“SKYFALL” (2012) Review

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“SKYFALL” (2012) Review

Before I had sat down in a movie theater to watch the latest James Bond movie, “SKYFALL”, it occurred to me that four years had passed since the last movie about the MI-6 agent. During those four years, EON Productions endured another round of legal entanglements regarding the Bond franchise, delaying the production and release of “SKYFALL”by at least two years. But in the end, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson came through and released the company’s 23rd James Bond film. 

“SKYFALL” begins in Istanbul, Turkey; where MI-6 agents James Bond and “Eve” go after a mercenary named Patrice, who has managed to steal a list of undercover NATO agents from the laptop hard drive of a MI-6 field agent. Their assignment ends in disaster after Patrice wounds Bond in the shoulder, and “Eve” accidentally shoots Bond, during his fight with the mercenary atop a moving train. Following the Istanbul debacle, “M” is pressured by Intelligence and Security Committee Chairman Gareth Mallory to retire. During M’s return from her meeting, the MI-6 computer servers are breached, resulting in an explosion at the building that kills a number of employees. Bond, who had used his “death” to retire, returns to London and asks to return to the field. Despite his failure to pass a series of physical and psychological examinations, M allows Bond to find the person behind the theft of the list of NATO agents and the MI-6 explosions. Bond’s investigations eventually leads him to a former MI-6 agent named Raoul Silva who wants to humiliate, discredit and ultimately kill M as revenge against her for betraying him years ago.

When I finally walked out of that movie theater, as the end credits for “SKYFALL” rolled, the first thought that came to my mind was that the movie was a piece of crap. I was very disappointed by “SKYFALL”. The more I thought about the plot and characterizations featured in “SKYFALL”, I finally realized that my feelings about the movie had not changed. I still believe it was a piece of crap and one of the worst James Bond movies I have ever seen.

There are certain aspects of “SKYFALL” that I found admirable. And before I delve into the reasons behind my dislike of the film, I might as point out these admirable traits. Unlike 2008’s “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”“SKYFALL” was not marred by an uneven pacing. Directed Sam Mendes did an excellent job of giving the movie a steady pace that did not leave me breathless or groggy. I also have to give kudos to cinematographer Roger Deakins for his sharp, yet beautiful photography of the different locations featured in the film – especially for Istanbul, London and Scotland. And most of the action sequences in the movie – especially Raoul Silva’s attack upon M at a public inquiry and the chase scene through London’s Underground system – struck me as very exciting and well shot, thanks to Mendes’ direction, along with Stuart and Kate Baird’s editing.

Looking back on “SKYFALL”, I noticed that it featured some first-rate acting, by a superb cast. Daniel Craig returned for a third time to portray 007. And as usual, he was in top form, capturing the British agent’s self doubts after being shot in Istanbul. After seventeen years, Judi Dench portrayed “M” for the last time in a plot in which her character plays a major role in the story. Many have been speculating about an Academy Award for her excellent performance. The only reason I am not jumping on this bandwagon is that Dench has been knocking it out of the ballpark as “M”, ever since she first assumed the role in 1995’s “GOLDENEYE”. Javier Bardeem seemed to have been inspired by Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning performance as the Joker in his portrayal of Raoul Silva, a former MI-6 agent who seeks revenge against “M”. In his way, the actor’s performance was just as colorful. However, I do not think I will ever consider him to be one of my favorite Bond villains. I found his performance a little too showy and not very original for my tastes.

Naomie Harris was in fine form as MI-6 agent “Eve”, who turned out to be the iconic Miss Moneypenny. I really enjoyed Harris’ performance, but I have something to say about her transformation from field agent to secretary. Bérénice Marlohe did the best she could with the small role of Sévérine, a former victim of the sex trade who became Silva’s representative and mistress. Ben Whishaw was a ball as a young and geeky “Q”, who seemed more like a computer hacker, instead of an arms quartermaster. Both Ralph Fiennes and Rory Kinnear gave solid performances as Intelligence and Security Committee Chairman Gareth Mallory and Bill Tanner, “M”‘s Chief of Staff. And Albert Finney gave a lively and entertaining performance as Kincade, the gamekeeper of the Skyfall estate that belongs to Bond.

But despite its positive attributes, in the end I found “SKYFALL” very disappointing. And I believe the movie’s main problems could be found in the script written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan. The movie began in Istanbul with Bond and Moneypenny attempting to get their hands on the list of undercover NATO agents that had been stolen from another MI-6 agent. Unfortunately, the movie never explained how a field agent ended up with such a list on his laptop hard drive in the first place. Some fans have dismissed this plot hole, claiming it would have been unnecessary for the script to explain such a situation. I am sorry, but I refuse to dismiss it. For me, it does not make sense that a field agent stationed in Istanbul would have such a list in the first place. Only unusual circumstances could explain this situation . . . and the screenplay refused to do so.

The screenplay also failed to explain why Silva waited so long to go after the NATO agents on the list Patrice stole for him. A certain period of time had passed between the incident in Istanbul and the bombing at MI-6. What took Silva so long to go after those agents? And did “M” or the British government ever bothered to alert NATO that some of their agents were exposed? Judging by the ease Silva killed some of the agents, I gather not. I also found Silva’s plans regarding his revenge against “M” rather convoluted. From what I gathered, he wanted to humiliate her before he can kill her. If it was that easy for him to bomb MI-6, why did he have to resort to allowing himself to be captured by Bond, in order to get close enough to kill her? He could have flown to the U.K. and killed before Bond or anyone else was able to guess he was behind the debacles that dogged “M” in the movie. And how did he know she would be appearing before a public inquiry on the very day he busted out of MI-6’s new quarters?

I also found Bond’s efforts to save “M” very questionable. One, how did Silva managed to track Bond and “M” to the former’s Scottish estate so easily? Were Bond and “M” wearing tracking devices? Did Silva use their cell phones? How? And if Bond had expected Silva to track them, why on earth did he not recruit back up to help him? If Silva had men to help attack “M” at the public inquiry, surely Bond must have realized that the former MI-6 agent would have help in Scotland. Instead, Bond relied upon the aging Kincade. I do not know who to charge with incompetence – the Bond character or the writers that created this scenario. Speaking of Skyfall, the sequence there featured two graves with the names of Bond’s parents, Andrew and Monique Bond. One might ask “what is wrong with that?” This would have been fine . . . if Purvis, Wade and screenwriter Paul Haggis had not re-written Bond’s past in 2006’s “CASINO ROYALE”. In that particular movie, Tresury agent Vesper Lynd accurately surmised that Bond was a middle-class or working-class orphan, whose education had been financed by a wealthy benefactor. In “SKYFALL”, the writers used Bond’s literary background. In other words, his father came from the Scottish landed gentry and his mother, from Switzerland. So . . . what happened to the background established in “CASINO ROYALE”? Did EON Productions rebooted the franchise for a second time, during Craig’s tenure? If so, I find this very sloppy on the writers’ part.

Before “SKYFALL” was released in U.S. movie theaters, I came across a few articles on the Internet, claiming that the movie might be less sexist than the previous Bond films. They cited the expanded role of “M” as an example of this more politically correct portrayal. After seeing “SKYFALL”, I realized that this opinion of a more feminist friendly movie is a joke. This movie has set the portrayal of female characters in the Bond franchise back at least forty to fifty years . . . back to characters such as Honey Ryder, Jill and Tilly Masterson, Tiffany Case, Solitaire, Andrea Anders and Mary Goodnight. Here is a look at the four female characters featured in this movie:

*Clair Dowar MP – Helen McCrory portrayed the Member of Parliament who led the inquiry into “M”‘s leadership of MI-6. It was bad enough that McCrory portrayed the character as a screeching harpy. But during the inquiry, she was interrupted by Gareth Mallory, who “suggested” in a patronizing manner that she cease her rants and allow “M” to talk. And she did! Why on earth did the screenwriters allowed Mallory to get away with such behavior to a MP? The script should have allowed Dowar to order Mallory to shut his hole and continue her rant, before allowing “M” to speak. But no. . . the all knowning male, Mallory, is allowed to shut her up in a very patronizing manner.

*Sévérine – Bérénice Marlohe, who portrayed Raoul Silva’s mistress, claimed she was inspired by Famke Janssen’s portrayal of “GOLDENEYE” villainess Xenia Onatopp. Honestly, I do not see the resemblance. Onatopp was a badass and slightly psychotic former fighter pilot and killer. Marlohe’s Sévérine simply struck me as a world weary woman who turned out to be nothing more than a bed warmer for Bond and a long time sex toy and tool for Silva. One, she barely lasted longer than a half hour in the film. Two, Bond had sex with her, despite guessing that she used to be a part of Asia’s child sex trade. Even worse, he failed to consider that sex with her would endanger her life. But he screwed her anyway in a rather . . . tasteless scene and Silva ended up shooting her like a dog. In the end, I realized that Sévérine reminded me of all those female Bond sacrificial lambs, whom Bond got to screw before they got bumped off. Marlohe was really wasted in this movie.

*Eve Moneypenny – Poor Naomie Harris. I realize that as the new Miss Moneypenny, she will have a job with the Bond franchise, as long as Craig continues to portray 007. But honestly, the screenwriters really screwed her in this film. Are audiences really supposed to believe that her character was unsuited to be a field agent, after the debacle in Istanbul? After all, she told “M” that she did not have a clean shot, before the latter ordered her to take it. Yet, upon Eve’s reunion with Bond in London, he tries to undermine her self-esteem by claiming she was unsuited for such a role. And then . . . what happens? Eve is assigned to assist Bond in Macau and ends up saving his life. Later, she held herself well during Silva’s attack against “M” at the public inquiry. Yet, near the end of the film, she informs Bond that he was right and decided to leave the field and become a secretary. A fucking secretary? This is how EON Productions set up Moneypenny for the Craig tenure? Not once did the film ever really indicated that Moneypenny had any difficulty over what happened in Istanbul. I felt really insulted after that last scene between Bond and Moneypenny.

*“M” – “SKYFALL” was supposed to be Judi Dench’s swan song in the role of Head of MI-6, after seventeen years. And this was EON Productions’ idea of a send off for Dench? Transforming her character into an incompetent boob? They had her character making mistakes left and right. Even worse, they reduced this “strong woman” into a useless and helpless female, who needed Mallory to come to her defense during MP Dowar’s rant against her and Bond to save her from Silva. And yet . . . if she was really that incompetent, how is it that she was the only one who figured out that a former MI-6 was behind their troubles? If the portrayal of “M” was supposed to be an example of a proper female hero, EON Productions can keep it.

There were other aspects of “SKYFALL” that left me feeling disappointed. I am a great admirer of Adele as a singer. But honestly? I have no memories of the movie’s theme song performed by her. The song simply went into one ear and out of the other. I also noticed that certain moments in the film showcased Craig posing in a standing position. In other words, he usually stood in one spot – whether at the bow of the boat delivering him to the Macau casino, next to Sévérine at the bow of Silva’s yacht, on a hill overlooking his family’s estate or on the rooftop overlooking the London skyline – feet apart and well dressed. Here is an example of that pose:

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Before the movie ended, I could not tell whether I was watching a James Bond action film or a photo spread from a“GQ” magazine.

Ah . . . EON Productions. You really disappointed me this time. I had bought all of the claptrap about this being one of the best James Bond movies in years. Looking back, I now realize that Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson had overreacted to some of the negative press over “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”, which I actually enjoyed despite its flaws. The fans could not deal with a dark and grim follow-up to “CASINO ROYALE”, and the two producers reacted by delivering a movie that could not make up its mind on whether it was a grim espionage tale or a typical Bond fantasy adventure. It tried to be both and failed in the end . . . at least for me.

“THE HOUND OF BASKERVILLES” (1939) Review

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“THE HOUND OF BASKERVILLES” (1939) Review

The year 1939 proved to be a momentous time for fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. The year marked the debut of two movies that featured the movie introduction of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as the famous literary detective and his friend, Dr. John Watson.

There had been previous movie, stage and radio adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes. But despite the recent success of Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the roles of Holmes and Watson, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce would become the first cinematic pair to truly become famous in the roles. They ended up portraying Holmes and Watson in fourteen movies for Twentieth Century Fox and Universal Pictures. And their first movie together was 1939’s “THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES”.

Based upon Doyle’s 1902 novel, “THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES” is about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson’s investigation into the legend of a supernatural hound, a beast that may be stalking a young heir on the fog-shrouded moorland that makes up his estate in Devonshire. The investigating pair receive a visit from a Dr. James Mortimer, who believes that the last heir of Baskerville Hall might be in danger from a legendary hound that may have killed many in the Baskerville line, including the family’s founder – Sir Hugo Baskerville – and Dr. Mortimer’s close friend, Sir Charles Baskerville. Holmes originally dismisses the so-called “demonic hound” as a fairy tale. But when Sir Henry arrives from Canada and receives a series of threats, Holmes sends Watson to accompany the young heir and Dr. Mortimer to Baskerville Hall, claiming that he is too busy to accompany them himself. Sir Henry quickly develops a romantic interest in Beryl Stapleton, the stepsister of his neighbor, a local naturalist named John Stapleton. The new arrivals also deal with the stranger behavior of Sir Henry’s servants, Mr. John and Mrs. Barryman; and an escapee from Dartmoor Prison lurking on the moor. Right before an attempt on Sir Henry’s life, Holmes finally makes his appearance in Devonshire. And Dr. Watson learns that he had been making his own inquiries for quite some time, while in disguise.

Ernest Pascal’s screenplay included at least one or two changes from Doyle’s novel. One, Sir Henry never became romantically involved with Beryl Stapleton. The butler’s name was changed from John Barrymore to Barryman, due to the existence of famous actor John Barrymore. And unlike the novel, the murderer’s fate was left unknown, despite Holmes’ assurances that the former would not get very far, due to constables being posted on the road. Aside from the previously mentioned, “THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES” remained faithful to the original novel. Even more importantly, the movie proved to be a surprise hit for the Twentieth Century Fox.

After watching “THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES”, it was easy to see why it became a hit. Directed by Sidney Lanfield, the movie is a well-paced and solid piece of entertainment filled with action, suspense, a little romance, and rich atmosphere. As much as I love murder mysteries, they have a tendency to drag a movie’s pacing at one point or another . . . despite the movie’s quality. My only real complaint about Pascal’s plot was the vague manner in which he left the murderer’s fate open. Why did he do it? And why did Lanfield and studio boss, Darryl F. Zanuck, allow Pascal to get away with this?

The suspenseful atmosphere re-created for the movie’s Devonshire setting could have easily done this. But Lanfield and the action featured in the plot prevented this from happening. And speaking of atmosphere, I have to congratulate art directors Richard Day and Hans Peters, along with set decorator Thomas Littlet and legendary cinematographer J. Peverell Marley for doing such an excellent job in not only re-creating the mysterious atmosphere of the Devonshire moors and more importantly, late Victorian England.

Basil Rathbone had been known for the villainous roles he had portrayed in many costume dramas in the 1930s. Before “THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES”, he had only portrayed one or two heroic types on screen – in 1938’s “THE DAWN PATROL” and 1939’s “SON OF FRANKENSTEIN”. For an actor known for portraying villains, it is ironic that his most well-known role would prove to be the heroic Sherlock Holmes. Not only did Rathbone seemed like the physical embodiment of the fictional sleuth, but he captured the character’s sharp intelligence, wit and strong will. And his screen chemistry with Nigel Bruce was spot on. They made a perfect screen team. What I enjoyed about Bruce’s portrayal of Dr. John Watson is that he was not the blustering buffoon that his character would become in the Universal Pictures. All right, Bruce’s Dr. Watson has a bit of bluster in his characterization. But his Watson was a sharp and observant man, whose comments about some of the suspects would prove to be accurate. And like Rathbone’s Holmes, he also had a nice, subtle wit.

The rest of the cast proved to be solid. Lionel Atwill gave a first-rate performance as Dr. James Mortimer, the man who hired Holmes to investigate the strange deaths around Baskerville Hall. Beryl Mercer gave a funny performance as Dr. Mercer’s dithery wife, who was into spiritualism and seances. Morton Lowry was both charming and intelligent as Sir Henry’s neighbor, who also harbored suspicions about the strange occurrences Wendy Barrie proved to be a sweet and charming Beryl Stapleton. Although I must honest that I found her character to be slightly one-dimensional at times. I could say the same about Richard Greene’s Sir Henry Baskerville, whose good looks and charming personality made the character seemed a little too ideal for my tastes. Greene was credited as the film’s lead character. But when the movie proved to be a surprise hit, Rathbone and Bruce – quite rightly – assumed the lead credits in future Sherlock Holmes films. John Carradine gave one of the movie’s better performances as Sir Henry’s mysterious and slightly sinister butler, John Barryman. Whereas Carradine was mysterious, actress Eily Malyon seemed fearful and secretive as Barryman’s emotional wife.

Unless one is a stickler for a movie strictly adhering to its novel source, any Sherlock Holmes fan would find “THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES” to be a very entertaining and atmospheric adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel. And both Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce ended up proving they were the right men at that time to portray Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.

“Altered Lives” [PG-13] – Prologue

This is the first in a series of five stories set between ROTS and ANH. Also, this particular story is more or less an Alternate Universe version of the last half-hour of “Revenge of the Sith”.

“ALTERED LIVES”

RATING: PG-13 – Violence
SUMMARY: The lives of Anakin, Padme and many others take an alternate course during Anakin’s duel with Obi-Wan on Mustafar.
FEEDBACK: – Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: All characters and things STAR WARS belong to Lucasfilm. All non-original dialogue in this story is credited to “Revenge of the Sith”, which is based upon the story and screenplay by George Lucas. The characters, Romulus Wort and Wo-Chen Puri, are my creation.

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PROLOGUE

27BBY – Coruscant

Inside the Jedi Temple’s great training hall, Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi, his padawan and other members of the Order watched two padawans engage in a practice lightsaber duel. Although the two combatants happened to be adolescents, both moved with the skill and speed of an experienced adult swordsman.

Obi-Wan felt impressed by one particular combatant – a tall and muscular fifteen year-old named Romulus Wort. The Jedi Knight could not help but admire how the young, dark-haired Wort managed to utilize his footwork and speed to keep his opponent on the defense. He turned to the padawan’s Jedi mentor and said, “Master Puri, I cannot help but feel that the Force is truly strong with your padawan.”

A hint of a smile touched the lips of the stocky, bronze-skinned Belascan who stood next to Obi-Wan. “Yes, Romulus has become quite skilled with the lightsaber.” The smile disappeared, as he sighed. “Unfortunately, being strong with the Force does not automatically make one the perfect Jedi. I am afraid that my young padawan needs work in other areas – like his impatience and temper.”

Obi-Wan shot a quick glance at his apprentice. The lanky, fourteen year-old regarded the fighters through narrowed eyes. “Yes,” Obi-Wan said, “those are traits that many of us needed to be mindful of when we were of Romulus’ age. But I am surprised that you would say such a thing about your own padawan. He has always struck me being nearly ideal. Along with Ferus Olin.” There had been times when Obi-Wan had longed for the less troublesome Romulus Wort or the near perfect Ferus Olin as his padawan.

“Oh come, Master Kenobi.” Puri regarded the younger Knight with slight amusement. “I have yet to meet the ideal Jedi Knight. Although, I do believe there are many within the Order who might consider themselves . . . ideal.”

The younger Knight felt his face turn hot with embarrassment. Somehow, Puri’s words had cut Obi-Wan to the quick. He did not view himself ideal or perfect, but he liked to believe that the Jedi Order did consider him loyal and dependable. Would anyone consider such a viewpoint as arrogant?

A lightsaber’s hum broke Obi-Wan out of his thoughts. He looked up in time to see Romulus aggressively attack the other padawan before knocking the latter’s lightsaber to the floor. Many of the onlookers clapped or cheered. Including Obi-Wan. “Good job!” he declared enthusiastically. “Good job!”

Puri nodded approvingly at his padawan. “I agree. But I wonder how he will do against young Skywalker, here.” He smiled reassuringly at Anakin. “Whom I am certain is just as skilled.”

Anakin Skywalker’s blue eyes lit up with gratitude, before he smiled at the older Jedi Knight. Obi-Wan felt a brief flash of jealousy. He could not recall his padawan ever regarding him with such open gratitude during their five years together.

The time finally arrived for the last practice duel for the day. Both Anakin and Romulus warily approached each other in the center of the hall. All of the onlookers fell silent. Obi-Wan understood why. The two padawans – along with Ferus Olin – were considered amongst the finest swordsmen of their generation. Yet, neither Anakin or Romulus had ever fought each other until today. The combatants lit up their lightsabers and the duel commenced.

Both padawans seemed to be evenly matched. As blue and green lightsabers clashed, Anakin and Romulus exhibited speed, excellent footwork and aggressive maneuvers. Despite Obi-Wan’s efforts to indoctrinate Anakin into the more defensive Sonsei fighting style, his apprentice had adopted the more aggressive and bolder Djem So style. Apparently, so had Romulus Wort. And this surprised Obi-Wan. Puri’s padawan had never struck him as the type who would adopt such an unorthodox fighting style.

The duel seemed to go on forever. Obi-Wan began to wonder if Anakin had finally met his match. But Wo-Chen viewed the duel with different eyes. “Master Kenobi, your padawan is very skilled. And very clever.”

Obi-Wan frowned. “I’m sorry?”

“Haven’t you noticed? Young Skywalker is wearing down my padawan,” Puri continued. “Although both are using the Djem So style, your Anakin is not being as aggressive as he could be. Instead, he is merely deflecting Romulus’ attacks, causing the latter to exert more effort.”

“And wearing down your padawan in the process,” Obi-Wan declared in astonished tones. He noticed how Romulus Wort’s strikes have become more desperate and forced. Strange – he had never noticed that his apprentice was exploiting Romulus’ impatience. Nor did he realize that Anakin was capable of such strategy.

Puri added in a whisper, “And now I’m afraid that poor Romulus will make a final, desperate move . . . and fail to reach his target. This will probably give Anakin the opportunity he needs.” Sure enough, the dark-haired padawan’s blade made a wide, sweeping arc in an attempt to knock Anakin’s lightsaber from the latter’s hands. And failed. His failure left him open to Anakin’s attack. In several swift moves, the younger padawan tapped both of Romulus’ hands, forcing the latter to cry out in pain and drop his lightsaber.

A hushed tone filled the wide hall before Jedi Master Plo Koon began to clap. Other onlookers did the same. Anakin seemed uplifted by the adulation.

“Good job,” Wo-Chen declared the moment Anakin and Romulus rejoined their masters. “Both of you. Excellent match.”

Romulus looked slightly embarrassed. “I’m sorry that I lost, Master. I should have concentrated more.”

Puri sighed. “Or perhaps you have been more patient and mindful of your surroundings, my young padawan.” Romulus’ pale face turned red. “However, I am still pleased by the skills you have displayed. You’re improving faster than I had imagined.” The padawan managed a wan smile, but Obi-Wan could see that the minor criticism had stung. Then Wo-Chen faced Anakin with an approving smile. “As for you, young Skywalker, well done. Well done! I cannot recall any member of the Order utilizing such strategy in a long time.”

Anakin bowed. “Thank you, Master Puri. I . . .” For a brief second, he became speechless. Then, “Thank you.”

Again, Wo-Chen smiled. Then he led his padawan toward the hall’s exit. As Anakin turned to face Obi-Wan, the latter saw Romulus shoot a resentful glare at the younger padawan. Very disturbing.

“How well do you know Wo-Chen Puri, Master?” Anakin asked. “There is something about him that seems very familiar. He almost reminds me of Master Qui-Gon.”

Obi-Wan’s heart briefly lurched at the mention of his former master’s name. “Yes, well that is not surprising. Qui-Gon and Wo-Chen were old friends,” Obi-Wan explained. “And both . . . well, they both placed great emphasis on the Living Force. Especially Qui-Gon.”

“Oh.”

A deafening silence fell between master and apprentice. Realizing that he had not commented about the lightsaber match, Obi-Wan added, “By the way Anakin, good job with your match against Romulus.”

“Thank you, Master.”

Again, more silence followed. Obi-Wan felt perplexed. He could not understand why he seemed to be having so much trouble communicating with his padawan, right now. Could it be that he felt envious of Wo-Chen Puri’s easy interactions with Anakin? He hoped not. “Well,” he continued, “shall we get something to eat? It is time for supper and I’m starving.”

“Yes, Master.”

With a nod, Obi-Wan led his padawan toward the hall’s double doors. As they passed into the wide corridor, he recalled the resentful expression on Romulus Wort’s face. And the fact that it seemed to be directed toward Anakin. He wondered if today’s match had initiated a rivalry between the two padawans. Anakin already seemed to be in the middle of one with Ferus Olin. He did not require another. Even worse, a rivalry of any kind could lead a path to the Dark Side.

End of Prologue

“THE COMPANY” (2007) Review

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“THE COMPANY” (2007) Review

Within the past decade, there have been a few television and movie productions about the history of espionage during the pre-World War II era and the Cold War. One of those productions turned out to be the 2007, three-part miniseries about the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) called “THE COMPANY”.

Based upon Robert Littell’s 2002 novel, “THE COMPANY” focused upon the history of not only the C.I.A., but also the Soviet Union’s K.G.B. during the Cold War, between the mid-1950s and the fall of the Soviet Union during the beginning of the 1990s. The novel focused upon the lives of three men, who had been close friends at Yale University, who graduated in 1950. Jack McAuliffe was a Rowing athlete and naive true believer, who had been recruited by his crew coach. The same coach also recruited one of Jack’s closest friend, Leo Krinsky, the son of an Eastern European immigrant who works at the agency’s counterintelligence division. Jack and Leo have another close friend at Yale – the son of a Soviet diplomat named Yevgeny Tsipin. While attending his mother’s funeral in Moscow, Yevgeny is recruited as a Soviet spy by KBG spymaster, Starik Zhilov.

While Yevgeny serves as an undercover K.G.B. agent in Washington D.C., Jack becomes a field agent in East Berlin and Leo works for the Agency’s counterintelligence unit in Washington. Of the three friends, two of them suffer setbacks in their love lives. During his basic training for the K.G.B., Yevgeny falls for a young woman named Azalia Ivanova. But Starik forces him to choose between the K.G.B. and Azalia; and Yevgeny leaves for his assignment in the United States. While on assignment in East Berlin, Jack falls for his source, a beautiful East German ballerina named Lili, who provides information from a figure known as The Professor, an important scientist in the East German hierarchy. Unfortunately, Lili is betrayed to the Stasi, which eventually leads her to commit suicide before she can be officially arrested. Only Leo is lucky enough to sustain a long relationship and marriage to the woman he loves – Adelle Swett, who comes from a wealthy Washington family and whose father is a personal friend of President Eisenhower.

However, the story’s main narrative centered around the efforts of the C.I.A. to find a mole who has caused a great deal of damage to its many agendas. The failure of Jack McAuliffe and his mentor, Harvey Torriti (aka “The Sorcerer) to help a defector escape from East Germany led to Torriti’s discovery of a mole with access to the Agency – namely MI-6 operative, Adrian “Kim” Philby, who happens to be a close friend of the Agency’s counterintelligence chief, James Jesus Angleton. As revealed in a scene between Philby and Yevgeny, the K.G.B. has another mole within the ranks of the C.I.A. – someone who goes by the code name, “Sascha”. It was “Sascha’ who had exposed Lili and the Professor to the East Germans. It was “Sascha” who had exposed Jack as an American agent to the Hungarian Secret Police, on the eve of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. And it was “Sascha” who had revealed the Agency’s plans for an invasion of Cuba – an act that nearly endangered Jack’s life. Between the exposure of “Kim” Philby as a Soviet mole and the series of political and intelligence disasters not only led to Angleton’s paranoid determination to find “Sascha”, but also his big mole hunt in the mid 1970s.

Actor Chris O’Donnell had stated in a featurette that “THE COMPANY” could be divided into three genres. Episode One could be described as an espionage thriller, Episode Two as an big-scare adventure story (in which two of them are featured – the Hungarian Revolution and the Bay of Pigs), and Episode Three as a psychological thriller that involved a mole hunt. This is probably why I found “THE COMPANY” so thrilling to watch. It was able to explore the many sub-genres of the spy story and stick to the one main narrative, at the same time. All the facets of the miniseries – spy thriller, adventure story and psychological thriller – centered around the impact of “Sascha’s” betrayals and the lives of the three protagonists.

The ironic thing is that one of the characters – Yevgeny Tsipin – is obviously a K.G.B. agent that served as a deep undercover agent in Washington D.C. for three decades. Yet, his character is portrayed as a protagonist, instead of a supporting or major villain. Although the Agency is portrayed as the good guy out to destroy the “evil” K.G.B., “THE COMPANY” did not hesitate to portray some of its darker aspects – whether it was Angleton and other officials’ cool betrayal of the anti-Communist Hungarians, during their revolution against the Soviets; or their misguided determination to continue with their plans for a Cuban invasion. One of the series’ more darker segments appeared in Angleton’s mole hunt in Episode Three. The Agency official began to suspect Leo Krinsky of being “Sascha”, the Soviet mole. What Krinsky endured during his interrogation had me squirming in my seat with sheer discomfort. Ken Nolan did an excellent job, as far as I am concerned, with adapting Litell’s novel.

Ridley Scott became one of the miniseries’ producers (along with John Calley) and had planned to direct. But he realized that he may not have been up to directing a production that was over four hours long. So, he and Calley hired Danish filmmaker Mikael Salomon to direct at least one episode. Salomon, who had directed two episodes of 2001’s “BAND OF BROTHERS”, directed all of the episodes of this miniseries. And he did an exceptional job. I was especially impressed by his direction of segments that included Jack McAuliffe’s adventures in East Berlin, the Hungarian Revolution, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the travails that Leo endured, while being suspected for being a mole. He also did exceptional work with the large cast that proved to be very talented.

I noticed that many critics seemed to be very impressed by the older cast members – especially Alfred Molina’s splashy portrayal of Jack’s mentor, the gregarious Harvey Torriti; and Michael Keaton’s mannered performance as the paranoid James Jesus Angleton. And both actors were great. I also have to commend Ulrich Thomsen’s subtle portrayal of the secretive and manipulative spymaster Starik Zhilov, and Tom Hollander for giving a charming performance as MI-6 operative-turned-K.G.B. mole, Adrian Philby. And there were other performances that impressed me. Both Ted Atherton as C.I.A. official Frank Wisner and Natascha McElhone as a British woman caught up in the Hungarian uprising gave passionate performances. And I was also impressed by Alexandra Maria Lara and Erika Marozsán as the women in Jack and Yevgeny’s lives. But for me, the actors portraying the three Yale buddies, whose lives were swept into the world of espionage, seemed to be the emotional center of this tale.

Alessandro Nivola’ portrayal of Leo Kritsky barely seemed to catch my interest – at least in the first two episodes. He seemed to be around, mainly as support for the emotionally besieged Jack. But the actor really came into his own in Episode Three, as the miniseries focused on the trauma Leo suffered as a victim of Angleton’s mole hunt. Rory Cochrane gave one of his most subtle and complex performances as K.G.B. operative, Yevgeny Tsipin. He really made the audience care for his well being, despite his activities against the U.S. government, during his years in Washington D.C. But it was Chris O’Donnell who really carried the miniseries in his portrayal of Cold War true believer, Jack McCauliffe. Thanks to his superb performance, he did an excellent job of developing Jack’s character from a naive, yet patriotic C.I.A. recruit and newbie, to the middle-aged man, whose experiences had not only worn him out, but led him to finally question the necessity of the Cold War.

All I can say is that “THE COMPANY” was a well-made adaptation of Robert Littell’s novel about the C.I.A.’s history during the Cold War. And it was all due to Mikael Salomon’s excellent and well-paced direction, Ken Nolan’s script and a superb cast led by Chris O’Donnell.

THANKSGIVING Images

In celebration of the THANKSGIVING holiday, here are some images that you might enjoy: 

THANKSGIVING Images

“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode Seven “The Shepherds” Commentary

“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode Seven “The Shepherds” Commentary

The seventh episode of “CENTENNIAL” is set thirteen years after Episode Six. And it is a doozy. Although I would not consider this episode to be the best of the miniseries, I definitely believe it is one of the better ones.

Some of the events of the last two episodes end up having major consequences in this episode, set in 1881. The feud between farmer Hans Brumbaugh and the English rancher Oliver Seccombe spill out in an ugly range war between the region’s farmers and the ranchers, led by Seccombe. Acting as the ranchers’ hired guns are members from the Pettis gang, the same outlaws that had attacked the Skimmerhorn/Poteet cattle drive, in the last episode. After killing several farmers, whose land Seccombe managed to purchase, the Pettis boys set their sights on Brumbaugh’s farm. However, they encounter stiff resistance from Hans, his family and two men from the Venneford Ranch – John Skimmerhorn, who is now ranch foreman; and Jim Lloyd, now a strapping 27 year-old ranch hand.

Brumbaugh turns to Centennial’s sheriff for justice, but Axel Dumire is reluctant to move against the Pettis boys, claiming that no one could identify them as the attackers. However, the ranchers’ focus upon the farmers transfer to a new enemy, with the arrival of one Messmore Garrett. The latter decides to settle near Centennial in order to raise sheep – something that cattle ranchers find abhorrent. Three men from the previous cattle drive end up working for Garrett – Nate Pearson, Bufe Coker (who was a former Venneford ranch hand) and Amos Calendar. The feud between Garrett and the ranchers spill into an ugly shootout that leaves Pearson, Coker and the latter’s lady love, a former Cheyenne prostitute named Fat Laura, dead. As the only surviving shepherd, Calendar recruits his former fellow cowhand, Jim Lloyd and Brumbaugh to seek vengeance against the Pettis boys.

More personal matters also loomed large in this episode. Levi Zendt, just barely into his sixties, receive a visit from his Lancaster nephew, Christian Zendt, and gives him a tour of Centennial. Christian’s visit leads Levi to visit his hometown in Pennsylvania one last time. Brumbaugh’s struggles to find decent farmhands leads him to hire a family of Japanese immigrants named Takemoto. Love also hits Centennial in this episode. Jim Lloyd falls in love with Levi and Lucinda’s wayward daughter, Clemma; who feels no affection towards him whatsoever. And Oliver Seccombe meets two visitors from England – a British investor named Claude Richards and Charlotte Buckland, the daughter of another investor – and ends falling in love and marrying the latter.

Screenwriter Charles Larson and director Virgil W. Vogel really did an outstanding job with this episode. I thought they did a great job in balancing the various storylines – including the romances, Levi Zendt’s memories of the past via a visit from his nephew, and Brumbaugh’s labor problems. But the episode’s pièce de résistance were the range wars that threatened to overwhelm the region surrounding Centennial. It is believed that James Michner had based this particular chapter on the infamous Johnson County War in 1892. This was very apparent in three brutal action scenes featuring the attack on the Brumbaugh farm (shot at night), the attack on Bufe Coker and Fat Laura’s homestead, and the vigilante attack on the Pettis gang.

The amount of violence featured in this episode seemed to contrast rather well with the more dramatic scenes directed beautifully by Vogel. I was especially taken by the romantic scenes between Seccombe and Charlotte, Brumbaugh’s meeting with the Takemoto family, and Amos Calendar’s heartfelt speech about the bonds of brotherhood, as he convinces Jim to seek vengeance against the Pettis boys. Apparently, those bonds formed during the Skimmerhorn cattle drive had failed to disappear, despite the brutal range wars. But the one scene that brought tears to my eyes turned out to be Levi and Lucinda’s emotional parting, as he prepares to board an eastbound train for Pennsylvania.

If “The Shepherds” had one fault, it was its running time. A great deal of narrative and characterization occurred in this particular episode. And not all of it was focused around the range wars inflamed Centennial. Some of the story arcs – including the visit by Claude Richards and Charlotte Buckland, Levi Zendt’s visit to Pennsylvania, and Hans Brumbaugh’s labor problems – served as introductions to the main plots for the next two or three episodes. The episode started out well paced. But when Messmore Garrett’s character was introduced into the story, I got the feeling that the pacing increased in order to include the entire plot within ninety minutes. In all honesty, “The Shepherds required a longer running time of at least two hours and fifteen minutes.

But I cannot deny that the performances featured in the episode were outstanding. Timothy Dalton continued his excellent work of conveying the ambiguous nature of Oliver Seccombe, whether the latter was plotting the destruction of Messmore Garrett and the shepherds or allowing himself to be wooed by Charlotte Buckland. “The Shepherds” served as the introduction of Lynn Redgrave as part of the main cast. She did a solid job in this episode, but her time to shine will appear in the next two to three episodes. I could say the same for Brian Keith, who gave a remarkable performance as the ambiguous and frustrating sheriff, Axel Dumire. Alex Karras was superb, as always, in his portrayal of Hans Brumbaugh. Both Mark Neely and Adrienne Larussa were excellent as Levi and Lucinda’s children, Martin and Clemma. The two did a great job in conveying how their characters dealt with the stigma of being mixed blood. Gregory Harrison and Christina Raines shone once more in the wonderful and poignant scene that featured Levi’s departure from Centennial by train.

William Atherton stepped into the role of Jim Lloyd for the first time and did a great job, especially in a scene that featured his desperate attempt to convince Amos Calendar to give up working for Garrett. Speaking of Amos Calendar, I thought Jesse Vint gave one of the better performances in this episode in a scene in which he convinces Jim to seek revenge for Nate and Bufe’s deaths. While watching Glenn Turman and Les Lannom portray Nate Pearson and Bufe Coker for the last time, it occurred to me that their characters had come a long way since setting eyes upon each other for the first time in “The Longhorns”. And both gave beautiful performances, as their characters prepared to meet death during the shootout with Pettis boys.

The running time for “The Shepherds” was very frustrating for me. I believe the episode’s transcript would have been better served with a longer running time. But as far as I am concerned, this was the only drawback to the episode. I believe it is still one of the more exciting and fascinating episodes in “CENTENNIAL”, thanks to director Virgil Vogel and screenwriter Charles Larson.

“Whatever You Desire” [R] – 5/5

“WHATEVER YOU DESIRE”

PART 5

“Paige? Stop staring at him like that. Please!” Nathalie added for good measure.

A fleeting spark of guilt lit up the young witch’s eyes, before she tore them away from the daemon sitting in one of the kitchen chairs. Sobbing. Paige refocused her eyes on the cup of Glogg sitting on the table. “Sorry,” she muttered. 

Nathalie sighed and said to the sobbing Stregheria daemon. “Riggerio? Listen sweetie, why don’t you finish your Glogg? It’ll help you feel better.”

More tears fell from the handsome daemon’s eyes. “I do not know, Nathalie,” he sobbed. “You should have seen her. That woman looked just like my . . . my Sofia. It’s just . . . just too much for me to bear.”

Paige whispered to Nathalie, “What is he talking about?”

Nathalie whispered back, “A Stregheria witch named Sofia Pasolini. Riggerio and she were in love, some forty years ago. She was killed by a warlock named Fonetti.”

Shaking her head, Paige commented, “And I thought that Phoebe was the first witch to fall for a demon.”

“Oh no, honey. That sort of thing has happened a lot, over the years.” Nathalie paused. “It happened to your grandmother.”

Paige’s eyes grew round with shock. “What?”

But Nathalie returned her attention to Riggerio, who had finished the last of his punch. “How do you feel, honey?” she asked. “Better?”

The daemon sighed. “A little. Your Glogg is excellent, by the way. Better than that Glogg I once had in Stock . . . uh, Stooo . . . why do I feel so strange?” Then he swayed slightly, rolled his eyes and slumped forward on the table.

At that moment, Cole entered the kitchen. He glanced at his fellow daemon and said, “I see that you’ve finally found a way to stop his crying.”

“I had added an extra touch of Valerian to make sure that I knock him out, right away,” Nathalie replied. “I guess it’s okay for him to sleep here.”

Cole added, “Better here than in the other rooms. The whole place looks like the aftermath of an orgy. Especially with all of those bodies strewn about.”

“So much for your party,” a mournful Paige said.

Nathalie dismissed the comment with a wave of her hand. “Don’t be too sure. The antidote should keep everyone out for at least an hour or two. And it’s not even ten o’clock, yet. The night’s still young.”

“The night is over, Nathalie,” Cole declared firmly. “That Valerian might wear out within an hour or so, but it might take everyone a lot longer to recover from its aftereffects. By the way, how much Valerian did you put in the Glogg? It nearly took Olivia and Harry forever to fall asleep.”

Nathalie stared briefly at Cole, as she noticed a few things different about him. A slow smile crept across her face. “Well, of course it took longer for them. They’re redheads.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning,” Nathalie continued, “it has been recently discovered that redheads require more anesthesia during operations. They have some kind of genetic mutation that gives them a higher resistance to drugs. You . . . uh, had a little problem with them?”

Cole rolled his eyes and sat in the chair, opposite the unconscious Riggerio. “Tell me about it.”

“Is that why you have lipstick on your chest?” Nathalie asked saucily. She nodded at Cole’s gaping shirt.

The half-daemon’s fingers immediately flew to his shirt and began to fasten the remaining buttons. “That’s an old scar, not lipstick,” he murmured, as his face turned red.

“A scar with the same coloring as Olivia’s lipstick? And what’s that on your neck? Another . . . scar?” An amused Nathalie watched the half-daemon squirm with discomfort.

A snicker escaped from Paige’s mouth. Cole glared at her. “Okay,” he said with a defeated sigh, “so things got out of hand with Olivia,” he grumbled. “She got a little . . . aggressive. But nothing happened.”

Nathalie’s smile widened. “Of course. Whatever you say.”

The door swung open in a violent manner. Bruce and Barbara stumbled into the kitchen, their clothes in disarray. “Hey!” Barbara declared cheerfully. “Is the party over?”

* * * *

Phoebe slowly made her way downstairs to the Halliwells’ living room, the following morning. Upon arriving, she found the room empty and strode toward the kitchen. Sure enough, her family – sans Leo – was there, eating breakfast at the kitchen table.

“She’s awake!” Paige declared in a genial voice. “Finally!”

Groaning aloud, Phoebe asked, “What time is it?”

Piper glanced at the kitchen clock. “Eight forty-five. I’m surprised that you’re up, already. I thought you would be sleeping a lot longer, considering how hung over you looked when Paige brought you home, last night.”

This time, Phoebe sighed. She eased her body into the remaining empty chair. “I still feel hung over. The last several hours seem to be a blur. The last thing I remember is eating and drinking some raspberry punch.” She paused and glanced at Paige. “Shouldn’t you be leaving for work, by now?”

Paige said, “I just got a call from Barbara. Ostera’s will be closed, today. Barbara is . . . recovering.”

“Is that all you remember from last night?” Piper asked. “Just eating?”

A frown creased Phoebe forehead. “That, and talking to Cole, Olivia and Paul. Only I don’t know what about.”

“You mean that you don’t remember . . .” Paige broke off and shook her head. “Never mind.”

Phoebe demanded, “Never mind what? What happened? I know about the potion in the punch. You told me about it, last night. But that’s all I remember.”

Piper glanced at Paige. “Well, our little sister didn’t tell me much. Other than the party had ended early, because of the potion. And the antidote this Nathalie person had later served. What kind of potion was in that punch?”

“It was made from bluebells,” Paige said, as she cut into her sausage patty. “Which are used to free a person’s inhibitions. You know, causes them to be more open about their feelings.”

Frowning, Piper said, “Wait a minute. Has this something to do with that ridiculous theory that we had heard about duel psyches or something?”

“I wouldn’t exactly call it ridiculous, Piper.” Paige popped the piece of sausage into her mouth and chewed. “You didn’t see a demon weep uncontrollably over the memory of a dead witch.”

“What?” Both Phoebe and Piper screeched at the same time.

Then Phoebe added, “Are you talking about Riggerio? I remember seeing him at the party.”

“There were DEMONS at the party?” Piper demanded.

Paige nodded. “Yeah. I mean, Cole was there. And so were Riggerio and three other demons. They were all affected by the bluebell potion. Well, except for Cole, who didn’t drink any of the punch.”

“Five demons and not a drop of blood was spilled?” Piper asked in a disbelievingly voice.

“Not a drop,” Paige replied. “Although . . .” she hesitated, “there were a few flare-ups.” Her eyes slid toward Phoebe, who stared back. “Including one between Pheebs and Olivia.”

Phoebe warily eyed her younger sister. “What exactly happened?”

“Oh, nothing much. You two got into a fight. You tried to punch Olivia. She blocked you and tossed you onto the ground.” Paige shrugged her shoulders. “Simple.”

Phoebe groaned. “Oh God! I can’t believe . . .” She stared at Paige. “Wait a minute! Why would I attack Olivia?”

“Because of the potion,” Paige explained in a matter-of-fact tone that irritated Phoebe. “It had released all of your inhibitions.”

Curiosity gleamed in Piper’s eyes. “Exactly what kind of inhibitions are we talking about?”

Paige hesitated before she answered. “Oh, like Phoebe’s feelings for Cole.”

“I have no feelings for Cole!” Phoebe retorted. “He means nothing to me!”

Rolling her eyes, Paige shot back, “If that’s true, why did you get into a fight with Olivia? I mean, God Phoebe! You practically admitted to me that you still love him. You practically tried to get him to admit that he still felt the same about you. And when Olivia had pointed out that he didn’t, you attacked her.”

Panic rose within Phoebe, as her sister’s words spewed out. Paige had to be wrong! There was no way she would get into an argument with another woman over Cole! “You can’t be right!” Phoebe protested.

“Pheebs . . .”

“I don’t know where you got this idea, Paige, but you’re wrong! You probably misunderstood something I had said, because I am quite certain that I don’t love Cole.”

Heaving a sigh, Paige surrendered. “Okay, Phoebe. If that’s what you want to believe.” Then her dark eyes glittered, as they pinpointed Phoebe’s. “But you can’t keep lying to yourself, Pheebs. Sooner or later, you feelings are going to come out. And it might be at the worst time, possible.”

Phoebe silently vowed that it would never happen. Because as far as she was concerned, she had no feelings for Cole. No matter what Paige believed.

* * * *

Paul was sipping a glass of apple juice, when Leo materialized in the middle of his apartment. “Hey Paul!” the whitelighter cheerfully greeted.

A groan escaped the witch’s mouth. “Morning Leo. What brings you here?”

Leo explained that he had heard about Nathalie Gleason’s party from Paige. And the potion that accidentally ended up in the hostess’ Raspberry Sunset punch. “Yeah, if you can call it an accident,” Paul grumbled. “I’m beginning to think that she added it on purpose.”

“That doesn’t sound like Nathalie Gleason,” Leo said with a shake of his head. He sat down on the living room sofa. “She may be unorthodox, but she would never used magic on someone without his or her permission.”

Another grunt left Paul’s mouth. “Yeah. Whatever.” He gulped down the last of his juice. “So, did Paige and Phoebe give you the details? Because I sure as hell don’t remember them. Well, I do remember waking up in a strange bedroom, feeling groggy. And seeing Beltha . . . uh, Turner talking to Phoebe at the refreshment table.” He added in a morose voice, “And Olivia being jealous.” A frown creased his forehead.

“Paige wasn’t exactly forthcoming when she and Phoebe came home, last night,” Leo explained. “She had mentioned the potion, and the herb Miss Gleason used to cleanse the potion from your systems. Of course Paige, Cole and Miss Gleason didn’t drink the punch, so they weren’t affected.”

Paul sighed. “Lucky bastards,” he mumbled darkly. “Because right now, I feel as if I had a close encounter with a cattle prod. God!”

“That must be the Valerian that Miss Gleason added to the . . . uh, antidote. That’s probably why you’re still feeling groggy. A day’s rest should do you some good.” He paused, reluctant to express what was on his mind. “Uh Paul, can I ask you something? Are you sure that you don’t remember anything after drinking the potion? Like anything between Olivia . . . and Cole?”

Shaking his head, Paul replied, “No, nothing.” He gave Leo a suspicious look. “Why? Did Paige say something?”

“Not really. It’s . . .” Leo sighed. “Well, according to Paige that potion had literally exposed everyone’s feelings. I just thought . . .” Noticing the horrified expression on Paul’s face, the whitelighter quickly amended his words. “Don’t worry. It’s nothing. Besides, if anything had happened, Paige would have said something. It’s nothing.” He gave Paul a reassuring smile. Yet, a small part of Leo did not feel so confident.

* * * *

The doorbell rang. Olivia sauntered over to the front door and glanced through the peephole. “Well, look who’s here!” she drawled laconically, before opening the door. She greeted her new visitor. “Nathalie! I see that you’ve finally worked up the nerve to face us?”

The dark-haired witch greeted both Olivia and her brothers with a nervous smile. “Hey Livy! You seem to be feeling better. Bruce. Harry.”

The McNeill brothers returned Nathalie’s greeting with curt nods. “So, what are you doing here?” Olivia asked.

“To apologize,” Nathalie replied in a humble manner. “In fact, I want to apologize to all of you.”

Bruce asked, “Why didn’t you simply call?”

“Well, I did. I called your house.” Nathalie added, “But your mom told me that you and Harry were here, at Olivia’s apartment. So . . .” She held out a rectangular-shaped pan that contained some kind of dessert. “Here’s my peace offering. A peach cobbler.”

Harry rose from his chair and walked over to the two women. “Cobbler? Did you make one for each guest at your party?” he asked Nathalie.

“No, just for the three of you. The last thing I want to be is on the bad side of a McNeill.” Nathalie smiled at Bruce. “Especially since one of them is getting married.”

Shaking his head, an amused Bruce said, “Your invitation will be in the mail. Don’t worry.”

Nathalie immediately perked up. “Great!”

“Wait a minute!” Olivia gave her friend a dark look, as she took the cobbler. “You’re still on the bad side of this particular McNeill.”

Dark eyes pleaded with the red-haired woman. “Oh, c’mon Livy! You’re not sore, are you? Putting that potion in the punch was an accident. I swear!”

“You know something, Nat? I don’t even know why I had bothered to accept your party invitation in the first place,” Olivia retorted. “The last time you had one, I ended up acting as referee between two warlocks, whose covens were involved in a blood feud. But this . . .” She shook her head in despair.

Nathalie reached for the cobbler. “I guess that means my peace offering is out of the question.”

“Did I say that?” Olivia demanded, as she moved the cobbler out of Nathalie’s reach. Then she added in a curt voice, “And by the way, you’re forgiven for last night.”

The dark-haired witch replied sarcastically, “Gee, thanks.”

Olivia added, “However, we want to know what happened, last night.”

“Yeah,” Bruce said. “Everything.”

After a brief hesitation, Nathalie did as she was asked. “Okay,” she said to Bruce, “if you insist. For one thing, you and Barbara were at each other like cats in heat. All night long.” The oldest McNeill’s face turned beet red with embarrassment. Harry, on the other hand, chucked with amusement. “I wouldn’t laugh if I were you, Harry. Especially since you were all over Paige Matthews.”

The smile on Harry’s face disappeared. “What? What are you talking about? She’s not even my type!”

“Oh really? Then why were you trying to kiss her?” a smiling Nathalie asked. “I saw you.”

“I . . .” Harry hesitated. A giggle escaped from Olivia’s mouth. He glared at her. “Okay, so I find her a little attractive. Why shouldn’t I? I’m a man. She’s a woman. What’s the big deal?”

Olivia’s mouth curved into a smirk. “Don’t worry, Harry. It’s no big deal.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Nathalie said. “From what I saw, Paige had no problem with returning your kiss.” Again, Olivia giggled. Nathalie stared at her. “What are you laughing at? All Harry did was kiss Paige. He didn’t get into a big fight over her.”

Olivia retorted archly, “Meaning?”

“Meaning, you and Phoebe Halliwell managed to get into a big fight over a certain half-daemon.”

Green eyes narrowed dangerously. “Excuse me?”

“Honey,” Nathalie said, shaking her head, “you don’t want to know the whole truth. Trust me.”

Blind panic struck Olivia. For the umpteenth time since last night’s party, she found herself wondering what happened to her, after drinking Nathalie’s punch. Not even fear of any revelation regarding her true feelings for Cole, could squash her curiosity. “And what exactly is the truth?” she demanded. When Nathalie failed to answer, she added in a voice tinged with steel, “Nat, I suggest that you tell me what happened, now. I don’t like being kept in the dark.”

Nathalie heaved a sigh. “Okay. If you insist.” Then Olivia listen with horror, as the former revealed what happened last night – how one Winifred McKenna had tried to proposition Cole, Olivia and Phoebe’s reactions, and the fight that had ensued between the latter two. “After that,” Nathalie continued, “Cole had sent you, Phoebe, Harry and that Paul Margolin to separate bedrooms to cool off, while I made a bowl of Glogg with some cloves and cedar wood to cleanse out the potion. I don’t know what happened when Cole and Paige went upstairs to give you guys your Glogg, but . . .”

“But what?” Olivia demanded, interrupting. “What about upstairs?”

The dark-haired witch’s eyes grew wide with innocence. “Nothing. I have no idea what happened, upstairs. I only know that Paige gave the Glogg to that Margolin fellow and Phoebe, and Cole did the same for you and Harry.”

A dim memory of a bedroom lingered in the back of Olivia’s mind. Only she could not flesh out the details. “Did something happened between Cole and me?” she asked.

“How would I know?” Innocence continued to linger in Nathalie’s dark eyes. Olivia gave her a suspicious stare. Either the older woman believed that something had transpired between Olivia and Cole. Or knew. The latter filled Olivia with horror.Oh God!

The doorbell rang for the second time. Her mind still fixed on Nathalie’s suggestions, Olivia barely heard it. Again, it rang. “Uh, Livy,” Bruce said, jolting her out of her reverie, “I believe someone is at the door.”

Olivia responded with a vague nod. She walked over to the door and glanced through the peephole. Her heart fluttered at the sight of the figure standing in the corridor. It was Cole.

—————————–

Nine minutes later, Cole beamed out of Olivia’s apartment, holding a bottle of tarragon. He really did not need the herb, but he did need an excuse to visit Olivia and find out if she had recovered from last night’s party. Or if she had remembered anything.

Judging from what he had seen of the McNeill siblings, they had all recovered. But Cole had noticed something else – namely the smug expressions on the faces of the McNeill brothers and Nathalie. And the air of embarrassment that surrounded Olivia whenever she talked with him. And her reserved manner. He had a deep suspicion that Nathalie had told them everything – including her own suspicions of what had happened between Olivia and him, last night. Shit!

After placing the tarragon on his kitchen table, Cole opened the refrigerator and retrieved a bottle of water. He unscrewed the top and took a swallow. Whether or not Olivia had remembered anything, Cole realized that he could no longer dismiss the incident. Thanks to Nathalie’s potion, he now knew about Olivia’s true feelings. That she was in love with him – Cole Turner, aka Belthazor. Cole wondered if she had turned to Paul Margolin out of frustration for Cole’s reluctance to pursue more than a friendship.

But Cole’s reluctance had disappeared. Thanks to Olivia’s burgeoning relationship with Margolin and last night’s revelations, he was through trying to be friends with the redhead. He wanted more with Olivia than friendship. In fact, he simply wanted her. Period. Paul Margolin, as far as Cole was concerned, had just acquired a serious rival for Olivia’s heart.

THE END