Friday, January 30, 2009

"Return With a Vengeance " [PG-13] - 6/18



The unmarked police car eased to a stop near the alley's entrance. Darryl Morris switched off the engine and sighed. To be more accurate, he yawned. His partner frowned at him. "That's the fourth time you've yawned this morning, Darryl. Didn't you get any sleep?"

Darryl grumbled, "I would have . . . if I hadn't found a whitelighter inside my bedroom, last night."

Both Olivia and Cecile, who sat in the car's back seat, gaped at the man behind the wheel. "Leo was in your bedroom?"

"Yes," Darryl hissed through clenched teeth. At least they looked clenched to Cecile. "Do you have any idea what a shock that was? Good Lord! If Sheila had woke up . . . or even worse, if we had been . . ." He sighed. "Never mind."

Laughter burst from Olivia's mouth. Cecile struggled to keep her own in check. "Ohmigod!" the redhead cried out, between her laughter. "Now that would have been a sight to see." Darryl glared at her. "Hey, don't look at me! I didn't give him the idea. Nor was I the one who had insisted upon seeing Phoebe."

Darryl heaved another long-suffering sigh. "Look, could you please ask him not to do that again?"

"You tell him. You see him more than I do."

After shooting Olivia one last glare, Darryl opened the car door and climbed out. Olivia followed. Cecile decided to remain inside the car. When she had asked the pair if she could accompany them on a call, she had no idea that it would involve a corpse. And she was not in the mood to face one. Not after last night's scare.

From the back seat, Cecile watched Olivia and Darryl approach a crowd that had gathered in the alley. Minutes passed. More police officials joined the group. Two uniformed cops kept the onlookers at bay. One particular man attracted Cecile's attention. He was a tall, thin young man in his mid-twenties. His height, slender build, dark hair and sleek wardrobe made him stand out in the crowd. But it was his eyes that really interested Cecile. They were intense, dark - almost black and possessed an air of menace. Cecile glanced away for a second. When her eyes returned to the crowd, the stranger had disappeared. Twenty minutes after being in the car alone, Cecile became restless. "Screw this," she murmured to herself, before climbing out of the car.

Cecile tried to reach Olivia and Darryl, but one of the uniformed cops blocked her way. Even worse, she had to stand by and watch a pair from the city morgue carry the sheet-covered body on a gurney. Just as the gurney bumped her leg, a vision struck Olivia. It involved the dark-haired stranger. He approached a Latino man, carrying a dagger. The stranger plunged the dagger into the other man's stomach. Cecile gasped aloud, stumbled backward, and vision disappeared.

* * * *

"The police has discovered the body," Rudolf announced to his fellow warlocks. "In the very place where I had dumped it. That McNeill witch was there with her partner."

Edward nodded. "Good. Now that our little problem has been disposed, we can continue with our plans." He removed the top of the small crate that sat on his desk. Then he reached inside.

"We still have another problem," a belligerent Henry retorted. "Ben Mallard. You should have him killed. Now!"

Rudolf glared at his cousin. "Uncle Edward has made it clear that we might need Mallard for future shipments," he said in a hard voice. "And that he is to remain alive, until he becomes a liability. Understand?"

Henry responded with his own death glare, before he brought up another problem. Namely Suzanne's failure with Belthazor. "Why didn't you give him the potion, like you were supposed to?" he demanded.

"You really are determined to be a pain in the ass, aren't you?" Suzanne shot back. "If you must know, I only met him for the first time, yesterday. And how do you expect me to give him the potion, when his secretary was the one serving drinks? Besides, he had other plans, last night."

"What about tonight?"

Suzanne heaved an exasperated sigh. "I left a message with secretary, but has not returned my call. At least not yet."

Henry suggested morosely, "Perhaps he's on to you."

A sneer marred Suzanne's beautiful face. "You know, Mother was right about you. You are a moaning Minnie."

Edward roared, "Enough!" He pulled an object from inside the crate. It was a reddish-brown urn - or it seemed like one to Rudolf, despite its crude shape. His uncle placed the object on the desk. "Voila!"

The other warlocks stared at it. "What is it?" Rudolf asked.

"An urn, of course. It holds the remains of a powerful 18th century bokor."

Suzanne frowned. "A what?"

"A bokor. A West African sorcerer, who practices black magic." Edward continued, "The fellow inside this urn was named Dako. He was extremely powerful. A Vodoun priest or houngan finally vanquished him nearly 250 years ago. Although Dako's physical remains were destroyed, a friend of mine from Benin - another bokor - managed to summon his spirit and place it in this urn. When I had told him about what happened to our coven, he suggested that I use our new friend to solve our little problem with the Charmed Ones and the McNeills. They will be no match against Dako. All we need to do is find a host body."

Silence filled the office. Then Suzanne asked, "And who will that be?"

"Not one of us. I won't take the chance of Dako taking control of our bodies. However," Edward paused, "that nice police inspector whom Rudolf saw with Olivia McNeill might prove to be perfect. He's expendable, mortal and he has connections to both families."

Henry asked, "If this Dako is so powerful, how do we control him, once he kills the witches?"

Edward removed an envelope from the crate. "With this. My friend William, provided me with a spell to vanquish Dako, once the witches are dead. Of course, Dako's host body will be killed in the process, but . . . who cares?" He smiled.

The telephone rang. Suzanne picked up the receiver and talked for a few minutes. Rudolf and the other warlocks watched. After she hung up, Suzanne faced the others, wearing a smug smile. "Guess who just called."

"Mr. Cole Turner?" Edward guessed.

Suzanne's smile grew wider. "Very good! It seems Mr. Turner has invited me for dinner. Tonight."

* * * *

The two sisters stood in front of the large oak door that led inside the McNeill manor. A green wreath made from evergreen and trimmed with a red ribbon, hung on the door. Piper rang the doorbell.

"Why am I here?" she murmured, half to herself. "Why did I let Leo and Phoebe talk me into this?"

Paige gave Piper's shoulder a reassuring pat. "Because you love them both. And you want to help Leo with his job."

Piper glared at her youngest sister. Finally, the door opened. The McNeills' manservant, Davies, stepped forward. He immediately recognized the visitors. "Mrs. Wyatt, Miss Halliwelll, how may I help you?"

Despite her familiarity with the McNeill family over the past month, Piper never failed to feel slightly intimidated by Davies' appearance. She stammered briefly, before answering. "Uh, is Mrs. McNeill in? Either one?"

"The elder Mrs. McNeill is home." Davies swung the door wide open, allowing Piper and Paige to enter the house. Suitcases were scattered about the foyer. The manservant explained, "Mrs. McNeill is leaving for a trip, today. To Palm Beach."

Paige gave Davies a vague smile. "Oh, Miami. Sounds nice. I guess she'll be visiting friends, huh?"

Davies gave her a long stare. Discomfort flitted across Paige's countenance. "No, her sister. In Palm Beach, not Miami."

Piper allowed a small gust of breath to escape her mouth. Then she and Paige followed Davies into the McNeills' wide drawing room. The found the family's matriarch and her son examining packages.

"I think I might have overdid it with the shopping," Elise McNeill was saying. "Well, it is the Christmas season. But you know your aunt; she'll lecture me about spending too much money on presents. She does it every year."

Davies coughed slightly, attracting the pair's attention. "Pardon me, Mr. Jack, Mrs. McNeill. You have visitors."

'Mr. Jack?' Paige mouthed the words. Piper squeezed her sister's fingers, warning the latter to keep quiet. Then she silently damned her husband for persuading her into this visit, and smiled at the McNeills. "Hello!" she greeted politely.

The McNeills expressed delight at the Halliwells' presence. Piper felt a small semblance of relief. "Well, hello! What are you doing here?" Mrs. McNeill asked. "We haven't seen you in three weeks. And where is Phoebe? Oh, I forgot! She must be working."

"So many questions," Paige murmured.

Piper gave her sister a quick jab in the side and answered, "Actually, Phoebe is on vacation, this week. But she had an errand, today. And as for our visit, well . . ." Piper and Paige exchanged uneasy glances.

"Oh. I gather this isn't a social call?" Jack McNeill asked.

Paige added, "Well, not quite. It has to do with . . ."

"With Olivia," Piper finished. She shot her sister a quick glare for jumping the gun. "And Cole."

The McNeills each gave the sisters a penetrating stare. Mrs. McNeill invited them to sit down on the sofa. Which both did. Piper felt as if she was being eaten alive by the cushions.

"So," Mr. McNeill coolly added, "What exactly is the problem with Olivia and Cole?"

Piper took a deep breath. "Well, Leo has been very concerned about Olivia's friendship with Cole. We've had some . . . uh, some bad experiences with in the past."

"When he was the Source," Paige added.

Again, Piper glared at her sister. "Yeah, and Leo doesn't want the same or something similar to happen to Olivia."

Mother and son exchanged confused glances. "What are you saying? That Olivia might become the Queen of Daemons or something?" Jack McNeill asked. "And why isn't Leo talking to Olivia about all this? Why is he even concerned? He stopped being her whitelighter years ago."

Both Piper and Paige looked embarrassed. "Uh, Leo has already talked to Olivia," the former answered. "And apparently, Olivia saw no reason to be concerned about Cole."

"Well, we trust Olivia's judgment," Mrs. McNeill said. "She's always been a good judge of character."

Piper found the old lady's lack of concern, disturbing. "I'm sure that she is, Mrs. McNeill, but this is Cole we're talking about. He's very dangerous."

"Yeah," Paige added. "I mean, he was the Source of All Evil for two months. He put Phoebe through a lot of hell. And these new powers he got from the Wasteland have made him very powerful. More powerful than the Source."

Mrs. McNeill stared at Paige with cool eyes. "Weren't you the one responsible for stripping those powers from him, back in October?"

Paige looked uncomfortable. "Well, yeah. He wanted to be good . . . and I didn't mind helping him. Both of us were being brainwashed by this demon of fear named . . ."

"Barbas," Mrs. McNeill finished. "Yes, I've known about Barbas for decades. And Cole told us about your last brush with him. Through his memories. Don't forget, I'm a telepath."

Piper spoke uneasily, "But Cole has the power . . ."

"To control the minds of others? Yes, I know. So did Barbas. But neither is powerful enough to keep a strong telepath from reading their thoughts. And if Barbas can manipulate Cole's mind from some daemonic dimension . . ." She paused. "Well, you get the picture, right?"

Again, Piper and Paige exchanged uneasy glances. The oldest Halliwell remarked, "Listen, I realize that all of you view Cole as trustworthy, because he saved Olivia's life. And because he helped her and Harry save us from the Crozats, last . . ."

"Don't worry. We're all well aware of Cole's past," Mr. McNeill said, interrupting. "And we all know about his experiences as the Source. And what happened to Ed Miller."

Piper gawked at the middle-aged man. "And you're still willing to . . .?"

"Give him another chance?" Mrs. McNeill finished curtly. "Why not? Especially since he seems genuine in his desire for another chance." Shocked by the woman's revelation, Piper stared at her in silence. Then Mrs. McNeill added, "May I ask you two a question? Do you know exactly how Cole became the Source?"

Finally, something she could respond to! Piper recovered from her state of shock and replied, "Well, yes. He used something called the Hollow to absorb the Source's powers."

"But he didn't become the Source, until the old one's death. Right?"

A brief silence fell between the two sisters. "What do you mean?" a frowning Paige asked.

Mr. McNeill sighed. "My mother is simply wondering if you knew that absorbing the Source's powers after using the Hollow did not automatically make him the new Source. I mean if that were possible, you would have killed him that night in your attic and not the old Source. After all, the old Source didn't become a Charmed One when he absorbed your powers, did he?"

Even Piper had to admit that the man had a point. "So when did Cole . . .?"

"Become the Source? Probably after you killed the old one. The old Source's essence simply took over his body."

Piper had a deep suspicion what this was leading to. The possibility that Cole had become the Source against his will. That did not change the fact that Cole deliberately used the Hollow - at least in her eyes. And she said this to the McNeills.

Both mother and son stared at Piper in disbelief. Making her feel very uncomfortable. "Excuse me, but you did just hear what Jack said about the Hollow, didn't you?" Mrs. McNeill said in her usual pointed manner.

A sigh left Piper's mouth. She began to feel that this whole trip had been a waste of time. "Mrs. McNeill," she began.

"You must really dislike him very much. Cole, I mean." The old lady sighed. "I guess that is understandable, considering how you all first met." Her blue-gray eyes pinned Piper. "But I get this feeling that none of you really know what happened. I wonder. Did you kill him, because you had no choice? Or because your personal feelings got into the way?"

That was it! Piper decided that she had enough of the McNeills' self-righteousness. Rising to her feet, she coolly announced that it was time for her and Paige to leave. "We've taken enough of your time. Paige." To Piper's surprise, Paige remained glued to the sofa, wearing a stunned expression. "Paige! We're leaving."

"Huh?" Paige finally snapped out of her trance. "Oh. Uh, yeah. Sorry." She stood up.

"I'm sorry that you have to leave so soon," Elise McNeill politely remarked. "It seems that whenever you visit, we never get a chance to talk about your grandmother. Perhaps someday."

In your dreams, Piper silently retorted. She felt a sudden burst of shame. Grams would be appalled by her feelings toward an old friend. Especially a close friend like Elise McNeill. Still . . . Outrage replaced the remorse within her. Old friend or not, Mrs. McNeill had no business making an assumption about her feelings toward Cole.

"Yeah," the oldest Halliwell murmured, "well perhaps. We'll be seeing you. Sometime. Paige?" Piper turned on her heels and strode toward the doorway. She overheard Paige bid the McNeills good-bye and follow her. Leo, she angrily concluded, had a lot to answer for, today. A lot.

* * * *

"Why would anyone go to the trouble of killing a janitor and dumping his body in an alley?" Darryl asked. "The victim had obviously been stabbed. Even if there's no sign of blood or a struggle." His eyes scanned the crime scene.

Olivia shrugged. "Maybe the killer wanted to draw attention away from the real crime scene."

"If that was his intent," Darryl commented, "he or she failed. The killer forgot to remove the janitor's uniform. Which has a name tag."

"And the victim's name?"

Darryl consulted his notebook. "Someone named Alvarez, who worked for the Hopkins Building." He glanced at Cecile, who had returned to the squad car. "I wonder what happened to her. She looks shaken. Think she had one of those . . .?"

Olivia shot back, "I'm sure that we'll find out, soon."

A third figure approached the two partners. Olivia recognized one of the precinct's forensic pathologists, Deborah Liu. "Hey Deb!" she cried. "What have you got?"

"Stab wounds," the pretty, thirty-something woman answered.

Olivia rolled her eyes. "We can see that. Anything interesting?"

"Something odd about the stab wound. And yet, very familiar."

Darryl frowned at the pathologist. "Such as?"

Inspector Liu continued, "Remember those string of murders that hit the city, last month? Bodies that were found in Lafayette Park, Candlestick Park . . ." Olivia knew what she was referring to - murders of witches committed by the Crozat coven. "Anyway, the weapon used on your victim, here, is similar to the one used on those from last month. I think your killer is back." She walked away.

Olivia turned to Darryl and sighed. "Looks like the Crozats are definitely back."

The two partners approached their car. Olivia knocked on the backseat window. Which Cecile rolled down. The latter seemed to be sketching a picture on a sheet of paper. Olivia pointed at the picture. "What are you doing?"

Cecile thrust the sheet of paper at Olivia. "Drawing a picture of the killer. I had a vision of him stabbing the victim, when the latter was being taken away."

Olivia stared at the sketch. With a heavy heart, she recognized the subject. "Oh God," she murmured.

"You recognize him?" Darryl demanded. He leaned over Olivia's shoulder.

"Oh yeah. That's the warlock whom Cole had turned into a pebble, outside the Tower Bay warehouse, three weeks ago. Oh well, at least we now know that he's definitely still alive." Darryl glared at her. "Trust me, that wasn't a joke."


Thursday, January 29, 2009



Based upon F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1921 short story, ”THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON” tells the story of a New Orleans man named Benjamin Button who ages backward from 1918 to 2003 with bizarre consequences. The movie was directed by David Fincher and starred Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Taraji P. Henson.

Judging from an article I had read, it is clear that this movie is more or less a loose adaptation of Fitzgerald’s short story. Aside from the premise of a man aging backwards, there are many differences between the two versions. The main differences center around the fact that in the literary version, Benjamin Button is born physically and mentally as an old man (asking for a rocking chair), and dies physically and mentally young. In the film, Benjamin is born physically old, but with the mental capacity of a newborn; and dies physically young, although his mind aged normally throughout his life. Aside from the dynamics of the main character, the setting changes from mostly late nineteenth century Baltimore in the novel, to mostly twentieth century New Orleans. Also Benjamin’s literary wife is named Hildegarde Moncrief, the daughter of a respected Civil War general, to whom he eventually becomes less attracted. Benjamin’s love in the movie is Daisy Fanning, the granddaughter of one of the tenants at the elderly nursing home where he lives with his black adoptive mother, Queenie.

I found ”THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON” to be a technical wonder. I was very impressed by the film’s use of the CGI effects created by a team supervised by Burt Dalton. The movie’s other technical aspects – costume design by Jaqueline West, the art direction, Victor J. Zolfo’s set decorations, and the cinematography by Claudio Miranda – were first-class. I was especially impressed by how Miranda photographed New Orleans in the movie. With the movie’s art direction, the cinematographer did an excellent capturing the rich atmosphere and charm of the Big Easy. And I was especially impressed by the way he filmed 1918 New Orleans through the use of a sepia color for the movie’s prologue that centered on a clockmaker. And director David Fincher did an excellent job in utilizing the movie’s New Orleans setting and technical effects. If only he could have done something about the script . . . and the movie’s pacing.

Do not get me wrong. I am not saying that ”THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON” is a bad movie. Far from it. Not only can it boast a first-class production design, but also an excellent cast led by Brad Pitt. I have been a fan of Pitt’s since I first saw him in a movie I would love to forget - ”COOL WORLD”. But I do feel that he has a tendency to be slightly theatrical. It almost seems as if his acting style was more suited for the stage than in front of a camera. However, he does know how to be subtle when the role calls for it. And his portrayal of Benjamin Button is quite subtle. The character does not seemed to develop much – even following the deaths of his blood father, Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng) and his foster mother Queenie (Taraji P. Henson). It took his romantic problems with Daisy (Cate Blanchett) between the mid 1940s and the 1950s, and the realization that he would soon be too young to help raise his daughter Caroline that led his character to assume dimensions that were lacking earlier in the film. Despite this last minute development of the character, I must admit that Pitt gave one of his better performances in his career.

Pitt was ably supported by Cate Blanchett, who portrayed the love of his life – Daisy Fanning. Mind you, I found her character rather shallow at first. I could dismiss this simply as a case of her being young at the time. But there seemed to be lacking something in Daisy’s character that Blanchett’s excellent performance could not overcome. Quite frankly, I did not find her that interesting. Screenwriter Eric Roth (”FOREST GUMP”) tried to inject some angst into her character by having her fall victim to a car accident in Paris that cut short her dancing career. But I could not buy it. I am sorry, but Daisy did not really become interesting to me until she was forced to raise Caroline without Benjamin, and later take care of him before his death. But Blanchett gave it all she could. Without her, Daisy could have been a disaster - at least for me.

The other supporting characters were excellent. Oscar winner Tilda Swinton gave a poignant performance as Elizabeth Abbott, the wife of a British spy whom Benjamin meets and has an affair with in Russia before the Pearl Harbor attack. Jared Harris was colorful and funny as Captain Mike, the commander of the tugboat that Benjamin works for during the 1930s and early 40s. Julia Ormond, whom I have not seen in ages, gave solid support as the adult Caroline. So did Mahershalalhashbaz Ali as Queenie’s husband, Tizzy and Jason Flemyng as Thomas Button, Benjamin’s brother. But I have to say something about Taraji P. Henson. She portrayed Queenie, an attendant at the New Orleans nursing home who adopts Benjamin as her own. I loved her performance. She was colorful, tough, funny, sharp and pretty much the emotional center of the whole damn film. And it seemed a shame that she did not receive a Golden Globe nomination for her performance.

The first thing I had noticed about ”THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON” was that it strongly reminded me of the 1994 Oscar winning film, ”FOREST GUMP”. In fact, I even nicknamed the movie, ”a backwards ”FOREST GUMP” . And judging from the fact that this movie’s screenwriter, Eric Roth, had also written the 1994 film, I should not have been surprised. But whereas the main tone for ”FOREST GUMP” seemed to be one of historical whimsy, ”BENJAMIN BUTTON” seemed melancholy – especially in the movie’s last hour. The themes of aging and mortality seemed to permeate the movie like a black shroud. Considering the movie’s theme and the fact that Benjamin spent his early years in the company of the elderly, it seemed surprisingly appropriate. And at least it gave the movie its main theme. Without this theme of aging and mortality, the movie could have easily been reduced to a 166 minute film with nothing but a gimmick.

But as much as I liked ”THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON”, it has some flaws. The movie’s main flaws, at least for me, turned out to be – ironically - the script by Eric Roth and the movie’s pacing. Now I realize that movies that cover a span of years or decades tend to run up to at least two-and-a-half to three hours. But did the pacing of this film have to be so goddamn slow? I realize that Fincher wanted to give the movie a Southern atmosphere, considering its setting, but I feel that he went a bit too far. By the time Daisy gave birth to Caroline in the movie’s second half, I found myself screaming for the movie to end. As for the screenplay, Roth filled it with moments and plot points that dragged the film needlessly. I never understood why the movie’s ”present day”, which featured a dying Daisy telling Caroline about Benjamin, was set during the outset of Hurricane Katrina. What was the point? In the end, the hurricane had nothing to do with the story. And although I found Benjamin’s affair with Elizabeth Abbott rather charming at times, I had some problems with it. The sequence started out well with the circumstances of their first meeting. But the buildup to their affair and eventual parting seemed longer than necessary. The one sequence that really irritated me featured Daisy’s accident in Paris. All Roth had to do was featured her encounter with a Parisian taxicab, Benjamin’s trip to Paris and their meeting in a hospital. But . . . no. Instead, Roth wrote this contrived scene that featured little moments from various strangers that led to Daisy being struck by the taxi. It seemed so ridiculous that I nearly groaned in agony.

Despite its flaws – and this movie certainly had plenty - ”THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON” turned out to be a first-class period piece with an interesting premise of a man aging backward. Although this premise could have reduced the movie to nothing more than a gimmick, the topic of aging and mortality lifted the movie to an interesting, yet sad tale filled with emotional moments, great cinematography and solid acting, especially from Brad Pitt. I understand that the movie has received at least five (5) Golden Globe nominations and is a shoe-in for Academy Award nominations as well. I cannot honestly say whether it deserves these accolades or not. But I must admit that it is one of the top twenty (20) movies I have seen in 2008.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Top Ten (10) Favorite Movies of 2008

Below is a countdown list of my favorite movies of 2008. Mind you, this is not a list of movies that I believe are the best. Such a list would only be subjective anyway. So without further ado, here are my favorite movies of 2008:


10. "Frost/Nixon" - Ron Howard directed this excellent drama about the series of interviews that British journalist David Frost conducted with former Presiden Richard Nixon in the early spring of 1977. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen starred.

9. "Vantage Point" - I really enjoyed this political thriller about an assassination plot on an American president participating at an anti-terrorism summit in Salamanca, Spain. The entire movie is based on a single, short period of time, which is retold six times, each time from the viewpoint of different characters. Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver starred.

8. "Quantum of Solace" - Despite some slightly erratic photography, I still enjoyed this sequel to the James Bond movie, "Casino Royale". Daniel Craig is great in his second out as British agent James Bond.

7. "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls" - This fourth Indiana Jones movie took a different twist on the franchise in being a send up on the 1950s 'B' movies. Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone and Cate Blanchett are marvelous together.

6. "Defiance" - Ed Zwick's World War II tale about three Jewish brothers from Poland leading a resistance against their Nazi conquerors. Filled with delicious moral ambiguity, the movie starred Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell.

5. "Tropic Thunder" - Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. starred in this hilarious movie about Hollywood actors caught up in the filming of a Vietnam War movie gone wrong. Downey Jr. is especially hilarious as an Australian actor pretending to be an African-American character.

4. "Valkyrie" - Bryan Singer directed this superb World War II thriller about the last conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Tom Cruise stars as the main conspirator, Claus von Stauffenberg. Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Kenneth Branaugh and Terence Stamp give excellent support.

3. "Iron Man" - Robert Downey Jr. is excellent in this origin tale about Tony Stark, a billionaire industrialist and master engineer with many playboy vices, who builds a powered exoskeleton and becomes the technologically advanced superhero, Iron Man. Terrence Howard, Gweneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges give great support.

2. "Changeling" - Clint Eastwood directed this period thiller based upon an actual case about a woman in 1928 Los Angeles who recognizes that the boy returned after her son's disappearance is an impostor. After confronting the Los Angeles Police Department, she is vilified as an unfit mother and branded delusional. Angelina Jolie gives a superb performance as Christine Collins.

1. "Speed Racer" - The Wachowski Brothers directed this superb live action film adaptation of the 1960s Japanese anime series about an American race car driver and his family. Filled with innovative visual effects and backed by a first-rate plot, the movie stars Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, Matthew Fox, John Goodman and Susan Sarandon. One of the most original movies I have seen in years.

Monday, January 26, 2009

"SHADOW OF THE MOON" (1957/1979) Book Review

”SHADOW OF THE MOON” (1957/1979) Book Review

I first became aware of British author, M.M. Kaye back in the early 1980s, when I read her famous 1978 bestseller, ”THE FAR PAVILLIONS”. Intrigued by the author’s portrayal of the British and Indian societies in 19th century, I read another one of her novels – namely ”SHADOW OF THE MOON”.

First published in 1957, ”SHADOW OF THE MOON” was re-released 22 years later to cash in on the success of ”THE FAR PAVILLIONS”. Like the latter, the novel was set in 19th century India. ”SHADOW OF THE MOON” told the story of Winter de Ballesteros, the only daughter of an aristocratic Spaniard whose family lived in India and the beloved granddaughter of an English earl. Orphaned at the age of six, Winter is forced to leave India and live with her mother’s family in England for the next eleven years. Betrothed at an early age to the debauched Conway Barton, the nephew-in-law of her great-aunt and an official of the East India Company serving as Commissioner of the Lunjore District, Winter finally leaves England to return to India in order to marry him. Barton’s military aide, Captain Alex Randall of the British East India Company (aka John Company), is assigned to act as escort for Winter’s return journey to the East.

Unfortunately for Winter, she encountered two misfortunes after her arrival in India – the discovery that her new husband is a debauched and overweight drunk who had married her for her fortune; and that she had fallen in love with Alex Randall. She is unaware that Alex has also fallen in love with her. While Winter struggled with her love for Alex and her unhappy marriage, events slowly came to a boil that lead to the outbreak of the Sepoy Rebellion in which the Indian soldiers of the Bengal Army rose against the British between May 1857 and June 1858. The violent outbreak of sepoy troops against the rule of the British East India Company forced both Winter and Alex to experience the violence that explodes throughout most of India and acknowledge their feelings for one another.

For a novel that is supposed to be about the famous Sepoy Rebellion of 1857-58, most of it seemed to be set before the rebellion’s actual outbreak. The novel’s first six chapters focused upon Winter’s parents and her childhood in both India and England. The next thirty-four (34) chapters focused upon Winter and Alex’s journey to India, the introduction of Anglo society in India, Winter’s marriage to Conway Barton in Lunjore, the growing tensions between the British rulers and those who have much to resent them, Winter and Alex’s growing feelings for one another . . . well, you get the picture. By the time Winter, Alex and other British residents encounter the rebellion in Lunjore, Chapter 40 had arrived. Only Chapters 40 through 51 featured the actual rebellion.

Ironically, this does not bother me. I suspect that ”SHADOW OF THE MOON” is basically a romantic drama with a historical backdrop. M.M. Kaye was born in India to a family that had served the British Raj for generations. She spent most of her childhood and early years of marriage in India, which made her a strong authority on the Anglo-Indian and Indian societies of the British Raj. ”SHADOW OF THE MOON” is filled with strong historical facts about Great Britain during the first five decades in the 19th century, the East India Company, the Anglo-Indian and Indian cultures in the 1850s, and the politically charged atmosphere leading up to the Sepoy Rebellion and facts about the rebellion itself.

Reading the novel made it easy for me to see why M.M. Kaye had gained such fame as a historical novelist. Along with Susan Howatch, John Jakes, James Michener, I consider among the best historical novelists. Not only is ”SHADOW OF THE MOON” filled with interesting facts about the British Raj in the 1850s, it is a well-written romantic drama about two people who managed to find love despite the obstacles of a loveless marriage and political turmoil. The two main characters – Winter and Alex – are well written characters that managed to avoid the usually clichés found in many inferior romantic paperback novels. Well . . . Winter and Alex’s characterizations managed to avoid most of the clichés. There are a few clichés about them that seem very familiar:

*Winter’s age spans between 17 and 19 in most of the novel. Most heroines of historical tend to be between the ages of 16 and 17.

*The age span between Winter and Alex is 13 years – which is typical for the heroine and hero of most historical romances.

*The heroine, Winter, spends most of the novel stuck in an unhappy marriage with a much older man.

Despite these minor clichés, Winter and Alex turned out to be two very interesting and well-rounded characters. Surprisingly, I can say the same of the supporting characters, whether they be British or Indian. A few characters stood out for men – notably Alex’s cynical Indian orderly Niaz; a sharp tongued British socialite named Louisa “Lou” Cottar; an intelligent and intensely political Indian nobleman who becomes a dangerous enemy of the British Raj by the name of Kishan Prisad; Lord Carylon, an arrogant and temperamental English aristocrat with a strong desire for Winter; and the latter’s corrupt and narrow-minded husband, who lacks a talent for political administration.

Aside from a few clichés that are a part of Winter and Alex’s characterizations, I have a few other quibbles regarding the novel . . . or Kaye’s writing style. First of all, she had a tendency to describe a historical event or character in a slightly grandiose manner. One example featured the death of a famous military figure named John Nicholson. Kaye also had a bad habit of announcing an important sequence before it unveiled . . . taking away any moment of surprise for the reader. This was apparent in the following passage:

”Two more days to go,” thought Alex that night, leaning against the wall and watching a quadrille danced at the Queen’s Birthday Ball.

But there were no more days. Only hours.

In the following chapter, Winter, Alex and a host of other characters experience firsthand, the horror of the rebellion in Lunjore. I would have preferred if the beginning of the Lunjore rebellion had taken me by surprise.

Despite Kaye’s occasional forays into over-the-top prose, she created a sweeping and detailed novel filled with romance, adventure, historical accuracy and well-written characters. Although ”THE FAR PAVILLIONS” is considered her masterpiece, I must admit that ”SHADOW OF THE MOON” remains my favorite novel she has ever written.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"MAD MEN" (1.02) "Ladies Room" Photo Gallery

Below is a gallery of photos from the Season One episode of "MAD MEN" called (1.02) "Ladies Room":

"MAD MEN" (1.02) "Ladies Room" Photo Gallery

Friday, January 23, 2009

"LOST" - Musings on Season Four and the Finale


ABC’s megahit series, ”LOST’ is considered among the best television series on the air during this past decade. The magazine, ”Entertainment Weekly” considers it to be the fifth best series in television history. I have to admit that it is one of the most original series I have ever seen. But after watching its Season Four finale – ”There’s No Place Like Home (Parts 2 and 3)”, I cannot help but wonder if the series’ reputation might be a little exaggerated.

To put it bluntly, ”There’s No Place Like Home (Parts 2 and 3)” left me with mixed feelings. Mind you, it had its virtues. One of the best moments during that two hour broadcast was watching Yunjin Kim’s performance as the complex Korean wife who may or may not have witnessed the death of her husband, portrayed by the equally talented Daniel Dae Kim. Her performance was fantastic, whether she was expressing Sun Kwon’s horror and grief over witnessing her husband being blown up, while trying to escape a freighter that had been set up to explode. Whether he is dead or not, will be revealed in Season Five. But she believes he is dead. Which would explain the cold, avenging angel she has become in the months following the birth of her fatherless infant daughter.

There were other virtues in this episode:

*Evangeline Lily’s performance in a scene in which Sawyer (Josh Holloway) says good-bye to Kate. Yes, I am actually complimenting Lily’s performance. She is no Yunjin Kim, but I think that she managed to rise up to the occasion in that scene and in the episode’s opening scene that featured a continuation of Jack (Matthew Fox) and Kate’s meeting at the L.A. airport in the flash forward, carried over from Season Three’s “Through the Looking Glass”. However, I still dislike the Kate Austen character.

*The Two Kisses – For me, I was impressed not only by Sawyer’s good-bye kiss to Kate, but Desmond and Penny’s reunion kiss. Actually, I would say that the last one was more spectacular.

*The fight scene between Sayid (Naveen Andrews) and Keamy (Kevin Durand). It seemed fitting for two men-of-action characters, such as themselves.

*I also liked the moment when Jack, Sawyer, Kate and Sayid joined Frank Lapidus for the first time, aboard his helicopter. There was nothing particularly special about it, but it seemed to have its own sense of magic.

*And there was Sawyer’s return to the island, where he meets Juliet on the beach. The scene started out light-hearted, until Juliet points out to the former con man of the freighter’s (and possibly the passengers on Lapidus’ helicopter) fate.

Unfortunately for ”There’s No Place Like Home (II & III)”, the flaws seemed to outweigh the virtues. Flaws that had a lot to do with contrived writing. First example? The bomb on the freighter. What was the purpose of that bomb? Why did Keamy even bothered to plant C4 explosions on that freighter, ‘The Kahana’? Even worse, why bother to wear a remote trigger linked to a heart-rate monitor in order to blow up the boat? What was the point of this plot twist . . . other than to kill Michael Dawson and place anyone aboard the freighter in danger? Did Keamy assume that the castaways would start making their way to the Kahana? What? It all seemed so contrived.

Speaking of contrivance, there is the object dubbed by ”LOST” viewers as ’The Frozen Donkey Wheel’. Apparently, this is the wheel that Ben (Michael Emerson) had turned to move the island or make it invisible. According to a ”Popular Mechanics” article, the wheel changed the island’s space-time connection to the rest of the Earth. Yeah. Whatever. Let’s just say that it did not impress me.

Another problem I had with this episode was the fate of Claire’s infant son, Aaron. Yes, I know that the fourth episode of this season - ”Eggtown” - made it clear that Kate ends up as Aaron’s guardian back in the States. Even after seeing how Aaron ended up in her custody . . . it still does not make any sense to me. I keep thinking of that scene near the end of the episode, when Jack, Kate, Sayid, Sun and Hurley part from Desmond and Penny, so that they could complete their rescue with a nine hour voyage to some nearby island. Why would Penny hand Aaron over to Kate? Why would Kate take custody of Aaron? Surely, she should have considered the possibility that her chances of keeping Aaron was not that hot, considering her fugitive status. Or why did Kate fail to ask Penny for cash and place where she and Aaron could hide out? The moment when Penny handed Aaron over to Kate seemed so contrived and stupid.

*And can someone please explain how a two-month old child was able to survive so many hours without his mother’s milk or food, along with a helicopter crash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and nine hours of exposure to the sun, while in lifeboat with other castaways? I suppose one could say that ”the island” protected him. Yeah. Whatever. God, who wrote this shit?

Returning back to the Kahana, I have this question to ask - why didn’t Michael, Desmond and Jin warned the other Losties and crew members on the freighter to abandon ship, when they first discovered the C4? Why in the hell did they keep the matter a secret from the others? Why? What was the point? Drama? Another contrived reason to bump off Michael? This has to be one of the most stupid moments I have ever seen on television. To make matters even more idiotic, Jin hesitated to jump ship at the end, so that he could drag Michael along. ”Jin . . . darling, you have a wife and unborn child waiting for you. Why didn’t you get your ass up to the deck when Michael first told you?” Dammit, I hate such stupidity! I especially hate it when writers drum up this mess.

Finally, we come to the biggest pile of horseshit of the episode . . . namely, Michael Dawson’s death. After watching this episode, I can only say that Harold Perrineau’s return to ”LOST” was the biggest waste of his time and the time of his fans. What in the fuck were Cuse and Lindehof thinking? In a TV Guide interview, Perrineau had accused the two producers of bringing him back so that they could appease the bloodlust of the fans who hated Michael for his Season Two actions. I am beginning to believe that he might be right. Cuse and Lindehof could have kept Michael on the show for a while and allow him to deal with the consequences of his actions by facing the Losties. The only castaways who saw him were Sayid, the Kwons and Desmond, who did not even know him. And nothing much really came from his reunion with him. Sayid did expose him to the captain of the Kahana as Ben’s spy. But Michael did not really suffer from the betrayal, aside from one or two beatings. Sun seemed more upset about him being Ben’s spy on the Kahana than over what he had done in Season 2. And with the immediate discovery of the bomb, Jin and Michael immediately resumed their old friendship. After Cuse and Lindehof’s big announcement of Perrineau’s return, the actor managed to appear in at least five or six episodes out of fourteen, before his character was blown sky high in the Kahana’s destruction. All I can say is - ”What in the fuck?”

But the mixed quality of ”There’s No Place Like Home (II &III)” seemed a reflection of the entire Season Four. Some are claiming that this was the show’s best season. I wish I could agree. Season Four had started out as very promising. But in the end, it has not usurped my belief that Season One remains the best. Like its finale, Season Four turned out to be a curious mixture of the good and the bad.

There were plenty of good episodes during this season. Episodes like ”The Beginning of the End” and ”Confirmed Dead” not only led to the Losties being split into two camps, but it also introduced four new characters to the show – Daniel Faraday, Miles Straume, Charlotte Lewis and Frank Lapidus. Then came ”The Economist”, which turned out to be my favorite Sayid-centric episode. Its flash forward eventually revealed Sayid as Ben’s troubleshooter – or hitman – who was killing colleagues of Ben’s enemy, Charles Widmore. Another standout episode turned out to be ”The Constant”, a Desmond-centric episode. In it, the Scotsman encounters time traveling side effects from his exposure to an EMP discharge. Mind you, I found it a little confusing at times, but the emotional payoff was worth the confusion. Two other outstanding episodes – at least for me – were ”Meet Kevin Johnson”, which revealed what happened to Michael Dawson and his son Walt, following their departure at the end of Season Two; and ”The Shape of Things to Come”, in which the group of Losties under Locke, encountered Charles Widmore’s murderous henchman, Martin Keamy, and his band of killers.

There were also episodes that I found . . . decent, but not exactly mind blowing. There were Ji Yeon”, ”Cabin Fever” and ”There’s No Place Like Home (Part I)”. I take it back. The revelation that Jin did not make it off the island with Sun had taken me by surprise. And so did the appearance of Claire inside Jacob’s cabin with Christian also shocked me. Like the finale that aired on May 29, I have mixed feelings about ”Something Nice Back Home”. I found the circumstances surrounding Jack’s appendectomy rather pointless. In fact, I am still a little confused over how it was supposed to add to the story. But I must admit that the events that led to Jack and Kate’s breakup in that episode’s flash forward was fascinating. This episode also provided another glimpse at Matthew Fox’s superb acting skills.

There were three episodes – out of fourteen – that I found troubling. One was ”The Other Woman”, a Juliet-centric episode. In this, we learned that Juliet had an affair with Goodwin – the Other who had been killed by Ana-Lucia Cortez in Season Two. We also learned that Goodwin had been married. The episode also revealed that Ben harbored an obsession of Juliet. And it also featured a knock-out, dragged out fight between Juliet and one of the Freighter passengers – Charlotte. But this is an episode that belonged to Season Three. Even worse, there was no real follow-up over Daniel and Charlotte’s presence at the Tempest Station and their actions with the gas. Frankly, I found the ending to be rather vague. Still . . . it provided another outstanding performance by Elizabeth Mitchell as Juliet.

The second episode I had trouble with was the season’s last one - ”There’s No Place Like Home” (Part III)”. Since I have said all that I could about that episode and its predecessor, I might as well focus on what I consider to be THE WORST episode of Season Four – the Kate-centric ”Eggtown”. In this episode, Kate joins Locke’s group at the abandoned Otherville quarters, so she could find out if the quartet from the Kahana and the outside world knew about her status as a fugitive. The episode’s flash forwards revealed her trial, how she avoided jail time and ended up serving ten years’ probation. It also revealed that she became the guardian of Claire’s son, Aaron. Frankly, that last reveal proved to be the only interesting thing about this episode. Everything else struck me as a joke. One that left a bad taste in my mouth. And although I had praised Evangeline Lily’s performance in the finale, ”Eggtown” proved that on the whole, she has remained, at best, a mediocre actress during the show’s four seasons. The biggest travesty proved to be the trial, in which the defense called its witness – namely a lying Jack – first; the prosecution’s only witness was allowed to see the defendant in private; and because of this, the prosecution gave Kate a plea deal, because the witness (Kate’s mom) refused to testify against . . . conveniently forgetting the former castaway’s other crimes. One that includes attempted bank robbery. And what really annoyed me about ”Eggtown” is that it served as the beginning of a series of contrived events that led to Kate’s possession of Aaron. For me, Kate’s story arc proved to be the season’s biggest weakness.

Watching the finale made me realize something about ”LOST” that has made me reluctant to dub it as one of the finest shows in television history. Even some of the best shows I have seen - ”BABYLON FIVE” and ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” had its share of weak episodes or storylines that were dumped at the wayside. But those two shows and a few others have been consistently top-notch. I wish I could say the same about ”LOST”, but I cannot. I will admit that it is one of the most original television series I have ever watched. But that originality has been sabotaged every now and then by contrived writing and some pretty bad characterization. This has especially been obvious to me during the last half of Season Two – including the badly written ”Two For the Road”. Like ”Eggtown”, it was partially saved by a surprise ending. At least two-thirds of Season Three had left a bad taste in my mouth, including the contrived departure of Mr. Eko in ”The Cost of Living” and the atrocious ”I Do” and ”Stranger in a Strange Land’.

Aside from Season One, the series’ quality for each season always seemed to flip-flop. This show has yet to maintain a consistently top-notch season since the first one. Hopefully . . . that will change with the last two seasons.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Five Takes on THE BEATLES

Below are five video clips featuring songs performed by The Beatles between 1963 and 1965:

Five Takes on THE BEATLES

”You’re Gonna Lose That Girl”

I’ll Be Back”

”Do You Want to Know a Secret?”

”The Night Before”

”I’m Happy Just to Dance With You”

Monday, January 19, 2009

"Return With a Vengeance" [PG-13] - 5/18



Alberta Devore removed her lips from the water that streamed from the fountain and straightened her back. As she strode down the corridor, a noise caught her attention. From one of the offices on this floor. The noise sounded like a cry or a scream, and it made Alberta feel very nervous.

Her first instinct was to investigate the noise. But self-preservation kept her in check. And when she heard a door click open, she quickly dashed into her office and shut the door. The last thing she wanted was to witness a murder or any other act of violence.

Alberta took a deep breath and returned to her desk. Minutes passed and her unease grew, as she heard more noise from outside the office - like the sound of a heavy object being moved. Unable to deal with the wear on her nerves, Alberta stood up and walked over to the window. She glanced out and saw a man leave the building. That same man climbed into a silver Ford sedan with license plates that read - 666MAL. Curiosity replaced her fear for a brief moment. She wondered if this man had anything to do with the noise she had heard.

* * * *

Phoebe rushed downstairs to the Halliwells' living room after hearing the front door open. Apparently, her two sisters and brother-in-law had finally returned home for the evening. "Leo! Piper! Paige! You're back!" She remained on the staircase's last step. "Where have you all been? It's almost eight."

The other three stared at Phoebe, wearing concerned expressions. "Paige and Leo were helping me at P3," Piper replied. "What's wrong?"

"I got a visit from Darryl, today. And Olivia McNeill." Phoebe made her way to the living room sofa. "It seems Darryl wanted me to summon a premonition."

The other two Halliwell sisters joined Phoebe on the sofa. Paige frowned. "What on earth for?"

Heaving a large sigh, Phoebe continued, "Apparently, it has something to do with a friend of Olivia's."

"Cecile," Leo stated. His comment drew stares from the three sisters. "She's a friend of Olivia's, who also practices magic."

Phoebe continued in a tense voice, "Well, apparently this Cecile had received a premonition after meeting Darryl. Only, she didn't get a vision, just a feeling."

"What feeling?" Piper demanded.

"I don't know. Some kind of sense that something wrong might happen to Darryl." Phoebe went on to describe Darryl's request that she summon a premonition. And the vision she had received when she held his hand. "The only thing I saw was Darryl and Olivia at some crime scene in the downtown area. I certainly didn't sense any forbidding future for Darryl. But I can't help but wonder if the case he and Olivia will investigate might prove to be dangerous for him."

Piper began to rub her younger sister's arm. "Honey, maybe this Cecile person was wrong. I mean, she couldn't even bring up a vision. It's a good chance that her powers are not as strong as yours." She glanced at Leo. "Right?"

The whitelighter shrugged. "I don't know. I've only met Cecile a few times. All I know is that she's not a witch like you or the McNeills. She doesn't practice Wicca." He paused. "She's . . . uh, into Voodoo."

"Voodoo?" Paige made a face. "You mean like zombies and stuff? Why would Olivia be friends with someone like that?" Phoebe privately agreed.

With a sigh, Leo continued, "Voodoo isn't evil or anything like it's shown in the movies. I understand that it's just another pagan religion. Like Wicca. Besides, Cecile's okay. I do know that she has premonitions and telepathy."

Phoebe added, "Yeah, Olivia did say that she was a powerful psychic."

"A powerful psychic who wasn't able to summon a vision?" Paige's voice rang with disbelief. "And besides, you're a Charmed One, Phoebe. One of the most powerful witches ever. Your premonitions are probably more powerful. Ten to one, your premonition was more accurate than hers." She turned to Leo. "Do the Elders know anything about Voodoo?"

Leo shook his head. "No. They're not really familiar with any magic outside what you practice. Remember the Zen master? They weren't familiar with that brand of magic, either."

"Then what good are they?" Phoebe snapped. An uncomfortable silence followed. Leo's face turned red with embarrassment. "I'm sorry Leo," she added. "It's just I can't help but wonder if she's right about Darryl. He is one of our closest friend and the only vision I had of him was investigating some crime scene."

Leo added soothingly, "I understand. But I don't think you have to worry. Your vision is probably more accurate than hers, anyway. And there's a chance she never had a premonition. Maybe it was her intuition. And I'll keep an eye on Darryl, tonight. If it would make you feel better."

Phoebe responded with a nod. Piper added, "By the way, did you speak to Olivia about . . . you know, Cole?"

"Yeah." Leo sighed. "Only Cole was there. Having breakfast with Olivia and Cecile. I talked with her after he left. She, uh . . . she didn't listen to me. As usual."

"So, you're saying that this Cecile knows Cole?"

Again, Leo sighed. "They did seem a little chummy with each other, this morning."

Paige tucked her feet underneath her legs. "Does Cecile even know he's a demon?"

"Looks like it." Leo paused. "She didn't seem bothered by him."

"Oh great!" Paige rolled her eyes. "Are you sure that Voodoo isn't some kind of Satanic cult?"

A frown creased Piper's brow. "Paige! That's not a nice thing to say. Don't forget there are a lot of people who still feel the same about Wiccans." She turned to her husband. "Leo, you have to do something about Olivia. Granted, none of us are particularly fond of her, but she is your charge."

"Piper's right," Phoebe added. She could feel her heart beat unnaturally fast. "You should do something, before Olivia finds herself in a bad situation. Can't you talk to her parents?"

An exasperated Leo shot back, "Phoebe, Olivia's a grown woman. And don't forget that she's no longer my charge. Neither her or Bruce. They haven't been in the past twelve years. And that's exactly what Jack and Gweneth McNeill would tell me. Besides," his voice lowered, "I get the feeling that they don't really like me. Especially Mr. McNeill." He glanced at his wife. "Could you talk to them? At least to old Mrs. McNeill?"

"Leo . . ." Piper began in protest.

"Please, Piper! I think she would listen to you."

Piper sighed. She glanced at Phoebe, who returned the look with pleading eyes. "Oh all right. I'll pay a visit, tomorrow afternoon. Maybe if I told them everything on what happened last spring . . ."

"Oh." The word immediately came out of Leo's mouth. The three sisters frowned at the whitelighter. He seemed confused. Disturbed.

Phoebe demanded, "What's wrong?"

After a brief hesitation, Leo continued, "Well, it seems that Cole has already told the McNeills about his time as the Source. He told them that he became the Source against his will."

"And they believed him?" Piper cried.

The whitelighter's next words took the Charmed Ones by surprise. "Yeah, they believe him. According to Olivia, Mrs. McNeill read his memories using telepathy, and she's supposed to be a very strong telepath. And if that's the case, I'm beginning to suspect that he might be telling the truth."

Disbelief gripped Phoebe's stomach. Dammit! What was it about Cole that brought so much torment and confusion? She heaved a large sigh. "Leo, whether or not Cole had chosen to become the Source, he's still a danger. Disaster always seemed to follow him. And with those new powers of his . . . well, who knows when he'll give in to evil again? Olivia might not be your charge anymore, but she's still your friend. For her safety, for the safety of her family, someone has to talk to them. Make them understand how dangerous he is. If you can't do, let Piper try." Phoebe paused and stared at both Leo and Piper. "You know I'm right."

Piper coughed slightly. "The lady has spoken."

* * * *

Olivia watched Cecile sink her teeth into the slice of Devil's Food cake. "Hmmm!" the other woman groaned. "God, this is good! How do you make it so moist?"

A smile spread across Gweneth McNeill's face. "Pudding. I'm glad that you like it." Her green eyes, which her two younger children had inherited, sparkled with satisfaction. The fifty-five year-old woman had also passed along her red hair to Olivia and Harry. Only in her case, sprinkles of gray mixed in the red. "Before you go back to New Orleans, I'll make another one for you to give to your parents."

"If I don't eat it first. Maybe I'll save a slice for Andre. Devil's Food is his favorite." Cecile turned her attention to Cole. "You know, I just realized something. You never told me how you and Andre first met."

A wariness crept into Cole's eyes. He shook his head and gave Cecile a tight smile. "It was . . . Nothing. I forgot."

"You forgot?" Jack McNeill, Olivia's handsome father frowned. "Sounds like you don't want to tell us. Did it involve someone's death?"

Embarrassment replaced the wariness in Cole's eyes. "No." He paused. "Actually, Andre and I met at a party in the French Quarter. During Mardi Gras. It was . . . a party."

The McNeills stared at the half-daemon. "What's the big mystery?" Bruce demanded. A younger version of his father, he also happened to be the oldest McNeill sibling.

Cole gave an embarrassed cough. "Nothing. There's no big mystery. I met Andre at a party. That's all."

"Oh dear God!" Cecile's outburst drew stares from the others.

Olivia demanded, "What?"

"I . . ." Cecile stared at Cole, who heaved a defeated sigh. "Nothing."

However, Olivia decided to be persistent. "C'mon! What's with the big outburst? Does it have something to do with Cole and Andre?"

Cole's shoulders sagged. "I'll tell. Andre and I met at this party."

"In the French Quarter," Elise McNeill added. The McNeill matriarch nodded. "Go on."

The half-daemon continued. "Have you ever seen the movie, EYES WIDE SHUT? It featured Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman at this party . . ."

Realization hit Olivia like a slap in the face. She finally recalled a party that she and Cecile had tracked this drug lord when they first met Andre in Morgan City. The party seemed more like an orgy filled with sex, booze and drugs. "Good grief! You met Andre at one of those?"

Cole nodded. "Yeah. Many daemons loved to frequent such parties. They were great places to seek out people willing to sell their souls, if you know what I mean."

A wide grin spread across Harry's handsome, freckled face. "And I bet the sex was great, too! Right?"

To Olivia's amazement, she saw her first look at a daemon - or half-daemon - blushing. No one, especially any of her Wiccan friends, would ever believe this! Then a small, private smile appeared on his face. A smile that spoke a thousand words. Olivia felt a quick stab of envy.

"Anyway," Cole continued, "that lifestyle is over for me. I haven't been to a party like that in over four years. And I don't have the taste for one, either."

Gran patted Cole's arm. "Good for you," she replied, nodding.

"Although, I wouldn't mind a private, one-on-one version," he added with a smile.

Cole's words drew stunned stares - especially from the women. Olivia's mother cried out in shock, "Cole!"

"Sorry," Cole said with a shake of his head. "I met this woman, today. A widow named Suzanne Maxwell. Very beautiful woman." Olivia's jealousy returned. Cole continued, "But there was something about her . . ." His voice drifted into a whisper.

Olivia demanded, "What?"

Cole paused, as his expression became reflective. "I don't know. She had invited me to dinner, tonight. And when I turned down her . . . she didn't seem disappointed. She seemed frustrated. Very frustrated. It seemed as if I had ruined some plan of hers." Again, he shook his head. "I don't know. I guess I had a bad feeling about her at that moment."

"Maybe you should stay away from her," Bruce suggested.

Her eyes shinning like polished emeralds, Olivia leaned forward. "No! I think you should get to know her, instead. Maybe there's a reason she's trying to get close to you. I mean, it is odd that she should show up not long after the MALEHEX Corporation closed its Seattle office."

"The Crozats?" Cole said questioningly.

Olivia shrugged her shoulders. "It's a long shot, but . . . I don't know. Maybe you shouldn't dismiss your feelings about her. Come to think of it, you're not the only one who's been receiving bad fe . . ."

A gasp from Cecile's mouth interrupted Olivia. The Vodoun priestess went into a sudden trance, startling everyone else. The trance lasted for several seconds, until it ended with a shuddering sigh. Then Cecile collapsed on the floor. Harry, Bruce and Cole rushed to her side.

"Cecile! Are you all right?" Olivia cried. She watched anxiously, while the three men helped Cecile to her feet.

Cecile murmured, "I'm fine, I'm fine. I . . ." She took a deep breath. Gweneth handed her a glass of water. "Thanks." She took a sip.

"What happened?" Gran asked.

"I, uh . . . I don't know." Cecile finished her water in several gulps. The others looked upon her with concern. "I had this vision. Well, it wasn't a vision. More like a feeling. Like the last time, when Livy and I were at the police station." Cecile heaved a sigh. "Only the feeling was stronger. More powerful. I felt as if I had sensed this great darkness. Or an evil spirit. I felt the same when I met your Inspector Morris, only it wasn't as strong."

Olivia frowned. "Are you saying that Darryl has some evil spirit within him?"

Cecile cried out, "I don't know! Maybe I'm wrong, but . . ." She paused. "Then again, maybe we're in for some serious trouble. I think we all should be careful." Anxiety flashed in everyone's eyes, as a troubling silence enveloped the dinner party.


Sunday, January 18, 2009


Here is a gallery of photos from the new David Pincher film that is based upon a F. Scott Fitzgerald short story called, "THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON". The movie stars Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Jason Flemyng and Tilda Swinton: