“AVATAR” (2009) Review

Here is my review of “AVATAR”, James Cameron’s long awaited new film: 

”AVATAR” (2009) Review

Has it really been twelve (12) years since director/producer James Cameron had released his last movie? Twelve years? And yet, it is true. Twelve years have passed since the releases of the Academy Award winning movie, ”TITANIC” and Cameron’s latest epic, ”AVATAR”. And I must say that it was worth the wait.

Set in the year 2154, ”AVATAR” told the story of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic former U.S. Marine, who arrived on the planet of Pandora to replace his murdered twin brother in a program that have created human-Na’vi hybrids called avatars, which are controlled by genetically matched human operators, due to humans’ inability to breathe the moon’s atmosphere. Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), the head of the Avatar Program, considered him an inadequate replacement for his brother, relegating him to a bodyguard role. Pandora, a lush, Earth-like moon of the planet Polyphemus, in the Alpha Centauri system, has been targeted by an Earth corporation administered by Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) called RDA. It wants to mine Pandora for a valuable mineral called unobtanium. Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), a former Marine and leader of the Humans’ security forces, promised Jake his “real legs” back in exchange for intelligence about the natives and what it will take to make them abandon Hometree, which rests above a large deposit of unobtanium.

When Jake escorted Augustine and biologist Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore) on an exploratory mission in their avatar forms, the group is attacked by a large predator, and Jake became separated and lost. Attempting to survive the night in Pandora’s dangerous jungles, he is rescued by Neytiri (Zoë Saldaña), a female Na’vi. Neytiri brings Jake back to Hometree, which is inhabited by Neytiri’s clan, the Omaticaya. Mo’at, (C. C. H. Pounder), the Na’vi shaman and Neytiri’s mother, instructed her to teach him their ways. Within three months or so, Jake fell in love with Neytiri. Unfortunately, he found himself conflicted between his feelings for the female Na’vi and her clan, and his deal with Colonel Quaritch.

Judging by the reactions of many critics and filmgoers, James Cameron seemed to have created a very unique film. I would certainly agree with this opinion – especially in regard to the physical and visual world of Pandora. Quite frankly, I found it lush and strangely beautiful. I also have to commend Cameron for not only creating Pandora’s strange world, but also for guiding crew members like production designers Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg; the art direction team led by Todd Cherniawsky, Kevin Ishioka, and Kim Sinclair; cinematographer Mauro Fiore; the special effects team led by Dave Booth; and the visual effects team. Cameron took his work even further by hiring Dr. Paul Frommer of USC to create a Na’vi language and culture. Actors like Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldaña and C.C.H. Pounder had to learn the new language.

I did not have any real problems with the movie’s plot. Cameron did a solid job in writing a story that dealt with environmental issues, along with imperialism and biodiversity by consolidating them into a conflict between the nature-based (or primitive in certain circles) Na’vi and the Humans’ military-industrial complex represented by the RDA Corporation and its military force. Sounds familiar? It should. Cameron claimed that he was inspired from such movies as ”AT PLAY IN THE FIELDS OF THE LORD” and ”THE EMERALD FOREST”, which feature clashes between cultures and civilizations. He also acknowledged his film’s connection to the 1990 Academy Award winning film, ”DANCES WITH WOLVES” in the storyline featuring Jake’s connection to the Na’vi. Personally, I found myself wondering if ”AVATAR” was simply ”DANCES WITH WOLVES” on another planet. Honestly. The two movies struck me as being that similar.

Some fans might accuse me of hinting that Cameron’s story lacked any originality. Well, they would be right. I am hinting exactly that. After all, this would not be the first time for the Canadian-born director. At least three of his most famous films, ”AVATAR” included, bore strong similarities to other fictional works. In an ARTICLE I had posted on my blog, I had pointed out the strong similarities between ”TITANIC” to the 1937 Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy film, ”MAYTIME”. And after his 1984 film, ”THE TERMINATOR” hit the theaters, a well-known science-fiction writer named Harlan Ellison pointed out that the movie bore a strong resemblance to two television episodes he had written. The writer ended up receiving ”acknowledgement to the works of” credit on video and cable releases of the movie, as well as a cash settlement of an undisclosed amount. And if the love story between Jake and Neytiri bore a strong resemblance with the one featured in the 1990 film (in that story, the female lead was a white woman raised by the Lakota), the movie’s score written by James Horner seemed to seal the deal for me. It bore a very strong resemblance to Native American music.

Another aspect of Cameron’s script that struck a similar note with me was its dialogue. Let me be frank. I found it just as cheesy and unoriginal as the dialogue found in ”TITANIC”. A good example could be found in Colonel Quaritch’s speech to the human newcomers to Pandora. When he uttered the phrase, ”You’re not in Kansas anymore”, I practically winced. The Wachowski Brothers used that phrase with a more memorable and original twist in their 1999 movie, ”THE MATRIX”. However, I must admit that ”AVATAR” did have one quote that I found particularly memorable. During one of his narratives about the Na’vi, Jake Scully said the following:

” Everything is backwards now, like out there is the true world and in here is the dream.”

Okay, it does not really seem like much in written form. But Sam Worthington’s interpretation of the line made it memorable for me.

One complaint lobbied against the movie was that it pandered to the cliché of the ”white man savior of the noble savage”. Frankly, I believe that the only grounds for this accusation centered around Jake rallying the Na’vi to fight against the Human assault against the Hometree. I figured that since he was responsible for giving Quaritch the means to launch the assault, I could let the scene slide. However, I failed to spot any further evidence to support this argument. After all, it was Neytiri’s father Eytucan, who allowed Jake to remain with the Na’vi. Neytiri’s mother Mo’at ordered Neytiri to introduce him to Na’vi culture. Mo’at was also responsible for giving Jake a chance to redeem himself for his earlier betrayal. Another female – namely Trudy – was responsible for rescuing Jake, Grace and Norm from the RDA cell. And it certainly was NOT Jake who defeated the movie’s main villain, Colonel Quaritch, in the end. No one could ever mistake this film for the 1953 movie, ”HIS MAJESTY’S O’KEEFE”.

Speaking of Sam Worthington, he led the cast as the a paraplegic former U.S. Marine Jake Scully, who found himself drawn to Pandora and the Na’vi culture. Although I would not consider Jake to be one of his more complicated or complex characters, I thought that Worthington did an excellent job in conveying Jake’s conflict between the Humans’ agenda and his love for Neytiri and the Na’vi. He also managed to effectively project Jake’s array of emotions following the character’s arrival on Pandora, whether in Human form or connected to his Na’vi-Human form. And he also did a top-notch job as the film’s narrator. Believe or not, not every actor or actress has a talent for verbal narration.

Zoë Saldaña was cast as Neytiri, the Na’vi huntress with whom Jake fell in love. Saldaña did not simply provide Neytiri’s voice. She also provided the character’s body language and facial expression via a process called motion/performance capture. This process has already been used in movies such as two of the latest ”STAR WARS” movies, the ”MUMMY” films, ”KING KONG” and the last two ”LORD OF THE RINGS” movies. I must admit that Saldaña did an excellent job in guiding Neytiri’s character from being slightly resentful and contemptuous toward Jake, to being a female in love and finally to the fierce and determined Na’vi warrior determined to protect her home. Frankly, she was my favorite character in the movie.

Sigourney Weaver found herself being directed by Cameron for the second time as Dr. Grace Augustine, a scientist and creator of the Avatar Program. Her Grace is a no-nonsense woman with a dislike toward Selfridge, Quaritch and the RDA Corporation. Her bluntness was tempered by a genuine desire to study the Na’vi and Pandora. Weaver did a solid job in portraying these aspects of Grace’s character. Stephen Lang could have easily portray Colonel Quaritch as a one-dimensional villain. In fact, he nearly drifted into such a portrayal on one or two occasions. But in the end, Lang managed to control himself and give a first-rate performance. He even infused a touch of homme fatale into his performance in scenes that featured Colonel Quaritch’s attempts to “seduce” Jake into providing information about the Na’vi and their Hometree. I found that aspect an interesting twist.

Many critics have dismissed Michelle Rodriguez’s performance as Marine pilot Trudy Chacon as another one of her many tough chick roles. From a superficial viewpoint, they might be right. But if I must be honest, I found that Neytiri seemed to fit that role a lot better than Trudy. There was something about Rodriguez’s role that struck me as different from her previous ones. Her Trudy seemed like a laid back type with a warm and cheeky sense of humor – completely different from the roles that the actress had portrayed on ”LOST” and ”THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS”. I consider this a good thing, for it told me that Rodriguez was quite capable of portraying more than one type of role. If I must be frank, I would not consider Parker Selfridge to be one of Giovanni Ribisi’s best roles. Mind you, the actor managed to keep himself from drifting into a purely hammy performance. But I found his portrayal of the RDA Corporation’s administrator as a walking cliché of corporate greed and rather unoriginal. The only other movies I have ever seen Laz Alonso in were ”JARHEAD” and last year’s ”THE MIRACLE OF ST. ANNA”. I found his role as Neyriti’s fiancé, Tsu’Tey, to be a different kettle of fish. His Tsu’Tey was an aggressive and slightly arrogant warrior with a deep distrust of Jake and the other Humans. Like Lang, Alonso could have easily allowed his character to drift into a one-dimensional performance. I have to give kudos to the actor for making Tsu’Tey somewhat sympathetic in the end. I suspect that deep down, the character truly loved and respected Neytiri, despite the political and cultural nature of their betrothal. I also enjoyed the way Alonso used the motion capture suit and body language to convey his character’s aggressive nature.

I have already commented upon the special and visual effects in ”AVATAR” that managed to blow everyone’s minds, including mine. However, I could have done without viewing the movie with 3-D glasses. I simply did not see how filming the movie with a 3-D camera was worth the effort. I found the 3-D effects found in the TERMINATOR 2: 3-D show at Universal Studios Hollywood more impressive. And since I already wear glasses, wearing an extra pair of 3-D glasses proved to be very annoying for me. And while we are on the subject of quibbles, I found Horner’s score and the theme song performed by Leona Lewis called ”I See You” not that impressive, either. In fact, I am surprised that the song managed to earn a Golden Globe Award nomination.

After reading most of this article, one might end up with the belief that I have mixed feelings about ”AVATAR”. Let me assure you that my views are not mixed. Yes, I have some quibbles with the story’s lack of originality and sometimes pedestrian dialogue. And I found the 3-D photography not worth the effort. But I still enjoyed the movie’s plot very much. It was a solid tale that centered on a theme I wholeheartedly support. The cast, led by Sam Worthington and Zoë Saldaña did an excellent job. As Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet did twelve years ago, Worthington and Saldaña managed to create a great screen team that proved to be the heart and soul of the film through their performances. And from a visual point-of-view, Cameron outdid himself in his creation of the world of Pandora.

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“THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON” (2008) Review

“THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON” (2008) Review

Based upon F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1921 short story, ”THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON” tells the story of a New Orleans man named Benjamin Button who ages backward from 1918 to 2003 with bizarre consequences. The movie was directed by David Fincher and starred Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Taraji P. Henson.

Judging from an article I had read, it is clear that this movie was more or less a loose adaptation of Fitzgerald’s short story. Aside from the premise of a man aging backwards, there are many differences between the two versions. The main differences center around the fact that in the literary version, Benjamin Button is born physically and mentally as an old man (asking for a rocking chair), and dies physically and mentally young. In the film, Benjamin is born physically old, but with the mental capacity of a newborn; and dies physically young, although his mind aged normally throughout his life. Aside from the dynamics of the main character, the setting changes from mostly late nineteenth century Baltimore in the novel, to mostly twentieth century New Orleans. Also Benjamin’s literary wife is named Hildegarde Moncrief, the daughter of a respected Civil War general, to whom he eventually becomes less attracted. Benjamin’s love in the movie is Daisy Fanning, the granddaughter of one of the tenants at the elderly nursing home where he lives with his black adoptive mother, Queenie.

I found ”THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON” to be a technical wonder. I was very impressed by the film’s use of the CGI effects created by a team supervised by Burt Dalton. The movie’s other technical aspects – costume design by Jaqueline West, the art direction, Victor J. Zolfo’s set decorations, and the cinematography by Claudio Miranda – were first-class. I was especially impressed by how Miranda photographed New Orleans in the movie. With the movie’s art direction, the cinematographer did an excellent capturing the rich atmosphere and charm of the Big Easy. And I was especially impressed by the way he filmed 1918 New Orleans through the use of a sepia color for the movie’s prologue that centered on a clockmaker. And director David Fincher did an excellent job in utilizing the movie’s New Orleans setting and technical effects. If only he could have done something about the script . . . and the movie’s pacing.

Do not get me wrong. I am not saying that ”THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON” is a bad movie. Far from it. Not only can it boast a first-class production design, but also an excellent cast led by Brad Pitt. I have been a fan of Pitt’s since I first saw him in a movie I would love to forget – ”COOL WORLD”. But I do feel that he has a tendency to be slightly theatrical. It almost seems as if his acting style was more suited for the stage than in front of a camera. However, he does know how to be subtle when the role calls for it. And his portrayal of Benjamin Button is quite subtle. The character does not seemed to develop much – even following the deaths of his blood father, Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng) and his foster mother Queenie (Taraji P. Henson). It took his romantic problems with Daisy (Cate Blanchett) between the mid 1940s and the 1950s, and the realization that he would soon be too young to help raise his daughter Caroline that led his character to assume dimensions that were lacking earlier in the film. Despite this last minute development of the character, I must admit that Pitt gave one of his better performances in his career.

Pitt was ably supported by Cate Blanchett, who portrayed the love of his life – Daisy Fanning. Mind you, I found her character rather shallow at first. I could dismiss this simply as a case of her being young at the time. But there seemed to be lacking something in Daisy’s character that Blanchett’s excellent performance could not overcome. Quite frankly, I did not find her that interesting. Screenwriter Eric Roth (”FOREST GUMP”) tried to inject some angst into her character by having her fall victim to a car accident in Paris that cut short her dancing career. But I could not buy it. I am sorry, but Daisy did not really become interesting to me until she was forced to raise Caroline without Benjamin, and later take care of him before his death. But Blanchett gave it all she could. Without her, Daisy could have been a disaster – at least for me.

The other supporting characters were excellent. Oscar winner Tilda Swinton gave a poignant performance as Elizabeth Abbott, the wife of a British spy whom Benjamin meets and has an affair with in Russia before the Pearl Harbor attack. Jared Harris was colorful and funny as Captain Mike, the commander of the tugboat that Benjamin works for during the 1930s and early 40s. Julia Ormond, whom I have not seen in ages, gave solid support as the adult Caroline. So did Mahershalalhashbaz Ali as Queenie’s husband, Tizzy and Jason Flemyng as Thomas Button, Benjamin’s brother. But I have to say something about Taraji P. Henson. She portrayed Queenie, an attendant at the New Orleans nursing home who adopts Benjamin as her own. I loved her performance. She was colorful, tough, funny, sharp and pretty much the emotional center of the whole damn film. And it seemed a shame that she did not receive a Golden Globe nomination for her performance.

The first thing I had noticed about ”THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON” was that it strongly reminded me of the 1994 Oscar winning film, ”FOREST GUMP”. In fact, I even nicknamed the movie, ”a backwards ”FOREST GUMP” . And judging from the fact that this movie’s screenwriter, Eric Roth, had also written the 1994 film, I should not have been surprised. But whereas the main tone for ”FOREST GUMP” seemed to be one of historical whimsy, ”BENJAMIN BUTTON” seemed melancholy – especially in the movie’s last hour. The themes of aging and mortality seemed to permeate the movie like a black shroud. Considering the movie’s theme and the fact that Benjamin spent his early years in the company of the elderly, it seemed surprisingly appropriate. And at least it gave the movie its main theme. Without this theme of aging and mortality, the movie could have easily been reduced to a 166 minute film with nothing but a gimmick.

But as much as I liked ”THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON”, it has some flaws. The movie’s main flaws, at least for me, turned out to be – ironically – the script by Eric Roth and the movie’s pacing. Now I realize that movies that cover a span of years or decades tend to run up to at least two-and-a-half to three hours. But did the pacing of this film have to be so goddamn slow? I realize that Fincher wanted to give the movie a Southern atmosphere, considering its setting, but I feel that he went a bit too far. By the time Daisy gave birth to Caroline in the movie’s second half, I found myself screaming for the movie to end. As for the screenplay, Roth filled it with moments and plot points that dragged the film needlessly. I never understood why the movie’s ”present day”, which featured a dying Daisy telling Caroline about Benjamin, was set during the outset of Hurricane Katrina. What was the point? In the end, the hurricane had nothing to do with the story. And although I found Benjamin’s affair with Elizabeth Abbott rather charming at times, I had some problems with it. The sequence started out well with the circumstances of their first meeting. But the buildup to their affair and eventual parting seemed longer than necessary. The one sequence that really irritated me featured Daisy’s accident in Paris. All Roth had to do was featured her encounter with a Parisian taxicab, Benjamin’s trip to Paris and their meeting in a hospital. But . . . no. Instead, Roth wrote this contrived scene that featured little moments from various strangers that led to Daisy being struck by the taxi. It seemed so ridiculous that I nearly groaned in agony.

Despite its flaws – and this movie certainly had plenty – ”THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON” turned out to be a first-class period piece with an interesting premise of a man aging backward. Although this premise could have reduced the movie to nothing more than a gimmick, the topic of aging and mortality lifted the movie to an interesting, yet sad tale filled with emotional moments, great cinematography and solid acting, especially from Brad Pitt.  The movie ended up receiving both Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations during last year’s award season.  I still do not know whether it deserved these accolades or not. But I must admit that it was one of the top twenty (20) movies I had seen in 2008.

“Neighbors” [PG] – 7/11

 

“NEIGHBORS”

Part 7

Olivia spent half of the following morning at the police station, waiting for her friend’s response to the e-mail message she had sent. And thinking about last night’s dinner with Cole Turner.

The half-daemon had done more than just tell her about his experience as the Source. Olivia also learned about his life as Belthazor and his experiences with the Halliwells from the past two years. Namely, the deal he had made with the Triad; his attempts on the Charmed Ones’ lives; falling in love with Phoebe Halliwell; being hunted by demonic bounty hunters; the death of his mentor, Raynor; those trying months following Prue Halliwell’s death; losing Belthazor to a vengeful woman; adjusting to mortality and finally; the circumstances that led to the Source’s possession of his body. Cole also talked about being trapped in the Wasteland and acquiring his new demonic powers. Along with his failed attempts to win back Phoebe. Including his part in the recent death of a well-known slum lord.

In all, Olivia felt as if she had relived an engrossing, supernatural saga on good, evil, love and betrayal. Cole’s life story would have made a great novel. Or autobiography. She could see the title now – “THE DAEMON FORMERLY KNOWN AS BELTHAZOR”. Or perhaps “LIFE OF A DEMONIC ASSASSIN”, or even “WITCHES AND DAEMONS IN LOVE”. What amazed Olivia was that Cole and Phoebe’s story bore a strong resemblance to her experiences with Richard. Except for the tragic ending. Cole still might have a chance to start over again with Phoebe Halliwell – once she realizes that he had also been traumatized by the Source and the Seer’s machinations. And once Cole stops trying too hard to win her back.

Olivia contemplated the idea of a reunion between her neighbor and his ex-wife. For some reason, the idea did not really appeal to her. Her gut instinct told her that unless the middle Charmed One learned to accept Cole for himself, there would be no true happiness between them. And Olivia deeply suspected that accepting Cole was something that the Halliwells might not easily accomplish.

“Hey!” Darryl’s voice snapped Olivia out of her thoughts. She glanced up and caught her colleague standing in front of her desk. “You’ve been staring at that laptop all morning. Are you some Internet addict, or something?”

Olivia gave Darryl a cool look. “I’ve been waiting for a message. From a friend of mine in Seattle. If you must know.”

Darryl eased into the chair, opposite the redhead. “Seattle? What’s there?”

“I had received a tip on those . . .” Olivia paused and glanced around. She wanted to make sure there were no eavesdroppers. “. . . on those warlocks.” Her voice grew soft.

Dark eyes narrowed. “What kind of tip? From Cole Turner?”

Olivia heaved a frustrated sigh. “Oh God! Darryl, you’re not going to start another lecture on not trusting him, again, are you?”

“Look, you have no idea how dangerous he can be.”

A sigh left Olivia’s mouth. “Trust me, I have a pretty good idea. I saw him in action.” She paused, as her eyes returned to the computer screen. “In fact, I have more than a good idea. What would you say if I told you that I was once engaged to a warlock?”

Darryl’s eyes flew wide open. “A war . . . What . . . What happened to him?”

Olivia struggled to quell a surge of grief. Her eyes focused on Darryl again, as she quietly said, “Richard was killed, while trying to save me and my mother.”

“Oh.” Darryl glanced away, unable to meet her eyes. “I’m sorry.”

A bitter smile formed on Olivia’s lips. “So am I. You know, Cole reminds me of Richard. At least on the surface. They have that same sarcasm and air of loneliness. Only Richard wasn’t as reserved as Cole. And his tastes weren’t so . . . I don’t know, expensive.”

Darryl added, “But I bet your Richard never betrayed you in the end. Did he?”

“No,” Olivia replied shortly. “He didn’t. But are you so sure that Cole betrayed Phoebe in the end? Or were there other forces involved?”

Despite the chatter that surrounded them, Olivia and Darryl stared at each other in silence. Then Darryl began, “Are you talking about the . . . ?”

Olivia’s computer laptop beeped. “You’ve got mail,” it announced. She immediately tore her attention away from Darryl and concentrated on the computer screen. Using her mouse, she clicked on the new message:

“To: Liv71@aol.com
Subject: Malehex Corp.
From: DGraySPD@hotmail.com
Date: Mon, _ Oct 2002 09:39:16

Malehex Corp has one holding in SF. Check out Tower
Bay Imports/Exports Co at 534 Bayshore Blvd. Phillip
Crozat, company director. Hope this helps.

D.G.”

“Got ’em!” Olivia declared triumphantly. “Tower Bay Import/Export. Now that name sounds familiar. Ever heard of it?” she asked Darryl.

The other inspector frowned. “Yeah. It’s an exclusive company that imports and exports stuff like rare antiquities, expensive perishables – mainly food delicacies from other countries, and bond certificates. That sort of thing.”

“Rare antiquities, huh?” Olivia became thoughtful. “Great way to distribute certain items to other warlock covens and demonic organizations.”

Darryl looked shocked. “You mean that Tower Bay is owned by war . . .?” He paused, as an office clerk walked by. “By warlocks?”

“The Malehex Corporation,” Olivia clarified. “Which happens to be owned by the Crozat Coven.”

“I better tell the Halliwells about this.” Darryl stood up.

Olivia grabbed his arm. “Wait a minute, Darryl. When you do, tell them not to do anything.”

“Why not?” Darryl demanded.

“Because I want to find out what we’re in for. Reconnoiter the place. Get a layout. From what Cole told me, the Crozat Coven is pretty large. And I’m not in the habit of charging in like some idiot with a trigger finger.” Olivia reached for the telephone. Darryl asked whom she was calling. “The one person who can help me, right now. Well, actually there are two, but I don’t think Bruce will be available, this afternoon.”

Confusion whirled in Darryl’s eyes. “So, who are you calling?”

Olivia shook her head. “Don’t worry. I’m not calling Cole.” She reached for her telephone. “And don’t forget what I said. Tell the Halliwells to stay away, until I reach them.” Darryl nodded and walked away. Olivia dialed the number to the McNeill manor.

* * * *

“Thanks for helping me out, Dad,” Olivia said to her father, as she drove the car along Bayshore Boulevard. “I hope you weren’t forced to interrupt anything.”

Jack McNeill dismissed Olivia’s worries with a wave of his hand. “You didn’t interrupt a thing. I had already finished a board meeting. And the only other thing I had scheduled was a golf game with Cameron Douglas.”

Olivia frowned. “Cameron Douglas? You can barely stand him. Has this anything to do with Mr. Douglas’ sudden desire to retire? And his company?”

“Perhaps,” Jack replied airily. His blue-gray eyes radiated innocence. “Besides, I like golf. I think I can survive one game with Douglas.”

A smirk formed on Olivia’s lips. “Yeah Dad. Sure.” She stopped the car at an intersection. “The least said, the better. Right?”

Jack’s mouth twisted into a knowing smile. “Sometimes, Olivia, I think you know me too well.” He glanced around the car’s interior. “This isn’t a police car, is it?”

The light turned green and Olivia stepped on the gas. “Not quite. I had . . . borrowed this from a friend in U.S. Customs. I want the Crozats to think I’m a Customs officer. I have to return it before someone realizes that it’s missing.”

“Ah,” Jack said, nodding. “You don’t want this car traced to you.”

“That’s right. If they had sent a warlock after me, they must know I’m a cop. And I don’t want them to know I’m on their trail.”

Jack continued, “Which is why you asked me to join you, this afternoon.”

Olivia smiled. “You know me too well.” She spotted a wide, one-story building to her left. Black letters across the top read: TOWER BAY IMPORTS/EXPORTS. “There it is,” she commented.

“How did you find out about this place?” Jack asked.

“I traced it through a friend of mine in the Seattle Police. It’s owned by a Seattle-based corporation called MALEHEX.”

Jack’s eyes widened. “Malehex? Of course! I should have known,” he groaned. “I forgot that Malehex was owned by a warlock coven. I just didn’t know which one. Who told you about them?”

“Cole. He used to be part of the Brotherhood of the Thorn, which has done business with the Crozats.”

One of Jack’s brows jumped upward. “Really?”

“Does that bother you?” Olivia asked in an anxious voice. “That I had asked for Cole’s help?”

Her father shrugged. “Isn’t that what Harry had suggested?”

“Yeah.” Olivia stopped the car for a second, before she made a left into Tower Bay’s parking lot.

Jack continued, “I bet the Halliwells won’t be thrilled, when they find out.”

Olivia snorted. “Do I look like I care?” She eased the car into a parking space. “I think I had made myself perfectly clear, yesterday.”

“You don’t like them very much, do you? The Halliwells, I mean.”

A gust of breath left Olivia’s mouth. “Dad, did I say anything of the kind? Besides, the only two Halliwells I personally knew are dead. Prue and her grandmother.”

“Uh-huh. But you didn’t like them. And you don’t like Prue’s sisters. Am I right?” Jack insisted. He stared at Olivia. Who found it difficult to meet his eyes. “Look, honey, I realize they can seem a bit self-righteous. Come to think of it, one could say the same about both Penny and Patty.”

Olivia added darkly, “And Prue.”

“Yeah, well self-righteous or not, they’re not bad people. In fact,” Jack paused, “I’m sure that they can be pretty nice. They must be, or Cole would have never stuck with them for so long.”

Olivia switched off the car’s engine. “I guess you’re right. But we can talk about the Halliwells, later. It’s showtime.”

Jack nodded. He sat still for a moment. Within a blink of an eye, his body transformed into another body. He went from a six foot man with graying chestnut hair, blue-gray eyes and ruggedly handsome features, to a stocky, forty-something man with gray eyes and blond hair. “How do I look?” he asked his daughter.

“Even better looking” Olivia joked wryly. “It’s my turn.” Jack leaned toward her and waved his hand in front of his daughter with one swipe. Olivia immediately transformed into a man – a tall, thin man with dark-brown hair and a perpetual frown. Olivia felt a certain physical addition between her legs. She squirmed. “Gee Dad, did you have to change me into a man?”

A smirk appeared on the older man’s lips. “What’s the matter? Afraid I won’t be able to change you back?”

Olivia shook her head. “Sometimes I wonder how Mom has been able to deal with that sense of humor of yours, for so long. Let’s go.” Daughter and father stepped out of the car. Olivia handed Jack a phony U.S. Customs badge and the pair proceeded toward the building.

* * * *

Phillip Crozat eyed the new visitors warily. This was the company’s second visit from the U.S. Customs in over a month. One visit could be construed as a nuisance. But this second visit . . . The warlock began to wonder if the company had attracted any unwanted attention from the Federal government.

His cousin Andre wanted to kill the two customs inspectors. In case they discover something. Phillip pointed out there was nothing inside the warehouse to discover – aside from several boxes of stock certificates. Unless some idiot had left traces of the last witch they lured here.

Irritation rose within Phillip. With the exception of the witch they had killed at Candlestick Park two days ago, the coven has been encountering a great deal of bad luck in acquiring witches’ powers. The Charmed Ones prevented Cousin Simon from killing the mother of that unborn witch, last Wednesday. And a witch from the powerful McNeill Coven had killed Cousin Stephen, the following night. Phillip had them marked for retribution. But to go after such powerful witches required more fire power. With the powers of the Charmed Ones and the McNeills, the Crozat Coven could ascend to demonhood and become leaders of the Source’s Realm.

The sulky-looking inspector strode up to Phillip. “Looks like everything’s in order,” he said with a scowl. The man almost seemed disappointed.

Phillip haughtily replied, “I could have told you that. Tower Bay has been one of the most prestigious trading companies on the West Coast.”

A sniff from the Customs inspector was the response. The scowling man added, “That’s what George DeMere of DeMere Imports said. Two days before we discovered illegal arms in his warehouse. He was part of a big arms smuggling ring and have reason to believe that another company is involved.” He turned to his companion, a stocky man with blond hair. “Hey Dan! Find anything back there?”

Seconds later, the other Customs inspector emerged from the back. “Everything’s A-okay, Pete!”

Inspector Peter Zwick rolled his eyes. “Right. Let’s get out of here.”

To Phillip’s relief, the Customs inspectors finally left the warehouse. The warlock ordered one of his minions to follow them and make sure they had left. “Think they might be a problem?” Cousin Andre asked.

Phillip shook his head. “I don’t think so. But I want to make sure they really are customs agents.” The minion returned inside the warehouse, breathing heavily. “Well?” Phillip demanded.

“I saw . . . them leave in a car with . . .” The minion panted between words. “. . . with government plates. U.S.”

Andre said, “I guess they’re genuine.”

“Maybe so,” Phillip replied. “But two visits within a month? And this visit just three or four days after Cousin Stephen failed to kill a witch who happened to be a cop? I don’t know.” His eyes narrowed. “But in case they had been sent by that witch, I think we should prepare that trap. Just in case we have more visitors.” His lips formed a thin smile.

END OF PART 7

“THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD” (1938) Review

“THE ADVENTUERS OF ROBIN HOOD” (1938) Review

Seventy-one years ago last April, the 1938 film, ”THE ADVENTUERS OF ROBIN HOOD”, was released in theaters for the first time. For many fans and film critics, the swashbuckler is considered the definitive Errol Flynn movie. They also view his character, Sir Robin of Locksley, as the pinnacle of the Australian actor’s career.

There have been previous versions of the Robin Hood tale before and after. The other most famous versions are the 1922 silent film that starred Douglas Fairbanks and the 1950s TV series that starred Richard Greene. Like the other versions, the movie told the story of the young Saxon nobleman (Flynn) who created a band of outlaws to protest against the reign of Prince John (Claude Rains) in England during the early 1190s. With King Richard the Lionhearted (Ian Hunter) a hostage of Austria’s king, John usurps the royal power to oppress the English poor – especially the Saxons – with the help of Sir Guy Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper). Robin and his right hand man, Will Scarlett (Patric Knowles), recruits the likes of Little John (Alan Hale, Sr.), Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette), Much the Miller’s Son (Herbert Mundin) and a band of outlaws. Soon, Prince John and his Norman cronies find their cruelties opposed and themselves harassed beyond all bearing. Robin also finds the time to fall in love with the Norman noblewoman and royal ward, Maid Marian Fitzwalter (Olivia de Havilland).

To be frank, ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD” is a glorious triumph not only for the Warner Bros. studio, but for Flynn as well. It has everything that the moviegoer could possibly want in a swashbuckler – great action, rich color, a superb score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold and a leading man who more than embodied what the main character stood for. Warner Bros. executives Jack Warner and Hal Wallis had originally cast James Cagney in the lead. But the actor became embroiled in one of his many feuds with the studio and two years later, Flynn won the role. I cannot say how Cagney would have portrayed Robin of Locksley. But Warner and Wallis certainly struck it rich with Flynn in the lead. Not only did he look the part, he handled the physical aspects of the role, perfectly. And he managed to inject Robin with a great mixture of roguish humor and sincere compassion.

The rest of the cast were also superb. Olivia de Havilland was never more lovelier. Even better, her Maid Marian became more than just the love interest and damsel-in-distress. Once Robin had swayed her to his cause, she turned out to be a valuable recruit. Not only did she managed to come up with a plan to save Robin from execution, she was the one who discovered a plot by Prince John, Sir Guy and the Sheriff to assassinate the returning King Richard.

Claude Rains, with his soft voice, made a deliciously sly Prince John. Basil Rathbone was tough enough to serve as a physical adversary for Robin. Their duel in the final scene at Nottingham Castle is considered a classic, thanks to the fencing choreography staged by Fred Cavens. And Melville Cooper was his usual funny self as the buffoonish Sheriff of Nottingham. Although I find it odd that he was the only one who was able to come up with a successful plan to capture Sir Robin. And where would ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD” be without its supporting cast that portrayed Robin’s Merry Men? The handsome Patric Knowles made a sly and witty Will Scarlett. Alan Dale Sr. returned as Little John, a role he had first made famous in the 1922 film. Eugene Pallette made great use of his frog voice and gruff demeanor as Friar Tuck. And Herbert Mundin, as Much the Miller’s Son, seemed to be the best of the bunch. Not only did he proved to be as brave as Robin, he also won the hand of Marian’s nurse, Bess, portrayed by the always memorable Una O’Connor.

Surprisingly, ”THE ADVENTUES OF ROBIN HOOD” had two directors. Hal Wallis first assigned the film to William Keighley, who had directed Flynn in ”THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER” (1937). But Hal Wallis felt slightly dissatisfied with Keighley’s slow handling of the action sequences and replaced him with Warner Bros’ reliable warhorse, Michael Curtiz. Flynn, who detested the Hungarian-born director, must have screamed in frustration. But Curtiz’s direction gave the film a tighter pace and better action sequences for which the movie is famous. ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD” was one of the first films of the studio to use the old three-strip Technicolor process. And it paid off, giving the movie a rich color and vibrancy. And what would this version of Robin Hood be without Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Academy Award winning score. I am still surprised that Korngold had originally turned down the assignment because he felt that his score could not live up to the movie’s action. Thankfully, he proved himself wrong.

”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD” seemed to have everything going for it – great cast, great photography, great action and great music. And it all seemed to blend seamlessly.  And yet . . . it is not my favorite Errol Flynn movie. I had come across a review of the film in which a critic stated that one of the reasons this was his favorite Flynn movie was its light-hearted tone and simplistic characterizations that allowed the audience to escape from the more complex, modern world. And I could see those traits in the movie.

But as much as I had enjoyed it, there were times when the movie came off as a little too light or simple for me. Sir Robin of Locksley may be considered Flynn’s best role, but I must admit that I found his portrayal of Geoffrey Vickers in ”THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE” (1936) and Geoffrey Thorpe in ”THE SEA HAWK” (1940) more complex and interesting. In fact, I consider the two movies to be my favorites that Flynn ever made. However, I do love ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD” and consider it one of the most entertaining films I have ever seen.

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Dead Man’s Chest” (2006) Review

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Dead Man’s Chest” (2006) Review

Recently, I had watched the second movie in the “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise for the umpteenth time, namely “Dead Man’s Chest”. First of all, I would like to say that originally, I had not been that keen on the idea of a sequel or two to “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Curse of the Black Pearl”. I simply did not think that the 2003 movie needed a sequel. It had ended just fine, as far as I was concerned. And I suspect that many “POTC” fans still feel this way. In end, I am glad that Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski had went ahead and forged a trilogy out of the franchise. To my surprise, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Dead Man’s Chest” has become my favorite of the three movies.

That said, here are my thoughts on this film:

*At first I had thought that the first movie was better. Which is not surprising to me. Sequels are rarely better than the first movie – with the STAR WARS, X-MEN and SPIDER-MAN franchises being the exceptions. But upon second viewing, I will add that DMC also became amongst the exceptions. I do not believe that it was better or worse than the CotBP. I feel that it is just as good, only darker . . . with a cliffhanger at the end. I must congratulate the two screenwriters, Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, along with director Gore Verbinski for taking the story in a new direction, instead of rehashing the success of the first movie.

*At first, I did not care for the sequences featuring the cannabalistic Pelegostos. I did not like the idea of Jack Sparrow being some kind of god to them, or even the idea of them being cannibals. It seemed to smack of old Hollywood cliches regarding whites’ encounters with “non-white savages”. Yet, upon repeated viewings, one could see that Verbinski, Elliot and Russio took this cliche and turned it on its heels with the portrayal of the Pelegostos being more than just savages. The director and two screenwriters showed that despite their status as cannibals, the Pelegostos were just as human as anyone else, thanks to the comic acting of the cast members portraying the group. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the Black Pearl crew’s escape from the Pelegostos. It was filled with excitement, great humor and good acting. In fact, it is one of my favorite sequences in the entire trilogy.

*I also have to congratulate Elliot and Russio for allowing the characters to develop even more since the first movie – especially Will Turner (portrayed by the very underappreciated Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly), and James Norrington (Jack Davenport). Even dear old Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp in all his glory) had managed to develop somewhat by the end of the film. And all of the major actors – including Kevin McNally as Joshamee Gibbs; and Lee Arnberg and MacKenzie Crook as Pintel and Rigetti – were excellent. Not much of a surprise, really.

*“DMC” also introduced four new characters to the franchise – the perceptive and charming Vodoun priestess, Tia Dalma (Naomi Harris); the vindictive and deadly Captain Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) who commanded the ghost ship, the Flying Dutchman; Will’s gloomy father, Bootstrap Bill Turner (Stellan Skarsgård); and the ruthless and manipulative representative of the East India Trading Company, Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander). Skarsgård gave a solid performance, and the other three actors – Harris, Nighy and Hollander – were fabulous.

*Many have expressed dislike of Elizabeth Swann for what she had done to Jack. What many had forgotten was that Will had more or less done the same thing to Jack – leave him for dead – in the first film. Mind you, Will had a better excuse. He feared that he would become a victim of Jack’s manipulations.

Despite my low expectations of the movie, I am surprised that I grew to love it so much. Even more surprising was the fact that it became my favorite in the “POTC” franchise. However, the movie’s final scene featuring the resurrection of Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) was BRILLIANT. It had one of the best endings I have ever seen on film, let alone cliffhangers. On the whole, I would give “POTC: Dead Man’s Chest” an “A-“. I am taking points off for the Pelegostos sequence. I may be more tolerant of it, but I do not love it. Quite frankly, I would rather see “DEAD MAN’S CHEST” over again, than watch the likes of “SUPERMAN RETURNS” (which was released around the same period) again.

“STARDUST” (2007) Review

“STARDUST” (2007)  Review”

When I had first saw the poster, I could not drum any interest in seeing “STARDUST”, directed by Matthew Vaughn. In fact, my interest remained dormant after viewing the trailer. Just today, someone had suggested that we see it, considering there was no other movie in the theaters we were interested in seeing. I said “no thanks”. It did not end there. This “someone” literally had to coerce me into seeing the film. And you know what? I am glad that he did. 

Based upon Neil Gaiman’s novella, “STARDUST” tells the story of a young 19th century Englishman named Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox), who becomes in involved in a series of adventures in magical kingdom located beyond the wall of his hometown of . . . Wall. His adventures resulted from his love of a young neighbor named Victoria (Sienna Miller) and his desire to find and retrieve a fallen star named Yvaine (Claire Danes) in order to prove his worthiness as a future husband. Tristan has no idea that his mother (Kate Magowan) is not only a citizen of this magical kingdom, but is also a royal princess who is enslaved by a witch named Ditchwater Sal (Melanie Hill). He does not realize that his two surviving uncles – Prince Septimus (Mark Strong) and Prince Primus (Jason Flemyng) – are in search of a ruby that will give either of them the throne to the kingdom. A ruby that had caused Yvaine to fall from the sky and is now worn by her. And Tristan is also unaware of a witch named Lamia who seek Yvaine. With the latter’s heart carved out, Lamia and her two sisters will be able to regain their youth and power.

I do not think I will go any further into the story, because it is simply too damn complicated. It is not confusing. Trust me, it is not. But I do feel that in order to know the entire story, one would simply have to see the film. I have never read Gaiman’s novella, so I have no idea how faithful Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn’s script was to the story. But I do feel that Goldman and Vaughn’s adaptation resulted in an exciting, yet humorous tale filled with surprisingly complex characters and situations.

The acting, on the other hand, was first-class. It could have been easy for Charlie Cox and Claire Danes to fall into the usual trap of portraying the leads, Tristan and Yvaine, as a pair of simpering and and over emotional young lovers – a cliche usually found in many romantic fantasies over the years. Instead, Cox and Danes seemed to be having a good time in portraying not only the ideal personality traits of the two lovers, but their not-so-pleasant sides through their constant bickering and mistakes. Vaughn filled the cast with some of his regulars like the always competent and dependable Dexter Fletcher and Jason Flemyng, along with Sienna Miller, who did a surprisingly good job of portraying Tristan’s bitchy object of desire, Victoria. Mark Strong was excellent as the ruthless and sardonic Prince Septimus. Robert DeNiro did a surprising turn as Captain Shakespeare, a flaming drag queen who pretends to be a ruthless and very macho captain of a pirate ship in order to maintain his reputation. DeNiro was very funny. But by the movie’s last half hour, the joke surrounding his deception threatened to become slightly tiresome. But the movie’s true scene stealer turned out to be Michelle Pfieffer as the evil and treacherous Lamia, the oldest and most clever of the three sister witches. At times seductive, funny, malevolent and creepy, Pfieffer managed to combine all of these traits in her performance, allowing her to literally dominate the movie and provide one of the most creepiest screen villains to hit the movie screens in the past decade. Margaret Hamilton, look out!

As much as I had enjoyed “STARDUST”, I had a few problems with the movie. I have already pointed out how the joke surrounding Captain Shakespeare’s sexual orientation threatened to become overbearing. I also found the movie’s running time to be a bit too long. This problem could be traced to an ending so prolonged that it almost rivaled the notoriously long finale of“LORD OF THE RING: RETURN OF THE KING”. And the fact that the movie’s style seemed to be similar to the 1987 movie, “THE PRINCESS BRIDE”, did not help. Another problem I found with the movie was its “happily ever after” ending that left me feeling slightly disgusted with its sickeningly sweet tone. But what really irritated me about “STARDUST” was Jon Harris’s editing. It seemed so choppy that it almost gave the movie an uneven pacing.

But despite the movie’s disappointing finale and Harris’ editing, “STARDUST” proved to be a very entertaining movie. Using a first-class cast and an excellent script, director Matthew Vaughn managed to pay a proper homage to Neil Gaiman’s novella. He also proved that his debut as a director (“LAYER CAKE”) was more than just a fluke.

“Neighbors” [PG] – 6/11

 

“NEIGHBORS”

Part 6

Cole guided his Porsche into the parking space assigned to him and stopped. He switched off the engine. A minute passed while he remained in the driver’s seat, staring at the view beyond the car’s windshield. At the gray wall of his building’s underground parking lot. Another minute passed. And another.

The drive up the coast had done nothing to allay Cole’s dark mood. In fact, the whole trip seemed to have been a complete waste of time. Perhaps he would have been better off accepting the McNeills’ invitation to brunch. Then again, maybe not. Cole doubted that he could have survived an afternoon of dealing with the Halliwells’ hostility.

He sighed and opened the car’s door. Just as Cole was about to climb out, he heard a voice cry out his name. “Mr. Turner? Hel-lo! Mr. Turner!” Dammit! Cole recognized the voice. It belonged to one of his neighbors, a tenant named Geraldine Boone. Cole could not stand her.

“Mr. Turner! Thank goodness I ran into you!” A forty-something woman with dyed blond hair, jogged up to Cole’s side, breathing heavily. He tried to ignore the tight dress that seemed totally unsuited for her. Especially since it accentuated some very unflattering curves.

Cole’s mouth stretched into an insincere smile. He said in a polite voice, “Mrs. Boone, how may I help you?” He climbed out of the Porsche and shut the door.

The middle-aged woman tittered. “Why don’t you call me Gerry? And I’ll call you Cole?”

Fighting the urge to fireball the woman or transform her into an innate object, Cole’s smile remained frozen. “So . . . Mrs. Boone, how may I help you?”

Discomfort flickered in her pale eyes. “I . . . uh, I wanted to speak with you about building matters,” Mrs. Boone continued. Then her flirtatious attitude returned with a vengeance. “Why don’t we return to the building, together, while I tell you all about it.” She linked her arm with Cole’s and led him toward the parking lot’s elevator.

As the elevator rose, Cole thought he would go out of his mind. The urge to use one of his powers on Mrs. Boone, became harder to resist, as she babbled on about the building’s superintendent and other matters. Before he could act upon his frustrations, the elevator reached the lobby. The doors slid open and relief appeared in the form of Olivia McNeill. She seemed to be struggling with what looked like aluminum trays in her arms.

“Olivia!” Cole immediately abandoned the older woman and rushed forward to help the red-haired witch. He grabbed one of the trays. “Here, I’ll take this.”

The younger woman flashed a grateful smile at Cole. “Thanks! I’m afraid that Mom’s idea of leftovers is two weeks’ worth of food.” She spotted a frowning Mrs. Boone in the elevator and stepped inside. “Oh hi, Mrs. Boone! How are you?”

Looking somewhat less than pleased by Olivia’s appearance, the older woman murmured curtly, “Fine. I . . .”

“Mrs. Boone was discussing the tenants’ problems with maintenance,” Cole explained. “She feels we need a new maintenance supervisor.”

An auburn brow quirked upward. “Really? I don’t recall any maintenance problems. Nor any complaints.” Olivia faced Mrs. Boone. “Are you sure you’re not exaggerating?”

The older woman’s mouth hung open, making her resemble a peroxide fish. Much to Cole’s amusement. He wondered if he should give in and transform Mrs. Boone into one.

The elevator stopped at the fifth floor. The doors slid open. “The fifth floor,” Cole gaily announced. “I believe this is your stop, Mrs. Boone.”

Geraldine Boone – very reluctantly – stumbled out of the elevator. She whirled around and opened her mouth to say something to Cole. But the elevator doors closed shut before she could utter a peep.

Both Cole and Olivia burst into laughter the moment the doors closed. By the time the elevator reached Olivia’s floor, their laughter had subsided. Cole, carrying the larger tray, followed his companion out of the elevator and toward her apartment. Once inside, the pair headed straight for the kitchen, where they delivered the trays on the counter.

“Thanks for helping me,” Olivia said with a smile. “That’s the second time today you’ve come to my rescue.”

Cole returned her smile with his own. “Glad to help. Besides, you came to my rescue just a few minutes ago. Consider us even,” he drawled. Then his smile disappeared. Did he just flirt with his neighbor? Then Cole noticed the frown on Olivia’s face. “What? Did I say something wrong?”

Olivia replied, “I was about to ask you the same thing. You looked a bit . . . odd there, for a moment.”

“It’s nothing. I was just . . .”

“Has it something to do with your ex-wife?” Olivia asked. Her green eyes reflected concern.

Cole immediately shook his head. “No. Uh, no it doesn’t.” He returned to the living room and sat down in one of the chairs.

“Liar.” Olivia shot him a look that mixed reproach and sympathy. “I saw your reaction at my parents’ house, this morning.”

Embarrassment washed over Cole. “Yeah, well, it was . . . it was a shock seeing Phoebe and her sisters. But I guess you were all bound to meet one day. Especially since Leo is also your whitelighter. By the way, how was the brunch?”

Olivia turned up her nose, surprising Cole. “A bit of a disaster, I’m afraid,” she replied.

“Oh. Sorry. I guess I shouldn’t have . . .”

“Are you always in the habit of taking the blame for everything? Look, you didn’t know they were going to be there,” Olivia retorted. “And neither did I. Besides, it wasn’t all about you. The Charmed Ones had accepted my grandmother’s invitation at the last moment.”

Cole shrugged. “I see.”

“No, not quite.” Olivia sighed. “It seemed they had accepted the invitation under false pretenses.” Cole stared at her. “Gran thought they wanted to talk about Mrs. Halliwell. We found out that they simply wanted to talk about warlocks.”

Now Cole understood. If it were not for his present mood, he would laugh at the idea of the Charmed Ones committing such a faux pas. “Warlocks? You mean the one who had attacked you the other night?”

Nodding, Olivia continued, “And the one whom the Charmed Ones had killed last Wednesday in Lafayette Park.” She opened her liquor cabinet and retrieved two martini glasses. “Martini?”

“Thanks,” Cole replied.

Olivia then reached for three bottles. “Gin, vodka or vermouth?”

Cole added, “Gin and vermouth. With an onion. I’m a Gibson fan.”

A smile touched Olivia’s mouth. “Really? So am I.” She returned the vodka inside the cabinet and then reached for a martini pitcher. “I recognized the warlock that the Halliwells had killed,” she continued. “He was part of the Crozat Coven. And so was the one you had killed.” She began preparing the martinis. “The body of a dead witch was found in Candlestick Park, yesterday morning. I had planned to ask you about the Crozats.”

Cole frowned. “The Crozat Coven. Sounds familiar.” He recalled a trip to Seattle he had made some five years ago. “From Seattle? I think I’ve heard of them.”

Olivia stirred the contents of the pitcher with a long spoon, before pouring it into the two martini glasses. “You’ve heard of the Crozat Coven?”

Cole explained that the Crozat Coven had business dealings with his former order, in the past. “The Brotherhood of the Thorn. Ever heard of them?”

“Of course!” Excitement lit up Olivia’s eyes. She dumped an onion in each of the martini glasses. “Organization of upper level daemons, right? You were one of them?”

Cole nodded. “For over a half-century. Until I betrayed the Source,” he added with a bitter smile. His smile disappeared. “I, uh . . . I helped Phoebe and her sisters thwart one of their business schemes.”

Holding the two glasses of martini, Olivia walked over to Cole. She handed over one glass. “And the Brotherhood also had dealings with the Crozat Coven?” She took a sip of her martini. So did Cole. He found it delicious.

“Yeah,” he continued. “The coven conducted their business under . . .” Cole paused, as he searched his memory. “I believe they used some corporation as a front for their activities. It’s called . . . Malehex. And it’s based in Seattle.”

Olivia plopped down on the sofa. A frown creased her lovely face. Lovely? Cole gave his head a slight shake. This was no time to be thinking about someone else’s looks.

“I wonder if they have any holdings in San Francisco,” Olivia commented, breaking Cole’s thoughts.

He shook his head. “I wouldn’t know. I had to go to Seattle to deal with them. And it has been five years.” He paused. “Maybe you can check the internet for Malehex Corporation.”

Without a moment’s hesitation, Olivia placed her martini glass on the table. She stood up and headed for the desk that held her computer laptop. Cole followed. “Let’s see,” she murmured, sliding into the chair in front of her desk. Then Olivia typed in the words – MALEHEX CORPORATION. The search proved fruitless. The only information given was the corporation’s name and Seattle address.

“Damn!” Olivia muttered with frustration.

Cole added, “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I doubt that a corporation owned by warlocks would reveal so much on the Internet.”

“But the police computer might have some information,” Olivia replied, the excitement on her face growing again. “Or better yet, the Seattle Police. I know a fellow cop . . . who happens to be a witch, up there. I’ll send him a message.”

While Olivia returned her attention to the computer, Cole took the opportunity to examine her apartment. It seemed small, compared to the penthouse. But it still looked pretty spacious in his eyes. The apartment boasted a large bedroom, a smaller one that obviously served as a guest bedroom, two bathrooms and several closets. Cole also noticed that Olivia had decorated her apartment with tasteful, yet expensive furnishings from the early nineteenth century. Many of them, he suspected, may have come from antique shops. He noticed several family photographs on a Midland cabinet. One particular photograph of a handsome, chestnut-haired man with hazel brown eyes, caught his attention. The man looked very familiar.

“Okay,” Olivia said, as she rose from her desk. “I just sent my friend . . .”

Cole held up the photograph of the handsome stranger. “This man looks familiar. Do you know . . .?” He paused at the sight of Olivia’s expression. Surprise, followed by deep sadness permeated her green eyes. She practically looked grief-stricken. “Uh, did I say something wrong?”

“No, I . . .” Olivia’s mouth trembled slightly. She took a deep breath. “That’s my fiancé, Richard. My late fiancé.”

Cole murmured a few words of sympathy. “I’m sorry. How did he . . .? Never mind.” He placed the photograph back on the cabinet’s shelf.

“How did he die? Is that what you were about to ask?” Olivia inhaled once more. “He was killed.”

“By a demon? A warlock?”

Olivia quietly replied, “No, by my aunt. My mother’s sister, Aunt Rhiannon.”

Her answer took Cole’s breath away. “Your . . .aunt? Why would she . . .?”

Another gust of breath left Olivia’s mouth. She walked over to the sofa and sat down. Then she picked up her martini glass and took a large gulp. Cole sat next to her. “Richard used to be a warlock,” Olivia finally said.

Realization hit Cole like a wet rag. “Of course! I thought he looked familiar. He’s from the Bannen Coven! But I heard they had been vanquished nearly two years ago.”

“Thanks to Richard.” Olivia explained that she had become acquainted with the warlock, Richard Bannen, after meeting him at a exclusive charity party, here in San Francisco. Richard had introduced himself with the full intention to become acquainted with Olivia, romance her and kill her. “Apparently, the Source had a contract out on me. To this day, I don’t know why. Richard never knew the reason behind the contract. It didn’t take me very long to realize he was a warlock, but I kept up a charade of innocence to learn the whereabouts of his coven.” She sighed. “Only both of us ended up falling in love. Would you believe it? My family didn’t believe it at first, and wanted Richard vanquished. But Harry and Gran learned that Richard’s feelings were sincere.”

The McNeills eventually accepted Richard as part of the family. Except for one person – Olivia’s aunt, Rhiannon Morgan Davies. Gweneth McNeill’s sister had endured the death of her husband at the hands of another Bannen warlock. “She never really got over Uncle Antony’s death,” Olivia continued. “And Aunt Rhiannon . . . well, she tended to be a little too self-righteous. She never liked Dad. She considered him morally ambiguous and not good enough for Mom. But after Uncle Tony’s death, she literally became a one-woman vigilante. You know, obsessed with hunting daemons and warlocks – especially if their name happened to be Bannen.” Olivia’s voice seemed heavy with sadness.

“How did Richard fit into all this?” Cole asked. Olivia’s description of her aunt reminded him of Prue. And of Piper, after Prue’s death.

Olivia paused. Her face assumed a haunted expression. “Following Uncle Tony’s death, several other witches were killed by some of Richard’s cousins. As far as Aunt Rhiannon was concerned, Richard was among those responsible. She tried to hunt down the entire coven, herself. She did kill a few, but she also harmed a few innocents, in the process, when she mistook them for warlocks. Not all of the Bannens were warlocks. Only a handful. Both Mom and I tried to reason with her. But . . .” Olivia sighed. Heavily. “Aunt Rhiannon . . . well, she snapped and began accusing us of embracing evil.” She finished the last of her martini, while Cole waited. “Then she attacked us. She . . . uh, knocked me unconscious and was about to kill Mom, when Richard appeared. Aunt Rhiannon had thermokinesis. When she tried to use it against Mom, Richard got in the way and got hurt instead. Aunt Rhiannon was about to attack Mom again, when Richard deflected her attack and killed her.” Her voice choking, Olivia concluded, “And Richard died a few minutes later from his wounds. Right after I had regained consciousness.” Tears fell from her eyes.

Cole immediately handed his handkerchief to Olivia. Who used it to wipe her eyes. Her story had been truly horrible. And sad. Granted, being possessed by the Source, and later vanquished by one’s wife and sisters-in-law seemed worse. But Olivia’s story did strike Cole as pretty damn depressing. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

Shaking her head, Olivia wiped away more tears. “Yeah, so am I. It’s been about ten months since it happened.” She paused. “And it still hurts.” Olivia handed the handkerchief back to Cole.

“Something like that . . .” Cole hesitated. “Well, it’s hard to get over.” He sighed. “I know from past experience.”

Personal grief slowly gave way to sympathy in Olivia’s eyes. And curiosity. She said quietly, “Are you talking about you being the Source? How exactly did that happened?”

Cole’s lips formed a bitter smirk. “Didn’t Leo tell you?”

“Well, all I heard was that you had become the Source, betrayed Phoebe and she and her sisters ended up vanquishing you. Leo left out a lot of details.” Olivia shook her head. “And I got the feeling that he didn’t know all the details. It just seemed too simple . . . especially after all you went through to win their trust. I mean, how did you become the Source in the first place, when you were a human?”

Cole sighed and placed his martini glass on the nearby coffee table. “It’s a long story. And I’m hungry. Why don’t we discuss this over dinner?”

Olivia responded, “Okay. How about dinner at the Golden Horn restaurant? I’m not really in the mood to cook dinner. And it’s my treat.”

“Your treat? The Golden Horn is pretty expensive.”

A smile – the first one Cole has seen in a while – touched Olivia’s lips. “Not for a McNeill. Mom owns the restaurant.”

“No wonder it’s your treat,” Cole murmured sarcastically. He stood up. “Okay. I’ll meet you in . . . an hour?”

“An hour’s fine. I’ll see you then.” Olivia’s smile broadened. It was the last thing Cole saw before he disappeared from her apartment.

END OF PART 6