“FAST FIVE” (2011) Review

“FAST FIVE” (2011) Review

I have never seen a movie from the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise before 2011. Never. I never had the inclination to see any of these movies, despite the series being a consistent cash cow for producer Neal H. Moritz and Universal Studios for the past decade. One might begin to wonder what led me to see the franchise’s latest entry, “FAST FIVE”

I might have to retract a little. I did see the first movie, 2001’s “THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS” last December. Well, I only saw two or three minutes of one of the movie’s early scenes on a large screen television at my local electronics store. But those two or three minutes did not convince me to go see “FAST FIVE”. The movie trailer did. When I first saw it, I had rolled my eyes in disgust at the idea of a fifth FAST AND FURIOUS movie. When I saw the trailer for a second time . . . it intrigued me. Because of this, I decided to end my ban on the franchise and see the movie.

In order to understand the beginning of “FAST FIVE”, one would have to watch the past four movies – especially 2009’s“FAST AND FURIOUS”. That movie, featured law enforcement officer Brian O’Conner’s reunion with the Toretto family – street car racer/thief Dominic “Dom” and his younger sister, Mia – after he had allowed Dom to escape arrest at the end of the first movie. Dom and Brian investigated the murder of the former’s girlfriend, Leticia “Letty” Ortiz and her connection to a major drug lord. Brian made arrangements with the FBI for Dom’s release in exchange for the latter’s assistance in the drug lord’s capture. However, a Federal judge reneged on the deal and sentenced Dom 25 years to life in prison. The movie ended with Brian, Mia and two of Dom’s colleagues (Tego Leo and Rico Santos) attempting to free Dom from a bus en route to the Lompoc Penitentiary.

“FAST FIVE” picked up with Dom’s rescue from the prison bus. Dom, Brian and Mia are forced to leave the United States as fugitives from justice. Upon their arrival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; they encounter Dom’s former colleague, Vince. He recruits them to participate in steal cars from a moving train, on behalf of a Rio businessman and crime lord named Hernan Reyes. When Dom realizes that one of their fellow thieves, Zizi, is only interested in stealing one car – the Ford GT40 – he has Mia steal the car, while Dom and Brian fight Zizi and his henchmen. The fight results in Zizi’s murder of three DEA agents on board the train. The murders are pinned on Dom and Brian. The trio discover a computer chip from the Ford GT40 that consists of details of Reyes’ criminal operation and locations of $100 million dollars in cash. They decide to rip off the crime lord’s money in order to start a new life, with the help of old friends. Dom, Brian and Mia also discover that a diehard U.S. DSS agent named Luke Hobbs is in Brazil to capture them for the murders of the DEA agents.

When “FAST FIVE” first hit the theaters, many fans and critics declared it to be the best in the franchise. Following my first viewing of the movie, I watched the other four that came before it. Two of them proved to be well-written entertainment; one of them seemed decent, but a little mediocre; and one barely maintained my interest. But “FAST FIVE” definitely turned out to be better than the first four movies. Although the movie featured an extreme car chase through the streets of Rio, it barely touched upon street car racing, a theme that dominated the other four films. In fact, the movie only featured two street car races – a good natured contest between four of the characters and another between Dom and Brian right before the movie’s end credits. In other words, “FAST FIVE” was more of a heist film. And although certain fans had complained about the limited emphasis on street car racing, the critics and other fans had expressed that the heist plot made “FAST FIVE” the best in the franchise. So far.

Not only do I believe that “FAST FIVE” is the best in the franchise, I feel that it is one of the better heist movies I have seen in recent years (aside from 2001’s “OCEAN’S ELEVEN” and 2007’s “OCEAN’S THIRTEEN”). Aside from a small quibble regarding the Vince character, screenwriter Chris Morgan’s plot turned out to be a strong continuation of the first, second and fourth films. Morgan’s utilization of characters from the previous films provided “FAST FIVE” with a strong ensemble cast. In fact, I happily noticed that none of supporting characters had been shoved into the background or overshadowed by the Dom, Brian and Mia characters. Most of the supporting characters have previous connections with Dominic, except for two – Roman Pearce and Tej Parker – who appeared in 2003’s “2 FAST 2 FURIOUS” as Brian’s friends. This fifth film provided a warm and humorous private reunion between the three. And thanks to Morgan’s script, the franchise’s theme of family (especially fatherhood) resonated strongly. This theme also led me to view the Dominic/Brian friendship with a jaundiced eye.

The movie’s production also struck me as top notch. Aside from the train robbery sequence, many of the exterior scenes were shot in Puerto Rico and Rio. Director Justin Lin and cinematographer Stephen F. Windon did a first rate job in conveying the elegance, color, chaos and squalor of Rio de Janeiro. I also have to commend Kelly Matsumoto, Fred Raskin and Christian Wagner for their editing of the film – especially the foot chase through Rio’s Rocinha Favela (shantytown) and the chase sequence throughout the city.

Before I end up gushing over the movie, I do have a few quibbles. The train heist had been shot in Arizona . . . and looked it. I am aware of the scrub lands that exist in Brazil, but the train featured in this sequenced looked as if it was traveling through a very stark and dry looking terrain. And Morgan’s script never revealed how Vince ended up in Brazil. He had last been seen in “THE FAST AND FURIOUS”, being evacuated to hospital by a medivac, after being badly injured in truck heist gone wrong. Had he been convicted following his release from the hospital? How did he end up in Brazil in the first place?

Considering the number of performers featured in the cast of “FAST FIVE”, I figured it would take a separate article to write about them. If I must be honest, there was not a performance that hit the wrong note. I noticed that the movie seemed to have a strong sense of ensemble acting. Not only did the gang of thieves summoned by Dominic and Brian clicked with perfect magic, but Dwayne Johnson and the other actors who portrayed the DSS agents clicked very well as a team. And I could say the same about Joaquim de Almeida as crime lord Reyes and Michael Irby as his henchman, Zizi.

There were some performances that caught my eye. Vin Diesel and Paul Walker made an even stronger screen team, now that the latter’s character (Brian O’Conner) officially became a criminal. And Walker’s chemistry with Jordana Brewster seemed a lot stronger and more stable than it was in the first and fourth movies. Speaking of Walker (again), he was also able to re-create his strong chemistry with Tyrese Gibson, who portrayed his childhood friend Roman, from the second film. As for Gibson, not only did he have the worst line in the movie, he also had most of the best ones. He was dynamic as ever. Chris “Ludacris” Bridges gave a deliciously cool and sardonic performance as Tej Parker. Spanish-born actress Elsa Pataky really connected with Diesel and Johnson in separate films. And it was great to see Almeida in a strong role again. I found his character’s view on the differences between Spanish and Portuguese colonization rather interesting and chilling. Sung Kang (Han Seoul-Oh) and Gal Gadot (Gisele Harabo)’s characters created a surprisingly sexy romance. Tego Calderon and Don Omar made a hilarious screen team as Dom’s old colleagues from the Dominican Republic. And even Dwayne Johnson gave a slightly scary take on the “holy roller” Federal agent, Luke Hobbs.

Considering how long this article is, one would assume that I really enjoyed “FAST FIVE”. And that person would be right. And I find this surprising, considering my initial contempt, when I first saw the movie’s trailer. Not only did I really enjoy “FAST FIVE”, it is one my favorite movie of the summer . . . and of 2011, as well.  I am impressed.

“BOMBSHELL” (1933) Review

“BOMBSHELL” (1933) Review

In one of Hollywood’s ironic twists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released “BOMBSHELL”, a 1933 comedy about the trials and tribulations of a movie starlet. To this day, many believe that the movie was supposed to be a satire on the life of silent film goddess, Clara Bow. But looking at the movie today, it could have easily been a take on the life of the film’s leading lady, Jean Harlow.

Based upon an unproduced play by Caroline Francke and Mack Crane, and directed by Victor Fleming; “BOMBSHELL” begins with movie star Lola Burns being fed up with the machinations of her studio’s publicity chief, E.J. “Space” Hanlon, who continuously feeds the press with endless fake scandals about her. Lola also has to put up with her drunken father who tries to manager her career, and an obnoxious brother; who both sponge from her. She also has to deal with a private secretary that takes advantage of her at every opportunity. Unaware of Space’s feelings for her, Lola is also torn between a fortune hunting European nobleman and gigolo and a brash Hollywood director. Lola decides to put her life in order by adopting a baby. But when Space and her family sabotages her efforts, Lola turns her back on Hollywood and flees to a desert resort.

What can I say? Not only is “BOMBSHELL” one of my favorite movies from the old Hollywood studio system, but one of my favorite comedies of all time. Screenwriters John Lee Mahin, Jules Furthman and Norman Krasna created a hilarious tale about the chaotic and surreal life of a Hollywood starlet. “BOMBSHELL” featured a rather funny interview between Lola and a writer from a Hollywood gossip rag. While Lola and her father provide the journalist with pretentious tidbits about their lives, the camera gives a view of the journalist’s more realistic take on their answers. Another hilarious scene featured a fist fight between Lola’s sponging Maquis boyfriend, Marquis Di Pisa Di Pisa and the volatile director, Jim Brogan. During the movie’s last half hour, Lola meets and becomes romantically involved with an East Coast blue blood named Gifford Middleton and his family. This relationship allowed Gifford to quote one of the most cringe-worthy and hilarious lines in film history:

“Your hair is like a field of silver daisies. I’d like to run barefoot through your hair!”

However, Space’s response to Gifford’s uh . . . compliment, had me on the floor laughing:

“He looks like an athlete. I wouldn’t want him puttin’ his foot through my scalp.”

But not only is “BOMBSHELL” funny, it also gave moviegoers a glimpse (and I mean that literally) into life as an actress during Hollywood’s studio era. The movie’s first twenty minutes revealed Lola being prepared for a day of shooting and the type of people that worked at a studio. The only unrealistic moment during this sequence was a scene featuring the studio’s boss, who was portrayed as a benign leader concerned for both his studio and the well-being of performers like Lola Burns under contract. But the egoism, back-stabbing and borderline insanity is all there.

I have always been a fan of Jean Harlow as an actress for as long as I can remember. But I believe that Lola Burns was one of the best roles in her career. Her comedic talent seemed to be at its height in this movie. She conveyed all of the best . . . and worst of Lola Burns. Harlow made it obvious that Lola is a victim of the studio system and her bloodsucking family. But she also skillfully conveyed Lola’s egotism, temper and penchant for illusions. Someone once commented that Lola’s character and situation never changed for the better or worst by the film’s last reel. I cannot quite agree with this assessment. I got the feeling that Harlow’s Lola spent most of the movie indulging in illusions of a possible “normal life”. These illusions led her to pursue relationships with men like the Marquis Di Pisa Di Pisa and Gifford Middleton and make an attempt to adopt a baby. While proclaiming that she had enough of Hollywood, Lola expressed signs of jealousy when Space informed her that another contract player might get a role that she had previously coveted. It is not that surprising that when faced with the end of her illusions, Lola returned to Hollywood.

Lee Tracy was equally funny as studio publicist E.J. “Space” Hanlon. His Space was sardonic, manipulative and quick with his tongue. Best of all, Tracy had a great screen chemistry with Harlow. It is a pity that they never worked with each other – before or after. Both had appeared in “DINNER AT EIGHT”, but did not share any scenes together. Pity. The movie also benefited from other supporting performers such as Frank Morgan, who radiated both bluster and charm as Lola’s deadbeat father; Pat O’Brien, who was very sexy as Lola’s former beau, director Jim Grogan; Franchot Tone, as Lola’s new beau, who gave one of the most memorable lines in the movie; and a sharp-tongued Una Merkel as Lola’s bloodsucking secretary, Mac.  Louise Beavers, who portrayed Lola’s maid Loretta, had two delicious moments in the movie, despite being saddled with a racially cliched role. I especially love the scene featuring her clash with Merkel’s Mac, when the latter threatened to have her fired. It gave her the opportunity to speak another one of the movie’s more memorable lines. The only cast member I had a problem with was Ted Healey. His Junior Burns seemed like a mindless thug that lacked the charm of Lola and Mr. Burns. I found it hard to believe that he came from the same family.

If you want a peek into life at a Hollywood studio during the early 1930s, then “BOMBSHELL” is your movie. If you want a hilarious movie that starred Jean Harlow in one of her best roles, then “BOMBSHELL” is definitely your movie. Not only did the benefitted from the talents of Harlow and co-star Lee Tracy; but also from the directorial skills of Victor Fleming and a first-rate script written by John Lee Mahin, Jules Furthman and Norman Krasna.

“Obssessions” [PG-13] – Chapter 3


Part 3

Inspector Darryl Morris sat opposite Captain McPherson, inside the latter’s office. He stared in silent shock, as the older man revealed some news. “Uh, could you . . . could you repeat that again, Captain?” he mumbled. Had he heard right?

“I said,” McPherson’s deep voice rumbled, “that you have received a promotion.” He tossed a badge over to Darryl. “Congratulations, Lieutenant Morris.”

Numbly, Darryl nodded. “Thanks . . . Captain. Uh,” his partner’s face flashed in his mind, “what about Olivia? Will she . . .?”

“No, she wasn’t in line for a promotion.” McPherson leaned forward. “But she will continue working with you. If you want. You’ll be heading your own task force. One that investigates the more . . . difficult cases.”

Darryl had a pretty good idea what kind of difficult cases he would be handling. Those of the supernatural kind. The freaky cases. He sighed. And wondered if this meant he would end up spending the rest of his career as a lieutenant.

McPherson cut into Darryl’s thoughts. “About your unit . . . McNeill will be part of it. As sergeant, she’ll be your second-in-command. The others include Scott Yi, Marcus Anderson and Carmen Trujillo. The task force goes into effect at the beginning of next month.”

Nodding, Darryl continued, “Got it. Anything else?”

“One last thing. Just received word from the DA’s Office. There will be a new ADA assigned to the DiMatteo case. Someone named Paul Margolin from Buffalo. From what I hear, he’s good. You and McNeill will be seeing a lot of him over the next month or so. Other than that,” McPherson smiled, “congratulations.”

Darryl returned the captain’s smile. “Thanks.” Then he rose from his chair and left McPherson’s office, clutching his new badge. The first place he headed for was Olivia’s desk. “I’ve got some news,” he announced.

The red-haired woman glanced up, smiling. “Is it about your new promotion?” she asked, taking his breath away.

“How did you . . .?”

Olivia’s smile widened. “A little tip I had received from Hugo.” She referred to one of the precinct’s clerks. Olivia stood up and enveloped Darryl into a bear hug. “Congratulations, partner!”

“Yeah, thanks,” Darryl said, feeling a touch dazed.

“Since we don’t have anything urgent at the moment,”Olivia continued, “why don’t we celebrate with a lunch at Morgan’s? Or better yet, dinner tonight at the Golden Horn? You, me, Sheila and . . .”

A voice interrupted. “Excuse me, are you Inspector Darryl Morris?”

Darryl turned around and faced a very attractive-looking man with chestnut hair and hazel green eyes. “Yeah. May I help . . .?”

“Paul?” Olivia’s outburst took Darryl by surprise. She grabbed the stranger’s hand and shook it. I wondered when we would see each other, again. You must be here about the DiMatteo case. Darryl, this is Paul Margolin, the new ADA. He’s . . .”

“Yeah, I know,” Darryl added. “He’s the new prosecutor for the DiMatteo case. The captain had just told me. Nice to meet you.” He held out his hand.

Margolin shook Darryl’s hand. “Same here. By the way, congratulations on your promotion. I overheard.”

Olivia continued, “Darryl here, is the only one who knows I’m a W-I-T-C-H. If you know what I mean.”

Astounded by his partner’s revelation, Darryl stared at her. “Wait a minute! He knows that you’re a,” he added in sotto voice, “a witch? Does that mean Mr. Margolin, here, is also one? How did you two . . .?”

Olivia grabbed her partner’s arm. “I’ll explain it during lunch, Darryl.”

Before she and Darryl could leave, a fourth figure appeared before the trio. “Explain what?” Cole Turner asked.

* * * *

Thank goodness he had called in sick, today. This gave Nick the opportunity to not only summon the succubus, but also prepare some kind of protection for himself. Protection that called for some Angelica Root. Knowing that Barbara usually went to lunch around one o’clock, Nick headed for Ostera’s around a half hour, before noon. He found the shop’s two assistants helping customers with their purchases. Nick drifted toward one of the shelves and began his search for the root.

One minute later, Nick overheard Paige bid the last customer, good-bye. He continued his search, until a voice behind him asked, “What are you looking for?” It was Paige.

Nick hesitated before he answered, “Oh nothing in particular. Just some Angelica Root, if you have any.”

“Hmmm.” Paige searched the shelves for the herb in question. Nick followed closely behind. However, the search ended in failure. “Sorry Nick. Looks like I couldn’t find any. Hey Maddy?” she called to the other assistant, “could you check the shelves again for some Angelica Root? I’ll be in the stockroom.”

While Paige headed for the stockroom, Nick and Madeline Oser, the shop’s other assistant, continued the search for the Angelica Root. He asked Maddy if Barbara was in today. Before the young woman could answer, Paige returned, along with the person in question, beside her. “We found it!” Paige crowed in a triumphant voice. “Actually, Barbara found it.” She handed the package to Nick. “Here you go – one jar of Angelica Root. What do you need it for? A protection potion?”

Caught off guard by Paige’s question, Nick hesitated. Then he answered, “Uh, no . . . actually . . . yeah. Yeah, it’s for a protection . . . potion.”

“Protection from what?” Maddy asked. The youngest of Ostera’s staff, she was a pretty, dark-haired twenty-three year-old who had recently graduated from college.

Nick stared at her. “Huh? Oh, uh . . . I’m trying to create this new potion.” He paused, until an idea came to him. “A . . . a traveling potion. A strong one.” Again he paused. With all eyes upon him, he felt like an idiot. Or that something was wrong with him. “And I need a protection spell . . . uh, potion . . . just in case something goes . . . wrong.” Desperate to change the subject, he asked Barbara what she was doing in the storeroom.

“Checking the Internet on my plant,” she answered. “You know, the one we told you about.”

“The Soma plant that your friend gave you, last Friday? The one that warlock was after?”

Barbara nodded. “Yeah. Well, I finally learned something about it.” According to the blond-haired witch, the Soma plant happened to be a shrub from Hindu mythology. Its leaves not only cured diseases of all kinds, but also granted immortality. “Which is probably why that warlock was after it.”

“At least you won’t have to worry about a demon coming after it,” Paige added. “Especially since they’re already immortal.” Silence filled the shop. Everyone smiled at Paige. Even in his nervous state, Nick could not help but smile at the Charmed One’s naivety. “What?” she demanded. “Did I say something wrong?”

Barbara patted her shoulder. “No, it’s just that not all of us believe that daemons are completely immortal. I mean, yes they have very long life spans and cannot be killed by . . . say, a bullet. But even something ordinary like a knife or sword can kill them. In my book that does not make them immortal.”


“Of course, it’s only my opinion. And the opinions of others. We all have our different interpretations.” Barbara sighed. “Also, the last thing anyone want is any magical being becoming immune to any kind of death . . . supernatural or otherwise. That’s why I have the plant at Bruce’s house. His family is strong enough to protect it.”

While the others continued to discuss the Soma plant, Nick allowed his mind to wander. Or to be more accurate, contemplate upon what he had just heard. Soma plant. Immortality. Perhaps this plant might turn out to be the perfect bargaining unit to use with the succubus.

“Oh! Hey!” Paige cried out, interrupting Nick’s thoughts. “Speaking of Bruce, did you hear the news? The BAY-MIRROR columnist, DeWolfe Mann, will be interviewing him and Mrs. McNeill for an article on the Golden Horn. You know, for its 25th anniversary. Phoebe told me.”

Hip-hip-hooray, Nick thought sourly. The ‘Golden Man’ strikes again. He could not care less about Bruce McNeill or any other McNeill’s stroke of good luck. Especially since the bastard will not be around long enough to enjoy it. Hopefully.

* * * *

Four people gathered inside a booth at Morgan’s to celebrate one Inspector Darryl Morris’ promotion to lieutenant. One person too many, as far as Cole was concerned.

After learning about Darryl’s promotion from Olivia, Cole had volunteered to treat the two partners to a celebration lunch at Morgan’s – the McNeill family’s second restaurant. An unpleasant surprise awaited him upon arriving at the police station. A surprise in the form of a handsome, chestnut-haired man exchanging smiles with Olivia. One glance at the pair and an uncomfortable feeling struck Cole that this burgeoning friendship could easily develop into something more serious. He saw fascination in the ADA’s eyes and interest in Olivia’s.

Cole had to struggle to maintain his emotions, when Olivia introduced him Paul Margolin. Who turned out to be the newly hired Assistant District Attorney. New ADA, huh? Cole would have laughed at the irony, if he was not feeling on edge at the moment. He received a bigger shock when Olivia revealed that Margolin happened to be a witch. One of Leo’s charges, whom she had just met last night. He finally understood why the whitelighter’s dinner invitation had not been extended to him.

“Paul had just moved from Buffalo,” Olivia explained with a smile. “He was a . . . a public prosecutor. Right?” She directed her last word to the New Yorker.

Margolin returned Olivia’s smile. “Right.”

Cole’s lips formed an arch smile. “No kidding,” he commented with a slight sardonic tone. “And now you’re an ADA. So what made you decide to move here to San Francisco?”

“I heard about the new position of ADA,” Margolin replied. “Through a friend.”

“A friend, huh? Leo?”

Darryl frowned at Cole. “How would Leo know about job openings in the DA’s Office?”

Cole responded with a shrug. “Well, since Leo happens to be the only person that Mar . . . uh, Paul knew here in Frisco, I simply made the connection.”

Paul quickly added, “Actually, I heard about it through another friend.”

Silence enveloped the booth. A waitress approached to take orders. After she left, Olivia said to Margolin, “Speaking of the DA’s Office, did you know that Cole used to be a ADA? About two-and-a-half years ago?”

One of Margolin’s brows lifted out of curiosity. “Really? Why did you leave?” he asked Cole. “Better job offer?”

Cole replied coolly, “Out of necessity. Actually, I had no choice. The Charmed Ones had discovered that I was a daemon sent by the old Triad to kill them.”

More silence followed. Cole noted with pleasure that Margolin’s eyes grew wide with shock. A sigh left Darryl’s mouth and Olivia glared at the half-daemon. “Um,” the new ADA began nervously, “did you just say . . .?”

“. . . that I’m a daemon?” Cole finished. “Yeah. Actually, half-daemon. My father was a mortal. But the reason I really left was due to the fact that I had failed to kill Phoebe and her sisters, and killed the Triad, instead. So, I ended up on the run from the Source’s zoltars.” He paused, wearing an innocent expression – and relishing the witch’s discomfort. “What? Didn’t Leo and the others tell you about me?”

Margolin’s mouth merely hung open in silence. Then he turned to Olivia and Darryl. “Um, did you two . . .? I mean, how long have you kn . . .?”

Olivia immediately replied, “Since I first met Cole, five months ago. He had saved me from a warlock. And Darryl has known him longer.”

The new police lieutenant shot his partner a resentful look. “Yeah, I’ve known about Cole, ever since the Halliwells first found out that he was a de . . . a half-demon.”

“Belthazor,” Cole added, barely containing a smirk. “I was known as Belthazor. You know, one of the Source’s top assassins. To make a long story short, I ended up helping the Charmed Ones, lost my powers, got possessed by the Source’s essence and ruled the Underworld for a few months. Then the Halliwells killed me, I acquired new powers to escape the Wasteland and now I’m back. With new powers. I’m sure that Leo could fill in the details.”

Margolin responded with a numb nod. “So, uh . . . Leo and his family . . . they know about you? I mean, they . . . worked with you . . . even . . .”

“Well, yes,” Cole answered. “I was also married to the middle sister. Phoebe. Didn’t last very long.”

This time, the ADA remained silent. He reached for his glass of water. Took a few gulps. “I don’t . . .” Margolin took a deep breath. “This is . . . all so, um . . . interesting.”

Cole’s pleasure in Margolin’s discomfort soured, as he watched Olivia regard the other man with concerned eyes. “Paul? Are you okay? Would you like me to explain everything?”

“I guess I better talk to Leo,” Margolin said. Cole looked away in disgust. The man was an experienced witch, for crying out loud! Surely he had been taught to expect the unexpected? And now here he was, freaking out over meeting a half-daemon.

To avoid the sickening scene unfolding between Olivia and Margolin, Cole’s gaze turned away and swept over the restaurant’s dining room. He spotted a familiar pair weaving their way between tables. A knot formed in his stomach, as he recognized Phoebe and her newest paramour – Jason Dean. Oh shit!


“THE KENNEDYS” (2011) Review

“THE KENNEDYS” (2011) Review

The past thirty to forty years have seen a great deal of movies, documentaries and television productions about one of the most famous political families in the U.S., the Kennedys. But none of them have garnered as much controversy or criticism as this latest production, an eight-part television miniseries that aired last April. 

Directed by Jon Cassar, “THE KENNEDYS” chronicled the family’s lives and experiences through the 1960s – mainly during President John F. Kennedy’s Administration. The miniseries also touched upon some of the family’s experiences and relationships before JFK first occupied the White House through flashbacks in Episode One, which also focused upon Election Day 1960. And Episode Eight covered the years between JFK’s assassination and the death of his younger brother, Robert F. Kennedy in June 1968. But the meat of the miniseries centered on the years between January 1961 and November 1963. Unlike most productions about the Kennedys, which either covered JFK’s public experiences as President or the family’s private life; this miniseries covered both the public and private lives of the family.

Much to my surprise, “THE KENNEDYS” attracted a great deal of controversy before it aired. The miniseries had been scheduled to air on the History Channel for American audiences back in January of this year. However, the network changed its mind, claiming that “this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand.”. Many, including director Jon Cassar, believed that the network had received pressure from sources with connection to the Kennedy family not to air the miniseries. Several other networks also declined to air the miniseries, until executives from the Reelz Channel agreed to do so. That network failed aired “THE KENNEDYS” back in April and other countries, including Canada and Great Britain also finally aired it. After viewing the miniseries, I do not understand why the History Channel had banned it in the first place.

The miniseries not only attracted controversy, but also mixed reviews from the critics. Well, to be honest, I have only come across negative reviews. If there were any positive commentary, I have yet to read any. For me, “THE KENNEDYS” is not perfect. In fact, I do not believe it is the best Hollywood production on the subject I have seen. The miniseries did not reveal anything new about the Kennedys. In fact, it basically covered old ground regarding both JFK’s political dealings with situations that included the Bay of Pigs, the Civil Rights Movement and the Cuban Missile Crisis. It also covered many of thevery familiar topics of the Kennedys’ private lives – including the adulterous affairs of both JFK and Joseph Senior. Hell, even the miniseries’ take on the Cuban Missile Crisis seemed more like a rehash of the 2000 movie, “THIRTEEN DAYS”. In fact, the only aspect of this miniseries that struck me as new or original was the insinuation that First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy may have received amphetamine shots (also taken by JFK) from a Doctor Max Jacobson, to boost her energy for the numerous duties of her office. And I have strong doubts over whether this is actually true.

I have one other major complaint about the miniseries – namely the final episode. Episode Eight covered Jacqueline and Bobby’s lives during the remainder of the 1960s, following JFK’s death. For me, this was a major mistake. Although Part One mainly covered Election Day in November 1960, it also featured flashbacks of the family’s history between the late 1930s and 1960. But the majority of the miniseries covered JFK’s presidency. In my opinion, ”THE KENNEDYS” should have ended with JFK’s funeral, following his assassination in Dallas. I realize that the miniseries also featured the lives of Bobby, Jacqueline, Joseph Senior, Rose and Ethel’s live in heavy doses, it still centered on Jack Kennedy. By continuing into one last episode that covered Jacqueline and Bobby’s lives following the President’s death, it seemed to upset the miniseries’s structure. If that was the case, the setting for ”THE KENNEDYS” should have stretched a lot further than the 1960s.

But despite my complaints, I still enjoyed “THE KENNEDYS”. For one thing, it did not bore me. The pacing struck me as top notch. And it lacked the dry quality of the more well-received 1983 miniseries, “KENNEDY”. Although I believe that particular miniseries was superior to this new one, it sometimes felt more like a history lesson than a historical drama. It is possible that the additions of sequences featuring the family’s personal lives and scandals may have prevented me from falling asleep. But even the scenes that featured JFK’s presidency struck me as interesting – especially the scenes about the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in Episode Three. I also enjoyed the flashbacks that supported the miniseries’ look into Joseph Kennedy Senior’s control over his children and the shaky marriage between JFK and Jacqueline. At least two particular flashbacks focused upon JFK’s affair with Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe, and its near effect upon younger brother Bobby. One scene that really impressed me was Bobby’s first meeting with the starlet. Thanks to Cassar’s direction, along with Barry Pepper (Bobby Kennedy) and Charlotte Sullivan’s (Marilyn Monroe), the scene reeked with a sexual tension that left viewers wondering if the pair ever really had a tryst. Both Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes gave outstanding performances in two particular scenes that not only featured the explosive marriage between the President and First Lady, but also the depths of their feelings toward one another. The miniseries also scored with Rocco Matteo’s production designs. I was especially impressed by his re-creation of the White House, circa 1961. I was also impressed by Christopher Hargadon’s costume designs. He did a first-rate job in not only capturing the period’s fashions for both the male and female characters, but also in re-creating some of Jacqueline Kennedy’s more famous outfits.

Aside from the pacing, the miniseries’ biggest strength turned out to be the cast. I have already commented upon Charlotte Sullivan’s excellent performance as Marilyn Monroe. But she her performance was not the only supporting one that impressed me. Kristin Booth gave a top-notch portrayal of Bobby Kennedy’s wife, Ethel. And she did this without turning the late senator’s wife into a one-note caricature, unlike other actresses. I was also impressed by Don Allison’s turn as future President, Lyndon B. Johnson. However, there were moments when his performance seemed a bit theatrical. I also enjoyed how both John White and Gabriel Hogan portrayed the rivalry between a young JFK and Joseph Junior during the late 1930s and early 1940s, with a subtlety that I found effective. However, both Tom Wilkinson and Diana Hardcastle really impressed me as the heads of the Kennedy clan – Joseph Senior and Rose Kennedy. They were really superb. Truly. I was especially impressed by Wilkinson’s handling of his New England accent, after recalling his bad American accent in 2005’s “BATMAN BEGINS”. And I had no idea that Diana Hardcastle was his wife. Considering their strong screen chemistry, I wonder if it is possible for husband and wife to act in front of a camera together, more often.

The best performances, in my opinion, came from Greg Kinnear, Katie Holmes and Barry Pepper as JFK, Jacqueline Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, respectively. For some reason, Pepper’s portrayal of Bobby seemed to keep the miniseries grounded. He did a great job in capturing the former senator and Attorney General’s ability to maintain solidarity in the family; and also his conflict between continuing his service to JFK and the family, and considering the idea of pursuing his own profession.  For his performance, Pepper received a Best Actor in a Miniseries Emmy.  Greg Kinnear’s take on JFK struck me as different from any I have ever seen in previous movies or television productions. Yes, he portrayed the style, charm, intelligence and wit of JFK. He was also effective in conveying the President’s conflict between his lustful desires for other women, his love for his wife and any “alleged” guilt over his infidelity. There seemed to be a slightly melancholy edge in Kinnear’s performance that I have never seen in other actors who have portrayed JFK.  Perhaps that is why he managed to acquire an Emmy nomination.  But I feel that the best performance came from Katie Holmes in her portrayal of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Personally, I thought it was worthy of an award nomination. Unfortunately, she failed to acquire an Emmy nomination. Pity. I thought she did a superb job in capturing not only the style and glamour of the famous First Lady, but also the latter’s complex and intelligent nature.

I am well aware that most critics were not impressed by the miniseries. Hell, I am also aware that a good number of viewers have expressed some contempt toward it. I could follow the bandwagon and also express a negative opinion of “THE KENNEDYS”. But I cannot. It is not the best production I have ever seen about the famous political family. It did not really provide anything new about the Kennedy family and as far as I am concerned, it had one episode too many. But I was impressed by Jon Cassar’s direction, along with the outstanding cast and first-rate production and costume designs. And thinking about all of this, I still do not understand why the History Channel went through so much trouble to reject the miniseries’ airing on its network.

“SOURCE CODE” (2011) Review

“SOURCE CODE” (2011) Review

It is a miracle that I ever got the chance to see the new techno-thriller, “SOURCE CODE”. It is a miracle . . . at least to me, because I never saw a movie trailer or read an article about it before the eve of its release. I would have ignored it completely if I had not noticed several billboards advertising the movie throughout the city. And since the movie featured actors I happened to admire, I decided to go see it. 

Directed by Duncan Jones and written by Ben Ripley, “SOURCE CODE” is about a decorated army helicopter pilot named Colter Stevens, who finds himself on a mission to locate the maker of a bomb that exploded and destroyed a train headed into downtown Chicago. Stevens is isolated inside a chamber, where he communicates with Air Force Captain Colleen Goodwin. She explains to Stevens via a computer screen that he is inside the Source Code, a program that allows him to take over someone’s body in his or her last eight minutes of life. He learns from the program’s creator, Dr. Rutledge that the Source Code is not a simulation, but a visit into the past in the form of an alternative reality. Stevens cannot truly alter the past to save any of the passengers, but that he must gather intelligence that can be used to alter the future and prevent a future attack. In short, Steven’s mission is to locate the bomb on the train, discover who had built it and report back to Goodwin and Dr. Rutledge before the bomber can detonate a second larger bomb, a dirty nuclear device in Chicago.

While watching the movie’s first half hour, I had assumed that the psychic essence of the Colter Stevens’ character was being sent back into the past to change the timeline and prevent the destruction of the train. I thought that this was some kind of cinematic version of the old UPN television series, “SEVEN DAYS” (1998-2001). But Stevens eventually discovered how he got the assignment to identify the bomber. Confused and frustrated, he used the cell phone of a train passenger and discovered that he had supposedly died in the Afghanistan war two months earlier and that his severely injured body was appropriated by the Air Force and used by Dr. Rutledge to enter the Source Code. When that plot twist was revealed, I realized that “SOURCE CODE” might have more in common with both the U.K. and U.S. versions of“LIFE ON MARS”.

“SOURCE CODE” was not a hit. Although the movie earned three times the amount of its budget, it really did not earn that much at the box office, despite favorable reviews from critics. Pity. Because I believe that it was a well made film. I also have to give kudos to Don Burgess for his supervision of the movie’s visual effects, including his photography of Montreal and Chicago. I was especially impressed at how he and his crew handled a particular scene in which the Stevens character exchanged romantic glances with one of the train’s passengers, a woman named Christina Warren, while the train was being incinerated by the terrorist’s bomb.

Director Duncan Jones did justice to Ben Ripley’s first-rate script with excellent pacing and action sequences. And using the superb cast led by Jake Gyllenhaal, he handled the dramatic scenes very well. Jones managed to do a great job in balancing both the dramatic and actions sequences. But what really made “SOURCE CODE” very appealing to me was Ben Ripley’s screenplay. I cannot help but admire how he paced each big revelation in the movie’s story without rushing or bringing it to a slow crawl. And as I had watched the movie reached its finale, it occurred to me that “SOURCE CODE”ended on a note that I believe that the U.S. version of “LIFE ON MARS” should have. I found the whole experience very satisfying.

Earlier, I had commented on the superb acting in the “SOURCE CODE”. And I still maintain that belief. Although the movie featured solid acting by the supporting cast, it was the four main leads that shined . . . at least in my opinion. Jake Gyllenhaal did a marvelous job in his portrayal of Coulter Stevens, the military helicopter pilot that found himself a part of a government program that he never signed for. Gyllenhaal perfectly conveyed his character’s initial confusion, growing awareness of the Source Code program, his growing affection toward the Christina Warren character. And the actor managed to pull all of these acting chops and remain a very effective action hero. Both Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright as Colleen Goodwin and Dr. Rutledge respectively, took me by surprise. Literally. Farmiga’s Captain Goodwin started out as a cool professional that utilized a brusque manner to ensure the completion of Stevens’ mission. But the actress did an excellent job in conveying her character’s growing attachment and compassion toward the doomed helicopter pilot. Wright’s Dr. Rutledge followed a reverse path. When his character was first introduced, I was left with the impression of a slightly nervous and shy man who was determined to save Chicago. But as the movie progressed, Wright slowly, but effectively pulled back the layers of his character to reveal a man, whose obsession with his creation had eroded a great deal of humanity from his personality. Behind the shy and nervous man was a ruthless being that lacked any compassion whatsoever. Watching Wright perform, it occurred to me that he has become a true chameleon, capable of getting under the skin of any character. Michelle Monaghan’s portrayal of the passenger Christina Warren seemed to lack the complexity of the other three major characters. But I must admit that she did a great job in portraying her character as a warm and vibrant personality. One could not label her character as a “damsel-in-distress”. After all, her character had died before the movie’s first reel. But it finally occurred to me that instead of the damsel, Monaghan’s Christina Warren served as Coulter Steven’s emotional center.

Did “SOURCE CODE” have any flaws? Well . . . I realize that I had commented on the supporting cast’s “solid” action. And I stand by my word. However, not all of them were perfect. There were a few characters among the train’s passengers that struck me as a tad over-the-top. If the movie had any other flaws, I did not notice. I was too busy being intrigued and entertained by Ben Ripley’s first-rate story, Duncan Jones’ direction and the superb acting by the movie’s four leads. It is a pity that the movie failed to become a major hit, despite earning a profit. I still believe that it had deserved to become one.

“A Broken Heart in the STAR WARS Saga”

“A Broken Heart in the STAR WARS Saga”

There have been many complaints of Padme Amidala’s role in the last installment of the STAR WARS saga – “Revenge of the Sith”. The main contention for many fans seemed to be her death. Many felt that Lucas had weakened her character by allowing her to die of a broken heart. Others accused her of abandoning her newly born children through death. And others have excused the circumstances of her death, claiming that she was “sacrificing herself” so that her twins could be separated and hidden from Emperor Palpatine.

I am not going to try to explain the “sacrifice”, simply because I do not buy it. I do not believe that Padme had sacrificed herself in death, for her children’s safety. I believe that she had genuinely died of a broken heart.

My next question is . . . why is it that Padme was not allowed to give into despair by many STAR WARS fans? Why? Because she is supposed to be a strong woman? Since when are strong personalities incapable of giving in to despair or depression? Do any of you understand that nearly everyone possesses both strengths and weaknesses? What is this lack of tolerance over the possibility that Padme may also have her weaknesses? I get the feeling that many feel she should have been this one-dimensional portrayal of a strong character with no weaknesses. What did these fans expect her to do? After giving birth to Luke and Leia, sit up and start singing, “I Am Woman”?

Padme had just witnessed the ascension of the Empire . . . and the death of the Republic she had served with great devotion. Even worse, her dreams of a private life with her husband were dashed by news that he had participated in the deaths of hundreds of Jedi – adults and children, alike. She tried to confront Anakin about the situation and was brutally attacked by him (strangulation). His attack eventually perpetrated the difficult birth of the twins – Luke and Leia. By the time she had even considered that Anakin might still have some good in him, it was TOO LATE for her. At least physically. Both Anakin (who finally gave in to desapir after learning of Padme’s death) and Obi-Wan (who spent the next 19 years wallowing in despair, regret and guilt) were lucky that they were not in their third trimester of a pregnancy and on the verge of giving birth.

Years ago, female characters had been in danger of being stuck in nurturing roles or simply the hero’s love interest. Now, it seems that female characters “have to be” some kind of Xena the Warrior Princess or a female “Action Jackson” in order to prevent being labeled as WEAK. Apparently, female characters are still not allowed to be all of the above.

Someone on a STAR WARS forum had claimed that females roles are either of the “Xena the Warrior Princess”archetype or the “Dora Dorrit” (or weak female) archetype. This person criticized Lucas of turning Padme from a female warrior into a weakling. My question is . . . why not allow a woman – or anyone, for that matter – to be both strong and weak? It would seem like a very human thing to be.

“Obssessions” [PG] – Chapter 2


Chapter 2

“How is dinner coming along?” Leo demanded after bursting into the kitchen. He shot his wife an anxious look.

Piper sighed. “Everything’s fine, Leo! For the seventeenth time! And I’ve been counting, by the way.” 

“I’m sorry, honey, but I’m really anxious about tonight’s dinner. I want everything to be perfect.”

After checking the London Broil in the oven one last time, Piper sighed and left the kitchen. Leo followed her into the living room. “It’s nice that you want to welcome this charge of yours, Leo, but . . . well, he’s only a charge. What makes him so special?”

“That’s what I’d like to know,” a third voice added. It belonged to Paige, the youngest Charmed One. She and Phoebe descended the staircase. The Halliwells all wore semi-formal dresses for the dinner. Even Leo managed to scrounge up a suit and tie.

The whitelighter faced his wife and sisters-in-law. “Next to you guys, Paul is one of my best charges. He’s a talented witch and we’ve worked well, together. And I thought that since he has moved here, it would be a great idea if you all get to know one another.”

“Well, that’s great, honey,” Piper murmured. Her voice was tinged with its usual sarcasm. “Except how do the McNeills fit in? Do you consider them among your best charges?”

Ignoring his wife’s barb, Leo replied, “Well, they are talented witches. And both Bruce and Olivia used to be my charges here in San Francisco. So, who knows? Maybe all of you can work together, every now and then.”

Piper’s voice became even more tart. “Us? Work with the McNeills?”

“Yes Piper,” Paige responded in an acid tone. “We have done it before. In fact, they’ve managed to save our asses at least two times.”

The doorbell rang before Piper could retort. Leo quickly dashed to the front door. He opened it and found his Buffalo-born charge standing on the stoop. “Paul!” he warmly greeted the other man. “Come on in!”

The new visitor entered the manor. He stood in the foyer, while Leo introduced him to the sisters. “Ladies, I would like you to meet Paul Margolin. Paul, this is my wife, Piper Halliwell; and my sisters-in-law, Phoebe and Paige.”

“Paige Matthews,” the youngest added.

A winning smile lit up Paul’s face. “The Charmed Ones! I never thought I would live to meet such three lovely ladies.” The sisters gaped at the handsome witch – obviously captivated. Leo found himself wondering how Olivia would react.

* * * *

“. . . course miss Buffalo,” the main guest was saying. He, along with the Halliwells and the McNeills, sat round the manor’s spacious living room. “But I must admit that San Francisco is one beautiful-looking city. I only wish I had moved here a few months ago. You know, to avoid the winter storms.”

Piper happily regarded the scene around her. Her family and guests had gathered in the manor’s living room, following a well-cooked meal. Dinner had turned out to be better than she had expected. Paul Margolin proved to be a charming guest that all of the women found attractive. Including herself. With the exception of Leo, the men seemed to feel differently.

Both of the McNeill brothers – Bruce and Harry – did not seem impressed by the handsome witch. The red-haired Harry looked completely bored by Paul’s conversation. Piper found his behavior slightly offensive. The oldest McNeill sibling regarded his fiancée’s open admiration of the guest of honor with mild annoyance. Which led Piper to wonder how Barbara had ended up invited in the first place. Especially since she was not one of Leo’s charges – past or present. Oh well. Piper realized that she should be grateful that Olivia had not brought along Cole.

Despite the McNeill brothers’ less-than-positive attitude toward Paul, the dinner had proceeded without a hitch. Her London Broil proved to be perfect. At least everyone seemed to believe so – including Bruce, who happened to be one of San Francisco’s top chefs. And they all loved the dessert – Chocolate Raspberry Cake. Upon finishing it, everyone had retired to the living-room for after dinner drinks. There, Piper’s sisters, Olivia and Barbara bombarded Paul with personal questions.

“Where did you go to school?” Olivia asked.

Paul replied, “Columbia University.” He regarded Olivia with as much interest as she regarded him. “What about you?”

“Stanford University,” Olivia answered. “I also received my law degree from there.”

“Law degree?” The Halliwells and Paul gaped at the redheaded woman with astonishment. “You’re an attorney?” the latter asked. “I thought Leo told me that you were a cop.”

To Piper’s astonishment, Leo nodded. “She is. But Olivia does have a law degree. Heck, she even passed the State bar exam with high marks.”

Piper glared at her husband. Who had the decency to squirm with discomfort. Leo had a lot to answer for not telling her this little tidbit. It still rankled Piper that the McNeills – especially Olivia – knew so much about her family, thanks to her blabbermouth husband. And yet, the Halliwells still did not know everything about the McNeills.

“So instead of practicing law, you decided to protect the innocent as a police officer?” Paul asked.

A cross between a snicker and a grunt escaped Harry’s mouth. Olivia shot a quick glare at her younger brother. “If you want to put it that way,” she said.

“Gee Livy,” Harry added, his voice dripping with insincerity, “I thought you had decided to become a cop, because you were an action junkie? And that being a lawyer bored you?”

Olivia graced her brother with a too sweet smile. “Not really, Harry. I only said that to appeal to that adolescent mind of yours.” Harry rolled his eyes. Piper suppressed a smile. It was not Olivia’s retort that had amused her. A part of her wanted to hug Harry McNeill for his little remark. Piper did not buy Olivia’s “protect the innocent” excuse any more than Harry did.

A mutual admiration society seemed to have sprung between Paul and Olivia. And it caused a little consternation within Piper’s breasts. It also gave her the incentive to commence upon her own plans. “Paul,” she said to her guest, “Leo has told me that you’re an orphan. Is that true?”

The New Yorker nodded sadly. “Yeah. My parents were killed in a plane crash, when I was seven. I was staying with my grandparents at the time. They raised me.”

Leo added, “I was whitelighter for Paul’s dad.”

“What a coincidence!” Piper continued brightly. “Paige had also lost her parents . . . well, her step-parents, several years ago.”

Paul looked confused. “I don’t understand. Aren’t you all . . .?”

“I’m Piper and Phoebe’s half-sister,” Paige explained. “We all had the same mother. But my dad was her whitelighter. And I’m sure you know what that meant.”

“Oh.” Paul nodded. “I see.”

Paige continued, “For some reason, my parents kept me a secret from the Elders, so I was put up for adoption. When I was seventeen, my step-parents . . . were killed in a car accident.” She paused momentarily, as pain briefly flickered in her dark eyes. “My Uncle Dave and his family took me in until I went to college.”

Shaking her head sympathetically, Piper gushed, “Isn’t it odd how you two seemed to have a lot in common?” Her comment drew odd looks from the others. Except for Paul, who seemed oblivious of Piper’s remark. And Olivia, who responded with a slight smirk.

Paige shot a quick glare at her older sister. “Yeah,” she coolly added, “a lot.”

A deep silence enveloped the living room. Feeling slightly humiliated, Piper wondered if she had went too far with her matchmaking plans. Paul seemed to be more interested in Olivia, who finally broke the silence with a question. “So Paul, have you received an assignment, yet?”

The ADA nodded. “The DiMatteo case. Someone named . . .”

“Michael DiMatteo,” Olivia finished. “He’s facing charges of first-degree murder of his mother and step-father. My partner and I were the ones who had arrested him.”

“Really?” Paul’s sherry-brown eyes sparkled, as he smiled. “Then I guess we’ll be seeing a lot of each other.”

Olivia smiled, as well. “I guess so.”

Piper struggled to keep her irritation in check. Damn! So much for her attempt at matchmaking. She glanced at Leo and noticed the satisfied gleam in his eyes, as he observed Olivia and Paul. It finally dawned upon Piper that she had not been the only one with matchmaking plans, this evening. Another thought occurred to her. No one had bothered to mention that Paul was not the first Assistant District Attorney they had met.

* * * *

“That’s it!” Barbara firmly stated, as Bruce’s Jaguar drove her, Bruce, Olivia and Harry away from the Halliwell manor. “We’re issuing those invitations to Piper, Leo and Phoebe. Especially after tonight.”

Bruce sighed. “All right! I don’t see what’s the big fuss is about. All I did was misplace their invitations.”

“Oh please!” Barbara rolled her eyes. “You deliberately failed to mail them. Didn’t you?”

From the corner of her eyes, Olivia saw Harry’s mouth curve into a knowing smile. “I still see that you haven’t forgiven Leo for not inviting us to his wedding, have you Bruce?”

“Is that why you did it?” Barbara challenged her fiancé. “Because Leo didn’t invite you to his wedding? How petty, Bruce!”

Bruce shot back, “Petty or not, I don’t see why we have to invite them. Aside from Paige, neither of us can’t stand the rest of the family.”

“I’ll tell you why! Because I don’t want to explain to Paige why we didn’t bother to invite her sisters. I don’t want to look like a complete shit in her eyes!”

While Barbara and Bruce continued to argue over the Halliwells, Olivia found herself thinking about the Halliwells’ guest. Paul Margolis. A very attractive man. He had a smile that seemed to light up his entire face. And Olivia had to admit that she found his interest in her very flattering.

Flashes of a dark-haired, blue-eyed half-daemon mingled with Olivia’s thoughts of the new Assistant District Attorney. Cole. For the past three months, she and Cole had managed to repair the rift in their friendship, following the disastrous New Year’s Eve kiss. But something else had happened. The kiss also awakened Olivia’s desire for the half-daemon. Part of her wanted to see that desire come to fruition. Another part of her feared it would happen – not because of what Cole was – a daemon. Olivia harbored another fear. Namely one in the form of Phoebe Halliwell. She recalled Paige’s mention of how Phoebe had discovered that Cole was her “true love”, during a trip to the past. How does one deal with a “true love”? If Phoebe and Cole were each other’s true love, why should she waste her time mooning over the half-daemon?

“. . . can I look Paige in the face, knowing that we deliberately cut out her family from the guest list?” Barbara was saying. “And let’s not forget Leo’s dinner invitation. How can we not invite him, after tonight?”

Bruce shot back, “I think we all know the reason behind Leo’s little dinner party. He’s got this idea of forming some kind of Wiccan crime fighting unit. Especially now that he has four charges and two former ones all living in one city.”

“That’s not all he has in mind,” Harry added. The others, aside from Bruce, stared at him.

Olivia demanded, “What do you mean?”

The two redheads stared at each other. Then Harry glanced away. “Nothing,” he murmured. “It’s just . . . I don’t know. Maybe he’s trying to reconcile both families, again. Just like Gran and Aunt Penny tried to make us all become friends, years ago.” Olivia had the strangest sensation that her younger brother was lying. Unfortunately, he was the one who possessed telepathy and not her.

Barbara added, “There’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, the Halliwells can be a bit too self-righteous at times, but they’re pretty nice people.”

“Pretty nice people, whose whitelighter didn’t bother to invite us to a certain wedding,” Bruce growled.

Barbara let out a huff. “Bruce!”

“Okay, okay! I’ll find the damn invitations and mail them.” Bruce was saying. “But don’t be surprise, when you find yourself wishing that we had ever invited them in the first place!”

The Jaguar sped on through San Francisco’s dark streets.

* * * *

Nick closed the demonology book and rubbed his eyes. He had been pouring over the book for the past three or four hours . . . and has been unable to find a damn thing to help him. Of course, he had only reached the “G” section. However, not even that could disguise the fact that he was beginning to feel discouraged.

Perhaps he should simply forget this little scheme to get rid of Bruce McNeill. After all, he had no guarantee that Barbara would turn to him, if Bruce died. She had never given him any hints that she felt anything other than friendship. Nick glanced at the photograph of the blond witch. New determination surged within his chest. He had to have her. Take care of her. Ensure that they spend the rest of their lives together. He had to save Barbara from a future with a rich, over-privileged and self-absorbed nobody. Despite all that Bruce had, Nick felt certain that Barbara needed more to make her happy. And that only he truly understood her.

Picking up the book, Nick continued his research. He skipped certain parts and found himself in the section marked, “I”. The word jumped at him, from the book. Incubus. Hmm, interesting. According to the book, an incubus was a male spirit or daemon that sought sexual intercourse with mortals – especially women. All to draw the soul or spirit of their victim, leaving a residue of nightmares.

Nick considered summoning an incubus and placing him in Bruce’s path. Only, he suspected that it would be difficult for an incubus to attract a heterosexual male like Bruce. There was another possibility . . . He leafed through the pages, until he came upon the “S” section. Ah yes. Succubus. The female version of an incubus.

Now, all he had to do was summon the right succubus for Bruce. And all of his trouble would soon be over.


“THE LINCOLN LAWYER” (2011) Review

“THE LINCOLN LAWYER” (2011) Review

For years I began to wonder if Matthew McConaughey would be stuck in an endless series of mediocre romance comedies and light action thrillers. The last noteworthy movie I had seen him in was the 2008 comedy, “TROPIC THUNDER”. Only, he was not the lead in that film. And the last noteworthy movie in which he was the lead actor was the 2006 drama, “WE ARE MARSHALL” and before that – the 2000 World War II thriller, “U-571”. Then I saw “THE LINCOLN LAWYER” and whatever doubts I had about the future of his career were erased. For now. 

Directed by Brad Furman and based upon Michael Connelly’s 2005 novel, “THE LINCOLN LAWYER” told the story about a successful Los Angeles defense attorney named Mickey Haller, who operates around Los Angeles County out of a Lincoln Town Car, driven by a former client working off his legal fees (hence the title). Haller has spent most of his career defending garden-variety criminals, until he lands the case of his career – a Beverly Hills playboy named Louis Roulet, who also happens to be the son of a real estate mogul named Mary Windsor. Roulet is accused of the brutal beating of a prostitute. At first, Roulet seems to be an innocent who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. But when Haller and his investigator, Frank Levin, discover that the prostitute’s injuries are similar to a past case of his that landed a previous client, Jesus Martinez in prison for murdering a woman, the seemingly straightforward case suddenly develops into a deadly game of survival for Haller.

After watching this movie, it occurred to me that the movie’s title bore very little significance to the actual plot. If anything, the idea that the Mickey Haller operated his law firm from the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car struck me as some kind of plot contrivance that almost seemed like a publicity ploy. Honestly. Both Connelly’s novel and the movie would have been better off with a title that related more closely with the plot. Perhaps I am being a bit of a nitpicker. Yet, before I actually saw “THE LINCOLN LAWYER”, I honestly thought the car would feature as a major plot point for the story. Another problem I had with the movie was that at times, cinematographer Lukas Ettlin utilized in that quick-cut photography that tends to leave me feeling slightly dizzy. And I thought that the story’s conclusion may have been rushed a bit. But despite these mild annoyances, I enjoyed the movie very much.

One, it has become increasingly rare to find a major Hollywood movie set in the Los Angeles. There have been movies set in my hometown. But there are not as many as they used to be. And as an Angeleno, this has been a bone of contention for me. Thankfully, director Brad Furman and cinematographer Lukas Ettlin did a great job in revealing the City of Angels to movie goers without resorting to extremes in its portrayal. Two, Furman made great use of a first-rate cast filled with many whose careers I thought were either over or sliding into oblivion. Most importantly, both Furman and screenwriter John Romano did an excellent job of translating Connelly’s novel to the screen. Okay, I confess that I have never read the novel. Which means that I do not know how faithful Romano’s screenplay was to the novel. But whether the movie was a close adaptation or not, I must admit that it had a damn good story. The best thing I liked about “THE LINCOLN LAWYER” was that Haller’s defense of Roulet transformed into a nightmarish situation in which he found himself in an unwitting game of cat and mouse.

When I said that the cast was first-rate, I was not joking. The supporting cast included excellent performances from the likes of Frances Fisher, who portrayed Roulet’s controlling and over-protective mother; Michael Peña, who portrayed Haller’s former client claiming innocence of murder, while serving time in prison; Laurence Mason as Haller’s observant chauffeur/former client; Michael Paré and Bryan Cranston, who portrayed two hostile but very different L.A.P.D. detectives, John Leguizamo, who portrayed the slightly sleezy bail bondsman responsible for directing Haller to Roulet’s case; and Bob Gunton, who portrayed the Roulet-Windsor family’s obsequious attorney. I believe that the last decent movie that Josh Lucas made was 2006’s “GLORY ROAD”. So, it was great to see him in a first-rate movie in which, once again, he proved how much of a chameleon he could be in his portrayal of the righteous prosecuting attorney, whose self-assurance is slowly whittled away. William H. Macy created a strong screen chemisty as Haller’s intelligent and witty investigator, who helps solve the case. And Marisa Tomei gave a strong performance as Haller’s ex-wife and a prosecutor who is torn between relief that she is no longer married to such a difficult man and lingering feelings for him.

But the two star performances came from Matthew McConaughey in the title role of Mickey Haller; and Ryan Phillippe as his latest client, Louis Roulet. McConaughey, who has spent too many years without a first rate leading role, owned this movie. Let me take that back. He did not completely own the movie, but he definitely made the Mickey Haller character his own. Hell, he practically conquered it. Sure, McConaughey utilized his usual brand of Southern charm in the movie’s first ten or fifteen minutes. But as the movie’s plot made a sharp turn, the actor dropped the charming façade and revealed his character’s range of emotions in dealing with his complicated new client. And speaking of the Louis Roulet character, I believe that it might turn out to be one of Ryan Phillippe’s best roles ever. Due to his superb performance, he transformed Roulet from a charming, yet bewildered client that projected an air of innocence to a dark and malignant man with a talent for manipulation.

Would I recommend that you see “THE LINCOLN LAWYER” before it disappears from the movie theaters? Absolutely. Thanks to director Brad Furman and screenwriter John Romano, the movie turned out to be a superb adaptation of Michael Connelly’s novel. And the movie was also blessed with a first-rate cast, led by outstanding performances from Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Phillippe. It is one of the better movies I have seen this year so far.

“THE BUCCANEERS” (1995) Review


“THE BUCCANEERS” (1995) Review

Several years ago, I had anticipating watching for the first time, “THE BUCCANEERS”, the 1995 television adaptation of Edith Wharton’s last novel. After all, I have been a major fan of “THE AGE OF INNOCENCE”, Martin Scorcese’s 1993 adaptation of Wharton’s award-winning 1920 novel for years. But my eager anticipating nearly ebbed away, when I discovered that “THE BUCCANEERS” only managed to rouse a lukewarm reception from many television critics. 

The five-part miniseries turned out to be an unusual production from the BBC. One, it was based upon a novel written by an American author – namely Edith Wharton. There have been other British television productions based upon the literary works of an American, but they are very rare. Another interesting aspect of Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence” is that the author did not finish it, due to her death at the age of 75. Fifty-six years later, Wharton scholar Marion Mainwaring finished the novel, which was published by Viking. Around the same time, the BBC hired screenwriter Maggie Wadey to adapt and finish the novel for the television adaptation. As a result the novel has two slightly different endings. Another aspect of this miniseries that struck me as unusual was that instead of hiring British actresses to portray four of the five leads, the BBC hired four Amercian actresses – Carla Gugino, Mira Sorvino, Alison Elliott and Rya Kihlstedt.

The plotline for “THE BUCCANEERS” is very simple. The story begins in 1873 Newport, Rhode Island; in which two sisters of anoveau riche businessman and their two sisters are introduced – Virginia “Ginny” and Annabel “Nan” St. George, Conchita “Connie” Closson and Elizabeth “Lizzy” Elmsworth. Whereas the Brazilian born Conchita manages to snare Lord Richard Marabel, the dissolute second son of the Marquess of Brightlingsea, the other three girls struggle to find a place amongst the members of old New York society. When a prank committed by Ginny and Lizzy backfires, Nan’s English governess Laura Testvalley proposes to Mrs. St. George that Ginny and Nan have a London season amongst the upper-class British. She argues that their acceptance by the British high society would assure them a place amongst the upper-class New Yorkers. Due to their friendship with the vibrant Conchita, Virginia and Annabel are introduced to Lord Richard’s family – the impoverished Brightlingseas and their neighbors, the equally impoverished Sir Helmsey Thwaite and his son Guy. As they get settled to conquer British society, Ginny and Nan are surprised by the arrival of Lizzy, who has arrived in Britain for her own season.

Although the girls’ original purpose for visiting Britain was to enjoy a London season, a friend of Laura Testvalley has other plans for them. Thirty years earlier, the American born Jackie March had been engaged to a British aristocrat – namely the very young Lord Brightlingsea, who abandoned her at the altar. Miss March remained in Britain and became something of a sponsor/matchmaker for young society girls. It was Miss March who recommended that the visiting Americans rent a villa owned by one of her former sponsors, Lady Idina Hutton. She also recommended that the girls do more than just enjoy a London season in order to impress old New York society. She recommended that they consider marrying into upper-class British society. Miss March’s plans eventually come to fruition:

*Virginia or namely her father’s wealth attracted the attention of Lady Idina Hutton’s lover and Lord Richard’s older brother, Lord Seadown.

*Lizzy ended up marrying a self-made aspiring politician named Hector Robinson

*Annabel fell in love with Guy Thwaite, but ended up marrying the very wealthy Julian Folyat, Duke of Trevennick; when Guy left Britain to find his fortune in South America.

As I had stated earlier, most critics were not initially kind to “THE BUCCANEERS”. Most British critics dismissed it as a costumed soap opera of the second-rate kind, with an ending that had been “Hollywoodized” (happy ending). These same critics also accused the miniseries of mocking the British aristocracy. The American critics, at least those who considered themselves Wharton purists, accused the miniseries’ screenwriter, Maggie Waddey, of changing the elements of the author’s story by including topics such as marital rape and homosexuality. Personally, I found all of these arguments irrelevant. Most dramas about personal lives – whether first-rate or not – tend to possess soap-operish elements. This hostility toward soap operas has always struck me as infantile and irrelevant. And why are all Hollywood productions guilty of having a happy ending, when that has not been the case? Other literary works and their adaptations have mocked the British aristocracy. Why was there such a big hullabaloo over how the aristocracy was portrayed in this particular story? As for the additions of marital rape and homosexuality, these elements did no harm to the story, as far as I am concerned. And I must admit that I have become increasingly weary of demands that all movie or television adaptations should be completely faithful to their literary source. Such demands strike me as impractical.

My complaints about “THE BUCCANEERS” are very few. In fact, I only have two. The first time I ever saw actress Gwen Humble on the television screen was in a miniseries called “THE REBELS”, an adaptation of a John Jakes novel. Although I had no problems with her performance in that particular production, I must admit that I had a problem with her performance as Virginia and Annabel’s mother, Mrs. St. George. I understand that Mrs. St. George was supposed to be a shallow and somewhat silly woman. But I feel that Humble went a little too far in conveying those certain traits. Her performance struck me as exaggerated and a little amateurish. Another problem I had with “THE BUCCANEERS” is a rather minor one. It has to do with Virginia’s husband, Lord Seadown. His father is a marquess – which is ranked somewhere between a duke and an earl (count). As the eldest son, he is entitled to a courtesy title. But what was Seadown’s courtesy title? His younger brother was called Lord Richard Marable, which is correct for the younger son of a marquess. The courtesy title for the eldest son of a marquess is usually an earldom – namely Earl of Something. Was Seadown’s name a courtesy title – Earl of Seadown? Or was he supposed to be regarded as Lord Seadown Marable? If the latter, what was the courtesy title he used? I found it all slightly confusing.

However, “THE BUCCANEERS” has been one of my all time favorite miniseries, ever since I first saw it. And there is so much about it that has made it such a favorite of mine. One, producer-director Philip hired a production crew that did justice to Wharton’s story. The miniseries featured some elegant locations that served as the story’s various settings. Some of these locations included Castle HowardBurghley House and Newport, Rhode Island. I also enjoyed Remi Adefarasin’s photography. It had a deep and rich color that did justice to a story filled with emotions and passion. Colin Towns provided an elegant and entertaining score that remained memorable for me, since the first time I heard it years ago. But it was Rosalind Ebbutt’s costumes that really blew my mind. She provided exquisitely outfits that were beautiful and elegant – especially those for the lead actresses. More importantly, her costumes not only reflected the fashions wore by the American and British upper-classes during the 1870s, they also reflected the change in the main characters’ status and in women’s fashion throughout the decade, as the following photographs show:


Another one of the major virtues of “THE BUCCANEERS” turned out to be its cast. Wharton’s novel is filled with interesting characters. And Saville and his casting director did an excellent job in finding the right actor/actress for the right role. Aside from Gwen Humble’s portrayal of Mrs. St. George, there were so many first-rate performances in the miniseries that it would take me another article just to describe them. But the supporting performances that stood out for me came from the likes of Sheila Hancock, whose portrayal of the Dowager Duchess of Trevenick was an expertly performed mixture of cool haughtiness, sharp wisdom and long suffering; Michael Kitchen, who skillfully conveyed both the charming and shallow nature of Sir Helmsley Thwaite; Jenny Agutter, who was excellent as Lady Idina Hatton, Lord Seadown’s insecure and tragic mistress; Dinsdale Landen and Rosemary Leach, who both portrayed the Marquess and Marchioness of Brightlingsea with a mixture of class haughtiness, charm and great humor; Peter M. Goetz, who seemed to personify the self-made 19th century American businessman; and Connie Booth, who gave one of her better performances as the ambitious and sharp-minded Jackie March.

Richard Huw gave a humorous, yet intelligent performance as Hector Robinson, the ambitious young Member of Parliament who ends up winning Lizzy Elmsworth’s hand. And Mark Tandy was pretty solid as Lord Brightlingsea’s heir, the mercenary Lord Seadown who marries Virginia for Colonel St. George’s money. I was very impressed by Ronan Vibert’s portrayal of the dissolute Lord Richard Marabel, Conchita’s husband and Lord Brightlingsea’s younger son. But the two male performances that really impressed me came from Greg Wise and James Frain. The latter portrayed the haughty Julian Duke of Trevenick, who manages to win the hand Annabel St. George (much to the surprise of her governess), before alienating her with his lack of skills as a husband. Frain could have easily portrayed Julian as a one-note villain, especially when one considers the act of marital rape that his character committed against his wife in Episode Three. Being the skillful actor that he is, Frain conveyed all facets of Julian’s personality – both the good and the bad. And his assertion near the end of Episode Four that he is “not a monster” may have been one of Frain’s finest moments on screen. Greg Wise probably gave one of what I consider to be three of his best performances in his portrayal of Guy Thwaite, Sir Helmsley’s only son. His Guy could have been one of your typical handsome, romantic heroes. But Wise did an excellent job in revealing how Guy’s insecurities regarding his lack of funds might seem in Annabel’s eyes with very few words – an act that led him to lose her to Julian. And he also conveyed how in the throes of love, Guy could be a slightly selfish man with no thought to how his “friendship” with Annabel might affect her social standing. Thanks to Wise’s performance, his Guy Thwaite proved to be equally complex.

We finally come to our five leads in the story – the four American heiresses and Annabel St. George’s English governess, Laura Testvalley. I have noticed that whenever someone brings up Cheri Lunghi, he or she inevitable brings up her role in “THE BUCCANEERS”, the Anglo-Italian governess Miss Testvalley. I certainly cannot blame them. Lunghi proved to be the glue that held the story together, skillfully serving as its eyes and narrator at the beginning of each episode. Rya Kihlstedt gave a charming and solid performance as the blunt and level-headed Lizzy Elmsworth, who seemed more impressed by Hector Robinson’s ambitions than any aristocrat. She and Richard Huw managed to create a very credible screen presence. Alison Elliott’s Virginia St. George proved to be one of the most complicated characters in the story. Thanks to the actress’ excellent performance, she conveyed Virginia’s haughtiness and obsession with being connected to an aristocratic family; and at the same time, garnered sympathy by expressing the character’s love for her husband and disappointment upon discovering that he had only married her for money. And less than a year before she won her Academy Award, Mira Sorvino proved just how first-rate she could be as an actress in her portrayal of the Brazilian-born Conchita Closson. Her Conchita was a delicious and complicated minx torn by her desire for the luxurious and glamorous lifestyle of the British aristocracy and her contempt for what she deemed as their cold personalities. If Cheri Lunghi’s Laura Testvalley was the story’s eyes and narrator, Carla Gugino’s Annabel St. George aka the Duchess of Trevenick proved to be the heart and soul of “THE BUCCANEERS”. Thanks to Gugino’s superb performance, the actress literally transformed Nan from the childish and naïve sixteen year-old girl, to the bewildered nineteen year-old bride and finally to the weary twenty-one year-old wife, disappointed by a failed marriage and in love with another man. There are times that I wondered if any other actress could have accomplished what she did. It seemed a pity that none of the major television and critics awards organizations never acknowledged her performance with a nomination.

Many critics have heaped a great deal of scorn upon Maggie Wadey’s adaptation of Wharton’s novel. Frankly, I believe this scorn was undeserved. I may not have been that impressed by her other works, but I honestly believe that “THE BUCCANEERS”was her masterpiece by far. Many accused her of failing to adapt Wharton’s “spirit” or “style” by including marital rape and homosexuality into the story. Since both topics where added without any tasteless sensationalism, I had no problems with these additions. And Wadey also made sure to give the story’s happy ending something of a bittersweet edge. Despite leaving Julian for the man she loved, Guy Thwaite, Annabel found herself ostracized by society and especially by Virginia – as was proven at the Marquess of Brightlingsea’s funeral. Annabel and Guy’s elopement also left the latter disinherited by his father, Sir Helmsley. And her assistance in the elopement left Laura Testvalley rejected by Sir Helmsley and unemployed. So much for the “happy ending”. Because the story revolved around four American heiresses marrying into the British upper-classes, “THE BUCCANEERS” also proved to be an interesting study in culture clash between two Western nations in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. But in all of the articles I have read about the miniseries, I find it surprising that no one has bothered to noticed that the topic of the continuing decline of the British aristocracy was also mentioned . . . more than once. It almost became a secondary theme. The Brightlingseas’ interest in the St. George family certainly seemed an indication that they were more willing to marry money – regardless from where it came – rather than find a way to earn it. Unlike Guy Thwaite, who preferred to create his own wealth with two years in South America, rather than marry it. And the character of the Marquess of Brightlingsea literally became a symbol of the aristocracy’s decline in scenes like a heated conversation between him and Hector Robinson; and a speech by Guy Thwaite to the House of Commons during a montage that featured a montage of his death.

Now that I think about it, why should I care what others feel about “THE BUCCANEERS”? Every time I watch it, I always fall in love with the miniseries over and over again. Maggie Wadey wrote an excellent adaptation of Wharton’s novel – probably her best work, as far as I am concerned. Led by the likes of Carla Gugino, Cheri Lunghi, Greg Wise and James Frain, the cast proved to be first-rate. And Philip Saville did justice to both the cast and Wadey’s screenplay in his direction of the miniseries.

“Obssession” [PG-13] – Chapter 1



Ignoring the stares of a few co-workers, Phoebe Halliwell left her office and strode across the main newsroom of the SAN FRANCISCO BAY-MIRROR. Her destination? The elevator, and eventually the office of the BAY-MIRROR‘s new owner and her new boyfriend, Jason Dean. Her purpose? To learn about his alleged past with one Olivia McNeill. 

Phoebe still recalled that night when Jason had appeared at the manor to take her to the Lowe-Choiset party. Everything seemed perfect. Until Olivia and Cole dropped by. The redheaded witch wanted to retrieve a package she had left at Ostera’s – the herbal shop where Paige worked. It had been bad enough seeing Cole looking handsome as ever, in Olivia’s company. But when the latter and Jason expressed shock at seeing each other, Phoebe immediately knew they were old acquaintances. Even worse, Cole came the same conclusion and seemed rather upset. Phoebe eventually demanded an explanation, which Jason only responded with reluctant silence. In the end, it was Paige who informed her that Jason and Olivia used to date.

But she needed to learn more. She needed to hear from Jason’s lips, everything about his past relationship with Olivia. The elevator reached the fourteenth floor. Once she reached the reception area outside Jason’s office, Phoebe strode past his secretary, ignoring the other woman’s protests. And strode inside Jason’s private office.

Jason Dean was a tall man. Like her ex-husband. Only Cole stood at least an inch or two taller and possessed broader shoulders. Yet, Jason still possessed a commanding presence with his handsome features, dark-blue eyes and shock of dirty-blond hair. He also had a boyish enthusiasm, mingled with moral righteousness that Phoebe found refreshing after Cole’s own moral turpitude. Jason seemed like the epitome of light, in compare to Cole’s darkness. Upright. Honest. Forthright. At least until three days ago.

Phoebe slammed the door shut and faced her boyfriend, hands on hips. Jason glanced up with wary eyes. “Phoebe, uh what are you . . .? Is there a problem?”

“Yes, there is,” she stated quietly. “Olivia McNeill.”

Jason heaved a long suffering sigh. “Oh God! Are you going to bombard me with questions again? Because I’m getting tired of this.”

“Too bad!” Phoebe shot back. Hands on hips, she marched around Jason’s desk, until she stood next to him. “You know, you could have at least told me that you and Olivia had dated a few years ago. Would that have been so hard? Why the silence, Jason? Something more happened between you two?”

The young newspaper publisher dropped his head in defeat. “All right! Yes, we dated three years ago. We dated for a month or two and then we broke up. End of story.”

End of story? The memory of Jason’s reaction to Olivia flashed in Phoebe’s mind. Not likely. Instinct told her that Jason had been strongly affected by his romance with Olivia. “End of story, huh?” Phoebe said. “So, why do I feel that . . .?”

“Why am I getting the third degree, here?” Jason protested. His eyes flashed with anger. “So, Olivia and I once dated. So what? She’s only an ex-girlfriend. Cole Turner was a hell of a lot more to you!”

Phoebe’s eyes widened from Jason’s outburst. He rose from his chair and brushed past her. “Why is it that you’ve never talked about your marriage?” he demanded. “Was it that traumatic? Did you have problems seeing him with Olivia that ni . . .?”

The intercom on his desk buzzed. “Mr. Dean,” his secretary’s voice announced, “DeWolfe Mann is demanding to see you. He has an urgent matter to discuss.”

Phoebe recognized the name. DeWolfe Mann happened to be one of the BAY-MIRROR‘s featured food columnists and one of San Francisco’s top restaurant critics. Phoebe saw this interruption from her fellow columnist as an opportunity to beat a hasty retreat, following Jason’s outburst. “I better go,” she said quietly, before starting for the door.

Before she could leave, Jason stopped her. “Wait! This shouldn’t take long.” Then he ordered his secretary to usher in the new visitor.

Seconds later, a portly man of medium height walked into the office. With thick dark hair that reached slightly past the nape of his neck, a mustache and goatee, he was not someone a person would easily forget. His dark eyes spotted Phoebe, before he greeted her with a nod. Some of Phoebe’s colleagues viewed her office romance with a tolerant eye. DeWolfe, miraculously, happened to be among that group – considering his virulent dislike of Jason.

“Mr. Mann,” Jason coolly greeted. “How may I help you?”

Again, DeWolfe glanced at Phoebe. Who immediately resumed her intention to leave. “You don’t have to go, Phoebe,” the food columnist assured her. “I won’t take long.” He turned his attention to Jason. “I just spoke to my editor, Milo O’Keefe. He tells me that you’ve scotched the Golden Horn restaurant story that I had suggested. And Milo had approved.” Phoebe nearly winced at the mention of Gweneth McNeill’s restaurant. “Why?”

“The Golden Horn has been around for nearly twenty-five years,” Jason shot back. “In other words, it’s old news. I’m sure that other local papers and news organizations will be doing a story about it, since it will be celebrating its Silver anniversary. I don’t think that the BAY-MIRROR should join the crowd.”

DeWolfe retorted, “First of all, no other paper is writing a story about it. I’ve checked. Second of all, this Silver anniversary is the perfect time to write about it and . . .”

“I’m not interested.” Jason sounded adamant.

Without thinking, Phoebe spoke up. “Why? I think Wolfie’s idea is great.”

Jason’s dark blue eyes coolly pinpointed hers. “I feel otherwise. And since when were you ever interested in the paper’s Food section?”

“Well pardon me, but I can’t help but wonder why you’re not interested in Wolfie’s idea,” Phoebe retorted. “Especially since he’s just confirmed that no other paper will be doing a story on the restaurant’s anniversary. Or is there another reason why you don’t want to do this story? Like the fact that the restaurant is owned by a certain family?”

Strained silence filled the office. Jason glared at Phoebe. She glared back. DeWolfe Mann merely observed the pair, obviously trying to appear inconspicuous. To Phoebe’s relief, defeat glimmered in Jason’s eyes. “All right,” he said with a sigh. “You win.” He faced the food critic. “I’ll tell O’Keefe that you can go ahead with the story.”

DeWolfe flashed a grateful smile and left. Phoebe started for the door. Jason called out her name. She stopped in her tracks and faced him. “Yeah?”

The newspaper publisher gave her a grave stare. “I have very strong feelings for you, Phoebe. I care for you very much. But that doesn’t give you the right to tell me how to do my job. As your boss, I have that right, not you. Understand?”

Resentment flashed through Phoebe’s mind. “Yeah, Jason. I understand. But at least I know how to separate my feelings from my job,” she retorted. “I think that’s a lesson you need to learn. I know why you didn’t want Wolfie to do that story. It’s just a shame that you can’t admit it out loud.” She seared him with a hard look, before turning away. “See you later.”

* * * *

Blue lights appeared in the middle of a half-furnished living room of a large apartment. Seconds later, Leo Wyatt materialized. He glanced around, expecting to find a familiar figure. “Hello?” he cried out. “Paul? Are you here?”

A good-looking man of medium height, chestnut hair and mesmerizing brown eyes strode into the living room. “Hey Leo!” The man broke into a smile. “My first visitor!”

The whitelighter shook hands with his host. “Just wanted to welcome you to San Francisco. And that it’s a relief I don’t have to orb all the way, across country, just to see one of my most reliable charges.”

“That’s right,” Paul added with a shrewd look. “Most of your charges are here in Frisco. This was your hometown, right?”

Leo nodded. “It’s also my wife’s hometown. And her sisters’. And we call it San Francisco, not Frisco.”

“Ah yes! The famous Charmed Ones! Lucky you!” Paul Margolin’s smile broadened into a grin. A native of Buffalo, New York, he had moved to San Francisco after obtaining a position as Assistant District Attorney, at the city’s D.A. Office. Not only was Paul a talented witch, but also a promising prosecutor with a ruthless reputation for pursuing justice.

Smiling, Leo added, “Yeah, lucky me, all right. Especially now that Piper and I have a son. Wyatt will be two months old, soon.”

“I’d like to meet him,” Paul said.”

“That’s why I’m here. To invite you over for dinner, tonight. Piper and I thought it would be a great chance for all of my other charges here in the city, to meet you.”

One of Paul’s eyebrows formed an arch. “All? How many charges are we talking about?”

“Well, there’s you and the girls. That makes four. And there are the McNeills . . .” Leo hesitated. “Actually, Bruce and Olivia used to be my charges. As for Harry, well he had never accepted me as his whitelighter. But they do work with Piper and her sisters, every now and then.”

Paul let out a low whistle. “I didn’t realize you had so many of them in this city, alone. And what do you mean that they used to beyour charges? What happened?”

Leo sighed. “About thirteen years ago, Olivia and Bruce had ended our whitelighter/witch relationship. You know, all charges have the right to do so. But I’m still a close friend of theirs.” He continued, “And I also had a charge named Amelia Theissen. But she was killed by a warlock, two years ago. Three months after Amelia’s death, Prue – my wife’s older sister – was killed by a demonic hit man named Shax.”

“Oh yeah,” a sombered Paul added, “I remember hearing about that. It’s too bad that I’ve never met Prue and Amelia. Now about these McNeills, their name sounds familiar. Who are they?”

Jack and Gwen McNeill’s offspring flashed through Leo’s mind. “Two brothers and a sister. They’re also very talented witches . . . although a little unorthodox. Actually, they’re probably more unorthodox than the Charmed Ones. Hopefully, you’ll get to meet them as well. The sister is a cop.”

Again, Paul smiled. “Hmmm, she sounds very interesting.”

“You have no idea how much.”

* * * *

The man and the woman stood side by side, inside Ostera’s stockroom, examining the merchandise on the shelves. The woman, who also happened to be the shop’s owner, sighed. “This is going to take forever,” she moaned.

Nick glanced at Barbara and felt a rush of love. She was so beautiful! The most beautiful creature on the face of this earth. When he had stopped by Ostera’s during his lunch break, he had no idea that he would be spending such precious moments with Barbara – alone.

“Maybe we should just forget . . .” Nick began, hoping that Barbara would dismiss his words. Sure enough . . .

Blonde hair fluttered like a flag, as Barbara shook her head. “No! No, I’m sure that I have a bottle of Shepherd’s Purse somewhere. All we have to do is look . . . ah! I found it!” Barbara reached for the desired bottle.

Nick felt a surge of disappointment. He had hoped it would have taken Barbara a little longer to find the Shepherd’s Purse. But alas . . .

The returned to the store’s showroom, where more disappointment awaited Nick. He and Barbara found Paige Matthews, Barbara’s assistant, in deep conversation with Bruce McNeill. “. . . excited to finally get my wedding invitation,” Paige was saying. A frown appeared on her face. “But the others didn’t get theirs. What happened?”

Barbara replied, “Perhaps their invitations haven’t arrived in the mail, yet.” She threw her fiancé a suspicious look. “Bruce mailed‘all’ of them, last Saturday.” Then she lightly kissed his cheek, causing Nick’s heart to lurch.

Nodding, Bruce added, “Don’t worry. They’ll get them. And if they don’t . . . they’re still invited.” He rolled his eyes, while Paige became distracted by a new customer. Then he spotted Nick. “Hey, look who’s here! Again!” Giving Nick a curious stare, he added, “If I didn’t know any better, Nick, I’d swear that you’re practically becoming a daily visitor here. Soon, you’ll be camping out in front of the store.”

Nick nervously said, “I’m . . . I’m uh, working. On a project to create a new spell.”

“Oh.” Bruce turned away and focused his attention on Barbara. Who ignored Nick, all together. His heart sank. Anger and despair threatened to flare within the Streghone. But he kept his emotions in check and bid the distracted couple good-bye.

* * * *

“Inspector McNeill, San Francisco PD. May I help you?”

The voice on the other end of the phone line replied, “Olivia? It’s me, Leo.”

“Leo?” A call from her whitelighter took Olivia by surprise. “What can I do for you?”

The whitelighter continued, “Um, Piper and I are having a dinner, tonight. For one of my charges. He’s just moved here from Buffalo and I would like him to meet my other charges . . . and friends in the area. Are you available tonight?”

Olivia hesitated. “Just me?”

“Uh . . . well, yes. Bruce has already said yes, and I’ll be calling Harry, next.”

In other words, Olivia surmised, Cole was not invited. Her first instinct was to say no. But curiosity overcame her. “Okay,” she said. “What time should I be there?”

* * * *

It had been the last straw for Nick. Seeing Barbara with Bruce, this afternoon. When he had made the private vow to win Barbara’s affections, he had imagined using friendship and love. But seeing them discuss the upcoming wedding, together had made him realize that he would have to go ahead with his plans to use drastic measures.

Four hours later, Nick left work and made his way to the city library’s central branch. After nearly searching the Theology Department for nearly a half-hour, he found an old book on Demonology, dated 1932. The book listed nearly every daemon known in the world’s religions. Not only did it provide information and statistics on each daemon, but methods on how to vanquish them. Even more important, the book also provided spells to summon each daemon.

Ignoring the librarian’s curious stare, Nick checked out the book. He decided that the only way to win Barbara Bowen was to get rid of the competition. Namely Bruce McNeill. And since he had no desire to end up in prison for murder, he would resort to summoning a daemon to get rid of the man.

* * * *

Olivia eased her dark-green BMW convertible into her assigned parking space and stopped. The red-haired witch switched off the car’s engine and glanced at her watch. Five forty-three. Goddess! She had less than two hours to get ready for Leo’s little dinner party.

Grabbing her suitcase, Olivia climbed out of the convertible. As she made her way across the underground parking lot, a familiar black Porshe entered. Cole. Olivia continued striding toward the elevator. There she waited for her neighbor to join her. When he did, the pair greeted each other with quiet hellos.

“So, how was your day?” Cole Turner asked, as they entered the elevator.

A sigh left Olivia’s mouth. “Not bad. Darryl and I must have spent the better part of the day preparing our report for the DiMatteo case. Hell, we’ve been working on that damn case since last November.”

Smiling, Cole gave her arm a reassuring pat. “Well, at least the end is near.”

“Until the trial.” Olivia paused. “Mike Velo from the DA’s Office was suppose to prosecute, but we’ve heard that he has resigned to join some law firm in L.A.”

Cole nodded. “I remember Mike. Well, barely. Who’s been given the case?”

“We don’t know yet.”

The elevator continued its climb up. Two more passengers boarded and deposited them on the eighth floor. Then Cole turned to Olivia, “Say, why don’t you join me for dinner, tonight? I can prepare one of my best dishes – Broiled Lemon Chicken.”

“Oh.” Leo’s invitation came to Olivia’s mind.

Cole frowned. “What? Not feeling well?”

“No, it’s just . . .” Olivia hesitated. “Uh, I had received a dinner invitation, today.”

Jealousy briefly flicked in Cole’s blue eyes. “Oh? From whom?”

“Leo.” Now Cole looked surprised. Olivia continued, “One of his charges had just moved out here, recently. And Leo . . . has invited us to meet him. Bruce, Harry and me. Along with the Halliwells, of course.”

“Of course.” Silence enveloped the pair, as the elevator reached Olivia’s floor. Both stepped out, as Cole added, “I guess that invitation didn’t extend to me, huh?”

Oh God! Olivia thought despairingly. “He didn’t . . . Leo didn’t mention you.”

A wan smile touched Cole’s lips. “Hmmm, not surprised. “Oh well.” He tried to broaden his smile. And failed. “Hope you enjoy yourself.” He turned away and pushed the elevator button.

“Oh, hey!” Olivia cried. “Can I take a rain check on that Lemon Chicken?”

Cole nodded. “Yeah. Sure.” He flashed another wan smile and disappeared into the elevator’s closing doors.

Olivia sighed. Heavily. This damn dinner party better be worth the disappointment, she thought.