Monday, February 28, 2011

"TOWARDS ZERO" (2007) Review




"TOWARDS ZERO" (2007) Review

When it comes to the television adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Jane Marple novels, I tend to stick with those that featured the late Joan Hickson as the elderly sleuth. However, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to watch a movie that starred Geraldine McEwan as Miss Jane Marple. And this movie is the 2007 adaptation of Christie’s 1944 novel called ”Towards Zero”.

The adaptation of Christie’s novel has drawn a good deal of criticism from purists. First of all, the novel is not a Jane Marple mystery. Instead, the main investigator in ”Towards Zero” turned out to be Superintendant Battle, who had been featured in a few other Christie novels, including one Hercule Poirot tale - ”Cards on the Table”. However, Battle did not appear in the 2007 adaptation. Jane Marple replaced him as the story’s main detective, with the police represented by Alan Davies as one Superintendant Mallard. Since ”Towards Zero” has always been one of my favorite Christie novels, I decided to give the movie a chance.

In ”TOWARDS ZERO”, Jane Marple is invited to a house party hosted by an old school friend named Lady Camilla Tressilian. Also included in the party are the following:

*Neville Strange – Professional tennis star and Lady Tressilian’s ward

*Kay Strange – Neville’s younger second wife

*Audrey Strange - Neville’s reserved ex-wife

*Thomas Royce – Owner of a Malaysian plantation and Audrey’s distant cousin

*Mary Aldin – Lady Tressilian’s companion

*Ted Latimer – Kay’s childhood friend

*Mr. Treves- Lady Tressilian’s friend and solicitor

The house party turned out to be a tense affair, due to emotions running rampant between the characters. Neville discovered that he was still in love with his first wife, Audrey. She seemed to harbor emotions for him, despite her reserved behavior. Thomas seemed jealous of Neville, due to his love for Audrey. Mary seemed attracted to Thomas and a little envious of Audrey. Kay was obviously jealous of Audrey. And Ted was also jealous of Neville, due to his love for Kay.

During a supper party, Mr. Treves recalled an old murder case in which a child had made deliberate preparations to kill another and make it look like an accident. That child, according to Mr. Treves, had a peculiar physical trait. All of the suspects possessed a peculiar physical trait. And following the supper party, Mr. Treves died from a heart attack after climbing some stairs that lead to his hotel room. Someone had placed a NOT IN SERVICE sign in front of his hotel’s elevator. Another day or two later, this same person brutally murdered old Lady Tressilian with a blow to the head.

As I had earlier stated, the 1944 novel has always been a favorite of mine. Christie had crafted a complex and original mystery filled with characters of great psychological depth. By inserting another Christie creation – Jane Marple – as the story’s main investigator, I feared that this 2007 adaptation would prove to be a bust. Imagine my surprise when my fears proved to be groundless. Thanks to director David Grindley and screenwriter Kevin Elyot, I found myself surprisingly satisfied with this movie. Despite a few changes – namely the post-World War II setting, Jane Marple as the story’s main detective, the deletion of a character named Andrew MacWhirter, the addition of another character named Diana, the new police officer in charge of the case – Superintendant Mallard, and the budding romance in the story’s conclusion that did not happen in the novel. Perhaps that is why I had enjoyed it so much. Both Grindley and Elyot recognized the novel’s first-rate plot and tried to follow it as closely as possible.

The production values for ”TOWARDS ZERO” impressed me as well. Production designer Michael Pickwoad did an excellent job in re-creating Britain of the early-to-mid 1950s. And he was ably supported by Sue Gibson’s beautiful photography, which struck me as rich in color and sharp. Sheena Napier’s costumes not only captured the era perfectly, but also the personality of each character. I do have one quibble – namely Saffron Burrows’ hairstyle. I am aware that some women wore their hair slightly long past the shoulders. But I got the impression that the hairdresser could not decide whether to give Burrows a 1950s hairstyle or a modern one. Her hair struck me as a confusing mixture of the mid 20th century and the early 21st century.

The cast turned out better than I had expected. If I must be honest, I could not spot a bad performance amongst the entire cast . . . even from Julian Sands, whom I have never been that impressed by in the past. But there were a handful that really impressed me. One came from Saffron Burrows, who gave one of the most enigmatic and intense performances I have ever encountered in a Christie film. I could never tell whether her character was guilty of the two murders or not. And Burrows did a superb job in conveying this ambiguity of the Audrey Strange character with very little dialogue. I was also impressed by Zoe Tapper’s portrayal of the more extroverted Kay Strange. Tapper could have easily given an over-the-top performance, considering the type of character she had portrayed. But the actress conveyed Kay’s passionate nature without turning the character into a one-note scream fest. I also enjoyed Alan Davies as Superintendant Mallard, the new police investigator in this mystery. I not only enjoyed his wit, but also his transformation from his contempt toward Jane Marple’s investigative skills to a full partnership with the elderly amateur sleuth. And Eileen Atkins provided a great deal of comic relief as the second victim, Lady Camilla Tressilian. Not only did she provide much of the story’s sharp humor, Atkins also captured the character’s bombastic and arrogant nature. Her Lady Tressilian struck me as a modern day Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but with a stronger moral center.

But I believe the two best performances came from Greg Wise and Geraldine McEwan as Jane Marple. I found myself completely surprised by Wise’s impressive portrayal of the tennis pro with the two wives, Neville Strange. His performance perfectly portrayed Neville as the complex force of nature that had a major impact upon the other characters in ”TOWARDS ZERO”, without indulging in any hammy acting. But I was more than impressed by Geraldine McEwan’s portrayal of Jane Marple. I had seen McEwan’s portrayal of Miss Marple in ”THE SITFORD MYSTERY”, and found her performance ridiculously mannered and annoying. No such exaggerated mannerisms marred McEwan’s performance in ”TOWARDS ZERO”. The actress gave a subtle performance laced with subtle humor and her character’s intelligence. One of McEwan’s best moments featured very little dialogue on her part in a scene between Miss Marple and the verbose Lady Tressilian, inside the latter’s bedroom.

Most Agatha Christie purists might automatically dismiss this adaptation of ”TOWARDS ZERO”. Especially since the script changed the main investigator from the literary Superintendant Battle to a cinematic Jane Marple. But despite this major change, along with another that included a romance that emerged in the film’s final scene; David Grindley’s direction and Kevin Elyot’s script remained surprisingly faithful to Agatha Christie’s novel. Normally, I would care less about changes in an adaptation of a novel. But in the case of ”TOWARDS ZERO”, this close adherence ended up working in the movie’s favor.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Strange Bedfellows" [R] - Part 1




"STRANGE BEDFELLOWS"

Part 1

MAY 27, 1969; MONTREAL, CANADA . . . Belthazor found his prey emerging from a three-story building that faced the Rue du St. Michel. He recognized the man as another daemon named Balmung. Only this daemon happened to be a member of the Gimle Order - an organization dedicated to protecting all beings from supernatural evil. The half-daemon could tell from Balmung's furtive manner that the latter had discovered the object of his desire before he could.

The Gimle daemon turned into a nearby alley. Belthazor shimmered away from his spot and re-materialized into the alley - and right behind Balmung. Taking the other daemon by surprise, the half-daemon punched Balmung in the kidneys. The latter cried out in pain, as he sunk to his knees. Then Belthazor jerked the other daemon, wrapped a red hand around the latter's neck and shoved him against the wall. A dagger appeared in the half-daemon's free hand.

"Sorry Balmung, but I cannot allow you to live." The Gimle daemon's eyes grew wide in fear before the half-daemon plunged the dagger into Balmung's heart. A gurgle left the other daemon's mouth, before he sunk to the ground for the second time and died. The dagger disappeared from Belthazor's grip. He knelt beside the corpse and removed a tan, leather-bound book from inside Balmung's jacket.

Belthazor glanced briefly through the book. Satisfied of his prize, he transformed back into his human form - that of Cole Turner. He shot the dead daemon one last disparaging glance and murmured, "Adieu, Balmung." Then he shimmered out of the alley.

He ended up in the wide, yet empty corridor, on the 26th floor of a commercial high-rise in the middle of Manhattan Island. The building served as the East Coast headquarters of Acheron International, the business front for the Thorn Brotherhood, here in the mortal world. Cole walked along the corridor until he came upon a pair of double doors. Beyond was a spacious room filled with elegant, Art Deco-style furnishings and a sprinkling of antiquities. A stocky man of medium height and brown, shoulder-length hair strode toward the half-daemon. "Greetings Brother," he said, holding out a hand. "How was Canada?"

"Not bad," Cole murmured. He shook the other demon's hand. Then he removed a tan book from inside his jacket and waved it in the air. "In fact, very satisfying."

The other daemon, whose name happened to be Tarkin, smiled. "I believe that the proper word should be successful. Is that . . .?"

"Lambert's grimoire?" Cole nodded. "A Gimle daemon named Balmung had managed to retrieve it, first. Fortunately," a cold smile curved his lips, "I got to him, before he could return the grimoire to Lambert's granddaughter." For the second time, he peeked inside the book. It had originally belonged to a powerful French wizard named Thierry Lambert. Following the wizard's death over twenty years ago, the book disappeared, which set off a two-decade search that finally ended in Montreal. The Brotherhood of the Thorn also sought possession of the grimoire. And once the order's leader had received word of its appearance at a Montreal occult shop, Cole received the assignment to retrieve the grimoire and . . . kill anyone who got his way.

Tarkin snarled, "Damn Gimle daemons! They and others like them are an affront to our kind. Death is too good for them." He glanced at Cole, who immediately stiffened at his words. Looking slightly contrite, Tarkin added, "Oh. Sorry about that, Belthazor. I had forgotten about your uncle."

Cole collected himself and responded with a cool shrug. "No need to apologize. Uncle or not, Marbus was a traitor. He got what he had deserved." He gave his friend a tight smile.

"A very admirable attitude, Belthazor." A tall, middle-aged looking male approached the two younger daemons. He projected an imposing appearance with his pale and fleshy countenance, pale blue eyes and thinning dark-blond hair. "Raynor was right to assign you to kill Marbus. He knew that you would have never allowed family connections to impede your objective."

A flash of anxiety jolted Cole. He knew that Marbus - who had turned against the Source over a century ago - remained alive, thanks to him and his mother. And for the past year, the half-daemon has feared that one of his colleagues would eventually learn the truth. Good or evil, blood came first before any other loyalty in Cole's demonic family. Including the Source. "Thanks, Vornac," the half-daemon murmured to his sect's leader. He nodded at the imposing, yet exotic-looking woman who had appeared by Vornac's side. "Klea."

The demoness returned his nod. "Belthazor."

Cole glanced around the room and noticed something odd. "Unless I'm imagining things, the entire order seems to be here. Does anyone know why?"

Vornac took a sip from a glass of yellow liqueur. "It seems that Raynor has an important announcement to make." A door swung open and a tall, dark-haired and dark-eyed man, dressed in black, emerged from a private office. "Ah, here he is."

An elegant, chestnut-haired woman accompanied the Thorn Brotherhood's leader. Tarkin nodded at the pair. "Isn't that Avara of the Noldor Dimension with Raynor? What . . . what's going on?"

"You'll find out within a few mintues."

Several minutes later, the entire order faced their leader, as he began to address them with a speech. From the corner of his eye, Cole spotted his mother - along with her faithful assistant - looking slightly bored. Nimue glanced away from Raynor and acknowledged her son with a slight nod. Instead of acknowledging her nod, he simply turned away.

Raynor finished off his speech with a grand announcement. "And that is why," he concluded, "I would like to introduce you to my future wife and the future mistress of the Thorn Brotherhood - my fiancée , Avara of the Noldor Dimension!"

Applause filled the large room. When it finally died down, the order's members lined up to offer their congratulations to the newly engaged couple. Tarkin whispered to Cole, "This is a surprise. Raynor is getting married? Again? Avara will be his . . . what?"

Cole added, "Third wife. I can only wonder what Avara will contribute to the marriage." The two friends finally approached their leader and politely offered their congratulations.

"Thank you," Raynor responded with a smile. "By the way Belthazor, I would like to see you inside my office in another fifteen minutes from now. I would like to discuss Montreal."

"Of course, Raynor," Cole said with a smile. He and Tarkin moved on, allowing the next Thorn daemon to greet their leader.

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

Fifteen minutes later, Cole knocked on the door to Raynor's office. Once inside the luxurious room, the older daemon said to the younger one, "Well, Belthazor. I understand from Vornac that your trip to Montreal was a success."

Cole handed the leather book to Raynor. "Here it is - Thierry Lambert's grimoire.

Raynor's dark eyes lit up with excitement. "At last!" He turned the book over in his hands. "Do you have any idea how long I've longed to get my hands on this book?"

"Considering Lambert's age when he died, I can only assume for at least half a century."

"Longer," Raynor murmured. "Since you were a child. An adolescent. For over seventy years, as a matter of fact." He sighed. "Excellent work, Belthazor. I understand that you had to kill a Gimle daemon to acquire this. Good riddance, as far as I'm concerned." He placed the grimoire on his desk. "Now, on to another matter. In light of your recent work, I believe that you are entitled to a vacation. What do you say?"

Cole smiled. "I say . . . that I have no problem with that idea. I had considered asking Vornac for a vacation. I suppose you'll be taking one yourself, soon. At least a honeymoon."

Raynor nodded. "Yes. Avara and I intend to spend our honeymoon in the Melora dimension. We haven't decided how long." He paused. "By the way, have you ever considered . . . getting married? How old are you?"

"At least eighty-four," Cole answered.

A sigh left Raynor's mouth. "Still young. Yet, old enough to consider matrimony."

The idea of marriage churned Cole's stomach. "Uh, to be honest Raynor, I don't think I'm ready for marriage, yet. In fact, I might not be the marrying kind."

"Really?" Raynor regarded the half-daemon with an appraising look. "I've always believed otherwise. I'm sure that you've . . . indulged in the usual flings over the years. But I've always thought you were the type who would eventually settle down. Start a dynasty of your own. I've been trying since before you were born. Hopefully, I'll have better luck with Avara."

Wondering what Raynor was up to, Cole frowned. "Are you . . . ordering me to get married?"

Raynor threw back his head and chuckled. "Of course not, Belthazor! Where did you get such an idea? I could never order you to do such a thing. Even if I wanted to." He quickly sobered. "Neither could the Source, for that matter. It was merely a suggestion." Was it? Cole wondered.

On that note, the senior demon finally dismissed the half-daemon. Much to the latter's relief. Cole felt more than happy to escape his mentor's presence and any further discussion on his matrimonial prospects. As Cole opened the office door, he nearly collided with a dark-haired beauty with hazel-brown eyes, and a theatrical-looking outfit that emphasized her voluptuous figure. Cole stared at her longer than he had intended. She looked very familiar.

"Do you mind?" the female retorted. "I don't plan to stand here, all day."

Cole stepped aside. "Sorry." He continued to stare. "Pardon me, but do I know you?"

"I don't think so." Then the beauty swept by. Cole's body hardened, as one of her breasts brushed against his arm. Hoping that no one would notice his arousal, the half-daemon quickly headed for the bar.

Tarkin appeared by his side. "How did it go? With Raynor?" he asked.

"Fine," Cole murmured. He ordered a glass of Scotch whiskey and faced his companion. "Did you see that that woman who had entered Raynor's office? The one I had bumped into?"

One of Tarkin's brows rose questioningly. "Woman?" A sly smile curved his lips, as Cole glared at him. "Oh yes. That was Idril. She's part of Melkora's sect."

Cole continued, "For some reason she looked familiar to me. And I don't know why."

Tarkin ordered a glass of absinthe. "She should. Idril is a movie star. Well . . . not really. She's produced and starred in a couple of Hollywood B-movies over the past few years. Really cheap stuff, but she's managed to make a profit from them. And a little fame as a sex symbol."

The memory of a rather bad beach movie flashed in Cole's mind. Along with images of a dark-haired beauty, who happened to be the leading lady. Idril, he realized, seemed a lot like her movies - colorful, yet cheap. On that note, he quickly dismissed the demoness from his mind.

----------

"So that was Belthazor." An image of the tall, dark-haired daemon lingered in Idril's mind. "Very handsome. Was there a reason why you wanted me to meet him?"

Raynor closed the office door with a wave of his hand. "As you know, Avara and I will be married within a week."

Dismay overwhelmed Idril. "So soon?" She had been Raynor's mistress for nearly a decade.

"I'm afraid so, my dear." Raynor gathered the demoness into his arms. "Avara insists. Apparently, she's looking forward to becoming first lady of the Thorn Brotherhood."

Idril jerked out of her lover's arms. "And you couldn't consider me for the position?" she demanded peevishly.

Raynor sighed. "Really, Idril. Must you be childish? Avara is the leader of a small, but very powerful demonic faction. And she can provide a connection to another one from a dimension outside the Source's Realm. This marriage is purely political." He paused, as he drew Idril back into his arms. "And as you should recall, I had suggested that you form a marriage of convenience, as well. Remember?"

Of course she remembered. Idril also recalled being appalled by Raynor's suggestion. The idea of being married to some daemon other than her lover seemed repugnant to her. Then she recalled the half-daemon she had just met. "Is that why you wanted me to meet Belthazor? You want me to . . .?"

"To consider him as a prospective husband," Raynor finished.

"But he's only a half-daemon!"

Raynor rolled his eyes in contempt. "My dear Idril! Must you be so close-minded? Despite his human blood, Belthazor is very powerful."

Idril pouted. "And?"

An impatient sigh escaped from Raynor's mouth. "And he is also very intelligent. Think . . . Idril. I'm Belthazor's mentor. With his brains and power, he has a very prominent future ahead of him." He added surreptiously, "And he's also very wealthy. In his own right."

A beautiful and aristocratic demoness with auburn hair appeared in Idril's thoughts. Nimue. "Human wealth. And isn't his mother, Nimue? The leader of one of the order's sects? I've met her a few times, and I have a feeling that she doesn't care for me, very much."

"She's irrelevant!" Raynor snapped impatiently. "Belthazor's relationship with his mother barely exists. They haven't exchanged a civil word with each other in nearly thirty years. Belthazor hasn't bothered to touch his father's money. And he also has quite a fortune within the Source's Realm, as well. "

"Oh." Idril decided that she could deal with that situation.

A smile curved Raynor's lips. He added, "As Belthazor's wife, you will be in a position to move through the top echelon within the Source's Realm. He is very popular with our . . . great leader. Especially since he had killed his traitorous uncle, last year. And . . ." the daemon planted a light kiss on Idril's exposed neck. She sighed. ". . . you will be in a position to spend time in my company, without arousing Avara's suspicions."

Idril slowly slid her arms around Raynor's neck and smiled. "Hmmm, now that's very appealing," she said. "You are a very clever daemon."

"Thank you."

Her smile disappeared. "If this works, I only hope that neither Belthazor or Avara will find out about us."

"Oh, don't worry, my dear. They won't. I'll make sure of that. All you have to do is make sure that Belthazor finds you attractive enough to want to consider matrimony. That's all. And he would be an idiot if he doesn't." Raynor lowered his mouth upon Idril's and passionately kissed her.

-----------

PRESENT DAY . . . Idril sighed, as she shook her head in disbelief. Poor Raynor, she thought. Over-confident, as usual. Her former mentor and lover had never considered that Belthazor had other plans. Recalling the half-daemon's last words, Idril realized that neither did she, for that matter.

Inside her posh Bel-Air home, the demoness walked over to her living-room bar and poured herself a drink. She needed to drown her memories of that disastrous and humiliating affair with Belthazor. As she climbed the stairs to her bedroom, Idril could only wonder if Belthazor now harbored any memories, as well.


End of Part 1

Saturday, February 26, 2011

"UNKNOWN" (2011) Photo Gallery



Below are images from the new thriller called "UNKNOWN". Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, the movie stars Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Frank Langella, Aidan Quinn and Bruno Ganz:



"UNKNOWN" (2011) Photo Gallery













































Friday, February 25, 2011

Looking Beyond "NORTH AND SOUTH"




LOOKING BEYOND “NORTH AND SOUTH”

In the past year, I have become increasingly obsessed with costume dramas based upon British literature. My obsession has not only focused upon movies and miniseries based on the many movie and television adaptations, but also on various British novels. Ranked near the top of the list of my favorite stories is the 2004 BBC miniseries, ”NORTH AND SOUTH”.

Adapted by Sandy Welch from Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1855 novel, ”NORTH AND SOUTH” told the story of a former clergyman’s daughter named Margaret Hale, who follows her uprooted parents to the Northern city of Milton; and John Thornton, a cotton mill owner who ends up befriending Margaret’s father and falling in love with her. Anyone familiar with Gaskell’s novel and the four-part miniseries would know that both Margaret and John endured a series of misunderstandings, quarrels, their relatives, external crises, and a marriage proposal gone wrong before they end up happily engaged. Yet, the question remains . . . what happened to the couple following the wedding? Did they end up ”happily ever after”?

Lately, I have become aware of a growing number of sequels based upon Jane Austen’s novels. This should not be surprising, considering the obsession that has surrounded the late 18th/early 19th century author for the past fifteen years. Most of these sequels tend to be follow-ups to the novelist’s most famous work, ”Pride and Prejudice”. I have never experienced any inclination to read any of these sequels in the past. And if I must be honest, any inclination remains dormant within me. But in the wake of becoming a fan of the ”NORTH AND SOUTH” miniseries, I found myself wondering if any writers or fans have ever considered writing a sequel to Gaskell’s novel.

I have come across some fan fiction based upon the novel. But most of these stories tend to focus solely on Margaret and John’s romance. Yes, I realize that it was the story’s romance – and especially Richard Armitage’s image as John Thornton – that made the miniseries become so popular with television viewers during the past 6 years or so. But for me and a good number of other fans, ”NORTH AND SOUTH” was more than just about the romance and leading actor. The social upheavals and culture clashes that permeated the story allowed an interesting glimpse into mid-Victorian English society and the differences in class and region. If someone ever decided to continue Margaret and John Thornton’s story, how would he or she do it? Would that writer merely focus upon the romance or follow Gaskell’s example by continuing the exploration of Victorian society? I personally believe that to write an effective sequel to ”North and South”, a writer would have to consider the following:

*the strong wills and temper of the two protagonists
*the protagonists’ family members
*the protagonists’ friendship with Nicholas Higgins and the union movement
*historical backdrop of the cotton trade in mid 19th century


Below is a more in-depth look into these topics:




Margaret Hale and John Thornton Relationship

I am certain that many fans of Gaskell’s novel and the 2004 miniseries sighed with pleasure . . . and relief when Margaret Hale and John Thornton finally acknowledged their love for each other by the end of the story. But one has to consider certain facts. One, love alone cannot always sustain a successful relationship. Two, despite the improvement in their respective characters, the cores of Margaret and John’s personalities will remain constant. One should anticipate future storms in the Hale-Thornton marriage.





Family Relations

Since the novel and the miniseries ended with Margaret and John’s engagement, fans can assume that the pair will eventually become husband and wife. Which means that they will have to deal with their respective in-laws.

One would be inclined to assume that John would not have to deal with in-laws on a daily basis, considering that Margaret’s parents were dead, her cousins living in London and her brother Frederick living in Spain. Margaret, on the other hand, will have two in-laws to deal with – John’s younger sister, the silly Fanny; and his indomitable mother, Mrs. Hannah Thornton. Considering John and Mrs. Thornton’s low opinion of Fanny, the latter should prove to be more of a problem for them, instead of Margaret. The worst she would have to contend with the occasional inane comment from Fanny or the latter’s barely concealed jealousy of her older brother. Mrs. Thornton might prove to be another matter. I doubt that John’s mother had not forgotten Margaret’s rejection of John’s first marriage proposal or the mild scandal regarding Margaret’s appearance at the rail station with her brother Frederick. And the older woman has never been fond of younger one. Considering her personality, I would not be surprised if Mrs. Thornton ends up developing a slight resentment toward Margaret’s financial rescue of Marlborough Mills. One can easily look forward to fireworks between Margaret and her new mother-in-law.

As I had earlier pointed out, there would be a strong possibility of John avoiding any conflict with any of his in-laws, due to the deaths of Margaret’s parents and the scattered locations of her surviving relations. But the possibilities remain. After all, Margaret does have close relationships with her Cousin Edith Shaw Lennox and Aunt Shaw, who live in London. The chances of her and John making family visits to the south remain strong. The London family would probably be disappointed in Margaret’s marriage to John and her second rejection of Edith’s brother-in-law, Henry Lennox. And judging from the Great Exhibition scene featured in the miniseries’ third episode, they did not seem enamored of John. Although Margaret’s brother Frederick lives in Spain, both she and John could afford to pay him a visit. But I wonder if that visit would prove to be congenial. Frank had clearly expressed his contempt for John as a “tradesman” in the miniseries’ third episode. I doubt that one rebuke from Margaret would have changed his opinion. And I can foresee a chilly response from Frank, for his new “tradesman” brother-in-law.

Overall, in-law troubles for both Margaret and John strike me as very plausible in a sequel.





Nicholas Higgins and the Union

I wonder if many fans of both the Gaskell novel and the 2004 miniseries would view Margaret and John’s friendship with worker/union leader Nicholas Higgins as a possible source of future conflict. I believe it is possible. Higgins is a strong-willed character with firm ideas. I simply cannot see him permanently giving up his dreams of a strong union for Milton’s mill workers, despite the setback featured in Episodes 2 and 3, and his friendship with John Thornton. And knowing John’s feelings regarding unions and his own strong will, I cannot see him supporting any future efforts to begin one. There could be a chance of a future clash between the two men if a new union is pursued. Margaret might find herself in the middle of such a clash, considering her closer friendship with Higgins and her love for John. Such a storyline could prove to be very interesting in a sequel.







Cotton Trade and the U.S. Civil War

Although I am not certain, I suspect that many fans would never associate the topic of slavery and the U.S. Civil War with Gaskell’s novel or the miniseries. Yet, I do recall a scene in which John and other Milton cotton mill owners had engaged in a conversation about purchasing cotton from countries other than the United States. John insisted that he would continue purchasing American cotton, due to its superior quality. If someone ever decided to write a sequel to ”North and South”, I wonder if the author would set the story a few years following Margaret and John’s engagement. Or would the author allow their tale to continue into the 1860s? If the latter does happen, chances are Marlborough Mill and other mills throughout Great Britain will suffer the effects of the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865).

That particular war managed to deprive many British mill owners of raw cotton for their factories. In return, the British cotton manufacturing business suffered a major economic depression, due to the Confederates’ policy of withholding cotton in exchange for diplomatic recognition and aid from Great Britain. Since the Confederacy never received official recognition or aid, the British mill owners suffered.

Not only could the growing issue of slavery and the American Civil War should have a profound effect upon the Thorntons’ profits. Both issues could be used as potential conflict between Margaret and John. I would not be surprised if concern for his mill would lead to John developing an anti-abolition or pro-Confederate stance. And considering her sympathies toward Milton’s mill workers, I could see Margaret developing a pro-abolition or pro-Union stance. However, a part of me suspects that many writers would go out of their way to avoid the topic of slavery, the Civil War and their effect upon Britain’s cotton manufacturing industry. Since Gaskell’s novel and the 2004 miniseries embraced social issues, it would be a pity if this never happened.




Conclusion

If there is one thing I enjoyed about Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel and its 2004 television adaptation was that both turned out to be a well-written saga that combined romance, family strife and social issues. I believe that this combination could be repeated in a sequel to ”North and South”. This sequel could continue the exploration of Margaret Hale and John Thornton’s relationship through their own personalities, family connections, their friendship with Nicholas Higgins and the economic repercussions of slavery and the U.S. Civil War on Britain’s cotton industry and Northern England’s economy. I could go as far to say that a sequel to ”North and South” has the potential to be just as fascinating as Gaskell’s original novel. However, with so many sequels and spin-offs to Jane Austen’s novels still being written, I suspect that such a novel will never be written.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"THE KING'S SPEECH" (2010) Review




”THE KING’S SPEECH” (2010) Review

Inspirational movies have been the hallmark of Hollywood films over the decades. They especially became popular between the mid-1970s and the early 1990s. After the mid-90s, I never thought they would become popular again. But the recent release of the historical drama, ”THE KING’S SPEECH” proved me wrong.

Directed by Tom Hooper and written by David Seidler, ”THE KING’S SPEECH” told the story of Great Britain’s King George VI’s difficulties with a speech impediment and his relationship with Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, who helped him overcome his stutter. The movie opened with George VI (then Prince Albert, Duke of York) at the closing of the 1925 Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium, with his wife Elizabeth by his side. There he gives a stammering speech that visibly unsettles the thousands of listeners in the audience. After nine years of unsuccessfully finding a speech therapist that can help him, Elizabeth recruits Australian-born Lionel Logue to meet him. The two men eventually bond and Logue helps the Duke of York overcome the latter’s stammer during a series of crises that include the death of George V; his brother, King Edward VIII’s romance with American divorcee, Wallis Simpson; the abdication of Edward; the Duke of York’s ascension to the throne as George VI; his coronation and the start of World War II. Also during this period, both king and speech therapist become close friends.

What can I say about ”THE KING’S SPEECH”? I cannot deny that it was a heartwarming tale about the growing friendship of two men from disparate backgrounds. Seidler’s script was filled with wit, charm, warmth and pathos that filled the heart. The cast, lead by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, did great credit to the script. There have been complaints about the film’s historical accuracy from both the media and historians. And there is a good deal of the story that is historically inaccurate. George VI and Lionel Logue’s collaboration began as far back as 1926, not 1934. And the king was also pro-appeasement in the late 1930s. In fact, the majority of Britons during that period were pro-appeasement. What historians fail to realize is that appeasement was popular due to a lack of desire for another war against Germany. World War I had traumatized a generation that included George VI. One also has to remember that ”THE KING’S SPEECH” is a drama based upon historical fact, not a documentary. One would know by now that complete historical accuracy in a work of fiction is rare. It has been rare for as long as there have been fictional work based upon history. And to be honest, I do not believe that the movie’s fiddling with historical fact has not harmed the story.

One would think that I consider ”THE KING’S SPEECH” to be one of the best movies this year. Frankly, I find labeling what is ”the best” rather subjective. I did enjoy the movie and it made the list of my Top Ten Favorite Movies of 2010. However, I must admit that I do not consider it to be a particularly original film. One, it is one of those inspirational films that moviegoers tend to love – movies like ”SEABISCUIT”, ”CINDERELLA MAN” and the 1976 Oscar winner, ”ROCKY”. And if I must be brutally honest, there was nothing original about ”THE KING’S SPEECH” - even for an inspirational film. I already have a nickname for it - ’ROCKY in the Palace’. Another problem I have with the movie is that I was not that impressed by its visual style. I found Danny Cohen’s photography rather pedestrian. And Eve Stewart’s production designs and Judy Farr’s set decorations were very disappointing. Only the movie’s exterior shots prevented ”THE KING’S SPEECH” from becoming another filmed stage play. And the actual sets struck me as very dull. My hopes of a rich look at London and the rest of Great Britain during the 1920s and 30s fell short. I suppose I should not have been surprised by the movie’s uninspiring visual style. It only had a budget of $15 million dollars. I suspect the producers had very little money to work with.

With a few exceptions, the cast turned out to be first-rate. Colin Firth gave a superb and complex performance as the insecure sovereign with the speech impediment. I am not that surprised that he managed to earn nominations and win a good number of acting awards. Geoffrey Rush, who portrayed Lionel Logue, gave a first-rate performance filled with a great deal of sly humor. Also, he and Firth generated a strong screen chemistry. Helena Bonham-Carter was a charming and witty Duchess of York/Queen Elizabeth. However, I would have never considered her performance worth of any acting award nomination. She was simply portraying the “loyal wife” schtick. I was surprised to find Guy Pearce portraying the love obsessed and selfish Edward VIII. And I must he was very subtle and effective in revealing the man’s less admirable traits. The movie also benefitted solid performances from the likes of Michael Gambon as King George V, Claire Bloom as Queen Mary, and Anthony Andrews, who was surprisingly effective as Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.

However, there were some performances that I found unsatisfying. Being a fan of Jennifer Ehle, I was disappointed in the limitations of her role as Logue’s wife, Myrtle. She hardly had a chance to do anything, except murmur a few words of encouragement to Logue. Her only great moment occurred in a scene that featured Myrtle Logue’s realization that the King of England was one of her husband’s clients. Seeing Ehle and Firth in the same scene together brought back memories of the 1995 adaptation of ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”. I also had a problem with Eve Best’s portrayal of American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. Her Wallis came off as more extroverted than the divorcee in real life. And I hate to say this, but Timothy Spall’s interpretation of Winston Churchill seemed more like a parody than a serious portrayal. Every time he was on the screen, I could not help but wince.

In conclusion, I enjoyed ”THE KING’S SPEECH” very much. Despite its lack of originality, I found it heartwarming, humorous, and dramatic; thanks to Tom Hooper’s direction and Seidler’s writing. And aside from a few performances, I was impressed by the cast, especially leading men Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. I would never consider it artistically worthy of an Oscar for Best Picture. But I cannot deny that it was entertaining.

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As an extra treat, below is a video clip featuring a speech given by King George VI at the an Empire Exhibition at Ibrox Park, Glasgow, Scotland; 1938.

Monday, February 21, 2011

"Strange Bedfellows" [R] - Prologue




"STRANGE BEDFELLOWS"

RATING: R - Sexual situations.
SUMMARY: Cole's encounter with a former lover brings back old memories right before his wedding.
FEEDBACK: - Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: Cole Turner and other characters related to Charmed to Spelling Productions, Brad Kern and Constance Burge. Olivia McNeill, Christine Broome and Idril are my creations.
NOTE: Takes place about a few days after "The Uninvited" - Alternate Universe Season 6.



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

Prologue

The intercom on Cole Turner's desk buzzed. The half-daemon heaved a sigh and moved away from his computer screen, which displayed a legal contract, partially written by him. Cole rubbed his eyes and snapped on the intercom. "Yes?"

"You have a visitor, Mr. Turner," his assistant, Eleanor Read, replied. "A Miss Diane Moore. She hopes to become a new client."

As if he did not have enough clients. Cole had no desire to add another to his list of clients. Not while he was trying to finish this contract before his wedding. But he also knew that his employers would not take kindly to him turning away a new client for their firm. Especially since he happened to be Jackman, Carter and Kline's poster boy. "All right. Send her in."

Seconds later, Eleanor entered the office. "Miss Diane Moore," she announced. Cole's assistant stepped aside and ushered in the visitor. Cole gaped at the familiar figure, who brushed past Eleanor.

"What the . . .?" Cole stared at the new visitor in disbelief.

Eleanor asked, "Shall I bring a drink for Miss Moore?"

"An Apple Martini would be lovely," the guest replied. Eleanor regarded the visitor with dubious eyes, before she left the office. Cole glared. Once they were alone, she declared, "Belthazor, it's great to see you. As always."

Cole growled, "Apple Martini? Before noon? Good grief, Idril! And what the hell are you doing here?"

The dark-haired demoness' mouth formed a pretty smile. "I thought it would be nice for us to have lunch, together. Seeing you at your engagement party brought back old memories."

"Memories that I would rather forget," Cole retorted.

Idril eased into an empty chair. "But you can't forget, can you?"

Flashes of their brief affairs illuminated Cole's thoughts. He sighed. "No, I guess not." A triumphant smile curved Idril's mouth. "I guess I can't forget . . . us, anymore than I can't forget Christine Bloome from the Triple Six Club, in London. How is she, by the way? I haven't heard from her in years."

Idril's mouth tightened. "I wouldn't know." She seared Cole with a death glare, before Eleanor returned with her Apple Martini. Once his assistant had left, Idril took a sip of her drink. "What about lunch, Belthazor? Still interested? I thought Caruso's at the Westin St. Francis would be nice."

Cole gave his former paramour a hard look. "And what else did you have in mind for us at the St. Regis? A room for the afternoon?"

"I see nothing wrong with re-capturing old times." Idril's smile returned. "Do you?"

A derisive snort escaped from Cole's mouth. "I don't recall any 'old times' at the St. Regis or any other hotel," he retorted. "Besides, I still have some work to finish."

Humiliation and anger briefly flashed in Idril's hazel-brown eyes. "What's the matter, Belthazor? Afraid that I might seduce you, again? And that the little lady will find out?" she said with a sneer.

Cole leaned forward, smiling coldly. Contempt oozed from his voice. "The 'little lady' is a good two inches taller than you. And what makes you think that I had allowed myself to be seduced by you? Maybe there was another reason why I had stuck it out with you for nearly a month."

Idril gasped, as her face turned pale. "Wha . . .?"

Someone knocked on the door, startling the pair. Seconds later, it swung open. Cole felt a slight twinge of anxiety as his fiancée, Olivia McNeill, entered the office. She shot a quick glance at the other guest. "Oh. I didn't realize you already had a guest."

"Didn't Eleanor . . .?" Cole began.

Olivia continued, "She wasn't at her desk." She stared at Idril and smiled politely. "Idril, it's nice to see you, again. How long has it been? A few days?"

Idril drained the last of her martini and set the glass on Cole's desk. Then she gave Olivia a tight smile. "And it's . . . nice to see you too, Miss McNeill. I . . . um, . . . I just came by to say hello to Belthazor." She stood up and turned to Cole. "Well, I guess I better get going. You've certainly given me something to think about, Belthazor. Bye."

"Good-bye Idril." Cole allowed himself a brief, triumphant smile, as he watched the demoness leave the room.

Olivia sat down in the chair previously occupied by Idril and brushed a few curls from her forehead. "Wow! What was that all about?" she asked.

Panic filled Cole. "Huh?"

"You and Idril. I had noticed a . . . distinct chill in the air. At least coming from you. What happened?"

Cole sighed. "Idril had asked me out for lunch, in some puerile attempt to revive our relationship. She had suggested the St. Regis Hotel."

Green eyes flew open. "So, that's where you two . . ."

"No!" Cole said sharply. "We were never at any hotel, together."

"Sorry."

Another sigh left his mouth. "Look," Cole began, "I didn't mean to sound sharp. It's just that I've always found Idril annoying. In fact, I'm beginning to regret that I had anything to do with her, in the first place."

Olivia stood up and headed for the liquor cabinet. She poured herself a glass of club soda. "Didn't you once tell me that you only went out with her to satisfy an itch?"

Cole leaned back into his leather chair. "That's how it had started. But I eventually became involved with her . . . to piss off my mother."

"Huh?" The glass paused just an away from Olivia's mouth. "Are you . . . there's nothing Oedipal about all of this?"

Glancing at his watch, Cole mildly retorted, "Of course not! You know, we better get going, if you still want to have lunch. How about the Daily Grill?"

Olivia nodded. "Sounds great." She swallowed the last of her club soda. "Ready?"

Cole stood up and donned his jacket. He then linked arms with his fiancée and seconds later, they materialized in an alley just off Union Square. Once they were seated in a booth, inside the Daily Grill. After the couple had ordered their meals, Cole began his story.

"It all began after I had finished an assignment in Montreal," he said. "Around the late spring of '69."

Olivia frowned slightly. "Assignment in Montreal?"

"It was about a book," Cole murmured. He sighed. "A wizard's book on spells and rituals that Raynor wanted . . ."


End of Prologue

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" (2008) Photo Gallery



Below are images from "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY", the 2008 adaptation of Jane Austen's 1811 novel. Adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by John Alexander, the miniseries starred Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield:


"SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" (2008) Photo Gallery














































Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ray Charles Duet



Below are video clips featuring live performances of musician/singer Ray Charles singing two of his popular songs:


RAY CHARLES DUET



"What'd I Say" (1959)






"Hit the Road, Jack" (1961)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"THE GREEN HORNET" (2011) Review




"THE GREEN HORNET" (2011) Review

My memories of the costumed hero, the Green Hornet, are pretty sketchy. I can only recall actor Van Williams portraying the character in the short-lived television series from the mid-1960s, with future martial arts icon, Bruce Lee, portraying his manservant and partner-in-crime fighting, Kato. But if I must be honest, I never saw any of the episodes from the series. My memories of Williams and Lee as the Green Hornet and Kato were limited to their guest appearances on the ABC series, ”BATMAN”.

When I had first heard about plans to release a movie about the Green Hornet featuring comic actor, Seth Rogen in the title role, I met the news with less than enthusiasm. One, I have never been a fan of the Green Hornet character. Two, I have never been a fan of Rogen’s. And three, the fact that this new version of ”THE GREEN HORNET” was filmed as a comedy-adventure put it completely out of my mind, after I received the news. It was not until the movie was released in theaters and I found myself with nothing else to do for a weekend, when I went ahead and saw the movie.

In a nutshell, ”THE GREEN HORNET” is an origins tale about Britt Reid, the playboy heir to a Los Angeles newspaper owner. Following the death of his autocratic father, Britt befriends the latter’s mechanic and assistant – a technical genius and martial arts fighter named Kato. The pair manages to save a couple from being robbed and assaulted one night, while vandalizing a statue of the late James Reid. Inspired by their act of good deed and some close calls with the criminals and the police, Britt and Kato decide to make something of their lives by becoming a masked crime fighting team called the Green Hornet and his unnamed partner. Due to their close call with the police, Britt and Kato pretend to be criminals in order to in order to infiltrate real criminals, and also to prevent enemies from using innocents against them. Their first target turns out to be a Russian mobster named Benjamin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), who is uniting the criminal families of Los Angeles under his command, and whom James Reed was trying to expose. To get Chudnofsky's attention, Britt uses his newspaper, the Daily Sentinel as a vehicle to publish articles about the "high-profile criminal" the Green Hornet. Britt hires an assistant and researcher named Lenore Case, who has a degree in criminology, and uses her unwitting advice to raise the Green Hornet's profile.

What was my opinion of ”THE GREEN HORNET”? Honestly? I enjoyed it very much. I found it funny, entertaining, and exciting. First and foremost, the movie possessed plenty of laughs, thanks to Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s script. I usually do not find Rogen all that funny. But I must admit that his attempts at being the big crime fighter, while Kato saved his ass time-and-again, left me in stitches. Realizing that Britt lacked any self-defense skills, Kato created a gun filled with stun gas for the former to use against their enemies. And I found Rogen’s portrayal of Britt’s egotistical reaction to the gun rather hilarious. Not only did ”THE GREEN HORNET” provide plenty of laughs, but it also had some first-rate action sequences. My favorites include the Green Hornet and Kato’s encounter with a group of street thugs that led them to a meth lad controlled by Chudnofsky, their attempt to extract themselves from a trap set by the gangster at a construction site and the fight between Britt and Kato at the Reid mansion, over the many issues developed between the two. But the major sequence that started at the Japanese restaurant and ended at the Daily Sentinel really impressed me and I have to give kudos to Michel Gondry for his direction.

I suppose that Seth Rogen could have portrayed Britt Reid/the Green Hornet in a straight manner, but I do not know if I would have bought it. A more conventional leading man could have been hired for the role, but if I must be honest, I was too impressed by Rogen to really care. Many critics complained that Rogen portrayed Reid/the Green Hornet as a man-child. And he did . . . at first. But the script and Rogen’s performance allowed (or forced) Reid to face the consequences of his massive ego and his decision to become a crime fighter and grow up in a very painful way. I have never heard of Jay Chou, who is a well-known musician and actor from Taiwan. But I must admit that I was very impressed by his performance as Kato, Britt’s talented and exasperated partner in crime fighting. His acting style seemed to strongly remind me of Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen’s – very subtle and very quiet. Yet, Chou also displayed a wry sense of humor that I found entertaining. And I was surprised to discover that he managed to convey not only Kato’s resentment and fear that the latter might be regulated to becoming the Green Hornet’s “sidekick”, but also his own egotistical nature. More importantly, his subtle acting style contrasted perfectly with Rogen’s more bombastic style and the two formed a first-rate screen team.

I had been appalled by the news that Christoph Waltz was cast as the main villain in ”THE GREEN HORNET”, especially on the heels of his success in 2009’s ”INGLORIOUS BASTERDS”. The idea of an acclaimed actor in a costumed hero action movie with comic overtones seemed so beneath him. But after seeing the movie, I am soooo glad that he was cast as the Russian gangster, Benjamin Chudnofsky. He was both hilarious and scary at the same time. Most villains featured in comedy action films tend to be either bland or simply ruthless and scary. Thankfully, Waltz’s Chudnofsky was not bland. But he was scary, ruthless . . . and funny as a middle-aged gangster, suffering from a mid-life crisis. Now, how often does one come across a villain like that in action movies? I had assumed Cameron Diaz’s role as Britt’s assistant, Lenore Case, would be a rehash of the Pepper Potts character from the ”IRON MAN” franchise. Thankfully, Rogen and Goldberg wrote the Lenore role as an intelligent woman, whose brains provided plenty of information for the Green Hornet and Kato; and as a no-nonsense woman who refused to replay the Tony Stark/Pepper Potts scenario or be in the middle of a love triangle between Britt and Kato, despite their attraction to her. And Diaz perfectly captured all aspects of the Lenore character with her usual charm and skill. I was also impressed by David Harbour’s performance as the charming, yet morally questionable District Attorney, Frank Scanlon. Edward James Olmos was on board to provide solidity as Britt’s personal moral guide and editor of the the Daily Sentinel.

There were a few flies in the ointment in ”THE GREEN HORNET”. One came from Tom Wilkinson’s portrayal of Britt’s father, James Reid. I realize that he was portraying a negative authority figure – the cold and demanding father. But his performance came off as bombastic and somewhat flat. I also found the pacing in the movie’s first fifteen minutes rather uneven. Britt’s relationship with his father and the latter’s death seemed to move along at a pace that I found a bit too fast. But at the same time, Chudnofsky’s meeting with a local gangster portrayed by James Franco was conveyed with more depth and at a slower pace. Fortunately, Gondry seemed to have found his pacing after this uneven beginning and movie rolled along with a balanced mixture of action, angst, and laughs.

For Green Hornet purists like actor Van Williams that were upset over Rogen’s comedic interpretation of the crime fighter, there is nothing I can say. I do not particularly agree with them that the movie should have been a straight action-drama. ”THE GREEN HORNET” could have been another ”BATMAN BEGINS” or even ”DAREDEVIL”. Perhaps I would have liked it. But I did like Rogen’s interpretation very much. Hell, I more than liked it. I enjoyed it so much that I saw it in the theaters for a second time. This is probably the first movie that I have ever enjoyed Rogen as an actor. My enjoyment increased tenfold, thanks to his screen chemistry with musician/actor Jay Chou. And this is the first time I have ever enjoyed the story of the Green Hornet.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"The Uninvited" [PG-13] - Epilogue




"THE UNINVITED"

EPILOGUE

The occupants inside Mister Dairon's office looked upon the dead warlock with shock and horror. Nearly a minute had passed before Olivia broke the silence. "Well," she commented, "that was disappointing. Now, we'll never know who had hired him."

"We know that the Magan Corporation had hired him," Cole grimly stated. "I should have known."

Gweneth shook her head, "Yes, but who's behind the Magan Corporation? We still don't know. Unless it's this daemon named Prax." She turned to Nimue. "Is this Logan fellow associated with any particular demonic group? Like the Khorne Order? Or how about a warlock coven?"

"I really don't know," Nimue replied. "I've never heard of him, until today. As for Prax being the head of the Magan Corporation . . ." She shook her head. "He does not have the ambition or imagination to attempt something like the destruction of the Whitelighter Realm."

Cole spoke up. "I recognized Eric Logan. And no, he didn't have any close association with a demonic order or a coven. In fact, the only person he was associated with was another warlock named Doris Meade. Only some witch had killed her fifteen or twenty years ago."

An angry roar erupted from Lohdon's mouth. Before anyone could do or say anything, the daemon released a stream of fire and incinerated the warlock's corpse. "I want revenge!" he cried out loud. "I swear in Caim's name that I'll find the bastard who hired this Logan and kill him! Slowly!"

"Patience Lohdon," Nimue coolly replied. "You'll have your chance for revenge."

Jack added, "She's right. It's clear that the Magan Corporation's CEO is after the Source's throne. And since you're after it as well . . . sooner or later, the two of you will meet."

Both Olivia and Cole stared at her father. "Say that again, Dad?" the young witch demanded.

The McNeill patriarch opened his mouth . . . and closed it. He had obviously revealed some kind of secret.

Cole frowned at Lohdon. "You plan to become the new Source?" When the other daemon failed to answer, Cole turned to his mother. "So, that's why you had this party. You wanted an opportunity to introduce Lohdon to Olivia's parents. The question is - why?"

"This party was for you and Olivia," Nimue replied tartly. "When Lohdon had found out about it, he asked me to invite him. He wanted to meet Jack and Gweneth, in order to obtain information on the Magan Corporation."

Gweneth added, "She's telling the truth, Cole. And you know that Jack, Elise and I never really had a problem with the idea of a new Source. One is needed to bring some kind of balance in the magical world."

"And someone like Lohdon would fit the bill. Someone who won't be inclined to do something extreme like . . . destroy the Whitelighter realm." Cole nodded. "I understand. But what I don't understand is why Edward Winslow - or whatever his name is - would want Olivia dead? And who told him and Logan about this party? And who killed Logan?"

Nimue demanded, "What are you saying?"

"Isn't it obvious, Mother?" Cole replied. "Either you or Lohdon . . . have a spy in your midst."

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

The two Charmed Ones and their whitelighter found Leo and Wyatt inside the Solarium, upon their return to the manor. The young Elder sat in a wicker chair, rocking his sleeping son, in his arms. Leo glanced up at the trio and frowned. "Back so soon?"

"Soon?" Piper shot back. "We've been gone for at least eight hours or so. It must be . . ." she glanced at her watch and gasped. "It's only six thirty-three!"

Paige added, "Hey, that's only two-and-a-half hours, since we left."

"Time must move pretty fast in the Melora Dimension," Chris commented. "Which is odd, considering that it moves a lot slower in the Whitelighter Realm."

Leo stood up. "You know, I had forgotten about the Melora Dimension. I've visited the place, a few times, myself. It was great." He handed Wyatt over to Piper. Who sat down on the sofa. "So, how was the party?"

Paige quickly replied, "Great! The food was great. So was the food. Unfortunately . . ."

Chris added, "Unfortunately, the party became ruined when some unknown person or being killed a wizard with poison."

"What?" Leo stared at his young colleague. "There was a murder in the Melora Dimension? That hasn't happened in nearly two hundred years. What happened?"

A sigh left Piper's mouth. "It's like what Chris had said. Some female wizard had been poisoned." She paused dramatically. "After she had drank from Olivia's glass of champagne. It seemed some warlock in disguise tried to kill Olivia."

"An assassin," Paige added. "Harry caught him. But . . ."

Chris finished, ". . . someone had poisoned the warlock. And he died before he could reveal anything - other than the Magan Corporation was behind the whole thing."

Leo frowned. "The Magan Corporation? Them again. I don't understand. Why would they be after Olivia?" He stared at Chris. "You're from the future. You must know something."

"Sorry, but I don't!" Chris retorted. "In fact, I've never even heard of the Magan Corporation, until I came here to the past." Then he murmured under his breath, "I wonder if they're the ones . . ."

Paige demanded sharply, "The ones who what?"

Chris glanced up, as if he realized that he had not spoken softly enough. "Uh, nothing."

"Oh c'mon!" Paige exclaimed with a long-suffering sigh. "Not again!"

Piper stared pointedly at the whitelighter. "Chris? The ones who what?"

Chris' face turned red. He quickly mumbled, "The ones who . . . uh . . . will try to re-organize the Underworld."

"Try? You mean we had stopped them?"

Instead of answering Piper's question, Chris glanced at his watch. "Oh, I better get going. See you guys."

Piper cried out, "Chris!" But the young whitelighter had made his escape before anyone could stop him.

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

Several hours later found Cole and Olivia inside the penthouse's master bedroom. While Cole changed into his sleeping clothes, Olivia laid on the bed, scribbling in her notebook. "What are you doing?" Cole asked, as he donned a light-blue T-shirt.

Olivia continued to write in the notebook. "Writing down a few notes for my Book of Shadows."

"Book of . . .?" Cole shook his head and smiled wryly. "I should have known. No wonder you were being so friendly to many of the daemons at the party. Trying to worm a few secrets on the demonic world? You could have just asked me." He slid into the bed.

Olivia pecked her fiancé's cheek. "No offense honey, but I'm afraid that you don't know everything."

"Oh really?"

Green eyes settled upon Cole's face. "Well, did you know about Guldur grabbing a special chalice from the Delphi Temple for some wizard?"

Cole sighed. "Okay, you got me there. It's too bad that we still don't know who's the CEO of the Magan Corporation." He paused. "Or why he wants you dead."

"I wish I knew. I mean . . . why me?"

After Olivia had tossed her notebook on the nightstand, Cole drew her into his arms. "Well, you are the Aingeal Staff Bearer. Which makes you very dangerous to him. Even if he does become the Source."

"You're just as dangerous to him," Olivia reminded the half-daemon. "And the Halliwells. So, why send an assassin after me?"

All Cole could do was give his fiancée a tight hug. Especially since he had no answer for her question.

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

Artemus examined his Atropa Belladonna plant and spotted a small brown insect crawling along one wide, green leaf. He immediately picked up the bug with his thumb and forefinger and squashed it. At that moment, Prax entered the greenhouse. "Pardon me, sir. You have a visitor. In the Magneta Room."

A sigh left Artemus' mouth. "Thank you, Prax. Send Ameddo in there, as well for a few drinks. I'll be there in a few minutes."

"Yes sir." Prax paused at the door. "By the way, Artemus. I haven't heard from Mr. Logan. I can only assume that the visit is about him."

"Thank you, Prax." After his assistant had left, Artemus removed his smock and washed his hands. Then he teleported out of the greenhouse and into one of the manor's elegant drawing-room. The vivid coloring of the room's draperies and wallpaper had led the daemon to name it the Magneta Room. Inside, he found his guest sitting on the sofa with a glass of martini and looking very anxious. "Judging from your expression and Prax's announcement that Mr. Logan is missing, I can only assume that everything did not go as planned."

Idril placed her glass on the table before her, and regarded her benefactor with fearful eyes. "I'm afraid not, Artemus. Mr. Logan had . . . fed the poison to the witch's drink, as planned. Only . . ."

"Yes?" Artemus headed for the liquor cabinet, where he found a glass of bourbon that had been prepared for him by his manservant. He picked up the drink and headed for his favorite leather chair. "Only what?" He regarded the young demoness with an intense stare.

Squirming slightly, Idril continued, "Someone else had ended up drinking the poison. Adrianne Evans."

Mention of the well-known wizard caught Artemus by surprise. "Adrianne? What was she doing at Belthazor's engagement party?" An unpleasant thought came to the daemon. "Was Lohdon there, by any chance?"

Idril nodded unhappily. "Along with several members of the Fornost Order. I saw Lohdon and Adrianne talking with Nimue and the witch's parents. They seemed very chummy."

"I see." Artemus' stomach began turning flips. He had long harbored a deep suspicion that Nimue might try to assume the Source's throne. He had no idea that she had managed to recruit support from Lohdon, of all people. Both daemons, along with Artemus, were heads of at least three of the five most powerful demonic orders within the old Source's realm. If Nimue had managed to recruit Lohdon's support, all she needed was support from the remaining two top demonic orders. Unfortunately for Artemus, he had only managed to recruit support from minor demonic factions, but no one from the Big Five. And to make matters worse, Olivia McNeill remains alive and her family, involved with both Nimue and Lohdon. Artemus asked his guest, "And what happened to Mr. Logan?"

Idril sipped her drink. "He's dead. Belthazor had cast a magical shield around the ballroom at the Berisa Resort, preventing anyone from leaving. I'm afraid that this made Mr. Logan . . . rather anxious. So, I felt it was necessary to make sure that he would never reveal anything. It's a good thing I had poisoned his drink. Ms. McNeill's brother had caught on to Mr. Logan and turned him over to Belthazor."

"Are you sure that Mr. Logan is dead?"

A smug smile curved Idril's lips. "Oh yes. I had peeked into the hotel manager's office. He died just before he had the chance to reveal anything. Although I do believe that Belthazor and the others are suspicious of your company."

Artemus dismissed Idril's last sentence with a shrug. "They've been suspicious of the Magan Corporation since last summer." He gave the demoness an appraising stare. "Perhaps I should have allowed you to take care of Ms. McNeill."

"I don't think that would have been a good idea," Idril commented. "I had already taken a chance at appearing at the party with Melkora's invitation, in the first place. And I suspect that both Belthazor and Nimue were suspicious of me." She paused. "Do you, uh . . . still plan to get rid of Belthazor's witch?"

"I have no choice. Now that I know that she and her parents are involved with both Nimue and Lohdon, the prospects of Tiresias' prophecy about the Source's throne seem more certain than ever."

Idril added, "And Belthazor?"

Artemus stared at the demoness. There seemed to be a catch in her voice. "Well, he has to die, of course. He's the main threat. I wish I could kill him first, but . . ." He sighed. "Belthazor might prove to be a bit more difficult. I have asked an alchemist to find out how the Crozats came so close to killing Belthazor, last year." He gave Idril a thoughtful stare. "Does the idea of Belthazor's death upset you?"

"Why should it?" Idril turned her attention to her drink.

The older daemon continued, "Because you seem slightly upset, my dear. And I do recall you being quite fond of him. I would hate for your feelings to interfere in this opportunity."

Idril snorted with derision. "I'm a daemon, Artemus. We don't fall in love."

Artemus regarded the younger daemon with pitying eyes. "You still view that nonsense about our inability to love as fact? My dear Idril, that was nothing more than propaganda perpetrated by the former Source in an attempt to hide the fact that he had fallen in love, centuries ago." Idril's eyes widen in shock. "Oh yes? You didn't know? My former mentor had told me. Before he had become the Source, he had fallen in love with this female sorceress. A human. She spurned him and he ended up developing a deep hatred for all humans. Personally, I believe he had drummed up that silly nonsense about daemons being unable to love in order to hide the fact that he had once experienced love. And I believe that he had considered himself immune to the emotion . . . until Belthazor's feelings for one of the Charmed Ones had affected him."

"But Raynor had . . ."

"My dear, if there are daemons who are definitely not evil - like those of the Gimle Order - then we are most definitely capable of love." Artemus paused. "I've been in love. Once. It did not work out. But I survived. I have no problem with you falling in love . . . as long as you don't allow your emotions to cloud your judgment or get in the way of business."

Again, Idril took another sip. "I see."

Artemus stared at her. "You're not in love with Belthazor, are you?"

Mirthless laughter rose from Idril's throat. "Of course not. Granted, I still find him very attractive. I can't deny that. But the closest I've ever been in . . . love, as you say, was probably with Raynor." She added before taking another sip, "And not that much. Business always comes first with me."

Again, Artemus stared at the demoness. A small worm of doubt wiggled within him - despite her air of sincerity. He only hoped that he had not made a mistake by including her in his plans to assume control of the Source's Realm. Perhaps he should keep a close eye on her. Satisfied with his decision, Artemus took a deep breath and finished his drink.


THE END

Monday, February 14, 2011

"BOMBSHELL" (1933) Photo Gallery



Below are images from "BOMBSHELL", the 1933 classic comedy that stars Jean Harlow. Directed by Victor Fleming, the movie also stars Lee Tracy, Frank Morgan, Una Merkle, Louise Beavers and Franchot Tone:



"BOMBSHELL" (1933) Photo Gallery