Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"COP OUT" (2010) Review




"COP OUT" (2010) Review

The moment I first saw the trailer for Kevin Smith’s new action comedy, ”COP OUT”, I knew I did not want to see it. The jokes in the trailer struck me as flat. Stars Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan seemed to lack any screen chemistry whatsoever. But since there were no other new movies out at the time, I went to see it anyway.

”COP OUT” told the story of two New York City Police detectives who found themselves suspended from the force after their efforts to nail a young Mexican immigrant gang banger with ties to a drug lord ends in failure. Police detectives Jimmy Monroe and Paul Hodges are drawn back into the case centered around drug lord Poh Boy inadvertently when Jimmy attempts to raise money for his daughter’s upcoming wedding by selling his father’s rare baseball card. Unfortunately, a petty thief named Dave steals the card and sells it to Poh Boy. The drug lord refuses to give Jimmy back the card, unless the latter and Paul finds a stolen car that contains something valuable for him.

There were aspects of ”COP OUT” that failed to appeal to me. One, Tracy Morgan’s little comedy routine that involved his character using clichéd movie lines to get a suspect to talk left me feeling irritated. As much as I like Sean William Scott (Dave, the petty thief), his role not only struck me as nearly irrelevant – aside from the baseball card theft – but also irritating. In fact, I believe I found him just as irritating as Tracy Morgan’s character did. And I wish to God that director Kevin Smith and the movie’s producers had not chosen Guillermo Diaz for the role of Poh Boy. In fact, I wish that Mark and Robb Cullen had not created the character in the first place. It must be one of the hammiest movie roles I have ever come across in the past decade.

Before anyone gets the idea that I found ”COP OUT” to be a complete waste of my time, I did not. I will never view this movie as a favorite of mine, or one of the best “cop buddy” films I have ever seen. But I must admit that the movie turned out to be better than I had expected. One of the movie’s strengths turned out to be the Cullens’ screenplay. Mind you, I found nothing particularly unique about it – save for the fact that the two protagonists ended up investigating the very case they had been kicked off, due to one of the heroes’ family crisis. Two, Smith directed a well-paced story filled with some pretty good humor and a great deal of action. In other words, the movie kept me awake. Last but not least, both Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan managed to create a viable screen chemistry, despite my misgivings from the trailer. Which surprised me a great deal. Willis and Morgan almost came off as a modern-day Abbott and Costello.

Actually, both Willis and Morgan managed to portray a pair of interesting characters. Willis’ Jimmy Monroe was a down-to-earth man with a failed marriage and a partner he has to keep from drifting off to Neverland. And yet, his Jimmy has a quirky, yet occasionally sadistic sense of humor that I found attractive. Although Morgan’s Paul Hodges started off as an irritating character, I eventually warmed up to him. Morgan portrayed Paul as a warm and extroverted man who harbors a great deal of affection for his partner and love for his wife – even if that love threatened to transform into an overwhelming jealousy.

Despite my complaints about Sean William Scott’s character, the petty thief Dave, I must admit that I found him occasionally funny. I certainly enjoyed Ana de la Reguera’s performance as Gabriela, the mistress of a murdered criminal whom Jimmy and Paul found in the trunk of the very car wanted by Poh Boy. Gabriela possessed something that Poh Boy wanted. More importantly, de la Reguera’s performance struck me as warm, funny and very feisty. As I had stated earlier, I did not care for Guillermo Diaz’s performance as the drug lord Poh Boy. Quite frankly, I found it too over-the-top for my tastes. I suppose Smith wanted Diaz to portray Poh Boy as psychotic. I just simply found him annoying. Kevin Pollak and Adam Brody portrayed Hunsaker and Mangold, two N.Y.P.D. detectives that happened to be Jimmy and Paul’s rivals. Personally, I found their performances unmemorable. And there were moments when I wondered if Pollak seemed bored with his role. I certainly was.

I suspect that ”COP OUT” has failed to become a hit film in the three weeks since its release. It is not what I would call an original film. There seemed to be a hint of originality in the plot involving one of the lead’s family crisis and the main villain. Yet, it struck me as a typical action comedy from the 1980s and 90s. Some of the characters either irritated me or struck me as irrelevant. And I did not care for the main villain. But I still enjoyed the movie’s story and humor. The pacing did not drag, thanks to Kevin Smith’s direction. And Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan made a surprisingly effective screen team. In the end, I would not mind seeing it again.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Obssessions" [PG-13] - Chapter 14




"OBSSESSIONS"

Part 14

The moment Bruce entered the McNeill house, he glanced at the grandfather clock standing in the foyer. Eighteen minutes past midnight. He hated working as head chef during the Golden Horn's evening hours. But with Arnold Gondorf on vacation during the past two weeks, he really had no choice. Thank goodness Gondorf was scheduled to return within another week to supervise the 5-11 PM shift. The other chef would give Bruce and Barbara enough time to plan the last minute preparations for the wedding. After that, they should be in Maui, enjoying a month long honeymoon.

Despite his strained muscles, Bruce managed to climb the curved staircase to the second floor. He made his way to his bedroom, entered and leaned against the wall. A sigh left his mouth. Sanctuary. Then he closed the door and began to remove his clothes. No sooner had he stepped out of his trousers, Bruce spotted the red light flashing on his answering machine. Damn! Who had called?

He walked over to the desk and turned on the machine. "Bruce, this is Livy," his sister's voice echoed. "Please call me as soon as possible. It's urgent!" Bruce switched off the machine. Urgent, huh? Not at twelve twenty-three in the morning. Bruce decided he would call Olivia in the morning. Right now, he needed sleep. He removed his jacket and shirt. After he slipped out of his shoes, the cell phone inside his jacket rang. For crying out . . . Suppressing his annoyance, Bruce retrieved the phone and answered, "Hello?"

"Signor McNeill?" The bell-like voice struck a familiar note. "This is Portia Della Scalla." Oh yes. HER. "I realize that it is a bit late . . ."

Bruce's lethargy immediately vanished. "Oh no! Uh, how may I help you, Miss Della Scalla?" he replied enthusiastically.

The Italian woman continued, "Yes. I merely wanted to confirm the time of our next interview."

Bruce replied, Oh, uh, yeah. I forgot. How about tomorrow afternoon, around three? At the Golden Horn?"

"Well, I had thought . . ." She paused. "Never mind. Tomorrow afternoon should be perfect." Then she gasped. "Oh!"

Concern filled Bruce's voice. "Is there a problem?"

"No . . . uh, yes." Another pause followed. "More like a request."

"Of course. What is it?"

Before he could grasp any further thought, a string of words in Latin filled Bruce's ear. Words that his brain had little time to translate. Then the bell-like voice added, "I want you to remove the protection spell around the house."

"As you wish," Bruce replied in a disembodied voice.

"Once you remove the spell, call me at this number - 445-2783. Comprendere?"

"Yes, signorina." Bruce disconnected his cell phone.

Without any hesitation and dressed only in a T-shirt and boxers, Bruce left his room and walked toward the end of the hallway. There, he spied a sprig of Mallow, resting on the window sill. Bruce gathered the sprig into his hand. Then he automatically went to every corner of the house where a Mallow sprig rested. After gathering all of them, he placed the sprigs into a small bowl inside the kitchen. As he burned the sprigs, he whispered a chant and the house's spell vanished.

Bruce returned to his room, retrieved his cell phone and dialed the number given to him by Portia. "It's done," he said to her. "I have removed the spell."

"Bueno. Now go to sleep. Sonno."

Before he had a chance to disconnect the phone, Bruce fell back on the bed and slipped into a deep sleep.

* * * *

Seconds later, Portia materialized in the middle of Bruce's bedroom. Dressed in a light blue sheer nightgown, she approached the sleeping figure on the bed. Portia could not help but admire the lean and muscular body underneath the dark T-shirt and gray boxer shorts. She slipped out of her nightgown and crawled upon the bed. "Bruce, wake up," she whispered into his ear. "Wake up."

Blue-gray eyes flickered open, looking somewhat glazed. "Barbara?" the man beneath Portia murmured.

"Ssh! Yes, it's Barbara," the succubus whispered in an American accent. "I'm here. For you." Portia flickered her tongue over Bruce's left ear. "Take me, Bruce. Now."

Strong arms wrapped around Portia's waist and positioned her flat on the bed. Bruce removed his T-shirt. The succubus marveled at the lean, sinewy muscles on his arms and chest. Breathing heavily herself, she gently planted her hands on each side of his face and drew it toward hers. Their lips met.

Bellissima! Portia thought. She had mated with scores of men - mortal or otherwise - over the past two hundred and thirty years, yet Bruce McNeill seemed destined to be one of those rare ones who possessed a talent for inflaming passion. Warm, supple lips began to explore her neck. The mortal's hands slowly rose up her waist, until they cupped her breasts. A low moan escaped her mouth. Thumbs gently pressed against her nipples. Portia's moans grew louder. Louder than she had expected.

* * * *

Harry's eyes flew open. Did he just hear a moan? He sat up and switched on the lamp on his nightstand. Then he heard it. A second moan. And it seemed to be coming from Bruce's room.

Frowning, Harry slipped out of bed and donned his robe. He paused. Yep, another moan. Not only was it louder, it sound as if it came from a woman. A woman? In Bruce's room? Harry's first thought was that Barbara had decided to pay his brother a little nocturnal visit. Until he remembered that Barbara was pissed at Bruce, regarding that Italian journalist.

Harry left his room and stopped in front of Bruce's room. He hesitated. What if he end up interrupting something personal? Like Bruce fooling around with another woman? Or watching porn on television? Then Harry remembered that it was past midnight. Bruce would be too tired for any kind of nighttime activity, whatsoever. He also remembered that Big Brother did not care for porn. Abnormal, but true.

Finally, Harry knocked on the door. He whispered, "Bruce? Are you up?" When no one answered, he reached for the doorknob and twisted it. The door swung open. Harry stepped inside the bedroom and found . . . nothing. Well, aside from a bare-chested Bruce sprawled on the bed. And a cell phone on the floor. Harry shivered. San Francisco at night can be chilly. And it certainly felt chilly now. So why was Bruce bare-chested? Why could he detect the essence of another presence? And why did the air smell like gardenias? Unable to answer these questions, Harry covered his slumbering brother with a blanket, placed the cell phone on the nightstand and left the room.

* * * *

"Muerda!" Portia cried after she reappeared inside her hotel suite. "Why is this man so difficult to entrap?"

The moment he saw the anger and frustration stamped on the succubus' face, Nick heaved a weary sigh. "What happened?"

"A telepath! The witch's brother is a telepath!" Portia shot back. Clad only in the sheer nightgown, she marched back and forth in front of the sofa. Her statuesque figure quivered with fury. "He had interrupted us before we could have sex." She sighed and flopped down in one of the chairs. "We were so close. And he was so . . ." A mournful expression replaced the anger on her face.

Nick stared at the succubus. Frowning. "I don't . . . what exactly happened?" Portia explained. After she had convinced Bruce McNeill to remove the protection spell, she paid the mortal a visit to his bedroom. Set about seducing him, they had been interrupted by her impending victim's brother. Portia managed to disappear before the latter walked into the bedroom.

"And you did nothing?" Nick demanded.

Portia glared at him. "What do you mean by that remark?"

"You're a succubus, for heaven's sake! One of your powers is the ability to make anyone within a few feet of you, fall asleep!"

The succubus inhaled deeply. "I know what my powers are!" she snapped.

"Then why didn't you simply put Harry to sleep when he entered?"

Portia retorted, "Because I sensed that he was a telepath!"

Rolling his eyes, Nick demanded, "And?"

"And I have difficulty . . ." Portia's voice slipped into a murmur. "I have difficulty dealing with telepaths."

Nick wondered if he had heard correctly. "You . . .?"

"It happened over ninety years ago," she said. "Just before the First World War. I had encountered a Streghone, who also happened to be a telepath. I tried to put him asleep, but he resisted and ended up deflecting my power and using it against me. He would have succeeded, but my sister intervened and rescued me." Portia added rather smugly, "She also killed him."

The only question that Nick could ask after that story was, "You have a sister?"

"An older sister. She's also a succubus. As for your Bruce McNeill, I will bring him here, the next time. I cannot risk trying to sleep with him at his home."

Nick asked, "And how do you plan to do that? Aren't you supposed to meet him at the restaurant?"

A sly smile touched Portia's lips. "Tomorrow afternoon. But I'll be paying Signor McNeill a visit a lot earlier. When he is alone at his home."

"But his grandmother is sure to be there," Nick protested. "And she's also a telepath."

Portia's smile widened. "Bruce and I will not be staying there, very long. Do not worry."

* * * *

It seemed too early to leave for work at six forty-three in the morning. But with thoughts of DeWolfe Mann's murder, Portia Della Scalla, Paul Margolin and Cole whirling in her brain, Olivia could barely get any sleep. She had finally given up around five-thirty and slipped out of bed.

Within an hour, Olivia had managed to shower, dress and prepare an omelet for breakfast. After she finished eating, she noticed a full bag of garbage on the kitchen floor. Before she left the apartment, she snatched the garbage bag, along with her purse and suitcase, and quickly left.

The elevator conveyed her to the building's underground parking lot. Upon her arrival, she dumped the bag into the large garbage container and started toward her convertible. She had just slipped her key into the car's door, when she spotted a familiar black Porsche entered the parking lot. To Olivia's disgust, she felt her heartbeat increase rapidly.

She should simply climb into her car and drive away. Now. Instead, Olivia stood beside the BMW. Something inside her wanted . . . no, demanded to know why a certain Mr. Cole Turner was arriving home at six forty-nine in the morning.

The black Porsche eased into Cole's parking space. The engine switched off. Dry-mouthed, Olivia watched as the half-daemon climbed out of his car. He was dressed in semi-formal eveningwear - dark blue suit and a light blue shirt opened at the throat. He slammed the door shut, glanced up and seemed surprised to find Olivia standing nearby.

"Olivia," he mumbled. "What . . . uh, what are you doing here?"

The red-haired woman assumed a cool poise. "Going to work. I might ask the same about you. Isn't it a little late for you to be coming home? At six-fifty in the morning?"

"I was out," Cole quickly explained. "Visiting a friend."

"Oh." Olivia paused. "What friend?"

A frown darkened Cole's countenance. "Are you now giving me the third degree?"

"No, I'm merely being curious," Olivia coolly answered. "You said something about a friend?"

The frown disappeared. Cole cleared his throat. "More like an acquaintance. I met with a daemon named Riggerio, last night. Wanted to know if he knew anything about . . ."

". . . Portia Della Scalla," Olivia finished. Then it was her turn to frown. "Riggerio? That name sounds familiar. Did this Riggerio know her?"

Shaking his head, Cole replied, "No. He's not that familiar with the mortal names of daemons. But he did promise to look into the matter. For a price, of course."

Now, Olivia remembered where she had heard of the name. "Riggerio, huh? He must want his coven's sigil. The Crotona Ring."

Blue eyes flew open in surprise. Cole demanded, "How did you . . .?"

"I recognized the name," Olivia said before he could finish. "Aunt Carla, Mom's friend, once told us about a coven of daemons or high-level sorcerers in Italy. The Congrega de Crotona."

Admiration shone in Cole's eyes. "You really know your daemons, don't you?"

A smile nearly tugged at Olivia's lips. "I try." Then she spotted a pinkish-red smudge on the left side of Cole's throat. Lipstick. She added in a cool voice that drew a frown from the half-daemon, "I also know that you don't need a car to meet someone like Riggerio."

Cole warily replied, "He owns a jazz club here in San Francisco."

One of Olivia's auburn brows quirked upward. "Really? And yet, you still needed your car? Or maybe you had hopes of finding someone else at your friend's club." She reached out and took a swipe of the lipstick with her finger. "Someone of the female persuasion?"

Cole's mouth flew open. He looked like a fish that had just been pulled out of the water. "Oh. I uh, . . . I met this . . ."

"So, who was the lucky lady?" Although she spoke softly, Olivia regarded Cole with a chilly stare.

His eyes pleaded with Olivia to understand. She failed to respond and Cole's handsome face became a cold mask. "Someone I just met. Speaking of last night, how was your date with Leo's prized pupil?"

"Fine," Olivia replied shortly. "And we had enjoyed ourselves. Immensely." Which was a lie. Her evening with Paul Margolin had been pleasantly and nothing more. The only excitement Olivia felt during the evening had been her ephinany regarding Portia Della Scalla.

Cole's lips tightened. "Well, I guess I can say the same."

Jealously struck Olivia like a fist to the gut. She wanted to strike back at Cole. Or place a curse upon his head. Incinerate him with her pyrokinesis. Or perhaps that bitch with whom he had spent the night. Instead, Olivia's gaze became icier. "By the way, I'm afraid I'll have to cancel another exercise session. I have some paper work I need to do for the DeMatteo case."

Disappointment, followed by anger, jealousy and resignation seemed to flash in Cole's eyes, one by one. "Oh. Another evening with Mr. Margolin, I see."

"That's funny. I don't recall mentioning Paul." Olivia hated the defensive tone in her voice.

"You didn't have to."

Realizing that their conversation seemed to be going nowhere, Olivia decided to end it. Now. She glanced at her watch. Three minutes after seven. "I better get going, or I'll be late for work."

"What are you talking about?" Cole demanded. "You usually don't leave for work until . . ."

Olivia interrupted, "If your friend, Riggerio, ever find any information on Miss Della Scalla, could you let me know? I think she may be after Bruce."

Cole frowned. "Why?"

"I don't know. Revenge, perhaps?" Olivia climbed into her BMW. "I'll see you later. Oh, and one more thing." She switched on the car's engine and fixed Cole with something like a cross between a smirk and a sneer. "The next time your libido gets the best of you, try to find someone who doesn't overdo it with the perfume. Anyone could easily smell you, down-winded."

Ignoring Cole's embarrassed expression, Olivia slipped her car out of her parking lot and drove away.


END OF PART 14

Monday, March 29, 2010

"MANGAL PANDEY: THE RISING" (2005) Photo Gallery



Below are photos from the 2005 biopic about Mangal Pandey, the Indian soldier who served as the catalyst for the 1857-58 Sepoy Rebellion against the British called "THE RISING: BALLAD OF MANGAL PANDEY". Directed by Ketan Mehta, the movie starred Aamir Khan and Toby Stephens:


"MANGAL PANDEY: THE RISING" (2005) Photo Gallery























































Sunday, March 28, 2010

"THE PACIFIC" (2010) - Episode Two "Guadalcanal II" Commentary



I wrote this brief commentary on the second episode of "THE PACIFIC":


"THE PACIFIC" (2010) - Episode Two "Guadalcanal II" Commentary

Episode Two of HBO’s ”THE PACIFIC” continued the saga of the U.S. Marines during the Guadalcanal campaign. Episode One focused mainly on Robert Leckie’s combat experiences during the campaign. This latest episode centered on the combat experiences of Sergeant John Basilone and his fellow comrades from the 7th Marines regiment.

By the time I had finished watching Episode Two, I found myself battling a tension headache. And it was all due to action sequences featured in this episode. Granted, I also found the battle scenes in Episode One rather tense, the action in this second episode knocked it out of the ballpark for me. Around late October 1942, John Basilone and a handful of his fellow Marines were forced to fight off a frontal assault by the Japanese Army. Between the assault and Basilone’s encounters with Japanese troops, while fetching more ammunition literally had me squirming on my living room sofa. And I must say that Jon Seda did a great job of portraying Basilone’s heroics and making it look natural in the process. I also have to give kudos to actor Joshua Biton for his emotional portrayal of one of Basilone’s close friends, J.P. Morgan.

With the exception of an aerial bombing sequence, this particular episode did not feature Leckie and his friends in actual combat. Instead, the episode focused upon them dealing with various other problems during their stay on Guadalcanal – lack of supplies, inadequate arms and . . . um, health issues. Poor Runner dealt with an attack of the runs and Leckie found himself throwing up after consuming stolen canned peaches on a half-empty stomach. Leckie and a good number of other Marines stole supplies left on the beach for the arriving U.S. Army. In a hilarious scene, Leckie managed to pinch the peaches, along with cans of other food; and a pair of moccasins and a box of cigars that belonged to an Army officer. I never knew that actor James Badge Dale had a talent for comic timing . . . until now.

Episode Two also revealed a glimpse of Eugene Sledge back in Mobile. He and his father, Dr. Sledge, have discovered that Sledge’s heart murmur no longer exists. Upon this discovery, Sledge wasted no time in announcing his intention to join the Marines. And viewers will eventually see the results of that decision by Episode Five.

By the end of the episode, the Marines were ordered to leave the island, much to the relief of many. Both Basilone and Morgan found themselves trying to rationalize the death of their friend, Manny Rodriguez, while other Marines loaded up in boats taking them off the island. A scene that featured good, solid acting by both Seda and Biton. The episode’s last scene featured Leckie and his friends learning from a Navy cook aboard ship that their actions on Guadalcanal had been reported in American newspapers and that they were now all regarded as heroes. Judging from the expressions on the Marines’ faces, they seemed conflicted on how to accept the news. This wonderfully performed scene by Badge Dale and the actors portraying Leckie's friends - Josh Helman (Chuckler), Keith Nobbs (Runner) and Jacob Pitts (Hoosier)- was mentioned in Leckie’s memoirs.

Like Episode One, this was a well done that left me feeling tense and an array of other emotions. I only hope that the miniseries’ remaining episodes will match the quality of the first two.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"THE BOUNTY HUNTER" Photo Gallery



Below are photos from the new action comedy, "THE BOUNTY HUNTER". Directed by Andy Tennant, the movie stars Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler:


"THE BOUNTY HUNTER" Photo Gallery

























Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"The Deconstruction of Dr. Jack Shephard"




”THE DECONSTRUCTION OF DR. JACK SHEPHARD”

I have a confession to make. I must be one of the few viewers of television’s ”LOST” who does not dislike the series’ lead character, Dr. Jack Shephard. Before anyone makes the assumption that he is a favorite character of mine, let me make one thing clear. He is not. But for some strange reason, I do not dislike Jack.

For the past three or four seasons, many ”LOST” fans have ranted consistently against Jack’s faults. Mind you, he is not the only flawed character in the series. In fact, most of the major charactes seemed to possess some very serious flaws. Jack Shephard seemed to be one of very few characters that has drawn a considerable amount of ire from the fans. I do not know why he has been specifically targeted by these fans. But I cannot help but wonder if the combination of Jack’s role as the series’ lead character and his flawed personality has set fans against him.

Now, someone might claim that my last remark sounds ridiculous. As I had earlier pointed out, most of the major characters are also seriously flawed or have committed some serious crimes. Extremely flawed characters like John Locke, Jin Kwon, Michael Dawson, Kate Austen, Miles Strume, Ana-Lucia Cortez, Charlie Pace, Sayid Jarrah, James “Sawyer” Ford, Sun Kwon, Boone Carlyle, Mr. Eko, Juliet Burke and Shannon Rutherford. Hell, the list is practically endless. And yet, the only other character who have received as much criticism or hate as Jack is Ana-Lucia Cortez. Why? Well, I have my theories.

Both Jack and Ana-Lucia had assumed leadership among the castaways at one time or the other, due to their personalities, circumstances and professions. Ana-Lucia had assumed leadership of the Tail Section passengers that crashed on one side of the island for forty-eight (48) days. Since Day One of the Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 crash, she stepped up and utilized her skills as a police officer to save lives and make decisions when no one else would. Jack, a spinal surgeon, did the same with the surviving passengers from the Fuselage Section on the other side of the island. In one early Season One episode, (1.05) “White Rabbit”, he seemed willing to back away from the role of leader, until John Locke convinced him to resume it. Jack remained the leader even after Ana-Lucia and the remaining Tail Section passengers joined the Fuselage camp. And it was not until after his departure from the island in the Season Four finale with Hugo “Hurley” Reyes, Sun Kwon, Sayid Jurrah, Kate Austen and Aaron Littleton that he finally relinquished the position.

Recalling the above made me realize something. Human beings – for some reason or other – expect leaders to know everything and always do the right thing. Always. And without fail. Humans seemed to have little tolerance toward the imperfections of our leaders. This certainly seemed to be the case for fictional characters who are leaders. And many fans of ”LOST” have harbored a deep lack of tolerance toward Jack and Ana-Lucia’s personal failings.

In the case of the former L.A.P.D. police officer, many fans have complained of her aggressive personality. They have also accused her of being a bitch. In other words that means being aggressive and hard – traits many have claimed are more suited for a man, instead of a woman - is a sure sign that a woman is a bitch. And unlike other female characters on the series, Ana-Lucia lacked the svelte, feminine looks prevalent in the ”LORD OF THE RINGS” saga.

Actually, gender politics also seemed to have played a great deal in the fans’ opinion of Jack. His main crime seemed to be that he does not fit the image of a heroic leading male character. Physically, he looks the part. Unfortunately for Jack, he failed to live up to those looks. He has made the wrong choices on several occasions – choices that included his decision to set off the nuclear bomb Jughead in the Season Five finale, (5.16/5.17) “The Incident”. It is interesting that many fans have dumped most the blame upon Jack’s shoulders regarding that bomb. And he is partially to blame. But these same fans failed to remember it was Daniel Faraday who had first insisted upon setting off the bomb to reset time back to the day of Flight 815’s crash – September 22, 2004. Many have accused Jack of failing to be a proper parent figure to his nephew, Aaron Littleton, during his three years off the island. And at the same time, many have praised Kate Austen for pretending to be the boy’s mother. I found this rather perverse, considering that Kate had set in motion the lie about her being Aaron’s mother. Jack was guilty of supporting Kate’s lie. But instead of criticizing both for lying about Aaron and keeping him from his Australian family, these fans have criticized Jack for not being an effective father figure Aaron and praised a kidnapper like Kate for being a good mother. Ah, the ironies of life.

Many fans have accused Jack of being emotionally abusive toward Kate. And yes, they would have every reason to criticize his behavior. But Kate had allowed herself to be victimized by Jack’s anger and insecurities. Worse, her own behavior – namely her constant lies and attempts to manipulate him and others – occasionally triggered his temper. If one character is going to be criticized for the situations I have previously described, so should the other character involved in those situations. Some of Jack’s other mistakes included sanctioning Sayid’s torture of Sawyer, failure to organize a search for the kidnapped Walt Lloyd, instigating that ludicrous search for Michael Dawson and communicating with Martin Keamy and the other hired mercenaries aboard the S.S. Kahana. Yet, he has received more complaints about his relationship with Kate and his tendency to get emotional and shed tears than for anything else. Once again, many fans managed to prove that we still live in a patriarchal society. It was okay for female characters to shed tears in very emotional moments, but not male characters. Especially if one male character happens to be the series’ leading character.

Jack’s penchant for tears was not the only sign of how some fans can be hypocritical. I have written articles criticizing some of the series’ other characters. Most of my articles have criticized Kate Austen. I will be honest. I used to dislike Kate very much. But most of my dislike had stemmed from her past flaky behavior and especially the fans’ tendency to excuse her mistakes and crimes . . . or pretend that she had never done anything wrong. However, Kate is not the only character given this leeway. James Ford has murdered three people – one in Australia and two on the island. Yet, many fans tend to make excuses for him. I do not dislike James. But I have complained about his flaws, mistakes and crimes. When I do, many fans tend to pretend that he has not done anything wrong. And I find this frustrating.

Sometime back in Season Two or Season Three, actor Matthew Fox and the show’s producers, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, made it known to the media and viewers that they were doing something different with the Jack Shephard character. They took a superficially heroic type – a brilliant surgeon that assumed leadership of a group of stranded castaways – and deconstructed him. In other words, they slowly but surely exposed his flaws and took the character to what could be viewed as the nadir of his existence. Whether Jack will be able to climb out of that existence remains to be seen. From what fans on the many ”LOST” message boards and forums have expressed . . . this is not a path they wanted Jack to take. Instead, these fans wanted – or demanded that Jack behave like a conventional hero.

I have not been keeping in touch with most of the Season Six episodes so far. From what I have seen, Jack has rarely indulged in self-destructive behavior. He also has not display any inclination to pursue a romance with Kate. The worst he has done was engage in a temper tantrum over his discovery that the island’s spiritual “man” Jacob has been observing and possibly interfering in the lives of several castaways. Another personality change I have noticed is that he seemed to be passively allowing others to take the lead without questioning their decisions. I do not like this. It makes him seem like a mindless moron.

Does this mean that Jack will finally become the hero that so many demand? Personally, I could not care less about his status as a hero. Nor do I really care for his present passive behavior. But I do hope that he will finally discover some inner peace for himself.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"NORTH AND SOUTH" (2004) Review



Below is my review of the 2004 BBC miniseries, "NORTH AND SOUTH", which is an adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's 1855 novel:


”NORTH AND SOUTH” (2004) Review

If someone had told me years ago that I would find myself watching the 2004 BBC television adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1855 novel, let alone purchase a DVD copy of the miniseries, I would have dismissed that person’s notion as inconceivable. I have never shown any previous interest in ”NORTH AND SOUTH”. And I am still baffled at how I suddenly became interested in it.

Mind you, I have been aware of the 2004 miniseries for the past several years. This was due to my interest in the three miniseries based upon John Jakes’ literary trilogy about two families during the years before, during and after the American Civil War. Every time I tried to find photographs or websites about Jakes’ trilogy, I would end up encountering material on the BBC miniseries. It took me at least three to four years to express any real interest in ”NORTH AND SOUTH”. But in the end, I found it difficult to ignore the mid-Victorian setting (a period I have always been interested in) and decided to include the miniseries on my Netflix rental list.

But when Netflix decided to offer the opportunity to view ”NORTH AND SOUTH” via the computer, I watched the first fifteen minutes of Episode One . . . and became intrigued. Then I accessed at least two scenes from the miniseries on YOU TUBE - namely John Thornton’s marriage proposal to Margaret Hale and Nicholas Higgins’ castigation of Boucher for ruining the strike via violence and became hooked. I had to see the entire miniseries as soon as possible. So what did I do? Instead of moving ”NORTH AND SOUTH” to the top of my Netflix list, I purchased a DVD copy of the miniseries. Just like that. Yes, I know I could have easily done the former. But for some reason, I found myself longing to own the DVD. And you know what? I am very glad that I made the purchase.

The miniseries is an adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel about the cultural clash between England’s pastoral South and the industrial North in the 1850s. It told the story of Margaret, a well-to-do young woman from southern England who is forced to move to the North after her clergyman father became a church dissenter and decided to leave the clergy. With the help of a family friend named Mr. Bell, the Hales managed to find a home in the city of Milton (a stand-in for Manchester). However, they end up struggling to adjust itself to the industrial town's customs, especially after meeting the Thorntons, a proud family that owns a cotton mill called Marlborough Mills. The story explored the issues of class and gender, as Margaret's sympathy for the town mill workers conflicts with her growing attraction to John Thornton.

Many have compared ”NORTH AND SOUTH” to the 1995 miniseries ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. Personally, I only saw scant resemblance between the two stories. Both featured a romance between a plucky, yet genteel heroine and a brooding hero. But the personalities of Margaret Hale and John Thornton seemed a far cry from those of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Also, ”NORTH AND SOUTH” seemed more than just a costumed romantic story filled with misunderstandings. As I had mentioned in the previous paragraph, it is a social drama about class and gender differences. It is also an exploration of the rise of the Industrial Age and its effects upon people, Great Britain’s economy and the environment. Most importantly, the story is a cultural clash between the pastoral South represented by Margaret Hale and John Thornton’s industrial North.

The miniseries’ exploration of the cotton textile industry led me to ponder a few things about the story’s background. A conversation between Thornton and some of his fellow mill owners led to a mention of the cotton they have purchased from cotton planters in the American South. Although their conversation only touched upon the different locations where cotton is grown, the subject would end up having an impact upon England’s cotton textile industry following the outbreak of the American Civil War. I also noticed that mill workers like Nicholas Higgins and his daughters Bessie and Mary refer to their bosses as ”Master” - the same term African-American slaves use for their owners. I can only speculate on that astounding coincidence.

I have never read Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel. Perhaps I will, one day. But I understand there had been a few changes in this adaptation. One, the miniseries depicted Margaret’s initial meeting with Thornton at a time when he was beating one of his employees for smoking on the Marlborough Mills premises. Naturally, Margaret viewed Thornton’s actions as cruel and barbaric – typical of men in that region. Screenwriter Sandy Welch had created the scene for the miniseries, believing it would better serve as an opening salvo for Margaret’s dislike of Thornton and her prejudices against the North in a more dramatic manner. Although some fans have complained against this artistic license, I have not. Especially since Welch’s screenplay explained that the worker’s smoking could have endangered the employees with a devastating fire. I also feel that this scene visually worked better than Gaskell’s literary introduction of the two main characters.

Another major change in the miniseries featured Margaret and Thornton’s final reconciliation at a railway station between London and Milton. The scene featured Margaret offering financial aid to Thornton for the defunct Marlborough Mills and a romantic kiss between the two. Many have pointed out the lack of discretion of such a kiss in Victorian Britain and they are probably right. But I must admit that I found it damn romantic – probably more so than Elizabeth and Darcy’s reconciliation in most of the ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” adaptations I have seen.

Production designer Simon Elliot did a first-rate job in recapturing Great Britain in the early 1850s. I especially applaud his decision to use parts of Edinburgh as a stand-in for Milton. This was a wise decision, considering that the Scottish metropolis managed to retain many of its buildings from the Victorian industrial era. Elliot ended up receiving a much deserved British Academy Television Award nomination for Best Production Design. Not only did Peter Greenhalgh’s photography also captured the period’s mood, but also used different tints of color to distinguish the three main settings in the story – Helstone in Southern England, the Northern industrial town of Milton and London. Mike O’Neill’s costumes suited the period, the personalities of each major character and their circumstances throughout the story. In fact, the miniseries even touched upon the differences between Fanny Thornton’s wide crinoline skirts and the Hale women’s more subdued ones – pinpointing the financial differences between the three female characters and their families. And what can I say about Martin Phipps’ score? Not only was it beautiful, but also haunting enough to be memorable.

The only problems I had with ”NORTH AND SOUTH” centered on its pacing in late Episode 3 and in Episode 4. I think the miniseries could have benefitted from a fifth episode. There seemed to be too many deaths and other incidents during this period of the story for two episodes. I suppose one could blame Gaskell or also her editor – author Charles Dickens – for rushing her toward the end. Too much occurred during these last two episodes – the deaths, Thornton’s friendship with Higgins, Frederick Hale’s reunion with his family, Margaret’s legal problems, Fanny Thornton’s marriage, Thornton’s financial crisis and Margaret’s reunion with her family members in the South and Henry Lennox. I do believe that a fifth episode could have suffice. Also, Welch introduced two characters to the story – a banker named Latimer and his daughter Ann. I believe Ann was used or to be used as Margaret’s rival for Thornton’s romantic interest. Only the so-called rivalry never really went anywhere.

”NORTH AND SOUTH” was really blessed with a first-rate cast – both leading and supporting. Try as I might, I could not find a performance I would consider to be out-of-step. Neither Tim Piggot-Smith or Lesley Manville had received much notice for their portrayal of Margaret’s parents – Richard and Maria Hale. It seemed a shame, considering I found myself very impressed by their performances. Both did an excellent job in conveying how dysfunctional and emotionally repressed the Hale household tended to be. This was especially made apparent in an emotionally charged scene in which Maria Hale expressed her dislike of Milton and lack of understanding toward her husband’s decision to give up the clergy. Brian Protheroe portrayed Mr. Hale’s closest friend and Margaret’s godfather, Mr. Bell. I have not seen Protheroe since he portrayed Maryam D’Abo’s love interest in the 1990 adaptation of Jeffrey Archer’s novel, ”NOT A PENNY MORE, NOT A PENNY LESS”. As Mr. Bell, he was just as charming and ambiguous as he had been back in 1990. Jo Joyner gave a funny and interesting performance as Fanny Thornton, John’s shallow and capricious younger sister. There were times I wondered if Fanny’s character had a one-dimensional note about it, despite Joyner’s hilarious performance. However, the actress did manage to convey the character’s jealousy of not only Margaret, but also her older brother. I also got the feeling, thanks to some subtle moments in Joyner’s performance that Fanny did not like her mother very much. And resented the older woman.

One could never harbor doubts that Sinéad Cusack’s portrayal of Hannah Thornton might be one-dimensional. Aside from the two leads, she gave one of the best performances in the miniseries. Thanks to Cusack’s complex performance, there were times when I could not decide whether to dislike Mrs. Thornton for her hostile attitude toward Margaret, or like her for her warm and devoted relationship with John. In the end, I guess I liked her. She seemed too interesting, too well-written and well-acted by Cusack for me to dismiss her. Besides, I suspect that her attitude toward Margaret had a great deal to do with concern for her son. I found Brendan Coyle and Anna Maxwell Martin’s performances as the mill workers, Nicholas and Bessie Higgins just as impressive. Costume dramas rarely focused upon working-class characters. Yet, both Coyle and Martin ably breathed life into their roles, they did an excellent of conveying the strong impact that both father and daughter had upon the lives of other main characters – especially through their friendships with Margaret and Thornton.

Before I actually saw ”NORTH AND SOUTH”, I had read a great deal about the John Thornton character and actor Richard Armitage, who had portrayed him. Granted, the man possessed unusual looks, but I never gave him much thought . . . until I saw a clip of his performance in the miniseries’ marriage proposal scene. But once I saw the miniseries in its entirety, I could see why Armitage’s performance had generated a slew of fans. His John Thornton blew me away. Literally. The actor gave an outstanding performance as the hard-nosed, yet emotion cotton mill owner who found himself falling in love with this stranger from the South. As a rule, I am not particularly inclined toward overtly masculine types and I am still not. Armitage’s Thornton might have been described in that manner . . . superficially. Yet, the actor managed to transcend this cliché by infusing Thornton with a passionate, yet insecure nature. His Thornton was a man who literally wore his heart on his sleeve. Armitage’s performance is truly remarkable.

I could probably say the same about Daniela Denby-Ashe’s portrayal of the story’s central character, Margaret Hale. I had read an article that Denby-Ashe had auditioned for the role of Fanny Thornton. All I can say is thank goodness that producer Kate Baylett had the good sense to realize that the actress would be the right person to portray Margaret. And Denby-Ashe was magnificent. Not only did she perfectly capture the genteel and internalized aspects of Margaret’s personality, she also conveyed the character’s strong-willed and opinionated nature. And Denby-Ashe’s Margaret proved to be just as intimidating as Armitage’s Thornton. This was especially apparent in two scenes – Margaret’s demand that Thornton do something to protect his new Irish workers from the strikers and her hostile outburst toward Helstone’s new vicar after he had criticized her father’s dissention. She was magnificent in the role.

I really must applaud how producer Kate Barlett, screenwriter Sandy Welch and especially director Brian Percival did a superb job in adapting Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel. In fact, I firmly believe it is one of the best programs that aired on television in the past decade. And yet . . . the only real accolade it managed to receive was a British Academy Television Award nomination for Best Production Design. And nothing else. No nominations for acting, writing or direction. Frankly, I consider this to be a travesty. Am I to believe that the bigwigs at BBC and the British media had this little respect for ”NORTH AND SOUTH” or Elizabeth Gaskell? I am even beginning to suspect that the American media has little respect for it. The only airing of the miniseries was a chopped up version that aired on BBC America, instead of PBS or the A&E Channel. How sad that certain people do not know a really good thing when they see it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Obssessions" [PG-13] - Chapter 13




"OBSSESSIONS"

Part 13

Paul glanced around the Golden Horn's dining room with deep approval. "Very nice," he commented. "Just as I remembered it from a show featured on the Food Channel. Actually, it's a lot nicer than I thought."

Olivia responded with a pleased smile. "My mother and older brother would thank you. Both of them take great pride in this place. You know that the BAY-MIRROR is doing a piece on the restaurant's silver anniversary."

"Oh, that's right." Paul paused momentarily. "That's where Phoebe Halliwell works, isn't it? The uh, 'Ask Phoebe' column?"

Olivia shrugged. "For the past year, I believe. In fact, I think she's now one of the country's leading advice columnists."

A wry smile touched Paul's lips. "Ever thought of writing a letter to her, yourself?"

"No, not really. I have my local high priestess to turn to. Or high priest."

One of Paul's brows rose questioningly. "Not your whitelighter?"

Recalling that Leo considered Paul to be one of his prized charges, Olivia hesitated. "Leo hasn't been my whitelighter in thirteen years. I've discovered over the years that my moral code and those of the Elders don't exactly match. Don't forget, I'm Wiccan. Contrary to what they seem to believe, I don't think the Elders can say the same. However, Leo has asked me and my brothers for help, every now and then. And we've done the same." A waiter appeared at the table. Olivia and Paul ordered their drinks - white wine for her and a Manhattan for Paul. When he left, Olivia continued, "I gather it's different with you."

Paul nodded. "I don't have a high priest or priestess as my . . . spiritual guide. Leo is doing just fine. Along with my minister, back home in Buffalo."

"Back home in Buffalo? You don't consider San Francisco your home?"

A wide smile illuminated Paul's handsome face. "Not quite. I haven't been here for two weeks, yet."

Olivia nodded. "Really? Has Leo . . ." She paused. "Has he told you about the recent problems in the Whitelighter Realm? About the different factions that have formed since last summer? And the fact that several whitelighters have become darklighters?" The stunned expression on Paul's face gave Olivia her answer. "Hmmm, I guess not."

The waiter returned with Olivia's wine and Paul's Manhattan. He asked if they were ready for appetizers. Olivia suggested they try the duck pate in sherry aspic. As for the main course, she suggested they try Bruce's specialty - Sweetbreads Menniere.

Paul had managed to snap out of his state of shock, once the waiter left. He leaned forward and said, "Leo never mentioned a word about trouble in the Whitelighter Realm. How did you . . .?"

"Find out? From my dad's whitelighter," Olivia replied. "Or former whitelighter. Dad and Oliver haven't really been whitelighter and charge for a very long time. But they're still close friends. Anyway, Oliver told Dad without the Elders' consent. Leo wasn't exactly happy when he found out that we knew."

Paul took a large gulp of his Manhattan. "How did . . . how did this whole mess began, anyway?"

Olivia told her dinner companion about how the Source's final death led to the destruction of his council and chaos in the Source's Realm. She added that many of the whitelighters had become alarmed by the Elders' willingness to reward the Charmed Ones for getting rid of the Source, and unconcern toward the lack of balance between good and evil in the magical world. Others saw the Source's defeat as a sign that the Elders were becoming increasingly complacent and arrogant about the Realm's chaos. And blind to the fact that this very chaos has led to increased attacks by warlocks and daemons, scrambling to become the new Source.

"Last fall, a daemon named Barbas had managed to steal Cole's powers and use them to become the new Source," Olivia continued. "You've heard of Barbas, right? The daemon of fear? Well, he managed to rule as Source for a few hours, but he also wanted revenge against the Halliwells, and in the end that led to his death. A coven of warlocks named Crozat tried the same."

Paul interrupted, "I've encountered one of two of them."

"Well, around last October and November, they were killing powerful witches to steal enough power to grab control of the Source's Realm. And in December, five of them tried to steal Cole's powers. Like Barbas."

The ADA assumed a cool mask. "Belthazor again? Those new powers of his seemed to be a magnet for trouble."

"Meaning?" Olivia asked pointedly.

"Well, first Barbas tried to steal his powers, and then these warlocks . . ." Paul's voice faded under Olivia's unrelenting stare. He inhaled sharply. "I think I better keep my opinion about Belthazor to myself," he finally said. "The last time I had opened my mouth, I ended up with a tongue lashing from Paige." He finished the last of his Manhattan and sighed. "As for this news about the Whitelighter Realm, I can't understand why Leo didn't tell me."

Olivia shook her head. "Poor Leo. Ever since his problems with the Elders over Piper, he's been increasingly less than willing to break the rules." And being married to the demanding Halliwell had not helped much, she silently added. "I guess the Elders didn't want the whitelighters to alarm their charges. Fortunately, Oliver felt otherwise."

Paul leaned forward, "You know, for a cop, you sure don't seemed to have any qualms about breaking the rules." A disarming smile appeared on his lips. "But I guess that's why I find you . . . so intriguing."

While Olivia finished her glass of wine, the waiter returned with a duck pate loaf on a tray, along with strips of toasted bread. As the couple began to eat, Paul asked Olivia about the progress of her current case. "Are you and Morris any closer to finding the killer?"

"We have a suspect in mind," Olivia replied. "DeWolfe Mann's replacement at the BAY-MIRROR, Portia Della Scalla. I haven't met her, but I can't help but feel there's something odd about the way she was hired. Her credentials weren't even checked by her editor, and I know damn well that she's not a well-known food critic. And then there was the manner of how Mann's body was found. It was Phoebe and Paige who found his body. And according to Phoebe, she heard voices from inside the apartment, before she and Paige orbed inside.

Paul frowned. "You think there's some magical connection?"

"Cole seemed to think so." Olivia could not help but notice how Paul winced at the mention of the half-daemon's name.

"That's right. I forgot." Paul spread some pate over a strip of toast. "Then I guess that a demon would recognize a fellow bad guy. Or girl."

Olivia shot Paul a dark look. "I don't consider Cole a 'bad guy'."

"Oh, of course. I mean . . ." Paul became apologetic. "Look, I'm sorry. I meant that as a half-demon, he would be able to recognize a fellow demon. That is if this Miss Della Scalla is one."

"Possibly." Olivia poured herself another glass of wine from the bottle left behind by the waiter. "If the Della Scalla woman is supernaturally evil, why did she kill Mann? For his job? Is there someone at the BAY-MIRROR she want dead?"

Paul asked, "Is there?"

After a moment's hesitation, Olivia answered, "I don't think so. From what I've gathered, she mainly keeps to herself. She's managed to stay away from the office during her last two days with the paper. And the only other person she has been in contact with was Bruce."

"The story on the restaurant."

Olivia nodded. "Right. Mann was originally supposed to write the story. But now that he's dead . . ." She stopped in mid-sentence, her mouth hanging wide open. It all came to her. The interview on the Golden Horn. DeWolfe Mann's murder. The BAY-MIRROR's quick decision to hire Portia Della Scalla without bothering to check her references. Jason assigning the Golden Horn story to his newest columnist without raising a fuss. "Of course! She's after Bruce!"

"What? What are you talking about?" a confused Paul asked.

An excited Olivia leaned forward. "Bruce! She's after Bruce! The Della Scalla woman. The question is why?"

"Like you said, she might be a demon or warlock."

Olivia shook her head, dismissing the suggestion. "No, no. Daemons and warlocks aren't in the habit of killing witches for no apparent reason." She stood up, catching Paul by surprise. "I need to speak with Bruce. Now. I have to warn him." Olivia strode toward the restaurant's kitchen.

Inside the Golden Horn's nerve center, she found her brother on telephone, apparently screaming at his fiancée. "For God's sake, Barbara! You've got to be kidding! I'm in the middle of preparing a meal, and you want to scream at me about Portia?"

Portia? Bruce's casual mention of the columinst's name startled Olivia. Judging from Bruce's next words, Barbara did not particularly care for it. "What?" he continued. "What do mean . . .? What the hell's wrong with me calling her Portia? It's her name, isn't it?" Another pause followed before Bruce finally ended the phone call. "Look, Barbara," he said in a voice that usually spelled danger for others, "I don't have time for this shit, right now. I'm busy. If you want to have a fit over some woman I barely know, do it when I'm not working. Other than that, good-night!" And he slammed the telephone on the receiver.

Bruce stalked toward one of the kitchen's stove and continued preparing what looked like sweetbreads. He shouted to one of the cooks under his supervision. "Ramon, I need that parsley! Now!"

Olivia strode up to her brother. "Bruce, I need to talk to you."

"Not now, Livy! I'm busy with your sweetbreads and I have another meal to prepare after that. Talk to me, later." Ramon handed him a bowl filled with fresh parsley.

"Bruce, this is important! It's about . . ."

Looking extremely harried, Bruce shook his head. "Please Livy! Not now! Later!" He paused momentarily to wipe his hands on his apron. "Look, give me a call, later. Okay? I should be home around 11:30 or midnight." He returned his attention to the task before him.

A frustrated Olivia had no choice but to leave the kitchen. She decided that a few hours of waiting would not harm anyone. Until then, her mind harbored on Portia Della Scalla. Was the Italian woman really a daemon or warlock? And why would she be after Bruce?

Olivia's mind had become so fixated on the Della Scalla woman that she failed to remember that she had a dinner companion. It was not until she looked when she realized that she had passed their table.

* * * *

"Belthazor." A handsome, swarthy man with curly black hair and dark-brown eyes approached Cole. The latter sat next to the bar, inside Vornado, a popular jazz club that had recently opened.

Cole whirled his stool around and gave the approaching man a wry smile. "Riggerio. It's been a while. I haven't seen in nearly thirty years."

"Thirty-six years, to be exact," Riggerio corrected in a smooth, Italian accent. "Portofino, February 1967. Our congrega had asked the Brotherhood of the Thorn's help in getting hold of a certain chalice." He eased onto the stool, next to Cole's.

"And as I recall, your coven had to hand over your sigil as payment for our services." Cole's face hardened. "Of course, one of your people tried to double-cross the Brotherhood. Fortunately," his face broke into a smile, "all's well that ended well."

Riggerio shook his head in mild disgust. "That Ornias! He was always such an impetuous fool! Which is why he is dead, of course." He immediately changed the subject. "So Belthazor, what brings you here to Vornado's? Hmmm? You don't exactly run in our circle."

"An old friend had informed me where I could find you," Cole explained. "Imagine my surprise when I found out that you had left Italy for the States. And here in San Francisco, no less."

The other daemon shrugged. "Portofino became . . . a dangerous place to stay. Italy in general, thanks to the Camelli family. Damn witches! So I came here. Opened this nice little club."

Nodding, Cole continued, "And the reason I'm here is for some information. I was wondering," he paused, "if you had ever heard of a witch, a warlock, or possibly a daemon named Portia Della Scalla in the Stregheria world."

A frown darkened Riggerio's face. "A daemon named Della Scalla? Sounds like a mortal's name. Perhaps she is a witch. Or a warlock."

"Perhaps she is," Cole added. "But there are daemons who use mortal names, when among humans." A bartender appeared and asked Cole if he would like a drink. He ordered a martini.

After the bartender stepped away, Riggerio said, "I'm sorry, my friend, but I am not familiar the human persona of every daemon. I do not even know your human name."

"For which I am thankful," Cole said with a smirk. He quickly sobered. "Could you do me a favor? Find out all you can about this Portia Della Scalla. I've already met her once, and there's something about her . . . I don't know. Something seductive. Like a succubus."

Dark eyes grew suspicious. "Why? So you can kill her?" Cole glanced sharply at the other daemon, who continued, "Do not think I haven't heard about the mighty Belthazor. That he had fallen in love with a witch. Helped her fight those of his kind."

Cole's own eyes became chilly. "Then you would also know that I was briefly the Source before I came back from the Wasteland. Stronger." He hesitated; a smug smile curved his lips. "And how long has it been since your coven had possessed the Crotona Ring, your sigil? Nearly forty years? I know where I can get my hands on it. Give it to you, as payment."

Surprise, followed by desire and wariness, flickered in Riggerio's eyes. "How? Your people no longer have a leader, and your realm is in chaos."

"You're right." Cole paused dramatically. "But the ring was in my possession during my brief tenure as the Source. Before I was . . . killed, I discovered where the previous Source had it hidden."

Confusion now darkened Riggerio's eyes. "Killed?"

"Of course. How else did I end up in the Wasteland?" Cole shook his head. "But that's a long story. Right now, I'm more interested in making a deal. I'm the only one alive who knows the location of the ring."

The other daemon paused thoughtfully. "All right, Belthazor. You have a deal." The two shook hands. The bartender briefly returned with Cole's martini, before moving on to another customer. "By the way, are you still with your witch?"

"My wi. . . Phoebe?" Cole shook his head. "No. Not anymore. My reign as the Source had put an end to our marriage. It was she and her sisters who had killed me. After I came back from the Wasteland, she divorced me."

Sympathy reflected in Riggerio's eyes. "I am sorry. Truly. But I am not surprised. I also fell in love with a witch." Cole shot him a startled look. Riggerio nodded. "Yes, but it did not last very long. A warlock killed her." He gave Cole's shoulder a friendly pat. "Enjoy yourself, my friend. I'll see about finding you a table."

"Thanks, but I'd rather stay here at the bar."

Riggerio nodded. "Of course. I'll send someone, so that you can order your meal. I will see you later." And he walked away.

Cole returned his attention to his martini. After taking a second sip, a voice cried out cheerfully, "Hey there, stranger!" Cole glanced to his left and found his former sister-in-law standing by his side. Paige.

* * * *

Blue eyes coolly regarded Paige. Who found herself nearly flinching under Cole's direct stare. Even after nearly a four-month truce, Paige noticed that the half-demon seemed to keep her at an emotional distance. Despite her best efforts to resume their friendship.

"Paige," Cole greeted in a cool, but pleasant voice. "This is a surprise. What are you doing here?"

Paige replied, "I was about to ask you the same question."

"Nothing much. Just enjoying an evening out."

"Alone?"

Again, cool blue eyes stared at her. "Is there a problem with that?" Cole asked. He continued before Paige could answer, "By the way, what are you doing here? I didn't think jazz clubs were your style."

"They're not. I'm with someone." Paige pointed out a good-looking man, some five years older than her. "My boyfriend, Nate. His birthday was last Saturday, and we're celebrating tonight."

Cole gazed at her companion. "What happened to Saturday night?"

"He was out of town," Paige answered.

"Uh huh." Cole reached for the martini glass in front of him. "So what is he? A jazz lover?"

Paige replied, "As a matter of fact, Nate happens to like both jazz and rock. Only he wanted to be somewhere other than P3, tonight. So here we are." Paige waved at Nate, who responded with a slight nod. She returned her attention to Cole. "So you're here, all alone? Where's Olivia?"

Something akin to bitterness flickered briefly in Cole's eyes. "Out on a date, I gather," he replied coolly. "With the new ADA."

Paul Margolin. Paige muttered half-heartedly, "I guess she's really interested in this guy."

"You don't sound as if you approve," Cole observed.

Paige shrugged her shoulders. "He's . . . okay. But . . ." She sighed. "I don't know. I don't think he's right for Livy."

"In other words, you don't like him."

Who could argue with the truth? "All right, so I don't," Paige finally admitted. "He's a little too narrow-minded for my taste."

Amusement softened Cole's expression. "Now that's ironic, coming from a Halliwell. I bet six months ago, he would have seemed like the perfect man to you."

"A girl can change," Paige protested. "Although I sometimes wonder if you ever realize that."

Cole drained the last of his martini and faced the younger woman. "Meaning?"

Paige hesitated. "You tell me. Whenever we're together, you seemed to keep me at an arm's distance. I guess that deep down, you haven't . . . I don't know, forgiven me for what happened, last year." There! She finally said it. Got the issue out in the open.

Jazz music blared from the band on the stage, opposite the bar. Cole signaled the bartender and ordered another martini. Paige declined his offer of a drink. "Well," he finally said. "Typical Paige. Blunt as ever. And as usual . . . also right." Cole sighed. "I guess I have been a little distant with you." Paige felt a surge of triumph. And relief. The half-demon continued, "I guess a small part of me felt . . . a little resentful. And you don't deserve it. Especially since you've made a big effort to put the past behind us." Cole stuck out his hand. "Pax?"

"Pax." Paige grabbed Cole's hand and shook it. Her eyes fell upon the man she had earlier spotted with her former brother-in-law. "So, who's the guy you were speaking with?"

Cole hesitated, before he answered, "And old acquaintance."

Old acquaintance? Which could only mean one thing. "He's a demon?"

"Not from my circle," Cole answered, nodding. "But a daemon, nonetheless. He . . . uh, frequents this place. He's a jazz aficionado like myself. I wanted to find out if he had any information on this Della Scalla woman."

Paige frowned. "What do you mean that he's not from your circle?"

Cole sighed. "The demonic world is divided by different factions and dimensions, just like witches who practice different religions." He went on to explain that his faction, ruled by the Source, were basically known to witches and warlocks familiar with Wicca religion, and possibly a few other modern-day Western religions. "Of course, you have Ghede, who is head of the Underworld, according to Vodoun belief. And he does exist, by the way. So do Din and Umbria, who according to Stregheria practioners, lead the underworld."

Paige's eyes grew wide at the mention of the word - Stregheria. "Your friend, he's a Stregheria demon?"

"Uh, if you want to put it that way." Cole glanced over Paige's shoulder. The half-witch/whitelighter followed his gaze, which had settled upon a group of women sitting around a table, left of the dance floor. They seemed very interested in the handsome, half-daemon. Especially one woman in particular.

Paige continued, "If this demon friend of yours is Stregheria, does that mean Portia Whatshername is, too?"

"I don't know," Cole replied. He returned his gaze to Paige. "Of course, I could be assuming she's Stregheria, because of her accent."

"It's too bad that you didn't ask Nick about her."

Cole frowned. "Who?"

"Nick. Nick Marcano? He's a Stregheria witch." When Cole failed to respond, Paige added, "C'mon! You've met him before. At one of the McNeills' brunches. His aunt is an old friend of Mrs. McNeill's. Carla Bianchi. Nick's the one who has a crush on Barbara."

A pause followed before Cole shook his head. "Sorry, I don't remember the guy."

Paige sighed. "Well, that's Nick, for you. The next time I see him, I'll ask about Portia Whatsherface." A recent memory popped into Paige's head. "Strange. He was acting odd when she came by the store with Bruce and Barbara."

"Who?"

"For crying out loud, Cole! I'm talking about Nick! He was acting strange, when that Portia woman . . ." From the corner of her eye, Paige spotted Nate signaling her. "Oh, never mind. I think the birthday boy is getting restless. I better get back to him." Before she walked away from Cole, she added, "By the way, I think you should get a hold of Nick. He might be able to help you."

Upon her return to her table, Paige gave her boyfriend a small peck on the cheek. "Sorry about that," she apologized.

"No biggie," Nate said. He nodded at Cole. "Who is he, by the way?"

Paige smiled at the hint of jealousy in her boyfriend's voice. She gave him a reassuring pat on the arm. "No one for you to worry about, sweetie. He's merely my ex-brother-in-law. He used to be married to my sister, Phoebe. And he's not my type."

"Well, he's obviously someone's type," Nate commented. Paige glanced at the bar. She saw a leggy, chestnut-haired woman approach Cole. She recognized the woman from the group of friends who had been staring at Cole. Even more disturbing was the fact that the interest between the woman and her former brother-in-law seemed mutual.


END OF PART 13

Saturday, March 20, 2010

"GREEN ZONE" Photo Gallery



Below are photos from the new action thriller called "GREEN ZONE". Directed by Paul Greengrass, the movie stars Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan, Khalid Abdalla and Jason Isaacs:


"GREEN ZONE" Photo Gallery




























Friday, March 19, 2010

"THE PACIFIC" (2010) - Episode One "Guadalcanal I" Commentary




"THE PACIFIC" (2010) - Episode One "Guadalcanal I" Commentary

Last Sunday saw the premiere of the 10-part miniseries, "THE PACIFIC"; which is produced by Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and Gary Goetzman.

The miniseries focuses upon the lives and experiences of three U.S. Marines who fought in the Pacific Theater - writer Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale), war hero John Basilone (Jon Seda) and professor/writer Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazello).

This first episode featured the three men's reaction to the attack upon Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Basilone is already a one-year veteran of the Marines around this time, as he says good-bye to his family. Leckie joins the Marines about a month after the Hawaii attack and forms a friendship with a local girl named Vera before saying good-bye to his father. And Sledge is forced to realize that his heart murmur will prevent him from joining the Marines with his friend and neighbor, Sid Phillips (Ashton Holmes). Not long after this opening, both Leckie and Basilone find themselves being shipped out to deal with the Japanese threat on Guadalcanal. Most of the episode focuses upon Leckie and Phillips' early experiences on Guadalcanal. By the end of the episode, Basilone and the 5th Marines regiment have arrived.

If there is one thing I can say, "THE PACIFIC" is definitely different from 2001's "BAND OF BROTHERS". But I guess I expected it to be. One thing, this episode made it clear that there will be scenes featuring the three characters' experiences on the home front and amongst other civilians. That scene between Leckie saying good-bye to his father at the bus depot was very interesting - especially with the writer dealing with his father's reluctance to say good-bye. And it was interesting to watch Sledge deal with his frustration at being unable to join up, due to his heart murmur. I found myself wondering if he had any idea what he would experience during the war's later years, would he be so frustrated.

The main difference between "THE PACIFIC" and "BAND OF BROTHERS" is that the latter was mainly a retelling of the experience of an Army company, with an officer as the series' main character. I think that "THE PACIFIC" is being presented in a way that is similar to the 2000 movie, "TRAFFIC" or the 2005 movie, "CRASH" . . . in which the same topic is presented from different perspectives. In this case, the miniseries is from the viewpoints of three men who DID NOT serve in combat together. And yet, there are connections between them. Leckie served in the same Marine company as Sledge's best friend, Phillips. Both Leckie and Basilone fought on Guadalcanal and have a brief encounter with one another at the end of Episode One. And later, we will see both Leckie and Sledge fight in another campaign together - Peleliu. I only hope that many people will understand and learn to accept the fact that "THE PACIFIC" has a different style of storytelling than "BAND OF BROTHERS".

By the way, I want to say a few last things. I must say that the action in this episode was amazing, along with the jungle setting. And the birthday tune that Leckie and the other Marines sang to Phillips was not only funny, but had an ominous aura as well. Well done. Well done.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"FROM PARIS WITH LOVE" (2010) Review




”FROM PARIS WITH LOVE” (2010) Review

On the heels of last year’s action hit, ”TAKEN”, producer/writer Pierre Morel released another action packer last month called ”FROM PARIS WITH LOVE”. This movie centered around a pair of CIA operatives portrayed by John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers hunting for Islamic terrorists in Paris.

Rhys-Meyers portrayed James Reece, an aide to the U.S. ambassador to France who also happened to be a low-level CIA operative with duties that include changing cars license plates for field operatives. His constant requests for a promotion to field agent finally led to a senior-level assignment as an escort for a visiting CIA agent named Charlie Wax sent to stop a possible terrorist attack. What started as a simply task of getting Charlie cleared by French Customs agents, eventually led to a series of dangerous and sometimes humorous adventures in the French underworld in search of Islamic extremists.

Unlike last year’s ”TAKEN”, producer Luc Besson and director Pierre Morel presented a tale that relied more on comedy and less upon family angst. I must admit that Besson and co-writer Adi Hasak’s screenplay for ”FROM PARIS WITH LOVE” did not seem all that original. The movie seemed like your typical action flick filled with one-liners, hair-raising stunts and explosions. However, like ”TAKEN”, the movie did provide plenty of interesting views featuring the steamier side of Paris and some very hilarious moments between Travolta and Rhys-Meyers. I am also grateful that cinematographer Michel Abramowicz’s photography lacked the shaky camera work that has occasionally marred some action films over the past 5 ½ years.

I do have one major problem with this film. Aside from one character, all of its villains – minor or otherwise – came from France’s immigrant population. Wax and Reece encountered criminals of Asian, African and Arabic descent. And although the movie featured one French villain, the character happened to be a recent convert to Islam. At least ”TAKEN” featured a corrupt French cop and an equally corrupt American diplomat. Not even ”FROM PARIS WITH LOVE” can claim this brand of diversity.

Another aspect of ”FROM PARIS WITH LOVE” proved to be the screen teaming of John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. Quite simply, they sizzled - much to my surprise. Travolta’s Charlie Wax bore a strong resemblance to some of his other over-the-top characters that he has portrayed over the years – including his performance in last year’s ”THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1-2-3”. However in ”FROM PARIS WITH LOVE”, Travolta portrayed a protagonist. One of the good guys. Instead of being slightly overbearing, Travolta turned out to be funny as hell. But he was not the only one who provided humor in the movie. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers proved that he could match Travolta in the humor department, as his character James Reece reacted to Wax’s lunacy. And there were several scenes in which he also proved that he could be just as over-the-top as Travolta. Of course, this should not be a surprise. Rhys-Meyers has been portraying the extroverted King Henry VIII on Showtime’s ”THE TUDORS” for the past three seasons. My only quibble with his performance was that his American accent seemed ridiculously flat at times.

Would I be inclined to rent or purchase the DVD release of ”FROM PARIS WITH LOVE” in the near future? Sure. Why not? Granted, I found its portrayal of Paris’ immigrant population rather one-dimensional. And its plot seemed to lack any originality, whatsoever. But Besson and Hasak wrote a solid story with plenty of action, tension and humor. And Morel’s direction did justice to their screenplay. So, yes . . . I would consider buying the DVD version of the movie. After all, it is damn entertaining.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"The Helmsman's Logs - 2374" [PG-13] - 2/2




"THE HELMSMAN'S LOGS - 2374"

PART 2

STARDATE 51463.14:

The Doctor is back, thank God! This means Harry and I don't have to continue our disastrous efforts to create a new EMH. During his time in the Alpha Quadrant, the Doc managed to contact Starfleet. (Pauses) I don't know if that's something to celebrate about, but everyone else seemed to be happy. Especially the Captain and Harry. Starfleet had declared us dead about six months following our disappearance. Now, they know we're alive. Huh. I wonder how Dad took the news.

The Doc had other news, as well. Apparently, a war had broken out in the Alpha Quadrant. The Federation, along with the Klingon Empire have been at war with a Gamma Quadrant race called the Dominion and their allies, the Cardassians, since the end of last year. Also, upon his arrival in the Alpha Quadrant, he had came upon a Starfleet vessel that had been taken over by the Romulans. It seemed the Doc and a new EMH program managed to keep the ship from ending up in Romulan space. I don't want to go into details - especially since the Doc never hesitates to talk about it. Over and over again.

As for the array, it seemed to belong to a race called the Hirogen. Seven, B'Elanna and the Captain had brief contact with one of them, before Seven zapped him into oblivion with a feedback from the array's transmitter. Hmmm, that's the first time B'Elanna has ever expressed any approval toward Seven's actions. End personal log.

STARDATE 51468.06:

It's a miracle that B'Elanna didn't kill me, a few minutes ago. We were supposed to meet for breakfast, around 0700, this morning. Unfortunately, I overslept - thanks to one hell of a nightmare - and she had to wake me up. Since our breakfast turned out to be a bust, we had arranged a new one for Friday night - the Fiji Islands in Holodeck One. The water skiing should be great. End personal log.

STARDATE 51472.83:

Damn aliens! Hell, I don't the name of their species, so I don't what else to call them. Why are we always encountering these aliens who use subtle means to take over the ship? The Bothans, the Nyrians, those aliens who had used us for their . . . medical experiments. And now, this! This waking species or whatever the hell they're called. Thank God for Chakotay! It seems they were the ones responsible for the series of nightmares that the entire crew were experiencing. Fortunately, Chakotay and the Doctor had discovered their homeworld and threatened to blow it up if they didn't shut off the neurogenic field that kept the rest of the crew in a state of lucid dreaming.

Now, I can't sleep. The whole damn episode has left me suffering from insomnia. I wonder if Harry or B'Elanna are awake. End personal log.

STARDATE 51480.04:

I never thought I would see myself giving lessons in Earth slang to a Vulcan. And to Vorik, of all people! I was talking to Liz Jenkins about her recent shuttle lessons, and Vorik had overheard me use the word - cool. The next thing I knew, I found myself explaining the different variations on the word. Oh well, at least Vorik was a willing student. I think he learned his lessons, well. End personal log.

STARDATE 51483.74:

Ah Fiji! B'Elanna was right to choose this program for our date. Granted, I had looked forward to skiing in the Chilean Andes, but water skiing in the South Pacific made a pretty good substitute. Along with B'Elanna in a red bikini. Wow! Let's just say it was a date I will never forget. End personal log.

STARDATE 51498.93:

Voyager had picked up a signal from another one of those Hirogen relay stations. This signal definitely had a Starfleet signature. Harry quickly assumed that Starfleet had found a quick way to get back to the Alpha Quadrant. Even Tuvok seemed to think so. (Sighs) God, I hope they're all wrong. End personal log.

STARDATE 51506.33:

Today has been one of the worst days of my life. In fact, I believe that it has been a bitch for a good number of the crew. And all because of that damn relay station!

We finally came across the station that Harry had detected, two days ago. Apparently, this station was situated near the mouth of a quantum singularity that provided energy to all of the relay stations. The Starfleet signal was actually a series of letters from home. From families and friends of the crew. I heard rumors that Tuvok learned that he had become a grandfather. And Liz Jenkins, one of the pilots under my command, is now an aunt. Harry received a letter from his folks, thank God! He was getting on my nerves with his constant carping about not receiving a letter, during Neelix's rounds. (Sighs) That's not fair. Poor Harry really misses his family a lot. And this trip through the Delta Quadrant has been particularly difficult for him.

But not all of the news was good. Someone told me . . . Neelix, I think . . . that the Captain had received a "Dear John" letter from her fiancé. He had given her up for dead, met someone else and married her. Talk about life being a bitch! No wonder the Captain looked miserable when I saw her reading her letter. And poor Greg Hamilton! He just received word that a cousin of his had become an early casualty in this war against some Gamma Quadrant species called the Dominion. Greg was supposed to be at the helm during the Beta shift, tonight. I decided to replace him with Baytart, instead.

Speaking of the Dominion, it seems they are now the Cardassians' new allies. And the latter used new ships and weapons from the Dominion . . . God, I can't believe this! The Cardies had managed to wipe out the Maquis resistance in the Alpha Quadrant. Talk about bad news. I'm still in shock. Most of them are dead. However, a few of them - like Chakotay's friend, Sveda, are now serving time in a Federation prison. And they are the lucky ones. (Pauses) I discovered this piece of bad news from B'Elanna. (Pauses) While she was downloading a letter from my dad. Talk about bad news arriving in pairs! (Pauses) Yeah, I know it's supposed to come in threes, but who cares?

(Sighs) Maybe this party will help everyone get over the recent bad news. We've also heard about Tuvok and Seven's encounter with a race called the Hirogen. They're the ones who had built the relay stations nearly a millennium ago. From our recent encounter with them, they might prove to be a problem. Many of the crew are also disappointed that the quantum singularity had also destroyed the entire relay system, ending our contact with Starfleet. I hope the party will help B'Elanna recover from the bad news. She had taken the news of the Maquis' destruction pretty hard. As for that letter from the Admiral - it never came through. B'Elanna was able to download Harry's letter before the relay stations' destruction, but not mine. (Sighs) Just as well. A small part of me felt a little disappointed not to hear from Dad. But another part . . . maybe I'm just not ready to hear from him. At least not yet. I don't know. End personal log.

STARDATE 51506.33:

I wish I could say that Neelix's party was a success, but I can't. A lot of us were still in a funk over the news from the Alpha Quadrant. There were a few happy souls like Harry, who had received good news from home. But even their happiness were muted by the destruction of the Hirogen's relay stations. And the fact that the Federation and the Klingon Empire were now at war against the Cardassians and their new allies.

Many of the former Maquis crewmen seemed to be walking around in a daze or in a state of rage. Ken Dalby got pretty drunk and had to be sent back to his quarters. The Captain seemed disoriented. Distracted, is the better word. I guess the rumors about her "Dear John" letter were true. Oh yeah. It has been confirmed that Tuvok is a grandfather, thanks to his oldest son. He didn't seem particularly happy or sad about the occasion. Just being his usual Vulcan self. Or maybe he was concerned about the Hirogen. I don't know.

B'Elanna and I had decided to leave the party early and return to her quarters. Frankly, the whole thing was just too damn depressing. (Pauses) We made love that night, but it . . . I don't know. It just seemed too rough for me. Yeah, we had rough sex before, but I think we were simply using each other to escape our bad moods. And now . . . (Sighs) I feel like some kind of sexual pervert. End personal log.

STARDATE 51569.13:

Ninety minutes! It took me ninety minutes to hunt down a mouse inside Jeffries Tube 32. Which happens to be near B'Elanna's quarters. I think we may have picked up the mouse from the Aldorni Homeworld, where we had stopped for supplies. (Sighs) Who would have thought that a brave and fearless half-Klingon be afraid of a mouse? End personal log.

STARDATE 51604.07:

(Sighs) What a bizarre day this has been! Hamilton went slightly beserk during flight training inside Holodeck Two, today. It seems he got a little carried away with destroying the enemy - namely a holographic Cardassian ship. I had ordered Baytart to take his place at the Helm and Hamilton suddenly became violent. He raved about Voyager being stuck in the Delta Quadrant, while the Federation was busy fighting Cardassians, back home. I thought Henley would joined in - especially since she was an ex-Maquis. But she refrained herself. In the end, I ordered Hamilton to get a hold of himself and leave the Holodeck. He then attacked me, but I managed to knock him out, cold. I had Segasse and Lin carry him back to his quarters. Although I had informed the Captain of the incident, I asked her not to put him on report. She immediately understood that Hamilton was grieving over a relative and agreed. After all, there was no need for him to endure further suffering. End personal log.

STARDATE 51625.59:

Voyager has lost another crewman, today. Ensign Lyndsay Ballard. Apparently, she and Harry were on an Away mission, when their shuttle was attacked by a Hirogen scout ship. Harry managed to get the shuttle away, but not before the Hirogen fired a few shot, severely injuring Ballard in the process. Poor Harry. Not only was she the second crewman to die while on an Away mission with him - the victim happened to be an old Academy friend of his. . . . and a former crush. B'Elanna is also a little shaken over Ballard's death, since the latter had served under her. I had planned to console them both, tonight, but I could see that neither of them was in the mood for company. End personal log.

STARDATE 51653.35:

God, I'm tired! And to think we have more hours of repairs to deal with, thanks to the Hirogen and Species 8472.

Species 8472. Christ! I thought all of them had returned back to fluidic space, after their war with the Borg. But a hunting party of Hirogen came across one who had failed to return home in time. They wounded him . . . it, but apparently not enough. Species 8472 defended itself against the Hirogen crew and nearly killed all of them - except one. Voyager rescued the remaining Hirogen hunter, while Species 8472 made its way aboard ship. Deck Eleven. Engineering. It attacked B'Elanna . . . and three other crewmen. Yet, it didn't kill anyone and B'Elanna and the others were not seriously injured. The Captain allowed our Hirogen guest to join a hunting party for our latest intruder.

So there I was, inside an AVS suite, stalking Species 8472 on Deck Eleven with Chakotay and the Hirogen Alpha. My two companions got into a tetesterone match over who was the superior hunter. I don't think my exploits as a mouse hunter went over well with either man. When we finally found Species 8472, the Hirogen tried to kill it. Chakotay tried to stop him and was attacked. The son-of-a-bitch also shot me. Fortunately, Tuvok got him.

The Captain finally agreed to help Species 8472 to avoid the Hirogen and return home. But Seven had other ideas. So did the other Hirogen ships that suddenly reappeared. They had really inflicted damage on the ship, including both nacelles and the EPS system. Seven then beamed both our Hirogen guest and Species 8472 to one of the other Hirogen ships and we were no longer in danger. A lot of us realized that Seven had saved our lives, but she also condemned that creature to death. Right now, the majority of the crew is pissed. Including the Captain.

As for me - I guess I share the Captain's feelings. A part of me felt relieved to be alive. But our safety had came at the expense of our Species 8472 guest, who simply wanted to return home. The whole incident left a bitter taste in my mouth. In a way, the Captain has to take some of the blame for Seven's actions. She had been so determined to teach Seven about individuality that she failed to point out that Voyager was a military ship with a command structure. The Captain punished Seven by restricting the latter's privileges and access to the ship's primary systems. In my opinion, the Captain should have tossed Seven's ass into the brig. End personal log.

STARDATE 51655.84:

Feelings against Seven are still high amongst the crew. B'Elanna made some comment that the Captain should have dumped Seven on the nearest Class-M planet or send her back to the Borg, when she had the chance. And maybe I should have kept my mouth shut, but I couldn't. I said that if the Captain had done that, she would have been guilty of the same thing, as Seven. Yes, I'm still angry at Seven for her actions, but I also realized that B'Elanna's comment had more to do with her dislike and jealousy of the former Borg. And personally, I was getting sick and tired of her anti-Seven attitude. Anyway, B'Elanna did not say anything. But the look in her eyes told me not to bother visiting her quarters, tonight. To hell with it! I'm not ashamed over what I said. I meant every word of it. End personal log.

STARDATE 51660.72:

It's been two days since B'Elanna and I had stopped talking to each other. But we finally reconciled over lunch, earlier this afternoon. I apologized for my remark. And she apologized for overreacting. We agreed to celebrate our cease-fire with a quiet dinner in her quarters, tonight.

Meanwhile, B'Elanna told me about an incident between Seven and that arms dealer, Koven. Apparently, Seven lost her temper and broke the man's nose when he touched her. Seven claimed that earlier today, Koven had immobilized her and tried to steal some of her nanoprobes. Although he was charged with assault, no one could prove whether he had done it or not. Koven ended up committing suicide before he could . . . (Red Alert Klaxon interrupts) What the hell?

(Chakotay: "Red alert! All hands to battle stations!)

Oh well, I'll finish this another time. End personal log.

STARDATE 51717.23:

The Hirogen have finally left Voyager. Thank God! Actually, they've been gone for at least 12 hours, by now. (Sighs) I can't believe we've been under their control for nearly three weeks! It's a good thing Harry had found a way to disengage our neural interfaces. Or else the Captain would have never been able to start a resistance against our "visitors".

In the end, the Hirogen must have realized their attempt to maintain control of Voyager was futile - to quote the Borg. (Pauses) Perhaps I should start from the beginning. Only I'm not really in the mood to recall what happened. To be honest, I haven't the foggiest idea on what happened during the past three weeks. I guess that comes from being used as a toy for a bunch of aliens bent upon playing war in the holodecks. (Pauses) To hell with it! I need some sleep. End personal log.

STARDATE 51719.82:

God, I am so tired! The repairs on Voyager seemed to go on forever. B'Elanna, Harry and a team of engineers have been removing holo-emitters from Decks Five, Six and Seven. Several of the pilots have been helping me repair both the Helm and the Navigational systems. I also agreed to help Harry repair both holodecks - especially Holodeck One. (Pauses)

The Saint-Claire program has completely gone offline. Several of the crew wanted the damn thing deleted permanently. I'm a little undecided on the subject. It's funny. I've been obsessed with 20th century Earth history for years. I had even managed to express a little enthusiasm to Seven, after our neural interfaces were disengaged. And yet . . . I cannot seem to find the enthusiasm anymore. At least not now. Christ! I'm babbling like an idiot! Maybe dinner with B'Elanna will help. End personal log.

STARDATE 51724.66:

The ship repairs are nearly finished, thank God! We've actually managed to have something close to a normal day, today. Almost. Some of the crew - namely old Starfleeters like Baxter and Murphy - have been complaining about the Captain's decision to hand over holographic technology to the Hirogen, claiming that her action was a breach of Starfleet protocols. Jesus Christ! These "by-the-book" types really get on my nerves! It's not as if the Captain had any choice. It was either make a deal with the Hirogen or continue the fight against them until we all ended up dead.

The Saint-Claire program remains in the computer system. I guess that some of the crew has actually grown fond of it. I can't say that I feel the same. I prefer this new program I have created. It's mainly a garage on Earth, where I can repair a 1969 Camarro and listen to 20th century Rock music from a radio. It's a hell of a lot better than reliving Saint-Claire, circa 1944. The latter only reminds me . . . (Sighs) Hell, I might as well confess. It reminds me of a lot of unpleasant things. Like getting beaten senseless by that damn holographic Nazi, nearly getting killed twice, and (Pauses) seeing B'Elanna pregnant. With another man's child. Okay, I know that the baby wasn't real. And neither was the father. Yet, I still feel uneasy thinking about it. Along with that Nazi pig screaming all over the place about him being the child's father. Christ! My life has really been out of control for the past two-and-a-half months. Considering how I feel right now, I might as well be wearing one of those neural interfaces. End personal log.

STARDATE 51732.91:

I have a feeling that B'Elanna might be pissed at me. And the odd thing is I don't care. When Harry was describing the French Resistance in the Saint-Claire program to her during lunch in the Mess Hall, she began comparing it to the Maquis, back home. Like I needed to be reminded of that. It's bad enough that crewmen like Dalby and Chell have been making similar comparisons. When B'Elanna began comparing the Cardassians to the Nazis, I couldn't take it any longer. In other words, I left. I rather think about my new Camarro program, thank you very much. End personal log.

STARDATE 51739.75:

Oh God! I think I just had one of the worst dreams, ever. The Hirogen were still on Voyager and using us for holographic simulations. Only, instead of being a WWII soldier or a Klingon warrior, I was myself - Tom Paris. Only this Tom happened to be a Starfleet officer back in the Alpha Quadrant, with a successful career in the Command track, a perfect wife (with B'Elanna's human face), who was pregnant with the perfect child. In the dream, I found myself commanding a starship battling against the Cardassians. Two of the Cardassian officers appeared on the Bridge's view screen . . . and transformed into the Admiral himself, beaming with parental pride; and Captain Janeway looking rather smug and satisfied. And that was when I woke up in a sweat. (Pauses) Christ! Talk about a personal horror story. Oh God, it's only past midnight and I'm fully awake. Maybe a trip to Holodeck Two will help me relax. End personal log.

STARDATE 51752.24:

If one more person asks me how I'm feeling, I swear I am going to space myself out of sheer relief. Chakotay has asked me. So has Harry. Baytart complained that I've been neglecting the division. Maybe he feels he can do better. B'Elanna nearly blew her top when I broke our date. For the fifth time, according to her. And the Doctor has been hounding me about missing my shifts in Sick Bay. Hell, if he's that unsatisfied with my work, perhaps he should request someone from the Science Division to act as his Chief Medical Assistant. There are plenty of candidates.

(Sighs) God, I just feel like I'm trapped, sometimes. If the Admiral could see me now, he would be thrilled that his wayward son is finally becoming the perfect Starfleet officer he had dreamed about. Living up to the Paris name. He would probably give Janeway a medal for accomplishing what he had failed to do. Thank God for my new holodeck program! It's a hell of lot better than trying to be the perfect Starfleet officer. End personal log.

STARDATE 51754.9:

We have a new visitor aboard Voyager. His name is Steth. He's a Benthan test pilot, whose ship we had to stabilize after he had jumped out of warp. It seems that he was testing a vessel that used a coaxial warp drive. I've heard about it at the Academy, but I never thought I would see one in person.

Steth seems like a pleasant guy. And since we happened to be fellow pilots, I thought it would be great to help him repair his ship . . . and learn how his species managed to utilize the coaxial warp drive. Fortunately, Chakotay gave me permission. Unfortunately that would mean breaking another date with B'Elanna. And she did not take the news very well. End personal log.

STARDATE 51763.84:

(Sighs) Hell, I don't know how to begin this log entry. The last few days have really been bizarre. Steth turned out to be a DNA thief, who not only steals individuals' DNA to assume forms, but also deposits his or her current genetic material into the victims. Only, it wasn't really Steth who had stolen my DNA.

After I had awakened on Steth's ship and in his body - I met the real Steth. The latter happened to be trapped in the body of a female alien named Daelen. In other words, it was Daelen - in Steth's body - who had first appeared on Voyager. According to Steth, he had first met Daelen at a space station several light years aways. Daelen pretended to be an admirer of him - giving her the chance to steal his body. And Steth had been trapped in Daelen's body ever since.

Steth and I eventually caught up with Voyager and captured Daelen - who had, by then, assumed the Captain's identity. Sound confusing. I suspect that many of us were confused. It seemed a miracle that the Doc had managed to restore all of us to our rightful bodies. He added that there is a good chance that Daelen might not be the true identity of the DNA thief. Steth should be on his way back to the Benthan system, to deliver Daenen to the authorities. I hope that he makes it back without any mishaps. End personal log.

LOG SUPPLEMENTAL:

B'Elanna and I finally had a talk about recent events. And I'm not just talking about Steth and Daelen. I showed her my Grease Monkey program in Holodeck Two, and told her the reason behind my recent odd behavior.

I finally realized that it all began with the letters from home. Contacting with Starfleet had bothered me a lot more than I had realized. I had been happy with my life aboard Voyager, and viewed our communication with the Federation as a threat to that happiness. The Captain, Harry and many others might view the Alpha Quadrant as home. I don't. Not anymore. For me, the Federation is nothing but a symbol of most of the unhappiness in my life - from being Dad's little protégée during my childhood, to the problems I had endured in Starfleet and the Maquis. It was in the Alpha Quadrant where I had allowed my father, tradition, Starfleet, and my own fears rule me. Sometimes I wonder if I ever had any kind of control over my life. Thanks to our encounters with the Hirogen and communication with Starfleet that lack of control seemed to have reach Voyager.

B'Elanna understood. She even suggested that I might have been heading for a full-blown depression. Maybe. But my encounter with Daelen seemed to have snapped me out of it. Because right now, I feel as if I'm in some kind of control, again. I'm happy to have returned to Voyager. And I'm glad to be back with B'Elanna. I missed her very much.

The subject of Daelen finally came up. I had overheard what she . . . or he had said to me about B'Elanna, while in the Captain's body. B'Elanna finally admitted that she and the phony Tom had kissed. Fortunately, she had also been too busy in Engineering for anything "further" to happen. Thank God for small miracles. End personal log.

STARDATE 51786:

I am happy to report that one Ensign Harry Kim may no longer harbors an infatuation for said former Borg drone named Seven-of-Nine. How did this miraculous event happened? Well, I guess one can thank an incident regarding a space phenomenon that threatened Voyager and some alien science station. According to Seven, the Borg regarded the phenomenon as a source of energy and a means to achieve perfection. In her "haste" to examine the manner, she became very officious toward the crew working with her on the project. Including Harry. I guess he didn't care being treated as another mindless drone being assigned a Borg designation. Hmmm. End personal log.

STARDATE 51812.88:

We seemed to have a bit of a mystery aboard Voyager. Chakotay had come across some written notes in his handwriting, claiming that an alien bounty hunter had visited Voyager seeking asylum from her race. Twice. According to the notes, Chakotay fell in love with refugee and enjoyed a brief affair. O-kay. If he insists that happened. However, there is no proof in the computer's database to support his claim. End personal log.

STARDATE 51826.67:

Voyager made contact with a group of aliens called the Vaskans to trade for deuterium and instead, ended up in the middle of a war. The Vaskans' enemies, the Kyrians, had come to the conclusion that the Captain had formed an alliance with the Vaskans. Apparently, they had never heard of the Prime Directive. Anyway, to make a long story short, a group of Kyrians boarded Voyager and made their way toward Engineering. What is it about that place that attracts intruders? Fortunately, B'Elanna was in one of the Jeffries Tubes and missed the fireworks. But four of her engineers ended up dead. Security tracked the intruders to the Mess Hall and bagged the lot. The Vaskan ambassador needlessly shot the Kyrian ringleader, and pissed off the Captain. Which means we will have to find another source of deuterium. End personal log.

STARDATE 51835.41:

B'Elanna is still upset over the Vaskan/Kyrian incident. She has been taking the deaths of her four engineers rather hard, lately. A lot harder than she has done so in the past. In fact, she's been shutting herself up in Engineering, continuing with those slipstream drive experiments. Naturally, I sympathize, but I'm beginning to wonder if her behavior is a bit . . . drastic. End personal log.

STARDATE 51837.11:

Our deuterium crisis is now affecting the ship's systems. The Captain has ordered the crew to double up in living quarters, to conserve power until we are able to acquire more deuterium. Seven finally managed to locate a source on some Demon-class planet, several light years away. Because of the planet's atmosphere and condition, we would be unable to beam to its surface. Harry had eventually come up with idea of sending an Away team via shuttle, to the surface. Tuvok naysayed the idea - as usual. But to my surprise, Ensign Eager shot down Mr. Doom-n-Gloom with a few choice words. Mind you, I don't dislike Tuvok, contrary to what one may think. In fact, I rather like him. But he does have a tendency to view everything in a pessimistic manner. And talk down to others. So I say - good for Harry. By the way, the little bastard had also suggested that I accompany him on the Away mission. Cretin. End personal log.

STARDATE 51840.93:

It felt strange seeing duplicates of the crew, standing on the surface of that Demon-class planet, while Voyager departed. Very strange. This all happened after Harry and I became the first to be duplicated, during our Away mission on the planet. Our AVS suits became damaged when the liquefied deuterium made contact with our bodies. We probably would have died if the Doctor had not figured out that Chakotay and Seven had returned to the ship with our doubles.

Harry's duplicate had asked the Captain if each crewman would leave behind a sample of DNA. Apparently, he and the "other Tom" did not want to be the only humanoid life on that planet. B'Elanna was among the first to volunteer for duplication. Very strange. I felt certain that she would be among the few to protest. She told me that after meeting the clone Tom in Sick Bay, she could not bear the idea of him being alone on that planet. God! Isn't it any wonder that I love her? End personal log.

STARDATE 51928.11:

Oh God! I don't want to do this! I don't want to spend the next four weeks inside that coffin! Okay. It's not a coffin, but a stasis unit. But the damn thing looks like a coffin. And the entire crew, except for Seven and the Doctor, will be forced to remain in one for an entire month because of some damn Mitara-class nebula. We had already made an attempt to travel through it, yesterday. But it didn't take long - three minutes to be exact - before we were all affected by the nebula's subnucleonic radiation. Nor did the Captain want to detour around the nebula. That particular journey would take at least a year. Personally, I couldn't care less how long it would take. Better that than spending a month in stasis. But the Captain . . . well, there's no need to go on about her obsession in getting home. She wants to use the shortcut through the nebula. That means, I will have to face the coffin.

Thanks to her Borg nanoprobes, Seven wasn't affected by the radiation. Which means that she will be monitoring our units and taking Voyager through the nebula. At least she'll be able to avoid the coffins. Lucky woman. Then again, her only company will be the Doc. End personal log.

STARDATE 51930.36:

Seven said a strange thing during lunch, today. Let me start from the beginning. After Voyager had finally ended its journey through the Mitara-class nebula, the Captain, Chakotay and the Doc found Seven in a state of delirium and sent her to Sick Bay. After being alone for a long period - especially after the Doc's program went offline - the lack of company had affected her. She later joined B'Elanna, Harry and me in the Mess Hall and brought up the fact that I had managed to slip out of my stasis unit at least three times.

Harry wanted to know why I was so claustrophobic. I certainly couldn't tell them - at least Harry and Seven - that it all stemmed from a childhood incident. And an embarrassing one, at that. However, Seven came up with her own answer. She said that perhaps I was afraid of being alone. I cannot help but wonder if she was talking about me? Or herself? End personal log.

STARDATE 51972.37:

Neelix, Lang and I will visit the Polarius system, tomorrow for some much needed supplies. I wouldn't mind the trip. After nearly a month in stasis, I'm beginning to feel a little stir crazy. I could use an Away mission. And a few days in Neelix's company sounds pleasant. End personal log.

STARDATE 51979.49:

Thank goodness for Arturis. He's an alien that Neelix, Lang and I had encountered on the homeworld of a Xenon-based race. If it weren't for his linguist skills, we would have never been able to do any trade. Especially after our Universal translators had began to malfunction. We brought him back to Voyager, where he proved to be valuable, once more. He was able to assist the Captain in breaking the encrypted message we had received from Starfleet, nearly six months ago. End personal log.

STARDATE 51980.35:

I take it all back. I like Arturis, but now I wish that Neelix, Lang and I had never met him. And I wish he had never been able to translate that encrypted message. It seems that Starfleet had provided coordinates to a ship they had sent to the Delta Quadrant to provide us a way home. An experimental ship with a slipstream drive, called the U.S.S. Dauntless.

When Tuvok, Chakotay and I first boarded the Dauntless, it had somehow activated and sent us fifteen light years ahead. It took Voyager two days to track us down. The Captain then ordered the crew to examine the Dauntless for any new technology that Starfleet have provided us. Since she's reluctant to abandon Voyager, she ordered Engineering to begin modifying the ship's engines to adopt a similar slipstream drive. Or maybe modify the slipstream experiments that B'Elanna, Seven and the Engineering crew have been conducting.

Everyone seems excited over the prospect of getting home. Even B'Elanna. I sometimes wonder if she has lost her mind. I mean, what does she have to look forward in the Alpha Quadrant? The Maquis has been destroyed. She, Chakotay and the others will probably face at least one or two years in a Federation prison - along with myself. And there's a war going on, back home. Judging from the information we've received, it's not going well.

And there is one last thing - this whole matter regarding the Dauntless sounds a bit off to me. I find it hard to believe that Starfleet had managed to provide us with a means to travel home in such a short space of time. I mean, how much time had passed between the Doc's visit to the Alpha Quadrant and our letters from home? Two weeks. And unless Starfleet has been working on such a slipstream drive during the past three to four years, I find it hard to believe that it took them two weeks to create one and send it to the Delta Quadrant - unmanned. (Pauses) Now that I think about it, I'm beginning to wonder if Arturis. This all started when Neelix, Lang and I first met him. Or had it? End personal log.

STARDATE 51988.2:

Everyone is now disappointed that the Dauntless turned out to be a hoax. It wasn't an experimental Starfleet vessel. It was Arturis' own ship. He had set a trap. Apparently, he had intercepted Admiral Hayes' message to the Captain and modified it. All because he wanted to lead us to the Dauntless - and eventually into the arms of the Borg. We managed to get some of the crew off the Dauntless - including B'Elanna, thank God. Unfortunately, the Captain and Seven had remained trapped aboard with Arturis. Using the slipstream modification made on Voyager, we managed to chase the Dauntless and beam the Captain and Seven back to the ship. Poor Arturis ended up assimilated by the Borg.

Why did he do it? Why did Arturis go through so much trouble to get us assimilated by the Borg? It seems that his homeworld had spent centuries evading assimilation. About a year ago, their efforts were beginning to fail when the Borg decided to invade Species 8472's fluidic space. Arturis' people had looked forward to the Borg's defeat. Unfortunately, our alliance with the Borg destroyed all hope. And Arturis' world ended up assimilated.

I think the Captain tried to dismiss his people's fate as a bad misfortune. Maybe she's right. I understand why Arturis tried to destroy us . . . even though my sympathy can only go so far, considering that he had nearly succeeded. On the other hand, aside from Seven's rescue from the Collective, nothing really good had come from that damn alliance. And despite her "let's move on" attitude, I suspect that the Captain feels the same. End personal log.

STARDATE 51994.11:

Voyager entered an expanse of space, devoid of any stars, nebulas or other stellar sightings. A void in space. Christ! It looked so . . . empty. And to make matters worse, we'll be traveling through this void for at least a year or two. According to Seven, the void stretches at least 2,500 light years. That's about two years. God, how depressing! End personal log.

STARDATE 51999.04:

We haven't been in this void very long and already, it's affecting the crew's morale. Since the New Year is coming up, Neelix has been campaigning for our usual New Year's Eve bash. Hell, I could sure use it. Staring at nothing but black space for hours on end isn't doing much for my morale. And I've noticed that ever since the Arturis debacle, B'Elanna has been distant toward me. Perhaps a holiday celebration is what the both of us need. I'm beginning to think that the Captain also needs this party. She didn't bother to leave her quarters, today. And she's not sick. (Pauses) Anyway, nothing else has happened today. End personal log.


END OF PART FOUR