Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"ABDUCTION" (2011) Review




"ABDUCTION" (2011) Review

It is very rare to find a Hollywood action film that features a leading man under the age of twenty (20). But I recently came across one, when I saw Taylor Lautner's new film called "ABDUCTION".

Directed by John Singleton and written by Shawn Christensen, "ABDUCTION" is an action thriller about a Pennsylvania teen, who sets out to uncover the truth about his life after finding his baby photo on a missing persons website. Nathan Harper has a recurring nightmare featuring the death of an unknown woman and consults a psychiatrist named Dr. Geraldine Bennett to discover why. One day, Nathan is partnered with his neighbor and fellow classmate Karen Murphy for a school assignment about missing children. When Karen finds a website that shows how the children would look like as adults, Nathan discovers that a young boy named Steven Price would look exactly like him at an older age. Searching in his basement, he finds the same shirt that Steven is wearing in the picture and realizes that he and Steven are the same person. Nathan calls the website's owner, unaware that he is a Russian terrorist named Viktor Kozlow.

Not long after Nathan's call, Kozlow sends two of his agents to Nathan's house. They attack Nathan's parents, Kevin and Mara, who tell him to run before being murdered and the house is destroyed. Nathan and Karen escape and attempt to call the police, but the call is intercepted by CIA operative Frank Burton, who tells Nathan that he's in danger and sends a team to pick him up. Before the CIA's arrival, Dr. Bennett appears and tells Nathan that Burton cannot be trusted and reveals that Nathan's adoptive parents were CIA agents assigned to look after him. She also reveals that Nathan's biological father, Martin, is a CIA agent who stole a list from Kozlow with the names of corrupt CIA operatives. Kozlow had created the website in order to locate Nathan and use him as leverage to force Martin to return the list.

When I first saw the preview for "ABDUCTION", I had assumed it would be another "HANNA" - namely about a genetically enhanced adolescent trained in self defense and to be an assassin. Thankfully, it did not turned out that way. I suspect that many critics would have been more satisfied if "ABDUCTION" had been another "HANNA". Personally, I found "HANNA" to be a pretentious bore. And the last thing I wanted to see was another "profound" movie about some highly skilled teenager wanted by various governments and terrorists. "ABDUCTION" does feature a hunt by an intelligence agency and terrorist for an adolescent. But this hunt has nothing to do with him being genetically enhanced. Instead, he wanted as a bargaining chip for a source of valuable information.

Was "ABDUCTION" any good? Most critics seemed to think otherwise. A great deal of negative reviews practically swamped this film. And if I must be frank, "ABDUCTION" is not another "DIE HARD" or "LETHAL WEAPON". However, I do not find this surprising. No Hollywood producer would ever heavily finance an action thriller starring an 18-to-19 year-old star, who is only known for co-starring in a series of adolescent vampire flicks. But I must admit . . . "ABDUCTION" was not a disappointment. In fact, I thought it was an entertaining movie. One, the movie featured a solid story about a teenager being used by the CIA and foreign terrorists, because of his father's profession. Two, thanks to director John Singleton's direction, "ABDUCTION" was a well-paced film that featured exciting action sequences and solid dramatic moments. I also have to commend Peter Menzies Jr. for his beautiful photography of Pittsburgh and the area around southwestern Pennsylvania.

Singleton also worked well with a cast that featured solid performances from the likes of Maria Bello, Jason Isaacs, Sigourney Weaver, Michael Nyqvist, Dermot Mulroney and Alfred Molina. Any of these performers could have easily carried this film. But it was all up to the likes of Taylor Lautner and his co-star, Lily Collins, to achieve this task. And while many critics and moviegoers may believe that these two failed, I do not believe they did. Actually, they did a very good job - especially Lautner - in carrying the film. More importantly, both Lautner and Collins managed to create a great screen chemistry. Screenwriter Shawn Christensen could have easily ended this film on an illogical note by allowing the Nathan character to save the day and outwit the highly skilled Kozlow. Fortunately, the screenwriter used common sense and allowed Nathan to receive some much needed help in the end.

Would I view "ABDUCTION" as a potential film classic? No. I would say that it is a near-mediocre film. I say . . . near-mediocre, because I feel that it was able to raise above the line of mediocrity. I would never consider it at the same level as the likes "DIE HARD" or "LETHAL WEAPON". But I must admit that it was a pretty solid action thriller that would be great to watch on a rainy day, thanks to director John Singleton and leading man Taylor Lautner. Speaking of Lautner, he is probably too young to be seriously considered as an action star. But he has the looks, the presence and talent to achieve this goal in less than a decade. Good luck to him.

Monday, November 28, 2011

"THE FOUR FEATHERS" (2002) Photo Gallery



Below are photos from "THE FOUR FEATHERS", Shekhar Kapur's 2002 adaptation of A.E.W. Mason's 1902 novel. The movie starred Heath Ledger, Kate Hudson, Wes Bentley and Djimon Hounsou:


"THE FOUR FEATHERS" (2002) Photo Gallery

















































Sunday, November 27, 2011

"The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga" - The Jedi Order I



Here is the second article on moral ambiguity found in the STAR WARS saga:


”The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga”

The Jedi Order – Part One

In the introduction, I had spoken of the majority of STAR WARS fans’ dislike of the saga’s Prequel Trilogy. Granted, this might be arrogant of me to make this suggestion, but I suspect that some of that dislike may have been centered on George Lucas’ ambiguous view of the major characters and their actions.

This dislike of the Prequel Trilogy’s ambiguity seemed very apparent in the fans’ view of the Jedi characters. Many of them complained that George Lucas had ruined the Jedi, making them more fallible and ambiguous than they had been portrayed in the Original Trilogy. Judging from their reaction, I found myself wondering if many of them simply referred the Jedi’s portrayal, as was shown in the first two Original Trilogy films. A good example of this came in the form of the aged Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi’s description of his old Order in ”A NEW HOPE”:

”For over a thousand generations the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice
in the Old Republic. Before the dark times, before the Empire.”


On one level, Obi-Wan’s description of the Jedi during the Old Republic had been correct. The Jedi Order followed a mandate in which its members acted as diplomats, investigators, bodyguards and eventually, military leaders for the citizens of the Republic. In reality, they followed the mandate established by the Republic’s governing body, the Galactic Senate. Obi-Wan went on to describe the Order’s destruction in a few words:

”A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pupil of mine until he turned to evil, helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights. He betrayed and murdered your father. Now the Jedi are all but extinct. Vader was seduced by the dark side of the Force.”

Judging from the words mentioned above and from what I have read from many blogs, articles and message boards, many fans ended up making the assumption that the Jedi Knights and Masters were ideal and selfless individuals who were barely capable of making any mistakes. When Lucas painted them as individuals with flaws that allowed Chancellor Palpatine to exploit in order to lead the Order to its destruction, many became angry and appalled. It seemed as if Lucas had destroyed their ideals. However, the last movie of the Original Trilogy - ”RETURN OF THE JEDI” - marked the first time that the Jedi were portrayed in a less than personable light. In this particular movie, soon-to-be Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker discovered that both Obi-Wan and Yoda had lied to him about his father being dead. So, it was not that surprising to me that Lucas had continued this path with his unflattering portrayal of the Jedi in the Prequel Trilogy. Personally, I found the Jedi a lot more interesting in the second trilogy. And I find it hard to believe that such ideal personalities actually exist – at least in real life. And in fiction, these ideal characters tend to strike me as boring and one-dimensional. Thanks to Lucas, the Jedi were presented as anything but one-dimensional.

Many fans have expressed the belief that if Anakin Skywalker had rigidly followed the Jedi Code, he could have avoided becoming a Sith Lord and instead, become the ideal Jedi Knight he was allegedly destined to become. I cannot say that I agree with this belief. I have my own ideas of the mistakes Anakin made that led him to become Darth Vader. But I will discuss that matter later in the article. Right now I want to focus on the views of the Jedi.

One of those views centered on how one should regard the Force – which is described as a binding, metaphysical and ubiquitous power in the Universe or perhaps beyond. In one of the first conversations between Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his padawan (or apprentice) Obi-Wan Kenobi in ”THE PHANTOM MENACE”, moviegoers learn that there seemed to be more than one viewpoint on how the Force should be regarded:

OBI-WAN : I have a bad feeling about this.
QUI-GON : I don't sense anything.
OBI-WAN : It's not about the mission, Master, it's
somethging...elsewhere...elusive.
QUI-GON : Don't center on your anxiety, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration
here and now where it belongs.
OBI-WAN : Master Yoda says I should be mindful of the future...
QUI-GON : .....but not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the
living Force, my young Padawan.


Obi-Wan, along with other Jedi like Master Yoda, seemed to believe in what is known as the Unifying Force - in other words, they focused on the flow of time as a whole, in which visions of the future were of particular significance. Qui-Gon, on the hand, was a firm supporting of what was known as the Living Force - which is viewed as “living in the moment” or relying heavily on instincts and concentrated more on sensitivity to living things, rather than fulfilling destiny, which was one of the main traits of the Unifying Force. There are STAR WARS who believe that by ignoring the Unifying Force philosophy, Qui-Gon failed to sense the danger that Anakin represented. Others believe that Yoda, Mace Windu and other Jedi Masters failed to prevent the Clone Wars that gave rise to the Galactic Empire, because they had ignored the Living Force philosophy and instead, lost themselves in looking toward the future rather than observing the occurrences unraveling in front of them before it was too late.

First of all, I do not believe that Qui-Gon had never ignored the Unifying Force. It was he who had sensed Anakin might be the Chosen One that would bring balance to the Force in the future. He was also the one who sensed there was something else behind the situation regarding Naboo’s troubles with the Trade Federation. And when Obi-Wan reminded him that Yoda believe that the Jedi should be mindful of the future, Qui-Gon reminded his padawan that one should not be mindful of the future ”at the expense of the moment”. And I agree. I see nothing wrong in anticipating what the future will bring, but not to the point where it would blind me from being aware of the present. I also believe that the Jedi Order’s blinding attachment to the Unifying Force philosophy and inability to be aware of the present may have contributed to not only their downfall, but also Anakin’s downfall. Many STAR WARS fans would disagree with me. Not all, mind you; but many.

I am not saying that the Jedi Order was responsible for Anakin’s downfall. I believe that Anakin bears most of the responsibilities, due to the choices he had made in his life. But I believe that the Jedi did not help matters, considering how they trained their acolytes. One of the problems I had with the Jedi was their method in dealing with attachments. Their order had a rule against any of their members forming emotional attachments. They believed that such attachments can be destructive. Anakin’s murder of the Tusken Raiders in retaliation of his mother’s death in ”ATTACK OF THE CLONES”; and his decision to help Palpatine massacre the inhabitants of the Jedi Temple in ”REVENGE OF THE SITH” seemed to ably support the Jedi’s belief. However, I believe that the Jedi were not completely right.

Yes, I believe that emotional attachments can be destructive, as shown in ”ATTACK OF THE CLONES” and ”REVENGE OF THE SITH”. But they can also have positive effects, as shown in ”RETURN OF THE JEDI”. Many fans have criticized Lucas for failing to make a clear statement on the effects of love and emotional attachments. They claimed that Anakin’s downfall in the Prequel Trilogy contradicted Lucas’ message in the Original Trilogy about the positive effects of love and attachments. I believe that they had failed to take into account that there are no clear answers on how emotional attachments can affect someone. It all depends upon the situation or the moment. The problem with the Jedi was that they were either too stupid or too blind to consider that when it comes to forming or letting go of attachments, it all depended upon the moment. Instead, they adhered to a more narrow view on the subject. They believed that all attachments had a negative effect upon an individual and to become a Jedi disciple, one must let go of all attachments. Unfortunately, the Jedi never knew how to let go of attachments – correctly - or even know when was the right time to let go of attachments. In other words, they never taught their disciples and initiates on how to let go. Instead, they enforced this belief through a rule.

Some fans have claimed that Anakin’s late entry into the Jedi Order at the age of nine, instead of as a toddler, made it difficult for him to let go of his attachments. I disagree. I do not believe that age had anything to do with Anakin's inability to let go of attachments. I believe that no one in the Jedi Order had ever really taught him how to deal with emotional attachments. Why? Because I believe that many Jedi Knights and Masters had never really learned how to deal with their own emotional attachments. I also believe that Jedi failed to consider that everyone is bound to form some kind of attachment in life. Including Jedi Masters, Knights and padawans. After all, most of them had been with the Order since they were toddlers. It was only natural that they would consider the Temple as their own and end up forming attachments to the Order and their fellow disciples. In order for them to learn to let go of attachments, I believe they needed to acknowledge that they had attachments in the first place. Even within the Jedi Order. And considering the circumstances between Luke, Vader/Anakin and Palpatine in ”RETURN OF THE JEDI”, I believe that the Jedi failed to acknowledge one other lesson. No one can simply let go of an attachment at the drop of a hat. There is a time when one must learn to let go . . . . and not to let go of an attachment. This is one lesson that the entire Jedi Order – Anakin Skywalker included – had failed to learn.

At this moment, I decided to stop the article before it becomes in danger of rambling on. I realize that I had more to say about the Jedi Order than I had originally intended. In the next article; I hope to go into more detail about the Jedi Order, and especially the actions - questionable or otherwise of some of its members.

Friday, November 25, 2011

"An Afternoon in Babysitting" [R] - 1/3




"AN AFTERNOON IN BABYSITTING"

RATING: R Mild sexuality, mild violence and language
SUMMARY: Due to a Halliwell family emergency, Cole and Olivia are forced to baby-sit Wyatt on a Saturday afternoon.
FEEDBACK: - Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: The Charmed Ones, Wyatt Halliwell, Leo Wyatt, Victor Bennett and Cole Turner belong to Constance Burge, Brad Kern and Spelling Productions. Olivia and Harry McNeill are thankfully, my creations.
NOTE: The story picks up about two weeks after "In the Wake of Valhalla"
.



---------


"AN AFTERNOON IN BABYSITTING"

PART 1

"Phoebe and I are going to be in San Jose for most of the day," Piper said to her youngest sister, as she and the other two Charmed Ones descended the stairs. "Do you have everything you need?"

Paige nodded. "You mean for Wyatt? Sure. Plenty of diapers, lotion, baby powder, baby food, his milk . . . Don't worry, Piper."

The three sisters reached the bottom of the staircase, where Victor Bennett awaited them. He, along with Piper and Phoebe were dressed in mourning clothes for a Bennett aunt that had recently passed away. They planned to attend the funeral being held in nearby San Jose. And since Piper felt leery about bringing along her eight-month old son, Paige had volunteered to stay behind and baby-sit. Especially since she had no family connections to the Bennetts.

"What about protection for Wyatt?" Phoebe added. "Maybe we should bring him along."

Paige heaved a sigh. "Don't worry! Wyatt has his own built-in protection system. Or something. Besides, I'll just add a protection spell around the house, if it would make you feel better."

Anxiety flared in Piper's dark eyes. "No, it won't! Paige, you know that protection spells aren't very reliable. I don't want some spell to backfire on Wyatt."

"Harry doesn't think they're unreliable. Neither do Olivia and the others," Paige said. "Besides, he thinks we might not know how to perform a protection spell, correctly."

"And he does?" Phoebe retorted. She was not a fan of any of the McNeills, save for Bruce.

Victor gave his youngest daughter a reassuring squeeze. "Don't worry, honey. Paige may be right about Harry. Don't forget, he's been practicing witchcraft longer than any of you."

Piper, however, did not seem assured. "I don't know . . ."

Heaving another exasperated sigh, Paige exclaimed, "Piper, c'mon! Don't worry. Harry knows what he's doing. He's coming by, today. To help me cast this protection spell. In fact," she glanced at the grandfather clock, "he should be here, any minute."

"If you say so," Piper said reluctantly. "By the way, do you have Uncle Russell's number?"

The doorbell rang. Paige rushed toward the front door. "That must be Harry." When she opened the door, she found the red-haired male witch, standing on the stoop. "Hey! I wondered when you were going to show up."

Harry planted a light kiss on Paige's mouth. "Sorry. I had overslept this morning." He entered the house. "So, where's Wyatt?"

"Sleeping in his crib, upstairs," Piper answered. She cast Harry a dubious look. "Now that you're here . . . I guess we can leave."

A touch of sarcasm tinged Harry's voice. "And it's nice to see you too, Piper." He nodded at the middle Charmed One. "Phoebe. Mr. Bennett." He shook Victor's hand. "It's been a while."

Victor smiled at the younger man. "Not that long. Just five months. How are Jack and Gwen? And your grandmother?"

"They're doing fine. Will you be coming by for brunch, tomorrow?"

"Uh . . ." Victor cast a anxious glance at his two daughters.

Paige impatiently answered for him. "We'll all be there. Okay guys, it's time to go. You don't want to get caught up in traffic."

A reluctant Piper added, "Yeah, I guess you're right. The funeral starts in less than three hours. And it'll take us at least an hour to get to San Jose. If the traffic's okay."

Paige almost told her sisters and stepfather to have fun . . . until she remembered that they were headed for a funeral. "Uh, have a safe trip. Bye." After the three Bennetts left the manor, she closed the door and sighed. "Finally. Alone. I never thought they would leave."

Harry slowly made his way toward her, a seductive smile stamped on his face. "I didn't realize that you wanted to be alone with me that badly." He slid his arms around Paige's waist.

She responded with a teasing smile. "Don't flatter yourself. You're not that . . ." A shot of pain stabbed the back of her mouth. "Ow!"

Harry frowned. "Something wrong?"

"No. It's nothing. I . . . It's just a molar." Paige winced from more pain. "Needs to be pulled out."

"Maybe you should go to a dentist. For an emergency."

Shaking her head, Paige replied, "Nah. It's okay. I have a dental appointment on Tuesday, anyway. I guess I can hold out for another three days."

Harry removed his arms from her waist. "Well . . . okay. If you say so. Meanwhile, let's get started on that protection spell. Shall we?"

---------

The redheaded witch and the half-daemon washed the last of the breakfast dishes, wiped them dry and placed them inside the kitchen cabinets. "Now that was a first-class breakfast," Olivia declared with a heartfelt sigh. "You make a better Eggs Florentine than either Mom or Bruce." She added surreptiously, "Don't tell them I said that."

Cole chuckled. "Don't worry. I won't say a word. And I'm glad that you enjoyed it."

"Hmmmm. You know, you should give up the law and become a chef. You've already been trained as one." Olivia shook her head. "How many daemons can claim that they had studied at Le Cordon Bleu Academie in Paris?"

Dumping his rag on the nearby counter, Cole murmured, "You'd be surprised." Then he sighed. "So, what do you have planned for today?"

Olivia stared at him. "What's that?"

"Nothing."

"Do you have any ideas?" Olivia asked. She followed Cole into the penthouse's living room. "For today?"

A desperate idea flashed in Cole's mind. "Well . . . the invitation to spend the weekend at Mark Giovanni's Santa Rosa ranch is still opened. Marbus and his wife were also invited."

Visions of a weekend with the Giovanni family filled Olivia with horror. "I don't think so." Olivia shot Cole an anxious look. "You did turn down his offer. Right?"

"Well I did consider saying yes," Cole replied sarcastically. "Until I contemplated two days in Pamela Giovanni's company. Of course, we could still head out . . ."

"No thanks. The idea of bearing witness to the ongoing Giovanni soap opera fills me with dread." A possibility occurred to her. "How about a drive down the coast? Go as far as Monterey? Or Santa Cruz?"

Strong arms encircled Olivia's waist, taking her by surprise. She could feel Cole's hard body pressing against hers. "Or why don't we simply stay here?" he murmured in one of her ears, causing her to shiver. "Spend the day together. In bed." He nipped at the delicate spot where Olivia's neck and shoulder met. A slight moan escaped her mouth. "What do you say?"

"Uh . . . are you suggesting . . . that we indulge in some kind of sexual marathon for . . .?" Olivia paused and pondered on what she had just said. "Wait a minute. Am I actually resisting this idea?"

Cole nipped her exposed flesh for the second time. "You tell me."

Olivia turned around to face her lover. "Hmmm, now that I think about it," she smiled seductively, "your idea sounds a lot better."

"Glad you think so," Cole murmured, before he lowered his mouth upon hers.

-----------

"Okay, do you have the Angelica root?" Harry asked.

Paige nodded. She held up the herb in question. The two witches stood inside Wyatt's nursery. Upon Harry's instruction, they had earlier placed sprigs of Mallow on every windowsill inside the manor. "It's too bad that mallow didn't work."

"Yeah, well I guess it just didn't work for you. Angelica root seems to be more your style."

A smile curved Paige's lips. "Ah yes. The herb that is under the guard of angels. That old whitelighter heritage coming back to haunt me. So, what do I do next?"

"Place the Angelica Root in a small blue or white cloth bag and hang it outside the house," Harry instructed. "Near the door, if possible."

The Charmed One headed for the Solarium. "Let's see. There were some pieces of cloth inside that desk near the . . ." A familiar shot of pain filled the back of her mouth. Without thinking, Paige grounded her teeth, increasing the pain. "Aaaugh! My tooth!" She dropped the Angelica root from her hand.

Harry rushed forward to comfort her. "What's wrong? Are you hurt?"

"My tooof!" Paige mumbled. "It huuths!"

"Must be your molar, again." Harry's green eyes regarded her with concern. "Maybe we need to get you to a dentist."

Paige's eyes flew open. "Noo! My dooctah ez guw! Wihaat! Whud abooh . . ."

"Huh?"

Heaving a sigh, Paige tried again. "My dooctah! Heh'z guw! Und Wihaat!"

"Did you say that your doctor hez . . . I mean . . . Your doctor isn't in the office, today." Harry said. "Is that it?" Paige nodded. He continued, "Okay, I'll take you to mine. As for Wyatt, we'll drop him off at my parents' . . ." Harry hesitated. "Oh wait! Shit! I forgot. They went to Tom Boucher's wedding in Palo Alto. Gran's also there. As for Bruce and Barbara . . ."

Paige screamed in pain.

Harry took a deep breath. "Right. Look, I'll go upstairs and get Wyatt and his things." He started toward the staircase. "Don't worry, we'll find someone to take care him." Then he raced upstairs, leaving Paige to continue moaning in pain.

-----------

A serene air almost permeated the atmosphere, inside Cole's living room. Almost. Serenity could have been achieved, if it were not for the passionate moans emitting from the couple locked in a horizontal embrace, on the living room's sofa.

With Olivia's body writhing underneath his, it took all of Cole's self-control not to rip off her remaining clothes, part her legs and sink right into her. Instead, he slowly stroke every inch of exposed flesh. Including the pale tan flesh that strained above Olivia's lacy white bra.

"Cole . . . please . . ." Olivia moaned between ragged breaths. ". . . now. I need . . . oh!" Cole had finally removed her bra. He gently squeezed one fleshy globe, before covering its coral pink tip with his lips, allowing it to become engorged. Another moan left her mouth. And when he gently bit into the nipple, she immediately arched her body.

At that moment, the doorbell rang. Olivia gasped with surprise and breathlessly asked, "Was that the doorbell?"

Cole reluctantly removed his mouth from her breast and murmured, "I didn't hear anything."

Again, the doorbell rang. Olivia sat up, causing Cole to moan with frustration. "That was the doorbell," she said. "Maybe you should answer it."

"Shit!" Cole muttered the oath, as he sat up and donned his T-shirt. Scowling, he marched toward the front door and peered through the peephole. Harry. It was Harry standing in the corridor outside, and holding . . . something. Cole sighed and opened the door. "Harry. What do you . . .?" A quick glance at the bundle in the male witch's arms told Cole that he was staring at Wyatt Halliwell. "What the hell?"

Harry dumped the baby in Cole's arms. "Here. I need you and Olivia to take care of Wyatt for a few hours. She's here, right?"

"Wha . . .?" Cole stared at the infant, who immediately began to wail. "What the hell?"

Olivia appeared in the doorway, wearing a bra . . . and her STANFORD U T-shirt. "What's going on?" she demanded.

Harry quickly explained that he and Paige were babysitting Wyatt, when the Charmed One developed a dental problem. "I'm taking her to my dentist, since hers isn't available. Mom, Dad and Gran are at that wedding. And Bruce and Barbara went to Santa Barbara for the weekend. So . . ."

To Cole's relief, Olivia took hold of the squealing Wyatt and began to rock him. "So, why didn't you summon Leo?"

"I don't know. I guess I just forgot about him!" Harry retorted, as he handed a large shoulder bag to Cole. "How often do I summon Leo? Besides," he grunted, as he placed a folded pram inside the penthouse, "I figure it would be hard to find him, considering the whole Elder gig. There."

Frowning, Olivia asked, "How did you know where to find me?"

"I tried your apartment, downstairs. I figured that if you weren't here, I'd take Wyatt to the dentist with us."

Cole retorted, "Why didn't you take him with you, anyway?"

"And have to deal with both Paige and him? Oh." Harry reached inside his jacket pocket for a slip of paper and handed it to Cole. "This has my cell phone number. And Piper's, in case you can't reach me. So, uh . . . I'll be back, later." He turned away.

"Wait!" Cole cried out. "You expect us to baby-sit . . . this . . . this . . . uh, kid?"

Harry flashed him a reassuring smile. "Don't worry. Olivia has done some babysitting before. Right Livy?" His older sister glared at him. "Anyway, I better get Paige to that dentist as soon as possible. Bye!" He rushed toward the elevator and entered, before Cole and Olivia could do or say anything further.

-----------

Back inside the penthouse, Wyatt's cries filled the living room. Cole glared at him. "Why is he crying?"

Olivia sighed, as she continued to rock the baby. "I don't know, Cole. Maybe he's having abandonment issues. I'm not a tele . . ." An empty bottle materialized in Wyatt's small hands. "Oh. I guess he's hungry."

Cole stared at the bag filled with Wyatt's belongings, in his hands. "You don't really expect me to make baby formula . . . or milk . . . or whatever, do you?"

"No, I don't. I'll do it." Olivia placed Piper's son in Cole's arms. "You can hold him, instead." The infant continued to cry. "Rock him up and down," she ordered. "Gently. And I'll take this." She removed the bag from Cole and headed toward the kitchen.

As Olivia had instructed, Cole began to rock Wyatt in his arms. At first, it seemed that his efforts might be in vain. The baby continued to cry, while squirming in Cole's arms. Another five minutes passed before the tears subsided. Wyatt's cries became gurgles, as he stared at the half-daemon with wide, curious eyes.

"Hey there, partner," Cole murmured. He eased into a nearby chair. "You're finally getting used to me. Huh? You know, the way you're staring at me reminds me of your dad. Well, when we used to get along. God, how long ago was that?" Cole continued to rock the infant. "Did you know that I almost had a son, myself? Yep. He would have been at least a few months older than you. Of course, I was possessed at the time, when he was conceived. Sometimes, I . . . I wonder sometimes if . . ." The half-daemon sighed. "Never mind. I guess it's best that we put the past behind us."

Wyatt gurgled once more and grabbed a fistful of Cole's T-shirt. Then he began chewing on said shirt. Cole smiled. "Getting hungry there, are we? Let's see if Olivia has that bottle of milk ready." He carried the infant into the kitchen, where Olivia hovered over the stove. "Is the milk ready? Wyatt is beginning to mistake my shirt for food."

Olivia rolled her eyes. "It's almost ready. She removed the bottle from a small saucepan. After a brief wait, she dabbed the bottle's content on her wrist. "Just to make sure that the milk isn't too hot."

Cole glanced down at Wyatt, who continued to chew on his T-shirt. "Is it ready now? I don't think I'll have a shirt left, within the next half hour."

With a sigh, Olivia walked over toward the pair. "Here you go, Wyatt," she said in a singsong voice. "Here's your widdle milk. Poor thing. You must be very hungry. Huh? Does Wyatt want his milk? Here we go! Choo-choo!" Cole stared at her in disbelief, as she plopped the bottle's nipple into Wyatt's hungry mouth. Then she looked up at Cole, before a horrified expression appeared on her face. "Oh God! I sound just like Phoebe whenever she uses that ridiculous baby voice! What's the matter with me?"

Cole's eyes watched Olivia rush out of the kitchen in a fit of horror. Then he returned his gaze to Wyatt, who had also been staring at the redhead. The half-daemon and the half-whitelighter's eyes regarded one another. Cole sighed. "Partner, women are a curious breed. Even after a century, I still don't understand them." He regarded the infant with a sympathetic smile. "And you're going to find out, for yourself. One day."

Wyatt's blue eyes blinked, as he continued to guzzle from the bottle.


END OF PART 1

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"PERSUASION" (1971) Review





"PERSUASION" (1971) Review

This adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1818 novel turned out to be the first of the old Jane Austen television adaptations that the BBC aired during the 1970s and 80s. Produced and directed by Howard Baker, and adapted by Julian Mitchell; this two-part miniseries starred Ann Firbanks and Bryan Marshall.

As many fans of Austen’s novel would know, "PERSUASION" told the story of Anne Elliot, the middle daughter of a vain and spendthrift baronet, who finds herself reunited with her former finance, a Naval officer of lesser birth named Frederick Wentworth. Eight years before the beginning of the story, Anne’s godmother, Lady Russell, had persuaded her to reject Wentworth’s marriage proposal, citing the Naval officer’s lack of family connections and fortune. She reunites with Wentworth, during a prolonged family visit to her younger sister and brother-in-law, Mary and Charles Musgrove. And the Naval officer has managed to acquire a fortune during the Napoleonic Wars. Anne is forced to watch Wentworth woo Mary’s sister-in-law, Louisa Musgrove, while he ignores his earlier attraction to her.

Many diehard Austen fans have expressed the opinion that this adaptation of her last novel has a running time that allows for the characters to be expressed with more depth than they were in the 1995 and 2007 versions. I must admit that the miniseries’ running time of 210 minutes allowed a greater depth into Austen’s plot than the two later movies. Yet, despite the longer running time, "PERSUASION" managed to be only a little more faithful than the other two versions. One of the plotlines that Mitchell failed to include featured the injury suffered by one of Charles Musgrove’s sons, following a fall from the tree. It was this injury that delayed Anne’s reunion with Wentworth near the beginning of the story. Fortunately, the changes or deletions that Mitchell made in his script did not bother me one whit. Especially since "PERSUASION" turned out to be a pretty solid adaptation.

However, there were times when Mitchell was too faithful to Austen’s novel. I still have nightmares over the second scene between Anne and her old school friend, Mrs. Smith; in which the latter finally revealed the true nature of Anne’s cousin, William Elliot. That particular scene seemed to take forever. And I never understood Anne’s outrage over William’s comments about Sir Walter and Elizabeth in his old letters to Mrs. Smith's husband. He had only expressed what Anne also felt about her father and older sister. And once again, an adaptation of "Persuasion" failed to correct the problem surrounding the William Elliot character – namely his attempt to woo and marry Anne in order to prevent Sir Walter from marry Elizabeth’s companion, Mrs. Clay, or any other women . . . and guarantee his inheritance of the Elliot baronetcy. As I had stated in my reviews of the two other "PERSUASION" movies, William’s efforts struck me as irreverent, since there was no way he could have full control over Sir Walter’s love life. Why was it necessary to show William sneaking away with Mrs. Clay in order to elope with her? Both were grown adults who had been previously married. They were not married or engaged to anyone else. I found their clandestine behavior unnecessary. And why on earth did Mitchell include Sir Walter spouting the names and birthdates of himself and his offspring in the script’s opening scene? I do not think so. In fact, this scene merely dragged the miniseries from the outset.

The production values for "PERSUASION" struck me as top-rate . . . to a certain extent. I have to commend Peter Phillips for his colorful production designs and Mark Hall for the miniseries’ art work. "PERSUASION" permeated with rich colors that I found eye catching. However, I have some qualms about Esther Dean’s costumes designs. How can I put it? I found some of the costumes rather garish. And the photography for the exterior scenes struck me as . . . hmmm, unimpressive. Dull. Flat. And I had some problems with the hairstyle for the leading lady, Ann Firbank. Her hairdo seemed like a uneasy mixture of an attempt at a Regency hairstyle and an early 1970s beehive. Think I am kidding? Take a gander:



My opinion of the cast is pretty mixed. There were performances that I found impressive. Marian Spencer gave a complex, yet intelligent portrayal of Anne Elliot’s godmother and mentor, Lady Russell. I was also impressed by Valerie Gearon’s subtle performance as Anne’s vain older sister, Elizabeth Elliot. Morag Hood gave an entertaining performance as the petulant Mary Elliot Musgrove. And both Richard Vernon and Rowland Davies gave colorful performances as Admiral Croft and Charles Musgrove, respectively. On the other hand, Basil Dignam got on my last nerve as the vain Sir Walter Elliot. There was nothing really wrong with his performance, but many of his scenes dragged the miniseries, due to the number of unnecessary dialogue over topics that had very little to do with the main storyline. Quite frankly, a great deal of Sir Walter's dialogue bore me senseless.

And what about the story’s two leads? Ann Firbank and Bryan Marshall gave very competent performances as the two former lovers, Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth. They competently expressed their characters’ intelligence and emotions. They also made the eventual reconciliation between Anne and Wentworth very believable. Unfortunately, Firbank and Marshall lacked the strong chemistry that Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds possessed in the 1995 adaptation; or the strong chemistry that Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones had in the 2007 film. I never got the feeling that Firbank’s Anne and Marshall’s Wentworth were struggling to contain their emotions toward each other in the first half of the miniseries. Every now and then, Firbank utilized sad and pensive expressions, reminding me of Evangeline Lilly’s early performances on ABC’s "LOST". And Marshall’s Wentworth seemed too friendly with the Musgrove sisters and polite toward Anne to hint any sense of remaining passion toward her. It was not until their encounter with William Elliot at Lyme Regis that I could detect any hint – at least on Wentworth’s part – of emotion toward Anne. And it was only from this point onward, in which Firbank and Marshall finally conveyed a strong screen chemistry.

In the end, I have to admit that this adaptation of "PERSUASION" struck me as entertaining. I cannot deny it. Despite being the most faithful of the three known adaptations, I feel that it was probably more flawed than the later two versions. Screenwriter Julian Mitchell and director Howard Baker’s close adherence to Austen’s novel did not really help it in the long run. In doing so, the miniseries adapted some of the faults that could be found in the novel. And the miniseries' close adaptation also dragged its pacing needlessly. But the solid performances by the cast, led by Ann Firbank and Bryan Marshall; along with the colorful production designs and the story’s intelligence allowed me to enjoy it in the end.

Monday, November 21, 2011

"IN TIME" (2011) Photo Gallery



Below are images from the new science-fiction thriller called "IN TIME". Produced, written and directed by Andrew Niccol, the movie stars Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried:


"IN TIME" (2011) Photo Gallery

























































Sunday, November 20, 2011

"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Five "The Massacre" Commentary




"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Five "The Massacre" Commentary

The fifth episode of "CENTENNIAL", "The Massacre", proved to be a difficult episode for me to watch. In fact, many other fans of the 1978-79 miniseries seemed to harbor the same feeling. This episode marked the culmination of many conflicts between the Native Americans featured in James Michner's saga and the growing number of whites that make their appearances in the story. It is a culmination that ends in tragedy and frustration.

I am a little confused over exactly when the "The Massacre" begins. I can only assume that it begins days or even hours after the last episode, "For as Long as the River Flows". The episode picks up with German-Russian immigrant Hans Brumbaugh successfully panning for gold, when he is accosted by his former comrade, the gold-obsessed Larkin. The story eventually moves into the meat of the story - the outbreak of violence between white settlers, the military and Native Americans resisting the encroachment of the whites upon their lands, culminating in the arrival of a former Minnesota settler named Frank Skimmerhorn and the massacre he ordered against a peaceful village of Arapaho and Northern Cheyenne, led by one Lost Eagle from the previous two episodes.

Personally, I consider "The Massacre" to be one of the miniseries' finer episodes. One of the reasons why I consider it among the best of "CENTENNIAL" was due to its graphic and unsentimental look at how the American government and settlers either drove away or nearly exterminated the Native American inhabitants in the Colorado region. Along with screenwriters John Wilder and Charles Larson, director Paul Krasny pulled no punches in depicting the violence and manipulation used to finally defeat the Arapaho and especially Jacques and Marcel Pasquinnel. Frankly, I found the whole episode rather depressing to watch.

Most viewers would pinpoint Frank Skimmerhorn, the former Minnesota settler-turned militia commander as the villain of the piece. And it would be easy to do so. Using his political connections, he managed to usurp the authority of U.S. Army General Asher; declare Major Maxwell Mercy as a traitor for the latter's futile attempts to maintain peace; order the death of poor Clay Basket, who tried to sneak away from her son-in-law's trading post in order to warn her sons of future danger; and place Levi Zendt's trading post off limits to military personnel. And he did all of this before committing the episode's centerpiece - namely the massacre of Lost Eagle's peaceful village.

The massacre was a fascinating, yet horrifying event to watch. More disgusting is the fact that it was based upon an actual event that occurred in Colorado in November 1864 - the Sand Creek Massacre. Not only was the massacre featured in this episode based upon an actual event, the Frank Skimmerhorn character was based upon a real person - John Chivington, who led the Sand Creek massacre. Unlike Chivington, Skimmerhorn was a survivor of the 1862 Dakota Sioux War in Minnesota, who had witnessed the near slaughter of his family. This family tragedy is what triggered Skimmerhorn's obsessive hatred toward Native Americans. Mark Harmon returned in this episode as Captain John McIntosh, the regular Army officer who found himself under Skimmerhorn's command. Like Captain Silas Soule and Lieutenant Joseph Crame at Sand Creek, McIntosh refused to lead his men into the attack and allowed several unarmed Arapaho women, children and old men to escape. The one scene that really nauseated me featured the murder of two Arapaho children by militia troopers.

Another aspects of this episode that both horrified and fascinated me was the American citizens' reaction to Skimmerhorn's "victory". It made me realize that despite Skimmerhorn's crimes and obsession with exterminating the Arapaho in the region, these citizens, the military and the government wholeheartedly supported his actions . . . when they were useful to them. But it took one incident - Skimmerhorn's murder of the surrendering Marcel Pasquinnel - to express horror and turn their collective backs on him. And the odd thing is that Skimmerhorn was never legally prosecuted for shooting Marcel in the back, just ostracized.

In retaliation for the massacre of Lost Eagle's village, Jacques and Marcel Pasquinnel went on the rampage, attacking American emigrants and military personnel with Cheyenne leader, Broken Thumb. But their retaliation did not last long against the overwhelming odds against them. Jacques ended up lynched by the Colorado militia and U.S. Army. Michel was shot in the back and murdered by Skimmerhorn. Some have argued that the Pasquinnels - especially the hot-tempered Jacques - paid the price for their violence against American settlers. Personally, I suspect they would have been doomed, regardless of any path they had chosen. They could have followed Lost Eagle's path and capitulate to the U.S. government's terms. But Lost Eagle's choice only led to most of his followers being decimated by Skimmerhorn and his militia. I believe the Arapaho and Cheyenne were simply in a no-win situation.

Despite my high opinion of "The Massacre", I realized that it was not perfect. As I had hinted earlier, the time factor in the episode's first half hour struck me as a bit wonky. The episode obviously began in 1860, with Brumbaugh's final encounter with Larkin. Yet, it is not long before Frank Skimmerhorn makes his first appearance. If Skimmerhorn was supposed to be a fictionalized version of John Chivington, screenwriters John Wilder and Charles Larson failed to realize that the real life militia leader did not make his appearance in the Colorado Territory until 1863 or 1864. To this day, I am confused about the year in which Skimmerhorn arrived in the Colorado Territory. And I also had trouble with a scene featuring a duel between Maxwell Mercy and Frank Skimmerhorn, following Michel Pasquinnel's death. I can understand that as a West Point graduate, Mercy would be an experienced swordsman. But how on earth did Skimmerhorn, a farmer/minister-turned militia commander would know anything about sword fighting? Because of this, I found the duel between the two men rather ludicrous. I also noticed that Barbara Carrera's character, Clay Basket, seemed to have become forgotten not long after her character's death. Characters such as Pasquinnel, Alexander McKeag and even Elly Zendt (who was mentioned in this episode) seemed to resonate long after their deaths. But not poor Clay Basket.

Because of the first-rate nature of the episode, "The Massacre" featured some excellent performances. Gregory Harrison and Christina Raines gave solid performances as Levi and Lucinda Zendt, as they tried keep their lives together, while Skimmerhorn wreaked havoc on their worlds. Both Stephen McHattie and Kario Salem were both passionate and poignant as the doomed Pasquinnel brothers. And Mark Harmon had his moment in the sun in a scene that featured his character Captain McIntosh's dignified refusal to participate in Skimmerhorn's massacre. Cliff De Young gave a subtle performance as Skimmerhorn's only surviving family member, John, who becomes increasingly repelled by his father's murderous and maniacal behavior. Alex Karras continued his excellent performance as German-Russian immigrant Hans Brumbaugh. But the performances that really impressed me came from Chad Everett, Nick Ramus and Richard Crenna. Chad Everett gave one of his best performances as the well-meaning Maxwell Mercy, forced to witness the destruction of his hopes of peace between the Americans and the Arapaho. Nick Ramus was beautifully poignant as the peaceful Lost Eagle, who witnessed the massacre of the people he had led for so long. And Richard Crenna was both terrifying and pitiful as the malignant Skimmerhorn, who allowed a family tragedy to send him along a dark path toward victory, adulation and eventually rejection.

The episode's epilogue picked up three years following Skimmerhorn's departure from the Colorado Territory. The new town of Centennial is being built and Oliver Seccombe (Timothy Dalton), the Englishman whom Levi had first befriended back in "The Wagon and the Elephant", makes his reappearance in the story. Only this time, Seccombe will make a bigger impact, as he reveals his plans to create a cattle ranch for a British investor named Lord Venneford. And judging from Brumbaugh's reaction to Olivier's news, the epilogue sets up a new conflict that will have an impact upon the new Centennial community for at least two decades.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

"ECLIPSE" (2010) Review





"ECLIPSE" (2010) Review

Seventeen months ago, the third installment of the "TWILIGHT" Saga was released in theaters. Based upon Stephanie Meyer’s 2007 novel and directed by David Slade, "ECLIPSE" continued the story of Isabella "Bella" Swan, the Washington State teenager, her love for vampire Edward Cullen and her friendship with the werewolf shape shifter, Jacob Black.

"ECLIPSE" began not long after the 2009 movie, "NEW MOON" ended. In Seattle, a young college student named Riley Biers is attacked and turned by a vampire. He soon becomes the center of a plot hatched by the red-haired vampire Victoria, to turn and create more newborn vampires to be used as an army for further attacks against Bella, Edward and the Cullens. Meanwhile, Bella and Edward continue their plans for a future wedding and Bella’s eventual transformation into a vampire back in Forks. Their plans are complicated by Bella’s friendship with Jacob and the rest of a local werewolf pack – traditional enemies of the Cullen clan. Worse, Jacob still continues to harbor love for Bella and she discovers that she finds herself physically attracted to him – despite her love for Edward. The two plotlines eventually converge when Alice Cullen has a vision of the newborn army attacking Forks led by Riley Biers. Jacob, accompanied by two fellow werewolves Quil and Embry, overhear this, which leads to an alliance between the Cullens and the Wolf pack.

Before ”ECLIPSE” had been released in movie theaters, advertisements and fans of the TWILIGHT saga began claiming that this film was the best of the three movies released so far. Considering my low opinion of the first two movies, I was surprised to find myself agreeing with them. It was certainly better than the first two films in the franchise. What made it better? Quite frankly, Victoria’s plot to kill Bella and get her revenge for her lover James’ death in ”TWILIGHT” did the trick. This particular plotline was responsible for the Cullens and Jacob’s Wolf pack to finally form some kind of alliance. I found it quite interesting to watch the Cullens and the Wolf pack battle against Victoria, Riley and their minions. This plotline also allowed Edward and Jacob to somewhat cease their constantly annoying rivalry over Bella . . . finally. There were other aspects of the film that I liked. I found it interesting to learn about the origins of the Quileute tribe’s hostilities against vampires. I also found the back stories for both Rosalie Hale and Jasper Hale rather interesting. It turns out that Jasper’s background in training newborn vampires for his sire Maria allowed Bella to understand how Victoria was using Riley Biers.

Despite these positive aspects about ”ECLIPSE”, I still found it a trial to watch. Why? Simple. I still had to endure the incredibly dull and tortuous love story between Bella and Edward. Even worse was the incredibly dull and tortuous love triangle between Edward, Bella and Jacob. Mind you, it seemed a bit surprising to learn that Bella was also attracted to Jacob. But it really did not help matters. Especially when I had to endure the god-awful dialogue between Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner, written by screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg. I fear that Ms. Rosenberg had to utilize a good deal of the dialogue from Stephanie Meyer’s novel. One scene that had me writhing in despair featured Bella’s attempt to “seduce” Edward into having sex, following a conversation she had with her father about her virginity. It went on too . . . damn . . . long. And the dialogue was simply awful. Another scene that tested my nerves and patience centered on Jacob’s attempt to convince Edward to give up Bella, in order to stop her from becoming a vampire. The only thing that made this scene remotely bearable was Lautner’s occasional witty dialogue.

”ECLIPSE” also marked the return of members of the Volturi, the vampire coven that ensured the vampires’ existence as a secret from humans. Apparently, Victoria’s plans to use an army of newborns against the Cullens attracted their attention. I wish to God that it had not. I found them unbearable in ”NEW MOON”. And they were certainly a nuisance in ”ECLIPSE” - especially Dakota Fanning’s Jane, who managed to stand around, while attempting to look menacing. I wish to God that Stephanie Meyer had not created them in the first. I tend to compare the Volturi to the game of Quidditch from the HARRY POTTER saga.

I found nothing remarkable about the performances in the movie. Well, Taylor Lautner managed to be occasionally witty, despite the addition of the dreadful dialogue he had to spout in this film. Jackson Rathbone also managed to be rather witty. Nikki Reed gave a surprisingly poignant performance as Rosalie Hale – especially in the sequence in which she recalled the sordid tragedy that led to her becoming a vampire. Bryce Dallas Howard did a solid job in replacing Rachelle Lefevre as the murderous vampire, Victoria. Billy Burke was entertaining, as always, as Bella’s sardonic, yet protective father. Kristen Stewart managed to be bearable in scenes that only featured Bella and Jacob. As for the rest of the cast . . . you can keep them. Including the very popular Robert Pattinson.

As everyone knows, the fourth novel in the TWILIGHT saga - ”Breaking Dawn” is due in theaters by the end of the week. However, the studio had decided to break this particular story into two films. I see that they were inspired to follow the example of Warner Brothers’ decision to do the same with the last HARRY POTTER novel. And considering how popular the TWILIGHT movies are with my family, it looks as if I have more suffering to endure in my future.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"West to Laramie" [PG] - 1/4




"WEST TO LARAMIE"

Summary: A Philadelphia matron and her companion travel west by stagecoach to attend the wedding of her son, an Army officer, in pre-Civil War West.
Rating: PG




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

"WEST TO LARAMIE"

Chapter 1



November 14, 1859

Mrs. Anne Middleton
63 46th Street
Philadelphia, PA


Dear Mother,

I am sure you will be happy to learn of the latest fortune to be bestowed upon me. I have the pleasure to announce my engagement to Miss Penelope Hilland, the only daughter of Major and Mrs. Ronald Hilland of Akron, Ohio.

Penelope and I have agreed to have our wedding on June 3 of next year at the fort’s chapel. I will be granted a three-month furlough between June and September. Unfortunately, Major Hilland will be unable to attend any ceremony held in the East, due to military duties. Penelope and I have decided to make the trip east as part of our honeymoon. Since Major Hilland is unable to travel, we hope that you and Addie will make the trip west to attend the wedding. I would not dream of getting married without my family in attendance.

I understand that the new Central Overland Stage Line between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California has recently opened. You and Addie can travel from Philadelphia to St. Joseph by train. From there, you can reach Fort Laramie by stagecoach. From what I understand, traveling by stage should be more comfortable that it would in the East. A new type of coach is now in use. You should not have to worry about Indians. Our boys are keeping them busy and making sure they cause no trouble for the white settlers here on the plains.

Please try to make the trip. Nothing would please me more than to have my family witness my beginning with the most wonderful girl in this world. Tell everyone – especially Addie – hello for me. I hope to see you both next spring.



Your loving son,



Robert



===================================================



February 7, 1860



First Lieutenant Robert Middleton, U.S.A.
Fort Laramie, Jefferson Territory


Dear Robert,

My heart glowed at the news of your upcoming marriage to Miss Hilland. It is wonderful to hear that you have finally met a young lady with whom you can share the rest of your life. I also have news to share. Addie and her husband, Harold, are expecting a child sometime in July. This means that Addie will be unable to make the trip. Instead, my companion – Patricia North – will accompany me. I am sure it will be nice for you to finally meet her. I informed her that we will travel by train and stagecoach. She merely implied in her usual pessimistic manner that the trip might not be as comfortable as you had described in your letter.

We will depart from Philadelphia during the last week of April. We should arrive at Fort Laramie within a week-and-a-half. Please convey my greetings to your fiancée and her parents. I anticipate in finally seeing the West for the first time . . . and you after so many years.



I love you always,



Mother

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"The Corellian Connection" [PG-13] - Chapter Seven




"THE CORELLIAN CONNECTION"

CHAPTER SEVEN


CORELLIAN SECTOR

All eyes now fell upon a very surprised Anakin, who regarded the senator's sister with surprise. And suspicion. "How . . ." He turned away and inhaled sharply. "How did you know?"

Thalia calmly replied, "I recognized you from the HoloNet News reports during the war. And as a former member of Andalian Intelligence, I had gathered reports of the war from Coruscant."

Han regarded Anakin with deep admiration. "You're Anakin Skywalker? You're one of the best pilots in the galaxy! And the only human who's ever won the Boonta Eve Classic!"

Confusion filled Senator Yeb's eyes. "Boonta Eve's?"

"It's a podrace on Tatooine," Anakin explained. "I won that race a long time ago." He stared at Han. "How did you know about that race?"

Han shrugged his shoulders. "A lot of pilots know about that race. How often does a human win at podracing?"

"Forget about the podracing!" Senator Yeb retorted. "I'm still trying to wrap my mind . . ." He broke off and stared at Anakin. "You're a Jedi Knight?"

Anakin corrected the other man. "Former . . . Jedi, Senator. Now, if you would all please leave so I can prepare this food." The others began to file out of the galley, when Anakin clamped a hand on Han's shoulder. "Except for you, Mr. Solo. You'll have to earn your keep on this trip."

"But I don't know how to cook," Han protested.

"Neither did I, until a year ago. Let's go."

The two Andalians exchanged amused looks and left the galley. Anakin handed his apron over to Han and the pair commenced upon preparing the meal.

---------

MOROBE SECTOR

As the Alberforce flew through the dark reaches of the Morobe Sector, Padme made her way toward the star skiff's cockpit. She found the captain furiously punching buttons on the control console. A deep frown creased the redhead's brow. "Is there a problem, Captain?" Padme asked.

The other woman sat back into her seat with a deep sigh. "We might have some company. The sensors have picked up signs of another starship. More than one, as a matter of fact."

Padme felt a surge of anxiety. "The Imperials?" Had their departure from Alderaan been detected?

"It's possible," Captain Sen grimly replied. "And it looks as if I may have been right about being more than one ship."

Several minutes passed before Padme saw an Imperial ship hover into view. She inhaled sharply. Captain Sen froze in her chair, as if anticipating some kind of communication from the ship. Sure enough, a man's voice crackled from the Alberforce's communication system. "This is the Imperial ship Exactor. What is your business in this sector?"

The two women exchanged uneasy looks. Captain Sen took a deep breath and replied, "I'm Captain Sen of the Alberforce. I'm in route to the Melinda/Daan homeworld with passengers. How may I help you?"

"Transmit your ship's identification code," the voice ordered. Captain Sen removed an identification chip from the console and inserted it into a slot. A high-speed sound emitted from the console's computer for a few seconds. When it ended, the Imperial officer added, "You are clear to proceed."

A breathless Captain Sen replied, "Thank you." And the Alberforce continued its journey, leaving the Imperial warships in the wake of its path.

By the time the skiff was alone in space, Padme exhaled sharply. "That was a close call," she murmured.

"Too close for my comfort," the captain said. "It's a good thing my identification card indicated that we had left Belasco. I wonder where they are headed? There were two other Imperial warships with the Exactor. The Empire must be planning another invasion."

Padme frowned at the idea. "Invasion? Of which system? The Empire had just annexed Andalia not long ago. Most, if not all of the old Separatist systems are now under Imperial control."

Captain Sen shrugged her shoulders. "It could be that more Jedi have been found in another system."

One name popped into Padme's mind. Anakin. Had Palpatine finally discovered him? Or had the Emperor charged him with completely destroying the endangered Jedi? "I hope not," Padme murmured. "For their sake. It's bad enough that they have been accused of killing me during the last days of the war." She sighed. "If only I could deny that accusation."

"It's possible that a group of Jedi are planning a resistance against the Empire," Captain Sen replied. "Then again, I don't think there are enough of them around, anymore. The Clone War and the Jedi Purge had pretty much thinned their ranks." Padme winced, aware that Anakin was partially responsible for the latter. The captain continued, "I can think of a few Jedi who would love to rid the galaxy of the Emperor."

Another frown appeared on Padme's face. "You know a few Jedi Knights?"

"I've smuggled a few to Alderaan. Queen Breha and Prince Bail have given sanctuary to them right after the war." The captain added, "Along with a few other war refugees."

Padme murmured, "I had no idea. About the Jedi, I mean." Now, she understood why Bail and Breha had no qualms about offering sanctuary to her and the children.

A sigh left Captain Sen's mouth. "If those Imperial ships are after more Jedi refugees, I wish I was there to help them escape."

Padme found herself wishing the same. But she could not allow her idealism to overcome her sense of survival. Not while she had two infants of great Force potential to protect.

----------

SARAPIN SYSTEM

The Javian Hawk's four inhabitants finished the last of their midday meal of Nerfburgers. Anakin and Han collected the dirty plates and cups, allowing the two passengers a time for rest. Once the pair had cleaned the utensils, Han asked the pilot, "Can I join you in the cockpit?"

Anakin suspected this was an attempt by the boy to form a closer acquaintance. His first instinct was to insist that Han remain with the other passengers. But the boy's pleading eyes reminded Anakin of that nine year-old slave boy who had harbored a desire to see the galaxy beyond Tatooine. That idealistic young boy, who no longer existed . . . much to his regret. A heavy sigh escaped from Anakin's mouth. "Sure," he mumbled. "Why not?"

A wide smile stretched Han's lips. Anakin led him to the cockpit. "Strap yourself in," the former Jedi ordered.

"Why?" Han demanded.

"Because if something happens unexpectedly, I don't want to see your body fly beyond the cockpit shield."

A grimace touched Han's lips, as he did as Anakin ordered. The latter switched off the starship's autopilot system and resumed flying the Hawk. A comfortable silence fell between the young man and the boy, until the latter broke it, five minutes later. "What are you going to do with me when we reach wherever you're going?" Han asked. "And where are we going, by the way?"

Anakin replied, "The answer to your second question is we're heading for Averam. As for the first question . . ." He hesitated and pressed his lips together. "Well, I don't know. Perhaps Senator Yeb might be able to find a place or home for you, once we reach Averam."

"What kind of place?" A suspicious scowl appeared on Han's face. "I don't wanna be stuck in some orphanage."

"Look . . . Han," Anakin began, "you can't stay with me. I'm the last person who would be able to give you a stable home. Look at me! I'm a former Jedi Knight-turned Sith apprentice-turned smuggler. I'm wanted by the Empire. Even worse, I have blood on my hands. Staying with me will be detrimental to your health. Believe me."

Han's mouth hung open. "So you weren't kidding about killings others, huh?"

"No, I wasn't."

A third voice asked, "You have killed others?" Both Anakin and Han whirled around in their seats to find Senator Yeb standing behind them. The latter stared at Anakin. "Whom exactly did you kill?"

Another sigh left Anakin's mouth. Since he was about to tell Han about the Jedi Purge, he figured that the senator might as well know. "Members of the Jedi Order," he coolly replied. "At the Temple. I had killed padawans, knights, masters and younglings. I also killed the Separatist leaders on Mustafar, on the Emperor's orders."

Shock and confusion lit up the senator's dark eyes. Han merely gaped at Anakin. "You . . ." Senator Yeb broke off and inhaled sharply. "You killed all of those people?"

Anakin's gaze returned to the dark space beyond the cockpit shields. "Yes, Senator," he replied in a monotone voice.

"You were a Jedi Knight!" Senator Yeb exclaimed. "The Hero With No Fear! I don't understand." He paused, as realization gleamed in his eyes. "You took part in the Jedi Purge?"

A long pause followed. Memories of the Jedi Temple's destruction assailed Anakin's mind. He took a deep breath and answered, "Yes I did, Senator. In fact, I had led the attack upon the Temple."

"But why?" the senator demanded. The question also lingered in Han's eyes.

After another long pause, Anakin curtly replied, "For reasons I consider personal. The fact is, Senator, the Chancellor . . . or should I say the Emperor had led me to believe that he could help me with this matter. Unfortunately, I ended up pledging myself as his Sith apprentice in exchange for his help. Which led me to leading the attack upon the Jedi Temple that night."

"You were a Sith . . ." Senator Yeb paused. "But why would you pledge yourself to the Emperor . . ." His eyes grew wide with shock. "Wait. You mean to say that the . . ."

A sardonic smile curved Anakin's lips. "That's right, Senator. The Emperor Palpatine is a Sith Lord. Darth Sidious. And I was his apprentice, Darth Vader. After I had killed the Separatist leaders . . ." He paused, as more memories of Mustafar overwhelmed him - his attack upon Padme and the duel against Obi-Wan. He took a deep breath. "Something happened to me . . . on Mustafar. I . . . I guess I had realized that if I continue to be Lord Sidious' apprentice, my life would have become even worse. So I walked away. And because of me, the galaxy is now under the rule of a Sith Lord."

"What's a Sith Lord?" Han asked.

Anakin replied, "A Jedi's enemy. The Sith use the Force for . . . well, less than pleasant reasons. For power." An unpleasant laugh escaped his mouth. "Funny. I had wanted that power to save someone I loved. Only I ended up losing that person, anyway. As for the Emperor, he no longer has an apprentice. Which is something to be thankful for."

"Why?" Han demanded.

"Because the Sith always exist in pairs. A master and an apprentice. Sidious has lost both Dooku and myself." Anakin paused before he grimly added, "Which means that he'll either try to lure me back or search for a new apprentice."

Senator Yeb's next words took Anakin by surprise. "But he already has a new apprentice. His name is Darth Rasche."

Anakin stared at Yeb in shock. "Say that again?"

The senator repeated, "The Emperor . . . or Darth Sidious, as you called him, has a new apprentice. I've seen him on Andalia. Haven't you heard about the death of Anjuli Nab? She was a Jedi Knight, such as yourself."

Anakin murmured regretfully, "I knew her."

"Well, she was killed by this new apprentice, Darth Rasche," Senator Yeb continued. "She had recognized him by his real name. Only I've forgotten it, at the moment. Apparently, he is also a former Jedi."

Darth Rasche. The news stunned Anakin beyond belief. Sidious had discovered another apprentice from the ranks of the Jedi Order? He wondered how long it had taken his former Sith master to accomplish this deed. Anakin asked for a description of the Sith apprentice.

With a shrug of his shoulders, the senator began, "He's tall. Like you. Perhaps a little taller and a little heavier. He has dark hair and . . ." A series of loud beeps from the ship's console interrupted Yeb. "What's that?"

Anakin frowned at the console. "It's the Hawk's sensor array. There's another starship nearby. Only I . . ." He broke off, as a large, triangular-shaped starship loomed above the Hawk. An Imperial warship. Anakin sighed. "I've got a very bad feeling about this."

----------

KASHYYYK SYSTEM

By the time the Imperial Star Destroyer Exactor arrived at the Wookie homeworld, the Battle of Kashyyyk had begun in earnest. Grand Moff Tarkin had just arrived an hour or two earlier, on the Executrix. The two commanders met aboard the latter's ship to discuss on how to deal with the Wookies and their Jedi allies.

"If you must know, Lord Rasche," Tarkin stated, "I am not interested in the Jedi's presence on Kashyyk. I am more interested in the Wookies and how they can serve the Empire." The Eriadu native made it clear that he shared the Emperor's view on human superiority over other species and simply wanted the Wookies as slave labor for the construction of the new super weapon.

Rasche frowned. "What about the Geonosians? I thought you were using them as slave labor."

"Constructing the new weapon will take more than the Geonosians," Tarkin replied airily. "Surely you must have realized this, my lord. You've seen the weapon yourself." His eyes narrowed dangerously. "Or do you have some kind of affinity for these . . . Wookies?"

The Sith Lord seared the older man with a malevolent glare. "I do not take lightly to others making assumptions about me, Lord Tarkin. Such actions tend to bring out the less pleasant side of my nature."

The Imperial officer responded with a polite bow. "Your pardon, Lord Rasche."

Soon, commanders from other Imperial ships met with the pair and the conversation resumed to the strategy to be deployed against Kashyyyk. Both Rasche and Tarkin decided that the Sith Lord would lead a contingent of troops to hunt down the Jedi. Tarkin, on the other hand, would lead the main Imperial invasion against the planet. A few fleet commanders wanted to bombard all of Kashyyk's cities. But Rasche overruled them. Instead, he ordered a direct assault on several cities that included Kachirho, Rwookrrorro, Kepitenochan, Okikuti, and Chenachochan.

Once the conference ended, the young Sith Lord flew a Theta-class T-2c shuttle down to the city of Kachirho, accompanied by a Clone officer named Commander Appo and a squad of troops. Despite the heavy anti-fire the shuttle had encountered, it eventually Rasche and his contingent to the Wookie city. There, they learned that Imperial incursions were being repulsed by fierce Wookie opposition, resulting in the death of many troops.

"My Lord," Commander Appo commented, "perhaps you should rescind your order and allow the bombardment of the entire planet. These Wookies seemed to be resisting a lot stronger than we thought they would."

A sigh left Rasche's mouth. The wanton slaughter of a species did not particularly appeal to him, Sith Lord or not. But if the Wookies posed a threat to his ability to hunt down the Jedi, they had to be dealt with. "Perhaps you're right, Commander." Using the shuttle's communication system, he sent a message to Grand Moff Tarkin and rescinded his previous orders and ordered a new one to launch a full bombardment of all Wookie settlements on Kashyyyk.

Upon leaving the shuttle, Rasche, Appo and the squad accompanying them, reached the outskirts of Kachirho. The Sith Lord's hopes of encountering Anakin Skywalker were dashed when he found himself facing a group of Jedi, younger than himself. The leader of this group turned out to be Olee Starstone, a young padawan he had first encountered on Murkhana with Jedi Masters Bol Chatak and Roan Shryne, nearly eight months ago. Rasche managed to kill Chatak, but Starstone and Shryne had escaped. Now, he had finally caught up with the former Jedi padawan. The Sith Lord wondered if Shryne was nearby.

“Olee Starstone,” Rasche announced with contempt dripping from his voice. “We meet again. Giving me the chance to finish what I had started on Murkhana?”

The dark-haired, blue-eyed woman spat out furiously, “Traitor! Murderer!”

“If you’re speaking of your former master,” Rasche retorted, “may I remind you that it was she who had attacked first?”

Young Starstone let out a furious cry and attacked the Sith Lord. In all honesty, Rasche did not consider her much of a challenge. But her rage managed to prevent her from being immediately killed. Rasche and Starstone exchanged a series of parries and thrusts. Before the Sith Lord could finish off his opponent, several men appeared on the scene. One of them lit up a lightsaber and decapitated Commander Appo’s head. Jedi Master Roan Shryne had arrived.


END OF CHAPTER SEVEN

Monday, November 14, 2011

"CONTAGION" (2011) Review




"CONTAGION" (2011) Review

When I first saw the trailer for Steven Soderbergh's new movie, "CONTAGION", it brought back some old memories. I found myself remembering Wolfgang Peterson' 1995 film, "OUTBREAK", which starred Dustin Hoffman; and the influenza pandemic that terrified the world's population two years ago. With those in mind, I decided to check out Soderbergh's new movie.

"CONTAGION" is a medical thriller about the rapid progress of a lethal contact transmission virus that kills within days. As the fast-moving pandemic grows, the worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than the virus itself. And as the virus spreads around the world, ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart. The movie began with a Minnesota woman named Beth Emhoff returning home after a business trip to Hong Kong and a side trip to Chicago to cheat on her second husband with an old flame. Two days later, she collapses from a severe seizure before dying in a hospital. Her husband, Mitch Emhoff, returns home and discovers that his stepson - Beth's son - has died from the same disease. Other people who have had contact with Beth eventually die in China, Great Britain and Chicago, leading medical doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization to investigate the origin of the disease.

While watching "CONTAGION", I noticed that its narrative bore a strong resemblance to the one featured in Soderbergh's 2000 Oscar winning movie, "TRAFFIC". I noticed that "CONTAGION" had failed to generate the same level of interest that the 2000 movie managed to do. And I find this ironic, considering that I seemed to prefer this movie over the Oscar winning film. I do not mean to say that "TRAFFIC" was the inferior movie. As far as I am concerned, it was a superb film. But I simply preferred "CONTAGION" more. It could be that I found a viral pandemic to be a more interesting topic than drug trafficking, due to the events of 2009. And I found that particular subject scarier.

And I cannot deny that "CONTAGION" scared the hell out of me. The idea that a new disease could spring up and spread throughout the world's population so fast practically blows my mind. And I have to say that both Soderbergh and the movie's screenwriter, Scott Burns, did a great job in scaring the hell out of me. What I found even scarier were the various reactions to the disease. Soderburgh and Burns did a great job in conveying factors that drove mass panic and loss of social order, the difficulties in investigating and containing a pathogen and the problems of balancing personal motives and professional responsibilities. Another amazing aspect about "CONTAGION" is that Soderbergh and Burns avoided the usual cliché of portraying the pharmaceutical industry or the military as the villains. Instead, everyone - the government agencies, politicians at every level and even the public at large - are portrayed in an ambiguous light. Looking back on "CONTAGION", I realized that I only had one minor complaint - Soderbergh's direction did come off as a bit too dry at times.

Soderbergh and his casting director managed to gather an exceptional job for the cast. Cast members such as Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bryan Cranston, Elliot Gould, Chin Han, Sanaa Lathan, Jennifer Ehle John Hawkes and Enrico Colantoni gave very solid performances. But I found at least five performances truly memorable. One came from Jude Law, who portrayed an aggressive freelance journalist named Alan Krumwiede, who convinces some of his readers to use a a homeopathic cure based on Forsythia, on behalf of companies producing the treatment. I found Law's character so annoying that I did not realize how skillful his performance was, until several hours after I saw the movie. Kate Winslet gave a very poignant performances as Dr. Erin Mears, a CDC doctor who is forced to face the consequences of the political agendas of a local government and the disease itself. Laurence Fishburne did an exceptional job in conveying the ambiguous situation of his character, CDC spokesman Dr. Ellis Cheever, who found himself torn between his duties with the agency, keeping certain aspects about a possible cure from the public, and his desire to ensure his wife's safety. But I believe the best performance came from Matt Damon, who portrayed the widower of the doomed Beth Emhoff. Damon was superb in portraying the many aspects of Emhoff's emotional state - whether the latter was grieving over his wife's death, dealing with her infidelity, or ensuring that he and his daughter remain alive despite the increasing chaos and death that surrounded them.

I did not know whether I would enjoy "CONTAGION", but I did . . . much to my surprise. Not only did I enjoyed it, the movie scared the hell out of me. And I cannot think of any other director, aside from Steven Soderburgh, who can do that with such a dry directorial style. I do look forward to seeing this movie again when it is released on DVD.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"HEAT" (1995) Photo Gallery




Below are photos from Michael Mann's 1995 crime drama, "HEAT". Written by Mann, the movie starred Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Val Kilmer:


"HEAT" (1995) Photo Gallery