Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"RETURN TO CRANFORD" (2009) Photo Gallery




Below are images from "RETURN TO CRANFORD", the 2009 sequel to the 2007 miniseries, "CRANFORD". Judi Dench starred in this two-part series: 


"RETURN TO CRANFORD" (2009) Photo Gallery




















































Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"SHANGHAI EXPRESS" (1932) Review





"SHANGHAI EXPRESS" (1932) Review

Many years have passed since I last saw the 1932 movie, "SHANGHAI EXPRESS". Many years. In fact, the last time I saw it was on late night television back in the early 1990s. But I had such difficulty in finding it on VHS and later, on DVD that I never thought I would see it again . . . until I recently viewed it online. 

"SHANGHAI EXPRESS" marked the fourth out of seven collaborations between director Josef von Sternberg and actress Marlene Dietrich. Filmed and set in 1931, the movie featured a train journey in civil war-torn China from Beiping (now known as Beijing) and Shanghai. Among the passengers are missionary Mr. Carmichael, an inveterate gambler named Sam Salt, opium dealer Eric Baum, a boarding house keeper named Mrs. Haggerty, French officer Major Lenard, and mysterious Eurasian, Henry Chang. 

Also among the passengers are a British Army doctor named Captain Donald "Doc" Harvey and two high-priced "coasters" (prostitutes) - Hui Fei and the notorious coaster, "Shanghai Lily". The train journey marked the reunion between "Doc" Harvey and "Shanghai Lily", who had been lovers five years ago, when he knew her as a woman named Magdalen. Back then, Magdalen had played a trick on Harvey to test his love for her, but it backfired and he left her. Upset over the loss of Harvey, Magdalen became a courtesan, And according to her, "It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily." Lily informs Harvey that she still loves him and it becomes apparent that his feelings for her have not changed.

When government troops stop the train to search and arrest an enemy agent, the mysterious Henry Chang is revealed to be a powerful warlord, who is the agent's commanding officer. He sends a telegram and hours later, rebel troops loyal to him stop the train and take the first-class passengers hostage. Chang intends to find the right passenger he can use as barter to get back his spy. And he finds that passenger in Captain Harvey, who is on his way to perform brain surgery on a British official in Shanghai.

"SHANGHAI EXPRESS" managed to earn three Academy Award nominations - Best Picture, Best Director for Sternberg and Best Cinematography for Lee Garmes. Only Garmes won a statuette. And it was a well deserved win. The movie's look has gained a reputation for its lush and atmospheric photography, especially in the way he shot the movie's star, Marlene Dietrich. A famous example of the movie's photography could be found in the shot below:



There were other memorable moments that made the movie's photography so memorable. Moments that include the passengers boarding the train, the takeover of the train by Chang's men, and the two leads' arrival in Shanghai. But the moment that really impressed me featured the train's departure from Beiping. Not only did I find the photography in that scene impressive, but also Hans Dreier's art direction.

As for its Best Picture and Best Director nominations . . . well, I am not so certain about that. According to Dietrich, von Sternberg was more responsible for the atmospheric photography than Garmes or an uncredited James Wong Howe. That is grand. However, that little tidbit only convinced me that Sternberg should have taken home the Best Cinematography statuette, not Garmes. But I must admit that I found the nominations for Best Picture and Best Director rather questionable. "SHANGHAI EXPRESS" is an entertaining film and an interesting example of the Pre-Code era of the early 1930s. I simply found the Best Picture and Best Director nominations a little hard to swallow.

"SHANGHAI EXPRESS" struck me as the type of story that would have made a perfect summer blockbuster, if given a bigger budget and a little more action. But Jules Furthman's story did not exactly knock my socks off. And von Sternberg's slightly turgid direction could not exactly light a fire under it. Also, there were certain aspects of the story that I found questionable. Considering the circumstances behind Magdalen's breakup from Donald Harvey, I found it hard to swallow that this would drive her to become a high-priced prostitute in China for five years. I simply found that ludicrous. And Chang decided to take the train passengers hostage "before" discovering which one could be used to get his spy back. I could not help thinking it would have been more prudent to search for that valuable hostage first, before capturing the entire train. 

For a movie that featured sex, travel, romance and intrigue; there was very little action in this film. I realize this movie was made and released in 1931-32, and not in 2011-12. But even for an early 30s movie, it had very little action, considering its story line. Also, good old-fashioned early 20th century racism reared its ugly head in Chang's dealings with Magdalen and her fellow prostitute Hui Fei. The Eurasian warlord wanted both women, but was only willing to rape Hui Fei. In 1931-32 Hollywood movies, a non-white man could not soil the depths of a white woman, even if she was a whore.

The cast seemed pretty solid. But if I must honest, I could not find an exceptional performance within the cast. Marlene Dietrich gave a solid performance as the soiled Shanghai Lily. And that is the best I can say about her. She was not exactly at the top of her form as an actress in the early 30s. Garmes . . . or should I say von Sternberg's photography contributed to her status as a film icon after a year or two in Hollywood, not her acting skills.

Dietrich was supported by the likes of Clive Brook, Anna May Wong, and Warner Oland. Of the three performers, the Swedish-born Oland ended up looking the best. Despite portraying the villainous Chang, he managed to give a relaxed, yet commanding performance without resorting to any hammy acting or posing. Anna May Wong also managed to restrain from any histronics. And her character's actions near the end of the film saved the lives of the other passengers. But she barely had twenty lines, let alone ten lines in the movie; and spent the first two-thirds of the movie looking iconic . . . and playing cards. Why on earth did von Sternberg cast British actor Clive Brook as Dietrich's love interest, British Army Captain Donald "Doc" Harvey? Why? He was so wrong for the role. Brook was perfect as the patriarch of the Marryot family in Noel Coward's 1933 sentimental family saga, "CAVALCADE". But as the dashing, yet bitter Captain Harvey, he seemed out of his depth. And his chemistry with Dietrich struck me as rather flat. I hate to say this, but he was no Gary Cooper. Thankfully, other supporting players such as Eugene Pallette, Louise Classer Hale and Lawrence Grant provided plenty of comic relief and color as some of the other train passengers.

I realize that "SHANGHAI EXPRESS" is one of those highly regarded films from the Pre-Code Era. But after watching it, I could not help but feel that it might be slightly overrated. Yet, I could not deny that despite its flaws, it is a beautiful and exotic-looking film with an entertaining story. More importantly, it is an example of Josef von Sternberg's work and Marlene Dietrich's beauty at their heights.

Monday, May 28, 2012

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



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


"The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga"

The Jedi Order – Part Two

In my previous essay, I had generally touched upon the moral ambiguity that permeated the Jedi characters in the ”STAR WARS” saga. In the following essay, I hope to give a more detailed account on some of the more questionable actions committed by the major Jedi characters in the story:

Before I do, I want to focus upon something that had just occurred to me. In ”A NEW HOPE”, one of the Imperial admirals serving under Grand Moff Tarkin made this comment about the Jedi:

"VADER: Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

MOTTI: Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the Rebel's hidden fort . . ."


Judging from Admiral Motti’s comments, are we led to believe that the Jedi Order was a religious one? Considering that its members devoted a great deal of time studying and adhering to the mystical energies of the Force, perhaps it would not be wrong to say yes. And if the Jedi was a religious order, why did they allow themselves to serve a political body like the Galactic Republic? As I had mentioned in the previous essay, Obi-Wan Kenobi had informed Luke Skywalker in "A NEW HOPE" that the Jedi had served as guardians of peace and justice for the Galactic Republic. In other words, the Jedi acted as diplomats, agents of political intrigue, investigators and even warriors for the Galactic Senate. And I cannot help but wonder if the Jedi Council had made a mistake in forming such a connection.

But serving the Galactic Republic as its cadre of warriors, diplomats and intelligence agents was not the only mistake that the Jedi Order had committed. In the Prequel Trilogy, the major Jedi characters committed a series of questionable acts to preserve the Galactic Republic, which had become corrupt and fractured; and the survival of the Jedi Order. This is not surprising, considering how attached they had become to both the Order and its position within the Republic's power structure. Here is a look into some of the more questionable mistakes that some of the major Jedi characters had made:



Jedi Master Ki-Adi Mundi

At the time of "THE PHANTOM MENACE", the Cerea-born Jedi Master, Ki-Adi Mundi was a member of the Jedi Order Council. And he was among those who rejected Anakin Skywalker as an initiate for the Order. Apparently, he agreed with his colleagues that Anakin, at the age of nine, was too old to be initiated into the Order. In "ATTACK OF THE CLONES", he was among the Jedi who accompanied Yoda and the Clone troopers to rescue their Jedi colleagues and attack the Separatists on Geonosis – an action that began the three-year Clone Wars. But it was in "REVENGE OF THE SITH" where Master Mundi made a questionable suggestion. It was he who had suggested that the Jedi Council assume control of the Galactic Senate if Palpatine refuses to step down at the end of war. Not much came from this suggestion, despite Masters Yoda and Mace Windu supporting his suggestion. But it was a sign that the Jedi were willing to commit questionable acts in order to preserve the Republic and more importantly, preserve the Jedi’s status and existence.



Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn

When Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn first came to my mind, I found it difficult to spot any flaws in his personality, especially since he happens to be my favorite character in the entire saga. This is ironic – at least to me – considering that many other STAR WARS fans have heavily criticized him. However, despite my feelings for Master Jinn, I have become aware of a few flaws in his psyche. But my criticism of the Jedi Master does not match those expressed by other fans.

Many STAR WARS fans have criticized Master Jinn for ignoring Master Yoda’s warnings about initiating Anakin Skywalker into the Jedi Order. They have also criticized him for defying the Jedi Council on a regular basis. In fact, they see his unwillingness to abide by the rules and act like the good little Jedi Master as a sign of his potential to succumb to his inner darkness. I do not agree with this legion of STAR WARS fans. I saw nothing wrong with Master Jinn’s defiance of the Jedi Council. I believe that it is healthy to question and defy authority when you need to. Blind obedience strikes me as not a good path to character development. And Master Jinn had been right about Anakin. The boy did turn out to be the Chosen One. Yoda, Windu, the rest of the Jedi Council and Obi-Wan were so focused upon their fears of the future that they failed to heed Qui-Gon’s warning that the future is not set in stone. However, this did not make Master Jinn the only perfect character in the STAR WARS saga. Trust me, he had his flaws.

While watching "THE PHANTOM MENACE", I was struck by Master Jinn’s tendency toward stubbornness. It is one thing to know one’s mind. It is another to do so without considering the advice or words of others. I suspect that Master Jinn may have been one of those types who are so intent upon adhering to his own beliefs that he would blindly refuse to consider those of others. Although Qui-Gon had been right about Anakin, I cannot help but wonder if there had been any past advice he had ignored due to his own stubbornness. Judging from how Master Jinn managed to procure Anakin’s freedom from Tatooine shop owner, Watto, one could also accuse him of being a manipulator. Naboo’s young queen, Padme Amidala not only seemed aware of Qui-Gon’s manipulative nature, she had also commented upon it with an air of disapproval.



Jedi Master Mace Windu

Like his fellow Jedi Master, Ki-Adi Mundi, Mace Windu was a member of the Jedi Council in "THE PHANTOM MENACE". He was the one who tested Anakin Skywalker’s connection to the Force. And although he seemed impressed by Anakin’s abilities, he also rejected the nine year-old boy’s initiation into the Order. Along with Yoda, he questioned Anakin’s attachments to Shmi Skywalker, completely ignoring the possibility that he and his fellow Jedi were just as attached to the Jedi Order. Nor did he bother to consider Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn’s suggestion that Anakin might be the Chosen One mentioned in the Journal of the Whills prophecy. When Master Yoda suggested that they refrain from informing the Senate of the Jedi’s diminished connection to the Force in "ATTACK OF THE CLONES", Master Windu supported this decision – another example of the Jedi’s willingness to do anything to maintain the Order’s status quo. Master Windu’s arrogance came into play during the Jedi’s attempt to rescue Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi from Count Dooku and the Separatists forces on Geonosis. He seemed so certain that the Jedi would prevail that he had failed to consider the possibility that they would end up outnumbered.

However, Master Windu’s worst mistakes occurred in "REVENGE OF THE SITH". When Anakin had first been introduced to the Jedi Council in "THE PHANTOM MENACE", he had been among those who did not believe that the former slave was the ”Chosen One” who would bring balance to the Force. His opinion had changed to Anakin’s favor in "ATTACK OF THE CLONES". Yet, after the Jedi Council had learned there was a Sith Lord amongst Chancellor Palpatine’s circle, Windu’s belief in Anakin becoming the "Chosen One" took a nose dive, due to the latter’s friendship with the chancellor – and for no other reason. He also supported Ki-Adi Mundi’s suggestion that the Jedi Council assume control of the Galactic Senate if Palpatine ever failed to step down as chancellor. But in the end, Windu made his biggest mistake when he set out to arrest Palpatine after learning from Anakin that he was a Sith Lord.

Many fans have complained that Master Windu should have done the following: 1) wait for Master Yoda’s return from Kashyyyk; or 2) confront Palpatine with Anakin by his side. One, I never saw the need for Windu to wait for Yoda. I believe that he was certainly capable of confronting Palpatine on his own. Which he did not do. Jedi Masters Kit Fisto, Agen Kolar, and Saesee Tiin had accompanied him to Palpatine’s office. Granted, they had failed to give him much support, but I do not see how Windu could have foreseen this. As for his decision to leave Anakin behind . . . I saw nothing wrong with it, either. Windu had correctly sensed the fear that threatened to cloud Anakin’s judgment. If I had been Windu, I would have also left Anakin behind.

But the Jedi Master did make two serious mistakes – from my point of view. One, he had confronted Palpatine without informing the Senate or any evidence that the Chancellor was a Sith Lord. He had arrogantly assumed that as a Jedi Master, he had the right to confront Palpatine without considering the latter’s role as the political leader of the galaxy’s ruling body. And two, ignoring his earlier resolve to simply arrest Palpatine, Windu decided to kill the latter. It was not a matter of whether he was capable of committing this deed. He failed to consider that his determination to destroy what he perceived as evil, had led him to a dark place and his own death.



Jedi Master Yoda

Because he had been portrayed as the embodiment of Jedi wisdom in the Original Trilogy, many STAR WARS fans – especially the long time fans – have been inclined to dismiss or make excuses for Master Yoda’s mistakes and flaws in the Prequel Trilogy. And Yoda made just as many as Mace Windu. Yoda was one of the senior members of the Jedi Council who rejected Anakin’s bid to join the Order in "THE PHANTOM MENACE". Like the other members of the Order, Yoda viewed Anakin as a threat to their way of life, claiming that his future was clouded. Many fans had viewed this as confirmation that Yoda probably sensed Anakin’s future as a Sith Lord, when the latter was first introduced to the Council. Personally, I rather doubt it. I suspect that Yoda and the other Council members viewed the nine year-old Anakin as someone with an established outside connection or someone with a connection that might clash with their influence. Which would explain why they viewed Anakin as "a loose cannon or an unknown factor". If there is one thing that individuals fear more than anything it is an unknown future. I find it rather odd that the Jedi had never sensed Count Dooku as a future threat. Especially Yoda, who had been Dooku’s personal Jedi tutor.

When the Council finally agreed to initiate Anakin into the Order, Yoda was the only one who disagreed with this decision. He also disagreed with Obi-Wan Kenobi’s decision to choose Anakin as his padawan. I would not have had a problem with this if Yoda had agreed to give Anakin some initial training before Obi-Wan could assume the role as the nine year-old’s personal Jedi master. But he did not. The movie never confirmed that Yoda had foreseen Anakin becoming a Sith Lord. So, why did he seem determined to have nothing to do with Anakin? How was it that he viewed Anakin as a future threat, yet failed to do the same in regard to his former padawan, Count Dooku? Or sense that Chancellor Palpatine was a Sith Lord? Had Yoda’s own fears of Anakin’s unusual initiation into the Order and high midichlorian count intimidate him? Did he view Anakin as some symbol of an unknown future? Had this fear of Anakin led to the young initiate being one of the very few who had never received any training – whether as a youngling or a padawan – from Yoda? I cannot help but wonder.

Moving on to "ATTACK OF THE CLONES", I tried to recall any mistake or bad judgment call that Yoda may have committed. At first, I believed there was nothing I could criticize him for . . . until I remembered the conversation between him and Windu regarding the Jedi’s connection to the Force. After the two Jedi Masters had received a message from Obi-Wan Kenobi about the Kamino drone factory, Windu suggested they inform the Galactic Senate of their diminishing connection to the Force. Yoda nay-sayed the idea, claiming their list of adversaries would grow if they had announced this disturbing news. One could say that Yoda made a sensible decision. Or did he? Why did Yoda insist upon this suppression of the truth? Was it perhaps he feared that if the Senate knew the truth about the Jedi’s weakening connection to the Force, the political body would find a reason to get rid of the Order? Or end the Jedi’s role as the galaxy’s guardians of peace? In other words, is it possible that Yoda had feared the decline of the Jedi’s role as a major influence in the galaxy? If so, his decision struck me as a sign of the Jedi’s willingness to do anything to perpetrate the status quo and survival of their Order.

One of the more ironic moments in "ATTACK OF THE CLONES" had occurred during the Battle of Geonosis. It was Yoda who led the clone troopers into an attack upon the Separatist forces. It was he who as leader of the Republic forces, acted as the aggressor in the start of the Clone Wars. One could defend Yoda’s actions, claiming that he did so on the behalf of the Chancellor and the Galactic Senate. And that person would be right. But this would have never come about if the Jedi Order had not agreed to serve as the Senate’s political, intelligence, diplomatic and military force.

"REVENGE OF THE SITH", in my opinion, truly exposed some of Yoda’s personal fallacies. Like Windu and the rest of the Jedi Council, they had made the assumption that Anakin’s friendship with Chancellor Palpatine made automatically made him untrustworthy. Then again, Yoda never really warmed up to Anakin. And his unwillingness to bend to Anakin would prove to be catastrophic. And like Windu, Yoda had agreed to the ludicrous plan to use Anakin to spy upon the Chancellor, not realizing that it would alienate the young Jedi Knight even further from the Jedi Order. But Yoda made even bigger mistakes. Again, like Mace Windu, he agreed to Ki-Adi Mundi’s suggestion that the Jedi commit a coup d’├ętat against Chancellor Palpatine by removing him from office if he fails to give up his political powers by the end of the Clone Wars. Although Yoda stated that such an idea would be dangerous, he still seemed willing to act upon it. This was another sign of the Jedi’s willingness to resort to questionable acts in order to maintain their Order’s status quo and survival.

However, Yoda made his biggest mistake when he decided to kill Palpatine, following the Order’s destruction via the Chancellor’s Order 66. Unlike Windu, Yoda had no interest in arresting Palpatine. And he certainly made no attempt to reveal what he knew about the Chancellor. Blinded by his anger over the Jedi Order’s destruction, Yoda simply tried to kill Palpatine, believing it would be a simple solution to the Jedi’s precarious situation. It almost seemed as if Yoda did not want to acknowledge that the old Jedi Order’s time was over. Or that nothing lasts forever. One could easily accuse the Jedi Master of arrogance and of allowing his attachment to the Jedi Order to blind him from its fate. Even if he had managed to kill Palpatine, the Galactic Senate could have easily accuse him of murder . . . and they would be right to do so. Yoda’s act of aggression against Palpatine – whether he had succeeded or not – may have damaged the Jedi’s reputation within the Republic-turned-Empire even further. When he failed in his attempt to kill Palpatine and found himself fleeing from the Senate building, I suspect that Yoda finally realized the extent of his many mistakes.

Following the events of "REVENGE OF THE SITH", Yoda spent the next 23 years living on the remote planet of Dagobah. Then he met Luke Skywalker, the son of former Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker and Naboo Senator Padme Amidala. Luke had been sent by Obi-Wan Kenobi’s ghost to learn the ways of the Force by Yoda. One would think that after years of contemplating his mistakes and learning more aspects of the Force by the ghost of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, Yoda could do no wrong. The events of "THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK" proved otherwise. Like Obi-Wan, Yoda failed to tell Luke that his father – Anakin Skywalker – and the Emperor’s apprentice – Darth Vader – were one and the same. Both Yoda and Obi-Wan wanted Luke familiar with the ways of the Force in order to confront both the Emperor and Vader. Perhaps they feared if Luke knew the truth about his paternity, he would not be so eager confront the two Sith Lords – especially Vader. I suppose they believed they were only doing good. Yet, both Jedi Masters nearly tripped over their lies, when Luke learned the truth from Vader on Bespin. And what would have happened if Vader had never told Luke his real identity? Either the Sith Lord would have eventually killed Luke . . . or Luke would have killed Vader without learning that he had just killed his father. And could you image Luke’s reaction upon finally learning the truth about Vader? I suspect that his reaction to learning that Yoda and Obi-Wan had lied to him in "RETURN OF THE JEDI" would have been benign in comparison.

Before I end this article, I want to say one last thing about Yoda. Many have regarded some of his advice as words of wisdom and pointed out that if certain characters had heeded them, the Republic would have been spared a great deal of grief. In "THE PHANTOM MENACE", it was Yoda who pointed out that Anakin’s future was clouded by fear and attachment to the memory of his mother, Shmi Skywalker. And Anakin’s inability to let go of his attachments eventually led to his downfall. Yoda pointed out that the majority of Jedi Knights and Masters had become arrogant over the years in "ATTACK OF THE CLONES". Once again, he was right. And in "REVENGE OF THE SITH", he gave a lecture to Anakin about how the fear of loss could lead an individual to succumb to his/her inner darkness. Yet, Yoda’s reaction to the loss of Mace Windu and other members of the Jedi Order was to seek out Palpatine and kill him without considering the consequences of such an act. Like many others, Yoda was very good at dispensing advice. Unfortunately, he did not seem that adept at heeding his own advice.



Conclusion

Before one comes to the conclusion that I have a dislike of the Jedi Order. I do not. What I was trying to prove was that despite their reputation among STAR WARS fans for being morally above board, they had their flaws. The Jedi Masters featured in the saga were not above allowing their emotions and ego to drive them into making some serious mistakes. They were not invincible . . . and should never be viewed as such. Also, my criticisms of the Jedi Order are not a reflection of my opinion of George Lucas as a storyteller. I have come across many STAR WARS fans who have either criticized Lucas for portraying the Jedi as flawed characters, or made excuses for their actions. I can do neither. One of the reasons why I have such a high regard for Lucas’ saga is that he was willing to show that characters such as Yoda, Mace Windu and the other Jedi are capable of great flaws – regardless of whether they would are deemed "good or evil". It is this ambiguity that makes "STAR WARS" a personal favorite of mine.

In the following article, I will discuss one last Jedi character – namely Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. And I have a lot to say about him.

Friday, May 25, 2012

"The Power of One" [PG-13] - 18/20





"THE POWER OF ONE"

PART XVIII

Inside the BAY-MIRROR's parking lot, the four people approached the figure sprawled on the ground. Daley glanced down at the fallen witch. "Step one completed," she noted with an air of satisfaction. 

One of her lieutenants - Clive - said to the remaining two people nearby, "Ramon, Angela . . . pick her up." He asked Daley, "How long do we have to hold the witch?"

Daley sighed. "Don't bother to wait. I'll send all of you to the factory, where you can kill her. Dump her body in the bay." Instead of leaving, Clive and the other two hesitated. "What are you waiting for?"

"You don't mind giving us a lift, do you?" Clive asked.

"Oh. Yeah." Daley waved her hand and the others orbed out of the parking lot.

Then the sorceress chanted a brief spell. Within seconds, she transformed into the middle Halliwell sister. Daley then checked her appearance with a small, compact mirror. Satisfied by the results, she climbed into the witch's car and drove away.

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

The two figures emerged from behind a large Cadillac. "Ugh," Harry commented, grimacing at the vehicle. "I didn't realize that gas guzzlers were still popular with some people." He turned to Paige. "Think you can track Phoebe?"

The Charmed One sighed. "Maybe. This is more Leo's gig. But I'll give it a shot." Paige closed her eyes for a few seconds. She sensed . . . nothing. Then she took a deep breath and tried again. Finally, a sense of her sister's presence hit her subconscious. "Found her. Let's go."

The young couple held hands, before Paige orbed them out of the parking lot. Seconds later, they appeared in the middle of a half-deserted office, where they found an unconscious Phoebe stretched out on a black leather divan. A man and a woman flanked her. A second man with light brown skin stood near a desk . . . holding a needle.

The woman, who wore long braids to her shoulders, glanced up. "Clive! We've got company!" Then she flung her hands out, while screaming some word that Paige did not understand. Seconds later, the couple found themselves flung against a wall.

As the pair struggled to their feet, Paige murmured, "Okay, I've had enough." She disappeared from Harry's side and reappeared beside the woman. Then she caught the latter off guard with a punch to the jaw. The woman lay sprawled on the floor.

The woman's companion regarded Paige in a threatening manner, as an energy ball formed in his hand. To the Charmed One's surprise, Harry cried out, "Pain!" The energy ball disappeared, as the man clutched his head. Screaming in agony. He then dropped to the floor, unconscious.

Then the Charmed One orbed the needle out of the second man's grasp. Before she could do anything further, the needle dropped out of her hand, as someone's foot kicked her in the back. Paige fell forward and ended up sprawled over Phoebe's unconscious form. She barely heard Harry call out her name. A hand - apparently belonging to the woman she had just punched - grabbed hold of her hair and jerked her bodily to her feet.

"Ow!" Paige cried, before she orbed out of the woman's grasp. She reappeared behind the woman, tapped the latter's shoulder and knocked the woman unconscious with two punches.

The second man waved his hand and sent Paige flying back across Phoebe's body. He turned to Harry, but with a series of kick, the latter sent the man reeling to the floor. The man reached out for the needle and it flew into his grasp. He telekinetically sent it flying toward Harry, but the latter muttered a word, "Gwyro!" and the needle zipped back toward the man . . . before its tip slid into his flesh.

Paige slid off of Phoebe's body. Along with an equally fascinated Harry, she watched the man's eyes widened in horror at the sight of the needle protruding from his arm. Then his body convulsed for a few seconds and fell into a heap upon the floor. "What the hell was in that needle?" Paige demanded.

Heaving a sigh, Harry replied, "Who knows? Maybe an overdose of Ms. Bakker's Methacathinone. Right now, let's grab Phoebe and get the hell out of here." He unfastened the middle sister's bonds and slung her over his shoulder. "Okay Scotty, beam us up."

Paige shot the red-haired witch a dark glare. Then she grabbed his forearm and orbed all three of them out of the office.

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

Daley guided Phoebe Halliwell's Mini Cooper into the family's driveway. She checked the rear-view mirror and noted with satisfaction, her exact resemblance to the columnist/witch. She took a deep breath, grabbed the witch's belongings and climbed out of the vehicle. Then she made her way to the manor's front door.

For nearly a minute, Daley fumbled with the witch's keys to find the right one to open the door. After she finally managed to open the manor, she closed the door with a relieved sigh. Piper's voice cried out, "Paige? Phoebe? Is that you?"

Daley hesitated before she responded, "It's me, Piper! Phoebe!" Then she recalled the youngest sister. "Paige isn't home, yet?"

Piper emerged from the Solarium. "No, not yet." The oldest sister continued, "I guess that Paige is still at the shop, trying to find that last ingredient for the potion."

Potion? Piper's words piqued Daley's curiosity. "You . . . uh, really think that this . . . potion will work?"

Doubt seemed to creep into Piper's eyes. "I'm not sure. But since it had worked with Barbas, last year, I'm sure that it'll work on Don . . . I mean, Daley Bakker." She shook her head. "God, I keep forgetting that Donna isn't her real name."

"Yeah." Daley gave a quick, nervous laugh. Inwardly, she could not help but wonder how they had learned her real name. Then she heard a baby's cry and the more, important matter returned to her attention. Trying to sound as casual as possible, Daley asked, "Something wrong with Wyatt?"

A sigh left Piper's mouth. "Oh . . . no. It's the same problem, as usual. Wyatt's been a little fretful, ever since that bitch took his powers. I guess that he's lost a bit of himself."

At that moment, Daley felt sorely tempted to kill the Charmed One for the remark. And she would have, if the sound of an infant's cries had not filled the house. Wyatt.

Piper turned to the disguised sorceress. "Listen Pheebs, could you look in on Wyatt for me? I want to start preparing this potion. He's in the Solarium."

All thoughts of killing Piper vanished from Daley's mind. Opportunity had knocked on her door. The sorceress gave the Charmed One her most supportive smile. "Sure honey. I'd love to." The moment Piper turned away, Daley headed toward Wyatt's cries.

The red-faced infant sat inside his crib, ignoring a red butterfly that fluttered around his head. Daley allowed herself a brief smile, as she approached the infant. She transformed back to her former self. "Hello Wyatt," she cooed, while removing a hypodermic needle from her jacket pocket. Then she picked up the squalling infant. "Time for us to finish our little business together."

Using her newly acquired telekinesis, Daley removed the needle's plastic cover.
Before she could slip the needle into the child's flesh, four people teleported into the room - Piper, Cecile Dubois, Andre Morrell and the half-daemon, Cole Turner. "I'll take Wyatt, thank you very much," the daemon commented. Daley gasped as he beamed the infant out of her arms and into his own. Angry at being foiled again, the sorceress lost her temper.

The sorceress' eyes turned red. "Son-of-a-bitch!" she hissed, as a stream of red heat poured from her eyes and beamed toward Cole. The latter immediately raised one hand and deflected Daley Bakker's attack toward her. She orbed away just in time and the heat beam blew a hole in the wall.

"Good grief!" Andre cried. "Was that one of Wyatt's powers?"

Daley reappeared beside Piper and pointed a hypodermic needle at the latter's throat. "No, it's mine! Now, put the baby on the sofa." She glared at Cole. "Either do it now or she's dead!" Cole hesitated. "I mean it!"

"Do you?" the half-demon coolly murmured.

Piper cried, "Don't do it, Cole! Don't hand Wyatt over to her! I'd rather die first!" In a swift motion, she yanked the amulet from around Daley's neck and tossed it on the floor. Before the sorceress could plunge the needle into her neck, Cole teleported Piper out of harm's way and by his side. He handed Wyatt over to her.

Daley waved her hand, as she cried out, "Antoine! Remy!" Two men appeared by her side. She called out more names and four other people appeared - two men and two women. "You know what to do!" she ordered. "Leave the daemon to me!"

Before Cole knew what was happening, the sorceress' people attacked. He wanted to help the others, but he had his own problems dealing with he. As he deflected one of her energy balls, he felt sure that without the amulet, he would easily defeat her. He discovered that he had underestimated the sorceress' ability to utilize Wyatt's teleportation power. The woman moved so fast that she managed to strike his shoulder with a fireball just seconds after she had orbed behind him. In retaliation, Cole used his telekinesis to send her body slamming against the wall.

The half-daemon glanced at his companions and saw Andre engaged in hand-to-hand combat with one of Daley Bakker's companions. The houngan finally subdued the man with a magical binding ring around the latter's body. Cecile managed to send two of the sorceress' companions on their knees and crying in pain. One of them dropped to the floor with a brain aneurysm. Piper froze one of the females and placed Wyatt in the crib. Before she could freeze another minion, the latter muttered a chant and a large bolt of electricity shot from one of his hands and toward the Charmed One. Cole quickly reversed the positions of those concerned and the young bokor ended up being struck by lighting.

Daley Bakker eyed her fallen companions anxiously. She struggled to her feet, glared at Cole and began to chant in the Fon language. At that moment, a red butterfly hovered beside her head. Cole spotted it and waved his hand - transforming the butterfly into Olivia. The red-haired witch snatched a knife from one of the sorceress' henchmen using telekinesis. Before Daley could react, Olivia slashed her side with the knife, and tossed the latter to Cecile. "Use it!" she cried to the mambo.

An enraged sorceress cried out in pain. She flung an energy ball at Olivia. The latter quickly raised her hands and cried out, "Gwyra aes!" A shield immediately materialized before the witch. As the energy ball struck the shield, its force and power sent Olivia flying back against the sofa.

Cecile removed a large cloth that covered the coffee table, revealing a Vodoun altar. A strand of Wyatt's hair wrapped with bloodroot sat in one small bowl. The mambo allowed a few drops of the sorceress' blood into another bowl. She began to chant in Fon, "Oh Legba, God of the spiritual crossroads! Re-open the pathway first done so by Kalfu on the eve of the moon's first quarter. Please reverse the spell and return to this child, his powers previously stolen. In your name, I beseech you!"

The sorceress gripped her side and cried out, "No!" But it was too late. A beam of light emitted from her body and shot straight up to the roof. It eventually formed an arch, before it finally settled upon Wyatt, who squirmed inside the crib. The Bakker woman glared at Cecile. "You bitch!"

One man grabbed the beleaguered sorceress' arm. "Daley! We have to leave! Now!" He muttered a quick chant and disappeared. Along with Daley Bakker.

"Shit!" Cole exclaimed. "I didn't think they would . . ." At that moment, the rest of the sorceress' companions disappeared.

Andre shook his head in self-disgust. "I should have known that would happen. One of them must be a teleporter. Or used a teleportation spell."

Piper anxiously glanced at Cole. "Can't you get them back?"

"Sure," the half-daemon replied. He lifted his hand.

Cecile stopped him. "Don't bother. They're gone. Wyatt's safe and he has his powers back. End of story."

"But we can't let them get away!" the Charmed One cried.

A sigh left Cecile's mouth. "What are we going to do, Piper? Kill them the moment Cole returns them? Two of them are already dead, thanks to Cole and me."

"I could arrest Ms. Bakker for breaking and entering," Olivia commented. "Or the attempted murder of a nine month-old infant. Only the murder weapon is missing and I can't very well tell my captain what really happened."

Frustration tightened Piper's lips. "Fine. I get the message," she growled. "I just can't stand that the bitch got away." Her expression then softened, as she gazed upon her son. "At least Wyatt is safe. And back to normal."

"That's good to hear," Cole commented. "Because after that little battle, I need to rest." He glanced at his right shoulder. The wound left by the fireball had completely healed. "By the way, I didn't realize that Wyatt was a latent fire starter. Or an electrokinetic."

Piper continued to stare at her son. "Yeah, it is a bit of a shock." She shook her head and sighed. "Boy! Wait until Leo hears about this."


END OF PART XVIII

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"THE AVENGERS" (2012) Photo Gallery



Below are images from "THE AVENGERS", the new movie featuring Marvel Comics superheroes.  The movie was directed by Joss Whedon:


"THE AVENGERS" (2012) Photo Gallery