Sunday, September 30, 2012

"FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE" (1973) Book Review





"FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE" (1973) Book Review

Serving as the fourth entry in George MacDonald Fraser’s The Flashman Papers, this 1973 novel continued the story of Harry Flashman, a character previously from the 1857 novel, "Tom Brown’s Schooldays" and now a British Army officer in Fraser’s novels. This particular novel, "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE", recalled Flashman’s experiences during the Crimean War (1854-1856) and Imperial Russia’s expansion into Central Asia. 

One could say that "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE" could almost serve as a prequel to Fraser’s 1975 novel about the Sepoy Rebellion, "FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME". Almost. But it seemed quite obvious to me that the latter is a sequel to the 1973 novel. At least two supporting characters from this novel reappeared in "FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME". And the theme of Imperial Russia’s attempts to wrestle control of India from Great Britain in the 1975 novel, began in this novel.

The 1973 novel began with Harry Flashman enjoying the London social scene with his beautiful wife, Elspeth. With Great Britain on the brink of war against Russia on Turkey’s behalf, the cowardly Flashman believed that the only way to avoid combat was to have his Uncle Bindley secure him a post with the Board of Ordinance – the British Army’s armory. However, Flashman’s luck failed to hold (not surprisingly) and his meeting with the young German prince, William of Celle (a relation of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert) led him to become a staff galloper for Lord Raglan, the British Army’s Commander-in-Chief. The new position drew Harry against his will into the chaos of the Crimean War and in becoming a participant of one of history’s most infamous cavalry engagements – the Charge of the Light Brigade. This famous military action also led him to becoming a prisoner-of-war at the estate of a Cossack nobleman named Count Pencherjevsky

At Count Pencherjevsky’s estate, Starkosk, Flashman has a reunion with a former Rugby schoolmate, Harry "Scud" East. After the two English prisoners learned of Russia’s plans to invade India and kick the British out, they decided to make their escape following a serf uprising at Starkosk. Unfortunately for Flashman, a sleigh accident led to his recapture by the Russians and a political officer named Count Nicholas Ignitieff. Flashy’s incarceration at Fort Raim led him to an acquaintance with two famous Muslim freedom fighters from the state of Kokodad, Yakub Beg and Issat Kutebar. Luck finally caught up with Flashman, when he and his two new acquaintances are rescued by Yakub Beg’s mistress, Ko Dali’s daughter, and a band of Kokodans. Following the rescue, Harry participated in one last action against the Russians against his will . . . so to speak.

I must admit that "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE" turned out to be a well-structured and well-written novel. Unless I am mistaken, the novel was written into three parts – the London prelude, Flashman’s Crimean War experiences that included his time as a prisoner-of-war at the Starkosk estate, and finally his incarceration at Fort Raim and experiences with the Kokadans. Fraser began the novel on a strong note and finished it in a similar manner. My only sole complaint centered on Flashman’s journey to Starkosk and his time at the estate. In short, it seemed to me that the sequence threatened to bog down the pace. I suspect that Fraser’s in-depth look into Imperial Russian serfdom during this sequence is responsible. As much as I found it interesting, I also wondered if Fraser got caught up in his subject, which would seem ironic considering his failure to explore American slavery in the 1971 novel, "FLASH FOR FREEDOM!". As much as I had enjoyed Flashman’s time spent with Count Pencherjevsky and his family on the Starkosk estate, no one felt more relieved than me when he and "Scud" East finally escaped, thanks to a serf uprising. I had become rather weary of Flashman’s period as a prisoner-of-war.

Despite some of my problems with the novel, I cannot deny that "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE" is a well-written novel. Fraser did an excellent job in recapturing London during the early and mid 1850s and Great Britain’s pro-war mood on the cusp of the Crimean War. He also expertly drew readers into the world of the British Army during the first months of the war. His description of the Army caps and hospitals at Alma just before the Battle of Balaclava literally had me cringing in my seat a bit:

"So the siege was laid, the French and ourselves sitting down on the muddy, rain-sodden gullied plateau before Sevastopol, the dismalest place on earth, with no proper quarters but a few poor huts and tents, and everything to be carted up from Balaclava on the coast eight miles away. Soon the camp, and the road to it, was a stinking quagmire; everyone looked and felt filthy, the rations were poor, the work of preparing the siege was cruel hard (for the men, anyway), and all the bounce there had been in the army after Alma evaporated in the dank, feverish rain by day and the biting cold by night. Soon half of us were lousy, as some wags said, who’d holiday at Brighton if he could come to sunny Sevastopol instead?"

Another memorable passage featured Flashman’s participation in the Light Brigade Charge. Fraser did a superb job in describing not only the Battle of Balaclava, but particularly the Light Brigade Charge. I found his description of the famous military charge filled with heady action, chaos and terror – especially from Flashman’s point-of-view:

"I had only a moment to look back – my mare was galloping like a thing demented, as I steadied, there was Cardigan, waving his sabre and standing in his stirrups; the guns were only a hundred yards away, almost hiddenin a great billowing bank of smoke, a bank which kept glaring red as though some Lucifer were opening furnace doors deep inside it. There was no turning, no holding back, and even in that deafening thunder I could hear the sudden chorus of yells behind me as the torn remnant of the Light Brigade gathered itself for the final mad charge into the battery. I dug my heels, yelling nonsense and brandishing my sabre, shot into the smoke with one final rip from my bowels and a prayer that my gallant little mare wouldn’t career headlong into a gun-muzzle, staggered at the fearful concussion of a gun exploding within a yard of me – and then we were through, into the open space behind the guns, leaping the limbers and ammunition boxes with the Russians scattering to let us through, and Cardigan a bare two yards away, reining his beast back almost on its haunches."

However, one of my favorite chapters in the novel featured Flashman and the Kokordans’ attempts to destroy the Russian gunboats filled with weapons to be used against the Kokordans and the invasion of India. Before this battle took place, Ko Dali’s daughter drugged the cowardly officer with hashish (bhang) in order to force him to overcome his fear for the operation. The scene of the cowardly Flashy acting like George Armstrong Custer on crack struck me as one of the funniest passages in the entire series:

"God, what a chaos it was! I was galloping like a dervish at Kutebar’s heels, roaring 'Hark forrard! Ha-ha, you bloody foreigners, Flashy’s here!', careering through the narrow spaces between the sheds, with the muskets banging off to our left, startled sleepers crying out, and everyone yelling like be-damned. As we burst headlong onto the last stretch of open beach, and swerved past the landward end of the pier, some stout Russian was bawling and letting fly with a pistol; I left off singing 'Rule, Britannia' to take a shot at him, but missed, and there ahead someone was waving a torch and calling, and suddenly there were dark figures all around us, clutching at our bridles, almost pulling us from the saddles towards a big go-down on the north side of the pier."

George MacDonald Fraser did take historical liberties with one particular character – the novel’s main villain, Count Nicholas Ignatieff. The author described the Russian character in the following manner:

"And as our eyes met through the cigarette smoke I thought, hollo, this is another of those momentous encounters. You didn’t have to look at this chap twice to remember him forever. It was the eyes, as it so often is – I thought in that moment of Bismarck, and Charity Spring, and Akbar Khan; it had been the eyes with them, too. But this fellow’s were different from anything yet: one was blue, but the other had a divided iris, half-blue, half-brown, and the oddly fascinating effect of this was that you didn’t know where to look, but kept shifting from one to the other.

For the rest, he had a gingerish, curling hair and square, masterful face that was no way impaired by a badly-broken nose. He looked tough, and immensely self-assured; it was in his glance, in the abrupt way he moved, in the slant of the long cigarette between his fingers, in the rakish tilt of his peaked cap, in the immaculate white tunic of the Imperial Guards. He was the kind who knew exactly what was what, where everything was, and precisely who was who – especially himself. He was probably a devil with women, admired by his superiors, hated by his rivals, and abjectly feared by his subordinates. One word summed him up: bastard."


The above passage described Flashman’s opinion of Ignatieff during their first meeting on the road to Starkosk. They met for the second time, when Flashman and "Scud" East overheard Ignatieff, Czar Nicholas I and other Russian officials discuss plans to invade India during a secret meeting at Starkosk. And their third and final encounter happened after Flashman was recaptured, following his escape from Starkosk and attempt to reach the British lines on the Crimean peninsula. It was Ignatieff who tossed Flashman into the prison at Fort Raim. From what I have read, the real Ignatieff had never been quite the villain as portrayed in "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE". Fraser even admitted that he taken liberties with the character in order to provide the novel with a main villain. Mind you, I believe he could have done that a lot easier with a fictional character. Why he had decided to take a historical figure and change his character in order to make him an effective villain is beyond me.

After reading "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE", it is easy to see why it remains very popular with many fans of Fraser’s novels. It is a well written comic-adventure tale filled with interesting characters – fictional and historical. The novel also featured two very unique passages, namely the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade and the usually cowardly Flashman behaving in a brave and aggressive man during a major battle."FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE" also happened to be one of those rare Flashman novels that began and ended on a strong note. Not only does it remain popular with many Flashman fans, I personally consider it to be one of Fraser’s better works.



Friday, September 28, 2012

"A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" (1958) Review

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"A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" (1958) Review

There have been many versions about the April 1912 sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic. Many versions. And I have personally seen at least five of them. One of them happened to be the 1958 movie, "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER".

Directed by Roy Ward Baker, "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" is based upon historian Walter Lord's 1955 book about the historical sinking. Since the 1958 movie was based upon a historical book instead of a novel, Baker, producer William MacQuitty and screenwriter Eric Ambler approached the film's plot in a semi-documentary style. Even the movie's leading character turned out to be the Titanic's Second Officer, Charles Lightoller, who was portrayed by actor Kenneth More. The movie also featured other historical figures such as J. Bruce Ismay, Thomas Andrews, Captain Edward J. Smith and Margaret "Molly" Brown. Due to this semi-documentary approach, "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" is regarded as the best movie about the Titanic.

I cannot deny that there is a great deal to admire about "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER". Not only do I feel it is an excellent movie, I could see that Roy Ward Baker did his best to re-create that last night aboard the Titanic. He and Ambler gave the audience glimpses into the lives of the ship's crew and passengers. The movie also went into great detail of their efforts to remain alive following the ship's brief collision with an iceberg. Some of my favorite scenes include the Irish steerage passengers' efforts to reach the life boats on the upper decks, the wireless operators' (David McCullum and Kenneth Griffin) efforts to summon other ships to rescue the passengers and crew, and passenger Molly Brown (Tucker McGuire)'s conflict with the sole crewman in her lifeboat. But my favorite scene has to be that moment when the Titanic's stern rose high before the ship sank into the Atlantic Ocean.

For a film shot in black and white during the late 1950s, I must admit that "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" looked very handsome. Legendary cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth's phtography struck me as sharp and very elegant. I do not know if Yvonne Caffin's costume designs for the movie's 1912 setting was completely accurate, but they certainly did add to the movie's late Edwardian atmosphere. Especially those costumes for the first-class passengers. I do have to give kudos to the special effects team led by Bill Warrington. He and his team did a superb job in re-creating the ocean liner's historic sinking. I am even more impressed that their work still manages to hold up after fifty-four years.

The cast of "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" was led by Kenneth More, who portrayed Second Officer Lightoller with his usual energetic charm. More was ably supported by the likes of Laurence Naismith as Captain Smith, Michael Goodliffe's poignant portrayal of ship designer Thomas Andrews, Frank Lawton as J. Bruce Ismay, George Rose as the inebriated survivor Charles Joughin and Tucker McGuire's colorful portrayal of American socialite Molly Brown. The movie also featured future "AVENGERS" and Bond veteran Honor Blackman; David McCullum of "THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E." and "N.C.I.S." fame; and Bernard Fox, who will also appear in James Cameron's 1997 movie about the Titanic sinking. But despite the numerous good performances, I honestly have to say that I found nothing exceptional about any of them.

Like many others, I used to believe that "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" was the best movie about the Titanic. After this latest viewing, I do not believe I can maintain that opinion any longer. In fact, I am beginning to suspect there may not be any "ultimate" Titanic film. And "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" is not perfect, as far as I am concerned. Many have applauded the filmmakers for eschewing any fictional melodrama or using the sinking as a backdrop for a fictional story. Personally, I could not care less if a Titanic movie is simply a fictional melodrama or a semi-documentary film. All I require is a first-rate movie that will maintain my interest.

"A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" began with a montage of newsreel clips featuring the Titanic's christening in Belfast. One, the ship was never christened. And two, I could see that the newsreel footage used in the movie dated from the 1930s. The movie tried its best to allow the audience to identify with some of its characters. But due to "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" being a docudrama, I feel that it failed to give an in-depth study of its more prominent characters . . . making it difficult for me to identify with any of them.

I realize that "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" was a British production, but I was amazed at the low number of American passengers featured in the cast. The 1953 film, "TITANIC" suffered from a similar malady - the only British characters I could recall were members of the crew. I do remember at least three Americans in the 1958 movie - Molly Brown; Benjamin Guggenheim, portrayed by Harold Goldblatt and a third passenger, whose name escapes me. I was satisfied with McGuire's performance as Molly Brown and the nameless actor who portrayed the third American passenger. But Goldblatt portrayed Guggenheim as a member of the British upper class in both attitude and accent. It almost seemed as if the filmmakers wanted Guggenheim to be viewed as a British gentleman, instead of an American one.

Walter Lord's book made it clear that one of the last songs performed by Titanic's band was NOT "Nearer My God to Thee". Yet, the filmmakers chose to perpetrate this myth in the movie by having the remaining passengers and crew sing the song en masse before the ship began to sink in earnest. This pious attitude continued in a scene aboard the R.M.S. Carpathia, in which the survivors listened to a religious sermon. Instead of projecting an air of melancholy or despair, the survivors, thanks to Ward Baker, seemed to project an air of the British stiff upper lip cliche. I feel that a melancholic air among the survivors would have made the scene seem more human.

I cannot deny that "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER" is a first-rate look at the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic. More importantly, the movie and especially the visual effects still hold up very well after half-a-century. But the movie possesses flaws that make it difficult for me to regard it as the best Titanic movie ever made. Perhaps . . . there is no "best" Titanic movie.  Just bad or well made ones.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

"The Uninvited" [PG-13] - Act III




"THE UNINVITED"

ACT III

Gweneth, Jack and Elise McNeill glanced up from their meals to find Nimue approaching their table with two strangers in tow. "How is everyone?" the demoness greeted warmly. "I hope that you are enjoying yourselves."

The Welsh-born witch returned Nimue's greeting with an equally warm one. "The party is just lovely," she replied. Her eyes focused upon the couple standing behind the demoness. "Are these friends of yours?"

Nimue stepped aside to make introductions. "I would like you all to meet an old friend of mine. Lohdon, who is head of the Fornost Order. And beside him is Miss Adrianne Evans, a friend of his. And a wizard."

"How do you do?" the other daemon greeted. Lohdon looked like a man somewhere in his early to mid forties. Gwen suspected that he might be a lot older - at least between 150 to 200 years. Despite being slightly under six feet tall, he struck a commanding figure with his broad shoulders, light-brown skin, wiry body and dark brown eyes that glowed with authority. "This is Adrianne Evans, a friend of mine."

Lohdon's companion turned out to be a powerful wizard - a lithe blond woman in her thirties with delicate features that any supermodel would envy. She smiled at the McNeills and said, "How do you? Nimue has told us so much about you."

Gweneth recognized the accent, immediately. "You're Welsh, right?"

"Yes. I'm from Holywell," Miss Evans replied.

Nodding, Gweneth said, "Oh yes. Home of the St Winefride's Holy Well. They have a decent football team there, as well." She paused. "I'm from Aberystwyth. Along the coast."

Jack gazed at Lohdon. "I understand that you're head of the Fornost Order? Because that name sounds familiar. Have you ever heard of a daemon named Orcus?"

The smile on Lohdon's lips faded. "Yes. He was part of my order. A witch had killed him some 23 years ago. I'm afraid that Orcus tried to interfere with the witch's business." Lohdon's brows rose questioningly. "You?"

"I'm afraid so," Jack coolly replied. "Sorry for your loss."

A smirk twisted Lohdon's mouth . . . and Gweneth relaxed. "Orcus knew what he was getting into. And he paid the price. It's history."

Nimue added, "I must confess that I had invited Lohdon to the party for a reason. To meet all of you. You see . . . Marbus has told me about your encounters with the Magan Corporation, after that little incident between your daughter, myself and Zamora."

Elise frowned. "Olivia and Cole had told us that this Zamora was part of the Khorne Order. Is that what you wanted? Confirmation that it's connected with the Magan Corporation?"

Both Nimue and Lohdon exchanged uneasy glances. "Possibly," the demoness answered.

"So, you believe as we do," Jack said. "That the corporation's CEO might also be the Khorne Order's leader." He paused. "So, who is the order's present leader?"

Lohdon answered, "As far as I know, Prax. Adrianne," he glanced at his companion, "had confirmed it."

The wizard continued, "At first, I thought it might Loxias. He's an antiquity collector, who's also pretty ruthless. But Artemus, the former leader, had never been fond of him." She glanced around - almost with a desperate air. "Is there a waiter around? I need a drink."

"But what does this have to do with Lohdon?" Gweneth asked. She turned to the daemon. "Why are you so interested in the Magan Corporation?"

A sigh left Nimue's mouth, before she answered, "Surely you must have heard rumors about someone planning to become the new Source."

Elise's eyes grew wide with shock. "Now I understand." She stared at Lohdon. "You're planning to become the new Source."

Lohdon frowned. "How did you . . .?"

"I'm a telepath," Elise quickly explained. She frowned. "But we had also heard rumors of more than one faction competing for the Source's throne."

Nimue explained, "You're right. Lohdon does hope to become the new Source. And I'm one of his main supporters. I believe that Lohdon is strong enough to lead the realm into a new era . . . and intelligent enough not to perpetrate some end-of-the-world scheme, like the one that the old Source had planned over three years ago. Or try to destroy the Whitelighters Realm."

Gweneth inhaled sharply. "So, you had heard about that?"

"There wasn't a daemon in existence who didn't," Lohdon commented. "Some were upset that the Whitelighters had been saved. Others, like myself, were relieved. The destruction of the Whitelighters Realm could have upset the balance in the magical world even further."

Nimue added, "And from what I . . . 'we' know about the McNeill family, you also believe that some kind of balance should be . . ." She broke off, as her blue eyes grew wide with shock. "In Caspiel's name!" she hissed. "What the bloody hell is she doing here?" The demoness shot the McNeills a tight smile and murmured, "Excuse me," before she quickly marched toward one of the refreshment tables.

All three McNeills gazed after the obviously angry Nimue. Gweneth saw a dark-haired woman with pale skin and exotic features standing near the same table in the demoness' path. The woman's tight dress accentuated her curves in a very obvious manner. "Who is that woman?" she asked Lohdon and Miss Evans.

The female wizard smirked, as a Melorian waiter appeared before her. "Someone who obviously had not been invited."

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

Cole reached the dark-haired woman first and scowled. "Idril! What the hell are you doing here?"

The young demoness graced Cole with a brilliant smile. "Belthazor!" she exclaimed in a bell-like voice. "Is that the way to greet an old beau? I must say that you look as handsome, as ever. How long has it been? Four years? Five?"

"Not long enough, as far as I'm concerned!" the half-daemon retorted. "What are you doing here? Did Mother invite you?"

A tinkling laugh escaped from Idril's mouth. Cole had forgotten how much he hated it. Until now. "Not exactly. I . . ."

"I most certainly did not invite her!" Nimue appeared before the pair. She glared at Idril. "My dear Idril, may I ask what you are doing here?" she demanded in a soft, deadly voice.

To Cole's surprise, Idril became slightly anxious. "Nimue, I realize that I had not been issued an invitation . . ."

"No, you were not! I had only invited 'certain' members of the Order. And you do not qualify as one." Nimue's eyes narrowed slightly. "How did you manage to gain entry to this party, without an invitation?"

Idril paled slightly. "I . . . I had used Melkora's invitation."

"You mean to say that you had stolen . . .?"

The younger demoness quickly corrected her superior. "No, no! You see, Melkora is ill." She paused. "For some reason - I think it had something to do with this witch she had to deal with - she became ill. And she asked me to represent the sect for her." The Thorn Brotherhood - now renamed the Thorn Order - happened to be organized into seven different sects. And Melkora led one of them.

"Melkora asked you?" Cole's voice expressed doubt. "Now, why do I have trouble believing that?"

"It's true," Idril insisted. "If you don't believe me, you can ask Melkora, herself." She smiled at the half-daemon. "Besides, we're old friends, Belthazor. Surely, there's no harm in me showing up to congratulate you on your upcoming marriage?"

A thin smile stretched Nimue's lips. "Then, please get it over with, so you can leave."

Slightly taken aback by the older demoness' hostility, Idril's face turned pink. Then she smiled at Cole. "Well, Belthazor. Congratulations. I hope that you will be happy."

Realizing that his mother had not arranged for Idril's appearance, Cole smiled back. Politely. "Thank you, Idril. And I'm sorry that you won't be able to stay . . ."

"Oh, a new guest?" a fourth voice asked. Cole's heart beat nervously, as Olivia appeared before them.

The dark-haired demoness appraised the redheaded witch with ruthless eyes. She allowed her chest to thrust out slightly, causing great amusement for Cole. "I'm Idril. An old friend of Belthazor's."

Olivia smiled politely. "And a member of the Thorn Order, no doubt. I'm Olivia McNeill, the bride-to-be. You must be pretty high up in the order, to receive an invitation."

Idril opened her mouth, but Nimue spoke first. "Actually my dear, Idril is representing the head of her sect. Who - for some reason - had fallen ill. Unfortunately, poor Idril cannot stay much longer."

"Too bad," Olivia commented. "Business?"

The dark-haired demoness quickly recovered. "Actually Nimue," she said with a winsome smiled targeted at Cole, "that little business matter has actually been taken care of. So, it looks as if I might be able to stay a little longer."

Olivia nodded. "Good. I hope that you'll enjoy the party."

"Oh, I will." Idril gave a cryptic smile and sauntered away.

Cole glared at his mother. "You're going to allow her to stay?"

"What do you want me to do, Belthazor?" Nimue snapped back. "Kill her in front of the guests? Don't blame me for this mess. Blame Melkora for falling ill. Or better yet, why don't you blame yourself for getting involved with Idril, in the first place? I had warned you to stay away from her, years ago. Now if you will excuse me, I have some guests to attend to." She shook her head in disgust and left.

Olivia murmured, "Oh dear. Did I say something wrong?"

A sigh left Cole's mouth. "No, you didn't. None of us had any idea that Idril would crash the party. Besides . . . I hate to admit this, but Mother might be right. Especially about me getting involved with Idril, in the first place. She never did take our breakup very well."

"I'm trying to figure out what you had seen in her . . . in the first place," Olivia commented in a dry voice.

An amused smile curved Cole's lips. "I hope you're not jealous."

"More like amazed that you would date someone who looks as if she's straight out of a 60s B-movie." Olivia pecked his cheek. "It's nice to know that your taste in females has improved over the years."

Cole linked her arm through his. "I just had a lapse of judgment when I first met her. I was young. I had an itch. She provided the scratch."

Olivia peered at him. "When did this 'lapse' of judgment first occur?"

"1969."

"At the age of 84?"

Cole shot his fiancée with a quick, dark look. "Eight-four is young for a daemon. Now, c'mon. I need a drink." And he led her toward the refreshment table.

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

The two Charmed Ones and Barbara McNeill observed the dark-haired demoness mingling among the guests. "So, that's one of Cole's old girlfriends," Paige murmured. "It's a good thing Phoebe never met her. She would have suffered from a massive dose of insecurity. Olivia doesn't seem fazed by her."

"Did you get a good look at her?" Barbara demanded. "Why on earth would Olivia or Phoebe be jealous of her? I know I wouldn't."

Piper added, "It's easy to see why Olivia might not be jealous. Cole didn't seem particularly pleased to see his old girlfriend. And neither did his mom. I wonder why she was invited."

Another voice said, "Good question." The three witches glanced up at a tall, elegant woman with aquiline features. She sat down in one of the table's empty chairs.

Piper frowned at the newcomer. "Do we know you?"

"This is Cole's aunt," Barbara answered. "Marbus' wife."

The woman added, "Mauve Farrell." Paige felt a surge of guilt, at the mention of Cole's uncle, recalling how the Charmed Ones nearly killed him. His wife spoke with an Irish lilt. "Now, I do recall meeting . . . Barbara?" The blond witch nodded. Cole's aunt stared thoughtfully at the Charmed Ones. "And you are . . .?"

Paige hesitated, before she answered. "Paige Matthews. And this is my sister, Piper Halliwell."

"Oh! The Charmed Ones!" Mauve frowned. "Shouldn't there be a third sister?"

Piper replied, "She's out of town."

Mauve continued, "Oh yes, Cole's former wife. You know, it's finally nice to meet you. Cole has told us all about you. Including your sister, Frances."

"It's Phoebe," Piper murmured.

"Really? Then why does Marbus keeps calling her Frances?"

Barbara added, "Do you know anything about the dark-haired woman who was with Cole and his mother?"

The female wizard sniffed. "Oh her. Idril. One of Cole's former lovers. Cheap. Even if she is a daemon."

Piper murmured, "Figures. From the Thorne Order, I presume?"

"That's right."

Paige asked, "And you're a member of the Gimle Order, right?"

Mauve shook her head. "Oh no, dear. Not me. I'm a wizard, not a daemon."

"Wizard?" Paige blinked. "I thought that the Source . . ." She paused. "Oh wait a minute. That's not true."

Barbara stared at the younger woman. "What are you talking about?"

A sigh left the wizard's mouth. "I suppose you had been told that the old Source had wiped out all of the wizards."

"Yeah, by a certain wizard named Aman," Paige added.

Mauve explained, "Aman's order had been wiped out by the Source. Good riddance, if you ask me. Trust me, other wizards still survive." She pointed at an elegant-looking blond woman with killer cheekbones and blue eyes. "You see that woman? She's another wizard. Her name is Adrianne Evans. She's also Lohdon's mistress." Her expression hinted slight disapproval.

"Lohdon?" Piper frowned. "Isn't he the head of some demonic order? The Forost . . . or something like that?"

"The Fornost Order," Mauve corrected. "Yes, Lohdon and Adrianne have been close since the 1960s."

Paige frowned. "She looks as if she had been born after the 60s."

"Well, of course, my dear. Some wizards have a very long life. A lot longer than other mortals. Including witches." Mauve paused. "I had been born in the 1840s." All three witches stared at the older woman, who looked as if she was in her late forties or early fifties.

A masculine voice added, "Wizards are masters at prolonging life. Sometimes I wonder if they want to be daemons . . . just like us." The owner of the voice sat down in the remaining empty chair. "Mauve. It's been a long time." He was a tall and extremely pale man, who reminded Paige of the HARRY POTTER character, Severus Snape. Only this joker sported a haircut.

The wizard gave the newcomer a cool look. "Ascaroth. Is there a reason you had decided to join us?"

"Actually, I had meant to ask if you had seen Nimue, but I decided to join in your little conversation." Ascaroth paused. "I assume you were talking about Belthazor and Idril."

Barbara replied, "As a matter of fact, we were. Do you know anything about it?"

"He should," Mauve haughtily replied, "He's Nimue's personal little minion."

The demon shot the wizard a dark look. "I'm Nimue's personal assistant," he said to the witches. "And yes, I do know about them. Belthazor had first dated Idril, nearly forty years ago. In the late 60s. Nimue was against it, of course."

"Why . . . 'of course'?" Paige asked.

Ascaroth replied, "Idril was one of Raynor's protégées. Some say that she was his mistress on-and-off. Raynor wanted them to marry for some reason I don't know. Nimue, who resented his influence over Belthazor, was against it. I don't think that Belthazor was really that interested in Idril. But he thought that Nimue was trying to interfere, so he got involved with Idril, anyway." The demon snickered. "Much to his regret."

"Meaning?" Piper demanded.

The demon sighed. "Idril is lovely and quite clever. But she is also shallow. And a bit . . . obvious. She had produced and starred in a series of bad B-movies in the mid 1960s." Ascaroth shivered with distaste. "Quite horrible, my dear. She and Belthazor became involved again . . . just four years ago. But that relationship had lasted even shorter. Unfortunately for poor Idril, she was never really Belthazor's style." He smiled at the witches. "Anything else you want to know?"

Barbara replied, "Yeah. Is there someone planning to become the new Source?"

Ascaroth paled even more. "Excuse me. I believe I see Nimue." He quickly stood up and walked away.

"Now that was interesting," Mauve commented. She glanced at Barbara. "I think you may have stumbled upon something."

The two Charmed Ones exchanged uneasy looks, clearly hoping otherwise. The last thing they wanted to face was a new Source. And the fact that the McNeills might play a part in this possibility made them feel even more uneasy.

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

Logan took a deep breath and stood up. He had remained inside his hotel room, long enough. It was time to complete his assignment. The warlock reached inside his pocket and removed a small vial that contained some kind of yellow liquid. It was poison made from the seeds of a few yew berries.

Then he slipped out of his room and headed toward the hotel's first floor. Just before he reached the Leithian Room, Logan morphed into one of the hotel's four-armed employees. He strode into the ballroom and headed straight toward the refreshment tables, where another blue creature - one with two arms - awaited him.

"There you are!" the two-armed Melorian demanded. He shoved two trays filled with hors d'oeuvres into two of Logan's hands. "Here! Take them and circulate the room. And next time, don't be late!"

Slightly taken aback by the Melorian's demeanor, Logan merely nodded and mumbled, "Yes sir." With the trays in hand, the warlock merged into the crowd. As he passed out numerous hors d'oeuvres to the guess, Logan realized that not one daemon or witch had expressed any suspicion toward him. Or sensed that he was something other than another Melorian waiter. Not even the mighty Belthazor, to whom Logan had served a few hors d'oeuvres.

Realizing that he would be able to circulate among past colleagues and acquaintances without being detected, Logan decided to complete his mission. Just as he turned on his heels to start back, a voice stopped him. "Hold on!" A hand reached for a hors d'oeuvre.

Logan recognized the daemon that had teleported him to this dimension. He smiled. "Are you sure that you want to eat that? I might have saved it for the witch."

The hors d'oeuvre halted less than an inch from his companion's mouth. The daemon quickly dropped it on the tray. "Why haven't you served it to her, yet? You're going the wrong way."

"Because I had planned to poison her in another way," Logan shot back. "When will Belthazor's mother make the announcement?"

The daemon retorted, "What are you talking about?"

"The announcement for the engagement!" Logan sighed. "Haven't you ever attended an engagement party, before?"

"Of course not! Besides, why do you need to know?"

Another frustrated sigh escaped from Logan's mouth. "Because a toast - with a drink - usually follows an engagement announcement. And I plan to make sure that Miss McNeill will drink more than just champagne." Again, he sighed. "Aw, hell! I'll find out from my . . . supervisor. Just be prepared to get me out of here, when I'm ready." Logan walked away before his companion could reply.

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

"Excuse me, Nimue."

The demoness, who had been conversing with a guest, turned to face her assistant. "Yes, Ascaroth?"

Her assistant continued, "The champagne has arrived for the toast. When do you plan to make the announcement?"

Nimue graciously excused herself from the guest. She drew Ascaroth away to a private spot. "The announcement? Oh, for Belthazor's engagement. Yes, of course." She stared at the guests, scattered throughout the ballroom. "You can start making arrangements to pass out the champagne, now." Ascaroth nodded and walked away. Nimue sighed and returned to her guests.

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

". . . of the strangest experience in my life," Guldur was saying. "Have you ever experienced any of those moments when you honestly believe that you will die, and your life just flashes before your eyes?"

Olivia nodded. She and the daemon sat at one of the near empty tables in the Leithian Room. Guldur happened to be in the middle of a tale about his encounter with a powerful wizard who harbored information needed by the Fornost Order. "I suppose that last task must have been rather difficult," she said, oozing sympathy. "Getting the orb, I mean."

"Actually, it was a chalice," Guldur corrected. "The Delphi Chalice. It had allegedly belonged to the Roman god, Apollo. The chalice - filled with water, of course - not only enabled a person to see the future and the past, but it can also serve as a mirror to alternate dimensions. I had to kill this . . . python in order to . . . eh, grab it." The daemon sighed. "I never thought I would survive. Especially since my electrokinesis and other powers seemed had no effect . . ."

Cole appeared at the table. "Am I interrupting your conversation?" He regarded both Olivia and Guldur with curious eyes. "So Guldur, boring Olivia with another one of your tales about your exploits?"

The other daemon sneered. "Really Belthazor, I had no idea that you regarded my exploits as . . . boring. But then what can I expect from one of the Source's top assassins."

"Don't worry Guldur," Olivia said, smiling at the daemon. "I found your exploits to be very exciting."

Guldur returned her smile. "Thank you, Olivia. It's nice to find someone who is appreciative of my talents." He shot a dark look at Cole and left the table.

Olivia stood up and turned to her fiancé. "By the way, did he really steal this . . . Delphi chalice for some wizard?"

"Guldur had done a lot of things in his time," Cole replied. "That's why he was one of the deadliest daemons before he became Lohdon's assistant."

As she linked arms with Cole, Olivia shot him a knowing smile. "Was that some kind of warning for me to stay away from him?"

Cole sighed. "I wouldn't even bother. I'm sure that you're quite aware of how dangerous he can be. In fact," he paused and stared thoughtfully at his fiancée, "I have this deep suspicion that you wanted to speak to him. Pick his mind, so to speak. Come to think of it, you've been talking to a good number of my former colleagues. And members of the Fornost Order. What exactly are you up to?"

"If you must know, I was curious about what Guldur's boss, your mother and my parents were talking about."

Cole's eyes narrowed. "And?"

Olivia shrugged. "And nothing. He didn't know what they were talking about. However, I did pick up some interesting information about his background and his past. In fact, I haven't even heard of the Delphi Chalice, until today."

A waiter appeared before the couple and literally shoved one end of the tray in Olivia's face. "Champagne? The hostess will be making an announcement, soon."

Glaring at the waiter, Olivia grabbed the nearest glass. "Thanks," she muttered. Cole grabbed another glass. "I think we better make our way toward the front."

As they moved toward the bandstand, the half-daemon stared at the Fornost Order's leader, conversing with Bruce and Barbara. "Perhaps Adrianne might know."

"Who?"

A woman's voice added, "I believe that Belthazor was referring to me." The voice's owner, an elegant blond woman appeared before the couple. "Belthazor, congratulations." She offered a hand to Olivia. "It's nice to meet you, Miss McNeill. I'm Adrianne Evans." The woman spoke with a soft Welsh accent, similar to Olivia's mother. "A friend of Lohdon's."

Cole added, "And she's also a wizard."

"Oh. Well, uh . . . my name is Olivia McNeill. Nice to meet you." The witch shook the other woman's hand. "I suppose you might know what my parents were discussing with Nimue and Lohdon?"

Adrianne sighed. "I'm afraid not." She cleared her throat. "Damn this dry throat. I've been drowning myself in liquids of every kind, all day. And no, Lohdon had decided to keep me in the dark, as well." Glancing at Olivia's glass, she asked, "Do you mind if I drink your champagne? I've already drunk all of mine." The wizard grabbed Olivia's glass and consumed the champagne in three swallows. She sighed before remorsefully returning the glass to the witch. "I'm sorry about that, but this dry mouth has been bothering me all day. Perhaps I can find another waiter."

"I see one," Cole said. He summoned another Melorian waiter. Who appeared with a tray with more glasses filled with champagne. Cole handed a glass to each female and took one for him. "If I were you, Adrianne, I would wait for the toast."

The wizard smirked at the half-daemon. "Of course. I only hope that Nimue doesn't take long to . . ." She broke off, as her body shuddered violently.

Both Olivia and Cole stared at the female wizard. "Adrianne?" the half-daemon began in a concerned voice. "Are you okay?"

More convulsions followed, much to Olivia's consternation. Then the wizard's elegant face turned deadly white. She clutched her chest and shuddered a few more times, before she collapsed upon the floor.

"Good God!" Olivia exclaimed, as she stared at the fallen woman. "What happened? Is she . . .?"

Cole knelt beside the wizard and examined her for a pulse. Grim-faced, he stared up at Olivia and shook his head. "Nothing. No pulse." He sighed. "I'm afraid that she's dead."


END OF ACT III

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"LAWLESS" (2012) Photo Gallery



Below are images from the new Depression era drama called "LAWLESS". Based upon Matt Bondurant's 2008 novel, "The Wettest County in the World", the movie was directed by John Hilcoat and stars Shia LaBepouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke and Guy Pearce:


"LAWLESS" (2012) Photo Gallery