Favorite ALIEN INVASION Movies


Below is a list of my favorite movies about alien invasions: 


1-The Avengers

1. “The Avengers” (2012) – In what probably is one of my favorite movies of all time, various Marvel Comics heroes band together to battle an alien invasion led by Thor’s stepbrother, Loki. The movie featured superb writing and direction by Joss Whedon.


2. “Avatar” (2009) – In this twist on the alien invasion genre, James Cameron produced, wrote and directed this visually stunning tale about a paraplegic ex-marine who becomes part of a unique science program on the moon of another planet and ends up helping the inhabitants of Pandora protect their world from human invaders. Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana star.

3-Independence Day

3. “Independence Day” (1996) – Dean Devlin produced and Roland Emmerich directed this blockbuster about humanity facing an alien invasion during the Fourth of July weekend. Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman starred.

4-Battle - Los Angeles

4. “Battle: Los Angeles” (2011) – Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez star in this surprisingly satisfying science-fiction thriller about a platoon of U.S. Marines battling invading aliens in Los Angeles.

5-War of the Worlds 2005

5. “War of the Worlds” (2005) – Steven Spielberg directed this excellent adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel about a New Jersey man who tries to keep his family intact during an alien invasion. Tom Cruise starred.

6-Men in Black 3

6. “Men in Black 3” (2012) – Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin starred in this entertaining third entry in the MEN IN BLACK franchise about Agent J’s effort to prevent an alien assassin from killing his partner in the past . . . and act that will allow the assassin’s species to invade Earth. Barry Sonnenfeld directed.

7-Cowboys and Aliens

7. “Cowboys and Aliens” (2011) – Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford starred in this entertaining adaptation of Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s graphic novel about a New Mexico community in the 1870s, staving off an alien invasion. Jon Favreau directed.

8-Star Trek - First Contact

8. “Star Trek: First Contact” (1996) – Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E travel to Earth’s past to prevent the Borg from assimilating Earth. Jonathan Frakes directed.

9-War of the Worlds 1953

9. “The War of the Worlds” (1953) – Gene Barry and Ann Robinson starred in this solid (and first) adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel about Martians invading Earth. Byron Haskin directed.

“A Wedding in Four Acts” [PG-13] – Epilogue




Paige beamed with joy, as she watched the newly wedded couple linked arms and march down the aisle. Along with the other attendants, Paige followed the couple to a group of small tables standing underneath a large, yellow-and-white striped canopy. Not far from the tables, stood three long ones that held the buffet-style wedding supper. 

Feeling famished, Paige sat at a small table and waited for her family to join her. No sooner had they done so, she, Phoebe and Jason headed straight for the buffet tables to fill their plates. “That was a nice wedding,” Jason commented. “Although I have no idea what kind of ceremony we had just witnessed. Does anyone have an idea?”

The two sisters exchanged surreptious looks. “I think Barbara is into some kind of New Age religion,” Phoebe explained.

“New Age huh?” Jason nodded, as an attendant indicated a steaming chafing dish filled with poached salmon. “What kind of . . . New Age religion? What do you call it?”

Sounding nonchalant, Paige replied, “Beats me. I never bothered to ask Barbara. Besides, this is San Francisco. Probably half of the city’s population is into that stuff.”

A fourth voice added, “That . . . stuff is called Wicca.” The other three whirled around and found Olivia and Cecile standing behind them. Olivia continued, “It’s a fairly new religion based on some old Pagan one. Probably from Scotland or Ireland.” The two Charmed Ones stared at the redhead, as if she had lost her mind.

Jason, it seemed, did not notice Paige and Phoebe’s reaction. “Wicca?” He frowned at Olivia. “It must be very new.”

“Not really. Wicca has been around since the early 20th century. There are plenty of books on it.” She smiled at the Halliwells. “Isn’t that right, ladies?”

Paige sucked in her breath, while Phoebe assumed a panic-stricken expression for a brief second. Jason turned to his girlfriend. “I thought you didn’t know anything about the ceremony, Phoebe.”

“Huh? I . . . uh . . .” Phoebe’s mouth hung open.

Cecile came to Phoebe’s rescue. “She probably knows a little. And Paige. We all do. Barbara is always talking about it.”

“Always,” Paige added weakly. She shot a quick glare at Olivia, whose lips formed a sardonic smile. To her relief, a guest caught Jason’s attention and he excused himself. And the Halliwells turned on Olivia. “My God, Olivia . . .” Paige began.

Phoebe angrily interrupted, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

A red brow quirked upward. “Being honest with Jason,” Olivia replied in a laconic voice.

“You could of . . . you could have exposed all of us!” Phoebe hissed.

Olivia pointedly replied, “Gee Phoebe, I believe you took that same chance when you brought Jason to the wedding.”

For the second time, Phoebe’s mouth hung open in silence. Paige spoke up. “What do you mean? Didn’t Harry invite Jason to Bruce’s bachelor party?”

“To the party, yes,” Olivia said. “Not to the wedding. Bruce didn’t think Jason would understand the ceremony.”

Phoebe protested, “But not everyone here is a witch . . . or priestess or whatever. Including Cole’s friend.”

Olivia’s eyes narrowed at the mention of Cole’s date. “No Phoebe, but all of the mortals here – at least the non-magical ones – are either into Pagan religions or know that the family is into one. From what my mother has told me, Ms. Altman was told to expect a different kind of ceremony. So was Sheila Morris. Of course, she doesn’t know we’re witches. Plus, I see that Paige didn’t bring Nat . . .”

“Nate . . .” Paige corrected.

“I see that Paige didn’t bring her boyfriend.” Olivia’s eyes bored into Phoebe. “Why did you bring Jason, if you weren’t prepared to explain a Wiccan handfasting ceremony to him?”

Silence greeted the red-haired witch. Until Phoebe found her voice. “I guess I . . .” She sighed. “My mistake.”

Olivia nodded. “It’s okay. And I’m sorry for bringing up the matter like that. It was rude of me.”

“Now that everything is settled . . .” Cecile began.

Piper appeared at the buffet table, looking slightly irritated. “Hey you two!” she growled at her sisters. “When are you going to finish getting your food? Leo and I would like to eat and someone has to keep an eye on Wyatt.”

“Sorry,” Paige murmured, as she returned her attention to the food before her.

Piper turned to Olivia and Cecile. “By the way, I’m glad that Barbara had decided to continue with the wedding, despite what happened. Sort of reminded me of my own wedding.”

“It almost didn’t happen,” Cecile commented. “Especially since Barbara’s wedding gown went up in smoke with that Della Scalla woman. But Cole managed to ‘whip up’ a new one for her.”

A wan smile appeared on Piper’s lips. “Huh. How nice. I also noticed that it didn’t take you guys very long to get Barbara back. You weren’t delayed by the police, because of Nick?”

“Oh we didn’t hang around for the police,” Cecile stated.

Olivia added, “After Darryl had killed Nick, Cole . . . brought back Claudia’s body. Actually both her corpse and one of her . . .”

“Huh?” Paige stared at her friend in disgust.

Piper wrinkled her nose. “Eww! What is this? ‘Tales of the Macabre’?”

Olivia continued. “Well, we needed two more corpses. Don’t forget that Nick didn’t get out of jail on his own. With the other two bodies, the San Mateo Police might realize that Claudia and one of her minions were responsible for his jailbreak . . . which they were. And neither Darryl or I was about to endure another investigation that left no explanations.”

“Cole knows how to bring back the body of a magical being from the netherworld?” Paige asked in disbelief.

Cecile added, “He learned it from Andre. Who, by the way, is also a talented necromancer.”

Olivia said, “After finding the three bodies, hopefully the San Mateo Police might come to the conclusion that they had shot and killed each other after a quarrel. Darryl and I should be getting the news on Monday. Anyway, after Cole brought back her dead body, we all got the hell out of there before the police could arrive. With the Soma plant, of course.”

Paige asked, “Where’s the plant?”

“Back in the greenhouse,” Cecile replied. “I think that Livy’s parents created some kind of mystical barrier around it.” She glanced at the buffet table, and a hungry look appeared on her face. “Listen, I’m really hungry right now. And that Chicken Florentine really looks good. I’ll catch up with you guys, later.” She walked away from the others.

Piper and Phoebe, who also expressed their own hunger, joined Cecile. Which left Paige alone with Olivia. The latter commented, “So, Nate couldn’t make it, huh? Why is he always unavailable on weekends?”

“What do you you mean?” Paige demanded.

“I mean, I never see you two together, on weekends,” Olivia continued. “Only on weekdays, and not very often.”

Feeling a need to defend her boyfriend, Paige retorted, “Nate can’t help it if he has to work on weekends. Besides,” she nodded at Paul Margolin sitting at one of the dining tables and poking his food in a dejected manner, “why aren’t you with your little hunny bunny?”

Olivia glared at the younger woman. “Paul is not my ‘hunny bunny’. And I doubt very much that he wants my company, right now.”

“Why not?”

The two friends continued filling their plates. “Because,” Olivia said with a sigh, “I had turned down his offer for a weekend in Monterey.”

Astonished by the news, Paige stared at Olivia. And withdrew her plate the moment one of the attendants was about to place a stuffed turkey roll on it. “What?” she cried. “You’re kidding! He’s pissed over that?”

Olivia plucked the turkey roll from the table and placed it on Paige’s plate. “Actually, Paul is pissed, because I had made it clear that I wasn’t interested in any kind of romance with him.”

The news struck Paige like a bombshell. “Are you serious? Oh my God!” She glanced around and spotted Cecile with Andre and her sisters. “Oh my God! Wait until Cecile hears about this!”

“Hears about what?” Olivia frowned. “What does Cecile have to do with all of this?”

Paige opened her mouth. A long pause followed before she finally said, “Uh, I think you should talk to Cecile about that. Both you and Cole.” On that mysterious note, she returned her attention to filling her plate.


Paige’s words preyed on Olivia’s mind during the next hour or two. She tried to convince the Charmed One to explain, but the wedding reception made it impossible. Olivia had to endure the wedding supper, a witty speech by the best man, and the dancing that followed. Unfortunately, both Cecile and Paige never seemed to be at a loss for dancing partners.

The opportunity to talk with both of her friends finally arrived three hours later. She had just finishing dancing with Mr. Bowen, when the two women appeared with Cole and asked her to join them for a talk. Minutes later, the four stood inside the drawing-room that overlooked the garden. After Cecile and Paige revealed their news, a deep silence filled the room, despite the music blasting from the hired band, outside.

The confusion in Cole’s eyes reflected Olivia’s own feelings. “Say that again?” he demanded. “Olivia’s going to what?”

Cecile sighed, as Paige spoke up. “Olivia is going to kill you. I mean, Cecile had a premonition of her killing you.”

Olivia’s eyes remained fixed upon her two friends. Then she stared at Cole, who still looked confused. Finding the revelation absurd, Olivia broke into laughter. “What’s so funny?” Cecile demanded in an outraged voice.

“I . . .” Olivia’s laughter continued for another minute or two. Once it abated, she took a deep breath. “I’m sorry honey, but . . . I mean, c’mon Cecile! This is just so hard to believe. I’m going to kill Cole? Why? How? Are you trying to tell me that I’m going to strip him of his powers, before killing him?”

Cecile’s mouth tightened. “I didn’t say you were going to strip him of his powers before killing him. And how you manage to accomplish that is beyond me! Besides, it’s only a premonition. There’s a good chance it’ll never happen.”

“Never?” The word came from Cole’s mouth.

Both Cecile and Paige exchanged uneasy glances. The latter said, “Well, now that Olivia has made it clear that she’s no longer interested . . .”

Sensing what Paige was about to reveal, Olivia immediately cut in. “Could we please skip that?”

“Skip what?” Cole asked.

After a brief pause, Paige blurted out, “Livy had told Paul that she wasn’t interested in spending a weekend with him in Monterey. Or in him, romantically. I don’t think he took the news very well.” Olivia glared at her. She shrugged. “What? Now that you and Paul won’t be as close, there’s a good chance you won’t kill Cole. Don’t forget that Cecile’s vision did include Paul.”

“She’s got a point, Livy,” Cecile added. “There’s a chance he would have been the cause of what happens between you and Cole. But now that he’s no . . .”

Olivia interrupted. “Have you told anyone else? About this vision of yours?”

Cecile hesitated. Glanced at Paige. Olivia began to wonder if these glances were becoming a habit between the two. Cecile finally spoke up. “I . . . uh, I first told Andre about it. On Thursday morning.”

“Andre?” Cole’s mouth opened wide in disbelief. “He’s known all this time?”

Cecile squirmed with discomfort. “Well, yeah. Mama, Olivia’s grandmother and Paige eventually found out, last night.”

Olivia could not believe her ears. “My God, Cecile! When were you planning to tell me?”

“I didn’t mean for Paige to find out! And I didn’t know when was the right time to tell you. Or if I ever should tell you. Especially since you were so involved with Paul at the time. Look, what I’m trying to say is that I didn’t want you to make a decision regarding him, based on my vision.”

“Involved with . . .” Olivia heaved a large sigh. “Cecile, I was never ‘involved’ with Paul. We were only good friends. Nothing else.”

Cecile snorted with derision. “C’mon Livy! That man wanted to be more than friends with you. And you shot him down, when he tried. How else do you explain him acting all mopey, today?”

A brief flash of satisfaction gleamed in Cole’s eyes. Olivia shot him a dark look and he glanced away. Then she asked Cecile, “Does anyone else know about the vision?” When Cecile and Paige remained silent, Olivia added bluntly, “C’mon ladies! Who else knows?”

Paige said reluctantly, “Well, I may have accidentally told Phoebe.”


Cole groaned aloud. “Oh no!”

Cecile added, “And she also Leo.” When Olivia opened her mouth to protest, the former continued, “Hey, I realize that you’re probably pissed off that we . . . I didn’t tell you, sooner. But I don’t regret it, Livy.” The Vodoun priestess assumed a defiant stance. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Sometimes, it’s best to keep certain knowledge of the future to yourself. Or at least don’t say anything, until the time’s right.”

Olivia sighed. She knew that Cecile was right. Only the Goddess knew how she would have reacted to Paul, if she had known about that premonition before today. “Okay. Yeah, I understand.”

“Good. Now I can return to the party.” Cecile flashed a brief smile and returned to the garden and the party, beyond.

An uneasy smile curved Paige’s mouth. “Well, I guess I might as well return, also. See ya.” She quickly raced after Cecile.

To Olivia’s dismay, she found herself alone. With Cole. Oh God. From the corner of her eye, Olivia noticed Cole squirming with discomfort. “What’s the matter?” she asked. “Worried about being alone with your future killer?”

Cole rolled his eyes in disgust. “No, I’m not.”

“Well, I don’t blame you, because the idea of me being able to kill you is ridiculous,” Olivia retorted.

With a shrug of his shoulders, Cole replied, “Oh, I don’t know. You have the brains, the talent and the will to do it.”

“Without stripping you of your powers?” Olivia shook her head. “C’mon Cole! You know I can’t do that. No one can. And if I ever do strip your powers, I sure as hell don’t plan to kill a defenseless mortal.”

Again, silence filled the room. Feeling uncomfortable, Olivia had an urge to quickly leave. Only, Cole beat her to the punch. “Leaving?” she called after him, as he started toward the double doors. “Again?”

Cole paused and slowly turned around. His blue eyes narrowed dangerously. “What did you say?”

“Why does it seem that every time we’re alone, lately, you have this urge to flee?” Olivia tartly remarked.

His eyes grew hard as polished stones. “And you don’t?” Cole chuckled unpleasantly. “That’s a laugh. Tell me Olivia, is this another commentary on my actions at Warren Mitchell’s New Year party? Because this topic is becoming a dead horse.”

“I haven’t spoken about it in months,” Olivia retorted. “And if I have to be honest, Cole, no woman can easily forget a guy who kisses her in one minute and runs from her in the next. We have memories like elephants.”

Wearing an angry expression, Cole stalked toward her in a threatening manner. Olivia maintained her stance. “Is that so? And what? I’m supposed to feel guilty? At least I didn’t resort to making said guy jealous by latching on to the Wiccan Boy Scout!”

Olivia shot back, “That ‘Wiccan Boy Scout’ happens to be a very nice man! Nor was I . . . trying to make you jealous!”

An ugly laugh escaped from Cole’s mouth. “C’mon Olivia! Who are you kidding? You mean to tell me that you were actually interested in a guy who bores you to death after ten minutes in his company? You had made that perfectly clear at Nathalie Gleason’s party.”

Olivia’s mouth formed a tight, angry line. She hated the fact that Cole remembered everything from Nathalie’s party . . . and she did not. She glanced out of the room’s large bay window and saw something that brought a smile to her lips. “Speaking of dates, are my eyes deceiving me, or is that your friend, Veronica . . . flirting with some guy, outside?” She noted with pleasure the embarrassed expression on Cole’s face. “And to think I actually believed you two were an item. Or am I wrong?”

Cole sighed. “Veronica . . .” he began. Then his mouth formed a tight line. “Never mind.”

“Never mind . . . what?”

Cole stared at her – long and hard. It took all of Olivia’s nerves to keep from crumbling under his intense scrutiny. Then again, he sighed. “What do you want from me, Olivia? What do you want me to say?”

“I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about anything you have to say!”

His voice dripping with derision, Cole shot back, “Do you have any idea how immature you sound, right now?”

“Immature?” Olivia scoffed. “Now, that’s calling the kettle black! Especially from a man who married a woman with the romantic sensibilities of a fifteen year-old!”

Cole retorted, “I don’t give a shit about Phoebe’s romantic sensitivities or about Phoebe, period! I’m interested in . . .” He paused and continued in a softer tone, “I’m more interested in a cynical redhead, who can’t seemed to keep her mouth shut.”

Olivia stared at Cole, stunned by his words. “Wha . . . Uh, wait a minute. Are you talking . . .?”

Cole took a step forward, causing her heart to flutter. “Yeah,” he replied softly. “I’m talking about you. Olivia, I’m . . .” He sighed for the third time. “I’m in love with you.”

Staring deeply into those baby blue eyes, Olivia felt a rush of panic. She saw love in those eyes. And desire. But how long would it last? How many days, weeks or even months will pass before Cole finally lost interest in her? Before Phoebe becomes the object of his desire, again? Shaking her head, Olivia said in an uneasy voice, “Look . . . Cole . . . you might think you’re in love with me . . .”

“For crying out loud!” an obviously exasperated Cole declared. “And I thought Phoebe was insecure! Listen to me. I’m in love with you. With you, Olivia. Not Phoebe. Yes, I still love her, but not like I used to. I can’t guarantee that my feelings for you will last forever. Anymore than you can guarantee the same for me.”

Olivia began, “What makes you think . . .?”

“Because you had said so at Nathalie’s party. Now shut up!” Cole spoke his last words in a gentle tone. “The reason I had kept you at arms’ length for so long is . . . well, I was afraid. I was afraid of opening my heart to someone, again. And I was afraid that you would eventually leave me. Like Phoebe. I had used my divorce as an excuse to keep my distance. But not anymore, Olivia. I’m tired of being afraid. And I’m tired of being alone. Especially when I know that I don’t have to be. Do you understand what I’m saying?” His blue eyes bored deeply into hers.

Speechless and stunned beyond belief, minutes passed before Olivia realized that her mouth was hanging wide open without uttering a sound. She continued to stare at Cole, while astonishment, disbelief and joy mingled within her. Then she finally discovered her voice. “I . . . uh, I don’t . . . know . . . I mean . . . oh shit! Never mind! I’m in love with you, too!” And before Cole could respond, she threw her arms around his neck and captured his mouth with hers.

Strong hands gently took hold of Olivia’s waist, gently forcing her body to press against Cole’s hard one. She reveled in the touch of his warm mouth pressed against hers. Her knees nearly buckled under, as Cole slipped his tongue finally slipped inside her mouth.

The kiss seemed to continue forever and Olivia would not have it any other way. One of Cole’s hands slowly slid up her back. As he slid one spaghetti strap from her shoulder, Olivia became vaguely aware of a figure outside, passing by the bay window. Very reluctantly, she pulled her mouth away. “What?” Cole murmured, looking slightly dazed. “What’s wrong?”

A breathless Olivia murmured, “The window. Someone . . . uh, . . .” She moaned, as Cole softly kissed the side of her neck. “Oh God!”

“What about . . . someone?” Cole replied, before he planted more kisses on the other side of her neck.

“Huh? Oh, uh . . .” Olivia moaned, while Cole’s mouth left her neck and traveled toward her left earlobe, which he began to nibble. “Oh yeah.” Taking a deep breath, she gently pulled away from him. “Someone . . . might see us. The window.”

Cole glanced at the window, before he returned his gaze to her. “Oh. Okay,” he murmured. “Understand. Where can we . . .?”

“By old bedroom,” Olivia whispered. “Second floor. Third from the left.”

A smile touched Cole’s lips. “Okay.” Then he drew Olivia back into his arms. As the couple’s lips met for another passionate kiss, they disappeared out of the room.


Over five hours had passed since he had proposed the Monterey trip to Olivia and Paul found himself longing for another demonic attack. Anything that would erase the bitterness and humiliation of her rejection. Not only had Olivia rejected his little proposal, she had also made it clear that she was not romantically interested in him. As far as she was concerned, he was a friend and nothing more.

Paul shook his head in attempt to get rid of the bad memories. Didn’t help. He considered drinking more alcohol, but he had already consumed three glasses of champagne and one glass of bourbon. A few more drinks and he would be ready to relieve himself. Besides, he seemed to be drifting into a foggy state. What he really needed was water – to be splashed on his face.

He stood up and made his way toward the McNeills’ house. Inside, he encountered their servant, a fellow with a Welsh accent, whose name had escaped Paul. The former informed him that bathrooms could be found throughout the second floor. Paul thanked the man and started the climb upstairs.

Inside one of the bathrooms, Paul washed his hands before splashing water on his face. As he glanced into the mirror above the basin, he found himself facing a stone-faced man, whose brown eyes reflected deep bitterness. The expression took him by surprise.

What in the hell was wrong with him? How could he allow himself to slide into a depression over a woman with whom he shared nothing in common? Paul’s grandmother believed in the old adage about opposite attraction. But she had also believed that even opposites needed to share some kind of semblance of common interests. Looking back over his month-long relationship with Olivia, Paul realized that he and the redhead had three things in common – they were witches, both shared Leo as their whitelighter – or used to – and both had studied the law.

Paul also realized that he could write a lengthy essay on the differences between him and Olivia. The most glaring difference would be their philosophy regarding witchcraft, along with good and evil. Paul followed the strict philosophy of Leo and his grandparents – good was good, evil was evil; and never the twain shall meet. Olivia did not harbor such bi-polar beliefs. She did not believe in inherent good or evil. She believed that all beings – including humans, witches, warlocks, demons, etc., had the capacity for both. And that it all depended up the choices one made in life. Too ambiguous for Paul’s taste.

Heaving a sigh, Paul came to the conclusion that no matter whatever he and Olivia harbored, he was still in love with her. And no rational argument or thought could eradicate his feelings. He had a long way to go before he could finally recover from this latest heartache.

Paul dried his hands with a towel, glanced around and became aware of two doors leading out of the bathroom. Strange, he had not noticed this before. He muttered a quiet oath and opened one of the doors. The sight that greeted his eyes, left him in a frozen state of shock.

Instead of the hallway, Paul found himself facing a private bedroom. One that seemed to be occupied by two people – engaged in a passionate bout of sex. Paul’s heart immediately sank, as he recognized the couple – Olivia and Belthazor.

He did not know whether to be fascinated or disgusted. Actually, he felt a little of both. On one hand, Paul could not help but admire the way their bodies melded perfectly together, as they moved in sensual rhythm. At the same time, he was disgusted by what he saw as an unholy union between a witch – a protector of the innocent – having wild and abandoned sex with a half-demon. A half-demon with a notorious history of evil.

Unable to deal with the sight before him and the moans coming from the couple, Paul immediately shut the door. He leaned against the bathroom wall and sighed. The memory of Olivia and Belthazor continued whirl in his mind. Disgusted, he realized that he could no longer stand by and allow Olivia to sink into a relationship with the half-demon. He had to stop her. Help her understand what was right and wrong. And do anything to possess her for himself.


AUTHOR’S NOTE: As hinted in the story’s finale, this is not the last we will hear of Cecile Dubois’ premonition about Cole, Olivia and Paul. It will play an important part in a future story.

“All Aboard the Orient Express”


Below is a look at two major movies and a television movie that featured journeys aboard the famed Orient Express:



I will be the first to admit that I am not one of those who demand that a novel, a movie or a television production to be historically accurate. Not if history gets in the way of the story. But there is an anal streak within me that rears its ugly head, sometimes. And that streak would usually lead me to judge just how accurate a particular production or novel is.

Recently, I watched three movies that featured a journey aboard the legendary train, the Orient Express. Perhaps I should be a little more accurate. All three movies, “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974)“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2010) and “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” (1963) featured a famous route that came into existence nearly a year following World War I called the Simplon Orient Express. The original route for the Orient Express stretched from Paris to Istanbul via Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest. Then in 1919, Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits introduced a more southerly route, due to the opening of the Simplon Tunnel. This route stretched between Paris and Istanbul, via Lausanne, Milan, Venice, Belgrade and Sofia. Writers Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming made the Simplon Orient Express route famous thanks to their novels, “Murder on the Orient Express” (1934) and “From Russia With Love” (1957). And the movie adaptations of these novels increased the route’s fame.

Both Christie and Fleming’s novels featured the Simplon Orient Express’ route from Istanbul to Yugoslavia. There are reasons why their stories do not stretch further west to as far as at least France. In “Murder on the Orient Express”, the train became stuck in a snowdrift in Yugoslavia and detective Hercule Poirot spent the rest of the novel trying to solve the murder of an American passenger. And in “From Russia With Love”, British agent James Bond and his companion, Tatiana Romanova, made it as far as either Italy or France. The 1974 and 2010 adaptations of Christie’s novel, more or less remained faithful to the latter as far as setting is concerned. However, EON Production’s 1963 adaptation of Fleming’s novel allowed Bond and Tatiana to escape from the train before it could cross the Yugoslavia-Italy border.

While watching the three movies, I discovered that their portrayals of the Simplon Orient Express route were not completely accurate. I can imagine the thoughts running through the minds of many, declaring “Who cares?”. And I believe they would be right to feel this way. But I thought it would be fun to look into the matter. Before I do, I think I should cover a few basics about this famous train route from Istanbul to Paris-Calais.

During its heyday, the Orient Express usually departed from Istanbul around 11:00 p.m. Following the rise of the Iron Curtain after World War II, the Orient Express extended it route to stops in Greece in order to avoid the Soviet-controlled countries. The only Communist country it passed through was Yugoslavia. When the train became the slower Direct Orient Express in 1962, it usually departed Istanbul around 4:15 p.m. I do not know whether a restaurant car and/or a salon “Pullman” car was attached to the Direct Orient Express when it departed Istanbul between 1962 and 1977. One last matter. In the three adaptations of the two novels, the Orient Express usually made a significant stop at Belgrade. It took the Orient Express, during its heyday, at least 23 to 24 hours to travel from Istanbul to Belgrade.

Let us now see how accurately the two “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” movies and the 1963 “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” flick accurately portray traveling aboard the Simplon Orient Express (or Direct Orient Express) on film. I will begin with the “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, the 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel.



Following the conclusion of a successful case for the British Army somewhere in the Middle East, Belgian-born detective is on his way home to London, via a train journey aboard the famed Orient Express. When an American businessman named Samuel Rachett is murdered during the second night aboard the train, Poirot is asked by his friend and director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, Senor Bianchi, to investigate the crime.

In this adaptation directed by Sidney Lumet, the Simplon Orient Express that left Istanbul did so at 9:00 at night. The movie also included a dining car attached to the train. One scene featured a chef examining food being loaded onto the train. This scene is erroneous. According to the The Man in Seat 61 website, there was no dining car attached to the train when it left Istanbul. A dining car was usually attached at Kapikule on the Turkish/Bulgarian border, before it was time to serve breakfast. The movie also featured a salon car or a “Pullman”, where Hercule Poirot interrogated most of the passengers of the Istanbul-Calais car.


According to the “Seat 61” site, there was no salon “Pullman” car attached to the train east of Trieste, Italy. Christie needed the presence of the car for dramatic purposes and added one into her novel. The producers of the 1974 movie did the same. At least the producers of the 1974 used the right dark blue and cream-colored car for the Pullman. More importantly, they used the right dark blue cars for the train’s sleeping coaches, as shown in the image below:


In the movie, the Simplon Orient Express reached Belgrade 24 hours after its departure from Istanbul. For once, the movie was accurate. Somewhere between Vinkovci and Brod, the Orient Express ended up snowbound and remained there until the end of the story.



This adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel first aired on Britain’s ITV network in 2010. The television movie started with Hercule Poirot berating a British Army officer caught in a devastating lie. After the officer commits suicide, Poirot ends up in Istanbul, where he and a British couple witness the stoning of an adulterous Turkish woman. Eventually, the couple and Poirot board the Orient Express, where the latter finds himself investigating the murder of an American passenger.

I do not know what time the Simplon Orient Express departed Istanbul in this adaptation. The movie never indicated a particular time. This version also featured a brief scene with a chef examining food being loaded aboard a dining car. As I previously mentioned, a dining car was not attached until Kapikule. The movie did feature Poirot and some of the Istanbul-Calais car passengers eating breakfast the following morning. In this scene, I noticed a major blooper. Car attendant Pierre Michel was shown serving a dish to Poirot in the dining car. Note the images below:

pierre michel1
Pierre Michel greets Poirot and M. Bouc before they board the train

pierre michel2
Pierre serves breakfast to Poirot

Why on earth would a car attendant (or train conductor, as he was in the 1934 novel) act as a waiter in the dining car? Like the 1974 movie, the ITV adaptation also featured a salon “Pullman” attached to the train, east of Italy. In fact, they did more than use one salon “Pullman”. As I had stated earlier, the westbound Simplon Orient Express usually acquired a salon “Pullman” after its arrival in Trieste. But in this adaptation, the producers decided to use the dark blue and cream-colored “Pullman” cars for the entire train as shown in these images:

oe1 IMG_7341

This is completely in error. As I had stated earlier, the Orient Express usually featured a dark-blue and cream-colored salon “Pullman” between Italy and Paris. But it also featured the dark-blue and cream-colored seating “Pullmans” between Calais and Paris. There is no way that the Orient Express leaving Istanbul would entirely consist of the blue and cream “Pullman” cars.

However, the train did arrive at Belgarde at least 24 hours after its departure from Istanbul. Like the other movie, the train ended up snowbound between Vinkovci and Brod and remained there until the last scene. However, I am confused by the presence of the police standing outside of the train in the last scene. Poirot and the other passengers should have encountered the police, following the train’s arrival in Brod, not somewhere in the middle of the Yugoslavian countryside.



Ian Fleming’s tale begins with the terrorist organization, SPECTRE, plotting the theft of the KGB’s a cryptographic device from the Soviets called the Lektor, in order to sell it back to them, while exacting revenge on British agent James Bond for killing their agent, Dr. No. After Bond successfully steals the Lektor from the Soviet consulate in Istanbul, he, defector Tatiana Romanova and MI-6 agent Kerim Bey board the Orient Express for a journey to France and later, Great Britain.

While I found this adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1957 novel extremely enjoyable, I found myself puzzled by the movie’s portrayal of Bond’s journey aboard the Orient Express. It seemed so . . . off. In the movie; the Orient Express conveying Bond, his traveling companions and SPECTRE assassin “Red” Grant; departed Istanbul somewhere between 3:00 and 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon. The train departed Istanbul around nine o’clock at night, in Fleming’s novel. Mind you, the novel was set in the 1950s and the movie, set in the early 1960s, which meant that its departure in the movie was pretty close to the 4:15 pm departure of the Direct Orient Express train that operated between 1962 and 1977. I do not recall seeing a dining car attached to the train, during its departure in the movie, so I cannot comment on that. But after the train’s departure, the movie’s portrayal of Bond’s Orient Express journey proved to be mind boggling.

The main problem with “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” is that Bond’s journey proved to be the fastest I have ever witnessed, either on film or in a novel. It took the train at least three-to-four hours to reach Belgrade, following its departure from Istanbul. One, it usually took the Orient Express nearly 24 hours to reach Belgrade during its heyday. During the first ten-to-fifteen years of the Cold War, it took the Orient Express a little longer to reach Belgrade, due to it being re-routed through Northern Greece in an effort to avoid countries under Soviet rule. This was made clear in Fleming’s novel. But the 1963 movie followed the famous train’s original eastbound route . . . but at a faster speed. After killing Grant, Bond and Tatiana left the train before it reached the Yugoslavian-Italian border. Bond’s journey from Istanbul to that point took at least 15 hours. During the Orient Express’ heyday, it took at less than 48 hours. And during the 15 years of the Direct Orient Express, it took longer.

Unlike many recent film goers and television viewers, historical accuracy or lack of it in a movie/television production has never bothered me. I still remain a major fan of both “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974 version) and “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”. And although I have other major problems with the 2010 “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, there are still aspects of it that I continue to enjoy. Historical inaccuracy has never impeded my enjoyment of a film, unless I found it particularly offensive. But since I can be occasionally anal and was bored, I could not resist a brief exploration of the Hollywood and British film industries’ portrayals of the Orient Express.



With one more season of “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” left with David Suchet as the famous literary Belgian detective, I thought it would be nice to rank some of the series’ feature-length movies that aired between 1989 and 2010. I have divided this ranking into two lists – my top five favorite movies and my five least favorite movies: 


Top Five Favorite Movies

1-Five Little Pigs

1. “Five Little Pigs” (2003) – In this beautifully poignant tale, Hercule Poirot investigates a fourteen year-old murder in which his client’s mother was erroneously convicted and hanged for.

2-After the Funeral

2. “After the Funeral” (2006) – When a relative of a deceased man questions the nature of his death at a family funeral, she is violently murdered the following day and the family’s solicitor requests Poirot’s help. Better than the novel, the movie has a surprising twist.

3-The ABC Murders

3. “The A.B.C. Murders” (1992) – In this first-rate adaptation of one of Christie’s most original tales, Poirot receives clues and taunting letters from a serial killer who appears to choose his random victims and crime scenes alphabetically.

4-Murder on the Links

4. “Murder on the Links” (1996) – While vacationing in Deauville with his friend, Arthur Hastings, Poirot is approached by a businessman, who claims that someone from the past has been sending him threatening letters. One of my favorites.

5-Sad Cypress

5. “Sad Cypress” (2003) – Poirot is asked to investigate two murders for which a young woman has been convicted in the emotional and satisfying tale.

Top Five Least Favorite Movies

1-Taken at the Flood

1. “Taken at the Flood” (2006) – In this rather unpleasant tale, Poirot is recruited by an upper-class family to investigate the young widow of their late and very rich relative, who has left his money solely to her.

2-The Hollow

2. “The Hollow” (2004) – A favorite with many Christie fans, but not with me, this tale features Poirot’s investigation into the murder of a successful doctor at a country house weekend party.

3-Appointment With Death

3. “Appointment With Death” (2008) – In this sloppy adaptation of one of Christie’s novel, Poirot investigates the death of a wealthy American widow, during his vacation in the Middle East.

4-Hickory Dickory Dock

4. “Hickory Dickory Dock” (1995) – In a tale featuring an annoying nursery rhyme, Poirot’s secretary Miss Lemon persuades Poirot to investigate a series of apparently minor thefts in a university hostel where her sister works, but simple kleptomania soon turns to homicide.

5-One Two Buckle My Shoe

5. “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” (1992) – Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp investigates the alleged suicide of the Belgian detective’s dentist. Despite the heavy political overtones, this movie is nearly sunk by a premature revelation of the killer.

“THE FAR PAVILIONS” (1984) Review


“THE FAR PAVILIONS” (1984) Review

Thirty-four years ago saw the publication of an international best seller about a young British Army officer during the British Raj in 19th century India. The novel’s success not brought about a not-so-successful musical stage play in 2005, but also a six-part television miniseries, twenty-one years earlier. 

Directed by Peter Duffell for HBO, “THE FAR PAVILIONS” tells the story of Ashton “Ash” Pelham-Martyn, the only son of prominent British botanist Hillary Pelham-Martyn and his wife in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains in 1853. After his mother dies of childbirth, Ashton is mainly raised by his ayah (nurse) Sita, who is a part of his father’s retinue. Cholera takes the lives of all members of the Pelham-Martyn camp some four years later, with the exception of Ash and Sita. The latter tries to deliver Ash to his mother’s family in Mardan, but the uprising of the Sepoy Rebellion leads her to adopt the slightly dark-skinned Ash as her son. Both eventually take refuge in the kingdom of Gulkote. While Ash forgets about his British ancestry, he becomes the servant for Crown Prince Lalji and befriends the neglected Princess Anjuli, Master of Stables Koda Dad, and his son Zarin. Ashton eventually leaves Gulkote after learning from the dying Sita about his true ancestry. After reaching his relatives in Mardan, Ash is sent back to Great Britain to live with his Pelham-Martyn relations. Within less than a decade, he returns to India as a newly commissioned British Army. Not only does he make new acquaintances, but also renews old ones – including the Princess Anjuli.

British costume dramas have always been popular with American television and movie audiences for decades. But aside from the Jane Austen phenomenon between 1995 and 2008, there seemed to be an even bigger demand for period pieces from the U.K. during the 1980s . . . a major consequence from the popular royal wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer. HBO and Peter Duffell took M.M. Kaye’s 1978 bestseller and transformed it into a miniseries filled with six one-hour episodes. Aside from a few changes, “THE FAR PAVILIONS” was more or less a television hit. And in many ways, it was easy to see why.

First of all, Kaye’s story about a forbidden love story between a British Army officer viewed as an outsider by most of his fellow Britons and an Indian princess with a touch of European blood (Russian) was bound to appeal to the most romantic. Add an epic trek across the Indian subcontinent (in the form of a royal wedding party), action on the North West frontier and a historical event – namely the start of the Second Anglo-Afghan War – and one is faced with a costumed epic of the most romantic kind. And I am flabbergasted at how the story managed to criticize the British presence in both India and Afghanistan, and at the same time, glorify the military aspect of the British Empire. If I must be honest, M.M. Kaye not only wrote a pretty damn good story, but she and screenwriter Julian Bond did a solid job in adapting the novel for television.

Now, I said solid, not excellent. Even the most first-rate miniseries is not perfect, but I feel that “THE FAR PAVILIONS” possessed flaws that prevented it from being the superb production it could have been. The miniseries’ main problem seemed to be its look. I had no problems with Robert W. Laing’s production designs. His work, along with George Richardson’s art direction, Jack Cardiff’s superb cinematography, and Hugh Scaife’s set decorations superbly brought mid-to-late 19th century British India to life. I was especially impressed by the crew’s re-creation of the Rana of Bhithor’s palace, the cantonments for the Corps of Guides regiment and the royal wedding procession for the Rana of Bhitor’s brides – Princess Shushila and Princess Anjuli of Karidkote (formerly Gulkote). For a miniseries that cost $12 million dollars to produce, why shoot it on such poor quality film, whose color seemed to have faded over the past two or three decades? It seemed criminal that such a lush production was shot on film of bad quality.

As much as I admired Bond and Kaye’s adaptation of the latter’s novel, there were two aspects of their script that annoyed me. One, the screenplay skipped one of the novel’s best parts – namely Ash’s childhood in Gulkote. Instead, the story of his birth, early travels with Sita and his time in Gulkote were revealed in a montage that served as backdrop for the opening credits. And I was not that impressed at how the script handled Ash’s early romance with a young English debutante named Belinda Harlowe. I found it rushed and unsatisfying. More importantly, the entire sequence seemed like a waste of Felicity Dean and Rupert Everett’s (who played Ash’s doomed rival George Garforth) time. And some of the dialogue for the romantic scenes between Ash and Juli struck me as so wince inducing that it took me a while to unclench my teeth after the scenes ended.

I had other problems with “THE FAR PAVILIONS”. The casting of American actress Amy Irving as the adult Princess Anjli (“Juli”) produced a “what the hell?” response from me when I first saw the miniseries. That startled feeling remained after my last viewing. Irving simply seemed miscast in the role, despite a decent performance from her and her solid chemistry with lead actor Ben Cross. Another role that failed to match with the performer was that of British military administrator, Sir Louis Cavagnari, portrayed by John Gielgud. Cavagnari was 39 years old, when he met his death at the British mission in Kabul, Afghanistan. Gielgud was 79 to 80 years old when he portrayed the military officer . . . naturally too old for the role. The makeup department tried to take years off the actor with hair dye and make-up. Let us just say that Amy Irving was more convincing as an Indian princess than Gielgud was as a character 40 years his junior.

Aside from my quibbles about the casting of Amy Irving and John Gielgud, I have no complaints about the rest of the cast. Ben Cross did a superb job in his portrayal of the hot tempered and impatient Ashton Pelham-Martyn. Ash has always been a frustrating character for me. Although I sympathized with his feelings and beliefs, his occasional bursts of impatience and naiveté irritated me. And Cross perfectly captured all of these aspects of Ash’s nature. Despite my strong belief that she was miscast, I cannot deny that Amy Irving gave a subtle and well acted performance as Princess Anjuli. But I could never accuse Omar Sharif of being miscast. He did a superb job in his portrayal of the wise and very witty horsemaster of Gulkote/Karidkote, Koda Dad. Sharif made it easy to see why Ash came to regard Koda Dad as more of a father figure than any other older male. Although I believe that Irving was miscast as Princess Anjuli, I was surprised at how impressed I was by Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Anjuli’s uncle, Prince Kaka-ji Rao. The Anglo-Spanish actor did an excellent job of portraying a character from a completely different race. I suspect the secret to Lee’s performance was that he did not try so hard to sell the idea of him being an Indian prince. And Saeed Jaffrey was superb as the effeminate, yet manipulate and murderous courtier, Biju Ram. It seemed a pity that the miniseries did not explore Ash’s childhood. Audiences would have been able to enjoy more of Jaffrey’s performance.

Sneh Gupta was excellent as childishly imperious and self-absorbed Princess Shushila, Juli’s younger sister. She did a first-rate job of transforming Shushila from a sympathetic character to a childishly imperious villainess. Robert Hardy gave a solid performance as the Commandant of the Guides. Benedict Taylor was charming and outgoing as Ash’s only military friend, Walter “Wally” Hamilton. I really do not know how to describe Rosanno Brazzi’s performance as the Rana of Bhithor. I feel that too much makeup made it difficult for me to get a grip on his character. I was surprised to see Art Malik as Koda Dad’s son, Zarin. But his role did not seem big enough to produce a comment from me. Rupert Everett was excellent as George Garforth, the British civil servant with a secret to hide. Unfortunately, I was less than impressed with the miniseries’ portrayal of the story line in which he played a part.

I realize that “THE FAR PAVILIONS” has a good number of strikes against it. But its virtues outweighed its flaws. And in the end, it proved to be an entertaining miniseries, thanks to the lush production and the first-rate cast led by Ben Cross.

“ARGO” (2012) Review



“ARGO” (2012) Review

Ben Affleck must be at a lucky point in his career. His third directorial effort had recently been released in theaters and became a commercial and critical hit . . . like his two previous films. The movie also won several awards, including the top prize – the Academy Awards Best Picture of 2012.  And Affleck never struck me as the type who would direct and star in a film about the CIA rescuing American diplomats from the Middle East, let alone co-produce it. But he did and the result is the movie, “ARGO”

“ARGO” began in early November 1979, when Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran and took most of the civilian and military staff hostage in retaliation for American offering refuge for the deposed Shah of Iran. At least six staff diplomats managed to get out of the embassy and seek refuge at the home of Canada’s ambassador, Ken Taylor. With the six diplomats’ situation kept secret, the C.I.A. assigns one of their operatives, one Tony Mendez, to find a way to get the diplomats out of Iran before they could be discovered. After dismissing several proposals, Mendez creates a cover story that the escapees are Canadian filmmakers, scouting “exotic” locations in Iran for a science-fiction film.

Mendez and his C.I.A. supervisor Jack O’Donnell, contact John Chambers, a Hollywood make-up artist who has previously crafted disguises for the C.I.A., in addition to his work in the “PLANET OF THE APES” film series. Chambers puts them in touch with a film producer named Lester Siegel. Mendez, Chambers and Siegel set up a fake film studio and successfully establish the pretense of developing Argo, a“science fantasy” in the style of “STAR WARS” in order to lend credibility to the cover story. Meanwhile, the escapees grow frantic inside the ambassador’s residence. Shredded documentation from the American embassy is being reassembled, providing the militants with evidence that there are embassy personnel unaccounted for.

I am going to cut to the chase. I enjoyed “ARGO” very much. What am I saying? I really enjoyed this movie. So far, it is one of the better ones I have seen this year. Once again, Affleck knocked it out of the ballpark with a first-rate thriller that gave audiences a peek into the efforts of the C.I.A. to save those six diplomats who managed to get captured by the militants. Affleck, along with screenwriter Chris Terrio, did an excellent job in setting up the entire story from beginning to end.

One of the movie’s gem scenes featured the actual storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. It is quite obvious that Affleck, along with cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, used a hand-held camera style to film this particular sequence. And although I am not a fan of this particular style, I must say that it suited this particular sequence very well, projecting an effective sense of chaos and panic.“ARGO” featured other memorable scenes, including Mendez’s efforts to recruit both Chambers and Siegel for his mission, a tense encounter between Taylor’s Iranian maid and intelligence officers looking for the diplomats, the humor-filled setup of the Argo Operation in Hollywood, frustrating moments in which Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan came close to shutting down Mendez’s operation, the final escape from Iran by air and a nail-biting sequence in which the same group hit the streets of Tehran for a “location scouting mission” in order to maintain their cover.

There is so much about this movie that I enjoyed that it would take an essay for me to explain in great detail. I do not have the patience for such a project, but I do have to comment on the movie’s technical aspects. Not only did Rodrigo Prieto did an excellent job in re-creating the violence and confusion of the American embassy takeover, he also captured the muted glamour and insanity of Hollywood with vivid color. I could see that a great deal of his work benefited from some outstanding editing from William Goldenberg. In fact, I really have to hand it to Sharon Seymour and her production designing team for their re-creation of the 1979-1980 period in American and Iranian history. Seymour and her team were ably assisted by Peter Borck
and Deniz Göktürk’s art direction, along with Jacqueline West’s realistic looking costume designs.

But “ARGO” would have never worked by Affleck’s outstanding direction and the talented actors and actresses that were part of the cast. Not only was I impressed by Affleck’s direction, but also his subtle performance as C.I.A. operative Tony Mendez, who did not need guns and fighting skills to accomplish his task – merely brains and nerves of steel. John Goodman was marvelous as the witty and slightly cynical make-up artist, John Chambers. He also had great chemistry with both Affleck and Alan Arkin, who portrayed the sardonic and prickly Hollywood producer, Lester Siegel. I was not that kind to Bryan Cranston in my review of “TOTAL RECALL”. But it was great to see his magic again, in his fiery and funny portrayal of Mendez’s C.I.A. supervisor, Jack O’Donnell.

“ARGO” also featured some wonderful supporting performances as well. Kyle Chandler made two brief, but very memorable appearances and President Jimmy Carter’s foul-mouthed Chief of Staff, Hamilton “Ham” Jordan. It is a pity that his role was not longer. I was also impressed by those who portrayed the besieged diplomats – the always entertaining Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Christopher Denham and Kerry Bishé. Scoot McNairy and Rory Cochrane were especially memorable as a paranoid Joe Stafford and the hilariously sarcastic Lee Schatz. Victor Garber gave solid support as Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador who gave the diplomats refuge. And Sheila Vand was marvelous in the tense scenes that featured the Taylors’ Iranian housekeeper, Sahar. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Zeljko Ivanek, Richard Kind, Titus Welliver, Bob Gunton and Philip Baker Hall.

Naturally, “ARGO” is not a perfect movie. Not all of it is historically accurate. This was very obvious in one shot that featured a dilapidated HOLLYWOOD sign that overlooks the Los Angeles Basin. The sign was restored to its former glory in November 1978, 14 to 15 months before Tony Mendez’s arrival in Southern California. And I found Mendez and the diplomats’ encounter with the Iranian airport security guards and escape from the country somewhat contrived and manipulative.

Flawed or not, I cannot deny that I found “ARGO” to be one of the most satisfying movies of the year. I enjoyed it that much, thanks to a first-rate script by Chris Terrio, superb direction by Affleck and an excellent cast that included John Goodman, Bryan Cranston and Alan Arkin. In the end, “ARGO” strikes me as another triumph for Affleck and his two co-producers, George Clooney and Grant Heslov.

“A Wedding in Four Acts” [PG-13] – Act 4 (Part 2)



Act IV – Part 2

In the McNeill garden, Andre sat amongst other wedding guests, waiting for the bridal procession to begin. The seats were formed in an unusual manner – a half circle that partially surrounded the altar. Although the houngan possessed great patience, it seemed to have been stretched to the breaking point, thanks to the jabbering woman who sat next to him. At this moment, he was seriously contemplating on practicing dark magic in order to shut her mouth. 

“. . .known Barbara for nearly seven years,” his neighbor continued. “Ever since I first became an accountant. Around that time, she had just opened a tea shop and café on Powell Street. But it didn’t last long. Only four months. Poor Barbara. She really wasn’t a very good businesswoman, back then. I certainly didn’t think Ostera . . . her new shop . . . would last this long. But it did. For about . . . oh, I don’t know. Do you know long its been opened?”

Stunned by the brief silence, Andre stared at his neighbor. “Huh? I mean, excuse me?”

“Barbara’s new shop. How long has it been opened?” Andre’s tormentor stared at him with pale blue eyes. She was a mildly attractive woman in her late thirties, whose placid looks contrasted with her exuberant persona.

Andre hesitated. He tried to recall what Olivia had first told him and Cecile about the herbal shop, before answering, “Oh . . . uh, nearly a year. I think.”

Nodding, the woman continued, “I’m not that surprised. Ostera has been in the black since last November. This time, Barbara had the good sense to open her shop in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. It’s an excellent commercial . . .” And on she rambled.

If only the damn ceremony would start and rescue him from this female chatterbox. Or if someone would appear out of the blue. Relief finally did appear – in the form of Mrs. Dubois. She leaned over to tap his shoulder and indicated with a nod to follow him. Andre stood up and followed the older woman away from the other seats. “Something wrong?” he asked with a frown.

“I’m not sure,” Mrs. Dubois replied. “I think there’s . . .” She paused and glanced past his shoulder. Andre turned around and saw the wedding procession emerge from the French double-doors. Cecile’s mother grabbed and led him further away. “Andre, I need you to go and find Cecile. Something’s wrong.”

His eyes still on the procession, Andre saw his girlfriend walking down the aisle, next to Cole. He blinked. “Uh, Cecile is over there. In the procession.”

“That’s not Cecile!” Mrs. Dubois hissed. “That’s . . .”

A voice called Andre’s name and caught him off-guard. “Andre! Can you hear me?” The Vodoun houngan stared at Mrs. Dubois, who remained tight-lipped. What the hell? “Andre, it’s me. Cecile! I’m talking to you, telepathically. We’ve done it before.”

“Cecile?” Andre said out loud. Cecile’s mother stared at him. “What . . .?”

His girlfriend’s voice interrupted. “Not now, Andre! Listen to me. I’m on my way to the garden. I was locked inside the greenhouse by some daemon. You’ve got to stop the wedding. Barbara . . .”

“If you’re on your way to the garden, who is this . . . other you?” Andre frowned at the bridesmaids.

“Andre! That’s not me!” Cecile retorted. “It’s an imposter! A shape shifter. And Barbara is another. In fact, I think she’s that succubus, Claudia Della Scalla. Either the real Barbara is dead, or stashed somewhere. And they have the Soma plant! Now listen up!” The Vodoun priestess paused briefly. “You’ve got to stop the wedding, or Bruce will end up married to that succubus. Get hold of Piper Halliwell and tell her to freeze everyone. She’s the sister with the long, dark hair. Remember?”

Andre stared at the altar, where the bridal procession had stopped. Both Harry and Olivia helped the bride and groom into their ceremonial robes. The Wiccan high priest and priestess were also robed. The high priest began to drone, “Let the four directions be honored that power and radiance might enter our circle for the good of all beings. Caller of the North: with the blessing of the deep and fruitful earth, we call upon the powers of the North.”

Cecile’s voice cut into Andre’s thoughts. “Andre! Did you hear me? Stop the wedding!”

“Yeah, I heard you. Just get here as fast as you can,” he replied. Taking Mrs. Dubois by surprise, Andre murmured, “I think you better get ready for some trouble.”

“What?” she whispered back.

But Andre barely heard. He made his way over to the remaining Charmed Ones, who sat with Olivia’s former whitelighter. Leaning toward the eldest Halliwell, he whispered, “Hey Piper, remember me? Andre?”

Piper nodded. “Yeah. Uh, is there something wrong?”

“Look, something’s about to go down, here,” Andre continued. “When I give the word, I want you to . . . freeze everyone.”

“But I can’t freeze witches.”

Andre said, “That’s okay. Just try not to freeze Cole.”

“Yeah, but . . .”

Before the witch could finish, Andre straightened up. In the middle of the high priestess’ sermon, he cried out, “Stop! Stop the wedding!” Everyone stared at him. Andre ignored the stares and barked at Piper, “Now! Freeze ’em!” The Charmed One automatically threw out her hands and nearly everyone froze – including the bride, Cecile, and the whitelighter. The baby wiggled in the latter’s arms.

“What the hell?” Bruce angrily demanded. “What’s going on?”

Shocked at the sight of both Barbara and Cecile in a frozen state, Andre declared, “That’s not Barbara! Or Cecile! They’re frozen!”

“Of course they are,” Piper said. “They’re not witches. Well, Barbara isn’t a witch like . . .” She paused and stared at Andre. “Why aren’t you frozen?”

The other sister – Phoebe – pointed out, “Uh Piper, Barbara’s dad didn’t freeze. Nor did Cecile’s mom.”

Frowning, Piper stared at the people in question. “I don’t get it. Why didn’t . . .?”

Jack McNeill interrupted. “You can’t freeze witches, Piper. That includes witches like Barbara and Phil. Nor can you freeze Vodoun priests and priestess, who are like us. However . . .” He glanced around, looking confused. “I still don’t know what the hell is going on.”

“And why is Barbara frozen?” Mr. Bowen demanded.

Mrs. Dubois answered, “It’s like Andre said, that’s not Barbara.”

At that moment, the fake Barbara slowly regained her movement. Piper let out a loud gasp. The impersonator coolly glanced at the others. “Well, it seems that I have been found out.” The blond, blue-eyed woman, quickly transformed into a statuesque woman with long, curly dark hair and hypnotic sherry-brown eyes.

“Oh my God!” Bruce cried. “Portia! Or . . . wait a minute! She’s dead! This must be . . .”

The real Cecile rushed out of the house, shouting, “That’s not Barbara! It’s Portia’s sister – Claudia!”

“So, you’ve heard of me,” Claudia sneered in a spiteful tone. “How clever. And if you believe you have won, you are mistaken.” She took a deep breath and cried out, “Oh Corvus! Call upon the Congrega de Della Scalla and summon them to my side!” Men and women immediately materialized in the garden, taking Andre by surprise. He realized with a sickening feeling that he and his friends had a battle on their hands with the succubus’ entire coven.


Still reeling in shock from Barbara transforming into the Amazon-like succubus, Paige’s eyes widened even further at the sight of demons appearing in the McNeills’ garden. The fake Cecile slowly unfroze and transformed into a dark-haired incubus.

The “bride” cried out, “Kill them! All of them!” And the succubus’ minions commenced their attack.

Before she could deal with the nearest minion, Paige saw the Morrises, Jason, Cole’s date and other innocents disappeared from the garden. Cole must have sent them out of harm’s way. One demon teleported beside Paige and tried to stab her with a stiletto. She blocked his thrust with her left arm and punched his jaw with a right cross. The demon fell upon the ground. Surprised by the blow, he glared at Paige and threw the stiletto at her. Paige teleported the weapon into her hand, and sent it deep into the incubus’ forehead, killing him instantly.

Paige glanced around to see how the others fared against the attack. She saw Paul Margolin turn one demon into an ice-crusted statue. Cool. Cecile – the real one – faced down another demon, brandishing a knife. The Vodoun priestess merely stared at the demon, causing the latter to scream in pain before dropping dead. Paige’s eyes then focused upon Gweneth McNeill and Andre Morrell killing a few of the succubus’ minions with balls of electricity. That surprised her. She knew that the younger Mrs. McNeill possessed electrokinesis, but the energy balls came as a surprise. As did Mr. McNeill’s power. Like Piper, he possessed the power of molecular combustion – blowing up demons who dared crossed his path.

The two older Halliwells seemed to be doing well. Phoebe levitated above an incubus and a succubus, and knocked both of them out with well-placed kicks to the head. Just as the middle Charmed One settled upon the ground, one demon raised her hand, as lightning bolts crackled from her fingers. Paige cried out, “Phoebe!” Fortunately, someone else had noticed Phoebe’s danger. A stream of fire left Olivia’s hand and incinerated the demon within an instant.

Phoebe and Piper stared at the red-haired witch in shock. And both failed to notice the demons that threatened from behind. Before Claudia’s minions could attack, Mr. Bowen came from behind and slit the throat of the minion that threatened Phoebe. Bruce McNeill ripped apart the other minion’s body with his aerokinesis.

Paige sighed with relief and turned away. She found herself facing another minion. The chestnut-haired woman’s eyes glowed red. Before Paige could do anything, a pair of hands grabbed hold of the demon’s head and neck, and broke the latter. The succubus sank to the ground, revealing Harry.

“Are you okay?” the youngest McNeill sibling asked with a concerned expression.

Paige nodded, as relief surged through her. “Yeah. I’m fine. Boy, that was close!” She glanced around. “Where’s Claudia Whatshername?”

Harry’s eyes scanned the altar. He pointed at the succubus, fighting Cole. “Over there. She and Cole seemed to be giving each other trouble.”

The redhead had not exaggerated. Claudia seemed to be teleporting all around the half-demon, avoiding the latter’s fireballs. Her energy balls merely bounced off Cole’s chest. Then the succubus stared at Cole, as if trying to hypnotize him. Aware of the half-demon’s susceptibility to telepathic powers, Paige feared the worst. Harry made an attempt to go to Cole’s aid, when the unbelievable happened. Instead of succumbing to Claudia’s power, the half-demon waved a hand before her face. The succubus clutched her head, screaming and disappeared from sight.

“Harry!” Elise McNeill’s sharp cry took the young pair by surprise. Carla Bianchi followed closely behind. “I see that Paige is with you. Good.” She grabbed her grandson’s hand. “I have the spell to vanquish our little visitors. I need you and Paige’s help.”

Paige glanced at Mrs. Bianchi. “Would you be able to . . .?”

“Anyone can use this spell,” the Strega said. “My grandfather once used it in Venice, years ago.”

Harry asked, “What’s the spell?”

Mrs. McNeill handed Paige and Harry, each a piece of paper with words scrawled on it. It looked like a banishment spell to Paige’s eyes. Then the Strega revealed another piece of paper that had the words, ‘Congrega de Della Scalla’. Mrs. McNeill sprinkled salt and water on it, while Harry drew a circle around all four witches with a stick. Mrs. Bianchi lit up a black candle in her hand and set the flame to the piece of paper. And then they began to chant:

“Blazing force of cleansing fire, help me in this rite. By air and earth, water and fire, so you be bound with this rite. Your power takes flight, sky and sea, cleanse us and keep harm from us. Cord go round, power be bound, your negativity will no longer come my way. From hence forth, the power of all incubi and succubae over us be banished. So mote it be!”

Screams filled the air, as members of the Della Scalla coven vanquished – one by one – into bursts of flames and energy. By the time the four witches had finished, all incubi and succubae had been destroyed. “Now that is what I call a timely intervention!” Andre crowed.

Piper added, “Would close call be a better term? Exactly how many demons were in that coven?”

Carla Bianchi replied soberly, “At least forty or fifty. It took Signorina Della Scalla nearly two centuries to create her own coven.”

A gurgle caught the attention of everyone. The sound came from a figure sprawled near Vivian Dubois’ feet. “Hmmm, looks like my boy is still kicking.”

“How is that possible?” Paul asked. “The spell was strong enough to kill the others.”

Both Cole and Bruce knelt beside the injured incubus. The half-demon ripped open the demon’s shirt, revealing an amulet laying upon the latter’s pale chest. An amulet with strange markings. “What’s that?” Paige asked.

Cole said, “Looks like a protection amulet. Those markings are Etruscan. So much for protection.” He removed the amulet from the demon’s neck and slapped the latter’s face. “Hey! Wake up!”

Another groan left the incubus’ mouth. His dark eyes blinked open and stared at the others in fear. “Eh? Wha . . .?”

“Where is she?” Bruce demanded brusquely. “Where’s Barbara? And that bitch you call your mistress?”

The incubus’ eyes fluttered. “I . . .”

“I guess I hit him a bit too hard, huh?” Mrs. Dubois asked.

“Where is she?” Bruce continued to demand. “Where’s Barbara?” He began shaking the incubus’ arm.

Mr. McNeill grabbed his son’s arm. “Hey! C’mon Bruce. Take it easy!”

The incubus opened his mouth. Another gurgle came out, before his body stiffened. Then he disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

“Shit!” Mr. Bowen cried out in frustration. “Now what are we going to do?”

Mr. McNeill sighed. “Well, we can always scry or try a locator spell. Or maybe we . . .”

“It’s not necessary,” Harry said, interrupting his father. “I know where Barbara is. She’s at 933 . . .”

Cecile finished, “. . .Oceanview Avenue. In San Mateo.” Harry stared at her. “I also read his thoughts before he died.”

Bruce sprung to his feet. “Right! Olivia, Cole, let’s go.” He turned to his sister. “Livy, you might as well bring Darryl with us. Especially if Nick is there.”

“Wait a minute, Bruce!” Olivia protested. “We’re going to need a telepath. You’re talking about a succubus, here. We don’t even know how many other demons there are.”

Cecile spoke up immediately. “I’ll come with you.” She glanced at Harry. “If you don’t mind.” The redhead responded with a silent shrug.

Cole waved his hand and both Darryl and Leo, who held Wyatt, reappeared. The former blinked and glanced around with confused eyes. “What the hell . . .? Where is everyone?”

“What happened?” Leo added.

Paige promptly replied, “Demon attack. Bruce almost married Portia Della Scalla’s sister. Who was disguised as Barbara.”

Cecile added, “They also have the Soma plant.” Everyone stared at her. “I found two of them in the greenhouse. And whoever knocked me out, took the plant.

“Looks like I had missed all of the excitement,” Darryl said in his usual, wry voice.

Leo asked, “Where are the other guests?”

Cole answered, “Safe. In another dimension. But right now, we need Darryl’s help.” He said to the police lieutenant, “We know where the real Barbara is. And possibly Nick Marcano.”

“Oh.” Darryl glanced around. “Uh . . . my gun. I think I’ll need . . .” A Glock pistol materialized in his hand. One also appeared in Olivia’s hand. “Okay. I guess we can leave.”

The five people joined hands. Before Paige could blink for the umpteenth time, they disappeared. Piper sighed. “And once again, it’s the Charmed Ones ‘not’ to the rescue. You know, it’s becoming a habit with this bunch.”

Realizing the truth when she heard it, Paige could only respond with a wry smile.


The moment Claudia teleported to the middle of her living room, she called for her surviving minions. Her heart nearly broke when only seven appeared, including her personal maid – Flauvia. “This is it?” she bemoaned. “Only seven of you have survived?”

Flauvia replied, “I have been here all day, Padronessa.” Her dark eyes brimmed with resentment, as she gingerly touched the back of her head. “Because of that witch.” Claudia looked at her questioningly. “She tried to escape.”

A sigh left Claudia’s mouth. “As much as I would like to kill her, I need the witch alive for now. To lure her fiancé to me. Meanwhile, bring the Streghone to . . .”

Before Claudia could finish her command, Nick Marcano burst into the room. “You’re back!” He glanced around in confusion. “Why are you here, so soon? Where’s Bruce? Is he dead?” Hope replaced his confusion.

Anger welled within the succubus. This Streghone . . . this idiot had cost her a lot. “No! Signor McNeill is still alive.” Disappointment flitted across Nick’s face. “Nor am I married. Someone had exposed me before wedding vows could be exchanged. I had to summon my coven to help me. Unfortunately, most of them are dead.” Claudia’s voice hardened. “Thanks to you.”

“Me?” Nick shook his head in disbelief. “I wasn’t even at the wedding! Why blame me?”

“Because you were the one who started this . . . this guaio!” Claudia spat out in anger. “By summoning my sister in the first place!”

Fear crept into the Streghone’s eyes. “But . . . but I . . . I didn’t force her or anything like . . .”

“Everything I have held dear is gone!” Claudia continued. “My coven and my sister. All because of your infatuation with that Wiccan bitch!”

The Streghone inhaled sharply. The man was obviously trying to keep from wetting his pants. Instead, he said in a wavering voice, “Look, things may not have turned out as we had expected. But you still have one thing.”


Nick continued, “The Soma plant. Didn’t one of . . . your helpers bring it here?”

“He is right, Padronessa,” Flauvia added. “Giancarlo had left it in the library for . . .” Her voice faded under Claudia’s hard stare.

With an air of desperation, Nick said, “With the plant, you can achieve invincibility. And get revenge on the others. Not even Belthazor would be a match for you.”

Claudia shuddered at the memory of the handsome half-daemon. He had managed to easily repel her attacks – telepathic or otherwise. The succubus realized that she had been fortunate to escape with her life. And the Soma plant would certainly be useful in her present situation. She turned to her servant. “Flauvia, go to the dining-room and . . .”

Five people suddenly materialized in the room, drawing stares from Claudia and the others. The succubus’ heart sank when she realized that one of the newcomers happened to be Belthazor.


The moment they had materialized in the middle of Claudia Della Scalla’s living room, Cole and his companions went on the offensive. The half-daemon destroyed one incubus with an energy ball the moment the latter had lifted an arm.

The others seemed to be doing fine. One daemon – a dark-haired female with a slender face – transformed into some horned creature, who pounced upon Olivia. The latter stopped the daemon in mid-air using telekinesis and flung her against the wall. She returned to human form and grabbed a knife from a nearby table and threw it at Olivia. The witch deflected the knife and forced the pointed edge to be buried into the demon’s forehead. The latter disintegrated into dust.

Cole glanced to his right and saw Cecile facing two daemons – a tall, fair-haired man with gray eyes and a middle-aged woman. Her lips moved, as if reciting a chant and both demons disappeared into bursts of light.

A gust of wind from behind attracted Cole’s attention. He turned around and witnessed Bruce disposing an incubus with aerokinesis. Then the older McNeill sibling cried, “Cole! To your left!”

The half-daemon whirled around and spotted a fireball hurtling toward him. He lifted one hand and easily deflected the fireball back to his attacker, destroying the latter in the process. Olivia killed a second daemon – another incubus – with a stream of fire, before turning to Cole. “Where is she?” she demanded in an anxious voice. “Claudia Whatshername?”

Glancing around, Cole realized that he had forgotten about the succubus. “I don’t . . . I don’t know. And I thought I had seen Nick in here.” His eyes returned to Olivia. “Where’s Darryl?”

“Oh my God!” Olivia’s eyes widened in horror. “You don’t think . . .?” She did not bother to finish her question. Instead, she rushed toward the doorway. Cole quickly followed at her heels.


Upon entering the foyer, the couple found themselves unable to decide whether to check the other rooms on the first floor or the second floor. Just as Olivia had suggested that she search upstairs, a slight cry emitted from another room. He and Olivia exchanged glances and rushed toward the source of the noise.

They found Claudia Della Scalla inside what looked like a library. The succubus seemed to be gushing over a bush planted inside a large clay pot. The legendary Soma plant. She spotted the newcomers and immediately flung an energy ball at Olivia. The latter easily deflected it back. Unfortunately, the succubus teleported out of the line of fire, avoiding energy ball. Cole waved his hand and a surprised-looking daemon reappeared. “Wha . . .?” she began.

Then the succubus disappeared. Again. She reappeared beside Cole, taking him by surprise. “Cole,” a soft voice whispered in his ear. A voice that strongly resembled Olivia’s. “Cole, it’s . . .”

“Stop!” the half-daemon cried out loud. Then he fought back with his own telepathic powers. “Blazing force of cleansing fire, help me in this rite. By air and earth, water and fire, So you be bound with this rite. Your power takes flight, sky and sea, cleanse me and keep harm from me. Cord go round, power be bound, your negativity will no longer come my way. From hence forth, the power of Claudia Della Scalla over me be banished. So mote it be!” He held his palm out and a flame of fire appear.

Claudia let out a scream. “No!” But Cole chanted the spell again, refusing to stop. The succubus release one last agonizing scream, before she finally disintegrated into a ball of fire. Cole stared at Olivia. “Is she . . .?”

“Gone.” Olivia nodded. “Yeah. What did you say to her?”

Cole shrugged. As he opened his mouth to respond, two gunshots rang out. The couple exchanged anxious looks. The shots came from upstairs. Cole grabbed Olivia’s arm and beamed her out of the room.


Fifteen minutes earlier, Barbara sat inside the bedroom/cell, brooding over her foiled escape. She glanced at the clock and her gloom deepened. It read five mintues after three. Which meant that Bruce was now married to that succubus bitch.

Barbara realized that all was not lost. Even though Claudia Della Scalla and Bruce might be married, hours would pass before the honeymoon began. This left plenty of time for the McNeills or anyone else to figure out that the bride was an imposter. And hopefully, this would provide Barbara with another opportunity to escape. If only she could find . . .

A loud, commanding voice interrupted Barbara’s thoughts. It came from downstairs. And it sounded as if it belonged to the Della Scalla succubus. What was she doing here?

A few minutes passed and the bedroom door burst open. Nick marched inside and grabbed Barbara’s arm. “What the hell?” she demanded angrily. The Streghone lifted her from the bed and dragged her toward the doorway. “Nick, what the hell are you doing?”

“We’re getting out of here,” Nick growled. “Now.” He continued to drag Barbara.

“What? Why?”

Nick’s grip on her arm tightened. “I’ll tell you later.”

Barbara wrenched her arm from his grip. “No! You tell me now! What’s going on?”

A second later, Barbara found herself looking down the barrel of Nick’s .38 revolver. “I’ll tell you later,” he shot back in a menacing tone. “Now move!”

A figure appeared in the doorway, also brandishing a weapon. Barbara sighed with relief. It was Darryl Morris. “Put the gun down, Nick,” he said cautiously. “Put it down.”

Taking Barbara by unawares, Nick grabbed her arm and drew her close to his body. “No! You put your gun down! Or she’s dead!”

“C’mon Nick! What’s the point?” Darryl replied in a cool voice. “If Barbara dies, you’re not getting out of here, alive. Even if you take her, we’ll get you. Besides, I know you don’t want her dead.”

With Nick’s gun pressed to her temple, Barbara could not see his expression. But she did notice that Darryl refused to lower his gun. She realized that she was in the middle of a standoff between the two men. And neither seemed willing to yield. Recalling similar situations in many television shows and movies, an idea came to Barbara. One that any sane person would consider idiotic.

Barbara took a deep breath and elbowed Nick in the gut. Hard. He let out a grunt and released his grip on her arm, allowing her to escape. Nick cried out, “No!” and aimed his gun at Barbara. Two shots rang out and the Streghone dropped to the floor. Dead.

Seconds later, Both Cole and Olivia appeared in the room. Olivia stopped short at the sight of Nick’s inert body on the floor. “Oh my God,” she murmured. “Poor Nick.”

“I’m sorry,” Darryl explained, “but he was about to shoot Barbara.”

Her eyes on the corpse, Barbara murmured, “Yeah.” She and the others continued to stare at Nick’s body. Remembering her rescuer, she added, “By the way Darryl, thanks for saving my life.”

“Hey, no problem,” Darryl replied. “Just returning the favor from three weeks ago.” His eyes filled with compassion at the sight of Nick’s body. “Man, I sure don’t look forward to telling his folks.”

Footsteps thumped in the hallway, outside. Bruce, followed by Cecile, burst inside. The former spared the Streghone a quick glance, before he rushed toward his fiancée. “Barbara! Are you okay?” He enveloped her into a bear hug.

Barbara nodded. Between Nick’s death and seeing Bruce again, she felt too emotional to say anything. Then she recalled something else. “By the way, did anyone find the Soma plant? I heard it was brought here.”

“It’s in the library, downstairs,” Cole murmured.

Cecile added, “Now that Barbara is safe and we have the plant back, I guess we can return and start the wedding again.”

“We have a few problems,” Barbara said. She glanced at her blouse and pants. “One, if that Claudia woman is dead, I think my wedding dress may have went up in smoke. Two . . .” Outside, police sirens wailed in the distance. “We have a body to explain.”

A smile touched Olivia’s lips. “Darryl and I will handle the police. And maybe Cole . . .” she glanced at the half-daemon, “can do something about another body. I’m sure that the police would like to see who was responsible for Nick’s escape. As for your dress, I’m sure there are a few stores still opened. And then you can have your wedding.”

END OF ACT IV – Part 2

“THE BIG COUNTRY” (1958) Review


“THE BIG COUNTRY” (1958) Review

William Wyler and Gregory Peck first worked together in the 1953 comedy classic, “ROMAN HOLIDAY”. The director and the actor became close friends and spent a few years trying to find the right property for which they could co-produce and work on together. Peck finally came across a magazine story, which eventually transformed to the movie screen as 1958’s “THE BIG COUNTRY”

The magazine story in question happened to be the 1957 Saturday Evening Post serialized article called“Ambush at Blanco Canyon”. Written by future Matt Helm author, Donald Hamilton; the story was basically about a Baltimore sea captain, who travels to Texas to claim his bride, the daughter of a wealthy rancher; and finds himself in the middle of a bitter feud between his future father-in-law and less wealthy rancher.

“THE BIG COUNTRY” began with the arrival of sea captain Jim McKay to a small, dusty town in western Texas to join his fiancée Patricia Terrill at the enormous ranch owned by her father, Major Henry Terrill. Terrill has been feuding with Rufus Hannassey, the patriarch of a poorer, less refined ranching clan. Patricia’s friend, schoolteacher Julie Maragon, owns the “Big Muddy”, a large ranch with a vital water supply. Although she cannot afford to hire men to operate her ranch, Julie is caught in the middle of the Terrill-Hannassey feud, as she has been allowing both Terrill and Hannassey to use her water for their cattle, while both ranchers long to buy her land in order to put the other man out of business. McKay refuses to be provoked into proving his manhood, having sworn off such behavior since his father died in a meaningless duel. He does nothing to stop Hannassey’s trouble-making son Buck from harassing him during his and Patricia’s ride to the Terrill ranch; and he declines a challenge by Terrill’s foreman, Steve Leech, to ride an unruly horse. When McKay decides to purchase Julie’s ranch and maintain her promise to provide water for the two rivals, matters eventually escalate into romantic problems and more violence between Terrill and Hannassey.

During his first three years as a director, William Wyler worked only on Westerns. Then between 1929 and 1940, he directed two Westerns – “HELL’S HEROES” (1930) and “THE WESTERNER” (1940). Wyler waited another seventeen-to-eighteen years before he worked on his final Western, 1958’s “THE BIG COUNTRY”. Although many movie fans seemed to like “THE BIG COUNTRY”, very few seemed to regard it as one of his finest films. I cannot decide whether or not I would view it as one of his best films. But if I must be honest, I do consider it as one of my favorite Wyler movies . . . even if my opinion of it has declined slightly over the years.

My recent viewing of “THE BIG COUNTRY” made me realize that it might be at least 40 minutes too long. A tight story about an Easterner getting caught in the middle of a land feud did not seem epic enough for a movie with a running time of 165 minutes. After he had finished production on the film, Wyler rushed into pre-production for his next film, “BEN-HUR”. Co-producer and star Gregory Peck had feuded with him over a scene that he felt needed some serious editing. tried to convince him to finish “THE BIG COUNTRY” with some much needed editing – a feud that lasted two years. And their feud was not helped by Wyler’s preoccupation with “BEN-HUR”. In the end, I believe that Peck had a right to be concerned. I feel that the movie needed a good deal of editing. Wyler wasted a good deal of film on Buck Hannassey and his two brothers’ hazing of Jim McKay during the latter and Patricia Terrill’s ride to her father’s ranch. The movie also wasted film on McKay’s self-challenge to ride the very horse that Steve Leech had earlier dared him to ride – Old Thunder. That scene took too damn long. Wyler also seemed enraptured over the eastern California and western Arizona landscape that served as Texas in the movie. Perhaps he became too enraptured. In the end, it seemed as if Wyler’s interest in Western culture and landscape had almost spiraled out of control. Even worse,“THE BIG COUNTRY” almost became a series of far shots to indicate the size of the movie and its setting.

Despite its flaws, “THE BIG COUNTRY” still remains a big favorite of mine. Robert Wilder, along with Jessamyn West, James R. Webb and Sy Bartlett did a first-rate job in adapting Hamilton’s story. Their efforts, along with Wyler’s direction, produced what I believe turned out to be one of the most unique Westerns I have ever seen. What I enjoyed about “THE BIG COUNTRY” was that it took the public’s image of what a Western – whether made in Hollywood or published in novels and magazines – and turned it on its head. Rarely one would find a Western in which its hero is a mild-mannered personality with the guts to reject the prevailing ideal of a Western man. The 1939 movie “DESTRY RIDES AGAIN” came close to it, but its quiet hero was an expert gunman, despite his “pacifist” ways. Even the Jim McKay eventually gives in to his own aggression, due to his developing feelings toward his fiancee’s best friend, Julie Maragon. But he also ends up learning a good deal about himself, thanks to Rufus Hannassey. I found it interesting that movie made a big deal over an eventual conflict between Terrill and Hannassey’s two “lieutenants” – Terrill’s foreman Steve Leech and Hannassey’s oldest son Buck. And yet, both ended up clashing with McKay over two women – Pat Terrill and Julie. And their clashes with Jim ended with ironic twists one rarely or never finds in many other Westerns.

“THE BIG COUNTRY” featured an excellent cast led by the always remarkable Gregory Peck. I cannot deny that he gave a first-rate portrayal of a character many might find uninteresting. I think that Peck’s Jim McKay would not have been that interesting in a modern-day tale. But as a character that upset the notions of manhood in the West . . . he was perfect for this story. As I had stated earlier, even McKay could not contain his emotions any longer. And Peck did a fine job in slowly revealing his character’s contained emotions – whether it was his dislike of Steve Leech, who constantly taunted him out of jealousy toward his engagement to Patricia; his frustrated anger at both Henry Terrill and Rufus Hannassey’s unwillingness to end their destructive feud; or his anger at Buck Hannassey, whom he viewed as a threat to a woman he eventually grew to love, namely Julie. Not surprisingly, Peck did an excellent job in holding this movie together.

But there were other performances that also caught my eye. The always dependable Jean Simmons gave a charming and solid performance as schoolmarm Julie Maragon. Charles Bickford, who had first worked with Wyler in “HELL’S HEROES”, did a fine job in revealing Henry Terrill’s malice and ego behind a dignified facade. “THE BIG COUNTRY” proved to be the last movie for Mexican-born actor Alfonso Bedoya (known for a famous line from the 1948 movie, “THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE”. What I enjoyed about Bedoya’s portrayal of Terrill ranch hand Ramón Guiteras was his ability to reveal his character’s wisdom behind the cliché of the childlike immigrant. I would go even further to state that Bedoya’s Ramón proved to be the wisest character in the story.

Chuck Connors is finally receiving some recognition of his performance as the blowhard Buck Hannassey and I say that it is about time. Most people tend to dismiss his character as a one-note bully . . . a typical cliché of what one might find in a Western. But thanks to Wyler’s direction and Connors’ acting skills, the latter also revealed the pathetic boy who had more or less longed for the love and respect from a parent who never liked him and who may have bullied him. Charlton Heston’s Steve Leech also proved to be a surprise. His character also started out as another cliché – the solid and virile Western cowboy. Thanks to Heston’s skillful performance, he developed Steve into a mature man who began to question the West’s code regarding manhood and who realized that the man he admired – Henry Terrill – may not have been as admirable as he had perceived for so long. One of Heston’s best moments on the screen was his quiet and determined effort to stop Terrill from the leading their cowboys into an ambush set up Hannassey in Blanco Canyon.

I was surprised to realize that the Patricia Terrill character, portrayed by Carroll Baker, struck me as more of a contrast to Buck Hannassey than Steve Leech. Whereas Buck longs for his father’s respect and admiration, Patricia has her father’s love in spades. Perhaps too much of it. Buck has spent most of his life being bullied by Hannassey. Patricia has spent most of her life being spoiled. Buck reacts with violence or bullying tactics when he does not get his way. Patricia resorts to temper tantrums. And she turns out to be just as childish and pathetic. I was shocked to learn that Baker now possesses a reputation for being a sex symbol. It seemed the public has tacked this reputation on her, based upon a handful of movies she appeared in the 1960s. I find this criminal, for it is plain to me that she was a very talented actress, who did a superb job in capturing the spoiled and childish nature of Pat Terrill. I feel she gave one of the best performances in the movie. But the one cast member who walked away with an award for his performance was singer-actor Burl Ives, who portrayed Henry Terrill’s rival, the seemingly brutish and sharp-tongued Rufus Hannassey. I might as well say it . . . he deserved that Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Some have claimed that he actually won for his performance in another movie, “CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF”. Others have claimed that he won for his performances in both movies. I have never seen “CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF”. But I cannot deny that he was SUPERB in “THE BIG COUNTRY”. Ives had all of the best lines and he did wonders with it . . . especially in his scenes with Chuck Connors. His Hannassey seemed to be, without a doubt, not only the most interesting character in the movie, but also I feel that Ives gave the best performance.

Even though I found some of the movie’s photography excessive and its editing almost non-existent, I still found myself enraptured over cinematographer Franz Planer’s work. He really allowed the eastern California and western Arizona locations to live up to the movie’s title. Without Wyler’s post-production input, Robert Belcher and John Faure’s editing pretty much came up short. However, there was one scene in which their work, along with Wyler’s direction and Planner’s camera, made it one of the most memorable in the movie. I am sure that very few have forgotten that moment in which a silently exasperated Leech changed his mind about following Terrill into Blanco Canyon. This entire sequence was enhanced by the stirring score written by Jerome Moross. Speaking of the composer, Moross received a much deserved Oscar nomination for the movie’s score. Personally, I would have preferred it he had actually won. In my opinion, his score for “THE BIG COUNTRY” is one of the best ever in Hollywood history.

Is “THE BIG COUNTRY” one of the best movies ever directed by the legendary William Wyler? I really cannot say. I have seen better movies directed by him. The movie has some series flaws, especially in regard to editing and too many far shots. But thanks to an unusual story, an excellent cast led by Gregory Peck, a superb score by Jerome Moross and some not-too-shabby direction by Wyler, “THE BIG COUNTRY” remains one of my favorite Westerns of all time.

“THE MASTER” (2012) Review


“THE MASTER” (2012) Review

Paul Thomas Anderson seemed to be one of those filmmakers who embody what critics would categorize as a modern day “auteurist” that release a movie every few years to dazzle moviegoers and critics with his or her personal creative vision. During his sixteen years as a director and filmmaker, he has made four short films and six feature movies. One of the six feature films is his latest, “THE MASTER”

Believed by many to be an exposé on Scientology, “THE MASTER”tells of the story of a World War II Navy veteran named Freddie Quell, who struggles to adjust to a post-war society. Freddie uses sex and alcohol to escape his personal demons. But when his drinking and violent behavior leads him to lose jobs as a department store photographer and a field worker on a cabbage farm, Freddie ends up in San Francisco, where he stows aboard a yacht that belongs to one Lancaster Dodd, a leader of a philosophical movement known as “The Cause”. Dodd sees something in Quell and accepts him into the movement. But Freddie’s drunken and violent behavior fails to abate and Dodd’s wife, daughter and son-in-law begin to express doubt that the latter can help the World War II veteran.

What can I say about “THE MASTER”? Did it turn out to be the exposé on Scientology that many believed it would become? Not really. Despite its title, “THE MASTER” seemed to be more about Freddie Quell than Lancaster Dodd and “the Cause”. The movie did feature practices that are believed to be similar to those practiced by members of Scientology. But the movie’s deeper focus on Freddie’s personal demons has led me to believe that the Church of Scientology has nothing to fear. In the end, “THE MASTER” seemed to be more of a character study of the very disturbed Freddie Quell, along with a secondary study of Lancaster Dodd . . . and their friendship. And Paul Thomas Anderson revealed these two character studies in a movie with a running time of 143 minutes.

There were aspects of “THE MASTER” I found very admirable. The movie featured outstanding performances from Joaquin Phoenix, who gave a volatile portrayal of the disturbing Freddie Quell. I was also impressed by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of the charismatic Lancaster Dodd. His performance not only hinted in subtle ways, his understanding of Freddie’s demons, but the possibility that he once possessed similar demons. And Amy Adams was memorable as Peggy Dodd, Lancaster’s second or third wife, who not only seemed more dedicated to “the Cause” than her husband; but also seemed to understand both him and Freddie with a frankness the two men seemed unwilling to face. The movie also featured solid performances from Laura Dern, who portrayed a hardcore devotee to Dodd; Rami Malek, Dodd’s quiet and unassuming son-in-law who assumes a dislike of Freddie; Ambyr Childers, Dodd’s daughter, who hides a lusty attraction to Freddie; Jesse Plemons, who portrays Dodd’s disenchanted son; Madisen Beaty, who portrays Freddie’s love of his life; and Kevin J. O’Connor, a devotee of “the Cause” who is not impressed by Dodd’s writing.

I was also impressed by the movie’s production designs. David Frank and Jack Fisk did an excellent job in re-creating America during the post-World War II era and the beginning of the 1950s. Mark Bridges’ costumes were tasteful and at the same time, projected an accuracy of the era. And cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. captured Anderson’s direction and the movie’s setting with some impressive photography.

So, did I enjoy “THE MASTER”? No. In fact, I dislike the movie . . . intensely. There is nothing more boring than a 143 minute character study, in which the main character does not evolve or devolve. Freddie Quell never changes. Perhaps this was the lesson that Anderson was trying to convey. But honestly, he could have done this with more solid writing, a shorter running time and with less pretentiousness. And I have never seen a movie with so much pretentiousness since Joe Wright’s movie, “HANNA”. While watching an early scene that featured Freddie dry humping a nude woman made from sand on a beach, I began to suspect that my patience might be tested with this film. I had no idea my patience would eventually slipped into sheer boredom. One cannot image the relief I felt when the movie finally ended.

I realize that “THE MASTER” has received a great deal of acclaim from critics and some moviegoers. But I simply failed to see the magic. And if this movie manages to acquire a great deal of nominations during the awards season (which it probably will), I will not be one of those cheering the movie for critical glory. I dislike it too much. Oh well. Perhaps I will like Anderson’s next film.