Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"THE KINGDOM" (2007) Photo Gallery



Below is a gallery featuring photos from the 2007 political thriller, "THE KINGDOM". Directed by Peter Berg, the movie starred Jamie Foxx:


"THE KINGDOM" (2007) Photo Gallery











































Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Top Ten Favorite "LOST" (2004-2010) Episodes



Below is a list of my ten favorite "LOST" episodes from its entire six season run from 2004 to 2010:


TOP TEN FAVORITE "LOST" (2004-2010) EPISODES




1. (2.07) "The Other 48 Days" - This is the episode that made me a full fledged fan of "LOST". I had seen some of the early Season 2 episodes, but this one caught me, hook, line and sinker. I had yet to see the Season 1 episodes on DVD. After nearly five years, this story about the Tail Section survivors' first forty-eight days on the island remains my top favorite.






2. (5.08) "LaFleur" - This wonderful episode featured a combination of a time travel adventure and character study of con man James "Sawyer" Ford and about how he, Juliet and a few others become members of the Dharma Initiative in the 1970s.






3. (3.22-3.23) "Through a Looking Glass, Parts I and II" - This is my favorite Jack-centric episode. It centered on the Flight 815 survivors' attempt to contact the inhabitants of a freighter some 80 miles away from the island and deal with a kidnapping threat posed by Ben and the Others. Not only does this episode marked Charlie Pace's death, but also an ending that surprised many viewers.






4. (1.22) "Exodus, Part I" - In the first of a two-part episode in which Danielle Rousseau shocks the survivors by showing up with a dire warning about "the Others" who are on the island, and the black smoke that precedes them. Meanwhile, Michael, Sawyer and Jin ready the raft for sailing. In flashbacks, we see the survivors final moments before they boarded their fateful flight. This episode features some of the series' more emotional moments.






5. (6.14) "The Candidate" - This emotionally driven and action packed episode featured the survivors' attempts to escape the island for good and dealings with a double-cross that lead to great tragedy.






6. (1.17) " . . . In Translation" - For the first time, fans discover that Jin Kwon is not the overbearing and dangerous husband of Sun that many had assumed him to be. Jin and the other survivors also discover a surprising fact about Sun. My favorite episode about the Kwons.






7. (2.11) "The Hunting Party" - In this episode, Jack leads a small party to find Michael, who has left camp to search for his kidnapped son, Walt. This episode is not very popular with fans, but for some reason I like it . . . a lot. I especially enjoyed Jack's interactions with the two men who have rubbed him the wrong way - Sawyer and Locke - and the flashbacks that featured the break up of his marriage.






8. (5.05) "This Place Is Death" - This well written episode featured Jin Kwon's encounters with a young Danielle Rousseau in 1988, Ben Linus' attempts to convince the Oceanic Six to return to the island; and the time traveling began to affect the remaining castaways on the island with tragic results.






9. (2.08) "Collision" - Ana-Lucia Cortez has always been my favorite character in the series, and this episode featured the violent consequences of her accidental shooting of Shannon Rutherford. The flashbacks featured Ana-Lucia's troubles as a cop in Los Angeles and the episode ended with reunions between the Flight 815 survivors. A personal favorite of mine.






10. (3.18) "D.O.C." - After learning that the Others' pregnant women died before giving birth on the island, Sun-Hwa Kwon allowed former Other Juliet Burke to examine her in the Dharma medical station in this fascinating episode that revealed a betrayal from the past on her part.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"EMMA" (2009) Review




"EMMA" (2009) Review

After a great deal of delay, I finally sat down to watch ”EMMA”, the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel. First seen on the BBC during the fall of 2009, this four-part miniseries had been adapted by Sandy Welch and directed by Jim O’Hanlon.

”EMMA” followed the story of Emma Woodhouse, the younger daughter of a wealthy landowner in Regency England. As a dominant figure in the provincial world of fictional Highbury, Emma believed that she was a skilled matchmaker and repeatedly attempted to meddle in the love lives of others. After successfully arranging the recent marriage of her governess, Miss Anne Taylor, to another local landowner named Mr. Weston; Emma set out to make a poor young boarder at a local girls’ school named Harriet Smith her new protégé. Unfortunately, her plans to find a new husband for Harriet ended in disaster.

I have been aware of other adaptations of ”EMMA” for the past decade-and-a-half, including the 1996 Miramax movie that starred Gwyneth Paltrow and the 1996 ITV version, starring Kate Beckinsale. And considering that I quickly became a major fan of the Paltrow version, I found myself curious to see how this recent four-part miniseries would compare. Many fans seemed to believe that the miniseries format allow this version to be superior over the others. After all, the format allowed screenwriter Sandy Welch to follow Austen’s novel with more detail. Other fans still view the Miramax version as the one superior to others. There are fans who viewed the Beckinsale version as the best. And many have a high regard for the modern day version, ”CLUELESS”, which starred Alicia Silverstone. And there are even those who believe that the 1972 miniseries, which starred Doran Godwin as the most faithful, and therefore the best. My opinion? I will admit that I became a fan of this miniseries, just as quickly as I became a fan of the Paltrow movie.

One of the aspects that I love about ”EMMA” was the main character’s backstory featured in the miniseries’ first five to ten minutes. Most fans of Austen’s novel frowned upon this introduction, considering that it was not featured in the novel. Not only did I enjoy it, I believe the sequence provided a possible explanation for Mr. Woodhouse’s agoraphobia and fear of losing his daughters, Emma and the older Isabella. I also enjoyed the miniseries’ photography. First, cinematographer Adam Suschitzky shot the series with rich colors – mainly bold and pastels. Also, both Suschitzky and director Jim O’Hanlon did an excellent job in filming the series with some provocative shots – many of them featuring windows. One of my favorite shots featured moments in Episode Two in which O’Hanlon, Suschitzky and film editor Mark Thornton cleverly conveyed the change of seasons from winter to early spring. Contributing to the miniseries’ colorful look were costumes supervised by Amanda Keable. They perfectly blended with Suschitzky’s photography.

I confess that I have never read ”EMMA”. I hope to do so in the near future. I could say this is the reason why I had no problems with the changes featured in Sandy Welch’s screenplay, whereas a good number of Austen’s fans did. The biggest complaint seemed to be that Welch did not convey much of the author’s language or dialogue. I guess I could not care less, especially after I had learned that Emma Thompson’s screenplay for the 1995 adaptation of ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” had very little of Austen’s dialogue. I believe that Welch did an excellent job in adapting ”EMMA”. She (along with stars Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller) captured the chemistry and wit of Emma and Mr. Knightley with some very funny banter. The screenplay also featured some comic moments that either left me smiling or laughing heartily. Those scenes included Mr. Elton’s attempts to woo Emma, while she drew a picture of Harriet; Mr. Woodhouse’s consistent reluctance to leave Hatfield (most of the time); and Emma’s first meeting with Mr. Elton’s new bride, the obnoxious and less wealthy Augusta Hawkins Elton. But Emma’s hostile soliloquy, following her meeting with Mrs. Elton, left me in stitches. I thought it was one of the funniest moments in the entire miniseries. But ”EMMA” was not all laughs. Welch’s screenplay also featured some poignant and romantic moments between Emma and Mr. Knightley. And this is the only version of the Austen novel that truly conveyed the poignant and warm relationship between Emma and her father.

However, I did have some problems with ”EMMA”. Most viewers seemed to be of the opinion that Episodes One and Two were a bit off or that they barely captured the novel’s spirit. Most of my problems with the miniseries stemmed from Episode Four, the last one. There seemed to be something heavy-handed about the Box Hill sequence and I do not know whether to blame the actors, O’Hanlon’s direction or Welch’s screenplay. This heavy-handedness could have been deliberate, due to the sequence occurring on a hot day. But I am not certain. Some of the dialogue struck me as a bit clunky – especially those moments in which Frank Churchill and Mr. Weston tried to use clever words to praise Emma. Rupert Evans’ portrayal of Frank in this scene struck me as oppressive. And I barely missed Emma’s insult to Miss Bates, due to Romola Garai’s performance. She almost threw away the line. I realize that it was Jane Fairfax who refused to see Emma, following the Box Hill picnic in the novel, instead of Miss Bates. Which is exactly what Welch added in her screenplay. Pity. I think it would have been more dramatic if the screenwriter had not been so faithful to Austen’s novel and allow Miss Bates to reject Emma’s presence following the picnic. Just as writer-director Douglas McGrath did in his adaptation in the 1996 Miramax film. And Welch’s screenplay never allowed viewers to witness Harriet Smith’s reaction to Emma and Mr. Knightley’s engagement . . . or her reconciliation with Robert Martin.

Despite any misgivings I might have about ”EMMA”, I really enjoyed it. And a great deal of my enjoyment came from Romola Garai’s portrayal of the titled character. Despite a few moments of garrulous mannerisms, I found her performance to be a delight. Her Emma Woodhouse did not seem to be that much of a meddler – except in regard to Harriet’s relationship with Robert Martin. But she did inject her performance with an arrogance that usually comes from a privileged youth that believes he or she is always right. And I absolutely adored her hostile rant against the newly arrived Mrs. Elton. Not only did she have a strong chemistry with Rupert Evans (Frank Churchill), but also with Michael Gambon, who portrayed Mr. Woodhouse. In fact, Garai and Gambon effectively conveyed a tender daughter-father relationship. Yet, her chemistry with Jonny Lee Miller surprisingly struck the strongest chord. I really enjoyed the crackling banter between them and their developing romance. Most fans had complained about her penchant for being a bit too expressive with her eyes. That did not bother me one bit. However, I found one moment in her performance to be over-the-top – namely the scene in which Emma expressed dismay at leaving Mr. Woodhouse alone in order to marry Mr. Knightley.

Speaking of the owner of Donwell, many fans of the novel had expressed dismay when Jonny Lee Miller was cast in the role of George Knightley. Despite Miller’s previous experience with Jane Austen in two adaptations of ”MANSFIELD PARK”, most fans believed he could not do justice to the role. Many feared that he was too young for the role. I found this ironic, considering that Miller was around the same age as the literary Mr. Knightley; whereas Jeremy Northam and Mark Strong were both a few years younger than the character. After viewing the first half of Episode One, I could tell that Miller was already putting his own stamp on the role. Thanks to Miller’s performance, I found myself contemplating another possible aspect of Knightley’s character. During his proposal to Emma in Episode Four, he admitted to being highly critical. I could not help but wonder if this trait was a manifestation of some arrogance in his character. This seemed very apparent in a scene in Episode Two in which Knightley made a critical comment about Emma’s character in an insulting manner. He was lucky that she did not respond with anything stronger than a reproachful stare. Another aspect of Miller’s performance that I enjoyed was the dry wit and observant manner that he conveyed in Mr. Knightley’s character. In the end, I found his performance to be very attractive and well done.

Michael Gambon, who happens to be a favorite of mine, gave a hilarious performance as Emma’s father, Mr. Woodhouse. I have read a few complaints that Gambon seemed too robust to be portraying the character. I found this complaint rather strange. For I had no idea that one had to look sickly in order to be a hypochondriac or an agoraphobic. I suspect that Gambon used Welch’s description of Mrs. Woodhouse’s tragic death to convey his character’s agoraphobic tendencies. This gave his character a poignant twist that blended wonderfully with his comic performance. Another performance that mixed comedy with just a touch of tragedy came from Tasmin Grey, who portrayed the impoverished Miss Bates. As from being a spinster and the poor daughter of Highbury’s former vicar, Miss Bates was also a silly and verbose woman. Grey portrayed these aspects of Miss Bates’ personality with perfect comic timing. At the same time, she did a beautiful job in conveying the character’s despair and embarrassment over her poverty. Two other performances really impressed me. One belonged to Christina Cole, who portrayed the meddling and obnoxious Mrs. Augusta Elton. Her performance seemed so deliciously funny and sharp that I believed it rivaled Juliet Stevenson’s portrayal of the same character from Douglas McGrath’s film. Almost just as funny was Blake Ralston, who portrayed Highbury’s current vicar, Mr. Elton. He did a marvelous job of portraying the vicar’s lack of backbone; and a slimy and obsequious manner, while attempting to woo Emma in Episodes One and Two.

Rupert Evans did a solid job in portraying Frank Churchill’s energetic and sometimes cruel personality. Although there were times when he threatened to overdo it. Laura Pyper (Christina Cole’s co-star from the TV series ”HEX”) gave a slightly tense performance as Jane Fairfax, Miss Bates’ accomplished niece that Emma disliked. Pyper did a solid job in portraying the reticent Jane and the tension she suffered from being Frank’s secret fiancée. Louise Dylan made an amiable, yet slightly dimwitted Harriet Martin. Although there were times when her Harriet seemed more intelligent than Emma. I do not know whether or not this was deliberate on O’Hanlon’s part.

If there is one thing I can say about ”EMMA” is that it quickly became one of my favorite Jane Austen adaptations. Yes, it had its flaws. But I believe that its virtues – an excellent adaptation by Sandy Welch, beautiful photography by Adam Suschitzky and a first-rate cast led by Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller – all well directed by Jim O’Hanlon. It seemed a pity that it failed to earn an Emmy nomination for Best Miniseries. And I find it even harder to believe that ”RETURN TO CRANFORD” managed to earn one and ”EMMA” did not.

Friday, September 24, 2010

"The Staff of Fire" [PG] - 4/6




"THE STAFF OF FIRE"

Part IV

Saturday morning dawned and the occupants at Castle Dunleith discovered drizzling rain coming down from the gray clouds above. Paige felt certain that Colin McNeill would either cancel the picnic or move the family gathering inside the castle.

"Considering that it's too late to cancel the fete, it would have to be moved indoors," the laird announced to those who had gathered inside the dining hall for breakfast. He seemed mournful over the idea of an indoor picnic.

Paige, who stood with Cole before the dining hall's Sheraton sideboard, murmured, "He looks like a kid who had lost his favorite toy. The laird must really love picnics."

"You mean that you haven't noticed by now?" Cole whispered back. "From what Olivia has told me, he's one of those hale and hearty types who love the outdoors. I think he's one of what they call in this country, the 'huntin, shootin and fishin'" types."

A smile curved Paige's lips, as she reached for a grilled tomato. The Sheraton sideboard groaned under the weight of dishes prepared for breakfast - scrambled eggs, smoked kippers, sausages, bacon, toast, grilled tomatoes, beans, fruit and other assortments. It was customary in many upper-class British homes to serve breakfast, buffet-style. As she spooned a ladle full of scrambled eggs upon her plate, she noticed Olivia sitting at the table and speaking with the laird' aunt.

Cole asked, "When are Bruce and the others arriving?"

Paige replied, "Later this afternoon. Around three. Bruce and Barbara will be arriving. Along with Leo. I don't think Piper or Phoebe are interested in showing up."

"Too bad." Cole shrugged his shoulders. "They'll be missing something special. I've heard that the Aingeal ceremony is quite interesting. Rarely seen in the supernatural world."

The pair carried their plates to the table and sat down near Olivia and Mrs. Ferguson. Paige asked, "How long have you known about . . .?" She broke off the question, as a servant appeared with a dolly carrying juice, coffee and tea. The latter - the same woman whom Paige had noticed at the McNeills' dinner party a week ago - asked the pair if they would like something to drink. Paige asked for a glass of orange juice and Cole, coffee. After the servant handed Cole his coffee, a familiar sensation tingled at the back of Paige's neck. She stared at the servant as she moved toward the next diner.

"Something wrong?" Cole asked. He added cream and sugar to his coffee.

Paige tore her eyes away from the servant. "Huh?"

Cole gave her a hard stare. "Why are you staring at that waitress? Does she look familiar to you?"

"No, it's . . . Well, . . . I don't know. There's something odd about that woman. Something I can't put my finger on. I don't know. Maybe I'm imagining things."

The half-demon grunted. "Hmmph, considering your talent for spotting trouble, I doubt it." He took a swig of coffee. "With the ceremony coming up today, and all the hullabaloo over that car you and Olivia had spotted, maybe you should keep an eye on her."

"Maybe I will." Then Paige returned to their previous topic. "By the way, about that staff . . . how long have you known about it?"

According to Cole, he had first learned about the Aingeal staff during his childhood. As he continued on the subject, Paige's mind became fixated on several incidents and feelings that have left her slightly uneasy during this trip. The two strangers in the car outside the Bloomsbury townhouse, Olivia's notice of a similar car in Inverness, and her reaction toward one of the McNeills' servants here at Castle Dunleith all led Paige to wonder if her feelings of foreboding had anything to do with tonight's staff ceremony. Her ruminations soon began to wear down Paige, mentally. She decided to shrug it off for another time and enjoy her breakfast.

----------

Between nine-thirty and ten in the morning, the light rain finally ceased. The sun broke through the gray clouds and Colin McNeill announced - rather happily - that the picnic would be held outdoors, after all. By noon, most of the guests had arrived at the castle, including those Paige had not met at last week's dinner party. Despite her disappointment over her sisters' decision not to accompany Leo here to Scotland, Paige managed to enjoy herself. Harry introduced her to more McNeills, and she was happy to discover that most of them did not share Fiona Craig's arrogant disposition.

Speaking of Fiona . . . she finally arrived around twelve-thirty in the afternoon. Bitchy as ever. She greeted Paige with a smile that screamed insincerity. "Well, if it isn't Olivia's little friend. Penny, right?"

Paige's lips stretched into a tight smile. "Paige. Penny was my grandmother's name."

"Och, terribly sorry. I've always had trouble matching names with faces," Fiona continued. "Especially unmemorable ones."

Paige opened her mouth to retort, when a third voice added, "With a memory like that, Fiona, it's a wonder you can remember a simple spell." Two figures joined Paige and Fiona - Olivia and Cecile. The former smiled coolly at her cousin. "Fiona, I see that you finally made it," Olivia said in a voice that made the other cousin's insincerity seem mild. "Unfortunately."

Fiona replied through clenched teeth, "Olivia." Her gazed shifted toward Cecile. "And . . . um, Lucille. Am I right?"

Cecile ignored the insult and said, "So Phyllis, Olivia tells me that you've also manifested pyrokinesis. Is that true?"

The dark-haired woman glared at the Vodoun priestess. "It's Fiona, and yes, I have pyrokinesis. It had manifested last April. And now it seems that I have become a contender for the staff. Who knows? I may end up being the new bearer." She preened slightly.

"Really?" Cecile eyed the witch doubtfully. "What makes you so certain? Or is this simply hope on your part?" Fiona's face turned red.

Paige spoke up. "Fiona told me, last week, that she had vanquished a demon, using her fire power."

Olivia's green eyes widened in mock appreciation. "Wow! One daemon! I'm impressed, cousin! I guess that you might as well claim that staff as yours, huh?"

"That's funny," Cecile piped in. "Haven't you killed more than one daemon with your new power, Livy?"

Looking thoughtful, while amusement shined in her eyes, Olivia replied, "Why yes! I do believe that you're right, Cecile. Now, how many of them have I killed?"

Paige replied in a droll voice, "At least seven or eight."

"Hmmmm."

"Am I supposed to assume this means that you'll become the next Bearer of the Aingeal Staff?" Fiona asked in a tart voice.

Shrugging her shoulders, Olivia replied, "Perhaps. Perhaps not. Who knows?"

Fiona smirked. "Olivia dear, don't you think you're stretching your impersonation of Gary Cooper, just a tad too much? You want possession of the staff, just as much as I do."

"I doubt that any of us want to be the staff's bearer as much as you do, Fiona."

Acid tinged Fiona's voice. "And what exactly do you mean by that?"

Olivia gave her cousin a look that mixed pity with contempt. "Poor Fiona! I see that you haven't changed much, over the years. Still recovering from the loss of your glory days as Debutante of the Year?"

"You bloody bitch! How dare you?"

"My dear Fee," Olivia shot back, "I'm not the one going around and declaring to everyone that I'm going to be the staff's next bearer. Besides, what do you think having the staff is going to do for you? Magically return you back to the glory days of your youth?" She paused slightly as a malicious smile curved her lips. "Bring Allan back to you?"

A sound resembling a kitten being strangled escaped from Fiona's mouth. "Why you . . ." She bit off her words, flashed a dark look at Olivia and stomped away.

"Good job, McNeill," Cecile retorted with amusement. "You really did a good job of pissing her off."

Olivia rolled her eyes in contempt. "So what else is new? Fiona and I have been pissing each other off for years."

"Okay, but if Fiona does become the staff's new bearer," Cecile continued, "don't be surprised if she decides to use that thing on you, one day."

"Why? You had a premonition or something?"

Paige piped in, "Who's Allan?"

Olivia replied, "Ex-husband. He had left Fiona for another woman some two years ago. She hasn't recovered since."

At that moment, Cole appeared by the three women's sides. Paige noticed that he looked slightly haggard. "Dude!" she exclaimed. "Are you okay?"

Olivia peered at Cole. "Paige is right. You do look a little bedraggled."

"I feel like shit," Cole shot back. "And tired. Which is unusual for me. I, uh . . . I guess I need a little more sleep."

A concerned-looking Olivia gently caressed Cole's cheek. "I don't know why. You had slept pretty good, last night." She sighed. "Then again, perhaps you're right. Besides, the ceremony won't start until at least around eight o'clock, tonight. That should give you plenty of time for some rest. C'mon." She linked her arm with his and led him away.

Paige and Cecile watched the couple head toward the castle's terrace, which overlooked the garden and wide lawn. "Did you notice something odd about Cole?" the latter asked.

"Well, he seemed unusually tired," Paige replied. "For a powerful half-demon."

Cecile frowned at the couple's receding figures. "Yeah, and that's the problem. Cole reminds me of the time when he had been drugged. When we were dealing with the Crozats and Dako, last December. Remember?"

Paige grimaced, recalling the Vodoun spirit in Darryl Morris' body, attacking her. "Barely. I was in the hospital, at the time. What are you getting at?"

"If I didn't know better, I'd swear that he has been drugged. Today."

Shaking her head, Paige found Cecile's words hard to believe. "But Cole has a self-healing power. If he had been drugged, wouldn't his power be clearing his bloodstream, or something?"

"Depends upon how strong the drug is," Cecile replied. "Suzanne Crozat had fed Cole a very strong drug or herb. It nearly took him an entire day to recover. Looking at him now, reminded me of that day."

All of Paige's forebodings flooded her memory. "But . . . why? Why would someone drug Cole? To get him out of the way?"

Cecile gave Paige a long look. "What do you think?"

----------

Keira Andrews stood behind one of the refreshment tables, as she served drinks to the McNeills' guests on the castle's grounds. Although patience has long been one of her virtues, this weeklong stint as a temporary servant for the Laird of Dunleith had stretched it to the limits. If she had to serve any more food or drinks, or toady to another bloody toff beyond today, she would simply go barking mad.

An overdressed woman wearing a ridiculously large hat approached the table and ordered a glass of champagne. Keira bit back a sigh, as she filled a crystal glass with Bollinger '84. After handing the glass of champagne to the woman, Keira spotted two figures passing the buffet tables - Olivia McNeill and Belthazor. The latter, Keira noticed, looked very haggard.

The potion she had mixed into Belthazor's coffee, this morning, finally seemed to be working. And as far as Keira was concerned, it was about bloody time. Russell had informed her that the potion would make the half-daemon unconscious within an hour. Instead, the potion had taken over six hours to affect Belthazor. Even worse, the daemon looked far from unconscious. However, not all seemed lost. The McNeill woman seemed to be escorting Belthazor back inside the castle. Probably to his bedroom. Which meant that Keira saw a perfect opportunity to snatch the witch.

The warlock excused herself and rushed toward Dave, who was busy serving food to one of the McNeill cousins. Once he was alone, Keira approached him. "Dave," she murmured. "Look behind you."

Dave glanced over his shoulder. "Belthazor and the witch," he murmured. "He looks a bit knackered, doesn't he? Looks like the potion is finally working."

Keira added, "I think they're heading back inside the castle. And considering the way Belthazor looks, I have a feeling that the witch will soon be alone."

The other warlock gave Keira a knowing look. "Meaning, we should give Russell a call. Let's get out of here." Dave slipped away from the table, with Keira close at his heels. Once they found themselves alone near the castle's courtyard, she waited silently, while Dave called Russell on his cell phone.

"Russ, it's time," Dave reported. "The potion is finally working, and the witch is taking Belthazor back inside the castle. Probably to bed. She'll soon be alone. What do we do?" A long pause followed, while Dave listened. Then, "Okay Russ, we'll be there. Ta." He disconnected the phone.

Keira asked, "Well?"

"We lure the McNeill woman to that gazebo near the lake and grab her," Dave explained. "By the way, Russ suggested that you use that blowpipe of yours. Just in case."

A knowing smile curved Keira's lips. She could not wait.

------------

"How are you feeling?" Olivia asked. Inside the bedroom that she and Cole shared, the red-haired witch examined an increasingly haggard-looking half-daemon with concerned eyes.

Cole sat upon the bed and sighed. "I still feel like shit. Only it's worse. On one hand, I'm really exhausted, yet I don't seem to have this urge to go to sleep. It's weird."

Olivia gently urged him to sit back against the bed's headboard. "Why don't you lay back and close your eyes. You don't have to sleep. Just rest."

"If I didn't know any better," Cole continued, "I'd swear that someone had drugged me. Just like Suzanne Crozat. Only, I feel sluggish and barely conscious."

Frowning, Olivia pressed her hand against Cole's forehead. "Hmmm, you do feel a bit warm. You're not sick, are you?"

"I doubt it," Cole replied gruffly.

Olivia continued, "I tell you what. I'll go down to the kitchen and fix you a cup of tea. Something that will drain any drug from your system." She planted a light kiss on Cole's forehead. "I'll be back." She started toward the door.

Cole's voice called out her name. "Olivia!" She paused. "If I had been drugged . . . that means that someone wants me away from you. Be careful."

"I will." Olivia gave him a reassuring smile and left the bedroom.

As Olivia reached the ground floor, at the foot of the wide staircase, one of the servants approached her. "Excuse me, miss," the woman began. "Mr. Mc . . . uh, I mean the laird is looking for you." Olivia noticed that the woman spoke with a slight Scottish Lowland accent. "He's by that gazebo, near the lake."

So far? For a moment, Olivia hesitated. Recalling Cole's warning, she wondered if Cole had truly been drugged. And if this so-called summons by Colin was a trap. Olivia stared at the woman, recalling that the latter was among the servants hired for the week. "He wants me by the lake?"

The servant nodded. "Yes, miss." Then she turned away, obviously no longer concerned about Olivia or the message. Which convinced the witch that Colin genuinely wanted to see her. Perhaps the police had finally located that missing car.

Heaving a sigh, Olivia decided that Cole's tea would have to wait. She marched through a narrow corridor that led outside the castle. Skirting the crowds gathered on the terrace and on the lawn below, Olivia marched across the ground and toward the wide lake, located just south of the castle's grounds. There, on the north shore, stood a small white gazebo. Olivia recognized Colin's tall and stocky form, facing the lake.

As she approached the gazebo, Olivia called out her cousin's name. "Colin? Did you wanted to see me?" A gasp left her mouth, as the figure whirled around. It was not the laird who faced her, but a stranger. Holding a gun. "Who in the hell . . .?"

"If you don't mind, Miss McNeill," the man said with a menacing smile, "it would be easier for all of us, if you would just . . ."

Using her telekinesis, Olivia forced the gun from the man's hand. He cursed out loud. "Bloody hell! Len! Sean! Grab her!"

Two men emerged from the nearby underbrush and attacked Olivia. A blond-haired hulk tried to grab her arm. She effortlessly blocked his attack, before she sent him flying with a roundhouse kick. Before she could divert her attack to the other man, Olivia felt a sharp pain in the side of her neck. She glanced to her right. Standing near a clump of trees was the same woman who had directed her to the gazebo. Holding what looked like a blowpipe. Then everything went hazy - before it all faded to black.


END OF PART IV

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"THE TOWN" (2010) Photo Gallery



Below are photos from "THE TOWN", Ben Affleck's adaptation of Chuck Hogan's novel, "Prince of Thieves". Also starring him, the movie's cast includes Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, and Jeremy Renner:


"THE TOWN" (2010) Photo Gallery








































Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"STAR TREK VOYAGER" Retrospective: (5.12) “Bride of Chaotica!”




"STAR TREK VOYAGER" RETROSPECTIVE: (5.12) “Bride of Chaotica!”

One of the aspects of ”STAR TREK VOYAGER” that I have truly enjoyed over the other ”TREK” shows were the holoprograms featured or the episodes centered in the two Holodecks. One such holo program was ”The Adventures of Captain Proton” stories created by Voyager’s Chief Pilot, Tom Paris. Captain Proton was featured in at least four episodes – three in Season Five and one in Season Seven. But without a doubt, my favorite happened to be the third Proton story titled, ”Bride of Chaotica!”.

In short, (5.12) ”Bride of Chaotica!” began when Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeil) and Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) are enjoying the latest chapter of his Captain Proton program in one of the Holodecks. They are forced to leave it running when spatial distortions trap the ship and disrupt their control over the computer. Voyager’s command staff attempted to discover a way to free the ship from the spatial distortions. Unfortunately, extra-dimensional aliens that exist in a photonic state cross over from their own dimension through a distortion located in the holodeck. They are detected and attacked by Proton’s archenemy, Dr. Chaotica (Martin Rayner), who believes them to be from the Fifth Dimension, and whose holographic (photonic) weaponry - though harmless to humans - is deadly to the aliens. Eventually, the crew discover the war being waged between Chaotica and the Fifth Dimension and must defeat him by playing out their roles as the fictional Captain Proton (played by Tom Paris), his sidekick Buster Kincaid (Harry Kim), and Arachnia, Queen of the Spider People. Paris convinced Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) to take on the latter role.

I might as well be frank. I LOVE ”Bride of Chaotica!”. I adore it. It is one of my favorite ”TREK” episodes of all time. What am I saying? It is my favorite ”TREK” episode of all time. Screenwriters Bryan Fuller (creator of ”DEAD LIKE ME” and ”PUSHING DAISIES”) and Michael Taylor created a first-rate episode filled with imagination, action and humor. Having the characters of Tom Paris’ Captain Proton holoprogram get drawn into a galactic war with an actual group of actual aliens that are photonic was a stroke of genius. And Fuller and Taylor, along with director Allan Kroeker, did an excellent job combining an original story with great characterization.

The cast was excellent, as always. Robbie McNeill and Garrett Wang revived their old magic as Tom and Harry – the two crewmembers who got more out of the Captain Proton holoprogram than anyone. Come to think of it, McNeill also managed to generate strong chemistry with Tim Russ (Lieutenant-Commander Tuvok) and Kate Mulgrew. The latter was superb as Queen Arachnia, although I think she may have been a little guilty of too much mugging, while expressing Janeway’s disregard for the Proton holoprogram. However, I loved her scene with Neelix (Ethan Phillips) that showcased Janeway’s caffine addiction. With that scene, she may have truly earned the nickname - Queen of the Delta Quadrant:

JANEWAY: "Coffee, black."
NEELIX: "I'm sorry, Captain. We've lost another two replicators –"
JANEWAY: "Listen to me very carefully because I'm only going to say this once. Coffee – black."
NEELIX: (To replicator)"Coffee, black. While I've got your attention there are –"
JANEWAY: (Holds up hand)"Coffee first."(drinks/inhales)"...Now, what's the problem?"


And then there is Dr. Chaotica, portrayed with great relish by Martin Rayner. The promise he had shown as a rich and over-the-top character in the Season Five premiere, ”Night” was fulfilled in this episode. The late Nicholas Worth ably supported both Rayner and Janeway as Chaotica’s ruthless, obsequious henchman, Lonzak.

As much as I love ”Bride of Chaotica!”, there is one aspect about it that disturbed me – namely the crew’s reaction to the Captain Proton hologram. It is quite apparent that they view it as nothing more than a childish piece of fiction for those of the immature mind. And it is quite apparent that they also view Tom Paris’ participation in it as childish. And they are not the only ones. I have read some reviews of the episodes. While most tend to sneer at it, along with anything labeled ”STAR TREK VOYAGER”, at least two of them did not. Julia Houston seemed to view the holoprogram not only as Tom Paris’ personal fantasy, but also as an example of his imagination. Like me, she seemed annoyed by the inability of others to appreciate Paris’ imagination . . . and his right to his own fantasy. Now Jim Wright did seem to enjoy the holoprogram and appreciate its uniqueness. But it also seemed that he viewed it as a sign of Paris’ immaturity . . . and as something that the Chief Pilot would have to give up in order to develop as an adult.

Quite frankly, I agree with Julia Houston. I was very annoyed by the other Voyager crewmen’s snobbish reaction to Captain Proton. Okay, perhaps they did not care for it very much. But was there really any need for them to openly sneer at what he considered recreation and fantasy? What law was there that Tom’s pursuit of recreation had to be culturally high-brow or meaningful? Janeway, of all people, had no business to sneer. This is a woman who had spent two seasons indulging in her Lambada One holoprogram – a ”Jane Eyre”/”Rebecca” Gothic romance. I must also admit that I was a little put-off by Jim Wright’s assumption that Tom needed to give up the Proton program in order to become more mature as an adult. To me, this attitude seemed like a clear lack of appreciation for Tom’s vivid imagination. Perhaps it was more important to him and other ”VOYAGER” fans that Tom become the stand-up Starfleet officer that Owen Paris and Janeway wanted him to be. Happily, Tom never stuck to his declaration of giving up the Proton program. He and Harry were still using it in early Season Six (see ”Alice”). And a late Season Seven episode called ”Homestead” revealed that Tom had created another B-movie style program called “Invaders from the Ninth Dimension."

Personally, I like the idea that Tom Paris would eventually become that successful holonovelist sometime in his future. But in the VOYAGER relaunch novels, he became a permanent Starfleet officer, achieving the rank of Lieutenant-Commander and Voyager’s new first officer. Ugh. What a waste of a vivid imagination that created the likes of the Proton holoprograms. In real life, I would compare Tom to the likes of George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry, J. Michael Stracynski and the two writers who had created this wonderfully imaginative episode – Fuller and Taylor. A girl can imagine - can’t she?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Best of Swing



Below are links to video clips featuring two legends from the Swing Era - Chick Webb and Count Basie. Enjoy:



THE BEST OF SWING



Chick Webb and His Orchestra - "Harlem Congo" (1937)





The Count Basie Orchestra - "Jumpin' at the Woodside" (1938)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"TROPIC THUNDER" (2008) Review




"TROPIC THUNDER" (2008) Review

While playing a small part in Steven Spielberg’s World War II drama, ”EMPIRE OF THE SUN” (which ironically starred a young Christian Bale), actor/comedian Ben Stiller had come up with the idea of a group of prima donna actors filming a Vietnam War film. Over twenty years later, Stiller’s idea came to fruition in the action comedy movie, ”TROPIC THUNDER”.

Stiller and fellow co-writers, Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen, created a hilarious and very original story that began with a series of fake commercials and movie trailers. The commercials featured Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) promoting the "Booty Sweat" energy drink and "Bust-A-Nut" candy bar. Then the movie continued with a series of movie trailers that included Tugg Speedman's (Stiller) latest film, “Scorcher VI: Global Meltdown”, and another for low-brow comedian Jeff Portnoy's (Jack Black) film, “The Fatties: Fart 2” that spoofs Eddie Murphy's portrayal of multiple characters such as in “Nutty Professor II: The Klumps”. But the final trailer – and the funniest in the bunch – featured Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downy, Jr.) and Tobey Maguire as two gay medieval monks in a parody of films like “Brokeback Mountain” called ”Satan’s Alley”.

But the meat of the story featured the three actors, the rap singer and character actor Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) as co-stars in ”Tropic Thunder”, a movie adaptation of the memoirs of a disabled Vietnam War veteran named "Four Leaf" Tayback (Nick Nolte). The movie’s production is spiraling out of control and rookie director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) seemed unable to handle the prima donnas or keep the movie on schedule. Cockburn is ordered by studio executive Les Grossman (Tom Cruise) to get the production back on track or risk having it shut down. With inspiration from Tayback, Cockburn drops the spoiled actors into the middle of the jungle, where he installs hidden cameras and special effect explosions rigged by pyrotechnics man Cody (Danny R. McBride) so he can film "guerrilla-style". The actors have only a map and a scene listing to guide them to the helicopter waiting at the end of the jungle. Shortly afterward, the director is blown up by a land mine left by the French, but thanks to his preceding diatribe, only Lazarus realizes his death was real. Even worse, the actors ended up in the middle of the Golden Triangle, the home of the heroin-producing Flaming Dragon gang, led by Tran (Brandon Soo Hoo). And Cody and Tayback end up as prisoners of the Dragons. As for Tran and the Dragons, they believe the actors to be DEA agents.

”TROPIC THUNDER” not only struck me as a parody of the Hollywood movie industry, but also a parody of the lengths human beings go to create illusions about themselves. Tugg Speedman is a failing action star who had earlier attempted a serious role in order to save his career. I can only assume that ”Tropic Thunder” is his second attempt. Yet, he seems incapable of facing the possibility of being a has-been and has to depend upon his agent, Rick "Pecker" Peck (Matthew McConaghey) to maintain his ever deflating ego. Portnoy resorts to drug addiction to deal with the realization that his past success mainly came from his talent from flatulence humor. Lazarus is an Oscar-winning Australian method actor who has a bad habit staying in his role even when the cameras are not rolling. For ”Tropic Thunder”, Lazurus deliberately undertook an operation to change his skin pigmentation in order to portray an African-American sergeant. Naturally, Lazurus’ role produces resentment and anger from Alpa Chino, the rapper trying to break into films. But even Chino is projecting a façade about himself, which his fellow co-stars manage to break through near the end of the film. The only one in the bunch who seemed real is young Sandusky, the drama student who seemed to be the only sane head in the bunch. Yet, despite the fact the film bursting with Hollywood phonies, the biggest phony turned out to Tayback, who had never seen combat during the Vietnam War or was disabled. Even worse, he had spent the war aboard a Coast Guard ship that never left the U.S. He had originally written the book as a tribute to the U.S. servicemen.

I have to say that I felt more than impressed by the cast. Ben Stiller portrayed one of his best roles as Tugg Speedman, a Hollywood veteran struggling to save his career. Yet, his sanity nearly goes down the toilet when Tran and the Dragons force him to replay the scenes of his failed drama, ”Simple Jack”. By the time he is found by his fellow cast members, Speedman had gone by the way of Colonel Kurtz. I must admit that I usually have difficulty finding Jack Black funny, but I must say that Jeff Portnoy was probably one of his better roles – hilarious without being over-the-top. I realize that drug addiction is nothing to laugh about, but his and Sandusky’s attempts to help his deal with withdrawal and reject the temptation of the Dragons’ own heroin were rather funny. Nick Nolte and Danny McBride made an amusing comedy team and I especially enjoyed their interaction when Cody discovers that Tayback is not a Vietnam veteran, but a phony. Matthew McConaghey did one of his best roles as Speedman’s always eager agent. And Tom Cruise must have had a blast portraying the arrogant and overbearing film producer, Les Grossman. He was hilarious. A member of my family was surprised to discover that the balding, foul-mouthed man was actually Cruise.

Most critics have lauded Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as the method actor Lazurus, who spends most of the movie trying to act like an African American. RDJ was hilarious. In fact, I can honestly say that he was the funniest member of the cast. His most hilarious moment came on the heels of an argument between Lazurus and Chino, when he breaks into a litany about the black man’s 400 years of oppression (damn, has it been that long?) that ends with him singing the theme to ”The Jeffersons”. It took me nearly five minutes to recover from my laughter. But Downey’s take on Kirk Lazurus could have ended in disaster without the presence of Brandon T. Jackson. His Chino not only expressed anger at Lazurus’ portrayal of a black man, but provided some pretty sharp zingers at the Australian actor. Another funny scene featured Chino’s insults about Lazurus’ Australian background. What made the scene so humorous were Lazurus’ protests against Chino’s insults, while maintaining his charade as a black man. Weird.

I believe that Ben Stiller should be proud of ”TROPIC THUNDER”. Not only did he give an excellent performance, he also co-wrote and directed what I believe should become a comedy classic. That’s right. A comedy classic. ”TROPIC THUNDER” is one of the best comedies I have seen in years – along with the British action comedy, ”HOT FUZZ”. I also feel that it is Stiller’s best movie since the police parody, ”STARSKY AND HUTCH”. Hell, it is better than the 2003 movie he had co-starred with Owen Wilson. The cast was superb. So was Jon Toll’s photography of the island of Kauai, which stood as both Vietnam and Cambodia. Stiller, Theroux and Cohen had created one hell of a comedy.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

"The Staff of Fire" [PG] - 3/6




"THE STAFF OF FIRE"

Part III

Four days later, Olivia joined her mother, her grandmother, Cecile, Paige, Cousin Margaret and Colin's wife - Lesley - on a shopping expedition to nearby Inverness. On Wednesday morning, the seven women boarded a local train at the small Dunleith station that conveyed them to the nearby historic city. Upon their arrival in Inverness, the group split up. The older women decided to focus their attention on the city's shops and stores. Olivia and her two friends ended up visiting many of the city's historical and tourist sites.

Although Edinburgh remained Olivia's favorite city in Scotland, Inverness never failed to dazzle her. No matter how many times she has visited. One of her favorite sites happened to be the regal Inverness Castle near the River Ness. She loved the reddish-brown structure, which invoked images of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period. Which seemed ironic, considering that the present castle had been erected around 1830, and was not a real castle - like the one in Edinburgh. But it did appeal to Olivia's sense of history.

But the red-haired witch also enjoyed shopping. She looked forward to meeting the older women on one of the city's premiere thoroughfares - High Street. There, she and her two friends met the older women at a local restaurant for lunch. After a surprisingly delicious meal, the seven women visited an old bookstore called MacDonald's, in the nearby shopping areas, Eastgate Centre.

"Wow! Look at this place!" Paige declared breathlessly. She scanned the tall bookshelves that filled the store. "It could rival Barnes and Noble. Or Bretano's."

Olivia's mother added, "Even better, it also sells a great number of old editions. Wait until you see the Occult section."

While Gweneth led Paige, Leslie and Cousin Margaret to the Occult Section; Olivia, her grandmother and Cecile headed for the History Section. The latter was situated near a large window that overlooked the street, beyond. "Hey, look at this!" Cecile declared. She displayed the book in her hand. Olivia read the title - "Like Lions They Fought". Cecile continued, "It's about the wars between the Zulus and the British. Very interesting."

"Do you see any books on American History?" Gran asked.

Both Cecile and Olivia scanned the shelves. "Not over here," Olivia said. She faced the shelves behind her. "Wait, here they are." She grabbed a large, brown book. "Here's one on the California Gold Rush."

After Gran took the book from Olivia, the latter glanced out of the window. The redhead spotted a dark-blue Morris-Oxford parked across the street. Her eyes narrowed with suspicion. There was something familiar about that car. "Something wrong?" Cecile's voice cut into her thoughts.

Nodding toward the window, Olivia said, "See that car, outside? The Morris-Oxford across the street? Doesn't it look familiar to you? I think I may have seen it in Dunleith."

Cecile glanced out of the window. She shook her head. "No, not really." Her eyes still fixed on the car, she added, "Then again, maybe I have. That model is pretty common in Britain."

"Do you ladies need any help?" A store assistant appeared beside the three women.

Taken aback, Olivia tore her gaze away from the window, while her grandmother smiled at the assistant. "Yes," the elderly woman replied, "Do you have a book on a Scottish immigrant named Archibald Grant? The book is a journal of his experiences during the California Gold Rush." The shop assistant focused his attention to Gran, while Olivia and Cecile moved away to join the others in the Occult Section.

The two friends found Olivia's mother recommending a book to Paige. "Now here's an interesting book," the middle-aged redhead was saying. "'The Book of Druidry'. It's about Druidism and it's very good."

Leslie, an attractive blond in her mid-fifties added, "And here's another." She handed the book to Paige.

"Fire in the Head: Shamanism and the Celtic Spirit," Paige read. She looked questioningly at Colin's wife. "Shamanism?"

Cecile explained, "It's the same as being a witch, a priest or priestess or any other kind of spiritual Pagan figure."

"We all are," Cousin Margaret added.

"O-kay."

Mom handed Paige one last book. "Now, I would highly recommend this one. 'Drawing Down the Moon'. It's about the different forms of Paganism in America. Excellent book."

"A book on American Paganism in a bookstore in Scotland?" Paige exclaimed. "Now why does that sound odd to me?"

Cousin Margaret declared, "Nonsense! Why this store has books on every form of Paganism. But this book - the one that Gwen is recommending, is about the different forms of Paganism practiced in America. Including those religions that originated on other continents. Like ours."

While the other women continued to discuss the books with Paige, Olivia returned to the History section in search of her grandmother. She found the latter still in deep conversation with the shop assistant. And after glancing out of the window, Olivia discovered that the mysterious Morris-Oxford had disappeared. Interesting.

------------

Colin McNeill frowned. "A dark-blue Morris-Oxford? Here in Dunleith?" He paused momentarily and glanced at his middle child. "Jaime, do you know something about this?"

"Sorry Father," Jaime replied, "it's like I had told Olivia - I haven't seen one around." He faced his American cousin. "You say that you had spotted this car in Inverness? But why would you be suspi . . .?"

Olivia interrupted. "I may have seen it, yesterday. In Dunleith." She paused. After the women's return from Inverness, she had asked several members of the household about the car. Including the servants. No one knew the identity of the car's owner.

Nodding, Colin said, "Perhaps we should speak to the local constable about this. Eh, Jaime?" His son worked as an inspector for the Inverness Branch of Scotland Yard.

"I don't know," Olivia said, feeling slightly embarrassed by the attention. "Maybe I'm just imagining things. Even on vacation, I can't stop acting like a cop."

Colin patted Olivia's arm. "Jaime and I will speak with Inspector Grant, all the same. With the Aingeal ceremony coming up, perhaps it's best to be cautious."

"Considering your nose for trouble, I certainly think it's a good idea," Jaime added.

Olivia pecked the cheeks of her two cousins. "Thanks, Colin. Jaime." She rushed out of the library, nearly colliding with one of the servants. Then she headed upstairs and found Cecile and Paige inside the room they shared.

"Cecile was telling me about that car you had spotted in Inverness," Paige said. "I wonder if that's the car I had saw."

Olivia frowned. "You did? When?"

Cecile added, "Paige saw it outside your parents' house in London. Last Thursday night."

Olivia continued to stare at Paige, who nodded. Then she grabbed the Charmed One's arm and dragged the latter out of the bedroom. "Olivia!" Paige protested. "What are you doing?"

"You . . . are going to have a talk with Colin. And hopefully, the police. C'mon!" The two women rushed out of the bedroom.

------------

Russell Pierce and his small band of warlocks met in a large cottage, less than a mile from the lake's north shore. He glared at one of his men and demanded, "Did you finally get rid of that bloody car, like I had asked?"

Len responded with a nervous nod. "Yeah. Sorry Russ. Me and Sean had stashed it in Inverness, like you asked. Could I get reimbursed, since we had to get rid of it?"

The warlock slowly walked around the kitchen table. "Tell me something, Len. Why didn't you and Sean leave that bloody car behind in London? Like I had told you to do?"

"I . . ." Len hesitated. "Uh, well . . . Sean and me . . ."

Sean spoke up. "Len and me thought we could save money on renting a car, Mr. Pierce. So we decided to drive up north in Len's car."

"Save money?" Russell spoke in hushed tones. "Well guess what, Sean? Both that McNeill witch and . . ."

Sean interrupted, "Which one, Russ?"

Slowly, Russell turned his head to glare at the Irishman. "That red-haired bitch we're after. Who else?"

"Oh."

Russell continued, "As I were saying, you were spotted by both the McNeill witch and one of her friends. The other redhead. Who, by the way, had seen your car back in London. Thankfully Keira," he nodded at the sole female inside the cottage, "had overheard our illustrious laird speaking to the local pigs."

"I had overheard them in the library," Kiera said impassively. She was a vaguely pretty woman with hazel eyes and dark blonde hair cut short. "One of the Yanks . . . the other redhead . . . saw Len's car in London. The other two - Olivia McNeill and that Voodoo woman - saw it in Inverness, yesterday."

A sharp, hunting knife appeared in Russell's hand. Both Len and Sean squirmed with discomfort, as he slowly made his way toward the pair. "Now, I had you two keep an eye on the witch and her family, just in case someone had appeared to warn them about our client. And if it weren't for the fact that I need the pair of you to help me deal with the McNeill woman . . . you two stupid bastards would now be at the bottom of the bloody lake!" His roar caused the two men to jump out of their seats. Russell continued, "However, I'm giving you two one last chance. If you bugger it up, you can forget about a reward or a new car." He paused dramatically. "And your lives. You follow?"

"Yeah Russ," Len surreptiously replied.

Sean swallowed visibly and nodded. "Aye. I understand."

"Good." Russell turned to his other capable lieutenant - a dark-haired man with a razor-sharp visage named Dave. "All right Dave, what can you and Kiera tell us what's going on?"

Dave exchanged a quiet look with the blonde woman. "Well, the staff ceremony will be held this Saturday night."

"Before that," Keira added, "there will be some kind of fête for the relations. Dave and me think it would be the perfect time to snatch our cargo."

Russell frowned. "Couldn't we snatch her in the morning? Doesn't she do some kind of morning exercise or something?"

A sigh left Dave's mouth. "Oh yeah. Riding. She likes to go out riding in the morning. Especially with that mate of hers . . ."

"Belthazor," Russell murmured.

Dave continued, "Right. The laird and the witch's parents also ride. Her brother and the laird's daughter like to go jogging. Keira's right. It's best we snatch her during the fête, when there's a better chance she'll wander on her own. She has a habit of doing that, you know. I had noticed last Sunday."

Russell nodded. "Right. Saturday, during the fête. Here, take this." He handed a small vial to Dave. "It's a potion that our client gave me - a powerful sleeping draught. For Belthazor. Just in case he might prove to be a problem. It should be strong enough to put him to sleep."

"Do you mind if I ask you a question, Russ?" Len asked.

"What?"

Len hesitated. "Why don't we just kill her? The witch?"

Russell replied, "Don't worry. We will. Just as soon as our client gets her hands on that staff. She'll let us know."

"But why do we have to wait for . . .?"

"Len?" Russell gave the other warlock a hard stare. "I've allowed you one question. And only one. Don't stretch your luck."

----------

"The police weren't able to find that car," Olivia told Cole. The couple strode side-by-side, within the castle's maze of hedgerows. They had just finished dinner and had decided to enjoy an evening stroll in the garden.

Cole replied, "Is there a problem?"

"Well yeah," Olivia protested. "That car couldn't be found. And I ended up looking like a paranoid idiot to the local police."

"You, Cecile and Paige," Cole corrected. "Perhaps the car had simply left."

Olivia added, "Or maybe someone had dumped it. If that's the case, it means that someone found out that he or she had been spotted."

Cole sighed. "Olivia . . ."

"But how?" Olivia continued. "Colin, Paige and I were in the library when he called the police, yesterday. Which means that someone at the police station isn't whom he or she seems to be."

Exasperated by her paranoia, Cole cried out her name for the second time. "Olivia!"

"What?"

Cole continued, "Will you please calm down? Or put your mouth on pause, for a minute?"

Green eyes flared with intensity. "Don't you understand about all of this? I'm being followed. And I bet it has something to do with the staff." Olivia paused. "Or do you agree with the good Inspector Grant? That I'm imagining things?"

"No, I don't." Cole paused in his tracks to face Olivia. "You have pretty good instincts about such matters. And since Paige was the first to notice that car back in London, you probably have a good reason to worry. However," he wrapped his arms around her waist and gently pulled her toward him, "you need to relax. It's one thing to be paranoid. It's another to show it. And you never should. Especially if you don't want to alert your enemy. Isn't that what you always keep reminding me?"

Olivia placed her head on Cole's shoulder. "I am relaxed," she murmured. "Somewhat."

"Oh really?" The pair stood in the middle of the garden's maze, their arms wrapped around each other.

Then Olivia sighed. "Okay, maybe I have been acting a little anxious, today. And I'm not talking about the car."

"Oh, I see. The Aingeal staff?"

Another sigh left Olivia's mouth, as she nodded. Cole led her to a nearby marble bench, and the pair sat down. "I guess . . . I guess I feel a little anxious about the whole thing."

"Anxious that you might not become the staff's bearer?" Cole asked. "Or that you might?"

Olivia's mouth gaped open. Then she closed it, before shaking her head. "I guess I can't fool you, huh?" she muttered.

"It's not that," Cole said, as he wrapped an arm around Olivia's shoulders. "You should see the look on your face, every time someone mentions the staff. Especially Harry."

Rolling her eyes, Olivia asked, "Is it that obvious?" She sighed. "I think Harry is taking this staff business a little too seriously."

"You don't think he wishes he could be the staff bearer?" Cole asked. One hand began to rub the edge of Olivia's right shoulder.

The redhead shook her head. "No, I think Harry's just anxious that the next Aingeal bearer won't be an American. Ever since he found out that Dennis and Fiona had also manifested pyrokinesis, he has suddenly developed this patriotic fervor."

Cole frowned. "Hasn't there been an American staff bearer in the past? I thought your great-grandfather was one."

"My great-great-grandfather," Olivia corrected. "William McNeill. He was the last American to possess the staff. From 1889 to 1936."

The name struck a familiar chord within Cole. "William? That was his name?"

"Yeah. Why?"

After a brief hesitation, Cole continued, "Oh, nothing. It's just that's the name of my godfather. A mortal godfather. He was a friend of my father's."

"Oh." Olivia continued, "Anyway, Great-great-grandfather William was about 78 years old when he died in 1936. Before him, a great-great aunt or something named Deborah McNeill Carwood, was the last American to have the staff before him. She became the staff's bearer around 1769, I think. And she held it for nearly forty years."

His hand still caressing Olivia's shoulder, Cole added, "And now, there's a chance you'll be the next American."

Perhaps." Olivia paused. "Unlike Harry, I won't be disappointed if I don't become the bearer."

Cole gave her shoulder a quick squeeze. "Liar!"

"Okay, perhaps I would be a little disappointed if Fiona becomes the next bearer. But . . ." Olivia sighed. "I don't know. I guess I've never been interested in being some all-powerful witch. Simply being a witch, is fine with me. Period. Unlike some, using magic as some kind of weapon to simply vanquish daemons or other evil has never appealed to me."

Magic as a weapon. Cole ignored what seemed like a swipe at the Halliwells' use of witchcraft. Instead, he remained silent and allowed Olivia to continue. "As for that car, maybe I'm getting excited over nothing. Hell, Paige wasn't even able to identify the color. Especially since she saw it at night. Perhaps you're right. If it was here, it's probably left by now."

Cole heaved an inward sigh and silently hoped that Olivia was right.


END OF PART III