Thursday, April 30, 2009

Georgian Era Costumes in Films and Television

Below are photos of costumes from movies and television dramas set during Great Britain's Georgian Era (1714-1830):


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Lessons in Witchcraft" [PG] - 4/9


Chapter 4

NOTE: In the previous chapter, the three Halliwell sisters' knowledge of herbal craft were extended by Bruce and Barbara McNeill. The story picks up with Olivia McNeill recruiting her younger brother, Harry, to assist her in the next lesson.


An audible silence filled Olivia's ear, as she waited for her brother's response to her request. Then Harry finally said, "Help you give a lesson on witchcraft? Why?"

Olivia said, "What do you mean . . . why? Because Paige had asked me to give her and her sisters some lessons. Apparently, they feel they don't know enough. Ask Gran or Bruce. They've already helped me."

"Are you saying that after nearly five years, they still need lessons?"

Heaving a sigh, Olivia retorted, "C'mon Harry! You know better than to ask that. Learning the Craft is a lifelong experience for all of us."

"Yeah, but we're talking about the basics here," Harry shot back. "What the hell have they been doing all this time?"

Olivia retorted, "Saving the world from evil, what else?"

"And that's supposed to impress me?"

Another sigh left Olivia's mouth. "Harry . . ."

"Next question," Harry said, interrupting. "Why do you want . . . 'me' to help you?"

Olivia quickly answered, "Because the next lesson will be on altars, circles and pentagrams. You're very good in this area. Especially about altars. And I need you to draw a diagram of one."

"In other words, you couldn't find anyone else to assist you."

"Harry!" Olivia paused, before she finally capitulated. "Okay, that's the real reason. But you are very good when it comes to altars, right? Besides, Paige will be there."

Olivia heard a tremor in Harry's voice. "So?"

"C'mon Harry! I'm not blind. I've seen the way you've been hovering over her, when you think no one else is watching. And when you two are around others, you pretend she doesn't exist."

Harry's voice hardened slightly. "What are you getting at, Livy?"

She heaved a large sigh. "Let me put it this way, little brother. Nathalie Gleason told me what had transpired between you two at her party, last April. Shall I go on?"

"You can go on forever, as far as I'm concerned," Harry retorted. "And as far as I'm concerned, you're imagining things."

Olivia paused. "Does that mean you won't help me?"

Silence followed. Then, "Yeah, I'll help. What do you need?"

Relieved that her younger brother had finally agreed to help, Olivia proceeded to instruct him on a few errands.


The following Friday evening saw Olivia and Harry arriving at the Halliwell house. Olivia held her large knit bag, while Harry carried several yellow envelopes in his arms, as they climbed the stoop toward the front door.

After ringing the doorbell, Paige opened the door and ushered brother and sister inside the house. "Hey there," Olivia greeted. "Ready for your next lesson?"

Paige smiled. "Ready and eager!" The two McNeills stared at her, as if she had grown a second head. The Charmed One's face turned red with embarrassment. "Okay, that did sound a little too chipper, didn't it?"

"More like a lot," Harry muttered sardonically.

Olivia gave her brother a swift and subtle kick in the shin. Then she smiled at Paige. "So, where are the others?"

Paige revealed that her sisters were in the Solarium, waiting for the visitors. "Wyatt is in there, as well. Sleeping. Leo wasn't available to baby sit, this evening."

"Did you get a small table, like I had asked?"

Nodding, Paige replied, "It's in there, as well."

Once inside the Solarium, Olivia began the lesson. "The first thing we're going to discuss is the Wiccan altar. Uh, do you guys have one?"

The three sisters exchanged confused looks. "Wiccan altar?" Piper asked.

A slight smirk curved Harry's lips. "Well, I guess the answer is no." He received another kick in the shin from his sister.

Olivia turned to the three sisters and smiled. "The altar is a principle part of magic, rituals and daily life. It's like a sacred space in the home, set aside for major spells and rituals. You've seen one, Phoebe. Right?"

The middle Charmed One blinked. "I did?"

"That little closet inside Cole's old apartment, where he used to live," Olivia continued. "When you two first met."


Apparently, Phoebe had not remembered. "Anyway, do you guys have a table that you sometimes use, when conducting major spells?" Olivia continued.

Piper pointed at a small round table in the middle of the room. "We sometimes use this, when we're in the attic."

Olivia nodded. "Okay. This is good. In fact, some witches prefer to use a round table, because they believe it represents the circle of life. Now, there are many ways to set up an altar. And Harry," she lightly slapped her brother's arm, "is going to hand you a diagram of the altar at our parents' house."

On cue, Harry opened one of the yellow envelopes and passed the contents to the Charmed Ones. "Oh God!" Piper exclaimed. "This looks complicated."

Olivia shook her head. "Not really. It can be quite simple." She removed a large piece of blue cloth from her bag and spread it over the round table. "First, you need an altar cloth. You also need a specific color that relates to your purpose of the altar. It goes on the table, first. The second thing that goes on the table is the working cloth." She removed a cheap piece of gray cloth from her bag. "This cloth keeps wax, oil and other stuff from dripping on the altar cloth."

"Next," Harry continued, "you place four quarter candles on the table. Each candle is in the color that represents an element . . . and a quarter." Olivia removed a red candle. "Red for the Fire element and the direction, South. White for Air and East. By the way, the white candle is also supposed to represent the Goddess." Olivia placed a white candle on the table. Then she removed a blue candle from her bag. "Blue is for Water and West. And Green is for Earth and North." After Olivia placed a green candle on the table, Harry added, "Also, you don't always have to place quarter candles on the altar. You can also try free standing pillars."

Then Olivia removed a small earthen bowl from the bag and placed it on the table. "This is an Earth bowl," she said. "It can be filled with something that represents that particular element. We usually fill it with soil to represent Earth or holy water."

"Holy water?" Phoebe declared. "Wiccans deal with holy water?" Harry explained that holy water is used by many religions - Pagan and otherwise - and not just by Catholics.

"Next, is the Wine Chalice," Harry said, as Olivia removed one from her bag. "It's for drinking sacred wine that has been consecrated for magickal use. The chalice, like the White candle, represents the Goddess."

Olivia and Harry continued the list, removing objects from the knit bag. They removed the God and Goddess figures, an incense holder, a non-wine chalice for those who did not indulge in alcohol . . .

"That would be great for me," Paige said, interrupting.

Piper added, "Is it just me or does the God figure look a like the Devil?"

"That's the Horned God of the Wild," Olivia explained. "Not the Devil. Don't forget - Wiccans do not believe in Satan, the Devil and other forms of 'Satanism'. The Horned God represents the masculine aspect of nature and the Goddess, the feminine aspect."


Olivia removed a cauldron from her bag. "I'm sure that you guys remember this. For the altar, it's used to hold a piece of self-lightning charcoal." The list continued - consecrated oil, a lighter for the candles, the altar bell, a wand for channeling energy to a specific direction, an athame, a candle-snuffer, and a pentacle.

Harry explained, "The pentacle is basically a grounding tool. When magick is done on the altar, it's done over a pentacle to ground the magick's energy." He paused. "Now, if you would all study the chart I have given each of you, you'll have a basic idea of how to set up an altar."

Phoebe displayed a piece of paper, attached to her copy of the altar's diagram. "What's this?" she asked.

"Oh, that's the ritual used for the altar. And be sure there is a circle on the floor."

When the sisters finished examining the material given to them, Olivia said, "I guess that we can go on to the next lesson. The circle. You, ah . . . You guys do use a magick circle for spells, right?"

Once more, the Halliwells exchanged uneasy glances. "Uh . . . yeah," Paige finally answered. "I think."

"Sometimes," Phoebe added. "I mean . . . we know that a circle should be used."

Olivia asked, "Do you know why?" When the sisters failed to answer, she sighed. "Okay. The circle is the area in which magickal worship, spells and rituals take place. There are three basic reasons to cast a circle."

"One," Harry said, "to create a sacred space, or a place that is different from the mundane world. Two, to keep the energy from magick, focused and contained in one area."

Olivia added, "And three, a circle provides protection from negative outside forces. It provides safety, since witches inside the circle are able to travel across veils and into different dimensions. In other words, the circle provides safety, as we travel."

"Like Paige and I did, when we projected into Piper's mind," Phoebe said.


Harry opened another yellow envelope. He poured out the contents - more stapled papers - and passed them around. "Now, you each have a list of methods to cast a circle. If you don't know how to cast one, the instructions provided should be simple."

"Wait. There's more than one way to cast a circle?" Phoebe asked.

"Actually, the list I just gave you provides at least four methods on casting a circle and instructions on closing one."

Paige asked, "What kind of circles?"

Harry sighed. "Well, there is the commonly used method of casting a circle. There is one for casting a circle in a hurry, one for casting a Celtic circle, and one for casting a circle on your hand. Uh, if you guys want to go over each one . . ."

"That's okay," Piper quickly interrupted. "These instructions don't really seem all that difficult."

The youngest McNeill glanced at his sister, who shrugged. "Okay, sure. I guess we can move on to the next lesson."

Phoebe sighed. "The final one." Her voice seemed tinged with relief.

Olivia stared at the middle Charmed One. "Are we getting bored?"

"Huh? Oh . . . uh, no. I just . . . I guess I'm a little hungry."

Glancing at her watch, Olivia noticed that it read eight forty-seven. "Haven't you all eaten dinner, yet?"

"Of course we have," Piper replied. "We just . . ."

Impatience tinged Paige's voice. "Can we please just get on with the lessons?"

Nodding, Olivia said, "Right. Next lesson - pentagram."

"We all know what a pentagram is," Piper commented. "It's a five-pointed star, held in an upright position. It's an ancient symbol of protection from evil."

"Did you know that it's also called the 'endless knot'?" Olivia added. "Or that the symbol can be traced back to ancient Egyptian and Summerian cultures? And it's also been found on Native American tools."

Piper replied, "No, but we do know that each point represents the five elements - earth, water, fire, metal and wood."

Olivia blinked. She wondered if she had just heard right. Then she glanced at Harry, who also looked confused. "Piper," he asked, "could you repeat that list of elements, again?"

"Earth, water, fire, metal and wood," Piper repeated. "In fact, this house is situated in the middle of a pentagram. Of a nexus. It lies in equal distance from a place or object that represents each element."

Phoebe added, "Yeah, and that's why I'm more susceptible to evil than my sisters. Since I was born in the manor, I can easily swing to either evil or good."

"Honey, I hate to break it to you," Olivia patiently explained, "but you've just about described every living being in existence. Any one of us can easily swing one way or the other. It's a part of who and what we are."

Harry added, "And I think I should explain to you guys that the elements associated with Wicca are earth, water, fire, AIR and SPIRIT. The elements that you had mentioned are associated with Chinese spirituality."

"WHAT?" Both Phoebe and Piper cried out at the same.

"If you're correct about this house being in the center of some kind of nexus," Harry continued, "perhaps it's . . . I don't know. Chinese?"

Phoebe exclaimed, "But that's impossible!" She paused, as she stared at the two McNeills. "Is it? I mean, are you saying . . .? Which list is correct?"

"I haven't the foggiest idea," Olivia replied. "Both lists may be correct. Every form of philosophy or religion has its own list of elements."

Harry added, "Olivia has her own theory about the elements." Knowing what he was about to reveal, Olivia glared at her brother. "What? C'mon Livy! You've already told the family."

"And no one bought it, I might add."

Paige frowned. "What theory?"

After a long and heavy sigh, Olivia finally capitulated. "Okay, I give up." She paused. Then, "While studying some of the different religions and philosophies, I had noticed something about the elements associated with them. Although they varied, if you combine them all on one list, you will probably end up with at least seven elements. Namely - earth, water, air, fire, wood, metal and spirit. This leaves me to suspect that there are seven elements, not five or in the case of other religions or philosophies, some other number of elements. By the way, did you know that the Buddhists refer to the spirit element as the Void or Ether?"

Silence hung over the Sun Room like a heavy fog. Disbelief and confusion whirled in the Charmed Ones' dark eyes, while Harry's mouth hung open in anticipation. "So what do you think?" he asked. "Makes sense?"

Piper shook her head. "I don't understand. You're saying that there are seven elements and not five?"

"That's my theory," Olivia coolly replied.

Phoebe spoke up. "But that would make the whole idea of a pentagram irrelevant! And the pentagram, as a symbol, has been around for ages."

"What?" Harry demanded. "She's not allowed to challenge a belief that's been around since the dawn of man?"

Olivia glanced at Paige, who seemed equally dubious. "I guess you don't buy it either," she asked her friend.

Paige squirmed with discomfort. "I don't know, Livy," she finally said. "It's just . . . well yeah. I guess I don't. I just find it hard to buy."

"Why?" Harry demanded. He seemed disappointed by Paige's reaction.

Shrugging her shoulders, Paige answered, "I don't know. Maybe Phoebe's right. The pentagram has been part of Wicca beliefs for many years. And a part of Celtic and other forms of paganism, long before that. Right? Is Olivia trying to say that the pentagram isn't a symbol for protection from evil? And if so, what is?"

Olivia thought to herself. Why had she allowed Harry to goad her into opening her big mouth? Then she sighed. "I don't know, Paige. How about a heptagram?" The sisters merely responded with blank stares. So much for her clever idea.

Before the uncomfortable silence could get any worse, Harry came to the rescue. He glanced at his watch. "Look, why don't we call it a night? I think that we've basically covered everything for today's lesson. And besides, there's a movie on cable I want to see. And it starts in less than an hour."

"Good idea," Olivia quickly agreed, thankful of Harry's suggestion.

Piper asked, "Before you go, may I ask you guys a question?" The two McNeills stared at her. "Is it really necessary to have a permanent altar in the house?"

"It's not mandatory," Olivia replied. "But I would highly recommend having one around for major spells and rituals. You don't want to take the chance of the magick getting out of control."

"Our magic never gets . . ." Phoebe began. Then she broke off, as a sheepish expression appeared on her face. "Okay, maybe it does. Sometimes."

Piper asked another question. "Do we really need an altar for our Book of Shadows?"

"Where did you get that idea?" Harry asked, with a frown.

Giving her eyes a contemptuous roll, Phoebe shot back, "From one of Leo's old whitelighter buddies. Natalie. She once told us that we should keep our Book of Shadows on a hidden altar."

"We had ignored her advice, of course," Piper sardonically added.

Olivia said, "So did we. When Leo first told Bruce and me the same, years ago. Frankly, I think it's a lot of nonsense."

"Leo, huh?" Piper looked slightly embarrassed.

"Besides, I don't keep my Book of Shadows on an altar," Olivia continued. "There's no need, as far as I'm concerned. Harry keeps his on a computer CD-disk. So does Nathalie Gleason."

Paige's voice rang with disbelief. "A Book of Shadows on a computer disk?"

Phoebe added, "And why would you all maintain separate Books of Shadow, anyway? Isn't there one for the entire family?"

Harry shook his head. "Not really. Each witch usually maintains his or her own personal book. I'm surprised that none of you have your own book. I mean, what if one or more of you move out?"

"So, you think we should each have our own book?"

Oh God! Impatience tugged at Olivia's mind. She wanted to end this session. Now. "Look, it's like Harry said. Every individual witch maintains a Book of Shadows. Paige, Phoebe, Piper - if you don't want to follow this rule, fine. It's not a problem. Do what works best for you. Anymore questions?"

Wearing dazed expressions, the Charmed Ones shook their heads. Harry shot to his feet and began removing some of the items on the makeshift altar. "Okay, it's time to go." He placed the items in Olivia's bag.

While Harry finished loading her bag, Olivia stood up. "Okay guys, I guess I'll be seeing you, tomorrow evening."

"Why not the morning or afternoon?" Paige asked.

"Because Cole and I are going to Sausalito, tomorrow morning," Olivia said. From the corner of her eye, she saw Phoebe stiffened at the mention of the half-daemon's name. "And we won't be back until five or five-thirty. So, I'll be seeing you around six, at my apartment. Okay?"

The Charmed Ones agreed. Then much to Olivia's relief, she and Harry gathered their belongings, bid their hostesses good-bye - and finally left.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

"The Paris Temper" [PG] - 1/1


SUMMARY: B'Elanna Torres reflects on the darker side of her husband's nature. From Torres' POV. Told from late Season 7. Spoilers include "The Cloud", "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Author, Author".
FEEDBACK: - Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: B'Elanna Torres, Tom Paris and all other characters related to Star Trek Voyager belong to Paramount, Viacom and the usual Trek Powers to Be.


For as long as I can remember, many people have made a big deal about my temper. The famous, or maybe I should say infamous B'Elanna Torres temper. Naturally, many have attributed my volatile nature to my Klingon genes. Including myself. But a recent event and a deep look at some of those whom I consider to be very close to me has given me doubts. Can one really attribute bad temper to one's ethnic background or species? Or is it simply a matter of individual personality?

The recent incident I had referred was a near death experience in Grethor. The Klingon version of Hell, otherwise known as the Barge of the Dead. About twenty months ago, I nearly died, while returning from an Away mission to collect the ship’s multi-spatial probe. During that period, I encountered my mother, Miral, in Grethor. Seeing her again reminded me of the numerous lectures she used to give me. Including one about my temper. In fact, one of Mother's favor subjects used to be about me learning to control my temper.

Now, I am quite aware that I had inherited my temper from Mother. She could be just as volatile as me. I remembered quite well all those quarrels she used to have with my father, John Torres. But as she grew older, Mother learned to exercise more control over her temper. Yet, not completely. Not when she had to raise a volatile and resentful daughter.

Other races - and I am just as guilty - have failed to realize that Klingons tend to frown upon displays of bad temper. My mother's people admired aggressiveness, cunning, and bravery of all kinds. A bad temper, they believed, had no place in battle. Nor did the lack of common sense. Mother used to point out my cousin R'Geyer as the perfect example of a Klingon warrior. He was brave, cunning, and very aggressive. And he possessed a great deal of common sense. Cousin R'Geyer, I might also add, always maintained a tight control of his temper. He once offered to teach me methods to control my own temper. Being resentful of Klingon customs of any kind and fearing I would be subjected to some archaic Klingon ceremony, I rejected his offer. Now, I wish I had accepted. Perhaps I would have been spared years of trouble and heartache.

My memories of Grethor and Mother's relations were not my only reminders that a bad temper was more than just a Klingon phenomenon. Other races could be just as volatile - Bajorans, Betazoids, Cardassians, the Hirogen, Kazons, Bolians, Talaxians and the Malon, just to name a few. Voyager's former nemesis, Seska, had possessed a temper just as volatile as mine. And she was a Cardassian. Tabor, a Bajoran, could also be rather volatile. Underneath that jovial obsequiousness, Neelix can be extremely bad-tempered. Do Vulcans possess a volatile nature, underneath their emotionless masks? Six years ago, I would have said no. Now, I am not so sure. I recalled Vorik's behavior on Sakaris IV - when he was in the throes of pon farr. I still shiver just thinking about it. And Tuvok once admitted that Vulcans without any control of their emotions can be more volatile and dangerous than many other races. Including Klingons. Perhaps I have spent so many years resenting my own temper and blaming it on my Klingon heritage that I had failed to see it in others.

And what about Humans? Too busy wallowing in self-disgust at my Klingon side, I failed to notice that other humans could be just as temperamental. I can honestly say that my father, Juan Torres, was not temperamental. In fact, one could easily label him as a mild-mannered man. Perhaps too mild-mannered for my mother. I could almost say the same about my mentor and Voyager's First Officer, Chakotay. Almost. Despite his mild exterior, Chakotay has one hell of a temper. He can usually keep it under control, but there are a few who are capable of making him lose control. People like Tuvok (whom Chakotay once resented for being a spy in his Maquis cell), our former Borg drone, Seven-of-Nine; Seska; and at times, even Captain Janeway. But the one person who possesses a special talent for getting under Chakotay's skin is my very own love bug, my husband Tom. Aside from Chakotay, there was Harry Kim. My first friend aboard Voyager, Harry has a bad habit of losing control whenever something went wrong. Something that usually fell under his responsibility. I can still remember how he had lost his cool when we were trapped inside Sick Bay with that smart bomb.

There is also the Doctor, our "beloved" Emergency Medical Hologram. I cannot even count the number of times he has lost his temper. Come to think of it, the Doctor has even experienced a nervous breakdown. Twice. And over the same person. Both Harry and Ensign Ani Jetal were seriously wounded during an Away mission a few years ago. After the Doctor saved Harry and failed to save Ensign Jetal, he became volatile. We thought his programming had malfunctioned and erased the memory. When that memory came back to haunt him a year-and-a-half later, we finally realized that he had suffered a mental breakdown and treated him as a person . . . and not a computer program. Even Seven, our former-Borg-turned-Ice-Princess, has a temper. I had been there when she struck an arms dealer, whom she had suspected of violating her body for nanoprobes. And Kahless only knows how many quarrels she had engaged with both the Captain and Chakotay.

Finally, there is Captain Janeway. Kathryn Janeway, our fearless leader, here in the Delta Quadrant. I must say that she controls her temper a hell of a lot better than I ever did. And her temper can be monstrous. Trust me, I know. I have seen it up close and personal. Experienced it. I have seen it when those aliens used the crew as guinea pigs for their medical experiments. Well, Starfleet and Ayala had. But I did personally witnessed the Janeway temper in action against myself, Chakotay, the Nyrians, Seven-of-Nine, Tom, Harry, Tuvok, Captain Ransom of the Equinox and countless other crewmen and hostile aliens. Let me put it this way - Kathryn Janeway’s temper can be a force of nature that would scare a Klingon warrior shitless. Only my mother's temper is equal.

There is one other person whose temper seemed to be equal to the Captain's. Namely my husband of eight months, Tom Paris. Don't laugh! Upon meeting Tom for the first time, a person can be struck by a few things about him. One, he is a very good-looking man, with brilliant blue eyes and a flashing smile. Tom is witty - although some of his jokes can be rather lame. And he also seemed to possess a very easy-going and even temper. That person would be right about Tom. Except for one thing - underneath the flashing smile, the easy-going manner and even temper lurks a volatile personality.

Like Captain Janeway, Tom can usually maintain great control over his temper. In fact, I'm afraid there are times when he may have succeeded too well. Meaning, Tom has this tendency to repress his emotions. To the point of putting the Vulcans to shame. As I have stated before, Vulcans do have emotions. But years of repressing their feelings have developed a side-effect for them. Every seven years of their adult life, Vulcans . . . or maybe I should say their men . . . well, to be honest, I'm not really sure. Anyway, every seven years, Vulcans suffer from this chemical imbalance in their brain and develop this emotional urge to mate. In other words, they go into heat. And when this happens, look out! I know what I'm talking about. I have seen it and experienced it - via a mind meld - first hand, thanks to one of my engineers, Ensign Vorik.

What does this have to do with Tom? Like the Vulcans, Tom has his own side effects from years of suppressing his emotions. One side effect is his sense of humor. First of all, he uses jokes to hide his true feelings. And when he does, his jokes tend to be rather caustic and almost cruel. Okay, he can be cruel. Kahless knows how many times I have been a victim of his wit during that first year in the Delta Quandrant, when we could barely stand one another. I can recall one incident in which I had made a nasty comment about one character in his Sandrine’s holoprogram. His name was Gaunt Gary, some pool hustler who made a pass at me when Tom first created the program. I called both him and Tom a pig. Apparently, my insult must have hit its target. For a while that damn Gaunt Gary would materialize and proposition me every time I walked into one of the Holodecks. Harry had to beg Tom to call off the joke after three weeks. Tom’s main victims have usually been Chakotay, Seska, Ensign Pat Murphy, Ken Dalby and a few others on his official shit list. Mind you, Tuvok gets on his nerves every once in a while. But I have a deep suspicion that those two like each other more than either of them care to admit.

However, Tom’s biting humor is nothing in compare to other dark facets of his personality. For one, Tom can be unforgiving. Very unforgiving. Take his father, for example. Tom blamed Admiral Owen Paris for pressuring him into joining Starfleet – a career he never wanted. And he has yet to forgive the Admiral for ostracizing him from the family, following the whole Caldik Prime incident. When Lieutenant Barclay from the Alpha Quadrant, Harry and Seven were finally able to establish visual communication with Starfleet, via the MIDAS Array, the crew had the opportunity to speak directly with other family members or friends. Tom convinced me to talk to my father for the first time in nearly twenty years. But when the opportunity came for him to talk with his family, Tom decided to hand over his allotted time slot to Harry. He called himself giving Harry the opportunity to speak with his parents. But I knew better. Tom simply wanted to avoid speaking with his father.

There are times that I wonder if he had ever forgiven Chakotay’s . . . holier-than-thou attitude toward Tom during the time the latter had spent in my old mentor’s Maquis cell. You see, Chakotay had immediately spotted Tom as a mercenary who had joined the Maquis for profit. Granted, he had been right, but Chakotay treated Tom as such and continued to do so during our first months in the Delta Quadrant. Judging from Tom’s willingness to needle Chakotay whenever the opportunity presented itself and his relish for pretending to be a malcontent during the time when Tuvok was trying to sniff out Seska’s spy, I suspect that he had enjoyed expressing hostility at the First Officer. A small part of me wondered if Tuvok had enjoyed it, as well.

But when it comes to sheer vindictiveness, no one - and I mean no one - beats Thomas Eugene Paris. Tom can be a sweet, fun and all-around great guy. But for the sake of your own sanity, do not piss him off! There is nothing he would like better than getting even for any slight. In the worst possible way. I could bring up countless examples of Tom’s vindictive streak. But two incidents certainly come to mind.

The first centered on my old nemesis, Seven-of-Nine. About two years ago, the Doctor had encouraged Seven to study more about romance. And that Borg bi . . . I mean Seven . . . had decided to study my relationship with Tom. She must have spent nearly a month observing us before she opened her big mouth and exposed the nature of our more intimate relationship. In front of several crewmen in the Mess Hall. (Pauses) Okay. I am now calm. After all, it happened two years ago. And Seven and I have managed to bury the ax between us. Somewhat. Needless to say that Seven’s revelation had upset me very much. And as it turned out, I was not the only one who became upset.

I later learned that Tom had stumbled across the Doctor giving Seven another lesson in the art of courtship. Apparently, Tom manipulated the Doctor into making a bet that Seven’s lesson will end in disaster at the first social function. Which is exactly what happened at a diplomatic function that Chakotay held for a visiting Kadi representative named Tomin. When Tom realized that he was in danger of losing his bet, inadvertently revealed it in front of Seven. She became pissed off that the Doctor would make a bet over her. And when a drunken Ambassador Tomin made a pass at her . . . well, Tom ended up winning his bet and humiliating Seven. However, he realized that he had hurt more than he originally planned and regretted his action. I did not.

Tom's penchant for vengeful payback expressed itself in the worst way possible over the Doctor's new holonovel, "Photons Be Free". The Doctor, bless his holographic heart, composed a novel about a "holographic medical officer serving aboard the U.S.S. Vortex". This particular doctor was treated as a virtual slave by a crew comprised by some very unpleasant characters. Even worse, the Vortex crew bore a slight resemblance to many of Voyager's crew. Among Vortex's crew was a rude, human Chief Engineer named Lieutenant Torrey; and the Medical Assistant, Lieutenant Marseilles (hmmm, another French city), who bore a strong physical resemblance to Tom - but with a moustache. And Lieutenant Marseilles happened to be something of a ladies' man, despite being married to Lieutenant Torrey. Aside from the Doctor, the only crewman portrayed with any sympathy was Seven-of-Nine. Her character turned out to be Three-of-Eight, who was sympathetic to the Doctor's character. I admit to being slightly annoyed by the Doctor's hint that he found me rude. But Tom . . . wow! "Photons Be Free" really upset him. And when someone crosses the line with Tom Paris, he strikes back. Hard.

It did not take Tom very long to get even with the Doctor's characterization of him. Being a very clever holoprogrammer, he managed to access the Doctor's program and . . . alter the novel. One, Tom made himself the novel's narrator and protagonist. He also altered the starship's name, calling it the U.S.S. Voyeur. The Doctor became this egotistical and obnoxious character who was more concerned with his extracurricular activities, and possessed a bad comb-over. Then Tom took a swipe at the Doctor's infatuation with Seven by altering her Three-of-Eight character into Two-of-Three, a brainless and submissive former Borg whom the Doctor constantly seduced and gave Klingon aphrodisiacs and neck rubs. Not only did Tom take a swipe at the Doctor's character, he used the changes to let the latter know how he felt at the Doctor's take on his own character.

Kahless knows that I love Tom. He is a wonderful man who is capable of understanding me in a way that no one else has. He is charming, fun, intelligent and very creative. But like all other beings, he has his dark side. He can be sarcastic, unforgiving, vindictive and sometimes cruel. And during the past four years we have been together, I had to deal with this darker side of his nature, just as much as he has to deal with mine. But if there is one thing I have learned during my years with Tom - and with Voyager's other crew members - is that each and every one of us is not one thing or the other. We are all an interesting combination of many traits that we have to learn to balance. I am just learning how to maintain that balance. And I think I can say that Tom is learning, as well.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"HEARTBREAKERS" (2001) Review

Here is my review of the 2001 comedy, "HEARTBREAKERS", about a mother-daughter pair who happened to be grifters:

”HEARTBREAKERS” (2001) Review

Directed by David Mirkin, ”HEARTBREAKERS” is a romantic comedy caper about an elaborate con set up by a mother-daughter team to swindle wealthy men out of their money, and what happens during their "last" con together. This 2001 comedy starred Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love-Hewitt as the mother-daughter pair, along with Gene Hackman and Ray Liotta as their wealthy marks.

The movie begins with Max and Page Connors (Weaver and Love-Hewitt) conning an auto-body shop owner and small time crook named Dean Cumanno (Liotta). The con, which is implied has been done a number of times before on other men, involves Max marrying Dean, passing out on their wedding night to avoid consummating the marriage, and then Page (posing as Dean's secretary) luring Dean into a compromising position to justify Max's immediate divorce and hefty settlement. Following the success of this con, Page decides that she wants her half of their money before going solo. Max relents, but the two learn from an I.R.S. agent (Anne Bancroft) that that they owe the government a considerable sum on top of the rest of their savings, which have already been seized. Page reluctantly agrees to work together with Max on one last con in Palm Beach (which would result in enough money to pay off the I.R.S. and set Page up to work on her own). For their target, they choose widower William B. Tensy (Gene Hackman), a tobacco millionaire and chain smoker who is addicted to his own product. Complicating matters is beachfront bartender named Jack Withrowe (Jason Lee), whom Page meets without her mother's knowledge, while attempting to go after another target on her own.

Robert Dunn, Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur; who wrote the screenplay for ”HEARTBREAKERS”, were also responsible for movies like ”THE LITTLE RASCALS” and ”LIAR, LIAR”. But quite frankly, those two movies were chopped liver as far as I am concerned in compare to ”HEARTBREAKERS”. The movie’s story struck me as sly, witty and absolutely hilarious. Page’s romance with Jack; along with Max and Dean’s love stories were romantic and at the same time, sharp and unsentimental. Max’s attempts to seduce William Tensy, while impersonating a Russian expatriate featured some of the most hilarious moments in the movie – especially a particularly biting sequence that featured the Connors’ dealings with Tensy’s hard-nosed and grasping maid, portrayed by Nora Dunn. Between Tensy’s smoking and pallor and Max’s ordeal in being forced to consume steak tartare, this movie has put me off smoking and raw beef for all eternity. And if the Connors’ misadventures with Tensy were not bad enough, emotions jump a few notches when Dean arrives in Palm Beach in search of Max. It seems that he was really in love with her . . . and she has admitted to having feelings for him. Much to Page’s disgust.

It is not simply the script for ”HEARTBREAKERS” that had me in stitches. Weaver and Love Hewitt lead a first-rate cast that was just as funny as the script. Weaver (deservedly) earned a Golden Satellite Awards nomination as the elegant and quick-thinking Max. However, Love Hewitt matched her in screen presence and comedic skills as the equally intelligent, yet brusque Page. For once Ray Liotta’s intensity came into comedic use as Max’s faux husband, auto shop owner Dean Cummano whose love for the grafter/mother refuses to die, despite his discovery that Max and Page had conned him. Anne Bancroft gave a sly performance as Barbara aka Gloria Vogel, the I.R.S. agent who turned out to be Max’s mentor . . . and the woman who had stolen Max and Page’s bank funds. And of course, there was Gene Hackman, who played the chain smoking William Tensy. I loved his portrayal of the self-absorbed and caustic tobacco magnate. I could tell that he was truly enjoying himself. The only hiccup in this first-rate cast turned out to be Jason Lee. He played Jack Withrowe, the bartender who turned out to be owner of a beachfront bar and minor millionaire. Actually, the problem was not Lee’s performance. It was the writers’ portrayal of him. Quite frankly, Jack was a rather dull boy – a character unworthy of the talented and usually funny Lee. Not even the so-called one-liners they fed the character could not overcome his dullness.

”HEARTBREAKERS” turned out to be another example of a caper film featuring grifters that I find enjoyable. It had a first-rate plot, hilarious and complex characters (with the exception of Lee’s character), delicious scenery featuring Palm Beach and Southern California (standing in as Palm Beach) and a catchy score written by John Debney and Emmanuel Kiriakou. Director David Mirkin was given all of this – some at the last moment – and created comedy magic with it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"BUFFY AND RILEY: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do"

Below is an article I have written about the breakup of Buffy Summers and Riley Finn in the Season Five episode of "BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER" called, (5.10) "Into the Woods":

”BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO: Buffy and Riley”

I have read many opinions regarding the breakup of vampire slayer Buffy Summers and her Season Four/Season Five boyfriend, Riley Finn on many discussion forums, blogs and message boards about ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. The prevailing viewpoint seemed to be that Riley had ruined the relationship with his behavior and attitude in Season Five. I might be one of the few fans of the show who might harbor another opinion. Then again, I might not. Let me explain.

At the end of Season Three, Buffy’s vampire paramour – Angel – had decided it would be safer for her if he left Sunnydale and her for good. Following Buffy’s graduation from high school, she enrolled in the University of California at Sunnydale. And not long after starting school, she met Riley Finn inside a student bookstore for the first time. As it turned out, Riley was not only a Teacher’s Assistant for one of the university’s instructors (Maggie Walsh), he was also an Army officer and demon hunter for a government-sponsored organization called ’The Initiative’. And unbeknownst to both Buffy and Riley, his mentor Dr. Walsh had been feeding him drugs to enhance his physical prowess. Not only did the couple spend most of Season Four coming to terms with Riley’s participation in the Initiative, but also dealing with Maggie Walsh’s other experiment – namely a human/demon cyborg hybrid named Adam. But after their adventures with the Initiative, Adam and other demons; Riley resigned from the Army and became part of the Scoobies.

But all was not as well as it seemed by the beginning of Season Five for Buffy and Riley. Buffy began sneaking away from Riley at nights to engage in her usual Slayer activities. She suddenly found herself the older sister of a fourteen year-old adolescent girl named Dawn, who was in reality a mystical object known as the Key transformed into human for by a group of monks and sent to Buffy from protection from a hell god named Glory. The drugs that Maggie Walsh had fed into Riley began having a deteriorating effect upon his health. Riley had the drugs removed from him via an operation by a former Initiative doctor and became slightly weaker. Buffy discovered that her mother, Joyce Summers, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Worst of all, Riley began harboring suspicions that the blond vampire slayer did not really love him. It finally ended for Buffy and Riley in (5.10) “Into the Woods” when two things happened: 1) Riley was approached by his old friend, Graham Miller, to consider rejoining the Army and a new version of the Initiative; and 2) Buffy learned via chipped vampire Spike that Riley was seeing vampire whores who suck his blood for money. After a bitter fight between the two, Riley left Buffy and Sunnydale for good.

Ever since ”Into the Woods”, many ”BUFFY” fans have placed either most or all of the blame of the couple’s breakup upon Riley’s shoulders. First of all, many have accused his character of over-the-top machismo. They claimed that Riley could not handle being physically weaker than Buffy after his operation in (5.04) ”Out of My Mind”. They used his actions with the vampire whores as example that Riley tried to be “monstrous” enough to be a worthy mate for Buffy . . . and fell short.

I must admit that I found the above claims about Riley very hard to accept. Granted, he possessed a black-and-white view of the world before meeting Buffy. And this conservative viewpoint led him to join the Army, allow Maggie Walsh to recruit him into the Initiative and help the latter capture Oz in (4.19) “New Moon Rising”, despite Buffy’s protests. But Riley made bigger mistakes. After resigning his Army commission, Riley should have taken the time to make a life for himself outside of Buffy. He could have continued his studies at UC Sunnydale or try to become a teacher. Perhaps one of the reasons he failed to pursue another profession was that the only life he really wanted was in the military. I see nothing wrong with that. As long as Riley went through life with his eyes opened and without the naivety that Maggie Walsh had exploited in the past . . . he could be on the right track.

But Riley tried to make his life all about Buffy (just as Spike would attempt to do so between late Season Five and Season Seven) and it was another mistake on his part. Even worse, he failed to inform Buffy of his true feelings about everything – his lack of a direction in his life, the vampire whores and Buffy’s growing emotional distance - until it was too late. Quite simply, Riley made three major mistakes. He failed to make a new life for himself outside of Buffy, he cavorted with vampire whores in order to explore his inner darkness and most importantly, he failed to communicate with Buffy.

On the other hand, Buffy also contributed to her breakup with Riley. I suspect that she had been using Riley as rebound from Day One of their relationship. She was not only rebounding from Angel's departure, but also from the idea of a relationship with a supernatural being. To her, Riley was her ”Joe Normal”. And this was a mistake. There is a chance that some part of Buffy had deep feelings for him, but I doubt that it was enough for a long term relationship.

But the one thing that really annoyed me was Buffy's habit of treating Riley like fine china, following the operation to remove his physical enhancements in "Out of My Mind". So what if he had lost some of his strength? He was still a competent demon hunter. He certainly proved that in (5.07) "Fool For Love". Instead, Buffy treated him like a damsel-in-distress by insisting that the Scoobies help him hunt down the vampire that attacked her. In other words, she became ridiculously macho when it came to Riley. She failed to remember that Riley was an experienced demon hunter, who could help her deal with vampires, demons, etc. a little more effectively than the other Scoobies. It almost seemed as if Buffy was treating Riley with a patriarchal air. And that was a major mistake for her to make with a strong-willed personality like Riley. Another major mistake that Buffy made was like Riley, she failed to communicate with him. Many fans pointed out that Buffy was too busy dealing with Joyce’s illness and the appearance of a new sister to deal with Riley’s demons. But if Buffy could confide with Spike about Joyce’s illness in (5.08) “Shadow”, why did she wait so long to do the same with Riley? Why did she confide in Spike first?

I suspect that in the end, the real problem with Buffy and Riley was that emotionally, they were too similar to each other. Each, in their own way, possessed a . . . masculine personality. And instead of creating a balance between two people, it created conflict in the end. Neither of them were really honest with each other. Both had a problem with communicating with each other. Is it any wonder that the relationship failed in the end?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Top Ten (10) Favorite DISNEY Animated Films

Below is a list of my top ten (10) favorite Disney animated films of all time . . . so far:


1. "The Incredibles" (2004) - It still surprises me that a story produced by Brad Bird and Pixar and released by Disney about a family of superheroes would end up being my favorite animated film of all time. It is also one of the best action films and best comic book hero films I have ever seen, hands down. Filled with memorable characters - including the unforgettable designer of superhero costumes, Edna E. Mode - and a fantastic plot about family obligations and the revenge of a superhero wannabe (voiced by the always talented Jason Lee), the movie earned a much deserved Academy Award Best Animated Feature.

2. "101 Dalmations" (1961) - Based upon Dodie Smith's children's book, this 1961 film has one of the best written plots I have ever come across in a Disney film. The plot centered on the fate of the kidnapped puppies of Pongo and Perdita, a pair of Dalmations in 1960 London. Not only is the movie a first-class adventure, it humorously spoofed the public's growing fascination with television and has one of the best villainesses - Cruella DeVille - in the studio's history.

3. "Aladdin" (1992) - This movie caused a bit of controversy with its Middle Eastern setting. But I must admit that this tale of an Arabian street hustler named has also been a big favorite of mine, which featured beautiful animation; a strong story co-written by Ron Clements, John Muser, and the "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN" franchise duo Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio; and memorable songs by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. But it was Robin Williams' memorable performance as the Genie in the Lamp that stole the show.

4. "Peter Pan" (1953) - Frankly, I think that this animated version of J.M. Barrie's play is one of the best written Disney animated films ever made. I also feel that it has been vastly underrated by many critics, who seemed to harbor very little thought about it. This is a beautiful film that featured great animation, a solid story and entertaining songs by Oliver Wallace.

5. "The Lion King" (1994) - Loosely based upon William Shakespeare's "Hamlet", yet set in Pride Lands of the Serengeti, this tale about a lion cub who loses his father and kingdom via the machination of his evil uncle has been a favorite of mine for over a decade. It boasts an excellent story; great drama; great humor thanks to the voice work of Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Cheech Marin and Whoopi Goldberg; a superb score by Hans Zimmer and Oscar worthy songs written by Elton John.

6. "The Little Mermaid" (1989) - Based upon Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, this excellent film breathed life back into the Disney animated feature film genre after a string of critical and/or commercial failures that dated back to the early 1980s. It also marked the start of the era known as the "Disney Renaissance". The movie included a number of memorable songs written by Alan Menken.

7. "Ratatouille" (2007) - Produced and directed by Brad Bird at Pixar and released through Disney, this charming and hilarious tale is about Remy, a country rat who dreams of becoming a chef and tries to achieve his goal by forming an alliance with a Parisian restaurant's garbage boy. The movie won a much deserved Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

8. "The Jungle Book" (1967) - Based upon Ruyard Kipling's famous book, this movie would end up as the last one produced by Walt Disney before his death. Although slightly episodic, it was a fun-filled tale about an orphan boy raised by a panther named Bageera and a bear named Baloo in India. The movie also featured some great songs written by Terry Gilkyson and the Sherman Brothers - Robert and Richard.

9. "The Great Mouse Detective" (1986) - Based on the children's book series "Basil of Baker Street" by Eve Titus, this movie drew heavily on the tradition of Sherlock Holmes with a heroic mouse who consciously emulates the detective. His name, Basil, came from the famous actor who portrayed Holmes. And I must say that Basil turned out to be a lot more interesting as a character than Holmes could ever be. I could say the same for the other characters - including the villain Rattigan (deliciously voiced by Vincent Price).

10. "Sleeping Beauty" (1959) - For some reason, I rather like this adaptation of Renault's classic fairy tale. Both the main heroine and hero - Princess Aurora and Prince Philip - are mildly entertaining. And Eyvind Earle, Marc Davis and Ken Anderson's animation were charming. But what made this film for me were the three fairy sisters - Flora, Fauna and Merryweather. They stole the show, along with the elegant villainess, Maleficent.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Lessons in Witchcraft" [PG] - 3/9


Chapter 3

NOTE: In the previous chapter, the three Halliwell sisters learn about magic tools and their status as witches, and unlearn a few misconceptions. The story picks up with Olivia McNeill discussing the previous lesson with Cole.


The doorbell rang. Exhausted from the lessons with the Halliwells, Olivia rose reluctantly from the sofa and walked toward door. She barked, "Yeah, who is it?"

"Cole," a muffled voice replied.

"You know how to get inside."

As she returned to the sofa, a tall figure materialized in the middle of the living room. "Hey," Cole greeted. Then he leaned down and planted a light kiss on the edge of Olivia's mouth. When she failed to respond, he frowned. "Something wrong? You look a little beat."

Olivia sighed. Heavily. "I feel worse. I just spent the entire afternoon teaching Paige and her sisters about the Wiccan Rede, some history on Wicca and magical tools. All afternoon. I even had to demonstrate on how to use each tool. And I had planned to talk about magick altars, but I never got the chance." Another sigh left her mouth.

Cole sat down on the sofa and lifted Olivia's legs upon his lap. "Poor Olivia. I guess you're not cut out to be a teacher."

Responding with a derisive snort, Olivia continued, "The problem is that I had overestimated on how much the Halliwells knew about the basics of witchcraft and Wicca. I mean, they've been practicing magic for nearly five years - at least Piper and Phoebe have, and Paige, for two years. I realize they're talented and all, but they really have no knowledge of the basics. What the hell were they doing all this time?"

"Dealing with attacks by the Source and his minions," Cole replied. He began to rub Olivia's right foot. "I guess they really didn't have the time to learn the basics."

Olivia nodded. "I can understand that. I remember what it was like when I had to deal with a lot of demonic and warlock attacks, a few years ago. That's how I first met Richard. The thing is, I never knew why."

Cole continued to rub Olivia's foot. His long fingers felt so good; she had to bite her lower lip to keep from moaning out loud. "You really don't know," he said. "Do you?"

"Know what?"

Pausing briefly, Cole shook his head. "Never mind. Let's just say the Source had considered you a threat . . . along with Phoebe and her sisters. Only a threat of a different nature."

Olivia frowned. "Wha . . .? What on earth did the Source have against me? Had the Oracle foreseen that I would one day become the Aingeal Staff's bearer?"

"No, nothing like that. Although the Source did fear your Cousin Keith. He, uh . . ." Again, Cole paused. "Well, it seems that you had developed a reputation as a redeemer of daemons. Especially high-level daemons."

Olivia sat up and stared at her boyfriend. "You've got to be kidding! Just because I had managed to convince one or two daemons . . ."

"Actually, you had turned eight daemons, Olivia. You had turned eight daemons and . . . and a powerful warlock against the Source, during a period of ten years," Cole continued. "That's a feat unheard of for any witch. Or any enemy of the Source."

The whole matter seemed ludicrous to Olivia. She found it difficult to believe that the Source would consider her a threat over eight daemons. "I'm sure there have been plenty of daemons and warlocks that managed to 'redeem' themselves without my help, over the years."

Cole resumed massaging her foot. "True. But you're the only witch who's ever had such an impact on the Source's Realm. Killing them is one thing, but convincing them to turn against the Source and everything he stood for? He was never able to deal with such a betrayal. Why do you think he was so determined to go after me?" He switched to Olivia's other foot. "Strange that I had forgotten all about that, until now."

"I think my opinion of the Source has lowered another notch, after what you had told me," Olivia grumbled. "Sending assassins after me, for what . . . over eight daemons and Richard?" She shook her head in disgust. Then she returned to the previous topic. "As for the Halliwells - I understand that they had been busy fending off attacks, but the Source has been dead for over a year. Only Paige has made efforts to study more on witchcraft, since then."

"Don't have an answer for that one."

Olivia continued, "However, I really blame old Mrs. Halliwell. I mean I understand why she had to bound their powers when they were young. Some warlock or daemon was after them. But couldn't she at least teach them some of the basics of the Craft, while they were growing up? They were all in their twenties when she died!"

Instead of answering, Cole merely continued his massage. Then he asked, "By the way, what's the next lesson about?"

Sighing, Olivia replied, "Herbal craft. I had called Bruce and asked if he and Barbara would hold the next lesson."

Cole snorted with derision. "That will be a short lesson. If there's one thing the Halliwells know, it's herbal craft. In fact, it's Piper's specialty."

"Which is why I think Bruce had no problem in volunteering for this particular lesson," Olivia retorted wryly.


On the following Saturday morning, the Charmed Ones appeared at the McNeills' resplendent Spanish-Colonial manor for their next lesson. Upon entering the foyer, the family's manservant led them to the large kitchen, where the newly married Bruce and Barbara awaited them.

"Okay," the oldest McNeill sibling declared. "This morning, we'll be talking about the use of herb magick. Or herbal craft."

Piper heaved a small sigh. "Is this really necessary? I mean, if there's one thing we know is using herbs for magic. Including Paige."

The youngest Charmed One glared at her older sister. "Gee Piper, thanks a lot. I'm thrilled that you finally believe that I know something about herbal craft. Even after two years."

As her face turned red with embarrassment, Piper replied, "Look, I didn't mean to imply that . . ." She paused. "Never mind."

"All right," Bruce said, "let's see how much you know about herbal craft. What is snapdragon used for?"

Phoebe replied, "That's easy. Protection."

"Um-hum." Bruce nodded his head.

Barbara asked, "And what's the herb for an exorcism?"

Looking almost bored, Piper answered, "Basil. Look, why don't we just skip all of this?"

Bruce held up his hand. "Just one more question. What other herb can be used for protection? Aside from snapdragon?"

The question took the Halliwells by surprise. "Wha . . .?" Phoebe began. "What do you mean? Is this a trick question? Snapdragon is the only herb used for protection. At least according to our Book of Shadows."

Both Bruce and Barbara exchanged knowing looks. "Are you sure?" Bruce asked. "For a protection spell, we sometimes use mallow. Or ague root."

Barbara added, "And basil isn't just used for an exorcism. It can also be used for love spells, spells for wealth, flying . . . and protection."

The Halliwells, stunned by the couple's revelation, merely stared at them - boggle-eyed. "Do you understand what we're trying to say?" Bruce asked. "A witch has to discover what works for him or her - whether we're talking about spells, potions, or any other kind of magickal tool. What may work for one witch, may not work for another. It all depends upon the individual."

Shaking her head, Paige said, "I don't understand. What are you saying?"

"In regard to herbs . . . or even spells," Barbara began, "it's not about following the recipe. Paige. Didn't you once tell Maddy about the trouble you had with transforming objects into animals and reverse?"

The young witch nodded. "Yeah. I was having trouble using Prue's spell. The one she had used to turn into a dog. Even though I had finally managed to do it, I'm still having trouble."

"Honey, maybe the reason you're having trouble is, well . . ." Piper paused. "Well, you're not as experienced in magic, as we are." The older woman's words earned another glare from Paige. "I mean Phoebe can transform herself and other people, using Prue's spell."

Paige opened her mouth to retort, but Barbara spoke first. "I suspect that the real reason why Paige is having so much trouble with Prue's spell, is that it simply doesn't work for her. Paige, maybe you should try to find your own spell, using herbs or some other kind of tool that might work for you."

Bruce added, "Or try to use what you already have. Let's say that you want to do a prosperity spell . . ."

"Isn't that personal gain?" Phoebe asked. Her question drew stares from her sisters and the McNeills. "What?"

Frowning, Bruce said, "I thought Olivia had dismissed the notion of personal gain, as part of the Wiccan Rede?"

Phoebe's mouth hung open. Then, "Oh, uh . . . I . . . never mind."

"Anyway," Bruce continued, "let's say that you want to do a prosperity spell. Now, some witches believe that patchouli oil should be used. There are some who would use clove oil. Personally, I prefer jasmine."

Piper asked, "You've done a prosperity spell?"

Bruce shrugged his shoulders. "For a few friends, who are into Paganism."

"By the way," Barbara added, "not only herbs are used for prosperity spells. Many witches like to use candle spells. What we're getting at is that you need to determine what color candles, herbs, oils, stone or any other tool will work best for a spell or potion you are creating. Or using. Just use what works best for you. However, when using these tools for a spell or potion, make sure that you use three herbs. I'm sure that you guys know why."

Paige nodded. "For the physical realm, the mental realm, and the spiritual realm."

Smiling, Barbara said, "Nice to know that you have been listening. Now, as you all know, you might also need some form of animal part . . ."

"I thought Wiccans weren't into animal sacrifice," Piper coolly asked.

"I'm not saying that you should go out and kill an animal for a spell or potion. Just use the part of a dead animal. After all, didn't your potion to vanquish Cole require a pig's foot?" Barbara paused dramatically. "Along with a piece of his flesh?"

Phoebe remained silent, while Piper murmured a quick, "Yeah. Forgot about that."

Bruce spoke up. "Do you guys know anything about the background on herbal craft?"

"Not really," Paige replied. Her sisters shook their heads.

Bruce continued, "According to tradition, witches would go out on a full moon to collect strange plants. It seemed that the full Moon had special significance for Witches. At certain times of the year, the full Moon coincided with the one of the Sabbats, when they gathered to worship the God and Goddess. This is still true, today. Now, during these meetings, ritual ointments, made from the plants were employed to promote particular experiences."

"What type of experiences?" Phoebe asked.

"Of the spiritual kind." Bruce paused. "Like 'flying'."

Paige frowned. "Flying?"

The older witch nodded. "Yeah. There is a folklore about witches flying on broomsticks at night to meet the God and Goddess."

"I've flown on a broomstick," Phoebe commented. "Remember, Piper? Back in the seventeenth century?"

Barbara gave Phoebe an enthusiastic look. "You too? Both Livy and I did it at least twice. During a coven gathering in Modesto, when we were in college. Wasn't it great?"

Looking somewhat nostalgic, Phoebe nodded. "Yeah, it was."

Paige regarded Bruce with inquisitive eyes. "Have you ever flown on a broom?"

"No," Bruce promptly replied. "Nor do I ever intend to. The idea of whizzing through the air on a stick of wood doesn't appeal to me. If I'm going to fly unnaturally, I'll do it inside a 747." He paused. "But . . . there is another method for 'flying'. I'm talking about using plants and ointments to experience an 'out of body' experience. Or in other words, communicate with the Spiritual World. Many ancient religions throughout the world, practice this. Like, the Native American shamans. For example, I do know that peyote is commonly used by shamans in the Southwestern region, Mexico and other Central American countries."

Phoebe commented, "But is it really necessary to use plants to do this? Paige and I once used a spell to get into Piper's mind, when she was kidnapped by the Source."

"Something I hope I never experience again," Piper murmured.

Bruce continued, "Traditionally, there were other reasons why witches collected plants on a full Moon, at night. Witches also believed that the collecting of plants at night, especially when the moon was full had some kind of basis in plant biology. They felt that these plants were at its highest active drug content around this time. If you take away some of the magical aspects of Witchcraft, you'll probably find a deep understanding of Herbal Lore and Medicine."

"Is this why witches are highly regarded as healers?" Paige asked.

"Yeah. As a matter of fact, today's modern medicine owes a lot to traditional use of herbs in Witchcraft and other Pagan religions."

Barbara added wryly, "Of course, not many doctors would admit that, today."

Bruce nodded. "True. But there is an 18th century doctor named William Withering, who had admitted in his book on Foxglove that he owed his knowledge of the herb and for its use on those with heart conditions to Witchcraft herbal lore."

Piper frowned. "Foxglove. You mean Digitalis?"

"You do know your herb, don't you?" Bruce smiled at Piper, who looked slightly pleased. "Have you guys ever used herbs and other plants for medicinal purposes?"

"I once made an aromatherapy treatment for Phoebe," Paige piped in. "A facial crème. To help her relax for her wedding."

Phoebe murmured, "Now that's one memory 'I' would like to forget. I ended up being invisible." She glared at Paige.

"That's not my fault!" the youngest sister protested. "It was Cole . . . or should I say, the Source, who messed with the crème, after I had given it to you."

Phoebe merely heaved a sigh, and shook her head.

Bruce asked, "Anything else?"

The sisters glanced at each other. Piper shrugged her shoulders and said to Bruce, "Well, this Gypsy named Jenna once helped us make a salve for Phoebe's arm. And other than using herbs to make tea . . . no. Why?"

"You mean you've only made this salve for healing, once? Don't forget, one of the main tasks of a witch is healing."

Phoebe shot back, "We realize that herbs can be used for healing, but isn't that what we have whitelighters for?"

"Not all witches have whitelighters," Barbara countered, sarcastically. Everyone looked at her. "In fact, most of them don't. Many have refused to acknowledge the whitelighters' authority. I've never had one. Apparently, the Whitelighters Council has never been concerned about me."

For a moment, Paige wondered if she had heard a glimmer of resentment in her employer's voice. But considering the McNeills' prevalent view on whitelighters, she decided that she might have been mistaken.

Barbara continued, "Regardless on whether or not we have whitelighters, witches are healers. Which is why herbal craft is one of the first arts we study to become witches."

"I had found the recipe for the facial cream in some recipe book, left by Grams," Paige said. "But I couldn't find anything else, in regard to healing or medicine. So, where do we find stuff like that?"

Bruce replied, "There are plenty of books on the subject. And it's possible you might find something, either in your Book of Shadows or on the Internet."

"How are we supposed to know which herb to use for a specific reason?" Phoebe demanded. "Especially since it's apparent that our knowledge of uses for herbs isn't that great."

A smile lit up Bruce's face. He extended a hand toward Barbara, who placed in it, a yellow envelope. "I have copies of a list of herbs for magick uses, right here." He emptied the enveloped and passed out the lists to the three sisters. "We'll be visiting the greenhouse and the garden, while we go over the list. Okay?"

The Charmed Ones exchanged long-suffering looks, as they followed the couple out of the kitchen.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"Who Ordered the Purge of the DHARMA Initiative?"

Ever since Oceanic Flight 815 survivor Sayid Jarrah tried to murder young Ben Linus in (5.10) "He's Our You", and fellow survivor Jack Shephard refused to operate on the 14 year-old to save his life in (5.11) "Whatever Happened, Happened", I have heard comments that compared Ben to Adolf Hitler. I have also heard comments that compared Ben’s younger self to a "young Hitler". Many people have claimed that it was Ben who had ordered the deaths of the Dharma Initiative members on December 19, 1992. However, I have my doubts.


According to the series, Ben has offered contradicting facts on whether he had ordered the Purge of the Dharma Initiative or not. In (3.23) “Through the Looking Glass”, he had claimed to Jack that he was responsible for the Purge:

“Not so long ago, Jack. I made a decision that took the lives of over forty people in a single day"

Unfortunately, Ben contradicted this claim in the Season 4 episode (2.11) “Cabin Fever”, when he had the following conversation with another survivor of Oceanic Flight 815, Hugo “Hurley” Reyes:

HURLEY: So... This is where you shot Locke and left him for dead, huh?
BEN: Yes, Hugo, I was standing right where you are now when I pulled the trigger. Should have realized at the time that it was pointless, but... I really wasn't thinking clearly.
[Hurley steps back a little]
HURLEY: Is that why you killed all these people, too?
BEN: I didn't kill them.
HURLEY: Well, if the Others didn't wipe out the DHARMA Initiative--
BEN: They did wipe them out, Hugo, but it wasn't my decision.
HURLEY: Then whose was it?
BEN: Their leader's.
HURLEY: But I thought you were their leader.
BEN: Not always.

Interesting. He had admitted to trying to kill John Locke. But he denied being the one who had ordered the Purge. In the final flashback featured in another Season 3 episode called (3.21) “The Man Behind the Curtain”, viewers finally saw Ben’s experiences during the actual Purge. And most of his scenes featured his last moments with his abusive father, Roger Linus:

[Ben looks at his watch]
ROGER: Why do you keep looking at your watch? You got a date? [Pauses] Listen...if it makes you feel any better, I will do my best to remember your birthday next year.
BEN: I don't think that's going to happen, Dad. [starts to unzip bag]
ROGER: What do you mean?
BEN: You know, I've missed her too. Maybe as much as you have. But the difference is, for as long as I can remember, I've had to put up with you. And doing that required a tremendous amount of patience.
[Ben pulls out a gas mask]
BEN: Goodbye, Dad.
[Ben puts it on and then releases a gas canister]
[Roger struggles for breath, coughing and retching as blood spurts from his nose and mouth, clawing at Ben's mask]
[At the Barracks, Ben walks with gas mask on. He sees all the DHARMA employees lining the ground, all dead. He then notices Horace on a bench, and closes his eyes. Richard and the Hostiles arrive with masks on. Richard checks his watch, then removes his mask taking a deep breath. The rest of the team follow, as does Ben]
RICHARD: You want us to, um...go get his body?
BEN: No, leave him out there.

Does this mean that Ben had ordered the deaths of the DHARMA Initiative? I do not know. The only order Ben gave in the above mentioned scene was to leave Roger’s body in the van. Following the flashback, Ben said the following to Locke:

[In real-time, Locke stands over a mass open grave full of skeletons, some still wearing their DHARMA jumpsuits]
BEN: This is where I came from, John. These are my people. The DHARMA Initiative. They came here seeking harmony, but they couldn't even coexist with the Island's original inhabitants. And when it became clear that one side had to go, one side had to be purged, I did what I had to do. I was one of the people that was smart enough to make sure that I didn't end up in that ditch.

That last passage interested me. What exactly was Ben trying to say? That he had ordered the Purge against the DHARMA Initiative? Or that he made sure that he, as a member of the Initiative, would survive the Purge? Thanks to the most recent episode of ”LOST” - ”Dead Is Dead” - viewers know that Charles Widmore was the leader of the Others in 1988. And in another Season Four episode called (4.09) “The Shape of Things to Come”, viewers learned in a flash forward that Ben had taken the leadership of the Others away from Widmore:

WIDMORE: I know who you are, boy. What you are. I know that everything you have you took from me. So... Once again I ask you: Why are you here?
BEN: I'm here, Charles, to tell you that I'm going to kill your daughter. Penelope, is it? And once she's gone... once she's dead... then you'll understand how I feel. And you'll wish you hadn't changed the rules.
[Widmore shifts in his bed.]
WIDMORE: You'll never find her.
[Ben turns to leave.]
WIDMORE: That island's mine, Benjamin. It always was. It will be again.

So, when did Ben Linus replace Charles Widmore as leader of the Others? Before December 19, 1992? Or after? The photograph below from ”The Man Behind the Curtain” hints that Ben was still a worker for the DHARMA Initiative during that period, despite the fact that he had been one of the Others since the 1980s:

But had Ben assumed leadership of the Others by then? If not, does that mean Charles Widmore was still leading the Others in December 1992? Both the LOSTPEDIA and the WIKIPEDIA sites claimed that Richard Alpert had led the Others in the Purge against the DHARMA Initiative. But neither site made it clear who had ordered the Purge. And ”Dead Is Dead” never gave a clear date about when Widmore was exiled off the island.

In the end, viewers know that Charles Widmore had been the leader of the Others in 1988-89, when Danielle Rosseau’s companions were killed and she gave birth to a daughter, Alex, before the latter was kidnapped by Ben Linus. Viewers also know that Richard Alpert led a group of Others in the Purge against the DHARMA Initiative on December 19, 1992. On that same date, Ben killed his father, Roger Linus, in a similar manner – toxic gas. And viewers know that Widmore was eventually replaced by Ben as the Others’ leader and exiled off the island. If we only knew when Widmore had been exiled, perhaps the mystery of who had ordered the DHARMA Initiative Purge will finally be cleared.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"HEARTBREAKERS" (2001) Photo Gallery

Here is a gallery featuring photos from the 2001 comedy, "HEARTBREAKERS", about a mother and daughter who are con artists. The movie starred Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Gene Hackman, Ray Liotta, Jason Lee and Anne Bancroft:

"HEARTBREAKERS" (2001) Photo Gallery