Sunday, September 29, 2013

"THE GREAT GATSBY" (2000) Review

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"THE GREAT GATSBY" (2000) Review

I am amazed at how long I have ignored F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 opus, "The Great Gatsby". I saw the 1974 movie adaptation of the novel years ago, but I found it difficult to appreciate the story. It was not until I saw Baz Luhrmann's recent adaptation that my full interest in the story was finally ignited. After watching that particular film, I came across this adaptation that aired on the A&E Channel in 2000. 

Directed by Robert Markowitz and adapted by John J. McLaughlin, "THE GREAT GATSBY" is a 90 minute teleplay set in the early years of the Jazz Age. The movie told the story of a mysterious young millionaire named Jay Gatsby, who settles in a large house on the West Egg side (for the newly rich) on prosperous Long Island. Narrated by Gatsby's neighbor; the well-born, yet impoverished Nick Carraway; audiences become aware of the millionaire's desire to woo and win back the heart of Daisy Fay Buchanan, an old love he had first met during World War I, who also happens to be Nick's cousin. However, standing in Gatsby's way is Daisy's wealthy and boorish husband and Nick's former Yale schoolmate, Tom Buchanan; Daisy's own uncertainty about a serious relationship with the lovesick Gatsby and the latter's questionable origin of his fortune. This clash between class and romantic aspirations leads to an emotional clash in a New York City hotel suite and later, tragedy and death.

There are some aspects of "THE GREAT GATSBY" that I found admirable. The best aspect of this television movie proved to be the showdown between Jay Gatsby and Tom Buchanan for the love of one Daisy Fay Buchanan. I thought it was well-acted - especially by Mira Sorvino and Martin Donovan as the Buchanans. And director Robert Markowitz injected with a good deal of intensity. I was also impressed by Markowitz's handling of the tragic hit-and-run of Myrtle Wison, Tom's working-class mistress, near her husband's Valley of Ashes gas station. This is the only version in which a distraught Daisy is briefly distracted by the infamous "Eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg" billboard before she avoids an oncoming car and kills Myrtle, while driving Gatsby's white convertible. I suspect this was an addition created for this movie, not featured in the novel. By allowing the billboard to indirectly lead to Myrtle's death struck me as inspired writing on McLaughlin's part, or inspired direction from Markowitz. Who knows? And it seemed a pity that no one else - Fitzgerald included - never considered it. The Nick Carraway-Jordan Baker romance had never seemed as sexy as it did in this movie. In fact, this is the only adaptation in which their relationship seemed to radiate with any real sexuality.

But despite these virtues, "THE GREAT GATSBY" seemed marred by a great deal of flaws. Perhaps too many flaws. There is so much about this movie that seemed off. One could tell at first glance that this production was lacking in serious cash. I realize that "THE GREAT GATSBY" is supposed to be a television production. But I find it odd that a production financed by both the A&E Cable Network in the United States, and Granada Productions in Great Britain; could look like a poor man's version of Fitzgerald's novel. The costumes designed by Nicoletta Massone left me shaking my head in disbelief. The clothes worn by wealthy characters such as Gatsby, the Buchanans and Jordan Baker seemed more appropriate for middle-class characters of the same era - the early 1920s. In one scene, Tom Buchanan made a snarky comment about Gatsby's wardrobe. Mind you, the latter was not wearing the infamous pink suit (much to my disappointment). But the cream-colored suit with the dark tie, white socks and dark shoes even made wince. Since the Nick Carraway character wore a similar outfit in the same scene, I found myself wondering why Tom did not extend his contempt to his cousin-in-law's wardrobe. Although elegant, the Buchanans' home struck me as more quaint than opulent. The exteriors of Gatsby's home seemed more opulent, but it had an elegant quality that seemed beyond Gatsby's tastes. And the interiors struck me as somewhat drab and middle-class. So much for the ostentation - and somewhat tasteless - mansion owned by the mysterious millionaire. I really enjoyed Carl Davis' score for this movie. But it seemed more appropriate for a neo-noir movie like "L.A. CONFIDENTIAL" or "MULHOLLAND FALLS", instead of a period drama like"THE GREAT GATSBY"

Although I had complimented Markowitz's direction in two sequences, I found most of his direction rather flaccid and uninspiring. There were moments I felt that he was simply going through the motions. And both he and McLaughlin did not do the audience any favors by including flashbacks of Gatsby and Daisy's World War I courtship. Those scenes were not only shot in soft focus, but also nearly put me to sleep. My God, they were boring! The parties held by Gatsby disappointed me, as well. Most of it - with the exception of the party attended by the Buchanans - struck me as mediocre and a ghost of those parties featured in Fitzgerald's novel and the other movie adaptations. And why on earth did McLaughlin's screenplay begin with Gatsby's murder? Was he and Markowitz trying to be different? Unique? It is bad enough that Fitzgerald's prose, in the form of Nick's narration, hinted that Gatsby was no longer around. Why wipe away the mystery altogether by starting the movie with Gatsby's murder? But if there is one thing that nearly tripped up "THE GREAT GATSBY", it had to be its casting.

Due to Granada Productions being a co-producer of the film, it was inevitable that a British actor or actress would be cast. That person turned out to be Toby Stephens, who was given the leading role of Jay Gatsby. Before I continue, I want to say that I have been a fan of Stephens for years, thanks to his outstanding work. Unfortunately, I cannot view Jay Gatsby as one of his best performances. He simply seemed so wrong for the role. Not only did he portray Gatsby with a stiff and unconvincing American accent, but also with a grin that threatened to form a smirk. Aside from a few emotional . . . or semi-emotional moments, I found his portrayal of Gatsby rather cocky. Paul Rudd could have made a decent Nick Carraway, if it were not for the bored expression on his face that occasionally marred his performance. I realize that Nick harbored some contempt toward Gatsby when they first met. But that contempt had disappeared by the time he arranged Gatsby and Daisy's afternoon reunion. Unfortunately, Rudd's Nick maintained that same contempt even throughout the reunion and did not really disappear until the blow up at the Plaza Hotel. What the hell? I wish I could simply blame Rudd, but I cannot. As the director, Markowitz should have realized what was going on and put a stop to it. He failed to do so. Martin Donovan gave an excellent performance as the brutish Tom Buchanan. However, he still proved to be the wrong actor for the role. Donovan's Tom never struck me as an egotistical ex-jock . . . merely an ill-tempered Moaning Minnie with too much money on his hands. Not only did I also have great difficulty in viewing him as a ladies' man, but also Nick's classmate at Yale. Martin Donovan and Paul Rudd are a good deal twelve years apart. And it shows. Jerry Grayson's brief portrayal of gambler/gangster Meyer Wolfsheim did not strike me as memorable. On the other hand, I will never forget William Camp's portrayal of Myrtle's loser husband, George Wilson. I found it incredible bad.

The three actresses in "THE GREAT GATSBY" fared better. Somewhat. I enjoyed Mira Sorvino's performance as the very feminine and flaky Daisy Buchanan. She did an excellent job of recapturing Daisy's warm, flirtatious personality and shallowness. My only problem with Sorvino is that she utilized a Northeastern accent to portray Daisy. And the latter came from the Upper South - Louisville, Kentucky. Thankfully, Francie Swift, who hails from Texas, used a soft Southern accent in her portrayal of Daisy's Louisville friend, golfer Jordan Baker. Mind you, Swift's Jordan did not strike me as a female athlete. But she gave a sly and sexy performance that I found satisfying. In fact, she might be the best Jordan Baker I have seen on screen - despite the Dutch Boy haircut and dull wardrobe. Heather Goldenhersh did a pretty good job of portraying the vulgar and ambitious Myrtle Wilson. I said good . . . not great. The actress portrayed a high, light voice that I would not associate with a character like Myrtle. And I did not find her desperation to escape from a life with the dull George Wilson particularly convincing. But I was impressed by Goldenhersh's one scene in which she conveyed Mrytle's account of her first meeting with Tom.

"THE GREAT GATSBY" had a few virtues - including some well done performances from the movie's three leading ladies and two exceptional sequences. But the flaws overwhelmed the virtues - including lackluster direction from Robert Markowitz and the producers' miscasting of Toby Stephens in the leading role. I have seen at least three versions of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel. I hate to say it, but this 2000 television movie has to be the least impressive I have seen.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Top Five Favorite "LOST" Season One (2004-2005) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One of "LOST" (2004-2010). The series was created by Jeffrey Lieber, J. J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof; and produced by the latter and Carlton Cuse. 


TOP FIVE FAVORITE "LOST" SEASON ONE (2004-2005) Episodes

1 - 1.22-1.23 Exodus

1. (1.23-1.25) "Exodus" - This season finale served as a transition in the series' narrative, as an expedition sets out to find dynamite to open the hatch recently discovered by castaway John Locke. And the raft planned by Michael Dawson finally leaves the island with him, his son Walt, Jin Kwon and James "Sawyer" Ford, resulting in unexpected circumstances.



2 - 1.17 In Translation

2. (1.17) ". . . In Translation" - This episode featured Jin Kwon's backstory in flashbacks and the further disintegration of his marriage, when he discovers that his wife Sun had learned English behind his back.



3 - 1.04 Walkabout

3. (1.04) "Walkabout" - While Locke and a few others set on a hunting expedition to find boar for the other castaways, his flashbacks reveal his reason for being in Australia.



4 - 1.11 All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues

4. (1.11) "All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues" - Jack Shephard leads an expedition to find two castaways that had been kidnapped in the previous episode. The episode's flashbacks reveal the events that led to Jack being responsible for his father's dismissal from the hospital they worked at.



5 - 1.19 Deus Ex Machina

5. (1.19) "Deus Ex Machina" - In their search for a means to open a hatch they had found, Locke and Boone Carlyle find a Nigerian small plane. And their discovery leads to tragic circumstances. In the flashbacks, Locke meets his parents for the first time, who prove to be major disappointments.

Friday, September 27, 2013

"THE FAMILY" (2013) Photo Gallery

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Below are images from the movie adaptation of Tonino Benacquista's novel, "Malavita", called "THE FAMILY". Directed by Luc Besson, the movie stars Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfieffer and Tommy Lee Jones: 


"THE FAMILY" (2013) Photo Gallery

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"2 GUNS" (2013) Review

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"2 GUNS" (2013) Review

I have been a major fan of both Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg for years. But when I first learned that the pair would be starring in one of those "cop buddy" action flicks called "2 GUNS", I did not greet the news with any real enthusiams. And I had a few reasons for my lack of enthusiasm. 

As much as I admired the two, I could not envision the both of them as an effective screen team. I thought they would either cancel each other out or simply lack any real screen chemistry. There have been less and less "cop buddy" movies in the past decade. The genre is not as popular as it used to be during its heyday from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s. Also, the movie was released during the month of August, which the Hollywood studios use as a dumping ground for their second-rate summer fare or for movies they are uncertain of any success. And if I must be brutally honest, the movie's title - "2 GUNS" - did not particularly ring with any originality or zing. I did the math and concluded that this movie would be, at best, a sample of cinematic mediocrity. But . . . this was a movie with Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg and decided to see it anyway.

"2 GUNS" began in the middle of the story with the two main characters - criminals Robert Trench and Michael Stigman - plotting the robbery of a local Texas bank that holds the money of Mexican drug lord named Papi Greco. The story rewinds back a few days to Trench and Stigman's meeting with Greco in Mexico, where the latter fails to give Trench the cocaine that he wanted. As it turned out during a stop at the U.S.-Mexico border, Trench is an undercover D.E.A. agent who needs the cocaine as evidence to convict Greco. Trench decides to continue his cover and assist Stigman in robbing Greco's $3 million dollars from a Texas bank. Unbeknownst to Trench, Stigman is an undercover U.S. Navy Intelligence agent who is ordered by his commanding officer, Harold Quince, to kill Trench and take the $3 million so that the Navy can use it to finance covert operations. Upon robbing the bank, both Trench and Stigman discover that Greco had $43 million dollars in the bank. Even worse, the money actually belongs to a C.I.A. official named Earl, who has been using the money given to him by Greco for C.I.A. black operations. Stigman finds himself in trouble with Quince for failing to kill Trench. And before the latter is framed by Earl for his superior's murder, he is instructed to get the money back or face prison. Trench and Stigman team up to find the money.

Just as I had expected, "2 GUNS" proved to be a typical "cop buddy" movie that was prevalent during the late 1980s and the early 1990s. However, I was surprised how complex it proved to be. Instead of two police officers already established as partners or being forced to become partners, "2 GUNS" featured two intelligence agents unaware of each other's profession and mission, and forced to become partners when they find themselves ostracized. I was also surprised to discover that both Washington and Wahlberg managed to produce a first-rate screen chemistry. Not only did they work well together as an action team, but also proved to be quite funny. And thanks to Blake Masters' screenplay, the movie featured some top-notch action scenes that included the actual bank robbery, Trench and Stigman's encounter with Quince's shooters at Trench's apartment, and an encounter with Grego's men at the home of Trench's fellow DEA colleague, Deb Reese. Apparently, Masters and director Baltasar Kormákur saved the best for the last in a blazing shoot-out between the pair, Quince's shooters, Earl's killers and Greco's men at the latter's ranch in Mexico. Despite my observation that the movie evolved into a complex story, both Masters and Kormákur made it clear for me - aside from one or two scenes.

One of those scenes that confused me centered around Trench's DEA colleague and former lover, Deb Reese. I understood that she was involved in a scheme to get her hands on Greco's money with Quince. But after she found herself a hostage by Greco, she immediately gave up on the idea of Trench and Stigman finding the $43 million she had hidden, despite giving Trench a clue to its location. It seemed as if her character seemed to be in some kind of conflict over the issue . . . and an unnecessary one at that. Another scene - or I should say plot line - that confused me concerned Stigman's position with the U.S. Navy. He managed to infiltrate a naval base in Corpus Christi and informed an Admiral Tulway about the mission, Quince and the missing $43 million dollars. Although Tulway declared Quince a wanted man, he also disavowed Stigman from prevent the scandal from tarnishing the Navy's reputation, which would have required Stigman's arrest. Does that mean by the end of the money, Stigman remained wanted by the Navy, while he helped Trench take down the C.I.A.'s other bank stashes at the end of the film? Why did end Stigman's situation on such a tenuous note? And why would Trench even bother to go after the other C.I.A. money stashes? Were they connected to Greco's drug operations? If so, the screenplay failed to make the issue clear.

The cast gave first-rate performances. This is not surprising, considering the names in the cast. Both Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg were not only excellent as the two leads, but also seemed to be having a lot of fun. Paula Patton made a rather subtle femme fatale as Trench's double-crossing colleague. Bill Paxton proved to be a very scary adversary as the malevolent C.I.A. official trying to get his money back. Edward James Olmos proved to be equally effective as the ruthless, yet soft-spoken drug dealer, Greco. And I was surprised to see James Marsden portray an unsympathetic role as the ruthless Harold Quince, whose scheming got the two leads in trouble. And he was damn good.

I might as well say it. Aside from a rather complex plot, "2 GUNS" is not exactly a memorable action movie that will rock your world. It is also marred by some vague writing in its second half. It is entertaining, funny and has plenty of exciting action scenes, thanks to director Baltasar Kormákur. But the best thing about this film proved to be its cast led by the dynamic duo of Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

TIME MACHINE: Battle of Chickamauga

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TIME MACHINE: BATTLE OF CHICKAMAUGA

This week marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga, during the U.S. Civil War. Fought in southwestern Tennessee and northeastern Georgia, the battle served as the last Union offensive in that region between September 19-20, 1863. It was the first major U.S. Civil War battle to be fought in Georgia.

Following his successful Tullahoma Campaign, General William Rosecrans, who commanded the Union's Army of the Cumberland, set out to force the Confederate Army of Tennessee, under General Braxton Bragg out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. In early September 1863, Rosecrans consolidated his forces scattered around Tennessee and Georgia and forced the Army of Tennessee out of Chattanooga. Bragg and his troops were forced south of the city and the Union troops followed them. The two armies engaged in a brief clash at Davis's Cross Roads. Bragg became determined to reoccupy Chattanooga by meeting a part of Rosecran's army, defeat it and move back into the city. 

On September 17, his army marched north, intending to attack the Union's isolated XXI Corps. While Bragg marched north on September 18, his cavalry and infantry fought with Union cavalry and mounted infantry. The actual Battle of Chickamauga between the Army of the Cumberland and the Army of Tennessee began in earnest on September 19, 1863; near Chickamauga Creek in northwestern Georgia. This small body of water flows into the Tennessee River. Although the Confederate troops engaged in a strong assault, they could not break the Union line. 

General Bragg resumed his assault on the following day, September 20. In late morning, Rosecrans received erroneous information that he had a gap in his line. While moving units to close the alleged gap, Rosecrans had accidentally created an actual gap, directly in the path of a Confederate eight-brigade assault on a narrow front by Lieutenant General James Longstreet. Longstreet's attack drove one-third of the Union army, including Rosecrans himself, away from the field. Other Union forces spontaneously rallied to create a defensive line on Horseshoe Ridge, forming a new right wing for the line of Major General George H. Thomas, who assumed overall command of remaining Federal forces. Although the Confederates launched costly and determined assaults, Thomas and his men held until twilight. The actions of Thomas earned him the nickname of "The Rock of Chickamauga. He led the Union forces to Chattanooga, while the Confederates occupied the surrounding heights and commenced upon a siege of the city.

Unable to break the Confederates' siege of Chattanooga, General Rosecrans was relieved of his command of the Army of the Cumberland on October 19, 1863. He was replaced by General Thomas. During the siege, General Bragg commenced upon a battle against those subordinates he resented for failing him in the campaign. This conflict led to General D.H. Hill being relieved of his command and General Longstreet's corps being sent to fight in the Knoxville Campaign against General Ambrose Burnside. These actions seriously weakened Bragg's army at Chattanooga. General Bragg's siege of Chattanooga remained in effect for two months, until General Ulysses S. Grant broke it during the Chattanooga Campaign in late November.

For more information on the Battle of Chickamauga, read the following books:

"The Chickamauga Campaign [Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland] (2010) Edited by Steven E. Woodworth

"The Battle of Chickamauga: The Fight for Snodgrass Hill and the Rock of Chickamauga" (2012) by Robert L. Carter

Friday, September 20, 2013

"Requiem For Magic (PG-13) - 3/3

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"REQUIEM FOR MAGIC"

Part III

"I don't think they don't know what do, if you ask me," Phoebe declared to her sisters. The Charmed Ones and their whitelighter sat inside the Halliwell living room, the following early afternoon. 

A derisive snort escaped from Piper. "Who does, Phoebe? I mean . . . c'mon. If what Darryl had said is true, how can any of us get that staff back? There must be thousands of alternate dimensions that this 'evil' Olivia may have come from." She sighed, as she placed a dirty bowl into the sink. "Unless there's a way to find out from which dimension she came." Piper glanced at Chris. "Is there?"

The young whitelighter shrugged his shoulders. "How would I know?"

"You're the whitelighter," Paige shot back.

Chris made it clear that he lacked any experience with alternate realities. "This is my first time at bat with time travel."

"Then why don't you ask the Elders?" Paige demanded.

Rolling his eyes at the same time, Chris heaved a sigh. "Can't I get a bite to eat, first?" he muttered.

"Go ahead," Piper said, as Paige opened her mouth to protest. "But I need to know something." She paused, as her mind focused upon her son. "With Cole and Olivia dead, has the future changed? Is Wyatt . . .?"

Chris finished, ". . . still a powerful force of evil in the universe? I'm afraid so. My memories had changed a few days ago. Now with Cole dead, there's no one strong enough to stop Wyatt. It's going to be ugly."

Piper spotted a glass half filled with apple juice. "Oh God! This is great! My son becomes the scourge of the magical world."

Chris glanced away for a brief second before he added, "I better get going. I guess I should get started on any information about alternate realities."

Before he could teleport out of the room, Phoebe said, "Wait a minute! Don't you need to speak to Piper about something else? Like that matter we had discussed?"

Both Piper and Paige stared at the middle Charmed One and the whitelighter. "What matter?" the former asked.

"It's nothing," Chris quickly said. "Gotta go!"

"Chris!" But the whitelighter orbed out of the living room before Phoebe could protest any further.

Piper stared at her younger sister. "What matter where you two talking about?"

To Piper's surprise, Phoebe blushed. "It's nothing, Piper. Well . . . yeah, it's important. But it's best that Chris tell you about it. I've got to go as well. I have a meeting with some lawyer named David Nakano. I think he's Cole's attorney."

"Phoebe . . . wait!" Piper cried. But the middle Charmed One had snatched up her purse and rushed out of the manor's front door. Piper turned to her youngest sister. "Now, what the hell was that whole thing with Chris about?"

Paige rose from her seat. "Beats me. I have to get out of here, as well. Barbara . . . well, let's just say that I'm still managing the shop for now. I'll see you later."

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

Once Paige had left the manor, Piper went into the kitchen and eyed the dirty dishes on the table and sighed. Once again, her sisters had left her alone to clean up their mess. She promised herself that one day, she would force them to do the job, instead.

After dumping the last of the dirty dishes into the sink, Piper turned on the hot water. The pipes began to rattle loudly, causing the Charmed One to nearly jump out of her skin. "Damn pipes!" she muttered. Nearly three days had passed and the pipes were still making noise all over the house. Piper had called the plumber, yesterday morning. One had yet to show up. She reached for the telephone and called the plumbing company.

After being assured that a plumber would arrive within an hour, Piper went upstairs to feed Wyatt. She fed him his lunch. Then she left the one year-old to sleep, while she cleaned the house. While she set about her task, the Charmed One contemplated on Darryl's theory about Cole and Olivia's deaths. The idea of an evil alternate Olivia committing the murders seemed absurd. At first. And it surprised Piper that Darryl Morris – of all people – would even consider such an idea. But she realized that both the Halliwells, the McNeills and even their closest friends dealt with magic almost on a daily basis. Perhaps Darry's idea was not that absurd, after all.

The doorbell rang. Piper glanced at her watch. It read twenty-three minutes past two. Her mouth twisted into a slight grimace. She had called the plumbing company nearly two hours ago. What happened to the hour it was supposed to take for them to send one plumber? Someone at that company must be slipping.

Piper headed for the foyer and opened the door. She found a tall, attractive, middle-aged man with curly brown hair that grayed at the temples and hazel-green eyes standing on the stoop. He wore overalls. "Piper Halliwell?" he asked, frowning at his clipboard.

"I see that you're finally here," Piper replied caustically. "I had called nearly two hours ago."

The man sighed. "Sorry, Lady. I had another client. So, what's the problem?"

For some odd reason, Piper found herself recalling the visit of the gas man, some five years ago. Only he had ended up being possessed by the Woogeyman . . . and tried to kill her. Why on earth would she be thinking of that day now?

The Charmed One eyed the plumber warily. "You're with Sherman Plumbing, right?"

"Yes Lady, I am." The plumber rolled his eyes. "My name is Chuck Jarwoski. I've been with the company for the past eleven years. What's the problem?"

Piper hesitated. Realizing that she was being suspicious for no reason, she allowed the plumber inside the house. "Sorry about that. Just being careful. Um . . . it's the kitchen pipes. Well, at least for today. I've been having problems with the pipes both inside the kitchen and the bathroom for the past three days."

"Where's the basement?"

"You can reach it through the kitchen," Piper replied. "That way." She pointed in the direction of the kitchen. She had no intention of turning her back on anyone – save a Halliwell, a McNeill, Darryl, Scott or a whitelighter.

Annoyance flashed in Mr. Jarwoski's eyes. "Lady, where exactly is . . . 'this way'?"

Piper continued to point in the same direction. "It's a straight walk to the kitchen. Trust me."

The plumber sighed once more and marched straight toward the kitchen. Piper followed closely at his heels. Once they reached it, Jarwoski turned on the sink's hot water. As before, the pipes began to rattle. "Hmmmm, sounds like a loose pressure valve. Or perhaps it's the pipes' discs. Where's the basement?"

Piper pointed at the doorway to the far right. She opened the door and switched on the basement's light. "It's downstairs." As the plumber headed toward the basement, memories of the Woogeyman incident reared its ugly head, once more. She shook her head and returned to the stove, where Wyatt's milk bottle sat in a saucepan. Once it finished warming up, she turned off the stove. And the telephone rang.

The call came from her liquor supplier. It seemed he wanted to verify a shipment of vodka for P3. Unfortunately, Piper had never ordered any vodka. She had ordered Scotch whiskey. Moron. Once she reminded the supplier that he had screwed up an order for the umpteenth time, she gave him the correct request. She finally hung up the telephone, realizing that she needed to find another supplier. Then she remembered Mr. Jarwoski. "Hey!" she cried, while standing in the basement's doorway. "Are you finished yet?"

The plumber's voice floated back. "Not yet. Almost."

Forgetting her vow to keep a close eye on her visitor, Piper left the kitchen and rushed upstairs to fetch her purse. She realized that this plumbing job was going to cost her a pretty penny. Perhaps she could get Phoebe and Paige to pay for part of the bill. When she returned to the kitchen basement's doorway, she cried out once more, "Are you finished yet?"

"I am now," a voice from behind murmured.

Taken by surprise, Piper whirled around. Something sharp pierced her gut and she cried out in pain. Her eyes widened at the sight of Mr. Jarwoski holding a knife that dripped with her blood. Her mouth hung opened in shock. "Good-bye, Miss Halliwell," Jarwoski coolly added with a smirk. Piper raised her hands in an attempt to vanquish her attacker. Unfortunately, he moved faster and stabbed her again. This time, straight into the heart.

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Filled with a deep satisfaction he had not experienced in years, Artemus gazed at the dead witch that lay sprawled on the floor. He knelt beside the body and examined it for a pulse. Nothing. Not a single heartbeat. He had done his job. A cold smile curled his lips. One down and one more to go. At least for today. His eyes glanced upward. Time to deal with the Halliwells' youngest member.

The daemon removed the bottle of milk from the saucepan and unscrewed the top. From inside his pants pocket, he pulled out a small bottle of clear liquid. The bottle's contents happened to be the power stripping potion that the McNeill warlock had left instructions to create. He poured the potion into the bottle of milk and screwed the top back on.

After turning off the stove, Artemus removed the milk from the saucepan and left the kitchen. He paused before the foot of the staircase. With a smile stamped on his face, the daemon shifted into the form of the oldest Charmed One. "Wyatt," he cried softly, "Mommy has a little surprise for you!" Still smiling and clutching the bottle of milk, he teleported to the manor's second floor.

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The moment Paige and Harry entered the manor three hours later, the telephone rang. The youngest Charmed One strode into the living room to answer the call. "Hello?"

"Paige, is that you?" Phoebe's voice cried.

Paige glanced at her boyfriend, who sat on the living room's sofa, looking slightly morose. "Yeah Pheebs, what is it?"

"Have you seen Leo?" her older sister asked.

Leo? Paige rolled her eyes. "You're looking for him? Why don't you summon him?"

The middle Charmed One reminded the younger woman that Leo was no longer their whitelighter. "You'd think the Elders would have the good sense to give us a new one."

Heaving an annoyed sigh, Paige suggested that Leo may have been summoned by the Elders. "Why don't you check with Gideon from the Magic School?" She shot another glance at Harry, whose face now expressed contempt at the mention of the Elder's name.

"Oh God! I don't want to deal with that man again. Once was enough. I tried calling Piper, but I can't get hold of her. Something . . . something odd happened to me a few hours ago." Phoebe paused momentarily. "I had this odd feeling that something had changed, but I don't know what. I haven't felt this way since Andy's death."

A frown appeared on Paige's face. As much as she and Phoebe sympathized with Piper dealing with the end of a marriage, something bad must have happened for Phoebe to be desperate to find Leo. "Look, I'll go to the Elders and ask if they had seen him. Meanwhile, try to reach Piper again."

"Yeah. Okay." Phoebe hung up.

Paige walked over and joined Harry on the sofa. "Something's wrong," she murmured. "Phoebe is having these odd feelings. Feelings she haven't had since Andy's death." She paused. "Wasm't someone meddling with time, back then?"

Harry shrugged his shoulders. "I think it was some demon. I don't remember much. I was at Stanford when it happened."

Paige shook her head. "Meddling with time? You're not able sense something like that?"

"I'm a telepath, not a seer. My powers don't have anything to do with time - unless it involves someone's memories."

Paige stood up. "Oh well. I'm going upstairs. Maybe Piper's home." She noticed the haggard expression that had returned to Harry's face. "Hey, why don't you go into the kitchen and get a drink or something? Piper made some lemonade, last night. You can pour a glass for me, as well."

A sigh left Harry's mouth. "Yeah . . . sure." He stood up. Paige planted a light kiss on the side of his mouth. A brief smile appeared on his lips before he headed toward the kitchen.

Meanwhile, Paige climbed the staircase to the second floor. She approached Piper's room and noticed it was empty. Then she headed toward the nursery. When she entered the room, Paige noticed that her nephew was sound asleep in his crib. She started to turn away, when she noticed something odd. Wyatt's head did not rest on a pillow. Instead, the pillow was situated next to the toddler. And his milk bottle had been left on a nearby table. Something that Piper would never do.

An odd sensation tingled at the back of Paige's neck. She strode quickly toward the crib and leaned over to check on her nephew. The Charmed One touched his cheek and realized it was cold. "No!" she cried in horror. "Oh God! No! No!" She touched his pulse and felt nothing. The one year-old was dead. "Oh my God! No! Har-ry! HARRY!"

"Paige! Get down here!" Harry's voice cried. "In the kitchen!"

Tears began to stream down Paige's cheeks, as she rushed downstairs. When she reached the kitchen, she found a grim looking Harry standing over something. Which turned out to be a dead body. Piper's body. "Oh God! Piper! Piper!" Paige fell to her knees and cradled her dead sister in her arms, while her screams filled the kitchen.

THE END