Friday, July 31, 2009

"A Family Affair" [PG-13] - 3/8




"A FAMILY AFFAIR"

CHAPTER THREE

Paige smiled at the handsome, middle-aged man who sat next to her. She sunk her fork into the quivering slice of quiche on her plate. "So," she began, "you're really Cole's uncle?"

"Marbus." The daemon smiled back. "I'm his mother's older brother."

"When we first met you at the Mortons', you had introduced yourself to Mark Giovanni as Miles Farrell." Paige paused. "Are you really the same Miles Farrell, who had written "SO FAR AWAY"? I had read it in college."

Marbus nodded. "Yes, I'm that same Miles Farrell. I use that name, while I'm amongst mortals."

"How old are you?"

Olivia could not believe what she had just heard. "Paige!" Did the woman ever heard of tact?

Another smile graced Marbus' lips, eerily reminding Olivia of Cole. "Don't worry. I don't mind." He added, "I'm 243 years-old. I was born in 1760. In Dublin, believe it or not. My mother was residing in the mortal world, when she gave birth to me."

Phoebe frowned. "So that makes you at least . . . what? One hundred and twenty-five years older than Cole?"

"That's right."

Olivia heaved a sigh, as she scooped a forkful of Eggs Florentine from her plate. "Was Cole's mother also born in the mortal world?" she asked.

Again, Marbus nodded. "Same place. Dublin. She was born in 1788. Our mother was rather fond of Ireland."

"No wonder," Paige wryly commented. "Who could stand the Underworld, with all those rocks and caverns? Must be depressing, down there."

Marbus chuckled. "Trust me. There are places within the Source's Realm that is more pleasing to the eye." He paused, as he took a sip of his juice. "Mind if I ask you a question, Paige? Why do you use the word - Underworld - to describe the Source's Realm?"

"Huh?" The youngest Charmed One blinked.

Piper spoke up. "Isn't that where all of the demons come from? The Underworld?"

"Actually Piper, the Underworld is considered by many as a place for the dead," Olivia's mother explained. "Where the spirits of the dead reside temporarily before they ascend to another dimension or are reborn into other bodies. I believe that the Wasteland is one place in the Underworld where certain daemons end up." Gwen smiled politely at Piper. "Of course, some of the newer religions view the Underworld as Hell. I think it has something to do with a fear of death. Many are so afraid of it, they consider it evil."

Cole added, "Like Prue."

The Halliwells stared at the half-daemon. "Excuse me?" Piper demanded.

Unfazed by the oldest Charmed One's hostility, Cole continued, "Remember when Prue had that encounter with Death? It was around the time those two Seekers were after me. Prue thought Death was evil."

Piper's hostility faded. "Oh. Oh yeah. Now I remember." She then gazed at Marbus. "By the way, have you ever known a witch named Lucia . . .?"

"When did you first join the Gimle Order?" Paige asked, interrupting her older sister. Olivia noticed how she ignored Piper's dark look.

Marbus stared at the two sisters. "I had joined in 1861." He paused. "So, you know about the Gimle Order. I gathered that our host and hostess must have told you. Not many outside the supernatural world know about it."

"It's mentioned in our Book of Shadows," Piper coolly remarked. "I guess a lot of mortals find the idea of a 'good demon' hard to accept."

Gran added, "Not in Wiccan circles, dear. In fact, we don't believe in demons. Daemons, but not demons." She frowned. "I thought Olivia had given you all a lesson on this."

Piper rolled her eyes. "Oh. Yeah."

"If you must know . . . Piper? Is that your name?" Marbus asked. The Charmed One nodded. "If you must know, I was a top assassin for the Source for nearly eight decades, before I gave it up and joined the Gimle Order."

"So, you did know . . ."

Again, Paige interrupted, "I'm surprised that you were able to maintain contact with Cole and his mom all this time. Considering that you were all on different sides of the fence."

"Well, we're family," Marbus simply stated. "What can I say? Blood is blood. Not even the Source and his advisors could come between us. Although they did try."

Jack nodded. "You're talking about the Source's contract on your life, right?"

Cole grunted. "Are you kidding? The zoltars were after him for over a century, before they finally caught up with him. But I was the one assigned to kill him." He shrugged his shoulders. "But I couldn't go through with it. He was family. So Mother helped me fake his death."

Phoebe asked the older daemon, "So what are you doing here?"

Olivia noticed the brief exchange shared between the two daemons. "To see Beltha . . . uh, Cole," Marbus finally answered. "I haven't seen him since his return from the Wasteland. But with this trouble he's having with his client, I might just stick around for a while. Help him out."

"That's it?"

Marbus shrugged casually. "What other reason can there be?" Olivia regarded him with thoughtful eyes.

----------

"You have no intention of telling them." Olivia said to Marbus, later that afternoon. She, Cole and the older daemon had returned to Cole's penthouse, following the brunch. "Do you?"

Marbus stared at Cole, who added, "I told her everything."

"I figured as much. Especially, after Jack and I had a little discussion about the matter."

Olivia continued, "What about Leo and the girls? Are you going to keep them in the dark? About the whitelighters' desire to get rid of Cole?"

Coolly, Marbus brushed a piece of lint or two from his jacket. "I'm sure that they're well aware of what the Whitelighter Council want." He paused, "Of course, if you find it hard to believe . . ."

"Who said I did?" Olivia allowed herself a mirthless chuckle. "In fact, I'm not really surprised. That would explain Leo's constant nagging that I end my relationship with Cole. But what can he do? Other than strip Cole of his powers? As far as we know, no one's that strong."

Cole added in a low voice, "Except for Dako."

"Who?" Marbus demanded with a frown.

Olivia told the older daemon about their encounter with the spirit of an 18th century Vodoun sorcerer, last December. "Even though he had possessed the body of a friend of mine, Cole wasn't able to kill him or do any major harm. And it was the same for Dako."

"Bloody hell!" Marbus looked upset. "You mean to say there is some bokor, running about just as strong as Belthazor?"

"Don't worry," Olivia replied. "He's gone. A friend of mine, who's a Vodoun priestess, managed to send his spirit back to the Underworld."

Looking somewhat alarmed, Marbus demanded, "Is there anyone else who knows about this Dako?"

"Phoebe and her sisters," Cole said. "The McNeills and Leo. And before your mind starts forming scenarios, Dako had nearly killed Paige in an attack and tried to rip Piper's baby out of her womb. I really don't see the Charmed Ones bringing his spirit back from the Underworld."

Olivia added, "Or the Whitelighters Council, for that matter." She paused. "Do you?"

"No," Marbus answered. "I don't see them going that far. Besides . . . the two whitelighters who had warned me, weren't sure that the entire Council was plotting against Cole . . . uh, Belthazor. It's possible that one or several Elders want him dead as an excuse to assume leadership of the Realm."

Both Cole and Olivia stared at the older daemon. "What?" the former demanded.

Marbus looked embarrassed. "I forgot to tell you that, didn't I?"

"Marbus!"

The older daemon took a deep breath. "Now, let me get my facts straight." He paused for another minute or two. "According to Ms. DeVilliers and Ms. Stepanova, they had accidentally stumbled across a research project going on. One that involved methods on how to kill you, Belthazor. Although they had questioned the whitelighters involved in the research, no one seemed willing to talk. However, the Elders Council has been forthright about their fears that you will reorganize the Source's Realm. Ms. DeVilliers believes that someone - possibly one or more of the Elders - is being mum about this research. She thinks that even the Council is in the dark."

"Cole's death would be quite a coup for whomever arranges it," Olivia said. A thought came to her. "Why are these two particular whitelighters so against Cole being vanquished?"

"Because they don't consider him a threat, but a valuable ally," Marbus answered. "And they feel that the Source's death was a big mistake. Like the rest of us, they feel that the chaos in the Source's Realm would spread to other magical realms. And it has."

Olivia shook her head. "But it's not like Paige and her sisters had deliberately went after the Source." Cole gave her a long look. "Okay, except that one time when Cole was possessed. But other than one incident, they really had no choice but to kill the Source. I mean, the guy wouldn't stop coming after them."

Cole sighed. "She's got a point, Marbus."

"I understand," Marbus said with a nod. "All the same lad, I suggest you keep a steady eye out for any trouble. If you want to tell Fran . . . uh, Phoebe and her sisters about the Elders, fine. But I don't think they will believe you."

A long-suffering expression appeared on Cole's face. Olivia reached over to give his arm a reassuring squeeze. "Poor baby. You really have a lot to deal with right now, don't you?"

"No kidding!" Cole shot back. "Some Elder wants me dead." He snorted with derision. "No surprise there. And I also have this Magan Corporation to deal with."

Olivia frowned. "You know, that name sounds familiar. I just can't put my finger on it. What's the CEO's name?"

Cole replied, "Arthur Winslow. I've discovered a few things about him."

"Of course!" Olivia exclaimed. "San Francisco's mystery man!"

"What?"

Olivia continued, "Now I remember. Arthur Winslow had arrived in San Francisco about . . . oh, six or seven years ago, I think. He had appeared once at a party. Don't ask me what he looks like. No one from the family had attended the party. Bruce, Harry and I didn't care less about attending. Gran had been visiting her sister in Virginia, at the time. And Mom and Dad were out of the country. But all of society was talking about him. He made one appearance and was never seen again. Like Howard Hughes. What do you know about him?"

"Well, he was born in Pittsburgh," Cole finished. "Around May 1951. He had attended Northwestern University and received his Bachelor's in 1973. He received his Master's in Business from Harvard in '75." Cole went on to explain that Winslow had worked at various corporations, before starting his own business consultant firm in 1985. The CEO eventually switched from consultant to corporate raider within a few years. "Around '92 or '93, he eventually formed Magan Corporation and moved the firm to San Francisco about four years later. Oh, uh he married a Lydia Black in 1989 and became a widow, three years later. No children."

Pure admiration hummed in Olivia's voice. "Impressive! You really did your homework, did you?"

"Of course. I didn't become one of the Source's top assassins for nothing. You know what they say - 'Information is power'.

Olivia rolled her eyes. "That's great, Cole. But what if all that information you had gathered is fake? Were you able to find Winslow's private address?"

Cole hesitated. "No. Nor any photographs of him, since his arrival to this city. Like you said, quite the mystery man."

"Or the daemon," Marbus commented. "He sounds a little too mysterious to be true. And sending a daemon to kill your client was a mistake. It exposed this Winslow. Or whoever in his organization had connections to Cassandra. It's possible that one of Mr. Winslow's employees is pulling the company's strings behind his back."

Cole added, "Or pulling Mr. Winslow's strings."

Olivia gave a little shiver. "Don't you just love a mystery?"

The half-daemon retorted, "No, I don't. And what's even worse is that I now have two to deal with." He paused. "What about Paige and the others? Are you going to tell them about the two whitelighters?"

"I don't know," Olivia said with a shrug. "Perhaps I'll tell Paige. I don't think this is something I should keep to myself. Do you?"

Cole shot back, "Yes, but I know you're not going to listen to me, and tell her, anyway." A large sigh escaped from his mouth. "I should have known my good luck wasn't going to last long. What other kinds of shit are the fates going to dump in my path?"

---------

A slender, feminine figure with short, curly pale-blond hair and dark-blue eyes that matched her dress, appeared before Artemus in a cloud of smoke. She smiled at the daemon. "Artemus. It's good to finally meet you. I believe that you had summoned me?"

Artemus rose from his chair to greet the darklighter. "So, you're Nina Ziegler, I believe. Have a seat."

"Thank you." The darklighter gracefully eased into a blue Chippendale chair that faced Artemus' desk. Her eyes examined the rich furnishings inside the daemon's library. "Exquisite," she commented. "You have excellent tastes. I hope to acquire something similar for my home, in the future."

The daemon walked over to the liquor cabinet. "Perhaps I can help you. Would you like a drink?"

"Scotch whiskey, please."

Artemus poured a glass of malt Scotch whiskey into a glass and handed it to Nina. "How long have you been a darklighter, by the way?"

Nina took a sip of her Scotch. "Fifteen months. Why?"

"For one who hasn't been a darklighter very long, you've become quite accomplished."

A long silence followed. The glass hovered at Nina's lips, while she gave the daemon a hard stare. "Pardon me for asking, but what do you want, Artemus?"

The daemon finally answered, "I need a fellow daemon killed."

"Hire one to do it."

"I need this daemon to be killed by witches."

"You've got the wrong woman," Nina shot back. "I haven't been a whitelighter for over a year and no longer have any contact with my former charges."

Artemus sighed. "Yes, I realize that, Miss Ziegler. But what I need is information. Have you ever heard of Marbus?"

Nina took another sip of whiskey, while she contemplated Artemus' question. "Wasn't he a high-level daemon? One of the old Source's top assassins? I heard that a relative of his had killed him."

"I'm afraid that you're behind the times." Artemus walked over to the leather chair behind his desk and sat down. "Marbus had betrayed the Source over 140 years ago, and joined the Gimle Order." He paused. "Have you heard of them?"

A sneer marred Nina's pretty face. "Of course, I have. Unlike a number of my former colleagues in the Whitelighters Realm, I've been aware of the Gimle Order's true calling. Are you saying that you want this Marbus killed by witches? But how? He was killed by another daemon, nearly 40 years ago."

"Marbus is still alive," Artemus declaring, relishing in the darklighter's surprise. "His nephew, Belthazor, was supposed to kill him. Apparently, Belthazor decided to spare him and fake his death, instead."

Nina frowned. "Is this the same Belthazor who had married one of the Charmed Ones? Who had been the Source?"

"Now, you're on the right track," Artemus said with a smile. "Only Belthazor had been possessed by the Source's spirit, at the time. Because of that, the Charmed Ones eventually killed him, and . . ."

". . . he returned from the Wasteland, more powerful than ever," Nina finished. "Yes, I know all about that. But why do you want witches to kill Belthazor's uncle?"

Artemus sighed. "I'm interested in a certain piece of property in Santa Rosa County. Unfortunately, Belthazor stands in my way. Like his uncle, he has defected to the other side of the fence. He now practices law in this city and one of his clients owns that particular piece of property. I want this client out of the way, in order to get my hands on said property. And in order for me to do this, I need Belthazor out of the way. Or distracted. Or even alienated by his new loved ones."

A smirk curved Nina's pink lips. "Oh, I see. If you kill Marbus, you'll have a pissed-off Belthazor on your trail. But if witches were to kill Marbus, he would go after them. And become distracted from protecting his client." Nina finished the rest of her drink. "The only witches I know who are powerful and clever enough to kill this Marbus are either the Charmed Ones or the McNeill coven. Both are here in San Francisco. And all of them, save the McNeill elders, are charges of a former colleague of mine. Leo Wyatt."

"So, who would you recommend?" Artemus asked.

The darklighter hesitated for a minute. "Hmmm, the Charmed Ones." Artemus smiled. "The only way to get those witches to kill your Marbus is to frame him for the death of another witch or a mortal. The McNeills are known for being a suspicious and careful bunch. They can smell a rat at ten paces. The Charmed Ones, on the other hand . . ."

". . . are powerful and smart enough to kill Marbus," Artemus finished. "But, they have this little tendency to act before thinking."

Nina added, "Plus, Belthazor already has a grudge against them. They had killed him with extreme prejudice, when he had been possessed by the So . . ." Her voice drifted into silence. Artemus frowned at her. "I just remembered. One of the Charmed Ones - Belthazor's former mate - has the power of precognition. She's a seer . . . although not a very good one, in my opinion. All you have to do is arrange for her to receive a vision of Marbus killing an innocent . . ."

Artemus interjected, "Mark Giovanni."

"Of course." Nina nodded. "Once the Halliwell witch receives this vision, she and her sisters will go after Marbus with a vengeance."

"And how do you plan to arrange this?"

Nina blinked. "Me?"

Smiling, Artemus added, "You thought up this plan, not me. Besides, I would consider it a favor . . . that will be handsomely rewarded upon its success."

The darklighter stared at her host. "Well . . . uh, there's this warlock . . ."

Prax entered the office, interrupting Nina. "Pardon me, Artemus, but I have received a message from Kelson."

Artemus explained to his guest, "A warlock I had installed as a spy within Giovanni's organization. Go on, Prax."

"According to Kelson, Giovanni has just hired a new bodyguard for his home. Kelson has recognized her."

"Her?"

Nodding, Prax continued, "Yes, Kelson gave me a description. Her name is Andrea - a half-daemon with the Gimle Order."

Artemus dismissed his assistant. "Thank you, Prax. Tell Kelson to refrain from any action, at this moment." Prax left the office, as Artemus returned his attention to the darklighter. "Before we set this plan of yours into action, I suggest we have a test run. What exactly does this warlock of yours, do?"

Nina hesitated. "He's a telepath. And one of my former charges. He had defected with me to the other side. I can hire him to give visions of Marbus killing an innocent to Belthazor's former mate."

"Before you do, why don't we start with Mr. Giovanni's new bodyguard, first?"

Nina responded with an unpleasant smile. "If you insist."


END OF CHAPTER THREE

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"THE THIN MAN" (1934) Review




"THE THIN MAN" (1934) Review

Between 1934 and 1947, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) released at least six movies based upon the characters created by detective novelist, Dashiell Hammet. The first and one of the two best was 1934’s ”THE THIN MAN”, based upon Hammet’s novel, also released in 1934.

Produced by Hunt Stromberg and directed by W.S. Van Dyke, ”THE THIN MAN” is a murder mystery about a former detective named Nick Charles and his wealthy wife, Nora, who investigate the disappearance of an old friend of Nick’s named Clyde Wynant. When the latter’s mistress is found murdered, Wynant becomes the police’s prime suspect. Wynant’s daughter, Dorothy, asks Nick to not only find her missing father, but discover the identity of the real murderer.

William Powell and Myrna Loy first appeared in a movie with Clark Gable called ”MANHATTAN MELODRAMA”. Not only did that movie proved to be a hit, it also begat a very famous Hollywood screen couple. Producer Hunt Stromberg liked what he saw and decided to pair the two as Nick and Nora Charles, the witty and sophisticated married couple from Hammet’s mystery novel. Powell and Loy not only portrayed Nick and Nora simply as a loving husband and wife, but also two friends who clearly enjoyed each other’s company. And more so than in ”MANHATTAN MELODRAMA”, Powell and Loy were magic together. The two ended up working on twelve other films together. And even in mediocre fare like the later THIN MAN, they sizzled with a wit and charm that made them one of the best Hollywood screen teams in history.

Stromberg also included in the cast, the Irish-born ingénue Maureen O’Sullivan (from the ”TARZAN” fame) as the missing Clyde Wynant’s daughter, Dorothy; Nat Pendleton in his first of two THIN MAN movies as New York Police detective, Lieutenant Guild; Minna Gombell as Wynant’s greedy ex-wife, Mimi Wynant Jorgensen; future Hollywood legend Cesar Romero as Mimi’s gigolo husband, Chris Jorgenson; Porter Hall as Wynant’s attorney Herbert MacCauley; Natalie Moorhead as Wynant’s mistress, Julia Wolf; Edward Brophy as Julia’s gangster friend, Joe Morelli; as Harold Huber as the stool-pigeon Arthur Nunnheim; and Edward Ellis as the missing Clyde Wynant. As much as I try, I could not spot a bad performance from any of them. I was especially impressed by O’Sullivan’s performance as the seemingly normal Dorothy who seemed stuck in the middle of an eccentric and/or amoral family.

Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, a married couple that also happened to be contract screenwriters at MGM, wrote the screenplay. They also received Academy Award nominations for their adaptation of Hammet’s novel and I have to say that they deserved the nomination. ”THE THIN MAN’ is a witty and rich story filled with memorable characters and an intriguing mystery that was neither too complicated or insulted the moviegoers’ intelligence. Even more interesting is the fact that ”THE THIN MAN” would prove to be one of the last Pre-Code movies that would be released before the onslaught the Hays Code enforcement on July 31, 1934. ”THE THIN MAN” was released in theaters on May 23, 1934. Hackett and Goodrich’s screenplay was filled with risqué dialogue and situations that made it clear that ”THE THIN MAN” was a Pre-Code film.

And director W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke did justice with not only a talented cast, but also with Hackett and Goodrich’s script. During his tenure as a contract director for MGM, Van Dyke had a nickname – “One Take Woody”. Van Dyke usually shot his scenes in one take, which guaranteed that he would complete his assignment on time. MGM boss, Louis B. Mayer loved him for this. Although Van Dyke was never known as one of Hollywood’s more gifted directors, he had a reputation for coaxing natural performances from his stars. This was very apparent in his direction of ”THIN MAN”. There is not a bad performance within the entire cast. Even better, he managed to keep the story rolling with a first-rate pacing – something that is very difficult to do for murder mysteries.

Some eight to nine months after its release, ”THE THIN MAN” collected Academy Award nominations – Best Director (Van Dyke), Best Actor (Powell), (Best Adapted Screenplay) Hackett and Goodrich, and Best Picture. Unfortunately for MGM, the movie was shut out by Frank Capra’s classic screwball comedy, ”IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT”. Well . . . even if the movie had failed to collect one Academy Award, I believe that it is still one of the best movies that was released during the 1930s.

”THE THIN MAN” was such a success that it spawned five sequels. Aside from 1936’s ”ANOTHER THIN MAN”, which proved to be just as good; the other four sequels turned out to be a ghost of its original success. If you want to see William Powell and Myrna Loy in action as Nick and Nora Charles, I suggest that you stick with this film and its 1936 sequel.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Portraying HARRY FLASHMAN




Portraying HARRY FLASHMAN

Are there any fans of The Flashman Papers, a series of novels about a 19th century British Army officer, written by the late George MacDonald Fraser?

The origins of Fraser’s fictional series began with another British author, namely the 19th century lawyer and author, Thomas Hughes. It was Hughes who first introduced the character of Flashman in his 1857 semi-autobiographical novel, ”Tom Brown’s School Days”. The novel told the story of Hughes’ years at the famous public school for boys, Rugby. Among the characters featured in the novel turned out to be an older student named “Flashman”, who bullied both Tom Brown and another student named Harry “Scud” East. Flashman’s appearance in the novel ended when Headmaster Dr. Thomas Arnold kicked him for drunken behavior.

Over a century later, a Glasgow journalist named George MacDonald Fraser took the character of Flashman, gave him a full name – Harry Paget Flashman – and wrote a novel about his early years as a British Army office in Great Britain, India and Afghanistan, following his expulsion from Rugby. The novel also featured Flashman’s experiences during the First Afghan War. The results turned out to be ”FLASHMAN”, which was published in 1969. Fraser followed up ”FLASHMAN” with three short stories published under the title, ”FLASHMAN AND THE TIGER” and ten more novels. The last novel, ”FLASHMAN ON THE MARCH” was published three years before Fraser’s death.

Fraser had written Flashman’s tales from the latter’s point-of-view. The interesting thing about the character was that despite being a war hero – he had been decorated for his actions in the First Afghan War, the Sepoy Rebellion (aka the Indian Mutiny) and the American Civil War, and possibly other military actions – his character had not changed much from his portrayal in Hughes’ novel. Flashman’s character could be described as cowardly, cynical, unfaithful (although his wife Elspeth was equally so), spiteful, greedy, racist, sexist, and lustful. In short, he was completely amoral. However, Fraser also portrayed Flashman as a hilarious and very witty man with a pragmatic view of the world and society in the nineteenth century.

For a series of novels that have been very popular for the past forty years, only one novel has been adapted for the screen. In 1975, Dennis O'Dell and David V. Picker produced and released an adaption of Fraser’s 1970 novel, ”ROYAL FLASH”. Based loosely upon Anthony Hope’s1894 novel, ”THE PRISONER OF ZENDA”, ”ROYAL FLASH” told of Flashman’s experiences during the Revolutions of 1848 in Bavaria and the fictional Duchy of Strackenz, when he is coerced by German statesman Otto von Bismarck to impersonate a Danish prince set to marry a German princess. Bismarck fears that the marriage would tilt the balance on the Schleswig-Holstein Question and interfere with his plans for a united Germany. The producers hired Richard Lester (”A HARD DAY’S NIGHT”, ”THE THREE MUSKETEERS” and ”THE FOUR MUSKETEERS”) to direct the film. Fraser wrote the screenplay and Malcolm McDowell was cast as Harry Flashman. Being a talented actor, McDowell had Harry Flashman’s personality traits down pat. However, the actor looked nothing like the literary Flashman. McDowell possessed blond hair and stood under six feet tall. The literary Flashman stood at least six-feet-two and possessed dark hair and eyes. In fact, he was swarthy enough to pass for a native of the Indian sub-continent in at least two or three novels or a light-skinned African-American slave in ”FLASH FOR FREEDOM!”. Although the movie did receive some moderate acclaim from film critics, the majority of Flashman fans hated it. In fact, they refuse to acknowledge or watch the film. In their eyes, not only did McDowell bore no physical resemblance to the literary Flashman, director Lester had chosen to infuse the film with bawdy buffoonery and slapstick (as he had done with the MUSKETEERS films) and ignore both the story’s historical context and the novels’ cynically irreverent tone.

When ”ROYAL FLASH” failed to generate any real heat at the box office, the movie industries on both sides of the Atlantic ignored Fraser’s novels for several decades. Also, Fraser’s experience with the 1975 movie had made him reluctant to hand over control of any screenplay adaptation of his novels. The author also complained about a lack of a suitable British actor to portray Flashman – which seemed to come off as a backhanded slap at McDowell’s performance. Fraser has always favored the Australian-born Hollywood icon, Errol Flynn, to portray Flashman. The actor had not only possessed a similar physique with the literary Flashman (both stood at 6’2”), but he also – according to Fraser – had the looks, style and rakish personality for the role. Unfortunately, Flynn had died in 1959, ten years before Fraser’s ”FLASHMAN” was published. The author also suggested that Academy Award winning Daniel Day-Lewis might be right for the role, claiming that ”He's probably getting on a bit,” he "might make a Flashman . . . He's big, he's got presence and he's got style." In 2007, Celtic Films indicated on their website that they had a series of FLASHMAN TV films in development. Picture Palace have announced they are developing ”FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE” for TV and that the script has been prepared by George Macdonald Fraser himself. Both companies took an extensive role in developing Bernard Cornwell's ”SHARPE” (TV series). However, no further news has been forthcoming since this time and the project has been removed from both companies' websites.

Hmmm . . . Daniel Day-Lewis. Granted Day-Lewis might have the height and dark looks of the literary Flashy, and he has the talent to carry the role; he seems a bit too lean for me. And he lacks the cowardly protagonist’s wide shoulders that made the latter look so impressive in a cavalryman’s uniform. But aside from Day-Lewis, who among today’s actors would be great for the role? I had once considered Australian actor Hugh Jackman, nearly a decade ago, when he first became famous thanks to ”X-MEN”. He stands at 6’2” tall and possess Flashman’s dark looks. But Jackman is now three months shy of 41. Perhaps he could still portray Flashman between the ages of 30-50, but that would make him unavailable for movie adaptations of the FLASHMAN stories set in the 1840s – when Flashman was in his 20s. And if I must be frank, Jackman seems incapable of portraying rakes. He can portray violent/aggressive types like Wolverine. But a rake? I once saw him portray a well-born rake in a movie with Ewan McGregor called ”DECEPTION”. For some reason, he did not seem like the right man for the role . . . at least to me. If there is one Australian who could possibly portray Harry Flashman, I would say it was Julian McMahon. Mind you, McMahon never had the same success in the movies that he has on television. But . . . like Jackman, he stands at 6’2” and possesses the same dark good looks. More importantly, he has the style and air to successfully portray a well-born rake. Hell, he could do it, standing on one foot and singing at the top of his lungs. However, McMahon is 41 years old and like Jackman, would be unable to portray Flashman in the adaptation of certain novels. His voice is a bit light and for some reason, I have great difficulty imagining him in a period piece.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers might be a good choice. Granted, he does not have Day-Lewis, Jackman or McMahon’s height and build. But he has their dark looks. He is also talented and he has the style to portray a rake. More importantly, Rhys-Meyers is at the right age to star in the adaptations of nearly all of the novel, just turning 32 years old. Another good choice would be Henry Cavill, Rhys-Meyer’s co-star in ”THE TUDORS”. He has the dark looks and talent to portray the 19th century rogue. And he has the height – 6’1” tall. And at age 26, he could portray Flashy in his 20s and 30s, which would make him available in the adaptation of most of the novels.

But there have been no plays to adapt any of the FLASHMAN novels. Not since Celtic Films had indicated an interest in adapting ”FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE”, two years ago. But if Hollywood or the British film industry ever decide to adapt another story about Harry Flashman, I hope they will do right by the novels’ fans and pick the right actor . . . and director for the films.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"THE UGLY TRUTH" (2009) Photo Gallery



Below is a gallery of photos from the new romantic comedy, "THE UGLY TRUTH". Directed by Robert Luketic, the movie stars Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler:


"THE UGLY TRUTH" (2009) Photo Gallery

















































Friday, July 24, 2009

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




”WEST TO LARAMIE”

Author: Felaries65 (felaries65@yahoo.com)
Summary: A Philadelphia matron and her companion travel west by stagecoach to attend the wedding of her son, an Army officer, in pre-Civil War West.
Rating: PG




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

”WEST TO LARAMIE”

Chapter 1



November 14, 1859

Mrs. Anne Middleton
63 46th Street
Philadelphia, PA


Dear Mother,

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

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

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

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



Your loving son,



Robert



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



February 7, 1860



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


Dear Robert,

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

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



I love you always,



Mother

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Peggy Olson's Promotion in "MAD MEN": (1.13) "The Wheel"



PEGGY OLSON'S PROMOTION IN "MAD MEN": (1.13) "THE WHEEL"

Many fans of "MAD MEN" have made a big deal of Peggy Olson's promotion in the Season One finale, (1.13) "The Wheel". Actually, many have focused upon Peggy's upward mobility from the secretarial pool to her new position as one of the firm's copywriters - a professional. I had just finished watching this episode and another thought came to mind. 

It finally occurred to me that Don had given Peggy that promotion in order to spite Pete Campbell. Pete had informed Don that he managed to acquire the Clearsil account due to his father-in-law being an executive of the company. One could say that Pete was simply being an asshole by trying to shove the achievement in Don's face. But I think that it was simply another tactic of Pete's to win Don's approval.

Unfortunately for Pete, the tactic backfired. I suspect that Don - feeling satisfied and perhaps a little smug over winning the Kodak account - had decided to strike back at Pete for the latter's blackmail attempt in the previous episode, (1.12) "Nixon vs. Kennedy". He promoted Peggy and handed the Clearisil account over to her in order to embarrass Pete. It was one of the most childish and despicable acts I have ever seen on that show. And yet, because Pete was (and probably still is) unpopular with many fans, a good number of fans failed to notice that Don had used Peggy to get back at Pete. I am not surprised that Don would use a twenty-one year-old woman with eight months of secretarial experience to get back at Pete. What I do find surprising is that the firm's owners, Bert Cooper and Roger Sterling, allowed him to get away with this act of spite.

I also find it amazing that both the critics and fans have accused both Betty Draper (Don's first wife) and Pete of being immature characters. Yet, time and again, Don has proven that he could be just as childish or even more so than either of these two or any other character in the series. But so many seemed blinded by his "man's man" facade and good looks that they have failed to realize how emotionally stunted Don could be.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"PUBLIC ENEMIES" (2009) Review



Today marks the 75th anniversary of the day Depression-era bank robber, John Dillinger, was killed by the FBI in Chicago, Illinois. Below is my review of "PUBLIC ENEMIES", a recent movie on the last year of Dillinger's life:


”PUBLIC ENEMIES” (2009) Review

I must admit that when I first heard about Michael Mann’s plans to film a movie about Depression-era bank robber, John Dillinger, I became excited. It was not the subject that roused my interest. But I found the idea of Mann shooting a movie set during the height of the Great Depression – 1933 to 1934 – rather interesting. It has become a period in U.S. history that has caught my interest in the past five years. And the fact that Johnny Depp and Christian Bale had been cast in the leads as Dillinger and his nemesis, FBI Agent Melvin Purvis, merely increased my interest.

At first, I had assumed that I would love ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”. I assumed that Mann could do no wrong. Then to my surprise, I discovered that the film had received mixed reviews from film critics. From that moment on, I began to harbor doubts about the film’s quality. I never learn. Never. I had forgotten my most important rule about approaching a movie – the only opinion that should count for me is my own. And when I finally saw ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, I realized that I had to learn that particular lesson all over again.

I want to point out that ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” is not perfect. This does not bother me one bit. Perfect movies are extremely rare. And I suspect . . . not know, but suspect I may have seen one or two in my lifetime. However, ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” is not one of those rare examples of cinematic perfection. First of all, the movie – especially its first hour - seemed to be marred by an uncomfortable number of close-ups by cinematographer Dante Spinotti. This discomfort was especially apparent in action scenes like the prison escape from the Indiana State Prison featured in the film’s opening scene , “Pretty Boy” Floyd’s death at the hands of FBI Agent Melvin Purvis, and John Dillinger’s first bank robbery featured in the film. These close-ups brought back memories of the ones featured in Disney’s ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”.

But at the least the close-ups in the 2003 film were not further marred by quick editing done by Paul Rubell and Jeffrey Ford for this film. Watching their zip fast editing reminded me of those featured in movies like the last two ”BOURNE” films, ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE”, both ”TRANSFORMERS” movies, ”THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1-2-3” and ”STAR TREK”. I suspect that this new editing style is fast becoming the new thing in the film industry. Personally, I hate it. I find it cheap and confusing.

I have one last complaint about the film and it has to do with David Wenham’s appearance in the film. The Australian actor portrayed Harry Pierpont, one of Dillinger’s closest friends and a mentor. Yet, he barely spoke a few words in the movie. In fact, he seemed more like a background character than a supporting one. Giovanni Ribisi had more lines in the film and his character, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, had no real close ties with Dillinger. Why did Mann and the two other screenwriters, Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman, bothered to include the Pierpont character in the first place? Instead of at least a minor exploration of the Dillinger-Pierpont relationship, the screenwriters reduced Pierpont – Dillinger’s mentor – to a minor character with a few lines.

Now that I have put all of that negativity behind me, it is time to discuss why I had enjoyed ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” so much. Perhaps I am being a bit too subtle. I did not merely enjoy ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, I loved it. It has easily become my favorite movie this summer. So far. Fast editing and close-ups aside, I must admit that I admire how director Michael Mann handled the movie’s pacing. I was surprised to learn about the criticisms leveled at the movie’s running time (two hours and nineteen minutes) and especially its alleged running time. Personally, I was impressed by Mann’s steady pace. Expecting the movie to be over two hours long, I was surprised to discover that amount of time had passed when the end credits finally began to roll. Perhaps I had been so caught up in the story that I failed to notice the time. Which is a compliment to Mann’s direction . . . at least from me.

Many scenes directed by Man left me spellbound. They include Baby Face Nelson’s murder of a FBI Agent at a hotel ambush set up by Purvis; Dillinger’s press conference inside the warden’s office at the Crown Point Prison in Indiana; his escape from said prison; the FBI ‘s capture of Dillinger’s girlfriend, Billie Frichette; Frichette’s interrogation and beating at the hands of a FBI agent; and Purvis’ conversation with prostitute and brothel madam, Anna Sage.

But there were four scenes . . . actually, two scenes and two sequences that truly impressed me. The first one featured Purvis’ telephone conversation with his boss, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. In it, Purvis tries to convince the irate Hoover that many of their agents are not experienced enough to hunt down the likes of Dillinger and Nelson and that they need to recruit more experienced men . . . like Texas Rangers. Despite the fact that the two actors portraying Purvis and Hoover do not share the screen, the emotion between their characters crackled like flames, thanks to their performances and Mann’s direction. The other scene featured Dillinger’s arrival in Indiana by plane, after being arrested by Federal agents in Tucson, Arizona. Although brief, it struck a surreal note within me, thanks to Spinott’s photography. The cinematographer shot the entire scene with colors that projected a soft iron, mingled with a reddish-orange tint from the sun. Very beautiful.

Although I found the scenes mentioned above very memorable, I was rendered speechless by the following sequences. The first centered around the violent shootout at the Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin in April 1934. I am certain that many critics and moviegoers had ended up comparing this sequence with the famous Downtown Los Angeles shootout in Mann’s 1995 movie, ”HEAT”. Granted, the latter turned out longer and was filmed in the daytime, but this Little Bohemia shootout turned out to be just as effective and exciting, despite being filmed at night. But if there is one sequence that filled me with great satisfaction, it was the one that featured the last night of Dillinger’s life. Mann, along with Spinotti, production designer Nathan Crowley, Rosemary Brandenburg’s set designs, Patrick Lumb, William Ladd Skinner’s art direction, the screenwriters and the cast did a superb job in conveying the director’s own detailed account of that hot, July night in 1934. I, for one, was glad that Mann took his time in leading to that moment when Texas Ranger Charles Winstead shot Dillinger dead. The director gave movie audiences a glimpse of street life in Depression-era Chicago during the summertime. He also allowed the audience to experience Dillinger’s pleasure in viewing Clark Gable’s spunk and Myrna Loy’s beauty in the 1934 MGM movie, ”MANHATTAN MELODRAMA”. With the camera, the audience waited nervously along with Purvis, Winstead and the other lawmen who waited outside the Biograph Theater for Dillinger. This is one of the most detailed and marvelously shot sequences I have ever seen on film in the past decade or two.

Another aspect of ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” that struck me as unique was its style. Past movies about Depression-era criminals from the Midwest and the South like (1967) “BONNIE AND CLYDE”, (1974) “MELVIN PURVIS, G-MAN”, and (1975) “THE KANSAS CITY MASSACRE” tend to have this rural or “good ‘ole boy” style, similar to movies and television shows like (1977) “SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT” and (1979-85) “THE DUKES OF HAZZARD”. These films were usually filled with a great deal of wild car chases, over-the-top acting and a Country-Western tune emphasizing the action. ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” seemed to go against this rural style. Instead, most of Mann’s Midwestern criminals are not some wild, country boys that went on a crime spree as some reaction against the Depression’s economic woes. His criminals – especially Dillinger – are professional criminals, whose experiences go back long before the first impact of the Depression. Nor is Mann’s Melvin Purvis is some long experienced “good ‘ole boy” lawman with a Mississippi Valley or Southwestern accent like Ben Johnson in (1973) “DILLINGER” or Dale Robertson in his two TV movies about the FBI agent. His Purvis is a lot closer to the real one, a South Carolinian gentleman in his early thirties, who happened to be a trained lawyer and an excellent shot. Both Dillinger and Purvis come off as more sophisticated than their portrayals featured in earlier movies. And the characters’ sophistication certainly reflected the movie’s more serious tone. Something I certainly had no problems with.

John Dillinger may turn out to be one of my favorite characters portrayed by Johnny Depp. Much has been made of Dillinger’s charm and joie de vivre . . . and Depp certainly did not hesitate to replicate it in front of the camera. One prime example of this charm was featured in Dillinger’s press conference inside the warden’s office at the Crown Point Prison in Indiana. I have seen the original 1934 newsreel featuring the famous press conference and I must say that Depp did a beautiful job of recapturing Dillinger’s actions – from the bank robber’s attitude, right down to his body language.





But there were other aspects of Dillinger’s personality that Depp did not hesitate to portray – his romantic charm that won Billie Frichette’s heart and cynical sense of humor. Most importantly, Depp’s performance reminded the audience that Dillinger had been capable of being a cold-blooded criminal. After all, he had drifted into crime long before the economic upheaval of the Depression. And Depp’s performance made that clear, whether his Dillinger was expressing fury at one colleague, whose beating of a prison guard led to the death of an old friend in the film’s opening prison break; his lack of remorse toward his many crimes, his connection to the Chicago mob; and his willingness to murder anyone who got in his way. Depp not only perfectly portrayed Dillinger as a charming and extroverted rogue, but also as a tender lover, a hardened criminal unwilling to give up his profession and if need be, a killer.

I have noticed that in the past two or three years, Christian Bale has found himself in the thankless task of portraying characters less flamboyant than his co-stars. This certainly seemed to be the case in the 2006 Victorian melodrama ”THE PRESTIGE” with the more outgoing Hugh Jackman; in the 2008 Batman sequel, ”THE DARK KNIGHT”, in which his performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman contrasted sharply with Heath Ledger’s wildly chaotic Joker; and in the recent ”TERMINATOR SALVATION”, in which he seemed to be overshadowed in the eyes of many by the more overtly masculine Sam Worthington. Mind you, Bale gave superb performances in all of these films. Yet, his co-stars seemed to be grabbing most of the glory. This also seemed to be the case in ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, in which he portrays Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent assigned to capture Dillinger, one way or the other. Whereas Depp’s Dillinger is all charm and flash, Bale’s Purvis is a resolute and educated South Carolina gentleman, who also happened to be a somewhat competent lawman determined to hunt down the bank robber by any means possible. And that included following Director Hoover’s insistence on ”taking the white gloves off” or insisting that the FBI recruit experienced Texas Rangers for the manhunt. Bale not only did an excellent job in conveying Purvis’ quiet determination in hunting down Dillinger, but the agent’s anxious fear that he may never capture the bank robber on a permanent basis. Bale also effectively portrayed Purvis’ ruthlessness in dealing with those who stood between him and Dillinger. Melvin Purvis is not a splashy role for Bale, but the latter certainly did an excellent job of portraying the lawman’s many personality facets.

Before I saw ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, I had feared that the addition of Billie Frichette (Dillinger’s girlfriend) into the story would make her presence irrelevant and threaten to drag the film. Fortunately, Mann and the other two screenwriters – Bennett and Biderman – along with Oscar winner Marion Cotillard did justice to the Frichette character. Cotillard gave an excellent performance as a hatcheck woman who captured Dillinger’s heart. She portrayed Frichette as a slightly melancholy woman who not only resented society’s bigotry against her ancestry (her mother was half French, half –Menominee), but also feared that her relationship with Dillinger may not last very long. One of Cotillard’s best moments featured the hatcheck woman being interrogated and beaten by one of Purvis’ agents, who is determined to learn Dillinger’s whereabouts. And despite being French-born and raised, Cotillard proved that she could use a Midwestern accent circa 1933, just as well as an American actress.

”PUBLIC ENEMIES” seemed to be filled with some memorable supporting roles. And a handful of performances stood out for me. I enjoyed Jason Clarke's quiet and subtle performance as Dillinger’s close friend and colleague, the dependable John "Red" Hamilton, who seemed convinced that he and the bank robber were doomed to live short lives. Clarke especially shone in an emotional scene in which a badly wounded Hamilton tried to convince Dillinger to stop clinging fervently to all people and things that mattered too much to him. And there was Billy Crudup (a face I have been seeing with great frequency over the past few years), who gave an entertaining and sharp performance as FBI Director and publicity hound, J. Edgar Hoover. Crudup managed to capture a great deal of the legendary director’s personality as much as possible – especially Hoover’s staccato-style speech pattern. And his scenes with Bale brimmed with a layer of emotion that made their on-screen relationship one of the more interesting ones in the movie.

Another performance that caught my attention belonged to Stephen Graham as the trigger-happy Lester “Baby Face Nelson” Gillis. I have to give Graham kudos for effectively projecting a certain facet of Nelson’s persona from both Dillinger and Purvis’ points-of-view. In Dillinger’s eyes, Graham portrayed Nelson as a trigger happy clown and bad Cagney impersonator, whose criminal skills seemed to belong to an amateur. In his major scene with Purvis, Graham portrayed Nelson as a dangerous criminal, quite capable of efficiently killing Federal agents in cold blood. And it was a pleasant surprise to see the always competent Stephen Lang as Charles Winstead, one of the Texas Rangers recruited by Purvis to assist in the FBI manhunt for Dillinger. Lang first worked for Mann in 1986’s ”MANHUNTER” and the television series, ”CRIME STORY”. Since then, he has portrayed a vast array of memorable characters over the years. In ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, he gave another excellent performance as the stoic and intimidating Winstead, whose vast experience with criminal manhunts allowed him to act as a de facto mentor for the less experienced Purvis. One last performance that caught my attention belonged to Branka Katić’s portrayal of Anna Sage, the so-called ”Woman in Red” who had betrayed Dillinger to the FBI in Chicago. Actually, Sage never wore red on the night she led the FBI to the Biograph Theater and Dillinger. But that is beside the point. Katić gave an intelligent performance as the world-weary, Romanian-born madam that found herself forced to help the FBI ambush the bank robber.

Every now and then, I eventually come across some comparisons between ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” and ”HEAT” in some of the articles I have read about the former. And the comparison usually ends in the 1995 movie’s favor. Do I agree with this assessment? Honestly, I have no answer. Both movies are superb crime dramas with a few flaws. Whereas ”HEAT” managed to capture the miasma of late 20th century Los Angeles, ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” reeked with the slightly gray aura of the Depression-era Midwest . . . especially Chicago. And whereas the pacing for ”HEAT” threatened to drag in its last hour, the quick editing and constant close-ups nearly marred the first hour of ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”. But you know what? I love both movies. And ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” proved to be another example of why Michael Mann continues to be one of my favorite movie directors.

Monday, July 20, 2009

"HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE" (2009) Photo Gallery



Below are photos from the new movie, "HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE". Based upon Jo Rowling's novel, the movie stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Michael Gambon. David Yates directed:


"HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE" (2009) Photo Gallery














































Friday, July 17, 2009

"A Family Affair" [PG-13] - 2/8




"A FAMILY AFFAIR"

NOTE: The Gimle Order was first mentioned in the story, "Lessons in Witchcraft".


CHAPTER TWO


"Nephew?" Harry declared out loud, three hours later. He, along with his parents, Olivia and the two daemons had left the Mortons' soiree and ended up at Cole's penthouse. "Cole is your nephew?"

The older daemon nodded. "On his mother's side. Haven't you noticed the resemblance?"

Gweneth McNeill arched a dubious brow. "What resemblance? Cole is taller. He has different features and darker hair.

"Look at the eyes, Gwen," Jack commented. "Both have the same eyes. And they're the same shape and . . ."

Olivia finished, "And same super blue color." She glanced at Cole. "You must have inherited your dad's looks and your mom's eyes."

"His grandfather's eyes," Marbus added.

Jack asked his old friend, "What were you doing at Cordelia Morton's party?"

"I was invited," Marbus replied. "I had arrived in San Francisco to see Cole. We haven't laid eyes upon each other in quite a while."

Cole added, "Not since I had first returned from the Wasteland."

"I had encountered Cordelia at the Mark Hopkins Hotel for afternoon tea, and she invited me to her little party."

Olivia frowned. "You know the Mortons?"

Marbus heaved a long-suffering sigh. "For nearly fifteen years, I'm afraid. My family and I used to encounter them every so often, around Europe. They know me as Miles Farrell."

Harry's eyes grew wide with shock. "The writer?"

A wide smile graced Marbus' handsome face. "Oh, you've read my books? Isn't that nice. Miles Farrell, by the way, is my mortal name."

"You're part daemon like Cole?"

Cole chuckled. "Actually, all daemons with a human or humanoid appearance probably have some mortal blood in them. Or were probably former mortals who had ascended to demon hood. Most of them - including Raynor, the Triad and the Source - have refused to admit it."

Marbus added, "Only those daemons with no human features, lack any mortal blood. Or else, they're shape shifters."

"You know, I never knew that," Olivia said. "I guess I've always found it odd that a lot of daemons looked like humans. I figured they were all shape shifters."

Cole said, "Not all daemons are shape shifters."

"Speaking of daemons," Jack continued, "why was one after Mark Giovanni?"

A silent pause filled the living room. All eyes focused upon Cole. Who shrugged. "This is news to me. I guess the Magan Corporation must have supernatural connections." He glanced at his uncle. "Have you ever heard of it?"

"Never heard of it, until today," Marbus replied. "If it does have supernatural connections, then the corporation must have been recently formed."

Cole added, "About six years ago." The others stared at him. "I had the corporation investigated, when I first accepted the Giovanni case."

"By me," Olivia added.

Gweneth stood up. "I'm sure that we would all love to continue this conversation," she said, "but Jack and I have an opera to attend." Cole smirked at the sight of Jack McNeill's wince. "And we don't have much time to prepare. And Harry," she said to her youngest, "don't you have dinner with Dana Morton?"

Olivia stared at her younger brother in disbelief. "I thought you were going to break it off with her."

Harry replied lamely, "I changed my mind." Olivia continued to stare at him. "What can I say? She's not all that bad!"

"And Olivia," Gweneth continued, "perhaps you should allow Cole and Marbus a little privacy for a family reunion."

Olivia opened her mouth to protest. But her mother's stare prevented her. Instead, she pouted and said in a morose voice, "If you insist." She stood up and planted a light kiss on Cole's mouth. "I'll see you later. Tell me everything."

Both Harry and Jack rose from their seats, and the four McNeills bid Cole and his uncle good-bye. Once the half-daemon closed the door behind him, the older daemon asked, "What was that all about? Olivia's last comment?"

A wry smile touched Cole's lips. "Oh. That. Olivia thinks I have a bad habit of keeping too many secrets."

"We all do. It's a family habit," Marbus replied airily.

Cole sighed. "Well, that same habit nearly got me killed, last December. By a group of warlocks from the Crozat coven."

"I heard they had been wiped out. At least the family's warlocks," Marbus said. "Were you responsible?"

Nodding, Cole replied, "Me, Olivia, her brothers and a friend of hers named Cecile Dubois. They were trying to gather enough powers to take over the Source's Realm."

Marbus' eyes grew wide with shock. "Warlocks trying to take over the Source's Realm? They must have planned to ascend to a demonic state. Anyway, they would have had to deal with two other factions plotting to gain control of the Realm." He paused, as a frown appeared on his face. "You know, there's something familiar about those two young women. The ones whose names start with a 'P'. They reminded me of someone I had met, years ago. During my . . . uh, 'dark' years. They're the ones connected to the Warren family, right?"

"The Charmed Ones are descended from Melinda Warren," Cole replied. "I had met Melinda's mother, during a trip to the past, once."

The older daemon nodded. "Hmmmm. So, they're the ones who had killed the Source. And you. Were they involved with what happened to the Crozats?"

Cole stared at his uncle. "Marbus, why are you here? And I want the truth."

"I'm here to warn you," Marbus simply stated.

"About the two demonic factions fighting for the Source's Realm?"

Marbus shook his head. "No. At the moment, they're no danger to you or the McNeills." He sighed. "But I am here to warn you . . . only not about daemons."

Cole frowned. "Then who . . .?"

Marbus paused. "The Whitelighter's Council."

"Huh?"

Heaving a sigh, the older daemon repeated, "The Whitelighter's Council. They want you dead, Boyo."

Cole snorted with derision. "What else is new? They've wanted me dead for years."

Marbus reached for the glass of port, sitting on the table next to him. "This is different. You've become more powerful than ever, since your return from the Wasteland. You're mating with a witch from a powerful family - namely the McNeills. And . . ." He paused. "Well, it's your mother."

"What about her?" Cole demanded in an icy voice.

After another pause, Marbus added, "She's the Brotherhood of the Thorn's new leader."

"WHAT?" The news shook Cole to his core.

"Nimue has been the order's leader since last October."

Cole shook his head. "Last Nov . . . Wait a minute! Now, I know that Klea had taken over the Order, after Raynor's death. I remember seeing her, when I was the Source. As head of an order, she was part of my council."

"Yes, and the Charmed Ones killed her, when they killed the Seer and your . . . uh, the Source for the third time." Cole suspected that his uncle was about to say "your son". He kept the thought to himself. Marbus continued, "After Klea's death, Fylgia took over the Order. But he was accidentally killed by Barbas, when the latter had your new powers, last fall. And that's when your mother took over. I hear that she's doing great wonders for the Order. Re-organizing and everything . . ."

Still stunned over the news, Cole demanded, "And that's why the Whitelighters want me dead? Because of Mother?"

"Well, that and the fact that you are involved with a powerful witch . . ."

"What does Olivia have to do with this?"

Marbus took a deep breath. "Listen to me, Belthazor." He took another breath and went on to explain everything. Apparently, one of the Elders had announced that a Seer had foreseen both Cole and Olivia playing major roles in the emergence of a new Source. The news had sent the Elders Council in a fit and had ordered one of their whitelighters to end Cole and Olivia's relationship.

"That would be Leo," Cole added. "He is, or used to be Olivia and Bruce's whitelighter. And my former brother-in-law."

"What?"

"Leo is married to one of the Charmed Ones. Piper. And he also happens to be their whitelighter."

Taking another sip of his port, Marbus said, "Well, I'd keep an eye on him, if I were you."

Cole dismissed the warning with a wave of his head. "C'mon Marbus! What can Leo do? Order the Charmed Ones to kill me? They can't! And I'm not being arrogant. Neither they nor the Elders are strong enough to kill me. Believe me, I'm serious. When Barbas had my powers nearly a year ago, Phoebe and her sisters weren't able to kill him with their Power of Three spell."

Marbus quietly added, "The Elders could always find someone to strip away your powers. Isn't that how Barbas ended up with yours?"

"Actually, it was Paige who managed to strip away my powers. She had been tricked by Barbas." Cole shook his head. "Besides, I can't see the Elders ordering my death after my powers have been stripped away."

Heaving a long-suffering sigh, Marbus retorted, "You don't get it, do you, Boy? Even without your psychic abilities, you'll still have the ability to perform other kinds of magick. I realize that you're unaware of this, but you had that ability when your old powers were stripped away, nearly two years ago. And even if you do marry as a 'mortal', your children will still become magically powerful. They would be inheriting your demonic DNA. And that is the last thing the Whitelighters want. They fear you or your children will reorganize the Source's Realm."

Stunned by his uncle's revelation, Cole frowned. "I don't . . . I don't understand . . . Are you saying that even without my active powers, I would remain a threat to them?"

"Didn't you tell me, the last time we had met, that the Charmed Ones were able to kill the Source using the Power of Three, despite the fact that two of them had their psychic powers stolen by that old bastard?"

Cole sighed. "Yeah, I did."

"The Whitelighters' Council do not want a new Source. Well, a lot of us don't exactly find the idea palatable. But at least we realize that a leader in the Source's Realm is needed to bring back balance in our supernatural world." Marbus shook his head. "How can a group of beings that consider themselves wise, be so bloody stupid?" He drained the rest of his port.

Placing his whiskey glass on the table, Cole asked, "And what was the name of this whitelighter who told you this?"

"It was two of them. Barbara DeVilliers and Natalia Stepanova. Miss Stepanova used to be a whitelighter for one of Jack McNeill's cousins. He had died last winter."

Cole nodded. "That would be Keith McNeill."

Marbus continued, "The both of them are members of a faction that believe the current Elders Council is out of control and out of touch. In fact, the Whitelighters Realm has been slowly drifting into chaos, since the Source's last death."

"Yeah, I know all about it, thanks to Olivia's father. According to him, not only are there whitelighters openly questioning the Elders' authority, a good number have defected to the other side. Sounds like a big mess."

Shaking his head, Marbus said, "The whitelighters are in a mess. And so is the demonic world. All of us in the Gimle Order are very worried. You need to keep your eyes open, Boyo. Especially for the whitelighters or any witch who might try to get rid of you."

Images of Phoebe, Leo and Piper flashed in Cole's mind. He dismissed the thought with a shake of his head. "This is ridiculous! The only ones I know who would try to get rid of me are . . ." He paused.

"Are you talking about that Leo fellow? And your wife, Frances?"

Cole corrected his uncle. "Her name is Phoebe and she's my ex-wife."

"Really? When did the divorce go through? The last time we saw each other, you were determined to win her back."

Cole sighed. "It happened last October. Not long after we met."

Marbus smiled. "And you've been courting Jack's daughter ever since, eh?"

"Actually, I've been cour . . ." Cole mentally sighed. "I mean, dating Olivia since late April. However, we've been friends since . . . well, since two days after my divorce became final. Leo's not exactly thrilled that I'm dating her."

Nodding Marbus replied, "This Leo sounds as if he's still loyal to the Elders. I'd keep an eye on him, as well. And your former in-laws."

A cross between a derisive snort and a chuckle escaped Cole's mouth. "C'mon! You've got to be kidding! Just because Paige had once stripped me of my powers, last . . ." He paused and heaved a sigh. "This is ridiculous."

"This Paige," Marbus continued, "is she . . .?"

Cole finished, "The redhead with Phoebe. Yeah, she's the youngest Charmed One and a half-sister."

"And the one who had given you so much trouble, last year."

"Right now, Paige is the only Halliwell I'm friends with," Cole added.

Marbus said, "But her sisters must know how she had stripped away your powers."

"Look Marbus, the Charmed Ones are not going to kill me if I end up as a mortal. Don't worry."

A sigh left the older daemon's mouth. "I suppose you're right. You know them best." He stood up and headed for the liquor cabinet. "What about your client? What are you going to do about him?"

"I don't know," Cole murmured. "Thank goodness Olivia and I had managed to convince him that his 'companion' had never accompanied him to the Mortons' beach, without me using my telepathic suggestion power on him. Maybe I'll place him under a protection spell."

Marbus added, "If you like, I could ask the Gimle Order to assign a bodyguard to him."

Cole shrugged his shoulders. "I'll think about it. But what I really need is your help in finding more information on this Magan Corporation. It's odd that not long after Giovanni had rejected their offer, a demonic assassin tries to kill him." Cole drained the last of his whiskey.

Marbus shook his head. "That piece of land must be very important."

----------

Piper stared at her sisters in shock. "Cole has an uncle?"

"From his mother's side," Phoebe's explained. "He's a demon."

"Well gee! No kidding!"

Paige continued, "His name is Marbus and he saved Mark Giovanni from being killed by a demonic assassin."

Suspicion tingled in the back of Piper's mind. But it was Leo who expressed her thoughts. "Why?" he demanded. "Why would he even bother to save an innocent?"

Phoebe shrugged her shoulders, as she threw herself on the sofa. "I don't know. He claimed that he had recognized the woman as an assassin."

"A demonic assassin named Cassandra," Paige added. "I've checked the Book of Shadows. She exists. Or did, until today. And it also seems that Cole's uncle is a member of the Gimle Order."

Leo frowned. "The what?"

Piper turned to face her husband. "Oh, c'mon Leo! You remember, don't you? The Gimle Order?"

"Piper, what are you . . .?"

Paige interrupted. "The Gimle Order? The group of demons who protect the innocent? Like us? They're the good guys. Remember Mrs. McNeill talking about them?"

Shaking his head, Leo declared, "Look, I'm sorry. But Mrs. McNeill or not, I just find it hard to believe that this order . . ."

Piper added, "They're mentioned in our Book of Shadows. Only, the Book states that they're evil."

"There you go," Leo said.

Paige rolled her eyes in disgust. "Leo, according to Cole, the Gimle demons are the good guys."

"He could be lying."

An impatient sigh left Paige's mouth. "Both Olivia and Mrs. McNeill verified this. They've had experience with them in the past. Remember?"

"But the Book . . ."

Piper heaved a disgruntled sigh. "Maybe the Book is wrong, Leo! And why? Because some whitelighter probably gave one of our ancestors the wrong information!"

"Piper . . ."

Phoebe spoke up, interrupting the couple's argument. "Why don't we go upstairs and check to see if this Marbus is in the Book of Shadows?"

"Good idea," Leo shot back. He brushed past Phoebe and headed straight toward the staircase. The three sisters quickly followed. Upon reaching the attic, Leo strode toward the podium that held the Book of Shadows.

Piper stood behind her husband, as he sifted through the Book. He stopped at a page that featured an orange-and-black demon that looked very familiar. "Oh my God!" Piper exclaimed. "He looks like Belthazor!"

Paige and Phoebe gathered around the podium for a glance. The former replied, "He certainly does. I guess that shouldn't be a surprise, considering that they're related."

Leo added, "It says here that Marbus is an upper-level demon and one of the top assassins in the Underworld. He's also an agent for the Triad."

"Was," Phoebe corrected. "They're dead. Remember?"

"Oh my God," Piper murmured, as she read further description of the demon. "The Book also states that he had killed Lucia Warren Miller in order to steal something called the Marbury Stone." She paused, as the implication of her words sunk in. "Oh my God! He had killed one of our ancestors!"

"So much for him being a 'good' demon," Leo added sarcastically.

Paige pointed to the corner of the page. "There's a date. May 3, 1823. Apparently, Lucia's death happened nearly 200 years ago. Wow! How old is this guy?"

Phoebe replied, "Who knows? Don't forget. Cole is nearly 120 years old."

"Who cares hold old he is?" Piper retorted. Her eyes remained focused upon the demon's image. "This guy killed one of our own."

Paige dryly shot back, "Yeah Piper. Nearly two centuries ago. And may I remind you that just over a year ago, we had killed his nephew? I'd say that we're pretty even."

There were times Piper wished that her youngest sister would stop bringing up the past. Especially that particular incident inside Cole's penthouse. She opened her mouth to retort, when Phoebe interrupted.

"Whatever happened in the past is over," the middle Halliwell declared. "Paige is right. This incident with Lucia happened 180 years ago. Maybe this Marbus has changed. Maybe he really is part of this Gimle Order. At least we know what it really stands for, thanks to Olivia."

Leo argued, "Maybe she is right about this Gimle Order. But what about Marbus? What if he had lied about being a part of it? What if he had another reason for killing that other demon? Don't forget that when we had first met Cole, he was pretending to be a good guy. He had even killed that demonic judge and that demon who later tried to kill Prue, just to be on your good side."

"Okay Leo. I understand what you're saying. And that's why I think we should keep an eye on this guy."

Paige sighed. "All right. Maybe we should. But I also think we should get to know Marbus. Maybe we can find out the latest news about the Underworld." She paused. "The McNeills' weekly brunch is tomorrow. Why don't we pay them a visit? Cole's uncle might be there."

Oh great! Piper shook her head in disgust. Another Sunday with the McNeills and Cole. And this time, with the latter's uncle. Now there was something to look forward to.

--------

It took one look at his assistant's expression for Artemus to figure out that something had gone wrong. "She failed, didn't she?" he said. "Cassandra had failed to kill Giovanni."

Prax nervously cleared his throat. "I'm . . . uh, I'm afraid so, Artemus. I was there at the party. She had lured Giovanni to the beach, but someone else had followed. Along with a few others."

"Like who?" Artemus demanded.

"Belthazor was there. Along with his McNeill witch and her father. Also, two of the Charmed Ones had followed."

Artemus sighed. "The Charmed Ones. Were they the ones who killed Cassandra? Or was it Belthazor?"

"I don't think so." A frown appeared on the younger daemon's face. "There was a man who had reached Giovanni and Cassandra before the others. I thought I had recognized him, but I might be mistaken."

The elder daemon courtly demanded, "What are you talking about, Prax?"

"I believe I had seen Marbus. Belthazor's uncle." Prax frowned. "But that can't be right. Isn't Marbus dead?"

Shock overwhelmed Artemus. "Of course he's dead! He can't be . . ." Then he murmured to himself. "Or could it be that Belthazor had never carried out the hit? After all, no one knows I'm . . ."

"Sir?" Prax's face expressed concern. "Artemus, is there something wrong?"

Realization settled within the older daemon. "He is alive. Marbus is alive."

"But I heard that Belthazor . . ."

". . . must have spared his life. Of course!" Artemus stared at his assistant. "What do you know about Marbus?"

Prax shook his head. "Not much. Only that he was . . . is Belthazor's uncle and that he used to be one of the Source's assassins."

Artemus chuckled mirthlessly. "He was one of the Source's top assassins. Like his father, his sister and his nephew. That family . . ." He shook his head. "A dangerous bunch. It has produced some of the best assassins that have ever served the Source. Marbus was one. One of his most difficult assignments was a Boston witch who was guarding the Marbury Stone back in the 1820s. Actually, she was a great-grandmother or something to the Charmed Ones. But nearly 40 years later, Marbus had fallen for a wizard named Mauve Donohue. He helped her prevent the Source from destroying a wizard order that was a potential threat."

"You mean, he betrayed the Source," Prax added.

Nodding, Artemus continued, "Yes. Then this Donohue woman had later introduced him to a group of daemons that has opposed the Source and everything we stood for. The Gimle Order. Bunch of damn good-doers. They have been a craw in the Source's side for centuries."

Prax shook his head. "Good daemons? I didn't know there was such a thing."

A sigh left Artemus' mouth. "Unfortuntely, there is. Like all other beings, we daemons can be either good or bad. I had a plan to get rid of that damn order for good . . . but, it backfired. Failed. And the Source ended up sending me to that damn prison."

"The Stygian Abyss." Prax paused. "But I had heard that Marbus was killed . . . by Belthazor, himself."

Again, Artemus sighed. "About five years before I was sent to the Stygian Abyss, Raynor - who was head of the Thorn Order and a member of the Source's Council like myself - had framed Marbus with the murder of a powerful witch, hoping that his fellow witches would go after Marbus. They did. Only, another witch named Jack McNeill . . ."

"The father of Belthazor's witch?"

Artemus glared at his minion. "Do you mind not interrupting?" Prax apologized and the older daemon continued. "Anyway, McNeill had discovered that Marbus had been framed and prevented him from being killed by the witches. About a year later, two zoltars had tracked Marbus to a villa in Greece. Instead of ordering them to kill him, Raynor had sent Belthazor."

Frowning, Prax asked, "Wouldn't it have been simpler to send another assassin?"

"By then, Belthazor was one of the Source's top assassins." Faint admiration crept into Artemus' voice. "He really was a superb killer. Even better than Marbus, Nimue, or their father, while in their prime. The Triad had suggested that Raynor assign Belthazor to do the job. Either this was one of their tests, or they had genuinely believed that he would kill Marbus with no remorse. Once word had reached the Source of Marbus' death . . ." Artemus paused and allowed himself a wry smile. "As it turns out, Belthazor had faked his uncle's death. Very clever."

An anxious-looking Prax asked, "Do you think this Marbus is a threat?"

"I don't know. But Belthazor certainly is." Artemus walked over to the liquor cabinet and removed a bottle of bourbon. "I have to get him off the Giovanni case. Perhaps getting rid of Marbus should do the trick. Leave him distracted." He poured bourbon into a glass.

"But if you have Marbus killed, wouldn't Belthazor come after us?"

Artemus took a swig of bourbon. "Are you serious? Belthazor wouldn't rest until he track us down and kill every last one of us." He sighed. "And he would succeed. I promise you."

Prax began, "So how do you plan . . .?"

A crafty smile curved the daemon's lips. "I'm afraid that poor Marbus is going to find himself hunted by witches, again. Only this time, by the Charmed Ones." He sighed with deep anticipation. "How I would love to be a fly on the wall, when Belthazor goes after those three."


END OF CHAPTER TWO