Friday, August 31, 2012




If someone had told me about two to three years ago about a fictional story featuring a historical leader and his encounters with the supernatural . . . I would have laughed in that person's face. Hell, I would that about a year ago. Then two years ago, Seth Grahame-Smith wrote a novel about Abraham Lincoln battling vampires. And you know what? I did not laugh. But I sure as hell did not take it seriously. 

Last spring, I saw the trailer for the movie adaptation of Grahame-Smith's novel and found myself surprisingly intrigued by it. Well . . . I was intrigued by the movie's visual style. And the fact that movie featured actors that I have become a fan of did not hurt. But the idea of Abraham Lincoln being a vampire hunter remained a block in my mind. In fact, I struggled over whether or not to see "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER", until the day before the movie's wide release. And to my surprise, I am glad that I finally saw it.

"ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE SLAYER" begins on April 14, 1865; with President Abraham Lincoln recounting his experiences with vampires in a journal. The movie flashbacks to the year 1818 in Southern Indiana, where the young Abraham and his parents - Thomas and Nancy - work out the family's debt to a local landowner and slave owner named Jack Barts. Abraham befriends an African-American young slave named William Johnson. When the latter is attacked by one of Barts' employees with a whip, Abraham intervenes before his father comes to his rescue. Barts demands that the Lincoln family compensate for the interaction over William in cash. Thomas cannot afford to pay back the landowner and refuses to work out his debt even further. Barts later attacks Nancy at the Lincolns' cabin and poisons her. She later dies the following morning.

Nine years later in 1827, an eighteen year-old Abraham seeks revenge against Barts by attacking him. But the latter, who proves to be a vampire, overpowers Abraham. Abraham is rescued by a mysterious man named Henry Sturgess, who informs the young man of Barts' true state. Henry offers to teach Abraham to be a vampire hunter. During training, Sturgess informs Abraham that Jack Barts and other vampires in America are descended from a vampire named Adam, who owns and lives on a plantation outside of New Orleans, with his sister Vadoma. Sturgess also tells Abraham of the vampires' weakness - namely silver - and presents the latter with a silver pocket watch. After several years of training, Abraham travels to Springfield, Illinois. There, he makes plans to read for the law, befriends a shopkeeper named Joshua Speed, renews his friendship with William; and falls in love with Mary Todd, a socialite from a wealthy Kentucky family. Abraham also begins his activities as a vampire hunter.

"ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER" is not perfect. It is a flawed movie. There were one or two aspects of the plot that I found questionable. After Abraham's reunion with William, the pair was arrested for fighting off slave catchers that were after the latter. Following their arrest, there was a scene that featured the incarcerated pair being visited by Mary Todd. The next scene featured a freed William being kidnapped by Adam's thugs off the streets of Springfield, in order to lure Abraham into a trap set in Louisiana. How on earth did William avoid being sent back down South as an escaped slave? When he first reunited with Abraham inside Joshua's store, he told the latter that he was an escaped slave. So, how did William end up freely walking the streets of Springfield . . . without being sent back South as a fugitive slave? 

My second problem with "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER" deals with a brief scene during the Civil War. This scene features Confederate president Jefferson Davis convincing Adam to deploy his vampires on the front lines. Look . . . I am the last person who could be accused of being a neo-Confederate. Trust me . . . I am. But I found this scene between Davis and Adam to be very unbelievable, even for fiction. I simply cannot see Jefferson Davis allying himself with a vampire in order to win the Civil War. One, like Abraham, Davis would have been leery of the idea of associating with a vampire. And two, chances are he probably would have been on to Adam's plan of transforming the United States in a land of the undead. The only way this scene would have worked is if Davis had been unaware of Adam's state as a vampire.

My last problem with "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER" turned out to be a costume worn by actor Benjamin Walker, who portrayed Abraham Lincoln. I am, of course, referring to the outfit he wore in the Abraham/Mary wedding scene. Take a look: 


Dear God! What were Varvara Avdyushko and Carlo Poggioli thinking? Abe's wedding outfit looks like a nineteenth-century version of a high school prom suit, circa 1975. In other words, two periods in time clash in the creation of this God awful suit. It is a good thing that I found their other costumes very impressive. 

Despite the above flaws, I still managed to enjoy "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER" very much. After watching the movie, I now regret my reluctance over its premise. The idea of historical figure being utilized as an action character in a supernatural story turned out to be very . . . very original. More conservative minds would probably find such an idea sacrilegious. I recall a co-worker expressing disgust at the idea of someone using Abraham Lincoln as an action figure in a movie. But think about it. In some ways, he was a good choice on Seth Grahame-Smith's part. Lincoln was a physically impressive man, being tall and strong as a bull. He knew how to wield an ax with the same level as a Musketeer with a sword. More importantly, he was an intelligent man who could be ruthless when the occasion called for it. 

I found Grahame-Smith's use of Nancy Hanks Lincoln's death and the issue of slavery to create his story of Lincoln and vampires very effective. The screenwriter used the death of Lincoln's mother to jump start the future president's alternate profession as a vampire hunter. And I was very impressed by his use of the slavery issue to intensify Lincoln's interest in the destruction of vampires. In "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER", the institution of slavery and especially the slave trade is used to provide vampires with easily available humans (namely slaves) to feed upon. The Jack Barts character apparently gathered slaves around the Ohio River (which bordered the upper South) and shipped them to the vampire-owned plantations in the Deep South. This strikes me as a fictional reflection of the large-scale shipments of many upper South slaves to the cotton plantations of the Deep South during the first half of the 19th century in real life. According to Abraham's mentor, Henry Sturgess, the U.S. slave trade not only gave vampires easy access to "food", but kept their penchant of seeking victims all over the country under control. This use of slaves as easy victims for vampires led to their support of the Confederate cause during the Civil War. 

The transportation of slaves from the Upper South to the Deep South proved to be one of the movie's historically accurate contributions to the plot. I have to be frank. "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER" is not exactly historically accurate. In reality, William Johnson was a free-born African-American who became Lincoln's personal valet. The movie overlooked the fact that Lincoln had a much beloved stepmother, and four sons - not one. Also, Harriet Tubman never operated in the Deep South, let alone Louisiana. And African slave traders did not sell "their own kind" to Europeans, as the vampire Adam claimed in the movie. They sold people they considered to be strangers and especially, foreigners. But . . . this is a movie about a former U.S. president that became a vampire hunter. Would anyone really expect a tale of this sort to be historically accurate? I certainly would not.

But one of the major highlights of "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER" proved to be the mind-boggling visuals created by the special effects team led by Matt Kutcher. These visuals were especially effective in exciting actions sequences that featured Abraham's final confrontation with Jack Barts on the Illinois prairie, the rescue of William Johnson in Louisiana, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg and especially the fiery confrontation aboard the train heading for Gettysburg. William Hoy's editing, Caleb Deschanel's photography and especially Timur Bekmambetov's direction really made it happened. Aside from the stomach churning wedding suit, I must admit that I really enjoyed Varvara Avdyushko and Carlo Poggioli's costume designs - especially for the costumes worn by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Their costumes, along with François Audouy's production designs, Beat Frutiger's art direction and Cheryl Carasik's set decorations really contributed to the film's overall look of early to mid-19th century America.

And what about the cast? Benjamin Walker, in my opinion, was a find. A genuine find. I do not know how to put this. The man was perfectly cast as Abraham Lincoln. He possessed the height, the looks (thanks to the make-up department). He had great screen chemistry with his co-stars - especially Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Jimmi Simpson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Walker did not simply walk or stand around, looking like Lincoln. Thanks to a superb performance, he made Lincoln a human being, instead of a walking historical figure. Dominic Cooper added another fascinating performance to his résumé as the enigmatic Henry Sturgess, the individual that taught Abraham Lincoln to be a first-rate vampire hunter. His performance reeked with mystery, wit and wisdom. Cooper's Sturgess was also a curious mixture ambiguity and moral fortitude that I found very fascinating.

From what I can gathered, the William Johnson character was not featured in Grahame-Smith's novel. I could be wrong. I never read the book. But I am glad that the author included the character in the movie, giving me a chance to see Anthony Mackie on the screen again. But this is the first time I truly saw him as a character in an action figure and he was superb. I could also say the same for Jimmi Simpson, whom I have grown used to seeing in comedies. He was great as Abraham's Springfield crony, Joshua Speed, whose interest in Abraham and William's old friendship led him to become involved in their vampire hunting activities. Mary Elizabeth Winstead was given the opportunity she was given to portray a different Mary Todd Lincoln from the usual portrayals marred by either insanity or cold-blooded ambition. And in the end, she gave a great performance that conveyed the famous First Lady's intelligence, vivacity and wit. And Rufus Sewell was first-rate as the movie's main villain, a long-living vampire named Adam, who harbored plans to make the United States a country fit to be dominated by vampires. Sewell used a Southern accent that I found surprisingly impressive.

As I had stated earlier, "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER" was not a perfect movie. It had a plot hole or two that screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith had failed to address. The movie's story also featured an implausible scene featuring a historical figure. But the movie boasted some excellent performances from a cast led by Benjamin Walker and some superb visuals that not only transported moviegoers back to the world of early and mid 19th century America, but also to the supernatural world of vampires. And thanks to Grahame-Smith's story and Timur Bekmambetov's stylish direction, the movie began with what many would consider an implausible plot - a historical icon battling supernatural beings - and transformed into a fascinating tale filled with both fantasy and history. To my surprise, I ended up enjoying "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER" very much.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Marie" [PG-13] - Chapter Two

Civil War nurse Charlotte Evans uncovers a mystery at a Mississippi plantation during the middle of the war. 



Chapter Two

She breathed heavily while the man above her pushed further inside. In and out he moved. Then suddenly he gasped her name. "Marie!" She shuddered as the exquisite pain vibrated throughout her body.

Both woman and man laid flat on the soft bed for a few moments, catching their breaths. The warm air did nothing to dry their glistening bodies.

The woman heard a noise against the door. She sat up. "What was that?" she asked.

"Probably someone walking down the hall, darlin'. Nothing to worry about," the man answered. He began to caress her back languorously.

She looked at the clock on the side table. Two-oh-five. She must get back to Richard. "Ma petite. I have to go and check on Richard. I didn't mean to stay away so long."

"Damn! I was hoping you would stay a little longer. But, if you must." He began planting kisses on the back of her neck and his hand cupped her right breast from behind. "How about we meet near Walker's Pond tomorrow? Around two?"

She turned around and kissed him deeply. "Of course, cheri. I'll see you then. Bonne nuit." After one last kiss, she put on an old faded dressing robe and left the room.

The stairs were centered in the middle of the hallway. She stopped in front of the banister and peered down. Who had passed by a few minutes ago? She leaned over, trying to get a glimpse of the person. There seemed to be no one.

Suddenly someone's hot breath seared her left ear. "You whoring bitch!" the voice hissed. She twirled around and found icy cold eyes glaring at her. Mad eyes. Before she could do anything, a pair of hands shoved her against her chest over the railing she flew. Down she fell, screaming with terror until there was nothing but darkness.

* * * * 

Gasping, I sat up in bed like a shot. Perspiration trickled down my face and under my arms. I glanced around. I had returned to the bedroom I shared with Alma. Over to my right laid Alma, snoring lightly. I sighed with relief. It had only been a dream.

Too scared to go back to sleep, I laid back down with my eyes wide open. Marie. Not only did she haunt me in the day, but also at night. Had she died in that manner? Pushed over the railing by someone with mad eyes?

Oddly enough, I had dreamed the entire incident through her eyes. As if it had been I who made love that night before being pushed over the railing. Even odder, Marie's lover strongly resembled the present master of Green Willows. His father perhaps? I was not sure, but curiosity made me determined to find out.

The next day, Miriam and I helped Doctor Henson tend the patients situated in the front hall. Many of the soldiers suffered mainly from fever, dysentery and smallpox. And there were those who still suffered from battle wounds sustained during the Vicksburg and Port Hudson sieges.

Miriam's lean face wore a worried expression as it hovered over a soldier convulsing under a thin blanket. She glanced up. "Sarah? Could you do me a favor? I had left several bottles of laudanum in the Rose Room. Could you get one for me?"

I told her yes and headed for the parlor. As I entered the room, I spotted the bottles on the large fireplace's mantle. A large portrait of a young woman hung above it. Judging by the style of the blue gown she wore, the painting must be dated some thirty years ago.

I must admit that she looked rather pretty, though she did not resemble a Scott. With her birdlike nose, thin lips, brown hair and pale blue eyes, she looked nothing like the major.

"That's my grandmother," a silvery little voice said. I turned around. A small and handsome, dark-haired boy entered the parlor with Maum Janey. It was Major Scott's son.

I replied politely, "She looked very pretty."

"Not anymore. She looks old now." He smiled and stuck out a small hand covered in dirt. "My name's Shelby. What's yours?"

"Charlotte. Charlotte Evans."

"How come you sound funny? You don't sound like the other nigras."

"Mister Shelby! I didn't teach you to be rude," Maum Janey scolded with a frown.

Little Shelby's face puckered with confusion. "I wasn't bein' rude. I just wanted to know . . ."

"That's because I'm a Yankee," I answered. "From a small town in Massachusetts called Falmouth. I didn't see your grandmother last night. Was she ill?"

"No. She didn't want to come down. I heard her tell Papa that she'd rather die than sit with Yankees and niggers."

"Shelby!" Maum Janey again.

Shelby protested, "It was Grandma who said that! I know that Papa doesn't want me sayin' that word." He turned to me with a grave expression. "'Never call people names by what they are'. That's what he told me."

I decided to excuse his remark. At least young Shelby had been raised properly. "What about you?" I asked. "Why weren't you at supper? Or don't you like sitting with Yankees and Negroes?" I refused to utter the other word.

"He's too young to be up that late Miz Charlotte," Maum Janey replied. She tugged Shelby's arm. "Time for your nap, honey."

"But I want to talk with Sarah some more!" Shelby argued. "You know, you look a lot like Marie. Maybe that's why Papa seems to like you. He's been talking about you ever since you all got here."

Utterly speechless, I stared at him. I did not realize that he was aware of Major Scott's growing friendliness toward me. I barely heard Miriam's voice.

"Marie? You know what she looks like?" I asked.

"Course. She visits my room every night."

Maum Janey, I noticed, seemed nervous. "Let's go honey." She started pulling Shelby toward the door.

I wanted to ask the boy another question but Miriam popped at the doorway. "Charlotte! What happened to the bottle?"

I handed the bottle to Miriam and she left. Maum Janey and Shelby started to follow her.

"Wait a minute," I said. "Just how did Marie die?"

Maum Janey's dark eyes became somber. And sad. "She fell over the railing, from the second floor."

* * * *

Over the next several days, whenever I had the time, I became better acquainted with the Scott household. It amazed me how they all warmed to me so quickly. Major Scott, Maum Janey, Shelby and the remaining slaves on the plantation.

"Oh, they're not slaves anymore," Major Scott corrected me. We sat inside the white gazebo, facing a garden that had seen better days.

Despite President Lincoln's proclamation, I knew that all slaves residing in loyal states or areas under Union occupation were exempted from the so-call 'freedom' document. I did not realize that an Confederate and slave owner like Richard, would take it to heart and I said so.

"I know that Mr. Lincoln only 'freed' those under the Confederacy," he said with a slight smirk. "But I decided to free mine on my own."


"Well they deserve to be free. Don't you think so? I always did."

Well, well. So Mississippi harbored a secret abolitionist in its midst. "But you fought for the Confederacy."

He replied simply, "Well, Mississippi is my home. I was defending it from invaders. Besides, I do not believe that the Federal government has the right to free slaves. It still should be left to the states and individual owners to do so." And yet, Federal occupation gave him the chance to finally free his slaves. I knew that except a few, most Southern states had outlawed manumission. "I never thought about it before, until Marie became my nurse mammy. Through her I found out what it was really like to be a slave. Whenever I noticed my parents, especially Mother, treating her badly, I'd wish she could be free from them. That's when I really started to hate it."

I asked, "Do you miss her? Marie, I mean."

Major Scott nodded. There was a sad smile on his face. "Oh yes. Course I grew real fond of Maum Janey. But she was my nurse mammy for a short time. On my tenth birthday, my papa thought it was time I had a more masculine companion. But Marie and I were very close. If fact, she was closer to me than any of my. . ." The major suddenly stopped and looked up. I followed his glance. Peering from a second floor window was a middle-aged woman with gaunt and pale features. It was the first time I laid eyes on Richard's mother. I could detect her displeasure of seeing Richard and myself together, by the stiff set of her shoulders.

"I see that Mother us awake." He smiled briefly. "Would you pardon me please? I have a feeling that she requires my attention for a moment. I shall return."

Sighing, I watched as he rushed inside the house and then I glanced up. Mrs. Scott had disappeared from the window.

End of Chapter Two

Thursday, August 2, 2012

"BAND OF BROTHERS" (2001) - Episode Eight “The Last Patrol” Commentary

"BAND OF BROTHERS" (2001) - Episode Eight "The Last Patrol" Commentary

Episode Eight of ”BAND OF BROTHERS””The Last Patrol” saw the return of paratrooper David Webster (Eion Bailey). Last seen in "Crossroads", hobbling away from a battlefield in Holland, after being wounded; Webster returns from the hospital to find his old company recovering from the traumas suffered during the campaign in Belgium. With the Allies on the verge of victory, Easy Company begins to eye any chance of a return to combat with great wariness, during its stay in Haguenau, a town located in the Alsace region. Unfortunately, their luck fails to hold when Winters orders Spiers to select a group of men to carry out a dangerous scouting mission within the German lines. 

Recently, one of my relatives read an autobiography of one of the Easy Company veterans still living (I will not reveal his name). I was surprised to discover that he harbored some ill will toward the miniseries for allowing a major showcase of another character, David Webster. Why? Webster had never participated in the campaign in Belgium. He never bothered to leave the hospital to rejoin Easy Company in time for that harrowing experience. Many people might find that hard to believe. Yet, this autobiography had been recently published – perhaps in the last two years. This veteran continued harbor resentment toward Webster for missing the Belgium campaign after sixty odd years. Sixty years strikes me as a hell of a long time to be angry at someone for something like this.

Screenwriters Erik Bork and Bruce C. McKenna certainly included this resentment toward Webster in ”The Last Patrol”. In fact, I would probably say that they were a bit heavy-handed on this topic, especially in the episode’s first five to ten minutes. This was certainly apparent when Bork, McKenna and director Tony To insisted upon actor Eion Bailey wearing a silly grin on his face, when his character is informed about those Easy Company men that were killed, seriously wounded or otherwise in Belgium. The episode was also heavy-handed in its portrayal of Easy Company’s reluctance to engage in more combat, whether it was a major battle or a patrol. The first half of the episode seemed to saturate with some of the veterans either commenting on their reluctance to fight or their resentment toward newcomers like the recent West Point graduate, Second Lieutenant Jones (Colin Hanks) or returnees like Webster, who missed the Belgian campaign. And I never understood why Winters and not Spiers had chosen the fifteen men to partake in the patrol. Winters was the 2nd battalion’s executive officer around this time, not Easy Company’s commander.

Although the episode eventually improved, it still had another major flaw. The major flaw turned out to be Webster’s narration. Unlike Carwood Lipton’s narration featured in ”The Breaking Point”, Webster’s narration not only struck me as heavy-handed as the episode’s handling of his return, but also ineffective. The main problem with this episode’s narration is that it had a bad habit of repeating what was already shown. Some have blamed Eion Bailey’s performance for the flawed narration. However, I blame the screenwriters for writing it, and the producers for allowing it to remain in the episode. The material, in my opinion, seemed unworthy of a talented actor like Bailey.

Fortunately, ”The Last Patrol” was not a disaster. To, Bork and McKenna – along with most of the cast - did an excellent job of capturing the weariness suffered by Easy Company, following the ordeals of Bastogne and Foy; despite some of the heavy-handedness. This was especially apparent in Scott Grimes’ performance, whose portrayal of Sergeant Donald Malarkey seemed to reek of despair and grief over the deaths of “Skip” Muck and Alex Penkala in the last episode. The episode also benefitted from a humorous scene that centered on Frank Piconte’s (James Madio) return from hospital, after being wounded during the assault upon Foy. It allowed audiences to see how the men of Easy Company (both the Toccoa men and the replacements) had bonded – especially after the Belgium campaign. This scene provided a bittersweet moment for Webster (which was apparent on Bailey’s face), who began to realize how much his lack of experience in Belgium may have cost him. However, the episode’s centerpiece turned out to be the first rate action sequence that featured the patrol crossing the Rue de Triangle (Triangle River) and infiltrating German lines to snatch some prisoners. Although brief and filmed at night, the sequence was also fierce, brutal and a painful reminder that escaping the horrors of war might prove to be a bit difficult, despite the paratroopers and the Germans’ reluctance to engage in more combat.

Aside from Scott Grimes, other first-rate performances came from both Matthew Settle (Spiers) and Donnie Walhberg (Lipton), who seemed to have developed some kind of brotherly bond; Colin Hanks, who gave a nice, subtle performance as Easy Company’s newest addition, Lieutenant Henry Jones; Damian Lewis, whose finest moment as Winters came when the latter prevented the men from participating in a second patrol; Craig Heaney, whose portrayal of the embittered and caustic Roy Cobb seemed a lot more effective than in previous episodes; and Dexter Fletcher, who has been a favorite of mine for years. Not only was his portrayal of 1st Platoon sergeant John Martin was as deliciously sardonic as ever, but he provided a strong presence in the episode’s only combat sequence.

Although some are inclined to criticized Eion Bailey’s performance in ”The Last Patrol”, I am not inclined to do so. Yes, I was not impressed by his early scenes that featured Webster’s return to Easy Company. But I blame the screenwriters, not the actor. Thankfully, the episode moved past that awful beginning and Bailey proved he could give a subtle and well-rounded performance as the cynical Webster, who has to struggle to deal with the possibility that the men he had fought with in two major campaigns now consider him as an outsider.

”The Last Patrol” might not be one of the better episodes of ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. But for some reason, I have always liked it. I suspect that despite its flaws, I liked how the screenwriters and director Tony To gave it a world weary aura that matched both the situation and emotions that the men of Easy Company were experiencing, after eight months of combat.