“TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN” (2009) Review

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Below is my review of the new movie by Michael Bay called “TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen”:

”TRANSFORMERS:  REVENGE OF THE FALLEN” (2009) Review

Two years ago, I had posted a review of the 2007 movie, “TRANSFORMERS”.  Needless to say, I had written a bad review of the film. Since then, I have seen the movie at least once or twice on television cable. And my opinion of it has changed. Somewhat. My new opinion has led me to view its sequel, ”TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen” with different eyes. Let me explain.

When I saw ”TRANSFORMERS” for the second and third times, I discovered a little secret. If a moviegoer harbors low or no expectations of films like the ones from the “TRANSFORMERS” franchise, that person might find him or herself actually enjoying such films. All it takes is the act of simply shutting down one’s brain. However, there are chances that this little tactic might not always work. It did work for me when I saw ”TRANSFORMERS” for the second time. It also worked when I finally saw ”TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen”.

This second movie began two years after the first, when the main hero, teenager Sam Witwicky has graduated from high school and is ready to enter college. In this film, a revived Megatron (the main villain from the first film) and the rest of the Decepticons have returned to Earth in order to take Sam prisoner, after he learns about the ancient origins of the Transformers and some vital information about a certain machine from the remnants of the All Spark (please do not ask me to explain this – I suggest you read the Wikipedia entry). Joining the mission to protect humankind are the Transformers, their leader Optimus Prime, and members of the NEST Team (military Special Forces assigned to work with the Transformers).

And how was the movie? Honestly, it was not all that bad. But it was also far from perfect. One had to deal with a lot of overbearing action – Michael Bay style. In fact, I found it nearly impossible to distinguish between the Transformers and the Decepticons during their fights. The use of Eubonics by two of the Transformers – twins Skids and Mudflap – annoyed the hell out of me. Nor did I find it at all humorous. And could someone please explain how the National Air and Space Museum (where Sam and his friends found the former ancient Decepticon, Jetfire), which is supposed to be in Washington D.C., end up in a location that strongly resembled the western United States? Seeing John Tuturro’s nearly bare ass in one scene did not help matters. Nor did Ramón Rodríguez’s frantic portrayal of Sam’s new college roommate, Leo Spitz. He made Shia LaBeouf’s performance in the 2007 movie look downright subtle. And quite honestly? This movie was too goddamn long. A running time of two-and-a-half hours for a movie based upon toy robots?

But as I had earlier stated, I had no high expectations of the movie and I managed to shut down my brain – somewhat – while watching it. And the story was not that bad. Screenwriters Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Ehren Kruges found a way to bring Megatron back from the dead in a believable manner. They also introduced another villain – an ancient Transformer Prime who went against the other Primes by constructing some kind of machine that can steal the heat and energy from Earth’s sun. Hmmm . . . not bad.

Another aspect of ”TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen” that impressed me was Ben Seresin’s photography. Despite the movie’s fast action, Seresin did an excellent job in capturing the color and grandeur of various locations like New York, Washington D.C. and especially the Middle East. And although there were times when Michael Bay seemed to succumb to his penchant for MTV-style direction, he still managed to maintain a steady pace for the film. And through his direction, he expressed his talent for revealing the funny and quirky sides of the average American citizens.

Speaking of American citizens, I might as well talk about the cast. Shia LaBeouf gave a more subtle performance as the Transformers’ human friend, Sam Witwicky. With Ramón Rodríguez chewing the scenery, I guess that LaBeouf felt he could relax and tone down his performance. Megan Fox gave a nice and occasionally funny performance as Sam’s mechanic girlfriend, Mikaela Barnes. It was nice to see Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson return as Army Rangers William Lennox and Robert Epps. As they had done in the 2007 movie, the pair made a solid screen team. Aside from his ass, it was nice to see John Tuturro reprise his role as Reggie Simmons, now a retired U.S. intelligence agent. However, I must give top kudos to Kevin Dunn and Julie White as Sam’s wacky parents, Ron and Judy Witwacky. More than they did so in the first film, they made a great comedy team, much to my surprise.

Should you go see ”TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen”? I cannot answer that question. It is certainly not one of the best films I have seen this year. But if you are looking for the occasional mindless form of entertainment in which you can shut down your brain, this is definitely the movie for you.

“TRANSFORMERS” (2007) Review

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“TRANSFORMERS” (2007) Review”

Based upon the Japanese cartoon TV series and the line of Hasbro toys, “TRANSFORMERS” is the story about how Earth is caught in the middle of an intergalactic war between two races of robots, the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons, which are able to change into a variety of objects, including cars, trucks, planes and other technological creations. This 2007 film was developed by producers Don Murphy and Tom DeSanto and executive director, Steven Spielberg, had convinced Michael Bay (“PEARL HARBOR”, “BAD BOYS” and “THE ISLAND”) to direct it as his first family film.

I really do not know what to say about “TRANSFORMERS”. It has a pretty good cast with the likes of Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Jon Voight, Anthony Anderson and John Turturro. It also featured the voices of Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime (leader of the the good alien robots) and Hugo Weaving as the voice of the evil Megatron.

I am already into the third paragraph of this post and I have yet to give my review. It sounds as if I am delaying in giving my view of the movie, doesn’t it? Perhaps I am. Like I had stated in the previous paragraph, I do not know what to say about “TRANSFORMERS”. On the surface, it is a pretty exciting, yet funny film. It can boast some first-class action, which happens to be Michael Bay’s forte. And the performances are pretty good. I could say that Shia LaBeouf (Spielberg’s new favorite) was exceptional. Although there were times when I found his performance a little frantic. Rather like a young John Cusak on crack. And I also thought that Tyrese Gibson seemed a little too big to be playing second fiddle to a TV actor like Josh Duhamel. And despite all of the action, special effects and good performances, I had left the theater with this uneasy feeling that “TRANSFORMERS” seemed a little beneath for someone of Bay’s talent or reputation. When one really comes down to it, the movie seemed nothing more than an over-the-top kiddie flick.

But hey, if you are really a fan of THE TRANSFORMERS franchise, I suggest that you check it out. Chances are you will not be disappointed.

“LEATHERHEADS” (2008) Review

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”LEATHERHEADS” (2008) Review

As a rule, I usually do not like sports movies. I can think of at least six or seven that are personal favorites of mine. After seeing the recent football comedy, ”LEATHERHEADS”, I can honestly say that the number has risen to eight.

George Clooney, who also directed the film, Clooney plays Dodge Connolly, captain of the struggling football team, the Duluth Bulldogs. Dodge is determined to save both his team and professional football in general when the players lose their sponsor and the league is on the brink of collapse. He convinces a college football star, Carter “the Bullet” Rutherford (John Krasinski), to join the Bulldogs, in order to capitalize on Carter’s fame as a war hero. In addition to his legendary tales of heroism in World War I, Carter has dashing good looks and unparalleled speed and skill on the field. As a result of his presence, both the Bulldogs and football in general prosper. Rene Zellweger provided romantic interest as reporter Lexie Littleton, who becomes the object of the affections of both Carter and Dodge. Unbeknown to Carter, Lexie has been assigned to find proof that Carter’s stories of military heroism are bogus. Meanwhile, Dodge’s attempts to legitimize professional football start to backfire, as rules are formalized, taking away much of the improvisational antics that made the game fun for many of its players.

I had expected to mildly enjoy ”LEATHERHEADS” or at least enjoy the 1920s setting. Instead, I found myself really enjoying the story of Dodge Connolly’s comic attempts to legitimize professional football, and his romantic rivalry with Carter Rutherford for Lexie Littleton’s heart. The comic timing featured in the script written by George Clooney, Steven Soderbergh, Duncan Brantley, Rick Reilly and Stephen Schiff is wonderful. The performances – especially the three leads – were fabulous. Clooney, Zellweger and Krasinski proved that they all possessed the skills and timing for comedic acting. And they were supported by a top notch cast that included Stephen Root, Jonathan Pryce, and Peter Gerety. And I must say that I loved the way Clooney and his production staff captured the mid 1920s America, right down to the chaotic world of football – professional and college.

However, ”LEATHERHEADS” is not perfect. The Chicago sequence leading up to the big game between the Duluth and Chicago nearly dragged the film. And I found the ending vague and lacking any real closure over Dodge, Lexie and Carter’s future. And that perfect capture of the 1920s? Well, it was not completely perfect. I have to blame Renee Zellweger’s hairstyle for this. It was fine when she had her hair pinned. But she spent at least two-thirds of the film wearing her hair in a shoulder-length bob. Is it any wonder I had originally believed this film was set in the early-to-mid 1930s?

It is a shame that ”LEATHERHEADS” did not prove to be a hit. It really is an enjoyable film. But I guess that it is the type of film that would appeal to older moviegoers who are at least in their 30s and 40s. It simply lacked the appeal for younger viewers that ”21” possessed. And to be honest, I am not a big fan of the latter film, even if it was not that bad. Oh well. If you do not want to go see ”LEATHERHEADS” in the theaters, at least give it a chance now that it has been released on DVD.

“Neighbors” – [PG] 2/11

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“NEIGHBORS”

Part 2

Cole stood in front of one of the large windows that overlooked San Francisco Bay, from his penthouse. Today had been something of an emotional roller coaster for him. First of all, the firm had just given him a new assignment, and a prestigious one, at that. It involved a lawsuit filed by one of the firm’s clients against a rival company, over the purchase of some valuable real estate in Napa Valley. Despite his “mysterious” disappearance last year, the law firm that he worked for seemed willingly to keep him on their payroll. And allow him to maintain the plush penthouse and black Porsche.

But despite keeping his job, Cole had lost something he considered a lot more valuable. Namely his wife. A long sigh escaped from his mouth. Cole flung himself on the sofa. Perhaps a divorce had been the best thing for him and Phoebe. After all, he had been possessed by the Source at the time of the wedding. When one thought about it, Phoebe had been married to the Source in all but name.

Thoughts of the former evil entity brought forth the anger and resentment that Cole had been harboring for the past nine months. And not just toward the Source. Why did Phoebe fail to understand that she had not been the only one who had suffered? Or that he was no more responsible for what happened than she? Okay, he could kick himself for allowing the Seer to trick him into using the Hollow. But he had done so to save the Charmed Ones.

And why could Phoebe and her sisters understand and forgive if one of them had ended up possessed by evil? But for some reason, they could not extend him the same regard. Was it too much for them to . . .?

A faint noise or vibration from beneath his feet interrupted Cole’s bitter musings. Music. Great! He had to deal with another noisy neighbor for the second time since his return to the penthouse. And from the same damn apartment! Keeping his irritation in check, Cole left the penthouse to pay his new neighbor a visit.

He found himself standing in front of a door marked 716. Cole knocked. Seconds later, music blasted from the apartment’s interior. And a figure appeared in the doorway. And immediately took Cole’s breath away. She stood somewhere at 5’8″ tall. Her stylishly cut hair was red – naturally red and very curly. Freckles sprinkled across the bridge of her nose and on certain parts of her delicate, yet slightly tanned face. She stared at him with eyes green as emeralds. “Hello there,” she greeted in a slightly husky voice. “May I help you?”

A moment or two passed, while Cole stared at his new neighbor. He finally rediscovered his tongue and replied, “Uh . . . I . . .” Cole shook his head. “Sorry. Uh look, I’m your new neighbor. I live upstairs in the penthouse.”

“Well, hello new neighbor,” she added, sticking out her hand. Cole took the hand and shook it. “My name is Olivia McNeill. Call me Olivia. What’s yours?”

Again, Cole hesitated. “Oh, uh Cole. Cole Turner.”

“Hi, Cole Turner.” Olivia paused and frowned. “Say, have we met before? Your name sounds familiar.”

Suspicion clouded Cole’s thoughts momentarily. How could she have known . . .?

“Excuse me, Cole?” Olivia’s voice cut into his thoughts. “Um, is there a reason why you’re on my doorstep?”

Cole immediately formed a stern expression. “Yeah. Look, I’m sorry to do this, but it’s about your music. It’s a little too loud.”

A touch of frost glazed over the neighbor’s green eyes. “Too loud? You’ve got to be kidding! I live ‘below’ you. And I’m keeping the music as low as possible.”

“Obviously it’s not low enough. I can hear it. Loud and clear.”

Her voice now tinged with sarcasm, Olivia shot back, “Considering that you’re standing outside my apartment, is it any wonder you can hear it?”

It took all of Cole’s self-control not to zap the irritating woman with a demonic bolt. “I can also hear it from my penthouse. Now, will you turn that damn music down?”

“You can hear it from . . . Okay, I’ve got to check this out, myself.” Taking Cole by surprise, Olivia brushed past him and marched toward the elevator.

The half-daemon quickly followed her. “Where are you going?” he demanded.

“To your penthouse. I want to see just how loud my music is.” The pair entered the elevator. They waited in silence as they were conveyed to Cole’s penthouse. Once outside his door, a pair of keys appeared in Cole’s hand, hidden behind his back. He had beamed to Olivia’s apartment – without bothering to collect his keys.

Once inside the penthouse, Cole cocked his ear. Yep, he heard music all right. Some tune from the mid-1970s. His neighbor must be one of those Oldies fans.

The redhead whirled on Cole, her eyes flashing accusingly. “I don’t hear anything. I feel a little vibration, but I don’t hear any music.”

“That might be vibration to you,” Cole protested, “but I hear music. And I want you to turn it down.”

Green eyes stared at him with disbelief. “What are you? From Krypton or something? You’ve got super hearing?” Cole glared at Olivia. Who returned his glare with equal heat. Then she let out an exasperated sigh and rolled her eyes. “All right! I’ll use my earphones, if it will get you off my back. Jeez!”

“Thank you,” Cole said politely.

“You know, for a walking male hormone, you’re pretty damn touchy! Good night!” Olivia glared at him one last time and stomped out of the penthouse. Cole allowed himself a triumphant smile. Mission accomplished. And he managed to do it without incinerating anyone. Phoebe would have been proud.

* * * *

The thump woke Cole from an uneasy sleep. He shot up into a sitting position. Did he just hear . . .? Another thump followed, along with a cry. What the hell was that? Whatever it was, it seemed to be coming from the apartment below. Olivia McNeill’s apartment. Strange.

Maybe his new neighbor had invited a boyfriend to spend the night. And the couple was engaged in some kind of sexual S&M thing. Cole began to lower himself back on the bed, when instinct – a gut feeling – took over him. He snapped back into a sitting position. Wait a minute. He felt something. An evil presence. Not demonic, but . . . Cole took a deep breath. A warlock? What was a warlock doing in the apartment below?

Twenty-one months of helping the Charmed Ones fight evil took hold of Cole. Without thinking, he climbed out of bed and beamed out of sight. A second later, he appeared in his new neighbor’s living room. The sight that greeted his eyes took him completely by surprise.

A suited man with long dark brown hair and thin features hung in the air, literally gasping for air. And right below him stood Olivia McNeill, clad in a thin T-shirt and gym pants. Judging by her stance and the manner in which her arm flung outward, she seemed to be responsible for the man’s present position. In other words, she was either another warlock. Or a witch.

“What the hell?” Cole cried out.

Her attention diverted by Cole’s outburst, Olivia stared at him and gasped. She dropped her arm and the man fell to the floor with a thump. “Cole!” Olivia’s face grew pale, despite the tan. “What are you . . .?”

“Look out!”

Cole’s warning came to late. The man . . . or one should say, warlock flung out his hand and sent Olivia crashing against the wall with a cry on her lips. Her head made contact with the edge of a picture frame. Before the warlock could inflict further damage, Cole seared him with a fireball. Seconds later, the warlock exploded into oblivion.

A groan escaped Olivia’s mouth. She struggled to rise to her feet. And failed. Cole stepped forward to offer his assistance. “Oh God!” she moaned. “What happened?”

Cole grabbed her hands and gently forced Olivia to her feet. “I believe you were attacked by a . . . by a warlock, I think.”

“Warlock?” Olivia’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. “How do you know about . . . Hey! You vanquished him!”

Cole gave his shoulders a quick shrug. “Well, yeah.”

“Wait a minute!” The suspicion in Olivia’s green eyes deepened. “What are you a witch, or something? Or are you something else? I’ve never heard of a witch who appears and disappears like that.” She now expressed fear. “What are you?”

Feeling a mixture of dread and déjà vu, Cole heaved a sigh. So much for that new life. “All right, I might as well tell you that I’m a demon. Well, half-demon.” He paused. “Then again, I really don’t know . . . it’s a long story.”

Olivia winced as she moved her neck. Cole grabbed hold of her shoulders and forced her to turn around, so he could examine her. A thin red line of blood trickled from the back of her head and down her neck. “This is bad,” he murmured. “Maybe you should call your whitelighter.”

Green eyes radiated confusion. Along with lingering remnants of suspicion. “I . . . how do I . . .?”

“Look, if I wanted you dead, I would have killed you by now.” Cole led Olivia to her sofa. “You really need to call your whitelighter. The bleeding is getting worse.”

Still staring at her savior, Olivia mumbled, “Yeah, sure. Uh, Leo? LEO!”

Now it was Cole’s turn to look surprised. A familiar cluster of blue lights materialized. Leo. Cole’s eyes expressed shock at the sight of his bro . . . his former brother-in-law. “Leo?”

“Cole?” The whitelighter was dressed in a gray T-shirt and pajama bottoms. He looked equally stunned. “What . . .?” His eyes focused on the groggy-looking woman who sat next to Cole. Shock gave way to concern. “Olivia! What happened to her?”

Cole explained how Olivia had been attacked by a warlock. “I think she took a serious blow to the back of her head.”

Leo immediately sat on the other side of the red-haired witch. He examined her head, placed his hand over the wound and healed it. “There,” he said, “she should be fine.”

Green eyes blinked momentarily, before they settled upon the whitelighter. “Leo! Thanks. I . . .” She touched the spot of her former wound. “Huh. No blood. Nice job.”

However, Leo did not seem to be listening. Instead, he regarded Cole with wary eyes. “Cole! What are you doing here?”

“He’s the new neighbor I had told you about,” Olivia answered, instead. “But I am curious to know how you two know each other.”

Leo took a deep breath. “He’s my former brother-in-law.”

“Huh?”

Cole grumbled, “His ex-brother-in-law. Haven’t you ever heard of Belthazor?”

Olivia’s eyes grew round. Realization made them seem even greener. “Oh! Of course! I thought your name seemed familiar! You’re the half-daemon who . . .” Her face fell into a frown. “Did you say ex-brother-in-law?”

Cole glanced away, suppressing the anger that had ignited within him. He replied coolly, “Yeah, I did. Pho . . . I’ve been divorced since 9:45 this morning.”

“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.” An embarrassing pause filled the room. Olivia broke the silence, as she cleared her throat. “Anyway, thanks for coming to my rescue.”

Surprise reverberated in Leo’s voice. “Cole saved you?” The moment after the words came out of his mouth, Cole glared at him. “Sorry. Of course you did. Uh . . .”

“Why don’t you go home, Leo? I’m fine and you’re wife, Whats-her-name, must be wondering where you are.” Olivia patted the whitelighter’s arm and stood up. “Meanwhile, my neighbor and I will get to know each other.” She gave Cole a bright smile.

Which Cole responded with a fleeting one of his own. He glanced at the clock on the mantle above the empty fireplace. Twelve thirty-four. “I’d like to stay and chat,” he said politely, “but I have work, tomorrow. And I really need to get some sleep.”

Disappointment flickered in her eyes. “Oh.” Cole had to admit that he felt a similar pang. Although he found Olivia McNeill fascinating, the last thing he wanted was involvement with another woman. Especially another witch. Besides, he could not see himself falling in love with anyone. Not after Phoebe.

“Uh, if you’ll excuse me, I should be going.” Cole nodded at the whitelighter. “Leo. Miss McNeill.” Then he beamed out of his neighbor’s apartment, with the memory of her face imprinted in his mind.

END OF PART 2

“JUMPER” (2008) Review

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“JUMPER” (2008) Review

Doug Liman (“THE BOURNE IDENTITY” and “MR. AND MRS. SMITH”) directed this film adaptation of Steven Gould’s science-fiction thriller about a young man who discovers that he has a teleportation ability as a teenager and finds himself the target of a group of bounty hunters known as Paladins. The movie stars Hayden Christensen, Samuel L. Jackson, Rachel Bilson, Jamie Bell, Michael Hooker and Diane Lane.

I really did not know what to expect of this movie. I have never read Gould’s novel and the sequels that followed. The movie trailer looked promising. But with the film being released in February and the critics being lukewarm . . . I really was not expecting much. Lo and behold, I ended up enjoying “JUMPER” a lot.

Liman did a good job in keeping the story interesting and well paced. Hayden Christensen (dubbed “wooden” by the critics) gave a subtle, yet entertaining performance. And he seemed to have good chemistry with his co-stars Rachel Bilson and Jamie Bell. I have to admit there were times I could not understand Bell’s accent, but at least he gave a solid performance. Samuel L. Jackson was particularly scary as Roland Cox, the bounty hunter (also called Paladin) who belonged to an organization that did not approve of teleporters or “Jumpers”. These religious fanatics believed that people like Christensen and Bell had no right to such abilities. Only God. Hmmmm.

Judging from what I have read about Gould’s novel, I can see that the film adaptation was not completely faithful. Not that it bothers me. I have never read the novel. And Hollywood – along with other film industries – never possessed the habit of being completely faithful to the literary source. But I must admit that screenwriters David S. Goyer, Jim Uhls and Simon Kinberg did a pretty good job with their adaptation. Mind you, I believe that the movie could have been a little longer than 90 minutes. But it seems a little clear that the writers have set up a possible sequel in case the movie proves to be successful. However, I do wish they had cleared up two matters – 1) the fate of David Rice’s father after the latter had been assaulted by Cox; and 2) the fate of David’s former nemesis – high school bully Mark, after David had left him in a jail. But at least the story did not end in an abrupt manner that had left moviegoers slightly puzzled at the end of “MR. AND MRS. SMITH”.

“JUMPER” is not exactly the best action film to hit the theaters. It is basically a good solid movie that will keep you entertained to the end. On the whole, I give it at least three out of four stars.

Notes and Observations on “STAR WARS: Episode I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”

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The following is a list of minor notes and observations that came to me, during my recent viewing of “Episode I: The Phantom Menace”. I hope that you enjoy them: 

“STAR WARS: Episode I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”

*Both the Trade Federation and Darth Sidious seemed surprised that Supreme Chancellor Valorum had dispatched Jedi Knights to act as mediators between the Trade Federation and Naboo. Apparently, this discovery had led Sidious to order a premature invasion of Naboo.

*Why were the Trade Federation fearful of the Jedi, acting as ambassadors?

*Why would Boss Nass and the Gungans want Jar-Jar Binks banished for simply being clumsy? Why did his clumsiness bother him so much? Was this an indication of the Gungans’ lack of tolerance toward imperfection? Could one say the same about those STAR WARS fans who dislike Jar-Jar with a vengeance?

*”You overdid it.” – Was that Obi-Wan Kenobi admonishing his master, Qui-Gon Jinn, for making Jar-Jar too relaxed?

*Isn’t it ironic that it was Obi-Wan who led Qui-Gon, Padme and himself to Anakin, by suggesting that the Queen’s ship seek repairs on Tatooine?

*After two attempts, Qui-Gon discovered that the Jedi Mind Trick did not work on Watto and other Toydarians. Perhaps this is why he had failed to free both Skywalkers from slavery.

*Many have complained that Lucas should have shown the Nabooans suffering under the Trade Federation’s invasion. Perhaps. Perhaps not. But after Sio Biddle had sent that message to the Queen about the suffering on the planet, both Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan expressed suspicion that the message might be a trick to lure the Queen back into the Trade Federation’s clutches. Of course, they were wrong.

*Darth Maul managed to track down the Queen’s whereabouts, via Sio Biddle’s transmission to Tatooine.

*Anakin told Qui-Gon and Padme that he had been working on a scanner to locate the transmitter in his head. As many know, the transmitter will blow up any slave attempting an escape. I wonder what would have happened if Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had made an attempt to get Shmi away from Tatooine.

*Apparently, the idea to enter Anakin into the Boonta Eve Podrace was his own idea . . . supported very reluctantly by Shmi.

*”What if this plan fails, Master? We could be stuck here for a very long time.” – Obi-Wan’s remark seemed to foreshadow his own fate on Tatooine.

*Qui-Gon’s plan to free Anakin seemed to have been instigated by Shmi’s request that he find a way help Anakin leave Tatooine and slavery.

*If Watto believed that Sebula would win the race, why did he agree to support Qui-Gon’s backing of Anakin? I believe that Watto felt he would get his hands on Queen Amidala’s ship if Anakin had lost. And if the latter had won then he and Qui-Gon would split the victor’s fee. But Watto’s greed and lack of faith in Anakin allowed him to be manipulated by Qui-Gon into betting against his young slave.

*I LOVE the podrace sequence. I love every detail about it. Along with the Battle of Naboo, it is the highlight of the movie.

*Interesting. Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Panaka and Anakin had all bowed before Valorum and Palpatine. Yet, both the present and future chancellors did not bow before Queen Amidala, upon the latter’s arrival on Coruscant.

*Amidala seemed certain of Valorum’s support in the Naboo/Trade Federation matter. Yet, Palpatine immediately set out to undermine Valorum in Amidala’s eyes . . . and suggest that a new chancellor be elected.

*Yoda seemed particularly aggressive when questioning Qui-Gon’s belief that Anakin might be the Chosen One to fulfill the prophecy.

*Why does Palpatine want Padme to accept the Trade Federation’s control of Naboo? What plans did he have for this situation, once he became chancellor?

*Many have accused The Phantom Menace of lacking in emotion. Yet, there seemed to be a heavy undercurrent of emotion in the movie. In the scene which featured the Jedi Council’s initial rejection of Anakin, Yoda, Mace Windu, Ki-Adi Mundi and other Council members seemed smug and arrogant over their decision. Anakin looked angry at the Council, and Qui-Gon . . . disappointed. But most surprisingly, Obi-Wan looked both surprised and angry at Qui-Gon’s support of Anakin. I suspect that he felt a little rejected.

*Why did Palpatine warn Darth Maul to allow Padme, the Naboo and Gungan forces, and the Jedi to make the first move?

*I never realized that Anakin had saved Padme, Panaka and the Nabooans in the hangar, by shooting at the droidekas.

*So . . . R2-D2 wanted Anakin to return to Naboo, once they had joined Ric Olie and the other Nabooan pilots in their battle against the Federation ships.

*Anakin had ended up inside the Federation ship, because his fighter had been hit. And he had accidentally destroyed the shield generator.

*Before striking down Qui-Gon, Darth Maul seemed frustrated by his inability to kill the Jedi Master.

*If the Jedi Council had finally approved of Anakin’s entry into the Order, why didn’t Yoda use a less strident manner to convince Obi-Wan to allow someone else – someone more mature – to train Anakin? Who knows? Perhaps he may have been more convincing.

*The moment the camera focused upon Palpatine’s face during Qui-Gon’s funeral, you can hear the cheers of triumph that would lead to the victory celebration.

*Both Anakin and Obi-Wan seemed uneasy in each other’s company during the celebration. In fact, Anakin seemed unusually sober . . . until he exchanged a smile with Padme. I suspect that Obi-Wan had noticed that exchange, judging by his expression.

“ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE” (1969) Review

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”ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE” (1969) Review

At least ten years or more must have passed since I last saw the 1969 Bond movie, “ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (OHMSS)”. EON Production’s sixth entry in the Bond franchise has the distinction of being the only movie that starred Australian male model-turned-actor, George Lazenby. It was the first EON movie that did not star Sean Connery – already fixed in the public’s mind as the only actor who can portray James Bond. And it was the only movie that was directed by former film editor, Peter Hunt.

I first became aware of “OHMSS” back in the mid-1980s. I had seen it on television once, when I was a child. But ABC Television’s botched editing had turned me off from the movie. I eventually became a fan during repeated viewings of the movie during the mid and late 1980s. By the beginning of the 1990s, “OHMSS” had been fixed as my favorite Bond movie. For years, it remained in this position, despite repeating viewings of other Bond movies, the release of the Brosnan films and my own mysterious reluctance to watch “OHMSS”. It seemed as if I was afraid to watch it again, fearful that my earlier adulation of the film might prove to be misguided. And then EON Productions released the new Bond film, “CASINO ROYALE” in the theaters. The latest entry in the Bond franchise had impressed me so much that my doubts about “OHMSS” increased even further. After seeing “CASINO ROYALE” for the third time and later “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”, I finally decided to watch “OHMSS” for the first time in years.

In the end, my fears seemed groundless. My latest viewing of “OHMSS” proved that I had every right to view it as one of my all time favorite Bond movies. After nearly 40 years, the movie still holds up as one of the finest Bond movies in the entire franchise, if not the finest. And it also one of the few Bond films to closely follow its source, namely the 1963 novel penned by Ian Fleming. What makes the latter remarkable is that the previous Bond entry, “YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE” barely resembled its literary source, aside from a few characters and the setting.

“OHMSS” picks up with Bond searching for Blofeld, now wanted by various governments for his past forays into international terrorism and extortion. His search leads to meeting the most important woman in his life other than Vesper Lynd – Teresa (Tracy) Draco di Vicenzo. Not only will his meeting with Tracy lead to a serious change in his private life, it will also affect his professional life, thanks to Tracy’s father, Marc-Ange Draco when he provides Bond with information leading to Blofeld. Of course, Draco was only willing to provide this information, if Bond courts his daughter. In the end, Bond not only tracks down Blofeld, but destroy the latter’s latest attempt to extort the United Nations. But as many know, Bond’s latest professional conflict will result in tragedy for his private life.

I only have a few problems with “OHMSS”. One of them was the director Peter Hunt’s decision to have actor George Baker (portraying the real Sir Hilary Bray), dub Lazenby’s voice, while Bond is impersonating Sir Hilary at Piz Gloria. Why they had decided to do this confounds me. It seemed very unnecessary, unless the director was aiming for Sir Hilary to sound like a cliché of a British scholar. Another problem I had were some of the jokes that came out of Bond’s mouth. I consider this problem minor, since “OHMSS” – like many other Bond movies (good or bad) had its share of bad jokes. One particularly good joke was the St. Bernard who came to Bond’s “rescue” after the latter had survived his bobsled fight against Blofeld. And last, but not least, there were a few moments when the editing seemed a bit . . . questionable. A good example would be the scene that featured Bond’s first meeting with Draco. There is a moment when it seemed that Bond had asked Draco for Blofeld’s whereabouts. It seemed as if Lazenby had spoken too soon, cutting off actor Gabriele Ferzetti’s lines too soon. Another viewing seemed to reveal that poor editing might have been at fault and not Lazenby’s acting. And another review seemed to agree with my findings.

Aside from the previously mentioned quibbles, I had no problems with “OHMSS”. In fact there is so much to enjoy about this movie – including the main star, George Lazenby. Many critics and fans either tend to dismiss his performance as wooden or give him minor credit for his valiant attempt at a decent performance. Frankly, I think that he was a lot better than many give him credit for. I must admit that he has a rather odd voice (which I suspect has been influenced by his Australian accent), but so did most of the other Bonds – including Connery’s tendency to indulge in pre-adolescent diction, Moore’s drawl, Dalton’s Welsh accent and Brosnan’s . . . well, I cannot really describe Brosnan’s voice. I just find it odd. But despite Lazenby’s odd voice, his acting comes off very natural and he seems to project Bond’s emotions with an ease that should not have come easy to him. But he does. And instead of portraying Bond as some kind of action/sexual icon, he portrays the character as very human. This is very obvious in the following scenes:

-Bond’s growing impatience with Tracy’s antics
-Bond’s surprise that M had given him leave instead of accepting his resignation
-Bond’s breakthrough with Tracy
-the Piz Gloria dinner sequence
-Bond’s fear of capture during his escape from Piz Gloria
-Bond’s proposal of marriage to Tracy
-Bond’s quarrel with M over Tracy and Blofeld
-Tracy’s death

Personally, I thought that Lazenby really shined in the marriage proposal scene, those scenes that featured Bond’s quarrels with M and the Piz Gloria dinner sequence. Despite having his voice dubbed by George Baker in the latter, Lazenby managed to express Bond’s emotions during that scene effortlessly without having to say a word.

The movie also benefited from the presence of Diana Rigg, who had recently left “THE AVENGERS” to begin a movie career. What can one say about the great Diana? Not only did she effortlessly combine all the complex personality traits of Tracy di Vicenzo – witty, emotional, sad, brave, determined, etc. Is it any wonder that Tracy is viewed by many actresses as the ultimate Bond woman? Even better, both Rigg and Lazenby managed to create great chemistry together as the romantically doomed pair.

Not only did “OHMSS” benefited from both Lazenby and Rigg’s performances, the pair was ably supported by a fine cast that included the warm and charismatic Gabriele Ferzetti as Tracy’s father, the talented Ilse Steppat who portrayed the intimidating Irma Bunt shortly before her death (she never lived to experience the movie’s release), the always dependable Bernard Lee as M – giving one of his better performances, and the charming and fun Angela Scoular as Blofeld’s English patient, Ruby. Of course one cannot forget the legendary Telly Savalas, who became the second actor to portray Ernst Blofeld on-screen. And as far as I’m concerned, he was the best. He was not impeded by Donald Pleasance’s ridiculous scar and questionable accent or Charles Gray’s foppish portrayal. Instead, he radiated intelligence and menace, making him the only Blofeld (in my opinion) worthy of being Bond’s nemesis.

I also have to commend Peter Hunt’s direction. “OHMSS” was his first time at bat as a director. Any other inexperienced director could have turned one of Ian Fleming’s best novels into a hash job. Fortunately, Hunt proved to be a talented director and did justice to the novel – although I did have a problem with the editing of a few of his scenes. Hunt was not only ably supported by a fine cast, but by screenwriter Richard Maibaum, editor and future director John Glen, and John Barry’s marvelous score and Hal David’s haunting lyrics to the song, “We Have All the Time In the World”. Cinematographer Michael Reed superbly recaptured the majesty of the Swiss Alps and the exotic elegance of Portugal with his photography. And one cannot forget skier Willy Bogner Jr. and Alex Barbey for creating the first and probably best ski chase in the Bond franchise.

I could probably go on about how much I love “OHMSS”, but I do not want to sound repetitive. What can I say? After 40 years, I consider to still be one of the best Bond movies in the franchise . . . and definitely one of my favorites. And I am happy to see that “OHMSS” is finally being recognized by many as the fine film it is. If you have not seen this film, I suggest that you rent or buy it as soon as possible. Or else you will be missing something special.

Below are some memorable lines from the movie:

Memorable Lines

Draco: My apologies for the way you were brought here. I wasn’t sure you’d accept a *formal* invitation.
Bond: There’s always something formal about the point of a pistol.

[a bad guy chasing Bond skis into a snow blower, which then spews red snow]
Bond: He had a lot of guts.

Sir Hilary Bray: Our methods are very exacting. We never like to speak until we’re *absolutely* certain that there can be no possibility of error on our side or… forgery on anyone else’s.
Bond: I hope I can live up to your high standards.

Tracy: You’re hurting me.
Bond: I thought that was the idea for tonight.

Bond: [to the camera] This never happened to the other fellow.

Draco: She likes you, I can see it.
Bond: You must give me the name of your oculist.

Tracy: Why do you persist in rescuing me, Mr. Bond?
Bond: It’s becoming quite a habit, isn’t it, Contessa Teresa?
Tracy: Teresa was a Saint; I’m known as Tracy.
Bond: Well, Tracy, next time play it safe and stand on 5.
Tracy: People who want to stay *alive* play it safe.
Bond: Please, stay alive! At least for tonight.

[a girl writes on Bond’s leg under the table, to which Bond makes an awkward face]
Irma Bunt: Is anything ze matter, Sir Hilary?
Bond: Just a slight stiffness coming on… in the shoulder.

Blofeld: Merry Christmas, 007.
Bond: [as Hillary Bray] I’m Sir Hillary Bray.
Blofeld: No no no, Mr. Bond. Respectable baronets from the College of Heralds do *not* seduce female patients in clinics. On the other hand, they do get their professional details… *right*. The De Bleauchamps tombs are *not* in the Augsburg Cathedral as you said, but in the Ste. Anna Kirsch. Sir Hillary Bray would have known.
Blofeld: [beat] A small slip. Takes more than a few props to turn 007 into a Herald. [breaks Bond’s glasses]
Bond: [normal voice] It’ll take more than cutting off your earlobes, Blofeld, to turn you into a Count.

[M refuses to authorize an attack on Blofeld]
Bond: And the girl who helped me escape? We just leave her there?
M: This department is not concerned with your personal problems.
Bond: This department owes her a *debt*. She saved my life.
M: Operation Bedlam is DEAD! Do you understand, 007?
Bond: Yes, Sir. I understand.

[Bond has realized what Blofeld is really up to]
Bond: Allergy vaccines? Bacteria. Bacteriological Warfare.
Blofeld: With a difference. Our big breakthrough since last summer has been the confection of a certain… Virus Omega.
Bond: Infertility.
Blofeld: TOTAL Infertility! In plants and animals. Not just disease in a few herds, Mr. Bond. Or the loss of a single crop. But the desturction of a whole strain. Forever! Throughout an entire continent.

[Blofeld wants to share his life with Tracy]
Blofeld: Now, if you’re very, very nice to me. I could make you my Countess.
Tracy: But I’m already a Countess.
Blofeld: Whereas if you displease me, I can promise you a very *different* estate.

Bond: [Tracy has just been shot and killed] It’s all right. It’s quite all right, really. She’s having a rest. We’ll be going on soon. There’s no hurry, you see. We have all the time in the world.

10/10 stars

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“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003) Review

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”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003) Review

Over six years ago, ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Curse of the Black Pearl” had burst upon the movie screens and to the surprise of many, became a major hit. Even more surprising, the movie ended up spawning a wildly successful movie trilogy within another four years and also a new cinematic icon for the 21st century – Captain Jack Sparrow.

Judging from the forums and blogs on the Internet, it seems to me that ”Curse of the Black Pearl” is the most popular film in the ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise. In a way, I can understand. It lacked the darker aspects of the two sequels that followed. Directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, ”Curse of the Black” is based upon the attraction at the Disney parks. In it, the pirates of the ship known as the Black Pearl, led by the vile Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), need to restore the missing piece of the ancient Aztec gold treasure of Cortes and sacrifice the blood of “Bootstrap” Bill Turner to save themselves from eternal punishment owing to a curse that fell upon them when they stole the gold. The buccaneers attack Port Royal and kidnap Miss Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) who has the missing piece of gold. In order to rescue Miss Elizabeth Swann, William Turner (Orlando Bloom) enlists the help of the fabled Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) who devises an ingenious plan to retrieve the Black Pearl from his mutinous former first mate, Captain Barbossa, and help William Turner save the love of his life

Screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio created a frolicking tale filled with swashbuckler action, an interesting supernatural story that involved cursed treasure and undead pirates, and sharp humor that almost bordered on the cock-eyed. Most of this humor came from the leading man himself, the excruciatingly talented Johnny Depp. His portrayal of the morally ambiguous and androgynous Captain Jack Sparrow took a great deal of moviegoers and critics by surprise. He certainly took me by surprise. No other actor in Hollywood or anywhere else has ever portrayed a pirate in this manner. Not surprisingly, Depp won an Academy Award nomination and a Screen Actors Guild award for his performance.

It seemed a shame that Geoffrey Rush had failed to earn any acting nominations for his performance as the menacing Captain Barbossa. Come to think of it, his performance was more than menacing. Like Depp, he gave a performance filled with a great deal of off-the-wall humor and sharp dialogue. I also enjoyed Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s performances as the star-crossed young lovers, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Ironically, both actors seemed to have better chemistry with either Depp, Rush or both than with each other. Until the final battle. And I found that odd, considering that their screen chemistry seemed a lot more convincing in the final action scene inside the large cavern on Isla de Muerta and in the two following sequels. I wonder if this had anything to do with the fact that Will and Elizabeth spent most of the movie suppressing their feelings for one another.

As for the rest of the cast that made up the movie, they were superb. Jack Davenport gave a commanding, yet sardonic performance as Will’s romantic rival – Commodore James Norrington of the Royal Navy. Mind you, Davenport really grew into the role in ”Dead Man’s Chest”, but he did a good job in this film. And what would a ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” be without Kevin R. Nally as Josiah Gibbs, Lee Arnberg as Pintel and MacKenzie Crook as Rigetti? I could list all of the supporting characters that made this movie memorable, but it would take forever. I will simply state that Verbinski was very lucky to find himself with an excellent cast.

I had noted earlier ”Curse of the Black Pearl” is not as dark as its two successors. I wonder if this is the reason why many fans prefer it over the other two. If I have to be honest, I do not share the same sentiments. Do not get me wrong. I love this movie. But it is not my favorite ”PIRATES” movie. That honor goes to the second film – ”Dead Man’s Chest”. As much as I love ”Curse of the Black Pearl”, there were times I wish it had been a little more ambiguous. With the exception of the Jack Sparrow character, the other characters are clearly either the good guys or the bad guys. There seemed to be little room for moral ambiguity.

There was another aspect of ”Curse of the Black Pearl” that I had noticed – even when I first saw the film. For a movie set in the Caribbean, I really did not see much of it. Yes, there were scenes set aboard ships. But aside from a sequence featuring Jack Sparrow’s arrival at Port Royal and his first meeting of Elizabeth and Norrington, the movie never really captured the aura of the Caribbean – at least for me. And I had noticed something else. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski used a lot of close ups in his shots. I remembered that those close ups made me feel slightly dizzy and claustrophic when I first saw the movie.

Despite certain elements of the film that did not appeal to me – Wolski’s photography and the less ambiguous tone of most of the characters – I still love ”Curse of the Black Pearl”. I love the story, Klaus Badelt’s score, Gore Verbinski’s direction, and the characters. Especially Johnny Depp’s performance. Hopefully, this movie and the two that followed will one day be viewed as film classics. They are already classics in my eyes.

“THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” (2007) Review

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“THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” (2007) Review

“THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” marked author Robert Ludlum’s last novel about the amnesiac CIA agent/assasin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). Considering that the first two movies – “THE BOURNE IDENTITY” (2002) and “THE BOURNE SUPREMACY” (2004) – barely resembled the novels from which they were adapted. One can honestly say the same about “ULTIMATUM”. Most diehard fans would obviously be upset over these loose adaptations. But since I am not a big fan of the Ludlum novels, it does not really bother me. But this latest movie does continue the saga that began in the first movie. And in one of the most surprising ways.

Before I saw the movie, I had heard rumors that it began at least six months after the events of “SUPREMACY”. The rumor turned out to be slightly false for the majority of the movie ended up being set six weeks later. In fact, the first scene began in Moscow, where Bourne had apologized to Irena Neski for murdering her parents and killed Marie’s murderer Kirill after a high speed chase; until the story jumped another six weeks. But screenwriters Tony Gilroy and Scott Z. Burns managed to plant a surprise within three-quarters into the film that has strong connections to “SUPREMACY”‘s final scene.

As for the rest of the movie, like its predecessors, it turned out to be high-octane action thriller and mystery. Following his arrival in Paris, Bourne reads an article that revealed his past – including his relationship with Marie – and his connections to Treadstone. The article also featured exposure of a new CIA assassination program called “Blackbriar”. Realizing that the reporter Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) of THE GUARDIAN might have a source within the CIA, he heads for London and attempts to help the reporter evade capture and possible death at the hands of a Blackbriar assassin named Paz (Edgar Ramirez) . Bourne fails to save his life and he spends the rest of the film tracking down Ross’ source – a CIA section chief named Neal Daniels (Colin Stinton). He also has to deal with a paronoid CIA official named Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), who wants Daniels dead for treason. Vosen also wants Bourne dead, because of the latter’s supresssed knowledge of the Treadstone program and the New York training headquarters where both the Treadstone and Blackbriar programs began. Along way, Bourne acquires the help of former Treadstone handler, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) and CIA Deputy Director, Pamela Landy (Joan Allen). I found two sequences well-written and very exciting:

*Bourne’s attempts to keep Ross alive in London.

*Bourne and Nicky’s adventures in Tangiers, while dealing with Blackbriar assasin Desh (Joey Ansah).

*Bourne’s memories of his other self’s [David Webb] decision to become a Treadstone assassin.

Most of “ULTIMATUM”‘s screenplay is excellent. And I have to take my hat off to Gilroy and Burns for creating an exciting script. But . . . I have to point out one flaw. Namely the finale. The final scenes feature fugitive Nicky Parsons learning about the exposure of the Blackbriar and Treadstone assasin programs on the news . . . and the arrests of Vosen and others involved in the two programs – CIA Director Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn) and psychologist Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney). Frankly, I found this conclusion unrealistic. Yes, one can consider it a crowd pleaser, but there is no way on earth the CIA would allow its dirty secrets (at least recent ones) to be aired any national news program. And I doubt that Landy would have sent Vosen’s secret files to the media – not if she wants to maintain her career. Chances are the CIA would have supressed news of the programs and killed Vosen and Hirsch, and Kramer out to pasture where he can die under mysterious circumstaces.

As for the acting – well it was top notch as usual. In what promises to be his last film, Damon makes the role Jason Bourne [David Webb] as his own. Julia Stiles continued to prove, as she had done in “SUPREMACY” that she and Damon have great screen chemistry . . . despite the discomfort and ackwardness between the two characters. This ackwardness came about Bourne’s revelation of his distaste of his role as an assasin and a scene in which Nicky changes her appearance, dredging up memories of Marie doing the same in the first film. Joan Allen was marvelous. In fact, I believe that her performance in this movie was an improvement over the second film. And both David Strathairn and Albert Finney proved to be remarkably creepy and unpleasant. Although I believe that Strathairn was as good as Brian Cox (as Ward Abbott), I found him to be an improvement over the slightly over-the-top Chris Cooper (as Conklin).

Paul Greengrass’ direction was just as top notch as Kilroy and Burns’ screenplay. But as with the movie’s script, I have a complaint. I had barely tolerated Greengrass’ handheld photography in “SUPREMACY”. In “ULTIMATUM”, my toleration nearly went down with the Titanic. I almost had a headache dealing with the shaky camera work. My other complaint deals with this movie’s rendention of Moby’s song, “Extreme Ways”. Quite frankly, I hated it. I hated the changes made to the song’s tempo and vocals. Despite all of this, “ULTIMATUM” proved to be just as exciting as the first two movies. And together, Damon, Greengrass, Kilroy and Universal Pictures have themselves a first-rate trilogy and franchise.

“Neighbors” [PG] – 1/11

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Here is the first part of a CHARMED fan fiction story that I had written several years ago. It is an alternate universe story set during the series’ Season 5:

 

“NEIGHBORS”

RATING: [PG] Mild adult language
SUMMARY: While battling a new warlock threat, Cole and the Charmed Ones meet his new neighbor. Set in alternate early Season 5.
FEEDBACK: Be my guest. But please, be kind – deerush76@yahoo.com

DISCLAIMER: The Charmed Ones, Cole, Leo, Darryl and other characters related to Charmed belong to Spelling, Kern, Burge and WB. Dammit!

PART 1

Several police cars converged at the intersection of Gough and Washington Streets, just at the edge of Lafayette Park. Unable to recover Phoebe’s athame, the Charmed Ones had no choice but to merge into the growing crowd that surrounded a corpse. A corpse that had once been a warlock out to add a young woman to her list of victims.

“Let’s get out of here,” Piper Halliwell murmured to her sisters. “Before our innocent sees us, again.”

Phoebe protested, “What about my athame? It’s still in that warlock’s body and it has my fingerprints on it!”

“Well, we can’t do anything about it, now! Maybe Darryl can help us recover it.”

The three young women linked arms and made their way toward the park’s remote interior. Before they could disappear, a voice cried out, “Excuse me!” The sisters turned around. They spotted a slender woman around thirty, with curly red hair, cut above the shoulders. The badge slung around her neck indicated she was an inspector with the San Francisco Police Department. She stopped before them. “Hi, my name is Inspector McNeill,” she greeted, waving her badge in the air. “Do you mind answering a few questions?”

“About what?” Phoebe demanded. She shot nervous glances at her two sisters. “We didn’t see anything.”

Inspector McNeill gave them a cool smile. “Maybe. Maybe not. But we’re questioning everyone around here, just to make sure. Now, if you’ll just give me your name and number . . .”

“Look Inspector,” Paige interrupted. Although she was the youngest Halliwell and had only been a Charmed One for about a year, her job at a social services office had given her more experience in dealing with the police than her older sisters. “We just told you that we don’t know what happened. What’s the point in questioning us?”

The red-haired inspector removed a pen and small notebook from her jacket pocket. “If you three had not made such a big deal out of trying to look unobtrusive, I wouldn’t have bothered. Now,” she flashed another cool smile, “may I have your name and address?”

Piper felt tempted to freeze the area in order for her sisters to get away. However, too many people have spotted them talking to the red-haired woman. And she also suspected that their sudden disappearance would increase the relentless cop’s suspicions.

The Charmed Ones’ shoulders sagged in defeat. Paige rolled her eyes and said, “My name is Paige Matthews. I live at 1312 Prescott Street.”

“Hmmm. That address sounds familiar. And your phone number?” Inspector McNeill asked.

With a sigh, Paige added, “Area code 415-435-2783.”

“Thank you.” The inspector scribbled the information on her notebook. Then she turned to Phoebe. “And your name?”

Before Phoebe could speak, a familiar figure emerged from the crowd. The Halliwells sighed with relief. It was their close friend, Inspector Darryl Morris. “Hey, Olivia! What’s going on?”

Inspector McNeill smiled at her fellow officer. “Darryl! What brings you out here at this time of the day? I thought you went home, already.”

“Ditto. I’m surprised that you’re also here. As for me, I heard the call about the body and decided to help.” Darryl glanced at the three sisters and added, “Also, I believe Captain McPherson is looking for you. I’ll finish up here, for you.”

To Piper’s frustration, Inspector McNeill shook her head. “There’s no need. I’m almost finished, anyway. I just need a few names and addresses.” Her green eyes focused upon the sisters.

“You’re gonna keep McPherson, waiting?”

Slowly, Inspector McNeill turned to stare at Darryl. “It wouldn’t be the first time,” she replied. “Why are you making such a big deal, now?”

Darryl took a deep breath. “It’s nothing. Just trying to help.”

Suspicion gleamed in the inspector’s green eyes. Which remained fixed upon Darryl’s face. “Uh-huh.” Then Inspector McNeill turned to Phoebe. “Now, you were about to give me your name?”

Phoebe glanced at Darryl, who shrugged helplessly. “I’m Phoebe Halliwell,” she said. “And I also live at 1312 Prescott Street. Same phone number.”

“Halliwell?” The inspector’s eyes narrowed. Her stare made Piper feel very uncomfortable. And there suddenly seemed to be something familiar about her. Only Piper could not remember. McNeill continued, “I thought you looked familiar.”

Paige spoke up. “You must read Phoebe’s column in the SAN FRANCISCO BAY-MIRROR.”

“What column?” the inspector asked.

Embarrassment caused Phoebe’s face to turn pink. “I, uh . . . I write an advice column for the SAN FRANCISCO BAY-MIRROR. You know, ‘Dear Phoebe’?”

Inspector McNeill shook her head. “Sorry. I’ve never read it. What I meant was that all of you remind me of someone I used to know. And she had the same last name. You don’t, by any chance, know a Prue Halliwell? Are you her sisters?”

Realization finally hit Piper. Now she recalled where she had seen the inspector before. “Wait a minute. Are you Olivia McNeill? From Baker High? Class of ’88?”

A bright smile illuminated the inspector’s face. “Yeah! And you are Prue Halliwell’s sisters. You’re Piper, right?”

Piper nodded. “Yeah. And I believe you had graduated during the same year, as Prue.”

“That’s right. I haven’t seen her in four years. Not since our ten-year reunion.” The inspector’s expression sombered. “I heard what happened, last year. I’m sorry.”

Piper mumbled, “Thanks.”

“And you,” Olivia McNeill pointed at Paige, “how did you end up with the Halliwells? Are you a cousin?”

Paige murmured, “Half sister. I’m . . .” She glanced at Phoebe and Piper. “I’m their half-sister. Patty Halliwell was my mother.”

Inspector McNeill’s eyes seemed to examine Paige, as if the latter was a specimen under a microscope. “Oh. I gather that you’re all still at that same house on Prescott Street. So, when can I come by to question you about tonight? Will tomorrow morning do?”

It amazed Piper and her sisters that the inspector managed to return the subject back to the corpse found tonight. She repressed a sigh, while Paige replied, “Uh, sorry, but I’ll be at work.”

“So will I,” Phoebe added. “And I also have a personal appointment around noon.”

The unrelenting inspector added, “Okay, how about tomorrow afternoon? Around four o’clock? I’ll drop by on my way home.”

Realizing that they might as well cooperate, the Halliwells agreed to the four o’clock appointment. Inspector McNeill murmured a quick “thanks” before she turned to Darryl. “Okay, Darryl. You can now lead me to our infamous leader.”

Panic crept into Darryl’s dark eyes. Piper understood. He had lied to divert his colleague’s attention away from the Charmed Ones. “I . . . uh . . .”

McNeill frowned. “What’s wrong?”

Darryl sighed. “Nothing. C’mon.” The two inspectors walked away.

Once the pair was out of earshot, Paige let out a big sigh. “Whew! I never met anyone so stubborn in my life! I hope we don’t have any further trouble with her.” She said to Piper, “She knew Prue in high school? Were they friends?”

“Noooo,” Piper replied sarcastically. “I remember all of Prue’s friends, and she wasn’t one of them.”

“You think she had lied about knowing Prue?”

Piper shook her head. “No, she and Prue knew each other, all right. In fact, I even remember Olivia McNeill. Like Prue, she was popular in high school. But they had some kind of rivalry going on. And they didn’t like each other. At all.”

A gasp left Phoebe’s mouth. “Oh! Now, I remember! Prue used to bitch about this girl, all the time! About how difficult she was. And what was that she said? ‘Morally ambiguous’, if I remember correctly. And to think she became a cop. Judging from what I’ve seen of the good inspector, I’d say that Prue had met her match.”

“I hope she doesn’t prove to be as difficult with us,” Paige responded. “I have this feeling that she knows something about us. And after Agent Jackman, I don’t want to deal with another nosy cop.”

Phoebe shot back, “Well, we might have to.” Her sisters responded with confused stares. “Remember my . . .” Phoebe lowered her voice, “. . . my athame? It’s still stuck in the chest of that warlock. What are we going to do?”

Piper sighed. “It’s too late, now. Maybe we can call Darryl and ask him to get it for us.”

The three sisters resumed their walk toward the interior of the park. Piper said to Phoebe, “You said something to Olivia McNeill about a personal appointment. Does that mean . . .?

Phoebe interrupted with a sigh. “Yeah. Cole has finally agreed to give me a divorce.”

“I’m sorry, Pheebs.” Piper gave her sister a sad smile.

A grunt came from Paige. “What’s to be sorry, about? You should be relieved. We all should. Now that Phoebe will be free.”

“Paige!”

Phoebe quietly added, “She’s right, Piper. I am relieved. I guess I’ll always love Cole. But we’ll never be happy, together. And frankly, I’m just glad that he’s finally realized that.”

* * * *

The newly divorced couple quietly strode out of the judge’s private chamber. Cole Turner quickly made his way toward the elevator. A place where he could disappear in privacy.

“Cole!” His now ex-wife’s voice stopped Cole in his tracks. “Cole, wait up!” A moment later, Phoebe was by his side. “I just wanted to know where you’re going.”

Coolly, the half-demon regarded the petite woman by his side. “Why? To make sure that I’ll be gone for good?”

“Cole!”

“Don’t worry, Phoebe. I won’t pop up to wreck . . . vengeance upon you. If that’s what you’re worried about,” Cole retorted sarcastically.

Phoebe shot back, “I wasn’t worried about that!”

“Oh? I mean, you did have Paige make a potion to vanquish me. Using the blood from the letter opener you stabbed me with.” A bitter laugh escaped Cole’s mouth. “I bet your sisters are worried. Especially Paige.”

Anger flared in the Charmed One’s dark eyes. “Dammit Cole! What did you expect? It’s hard for any of us to forget . . .” Phoebe paused and glanced around to make sure there were no unwelcoming ears. Cole rolled his eyes in exasperation and continued toward the elevator. “Cole!”

The pair entered the elevator. Unable to keep his feelings contained, Cole burst out in resentment. “Forget what, Phoebe? That I was the Source? Impregnated you with some spawn of evil? Or that I almost killed the Charmed Ones? I thought you knew that the Source’s essence had taken over my body!”

“This isn’t about you becoming the Source anymore,” Phoebe protested.

Cole allowed the contempt he felt to reach his eyes. Phoebe shrank back. “Isn’t it? Then tell me this. Why is it that when one of you becomes possessed by evil, the others are so willing to understand and forgive. I bet if Leo became evil against his will, you’d move heaven and earth to help him. And forgive him within a blink of an eye.” His voice became even more caustic. “But I guess that same privilege isn’t extended to the former Belthazor. No matter how many times I’ve saved your asses.”

“If you want our trust, why can’t you give up your powers?” Accusation tinged Phoebe’s voice. “Or maybe you like being evil.”

A hopeless anger settled over Cole. He began to wonder if he had fell in love with a woman incapable of understanding him. “Oh, c’mon Phoebe! This isn’t about my new powers and you know it! It’s not my powers you’re afraid of. It’s your own inner evil. You’re still afraid that being around me will bring it out. That the next time you become evil because of me, it’ll happen without the benefit of the Seer’s potions.”

“That’s not true!” Phoebe shot back.

Cole sighed. “Really? Well let me tell you this. Everyone has to deal with their own inner evil, Phoebe. You, me, your sisters, Leo . . . everyone. It’s taken me a while, but now I understand. So, don’t use me as a scapegoat for your own personal problems! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a life to lead.” He disappeared before Phoebe could respond.

* * * *

Four o’clock finally arrived. Olivia McNeill climbed out of her dark-blue BMW convertible and closed the door. She glanced at the salmon-colored house – the Halliwell home – and started toward the staircase.

Olivia recalled that she had not seen the interior of the Halliwell house since she was fourteen years old. It had been for Prue Halliwell’s fifteenth birthday party. Olivia also remembered that she and Prue never liked each other. But since their grandmothers had been old friends, Olivia ended up receiving an invitation to the party.

A sigh left the redhead’s mouth and she began her ascent up the steep staircase. Once she reached the top, she rang the doorbell. Seconds passed before Phoebe Halliwell opened the door. She flashed a smile at the younger woman. “Hi! Remember me? Inspector McNeill?”

The half-wan smile on Phoebe’s face told Olivia that Prue’s younger sister was not particularly happy to see her. But the older woman was allowed inside the manor.

The manor’s interior appealed to Olivia very much. Very old-fashioned in a Victorian style, yet very comfortable. And warm. Much like the McNeill home in San Mateo. “Nice place,” Olivia murmured.

Phoebe ignored the comment and escorted her to a bright room with open windows. The Sun Room, according to Phoebe. There, Olivia found the other two sisters waiting for them. All three looked as if they were anticipating a battle. She could not help but smile at the image.

“Okay Inspector,” Phoebe said, “we’re all here. What exactly did you want to question us about?”

Olivia pulled a plastic bag from her purse. Inside was a deadly-looking athame. “I believe this belongs to you.” Phoebe’s face turned pale.

“Where did you get . . .” Piper immediately broke off. A moment passed and she took a deep breath. “I mean, what makes you think that athame belongs to us?”

“How did you know this was an athame?” Olivia quietly asked. “Most people usually mistake it for a knife or a dagger.”

Piper opened her mouth. Then she closed it, looking quite sheepish. Phoebe slapped Piper’s shoulder, while the third sister seared the oldest with a caustic glare.

Olivia continued, “Okay, ladies. You might as well tell the truth. Which one of you used this athame on our corpse, last night?”

“What makes you think one of us killed us?” Paige demanded. Her body practically vibrated with defiance.

It was time, Olivia decided, to end this farce. “Why else would the Charmed Ones and a dead warlock be at Lafayette Park at night . . . around the same time?”

Loud gasps emitted from the three sisters. Olivia had to admit that she enjoyed delivering the bombshell.

Paige was the first to recover. “Look Inspector, we don’t know what you’re talking about. Warlocks and Charmed Ones? This all sounds . . .”

“Ridiculous. Right!” Olivia heaved an impatient sigh. “Ladies, it’s no use lying. I know you’re witches. I know you’re the Charmed Ones. Three sisters named Halliwell? Well, two and a Matthews.” She directed the last sentence at Paige. “You obviously know what an athame looks like, and the fingerprints on the weapon belongs to one Phoebe Halliwell.” Olivia now directed her gaze at the middle sister.

A long pause followed. The sisters exchanged uneasy glances. Phoebe asked, “What do you want, Inspector? You plan to blackmail us?”

“No. To give you this.” Olivia tossed the bag at Phoebe. “The next time you vanquish someone with a weapon in a public place, please try not to leave it behind.”

Suspicion glimmered in Paige’s dark eyes. “Wait. I don’t get it. You know all about warlocks?”

“And daemons,” Olivia added. “And witches. I happened to be one of the latter, by the way.”

“How do we know you’re telling the truth?”

Instead of answering, Olivia gazed at the athame inside the bag. A moment later, the bag flew out of Phoebe’s hand and into hers. The Charmed Ones’ eyes grew wide with shock. “My power. Telekinesis.”

“Just like Prue’s,” Piper murmured.

Olivia’s ears perked. “Prue also had telekinesis?”

Before Phoebe could answer, Paige continued, “How do we know you’re a witch? You could also be a warlock. Or a demon.”

Olivia sighed. Suspicious little thing. The youngest Halliwell or Matthews strongly reminded her of Prue. “Okay, you want proof. Fine.” She took a deep breath and cried, “Leo! LEE-OO!”

Seconds later, a cluster of blue lights materialized into the form of Olivia’s former whitelighter, Leo Wyatt. The fair-haired man stared at her. And eventually, the Halliwells. He wore one of his usual expressions – bewilderment. “Olivia? What are you . . . oh!”

Piper looked downright astonished. “Leo! Are you her whitelighter?” Her eyes pierced his. “Well?”

Leo shrugged. “I . . . guess you’ve all met.”

Olivia added, “He used to be my whitelighter, and my brother Bruce’s. My other brother never bothered with one. In fact, Leo used to be my whitelighter some twelve years ago. But we still keep in touch.”

“Leo?”

The whitelighter nodded, “It’s true.”

Olivia added, “Not only did Prue and I knew each other in school, our grandmothers were old friends. In fact, Penny Halliwell was also my Aunt Belinda’s godmother.”

“So, why don’t we remember your grandmother?” Phoebe said. “We’re familiar with all of Grams’ old friends.”

“Do you know Elise McNeill? She’s my grandmother.”

Piper nodded. “Oh God, now I remember. Elise McNeill. She and Grams used to exchange recipes a lot. Remember Phoebe? Grams once told us that she had hoped that Mom would marry Mrs. McNeill’s son.”

“Jack McNeill,” Olivia added. Then she smiled. “Now that we’re all reacquainted, why don’t you pay Gran a visit? She hasn’t seen any of you since your grandmother’s funeral and I’m sure that she would love to see you, again.”

Olivia had the uncomfortable feeling that her suggestion had not gone well with the Halliwells. Especially with Piper and Phoebe. Olivia had heard rumors of the Charmed Ones’ attempts at anonymity, but this was ridiculous! She knew that several witches in the San Francisco area had met the Halliwells over the past four years. And yet, not one witch could claim striking a close friendship with the sisters. Nor have any of the Halliwells ever been seen at a Wiccan festival or gathering. Olivia began to wonder if they were simply insular.

“Is there something wrong?” she asked after a long pause.

Piper finally answered. “No. Uh . . . we . . . we’ll come by and see her.” She paused. “Soon.”

“Good.” Olivia whipped out her notebook and pen. She scribbled her parents’ telephone on a piece of paper. “This is my parents’ phone number. Gran lives with them. I’ll tell her to expect a call from you.” Olivia smiled and handed the slip of paper to Piper. “Hope to hear from you. Soon.” Just as she started to turn away, she paused. “Oh! One more thing.”

Piper stared at the slip of paper in her hand. “Yeah?”

“About that warlock you had vanquished last night?” The Halliwells became fully alert, as Olivia continued, “Her name was Simone Crozat. And according to my Book of Shadows, she’s part of the powerful Crozat coven. The word out is that they might be making an attempt to rule the supernatural world by killing as many witches, daemons, wizards and warlocks as possible. To consolidate more power.” She paused dramatically. “Including those of the Charmed Ones.”

Paige replied with great confidence, “Thanks for the warning, but I’m sure that we’ll be able to deal with them. After all, we did vanquish the Source. Three times.” She ended with a small laugh that her sisters failed to join.

Olivia smiled politely at the youngest sister. “Well, I’m sure you’re more than capable of taking care of a bunch of warlocks. Just be careful, okay?” She stuffed her notebook into her purse. “Well, I guess that’s it. And don’t forget to call my grandmother. She’ll be expecting to hear from you. Bye.” She turned to walk away.

A figure joined Olivia at her side. Leo. “I’ll walk you to the door,” he said.

The pair made their way to the front door. “Talk about an interesting bunch,” Olivia declared. “Not exactly the friendly types, are they?”

Leo sighed. “It’s not that. Being the Charmed Ones, they have to be very careful. They do attract a lot of demonic activity, after all.”

“Oh come on, Leo! We all do, time to time.” Olivia shot back. “And like them, we all have to worry about exposure.”

“Olivia, they’re still pretty new at being witches. Only four years! So you can understand why they’re not exactly . . . social with other witches, can you? They have this big fear of being exposed. Especially after what happened to Prue.”

Olivia more than understood. She had been shocked by the news of Prue Halliwell’s death. And the real circumstances that surrounded it. Leo had told the McNeills about the time loop – especially after Olivia’s mother, Gweneth McNeill, plied him with a sumptuous lunch.

“I guess you’re right.” Olivia sighed.

Leo gave her a sharp glance. “Concerned about this new warlock threat?”

“That and my new apartment,” Olivia replied. The redhead had just moved into a new apartment. According to one of the neighbors, she had moved into the apartment just below a particularly difficult tenant. “Mrs. DiCicco told me that the man is not exactly friendly. And that he has a bad habit of complaining about any noise from below him. I’ve already received one complaint from the building manager. You can imagine how my new neighbor and I will get along in the future. And the thing is my new apartment is so gorgeous!”

A sympathetic smile graced Leo’s lips. “It’s only for one or two days. Until you finally get settled in. Maybe you’ll become friends.”

“Perhaps.” Olivia flashed a bright smile at the whitelighter, as they approached the front door. “According to Mrs. DiCicco, he’s a walking male hormone.”

Leo smiled back. “He should be right up your alley.”

“You know me too well.”

END OF PART 1