“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Four “Replacements” Commentary

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Four “Replacements” Commentary

In the last episode, “Carentan”, yet-to-be-announced First Sergeant Carwood Lipton announced to Normandy veterans Easy Company that they would be returning to France. Instead, a conversation between Sergeant Bill Guarnere and a group of replacements reveal that Easy Company never did. Eventually Easy Company did return to the Continent when they were deployed to the Netherlands to participate in the doomed Operation Market Garden campaign.

“Replacements” centered on Sergeant Denver “Bull” Randleman and his experiences during Operation Market Garden and with the replacements in his platoon. One of them included Edward “Babe” Heffron, who hailed from the same Philadelphia neighborhood as Guarnere (this was established at the end of “Carentan”). The other three include Antonio Garcia, James Miller and Lester “Leo” Hashey. Through both his and their eyes, viewers get to experience Easy Company’s trouble-free jump into Holland, the Dutch citizens’ joyous reaction to their presence in Eindhoven and their disastrous encounter with battle-hardened S.S. troops – one of many encounters that led to the failure of Operation Market Garden. Following Easy Company’s retreat from Eindhoven, a wounded “Bull” Randleman finds himself trapped in the German-occupied town and is forced to find his way back to Easy Company and the American lines.

”Replacements” turned out to be a decent episode, but it was one that did not knock my socks off. It featured a terrifying battle in which Easy Company was forced to retreat in defeat. And it also gave viewers an interesting view in the mindsets of replacement troops like Garcia, Miller and Hashey; who seemed to regard Randleman and the other Toccoa trained men with awe. In scenes that featured Easy Company’s brief liberation of Eindhoven, the episode revealed the cruel fates inflicted by the Dutch citizens upon local women who had collaborated (had sex) with some of the occupying German troops. And viewers got to enjoy more scenes featuring some of the men engaging in small talk that revealed more of their personalities. The episode also had interesting scenes that featured Lewis Nixon’s brief brush with death (a bullet in his helmet) and Winters’ reaction, Easy Company’s brief reunion with Herbert Sobel, who had become a supply officer; and David Webster, Don Hoobler and Robert Van Klinken’s humorous encounter with a Dutch farmer and his son. However, ”Replacements” belonged to one particular character, namely Denver “Bull” Randleman. Screenwriters Graham Yost and Bruce C. McKenna did a solid job in both his characterization and the Holland experiences of the Arkansas-born sergeant. One of the episode’s more harrowing scenes featured a violent encounter between a wounded Randleman and a German soldier inside a barn, while the owner – a Dutch farmer – and his daughter look on.

But Randleman’s experiences during Operation Market Garden would have never been that effective without Michael Cudlitz’s subtle performance as the quiet and imposing Randleman. With very little dialogue, Cudlitz conveyed the veteran’s battle experiences and emotions through body language, facial expressions and the use of his eyes. He made it easy for me to see why the troopers of First Platoon and even the company’s officers held with such high regard. Cutdliz was ably supported by the likes of Dexter Fletcher’s sardonic portrayal of First Platoon’s other NCO, John Martin; Frank John Hughes’ amusing performance as the verbose Bill Guarnere; and Peter McCabe, who turned out to be one of the few British actors who perfectly captured the accent and speech patterns of an American combatant in his portrayal of the aggressive Donald Hoobler. Also, it was nice to see David Schwimmer again as Easy Company’s much reviled former commander, Herbert Sobel in a more subtle performance. Portraying the inexperienced replacement troops were James McAvoy (James Miller), Douglas Spain (Antonio C. Garcia) and Mark Huberman (Lester “Leo” Hashey). And each actor did a solid job in portraying their characters’ inexperience, awe of the veteran Toccoa men and their determination to prove themselves in combat.

However, ”Replacements” had its problems. One, the opening scene at the English pub featured Walter Gordon revealing Carwood Lipton as the company’s new first sergeant. And this moment really seemed out of place, considering that Lipton was already acting like the new first sergeant at the end of ”Carentan”. Aside from the battle scene, I must admit that this was not an exciting episode. Like ”Day of Days”, it featured a major historical event – in this case, Operation Market Garden – that had exciting moments, but lacked an epic quality that would have suited such a topic. Allowing the episode a longer running time would have been a step in the right direction. And if I must be honest, I got the feeling that not much really happened in this episode, in compare to ”Day of Days”.

But, ”Replacements” turned out to be a decent episode. Although it lacked an epic quality for a story about Easy Company’s experiences during Operation Market Garden, it did feature an exciting battle that resulted in defeat for them. And Michael Cutdliz gave a subtle and first-class performance as the episode’s central character, “Bull” Randleman.

“VANITY FAIR” (1987) Review

“VANITY FAIR” (1987) Review

I found myself wondering how many adaptations of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1847-1848 novel there have been. As it turned out, this is one piece of literature that has been adapted countless number of times – in film, radio and television. I have seen at least five adaptations myself. And one of them turned out to be the sixteen-part television miniseries that aired on the BBC in 1987.

Since Thackeray’s novel is a very familiar tale, I will give a brief recount. Adapted by Alexander Baron and directed by Michael Owen Morris, “VANITY FAIR” told the story of one Rebecca “Becky” Sharp, an impoverished daughter of an English art teacher and French dancer in late Georgian Britain. Determined to climb her way out of poverty and into society, Becky manages to befriend Amelia Sedley, the daughter of a wealthy London merchant. When both finally graduate from Miss Pinkerton’s School for Girls, Becky is invited to spend some time with Amelia’s family, before she has to assume duties as a governess to the daughters of a minor baronet and landowner named Sir Pitt Crawley. During her time with the Sedleys, she almost manages to snare Amelia’s older brother, Jos, a “nabob” from India, as a husband. But the interference of George Osborne, the son of another merchant who happens to Amelia’s heart desire, leaves Becky single and employment as a governess. However, upon her arrival at Queen’s Crawley, the Crawleys’ estate, Becky’s charm and wiles inflict a shake-up with the family that would influence lives for years to come.

While viewing “VANITY FAIR”, it occurred to me that it is really a product of its time. Although not completely faithful to Thackeray’s novel, it struck me as being more so than any adaptation I have seen. Most literary adaptations on television tend to be rather faithful – at least between the 1970s and the 1990s. Especially during the decade of the 1980s. Another sign of this miniseries being a product of its age is the quality of its photography. It is rather faded – typical of many such productions during the 1970s and 1980s. But for me, complete faithfulness to a literary source is not a true sign of the quality of a television adaptation. Nor the quality of the film it was shot on. So, how do I feel about “VANITY FAIR”?

Remember the miniseries’ faded look I had commented upon? I really wish it had been shot on better film stock. Stuart Murdoch and Mickey Edwards’ visual effects struck me as too eye-catching to be wasted on film stock that quickly faded with time. Another problem I had proved to be the episode that centered around the Battle of Waterloo. I realize that it would make sense for the most of episode’s narrative to be told from Becky Sharp Crawley’s point of view. Yet, considering that it was able to feature the discovery of one dead character on the battlefield, I wish the episode had been willing to embellish the sequence a bit more. The sequence featured a great deal on Becky and Amelia saying good-bye to their respective spouses, along with Becky bargaining with Jos Sedley over her husband’s horses. Overall, the entire sequence . . . nearly the entire episode seemed to lack a sense of urgency over the entire Waterloo campaign and how it affected the main characters. I have one last complaint about “VANITY FAIR” . . . namely the Maquis of Steyne. To be honest, my complaint against him is rather minor. I have a complaint against his physical appearance. Thanks to Lesley Weaver’s makeup, I could barely make out actor John Shrapnel’s features. He seemed to be a whole mass of hair and whiskers plastered on a slightly reddish countenance.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed how the production went into full detail of Thackeray’s novel. Was it completely faithful? I rather doubt it. I noticed how Alexander Baron’s screenplay did not adhere to Thackeray’s rather nasty portrayal of non-white characters such as Miss Schwartz. Thankfully. On the other hand, Baron, along with director Michael Owen Morris did an excellent job in their portrayals of the novel’s main characters – especially Rebecca Sharp, Rawdon Crawley, Amelia Sedley, Jos Sedley, George Osborne, Mr. Osborne and William Dobbin. I will be honest. My favorite segments of the production . . . are basically my favorite segments of the novel. I enjoyed the production’s re-creation of Becky’s story that began with her departure from Miss Pinkerton’s School for Girls to hers and Amelia’s adventures during the Waterloo campaign.

Despite the miniseries’ limited photography, I must admit there are other aspects of “VANITY FAIR” that impressed me. I enjoyed Gavin Davies and Sally Engelbach’s production designs. Both did an admirable of re-creating the production’s setting of early 19th century Britain, Belgium, France and Germany. They were ably assisted by set decorations created by the art department, led by David Ackrill and Tony Fisher. But I really must commend Joyce Hawkins’ costume designs. I found them colorful and tailor-made. I also thought Ms. Hawkins did an excellent job in her re-creation of the early 19th century fashions.

There is one segment in Thackeray’s story I found difficult to enjoy – namely Becky’s rise in British society, her relationship with the Maquis of Steyne, the exposure of her as a cold parent and ending with the destruction of her marriage to Rawdon. It is not the fault of Baron, Morris or Thackeray. It is simply my least favorite part of the story. During this segment, Becky transformed from a morally questionable anti-heroine to an outright villainess. Perhaps this is why I found it difficult to revel in Becky’s eventual fall. One, I found this portrayal of Becky a bit too one-dimensional for my tastes. Two, there seemed to be this underlying theme in Becky’s downfall that she deserved it for being too ambitious, not knowing her place and not being the ideal woman. I realize that I should sweep these feelings away in the wake of her last crime. But for some reason, I cannot. A part of me wonders, to this day, if Thackeray had went too far in this transformation of Becky’s character.

I did not have a problem with the performances featured in “VANITY FAIR”. If I must be honest, I found them to be very competent. Morris handled his cast very well. The miniseries featured solid performances from Fiona Walker, Shaughan Seymour, Gillian Raine, Tony Doyle, Malcolm Terris, Vicky Licorish, Eileen Colgan, Irene MacDougall, Alan Surtees, and David Horovitch. I also enjoyed the performances from the likes of Freddie Jones, who made a very lively Sir Pitt Crawley; John Shrapnel, who gave an intimidating portrayal of the Maquis of Steyne, underneath the makeup and wig; Siân Phillips, who struck me as a very entertaining Matilda Crawley; David Swift, whose portrayal of Mr. Sedley seemed to reek with pathos; and Philippa Urquhart, who was excellent as the malleable Mrs. Briggs.

But there were those performances that truly impressed me. Robert Lang gave an excellent performance as the ruthless and ambitious Mr. Osborne, who seemed to be handicapped by his own stubborness. Benedict Taylor did a superb job in portraying the varied nature of George Osborne – his charm, his shallowness and selfish streak. James Saxon was equally impressive as the insecure, yet vain Joseph “Jos” Sedley. Simon Dormandy gave a very complex and skillful performance as the priggish William Dobbin, a character I have always harbored mixed feelings about. I personally think that Jack Klaff made the best on-screen Rawdon Crawley I have seen on-screen, so far. Although his character has always been described as an affable, yet empty-headed man who eventually realized he had married a woman beyond his depth. Klaff did an excellent job of conveying those traits more than actor I have seen in the role.

Rebecca Saire seemed perfectly cast as the demure, yet shallow Amelia Sedley, who spent years infatuated with a man she never really knew or understood. It is not often I find an actress who does an excellent of portraying a girl in a woman’s body, who at the end, is forced to grow up due to an unpleasant realization. If Saire seemed perfectly cast as the childish Amelia, Eve Matheson struck me as even more perfect as the charming and manipulative Rebecca Sharp. Unlike other actresses who have portrayed Becky, I would never describe Matheson as a beauty, despite being physically attractive. What I found impressive about Matheson’s performance is the manner in which she conveyed Becky’s ability to charm and seduce others, utilizing her eyes, mannerisms, the ability to cry on cue and her voice. Matheson managed to portray Becky as the most desirable woman around. I have never seen another on screen Becky Sharp who managed to ooze charm and seduction the way Matheson did. And yet, she also managed to convey Becky’s unpleasant side without being theatrical about it. Someone had once described Matheson’s Beck as “spunky”. Oh please. Spunky? The 1987 Rebecca Sharp was a lot more than that, thanks to Matheson’s performance. Dammit, the woman should have received some kind of award for her performance. She was that good.

I have a few quibbles about “VANITY FAIR”. Basically, I wish the miniseries had been shot on better film stock. And I wish that the Waterloo sequence had been a bit more . . . embellished. Otherwise, I feel that this 1987 adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel is the best I have seen so far. I am flabbergasted at how close I came to ignoring this production altogether.

“Eggs Benedict”

Below is an article about the breakfast dish known as Eggs Benedict:

“EGGS BENEDICT”

I have known about the American breakfast dish, Eggs Benedict, since I was a child. However, I have yet to experience it. After learning about the origins and ingredients for Eggs Benedict, I believe it is time to remedy my lack of experience.

Eggs Benedict is a traditional American breakfast or brunch dish that consists of the following – two halves of an English muffin, topped with a poached egg, bacon or ham, and Hollandaise sauce. Many variations of Eggs Benedict have been created over the years. Among the most popular are:

*Eggs Florentine – which substitutes spinach for the ham or adds it underneath. Older versions of eggs Florentine add spinach to poached or shirred eggs.

*Eggs Chesapeake – substitutes a Maryland blue crab cake in place of the ham.

*Eggs Mornay – substitutes Mornay cheese sauce for the Hollandaise sauce.

*Irish Benedict – which replaces the ham/bacon with corned beef or Irish bacon.

*Eggs Cochon – a variation from New Orleans restaurants which replaces the ham with pork “debris” (slow roasted pork shredded in its own juices) and the English muffin with a large buttermilk biscuit.

The following are conflicting accounts to the origins of Eggs Benedict:

One of those accounts claimed that Delmonico’s, the famous restaurant in lower Manhattan claimed on its menu that the dish was first created in one of its ovens in 1860. The restaurant also claimed that one of its former chefs, Charles Ranhofer, had published the recipe for Eggs à la Benedick in 1894, naming it in honor of two of the restaurant’s patrons, Mr. and Mrs. LeGrand Benedict.

A retired Wall Street stockbroker named Lemuel Benedict claimed in an interview recorded in the “Talk of the Town” column of The New Yorker in 1942, the year before his death, that he had wandered into the Waldorf Hotel in 1894 ordered “buttered toast, poached eggs, crisp bacon, and a hooker of hollandaise” in the hopes to find a cure for his morning hangover. Oscar Tschirky, Waldorf’s maître d’hôtel, was so impressed with the dish that he put it on the breakfast and luncheon menus, but substituted ham for the bacon and a toasted English muffin for the toast.

The third account to the dish’s origin came from Edward P. Montgomery on behalf of Commodore E. C. Benedict. In 1967, Montgomery wrote a letter to then food columnist Craig Claiborne that included a recipe he claimed he had received through his uncle, a friend of the commodore. Commodore Benedict’s recipe, via Montgomery, varies greatly from Ranhofer’s version. The recipe called for the addition of a “hot, hard-cooked egg and ham mixture” in the Hollandaise Sauce.

Below is a classic recipe for Eggs Benedict from the Betty Crocker website:

Eggs Benedict

Ingredients – Hollandaise Sauce

3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup firm butter

Ingredients – Eggs Benedict

3 English muffins
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon butter
6 thin slices Canadian-style bacon or fully cooked ham
6 eggs
4 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
Paprika, if desired

Preparation

1. In 1-quart saucepan, vigorously stir egg yolks and lemon juice with wire whisk. Add 1/4 cup of the butter. Heat over very low heat, stirring constantly with wire whisk, until butter is melted.

2. Add remaining 1/4 cup butter. Continue stirring vigorously until butter is melted and sauce is thickened. (Be sure butter melts slowly so eggs have time to cook and thicken sauce without curdling.) If the sauce curdles (mixture begins to separate and melted butter starts to appear around the edge of the pan and on top of the sauce), add about 1 tablespoon boiling water and beat vigorously with wire whisk or egg beater until smooth. Keep warm.

3. Split English muffins; toast. Spread each muffin half with some of the 3 tablespoons butter; keep warm.

4. In 10-inch skillet, melt 1 teaspoon butter over medium heat. Cook bacon in butter until light brown on both sides; keep warm.

5. Wipe out skillet to clean; fill with 2 to 3 inches water. Add vinegar to water. Heat to boiling; reduce to simmering. Break cold eggs, one at a time, into custard cup or saucer. Holding dish close to water’s surface, carefully slip eggs into water. Cook 3 to 5 minutes or until whites and yolks are firm, not runny (water should be gently simmering and not boiling). Remove with slotted spoon.

6. Place 1 slice bacon on each muffin half. Top with egg. Spoon warm sauce over eggs. Sprinkle with paprika.

“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 5/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Five

Cecile speared a piece of honeydew melon from her place and popped it into her mouth. As she chewed, she note the subdued air that permeated the McNeills’ dining room during breakfast. No one seemed inclined to talk. Not after the verbal bloodbath between Mr. McNeill and Mr. Morgan that she and Olivia had encountered, following their return from Cole’s penthouse, last night.

The Welsh-born witch had castigated Olivia for getting involved with a notorious half-daemon, and the McNeills for supporting the relationship. Jack McNeill made it clear that any of Olivia’s relationships were none of his business. Before matters could get worse, both old Mrs. McNeill and Cecile’s own father managed to convince the two men to cease hostilities.

Strangely enough, Olivia had remained silent during the entire quarrel. And her subdued manner seemed to have continued into the morning. Cecile knew the reason behind the redhead’s mood. Her vision. That damn vision about Cole marrying some old daemonic lover. Right now, Cecile wished that she had never opened her mouth in the first place.

After twenty-one years, Cecile knew Olivia. Very well. On the surface, the redhead usually projected an air of great self-confidence. But when it came to her love life, that self-confidence usually threatened to crumble at the first hint of a major trauma. And those traumas usually involved romance. Cecile knew about the high-school football player to whom Olivia had lost her virginity. He used her feelings for sex and dumped her not long after he got what he wanted. And there was poor Richard Bannen, whose only real crime seemed to be that he was killed before he and Olivia could get married. But Olivia’s biggest trauma occurred during college when an old boyfriend and fellow witch named Adrian Chambers had dumped her after she failed to live up to his ideal of what a girlfriend and a witch should be.

It seemed ironic to Cecile that the biggest threat to Olivia’s relationship with Cole Turner happened to be his status as a divorced man, and not his past as a daemonic assassin. A divorced man who remained in touch with his ex-wife. Barbara had told the Vodoun priestess about the summer breakup between Olivia and Cole . . . and the latter’s brief reconciliation with Phoebe Halliwell. And now it seemed that another one of Cole’s former lovers threatened to ruin the upcoming wedding. Or marriage. Cecile knew that Olivia would remain in a state of anxiety until . . .

“She really planned this well. Didn’t she?”

Everyone stared at Brion Morgan, who had spoken. Mr. McNeill sighed wearily and stared at his brother-in-law. “I’m sorry, Brion. Did you just say something of any significance?”

Mr. Morgan glared at the other man. “I’m speaking of Bel . . . Cole’s mother. Nimue. Haven’t any of you wondered why she didn’t tell you about the connection between her husband’s family and yours – until now?”

The younger Mrs. McNeill rolled her eyes in contempt. “I don’t know, Brion. Perhaps this is some devious plan of hers to prevent Livy’s upcoming marriage,” she commented snidely. “Of course, I’m sure that would sit well with you.”

“Gwen darling,” old Mrs. Morgan said in a firm voice. “Brion. Must we quarrel?”

Olivia’s uncle protested, “I was not quarreling, Mother. I had merely stated that I found it odd that Nimue never told Jack and the others about . . .”

“Where are you going with this, Brion?” Mr. McNeill demanded. “Honestly! Why are you so upset by the idea that Cole might be my great-grandfather’s godson? Is this some kind of hint or sign that the McNeills are marked by evil?”

Cecile noticed that Olivia’s other uncle – Michael McNeill had winced at his older brother’s words. “I don’t think that Brion meant anything of the sort, Jack,” he said in a conciliatory voice.

“The news probably took him by surprise,” Cecile’s father suggested. “Like the rest of us.”

Glaring at his brother-in-law, Mr. McNeill muttered, “I’ll bet.”

Bruce continued, “C’mon Uncle Brion. I’m sure there isn’t a family with a magical background that has connections others might not view with a tolerant eye.”

“Like dear great-great-great-whatever grandmother Briana Morgan,” Harry added.

Brion Morgan’s head whipped around. He glared at his younger nephew. “May I ask why you deemed it necessary to bring ‘her’ up? And how can you even compare her to any daemon? She may have been a warlock, but she was mortal.”

“For heaven sakes, Brion!” Mrs. McNeill retorted. “Briana Morgan was one of the most notorious warlocks in the supernatural world! Everyone knows it! She was practically a favorite of the old Source’s! Look at Andre!” Or don’t, Cecile added silently. She really wished that Olivia’s mother had not brought up her fiancé. But Mrs. McNeill continued, “He was once a notorious bokor with associations with a powerful order! He managed to change his life and will be marrying Cecile, next month!” The Vodoun priestess glanced at her father, whose face had tightened. “And before you experience another fit, I might as well tell you that your niece and two nephews are descendants of at least three daemons!”

The dining room fell silent. Everyone stared at Gweneth McNeill. Cecile noticed that her mother’s eyes had grown wide with shock. Brion Morgan, on the other hand, reacted to his sister’s words with horror. “What did you say?” he whispered.

Oh oh, Cecile thought. The shit has certainly hit the fan.

“I said that the McNeills are descended from at least three daemons. At least the ones, here in America.” Mrs. McNeill glanced around the dining room with defiant eyes. “What? It’s nothing to be ashamed of!”

Mr. McNeill regarded his wife with an affectionate smile. “It certainly isn’t, sweetheart.”

Cecile shot a peek at her best friend. Mrs. McNeill’s little bombshell had knocked Olivia out of her anxious mood. There seemed to be something to be grateful for.

———

“BECAUSE SOONER OR LATER, I THINK THE TWO OF YOU WILL END UP AS HUSBAND AND WIFE.”

Cecile’s words reverberated inside Cole’s head, over and over again. The New Orleans woman had predicted future matrimony for the half-daemon. Only not with Olivia. According to Cecile, he would eventually marry Idril – one of the great mistakes of his life. And he could not simply fathom such a thing happening.

Cole leaned back into his leather chair and sighed. Perhaps Cecile’s vision might prove to be false. He fervently hoped so. The last thing he wanted to do was marry a shallow bitch like Idril, who would bore him silly after thirty minutes in her company.

The intercom on his desk buzzed. Cole snapped out of his reverie and answered. “Yes?”

“You have a visitor, Mr. Turner,” his assistant, Elinor, replied. “A new client. He had made an appointment, earlier this morning. A Mr. Gary . . .”

Cole finished, “. . . Whalen. Oh yeah. I remember. Send him in.”

A minute later, Elinor ushered in a blond man just barely under six feet tall, with blue eyes. He held out his hand. “Mr. Turner? How do you do? I’m Gary Whalen.” The man spoke with a slight Southern accent.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Whalen.” Cole shook his guest’s hand. “Would you like some coffee? Or water?”

“No thanks.”

Cole said to his assistant, “Thank you, Elinor.” Once she had closed the door behind her, the half-daemon turned to his guest. “So, what can I do for you, Mr. Whalen?”

The blond man cleared his throat nervously. “I . . . uh, I need an attorney,” he declared. Then he paused. “I’m looking for a new attorney, that is.” He ended his last sentence with a firm nod.

Cole regarded the other man through narrowed eyes. “Is there something wrong, Mr. Whalen? You seem nervous.”

“I guess I am,” Mr. Whalen said with an uneasy chuckle. “You see, I’m . . . interested in drafting a new will.”

One of Cole’s dark brows formed an arch. “A new will?”

Whalen hesitated. Then, “My former attorney . . . He, uh . . . was killed by a hit-and-run driver before he could draft a new will for me. And his death, quite frankly, has made me more aware of my own mortality.”

“Your accent,” Cole continued. “You don’t sound like a Californian. Where are you originally from?”

Mr. Whalen gave a slight smile. “Um . . . Richmond. I’ve lived in San Francisco for the past four years.”

Nodding, Cole said, “I see. Now, before we commence upon drafting your will, we need to sign you up as one of the firm’s new clients.” He strode toward one of the beige filing cabinets and opened one drawer. “This is basically a standard contract. It will remain in effect as long as you remain a client of Jackson, Carter and Kline.” Cole removed a blank contract. “I’ll have my assistant type it up, so that you can . . .”

Cole turned around. A bright, turquoise-blue stone gleamed in his eyes. And then his mind went blank.

————-

Ensnaring the infamous half-daemon proved to be easier than Gary had imagined. Perhaps those rumors about Belthazor’s encounter with Barbas had been correct. The warlock took a deep breath and continued:

“With this stone will soon be linked,
Your mind to mine, shall finally . . .”

A sharp knock on the door interrupted the spell. Gary muttered a quick oath under his breath. Then he said to Belthazor, “Forget the last minute or two. Continue explaining about the contract.”

The half-daemon’s blue eyes blinked momentarily. Then he finished his last sentence. “. . . sign it.”

At that moment, the door burst open. Two men entered the office. “Hey there, buddy! Ready for lunch?” The tall, black man stopped short at the sight of Gary standing near Belthazor. “Oh, sorry man. Didn’t realize that you were alone.”

Belthazor paused, as if confused about something. Fortunately, his confusion barely lasted a second. “Uh, it’s lunch, already?” He stared at the newcomers. “Where’s Elinor? Wasn’t she out there?”

The other man, who was a white man with dark-brown hair replied, “She wasn’t there.” His blue-gray eyes fell upon Gary. “Hello.”

“Oh yeah. Uh, Bruce,” Belthazor began, “this is my new client, Gary Whalen. Well, a prospective client. Mr. Whalen, I’d like to introduce you to my future brother-in-law, Bruce McNeill and a very close friend, Andre Morrell.”

It took all of Gary’s efforts not to gape at the black man. He had heard of Andre Morrell. An infamous bokor from the Anasi Order. “Oh, uh . . . hi.” Gary smiled uneasily at the two men. He realized that he needed to get out. Fast. “Well, I better get going.” He started toward the door.

Belthazor frowned. “What about the new contract? And your will? Do you still plan to join our firm?”

“Oh! Of course. Uh . . .” Gary deliberately drifted toward the door. “. . . I’ll get back with you, later. Your friends just reminded me that I have a lunch date.” He nodded at the three men. “Nice meeting you all.” And he quickly made his escape.

Andre regarded the closed door with thoughtful eyes. “That is one strange dude,” he commented.

“Huh?” Bruce asked. “What do you mean?”

“Cole’s new client. I’ve never seen anyone – normal that it – move with the speed of light, like that. Strange thing is,” Andre paused, “he didn’t seem to be much in a hurry, when we first got here.”

Cole shook his head and smiled. “I think you had scared him off. He, uh . . . had some private business to attend to. A will.” Then he frowned at the other two men. “By the way, what are you two doing here?”

“Bruce and I had decided to take you to lunch,” Andre explained. “Help get you out of any funk you might be feeling.”

Rolling his eyes, Cole retorted lightly, “Well, you’re wasting your time. I’m not in a bad mood.”

Andre grunted. “You could have fooled me, last night. And this morning, before you left. Considering how Olivia had reacted to Cecile’s little bombshell.”

“I’m not upset.” Cole insisted in a hard voice.

Bruce shook his head. “That’s one hell of a vision that Andre had told me about. Was Cecile referring to that daemon you used to date? The one who had appeared at your engagement party, in the Melora dimension? And who used to be in the movies as Diane Hayward?”

Cole sighed. Long and hard. “You mean, Idril. One of the few mistakes in my life.”

“If you feel that way about her, why would you want to marry her?”

The half-daemon rolled his eyes and retorted, “What makes you think that I would ever marry someone like Idril? Cecile’s vision must be a mistake. I just can’t . . . The idea of marrying Idril makes me ill. Literally.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Andre said. “I remember her from that trip we had made to the Bahamas, early in ’99. Before I had even met Cecile and Olivia. Never understood what you saw in her. She seemed pretty sharp, but . . . just didn’t seem your type.” He paused momentarily. “Come to think of it, I’m trying to understand why you became involved with Phoebe. Especially after meeting her.”

Cole shot back, “What? You’re now questioning my taste in women?”

“I have to admit that Andre has a point about Phoebe,” Bruce added. “I mean – yeah, she has an outgoing personality that would probably attract someone like you.” Cole stared at the witch, as he continued, “But when Leo had first told us about you two, I was surprised that you didn’t hook up with Prue. She seemed like more your type. You know, more sophisticated and mature. Then again, maybe Prue was too much your type. You two seemed a little too similar in your natures, despite you being a daemon, and her a witch. As for Phoebe . . . well, sometimes she seems smart and on the ball. And other times, she reminds me of a female Peter Pan. Or a child bride. You know what I mean?”

Cole knew exactly what Bruce meant. One of his former clients – the late DeWolfe Mann of the BAY-MIRROR – had said the very same thing, last spring. The half-daemon began to wonder if his relationship with Phoebe had been doomed from the start. And what about Olivia? She had Phoebe’s extroverted nature, but Prue’s maturity. Did Cecile’s vision meant that he would never find happiness with her, as well?

“For two people who came here to cheer me up,” Cole grumbled, “you’re doing a piss poor job of it. Now I’m really beginning to question my taste in women.”

With a smile, Andre said, “Well, you’ve hit the jackpot with Olivia. That’s saying something. Right Bruce?”

His gray eyes twinkling, Bruce solemnly replied, “I refuse to answer on the grounds of possibly being accused of favoritism.”

Cole sighed, as he led the other two men out of the office. He could only hope that Olivia felt the same about him.

———–

Inside a small suite at the St. Regis Hotel, an impatient Idril faced Gary Wheeler. “Where’s Belthazor? Why isn’t he here?”

Wheeler sighed. “Because we were interrupted before I could finish the spell.”

“And that stopped you?” Idril rolled her eyes in contempt. “Why didn’t you just deal with them and continue the spell?”

Keeping his annoyance in check, Wheeler shot back, “Because we were interrupted by one of Belthazor’s future brothers-in-law . . . and Andre Morrell. I wasn’t about to go toe-to-toe with a powerful witch and a powerful Voodoo priest.”

Idril’s stomach tightened. “Morrell? Andre Morrell? From the Anasi Order? I’ve met him once. Nearly five years ago.” Realizing that the warlock had good reason to abort the spell, disappointment settled within her. “Okay,” she added, “I guess you’ll have to set up another appointment. Maybe you can see him, later this afternoon.”

Wheeler shook his head. “Sorry, but he’ll be busy! I was lucky enough to see him this morning. Besides,” the warlock paused, “why don’t you do the spell?”

The demoness snapped, “Because I would have to get close to him! And I can’t. Or have you forgotten? It means you’ll have to make . . . another . . . appointment!”

“I tried!” Wheeler sighed, as he plopped down on the sofa. “I just called his secretary. Or assistant. Apparently, Belthazor won’t be available after today. Not until after the New Year.”

Idril heaved an exasperated sigh. “Of all the . . .” She paused and then added, “All right! Then visit him at home. Tonight.” She shook her head in frustration. “This is getting out of hand.”

“Then why don’t you call it off?” Wheeler suggested. Idril glared at him. “Or not.”

Still glaring, the demoness added, “You’ll visit Belthazor’s apartment, tonight. The McNeill woman should be at her parents’ home. Make sure that you’re alone and use the stone. Once the spell is completed . . .”

“Yeah, I know,” Wheeler said, interrupting. “Bring him here.” He sighed. “I only hope that nothing goes wrong.”

“It better not.” The veiled threat hung heavily in the air. Just as Idril had intended.

END OF CHAPTER FIVE

“HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY” (2008) Review

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“HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY” (2008) Review

Based upon the Dark Horse Comics character, “HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY” is the 2008 sequel to “HELLBOY”, the 2004 hit about a red-skinned demon that works for a paranormal agency of the U.S. government. The sequel is about Hellboy’s conflict with Prince Nuada, son of the King of Elves, who wants to use a clockwork group of soldiers called the Golden Army to exterminate humanity in revenge for the latter’s past hostilities against mythical creatures.

Okay, so what did I think about the movie? About the same as I had felt about the original 2004 film – I though it was simply a good, old-fashioned adventure-fantasy movie, filled with solid entertainment. I never saw anything really exceptional about “HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY”. Well, I take that back. There were aspects of the movie that I really enjoyed.

For example, I was happy to see that director Guillermo del Toro managed to bring back most of the original cast from the first movie. I had read somewhere that the studio executives for the original film wanted someone like Vin Diesel in the leading role of Hellboy. Fortunately, del Toro had insisted upon casting Ron Perlman, with whom he had worked before. And all I can say is thank goodness. Perlman established a memorable version of the Hellboy character – not only in the first film, but in this second one as well. Ron Perlman is Hellboy. Granted, Vin Diesel has become a good actor over the years, I really cannot see him portraying the snarky and slightly aggressive demon with a mixture of gruffness, sarcasm and heartfelt tenderness toward his lady love.

Selma Blair reprised her role as Hellboy’s pyrokinetic love, Liz Sherman. And as in the first film, her subtle, yet sardonic take on Liz balanced beautifully with Perlman’s gruff Hellboy. Doug Jones’ portrayal of the fluidic Abe Sapien rose to the level of delicious charm and pathos, especially when his character falls in love with Prince Nuada’s sister, Princess Nuala. Jones also portrayed the androgynous and enigmatic Angel of Death with equal ease. Jeffrey Tambor was just as snarky as ever as director of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, Tom Manning.

Additions to the cast included Anna Walton, in a sweet and effervescent portrayal of Princess Nuala. Actor and singer Luke Goss portrayed the yang to Nuala’s yin, Prince Nuada. Although the villain of the story, Goss’ Nuada is a complex and fascinating character who desire for the destruction of humanity is not driven by sheer evil. He wants revenge for humanity’s betrayal against the supernatural world and views them – or us – as a potent threat to the future. And I must say that Goss as Nuada wielded a mean sword with moves that would impress (perhaps mildly) the likes of Jet Li. Replacing FBI Special Agent John Myers (Rupert Evans) in the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense was Johann Krauss, a German psychic who became an ectoplasmic being contained in a suit after a botched séance. And actor/writer Seth MacFarlane did a hilarious job in capturing the exacting and anal Krauss with a delicious German accent.

Screenwriters del Toro (the director) and Mike Mignola (also creator of Hellboy) created a solid and entertaining tale that centered around Hellboy and the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense’s attempts to meet the threat of Prince Nuada’s plan to use the Golden Army against the humanity. The movie also focused upon the demon’s continuing problems in his relationship with Liz (who is pregnant) and his new immediate supervisor, Strauss. Speaking of the latter, there is a hilarious sequence in which the ectoplasmic being uses locker doors to prove how dangerous he can be.

And what is a HELLBOY movie (or should I say Guillermo del Toro movie) without visual effects? Once again, del Toro enlisted the help of Spectral Motion to create some stunning visual effects. Amongst the most memorable for me were the collection of demons featured in the Troll Market sequence and especially the multi-optical demon voiced by Doug Jones – the Angel of Death. Usually, I tend to be turned off by over-the-top visual effects. Especially when they are pushed into your face by filmmakers eager to show the unusual aspects of their film. In “HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY”, del Toro and Spectral Motion managed to refrain themselves by revealing the visuals when the story truly required them.

I am not going to pretend that “HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY” was at the same level as the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, the DC Extended Universe films or “THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY”. But I must admit that it was damn entertaining, thanks to a first-rate cast led by Ron Perlman, a solid story and weird and stunning visual effects. I highly recommend it.

1890s Costumes in Movies and Television

Below are images of fashion from the decade of the 1890s, found in movies and television productions over the years:

1890s IN COSTUMES AND FILMS

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“My Forgotten Past” (1951)

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“The Prisoner of Zenda” (1952)

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“The Importance of Being Earnest” (1952)

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“Hello Dolly!” (1969)

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“An Ideal Husband” (1999)

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“The Importance of Being Earnest” (2002)

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“Princess Kaiulani” (2009)

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“The Lizzie Borden Chronicles” (2015) 

Favorite Episodes of “ARROW” Season Two (2013-2014)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season Two of the CW series, “ARROW”. Created by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg; the series stars Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen aka the Arrow:

FAVORITE EPISODES OF “ARROW” SEASON TWO (2013-2014)

1. (2.21) “City of Blood” – In the wake of a family tragedy, Oliver Queen aka the Arrow, considers surrendering to his former friend-turned-enemy, Slade Wilson aka Deathstroke. But the latter decides to unleash his assault upon Starling City, regardless.

2. (2.14) “Time of Death” – Oliver introduces his former-and-current lover Sara Lance aka Black Canary to Team Arrow, as they investigate the crimes of a brilliant thief and tech expert, William Tockman aka the Clock King. Meanwhile, the Lance family hosts a welcome home dinner for Sara that turns disastrous.

3. (2.17) “Birds of Prey” – Helena Bertinelli aka the Huntress returns to Starling City, when her gangster father is arrested. She creates a hostage crisis in order to make another attempt on her father’s life.

4. (2.09) “Three Ghosts” – After a fight with Cyrus Gold, aka the Acolyte, Oliver is drugged and left for dead. Other members of Team Arrow – John Diggle and Felicity Smoak – receive help from visitor Barry Allen, a CSI from Central City, to administer a cure for the vigilante.

5. (2.20) “Seeing Red” – After being given the mirakuru formula by Deathstroke, former pickpocket and Thea Queen’s boyfriend, Roy Harper, goes into a rage-filled rampage across Starling City. Oliver and Sara clash over what to do with him.

Honorable Mention: (2.15) “The Promise” – Oliver and Sara deal with an unexpected visit from Deathstroke to the Queen family’s mansion. Meanwhile, flashbacks reveal what led to the beginning of the villain’s hatred toward Oliver.

“HUGO” (2011) Review

“HUGO” (2011) Review

To the surprise of many, the top two contenders for Best Picture of 2011 featured on the history of film in the early 20th century. One of them was the Oscar winning “silent” film, “THE ARTIST”. The other turned out to be Martin Scorsese’s latest endeavor called “HUGO”.

Based upon Brian Selznick’s 2008 novel, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”“HUGO” told the story of a 12 year-old boy named Hugo Cabret, who lives with his widowed father, a clockmaker in 1931 Paris. Hugo’s father, who is a fan of Georges Méliès’s films, takes him to the theater on many occasions. When Hugo’s father dies in a museum fire, the boy is forced to live with his alcoholic Uncle Claude, who is also a watchmaker at the railway station, Gare Montparnasse. After teaching Hugo to maintain clocks, Claude disappears. His body is later found in the Seine River, drowned. Hugo lives between the walls of the railway station, maintaining clocks, stealing food and doing his best to avoid the attention of the tough stationmaster to avoid being shipped to a local orphanage.

He also becomes obsessed with repairing his father’s broken automaton – a mechanical man that writes with a pen. Convinced the automaton contains a message from his father, Hugo steals mechanical parts in order to repair the automaton. However, he is caught by a toy store owner, Papa Georges, who takes Hugo’s notebook from him, with notes and drawings for fixing the automaton. Hugo follows Georges home and befriends a girl close to his age named Isabelle and the latter’s goddaughter. When Hugo is finally able to repair the automaton, it produces a drawing straight from a Georges Méliès film. Thanks to the drawing and a film historian, Hugo and Isabelle discover that the latter’s godfather is the famous filmmaker, now financially strapped and forgotten.

When I first learned about “HUGO”, I heard that it was based upon a children’s book. And I found it unusual that Martin Scorsese would make a film for children. As it turned out, “HUGO” is more than just a story for children. It eventually turned out to be a peek into another chapter in film history, slowly focusing on the work of Georges Méliès, who was responsible for early silent films such as “A TRIP TO THE MOON” (1902) and “THE IMPOSSIBLE VOYAGE” (2004). I noticed that Scorsese utilized his usual formula in unfolding the movie’s plot. As in most of his other movies, he slowly introduced the characters – both major and minor – before setting up his plot. And while this formula worked in such films as “GOODFELLAS”“THE AGE OF INNOCENCE” and “CASINO”, it did not quite work for “HUGO”.

For me, “HUGO” suffered from two problems. One, the movie lingered just a bit too long on the introduction of all the characters – especially those who did not have any effect on Hugo’s situation or with the discovery . And because of this, the pacing in its first half dragged incredibly long. In fact, it dragged so long that I almost lost interest in finishing the film. It was not until Hugo managed to repair the automaton and continue his and his father’s love of films when life finally breathed into the film. From the moment the automaton produced the drawing of the moon from “A TRIP TO THE MOON”, I became increasingly interested in the film. “HUGO” soon became a interesting trip into the world of early French filmmaking. And it ended as a poignant story about how a boy’s love for his father and movies allowed a forgotten artist to be remembered by a new generation of filmgoers. I found myself practically on the verge of tears by the last frame.

If there was one aspect of “HUGO” that truly impressed me was the movie’s production design. Thanks to the legendary Dante Ferretti, it is truly one of the most beautiful looking films I have seen in the past few years. The movie’s visual style was enhanced by David Warren’s supervision of the movie’s art direction, and cinematographer Robert Richardson’s recreation of the Multicolor process – which he also used in the first half of “THE AVIATOR”. Although I was mildly impressed by Sandy Powell’s costume designs, it was Francesca Lo Schiavo’s set decorations, especially for the re-creation of the Gare Montparnasse station circa 1931, which really impressed me. In the end, the movie almost conveyed a Jules Verne visual style that I suspect seemed appropriate for a film about Georges Méliès. I could comment on Howard Shore’s score. But if I must be honest, I have no memories of it.

The film’s other real strength came from the cast led by young Asa Butterfield’s poignant portrayal of Hugo Calvert. He was ably supported by Chloë Grace Moretz, who gave a charming performance as Hugo’s friend Isabelle, and Helen McCrory’s skillful portrayal of Méliès’s supportive wife. Performers such as Ray Winstone, Jude Law, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Frances de la Tour and Richard Griffiths gave solid, yet brief performances. But aside from Butterfield, the most impressive performance came from Ben Kingsley, who was superb as Méliès. Kingsley conveyed every aspect of Méliès’s personality and life experiences. I am still astounded that he was never given any kind of acting nomination for his performance.

I cannot deny that “HUGO” is a very beautiful looking film. And I also cannot deny that I was mesmerized by the film’s second half – especially when it focused on Hugo and Isabelle’s discovery of Méliès’ past as a filmmaker. The movie also benefited from a first-rate cast and especially from superb performances from Asa Butterfield and Ben Kingsley. But Martin Scorsese tried to create a small epic out of a story that was part children’s tale/part film history. Which is why I believe “HUGO” fell short of becoming – at least in my eyes – one of the better movies of 2011.