“THE DARK KNIGHT RISES” (2012) Review

 

“THE DARK KNIGHT RISES” (2012) Review

After seven years, Christopher Nolan’s three-movie saga about the D.C. Comics character, Batman, finally came to an end. The saga that began with 2005’s “BATMAN BEGINS”, ended with this year’s “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES”.

The new movie, set seven years after 2008’s “THE DARK KNIGHT”, began with the aerial kidnapping of a nuclear scientist by an escaped terrorist named Bane. The scene shifted to Gotham City, where a fund-raiser was being held at Wayne Manor. The only person missing was millionaire Bruce Wayne, who had given up his vigilante activities as Batman after claiming he had murdered former District Attorney Harvey Dent. During the fundraiser, Bruce caught a maid breaking into his private safe. She turned out to be a resourceful cat burglar named Selina Kyle. Aside from a necklace that once belonged to Bruce’s late mother, Selina did not steal any other object from the safe.

Curious over Selina’s actions, Bruce resumed his Batman alter ego and tracked down Selina. He discovered that she had been hired by a rival corporate CEO named John Daggett to lift and steal his fingerprints. Bruce also learned that Daggett had hired the terrorist Bane to attack Gotham’s stock exchange and bankrupt Wayne Enterprises. And along with Police Commissioner James Gordon and Wayne Enterprises executive Lucius Fox, Bruce also discovered that Bane was a former member of the League of Shadows and planned to continue Henri Ducard’s (aka Ra’s al Ghul) goal of Gotham City’s destruction. Bruce asked fellow millionaire Miranda Tate to take control of Wayne Enterprises to ensure that Daggett and Bane will not gain control of their clean energy project, a device designed to harness fusion power.

Re-reading the above made me realize that Christopher and Jonathan Nolan had created a very complicated plot. For me, the plot became even more complicated two-thirds into the movie. “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES” obviously exists under the shadow of its two predecessors – “BATMAN BEGINS” and “THE DARK KNIGHT”. I would say that this especially seemed to be the case for the 2005 movie. Batman and James Gordon’s decision to lie about the circumstances behind Harvey Dent’s death in the second movie had a minor impact upon this third movie. But Bruce’s relationship and later conflict with Ra’s al Ghul seemed to be the driving force behind his conflict with Bane in this third film.

I had heard rumors that Christopher Nolan was initially reluctant to make a third BATMAN movie. Personally, I found that rumor a bit hard to believe, considering how “THE DARK KNIGHT” ended with Batman accepting the blame for Harvey Dent’s crimes and death. But there were certain aspects of the script he wrote with his brother Jonathan that made me wonder if he had truly been reluctant. There were certain aspects of “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES” that I found troubling.

It seemed a pity that the second movie ended with Batman and Jim Gordon’s decision to lie about the circumstances behind Dent’s death. I found their decision unnecessary back in 2008 and I still do. The impact behind their lie proved to be hollow. It merely kept Batman off Gotham City’s streets and led Mayor Anthony Garcia and the city to pass a strong anti-criminal law that proved to be hollow following Bane’s arrival in Gotham City. I also found Bane’s mid-air kidnapping of a nuclear scientist and escape from a U.S. marshal (portrayed by Aidan Gillen) rather somewhat idiotic. I understood that Bane needed that scientist to weaponize the Wayne Enterprise device.  But I never understood why that U.S. marshal failed to take the trouble to identify the hooded prisoner (Bane) before boarding the plane.  In the end, the movie’s opening sequence struck struck me as unnecessarily showy. Was this the Nolan brothers’ way of conveying Bane’s role as a badass to the audience? If so, I was too busy trying to comprehend the villain’s dialogue to care. I understood why Batman had not been seen in Gotham for so long. But what was the reason behind Bruce Wayne’s disappearance from the public eye?  His physical state was not really that severe.  Rachel Dawes’ death? Rachel’s death did not stop him from going after the Joker and Harvey Dent in the last movie’s half hour. Was it an injured leg? How did he injured it? And why did Gotham’s citizens failed to put two-and-two together, when both Bruce and Batman finally appeared in the public eye a day or two apart after many years? The only person who managed to discover Bruce’s alter ego – namely Officer John Blake – did so through a contrived reason.

For me, the movie’s real misstep proved to be Bane’s three-month control over Gotham City. As a former member of Henri Ducard’s League of Shadows, he planned to achieve his former leader’s goal of destroying Gotham City. And he planned to use Wayne Enterprise’s energy device to achieve this. One – why not simply build or snatch his own nuclear device? Why go through so much trouble to get his hands on the energy device? Why did Wayne Enterprises create a device that not only saved energy, but could be used as a bomb, as well? And why did it take three months before the device could become an effective bomb? The Nolans’ script could have frustrated Bane’s attempts to acquire the bomb during that three-month period . . . or anything to spare the audiences of that second-rate version of the French Resistance. The latter scenario seemed so riddled with bad writing that it would take another article to discuss it. And what was the point of the presence of Juno Temple’s character Jen? What was she there for, other than being Selina’s useless and cloying girlfriend? And Wayne Enterprises executive Lucius Fox was last seen declaring his intentions to leave the corporation for good, following Batman’s misuse of cell phones in “THE DARK KNIGHT”. In this movie, he is back, working for Wayne Enterprises. What made him change his mind?

But not all was lost. I found Bruce’s introduction to Selina Kyle very entertaining and sexy. Even better, the incident served as Batman’s re-introduction to Gotham City and allowed him to discover Bane’s plans regarding Wayne Enterprises and the energy device. One of the more interesting consequences of “THE DARK KNIGHT” proved to be Rachel Dawes’ last letter to Bruce. Its revelation by Alfred Pennyworth after seven years led to an emotional quarrel between the millionaire and the manservant and their estrangement. At first, I had balked at the idea of Bane carrying out Ra’s al Ghul’s original goal to destroy Gotham. After all, why would he continue the plans of the very person who had him kicked out of the League of Shadows? But a surprising plot twist made Bane’s plan plausible . . . even when I continue to have problems with his three-month occupation of Gotham.

Many critics had lamented the lack of Heath Ledger’s Joker in the movie. As much as I had appreciated and enjoyed Ledger’s performance in the 2008 movie, I did not need or wanted him in “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES”. Tom Hardy’s performance as the terrorist Bane was good enough for me. Mind you, I found it difficult to understand some of his dialogue. And when I did, he sounded like the now aging Sean Connery. But I cannot deny that Bane made one scary villain, thanks to Hardy’s performance and intimidating presence. Before I saw the movie, I never understood the need for Marion Cotillard’s presence in the film. I thought her character, Miranda Tate, would merely be a bland love interest for Bruce. Not only did Cotillard ended up providing a subtle and intelligent performance, her Miranda Tate proved to be important to the story as the co-investor in the energy device and for the plot twist in the end.

“THE DARK KNIGHT RISES” provided some solid performances from other members of the cast. Matthew Modine shined as the ambitious and arrogant Assistant Police Commissioner Peter Foley, who proved to be capable of character development. Another solid performance came from Brett Cullen, who portrayed a lustful congressman that had the bad luck to cross paths with Selina Kyle. Both Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman continued their excellent performances as Bruce Wayne’s “heart”and “mind”, manservant Alfred Pennyworth and Wayne Enterprises executive Lucius Fox.

In the end, the movie was fortunate to benefit from four outstanding performances. One came from Gary Oldman’s excellent portrayal of the now weary, yet determined police commissioner, James Gordon. His guilt over the Harvey Dent lie and discovery of Batman’s true identity provided Oldman with some of his best moments in the trilogy. Another came from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who was superb as Gotham City beat cop John Blake. The actor did a wonderful job of balancing Officer Blake’s intelligence, passion for justice and disgust toward the bureaucracy.

When I learned that Anne Hathaway would end up being the fifth actress to portray Selina Kyle aka Catwoman, I must admit that I had my doubts. Then I remembered that Hathaway was an Oscar nominee, who has also done action before. Watching her sexy, yet complicated performance as the complex cat burglar removed all of my doubts. She was superb and her sizzling screen chemistry with star Christian Bale made me wish Selina had been Bruce’s love interest throughout the movie. Speaking of Bruce Wayne, Bale returned to portray the Caped Crusader for the third and final time. I must admit that I found his performance more subtle and complex than his performances in the previous two movies. Bale did an excellent job in re-creating a slightly aging Bruce Wayne/Batman, who found himself faced with a more formidable opponent.

I was a little disappointed to see that “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES” lacked the Chicago exteriors of the 2008 movie. In the end, Gotham City resembled a collection of East Coast and British cities. But I cannot deny that I found Wally Pfister’s photography very eye catching. And Hans Zimmer’s entertaining score brought back memories of his earlier work in both the 2005 and 2008 movies.

I have a good deal of complaints about “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES”. It is probably my least favorite entry in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. For me, the movie’s main problem centered around the script written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan. But despite its flaws, the movie still managed to be both entertaining and intriguing. It also has an excellent cast led by the always superb Christian Bale. It was not perfect, but “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES” did entertain me.

“LOST” RETROSPECT: (1.12) “Whatever the Case May Be”

 

“LOST” RETROSPECT: (1.12) “Whatever the Case May Be”

I had never meant to write an article on (1.12) “Whatever the Case May Be”, the Season One episode of ABC’s ”LOST”. Honestly. But after I recently re-watched the episode, I realized that I had to say or write something about it. 

”Whatever the Case May Be” happened to be the second episode that featured Kate Austen as a main character. While frolicking in what looked like a spring, Kate and fellow castaway James “Sawyer” Ford came across another chunk of Oceanic Airlines 815’s fuselage section and several dead passengers. Kate also discovered a silver Halliburton case that she asked Sawyer to retrieve for her. The case belonged to the recently dead U.S. Marshal Edward Mars, who had been escorting Kate back to United States soil in order for her to face criminal charges. Being Kate, she decided to tell Sawyer that he could keep the case . . . before making several attempts to get her hands on it by theft. The case not only contained Marshal Mars’ firearms and some money, but also a sentimental object that meant very much to Kate.

How much did that object mean to Kate? As shown in the episode’s flashbacks, it meant so much to her that she staged a bank robbery (in which she pretended to be a potential loan customer and victim) in New Mexico in order to acquire it from one of the bank’s safety deposit box. It seemed that Marshal Mars had placed it there to entrap Kate. As for the object of Kate’s desire, it turned out to be a toy airplane that once belonged to a former childhood sweetheart named Tom Brennan, whose death she was partially responsible for, as shown in a later episode called (1.22) “Born to Run”. Not only was Kate willing to stage a bank robbery in New Mexico and steal the Marshal’s case on the island for it, she was also willing to manipulate and lie to castaway leader Jack Shephard in order to get her hands on it.

Several “B” plots also abound in this episode. One of them featured on Charlie Pace’s continuing melancholy and guilt over Claire Littleton’s kidnapping at the end of (1.10) “Raised By Another”. In short, Charlie sat around and moped over Claire, while the other castaways moved their belongings to another beach in order to prevent everything and everyone from a rising tide that threatened to wash over their camp. In the end, Rose Nadler helped him snapped out of his gloom with tough words and a prayer. John Locke and Boone Carlyle focused on finding ways to open the hatch they had discovered near the end of(1.11) “Even the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues” and met with failure. And Sayid Jarrah asked Boone’s stepsister, Shannon Rutherford, to help him translate longtime castaway Danielle Rousseau’s maps and notes, which are written in French. His request attracted Boone’s jealous attention.

Did I like ”Whatever the Case May Be”? No, I did not. In my opinion, it was one of the worst episodes from Season One. In other words, I thought it was a piece of crap. One, the entire storyline about Kate’s efforts to get her hands on the toy airplane struck me as an exercise in irrelevancy. The fact that this particular episode was resolved in ”Born to Run”, the next Kate-centric episode, not only convinced me of the uselessness of this storyline, but also the flaky nature of Kate’s personality. Look, I understand that she had felt guilty for inadvertently causing Tom Brennan’s death. But was it really necessary to set in motion a bank robbery in New Mexico or piss off Jack and Sawyer for that damn toy plane? I do not think so.

Kate’s quest for the toy airplane produced two sequences that really annoyed me. One, her attempts to steal the Halliburton case from Sawyer left me shaking my head in disbelief. At one point, I felt as if I was watching two adolescents behaving like ten year-olds. Both of them seemed ridiculous and immature in their efforts to steal the case from each other . . . not sexy. And why did Kate hand over the case to Sawyer in the first place? She could have maintained the lie that the case belonged to her. Nor did she have to tell Sawyer what was inside the case. At least she would have been spared resorting to childish efforts to get the damn thing. The quest for the toy airplane also produced one of the most ludicrous flashbacks in the series’ history, and one of the dumbest bank robberies in movies or television. The fact that Kate had staged the robbery for the airplane makes me want to upchuck. And if she knew that Marshal Mars had placed the airplane inside the bank, why did she have to enter the bank, unmasked? Why not simply act as one of the masked robbers? And if the whole thing was a trap set up by Marshal Mars, where in the hell was he? Where was the stakeout? And what were Damon Lindelof and Jennifer Johnson thinking when they wrote this episode?

And if the main plot seemed ludicrous beyond belief, the subplots were no better. After discovering the infamous hatch to the Swan Station at the end of the previous episode, (1.11) “All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues”, John Locke and Boone Carlyle decided to keep their discovery a secret. Well . . . Locke did. Boone rather idiotically decided to follow his lead. To this day, I am amazed that so many ”LOST” fans had continued to regard Locke as the castaways’ wise mentor by this point in Season One, considering that his decision to keep the hatch a secret struck me as incredibly stupid. Oh well. Perhaps Lindelhof and Johnson needed this secretive behavior as fodder for future storylines. Another subplot featured Sayid Jarrah and Shannon Rutherford’s efforts to translate the charts and notes that he had stolen from Danielle Rousseau in (1.09) “Solitary”. The storyline regarding the charts and notes amounted to nothing. But it did initiate the romance between the former Iraqi soldier and California dance student. We finally come to the subplot regarding Charlie Pace’s guilt and despair over Claire Littleton’s kidnapping and Rose Nadler’s attempts to help him deal with the latter. One, I found subplot boring. And two, Rose’s attempts to revive him from his despair struck me as a perpetration of the ”Religious Black Woman” cliché. Not only could I have done without this subplot, I could have also done without her dialogue.

Many fans have viewed Jack’s behavior toward Kate in this episode as abusive and controlling. Perhaps. Perhaps not. I found his reaction to Kate’s revelation about her tracking skills in ”All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues” as controlling and abusive. Frankly, I thought he was being a prick. However, I completely understood his behavior with Kate in this episode. Honestly? Kate had manipulated him and lied to him for the sake of case and a toy airplane. Instead of keeping the case in the first damn place and explaining to Jack why she wanted it opened, Kate behaved like an erratic child. And Jack treated her like one, in a fit of disgust and anger. Boone continued his verbal abuse of Shannon’s self-esteem in this episode. I realize that she had behaved abominably to him, back in Australia. I also realize that Shannon can be a bitch. But she had done nothing to earn such constant and persistent abuse. So . . . Boone behaved like a prick. Sawyer did not treat anyone with such abuse. I found his efforts to open the case rather childish, but that is all. But I thought that Kate treated him in an abusive manner in an effort to get her hands on the case. I realize that she did not want him to know about her criminal past. But as I had stated earlier, she could have continued to claim the case as hers and recruit Jack’s help to open the damn thing. Instead, she allowed Sawyer to take the case. The she resorted to stealth and physical abuse to get it back. Kate had behaved like a prick . . . or a female version of one.

“Whatever the Case May Be” had one or two virtues. Actually, it had one. Larry Fong’s photography of the Hawaiian jungles and beaches remained fresh and beautiful as ever. But with so much infantile and stupid behavior by the characters, and incompetent writing by Damon Lindelhof and Jennifer Johnson, is it any wonder that I hold this episode in deep contempt?

“NORTH BY NORTHWEST” (1959) Review

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“NORTH BY NORTHWEST” (1959) Review

When producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman first set about creating the James Bond movie franchise, author Ian Fleming – who had written the novels – suggested they hire Hollywood legend, Cary Grant, for the role of the famed British agent. I do not know whether Broccoli and Saltzman seriously considered Fleming’s suggestion, but I cannot help but wonder if had seen the actor in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 thriller, “NORTH BY NORTHWEST”.

“NORTH BY NORTHWEST” originated with a deal Hitchcock had with MGM Studios to do a film version of Hammond Innes’ novel, “The Wreck of the Mary Deare”. Hitchcock recruited a friend of his, screenwriter Ernest Lehman, to write the script. But after several weeks, Lehman found himself unable to write an adaptation. Longing to work with Lehman, Hitchcock suggested that he write something else – namely the ultimate “Hitchcock film”. The results turned out to be a chase film featuring an innocent man accused of a crime he did not commit.

The movie’s story begins with advertising executive Roger O. Thornhill being mistaken for a U.S. government agent named George Kaplan, when he summons a hotel bellhop, who is paging Kaplan at the same time. Two enemy agents named Valerian and Licht kidnap Thornhill and take him to their superior, a major foreign spy named Phillip Vandamm, who is using the Long Island home of a man named Lester Townsend for this meeting. When Thornhill continues to insist that he is not George Kaplan, Vandamm orders his right-hand man Leonard, along with Valerian and Licht to stage a drunk driving death for ad executive. The attempt fails and Thornhill escapes. And when Thornhill fails to convince the law that he had been kidnapped, he sets out to clear his name. He tracks the real Lester Townsend to the United Nations, but the latter is killed by one of Vandamm’s henchman. Thornhill is accused of the crime and he flees. When he learns that Kaplan had checked into a hotel in Chicago, he boards the 20th Century Limited, where he meets an attractive woman named Eve Kendall. She helps him evade the police upon their arrival in Chicago. But unbeknownst to Thornhill, Eve is working with Vandamm and Leonard.

Author and journalist Nick Clooney once described “NORTH BY NORTHWEST” as Alfred Hitchcock’s “most stylish thriller, if not his best”. And I have to agree. “NORTH BY NORTHWEST” proved to be an exciting chase film and travelogue that started in Manhattan and Long Island, and ended up on the side of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Thanks to Lehman’s screenplay, “NORTH BY NORTHWEST” brimmed with sharp dialogue and even sharper characterization. The movie’s opening, which featured Cary Grant’s Thornhill and his secretary engaged in a last minute meeting over his schedule on the streets of Manhattan, gave audience a pretty clear idea of the ad executive’s personality – charming, intelligent, arrogant and impatient. Thornhill is a character that cries for emotional development.

If I must be honest, the characters proved to be the movie’s biggest assets. As much as I like Lehman’s chase story of an innocent man trying to clear his name of murder, I feel that it has some questionable writing. In fact, some of its inconsistencies reminded me of such one would find in a James Bond movie. If Vandamm wanted Thornhill dead that badly, why arrange for the latter’s death at an isolated bus stop in the middle of the Indiana countryside . . . in broad daylight, using a crop duster? Why not have one of his minions quietly put a knife between his ribs on the streets of Chicago? Even arranging Thornhill’s death as a drunk driving incident seemed a bit over-the-top to me. Why not kill Thornhill first, pour alcohol on his body, set the car on fire before sending it over a ledge? I am not claiming to know how Lehman and Hitchcock should have handled these scenarios. But the methods they used for Vandamm’s attempts on Thornhill’s life struck me as similiar to the idiotic methods that many Bond villains used to kill the British agent.

I have to admit that Vandamm’s attempts on Thornhill’s life provided some of the movie’s more memorable moments. The attempt to pass off Thornhill’s death as a drunk driving incident had me on the edge of my seat and at the same, laughing rather hard. A “drunken” Cary Grant really did have me in stitches. I could also say the same about the sequence at the Chicago auction, following the dust cropper incident, in which Thornhill confronted Vandamm and Eve before being hauled away by cops for his hilarious disruption of the auction. The finale sequence at Mount Rushmore brimmed with Hitchcock’s usual style of suspense. But it was the crop duster sequence that truly impressed me. From a narrative point-of-view, the sequence seemed filled with questionable writing. But as a suspenseful and action sequence, I consider it a masterpiece. The most interesting aspect of the crop duster sequence seemed to be its beginning – that fascinating moment in which Thornhill stands at that isolated bus stop for several minutes, staring at another man who has appeared on the scene before the crop duster’s attack. I noticed that director Terence Young did not hesitate to copy it for one action sequence in the 1963 movie, “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”.

The crop duster sequence and many other scenes benefited from Robert Burks’ excellent photography. I was also impressed by George Tomasini’s editing, which struck me as especially effective in the Long Island, crop duster and Mount Rushmore sequences. Composer Bernard Herrmann, who once made an interesting comment on Richard Rodney Bennett’s score for “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, collaborated on many Hitchcock’s films during a nine-year period between 1955 and 1964. One of those scores was the memorable one he wrote for “NORTH BY NORTHWEST”. His score blended well with the opening titled sequence created by Saul Bass.

But as I had stated earlier, the movie’s biggest strength turned out to be the cast. Both Adam Williams and Robert Ellenstein made quite a sinister pair as Vadamm’s two henchmen, Valerian and Licht. Jessie Royce Landis, who was only seven years older than Cary Grant, gave quite a humorous and stylish performance as his witty mother, Mrs. Thornhill. Leo G. Carroll, who later became famous for the 1960s series “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.”, was perfect as the intelligent and manipulative spymaster, “the Professor”.

For me, there were four performances that stood out for me. Martin Landau gave his first stand-out performance as Vandamm’s observant, yet malevolent henchman, Leonard. Unless my eyes were deceiving me, Landau seemed to have given Leonard a slight homosexual subtext that I found interesting. In many ways, James Mason’s Vandamm seemed to be the perfect nemesis for Cary Grant’s Thornhill . . . especially with his silky voice, suave manners and good looks. But Mason made sure that the menace was always there behind the debonair facade. I must admit that Eva Marie Saint would have never been my first choice as the movie’s femme fatale, Eve Kendall. But I had forgotten that Saint was a first-rate actress and Oscar winner. I should not have been surprised by her ability to be chameleon and create a leading female character who seemed to be ahead of her time. However, the man of the hour proved to be Cary Grant. He has portrayed characters more complex than Roger Thornhill. But Lehman’s script still managed to provide plenty of bite to a role that began as a child in a man’s body and developed into a heroic and responsible man who managed to retain his wit. I think that Thornhill may prove to be one of my favorite Grant roles.

I do not feel that “NORTH BY NORTHWEST” was one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best movies. But I cannot deny that I found it to be one of his most stylish and entertaining films. Not only did it feature memorable action sequences, humor and a superb cast led by Cary Grant; I feel that it could have easily served as a template for many James Bond movies throughout the years. I really look forward to watching the movie as many times possible in the future.

“A Wedding in Four Acts” [PG-13] – Act 3 (Part 1)

 

“A WEDDING IN FOUR ACTS”

Act III – Part 1

“Great party, last night,” Paige declared, as she entered the Halliwell kitchen. “A big hit, as far as Livy and the others are concerned. They really loved the male stripper.” 

Piper commented, “And I bet you did, too.” Paige wrinkled her nose. “Anyway,” Piper continued, “I’m also satisfied. With the business P3 made last night. Plus, Mrs. McNeill . . . the Younger . . . had asked me to prepare some hors’derves for the wedding reception.” She indicated the spread of food on the kitchen table. “I’m making Broccoli Quiche, Shrimp Canapes and Deviled Ham pinwheel sandwiches. And I need your help.”

“Swell,” Paige grumbled. “I come down for breakfast and end up being the kitchen help. I supposed you don’t care that I’m one of the bridesmaids, today.”

Removing a plastic bag filled with cooked shrimp from the refrigerator, Piper replied, “Nope, I don’t. Besides, I only have to make the canapés. Phoebe went to the store to get some more mayonnaise and Swiss cheese.”

The kitchen door swung open. “And Phoebe is here,” the middle Charmed One announced breathlessly. She entered the kitchen and closed the door. Dumping her purchase on the table, she added, “Here’s the Swiss cheese, Piper.”

Paige sat in one of the chairs. “So, what are we having for breakfast?”

Piper shook her head. “Sorry, I haven’t had time to make breakfast, yet.”

“I could go to McDonald’s,” Phoebe volunteered. “Who’s in the mood for an Egg McMuffin?”

Paige grimaced. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather have a Sunrise sandwich from Carl’s Jr. With bacon?”

“Carl’s Jr. sounds fine with me,” Piper said. She handed the bag of shrimp to Paige. “Sweetie, do me a favor, while Phoebe gets breakfast. Start peeling the shrimp for me?”

Phoebe added, “And I’ll be heading for Carl’s Jr. Besides a Sunrise sandwich with bacon, what do you guys want?”

Before Paige or Piper could answer, Leo burst into the kitchen. “Leo honey,” Piper began, “Phoebe’s getting breakfast from Carl’s Jr. What do you want?”

“I’ll have orange juice and toast,” Leo replied absent-mindedly.

Paige frowned at him. “Toast? From Carl’s Jr.? Don’t you mean French Toast?”

Leo’s blue eyes focused upon the youngest Charmed One and chilled slightly. “Never mind breakfast,” he said. “I just want to know Paige – why did you tell Cole that I had recommended that ADA job to Paul?”

“Huh?” Paige stared at her brother-in-law with wide eyes. “Leo, what are you talking about?”

Grim-faced, Leo leaned against the kitchen counter. “Last night, I ended up in a fight with Cole . . .”

“Did he hurt you?” a concerned Phoebe asked.

Leo shook his head. “No, it was all words. But he told me that Paige,” he coldly returned his gaze upon the youngest sister, “had told him how Paul found out about the ADA job opening. Through me. And now, Cole is convinced that I had done it to play matchmaker with Olivia and Paul.”

“Well excuse me, Leo!” Paige retorted. “But it was Paul who told me at Nathalie Gleason’s party, last week! And judging from that little dinner party you and Piper gave nearly a month ago, and your expression every time we saw him with Olivia . . . can you really blame Cole for suspecting that you’re playing matchmaker?”

The other two sisters stared at the whitelighter. Piper asked, “Paige, are you suggesting that Leo helped Paul get a job out here, simply to . . . break up Cole and Olivia?”

“There is no Cole and Olivia to begin with!” Leo hotly insisted. “They weren’t even dating!”

Paige spoke up, “But you did tell Paul about the job opening. Right? So that you could hook him up with Olivia?”

“I see nothing wrong with that,” Piper commented. “Paul has a new job with a higher salary. He and Olivia seemed to get along.” She shot her husband, an acidic look. “Of course, someone could have told us what he was up to.”

Phoebe added, “And Olivia could do a lot worse than Paul. Say . . . my ex-husband?”

“Well that’s great, Pheebs,” Paige shot back, “except I don’t see how Paul can be good for Livy, when she doesn’t even love him. And besides . . . I think there’s something a little off about our friendly neighborhood ADA. Like he’s in dire need of a good psychotherapist!”

Leo protested, “What are you saying? That Paul’s crazy? And as Olivia’s whitelighter, I think I did the right thing by . . .”

“Interfering with Olivia’s love life?” Paige suggested sarcastically. “Yeah, I’m sure you feel that way. Only . . . you haven’t been her whitelighter in years!”

“Paige . . .”

The youngest Charmed One rounded on her whitelighter. “If you’re worried about Cole knowing about your little scheme, Leo, don’t bother. Because you might have a bigger problem on your hands. Like a pissed-off witch, if Olivia ever finds out.”

Leo’s face paled.

——–

Slowly, light poured into the darkness of Barbara’s mind. When the darkness finally disappeared, the blond witch blinked her eyes several times, before opening them.

The room looked very unfamiliar with its wood-paneled walls and expensive Louis XV furnishings. Filled with panic at the unfamiliar surroundings, Barbara jerked into a sitting position. Where in the hell was she? The last thing she remembered was encountering the male stripper, who had transformed into a . . .

The door opened and in walked a tall, good-looking man who possessed dark hair and a slender, yet wiry physique. The same man who had once been a blond-haired stripper, last night. “Oh God! It’s you!” Barbara sprung off the bed and back away, bumping into the night stand. “Stay away from me!”

The man smiled. “Do not worry, Signorina. I will not hurt you.” His dark eyes grew threatening. “Unless you give me a reason.”

“Who in the hell are you?” Barbara demanded. “And where am I?”

Bowing, the man continued, “My name is Alessandro. And you’re at the home of Signorina Claudia Della Scalla.”

Barbara grew cold at the mention of her hostess’s name. “Della . . .?” she whispered. Then, “Oh my God! Della Scalla! Olivia was right!”

“There is someone who wishes to speak with you.” Alessandro opened the door and stood aside, while a second figure entered the bedroom. Nick Marcano.

The Stregheria witch smiled broadly. “Barbara! It’s good to see you!”

Barbara marched toward Nick and punched him in the jaw. Hard. He sprawled onto the floor. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Nick?”

Rubbing his jaw, the Streghone protested, “Me? This is not my doing!” He stood up. “I’m . . . Signorina Della Scalla had me sprung from jail. She thought I had killed her sister.”

Searing the other witch with a furious glare, Barbara hissed, “And I bet you made sure that you told her what really happened. Didn’t you?”

“I had no choice!”

Barbara shot back, “If that’s true, why am I here?”

Nick hesitated. “Well . . .”

“Signor Marcano had provided much needed information to the Padronessa,” the incubus explained smoothly. “And he is being rewarded for his troubles.”

“Rewarded?” Barbara frowned. “How?” She turned to Nick. “What exactly did you tell her?” Recalling how Alessandro had captured her in the first place, a horrifying epiphany struck the blond witch. “Goddess! You told her everything about us, didn’t you? About the wedding!”

Nick added, “Signorina Della Scalla needed the information to get close to Bruce. But don’t worry. She won’t kill him before the wedding. She’s going to marry Bruce in your place . . . and then kill him. Eventually. As for us . . . well, how do you feel about becoming Mrs. Nicholas Marcano?” He stared at Barbara with hopeful eyes.

Barbara decided to give Nick an answer that best expressed her feelings. Her fist snaked out and smashed against Nick’s jaw. For the second time. And for the second time, he went sprawling upon the floor. “Does that answer your question?” Barbara coldly replied.

The incubus helped Nick to his feet. “Signorina, I suggest that you refrain from such behavior, again. You should consider yourself lucky that the Padronessa has decided to spare your life. For Signor Marcano’s sake. Meanwhile, you can shower and dress. There are some clothes in the closet. And a servant will bring you breakfast. Good day, Signorina Bowen.” Alessandro left the room, dragging along a semi-conscious Nick.

Once the door closed behind the pair, Barbara rushed forward. She re-opened the door and tried to leave the bedroom. But she was unable to, thanks to a force-field blocking the doorway. In other words, she was trapped. And unless she could escape in time to warn her family and the McNeills, Bruce will end up dead by the time his honeymoon ended.

———

The pounding on the door awaken Claudia from her deep slumber. She rolled over to her right side, heaved a sigh and tried to resume her sleep. The pounding resumed. Then the doorbell rang. “Barbara! Hello? Wake up!”

Barbara? Claudia blinked several times before her eyes flickered open. She sat up, glanced around the bedroom, and remembered. Oh yes. The bedroom belonged to the Streghone’s little Wiccan witch. Claudia’s eyes swept over the room. Very tastefully furnished. The succubus could not help but feel impressed by the witch’s taste.

Ding-dong! The doorbell rang for the second time. Claudia waited for a servant to respond . . . until she remembered that the Bowen witch did not have servants. How barbaric. Heaving a sigh, she forced herself out of bed and started toward the apartment’s living room. A quick glance at a mirror hanging near the door informed Claudia that she was not in disguise. She morphed herself into the image of the blond-haired witch and opened the door.

“Here comes the bride! Here comes the bride!” sang two women, as they entered the apartment. One of them, the Vodoun priestess, swept her eyes over Claudia. The latter’s hand immediately flew to the small amulet hanging from her neck. “Damn Barbara! Are you just getting up? It’s a quarter past ten!”

Claudia stared at the other two. “After ten? Get ready? Why should . . .?” Her mind immediately grasped the situation. “Oh! Yeah. The wedding. How long do I have?”

“Man, you have lost it this morning!” the redheaded witch declared. “I thought you would have been eating breakfast by now. Where’s your wedding dress?” She swept past Claudia and into the bedroom.

Wedding dress? Several seconds passed before the succubus realized that she did not know where to find it. “I . . . uh . . .”

“I’ve got it!” the McNeill witch cried. She re-entered the living-room, carrying two plastic-covered garments. “I’ve got your going-away dress, as well. Why don’t you take a shower and get dressed, so we can leave? We can get breakfast at my parents’ house.”

Claudia blinked. “Oh. Okay.” She started to turn away.

“What’s that?” The Vodoun priestess pointed at the amulet hanging from Claudia’s neck. The same amulet that contained a spell to block any power from another telepath.

Being the quick-witted creature that she was, Claudia immediately came up with an answer. “Oh. That.” She fingered the amulet. “It’s a good luck piece. For the wedding.”

The priestess, whose name Claudia recalled was Cecile, continued to stare at the amulet. “That’s an interesting symbol for good luck. What language is it? Where did it come from?”

Panic quickly became relief when the other woman interrupted. “Hello? Ladies? We have a wedding to attend. We don’t have much time.”

Claudia used the warning to excuse herself and return to the bedroom. Once inside, she summoned her right-hand man, Leonardo. The incubus materialized after her third cry. “Yes Padronessa?” he responded with a bow.

Throwing off her robe in a theatrical manner, Claudia said, “One of the women in the other room – the black woman . . .”

“The Vodoun mami, Dubois,” Leonard added.

Claudia continued, “I want you to find someone to keep an eye on her. Get Giancarlo. She has developed an interest in my amulet. And I’m not sure that it is blocking her power, completely.”

Leonardo said, “I will summoned him, right away.”

Nodding Claudia added, “Bueno. Now all I want him to do is observe her. But if she becomes a problem . . . have Giancarlo kill her. If necessary.”

———

The solid redwood door swung open and Cole, along with his companion, found themselves facing a surprised-looking major-domo. “Mr. Turner,” Davies greeted, staring at the woman clutching the half-daemon’s arm, “welcome back. Come in.”

The pair entered the McNeills’ house. Veronica Altman glanced around the foyer with admiring eyes. Cole noticed that her lips had puckered for a whistle. Fortunately, not a sound came out. Especially since Gweneth McNeill chose that moment to enter the foyer.

“Cole!” The middle-aged redhead embraced her new visitor. Then she pecked his cheek. “Darling, I’m so glad that you’re here. Jack needs help supervising the set-up for the ceremony in the garden. Harry is upstairs, babysitting the groom.” Her green eyes fell upon Veronica. “Oh. Who is this?”

Cole responded with a slight cough. “Uh Gwen, this is Veronica Altman. She’s a fellow attorney at my firm. Veronica, this is Gweneth . . .”

“Gweneth McNeill.” Veronica eagerly shook the chef’s hands. “I’m a big fan of yours. In fact, I even have two of your cookbooks.”

Flattery lit up Gweneth’s eyes. “Really? How lovely! Which two books do you have?”

An excited Veronica continued, “Well, I have the one on British cooking and the Fifty Simple Recipes cookbook. They’re great!”

It took all of Cole’s efforts not to wince at Veronica’s adulation. Or kick her in the shin and tell her to ease up on the celebrity worship. But since the other attorney was doing him a favor, Cole remained silent. A few minutes later, the subject of cookbooks finally ended. “I would really love to chat a little longer, Ms. Altman,” Gweneth said, “but I have a wedding to organize. Would you excuse . . .?”

The front door swung open and three women entered the house – Cecile, Barbara, and Olivia. “We’re here!” the latter declared loudly. “Mom, Cecile and I finally got Barbara . . .” She stopped short at the sight of Cole and Veronica standing next to each other. “Oh. Cole.” A tinge of jealousy crept into her voice – much to Cole’s satisfaction. “Who’s your friend? She looks familiar.”

Suppressing a smile, Cole replied, “You remember Veronica Altman from my firm, don’t you? I believe you two had once met at some office party.”

“Actually, we’ve met twice,” Veronica said, offering her hand to Olivia, who coolly regarded it. “At the Christmas office party and at the firm’s charity benefit, last February. Nice to see you, again, Olivia. It is Olivia, right?”

A cool smile touched Olivia’s lips. She finally shook Veronica’s hand. “Oh yes. I remember you. From the charity benefit.”

Cole turned Veronica’s attention to the other women. “By the way, this is Cecile Dubois. She’s a friend of Olivia’s. And so is Barbara,” he said, indicating the blond-haired woman. “Who happens to be the bride.”

Veronica shook Cecile’s hands and smiled at Barbara. “Congratulations on the wedding. I hope you’ll be happy.”

The bride-to-be responded with a wan smile. “Thanks.” To Cole’s surprise, he felt a familiar tingle at the nape of his neck. The last time he had felt such a sensation . . .

“I hope that you’ll enjoy the wedding, Ms. Altman,” Gweneth said, interrupting Cole’s thoughts. “I believe it will be quite different from what you’re used to.”

Veronica’s smoky gray eyes widened. “Oh?”

“Our family and Barbara’s family are into what is known as New Age religion. It’s a new kind of religion based on some old Celtic Pagan one.”

Nodding, Veronica said, “That should be no problem. I mean, this is San Francisco. New Age religion has been around for the past 30 or 40 years in this town. At the last wedding I had attended, the bride and groom were married in a some kind of old Romanian ceremony.” She turned to Cole. “Remember Cole? It was at Stefan Schroeder’s wedding, nearly two weeks ago.”

Cole became aware of eyes staring at him. “That’s strange,” Olivia said thoughtfully. “You never mentioned anything about attending a wedding to me.”

Despite the intensity radiating from Olivia’s green eyes, Cole maintained his composure. “You weren’t available that day. I believe you and Paul had taken a trip to Napa Valley.”

Olivia’s eyes flickered. “Oh.”

Tension surrounded the six people like a heavy fog. Mercifully, Gweneth broke the silence. “Well, I’m sure we would all love to stand around and talk, but I have a wedding to supervise. Jack is waiting for Cole, and I’m sure that you girls need to get ready.”

Her words did the trick. Gweneth exchanged a few more words with Veronica and left. Olivia, along with Cecile and Barbara started upstairs. As they climbed the staircase, Olivia shot a quick glare at Cole and Veronica.

“Looks like your plan is working,” Veronica commented, after the three other women disappeared upstairs. “Did you see the look your friend gave us?”

Cole sighed. “Oh yeah. I saw.” Only now, he began to wonder if he had gone too far with this jealousy scheme.

END OF ACT III – Part 1

“The Wrong Class”

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“THE WRONG CLASS”

After two seasons of viewing Britain’s ITV series, “DOWNTON ABBEY”, it occurred to me that there was something off about Julian Fellowes’ portrayal of one of the major characters. That character is Matthew Crawley. And it is an error that I am surprised Fellowes had made. 

“DOWNTON ABBEY” began with news of the sinking of the White Star liner, the R.M.S. Titanic in April 1912. This famous event also caused the deaths of James and Patrick Crawley, the heirs presumptive to the Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham. This disruption in the line for the Grantham earldom forced Lord Grantham to seek his next heir, due to the fact that the title and estates only pass to male Crawleys and not to any of his three daughters. Lord Grantham’s new heir turns out to be his third cousin once removed, Matthew Crawley.

Introduced at the end of the series’ first episode, Matthew is a solicitor from Manchester, who lives with his widowed mother, former nurse Mrs. Isobel Crawley. When he receives word that he is to be the Earl of Grantham’s new heir, Matthew does not seem particular pleased. He is very reluctant to accept Lord Grantham’s invitation to move to Downton Abbey and become part of the community. Matthew is only willing to do so, only if he can continue his legal work. Members of the Crawley family such as eldest daughter Lady Mary and her grandmother Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham; along with servants such as butler Charles Carson seem to confirm Matthew’s worst opinions about life among the aristocracy. This hostility is especially apparent in his early relationship with Lady Mary and his reaction to acquiring a new valet/butler for his and Isobel’s residence, the Crawley House. Through Matthew’s first encounters with his Crawley cousins and Molesley, his new valet/butler; series creator Julian Fellowes emphasized Matthew’s social status as a member of the middle-class. And while the majority of the series’ fans and media seemed to accept this view, I find it hard to believe and accept.

These same viewers and the media seemed to believe that class structure and status in Edwardian Britain – especially for the upper classes – depends upon the size of an individual’s bank account. I am afraid that they would be wrong. Class was viewed differently than it is today. During the era of “DOWNTON ABBEY”, an individual’s social status was determined by “bloodline”, not the amount of money one possessed. This was especially true for members of the upper classes. To be a member of the upper class, one has to be part of a family that has owned land in the form of country estates for several generations. The owner of that estate was only required to in an administrative capacity and required tenant farms to earn an income. In other words, that person would be a member of the landed gentry. When an individual also has a title courtesy of royalty, he or she is considered an aristocrat. And his or her family members are also considered aristocrats . . . including cousins.

Despite being born in a middle-class environment and practicing a profession that society would view as an example of that particular class, Matthew Crawley has been a member of Britain’s upper class since birth. More importantly, as third cousin once removed and heir presumptive to the Earl of Grantham, he is also a member of the aristocracy, despite his upbringing. In fact, one can say the same about his late father, Dr. Reginald Crawley. Becoming a physician, marrying a woman from the middle-class and living in that existence did not change Dr. Crawley’s social status – something that he passed to his son, Matthew.

If the Matthew had been born out of wedlock, he would have genuinely been part of the middle-class. If his mother Isobel had been a member of Britain’s landed gentry or aristocracy instead of Dr. Crawley, Fellowes would have been correct to label Matthew as middle-class. This fate certainly awaits Lady Sybil and Tom Bronson’s new child . . . that is, if Tom manages to become a successful journalist. The Bronsons’ new child will certainly be regarded as someone from a lower class by those from the Crawleys’ social circle.

Why did Julian Fellowes label Matthew as a member of the middle-class in his script? AS a member of the upper class and a peer, he should have known better. Has he, like many others today, developed the habit of judging class solely plutocracy . . . mere wealth? That would have worked if “DOWNTON ABBEY” was set in the present time. But the series is set during a period in Britain in which class was still judged by bloodline, not the size of a bank account.

To label Matthew Crawley as a middle-class man, due to the environment in which he was raised . . . and despite his legitimate blood connections to the aristocratic Crawleys, was a mistake. It is not a mistake that will have major consequences on the series’ story lines. In fact, it is not a major mistake period. But I cannot help but feel amused whenever someone erroneously label Matthew as a member of the middle-class.

“THE BOURNE LEGACY” (2012) Review

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“THE BOURNE LEGACY” (2012) Review

Following the success of the 2007 movie, “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”, Universal Pictures announced its intentions to release a fourth movie featuring the amnesiac CIA assassin, Jason Bourne. However, their plans nearly folded when actor Matt Damon announced that he would not do a fourth movie.

Damon’s announcement failed to put a final kibosh on Universal’s plans. Instead, the studio and writer-director Tony Gilroy went ahead with another movie about the CIA assassination programs in which Jason Bourne had participated. Instead of bringing back director Paul Greengrass, Universal and Gilroy (who had written the first three movies) hired Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner to portray a second CIA assassin – Aaron Cross. With Gilroy in the director’s chair, the results led to the fourth movie called “THE BOURNE LEGACY”.

The movie’s title came from Eric Van Lustbader’s 2004 novel, but its plot is completely different. “THE BOURNE LEGACY” introduced a third black ops program called Operation Outcome. Unlike Operations Treadstone and Blackbriar, Outcome was specifically created by the U.S. Department of Defense and it enhances the physical and mental abilities of field operatives through pills referred to as “chems”. The movie opens with one of its operatives – Aaron Cross – engaged in a training assignment in Alaska. After Cross traverses rugged terrain to a remote cabin, he meets its operator, an exiled Outcome operative, Number Three.

During Cross’ time in Alaska, the Blackbriar and Treadstone programs are publicly being exposed (during the events of the previous film, “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”), leading the FBI and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to investigate CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy, Blackbriar supervisor Noah Vosen, Treadstone clinical researcher Dr. Albert Hirsch and CIA Director Ezra Kramer. Kramer requests help from Eric Byer, a retired Air Force colonel responsible for overseeing the CIA’s clandestine operations. Byer, who had originally recruited Cross, discovers potentially damaging video on the Internet in which the lead researchers for Treadstone and Outcome – especially Hirsch – appear at professional functions in public. To prevent the Treadstone/Blackbriar investigation from finding and revealing Outcome’s top-secret scientific advances, Byer decides to end Outcome and kill its agents and medical personnel. He sees this sacrifice as acceptable because the government has already separately initiated next-generation “beta programs”.

Byer attempts to kill both Cross and Number Three by sending a drone bomb to destroy the cabin. Number Three is killed and Cross manages to survive, due to being outside when the bomb dropped. Byer makes another attempt to kill Cross with a second drone and unbeknownst to him, ends up killing a wolf pack. Cross learns of a massacre at Outcome’s private research lab, conducted by a chemically brainwashed scientist. The sole survivor is geneticist Dr. Marta Shearing, whom Cross later saves from CIA assassins. He hopes that Dr. Shearing can help him wean or “viral” off the chemicals and at the same time, save both of them from being killed by Byer and the Department of Defense.

When Universal first leaked news of a fourth movie with Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, I did not exactly embrace the idea. As far as I was concerned, three was enough. When Damon announced that he would not reprise the Bourne role, I felt a surge of relief. As much as I had enjoyed the third BOURNE movie, I felt it was a bit of a comedown after the first two movies. Then I heard news that Universal and Tony Gilroy was going ahead with a fourth movie . . . without Damon. Again, I dismissed the idea of going to see this new BOURNE movie, until I learned that Jeremy Renner had been cast in the lead. Since I am a fan of Renner’s, I decided to go see this fourth film. However, I did not believe I would enjoy it as much as the first three.

Like the previous three movies, “THE BOURNE LEGACY” is not perfect. One, I never understood the need for Tony Gilroy to create a third black ops program for the franchise. Considering that Treadstone and the current Blackbriar programs were in danger of exposure by the end of “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”, I was surprised that Gilroy did not simply make Cross a Blackbriar operative. In other words, I found the addition of a third black ops program rather irrelevant. Unfortunately, the movie also featured the continuing presence of CIA Director Ezra Kramer. His presence in the third movie struck me as writing blooper on Gilroy’s part. His presence in this fourth movie is a continuation of that blooper. For some reason, Gilroy decided to utilize Paul Greengrass’ shaky cam style of filming . . . much to my annoyance. My biggest problem with “THE BOURNE LEGACY” was the ending. I found it vague, rather sudden and anti-climatic. When the movie ended with Cross and Dr. Shearing somewhere in the South China Seas and Pamela Lundy in trouble with Federal authorities for revealing the details of the Treadstone and Blackbriar programs, the first words that left my mouth were “Is that it?”. As far as I was concerned, the BOURNE franchise required a fifth movie to tie up the loose plots.

Despite the ending, despite the continuing presence of Ezra Kramer and despite the Greengrass filming and editing style; I enjoyed “THE BOURNE LEGACY” very much. Who am I kidding? I enjoyed it a lot. In fact, I would rank it second of the four movies. I feel that Gilroy did a slightly better job of meshing the plot from “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” with this film, than meshing the third film with the second one, “THE BOURNE SUPREMACY”. A throwaway discussion between Kramer and Noah Vosen regarding Pamela Lundy in the third film finally came to fruition by the end of this movie. The movie also explored – during most of its 135 minutes – Cross’ difficulties in dealing with his dependency upon the “chems”. Like the other three movies in the franchise, “THE BOURNE LEGACY” featured some first-rate action sequences. My favorites include Cross’ use of the wolf pack to distract the second drone bomb from himself, the massacre at the Operation Outcome lab that featured a chilling performance by Željko Ivanek, and the long chase sequence in Manila, the Philippines. But my favorite sequence featured Cross’ rescue of Dr. Shearing from the CIA assassins.

The best thing that Tony Gilroy ever did for this movie was to avoid making Aaron Cross into a Jason Bourne 2.0. He did this by creating Cross as a completely personality – verbose, more extroverted and an acute judge of character. But what really made Cross worked as a character was Jeremy Renner’s performance. Some critic once said that what was the point in watching a BOURNE movie without Matt Damon. Well, the first BOURNE production I ever saw was the 1988 miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain. And he was great. I also enjoyed Damon as Bourne, but . . . honestly? I did not really miss him, due to Renner’s performance.

The movie also benefited from Rachel Weisz’s excellent performance as Operation Outcome medical researcher, Dr. Marta Shearing. Weisz’s Shearing was a quiet, intense personality, whose ordered life was thrown upside down by her brainwashed colleague and later, the CIA. Weisz was exceptional in the scene featuring the CIA assassins’ murder attempt on her. More importantly, the actress and Renner proved to have a superb and somewhat humorous screen chemistry. Another excellent performance came from Edward Norton, who portrayed the ex-Air Force colonel Eric Byer. What I liked about Norton’s performance was that he portrayed Byer without the occasional frantic behavior that marked David Strathairn or Chris Cooper’s performances. Stacy Keach, whom I have not seen in several years, portrayed a high ranking Federal official named Mark Turso. I cannot recall ever seeing him in a villainous role (at least not to my knowledge), but I must admit that I found his performance very impressive. Oscar Isaac, whom I last saw in “W.E.” and “ROBIN HOOD”, gave an effective and subtle performance as the other Outcome agent, Number Three. It was nice to see Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn and Albert Finney again. But they were not on the screen long enough for me to judge their performances.

Like I had earlier stated, “THE BOURNE LEGACY” was not perfect. But I did enjoy it very much. And I am happy to announce that Universal has recently decided to green light a fifth film with Jeremy Renner reprising his role as Aaron Cross. His performance, along with Rachel Weisz and the rest of the cast, made this movie very enjoyable for me, along with a script that I believe was slightly better than the first and third movies. I only hope that the fifth movie will prove to be just as entertaining.

Button Rings and Necklaces For Sale!

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Now on sale is a collection of button rings and necklaces that can be found on this Etsy SITE

BUTTON RINGS AND NECKLACES FOR SALE!

Owner Thelizabeth11 created the rings and necklaces from a collection of vintage accessories that date as far back as the Victorian Era. Costs range from the low prices of $6.00 to $15.00, along with a shipping cost.

Also available for sale are colorful picture frames with illustrations such as the one pictured below:

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The cost of these combinations of picture frames and illustrations range from $25.00 to $45.00, along with a shipping cost.

Don’t miss the opportunity to purchase any of these beautiful gifts for your enjoyment!

Understanding “BABYLON FIVE” (4.06) “Into the Fire”

UNDERSTANDING “BABYLON FIVE” (4.06) “INTO THE FIRE”

I have seen the Season Four episode, (4.06) “Into the Fire” on numerous occasions, since I first started watching “BABYLON 5”some thirteen years ago. 

My opinion of “Into the Fire” had always been somewhat lukewarm in the past. When I first saw it, I assumed it would be another episode that featured a large-scale battle – similar to episodes like (1.13) “Signs and Portents”(3.10) “Severed Dreams” and(4.15) “No Surrender, No Retreat”. There were battle sequences featured in “Into the Fire”, but to the extent that I would consider it an action-heavy episode.

Sue me. I was young and stupid in those days. I thought a top-notch “BABYLON FIVE” episode should always consist of a large-scale battle. But I finally saw the light. I finally understood what “Into the Fire” was really about. Well, I take that back. I have always understood since I first saw it. But I was so disappointed by the lack of a real battle that I allowed the message to pass over my head.

But not this time. Anticipating to be bored out of my mind, I finally allowed J. Michael Straczynski’s message to filter through. I finally understood and accepted the messages about parental or colonial figures letting go and allowing the young – whether they were individuals or nations to grow in their own ways. And in the end, it brought tears to my eyes. Much to my surprise. Thank you Mr. Straczynski for a first-rate television episode. And please accept my apologies for allowing so many years to pass before finally getting the message.

“VANITY FAIR” (2004) Review

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“VANITY FAIR” (2004) Review

William Makepeace Thackery’s 1848 novel about the life and travails of an ambitious young woman in early 19th century has generated many film and television adaptations. One of them turned out to be the 2004 movie that was directed by Mira Nair.

“VANITY FAIR” covers the early adulthood of one Becky Sharp, the pretty and ambitious daughter of an English not-so-successful painter and a French dancer during the early years from 1802 to 1830. The movie covers Becky’s life during her impoverished childhood with her painter father, during her last day as a student at Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for Young Ladies, where she meets her only friend Amelia Sedley – the only daughter of a slightly wealthy gentleman and her years as a governess for the daughters of a crude, yet genial baronet named Sir Pitt Crawley. While working for the Crawleys, Becky meets and falls in love with Sir Pitt’s younger son, Captain Rawdon Crawley. When Sir Pitt proposes marriage to Becky, she shocks the family with news of her secret marriage to Rawdon. The couple is ostracized and ends up living in London on Rawdon’s military pay and gambling winnings. They also become reacquainted with Amelia Sedley, who has her own problems. When her father loses his fortune, the father of her beau, George Osborne, tries to arrange a marriage between him and a Jamaican heiress. Leery of the idea of marrying a woman of mixed blood, he marries Amelia behind Mr. Obsorne’s back, and the latter disinherits him. Not long after George and Amelia’s marriage, word reaches Britain of Napoleon’s escape from Elba and control of France. Becky and Amelia follow Rawdon, George, and Dobbin, who are suddenly deployed to Brussels as part of the Duke of Wellington’s army. And life for Becky and those close to her prove to be even more difficult.

The first thing I noticed about “VANITY FAIR” was that it was one of the most beautiful looking movies I have ever seen in recent years. Beautiful and colorful. A part of me wonders if director Mira Nair was responsible for the movie’s overall look. Some people might complain and describe the movie’s look as garish. I would be the first to disagree. Despite its color – dominated by a rich and deep red that has always appealed to me – “VANITY FAIR” has also struck me as rather elegant looking film, thanks to cinematographer Declan Quinn. But he was not the only one responsible for the film’s visual look. Maria Djurkovic’s production designs and the work from the art direction team – Nick Palmer, Sam Stokes and Lucinda Thomson. All did an excellent job of not only creating what I believe to be one of the most colorful and elegant films I have ever seen, but also in re-creating early 19th century Britain, Belgium, Germany and India. But I do have a special place in my heart for Beatrix Aruna Pasztor’s costume designs. I found them absolutely ravishing. Colorful . . . gorgeous. I am aware that many did not find them historically accurate. Pasztor put a bit more Hollywood into her designs than history. But I simply do not care. I love them. And to express this love, the following is a brief sample of her costumes worn by actress Reese Witherspoon:

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I understand that Witherspoon was pregnant at the time and Pasztor had to accommodate the actress’ pregnancy for her costumes. Judging from what I saw on the screen, I am beginning to believe that Witherspoon’s pregnancy served her role in the story just fine.

Now that I have raved over the movie’s visual look and style, I might as well talk about the movie’s adaptation. When I first heard about “VANITY FAIR”, the word-of-mouth on the Web seemed to be pretty negative. Thackery’s novel is a long one – written in twenty parts. Naturally, a movie with a running time of 141 minutes was not about to cover everything in the story. And I have never been one of those purists who believe that a movie or television adaptation had to be completely faithful to its source. Quite frankly, it is impossible for any movie or television miniseries to achieve. And so, it was not that surprising that the screenplay written by Julian Fellowes, Matthew Faulk and Mark Skeet would not prove to be an accurate adaptation. I expected that. However, there were some changes I could have done without.

Becky Sharp has always been one of the most intriguing female characters in literary history. Among the traits that have made her fascinating were her ambitions, amorality, talent for manipulation and sharp tongue. As much as I enjoyed Reese Witherspoon’s performance in the movie – and I really did – I thought it was a mistake for Fellowes, Faulk and Skeet to make Becky a more “likeable” personality in the movie’s first half. One, it took a little bite not only out of the character, but from the story’s satirical style, as well. And two, I found this change unnecessary, considering that literary fans have always liked the darker Becky anyway. Thankfully, this vanilla-style Becky Sharp disappeared in the movie’s second half, as the three screenwriters returned to Thackery’s sharper and darker portrayal of the character. I was also a little disappointed with the movie’s sequence featuring Becky’s stay at the Sedley home and her seduction of Amelia’s older brother, Jos. I realize that as a movie adaptation, “VANITY FAIR” was not bound to be completely accurate as a story. But I was rather disappointed with the sequence featuring Becky’s visit to the Sedley home at Russell Square in London. Perhaps it was just me, but I found that particular sequence somewhat rushed. I was also disappointed by Nair and producer Jannette Day’s decision to delete the scene featuring Becky’s final meeting with her estranged son, Rawdy Crawley. This is not out of some desire to see Robert Pattinson on the screen. Considering that the movie’s second half did not hesitate to reveal Becky’s lack of warmth toward her son, I felt that this last scene could have remained before she departed Europe for India with Jos.

Despite my complaints and the negative view of the movie by moviegoers that demanded complete accuracy, I still enjoyed “VANITY FAIR” very much. Although I was a little disappointed in the movie’s lighter portrayal of the Becky Sharp, I did enjoy some of the other changes. I had no problem with the addition of a scene from Becky’s childhood in which she first meets Lord Steyne. I felt that this scene served as a strong and plausible omen of her future relationship with the aristocrat. Unlike others, I had no problems with Becky’s fate in the end of the movie. I have always liked the character, regardless of her amoral personality. And for once, it was nice to see her have some kind of happy ending – even with the likes of the lovesick Jos Sedley. Otherwise, I felt that “VANITY FAIR” covered a good deal of Thackery’s novel with a sense of humor and flair.

I have always found it odd that most people seemed taken aback by an American in a British role more so than a Briton in an American role. After all, it really depends upon the individual actor or actress on whether he or she can handle a different accent. In the case of Reese Witherspoon, she used a passable British accent, even if it was not completely authentic. More importantly, not only did she give an excellent performance, despite the writers’ changes in Becky’s character, she was also excellent in the movie’s second half, which revealed Becky’s darker nature.

Witherspoon was ably assisted with a first-rate cast. The movie featured fine performances from the likes of James Purefoy, Deborah Findley, Tony Maudsley, Geraldine McEwan, Eileen Atkins, Douglas Hodge, Natasha Little (who portrayed Becky Sharp in the 1998 television adaptation of the novel), and especially Romola Garai and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Amelia Sedley and George Osborne. But I was especially impressed by a handful of performances that belonged to Bob Hoskins, Rhys Ifans and Gabriel Byrne. Bob Hoskins was a delight as the slightly crude and lovesick Sir Pitt Crawley. Rhys Ifans gave one of his most subtle performances as the upright and slightly self-righteous William Dobbins, who harbored a unrequited love for Amelia. Jim Broadbent gave an intense performance as George’s ambitious and grasping father. And Gabriel Byrne was both subtle and cruel as the lustful and self-indulgent Marquis of Steyne.

In the end, I have to say that I cannot share the negative opinions of “VANITY FAIR”. I realize that it is not a “pure” adaptation of William Makepeace Thackery’s novel or that it is perfect. But honestly, I do not care. Despite its flaws, “VANITY FAIR” proved to be a very entertaining movie for me. And I would have no problem watching it as much as possible in the future.

“A Wedding in Four Acts” [PG-13] – Act 2 (Part 3)

“A WEDDING IN FOUR ACTS”

ACT II – Part 3

Cole and Andre were among the last guest to arrive at the Vorando Club that night. Everyone else seemed to be there – including the McNeill men, Darryl, Leo, Paul Margolin, personal friends of Bruce, a handful of Golden Horn employees and . . . Jason Dean. The latter’s presence took Cole by surprise. He had no idea that Dean was friends with either Bruce or Harry.

The red-haired witch rushed forth to greet the two newcomers. “I see you finally made it,” he commented. “I was beginning to worry.”

“Sorry we’re late,” Cole apologized. “I had an errand to run, on my way home.” He nodded at the newspaper publisher. “I uh, didn’t realize you were going to invite him.”

Harry sighed. “I really had not planned on it. But Bruce asked me to extend an invitation.”

Cole’s brows lifted questioningly. “The question is . . . why?”

“After that article on the Golden Horn in SAN FRANCISCO TODAY, Jason had changed his mind about printing his own article in the BAY-MIRROR. Bruce found out about it and asked me to invite him to the party.”

“Great,” Cole grumbled. “Now I have to deal with both Margolin and Dean, tonight.”

Andre asked, “And who is this Dean character?”

“Jason Dean, publisher of the SAN FRANCISCO BAY-MIRROR newspaper,” Cole answered. “He’s Phoebe’s boss and present boyfriend.” He paused momentarily. “And Olivia’s ex.”

Harry added, “Ex-boyfriend.”

A light chuckle escaped from Andre’s mouth. “Wait a minute! You mean to say that you and this fellow Dean . . . switched partners?”

“Considering that I’ve never dated Olivia, I don’t see how that’s possible,” Cole retorted.

Harry quickly spoke up. “Hey, why don’t you two mingle a little? I have to speak with Riggerio about the booze. Would you believe it? We’re already running low.” He walked away.

The two friends glanced around the club and spotted Darryl Morris sampling food from the refreshment table. “Darryl!” Cole greeted cheerfully.

The police inspector whirled around. “Hey Cole,” he replied. His eyes scrutinized the half-demon’s companion. “I guess you must be . . .”

“Andre. Andre Morrell.” The houngan offered his hand. Darryl shook it. “I’m uh, an old friend of Cole’s. And Cecile’s boyfriend.”

Nodding, Darryl replied, “Yeah, Cecile. Are you . . . Voo . . . I mean, Vodoun, like her?”

Cole spoke up. “Andre is a priest. A houngan.”

“And are you as powerful as Cecile?” Darryl asked.

Andre shrugged his shoulders. “Not really.”

“Bullshit!” Cole retorted fondly. “Don’t let him fool you, Darryl. He’s very powerful. Anyway, Andre, this is Darryl Morris, Olivia’s partner. He is also an old friend of the Halliwells.”

The Vodoun priest’s eyes narrowed. “Darryl Morris? You’re the one who was possessed by Dako’s spirit, last December. Right?”

“Unfortunately, yes.” Darryl heaved a large sigh. “That’s one experience I never want to experience again. Cecile told me that his spirit hasn’t really been vanquished.”

Andre responded with a disarming smile. “Afraid not. His spirit was probably returned to the netherworld. We Vodouns believe that death is not the end . . . if you know what I mean. Dako can be summoned again . . . unless his loa has been reborn in another body.”

Loa?” Darryl frowned. “That’s spirit, right?”

“Yeah.” Andre added, “Cecile had told me that some warlocks had Dako’s spirit trapped in some urn or jug. And that someone had sent it to them.”

Cole said, “Some bokor named William Dagbani. He’s never been found by the police. Just disappeared . . .” He halted at the sight of Leo, Margolin and Jason Dean approaching them. “Look who’s here,” he murmured. “Three of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”

“Gentlemen,” Jason announced politely. “Enjoying yourself?”

Darryl smiled. “Very much. How about you?”

Jason replied, “I’m fine.” He turned to Andre. “Are you a friend of Bruce’s?”

“You can say that,” Andre said. “But I’m also a friend of Cecile Dubois’. And Cole’s. Andre Morrell.”

The publisher’s smile lost some of its warmth. “Oh. Yeah. Nice to meet you, too.”

Margolin offered his hand to Andre. “Paul Margolin. I met Cecile, two days ago.”

Andre shook Paul’s hand. “Oh yeah. She told me. She also told me that you work at the . . .”

“At the District Attorney’s Office. I’m an ADA.” Paul finally acknowledged Cole’s presence with a nod. “Turner.” Then he returned his attention to Andre. “What exactly do you do?”

Andre replied, “I’m a private investigator in New Orleans.”

“Oh really,” Jason said. “I’m a newspaper publisher. For the SAN FRANCISCO BAY-MIRROR. Perhaps we can use your skills here in San Francisco. Especially since our police department,” he gave Darryl a pointed look, “seemed to be having trouble doing their job.”

Rolling his eyes, Darryl sarcastically retorted, “May I assume that you’re referring to Nick Marcano’s escape?”

Blue eyes frosted slightly. “Yes Inspector, you may assume. This isn’t just another rant against the police force, about the press. Marcano had killed one of my employees. Remember DeWolfe Mann?”

Darryl stiffened. “I’m well aware of that fact, Mr. Dean,” he replied coolly. “I’m also aware that whoever helped him escape, killed two County Sheriff guards.”

Jason added, “Don’t you mean, incinerate? One of my employees got the details on the killings. Do the police have any idea how that happened?”

“I have no idea,” Darryl said with a shrug of his shoulders.

Sensing an opportunity for mischief, Cole spoke up. “Perhaps the killings happened because of some supernatural phenomenon.” His companions stared at him.

“Cole . . .” Leo began, wearing a disapproving frown.

Jason quickly interrupted, “Is this your idea of a sick joke, Turner? DeWolfe Mann was one of your clients.” His face expressed outrage at Cole’s comment.

Cole coolly added, “I’m not joking. Tell me this – how do you explain the burnt bodies? Or for that matter, Portia Della Scalla? She mysteriously appears at your newspaper and you hire her without any references.” Jason visibly winced, much to Cole’s pleasure. “And when Marcano is arrested, she quickly disappears. I mean, exactly who . . . or what is Portia Della Scalla? And how did the bodies of those guards end up scorched like that? Did someone at the County jail see Marcano’s rescuer with a blow torch, or something?”

Caution radiated from Darryl’s tone. “Cole, maybe this isn’t the right . . .”

“Wait a minute!” a shocked Jason cried out. “Are you trying to say that Portia Della Scalla is some kind of supernatural being? And that magical forces were behind DeWolfe Mann’s mur . . .”

Andre quickly interrupted. “Uh . . . say Cole, look over there!” he said in a falsely jovial voice. “I do believe I see an old friend.” He grabbed Cole’s arm. “Why don’t we say hello?” Cole allowed the other man to drag him away from the others. The moment they were out of earshot, Andre rounded on the half-daemon. “Dammit man! What the hell’s wrong with you? Are you crazy? Speaking out on magic like that?”

“Oh c’mon!” Cole protested. “I was just having a little fun with the guy. He was getting on my nerves.”

Andre gave Cole a shrewd look. “This doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that he’s Phoebe’s boyfriend?” He paused. “Or that he used to date Olivia?”

Cole responded by rolling his eyes. “Look, the guy is annoying bastard. Olivia’s family seemed to think so. And didn’t you see the way Darryl was looking at him?”

“Uh-huh,” Andre grunted. The two friends approached the nightclub’s owner, who was engrossed in a conversation with one of his employees. After the latter walked away, Andre rushed toward the owner, grinning widely. “Well, look who’s here!” he proclaimed loudly.

Riggerio stared at the pair and his lips broke into a grin. “Andre! Mio amico! What are you doing here? I have not seen you in a long time!”

“Not that long,” Andre shot back. “Maybe four years.” He enveloped the daemon into a bear hug.

Riggerio returned Andre’s hug. “Longer than that. Perhaps five. We last saw each other in Marsailles, in 1998. What have you been doing, since?”

Andre shrugged. “Oh, not much. Gave up on being a bokor.”

A frown appeared on Riggerio’s face. “You no longer practice magic?”

“Oh! Oh no!” Andre said with a laugh. “No, I haven’t given up on that. I just . . . uh, I’m a hougan now, not a bokor.

Nodding, Riggerio said, “Ah! I understand. You are one of the ‘buoni tipi’, now. Good guys. Or how do you say it? ‘Sul percorso diritto e stretto’. Sì?”

“Straight and narrow . . .? Me?” One of Andre’s brows formed a dubious arch. “Listen man, I may have given up being a bokor, but I’m no saint.”

Riggerio nodded. “My apologies,” he replied smoothly. “I did not mean to insult you. I must say that you and Belthazor seemed to be creating a trend of our kind rejecting the uh . . . dark side. Becoming good guys. No?”

Cole smirked. “C’mon Riggerio. We all know there those among our kind who don’t follow a darker path. And I seem to recall that your coven does not serve one side or the other. In fact, you never have. And you’re offering your club for a witch’s bachelor party.”

A disarming smile graced Riggerio’s lips. “I am a businessman, il mio amico. Why should I pass up an opportunity for profit?”

“Why indeed?” Cole added. “By the way, I was wondering if you could help me on an important matter.”

“You are speaking of the Streghone who had recently escaped from jail. Yes?”

Cole nodded. “Right, as usual.” He paused. “When you first told us about Portia Della Scalla, you had also mentioned an older sis . . .”

Riggerio interrupted. “Claudia. She is . . . was Portia’s older sister.”

“Do you know if she’s . . .?”

Again, the daemon interrupted. “Yes, she is here in San Francisco. I have just recently discovered. The word is that she is looking for revenge ag . . .”

This time, Cole interrupted. “Against Bruce.” He sighed. “So, she must have been the one responsible for the jail break. I should have known.”

“Should have known what?” a new voice asked. The other three stared at the guest of honor, who stood behind Cole. “What are you talking about?”

Cole, Andre and Riggerio hesitated. Finally, the half-daemon spoke. “We were talking about Nick Marcano. We uh, might have an idea who’s behind his escape.”

Bruce stared at the trio. “Like who? Portia Della Scalla is dead. I killed her.”

“She had a sister,” Cole continued. “Claudia Della Scalla.”

A sigh left Bruce’s mouth. “Great! And I bet she’s after me. Right?” When Cole and the others failed to answer, he nodded. “Yeah. Thanks for the answer. I think that any chance of me enjoying this party has been shot. Other than surviving long enough to marry Barbara, I can’t see anything that will put me in a good mood.”

Harry’s voice boomed above the music. “Take a seat, everyone! It’s time for our stripper!”

Andre turned to Bruce. “Well, there’s something to look forward to.”

———

“So, when is the stripper going to perform?” Paige impatiently asked Cecile. The pair sat before P3’s bar, sipping their drinks. Paige held a glass of Seven-Up, while Cecile nursed a margarita. An Aimee Mann song blasted from the club’s sound system. “Don’t get me wrong. The party’s great, but I’ve been looking forward to my first male stripper.”

Disbelief shone in Cecile’s dark eyes. “Your first?”

“Okay, my fifth,” Paige retorted. “But I’ve never seen one at a bridal shower.”

Cecile frowned. “What about Piper and Phoebe’s bridal showers?”

Paige took a sip of her Seven-Up. “I wasn’t around when Piper and Leo got married. And Phoebe and Cole had a pre-wedding supper for the family. It was nice, but considering that Cole was possessed at the time . . .”

“Well, be thankful that neither Barbara or Bruce are demonically possessed,” Cecile said to the younger woman.

“Yeah, but they still have a vengeful succubus and Nick Marcano to worry about.” A sigh left Paige’s mouth. “Why can’t Wiccan weddings go smoothly?”

Cecile added, “From what Cole had told me, he and Phoebe were married by a priest.”

Paige corrected her. “A demon disguised as a priest. I mean, a dark priest from the Underworld.”

“And yet, weren’t they originally supposed to be married in a Catholic chapel?” Cecile demanded. “So, why didn’t they have a Wiccan ceremony?”

“I don’t know. I never really bothered to ask.” The music continued to fill the nightclub. Paige watched some of the guests sway to the music. She saw Piper leave the club’s kitchen, carrying a tray of canapés. Phoebe sat on the Halliwells’ official sofa, holding Wyatt. The younger Mrs. McNeill sat with her. The others – including Olivia, Mrs. Dubois, and Barbara, were on the dance floor. Caught up in the music and the atmosphere, Paige failed to hear Cecile’s next words. “What did you say?”

Barely shouting above the music, Cecile repeated, “I was asking about the daemon who had taken Cole’s powers!”

Paige frowned at the other woman. “You mean Barbas? Why are you interested in him? He’s dead. Cole killed him.”

“Oh.” Cecile paused. Took a sip of her margarita. Then, “Before Cole got his powers back, did you and your sisters try to kill Barbas?”

Wondering what this conversation was leading to, Paige stared at the priestess. “Uh, yeah. We tried using the Power of Three spell – the same one we had used on the Source – but it didn’t work. With Cole’s powers, Barbas was too strong.”

Cecile took another sip. “This Power of Three spell, it’s the one in which you had also invoke the powers of your ancestors. Right?”

Paige forgot about her drink. “Okay Cecile, what’s this about?”

“Listen, I’m not sure I should tell you this,” Cecile began. “In fact, I’m not sure if I should tell anyone. It started when I first met . . .” She broke off, as two other figures approached the bar. Her mother and Olivia’s grandmother. “Hey Mama, Mrs. McNeill! Enjoying the party?”

Elise McNeill smiled at the two younger women. “It’s not bad. Although I could use a little Tony Bennett. Or Nat King Cole.” She said to Cecile, “When is the stripper going to perform?”

“Huh?” Paige blinked. Did she just hear a seventy-something woman ask about a male stripper.

Blue eyes twinkled merrily. “I was asking about the stripper. I may be seventy-nine, but I’m also a woman.”

“Ditto,” Mrs. Dubois added.

“Why is everyone asking me?” Cecile demanded. “Olivia planned this party.” The other three continued to stare at her. She sighed. “Okay, the stripper should be showing up around nine. Happy?” Both Mrs. McNeill and Mrs. Dubois expressed delight. Cecile rolled her eyes.

Recalling her previous conversation with the younger Vodoun priestess, Paige decided to bring it up. “Cecile, what were you about to tell me? Something about Cole’s powers, I think.”

Discomfort flashed across Cecile’s face. “Oh. That. Uh, it’s nothing. Well, maybe . . .” She sighed. “Okay, I might as well mention it, especially since I wanted to talk to you, Mama, about it. And Mrs. McNeill. I had a vision. When I met Olivia’s new friend at Pier 39, Wednesday night.”

“Paul Margolin?” Mrs. McNeill demanded. “What did you . . .?”

Mrs. Dubois added, “Why don’t you just show us, cherie?”

Cecile glanced around. Then her eyes widened. Paige realized that the telepath was about to send her vision. “Uh, wait . . .” The Charmed One gasped, as the vision overwhelmed her mind. Once it had ended, she cried out, “Oh my God!”

“You’re telling me!” Mrs. McNeill added in astonished tones. “Did I just see Olivia kill Cole?”

Nodding, Cecile said to Paige, “That’s why I was asking about that Barbas guy.”

“But that’s impossible!” Paige exclaimed. “How could . . . how would Livy be able to kill Cole, when we weren’t able to vanquish Barbas when he had Cole’s powers?”

Cecile shrugged. “Don’t ask me.”

“Why would Olivia kill Cole in the first place?” Cecile’s mother asked.

An uneasy feeling overcame Paige. “Maybe . . . Do you think that Cole will turn evil, again?”

Mrs. McNeill commented, “I’m wondering why this vision came to Cecile, ‘after’ she had shook Paul’s hand. And why did he have that strange expression on his face? He looked so . . .”

“Smug?” Mrs. Dubois suggested. The elderly woman nodded.

“Yeah, I also noticed that,” Cecile added. “There’s just something about him that . . . I don’t know. He just makes me feel uneasy.”

Paige asked, “Will you tell Olivia?”

Cecile sighed. “I don’t know. What am I going to say? Tell her to break up with . . . what’s his name?”

“Paul,” Mrs. McNeill added.

Continuing, Cecile said, “What do I say to Livy? Tell her to break up with Paul, because I had a vision of her killing Cole . . . after shaking Paul’s hand?”

“Don’t tell her,” Mrs. McNeill ordered. “At least not yet. Wait and see how this . . . friendship with Paul turn out. If it becomes serious and affects Cole, then tell her.” She sighed. “Or maybe you should simply go ahead and tell her, anyway.”

Cecile’s mouth formed a grim line. “Shit! There are times I wish I never had this damn power! Seeing the future sure can be a curse!”

A sympathetic Paige nodded. “Yeah, I think that’s how Phoebe feels, sometimes.”

———-

A tall, muscular figure emerged from the apartment building and started toward the blue-gray Toyota, parked next to the curb. Just as Lee Carver leaned forward to open the car door, a second figure materialized beside him, causing the dancer to nearly jump out of his skin.

“Christ! You scared the hell out of me! What do you want?” he demanded in an irritated voice.

“Pardon signor,” the man replied in a smooth accent. Italian. “I am . . . eh, new to San Francisco and I am trying to find someone. Uh, a Signor Lee Carver. Do you know him?”

Lee peered closely at the man. The latter seemed respectable. Non-threatening. He was a tall, dark-haired man with a slender, yet wiry frame. “I’m Lee Carver. What do you want?”

The stranger expressed surprise. “Oh! You are Signor Carver? Who works at the Strobe Light Club as a dancer?”

Wariness overcame Lee. How in the hell did this guy knew where he worked? “Okay Dude, who in the hell are you?”

The man responded with an easy smile. “My name is Alessandro Pelligio. I am the . . . new owner of a club in North Beach. I am looking for new dancers. After seeing your act at the Strobe Light, I thought you would be interested in a new job. That is . . . if you’re the same Signor Carver.”

“I’m him!” Lee’s interest perked a bit. “I’m Lee Carver. Listen, I have a gig, tonight. At a private party. So, why don’t we deal with this later?”

A smile stretched Pelligio’s lips. “Don’t worry, Signor. This will not take long.” His eyes suddenly glowed red.

Lee’s eyes widened in fear. “What the . . .?” Seconds later, his entire body seared with heat. Lee blacked out, but not before his voice filled the air with screams of pain.

———

Cheers and whistles from onlookers filled the Vorando Club. On stage, a scantily-clad female gyrated to the music blasting from the club’s sound system. Every man had his eyes glued to the dancer – save for a handful. Both Jack McNeill and Riggerio were engaged in some kind of conversation. Leo seemed downright embarrassed by the dancer’s performance and focused elsewhere. Cole simply felt bored. Strippers had never done much for him.

Once the performance ended, the bachelor party’s guests broke into a round of applause. The stripper waved and left the stage. Riggerio left Mr. McNeill’s side and walked onstage to present the next act. Cole rolled his eyes in disgust. It was another stripper. Great. When the next act began, Cole slipped off the bar stool and strode out of the club.

Outside of the club, Cole took a few deep breaths and watched the cars speed along Powell. A few minutes passed and he became aware another figure leaving the nightclub. “Cole?” a voice declared in a surprised tone. “I didn’t realize . . .”

The half-daemon glanced to his left and heaved an annoyed sigh. “Leo. Is there something I can do for you?”

“Huh?” The whitelighter’s blue eyes widened. “No! I mean . . . no, I uh, I just stepped out for some fresh air.”

A smirk curled Cole’s lips. “Oh, I see. The entertainment wasn’t much to your taste.”

“No.” Even in the dark, Cole could tell that Leo was blushing. “I mean . . . it’s like I said – I needed the air. That’s all.”

“Okay. Sure.” Cole turned away from the whitelighter and continued to watch the passing traffic. He added, “Personally, I didn’t care for the entertainment. Watching strippers were never my style.”

Frustration tinged Leo’s sigh. “Look, I wasn’t bothered by the strippers, okay?. They were around in my day too, you know.”

“I didn’t say that you were bothered by them,” Cole shot back.

Leo retorted, “Maybe not, but you seemed bent on hinting that I . . . that I’m some kind of prude.”

His sense of peace shattered, Cole snarled, “You know Leo? I don’t give a rat’s ass what you think about the strippers! Okay?”

“You never seemed to care what anyone thinks,” Leo shot back. “At least, lately.”

Cole glared at his former brother-in-law. “That’s right. I don’t care! You see, I’ve grown wiser over the past several months.”

“Well, if you were so ‘wise’, you would have never made that crack about magic to Jason!”

Rolling his eyes, Cole retorted, “I was just pulling the guy’s leg! Besides, he will have to learn the truth about Phoebe and the others, one of these days.”

“It was dangerous, Cole! Just like that deal you made with the Seer to become the Source. Tell me, was it wise for you to come back from the Wasteland?” Leo faced Cole, his blue eyes chips of ice. “Had it ever occurred to you, Cole that you should have stayed dead?”

Anger washed over Cole. “First of all, I had made a deal to use the Hollow to take the Source’s powers temporarily, not become the Source! Second . . .”

“Oh come on, Cole! Who are you kidding? Those powers turned you into the Source!”

Cole took a deep breath and counted to three. One . . . two . . . three . . . “Leo, those damn powers DID NOT turn me into the Source,” he growled. “If they had, then Piper and Paige’s powers should have made the Source two-thirds of the Charmed Ones! And they, along with Phoebe would have never been able to vanquish the Source using a Power of Three spell! But they did, because the Hollow didn’t give him their essence. In fact, it wasn’t until after they had killed the bastard that his essence began to take possession of my body. If you and the Self-Righteous Ones had bothered to stop and consider how I became the Source, you probably would have found out! How many fucking times does someone have to tell you?”

Leo began, “And what about . . .?”

“As for my decision to leave the Wasteland,” Cole continued, “I didn’t plan on it. Not at first. I was about to give myself up to the Beast when the power of a vanquished daemon fell upon me. So I took advantage of the situation and gathered more powers.”

Shaking his head with dismay, Leo replied, “And you never stopped to think that you shouldn’t have done it?”

“Maybe the Halliwells shouldn’t have killed me when I was possessed!” Cole snarled. “Or . . . did you ever stop to think that your little scheme to marry Piper behind your bosses’ backs was wrong?”

Leo’s face hardened. “You were responsible for them finding out! And I wanted to marry Piper! How is that wrong?”

Cole retorted, “I don’t know, Leo. Perhaps it was, because you were so willing to risk the sisters’ lives to get what you wanted. Well, I wanted a second chance with Phoebe! Unlike you, I didn’t get my wish. Hopefully, I might have a chance with someone else.”

“If you’re speaking of Olivia, forget it!” Leo’s voice bridled with contempt. “She has interests, elsewhere.”

Cole gave the whitelighter a shrewd look. “And all according to plan. Right Leo? Isn’t Olivia the reason you had talked Margolin into applying for a job, here on the West Coast?”

Leo shot back, “It’s for her own good! Considering your talent for bringing chaos in your wake, I thought it was prudent that Olivia became interested in someone who’s a lot safer and more dependable!” He paused, as horror over his revelation filled his eyes.

A knowing smile touched Cole’s lips. “So, Paige was right after all. She told me what Margolin had said to her at Nathalie Gleason’s party. About your little matchmaking scheme.”

The whitelighter’s body stiffened. “I suppose you’re going to tell her. Tell Olivia.”

“Perhaps.” Cole grinned. “Then again, maybe I won’t have to. Your plan for Margolin and Olivia wasn’t the only thing I had learned at Nathalie’s party.”

“What do you mean?” Leo demanded.

Cole paused dramatically. “That’s between me and Olivia, Leo. Enjoy yourself.” He turned his back on Leo and returned to the bachelor party.

——–

Strains of Rod Stewart singing “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” filled P3. All eyes were focused on the muscular man gyrating on the stage. When ripped away a pair of white trousers, revealing a black thong underneath, whistles and screams filled the club. Even Barbara could not help but admire the man’s . . . assets. Although Bruce could definitely give him competition.

The dancer completed his performance and the women broke into applause. The only person missing seemed to be the club’s owner. Piper had disappeared into her office with baby Wyatt, once the stripper had appeared on stage. Sure enough, the applause died down, the stripper left the stage and Piper – with Wyatt in her arms – reappeared. “Is the show over?” she asked. The oldest Charmed One glanced at the stage. “Oh, I guess he is.”

Nathalie Gleason heaved a mournful sigh. “Unfortunately.” She turned to Olivia, who sat next to the bar with Mrs. Dubois. “Where did you find that guy, anyway?”

Olivia shrugged. “At some place called the Strobe Light Club. Apparently, he’s very popular with the customers.”

“Apparently?” Barbara replied knowingly.

“All right! I saw him there!” Olivia shot back. She glared at the blond woman. “You have to admit that he’s not bad.”

Nathalie snorted. “Not bad? Honey, he’s more than just ‘not bad’!”

A smile tugged at Mrs. Dubois’ lips. “I don’t know. I’ve seen better, myself.”

“Oh!” Olivia’s face lit up. “That dancer at the Hurricane Club on Bourbon Street! I remember him.”

Mrs. Dubois heaved a heartfelt sigh. “Yeah, so do I.”

Looking somewhat dubious, Nathalie replied, “Oh-kaay. Although I can’t see anyone being better than Surfer Boy, up there.”

“Uh, now that the entertainment is over,” Piper said, cutting into the conversation, “is everyone ready for dessert?”

Detecting a familiar pressure on her bladder, Barbara said, “In a minute. I have to make a little trip to the Ladies Room.” She slid off the bar stool and strode toward the bathroom.

After completing her tasks, a few minutes later, Barbara washed her hands and left the bathroom. She had not taken more than eight steps, when she collided with a burly figure. It was the stripper that Olivia had hired. Fully dressed, this time.

“Oh,” she said, feeling a wave of heat flame her cheeks. “It’s you. Excuse me.”

The dancer responded with a dazzling smile. With those blond looks and smile, Nathalie had been right to nickname him, Surfer Boy. “Of course. I . . . uh, I hope that you enjoyed the show.”

“Actually, I did. You were pretty . . .” Barbara halted in mid-sentence. The dancer’s looks transformed right before her eyes. Blond hair became dark. Blue eyes now shone dark-brown. The wide face narrowed. And so did the body, which changed from broad and muscular to slim and wiry. “What the hell?” she cried.

Before Barbara could say anything further, those dark eyes became penetrating. Hypnotic. And the blond witch’s mind slipped into oblivion.

——–

Claudia Della Scalla teleported into the middle of P3’s narrow hallway. She saw her minion, Alessandro, holding a blond woman in his arms. “Excellent work, Sandro,” she said. “Now, take her back to the house.”

Alessandro hesitated. “I understand that you do not want her dead, Padronessa, but do I have to stay with her? I have not . . . eh, received my pay. Yet.” His eyes cast downward. “And I have another dance to perform.”

“And I look forward to seeing it.” The older succubus’s eyes swept appreciatively over her younger counterpart’s body, causing the latter to blush. “Do not worry, Sandro. Just take her to the villa and return. The Streghone, Rosa and Giancarlo will look after her.” Claudia added, “About the amulet I gave you . . . did it work? Or were the old lady and the Vodoun priestess able to sense your true identity?

Shaking his head, Alessandro replied that both telepaths had not detected him. “Nor had the Halliwell seer.” A groan left his mouth. “Scusatemi Signorina, but may I leave now? The witch . . . she is getting heavy.”

Claudia nodded. Alessandro sighed and disappeared with the witch in his arms. The succubus grabbed hold of the amulet around her neck and stared at it. After learning from Marcano about the three telepaths, she had invoked a spell around three amulets to block any telepathic activity toward her or her assistants. Satisfied by Alessandro’s assurances that it worked, Claudia allowed her body to transform into another. She slipped into the Ladies’ Room and checked her image in the mirror. A smug smile curled her lips. Perfect. She looked exactly like Barbara Bowen.

END OF ACT II – Part 3