafydd would be here.”

Olivia sighed at the mention of her oldest uncle and his son. Not long after Richard’s death, her cousin Dafydd had made a disparaging remark about the former warlock. A then furious Olivia retaliated by attacking her cousin. The attack nearly cost him his life. Neither Dafydd or his father had been able to forgive the young red-haired witch.

“I’m more than thankful,” Olivia replied with force. She donned a robe. “Speaking of wedding guests . . .”

Gweneth stared at her daughter. “Yes?”

“Well, Cole and I had sent invitations . . . to Phoebe and Jason in Hong Kong.”

Surprise lit up the older woman’s green eyes. “Why?” Olivia stared at her. “I mean . . . well, I understand about Phoebe, since you must have sent invitations to the entire Halliwell family. But Jason?”

Olivia’s cheeks grew warm with embarrassment. “I guess you can say that Jason and I had finally buried the hatchet, so to speak. Especially after I had invited him to Dad’s party, in order to meet Cecile, last month.”

“So, he and Phoebe will be . . .?”

Olivia picked up her jeans from a nearby chair. “Well, Cole and I have received a ‘yes’ from Jason, yesterday. Whether they’re going to show up – that remains to be seen.”

————

Hong Kong Island, China . . . Jason’s personal assistant quickly shut the door. Inside one of the Peninsula Hotel’s plush suites, an angry Phoebe Halliwell faced her current boyfriend. “I can’t believe you did this!” she cried, waving a telegram in Jason’s face. “When were you planning to tell me?”

“Phoebe!” The blond billionaire rushed forward to placate his girlfriend. She jerked away from his touch. Jason Dean heaved an exasperated sigh. “C’mon Phoebe! What’s the big deal? It’s just a wedding. And this will give you the chance to see your family for a few days.”

Phoebe stabbed the older man with a knowing glare. “Oh please, Jason! You know what the big deal is! You had accepted Cole and Olivia’s invitation without my permission! It’s okay for you to speak for yourself, but you had no business accepting on my behalf. Without my consent!”

The couple stared at each other in strained silence. Then Jason turned away and drifted toward the large windows that overlooked Hong Kong and the Victoria Peak. Just fifteen minutes ago, Phoebe had stumbled across a copy of a telegraph that Jason had sent to San Francisco. It was a confirmation for her and Jason to attend Cole’s upcoming wedding. Furious at her discovery, Phoebe had interrupted Jason’s meeting with his executive assistant.

Jason regarded Phoebe with glittering eyes. Phoebe could sense a hint of suspicion . . . and jealousy welling inside him. “What’s going on, Phoebe?” he demanded.

“What do you mean?” The Charmed One immediately went on the defensive.

With a sigh, Jason continued, “Why are you so pissed off about this wedding? I’ve taken matters into my own hands, before.” He walked toward the suite’s sofa and sat down. “Has this something to do with the fact that your ex-husband is getting married?”

The words came out of Phoebe’s mouth before she could stop herself. “Of course it does! What woman in her right mind would want to attend her ex-husband’s wedding?” Before Jason could reply, she added, “And why on earth would you want to go to your ex-girlfriend’s wedding? Didn’t you once tell me that you and Olivia had a traumatic breakup?”

Jason blinked several times. “Well, that was honest,” he finally said. “I guess I can finally understand why you would be reluctant to attend this wedding. I mean . . . I’ve never been married myself, but I understand.”

“Good! Then we’re not going.”

“Uh, Phoebe . . .” The moment Jason had spoken those two words, the Charmed One’s heart sank.”

She frowned at her boyfriend. “You’re still going, aren’t you?”

“I’ve already accepted the invitation!” Jason protested. “I can’t change my mind, now. Besides,” his voice lowered, “Olivia and I . . . we’re friends, now.”

Phoebe continued to stare at the billionaire. “Since when?”

“C’mon Phoebe. You remember how she had helped me get invited to her parents’ party for Cecile Dubois, don’t you? Well, we had decided to bury the hatchet that night. And I remember you telling me that you and Cole had finally got some closure over your divorce, last summer.”

Memories of her lukewarm romance with her ex-husband loomed in Phoebe’s mind. “Yeah,” she murmured. “I remember.”

“Does that mean you still want to avoid the wedding?”

Yes! Phoebe’s mind screamed. But she dared not express her true feelings again. Not while Jason harbored his own anxieties. Phoebe took a deep breath and pecked her boyfriend’s cheek. “No, I guess not. It’s just . . . the idea of attending Cole’s wedding to another woman seems really weird. Like you said, you’ve never been married.”

“I understand.” Jason returned Phoebe’s kiss with one on the top of her head.

‘No you don’t,’ Phoebe wanted to scream. Instead, she remained silent . . . as another secret from Jason, settled within her heart.

The offices of Armistead Corporation was situated on seven floors of the Prudential Tower in Boston. Unbeknownst to the city’s human populace, it served as the mortal business center for the demonic Thorn Order, on Earth. The Corporation had transferred its offices from New York City to Boston when the order had acquired a new leader over a year ago.

As a member of the Thorn Order, Idril served as one of the corporation’s officers. She led the Entertainment Division and dealt with obtaining contracts from humans that included actors, actresses, directors, producers, singers, musicians, professional athletes, and artists. Anyone willing willing to sell his or her soul to become a success in the entertainment field. A six-year stay in Hollywood during the 1960s led to Idril’s rise in power within the Order’s Entertainment Division.

At that moment, Idril strolled along Armistead’s 16th floor, lost in thought over a specter from the past – namely a certain half-daemon named Belthazor. Seeing him in the Melora Dimension had manifested old memories of their two brief affairs – one from the late 60s and the other, thirty years later. Although the half-daemon had not been the only male in her life, he was the only one – aside from her mentor, Raynor – who had left a great impression upon her. So much so that thoughts of Belthazor continued to plague her mind, even days after the engagement party.

Idril had attempted to relive their past affair through an offer for lunch. To her dismay, not only did Belthazor reject her, but also revealed that he had used their affair as a weapon in his never-ending feud with his mother, Nimue. This latest humiliation reminded Idril of another – his rejection of her for that trampy English witch. Looking back upon it now, she realized that she should have never accepted Raynor’s suggestion to use Belthazor as a front for their own affair. Not only would she had been spared of so much humiliation, she would have never fallen in love with Belthazor.

Perhaps following Artemus’ advice regarding love of any kind seemed the best recourse. Perhaps she should help the Khorne Order’s leader become the new Source. But thoughts of the half-daemon refused to disappear from Idril’s mind. Her desire for him remained stronger than ever. Nor did it help that Belthazor’s present fiancée strongly reminded her of that know-it-all bitch, Christine Bloome. Idril wondered how Olivia McNeill would feel if she had managed to, once more, attract Belthazor’s attention. The idea made her glow with warmth. Unfortunately, it was only . . .

“Oooof!” A body came from around the corner and collided with Idril. Books, parchment papers and computer disks scattered on the floor. “Pardon me, Idril!” a nervous voice exclaimed. “I didn’t mean to be so clumsy.”

Idril glared at a thin, bronze-skinned man with anxious dark eyes. “You should watch were you’re going!” she retorted.

“Yes, I am sorry. I was . . .” The daemon, whose name happened to be Tuxor, bent down to pick up the fallen material. “. . . in a hurry to return this material to the library. Pardon me for my clumsiness. I’ll never . . .” The thin daemon did not possess a reputation for any assassination skills or any abilities for corrupting others. In fact, Idril suspected that he was not particularly evil in any way. But everyone knew that he was a first-class researcher and one of Nimue’s protégées.

The demoness’ eyes fell upon an open-faced book that contained a black-and-white photograph of a medallion with a large stone in the middle. “What is that?” she demanded, picking up the book.

The other daemon glanced at the book’s cover. “It’s called ‘HISTORY OF INTERDIMENSIONAL LEGENDS AND LORE’. It was first written by this mortal over two centuries, ago. This is the 73rd edi . . .”

“I’m talking about the picture of this medallion,” Idril interrupted sharply.

His face now dark red with embarrassment, Tuxor commented, “Oh. Uh . . . that’s . . . uh, a medallion.” He took the book from Idril and perused the opened page. The . . . I mean, Evendril’s Amulet.”

Idril stared at Tuxor. “And what is it used for?”

“Telepathic manipulation.” Tuxor squinted at the text. “That’s right. Telepathic manipulation. You use it to place someone in a trance . . . and give them instruction. You know, like hypnotism. Or something close to what a telepath would do. Only the effect is more powerful. The . . . uh sapphire stone is used to cast the spell. Especially since it is linked with psychic abilities.”

A magical stone used for telepathic suggestion? A wild idea took form in Idril’s mind. She wondered . . . “Just how powerful is this stone? What I mean is . . . would it work on any daemon?”

Tuxor returned his attention to the book. “Ah . . . I believe so. The stone was created by a powerful wizard over eight hundred years ago. It turns out that she was also a telepath. She had created the amulet, when she temporarily lost her power.”

“How about a daemon as powerful as . . . say, Belthazor?” Idril asked in a deliberate offhand manner.

Tuxor frowned slightly, as he answered in a hesitant voice, “Uh . . . Maybe. I’ve heard rumors that he’s susceptible to telepathy.” The demon stared at Idril. “You’re not planning to use this stone on him, are you?”

“Of course not!” Idril protested with a dismissive sniff. “And incur the wrath of Nimue? Besides, why on earth would I want to use this stone on someone like Belthazor?”

“Oh . . . I . . . I just thought . . .”

Idril heaved a loud and dramatic sigh. “The stone in the book caught my eye and made me curious about it. That’s all.” After Tuxor had expressed relief, the demoness added, “By the way, do any of the wizard’s descendants still have the amulet?”

Tuxor shook his head vigorously. “Oh no! I heard that it had passed out of their hands, centuries ago. In fact . . .” He assumed a thoughtful expression. “I believe I may have seen the stone before.” Idril silently held her breath, while Tuxor paused. Then he continued, “At one of those multi-dimensional outdoor markets. I just wish I could remember which one.”

Keeping her frustration in check, Idril merely smiled. “Oh well. I wouldn’t bother. I doubt that stone will be seen again for many cent . . .”

“Now I remember!” Tuxor’s exclaimation nearly made the demoness jump out of her shoes. “The Anduin Marketplace! Of course! About six months ago. I saw it at . . .” Again, Idril held her breath. Unfortunately, Tuxor ended up disappointing her. “Damn!” he cried. “I can’t remember which vendor had it.”

“Well, it’s not really important, is it?” she said in her most pleasant voice. “As for the Anduin Marketplace, I haven’t been there in years.”

Tuxor said politely, “Why don’t you pay a call? Their food court has greatly improved over the years. You might want to try this particular restaurant for lunch.”

A wide smile stretched Idril’s mouth. “You know, I just might do that.”

END OF CHAPTER ONE

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Two “Day of Days” Commentary

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – EPISODE TWO “DAY OF DAYS” COMMENTARY

The last episode, ”Currahee” ended with Easy Company leaving England by air on June 5, 1944 to participate in the Allies’ invasion of Normandy. This second episode, ”Day of Days” re-counts Lieutenant Richard Winters and some members of Easy Company’s experiences during the drop into France on June 5 and during their assault of the German guns at Brécourt Manor on D-Day.

Although the episode occasionally shifted to different viewpoints, the episode mainly focused upon Bill Guarnere, Donald Malarkey and especially Richard Winters. Winters became Easy Company’s new commander following the death of Lieutenant Thomas Meehan during the flight to Northern France. Before learning of Meehan’s death, Winters had to contend with the chaos and confusion that followed the airborne units’ drop into nighttime Normandy. Winters also had to deal with a hostile Guarnere, who was still angry over his older brother’s death. As for Malarkey, his first 24 hours in France proved to be interesting. He met a German prisoner-of-war who was born and raised nearly a hundred miles from him in Oregon. And he may have witnessed (or heard) the massacre of German prisoners-of-war by one Lieutenant Ronald Spiers of Dog Company. Or not. The following morning on D-Day, Winters assumed command of Easy Company and led a famous assault (which included Guarnere, Malarkey and Spiers with a few members of Dog Company) on the German artillery battery at Brécourt Manor, which was delaying the Allies’ assault upon Utah Beach.

This was a pretty good episode that featured two exciting combat sequences. The longest, of course, featured the assault upon Brécourt Manor. And I must admit that I found it very exciting. The way director Richard Loncraine shot the sequence almost made it feel as if I had been watching it in real time with very little editing. Ironically, the one action sequence that really impressed me was Easy Company’s jump into France the previous night. The sequence, which started the episode, began with the viewpoints of various characters – even Easy Company’s doomed commander, Thomas Meehan. But when the sequence focused upon Winters’ time to jump, the camera followed him from his departure from the plane to his landing on French soil. The photography and special effects used for Winters’ jump was very effective. But I found myself really impressed by those opening moments featuring the German flak that the planes conveying Easy Company to their drop zones. It struck me as exciting and terrifying and it effectively conveyed the dangerous and claustrophobic situation that Easy Company and the planes’ pilots found themselves.

The acting in ”Day of Days” proved to be solid. But I must admit that I cannot recall any exceptional performances. Damian Lewis continued his excellent performance as Easy Company’s premiere commander, Richard D. Winters. He handled both the dramatic and action sequences with ease. Frank John Hughes was just as effective handling William “Wild Bill” Guarnere’s emotional state during those first 24 hours of the D-Day Campaign, which varied from anger and aggression to grudging acceptance of Winters as a leader and a return to his sense of humor. And Scott Grimes was marvelous as Easy Company trooper, Donald Malarkey. Although I must admit that I found his determination to find a Luger for his younger brother a bit silly in one scene. Matthew Settle made his first appearance as Ronald Spiers, the junior officer from Dog Company, who will become Easy Company’s last commander by the end of the series. Although his appearance was minor, he gave a memorable performance as the young officer, whose aggressiveness will prove to be the talk of the 506th regiment. Actors such as Neal McDonough, Donnie Walhberg and Andrew Scott also gave solid support.

I have a few quibbles about ”Day of Days”. One, I thought the episode was a bit too short. I realize that the following episode, ”Carentan”, will also focus on the Normandy invasion. But I think that this episode could have stretched at least another 10 to 15 minutes by focusing a little more on Guarnere and Malarkey’s experiences before they and Carwood Lipton encountered Winters on the night after they dropped into France. And I must admit that I found some of the dialogue rather cheesy. I also feel that screenwriter Loncraine could have left out Winters’ narration in the episode’s last five minutes. I found it unnecessary and a little clichéd. In conclusion, ”Day of Days” turned out to be a pretty solid episode. I would never consider it as one of my favorite episodes of the miniseries. But it did feature two top-notch action sequences and good performances, especially by Damian Lewis.

“G.I. JOE: RISE OF THE COBRA” (2009) Review

”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA” (2009) Review

Ten years ago, I saw a movie that was based upon a popular toy franchise for the third time in my life. This movie turned out to be ”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA”. And if I must be honest, I ended up seeing the movie under confusing circumstances.

I never had any intentions of seeing ”G.I. JOE: RISE OF THE COBRA” when it was first released in theaters. Let me make this perfectly clear. After the mindless action of the first two ”TRANSFORMERS” movies, I had vowed never to watch another action movie based upon a popular toy. In fact, I had intended to see the new comedy at the time, ”JULIE AND JULIA”. My family and I ended up watching ”G.I. JOE”, because I thought a relative of mine wanted to see it. As it turned out, my relative thought ”I” wanted to see the movie. Which goes to show how dangerous the lack of communications can be. We ended up watching a movie that neither of us had intended to see.

Stephen Sommers, the creator of ”THE MUMMY” franchise and director of the first two movies, directed this tale about the G.I. Joe Team, a covert unit of international special forces commandos, under the command of a U.S. Army general named Hawk (Dennis Quaid). Original, huh? Following an attempt by terrorists to steal nanotechnology-based warheads, two regular Army commandos, Conrad “Duke” Hauser and Wallace “Ripcord” Weems, join the “Joes” in an effort to prevent the warheads from falling into the hands of terrorists. During Duke and Ripcord’s training at the G.I. Joe’s command center in North Africa, two terrorists named the Baroneess and Storm Shadow attack the base. And in the process, manage to wound General Hawk and steal the warheads. The Team eventually learn that the warheads’ creator and owner of an arms manufacturing company called MARS, James McCullen, was responsible for the attack and wanted the warheads back for his own nefarious means.

What can I say about ”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA”? It was simply your typical summer action blockbuster based upon a popular franchise. And like many of these action films, it was filled with the usual action, explosions, violence, silly one-liners and special effects. Nothing special. Nothing original. It also featured an underwater battle between the “G.I. Joe” Team and McCullen’s troops. I read somewhere that Sommers wanted to pay homage to the 1965 James Bond movie, ”THUNDERBALL”. Well, he certainly succeeded as far as I am concerned. Sommer’s underwater battle in ”G.I. JOE: RISE OF THE COBRA” seemed just as boring as the one featured in ”THUNDERBALL”.

However, ”G.I. JOE” turned out to be surprisingly better than I had expected. In fact, the movie possessed enough attributes for me to enjoy it. You heard right. I actually managed to enjoy ”G.I. JOE”. Despite the usual action nonsense, the movie turned out to rather enjoyable. More importantly, screenwriters Stuart Beattie, David Elliot and Paul Lovett included several twists in both the plot and some of the characterizations that took me by surprise. And ”G.I. JOE” did not strike me as the type of movie that could generate that kind of surprise. Another aspect of the movie that allowed it rise above the likes of the ”TRANSFORMER” movies, were its exploration of background stories of characters like Duke, the Baroness, McCullen, the Baroness’ brother Rex Lewis and the two former rivals, Storm Shadow and one of the “Joes”. The movie also featured a surprisingly effective action sequence set in Paris – a sequence that ended with some noteworthy special effects produced under the supervision of Christian Roberton and shot wonderfully by cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen.

Another aspect of ”G.I. JOE” that impressed me was its cast. Aside from one particular actor, the actors and actresses struck me as surprisingly impressive. Channing Tatum led the cast as Duke, the Army Special Forces officer who decides to join the “G.I. Joe Team” in order to continue his assignment regarding the nanoprobe warheads. Duke is also haunted by a past tragedy that involved his former girlfriend, Ana Lewis aka the Baroness and her brother, Rex. In the decade since this movie’s release, Tatum has managed to become a major and talented Hollywood star. But I have to be honest. He did not exactly appeal to me as a screen presence when I first saw “G.I. JOE”. But I thought he gave a very solid and competent performance in this film. Portraying Duke’s best friend was comic actor, writer and producer Marlon Wayans. He portrayed Ripcord, another Special Forces soldier who decides to follow Duke in joining the “Joes”. Ripcord also harbored a desire to be acknowledged as a top military pilot and he fell in love with another member of the “G.I. Joe Team”. As expected, Wayans provided a great deal of laughter in a role that could easily be labeled as comic relief. Only in this movie, Ripcord had a well written romance and managed to save two major capital cities in the movie’s finale. Wayans not only handled the comedy with great ease, he also did a solid job in his romantic and action scenes.

The supporting cast was filled with first-rate actors and actresses that provided solid performances. I especially enjoyed Sienna Miller as Duke’s conflicted ex-girlfriend, Ana Lewis. Family tragedy led her to join McCullen’s villainous team and change her name to the Baroness. It seemed quite obvious that Miller was enjoying herself in the role. Rachel Nichols gave an interesting performance as the brainy and uptight Scarlett, who learned to open up her heart to Ripcord’s humor and warmth. Also, she and Wayans provided great screen chemistry. And it was great seeing Adewale Akinuoye-Agbale for at the time, I had not seen him in a period of three years, since early Season Three of ABC’s ”LOST”. In this movie, Akinuoye-Agbale was his usual commanding self as Hershel “Heavy Duty” Dalton, the team’s ordinance expert who acted as field commander of the “Joes”. I also enjoyed Said Taghmaoni as Abel “Breaker” Shaz, the Moroccan hacker and communications expert that harbored a fondness for bubble gum. I especially enjoyed his performance in a scene that featured his character’s dismay at being banned from French soil, following the Eiffel Tower debacle. I have to give kudos to Lee Byung-hun for giving a convincingly complex performance as the villainous Storm Shadow. Young actor Brandon Soo-Hoo (from 2008’s “TROPIC THUNDER”) was equally intense as the character’s younger self. Christopher Eccleston was pretty solid as the main villain, James McCullen. Jonathan Pryce was equally solid as the President of the United States. Kevin J. O’Connor gave an interesting and slightly bizarre performance as Doctor Mindbender, the creator of nanomite technology. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a hoot as Ana’s slightly neurotic brother, Rex Lewis. I could say the same about Arnold Vasloo’s colorful performance as the murderous, yet colorful Zartan. Brendan Fraser provided a brief, yet entertaining cameo as the Joes’ trainer.

There was one performance that failed to impress me. And it belonged to Dennis Quaid as General Hawk, leader of the “G.I. Joe Team”. Now, I have been a fan of Quaid for years. Out of all the performances in the movie, his was the only one that turned me off. How can I put this? Quaid’s General Hawk sounded and behaved like an authority figure – whether it be a police officer, politician or military officer – from a 1950s or 60s “B” movie. You know – he spouted the usual flag-waving crap in an exaggerated manner that came off as stiff. I only thank God that his role was small.

Before I saw ”G.I. JOE”, I had suspected that it would become another ”TRANSFORMERS” or ”TRANSFORMERS 2”. Unlike the movies from that particular franchise, I did not have to turn off my brain to enjoy the film. And that surprised me, despite the movie’s flaws. Also, Stephen Sommers did a pretty good job in directing both the cast and crew in order to create a surprisingly entertaining movie. He also had the good luck to work from a solid script that provided a few good twists and surprises. ”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA” is not a cinematic masterpiece, an action masterpiece or exercise in intellectual introspection. But it must have did something right. I enjoyed the film and it was a hit big enough to lead to a sequel some four years later.

And If you want a movie that you might be able to enjoy with kids . . . or even a few friends, then I would recommend it.