“LOST”: Things That Make Me Go . . . Hmmm?

The following is a list of questions I have regarding subplots that have been featured in past episodes of “LOST”. If you have an answer to any of my questions, please feel free to reply:

 

“LOST”: THINGS THAT MAKE ME GO . . . HMMM?

1. Who gave the original order for Walt Lloyd to be kidnapped?

 

2. Why did the Others kidnap some of the surviving Tail Section passengers of Oceanic 815?

 

3. Why did Ben Linus and the Others scheme to keep Jack Shephard, Kate Austen, and James “Sawyer” Ford as prisoners on Hydra Island?

 

4. Why did Michael Dawson confess his murder of Ana-Lucia Cortez and accidental killing of Libby to his ten year-old son, Walt Lloyd, following their departure from the island?

 

5. Why did Tom Friendly claim that no one was able to leave the island, following the explosion of the Swan Station, despite the fact that he, Michael and Walt were able to do so?

 

6. Why did the prosecuting attorney blindly believe Jack’s false testimony that Kate gave birth to Aaron Littleton, during their three-month stay on the island?

 

7. Why did the prosecuting attorney fail to continue her prosecution of Kate for the charges of bank robbery, assaulting a Federal peace officer, after the murder charges were dropped?

 

8. Why were the Losties, the Freighter people and Juliet the only ones who time traveled on the island and not the Others or Danielle Rousseau?

 

9. Why did Ben kill John Locke in “The Death of Jeremy Bentham”?

 

10. What happened to Claire Littleton during her three-year stay on the island, following the departure of the Oceanic Six?

 

11. Who killed some of the surviving Ajira 316 passengers at their beach camp and why?

 

“THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER” (1953) Review

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“THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER” (1953) Review

Tyrone Power’s career took a strange turn during the post-World War II years. Although he still managed to maintain his position as one of Twentieth Century Fox’s top stars during the remainder of the 1940s, something happened as the 1950s dawned. Powers still found himself in Grade A movies during that particular decade. But he also seemed to appear in a growing number of standard costume melodramas.

Twentieth Century Fox lent Powers to Universal Pictures to star in the 1953 drama called “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER”. Directed by Rudolph Maté, “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER” told the story of a New York-born gambler named Mark Fallon, who moves to New Orleans with ambitions to create his own gambling casino. During the riverboat journey down the Mississippi River, Mark becomes the friend and protégé of an older gambler named Kansas John Polly. The pair also run afoul of a crooked gambler and two Creole siblings named Angelique and Laurent Dureau. During a poker game, Mark exposes the crooked gambler. Also Laurent Dureau loses all of his money and his sister’s priceless necklace during the game. Upon his arrival in New Orleans, Mark becomes acquainted with the Dureaus’ father, Edmond Dureau. The latter admires Mark and realizes that the younger man is in love with Angelique. Unfortunately, she refuses to acknowledge Mark and sets matrimonial sights upon a friend of her brother’s, banker George Elwood. Mark and Kansas John meet and help Ann Conant, the daughter of an unlucky gambler who had committed suicide. She helps the two friends build their casino, yet at the same time, falls in love with Mark. And both she and Mark become uncomfortably aware that Laurent Dureau has fallen in love with her.

While reading the synopsis of this film, I noticed that it was identified as an adventure film. “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER” does feature some action sequences that include a fist fight aboard a riverboat, at least two duels and a murder attempt. But for some reason, I am hard pressed to consider it an adventure film. There seemed to be a lot more drama and action in this film. Especially melodrama. Production wise, “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER” struck me as an attractive looking film. Being a constant visitor of the Universal Studios theme park, it was easy to recognize some of the exterior scenes from the studio’s back lot. I doubt that “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER” had the budget to be shot on location in Louisiana. But I still would not describe it as cheap looking for a standard melodrama, thanks to Irving Glassberg’s sharp photography. Even Bill Thomas’ costume designs added to the film’s visual style. However, there was one costume worn by leading lady Piper Laurie that reflected the early 1950s, instead of the early 1850s.

I have no problems with the movie’s performances. Tyrone Powers gave a subtle, yet excellent performance as the good-hearted Mark Fallon, who had not only become enamored of New Orleans society, but also the leading lady. His chemistry with Piper Laurie struck me as pretty solid, but not particularly striking. I think Laurie’s portrayal of the aristocratic and hot-tempered Angelique seemed a bit too fiery . . . and possibly too young for the more sedate Powers. The actor seemed to have better chemistry with Julie Adams, who portrayed the sweet-tempered, yet practical and mature Ann Conant. I found myself wishing that her character was Powers’ leading lady. The lead actor certainly clicked with John McIntire, who portrayed Mark’s close friend, Kansas John Polly. The two men seemed to have created their own on-screen bromance with considerable ease. John Bear gave a very credible performance as Laurent Dureau, the careless, yet passionate young scion who happened to be the leading lady’s brother. Paul Cavanaugh was equally competent as Angelique and Laurent’s elegant father, Edmond Dureau. I would comment on the rest of the cast. But if I must be honest, I found them unmemorable . . . including Ron Randell, who portrayed Angelique’s corrupt husband, George Elwood.

While reading about the film, I also learned that “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER” was a big hit during early 1953. Leslie I. Carey, even managed to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound Recording for his work on the movie. But you know what? Despite the decent production designs, visual styles and solid performances from the cast, I have a pretty low opinion of “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER”. In fact, I am astounded that this movie was a box office hit. Perhaps that sounded arrogant. Who am I to judge the artistic tastes of others? I certainly do not like for others to judge my tastes or attempt to infringe their tastes upon me. But I have to say that I did not like “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER”.

What was it about the movie that I disliked? Seton I. Miller’s screenplay. I found it very ineffective. In other words, I thought it sucked. Exactly what was this movie about? Mark Fallon’s struggles to build his New Orleans casino? His adventures as a riverboat gambler? His romance (it that is what you want to call it) with Angelique Dureau. Apparently, it is all of the above. But Miller’s story struck me as extremely vague and very episodic. The only storyline that remained consistent from beginning to end was the love story between Mark Fallon and Angelique Dureau. And honestly, it did not strike me as a well constructed love story. The problem seemed to be the character of George Elwood. Instead of marrying him earlier in the story, Angelique did not marry him until the final half hour.

The love story was not the only problem I had with the plot for “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER”. One scene featured the leading characters witnessing a dance number by slaves or free blacks in an area known as Congo Square. I am aware that such performances did occurred in 19th century New Orleans. I found it more than disconcerting that the dancers featured in the movie were white performers in blackface as African-Americans. Mark Fallon’s struggle to build a casino did not come off as much of a struggle to me. In fact, Mark, Kansas John and Ann Conant managed to build the casino within the movie’s second half hour and lose it, thanks to George Elwood’s financial manipulations by the last half hour. Not only did the banker’s financial manipulations concluded the story line regarding the casino in an unsatisfying manner, but the same could be said about how Mark and Angelique’s love story ended. I could go into detail about what happened, but why bother? It would be a waste of time. All I can say is that I found the conclusion of Miller’s story vague, rushed and very unsatisfying.

In a nutshell, “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER” possessed both a decent visual style and production designs. It also featured solid performances from a cast led by Tyrone Power and Piper Laurie. But the first-class costume melodrama that Universal Pictures set out to create was undermined by a vague and unsatisfying story written by screenwriter Seton I. Miller. It seemed a pity that within the seven to eight years following the end of World War II, Tyrone Power’s career led him to this.

“MOB CITY” (2013): Episode Ranking

Mob City

Below is my ranking of the TNT Network’s 2013 six-episode limited series called “MOB CITY”. Inspired by John Buntin’s book, “L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City”, the miniseries was created by Frank Darabont and stars Jon Bernthal, Milo Ventimiglia, Neal McDonough and Alexa Davalos:

 

“MOB CITY” (2013): Episode Ranking

1 - 1.06 Stay Down

1. (1.06) “Stay Down” – With ex-wife Jasmine Fontaine safely out of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Police detective Joe Teague sets about making a deal with mobster Bugsy Siegel to guarantee her complete safety in this finale episode. Instead, events move toward an ending that proves to be as shocking as the beginning.

 

2 - 1.03 Red Light

2. (1.03) “Red Light” – During a visit to Jasmine’s apartment, Joe informs her that the L.A.P.D. knows about the pictures she took of Siegel’s murder of Abe Greenberg on behalf of her current boyfriend, second-rate comedian Hecky Nash. This visit enables him to learn of mobster Sid Rothman’s (a colleague of Siegel and Mickey Cohen) intent to bump off a potential witness to his murder of two Siegel soldiers.

 

3 - 1.01 A Guy Walks Into a Bar

3. (1.01) “A Guy Walks Into a Bar” – In this premiere episode, Joe accepts a commission to act as private bodyguard for Nash, who is blackmailing the mob with photos Siegel murdering Greenberg.

 

4 - 1.05 Oxpecker

4. (1.05) “Oxpecker” – While Cohen and Rothman discovers that she is the photographer who had snapped the incriminating images of Siegel, Jasmine is forced to deal with Hecky’s deadly partner in the blackmail scheme, Leslie Shermer. Meanwhile, the police’s attempt to protect a witness against Rothman ends in violence and disaster, thanks to a mole within Captain William Parker’s task force.

 

5 - 1.02 Reason to Kill a Man

5. (1.02) “Reason to Kill a Man” – Following Hecky’s death, Teague and the L.A.P.D. question Jasmine about his blackmail scheme against Siegel. Meanwhile, Rothman finds the two trigger men who had not only witnessed Greenberg’s death, but also served as informants for the police. Also, Joe’s fellow ex-Marine, attorney Ned Stax, warns him to get rid of incriminating evidence linking him to Jasmine.

 

6 - 1.04 His Banana Majesty

6. (1.04) “His Banana Majesty” – Mobster Jack Dragna tries to shoehorn into Siegel’s Los Angeles operations, while the latter is behind bars on suspicions of murder. And Joe is surprised by a visit to his apartment from Rothman.

“THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” (2013) Review

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“THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” (2013) Review

The second part of Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 fantasy novel, “The Hobbit” recently hit the theaters. After watching it, I am amazed that I was ever against the idea of a three-film adaptation of the Tolkien’s story.

Titled “THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG”, the second film began not long after the first one left off. I take that back. The movie began with a flashback featuring a meet between the wizard Gandalf the Gray and the Dwarf prince, Thorin Oakenshield at the Prancing Pony Tavern in Bree. Those familiar with the trilogy, will remember that Froddo Baggins and his fellow Hobbits were supposed to meet Gandalf at the Prancing Pony and ended up meeting Strider aka Aragon, future king of Gondor. The audiences learn in this flashback that it was Gandalf, who originally kickstarted the adventure by convincing Thorin to obtain the Arkenstone in order to unite the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain.

Finally, the story begins where the last movie left off, with Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins and the Dwarves evading the Orc chieftain Azog and his party. They eventually seek shelter at the home of a shapeshifter named Beorn, before they make their way to the Milkwood forest. There, Gandalf parts company with the others after discovering Black Speech graffiti imprinted on an old ruin. He heads toward the tombs of the Nazgûl in Dol Guldur, to investigate with fellow wizard Radagast. Meanwhile, Bilbo and the Dwarves get lost in the Milkwood forest and eventually captured by giant spiders. Using the One Ring to render himself invisible, Bilbo manages to free the Dwarves from the spiders’ webs. However, they end up being captured by a party of Wood Elves led by Legolas and Tauriel, who finish off the spiders. During the Dwarves’ captivity, Thorin gets into a conflict with the Wood Elves’ king, Thranduil; Kili becomes attracted to the Elves’ Chief of Guards, Tauriel. Again, Bilbo comes to the Dwaves’ rescue and help them escape, with their Orc pursuers close at their heels. And with the help of a barge man named Bard the Bowman (who is also a descendant of the last king of Dale), the travelers not only reach Lake-town, but eventually the Lonely Mountain and Smaug. Unbeknownst to Bilbo, Thorin and the other Dwarves, Gandalf is captured by the Necromancer of Nazgûl, who reveals himself as the Dark Lord Sauron.

Many fans and critics tend to view “THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” as superior to the first movie in this new trilogy, “THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY”. If I have to be brutally honest, I do not particularly share this view. On the other hand, I do not regard the first “HOBBIT” movie as superior to this second one. I really cannot make up my mind on which film is better. “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” does not have a first act that takes its time in introducing the character. On the other hand, “AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY” does not have an abrupt ending. And both films, in my opinion, are well written by screenwriters Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh and Guillermo del Toro. It featured further development of the major characters, development of the main narrative and some superb action sequences.

Before I wax lyrical over “THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG”, I might as well comment over its shortcomings. Thankfully, there are only a few. Two of them featured characters from the Wood Elves – Legolas and Tauriel. Orlando Bloom returned to portray the sixty years younger Legolas for this new trilogy. However, Bloom is over a decade older than he was when he portrayed the older Legolas. I wish I could say that he looked young enough to portray the younger Legolas. But I would be lying. And I am not being shallow. Bloom looked great. But I could tell that he looked older than he did in the “LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy. And for me, this did not gel very well, considering that he was portraying the same character at a younger age. I also had a problem with the new character, Tauriel, Chief Guard for the Wood Elves. I understand that she was created by Jackson and the other screenwriters, due to the dearth of female characters in this story’s chapter. Quite frankly, I have no problem with this, unlike the Tolkien “purists”. But there were times when I found her character a little too ideal. It is great that she is a badass. But aside from an initial show of bigotry toward the Dwarves, there seemed to be a lack of flaws in Tauriel’s characterization. Not only is she a badass fighter, she is the only Elf who seemed to be aware of a growing evil throughout Middle Earth and believes something should be done about it. Tauriel is practically a borderline “Mary Sue”. And like many moviegoers, I found the movie’s final scene rather perplexing. I realize that “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” is only the second of three movies. But Jackson had ended previous Tolkien movies – aside from “LORD OF THE RING: RETURN OF THE KING” – with the conclusion of a major action sequence. I had expected him to resolve the matter of Smaug before moving on to the last chapter of “THE HOBBIT”. He did not. And because of this, the movie ended on an erupt note.

As I had earlier stated, I cannot view “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” as superior to “AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY”. On the other hand, I definitely do not view this second film as inferior to the first. First of all, it benefited from the establishment of the main characters and main narrative from the first film. I also have to give kudos to Peter Jackson for maintaining a steady pace throughout the movie – in both the action and dramatic sequences. I find that very impressive for a movie with a running time of two hours and forty-one minutes. The movie also continued Jackson’s track record with impressive production designs. I was especially impressed by Dan Hennah’s work for the Mirkwood Elves Realm, Lake-wood and the Lonely Mountain interior sequences. The costumes designed by Bob Buck, Ann Maskrey and Richard Taylor struck me as beautiful . . . especially those designed for the Wood Elves. I cannot forget Andrew Lesnie’s beautiful photography of New Zealand, which served as Middle Earth. And the makeup designs for the Dwaves characters and the Elves continued to impress me. But I cannot forget the visual effects used in this film. Most of the faces for the Orcs were computer generated, and I must say that I found that impressive. The visual effects team also did exceptional work for the Dol Guldur sequences – especially with Gandalf’s encounter with Sauron. And despite my dislike of spiders, I was also impressed by the visual work on the Milkwood Forest sequence that featured the protagonists’ encounters with the deadly beasts. But the one sequence that stands above the others – at least for me – proved to be Bilbo and the Dwarves’ encounter with the dragon Smaug. How can I put it? I found it breathtaking, mesmerizing . . . and extremely frightening. The visual creation of Smaug truly have to be the movie’s pièce de résistance. Benedict Cumberbatch’s superb voice performance greatly added to the terror . . . and I am being complementary.

However, “THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” was not all about visual effects. The movie also featured some top-notch action sequences and superb dramatic moments. Not even my negative opinion of spiders could blind me from the first-rate sequence that featured the Milwood Elves’ rescue of Bilbo and the Dwarves. It was an especially good moment for actors Orlando Bloom and Evangeline Lilly. Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and those actors who portrayed the Dwarves had their chance to really shine in that outstanding sequence featuring Smaug within the great halls of Erebor. But my favorite action sequence featured Bilbo and the Dwarves’ escape from Wood Elves’ realm by traveling along a river inside empty wine barrels. Not even that brief, silly moment that featured Legolas balancing on the heads of two Dwarves, while fighting the pursuing Orcs could mar my enjoyment of that scene. If Jackson ever consider opening an amusement park, he might want to consider that sequence as an inspiration for an attraction. However, “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” was not all action and no drama. The movie certain featured some fine dramatic scenes. My favorites include two scenes featuring the growing romance between the Dwarf Kili and the Elf Guard Tauriel, Bilbo’s cat-and-mouse session with Smaug, and a wonderful moment in which Thorin manages to convince the citizens of Lake-town to support the Dwarves’ efforts to reclaim Erebor. But if there is one scene that really impressed me, it happened to be the stormy confrontation between the two leaders, Thorin and Thranduil, within the latter’s realm. I feel it was the dramatic highlight of the movie, thanks to superb performances from Richard Armitage and Lee Pace.

Speaking of performances . . . I really cannot say there was one that failed to impress me. Although I had some criticisms of the Legolas and Tauriel characters, I certainly had none regarding the two performers who portrayed them. Granted, Orlando Bloom may have been a bit old for portraying the younger Legolas, I must admit that I found his acting in this movie a lot more impressive than in the “LORD OF THE RINGS”. His Legolas in this film was a bit darker and more complex. And Bloom rose to the occasion perfectly. Evangeline Lilly’s portrayal of Tauriel was probably one of the best things in this movie. She has certainly come a long way since her early years as an actress. Tauriel might have been something of a “Mary Sue”, Lilly certainly injected a great deal of brilliance and excitement into the character. And she had great screen chemistry with Aidan Turner, who portrayed the youngest member of Thorin’s Dwarf band – Kili. Turner, who was such fun in the first “HOBBIT” film, did a marvelous job as the lovesick Kili. I especially enjoyed his one scene in which the barely conscious Kili not only poignantly expressed his love for Tauriel, but also his self-doubts about her feelings for him. Lee Pace added another eccentric character to his gallery of roles as the arrogant king of the Wood Elves, Thranduil. Mind you, Pace went out of his way to express Thranduil’s desire to protect his people from the growing evil. But he also did such a marvelous job in expressing Thranduil’s showy personality and arrogance.

Luke Evans made his debut in the trilogy as Bard the Bowman, an archer and descendant of the lords of Dale. And he was fantastic. Evans captured a great deal of the character’s grim charisma and presence with great ease. Some of the other actors who portrayed the Erebor Dwarves certainly made their presence felt in this film. Graham McTavish was deliciously surly as the aggressive Dwalin, the first Dwarf that Bilbo ever met. Ken Stott continued his outstanding portrayal of the elderly and very wise Balin. Dean O’Gorman continued his strong chemistry with Aidan Turner as Fili, Kili’s older brother. I was especially impressed by his performance in a scene in which Fili refuses to leave behind the injured Kili at Lake-town. A first-rate dramatic performance on his part. Stephen Hunter got to shine as the overweight Dwarf, Bombur. After his character was treated as a joke in the first film, Hunter had a great heroic moment when his character fought off several Orcs during the flight from the Milkwood Palace. Stephen Fry appeared in the film as the Master of Lake-town and gave a deliciously nasty performance as the self-involved and greedy leader of the community near the Lonely Mountain. In fact, I cannot recall him portraying such a negative character before. He should do it more often.

Ian McKellen continued his elegant portrayal of the wizard Gandalf the Gray. Like the second film in the “LORD OF RINGS” trilogy, his appearance was more limited than it was in the first. But he had some marvelous moments during the sequence that featured Gandalf’s visit to Dol Guldur. Martin Freeman’s portrayal of Bilbo Baggins developed in a way that I found both satisfying and disturbing. I have to give Freeman kudos in the subtle manner in which he conveyed Bilbo’s growing confidence in his role as a member of Thorin’s company. At the same, audiences could see the growing negative imapact of the One Ring upon his character . . . especially in the Milkwood Forest sequence. Bilbo’s character was not the only one growing increasingly darker. As much as I enjoyed Viggo Mortensen’s portrayal of the heroic Aragon in the “LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy, I must admit that I find Richard Armitage’s portrayal of Thorin Oakenshield more rewarding. The character is so rich in its complexity and Armitage does a superb job in portraying the Dwarf prince’s moral ambiguity. I found it interesting that in this second film, Thorin begins to rely a lot more on Bilbo to help the company through its travails. Yet, the closer the company reaches its goal in Erebor, the darker Thorin’s personality becomes. It is fascinating to watch Armitage take this character down a dark road.

It is a pity that “THE HOBBIT” trilogy has not garnered as much critical acclaim as the “LORD OF THE RINGS” movies. Quite frankly, I find them more enjoyable to watch. Unlike the trilogy from a decade ago, the two “HOBBIT” movies have managed to more than satisfy me. “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” may have possessed a few flaws, but it kept me fully entertained and fascinated right to the end. Right now, Peter Jackson seemed to be on a roll with this second trilogy. I only hope that the third and last film will not disappoint me.

“NORTH AND SOUTH” (1975) Review

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“NORTH AND SOUTH” (1975) Review

I had been a fan of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1855 novel, ever since I first saw the 2004 television adaptation a few years ago. Mind you, I had never read the novel. And I still have yet to read it. Despite this, I became a fan of the story. And when I learned that the BBC planned to release an older adaptation of Gaskell’s novel, which first aired in 1975, I looked forward to seeing it.

As one would assume from reading this review, I eventually purchased a copy of the 1975 adaptation on DVD. And if I must be honest, I do not regret it. “NORTH AND SOUTH” proved to be a pretty damn good adaptation. Like the 2004 version, it consisted of four (4) fifty-minute episodes. Gaskell’s novel told the story of one Margret Hale, who returns home after ten years to her cleric father’s rector in Helstone, after attending the wedding of her cousin, Edith Shaw. Margaret’s homecoming is short-lived when she and her mother learn that her father Richard Hale has left the Church of England as a matter of conscience, after he has become a dissenter. His old Oxford friend, Mr. Bell, suggests that the Hales move to the industrial town of Milton, in Northern England; where the latter was born and own property.

Not long after the Hales’ arrival in Milton, both Margaret and mother Maria Hale find Milton harsh and strange. Due to financial circumstances, Mr. Hale works as a tutor. One of his more enthusiastic students turn out to be a wealthy cotton manufacturer named John Thornton, master of Marlborough Mills. Appalled by the conditions of the poverty-stricken mill workers, Margaret befriends the family of one Nicholas Higgins, a union representative. She also develops a dislike of Thornton, finding him gauche and seemingly unconcerned about his workers’ condition. Unbeknownst to Margaret, Thornton has grown attracted to her. The volatile relationship between Margaret and Thornton eventually plays out amidst the growing conflict between mill owners and angry workers.

As I had stated earlier, “NORTH AND SOUTH” proved to be a pretty good adaptation. I have a tendency to regard BBC miniseries produced in the 1970s with a jaundice eye, considering their tendency end up as televised stage plays. Thanks to the conflicts, social commentaries and romance featured in “NORTH AND SOUTH”, the miniseries was never boring. Many viewers who have seen this version of Gaskell’s novel claim that it was a more faithful adaptation than the 2004 miniseries. I cannot agree or disagree, considering that I have yet to read the novel. But I have never been too concern with the faithfulness of any movie or television adaptation, as long as the screenwriter(s) manage to come up with decent script that adheres to the main narrative of the literary source. Fortunately, David Turner did just that. His screenplay, along with Rodney Bennett’s direction, explored all of the aspects of Gaskell’s 1855 novel – the reason behind the Hales’ move to the North, the labor conflicts between the workers and the mill owners, Margaret Hale’s conflict/romance with John Thornton, the latter’s relationship with his mother, Nicholas Higgins’ conflict with fellow mill worker Boucher, and the fragmentation of the Hale family. Also, Bennett directed the entire miniseries with a steady pace that kept me alert.

It is a good thing that Bennett’s pacing kept me alert . . . most of the time. Like many BBC productions in the 1970s,“NORTH AND SOUTH” did come off as a filmed play in many scenes. Aside from Margaret’s arrival in Helstone inEpisode One, the labor violence that erupts within the grounds of Marlborough Mills in Episode Two and the delivery of Boucher’s body in his neighborhood; just about every other scene was probably shot inside a sound stage. And looked it. This even includes the Milton train station where Margaret says good-bye to her fugitive brother, Frederick. Now many would state that this has been the case for nearly all BBC miniseries productions from that era. Yet, I can recall a handful of productions from the same decade – 1971’s “PERSUASION”, 1972’s “EMMA” and even “JENNIE, LADY RANDOLPH CHURCHILL” from 1974 – featured a good deal of exterior shots. And there were moments when some scenes continued longer than necessary, especially in Episode One. Margaret’s conversation with her cousin Edith and Mr. Hale’s announcement of his separation from the Church of England seemed to take forever. And due to this problem, there were moments went the miniseries threatened to bog down.

But as much as I liked Turner’s adaptation of the novel, it seemed far from perfect. One aspect of the script that really irritated me was that Turner had a habit of telling the audiences what happened, instead of showing what happened. InEpisode One, following their arrival in Milton, Margaret tells her parents that she met the Higgins family. The miniseries never revealed how she met Nicholas or Betsy Higgins in the first place. The series never revealed the details behind Boucher’s death in Episode Four. Instead, a neighbor told Margaret, before his body appeared on the screen. We never see any scenes of Fanny Thornton’s wedding to mill owner Mr. Slickson. Instead, John tells Mr. Bell about the wedding in a quick scene between the two men on a train. Also, I found Margaret’s initial hostility toward John rather weak. A conversation between the two about the mill workers took part after audiences met the Higgins family. It is easy to see that John’s arrogant assumption regarding his control of his workers might seemed a bit off putting to Margaret. But it just did not seem enough for her hostility to last so long. And while the script probably followed Gaskell’s novel and allowed John’s regard for Margaret to be apparent before the end of Episode One, I never felt any growing attraction that Margaret may have felt toward John. Not even through most of Episode Four. In fact, Margaret’s open declaration of her love for John in the episode’s last few minutes seemed sudden . . . as if it came out of the blue.

The above mentioned problem may have been one reason why I found Margaret and John’s romance unconvincing. Another problem was that I found the on-screen chemistry between the two leads, Rosalie Shanks and Patrick Stewart, rather flat. In short, they did not seemed to have any real chemistry. The two leads gave first-rate, if somewhat flawed performances in their roles. Aside from a few moments in which I found Shanks’ Margaret Hale a bit too passive, I thought she gave an excellent, yet intelligent performance. Stewart seemed as energetic as ever, even if there were moments when his John Thornton seemed to change moods faster than lightning. But they did not click as an on-screen couple. Also, Turner’s screenplay failed to any signs of Margaret’s growing attraction toward John. It simply appeared out of the blue, during the series’ last few minutes.

I certainly had no problems with the other performances in the miniseries, save for a few performances. Robin Bailey did an excellent job in portraying Margaret’s well-meaning, yet mild-mannered father, Richard Hale. Bailey seemed to make it obvious that Mr. Hale was a man out of his depth and time. Kathleen Byron perfectly conveyed both the delicate sensibility and strong will of Margaret’s mother, Maria Hale. I was very impressed by Rosalie Crutchley’s portrayal of the tough, passionate and very complex Mrs. Hannah Thornton. I could also say the same about Norman Jones, who gave a very fine performance as union representative Nicolas Jones . . . even if there were times when I could barely understand him. Christopher Burgess’ portrayal of Boucher struck me as very strong . . . perhaps a little on the aggressive side. And Pamela Moiseiwitsch gave a very funny portrayal of John’s younger sister, Fanny; even if her performance came off as a bit too broad at times. It was a blast to see Tim Pigott-Smith in the role of Margaret’s fugitive brother, Frederick Hale. I say it was a blast, due to the fact that Pigott-Smith portrayed Richard Hale in the 2004 miniseries, 19 years later. As much as I enjoyed seeing him, there were times when his performance came off as a bit hammy.

Overall, “NORTH AND SOUTH” is a pretty solid adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel. Aside from a few changes, it more or less adhered to the original narrative, thanks to David Turner’s screenplay and Rodney Bennett’s direction. And although it featured some fine performances, the miniseries did suffer from some narrative flaws and a lack of chemistry between the two leads – Rosalie Shanks and Patrick Stewart. However, “NORTH AND SOUTH” still managed to rise above its flaws . . . in the end.

“ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO” (1940) Review

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“ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO” (1940) Review

Whenever one conjured the image of Warner Brothers Studio during the 1930s and 40s, hard-hitting crime dramas or social commentaries come to mind. I would certainly not view melodramas – costumed or otherwise – as part of the studio’s usual repertoire. Then in 1933, Hal Wallis became the studio’s new production chief and eventually allowed the studio to release more films with a wider variety. And when Bette Davis became “Queen of the Lot” in the mid-to-late 1930s, the release of melodramas by Warner Brothers became more common.

One of the melodramas associated with Davis was “ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO”, the 1940 movie adaptation of Rachel Fields’ 1938 novel. Set in France and northeastern United States during the mid-to-late 1840s, the movie told the story of a newly hired French schoolteacher at an American school, who finds herself reliving her past experiences with a French aristocratic family to her new students gossiping over the scandal that had followed her across the Atlantic. The movie begins in 1848 United States. Mademoiselle Henriette Deluzy-Desportes has been hired as the new French instructor at a girls’ school. To her dismay, she discovers that her new students are aware of the scandal that drove her out of France. Instead of resigning from the school, she decides to tell her students about her experiences with the family of the Duc de Praslin and Duchesse de Praslin.

The movie jumps back to 1846, during the last years of the Orleans monarchy, when Henriette arrives in France, following a five-year stint as a governess for an English family. After an interview with the Duc and Duchesse, Henriette is hired to act as governess for their three daughters and son. Although Henriette endears herself to the Duc and his four children, the Duchesse seemed to resent her presence. Due to an erratic temperament and an all compassing love for her husband, the Duchesse begins to suspect that Henriette is not only stealing the love of her children, but more importantly her husband. Despite her happy relationship with the de Praslin children, Henriette is forced to deal with the Duchesse’ increasingly hostile behavior, a growing awareness of the Duc’s feelings for her . . . and her own feelings for him. The tensions within the family culminates in the Duchesse’s brutal death, which leads to a great deal of legal problems for Henriette.

“ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO” proved to be a successful film, but not quite a major box office hit. I read somewhere that some at the Warner Brothers Studios blamed the movie’s elaborate production designs for overwhelming the other aspects of the movie. I do not know if I could agree with this assessment. Granted, I found some of Carl Jules Weyl’s art designs of 1840s France a bit grandiose – especially in scenes featuring the de Praslin household. But considering the high level of melodrama and characterization, I find this opinion a bit hard to accept. I also find it difficult to agree with this slightly negative opinion of the movie’s visual style. Personally, I rather enjoyed it. I thought Weyl and his staff did an excellent job in re-creating the movie’s period – 1846 to 1848 via production designs, set designs, Warren Low’s editing and especially Ernest Haller’s Oscar nominated cinematography. I also have to compliment Orry-Kelly’s costume designs. The Australian-born designer had also created the costumes for some of Bette Davis’ movie, including 1938’s “JEZEBEL” and 1939’s “JUAREZ”. The designer could have easily been sloppy and re-used the costumes from those particular movies. Instead, Orry-Kelly created costumes that more or less accurately reflected the fashions of the mid-to-late 1840s.

While reading another review of “ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO”, the writer complained that he/she found it difficult to believe that a forbidden romance between a French aristocrat and his governess led to the outbreak of the Revolution of 1848 and the fall of the July Monarchy in France. Apparently, the reviewer had failed to do any research or read Rachel Field’s novel. AFter all, the novel was based upon history, including Field’s family background. Henriette Deluzy-Desportes (or what was her real name) was one of Field’s ancestors. And from what I have read, the real scandal that surrounded the governess and the duke had a major impact on the 1848 revolution that broke out in France. But was the movie’s historical background completely accurate? I honestly do not know. I would have to read more on the 1848 Revolution in France and the life of the Duc de Praslin. If I have one complaint about the movie’s handling of this historical background, I do wish that Casey Robinson’s screenplay could have provided more hints about the upcoming political upheaval.

Overall, I really enjoyed “ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO”. It is rare to come across a first-rate costume melodrama that can keep me enthralled during its entire running time. And this movie managed to achieve this, thanks to not only Robinson’s screenplay, but also Anatole Litvak’s steady direction. This was especially apparent in the first two-thirds of the movie that chronicled Henriette’s troubles with her American students, her arrival in France and her working and personal relationships with the de Praslin family. The movie’s best segment centered around the months she spent in the de Praslin family’s employment. Once, Henriette is dismissed by the Duchesse de Praslin for imagined slights, the movie struggled to maintain its momentum. This last third of the film centered on Henriette’s attempts to retrieve a reference from the Duchesse, the latter’s violent death, the legal wranglings that surrounded the murder and the finale in the United States. And yet . . . this last third of the film dragged so much – especially the period in which Henriette was in prison – that it threatened to overshadow my enjoyment of the film.

Aside from one particular performance, I have no problems with the movie’s cast. Bette Davis gave an engrossing and subtle performance as the movie’s lead character, Henriette Deluzy-Desportes. I will admit there were times I found the character a bit ideal for my liking – especially in the scenes featuring the governess and her charges. But the scenes featuring the growing love between Henriette and the Duc de Praslin and her conflicts with the Duchesse allowed Davis to superbly portray the governess more as a human being and less as a figure of feminine ideal. Charles Boyer was superb as the Duc de Praslin, a practical and loving man who found himself trapped in a marriage with a woman he no longer love. I feel it is to his credit that he could make the audience feel sympathetic toward a man who not only harbored adulterous feelings for another woman, but also murdered his wife.

The movie also featured fine performances from a supporting cast that included Jeffrey Lynn as Henriette’s future husband, the Reverend Henry Field; Harry Davenport as the de Praslin groundskeeper Pierre; Montagu Love as the Duc de Praslin’s father-in-law, Marshal Horace François Bastien Sébastiani de la Porta; and Henry Daniell as Monsieur Broussais, the man charged with investigating the Duchesse’s murder. “ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO” also benefited from excellent performances from the child actors who portrayed Henriette’s charges. I was especially impressed by June Lockhart and Virginia Weidler, who portrayed the Duc and Duchesse’s two older offsprings. The only performance I had trouble with Barbara O’Neil’s portrayal of Frances, the Duchesse du Praslin. I realize the latter was supposed to be an emotional and possessive woman, whose selfishness left her family out in the cold. O’Neil was fine in those scenes in which she conveyed the Duchesse’s coldness and attempts at indifference toward Henriette. Otherwise, her shrill rants and emotional outbursts struck me as hammy. I am surprised that O’Neil was the only cast member to earn an Academy Award nomination for acting.

I cannot say that I agree with the old criticism of the production designs for “ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO”. I believe the movie does suffer from some flaws that include occasional hammy acting from Barbara O’Neil and the slow pacing that nearly bogged down the third act. But Anatole Litvak’s direction, along with a first-rate screenplay by Casey Robinson, excellent production designs, and superb performances from a cast led by Bette Davis and Charles Boyer have led me to regard “ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO” as an excellent example of a Hollywood costume melodrama at its best.

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.: This Is Love?”

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“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.: THIS IS LOVE?”

Ever since the middle of Season One of Marvel’s “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, there has been a fandom dedicated to the relationship between two of the series’ characters: former hackivist/turned S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Skye (no surname mentioned) and Agent Grant Ward. And despite the amount of attention dedicated to this potential romance on the Internet and in the media, I have found myself wondering if I should support it or not.

The relationship between Skye and Ward began in (1.01) “Pilot”, the series’ very first episode. Despite being a member of a hacktivist group called Rising Tide, Skye ended up being recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson and his newly formed team (which included Ward) track down a man named Mike Peterson, who had recently acquired super powers. Coulson assigned the no-nonsense Ward to serve as Skye’s S.O. (Supervising Officer) and train her.

During Season One’s first half, Ward trained Skye; while she responded with quirky jokes and mild flirtation. Then in the final scene of (1.08) “The Well”, Ward began an affair with another member of Coulson’s team – the formidable Agent Melinda May. I suspect that May slept with Ward as some form of comfort following his traumatic experiences with an Asgardian Beserker Staff. Their relationship lasted until a “repentant” Ward received a grilling for fraternizing with another agent and promised to end the affair in (1.13) “T.R.A.C.K.S.”. Two episodes later in (1.15) “Yes Men”, Ward admitted his attraction to Skye in a conversation with the rogue Asgardian goddess, Lorelei. She had him under her thrall at the time. The friendship between Skye and Ward deepened in the following four episodes – between (1.16) “End of the Beginning” and (1.19) “The Only Light in the Darkness”. During this period, the events of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” played out and resulted in the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D., the revelation of HYDRA’s (a former Nazi science organization-turned-terrorist group) infiltration, and Skye’s discovery that Ward had been a HYDRA mole on behalf of another S.H.I.E.L.D./HYDRA traitor, Agent John Garrett.

The relationship between Skye and Ward fell apart during Season One’s remaining three episodes. Skye was forced to leave Director Nick Fury’s secret Providence base and allow Ward to lead her into the arms of HYDRA and Garrett. The latter needed her to break the encryption code she had created to guard many S.H.I.E.L.D. files. After Coulson rescued her at the end of (1.20) “Nothing Personal” with the help of fellow agents Maria Hill and Antoine Triplett, Skye and Ward did not face each other again until the big confrontation between Coulson and Garrett in the season’s finale, (1.22) “Beginning of the End”. In that episode, Skye expressed her disgust and contempt for Ward and he ended up in Federal custody after enduring a beat down by May.

Since the airing of “Beginning of the End”, fans have been divided over the future of Skye and Ward’s relationship (dubbed “Skyeward” on the Internet). They have also been divided over the possibility of Ward’s redemption in future episodes. How do I now feel about these issues? Honestly, I am a bit conflicted. At least about Ward’s redemption. Do I believe that he is beyond redemption? Well . . . no. I do feel that it would take a great deal of sacrifice on Ward’s part (possibly his death) to redeem himself for the murders of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents Victoria Hand, her assistants, and Eric Koenig; and the attempted murders of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents Leo Fitz, Jemma Simmons, Coulson and Skye.

What about “Skyeward”? How do I feel about the Skye/Ward relationship? Honestly? I do not sense any real love between them. Not really. The ironic thing is that I had earlier considered the possibility of a romance between them. After all, cast members Chloe Bennet and Brett Dalton managed to generate a pretty good screen chemistry. However, the revelation of Ward as a HYDRA mole led me to dismiss any considerations . . . for the present. But after my recent re-watching of several Season One episodes, I found myself wondering how I could have ever considered any possibility of a romance between them in the first place.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Skye

There are certain fans who believe that Ward could find redemption from his actions as a HYDRA mole through Skye’s love. I have a problem with this theory. I have a problem, because I have doubts that Skye actually loves him . . . or ever loved him. Her flirtation attempts at Ward in the early episodes seemed to hint that Skye found Ward attractive. She even used a photograph of him as her laptop computer’s wallpaper . . . like an infatuated schoolgirl. This attraction was especially apparent in an early scene from “Yes Men”, in which both seemed physically aware of each other, while the latter expressed relief at her recovery from being shot by HYDRA scientist/industrialist Ian Quinn in “T.R.A.C.K.S.”. Before this romantic exchange could progress, Skye expressed her dismay over Mike Peterson, who had just become Deathlok. Because she viewed him as a close friend, this was the second time she had expressed disbelief and concern over Mike’s transformation. The first time this happened, Skye had discovered his transformation for the first time before Quinn shot her. And she expressed her dismay for the third when she was a prisoner of HYDRA in “Nothing Personal”. For some reason, Skye found it difficult to give up on Mike.

At the same time . . . I do not recall Skye ever expressing similar feelings for Ward, when she discovered he was a HYDRA mole. Not once. When she finally confronted him about his betrayal to S.H.I.E.L.D., she merely expressed anger and disgust. In fact, she labeled him as someone “evil”. In the season finale, her feelings toward him had transformed into contempt and she judged him as “weak”, instead of “evil”. The only member of Coulson’s team who seemed unable to face Ward’s betrayal or give up on him was Leo Fitz. From the moment the rest of the team learned about Ward’s betrayal, Fitz expressed disbelief that Ward was a HYDRA agent and expressed numerous theories that Ward may have been coerced. Even moments before Ward tried to kill him and Jemma Simmons by ejecting them into the ocean, Fitz continued to blind himself from Ward’s perfidy.

As I had stated earlier, Skye never tried to deny Ward’s betrayal. One might point out her willingness to cooperate with Garrett over the encrypted files, when Mike endangered Ward’s life in “Nothing Personal”. But Skye was willing, if reluctantly, willing to allow Ward to die if it meant preventing HYDRA from accessing those files. In the end, it took Mike’s argument that she would have Ward’s blood on her hands if she did not cooperate. If Joss and Jed Whedon, along with Maurissa Tancharoen, are willing to satisfy fans with some plot twist that allows Skye’s love to redeem Ward; they will have to dramatically change her character for that to happen.

S.H.I.E.L.D./HYDRA Agent Grant Ward

Judging from the Season One episodes I have seen, I would say that Grant Ward harbors stronger feelings for Skye than she does for him. And yet . . . I cannot sense any deep and abiding love on Ward’s part for Skye. I can recall him expressing concern for her life, when she infiltrated Quinn’s mansion in (1.03) “The Asset”. He did seemed concerned for Skye’s life after she had been shot by Quinn. Yet, other members of the team seemed more openly upset. Like Ward, Fitz expressed remorse that he did not accompany Skye to Quinn’s Italian villa, where she got shot. But he seemed a lot more emotional than Ward. Simmons literally burst into tears. May lost her temper and nearly beat the living crap out of Quinn, who became their prisoner. And Coulson became uber-determined, actually desperate to find a means to save Skye’s life – even to the point of breaking S.H.I.E.L.D. protocol and searching for the project that had resurrected him. Of all the team members, Ward seemed the least emotional over Skye’s fate. Perhaps the latter was trying not to shed “unmanly” tears. Who knows? He did express his displeasure to his mentor John Garrett, who had ordered Skye’s death. But his easy willingness to accept Garrett’s dismissal of the incident struck me as a bit . . . interesting.

Ward’s most emotional reaction to any character on the show was directed at Garrett. This happened when the latter’s organs began to fail, due to internal cybernetic parts. Ward expressed deep concern when Garrett’s health began to fail in(1.21) “Ragtag”. And when a captured Fitz used an old World War II EMP device that further endangered Garrett’s life, Ward nearly flipped out. Despite the fact that Garrett had ordered Quinn to kill Skye and Mike Peterson to endanger his life, Ward remained concerned over and loyal to the older man. Some might say that Ward’s continuing loyalty to Garrett was a sign of emotional abuse he had received. But those flashbacks in “Ragtag” seemed more like examples of emotional manipulation from Garrett, not abuse.

And there is something else that bothers me. I found it odd that Ward’s attraction to Skye finally became apparent to audiences in “Yes Men”. Especially when May had brusquely brushed aside his concern and offers of help after she had been tortured in “T.R.A.C.K.S.”. Minutes later, Ward spotted Coulson tenderly attending to May’s wounds inside the Bus’ (S.H.I.E.L.D. plane) medical bay. I found it odd that Ward would begin expressing any romantic feelings for Skye two episodes after what he had witnessed between Coulson and May. Was he fooling himself about Skye? Had he been fooling her and the rest of the team about his true feelings? Was he relieved that he no longer had to fake romantic feelings for May? Or had he viewed Skye as an easier target for his reluctant lover act? Who knows?

Those fans who have rejected the idea of a future romance between Skye and Ward tend to cite the latter’s sexism, which reared its ugly head in both “Nothing Personal” and “Beginning of the End”. But I had spotted other reasons that make me doubt these two might be destined for any future love. One, Skye had no problems accepting Ward’s betrayal of the team and S.H.I.E.L.D., unlike Leo Fitz. On the other hand, she had trouble accepting Mike Peterson’s cooperation with Garrett and HYDRA. As for Ward, he was willing to deliver Skye into Garrett’s hands in episodes like “The Only Light in the Darkness”, “Nothing Personal” and even “Beginning of the End”. If he truly loved her, why would he be willing to endanger her in this manner? Is this supposed to Marvel’s idea of love? Frankly, I rather doubt it.

I could see that both Skye and Ward found each other sexually attractive. But love? Sorry, but I am not buying it. Not at the moment. The Whedon brothers and Tancharoen will have to make numerous changes in Skye and Ward’s personalities in order for me to believe they will eventually become one of the great romances for “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”.

“12 YEARS A SLAVE” (2013) Review

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“12 YEARS A SLAVE” (2013) Review

I first learned about Solomon Northup many years ago, when I came across a television adaptation of his story in my local video story. One glance at the video case for the 1984 movie, “HALF SLAVE, HALF FREE:  SOLOMON NORTHUP’S ODYSSEY”, made me assume that this movie was basically a fictional tale. But when I read the movie’s description on the back of the case, I discovered that I had stumbled across an adaption about a historical figure. 

Intrigued by the idea of a free black man in antebellum America being kidnapped into slavery, I rented “HALF-SLAVE, HALF-FREE: SOLOMON NORTHUP’S ODYSSEY”, which starred Avery Brooks, and enjoyed it very much. In fact, I fell in love with Gordon Park’s adaption so much that I tried to buy a video copy of the movie. But I could not find it. Many years passed before I was able to purchase a DVD copy. And despite the passage of time, I still remained impressed by the movie. However, I had no idea that someone in the film industry would be interested in Northup’s tale again. So, I was very surprised to learn of a new adaptation with Brad Pitt as one of the film’s producer and Briton Steve McQueen as another producer and the film’s director.

Based upon Northup’s 1853 memoirs of the same title, “12 YEARS A SLAVE” told the story of a New York-born African-American named Solomon Northup, who found himself kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. Northup was a 33 year-old carpenter and violinist living in Saratoga Springs, New York with his wife and children. After Mrs. Northup leaves Saratoga Springs with their children for a job that would last for several weeks, Northup is approached by two men, who offered him a brief, high-paying job as a musician with their traveling circus. Without bothering to inform Northup traveled with the strangers as far as south as Washington, D.C. Not long after his arrival in the capital, Northup found himself drugged and later, bound in the cell of a slave pen. When Northup tried to claim he was a free man, he was beaten and warned never again to mention his free status again.

Eventually, Northup and a group of other slaves were conveyed to the slave marts of New Orleans, Louisiana and given the identity of a Georgia-born slave named “Platt”. There, a slave dealer named Theophilus Freeman sells him to a plantation owner/minister named William Ford. The latter’s kindness seemed to be offset by his unwillingness to acknowledge the sorrow another slave named Eliza over her separation from her children. When Northup has a violent clash with one of Ford’s white employees, a carpenter named John Tibeats, the planter is forced to sell the Northerner to another planter named Edwin Epps. Unfortunately for Northup, Epps proves to be a brutal and hard man. Even worse, Epps becomes sexually interested in a female slave named Patsey. She eventually becomes a victim of Epps’ sexual abuse and Mrs. Epps’ jealousy. And Epps becomes aware of Patsey’s friendship with Northup.

“12 YEARS A SLAVE” gained a great deal of critical acclaim since its release. It won three Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture; and two British Academy Awards (BAFTAs).  Many critics and film goers consider it the truest portrait of American slavery ever shown in a Hollywood film. I have to admit that both director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley have created a powerful film. Both did an excellent job of translating the basic gist of Solomon Northup’s experiences to the screen. And both did an excellent job re-creating a major aspect of American slavery. I was especially impressed by certain scenes that featured the emotional and physical trauma that Northup experienced during his twelve years as a Southern slave.

For me, one of the most powerful scenes featured Northup’s initial experiences at the Washington D.C. slave pen, where one of the owners resorted to physical abuse to coerce him into acknowledging his new identity as “Platt”. Other powerful scenes include the slave mart sequence in New Orleans, where fellow slave Eliza had to endure the loss of her children through sale. I found the revelation of Eliza’s mixed blood daughter being sold to a New Orleans bordello rather troubling and heartbreaking. Northup’s encounter with Tibeats struck me fascinating . . . in a dark way. But the film’s most powerful scene – at least for me – proved to be the harsh whipping that Patsey endured for leaving the plantation to borrow soap from a neighboring plantation. Some people complained that particular scene bordered on “torture porn”. I disagree. I found it brutal and frank.

I have to give kudos to the movie’s visual re-creation of the country’s Antebellum Period. As in any well made movie, this was achieved by a group of talented people. Adam Stockhausen’s production designs impressed me a great deal, especially in scenes featuring Saratoga Springs of the 1840s, the Washington D.C. sequences, the New Orleans slave marts and of course, the three plantations where Northup worked during his twelve years in Louisiana. In fact, the entire movie was filmed in Louisiana, including the Saratoga Springs and Washington D.C. sequences. And Sean Bobbitt’s photography perfectly captured the lush beauty and color of the state. Trust the movie’s producers and McQueen to hire long time costume designer, Patricia Norris, to design the film’s costumes. She did an excellent job in re-creating the fashions worn during the period between 1841 and 1852-53.

Most importantly, the movie benefited from a talented cast that included Garrett Dillahunt as a white field hand who betrays Northup’s attempt to contact friends in New York; Paul Giamatti as the New Orleans slave dealer Theophilus Freeman; Michael K. Williams as fellow slave Robert, who tried to protect Eliza from a lustful sailor during the voyage to Louisiana; Alfre Woodward as Mistress Shaw, the black common-law wife of a local planter; and Bryan Batt as Judge Turner, a sugar planter to whom Northup was loaned out. More impressive performances came from Paul Dano as the young carpenter John Tibeats, who resented Northup’s talent as a carpenter; Sarah Poulson, who portrayed Edwin Epp’s cold wife and jealous wife; and Adepero Oduye, who was effectively emotional as the slave mother Eliza, who lost her children at Freeman’s slave mart. Benedict Cumberbatch gave a complex portrayal of Northup’s first owner, the somewhat kindly William Ford. However, I must point out that the written portrayal of the character may have been erroneous, considering Northup’s opinion of the man. Northup never judged Ford as a hypocrite, but only a a good man who was negatively influenced by the slave society. But the two best performances, in my opinion, came from Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and especially Best Actor Oscar nominee and BAFTA winner Chiwetel Ejiofor.  Nyong’o gave a beautiful performance as the abused slave woman Patsey, whose endurance of Epps’ lust and Mrs. Epps’ wrath takes her to a breaking point of suicidal desire.  Chiwetel Ejiofor, whom I have been aware for the past decade, gave the definitive performance of his career – so far – as the New Yorker Solomon Northup, who finds himself trapped in the nightmarish situation of American slavery. Ejiofor did an excellent job of conveying Northup’s emotional roller coaster experiences of disbelief, fear, desperation and gradual despair.

But is “12 YEARS A SLAVE” perfect? No. Trust me, it has its flaws. Many have commented on the film’s historical accuracy in regard to American slavery and Northup’s twelve years in Louisiana. First of all, both McQueen and Ridley took historical liberty with some of Northup’s slavery experience for the sake of drama. If I must be honest, that does not bother me. The 1984 movie with Avery Brooks did the same. I dare anyone to find a historical movie that is completely accurate about its topic. But what did bother me was some of the inaccuracies featured in the movie’s portrayal of antebellum America.

One scene featured Northup eating in a Washington D.C. hotel dining room with his two kidnapper. A black man eating in the dining room of a fashionable Washington D.C. hotel in 1841? Were McQueen and Ridley kidding? The first integrated Washington D.C. hotel opened in 1871, thirty years later. Even more ludicrous was a scene featuring a drugged and ill Northup inside one of the hotel’s room near white patrons. Because he was black, Northup was forced to sleep in a room in the back of the hotel. The death of the slave Robert at the hands of a sailor bent on raping Eliza struck me as ludicrous. One, it never happened. And two, there is no way some mere sailor – regardless of his color – could casually kill a slave owned by another. Especially a slave headed for the slave marts. He would find himself in serious financial trouble. Even Tibeats had been warned by Ford’s overseer about the financial danger he would face upon killing Northup. I can only assume that Epps was a very hands on planter, because I was surprised by the numerous scenes featuring him supervising the field slaves. And I have never heard of this before. And I am still shaking my head at the scene featuring Northup’s visit to the Shaw plantation, where he found a loaned out Patsey having refreshments with the plantation mistress, Harriet Shaw. Black or white, I simply find it difficult to surmise a plantation mistress having refreshments with a slave – owned or loaned out. Speaking of Patsey’s social visit to the Shaw plantation, could someone explain why she and Mistress Shaw are eating a dessert that had been created in France, during the late 19th century? Check out the image below:

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The image features the two women eating macarons. Now I realize that macarons had existed even before the 1840s. But the macarons featured in the image above (with a sweet paste creating a sandwich with two cookies) first made their debut, thanks to a pair of Parisian bakers in the late 19th century, decades after the movie’s setting. This was a very sloppy move either on the part of Stockhausen or the movie’s set decorator, Alice Baker.

And if I must be frank, I had a problem with some of the movie’s dialogue. I realize that McQueen and Ridley were attempting to recapture the dialogue of 19th century America. But there were times I felt they had failed spectacularly. Some of it brought back painful memories of the stilted dialogue from the 2003 Civil War movie, “GODS AND GENERALS”. The words coming out of the actors’ mouths struck me as part dialogue, part speeches. The only thing missing was a speech from a Shakespearean play.

Not only did I have a problem with the dialogue, but also some of the performances. Even those performances I had earlier praised nearly got off tracked by the movie’s more questionable dialogue. But I was not impressed by two particular performances. One came from Brad Pitt, who portrayed a Canadian carpenter hired by Epps to build a gazebo. To be fair, my main problems with Pitt’s performance was the dialogue that sounded like a speech . . . and his accent. Do Canadians actually sound like that? In fact, I find it difficult to pinpoint what kind of accent he actually used. The performance that I really found troubling was Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of the brutal Edwin Epps. Mind you, he had his moments of subtle acting that really impressed me – especially in scenes featuring Epps’ clashes with his wife or the more subtle attempts of intimidation of Northup. Those moments reminded me why I had been a fan of the actor for years.  Perhaps those moments led him to earning an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  But Fassbender’s Epps mainly came off as a one-dimensional villain with very little subtlety or complexity. Consider the image below in which Fassbender is trying to convey Epps’ casual brutality:

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For me, it seemed as if the actor is trying just a little too hard. And I suspect that McQueen’s direction is to blame for this. I blame both McQueen and Ridley for their failure to reveal Epps’ insecurities, which were not only apparent in Northup’s memoirs, but also in the 1984 movie. Speaking of McQueen, there were times when I found his direction heavy-handed. This was especially apparent in most of Fassbender’s scenes and in sequences in which some of the other characters’ dialogue spiraled into speeches. And then there was Hans Zimmer’s score. I have been a fan of Zimmer for nearly two decades. But I have to say that I did not particularly care for his work in “12 YEARS A SLAVE”. His use of horns in the score struck me as somewhat over-the-top.

Do I feel that “12 YEARS A SLAVE” deserves its acclaim? Well . . . yes. Despite its flaws, it is a very good movie that did not whitewash Solomon Northup’s brutal experiences as a slave. And it also featured some exceptional performances, especially from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o. But I also feel that some of the acclaim that the movie has garnered, may have been undeserved, along with its Oscar and BAFTA Best Picture awards.  As good as it was, I found it hard to accept that “12 YEARS A SLAVE” was the best movie about American slavery ever made.

Top Ten Favorite BRITISH EMPIRE Novels

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Below is a list of my current favorite novels set during the British Empire:

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE BRITISH EMPIRE NOVELS

1 - Flashman in the Great Game

1. “Flashman in the Great Game” (1975) by George MacDonald Fraser – Set between 1856 and 1858, this fifth novel in theFlashman Papers Series is about cowardly British Army officer Harry Flashman’s experiences during the Sepoy Rebellion.

 

2 - Shadow of the Moon

2. “Shadow of the Moon” (1957/1979) by M.M. Kaye – This is a love story between an Anglo-Spanish heiress and a British Army officer before and during the Sepoy Rebellion.

 

3 - The Bastard

3. “The Bastard” (1974) by John Jakes – Set during the final five years before the American Revolution, this tale is about Phillipe Charbaneau aka Philip Kent, the Anglo-French bastard of a nobleman forced to seek a new life in the American Colonies.

 

4 - Flashman and the Dragon

4. “Flashman and the Dragon” (1985) by George MacDonald Fraser – The eighth novel of the Flashman Papers reveals Harry Flashman’s experiences in China during the Taiping Rebellion and the British march to Peking during the Second Opium War.

 

5 - Noble House

5. “Noble House” (1981) by James Clavell – Set during two weeks in August 1963, this novel is about a British businessman in Hong Kong, who struggles to save his family’s company from financial ruin through a deal with an American corporate raider.

 

6 - Zemindar

6. “Zemindar” (1982) by Valerie Fitzgerald – This novel is about a young Englishwoman named Laura Hewitt, who accompanies her cousin and cousin-in-law to India to meet the latter’s wealthy half-brother. All three get caught up in the outbreak of the Sepoy Rebellion.

 

7 - Tai-pan

7. “Tai-Pan” (1966) by James Clavell – Set during the immediate aftermath of the First Opium War, this novel is about a British trader and his dealings with his family and enemies during the formation of Britain’s Hong Kong colony.

 

8 - Liberty Tavern

8. “Liberty Tavern” (1976) by Thomas Fleming – This novel is about a former British Army officer, who operates a New Jersey tavern and serves as guardian to his stepchildren during the American Revolution.

 

9 - The Far Pavilions

9. “The Far Pavilion” (1978) by M.M. Kaye – This bestseller is about a 19th century British Army officer, who had spent his childhood believing he was Indian. He experiences love with an Indian princess and war during the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

 

10 - Forget the Glory

10. “Forget the Glory” (1985) by Emma Drummond – This novel chronicled the experiences of an unhappily married British Army officer, who falls in love with wife’s maid during a long journey from India to the Ukraine during the Crimean War.

“A Family Affair” [PG-13] – 2/8

 

A FAMILY AFFAIR”

NOTE: The Gimle Order was first mentioned in the story, “Lessons in Witchcraft”.

CHAPTER TWO

“Nephew?” Harry declared out loud, three hours later. He, along with his parents, Olivia and the two daemons had left the Mortons’ soiree and ended up at Cole’s penthouse. “Cole is your nephew?”

The older daemon nodded. “On his mother’s side. Haven’t you noticed the resemblance?”

Gweneth McNeill arched a dubious brow. “What resemblance? Cole is taller. He has different features and darker hair.

“Look at the eyes, Gwen,” Jack commented. “Both have the same eyes. And they’re the same shape and . . .”

Olivia finished, “And same super blue color.” She glanced at Cole. “You must have inherited your dad’s looks and your mom’s eyes.”

“His grandfather’s eyes,” Marbus added.

Jack asked his old friend, “What were you doing at Cordelia Morton’s party?”

“I was invited,” Marbus replied. “I had arrived in San Francisco to see Cole. We haven’t laid eyes upon each other in quite a while.”

Cole added, “Not since I had first returned from the Wasteland.”

“I had encountered Cordelia at the Mark Hopkins Hotel for afternoon tea, and she invited me to her little party.”

Olivia frowned. “You know the Mortons?”

Marbus heaved a long-suffering sigh. “For nearly fifteen years, I’m afraid. My family and I used to encounter them every so often, around Europe. They know me as Miles Farrell.”

Harry’s eyes grew wide with shock. “The writer?”

A wide smile graced Marbus’ handsome face. “Oh, you’ve read my books? Isn’t that nice. Miles Farrell, by the way, is my mortal name.”

“You’re part daemon like Cole?”

Cole chuckled. “Actually, all daemons with a human or humanoid appearance probably have some mortal blood in them. Or were probably former mortals who had ascended to demon hood. Most of them – including Raynor, the Triad and the Source – have refused to admit it.”

Marbus added, “Only those daemons with no human features, lack any mortal blood. Or else, they’re shape shifters.”

“You know, I never knew that,” Olivia said. “I guess I’ve always found it odd that a lot of daemons looked like humans. I figured they were all shape shifters.”

Cole said, “Not all daemons are shape shifters.”

“Speaking of daemons,” Jack continued, “why was one after Mark Giovanni?”

A silent pause filled the living room. All eyes focused upon Cole. Who shrugged. “This is news to me. I guess the Magan Corporation must have supernatural connections.” He glanced at his uncle. “Have you ever heard of it?”

“Never heard of it, until today,” Marbus replied. “If it does have supernatural connections, then the corporation must have been recently formed.”

Cole added, “About six years ago.” The others stared at him. “I had the corporation investigated, when I first accepted the Giovanni case.”

“By me,” Olivia added.

Gweneth stood up. “I’m sure that we would all love to continue this conversation,” she said, “but Jack and I have an opera to attend.” Cole smirked at the sight of Jack McNeill’s wince. “And we don’t have much time to prepare. And Harry,” she said to her youngest, “don’t you have dinner with Dana Morton?”

Olivia stared at her younger brother in disbelief. “I thought you were going to break it off with her.”

Harry replied lamely, “I changed my mind.” Olivia continued to stare at him. “What can I say? She’s not all that bad!”

“And Olivia,” Gweneth continued, “perhaps you should allow Cole and Marbus a little privacy for a family reunion.”

Olivia opened her mouth to protest. But her mother’s stare prevented her. Instead, she pouted and said in a morose voice, “If you insist.” She stood up and planted a light kiss on Cole’s mouth. “I’ll see you later. Tell me everything.”

Both Harry and Jack rose from their seats, and the four McNeills bid Cole and his uncle good-bye. Once the half-daemon closed the door behind him, the older daemon asked, “What was that all about? Olivia’s last comment?”

A wry smile touched Cole’s lips. “Oh. That. Olivia thinks I have a bad habit of keeping too many secrets.”

“We all do. It’s a family habit,” Marbus replied airily.

Cole sighed. “Well, that same habit nearly got me killed, last December. By a group of warlocks from the Crozat coven.”

“I heard they had been wiped out. At least the family’s warlocks,” Marbus said. “Were you responsible?”

Nodding, Cole replied, “Me, Olivia, her brothers and a friend of hers named Cecile Dubois. They were trying to gather enough powers to take over the Source’s Realm.”

Marbus’ eyes grew wide with shock. “Warlocks trying to take over the Source’s Realm? They must have planned to ascend to a demonic state. Anyway, they would have had to deal with two other factions plotting to gain control of the Realm.” He paused, as a frown appeared on his face. “You know, there’s something familiar about those two young women. The ones whose names start with a ‘P’. They reminded me of someone I had met, years ago. During my . . . uh, ‘dark’ years. They’re the ones connected to the Warren family, right?”

“The Charmed Ones are descended from Melinda Warren,” Cole replied. “I had met Melinda’s mother, during a trip to the past, once.”

The older daemon nodded. “Hmmmm. So, they’re the ones who had killed the Source. And you. Were they involved with what happened to the Crozats?”

Cole stared at his uncle. “Marbus, why are you here? And I want the truth.”

“I’m here to warn you,” Marbus simply stated.

“About the two demonic factions fighting for the Source’s Realm?”

Marbus shook his head. “No. At the moment, they’re no danger to you or the McNeills.” He sighed. “But I am here to warn you . . . only not about daemons.”

Cole frowned. “Then who . . .?”

Marbus paused. “The Whitelighter’s Council.”

“Huh?”

Heaving a sigh, the older daemon repeated, “The Whitelighter’s Council. They want you dead, Boyo.”

Cole snorted with derision. “What else is new? They’ve wanted me dead for years.”

Marbus reached for the glass of port, sitting on the table next to him. “This is different. You’ve become more powerful than ever, since your return from the Wasteland. You’re mating with a witch from a powerful family – namely the McNeills. And . . .” He paused. “Well, it’s your mother.”

“What about her?” Cole demanded in an icy voice.

After another pause, Marbus added, “She’s the Brotherhood of the Thorn’s new leader.”

“WHAT?” The news shook Cole to his core.

“Nimue has been the order’s leader since last October.”

Cole shook his head. “Last Nov . . . Wait a minute! Now, I know that Klea had taken over the Order, after Raynor’s death. I remember seeing her, when I was the Source. As head of an order, she was part of my council.”

“Yes, and the Charmed Ones killed her, when they killed the Seer and your . . . uh, the Source for the third time.” Cole suspected that his uncle was about to say “your son”. He kept the thought to himself. Marbus continued, “After Klea’s death, Fylgia took over the Order. But he was accidentally killed by Barbas, when the latter had your new powers, last fall. And that’s when your mother took over. I hear that she’s doing great wonders for the Order. Re-organizing and everything . . .”

Still stunned over the news, Cole demanded, “And that’s why the Whitelighters want me dead? Because of Mother?”

“Well, that and the fact that you are involved with a powerful witch . . .”

“What does Olivia have to do with this?”

Marbus took a deep breath. “Listen to me, Belthazor.” He took another breath and went on to explain everything. Apparently, one of the Elders had announced that a Seer had foreseen both Cole and Olivia playing major roles in the emergence of a new Source. The news had sent the Elders Council in a fit and had ordered one of their whitelighters to end Cole and Olivia’s relationship.

“That would be Leo,” Cole added. “He is, or used to be Olivia and Bruce’s whitelighter. And my former brother-in-law.”

“What?”

“Leo is married to one of the Charmed Ones. Piper. And he also happens to be their whitelighter.”

Taking another sip of his port, Marbus said, “Well, I’d keep an eye on him, if I were you.”

Cole dismissed the warning with a wave of his head. “C’mon Marbus! What can Leo do? Order the Charmed Ones to kill me? They can’t! And I’m not being arrogant. Neither they nor the Elders are strong enough to kill me. Believe me, I’m serious. When Barbas had my powers nearly a year ago, Phoebe and her sisters weren’t able to kill him with their Power of Three spell.”

Marbus quietly added, “The Elders could always find someone to strip away your powers. Isn’t that how Barbas ended up with yours?”

“Actually, it was Paige who managed to strip away my powers. She had been tricked by Barbas.” Cole shook his head. “Besides, I can’t see the Elders ordering my death after my powers have been stripped away.”

Heaving a long-suffering sigh, Marbus retorted, “You don’t get it, do you, Boy? Even without your psychic abilities, you’ll still have the ability to perform other kinds of magick. I realize that you’re unaware of this, but you had that ability when your old powers were stripped away, nearly two years ago. And even if you do marry as a ‘mortal’, your children will still become magically powerful. They would be inheriting your demonic DNA. And that is the last thing the Whitelighters want. They fear you or your children will reorganize the Source’s Realm.”

Stunned by his uncle’s revelation, Cole frowned. “I don’t . . . I don’t understand . . . Are you saying that even without my active powers, I would remain a threat to them?”

“Didn’t you tell me, the last time we had met, that the Charmed Ones were able to kill the Source using the Power of Three, despite the fact that two of them had their psychic powers stolen by that old bastard?”

Cole sighed. “Yeah, I did.”

“The Whitelighters’ Council do not want a new Source. Well, a lot of us don’t exactly find the idea palatable. But at least we realize that a leader in the Source’s Realm is needed to bring back balance in our supernatural world.” Marbus shook his head. “How can a group of beings that consider themselves wise, be so bloody stupid?” He drained the rest of his port.

Placing his whiskey glass on the table, Cole asked, “And what was the name of this whitelighter who told you this?”

“It was two of them. Barbara DeVilliers and Natalia Stepanova. Miss Stepanova used to be a whitelighter for one of Jack McNeill’s cousins. He had died last winter.”

Cole nodded. “That would be Keith McNeill.”

Marbus continued, “The both of them are members of a faction that believe the current Elders Council is out of control and out of touch. In fact, the Whitelighters Realm has been slowly drifting into chaos, since the Source’s last death.”

“Yeah, I know all about it, thanks to Olivia’s father. According to him, not only are there whitelighters openly questioning the Elders’ authority, a good number have defected to the other side. Sounds like a big mess.”

Shaking his head, Marbus said, “The whitelighters are in a mess. And so is the demonic world. All of us in the Gimle Order are very worried. You need to keep your eyes open, Boyo. Especially for the whitelighters or any witch who might try to get rid of you.”

Images of Phoebe, Leo and Piper flashed in Cole’s mind. He dismissed the thought with a shake of his head. “This is ridiculous! The only ones I know who would try to get rid of me are . . .” He paused.

“Are you talking about that Leo fellow? And your wife, Frances?”

Cole corrected his uncle. “Her name is Phoebe and she’s my ex-wife.”

“Really? When did the divorce go through? The last time we saw each other, you were determined to win her back.”

Cole sighed. “It happened last October. Not long after we met.”

Marbus smiled. “And you’ve been courting Jack’s daughter ever since, eh?”

“Actually, I’ve been cour . . .” Cole mentally sighed. “I mean, dating Olivia since late April. However, we’ve been friends since . . . well, since two days after my divorce became final. Leo’s not exactly thrilled that I’m dating her.”

Nodding Marbus replied, “This Leo sounds as if he’s still loyal to the Elders. I’d keep an eye on him, as well. And your former in-laws.”

A cross between a derisive snort and a chuckle escaped Cole’s mouth. “C’mon! You’ve got to be kidding! Just because Paige had once stripped me of my powers, last . . .” He paused and heaved a sigh. “This is ridiculous.”

“This Paige,” Marbus continued, “is she . . .?”

Cole finished, “The redhead with Phoebe. Yeah, she’s the youngest Charmed One and a half-sister.”

“And the one who had given you so much trouble, last year.”

“Right now, Paige is the only Halliwell I’m friends with,” Cole added.

Marbus said, “But her sisters must know how she had stripped away your powers.”

“Look Marbus, the Charmed Ones are not going to kill me if I end up as a mortal. Don’t worry.”

A sigh left the older daemon’s mouth. “I suppose you’re right. You know them best.” He stood up and headed for the liquor cabinet. “What about your client? What are you going to do about him?”

“I don’t know,” Cole murmured. “Thank goodness Olivia and I had managed to convince him that his ‘companion’ had never accompanied him to the Mortons’ beach, without me using my telepathic suggestion power on him. Maybe I’ll place him under a protection spell.”

Marbus added, “If you like, I could ask the Gimle Order to assign a bodyguard to him.”

Cole shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll think about it. But what I really need is your help in finding more information on this Magan Corporation. It’s odd that not long after Giovanni had rejected their offer, a demonic assassin tries to kill him.” Cole drained the last of his whiskey.

Marbus shook his head. “That piece of land must be very important.”

———-

Piper stared at her sisters in shock. “Cole has an uncle?”

“From his mother’s side,” Phoebe’s explained. “He’s a demon.”

“Well gee! No kidding!”

Paige continued, “His name is Marbus and he saved Mark Giovanni from being killed by a demonic assassin.”

Suspicion tingled in the back of Piper’s mind. But it was Leo who expressed her thoughts. “Why?” he demanded. “Why would he even bother to save an innocent?”

Phoebe shrugged her shoulders, as she threw herself on the sofa. “I don’t know. He claimed that he had recognized the woman as an assassin.”

“A demonic assassin named Cassandra,” Paige added. “I’ve checked the Book of Shadows. She exists. Or did, until today. And it also seems that Cole’s uncle is a member of the Gimle Order.”

Leo frowned. “The what?”

Piper turned to face her husband. “Oh, c’mon Leo! You remember, don’t you? The Gimle Order?”

“Piper, what are you . . .?”

Paige interrupted. “The Gimle Order? The group of demons who protect the innocent? Like us? They’re the good guys. Remember Mrs. McNeill talking about them?”

Shaking his head, Leo declared, “Look, I’m sorry. But Mrs. McNeill or not, I just find it hard to believe that this order . . .”

Piper added, “They’re mentioned in our Book of Shadows. Only, the Book states that they’re evil.”

“There you go,” Leo said.

Paige rolled her eyes in disgust. “Leo, according to Cole, the Gimle demons are the good guys.”

“He could be lying.”

An impatient sigh left Paige’s mouth. “Both Olivia and Mrs. McNeill verified this. They’ve had experience with them in the past. Remember?”

“But the Book . . .”

Piper heaved a disgruntled sigh. “Maybe the Book is wrong, Leo! And why? Because some whitelighter probably gave one of our ancestors the wrong information!”

“Piper . . .”

Phoebe spoke up, interrupting the couple’s argument. “Why don’t we go upstairs and check to see if this Marbus is in the Book of Shadows?”

“Good idea,” Leo shot back. He brushed past Phoebe and headed straight toward the staircase. The three sisters quickly followed. Upon reaching the attic, Leo strode toward the podium that held the Book of Shadows.

Piper stood behind her husband, as he sifted through the Book. He stopped at a page that featured an orange-and-black demon that looked very familiar. “Oh my God!” Piper exclaimed. “He looks like Belthazor!”

Paige and Phoebe gathered around the podium for a glance. The former replied, “He certainly does. I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise, considering that they’re related.”

Leo added, “It says here that Marbus is an upper-level demon and one of the top assassins in the Underworld. He’s also an agent for the Triad.”

“Was,” Phoebe corrected. “They’re dead. Remember?”

“Oh my God,” Piper murmured, as she read further description of the demon. “The Book also states that he had killed Lucia Warren Miller in order to steal something called the Marbury Stone.” She paused, as the implication of her words sunk in. “Oh my God! He had killed one of our ancestors!”

“So much for him being a ‘good’ demon,” Leo added sarcastically.

Paige pointed to the corner of the page. “There’s a date. May 3, 1823. Apparently, Lucia’s death happened nearly 200 years ago. Wow! How old is this guy?”

Phoebe replied, “Who knows? Don’t forget. Cole is nearly 120 years old.”

“Who cares hold old he is?” Piper retorted. Her eyes remained focused upon the demon’s image. “This guy killed one of our own.”

Paige dryly shot back, “Yeah Piper. Nearly two centuries ago. And may I remind you that just over a year ago, we had killed his nephew? I’d say that we’re pretty even.”

There were times Piper wished that her youngest sister would stop bringing up the past. Especially that particular incident inside Cole’s penthouse. She opened her mouth to retort, when Phoebe interrupted.

“Whatever happened in the past is over,” the middle Halliwell declared. “Paige is right. This incident with Lucia happened 180 years ago. Maybe this Marbus has changed. Maybe he really is part of this Gimle Order. At least we know what it really stands for, thanks to Olivia.”

Leo argued, “Maybe she is right about this Gimle Order. But what about Marbus? What if he had lied about being a part of it? What if he had another reason for killing that other demon? Don’t forget that when we had first met Cole, he was pretending to be a good guy. He had even killed that demonic judge and that demon who later tried to kill Prue, just to be on your good side.”

“Okay Leo. I understand what you’re saying. And that’s why I think we should keep an eye on this guy.”

Paige sighed. “All right. Maybe we should. But I also think we should get to know Marbus. Maybe we can find out the latest news about the Underworld.” She paused. “The McNeills’ weekly brunch is tomorrow. Why don’t we pay them a visit? Cole’s uncle might be there.”

Oh great! Piper shook her head in disgust. Another Sunday with the McNeills and Cole. And this time, with the latter’s uncle. Now there was something to look forward to.

——–

It took one look at his assistant’s expression for Artemus to figure out that something had gone wrong. “She failed, didn’t she?” he said. “Cassandra had failed to kill Giovanni.”

Prax nervously cleared his throat. “I’m . . . uh, I’m afraid so, Artemus. I was there at the party. She had lured Giovanni to the beach, but someone else had followed. Along with a few others.”

“Like who?” Artemus demanded.

“Belthazor was there. Along with his McNeill witch and her father. Also, two of the Charmed Ones had followed.”

Artemus sighed. “The Charmed Ones. Were they the ones who killed Cassandra? Or was it Belthazor?”

“I don’t think so.” A frown appeared on the younger daemon’s face. “There was a man who had reached Giovanni and Cassandra before the others. I thought I had recognized him, but I might be mistaken.”

The elder daemon courtly demanded, “What are you talking about, Prax?”

“I believe I had seen Marbus. Belthazor’s uncle.” Prax frowned. “But that can’t be right. Isn’t Marbus dead?”

Shock overwhelmed Artemus. “Of course he’s dead! He can’t be . . .” Then he murmured to himself. “Or could it be that Belthazor had never carried out the hit? After all, no one knows I’m . . .”

“Sir?” Prax’s face expressed concern. “Artemus, is there something wrong?”

Realization settled within the older daemon. “He is alive. Marbus is alive.”

“But I heard that Belthazor . . .”

“. . . must have spared his life. Of course!” Artemus stared at his assistant. “What do you know about Marbus?”

Prax shook his head. “Not much. Only that he was . . . is Belthazor’s uncle and that he used to be one of the Source’s assassins.”

Artemus chuckled mirthlessly. “He was one of the Source’s top assassins. Like his father, his sister and his nephew. That family . . .” He shook his head. “A dangerous bunch. It has produced some of the best assassins that have ever served the Source. Marbus was one. One of his most difficult assignments was a Boston witch who was guarding the Marbury Stone back in the 1820s. Actually, she was a great-grandmother or something to the Charmed Ones. But nearly 140 years later, Marbus had fallen for a wizard named Mauve Donohue. He helped her prevent the Source from destroying a wizard order that was a potential threat.”

“You mean, he betrayed the Source,” Prax added.

Nodding, Artemus continued, “Yes. Then this Donohue woman had later introduced him to a group of daemons that has opposed the Source and everything we stood for. The Gimle Order. Bunch of damn good-doers. They have been a craw in the Source’s side for centuries.”

Prax shook his head. “Good daemons? I didn’t know there was such a thing.”

A sigh left Artemus’ mouth. “Unfortuntely, there is. Like all other beings, we daemons can be either good or bad. I had a plan to get rid of that damn order for good . . . but, it backfired. Failed. And the Source ended up sending me to that damn prison.”

“The Stygian Abyss.” Prax paused. “But I had heard that Marbus was killed . . . by Belthazor, himself.”

Again, Artemus sighed. “About five years before I was sent to the Stygian Abyss, Raynor – who was head of the Thorn Order and a member of the Source’s Council like myself – had framed Marbus with the murder of a powerful witch, hoping that his fellow witches would go after Marbus. They did. Only, another witch named Jack McNeill . . .”

“The father of Belthazor’s witch?”

Artemus glared at his minion. “Do you mind not interrupting?” Prax apologized and the older daemon continued. “Anyway, McNeill had discovered that Marbus had been framed and prevented him from being killed by the witches. About a year later, two zoltars had tracked Marbus to a villa in Greece. Instead of ordering them to kill him, Raynor had sent Belthazor.”

Frowning, Prax asked, “Wouldn’t it have been simpler to send another assassin?”

“By then, Belthazor was one of the Source’s top assassins.” Faint admiration crept into Artemus’ voice. “He really was a superb killer. Even better than Marbus, Nimue, or their father, while in their prime. The Triad had suggested that Raynor assign Belthazor to do the job. Either this was one of their tests, or they had genuinely believed that he would kill Marbus with no remorse. Once word had reached the Source of Marbus’ death . . .” Artemus paused and allowed himself a wry smile. “As it turns out, Belthazor had faked his uncle’s death. Very clever.”

An anxious-looking Prax asked, “Do you think this Marbus is a threat?”

“I don’t know. But Belthazor certainly is.” Artemus walked over to the liquor cabinet and removed a bottle of bourbon. “I have to get him off the Giovanni case. Perhaps getting rid of Marbus should do the trick. Leave him distracted.” He poured bourbon into a glass.

“But if you have Marbus killed, wouldn’t Belthazor come after us?”

Artemus took a swig of bourbon. “Are you serious? Belthazor wouldn’t rest until he track us down and kill every last one of us.” He sighed. “And he would succeed. I promise you.”

Prax began, “So how do you plan . . .?”

A crafty smile curved the daemon’s lips. “I’m afraid that poor Marbus is going to find himself hunted by witches, again. Only this time, by the Charmed Ones.” He sighed with deep anticipation. “How I would love to be a fly on the wall, when Belthazor goes after those three.”

END OF CHAPTER TWO