Saturday, February 24, 2018

"CHARMED" RETROSPECT: (1.12) "The Wendigo"

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"CHARMED" RETROSPECT: (1.12) "The Wendigo"

I really do not know what to say about the "CHARMED" Season One episode, (1.12) "The Wendigo". You know what? Of course I do. After all, it is one of my favorite episodes from that first season. In fact, it is one of my top twenty (20) "CHARMED" episodes of all time. 

"The Wendigo" began with one Piper Halliwell stranded at a local San Francisco park, thanks to a flat tire. The episode immediately kicked into high gear when a supernatural beast attacked her. The beast managed to inflict a deep scratch on her arm before a savior arrived in the form of a young man, who used a flare gun to scare off the beast. While being treated at the hospital for her scratch, Piper and her two sisters – Prue and Phoebe – learned that Prue’s old flame, Inspector Andy Trudeau of the San Francisco Police Department, had been in contact with an FBI agent named Ashley Fallon, due to previous attacks by the beast in the city. The three sisters also discovered that Piper’s savior, Billy Waters, had a previous encounter with the beast that left his fiancée dead, in Chicago. Ever since his fiancée’s death, Billy and FBI Agent Fallon have been tracking the beast. It was Piper who learned from the family’s Book of Shadows that the beast is called a Wendigo, a werewolf/Sasquatch hybrid that hunts victims during the three days of the full moon in order to eat their hearts. Because of her scratch, Piper ended up in danger of also becoming a Wendigo.

Written by Edithe Swensen and directed by James Conway, ”The Wendigo” had its flaws, despite my feelings about it. The majority of those flaws stemmed from moments of bad acting and a problem with the script. The only problem I had with the script centered on FBI Agent Fallon’s failure to work with agents from the local FBI office in San Francisco. I realize that the local law enforcement would have been drawn into the case, once the attacks in San Francisco began. But it never made sense to me that Fallon, an agent from another regional office, would be the only one from her agency working on the case in San Francisco and not an agent from the local FBI office.

"The Wendigo" also featured a subplot in which Phoebe manages to wangle a job at Bucklands as Prue's assistant. While handling a bracelet to be sold at auction, Phoebe has flashes of a car accident. She discovered that the car in her vision had belonged to a private detective who was conveying a five year-old girl that had been kidnapped by her father. The subplot ended with Phoebe and Prue delivering the now eleven or twelve year-old girl to her mother. The subplot struck me as short, emotional and yet somewhat meaningless. Mere fodder to pad the episode.

As for the acting, there are three moments I found . . . questionable. One involved Piper’s gradual transformation into the Wendigo. Perhaps Holly Marie Combs had been instructed by director James Conway to portray this as a comedy scene. Unfortunately, Combs did not come off as funny to me. Her timing seemed off. Nor did she seem ominous. Just awkward. Another moment featured Jocelyn Seagrave’s performance in a scene in which her Special Agent Fallon had described a past heartbreak over being rejected by a former love. No offense to Miss Seagrave, but she did come off as slightly theatrical. The last scene featured Prue and Phoebe confronting the original Wendigo and Piper, who had finally transformed into the beast. After Phoebe fired a flare gun at Wendigo Piper, the latter froze the flare and the original Wendigo. While Prue and Piper debated over who was the real Wendigo, the actor or actress (it could have been Holly Marie Combs) inside the Wendigo Piper suit stood in one spot with hands in attack position, stood in one spot and wore an idiotic expression that seemed to say "what do I do next?". It was a rather stupid moment.

But despite these minor quibbles, I genuinely enjoyed ”The Wendigo”. It was an entertaining monster-of-the-week episode that featured a first-rate performance by Holly Marie Combs as the anxiety-ridden Piper who feared she was turning into a monster. Although both Shannen Doherty and Alyssa Milano gave fine support, I was especially impressed by T.W. King, whose Andy Trudeau seemed suitably torn over his broken romance with Prue and his attraction to Special Agent Fallon. Despite my complaint over Jocelyn Seagrave’s reading over one particular scene, I must admit that she did a stand-out job of portraying a credible Federal agent and had a strong screen chemistry with King. I also have to commend actor Billy Jayne for giving a strong and charismatic performance as Piper’s savior, Billy Waters.

Thanks to director James L. Conway, ”The Wendigo” was not only entertaining, but well-paced. And despite the missing presence of local FBI agents in San Francisco and the subplot, I have to admit that Edithe Swensen wrote a lively and solid episode with plenty of horror and suspense. Swensen was also sensible enough not to reveal the human identity of the Wendigo, until two-thirds into the episode.

Watching ”The Wendigo” reminded me of how entertaining ”CHARMED” could be during its early seasons. Before the writing in the series began to decline at a serious rate. Before the dark times. With the entire series now on DVD and airing as reruns on TNT, fans have a constant reminder of its glory days . . . including episodes like ”The Wendigo”.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

"DANIEL DERONDA" (2002) Photo Gallery



Below is a gallery featuring photos from the 2002 television version of George Elliot's novel, "DANIEL DERONDA".  Directed by Tom Hooper, the miniseries starred Hugh Dancy, Romola Garai and Hugh Bonneville: 


"DANIEL DERONDA" (2002) Photo Gallery







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Saturday, February 17, 2018

"THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN" (2008) Review




"THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN" (2008) Review

I must admit that it took me quite a while to write a review of the 2008 cinematic installment of "THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA" saga. This second installment, "PRINCE CASPIAN", tells the story of four Pevensie children’s return to Narnia to aid Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) in his struggle for the throne against his corrupt uncle King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto). I tried to think of something different about this chapter in compare to the first - "THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE". But it occurred to me that my reaction to this movie seemed more or less the same as the 2005 release. 

And what does that say about my feelings about "PRINCE CASPIAN"? Honestly, I thought it was a solid and entertaining film that both children and adult fans of C.S. Lewis’ saga might enjoy. That is all I can really say. There was nothing really unique about it. Like many other adaptations of literary works, "PRINCE CASPIAN" did not faithfully follow its literary counterpart. Considering that I have never read any of Lewis’ works, I was not particularly disturbed by this. The only reason I am aware of any differences between the literary and cinematic versions, is the Internet.

Like the previous movie, the cast is pretty solid. The actors who portrayed the Pevensie children returned for this sequel. Due to the rapid aging of children in general, work on the script began before "THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE" was released, so filming could begin before the actors grew too old for their parts. William Moseley (Peter), Anna Popplewell (Susan), Skandar Keynes (Edmund) and Georgie Henley (Lucy) all gave solid, yet slightly uninspiring performances as the four siblings. Whereas Keynes got the chance to show Edmund at his peevish worst in the previous film, Moseley portrayed a slightly darker side of oldest brother Peter, whose dissatisfaction with being back in England had produced boorish personality. Perhaps I should rephrase that. Peter’s boorishness, which had been hinted through his handling of Edmund in the first film, was allowed to flourish in this film. It took a military failure against the main villain to give him a boot in the ass to improve his personality. On the other hand, Edmund seemed remarkably changed for the better in this film. One critic had described him as being the film’s "Han Solo". I would agree, except Edmund came off as more mature and intelligent than Han Solo. Anna Popplewell had convinced producer Douglas Gresham to allow Susan to appear in the movie’s major battles, because she feared the character came off as too passive in Lewis’ novel. Many fans of the novel were appalled by this. Not being a literary fan of the saga, it did not bother me at all. At least it gave her something to do. Of all the Pevensie siblings, Georgie Henley’s Lucy seemed to have changed the least. Although she seemed less tolerant of Peter’s boorishness than she was of Edmund’s darker side in the first film.

British actor Ben Barnes portrayed the title role of Prince Caspian of Telmarine with as much solid competence as the four actors who portrayed the Pevensies. Perhaps he seemed a little more competent than his younger co-stars in acting skills, but I could not sense anything remarkable about his performance. Portraying Caspian’s evil uncle and the Telmarine’s false ruler, King Miraz, was actor Sergio Castellitto. He made a very effective villain, but lacked Tilda Swanton’s memorable portrayal as the White Witch. Who, by the way, briefly returned to bring a much-needed spark in the middle of the story. If I must be honest, her brief appearance was probably the best scene in the film. But not even Swinton’s spectacular appearance could not overshadow what I feel was the best performance in the movie – namely that of Peter Dinklage as Trumpkin, a cynical red dwarf. I really enjoyed his sharp and caustic take on the dwarf, who is skeptic of the idea of Aslan and magic.

As much as I enjoyed "PRINCE CASPIAN", I must admit that I found it no more remarkable than the first. Also, I found it difficult to maintain interest in the film’s first half, as it switched back and forth between Caspian’s flight from his murderous uncle and the Pevensies’ arrival in Narnia. Director Andrew Adamson seemed to lack George Lucas and Peter Jackson’s talent for seemless transition between multiple storylines within one film. But once the Pevensies and Caspian finally met, the movie seemed to discover its pace as it flowed toward the heroes’ ill-fated attempt to attack upon Miraz and the final showdown. There were two scenes that gave me a sense of déjà vu – namely the attacks of the trees and the river god upon the Telmarine army. It seemed as if either Adamson or Lewis had a Tolkien moment. The attack of the trees especially reminded me of the Ents’ attack upon Isengard in the 2002 movie, "LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS".

"PRINCE CASPIAN" was not the greatest movie I had seen during the summer of 2008. Nor is there anything unique about it. But if one can overcome the fact that it is not an exact adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ novel, anyone might find the movie quite entertaining to watch. I heartily recommend it.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" (1986) - Episode Four "April-November 1864" Commentary

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"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" (1986) - EPISODE FOUR "April-November 1864" Commentary

Episode Four of the 1986 miniseries, "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK 2" picked up at least seven to eight months after Episode Three left off. The miniseries arrived at a point in which the Civil War began to embark upon its last year. And yet, the miniseries itself had reached its mid point. I found it odd that producer David Wolper, director Kevin Reynolds and the production’s screenwriters would portray the war’s last year (in reality, eleven months) within three episodes. Oh well. 

The episode began with a strong sequence that featured George Hazard's capture by John Mosby’s Rangers, while he and his men were transporting artillery guns and units to the front. The episode would return to George’s travails as a prisoner of war at Libby Prison in two more sequences. This first half hour also featured the beginning of Charles Main’s affair with Augusta, Billy Hazard’s return to the Sharpshooters’ regiment and the Battle of the WildernessEpisode Four also portrayed the marriage woes of Ashton and James Huntoon, along with Elkhannah Bent’s attempt to woo Huntoon into his conspiracy against Confederate President Jefferson Davis; Madeline Main’s first meeting with former army officer Rafe Beaudine and her efforts to raise food and money for war refugees in Charleston; and Virgilia Hazard’s feud with her nursing supervisor, Mrs. Neal.

I have mixed feelings about Episode Four. I did not harbor a low opinion of it, as I did Episode Two and Episode Five. But I did not love it. I thought it began on a strong note with George’s capture and the Battle of the Wilderness. It also ended on a strong note with George’s experiences at Libby Prison and Virgilia’s troubles with Mrs. Neal. I must admit that I had a problem with the episode’s second act. Aside from the interesting scene that featured George’s arrival at Libby Prison and the revelation of the state of the Huntoon marriage, I had a bit of a struggle staying awake. One again, the 1986 miniseries managed to provide a battle sequence interesting enough to maintain my interest and impress me at the same time. Director Kevin Connor did an excellent job with this sequence by shooting it in a documentary style that gave it a stark and realistic look. And he was aptly supported by Jacques R. Marquette’s photography. For once, Marquette’s hazy photography served the narrative very well. The episode also benefited from Robert Fletcher’s lovely costumes, as shown in the images below:

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I found General Ulysses Grant’s angry response to his staff’s fears over Robert E. Lee, following the Wilderness battle particularly enjoyable. What is interesting about this moment is that it actually happened. And I noticed that actor Anthony Zerbe not only used Grant’s actual words, but also improvised a few words into the speech. Actually, I felt it was the episode’s highlight, thanks to Zerbe’s performance. Another positive aspect of Episode Four turned out to be Ashton and James Huntoon’s marriage woes. Terri Garber and Jim Metzler did an excellent job of conveying how Ashton’s infidelity, Huntoon’s political failures and the war had put a toll on a marriage that had been loveless from the start. The venomous conflict between Virgilia Hazard and her supervisor, Mrs. Neal proved to be very interesting, thanks to Kirstie Alley and Olivia De Havilland’s excellent performances. I found both ladies unsympathetic, until Mrs. Neal decided to harass Virgilia, while the other was having trouble staying awake after long hours of work. I found the older woman's attitude simply bitchy. I also noticed that despite Mrs. Neal’s accusations of Virgilia’s poor ministrations to Confederate patients, the miniseries failed to substantiate her claims. And I found myself wondering if Mrs. Neal simply disliked Virgilia for the latter’s abolitionist leanings and marriage to a former slave. 

Kirstie Alley had another chance to shine in a sequence that involved Virgilia's reconciliation with none other than Orry Main, who had been injured and captured by Union troops. No only did Alley give an excellent performance in this poignant sequence, but so did Patrick Swayze. I also have to give kudos to both James Read and Wayne Newton for the crackling hostility they managed to produce between George Hazard and his Libby Prison tormentor, Captain Thomas Turner. In fact, I never thought I would say this, but Newton made a damn fine villain. He nearly put Philip Casnoff, David Carradine and Terri Garber to shame. His performance certainly gave the Libby Prison sequence a creep factor that I found very effective. And if you look carefully, you might find actor Billy Drago (of "THE UNTOUCHABLES" fame) as one of the Union prisoners.

I do have several problems about this episode. One, I wish that Charles and Augusta's affair had begun a lot sooner than three years after they first met. In other words, I wish the screenwriters had followed Jakes’ original portrayal of their relationship. I believe this could have given Charles and Augusta’s affair more depth and paced a lot better. The portrayal of their affair developed into a major problem in Episode Six. Their affair began in the aftermath of one of the battles during the Wilderness Campaign. And for the likes of me, I could never understand what Charles was doing there, while wearing a heavy overcoat in the middle of May. The screenplay never explained why he was there. 

Then we come to the problem of Billy’s return to his regiment after deserting for nearly ten months (he departed right after the Gettysburg battle in July 1863 and returned to his regiment either in late April 1864). The consequences he paid for deserting were ridiculous. Billy received a lecture from Colonel Hiram Burdan, passed over for a promotion to captain and threatened with court martial if he ever deserted again. What on earth were the writers thinking? Billy should have faced a court-martial or forced to resign his commission for being absent without leave for nearly ten months. Whoever had written this episode must have been completely ignorant of military protocol . . . or smoking something. And what was Berdan’s excuse for his leniency toward Billy? He needed all available men. Hogwash! This was the spring of 1864, when the Union Army's ranks were literally swollen for the remainder of the war, despite desertion. No other TV show, novel, play or etc., would have featured such a major writing gaffe. Then again, you never know. And why was Berdan still in command of the Sharpshooters in this episode? By keeping Berdan as Billy's commanding officer in this episode, the writers committed a historical gaffe. Berdan had decided to leave the Union Army by the late winter/early spring of 1864.

On the other hand, I found Madeline Main's efforts to help the poor – refugee slaves, free black and poor whites - in Charleston rather noble and dull as hell. Madeline’s first husband, Justin LaMotte, had contemptuously given her the nickname – "Madeline the Merciful" in the first miniseries. I hate to say this, but after viewing the beginning of this story line in Episode Four, I found myself sharing his contempt. Her actions were admirable, but I feel the writers went too far in portraying her in a noble light. Quite simply, one could easily accuse Madeline of harboring a savior complex – one that struck me as incredibly pretentious. This sequence also introduced a young former slave named Michael and his mother, who came from Tennessee. I really had a problem with this. Why on earth would Tennessee slave refugees head deep into Confederate territory, when they could have easily ended up in Union held cities like Nashville, Memphis and Vicksburg? However, this sequence featured a young Bumper Robinson as Michael, who managed to act circles around Lesley Anne Down (as if that were possible). And it also introduced the delicious Lee Horsley as a disgraced army officer-turned-wastrel named Rafe Beaudine, who came to Madeline’s aid against a band of scavengers. Horsley and Lesley Anne Down managed to create a sparkling screen chemistry that nearly put all of the other on-screen romantic pairings to shame.

In the end, Episode Four proved to be a mixed bag. It featured some excellent dramatic scenes and a well-shot battle sequence that helped me maintained my interest. On the other hand, it also featured some questionable writing that left me shaking my head with disappointment. It was not one of my favorite episodes, but was certainly not a disappointment either.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

"THE DARK KNIGHT" (2008) Photo Gallery

 

Below is a gallery of photos from the 2008 DC Comics movie, "THE DARK KNIGHT", a sequel to the 2005 hit film, "BATMAN BEGINS". Directed by Christopher Nolan, the movie starred Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne aka the Batman: 



"THE DARK KNIGHT" (2008) Photo Gallery 

 


 





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