Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Defense of the Realm" [PG-13] - 7/14




"DEFENSE OF THE REALM"

CHAPTER 7

Cole stared at his selection of ties in an effort to decide which one to wear. After five minutes of contemplation, he realized that not only was he unable to make a choice, he simply did not care. Not a proper attitude to harbor for an upcoming date, but he could not control his feelings.

He had planned to take Phoebe to the theater, followed by dinner at one of her old stomping grounds - Quake. Unfortunately, he could not drum up any enthusiasm. Not with Olivia still on his mind. And there was the new houseguest that Marbus planned to dump on him. Cole sighed. Life had been so much easier, over a month ago. Now once again, it has gone to hell.

Realizing that he was better off without a tie, Cole returned the garments to his dresser drawer. He grabbed his jacket and headed for the living room. At that moment, he heard a knock at his door. He glanced through the peephole and saw two figures standing in the narrow hallway - Marbus and a handsome, dark-haired woman, whom Cole assumed to be the fugitive whitelighter. He quickly opened the door and ushered the two visitors inside the penthouse.

"Belthazor," Marbus announced, "I would like you to meet Natalia Stepanova. Natalia, this is my nephew . . ."

The whitelighter held out her hand. "Yes, I have heard of Belthazor," she said in a Russian accent. "A great deal."

"And I've heard a few things about you," Cole said, shaking her offered hand. As with all whitelighters, Natalia left a white film on his hand after contact. "You were the one who had warned Marbus about the Elders' plans to kill me. I wish I had paid closer attention."

Natalia continued, "Actually, it was Mathilda who was after you, not the Council. And Barbara and I had no idea that she and Leo would use Miss McNeill to kill you."

Cole nodded. "I understand. Anyway, I hope that you will enjoy your stay, here. You can use the guest bedroom on the left. I usually have breakfast around seven in the morning and dinner around eight. If I'm not around, feel free to fix your own meals." He hesitated. "Uh, that is if you know how . . ."

"I happen to be an excellent cook, Belthazor."

"Cole."

One of Natalia's brows formed an arch. "Pardon?"

"You can call me Cole. If you like."

Natalia smiled. "Of course."

"Okay." Cole glanced at the clock on the fireplace mantle and heaved a sigh. "Uh, I have a date tonight . . ."

Natalia frowned. "A what?"

Cole patiently explained, "I will be taking a young lady to the theater this evening. And later, we'll be dining at a restaurant."

"Oh." Natalia responded with an understanding smile. "How charming. Who is the lucky young lady?"

Before Cole could answer, Marbus said, "He must be taking his former wife. Frances."

Cole shot a quick glare at his uncle. "Her name is Phoebe. Why is it that after nearly two months, you still can't get her name right?"

"Sorry lad, but Phoebe is not a name I find easy to remember."

Natalia added, "Oh! One of the Charmed Ones! The seer! Your former wife." A frown creased her forehead. "What happened to Miss McNeill?"

A silent pause filled the room. Cole smiled patiently at the whitelighter. "We're just friends."

"Oh. So, you're dating one of Leo's sisters-in-law." Natalia paused. "And the third sister is Samuel Wilder's daughter. Right?" Then she added, "Do you plan to . . .?"

"Tell Phoebe about you?" Cole finished. "Do you want me to?"

The whitelighter quickly shook her head. "Please . . . no. It is not that I do not trust her . . . I am simply afraid of how Leo would react if he knew of my whereabouts."

Cole nodded. "I understand. Besides, Phoebe was never great at keeping secrets." Then he sighed. "Okay, the place is yours for the evening. I'll see . . ." He hesitated at the sound of Marbus' cough. "What?"

"Do I have to remind you, lad?" Marbus replied. "Natalia has already been tracked to the Gimle dimension and here on earth. I think you should provide some kind of protection, just in case the Elders have managed to track her here."

Cole sighed. He seemed to be doing that a lot, lately. "Right." As he began to prepare a protection spell to shield the penthouse from the Elders' radar, he wondered if he had made a mistake in offering refuge to the fugitive whitelighter. He could image how Phoebe would react if she ever found out.

--------

Paige appeared in the doorway of Phoebe's bedroom. "Cole's here," she announced.

Phoebe let out a squeak and continued to finish getting ready. A quick glance at her watch told her that she was running slightly behind schedule. As she checked her appearance in the long, oval mirror, she asked, "How's Cole doing? Is he alone?"

"Aside from Piper giving him the cold shoulder," Paige murmured, "yeah. Leo hasn't returned from the store, yet."

"Oh God." Phoebe turned away from the mirror. "How do I look?"

Paige shrugged. "Nice."

"That's it?"

Heaving an impatient sigh, Paige added, "Phoebe, you look great! Okay?"

"Okay." Phoebe grabbed her purse. "I'm ready."

Paige blocked Phoebe's path in the doorway. "Two more things, Miss Halliwell. One, you got a phone call."

"So, didn't you take a message?" Phoebe tried to bypass her younger sister.

After a brief hesitation, Paige answered, "Yeah. I did. I told Jason that you would call him back. He left a number."

"Oh." Shit! "Yeah. Okay, I'll get back to him." Again, she tried to bypass Paige.

"Phoebe!"

The older woman gave the younger one an exasperated stare. "What?"

"You mean to say that you haven't broken up with Jason, yet?"

Oh God! Phoebe wished that Paige would mind her own business. "I'll get around to it. Soon."

"Uh huh." Shaking her head, Paige continued, "Also, I think a jacket goes with that outfit. Doesn't it?"

"Oh yeah. Thanks." Grateful to dismiss Jason from her thoughts, Phoebe snatched up her jacket, ducked under Paige's outstretched arm and raced down the hall. Paige followed closely behind. They found Cole sitting on the sofa, looking very tense. Fortunately, neither Piper nor Leo was in sight. This did not look good. Phoebe pasted a too-bright smile on her face and warmly greeted her ex-husband. "Hey sweetie!" She leaned down and gave him a swift peck on the cheek. "Everything's okay."

To Phoebe's surprise, Cole blinked. "Huh?"

"Cole, are you okay? Ready to leave?"

Before the half-demon could answer, blue lights appeared and Chris materialized before the others. Ignoring Cole, he turned to the two sisters. "Where's Piper?" he asked.

Piper burst into the living room, with Leo at her heels. "I'm right here," she said. "What's wrong?"

"I need your help," Chris replied. "In fact, the Elders' Council is seeking the help of all witches."

Paige added sarcastically, "Are they asking? Or ordering us?"

Chris sighed. "The Elders need your help in tracking down a fugitive. A whitelighter named Natalia Stepanova. They believe that she is somewhere here on Earth. Which is why they want our charges to help find her."

"This Stepanova person," Paige continued, "is she behind the deaths of those Elders?"

Chris nodded. "The Elders found out that . . ." He hesitated, as his eyes rested upon Cole. "Oh. Uh . . . Aren't you . . .?"

Phoebe quickly made the introductions. "Uh, Chris - this is Cole Turner, my ex-husband."

Piper added, "The demon formally known as Belthazor."

Cole shot the eldest Charmed One a dark look, while Chris stared at him. Like a scientist examining a specimen. "Oh, um . . . nice to meet you. I've heard a lot . . . about you. I mean . . . I've met . . . I mean . . . you. Naturally . . ."

"You've heard?" Cole frowned.

Smiling nervously, Phoebe interrupted. "Cole honey, this is Chris Perry, our new whitelighter."

Cole offered his hand to the young whitelighter. Chris briefly hesitated, before shaking the offered hand. "So, you're the new whitelighter. I only hope that you do a better job than your predecessors."

"Hey!" Piper protested.

Chris laughed nervously. "I just hope that I can do a good job."

One of Cole's brows formed an arch. "Good. So uh, why are the Elders after this whitelighter, again?"

"I . . . um . . ."

Leo sharply interrupted, "Sorry Cole, but this is a private matter. In other words, it's none of your business."

A cold smile curved Cole's lips as he faced Leo. Anxiety flared within Phoebe's breast. "Then I guess you shouldn't be here, as well."

"Just because you and Phoebe are now dating, doesn't mean you have every right to know what's going on in this house!"

Piper placed a hand on Leo's arm. "Honey . . . don't. He's just trying to bait you."

Cole continued, "You know, this Stepanova whitelighter sounds familiar. Didn't a witch named Keith McNeill used to be one of her charges?"

Another outburst left Leo's mouth. "Why are you still here? Why don't you just leave?"

"Well, you've already tried to get rid of me, Leo. When you and Margolin had set up Olivia to kill me." Cole's smile grew even more deadly. "But, as usual, you failed to achieve your goal."

"That's it! I've had enough . . ."

Cole took a threatening step forward. "And what exactly are you going to do? Bore me to death with more threats?" His face became a cold mask - an expression that Phoebe had always found frightening. "Or find another witch to do your dirty work for you? You better pray, for your sake that he or she doesn't get caught."

Piper stepped between the two former brothers-in-law. "Okay! That's it!" She glared at the half-demon. "Cole, we want you out of here! Now! We have family matters to discuss."

His eyes now cold with rage, Cole sprung to his feet. "Don't worry Piper. I'm more than happy to oblige." And he beamed out of the living room, much to Phoebe's distress.

She turned on her eldest sister in a fit of anger. "Piper! How could you?"

"Hey! He started it with his threats to Leo!" Piper shot back.

"Actually, it was Leo who started it!" Then Phoebe glared at her brother-in-law. "You just had to open your mouth, didn't you, Leo? You had to say something to Cole!"

Looking stunned by Phoebe's accusation, Leo protested, "Phoebe, I'm sorry, but had no right being here! You girls have a matter to attend to. As witches."

"Matters that we're supposed to discuss with our whitelighter . . . who happens to be Chris! As I recall, you're no longer our whitelighter! Are you?"

Piper sprang to her husband's defense. "Uh, wait a minute Pheobe! There's no need to jump down Leo's throat! He's only trying to help!"

"And I'm trying to get out of here, so I can go on a date!" Phoebe raised her head and called out her ex-husband's name. "Cole? Cole!"

Chris spoke up. "Look, we have a whitelighter to find. One who might be a killer."

Regarding the young whitelighter with suspicious eyes, Paige demanded, "And why are 'we' searching for Whatshername, anyway? Why don't the Elders simply clip her wings or snatch her?"

A shrug lifted Chris' shoulders. "I don't know. I guess she's managed to elude them, after she was detected on Earth. The Elders had abriefly detected her in some demonic dimension. She's got to be hiding, somewhere."

Paige's dark eyes continued to bore into the young whitelighter's. "And you don't know where she is?"

"How would I know?"

Rolling her eyes, Paige continued, "Because you're the one from the future."

A pause followed before Chris finally answered, "Well . . . yeah. But I'm just a lowly whitelighter. I don't have knowledge of everything that happened in this time period. Besides, I only knew about the Titans destroying the Elders. The whitelighters were disorganized after that."

Paige shot back, "Yet, surely your memories of the future have changed, after the Elders had dealt with the Titans. Right? So, you must know about Natalia Stepanova. Where she's hiding and if she's guilty."

"I tell you, I don't know every . . ."

Phoebe held up her hand. "Look, we understand. It's okay. But I really don't understand how the Elders expect us to track down a missing whitelighter. And since other witches might be looking for her, there's a little matter about my date, tonight. Your missing whitelighter will have to wait. Cole!"

Frowning, Chris protested, "Phoebe, this isn't the time . . ."

"What lead do you have on this Natalia Whatshername?" Paige demanded. "Why come to us? Why not the McNeills, who have some past connections to her? And what makes the Elders think she's the right culprit?"

"Hey! I don't know!" Chris protested angrily. "I'm just the messenger!"

Phoebe added, "Well until you do know, I'm going on my . . ."

Cole reappeared, looking slightly abashed. "I just remembered," he mumbled. "Reservations at Quake are hard to get by, lately. I went through a lot of trouble, tonight, and I left my car outside." He glanced at Phoebe. "Still interested for tonight?"

Phoebe eagerly linked her arm with her ex-husband's. "More than interested." She ignored Piper's look of disgust, as she and Cole walked toward the front door.

----------

Despite the ten months he had spent as a whitelighter and Elder, Kevin James missed the mortal world. Which surprised him very much, considering his previously unhappy life. When he had eagerly agreed to replace one of the retiring Elders, Kevin had no idea that he would spend the rest of his existence in such . . . surroundings.

To deal with his bouts of boredom, Kevin made occasional visits to the mortal realm to indulge in his favorite pastimes. He would either visit the Halliwells - whom he had first met before becoming an Elder - or head for the place that usually appealed to his adolescent nature. Namely the various Disney theme parks throughout the world, the shopping mall, the beach and the movies. Tonight, Kevin had decided to settle upon the latter.

He had overheard two whitelighters discussing a movie called "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL". And since the topic combined two of his favorite things - movies and Disney amusement parks, he decided to check out this new movie at a theater in Sausalito.

Three hours later, Kevin emerged from the theater, a very happy whitelighter. The movie had more than lived up to his expectations. Quite simply, he loved it and planned to see it as much as possible before it disappeared from the theaters altogether. Humming the movie's jaunty score under his breath, Kevin made his way to a nearby alley, where he could orb out of sight. Upon reaching his destination, he glanced around to make sure that he was alone. And at that moment, he felt a sharp pain between his shoulder blades.

Kevin gasped aloud and reached behind to investigate the source of his pain. When he felt a shaft protruding from his back, he realized that he had been struck by a darklighter's arrow. Kevin fell into a state of panic, as he tried to remove the arrow.

A figure appeared before. A dark-haired woman dressed in black. Kevin immediately recognized her as Belinda Lucas, one of the Realm's whitelighters. "Yo . . . you . . ." the young Elder stammered.

"That's right, Junior," Belinda replied with a cold smile. She held a bow in her hands. "I shot you."

"Wha . . . what did . . ." Kevin gasped, as more pain shot through every nerve in his body. "What did . . . she promised . . . you. Na . . ."

Belinda sneered. "If you're speaking of Natalia Stepanova, you guessed wrong. She's innocent. Besides, why should you care? You'll be dead within a minute or so."

Kevin fell upon his knees. "Wha . . . how can you kill . . . a fellow whitelight . . .?"

Shifting the bow into one hand, Belinda reached from inside her blouse and pulled out what looked like a medallion hanging from a leather strap. "Who said that I was a whitelighter?" She let the medallion hang down, loaded the bow with another arrow, and aimed the weapon at the young Elder. "I bet you now wish that you had never accepted that offer from the Council. Don't you?"

Kevin blinked, as the darklighter arrow spun straight toward his heart.


END OF CHAPTER 7

Saturday, January 30, 2010

"FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS" (1982) Book Review




"FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS" (1982) Book Review

Set during the Old West of 1849-50 and the mid 1870s, "FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS" has the distinction of being the first novel in the Flashman Papers series to begin outside of Great Britain. It will not be the last, but it certainly was the first. Penned by George MacDonald Fraser and published in 1982, the novel also happens to be my favorite in the series.

Since this particular novel happened to be an immediate follow-up to Fraser's third novel, "FLASH FOR FREEDOM!", "FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS" began where the 1971 novel had ended – on the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana in the early spring of 1849. British Army officer Harry Flashman had just testified at Captain John Charity Spring's trial, enabling the psychotic sea captain to avoid being convicted for slave trading in U.S. waters. In return, Spring agreed to provide Flashman passage back to England. Unfortunately for both men, Fate had a different path in mind when they encountered one of Flashman’s old nemesis at a local saloon – a slave trader/planter named Peter Omohundro, whom young Flashy had encountered on a northbound Mississippi River steamboat several months ago. After Spring killed the aggressively suspicious Omohundro during a brutal saloon fight, he and Flashman ended up seeking refuge with another one of Flashy’s past acquaintances from "FLASH FOR FREEDOM!" - the red-haired Cockney-born madam named Susie Wilnick. Flashman’s reunion with Susie proved to be just as sensuous as their last encounter. After a few bouts of sex, Susie asked him to marry. Lacking in any morals, yet providing a great deal of practicality, Flashman accepted her proposal. And being a steel-minded businesswoman, Susie dealt with the insane Captain Spring in the following manner, during supper:

"But by and by he (Spring) said less and less, and that none too clearly; I was just beginning to wonder if the drink had got to him for once when he suddenly gave a great sigh, and a staring yawn, caught at his chair arms as though to rise, and then fell face foremost into the blancmange.

Susie glanced at me, lifting a warning finger. Then she got up, pulled his face out of the mess, and pushed up one eyelid. He was slumped like a sawdust doll, his face purple.

"That's all right," says she. "Brutus!" And before my astonished eyes the butler went out, and presently in came two likely big coves in reefer jackets. At a nod from Susie, they hefted Spring out of his chair, and without a word bore him from the room. Susie sauntered back to her place, took a sip of wine, and smiled at my amazement.

“Well,” says she, “we wouldn't 'ave wanted ‘im along on our 'oneymoon, would we?""


With Spring gone, Flashman no longer has a speedy means to reach England. Another chance to leave the Mississippi Valley and prosecution for slave stealing appeared when Susie announced her decision to close down her New Orleans whorehouse and take her retinue of slaves – prostitutes and servants – to San Francisco in California. The departure could not have come sooner for Flashman, as he had discovered during a stopover in St. Louis, Missouri:

"It wasn’t only the plague that worried me, either; St. Louis was the town where a few weeks earlier they’d been posting rewards of a hundred dollars for my apprehension, describing me to a T and warning the citizenry that I had Genteel Manners and spoke with a Foreign Accent, damn their impudence.”

I have been a fan of the Flashman novels for many years. But there are a few of them I would describe as truly epic. In my opinion, one of those epic novels happened to be "FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS". Fraser did a superb job in capturing the breath and scope of the American West in both the late 1840s and mid 1870s. His description of Flashman's wagon train journey from Independence to Santa Fe that included a hair-raising interlude at Bent’s Fort was a masterpiece. I can also say the same for the sequence that featured Flashman’s harrowing escape from the Mimbreno Apaches across the New Mexico desert, featured in the last chapters of Part One.

Fraser wrote this particular saga in two parts. Part One, entitled "The Forty-Niner", covered Flashman’s experiences in the United States and the Far West between 1849 and 1850. In this section, Flashman’s "marriage" to Susie Wilnick (he already had his wife Elspeth waiting for him back home in England) led to him becoming a wagon train emigrant and de facto captain during the period known as the California Gold Rush; the lover of Cleonie, one of Susie's slave whores; manger of Susie's Santa Fe whorehouse; a scalp hunter under the leadership of one John Joel Glanton (known to Flashman as “Gallantin”) in New Mexico's Del Norte Valley; and eventually the son-in-law of the Mimbreno Apache chief, Mangas Colorado; and husband of the latter's precious daughter, Sonsee-Array aka Takes Away Cloud Woman. After six months with his bride and her Apache relatives, which included the famous Geronimo, Flashman finally makes his escape and head northeast. While being chased by Apache warriors through the grueling Jornada Del Muerto desert, he is rescued by the famous Western tracker and guide, Kit Carson.

Part Two – called "The Seventy-Sixer" - was set between 1875 and 1876. It centered on Flashman and his wife Elspeth’s visit to the United for the Centennial celebration. The journey not only led to a series of reunions with acquaintances from the American Civil War, but also with those Flashman had met during his first visit to the West. Flashman's reunion with a Sioux leader named Spotted Tail led directly to one with an old lover out for revenge and his minor participation in the Battle of Little Bighorn with Custer and the Seventh Calvary. Flashman's visit also led to his acquaintance of a young man who managed to – not quite break his heart – but tweak it a bit.

In my review of "FLASH FOR FREEDOM", I had complained of Fraser’s uneven portrayal of antebellum United States. I have no such complaints for this novel. Fraser did a much superior job in describing the antebellum United States and especially the West. In fact, I cannot recall finding any evidence of uneven pacing or historical inaccuracies, as I had done in the 1971 novel. What I really enjoyed about this novel was Fraser's feel for both the novel’s period and landscape. One of his best passages featured his description of Kanzas Landing, Independence, and Westport (now Kansas City) in Missouri during the spring of 1849:

"They tell me that Kansas City nowadays covers the whole section, but in those days the landing and Westport and Independence were separated by woodland and meadow. And I wonder if today's city contains more people than were crowded along the ten miles from Independence to the river when I first saw it in '49: there were thousands of them, in tents and lean-tos and houses and log shacks and under the trees and in the few taverns and lodging-places; they were in the stables and sheds and shops and storehouses, a great swarming hive of humanity of every kind you can imagine – well, I remember the Singapore river in the earlies, and it was nothing to Westport-Independence. The whole stretch was jammed with wagons and carts and carriages, churning the spaces between the buildings into a sea of mud after the recent rain, and through it went the mules and oxen and horses, with the steam rising from them and the stench of hides and dung and smoke filling the air – but even that was nothing to the noise.

Every other building seemed to be a forge or a stable or a warehouse, a-clang with hundreds of hammers and the rasp of saws and the crack of axes and the creak of wheels and the thump and scrape of boxes and bales being loaded or unloaded; teamsters snapped their whips with a "Way-hay, whoa!", foremen bellowed, children shrilled, the voices of thousands of men and women blended with it all in a great eager busy din that echoed among the buildings and floated off to be lost in the surrounding forest."


Flashman’s first meeting Sonsee-Array – Mangas Colorado's youngest daughter – struck an interesting note with me. It made me realize how much Flashman's character had matured in the eight to nine years since his adventures in Afghanistan. In the first novel, 1969's "FLASHMAN", the 19 year-old British officer had an encounter with an Afghan dancer named Narameen that led to her being raped by him. Narameen also happened to be the lover of one of his enemies. Eight years later, while in the company of John Joel Glanton and his scalphunters, Flashman met the Apache chief's daughter. First, he managed to save her from being raped by an Irishman he disliked named Grattan Nugent-Hare. When offered to "take her" himself, Flashman handled the situation with a lot more delicacy than he did with Narameen:

"You must understand the effect of this, of Flashy imposing his winning ways on that fortunate native wench. There she was, a helpless prisoner in the hands of the most abominable ruffians in North America, who had butchered her menfold before her eyes and were about to subject her to repeated rape, possible torture, and certain death. Up jumps this strapping chap with splendid whiskers, who not only kills out of hand the cad who is molesting her, but thereafter treats her kindly, pets her patiently, and absolutely asks permission to squeeze her boobies. She is astonished, nay gratified, and, since she's a randy little minx at bottom, ready to succumb with pleasure. All thanks to style, as inculcated by Dr. Arnold, though I wouldn't expect him to claim credit for it.

And mark the sequel. When other of her tribesmen, having got wind of the massacre, attack the scalp-hunters by night, she is alarmed for her protector. If he joins in the scrap – the last thing I'd have done, but she wasn’t to know that – harm may come to him, so being a lass of spirit she ensures his neutrality by clouting him behind the ear with a rock. Then, when her tribesmen have wiped out or captured most of the marauders (Gallantin and a few others alone escaped) she is at pains to preserve her savior from the general vengeance. Had he been a man without style, she’d have been the first to set about him with a red-hot knife."


I found it ironic that his actions in "FLASHMAN" nearly cost Flashman his life on two separate occasions. Yet, in "FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS", his actions ended up saving him and leading him to becoming husband to another, namely Sonsee-Array and son-in-law to Mangas Colorado. One of the novel's funniest passages featured Flashman's conversation with the Apache chief. I would include the conversation if I could, but it is rather long and would be better appreciated in its full glory. But Flashman had this to say about him:

"Sonsee-array was beside me, her hand slipping into mine, the sullen faces round us were indifferent rather than hostile, the Yawner (Geronimo) shrugged – and Mangas Colorado gave us a final curt nod and stalked away. Just the same, I couldn't help thinking that old Morrison hadn’t been such a bad father-in-law."

Before one starts thinking that Harry Flashman had learned to treat women with more respect by the age of 27, consider his earlier behavior toward Cleonie – one of Susie Wilnick's mulatto prostitutes. The two had begun an affair during the wagon train journey along the Santa Fe Trail and continued it in Santa Fe. Cleonie, who had the bad luck (and stupidity) to fall in love with Flashy; proposed that they abandon Susie and head for El Paso, Texas. He agreed. Being the complete black-hearted villain, Flashman sold Cleonie to a priest acting as an agent for a Navaho chieftain on the night of their departure for two thousand dollars:

"I picked up my gear from the summer-house when he'd gone, and went quickly down through the crowded Plaza to the livery stable, where I slung my few traps over the mule, rode out on the Albuquerque trail. I won't say I didn’t regret Cleonie's absence – clever lass, fine mount, charming conversationalist, but too saucy by half, and she'd never have earned us two thousand dollars between Santa Fe and El Paso, not in a month of Sundays."

It took Cleonie nearly twenty-seven years to seek revenge for his betrayal in Part Two of the novel.

The novel's second half featured some interesting aspects in the story. One of the novel’s funnier moments dealt with Flashman's reunions with Army officers he had met during the American Civil War – including some humorous descriptions of William Sherman and Philip Sheridan:

"So now you see Flashy in his splendid prime at fifty-three, distinguished foreign visitor, old comrade and respected military man, with just a touch of grey in the whiskers but no belly to speak of, straight as a lance and a picture of cavalier gallantry as I stoop to salute the blushing cheek of the new Mrs. Sheridan at the wedding reception in her father's garden. Little Phil, grinning all over and still looking as though he'd fallen in the river and let his uniform dry on him, led me off to talk to Sherman, whom I'd known for a competent savage, and the buffoon Pope, whose career had consisted of losing battles and claiming he’d won."

But nothing quite beat Flashman's reunion with the infamous George Armstrong Custer. Fraser best described the American Army officer’s over-the-top personality with the Flashmans' visit to a New York theater with Custer and his family:

"So we five dined frequently, and visited the theater, of which Custer was a great patron; he was a friend of Barrett the actor, who was butchering Shakespeare at Booth’s, and would sit with his eyes glued to the stage muttering "Friends, Romans, countrymen" under his breath.

That should have made me leery; I'm all for a decent play myself, but when you see someone transported from reality by them, watch out. I shan't easily forget the night we saw some sentimental abomination about a soldier going off to the wars; when the moment came when his wife buckled on his sword for him, I heard sniffing and supposed it was Libby or Elspeth piping her eye. Then the sniff became a baritone groan, and when I looked, so help me it was Custer himself, with his hand to his brow, bedewing his britches with manly tears."


In fact, during the Flashmans' first dinner with the Custers, the emotional George Armstrong got on Flashy's nerves with his constant complaints about his superiors in Washington and warbling about the Englishman's own military service. Flashman responded by having a little sport with Custer's ego in this hilarious scene at a New York restaurant:

""Luck of the service," says I, and because I was bored with his croaking I added: "Anyway, I've never been a general, and I've only one American Medal of Honor, you know."

This was Flashy at his most artistic, you’ll agree, when I tell you that I knew perfectly well that Custer had no Medal of Honour, but his brother Tom had two. I guessed nothing would gall him more than having to correct my apparent mistake, which he did, stiffly, while Tom studied the cutlery and I was all apologies, feigning embarrassment."


Although Part Two seemed to lack the epic scope of Part One, it did feature some memorable passages. In Part One, Flashman met several Sioux warriors on the journey west, through trail guide Dick Wootton. One of them was a future leader named Spotted Tail. Part Two featured a series of events that began with Flashman's reunion with the Sioux leader Spotted Tail in Chicago, Illinois and one of his braves, Standing Bear. Thanks to that particular reunion, our fearful hero attracted the attention of a businesswoman named Mrs. Arthur B. Candy. She wanted to use Flashman's fame in a land scheme in the Dakota Territories and invited to join her in an excursion to the area. Flashman and Mrs. Candy's journey to the Dakota Territory was not very interesting, despite accompanying George Custer and the Seventh Calvary. But it did feature a colorful description of cavalry troopers boarding a Powder River steamboat in order to continue their journey to the Greasy Grass country:

"It was about ten days out of Bismarck that we came to the Powder mouth, where a great military camp was taking shape. With the arrival of Terry's advance guard, and Gibbon only a few days’ march away, there was tremendous work and bustle; the Far West was back and forth ferrying troops and stores and equipment; her steerage was a bedlam of men and gear, while our deck was invaded by all manner of staff-wallopers in search of comfort; Terry held his meetings in the saloon; messengers went galloping pell-mell along the banks; a forest of tents and lean-tos sprang up in the meadows; the woods rang and hummed with the noise of men and horses, rumours of Indian movement far to the south were discussed and as quickly discounted; no one knew what the blazes was happening – indeed, it was like the beginning of any campaign I’d ever seen."

More importantly, Flashman discovered that he had become a target of revenge. Mrs. Candy turned out to be none other than Cleonie, the former lover he had sold to the Navaho. Through her, he ended up becoming a captive of the Sioux on the eve of the Little Bighorn Battle at Greasy Grass. How Fraser's "intrepid" hero ended up escaping the Sioux and participating in the infamous battle featured an interesting little scene involving him and a real life Sioux woman named Walking Blanket Woman:

"I looked at her now, giving her the full benefit, the sweet little soul – and like all the rest, she succumbed. As I say, it's true, and here I am, and I can’t explain it – perhaps it's the whiskers, or the six feet two and broad shoulders, or just my style. But she looked at me, and her lids lowered, and she glanced across the river where the troopers were riding down the coulee, and then back at me – this girl whose brother had been killed by my people only a few days back. I can't describe the look in her eyes – frowning, reluctant hesitant, almost resigned; she couldn’t help herself, you see, the dear child. Then she sighed, lifted the knife – and cut the thongs securing my hands to the yoke.

"Go on, then," says she. "You poor old man."

Well, I couldn't reply with my mouth full of gag, and by the time I'd torn it out she had gone, running off to the right with her hatchet and knife, God bless her."


Although Flashman managed to survive the battle, he ended up as a prisoner of one Frank Grouard, who was known to the Sioux as Standing Bear. According to Fraser’s novel, Grouard turned out to be Harry and Cleonie's son, who has spent most of his years being raised by the Navaho and later, the Sioux. What Fraser did was take the historical figure of Frank Grouard – the son of a Tahitian woman and an American missionary – and incorporated him into Flashy and Cleonie's illegitimate son. However, Cleonie’s revenge plot fell to pieces, due to her son. Due to his dislike of her (and I do not blame him), Frank decided to spare his black-hearted father. And both father and son not only discovered that they shared similar traits, they also took a shining to each other. "FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS" featured that rare occasion in which Flashy had ever expressed any kind of emotion or regard for one of his offspring. When Frank decided to reject his offer to be officially recognized as his son, the two parted in one of the most touching scenes written by Fraser:

""Frank!" I roared.

He checked at the crest and looked back. I felt such a desolation, then, but I couldn't move after him, or say what I wanted to say, with all the sudden pain and regret for lost years, and what had come of them. I called up to him.

"I'm sorry, son, about it all."

"Well, I'm not!" he called back, and laughed, and suddenly lifted his arms wide, either side. "Look, Papa!" He laughed again, and then he had ridden over the skyline and was gone."


Although the novel featured a vast array of historical figures that included Dick Wootton, Spotted Tail John Joel Glanton, Mangas Colorado, Geromino, Kit Carson, Ulysses S. Grant, Frank Grouard, Crazy Horse and most memorably, George Armstrong Custer; Fraser did not fail his readers in providing some interesting fictional characters. Since the novel had picked up where "FLASHY FOR FREEDOM!" left off, Fraser allowed his readers to briefly reacquaint themselves with one of his best creations, the infamous Captain John Charity Springs. Another veteran from "FLASHY FOR FREEDOM!" turned out to be the Cockney-born New Orleans madam, Susie Wilnick, who had a larger role in this novel as Flash Harry’s 3rd or 4th wife (I lost count). I adored Susie. She was a sentimental, sensual and hard-headed businesswoman. She knew Harry for the rogue he truly was, but did not care. Even when she suspected him of sleeping around her stable of whores, she managed to pay him back by sleeping with the head of their teamsters – an Irish-born former Army officer named Grattan Nugent-Hare. Nugent-Hare turned out to be another interesting character created by Fraser. Although soft-spoken and practical, he turned out to be another rogue (who had left Santa Fe with some of Susie’s money) – only he lacked Harry's sense of style. Flashman's second bride in the novel turned out to be the Apache princess, Sonsee-Array aka Takes Away Clouds Woman – Mangas Colorado fictional daughter. She was an interesting, yet haughty and demanding thing who fully appreciated Harry’s sexual prowess. The real Mrs. Harry Flashman (namely Elspeth) had a major role in the novel's second half. And she was just as charming, sexy and simple-minded as ever – even in her early fifties. There are times when I suspect that Elspeth might not be as stupid as she appears to be. I really enjoyed reading Harry's suspicions that she may have had a tumble in the grass with Spotted Tail during a conference between the U.S. government and the Sioux and Cheyenne nations.

One last fictional character that played a major role in "FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS" was Cleonie Grouard, one of Susie's prostitute slaves. She first caught Flashman's attention during the wagon journey from Independence to Santa Fe. Once their affair had caught hold, Flashman ignored Susie's other whores and focused his attention upon her, impressed by her style and looks. It did not take Cleonie very long to put down Flashy's one time tumble with another slave named Aphrodite:

""We all know – that is, if Aphrodite is to be believed." She gave me an inquiring look, still with that tiny smile. "I, myself, would have thought she was rather . . . black . . . and heavy, for Master’s taste. But some men prefer it, I know." She gave a little shrug. "Others . . ." She left it there, waiting."

While their affair continued in Santa Fe, Cleonie also exposed Flashman's lack of any real love for Susie:

"You do not love Miz Susie. And soon you will be leaving her, will you not?"

I found it interesting that Cleonie was shrewd and clever enough to spot Flashman's true feelings regarding the other prostitutes he had slept with and Susie . . . and yet, she failed to sense his lack of any love toward her. Had love on her part truly blinded her? Perhaps. I also suspect that Cleonie's own ego and pride made it difficult for her to even consider that Flashy felt the same about her, as he did about Susie, Aphrodite or any of the other whores in Susie's stable. I am not saying that she deserved the fate that Flashman had dished out to her – being sold to the Navahos and enduring five years of captivity. She did not. And Flashman certainly deserved the fright that he had endured from of her vengeance, some 27 years later. But . . . I have never liked Cleonie. Not really. My dislike has nothing to do with some belief that she was a poorly created character. On the contrary. I believe that Fraser did an exceptional job in creating her character. But after reading "FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS" for the umpteenth time, I cannot help but feel that she was one egotistical bitch.

Do I have any quibbles about "FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS"? Well . . . yes. Although well written and with a strong finish, the novel's second half is not as strong or epic as the first half. Flashman's adventures at Bent's Fort in the novel's first half led to the fort’s destruction and his meeting with a group of mountain men:

"I dug in my finger-nails and pulled, and pulled, until I could no more. I rested my face on one side, and above the scrubby grass in my line of sight there were the legs of a pony, and I hardly had time to think, oh, dear Jesus, the Indians . . . when a hand took me by the shoulder and rolled me over, and I was blinking up into a monstrously-bearded face under a fur cap, and I pawed feebly at a fringed buckskin shirt that was slick with wear, and then the beard split into a huge grin of white teeth, and a voice said:

"Waal, ole hoss, what fettle? How your symptoms segashooatin'? Say, ifn thar wuz jest a spoonful o' gravy to go with ye, I rackon yore baked just 'bout good enough to eat!""


And here is where Fraser nearly grounded the novel to a halt by devoting a page-and-a-half to the mountain men’s dialect, which the author described as "plug-a-plew". I would give more samples of their dialect, but frankly Fraser had provided too much of it, by allowing the mountain men to reminisce about Bent’s Fort in a conversation that nearly lasted two pages. Honestly, I really could have done without it. Also, was it really necessary to use a historical figure like Frank Grouard as the love child of Flashman and Cleonie - two fictional characters? I realize that Fraser must have found his character fascinating, but . . . he could have easily created another fictional character to serve as their son. I also had a problem with the route Fraser had chosen for Flashman and Susie to take to California. Early in the novel, Susie made it clear that she planned to relocate her establishment to Sacramento, California:

”It sounded reasonable, I said, but a bit wild to establish a place like hers, and she chuckled confidently.

"I'm goin' ready-made, don't you fret. I've got a place marked down in Sacramento, through an agent, an' I’m movin' the whole kit caboodle up the river to West next Monday – furnishin's, crockery, my cellar an' silver . . . an' the livestock, which is the main thing.""


And how did Susie plan to move her establishment from New Orleans to Sacramento?

"Why, up to Westport an' across by carriage to – where is it? – Santa Fe, an' then to San Diego."

All I can ask is . . . why? Why did Fraser have Flashman and Susie attempt that convoluted trail from New Orleans to Sacramento? They could have easily traveled by steamboat from New Orleans to the Red River and later, to Texas. From Texas, they could have traveled to Santa Fe in New Mexico. And from Santa Fe, they could have traveled along the Gila River Trail to San Diego, California. All they had to do was travel up the coast to San Francisco and later, Sacramento. Or . . . . a less convoluted route could have taken them upriver to St. Louis, Missouri. From there, they could have taken another steamboat across Missouri River to Westport. From there, all they had to do was following the Oregon Trail to Fort Hall in present-day Idaho and take the California Trail all the way to Sutter's Fort. From there, they would have an easy journey from Sutter's Fort to Sacramento. Instead, Fraser laid out a more convoluted route. And I suspect that he did so in order for Flashman to be captured by the Mimbreno Apaches and spend six months with them.

I could easily consider "FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS" as my favorite novel in the Flashman Papers series, due to its setting. After all, I have always been a big aficionado of the history of the American West. And I will admit that the novel’s setting is one of the reasons why I have enjoyed it so much. The novel does have its share of small problems. I believe that Fraser got carried away in his description of mountain men following the scene that featured the destruction of Bent’s Fort. If I must be honest, I believe that the author went a bit too far in using a historical figure like Frank Grouard as the son of Flashman and Cleonie – two fictional characters. I thought it was unnecessary. Susie's planned route from New Orleans to Sacramento, via Santa Fe and San Diego, seemed convoluted. And the second half is not as interesting as the first half (a common flaw in many Flashman novels). But "FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS" is a delicious and well-written saga filled with fascinating historical figures like Mangas Colorado and George Armstrong Custer; as well as interesting and well-written fictional characters such as Susie Wilnick, Grattan Nugent-Hare and Cleonie Grouard. The novel also offered a well-documented look at the United States – especially the American West - before and after the Civil War. Quite frankly, I consider it to be one of George MacDonald Fraser's finest works.


Friday, January 29, 2010

"THE HULK" (2003) Photo Gallery



Below are photos from the 2003 adaptation of the Marvel comic book character, the Incredible Hulk. Directed by Ang Lee, the movie starred Eric Bana, Jennifer Connolly, Nick Nolte, Sam Elliot and Josh Lucas:


"THE HULK" (2003) Photo Gallery






































































Thursday, January 28, 2010

DUKE ELLINGTON in "Black and Tan Fantasy (1929) and "Old Man Blues" (1930)




DUKE ELLINGTON in "Black and Tan Fantasy (1929) and "Old Man Blues" (1930)

Here is a video clip featuring Duke Ellington and His Orchestra performing "Black and Tan Fantasy" and "Old Man Blues" in a film short.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

FRANCHISE RANKING: The "BATMAN" Movies



Below is my ranking of the six "BATMAN" movies from my favorite to my least favorite. Two of them were directed by Tim Burton, two by Joel Schumacher and the last two by Christopher Nolan. At least four actors portrayed the Caped Crusader in these movies - Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney and Christian Bale. Here are my rankings:


FRANCHISE RANKING: The "BATMAN" Movies



1. "Batman Begins" (2005) - This reboot of the BATMAN movies that centered on the Caped Crusader's beginnings as a costumed superhero and his battle with Henri Ducard/Ra's al Ghul, Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow and the Mob. Christian Bale and director Christopher Nolan breathed new life into this franchise, which is why it is my favorite. The movie co-starred Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine as Alfred.





2. "The Dark Knight" (2008) - In this saga, Batman deals with a new force of nature in Gotham City - namely the Joker. A favorite of mine, although not as tightly written as the 2005 film. Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart and Oscar winner Heath Ledger gave superb performances. Christopher Nolan directed.





3. "Batman Forever" (1995) - Val Kilmer took up the role of Batman in this story about the Dark Knight's battle against Two Face Harvey Dent and the Riddler. He also forms a partnership with Dick Grayson aka the Robin for the first time. Directed by Joel Schumacher, the movie co-starred Chris O'Donnell, Jim Carey, Nicole Kidman and Tommy Lee Jones.





4. "Batman" (1989) - Director Tim Burton and actor Michael Keaton struck gold at the box office in this origin tale in which Batman meets the Joker for the first time, in the form of Jack Nicholson. The cast - including Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl and Jack Palance - was great and the story was not bad.





5. "Batman Returns" (1992) - Michael Keaton returned as the Caped Crusader in this shaky tale about the superhero's battles with the Penguin and Catwoman. As much as I loved their performances, Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfieffer could barely save this movie for me. Tim Burton directed and Christopher Walken co-starred.





6. "Batman and Robin" (1997) - Let me be frank. I do not like this entry in the BATMAN franchise at all. George Clooney took up the role of the Caped Crusader and probably regretted that he did it. Directed by Joel Schumacher, the movie featured Chris O'Donnell as Robin, Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl, and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman as the villains - Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Defense of the Realm" [PG-13] - 6/14




"DEFENSE OF THE REALM"

CHAPTER 6

Two unmarked police cars converged upon an apartment building near Clement and 29th Street. Darryl and Olivia climbed out of one car. The remaining members of their squad climbed out of the other.

"Why are we all here?" Marcus Anderson demanded. "For one suspect?"

Darryl checked his pistol. "Because this particular suspect happens to have known accomplices. Everyone ready?" The others nodded. Darryl then gave his squad instructions on how to approach Gallagher's apartment building. Seconds later, the five police officers started after their prey.

Both Darryl and Olivia entered the building through the front door. An elevator conveyed them to the building's fourth floor - the location of Gerry Gallagher's apartment. After the pair approached the apartment door, Darryl knocked. For a brief moment, no one answered. Then he knocked again. A voluptuous blond woman opened the door.

"Yes?" she answered nervously. Her eyes conveyed anxiety.

Darryl smiled and flashed his badge. "Lieutenant Morris of the San Francisco Police. Does Gerry Gallagher live here?"

The woman blinked. Several times. "No. Uh, . . . why don't you come in?"

Strange. Darryl frowned, as he and Olivia began to enter the apartment. Why would she . . .?

"Gallagher!" Olivia's voice boomed in the hallway. She turned to Darryl. "He left through another door!" She raced back into the hallway. A gunshot ricocheted not far from her head.

Darryl turned to the woman. "You stay here!" The he followed his partner. "Suspect is heading toward the east staircase! And he is armed and dangerous!" he barked into his walkie-talkie. "Carmen! Scott! Head for the building's entrance! Marcus! Block the back entrance!"

He continued to follow both Olivia and Gallagher down the staircase. By the time Darryl had reached the fifth floor, he paused before a window, climbed out and landed on the fire escape. Then he quickly made his way down the latter, and to the alley below. Seconds later, he heard Olivia's voice crackle on the walkie-talkie, "Suspect has broke off and is using the south fire escape to reach the alley on the building's west side!"

Sure enough, Darryl spotted Gallagher drop to the alley a few yards in front of him. The police lieutenant withdrew his pistol and pointed it at the suspect. "Gallagher! Hold it right there!" Gallagher froze. "Get your hands up! Slowly!"

As ordered, Gallagher raised his hands in the air, revealing a revolver in his hands. "Drop the gun!" Olivia cried. She had appeared on the scene, after following the robber on the fire escape. Gallagher allowed the gun to slip from his fingers and drop to the ground. She kept her pistol aimed at Gallagher, while Darryl cuffed him. "So, how did you know?"

"Know what?" Darryl replied.

Olivia shot him a dark look. "You know what! How did you know that he would use the fire escape?"

After he finished cuffing Gallagher, Darryl said, "What can I say? Police instinct. Well . . . I figured that if I were him, I would use the fire escape to avoid the front and back of the building."

"Hmmmm." Olivia lowered her gun, as Darryl forced Gallagher to sit on the ground. "Clever." While she talked to the other squad members on the walkie-talkie, Darryl read the Miranda rights to their suspect.

-----------

Cole and his uncle stepped inside a local restaurant in the San Francisco downtown area. "Very nice place," the older daemon declared. "What's the name again?"

"The Tadich Grill," Cole replied. "I'm surprised that you've never heard of it. This restaurant is practically a local institution. When I had first started coming here, it had already been opened for at least sixty years."

The maitre'd led the two men to a nearby booth. After they had sat down, a waiter appeared and asked if they would like to order drinks. Cole ordered his favorite - a Gibson. Marbus asked for a Scotch, neat.

When the waiter left, Marbus added, "Strange, I've never been here. But then, I'm not that familiar with San Francisco."

"Not even when my parents were married?" Cole asked.

Marbus shook his head. "Sorry lad. The first time I had ever clap eyes upon you, Benjamin had been dead for over a year."

Cole frowned. "And yet, you're familiar with Cordelia Morton and her family." He was referring to one of San Francisco's wealthiest families.

"I usually see them in Europe. Either in Monte Carlo or Portofino." Marbus opened his menu. "Now this sounds interesting. Pan-fried sole. What are you having?"

"I haven't decided yet," Cole murmured. He stared at his uncle. A deep suspicion glimmered in the back of his mind that this lunch was more than a friendly gathering between two kinsmen. "So . . . Marbus. Are you going to tell me why you had invited me to lunch?"

Marbus' blue eyes widened with innocence. "What do you mean?"

Cole leaned forward in a sinister manner. "Marbus."

The older daemon leaned back against the cushioned seat. "Bloody hell," he murmured. "If you must know, I need your help."

"Need my help for what?" Cole demanded.

The waiter returned with their drinks and left. After taking a sip of his Scotch, Marbus continued, "I need you to give refuge to a friend of mine."

Cole frowned. "What friend?"

"I've told you about her, once." Marbus took another sip. "Natalia Stepanova. She was one of the two whitelighters who had warned me about plans to vanquish you."

Now Cole remembered. The whitelighter's name brought up memories of a warning he had received from Marbus, about the Elders' intentions to kill him. "Why does she need refuge from me?"

Marbus explained, "Your flat is the only place where she can be safe. The Elders had managed to track her to the Gimle Realm. I got her out before they could snatch her. Then they traced her to the mortal realm. She's now inside my hotel room, but I figured that you're the only person powerful enough to prevent her from being captured."

"And why in the hell are the Elders after her?" The moment Cole had asked his question, the answer came to him. "Wait a minute! Has this anything to do with the death of that Elder? Phoebe had dropped by the penthouse to tell me about it."

A grim-faced Marbus added, "Four of 'em are dead now, lad." While the daemon and the half-daemon sipped their drinks, Marbus revealed the unfolding crisis within the Whitelighters Realm. Only one Elder had been killed on Earth, while the other three had been killed above. Marbus also told Cole about Natalia's revelation regarding the Elders, the Source and the Charmed Ones. He simply could not believe what he had just heard. By breeding a powerful sorcerer with a low-level witch, the Elders had created a powerful weapon to bring down the Source. And endangered the balance of good and evil within their universe.

"Why go through so much trouble?" he asked Marbus. "Why didn't the Elders simply ask this Phillip Lacey to kill the Source, himself?

"He didn't realize that he was being manipulated by the Elders, lad. I suspect that a whitelighter had acted as an agent on earth to ensure that he and Charlotte would meet." Marbus sighed. "And it's possible that he wasn't strong enough to get rid of the Source."

Cole asked, "Does Leo and the other whitelighters know about all this? About this whole mess with the Source and the Elders?"

Marbus shook his head. "Natalia had managed to stumble across all of this in the Realm's archives, recently. And I don't think that she and Barbara DeVilliers had the opportunity to spread the word beyond their followers."

Cole sighed. "If Phoebe and her sisters ever found out about this . . ."

"Well, there's a more immediate matter to consider," Marbus said. "Like providing protection for Natalia." He peered at his nephew from behind the rim of his glass. "Would you mind?"

"Of course not. Bring her by my place, this evening. At least before seven. I'm taking Phoebe out for dinner, tonight."

One of Marbus' brows quirked upward. "Really? You and Frances have been dining out a lot, lately. Haven't you?"

"Her name is Phoebe," Cole said for the umpteenth time. "And what's the problem?"

Marbus coughed slightly. "Nothing. Never mind." He glanced around the restaurant's dining room. "Now what happened to our waiter?"

----------

A defiant Gallagher sat inside one of the police station's interrogation rooms, while Darryl and Scott Yi hovered over him. Olivia sat in one of the chairs, opposite the suspect. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about!" he declared. "How many fucking times do I have to tell you?"

"So far, you've only told us twice." Darryl leaned across the table to face the robber. "Now, I'm going to ask you one last time. What do you know about a robbery and murder at a shop on Kearny called Kostopulos's Antiquities? And about the murder of a dealer named Gregory Liederhoff, at the Powell House Hotel?"

Gallagher shouted, "Nothing! I . . . know . . . nothing!"

Darryl stared at Olivia, who merely shrugged. Scott seemed slightly amused. "So, you don't know a thing. Huh?"

"That's right!" Gallagher sneered. "Now, when are you going to let me go?"

Olivia chuckled mirthlessly. "Oh don't worry. We'll let you go. After you've been charged with robbery and murder . . . and after your attorney has arranged for your bail. And only then will we release you."

Gallagher shot out of his seat. "What the fu . . .?"

"Sit down!" Scott ordered in a harsh voice. "Now!"

Reluctantly, the suspect did as he was told. "You have nothing on me," he whined in an uneasy voice.

"Wanna bet?" Darryl shot back. "Ballistics has discovered that the bullets found in Stefan Kostopulos and Gregory Liederhoff's bodies match the bullets from your gun. The gun you were carrying, when we arrested you. And what you had used to fire a shot at a police officer."

Panic filled Gallagher's eyes. "Wait a minute! I didn't know you guys were cops!"

"Oh, so you admit that the gun is yours?"

"I . . ." Gallagher immediately closed his mouth.

Someone knocked on the door. Then Carlotta poked her head inside. "Say Darryl?"

"Yeah?" the police lieutenant replied.

"Marcus and I found some interesting items inside Gallagher's apartment." Carlotta strode inside and dumped a plastic bag on the table. A triumphant smile curled her lips. "Including this."

Darryl grabbed the bag and dumped the contents upon the table. A small bundle of bills. "Well now! Look at what we've got here!" he crowed.

"Hey, that's not mine!" Gallagher protested. "You guys had planted it on me!"

Carlotta rolled her eyes. "Spare us your bullshit! Marcus and I had found it, along with other bags, hidden underneath the sofa. Items from other . . . jobs, I would assume. And we found all of this stuff in front of witnesses."

"Cops!" Gallagher shot back.

"Including your girlfriend?" While Gallagher's shoulders sagged with defeat, Carlotta continued. "We were able to lift prints from the bag. They match our suspect's prints, perfectly." She nodded at the cash on the table. "That should run to the amount of three thousand, seven hundred and forty-two dollars. Which is exactly what was missing from Kostopulos' cash register."

All four detectives stared at Gallagher. Darryl said, "Are you sure you don't have anything to tell us?"

"Fuck off!"

Fighting the urge to smack the suspect on the side of the head, Darryl continued, "What if I told you that we have a witness to the Kostopulos murder?"

Again, Gallagher shot up from his seat. "Your witness is lying!"

"Sit your ass back down on that seat!" Scott barked. Glaring at the police officers, the suspect did as he was told. "Between the witness, the bullets and this evidence, Gerry," Scott continued, "you're looking at a world of shit! What do you have to say?"

Gallagher suddenly blurted, "It wasn't my idea to rob that place! I was hired by . . ."

"Yes?" Olivia added.

The robber sighed. "This woman . . . she had hired me. She wanted me to do the Kostopulos job as soon as possible. But I had other plans that night, so I did . . ." He hesitated.

"You had another job and you had decided to rob Kostopulos in the daytime," Olivia finished. "What about Liederhoff?"

Gallagher nodded. "Him too. The lady wanted both men dead."

"What 'lady'?"

"She . . ." Gallagher lowered his head. "This woman and her two flunkies had approached me. Her name was Lin Bryant." Darryl heard an intake of breath from Scott. Gallagher continued, "She's a . . ." He shot a nervous glance at the young detective. ". . . part Chinese or something. She owns an auction house. Only I don't know where this place is. She had hired me to get . . ."

Darryl corrected him. "To steal."

Gallagher's face turned red. "Yeah. She wanted me to . . . steal these objects."

Olivia held up the Kostopulos photograph of the medallion. "This?"

"Yeah. Apparently, both Kostopulos and Liederhoff each had one." Gallagher paused. "That's it."

"Lin Bryant." Darryl savored the name. "Where can we find her?"

Gallagher rolled his eyes. "Hey! It's like I said. I don't know where the fuck she is! We had met at the Golden Gate Park every time."

Darryl turned to Carlotta. "Get Marcus in here. Mr. Gallagher is going to provide us with a description of this Lin Bryant." The policewoman nodded and left the room. Darryl returned his attention to Gallagher. "Right, Gerry?"

The robber merely looked away, with a morose expression stamped on his face.


END OF CHAPTER 6

Monday, January 25, 2010

"LAURA" (1944) Photo Gallery



Below are images from "LAURA", the 1944 adaptation of Vera Caspary's 1943 novel of the same name. Produced and directed by Otto Preminger, the movie starred Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price and Judith Anderson:


"LAURA" (1944) Photo Gallery





























Sunday, January 24, 2010

”THE TERMINATOR 2: Judgment Day” (1991) Review




”THE TERMINATOR 2: Judgment Day” (1991) Review

Seven years following the release of the 1984 movie, ”THE TERMINATOR”, James Cameron wrote, produced and directed the first of three sequels called ”TERMINATOR 2: Judgment Day”. Like its predecessor, the film starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton. It also became one of the most highly critical and successful action films of the 1990s.

Although released in 1991, the movie is set in 1995 – eleven years after the first one. John Connor (Edward Furlong) is now ten years old and living in Los Angeles with foster parents. His mother Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) had been preparing him throughout his childhood for his future role as the leader of the human Resistance against Skynet. Unfortunately, was arrested after attempting to bomb a computer factory and sent to a hospital for the criminally insane under the supervision of Dr. Silberman (Earl Boen), the psychiatrist who had examined time traveler Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) in the first film. Skynet sends a newly advanced Terminator, a T-1000 (Robert Patrick) that assumes the identity of a police officer, back in time to 1995 to kill John. Meanwhile, the future John Connor has sent back a reprogrammed Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), identical to the one that attacked Sarah, to protect his younger self.

Like the first film, ”TERMINATOR 2: Judgment Day” is a thrilling and tense action film that made breakthroughs in the area special effects in film. And like in the first film, Cameron and his co-writer, William Wisher Jr. (sans Gale Anne Hurd, who only served as a producer for this film), created a story that centered around a future cyborg sent back in time to prevent a certain John Connor from ever becoming the leader of the Human Resistance against the future self-aware computer system, Skynet. Perhaps I should have said one of the storylines. Thanks to information garnered by young John’s Terminator protector, the Connors learns that the man most directly responsible for Skynet's creation is Miles Bennett Dyson (Joe Morton), a Cyberdyne Systems engineer working on a revolutionary new microprocessor that will form the basis for Skynet. This particular storyline lead to one of the film’s more interesting scenes that feature Dyson’s reaction to the consequences his work and a great performance by Joe Morton. Another favorite scene featured the Terminator’s first rescue of John Connor from the T-1000 that had been sent to kill the latter. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s interactions with Edward Furlong not only provided some laughs in these scenes, but also a great deal of poignancy, as the two quickly form an immediate bond.

If I have to name one sequence that struck me as the movie’s pièce de résistance, it had to be the one that featured John and the T-800’s attempt to rescue Sarah from the Pescadero State Hospital, during one of her escape attempts. The entire sequence began with John convincing his T-800 savior to rescue his mother from the mental hospital in case the T-1000 came after her. John’s decision came at a time when Sarah decided to make her own escape after Dr. Silberman had rejected her request to receive a visit from her son. This exciting sequence culminated in a bizarre moment that featured Sarah’s first terrified glimpse of the T-800 coming to her rescue. By this time, the T-1000 had arrived at the hospital, killing anyone who stood in its way. This is probably one of the finest action sequences I have ever seen on screen in the past decade or two. And it is not surprising that it is the one sequence that many recall when speaking of the movie.

The movie had received a great deal of accolades for its special effects. Did it deserve it? In regard to the Industrial Light & Magic’s design of the T-1000, I would say yes. As for Stan Winston’s effects, I thought he did a good job. But I could find nothing to get excited about.

The movie also featured some pretty solid performances from the cast. Arnold Schwarzenegger gave a better performance in this film, considering that he was allowed to project more emotion than he did in the 1984 film. This is not surprising considering that the T-800 he portrayed in this film got to learn a great deal about human emotions from the 10 year-old John. Robert Patrick found himself in the same as Schwarzenegger was in the last film – portraying a remorseless and efficient killer with little emotion. And frankly, I found him just as scary. I had commented earlier on Joe Morton’s performance in a very important scene featuring his character, Myles Dyson. Not only do I stand by my comments, I would also like to add that I was impressed by his acting altogether. It was nice to see Earl Boen reprise his role as Dr. Silberman, the police psychiatrist who had examined Kyle Reese in the first film. My only gripe is that the movie never mentioned his first meeting with Sarah, back in 1984. Linda Hamilton had certainly wowed many fans of her transformation of the Sarah Connor character. In this movie, her Sarah is a tough and ruthless woman determined to ensure her son’s survival at any costs. And from the moment the camera first focuses upon her doing arm lifts inside her hospital cell, the audience gets a strong idea on how much Sarah had changed. But for me, the movie belonged to Edward Furlong, the first actor to portray future Human Resistance leader, John Connor. Furlong was around 13-14 years old at the time. And he did a superb job in combining the different aspects of the 10 year-old John’s personality – the child who had clung to his T-800 protector as a father figure, the bold and wayward delinquent that robbed from ATM machines and the tough street kid taught to survive by his high strung mother. It is not surprising that Furlong ended up winning both a Saturn Award and a MTV Movie Award for his performance.

Is ”TERMINATOR 2: Judgment Day” perfect? No. In fact I have more than a few “quibbles” about the movie. Let me start with my first problem with this film . . . Linda Hamilton. Yes, I realize that I had complimented her performance in the previous paragraph. There were some positive aspects to it. But it also annoyed me. I had read that it was Hamilton who suggested that Sarah Connor become psychotic in the intervening years after her encounter with the Terminator in 1984. Frankly, I wish to God that Cameron had NOT taken her advice. I realize that fans loved this new aspect of Sarah’s personality. I did not. I saw no reason to turn her into a borderline psychotic in order to make her seem tough. And the movie never really explained why after so many years, Sarah had mentally gone around the bend. My second problem with the movie centered on the T-1000. I had no problem with Robert Patrick’s performance. I did have a problem that the movie’s main villain managed to disappear from the screen for nearly an hour. After Sarah, John and the T-800 managed to evade him following Sarah’s escape from the mental hospital, he simply disappeared, while they a) headed south toward the U.S.-Mexico border and then b) returned to Malibu and met Myles Dyson; and c) helped Dyson steal the central processing unit(CPU) and arm of the 1984 Terminator.. At least 45-50 minutes had passed before the T-1000 appeared on the screen again. And my biggest problem with this film centered around the finale and the T-1000’s attempt to use Sarah to capture and kill John. Why do I have a problem with this entire sequence? It was TOO . . . DAMN . . . LONG!! It was too long. Why did Cameron forced the audience to watch the T-1000 chase down and attempt to kill John for nearly a half hour? It was not necessary. And why on earth did Sarah believe or even hope that following the destruction of the CPU, the old Terminator’s arm and the 1995 T-800’s sacrifice; Judgment Day may have been averted? She had proof standing next to her that it would happen – namely her son, John. If they had really averted Judgment Day, John would cease to exist. Without Judgment Day, Kyle Reese would never have a reason to travel back to 1984 and meet Sarah Connor.

Do not get me wrong. I enjoyed ”TERMINATOR 2: Judgment Day” a lot. It was a first-rate continuation of the original movie’s plot that involved one time traveler trying to prevent John Connor from becoming the Humans’ resistance leader and another time traveler sent to act as a protector. And in this movie, the protagonists also try to prevent Judgment Day. But there were times when I felt that its reputation as one of the finest science-fiction films ever made is overrated. I did not care for the psychotic turn of Sarah Connor’s character. The T-1000 managed to disappear from the story longer than necessary. In fact, the showdown between the Connors, the T-800 and the T-1000 dragged the film’s last half hour. But I would still recommend this movie to anyone who asked about it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Few Problems Regarding "AVATAR" (2009)




A Few Problems Regarding “AVATAR” (2009)

I am going to put my cards on the table. I have a problem with James Cameron’s new movie, ”AVATAR”. In fact, I have several problems with it. I was willing to remain silent about these problems, but after the movie’s recent big win at the Golden Globe Awards, I realized that I could not keep silent about them.

One would think I was just another fan expressing her dislike of ”AVATAR”. On the contrary, I happened to like ”AVATAR” very much. I saw the movie three times. And it became one of my top ten favorite movies of 2009. So, why post a rant against the movie? Because I fear that the movie has become a front runner for the Best Picture Academy Awards. And as much as I had enjoyed ”AVATAR”, I do not believe that it will not deserve all of its accolades. Even worse, I have a bone to pick about the movie’s distribution.


Award Season

Last Sunday, ”AVATAR” scored big at the Golden Globes Award show. It managed to collect at least two major awards – Best Director for James Cameron and Best Picture. In a documentary about 20th Century Fox called ”20TH CENTURY FOX: THE FIRST FIFTY YEARS” (1997), a former executive had pointed out that legendary producer and studio boss Darryl Zanuck believed that the backbone of any good movie was the story. Not the special effects, the casting or even the score; but the story.
Now, I am not claiming that ”AVATAR” has a weak story. Actually, I believe that it has a solid, good story with a relevant theme. However, many critics and moviegoers – including myself – believe that the story has mediocre dialogue. Even worse, it also seems very unoriginal. In fact, I would go as far to say that it is close to being a blatant rip-off of the 1990 Academy Award winner, ”DANCES WITH WOLVES”. Frankly, I cannot see how a movie that is unoriginal to the point that it seems to blatantly plagiarize another film deserves to win a Golden Globe Best Drama Picture award, let alone the Academy Award for Best Picture. I simply cannot.


3-D Special Effects and Movie Tickets

What has really ticked me off about ”AVATAR” is the fact that director James Cameron had decided to film the damn thing in 3-D. Well, he also provided regular prints of the movie. And the movie theaters have allowed filmgoers the choice to view the 3-D showings or regular showings. Unfortunately, all of the movie theaters that I usually attend, offer more showings of the film in 3-D. Worse, not only are the regular viewings scheduled late at night, filmgoers have to pay higher ticket prices for the 3-D showings. This really pisses me off. I find the 3-D glasses very uncomfortable. And the special effects struck me as being less impressive than those featured in the "Terminator 2 3-D: Battle Across Time" show at Universal Studios Hollywood. The higher ticket prices for the 3-D effects are simply not worth the effort. At least not to me. And I feel that Cameron, 20th Century Fox and the movie theaters are ripping off moviegoers in the process.


Will ”AVATAR” win the Best Picture Oscar? I suspect that it will. And frankly, I consider this a travesty. I am not saying that the movie is terrible. It is not. But Cameron has already managed to win a slew of Oscars for a movie with impressive visual effects and a mediocre script that turned out to be a blatant rip-off of 1937’s ”MAYTIME”. I am talking about 1997’s ”TITANIC”. And I fear that history will repeat itself when he wins a slew of awards for ”AVATAR” – a movie with the same virtues and flaws.