Thursday, July 31, 2008

"THE DARK KNIGHT" (2008) Photo Gallery



"THE DARK KNIGHT" (2008) Photo Gallery


Below is a gallery of photos from the new Batman movie that stars Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine:

















































Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"THE SEA HAWK" (1940) Review



”THE SEA HAWK” (1940) Review

If anyone has ever read Rafael Sabatini’s 1915 novel, ”The Sea Hawk”, he or she has clearly seen that the so-called 1940 film adaptation with the same title . . . is not the same story. I have never read Sabatini’s novel. But I have a friend who has. And according to him, the 1924 silent film adaptation bore a closer resemblance to the novel.

In the end, it is not surprising that this 1940 adventure bore little or no resemblance to Sabatini’s novel – aside from the main protagonist enduring a stint as slave aboard a Spanish galley. Although Warner Brothers studio had owned the film rights to the novel and released the 1924 version, one of their staff screenwriters – Seton I. Miller – had written a treatment that happened to be an Elizabethan adventure called ”Beggars of the Sea” in 1938. Warners decided to use Miller’s treatment and the title of Sabatini’s novel for an Errol Flynn vehicle.

”THE SEA HAWK” told the story about an Elizabethan privateer (official pirate for the English Crown) named Captain Geoffrey Thorpe (Flynn) who belongs with a group of other privateers known as the Sea Hawks. Thorpe’s capture and plunder of a galley carrying Don José Alvarez de Cordoba (Claude Rains), the Spanish ambassador to the English Court and his niece, Doña Maria de Cordoba (Brenda Marshall); attracts the attention of Spain and a traitorous minister in Elizabeth I’s court – Lord Wolfingham (Henry Daniell). The privateer proposes to Elizabeth (Flora Robson) an expedition to plunder Spanish gold in Panama. Lord Wolfingham and Don Alavarez learn of his plans via one of their English spies and set a trap for Thorpe in Panama. At the same time, Don Alvarez uses the privateer’s capture as an excuse to pressure the Queen to disband and arrest the other Sea Hawk captains.

I had noticed something rather curious about the movie’s cast. A good number of them happened to be American-born – including leading lady Brenda Marshall (born in the Philippines to American parents), Alan Hale, Edgar Buchannan (of ”PETTICOAT JUNCTION” fame) and a good number of others. This was not the first Flynn movie with an English or British setting. After all, Hale had appeared in ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD” (1938), along with fellow American Eugene Pallette. And actor Ross Alexander had appeared in ”CAPTAIN BLOOD” (1935). But this is the first time I can recall this number of Americans in a Flynn movie set outside the United States. I wonder if this had anything to with the possibility that many younger British actors – leading and supporting – had left Hollywood to join the British forces after the war began.

Amongst the supporting players in the cast was a veteran from one of Flynn’s past – namely Ona O’Connor. As she had done in ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD”, she portrayed another plain-faced maid of a noblewoman, who manages to find romance with one of Flynn’s men. In ”THE SEA HAWK”, the lucky fellow in question turned out to be Hale. And if one is sharp, one would recognize Gilbert Roland as the Spanish sea captain, whose ship is captured by Thorpe in the film’s first action sequence. Being just as handsome and dashing as Flynn, it seemed only natural that Roland’s character would get his revenge in the movie’s second half. I must say that the collection of supporting actors and extras that had made up Geoffrey Thorpe’s crew did a first-rate job, despite the number of American accents. Unlike those who portrayed Robin Hood’s Merrie Men in the 1938 film, the actors that portrayed Thorpe’s crew had the opportunity to display their talents for on-screen suffering during two major sequences in the film.

Another one of Warner Brothers’ top character actors and veteran of past Flynn movies was Alan Hale, who portrayed Thorpe’s first officer Carl Pitts. I have been trying to think of something original to say about Hale, but why bother? Let’s face it. Everyone knows that he was a talented actor until his death in 1950. ”THE SEA HAWK” not only provided enough proof of his talent, but also his obvious screen chemistry with Flynn. I had especially enjoyed one of their scenes that involved a humorous discussion on Panamanian mosquitoes. And it still amazes me how an American actor can project an Old World aura while sporting a questionable accent. ”THE SEA HAWK” also marked legendary British character actress Flora Robson second portrayal of the Tudor queen, Elizabeth I. She had first portrayed this role in the 1937 movie, ”FIRE OVER ENGLAND” with Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh. In this movie, her Elizabeth possessed a witty and extroverted nature that easily became commanding and a little frightening when crossed. I have only seen ”FIRE OVER ENGLAND” once and it happened over a decade ago. But I must admit that I enjoyed Robson’s interpretation of Elizabeth in this movie, very much. And her scenes with Flynn crackled with the obvious chemistry of two people who seemed to enjoy each other’s company.


One could always count upon an Errol Flynn swashbuckler to include first-rate villains. ”THE SEA HAWK” certainly had two – namely Henry Daniell as the traitorous Lord Wolfingham and Claude Rains as the Spanish ambassador, Don José Alvarez de Cordoba. Rains had already appeared as the backstabbing Prince John in ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD”. Although his Don Alvarez is clearly Geoffrey Thorpe’s enemy, one could never accuse the character of being perfidious, like Prince John. Don Alvarez is first and foremost a patriot. Despite his plotting against Thorpe, the other Sea Hawks and the Queen, his actions clearly stemmed from his patriotic fervor and loyalty to Spain and outrage toward Thorpe’s piratical actions against his country. He also seemed to have a close and warm relationship with his Anglo-Spanish niece, Doña Maria. Their kinship turned out to be strong enough to withstand her feelings of love toward Thorpe and her decision to remain in England, instead of returning to Spain with him. Henry Daniell’s Lord Wolfingham turned out to be a different kettle of fish . . . a true villain. He was an Englishman who clearly seemed bent upon working against the English Crown. One could assume that he was a practicing Catholic with hostile feelings toward Elizabeth’s Protestantism – like the Duke of Norfolk character in the 1998 film ”ELIZABETH”. But Miller and Koch had never offered any hints of his religious affiliation. It did reveal his desire for more political power if Spain had ever conquered England. Which made his betrayal all the more distasteful. And I must say that actor Henry Daniell had superbly portrayed Wolfingham with a lively relish I have rarely seen in his other roles.

One of the commentators for the movie’s DVD featurette had described actress Brenda Marshall as ”good at playing outraged”. That was it . He said nothing about her skills as an actress or screen presence. As for other critics, they tend to point out that in ”THE SEA HAWK”, the leading lady was not Olivia De Havilland. As if that is supposed to explain everything. I have been a fan of the movie for years and to be frank, I have never been bothered by Brenda Marshall as Flynn’s leading lady in this film, instead of De Havilland. The American-born actress seemed more suited for this role as the Anglo-Spanish Doña Maria, who found herself falling in love with her uncle’s enemy – Geoffrey Thorpe. She may not have generated the same level of chemistry with Flynn as De Havilland did. But she and Flynn certainly managed to create a strong screen chemistry. And what I especially liked about Marshall’s performance was her ability to flesh out Maria’s strength of character beneath the delicate façade. Especially when the character helped smuggled a wanted Thorpe into the royal palace for an audience with the Queen. Yet, Marshall’s finest moment in ”THE SEA HAWK” occurred during Doña Maria’s encounter with the British galley slaves pouring from beneath the ship, following Thorpe’s victory in the film’s first quarter. The mixture of shock and embarrassment on Marshall’s face seemed to confirm her skills as a talented actress.

Based upon some of the online reviews I have read for ”THE SEA HAWKS”, most critics seemed impressed by Errol Flynn’s portrayal of Captain Geoffrey Thorpe. They seemed to be impressed by his on-screen daring-do and sense of command. The critics labeled Flynn’s Thorpe as a mature Captain Blood or Robin of Locksley. Like the critics, I was impressed by Flynn’s performance. However, I certainly do not agree with their assessment of role merely as a mature Captain Blood”. Geoffrey Thorpe struck me as a different kettle of fish. Yes, believe that Thorpe was a more mature character than his previous ones. But I saw him as a mature professional that possessed an intense, no-nonsense personality. Yet, Thorpe also managed to retain a sharp sense of humor that seemed to come from nowhere and bite his victim in the ass. When it came to romance, he became a shy, tongue-twisted lover-to-be – something that has never been apparent in his previous roles. And Flynn captured all of these different nuances of the Geoffrey Thorpe character with a competent skill that should have garnered him more professional respect from Warners Brothers and the Hollywood community at large. I view Geoffrey Thorpe as one of Flynn’s best roles during his twenty-something long career.

I have one last thing to say about both Errol Flynn and Brenda Marshall’s roles in ”THE SEA HAWK”. The last time I had viewed this movie, something about their characters that I found curious. The characters of both Geoffrey Thorpe and Doña Maria Alvarez reminded me of two literary characters from a novel I have not read in over a year. Has anyone ever read ”The Shadow of the Moon” by M.M. Kaye? It is a novel about the 1857-58 Sepoy Rebellion in India that was first published in 1959 – nineteen years after ”THE SEA HAWK”. The two main characters – Contessa Winter de Ballesteros and Captain Alex Randall - bore a strong resemblance to Thorpe and Doña Maria. Both Thorpe and Alex Randall are two military men that possessed an intense, professional demeanor countered by a sharp sense of humor. And both Doña Maria and Winter de Ballesteros are two young Anglo-Spanish women who hide their emotional personalities behind a reserved manner. Curious indeed.

I have never read Rafael Sabatini’s novel. But I have read the synopsis. And I must say that it read like a first-rate adventure. I can honestly say the same about this 1940 film version as well. Seton I. Miller and Howard Koch (who co-wrote ”CASABLANCA”) had created a top-notch script that eventually became one of Errol Flynn’s best movies. It provided plenty of humor, action, intrigue, pathos and romance. And like some of Flynn’s better movies, it possessed something unique that made it memorable. ”THE SEA HAWK” had been released about year after World War II began in September 1939. Many film critics and fans have pointed out that the movie’s plot seemed to serve as some kind of allegory of the war in 1940. In the movie, England stood alone against the growing threat of Imperial Spain. Around the time of the movie’s release in July 1940, Great Britain found itself standing alone against the growing threat of Nazi Germany. Sixteenth century Spain. Nazi Germany in 1939-1940. I get the feeling that Miller and especially Koch knew what they were doing when writing the movie’s script. Especially since Spain (under Franco’s Fascist rule) happened to be one of Germany’s allies in 1940. The strongest indication of ”THE SEA HAWK” being an allegory of World War II’s early years came in the form of the Queen’s speech in the final scene that hinted for all free men to defend liberty, and that the world did not belong to any one man. She might as well have been speaking to the British subjects of 1940, instead of 1588.

Right now, I want to speak about some of the movie’s major sequences. At least those sequences that left a big impression upon me. The first major sequence involved Thrope’s sea battle against the Spanish galley conveying Don Alvarez and Doña Maria to English. In all honesty, I found myself feeling less impressed with this sequence. Although filled with thunderous canon fire, men swinging from one ship to the other and plenty of swordplay, the entire battle seemed to possess a lack of urgency. And the large number of men participating in the battle struck me as over-the-top in a way that made me wonder how so many people – a good number of them that became Thorpe’s prisoners – managed to reach England without the English ship sinking from the sheer weight. I wondered if producer Hal Wallis and director Michael Curtiz had originally mistaken this sequence with the final cavalry charge from ”THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE”.

Thankfully, there were other sequences in ”THE SEA HAWK” that I found impressive. Thorpe’s private meeting with Queen Elizabeth had allowed Flynn and Robson to sparkle on screen. I understand that they were very fond of each other. In fact, Flynn had so much respect for Robson that he eschewed his usual lax discipline and appeared on the set on time and always knew his lines. This behavior baffled director Michael Curtiz, who had grown used to Flynn’s less than admirable on-the-set behavior.

The one sequence that left a strong impression in my mind featured the adventures of Thorpe and his crew in Panama. Thanks to cinematographer Sol Polito, the entire Panama sequence had been filmed with a sheen of yellow sepia to evoke a tropical world filled with humidity and corruption. This became especially effective in the scenes that featured Thorpe and his men’s attempts to escape the Spanish troops hunting them down in the jungle. Personally, I found the entire sequence rather chilling . . . at least a first. It became downright depressing when one of Thorpe’s men – an elderly sailor – dies in the longboat taking them back to the ship.

And if you thought that the Panama sequence seemed a little horrifying, try watching the following one that featured Thorpe and his surviving crew as slaves aboard a Spanish galley. Stripped to the waist and sporting torn breeches and scraggly beards, Thorpe and his men readily physically reflected the hellish situation in which they found themselves. While the galley is docked in Cadiz, Thorpe learns from a new prisoner (an English spy) that there are papers aboard ship indicating Wolfingham as a traitor and Spain’s plans to send an armada against England. The escape attempt that followed harbored an air of a grim deadliness, resulting in the deaths of some Spanish crewman.

Thorpe and his men finally make their escape from the Cadiz docks to the tune of a rousing Korngold score. The movie eventually shifts back to England, where Thorpe reunites with Doña Maria. She helps him overcome obstacles in his efforts to acquire an audience with the Queen. One of these obstacles turned out to be a duel between Thorpe and Wolfingham. Frankly, I consider this duel to be one of Flynn’s best on screen. Unfortunately Henry Daniell, Flynn’s opponent, lacked the experience and skills for on screen fencing and the Australian actor ended up fighting against a stunt double. Despite this little setback, Curtiz managed to create a more than credible fencing duel by mixing actual fighting between Flynn and the stuntman with occasional close-ups of both Flynn and Daniell, and shadows of the two swordsmen reflected on the palace walls. In terms of action, I consider this to be one of Curtiz’s finest moments. I must also say the same for Flynn. I had noticed a series of cuts on the actor’s upper body and face, following Thorpe’s fights with Wolfingham and the palace guards. I cannot ever recall Flynn looking so exhausted and bedraggled following an on-screen duel in any movie – before or after this one.

The last major sequence in ”THE SEA HAWK” featured Geoffrey Thorpe being knighted Queen Elizabeth for his service. A patriotic speech by the Queen followed, in which she urged the English citizens to persevere against the upcoming threat of the Spanish Armada. This speech was a clear indication that the movie was more than just another Flynn costumed adventure. It was also an allegory of Great Britain’s wartime position in 1940. Unfortunately, the speech bored the pants off me. Miller and Koch’s attempt to express their sympathy toward Britain’s struggles against Nazi Germany struck me at best, heavy handed.

For years, ”THE SEA HAWK” used to be my favorite Errol Flynn movie. After a recent viewing of the 1936 movie, ”THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE”, the movie has slipped to number two on my list. But thanks to solid performances by Flynn and a first-rate supporting cast, superb photography by Sol Polito, Erich Wolfgang Korngold’ stirring score, an excellent yet occasionally heavy-handed script by Seton I. Miller and Howard Koch, and exciting direction by Michael Curtiz; ”THE SEA HAWK” is still a superb costumed adventure that has not lost its touch in the past sixty-eight (68) years. I feel that it is a must see for everyone.

Monday, July 28, 2008

My Top Ten Most Depressing “STAR TREK VOYAGER” Episodes




My Top Ten Most Depressing “STAR TREK VOYAGER” Episodes

Below is a list of what I believe to be the top ten (10) most depressing or darkest ”STAR TREK VOYAGER” episodes:



1. ”Memorial” - Chakotay, Tom Paris, Harry Kim, and Neelix begin to experience strange visions after an away mission. Voyager’s crew discover that the four had earlier encounter a war memorial that convey memories of a past military massacre. (Season 6)




2. ”Course: Oblivion” - After B'Elanna Torres and Tom Paris get married, subspace radiation causes the crew and their ship to disintegrate. (Season 5)




3. ”Tuvix” - A transporter accident merges Tuvok and Neelix into a new person. (Season 2)




4. ”Deadlock” - A duplicate Voyager is created after it passes through a spatial scission, after the original ship tries to evade a Vidian ship. (Season 2)




5. ”Prey” - Voyager rescues a Hirogen survivor who tells them a new kind of prey is on the loose – namely a stranded Species 8472 trying to return home. (Season 4)




6. ”Hunters” - A transmission from Starfleet Command gets held at a Hirogen relay station and Janeway sets course to retrieve it, along with letters from home for the crew. (Season 4)




7. ”Extreme Risk” - B'Elanna Torres purposely puts herself into increasingly more dangerous situations, in order to deal with her survivor’s guilt over the destruction of the Maquis. Meanwhile the crew decides to build a new shuttlecraft, the Delta Flyer. (Season 5)




8. ”Friendship One” - The crew is sent on its first mission by Starfleet in years: to find a lost probe from Earth’s past that has endangered a planet in the Delta Quadrant. (Season 7)




9. ”Thirty Days” - Tom Paris disregards orders by helping an aquatic world and pays the price for his actions. (Season 5)




10. ”Mortal Coil” - Neelix dies in an attempt to sample proto-matter from a nebula. Seven-of-Nine believes she can revive him using Borg nanoprobes, but Neelix finds it hard to adjust, particularly given that he has no memory of an afterlife of any kind. (Season 4)


Well . . . there they are. What are your choices?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

"HELLBOY II: The Golden Army" Review




”HELLBOY II: The Golden Army” Review

Based upon the Dark Horse Comics character, ”HELLBOY II: The Golden Army” is the sequel to the 2004 hit about a red-skinned demon that works for a paranormal agency of the U.S. government, ”HELLBOY”. The sequel is about Hellboy’s conflict with Prince Nuada, son of the King of Elves, who wants to use a clockwork group of soldiers called the Golden Army to exterminate humanity in revenge for the latter’s past hostilities against mythical creatures.

Okay, so what do I think about the movie? About the same as I had felt about the original 2004 film – I think it is simply a good, old-fashioned adventure-fantasy movie, filled with solid entertainment. I never saw anything really exceptional about ”HELLBOY II”. Well, I take that back. There were aspects of the movie that I really enjoyed.

For example, I was happy to see that director Guillermo del Toro managed to bring back most of the original cast from the first movie. I had read somewhere that the studio executives for the original film wanted someone like Vin Diesel in the leading role of Hellboy. Fortunately, del Toro had insisted upon casting Ron Perlman, with whom he worked before. And all I can say is thank goodness. Just as Robert Downey Jr. made the role of Tony Stark/Ironman as his own, Perlman did the same with Hellboy not only in the first film, but in this second one, as well. Ron Perlman is Hellboy. Granted, Vin Diesel has become a good actor over the years, I really cannot see him portray the snarky and slightly aggressive demon with a mixture of gruffness, sarcasm and heartfelt tenderness toward his lady love.

Selma Blair reprised her role as Hellboy’s pyrokinetic love, Liz Sherman. And as in the first film, her subtle, yet sardonic take on Liz balanced beautifully with Perlman’s gruff Hellboy. Doug Jones’ portrayal of the fluidic Abe Sapien rose to the level of delicious charm and pathos, especially when his character falls in love with Prince Nuada’s sister, Princess Nuala. Jones also portrayed the androgynous and enigmatic Angel of Death with equal ease. Jeffrey Tambor was just as snarky as ever as director of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, Tom Manning.

Additions to the cast included Anna Walton, in a sweet and effervescent portrayal of Princess Nuala. Actor and singer Luke Goss portrayed the yang to Nuala’s yin, Prince Nuada. Although the villain of the story, Goss’ Nuada is a complex and fascinating character who desire for the destruction of humanity is not driven by sheer evil. He wants revenge for humanity’s betrayal against the supernatural world and views them – or us – as a potent threat to the future. And I must say that Goss as Nuada wielded a mean sword with moves that would impress (perhaps mildly) the likes of Jet Li. Replacing FBI Special Agent John Myers (Rupert Evans) in the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense was Johann Krauss, a German psychic who became an ectoplasmic being contained in a suit after a botched séance. And actor/writer Seth MacFarlane did a hilarious job in capturing the exacting and anal Krauss with a delicious German accent.

Screenwriters del Toro (the director) and Mike Mignola (also creator of Hellboy) created a solid and entertaining tale that centered around Hellboy and the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense’s attempts to meet the threat of Prince Nuada’s plan to use the Golden Army against the humanity. The movie also focused upon the demon’s continuing problems in his relationship with Liz (who is pregnant) and his new immediate supervisor, Strauss. Speaking of the latter, there is a hilarious sequence in which the ectoplasmic being uses locker doors to prove how dangerous he can be.

And what is a Hellboy movie (or should I say Guillermo del Toro movie) without visual effects? Once again, del Toro enlisted the help of Spectral Motion to create some stunning visual effects. Amongst the most memorable for me were the collection of demons featured in the Troll Market sequence and especially the multi-optical demon voiced by Doug Jones – the Angel of Death. Usually, I tend to be turned off by over-the-top visual effects. Especially when they are pushed into your face by filmmakers eager to show the unusual aspects of their film. In ”HELLBOY II”, del Toro and Spectral Motion managed to refrain themselves by revealing the visuals when the story truly required them.

I am not going to pretend that ”HELLBOY II” was at the level of ”IRON MAN”, ”SPEED RACER” or ”THE DARK KNIGHT”. But I must admit that it was damn entertaining, thanks to a first-rate cast led by Ron Perlman, a solid story and weird and stunning visual effects. I highly recommend it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Whatever You Desire" [R] - 3/5




"WHATEVER YOU DESIRE"

PART 3

Loud voices and laughter mingled with the music coming from the CD player. Cole continued to nibble his food, as he watched the guests enjoy themselves. A couple walked past him, sank into a pair of nearby chairs and began to kiss each other. He glanced at the others guests and noticed that they all seemed to enjoying themselves . . . a lot.

Cole picked up a slice of cucumber and popped it into his mouth. As he chewed, he spotted Bruce and Barbara dancing together in the middle of the room. If one could call what they were doing . . . dancing. Their movements seemed more like stimulated sex. Moans came from the couple next to Cole. He glanced to his right and nearly choked on the cucumber. The couple was no longer merely kissing. They had progressed to outright grappling. And the man seemed intent upon opening his partner's blouse. What the hell was going on?

"Hello." A lithe figure appeared before Cole. She plopped down upon the chair to his right. She was an attractive woman in her late twenties, with blonde hair and hazel brown eyes. She smiled at him. "My name is Winifred. What's yours?"

The half-daemon shot back a friendly smile. "Cole. My name is Cole."

"Hmmm. Nice." Hazel-brown eyes swept appreciatively over Cole's face. "It suits you." Winifred's smile widened in a laviscious manner that made him feel uneasy. "So, how long have you known Nathalie?"

Still uneasy over Winifred's suggestive scrutiny, Cole replied, "Uh, not that long. I had just met her, last fall. Before she left for . . ."

Winifred leaned forward, her face barely an inch away from Cole's. "You wanna fuck?"

The question took Cole by surprise. He blinked momentarily. "Huh? Uh . . . what did you say?"

"I asked if you want to fuck. That is . . . fuck me." Winifred's pink tongue flickered between her lips. "We can go upstairs, together. Find ourselves an empty room and . . ."

A third voice interrupted the intimate moment. "Well, well, well! If it isn't Winifred McKenna. Finally showing your true nature, aren't you Winnie?" Olivia loomed before the pair, hands on hips. "Chasing after anything in trousers." Her green eyes shone hard with malice. And jealousy.

Winifred tore away from Cole and glared at the redhead. "What do you want, Olivia?" she demanded.

"At the moment, to stop you from getting inside Cole's pants," Olivia shot back. "And to spare him from any future trauma."

Hazel-brown eyes narrowed dangerously. A malicious sneer curled Winifred's lips. "If I didn't know any better, I'd swear that you were interested in him, yourself."

Olivia's next words practically stunned Cole. "So what if I am? Besides, he would probably be better off with a ten-dollar whore than any time spent in your company. Then again," her eyes swept over the other witch in a contemptuous manner, "I don't really see that much difference."

Winifred shot out of her chair, with eyes blazing. "Listen, you conceited bitch! I've had enough of your insults and your petty comments. I've had to put up with them for years! If you want to make more trouble, I'm more than ready to take you on!"

"You couldn't take on a living soul, unless sex was involved!"

The blond witch started toward Olivia, her hands balled into fists. Before a potential fight could blossom, Cole stepped between the two women. "Uh ladies," he began, "maybe it's time for you to take a breath and part ways. Before you end up hurting each other."

"I certainly wouldn't mind hurting her," Winifred snarled.

At that moment, Phoebe appeared before the group, causing Cole to heave an inward sigh. "What's going on?" she demanded. "Why is everyone fighting?" She cast a suspicious look at her ex-husband. "Did you say or doing anything to them?"

Annoyed . . . no, angered by Phoebe's accusation, Cole snapped back, "No! I didn't! I was simply minding my own business when . . ."

"The question you should ask yourself, Phoebe, is why are you here?" Olivia snidely interrupted. "This is between Cole, Winifred and myself. We didn't ask for your . . . help."

Resentment darkened Phoebe's eyes even further. "Look, I'm only here because I thought I had spotted some trouble!"

"Trouble caused by Cole, right?" Olivia accused.

Cole watched Phoebe squirm with discomfort. "Well, it wouldn't exactly be the first time." Her words cut the half-daemon to the quick. And made him wonder if Phoebe would ever let go of the past - real and imagined slights.

Olivia - on the other hand - had another question on her mind. "Excuse me Phoebe, but what exactly brought you to this ridiculous conclusion? Or were you simply jumping to another conclusion in true Halliwell fashion?"

Phoebe's body bridled with anger. "And just what in the hell did you mean by that?"

"What do you think?" Olivia retorted. "From what I know about your family - especially Prue - you practically have a history of jumping to conclusions."

In a dangerously low voice, Phoebe growled, "Don't you dare even mention my family. Especially Prue."

"Or what?" Olivia challenged. "You'll kick my ass?"

Before Phoebe could react, Paul Margolin materialized. Cole rolled his eyes in disgust and sighed. "Olivia! There you are!" the ADA declared breathlessly. "Why did you disappear on me, like that?"

Looking slightly annoyed, Olivia replied, "To have a good time."

"Olivia!"

"How can you treat him like that?" Phoebe demanded in an outraged voice. "Paul is probably the best thing that will ever happen to you!"

A sardonic smirk curved Olivia's lips. "Is that what you saw in a premonition? Or are you simply assuming again?"

At the same time, Winifred leaned toward Cole and whispered in his ear. "Hey! About my offer - are you still interested?"

Cole stared at her. "What?"

"Do you wanna go upstairs and fuck?"

"No!" he shot back, sounding more annoyed than he had intended.

A grimace marred Winifred's pretty face. "What's your damage, pal?" She turned to Paul. "Hey handsome! You wanna fuck?"

Margolin's eyes grew wide. "What the hell?"

"I believe that she had asked if you wanted to . . ." Cole began.

"I heard what she had said!" Paul cried. "And the answer is no!"

Disappointment flicked in Winifred's eyes. "Fine! See if I care!" She walked away, muttering, "Bunch of goddamn prudes."

Meanwhile, Olivia and Phoebe's quarrel had grown to mammoth proportions. "I think that I know enough about romance to figure out that you're making a mistake with Paul!" Phoebe was declaring out loud. "I am an advice columnist, you know!"

"How did someone like you, whose idea of romance is at the level of a fairy tale for children, ever become an advice columnist?" Olivia retorted. "And I don't recall ever asking for your advice!"

Phoebe shot back, "I happen to give great advice! And I don't see how you can ever consider Cole as a friend or a boyfriend, especially after all you had put up with that warlock you were engaged to!"

Green eyes became stunned. "What? Are you talking about Richard?"

Phoebe continued, "Of course I am! Leo told us all about him. How you two were engaged and how he had ended up killing your aunt."

Cole wondered if Leo really knew the true story behind Richard Bannen's death. Judging from Olivia's reaction, apparently not. "Sounds like Leo has been telling another one of his whitelighter fantasies!" Olivia cried. "He doesn't know what really happened. He wasn't there and he didn't want to find out! Your brother-in-law was too busy being relieved over Richard's death to bother! As to how I can bear having Cole in my life? Well, that's simple! Because I love him! I'm in love with him!"

Olivia's words brought about a stunned silence within the room. Strains of 'I Will Survive' filled the air. Cole stared at the red-haired witch, wondering if he had heard right. So did Phoebe and Margolin.

"You're . . . you're in love . . . with him?" Margolin demanded. "With Cole? I don't . . . why him? Why are you with me?"

Phoebe recovered from the moment and replied spitefully, "Because she knows that Cole is still in love with me. Right Cole?" Dark eyes sought out Cole for confirmation.

Cole barely heard Phoebe. Olivia's confession continued to reverberate in his mind. "I . . . uh . . ."

"What?" Phoebe demanded. "You still love me. Why don't you say it?"

Aware of the pairs of eyes upon him, Cole felt a surge of embarrassment. And a stab of pity toward his ex-wife. Six months ago, he could have easily replied with a resounding 'yes'. Now . . .

"Hmmm, something tells me that Cole can't answer your question the way you want, Phoebe," Olivia said with a sneer.

"Cole!" Phoebe's eyes grew wide with outrage. "Say something!"

Cole looked away and focused his attention on the refreshment table. "God! I'm hungry. I hope there's still some more food left."

"Why won't you tell Olivia that you still love me?" Phoebe's voice rang loud and clear in Cole's ears.

Very reluctantly, Cole faced his ex-wife. He struggled to keep the pity away from his expression. "Uh, Phoebe . . . I, uh . . ." He cleared his throat, nervously. "Of course I still love you, Phoebe." The Charmed One's lips curved into a triumphant smile. Cole continued, "But not in the way you think. I'm not . . ." Shit! He took a deep breath. "I'm just not in love with you. Anymore."

"WHAT??"

Cole continued, "Look Phoebe, I can't help how I feel. I . . . it's just not the same." He paused. "I'm sorry."

Outrage and disbelief replaced the triumph in Phoebe's eyes. "What do you mean that you're . . . I don't believe you! When did this happen?"

"Perhaps when you had decided to push him away, instead of dealing with your marriage problems," Olivia taunted. "Pretty typical of you, isn't it? 'Run For Your Life' Halliwell. She would rather run to the bosom of her family than deal with any problems in her relationships. That's about right, isn't it?"

Phoebe's eyes slit with pure dislike and anger. "Okay! That's it!" she retorted. "I've had enough of your shit!" Both of her fists snaked out to punch Olivia. Unfortunately for Phoebe, the older woman possessed quicker reflexes. Olivia managed to easily block both punches, grab one of Phoebe's arms and flip her onto the floor.

Seconds later, Paige appeared by Margolin's side. She glanced down at the sprawling Phoebe, whose eyes were wide with shock. A frown appeared on her face, as she declared, "Oh God! What the hell is going on?"

* * * *

"What the hell is going on?" Nathalie demanded, repeating Paige's question without realizing it. She stared down at Phoebe. "What the . . . why is Whatshername . . .?"

Paige interjected, "Phoebe." She began to help her sister stand up.

"Yeah. Why was she on the floor?"

Both Cole and Olivia's other friend began to talk at the same time. At least Cole tried to explain. The other man - Nathalie recalled that Olivia called him Paul - seemed bent upon blaming the half-demon for the whole fiasco.

"Ask Belthazor!" Paul accused angrily. "He started this whole mess by setting Olivia and Phoebe against each other! I wouldn't be surprised if he had planned it all!"

Cole stared at the witch, as if the latter had lost his mind. "What the . . . How in the hell did you drum up this delusion?"

"I'm not delusional!" Paul retorted. "You know damn well that you had started the whole thing by cozying up to that slut!"

Nathalie blinked. "Slut? Who are you talking about?"

"He's talking about Winifred McKenna. She was . . ." Olivia rolled her eyes. ". . . making a play for Cole. I stopped her." A smug smile tugged the corners of her lips.

Nathalie wondered if she had heard right. "Winifred? Are you talking about Tight-Ass McKenna, who once raised a fuss over a male stripper at a bridal shower?"

Olivia snorted with derision. "Oh please! That little prim attitude of hers is just an act! Winifred would jump into a guy's pants at the crook of a finger."

Not even Nathalie could deny Olivia's words. She was well aware of Winifred McKenna's true nature, behind the high moral act. Apparently, Winifred had finally decided to show her true colors. Only Nathalie could not understand why.

"And this all started because of this Winifred person?" Paige asked. "So how did her hitting on Cole lead to Phoebe laying on the floor?" A pair of arms wrapped around her waist. Nathalie saw Harry McNeill's head appear on Paige's shoulder. She let out a squeal. "Hey! What the . . .? Harry!"

The youngest McNeill grinned. "What's going on?" His arms remained fastened around Paige's waist.

"Harry, do you mind letting go of me?" Paige demanded.

"Not until we finish our kiss."

All eyes fell upon Paige and Harry. "Kiss?" Phoebe said, frowning. "You two were kissing?"

"We weren't . . ." Paige said with a sigh. "Okay, he did kiss me."

Olivia's green eyes grew wide. "He kissed you? Harry?"

Suspicion tingled at the back of Nathalie's neck. "Okay, what in the hell is going on?" she demanded. "Harry kissing Paige? Winifred openly hitting on men? What the hell is this?"

"That is what I would like to know," Cole added in a voice tinged with suspicion. "And the sooner we find out, the better. That means . . ." With a wave of his hand, Olivia, Phoebe, Harry and Paul all disappeared. ". . . we find out with less trouble, as possible."

Paige cried out, "What did you do with them?"

"I sent them upstairs," Cole explained. "To separate rooms. Now," he faced Nathalie with a stern expression, "what is going on?"

Feeling slightly intimidated by the half-daemon's questioning, Nathalie protested, "How the hell should I know? Why are you asking me?"

"Because nearly everyone at this damn party is acting strange," Cole shot back. "They're all acting so . . ."

Paige added, "Emotional?"

Blue eyes widened in realization. "Yeah," Cole replied in a distant voice. "That's it. Not only emotional, but very open. It's like everyone is being open about their feelings." His eyes focused upon Nathalie, once more. "What was it that you said about Winifred?"

Nathalie shrugged. "That she's known as Tight-Ass McKenna? And that she had once raised a fuss about male strippers?"

"Yeah, but she wasn't acting like a tight ass, tonight. In fact, she was all over me." Cole glanced to his side. Nathalie's gaze followed his. She saw a couple engaged in the act of tearing off each other's clothes. "Like them. Why would someone like Winifred start acting so promiscuously? "

Paige shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. Booze?"

"Hold on there!" Nathalie protested. "Are you talking about my punch?"

"Well, I haven't drank any."

Cole added, "Neither have I."

"And me," Nathalie said. "But if you're talking about my raspberry cordial, you're mistaken. The amount of alcohol in it was very little."

Cole pointed at the couple. "Then how do you explain them? Or Olivia and the others? I mean, there must have been something wrong with the punch. What about that boysenberry that Olivia had detected?"

"That was simply boysenberry cordial," Nathalie explained. "I'll show you." She marched toward the kitchen, with Cole and Paige close at her heels. Once inside, Nathalie opened one of the cabinets and reached for her bottle of boysenberry cordial. She handed the bottle to Cole. "That is what I had accidentally put into the punch."

"Are you sure?" Cole thrust the bottle back into Nathalie's hand. "This bottle looks as if it hasn't been opened."

Nathalie stared at the bottle. "What?" Sure enough, not only did it looked filled, the top seemed screwed on tight. As if it had not been opened. "I don't understand," she said with a frown. "This is the only bottle of boysenberry cordial in the . . ." Then she remembered. Her plans for her upcoming book. The potion she had planned to use. "Oh Goddess!"

"What?" Paige demanded.

"The potion."

Cole's eyes narrowed. "What potion?"

Reaching inside the cabinet, Nathalie retrieved another bottle. It matched the bottle of boysenberry cordial in size and color. She took a deep breath and continued, "Uh, remember that book I had told you about? The one I plan to write on mythology and the Western psyche?"

Paige nodded. "Yeah, I remember."

Nathalie hesitated before she continued, "Well, I had also planned to conduct an experiment, involving a potion I had created." She paused dramatically. "A potion made from boysenberries for flavor. And bluebells."

"Oh shit!" Cole murmured. He obviously knew for what bluebells were used. Paige stared at him questioningly. "Bluebells are used to free a person's inhibitions. Allow them to be truthful about their emotions and desires."

Realization lit up Paige's eyes. "Oh shit!" She reached for the bottle of potion. "Oh my God! Nathalie, you must have put some of this in the punch by mistake. No wonder Harry was all over me." Her eyes widened even further. "Wait a minute! Harry has a thing for me?"

"This also explains Olivia and Phoebe's little bitch fest," Cole grimly added. Again, his eyes bored into Nathalie's. "Is there something you can make to counter this potion?"

The force of Cole's stare caused Nathalie to take a step backward. "Uh . . . well, no." Noticing the vexed expressions on both Cole and Paige's faces, she continued, "But I do know a herb that can cleanse the potion out of their systems. I can make a tea or another kind of drink from it."

"Then I suggest that you start preparing whatever you have in mind," Cole coolly added. "Now."

Intimidated by the half-demon's displeasure, Nathalie responded with a wan smile. "Right." She returned to the cabinet. "Now, all I have to do is find my herbs."


END OF PART 3

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Notes and Observations of "STAR WARS: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back"




Notes and Observations of “STAR WARS: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back”

The following is a list of minor notes and observations that came to me, during my recent viewing of “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”. I hope that you enjoy them:

*Exactly who was in command of the Rebel Alliance base on Hoth – Leia or General Rieekan?

*What was Leia doing on Hoth with the Rebel Alliance military personnel? Why wasn’t she with the other political Rebel leaders?

*Ah yes! The ”I’ just as soon kiss a Wookie!” dialogue between Leia and Han. Charming, although slightly . . . childish.

*How . . . or should I say when did Han and Leia reach the point in which they became attracted to one another?

*It was interesting to see how Obi-Wan’s ghost faded with the emergence of Han on a tauntaun.

*”Why, you stuck up,... half-witted... scruffy-looking ...nerf-herder!” - Another charming, yet childish exchange between Leia and Han.

*Jealousy and ambition seem quite obvious within the Imperial command structure, if General Ozzel’s glare at Piett is anything to go by.

*I find it interesting that the exchange between Luke and Han before the commencement of the Battle of Hoth would be the last between them for at least a year.

*Vader’s ability to strangle Ozzel with the Force from such a large distance seemed very impressive for someone whose strength with the Force has been weakened.

*The pilots’ point of view of the Battle of Hoth seemed like another cliché of a World War II dogfight . . . like the Battle of Yavin.

*Luke was made commander of the Rebel pilots because he had destroyed the Death Star . . . with Han’s help? What about Wedge, who was also a competent pilot and more experienced?

*The Imperial AT-AT Walkers remind me of the Oliphaunts from the ”LORD OF THE RINGS” saga.

*Wasn’t Leia taking her duty just a bit too seriously by delaying her departure from Hoth?

*I noticed that Han never seemed to follow the ladies first rule. When he, Leia and Chewie and Threepio had escaped both from Hoth and the exogorth in the asteroid field, he made sure that he boarded the Millennium Falcon first. Not exactly a man of the Old Republic.

*Han really revealed how much of a hot shot pilot he was in this movie.

*”Into the belly of the beast” - This metaphor seemed to fit the Falcon’s entry into exogorth even more than Luke, Han and Leia’s brief adventures inside the Death Star’s trash compactor.

*The audience got a brief glimpse of the price Anakin paid for his past mistakes – namely his scalded head.

*”Feel like what?” - Yoda’s first words in any ”STAR WARS” movie.

*”Great warrior? Hmmm . . . wars do not make one great.” - Ironic words from the very being who led the first attack, during the first battle of the Clone Wars. His words also revealed the true Yoda behind the comic façade. I think Luke may have been too impatient or full of himself to notice.

*”You like me because I'm a scoundrel. There aren't enough scoundrels in your life.” - One can only assume that Leia’s age – 22 years – and limited experience with men would explain why she bought that bilge pouring from Han’s mouth.

*”He’s just a boy. Obi-Wan can no longer help him.” - Surely these words must have hinted to Palpatine that Vader had been aware of Luke for some time?

*I see that Clive Revill has been replaced by Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor Palpatine in this DVD version of the movie. Which makes sense, considering that McDiarmid is more identified with the role.

*”This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away . . . to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was.” - I believe that Yoda had just described himself and many other Jedi Masters and Knights of the Old Republic, nearly a quarter of a century ago. If he and Obi-Wan could learn to overcome this distraction from the future, why not Luke? Why was Yoda so reluctant to teach Luke? Is it Luke he doubts? Or himself as a teacher?

*”If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan's apprentice.” - I hope that Yoda was trying to say that a person will always be affected by his or her earlier decision to take a dark path or commit dark acts. Because if he was trying to say that a person will always remain evil, after taking the dark path, I must say that I disagree.

*Han used a neat trick to evade the sensors of Captain Needa’s starship, after the Falcon left the asteroid field.

*”Luminous beings are we. Not this crude matter.” - A favorite line of mine.

*It was very clever of Han to attach the Falcon to an Imperial starship before disguising it as garbage to be disposed with the other. Unfortunately for him, Boba Fett had witnessed a similar trick pulled by Obi-Wan near Geonosis, some 25 years ago. Even worse, it is a shame that Han was so busy congratulating himself over his trick that he failed to realize that Fett was tracking him.

*”Through the Force, things you will see. Other places. The future... the past. Old friends long gone.” - I wonder if Yoda was thinking of Mace Windu.

*According to LucasFilm, it took the Falcon three months to reach Bespin without a hyperdrive. If only Lucas and the others had made this clear in the movie.

*The Falcon was practically escorted to one of the landing platforms on Cloud City. I wonder why.

*Great entrance for Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian.

*Was CP-30 really that dense in that he would be so easily distracted from the group by the sound of an R2 unit?

*”Stopped they must be. On this all depends. Only a fully trained Jedi Knight with the Force as his ally will conquer Vader and his Emperor”. - Did that mean Yoda had never intended for Luke to help Anakin find redemption?

*Apparently, the original deal between Vader and Lando did not include Han being turned over to Boba Fett. And later, Vader broke his word and insisted that Leia and Chewie accompany him. Interesting. It is a miracle that the Sith Lord did not renege on the deal even further by destroying Bespin and its population.

*And why did Han and Leia fail to understand the situation that Vader had placed Lando? Were they too blinded by anger?

*I find it interesting that not once did Vader set eyes upon C3-P0, his own creation. Why? Because Chewbacca had the droid strapped to his back.

*How stupid were Leia and Chewbacca? It was obvious that Lando had released them from Vader’s stormtroopers. Yet, all they could do was lose their tempers. Chewbacca immediately began to strangle Lando and Leia encouraged the Wookie. Because their temper tantrums, they prevented Lando from rescuing Han from Boba Fett.

*I must admit that I found the dialogue during the Bespin duel rather irritating. The most important thing about the duel seemed to be Vader’s revelation as Anakin Skywalker . . . after the fighting stopped.

*Vader’s reaction to Luke and Leia’s escape from Bespin was an excellent moment of silent acting on David Prowse’s part. With his use of body language, he managed to express Vader’s regret over losing Luke . . . and the beginning of Anakin Skywalker’s resurgence.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"HELLBOY II: The Golden Army" Photo Gallery




"HELLBOY II: The Golden Army" Photo Gallery

Below is a gallery of photos from the sequel to the 2004 movie, "HELLBOY". Directed by Guillermo del Toro, "HELLBOY II: The Golden Army" starred Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss, Anna Walton and Jeffrey Tambor:




























Monday, July 21, 2008

"Crossroads of the Force" [PG-13] - Chapter Thirteen




"CROSSROADS OF THE FORCE"

CHAPTER THIRTEEN


LARS HOMESTEAD, TATOOINE

Aside from the chatter that poured from the children's mouths, there seemed to be a vow of silence between the adults around the Lars' dining table. Or so it seemed to Obi-Wan. Owen and Beru Lars never struck the former Jedi Master as the verbose types. But he found Huff Darklighter's silent appraisal of him to be quite . . . distracting.

Obi-Wan had been surprised to find Darklighter and his young son at the Lars farm. When Leia had issued her supper invitation, apparently she also included the Darklighters. It took Obi-Wan several minutes to realize that the wealthy landowner wanted to express gratitude for protecting his son from a local drunk. But why did the man have to regard him as some kind of commodity?

"What exactly is your profession, Master Kenobi?" Darklighter demanded, interrupting the children's chatter.

Fixing the land baron with a polite smile, Obi-Wan replied, "I am retired, Master Darklighter. I used to be . . . a diplomat. A trade emissary between my homeworld and Coruscant."

"And where do you come from?"

All eyes now focused on the former Jedi Master. Both Owen and Beru seemed particularly anxious. Obi-Wan took a deep breath. "From Ghorman. I had retired from diplomatic service and settled here on Tatooine, some ten years ago." Obi-Wan had deliberately chosen a planet that was not only under direct Imperial control, but had been the site of the notorious Ghorman Massacre - an incident that led to the deaths of anti-tax demonstrators at the hands of an Imperial officer. From the corner of his eye, he saw Owen's shoulders sag with relief.

"But why Tatooine?" Darklighter insisted. "This is practically the far end of the galaxy."

Owen opened his mouth to respond, but Obi-Wan spoke first. "I'm afraid that it was not a matter of choice. I . . . It's personal."

"It must be very frustrating for you to be so far from the center of the Empire," Darklighter continued. "Of course, I personally consider that beneficial. If you must know, I am not a fan of the Empire." The landowner's mouth formed a tight line. "That business on Ghorman . . . We don't need such things here on Tatooine. Which is why I am grateful that the Imperial presence

Again, Obi-Wan responded with a polite smile. "Yes, well that particular business had been difficult for many of us. A cousin of mine had protested the actions of the Imperials. Needless to say, nearly everyone in our family . . ."

"I perfectly understand, sir," Darklighter added.

Luke, who had been staring at Obi-Wan, commented, "It must be hard living on Tatooine all these years."

Obi-Wan gave the fair-haired boy a bright smile. "At first. But one learns to adapt."

"But what do you do . . . on Tatooine, I mean?" Luke asked. "Biggs and me like to fly. Sometimes we go racing through Beggar's Canyon in T-16 Skyhoppers."

The dark-haired Biggs added, "Well, we've only started racing last year."

"And at such a young age," Obi-Wan added with a smile. "I'm impressed."

"Luke, on the other hand, is the better pilot." Biggs regarded his friend with genuine admiration. "As much as I hate to admit it." Obi-Wan noted the slight frown on the face of the young boy's father. "Both of us plan to join the Imperial Academy to become pilots."

Obi-Wan tried to imagine the fugitive Luke as an Imperial officer . . . and failed. He knew that it would not take the Emperor and Rasche very long to find him.

Apparently, Anakin's son seemed aware of his situation for he added hastily, "Or we might start our own galatic freight service."

"But we can really learn to fly as Imperial pilots, first," Biggs insisted.

Leia snorted derisively. "I don't see why anyone would want to join the Imperial Academy in the first place. The military seems only interested in making war upon others."

Alarm flared in Beru Lars' wide eyes. Her husband gruffly admonished the young girl. "Leia! This is not the time or place for political talk." He shot a nervous glance at the land baron.

Judging from the expression on Darklighter's face, Obi-Wan surmised that the man seemed to agree with Leia. "Let the young lady talk, Owen. After all, the Empire is not exactly popular with the citizens of Tatooine. I certainly don't care for it. In fact," he shot a dark look at his son, "I still cannot understand my son's desire to become an Imperial officer."

Young Biggs exclaimed, "Because it would help Luke and me become better pilots, Father!"

The landowner merely grunted. "I can think of a better future for you, young man, than getting involved with the Imperials." He turned to Obi-Wan. "Don't you agree?"

"Uh . . . if you say so . . . sir." Obi-Wan noticed that Darklighter seemed satisfied with his answer. Then he glanced at the Lars and sensed relief pouring from Beru. However, a touch of anger emanated from a very tense Owen. Obi-Wan realized that it been a mistake for him to accept this supper invitation. And he promised himself it was one that he would never again repeat.

-----------

WORLPORT, ORD MANTELL

"It's time for me to leave," Anakin announced.

Han glanced at the suite's chronometer. It read fifteen minutes after seven. "You and the senator's aide plan to have dinner, here in the hotel?"

A wide smile stretched Anakin's mouth. "Nope. I have something better in mind. You and Chewie try to stay out of trouble." He started toward the door.

The young Corellian rolled his eyes in mild annoyance. "Hey, I'm not the one who fought it out with a bunch of street scum! Remember?"

Anakin's grin merely widened before he left the room.

Once the door slid shut, Han strode toward his bedroom to shower and change into cleaner clothes. Chewbacca had remained with the Javian Hawk to finish inspecting the ship's systems. Han had expected the Wookie's return at least an hour ago. He hoped to pay another visit to the Lady Fate Casino and repeat his success of last night. Just as he had removed his shirt, the announciator rang. A frowning Han donned his shirt on and strode toward the suite's door. "Yes?" he cried.

A woman's voice replied, "Pardon me sir, but I need to speak with you." Suspicious of the woman's vague answer, Han grabbed his blaster pistol. One could never be too careful around strangers - especially in a smuggler's haven like Ord Mantell.

Han pushed a button and the door slid open. He inhaled sharply at the sight of a dark-haired, petite woman standing in the doorway. Judging from her rich blue gown and elegantly styled chignon, he had no trouble recognizing a member of the elite. The woman practically reeked of class. Only what was she doing in a place like Worlport and why did she strongly remind him of Senator Dahlma's aide? Unlike Miss Colbert, this woman possessed wide dark eyes, not green ones. Those same dark eyes now regarded him with an intensity he found slightly uncomfortable.

"May I help you, miss?" Han asked.

The woman scrutinized him in that same intense manner. Disappointment flashed in her eyes before responded with a polite smile. "I am sorry to interrupt you, sir, but . . ." She sighed. Her voice possessed a light and girlish note that Han found interesting.

"Are you looking for someone?"

The woman shook her head. "I'm sorry. I thought you were someone I once knew." She paused . . . as if an idea had suddenly came to her. "Do you . . . are you sharing this room with someone else?"

A suspicious thought struck Han that this woman might have recognized Anakin. She seemed the type who may have spent time on Coruscant. And she looked old enough to have lived in the galaxy's capital about a decade ago. However, the last thing Han wanted was to alert anyone of Anakin's presence. Especially someone familiar with a place like Coruscant. He smiled politely at the woman. "Sorry lady. My roommate happens to be . . ."

A slight growl interrupted the pair. Han nodded at the tall Wookie that had suddenly appeared behind the woman. "And here he is. Hey Chewie! What took you so long?"

The woman glanced at Chewbacca. "This is your roommate?"

"That's right."

"You don't have a second . . .?"

Han quickly added, "This suite only has two bedrooms, miss." He paused. "Anything else?"

Another polite smile formed on the woman's lips. "No, I guess not. Pardon me for wasting your time. My mistake." She nodded once more and walked away.

Chewbacca entered the suite. "Who was that?" he growled.

Han merely shrugged his shoulders. "No one. Just someone with a case of mistaken identity."

----------


Upon reaching the hotel's lobby, Anakin settled in an empty chair inside one of the salons adjacent to the lobby. He had made reservations at one of Worlport's most exclusive restaurants - the Sapphire Moon. Only the reservation called for eight o'clock and Igraine happened to be ten minutes late. What could be taking her so long?

An impatient Anakin glanced at the salon's chronometer. At that moment, his impatience vanished as he sensed a familiar presence. One that he had not felt in . . .

"I thought it was you!" a man's voice cried out.

Anakin glanced to his left. His eyes widened at the sight of Ferus Olin standing in the salon's doorway. Memories of a long ago rivalry during his years with the Jedi Order rushed into his brains. "Ferus?"

The older man entered the salon. "Anakin Skywalker," he declared. "What in the blazes are you doing here, of all places?" Ferus eased into an empty chair, opposite Anakin.

The former Jedi Knight coughed slightly. "Waiting for someone. I have a . . . supper engagement."

A slightly bitter smile touched Ferus' lips. "Same old Anakin. Always evasive." Anakin inwardly bridled at his former rival's comment. "No, I mean here on Ord Mantell. What are you doing here? This system is mainly a haven for smugglers."

Anakin sighed. "Then I should feel right at home." He stared pointedly at his companion.

Ferus' face flushed slightly. "Oh. Of course. I had learned from Obi-Wan that you had become . . . a smuggler."

"Obi-Wan?" Anakin blinked at the mention of his former master. "When . . .?"

Ferus cleared his throat. "I had seen him about several days ago. And nine years before our last meeting. He told me about your new . . . vocation."

Anakin inhaled sharply. "And how did he find out?" he coldly asked.

"From a former passenger of yours. A Senator Solipo Yeb. I believe that you had helped him escape from Corellia some . . ."

Sharply, Anakin interrupted. "Yes, I remember. I had no idea that Obi-Wan had been keeping an eye on me."

"He had tried looking for you during the Jedi Purge," Ferus added. Then he shrugged. "But to no avail. Right now, he is living on . . ."

"I'm not interested in Obi-Wan's whereabouts." Anakin realized that he had spoken sharper than he originally intended. He shook his head in mild annoyance, as Ferus stared at him. "Sorry, I didn't meant sound . . . hostile."

Disbelief tinged Ferus' voice. "Surely you want to know where he is?"

Anakin sighed. He might as well tell the truth. "To be honest, Obi-Wan and I had parted on bad terms. You must know why."

Confusion filled Ferus' eyes. "Why would I?" the other man replied, frowning. "What had happened between you two?"

Should he tell the truth? Anakin could imagine the disgust and outrage that would pour from Ferus. Then again, why should he care? The former padawans had never cared for each other. Anakin took another deep breath and said, "Quite simple. I had betrayed the Order by becoming the Emperor's apprentice. A Sith apprentice. It happened during the last days of the war."

Shock appeared in Olin's golden brown eyes, followed by disbelief. And anger. "No! That's . . . You would never . . . ."

"Never turn to the Dark Side?" Anakin finished mockingly. "Rather odd coming from you. Didn't you once tell Obi-Wan that it was dangerous for me to be a part of the Order?"

"No! I mean . . ." Suspicion gleamed in Ferus' eyes. "How did you . . . Were you eavesdropping?"

A snicker escaped from Anakin's mouth. "Let's just say that I had overheard a conversation between you two quite by accident. Not long before you had left the Order."

Ferus cried, "I don't believe it! In fact, it's impossible. Romulus Wort became Lord Sidious' new apprentice after the war. After Dooku's death."

In a hard voice, Anakin added, "You mean, after me. I became the Emperor's apprentice not long after Dooku's death. In fact, during the beginning of the Purge. I was the one who led the attack on the Temple. I had also killed the Separatist leaders on Mustafar, where Obi-Wan also caught up with me. We dueled and . . ." Anakin paused, as he recalled those odd visions of his possible future as a Sith apprentice. He sighed. "I had a vision . . . through the Force. Of my future life as Darth Vader. So I left. I left Obi-Wan on Mustafar and I turned my back on the Emperor. Which is how I started a new career as a smuggler."

Ferus merely regarded Anakin with a stunned expression. Disgust and anger soon filled his eyes. "You betrayed the Order?" he hissed.

"I believe I just said so."

Angrily, the other man demanded, "So, you're just going to sit there and pretend that you did nothing wrong? Do you think you can simply turn your back on your crimes and pretend all is well with the universe?"

Anakin retorted, "Don't worry, Ferus! I've been suffering the consequences of my actions for the past decade! And I'm quite certain that I'll continue to pay for years to come." He paused and regarded the other man with a challenging stare. "Unless you want to punish me, now. Strike me down with the weapon you still carry."

"And what? Give in to the Dark Side, as you did?" Contempt flashed in Ferus' eyes. "Become the Emperor's new apprentice? I would never even consi . . ." He paused, as his face suddenly paled. Anguish and guilt replaced the contempt in his eyes. "I . . ."

Frowning, Anakin demanded, "You what?" Ferus' changed demeanor took him by surprise. "What were you going to say?" Using the Force, Anakin tried to sense what had suddenly alarmed Ferus. He detected a faint hint of another presence. Someone whom he had not laid eyes upon in over a decade. "You've been with the Emperor," he whispered accusingly. "Haven't you? When? Recently? Several years ago?"

Ferus' shoulders sagged in defeat. "It's been at least four or five years since I was last in his presence." After a long pause, he added, "I have . . . occasionally served as an agent . . . on the Emperor's behalf." He glanced up to look at Anakin with pleading eyes. "I had a good reason for my actions."

Anakin felt inclined to ask Ferus to explain further. But since he felt no inclination to reveal his own reasons for betraying the Jedi, He did not bother to ask. As it turned out, he did not have to.

"You don't understand," Ferus continued. "I had received a personal message from the Emperor that two of my friends - including my former partner, Roan Lands - had been arrested by the Bellassan government. The Emperor asked me to search for a rebel saboteur on Samaria, in exchange for their release and amnesty. I had no choice but to accept."

Unable to stop himself, Anakin asked, "Did the Emperor keep his word?"

Ferus paused. "I told a few friends about Roan's capture and they managed to free him and Dona Telamark and they went to Bellassa to free them. I went to Samaria to find the saboteur. She turned out to be an old friend of Obi-Wan and I helped both her and her son to escape from the Imperials. Both Roan and Dona were rescued by friends and they met me on Samaria. However, Romulus . . . I mean, Lord Rasche and several stormtroopers appeared. I had remained behind to delay them so that my friends could escape." A bitter laugh escaped from his mouth. Rasche merely ignored me and went after my friends, but they got away. I remained on Samaria . . . and got caught up in the rebellion there." A pained expression appeared on his face. "I also found myself acting as a double agent for both the Imperials and the Samarian rebels. I . . . thought I could help the rebellion in this manner, but . . . it all ended badly." He sighed. "Roan is dead. And my other friends began to consider me as a traitor."

A deep suspicion niggled at the back of Anakin's mind. "I thought your friend, Roan, had managed to escape. How did he . . .?" He broke off, as an elegantly dressed Igraine loomed in the doorway.

"Set? Are you ready?" Igraine's gaze fell upon Ferus. "Oh. I didn't realize you had company."

Both men stood up. Ferus bowed. "Milady."

Igraine asked, "Are you an old friend of Set's?"

Ferus blinked momentarily at the mention of Anakin's alias.

Anakin quickly added, "We're old companions from the Clone Wars. Ig . . ." He cut off when Igraine frowned at him. "I mean . . . Serena Cunus meet . . ."

"Petre Larker," Ferus finished. "Of Chommell Minor."

Igraine smiled politely. "Nice to meet you." She turned to Anakin. "Are you ready?"

After a quick nod, Anakin turned to Ferus and gave the latter a twisted smile. "Nice to see you again . . . Petre."

Ferus merely responded with a half-hearted smile.

As the couple walked away from the salon, Igraine asked, "Did you say that you two had fought together during the Clone Wars?"

"Yes," Anakin lied. "Both . . .Petre and my mother were from the Chommell System. It had been wracked by constant invasion attempts by the Separatists."

"Interesting. I wonder if he was a former Jedi, as well," Igrained added. "His dress seemed to hint it." Anakin inwardly winced at the Maldarian woman's sharp observance. Then she added, "Were you two, friends?"

A dersive snort escaped from Anakin's mouth before he could stop himself. "More like acquaintances." He shot a reassuring smile at his companion. "Ready for an exceptional dining experience?"

Igraine broke into a smile. "Lead the way, Captain Horus."

The pair made their way past the lobby and merged outside, into the wet evening.


END OF CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"HANCOCK" (2008) Review




”HANCOCK” (2008) Review

When I first learned about the premise for ”HANCOCK” - a superhero leading the life of a drunken bum – it struck me as rather original. I still feel that it is one of the original movie premises I have ever come across.

”John Hancock” (Will Smith) is a powerful amnesiac who uses his super abilities to occasionally help the citizens of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, not only does his help tend to come off as heavy-handed and reluctant, but also damaging to public property. In short, his actions and drunken, yet sardonic attitude also pisses off a lot of people. This all changes when Hancock ends up saving the life of a Public Relations spokesperson named Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman). The grateful PR man offers to help Hancock clean up his public image. Although Ray ends up achieving his goal, trouble arises when Hancock finds himself growing attracted to Ray’s wife, Mary (Charlize Theron). And she finds herself forced to reveal a big secret surrounding both Hancock . . . and herself.

I must admit that I found the first half of ”HANCOCK” rather interesting. It seemed like a rare treat to witness the metamorphosis of a drunken, yet powerful asshole into a competent and less reluctant Good Samaritan/superhero. Unfortunately, once Mary revealed the truth about herself and Hancock, the movie veered into entirely new direction. What started out as the development of a genuine superhero who might be interested in a friend’s wife, ended up as a semi-tragic tale of two immortals forced to remain apart in order to maintain their powers. Frankly, I found this whole, new scenario a load of nonsense. And a contrived reason to keep the two immortal lovers, permanently apart.

In a way, I can understand why screenwriters Vince Gilligan and Vincent Ngo prevented Hancock and Mary to end the movie with a lovers’ embrace. Such a conclusion would have broken Ray Embrey’s heart. And I must say that Jason Bateman’s portrayal of the idealistic PR spokesperson struck me as very enduring. It would seem slightly depressing if the movie had ended with his character as a loser. In fact, I would go further and say that the main strength ”HANCOCK” centered around its cast. British actor Eddie Marsan made a captivating bank robber with a penchant for bombs and revenge against Hancock. Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron did a wonderful job in portraying the enigmatic Mary Embrey, who is not only torn between two men, but by a secret she has been harboring for years. But it was really Will Smith in the title role, who really impressed me. Portraying a character as complex as John Hancock must have been a challenge. But Smith lived up to the challenge by capturing every nuance of the character without resorting to over-the-top acting, as he was inclined to in the past decade. Without him, Bateman and Theron, the movie could have fallen apart.

I wish I could say that ”HANCOCK” was one of this summer’s better movies. Despite stellar performances by the cast and Peter Berg’s competent direction, the movie was nearly undone by a script that deviated midway into the story. However, the movie was not a total loss. It could have been a lot worse. A lot worse.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Whatever You Desire" [R] - 2/5




"WHATEVER YOU DESIRE"

PART 2

The two sisters climbed the steps that led to a large, Victorian townhouse on McAllister. "Nice place," Paige commented. Her eyes swept appreciatively over the three-story house. "I didn't realize it would be a lot bigger than our place."

Once the pair reached the front door, Phoebe rang the doorbell. "What do you expect? The woman is a best-selling writer. She can afford a place of this size."

"So can you," Paige added. Phoebe shot her a dark look.

Seconds later, the front door opened, revealing the townhouse's owner. Strains of 'Lady Marmalade' blasted from inside the house. The tall, dark-haired witch greeted the newcomers with a smile. "Paige! Right?" Nathalie and Paige shook hands. Then the former glanced at the older sister. "And this must be your sister . . . uh . . ."

"Phoebe," the middle Charmed One said with a brief smile. "Phoebe Halliwell." She paused, wondering if their hostess would recognize her name. When the older woman failed to respond, Phoebe added uneasily, "I . . . uh, nice to meet you. I've read some of your books."

A wide smile appeared on Miss Gleason's face. "Thanks. Nice to meet a fan. Now, c'mon in, you two. And enjoy the party." She flung the door wide open, allowing the two sisters to step inside. They followed her through the foyer and into a wide drawing-room, decorated with balloons and streamers. Phoebe's eyes took in the number of guests who were forming little cliques, sampling food and drinks from the refreshment tables or dancing in the middle of the room.

The song ended and another immediately followed. "Now that's new," Paige commented. "What is that song? Sounds like some disco song that was around before I was born."

Nathalie answered, "It probably was. It's one of my dad's favorite songs - 'Don't Leave Me This Way' by Thelma Houston." She faced the two sisters. "As for you two, why don't you go enjoy yourselves? While you're at it, try the punch. It's an old recipe from my grandmother. Raspberry Sunset."

Paige asked warily, "Does it have any alcohol?"

Nathalie's eyes widened. "Yeah. Raspberry cordial. Why?"

A deep flush colored Paige's cheeks. "I'm a . . . recovering alcoholic. Sorry."

"There's nothing to be sorry about, honey. I understand. If you're thirsty, I have soda and bottled water, as well. Now, go enjoy yourselves, you two." Nathalie walked away to greet another guest.

Phoebe longingly glanced at the refreshment table. "I don't know about you, but I'm hungry. Let's get something to eat."

"You go on ahead," Paige replied. "I just saw Barbara and Bruce and want to say hello. I'll see you later." The youngest Charmed One walked away, while Phoebe went in the opposite direction.

Her stomach rumbled slightly, as she reached the refreshment table. Judging from the array of food on display, Phoebe found it difficult to make a selection. She finally settled upon an open-faced salmon and scrambled egg sandwich, marinated artichoke hearts and mushrooms and some Turkish bean salad.

"Try the Pepper-Herb cheese," a man's voice suggested.

Phoebe glanced up. Her heart did a back over flip at the sight of her ex-husband standing next to her. He was impeccably dressed as usual - a dark-blue suit with a royal-blue shirt opened at the throat. "What are you doing here?" Phoebe demanded.

One of Cole's dark brows quirked upward. "Attending a party?"

"I mean . . ." Phoebe flushed with embarrassment, recognizing the accusatory tone in her voice. "I mean, do you know Nathalie Gleason?"

Cole nodded. "Yeah. Olivia had introduced us, last fall." He dipped a spoon into a bowl of caviar, sprinkled with chopped boiled egg. "Hmmm, caviar. Nice touch."

Phoebe commented, "Yeah, I guess she can afford it." She paused. "So. You were invited. Right?"

Blue eyes bored into Phoebe's, causing her body to shiver. Damn. "To be honest, I managed to convince Nathalie to invite me. I plan to cast a spell over all of the witches here. Create my own following, so I can take control of the Source's Realm, again." His voice tinged with sarcasm.

"Never mind. Sorry I asked." Phoebe glanced away, feeling foolish. An awkward moment passed before she continued, "Did you say that the Pepper-Herb Cheese is good?"

Cole replied, "Yeah. You should give it a shot."

Taking up Cole's suggestion, Phoebe reached for a sliver of cheese. "What about the punch?" she asked. "Raspberry something. Have you tried it?"

"No, I hav . . ." Cole broke off. His attention seemed focused elsewhere. Phoebe turned around and saw who had caught her ex-husband's attention. Namely one Olivia McNeill, arriving with Paul Margolin. The jealousy stamped on Cole's face ignited a similar emotion within Phoebe's breast. She tried to remind herself that she was over Cole, and should feel grateful that he had learned to move on. Unfortunately for her, she only felt pain that he seemed more interested in another woman.

Maintaining a cool façade, Phoebe nudged Cole's arm. "You what? Tried the punch? Haven't?"

Cole's eyes snapped back to Phoebe. "What?"

"The punch. Did you try it?" Phoebe struggled to keep her irritation in check.

"No. Uh . . . I don't like raspberries very much."

Phoebe grabbed a handful of crackers and tossed them on her plate. "I think I'll try a cup of punch."

"That's nice," Cole murmured. His gaze returned to Olivia and Paul.

Realizing that her ex-husband's attention was not focused upon her, Phoebe heaved a frustrated sigh. And moved toward the large crystal punch bowl.

* * * *

"Olivia!" Nathalie greeted the red-haired witch. "Oh sweetie, it's good to see you, again! How are you?"

The two friends hugged. Olivia answered, "I'm fine. Welcome back!"

"Oh, it's good to be back." Nathalie turned her attention toward Olivia's companion. "And who is this?"

Olivia replied, "This . . . is Paul Margolin, a friend of mine." She noticed how Nathalie's gaze swept appreciatively over the good-looking ADA. "And he's also that witch I had told you about. He and I share the same whitelighter. Well used to, since I no longer have one."

"Really?" Nathalie offered her hand to Paul. "Nathalie Gleason. Nice to meet you."

Paul took the offered hand and shook it. "Nice to meet you. And my name is Paul Margolin. I've . . . uh, I've read one of your books, by the way. 'THE NATURE OF MAGIC'."

"And how did you like?"

Paul hesitated. "Uh, very well written. And very unorthodox. You seemed to have a more . . . ambiguous view of magic."

Nathalie's eyes widened. "Ambiguous?"

Olivia nudged Paul with her elbow, before he gave the dark-haired witch a disarming smile. "Sorry. What I meant was that you seemed to view magic in an interesting way. As neutral. It's not . . . exactly how I've always viewed it."

One dark brow formed an arch. "Oh."

Realizing it was time to jump into the conversation, Olivia added, "Paul doesn't view witchcraft in the same way we do. He's not Wiccan."

"I'm a Methodist," he added. "Although there are certain aspects of Wiccan beliefs that I do practice."

Nathalie smiled. "Hmmm, a flexible man. I like that."

Sensing her friend's interest in her date, Olivia spoke up. "Down girl! You're starting to drool."

"Don't be silly, Livy! I'm not drooling over Mr. Margolin, here." Nathalie turned appealingly wide eyes upon the ADA. "Am I?"

A red flush colored Paul's face. "No . . . um, no you're not. In fact, you look perfectly lovely."

Nathalie threw her head back and laughed, attracting the attention of others. "Good grief, Livy! Your taste in men is absolutely delicious! And speaking of delicious friends, your Mr. Turner has arrived." A sly expression flitted across Nathalie's face. "Or is he still your Mr. Turner?"

Olivia immediately sobered. "Cole? He's here?" She noticed the scowl on Paul's face.

"He had arrived about forty minutes ago," Nathalie said. "I'm surprised that he didn't arrive with you two, considering that he's your neighbor."

"Where is he?"

Nathalie pointed to a large table, at the opposite end of the room. "Over there. At the refreshment table. Looks like he's with Paige's sister. What's her name? Phoebe?"

Olivia glanced across the room. Sure enough, there stood Cole and Phoebe - side by side. Cole's eyes met Olivia's. She glanced away. An arch smile formed on Olivia's lips. "Yeah, that's Phoebe all right. Did they arrive together?"

According to Nathalie, Cole had arrived alone, and Phoebe with Paige. Barbara, Bruce and Harry had arrived together. Olivia barely heard a word coming from her friend's mouth. She was too busy observing the divorced pair that stood next to the long table. Fighting the jealousy that threatened to arise within her. "That's nice," Olivia murmured, her thoughts still on Cole and Phoebe.

Nathalie added, "By the way, I've made my famous Raspberry Sunset punch. Your favorite. I suggest you sample a cup before it's all gone."

"Sounds like a good idea," Olivia said. She strode toward the refreshment table, with Paul and Nathalie close at her heels. First stop - the punch bowl. There, she found Phoebe sampling a cup of Raspberry Sunset. "So, how is it?" she asked the Charmed One.

Phoebe's eyes widened at the sight of the red-haired witch. She removed the cup from her lips. "Hi . . . uh, Olivia. The punch is great." She squirmed with discomfort. "You should try it."

Olivia turned to face Cole and noticed that he also held a plastic cup. Only it contained something different. Nathalie also noticed. "No punch for you?" the dark-haired witch asked. She reached for a cup and filled it with punch.

Before the half-daemon could answer, Olivia said, "Cole doesn't like raspberries." Again, her eyes met Cole's. "Raspberries and Coconut cake. Isn't that right?"

A frown appeared on Phoebe's face, as she glanced sharply at Cole. "Coconut cake? That's one of Piper's specialties. And Grams'. You never said that you didn't like . . ."

Nathalie thrust the cup of punch into Olivia's hand. "Here, Livy. Take a sip."

Olivia did as her friend ordered. The punch, as usual, tasted delicious. However, Olivia detected a flavor other than raspberry. "Say Nat, did you add something else into the punch? Like boysenberries?"

A sigh left Nathalie's mouth. "You noticed it, too? So did Bruce and Barbara. I had accidentally added some of my boysenberry cordial into the punch. I was on the phone, at the time."

"More cordial?" Cole said with a smirk. "You're a regular little moonshiner, aren't you?" Nathalie merely smirked.

Then Paul asked his hostess for a cup of punch. Nathalie filled another cup and handed it to him. Paul took a sip. "Hmmm, delicious. You sure you don't want to try a sip?" he said to Cole. "Or maybe you would prefer some Coconut cake?" A smirk appeared on his lips.

Olivia had to refrain from rolling her eyes at Paul's lame joke. Cole, on the other hand, merely responded with a cool smile. Then he turned to Nathalie. "By the way, I had noticed some old acquaintances of mine. I didn't realize you were familiar with any daemons."

"Demons?" Phoebe's eyes grew wide with alarm. "You have demons, here?" She scanned the room.

Nathalie shrugged. "Only a few. Along with one or two warlocks. I got to know them, while researching for my last book. They had provided me with some interesting stuff."

Olivia glanced around. She spotted a familiar face among the crowd. It was Riggerio, talking with a pretty young woman. "Well, look who's here," she said, nodding at the daemon.

Paul frowned. "Isn't that . . . what's his name . . . Riggerio?" He gave Nathalie a sharp look. "You really do have demons here, other than Turner!"

"Well, yeah." Nathalie's mouth stretched into a dreamy smile, as she regarded the Italian speaking daemon. "As for Riggerio, he's such a sweetheart. He gave me a lot of information on daemons known in the Stregheria world. Charming man."

Olivia smirked. "You're not the only one who thinks so." Her comment drew stares from both Cole and Paul. She ignored them.

Paul, on the other hand, seemed disturbed by the presence of daemons at the party. "I can't believe that you . . . I mean . . . aren't you disturbed by the idea of having demons here?" He shot Cole a baleful look.

"It depends upon the daemon," Nathalie replied shortly. Before Paul could respond, the doorbell rang. "What do you know, more guests." She smiled at the three witches and half-daemon. "Why don't you guys help yourselves to more punch and some food. It's time for me to play hostess, again. Catch you later." She immediately walked away.

Cole heaved a sigh and gathered his plate of food. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm going to have some fun. I have a few friends to get reacquainted with." He flashed Olivia a quick smile that seemed to bother both Paul and Phoebe.

As Paul watched the half-daemon walk away with hostile eyes, he grumbled, "What the hell kind of party is this, anyway? Witches and demons mixing together?"

"Don't forget warlocks," Olivia added. She reached for a canapé. "But that's Nathalie for you. Always the equal opportunity hostess."

* * * *

The Doobie Brothers singing 'What a Fool Believes' blasted from the nearby CD player. Paige sat in one of the empty chairs against the far wall, eating lamb kabobs and watching some of the guests dance in the middle of the room. She could not help but wondered if Nathalie Gleason had some kind of fixation for music from the 1970s. Or if any of the guests were aware how badly they danced.

At least two of the dancers did not seem lacking in talent. Paige focused on one particular pair - Barbara and Bruce. Not only were they dancing in rhythm, they seemed . . . Paige's eyes narrowed. If her eyes were not deceiving her, she could have sworn that Barbara and Bruce were grinding their bodies against each other. In a very suggestive manner. How odd.

Paige caught sight of another couple . . . locked in a sexual embrace. They seemed to be literally devouring each other's lips. Then she caught sight of a familiar figure - Riggerio. Paige frowned. What was 'he' doing here, and why was he crying? Before Paige could satisfy her curiosity, she saw Phoebe shooting wary glances at Cole, who was engaged in a conversation with a female witch. Poor Phoebe. The older Charmed One seemed torn between fear, wariness and desire. Weird. Then again, perhaps Phoebe's attitude was normal. Unlike a good number of other guests.

It took Paige a moment to allow that last thought to sink in. She realized that many of the guests - save a handful - have been acting very strangely over the past half hour. Emotions seemed to be running high. Exposed. Then Paige spotted Olivia re-enter the drawing-room, wearing a determined expression. And heading straight for Cole.

Paige dumped her plate on the empty chair next to her and stood up. She strode toward Cole and Olivia. Trouble seemed to be brewing in the air and she had to stop it. Stop it before Olivia caused a . . .

"There you are." A pair of hands caught hold of Paige's waist and drew her back against a man's body. What the hell? "What do you know? I've finally been able to catch you alone. Are you trying to stay away from me?"

Huh? Paige frowned. The voice sounded familiar. As if it belonged to . . . She whirled around and found herself facing a tall man in his mid-twenties. A tall man with red hair, green eyes and a light sprinkle of freckles on a handsome face. "Harry?"

The youngest McNeill grinned broadly. "The one and only. Miss me?" Hands still on Paige's waist, drew her closer to Harry.

"Harry, what the hell are you doing?" Paige cried. "Let go." She struggled to wrestle out of his grip.

"I'm facing the truth, for once." One hand began to travel up from Paige's waist. Slowly. "About us."

"What are you talking about? There's no . . ."

"Oh come on! Stop pretending! I admit I'm attracted to you. Have been for a long time." Soft lips planted a light kiss on Paige's neck, sending an unexpected thrill throughout her body. "And I know you've been attracted me."

Paige fought down her desire. What the hell made Harry attempt something like this? And how did he know about her . . . ? "Where did you get this delusional idea that I was interested in you?" she cried out.

"I'm a telepath," Harry replied smugly. "Remember?" And before Paige could protest any further, the other witch's lips crushed against hers.

Her first instinct was to escape from Harry's embrace. Push him away. Unfortunately, Paige found herself unable to resist the warm lips that pressed against hers. Or the surge of passion that suddenly sprang within her, as his tongue slipped into her mouth. Caught up in Harry's kiss, Paige was unaware of her arms sliding around his neck. As their lips parted momentarily for air, Paige heard herself murmur, "Oh . . . oh God! What am I doing?"

"Kissing me," Harry murmured back. Then he pressed his lips against hers, once more.

The kiss would have lasted longer, but the sound of voices penetrated Paige's mind. She gently broke away from Harry's embrace. "Wha . . . what's going on?" she asked.

Harry replied breathlessly, "Nothing. Just us." He tried to kiss Paige again, but she pushed him away. "Paige, why are you pushing me away?" Desperation tinged his voice.

"I thought I heard voices," she replied. "My sister." Paige glanced over Harry's shoulder. Her eyes fell upon a disturbing scene of her sister flying over the shoulder of one Olivia McNeill. Holy shit! "Oh God! Something has gone wrong between Phoebe and Olivia. I have to stop them." She quickly walked away, her mind no longer focused upon Harry and his tantalizing lips.

END OF PART 2